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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: The Combined Maze
Author: Sinclair, May, 1863-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Combined Maze" ***

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



                           THE COMBINED MAZE

                            BY MAY SINCLAIR

                      AUTHOR OF "THE DIVINE FIRE"


HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
MCMXIII

COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY HARPER & BROTHERS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY, 1913



[Illustration: SHE CLOSED HER EYES, AND HIS HOLD TIGHTENED]



THE COMBINED MAZE



CHAPTER I


You may say that there was something wrong somewhere, some mistake, from
the very beginning, in his parentage, in the time and place and manner
of his birth. It was in the early eighties, over a shabby chemist's shop
in Wandsworth High Street, and it came of the union of Fulleymore
Ransome, a little, middle-aged chemist, weedy, parched, furtively
inebriate, and his wife Emma, the daughter of John Randall, a draper.

They called him John Randall Fulleymore Ransome, and Ranny for short.

Ranny should have been born in lands of adventure, under the green light
of a virgin forest, or on some illimitable prairie; he should have
sailed with the vikings or fought with Cromwell's Ironsides; or, better
still, he should have run, half-naked, splendidly pagan, bearing the
torch of Marathon.

And yet he bore his torch.

From the very first his mother said that Ranny was that venturesome. He
showed it in his ill-considered and ungovernable determination to be
born, and it was hard to say which of them, Ranny or his mother, more
nearly died of it. She must have been aware that there was a hitch
somewhere; for, referring again and again, as she did, to Ranny's
venturesomeness, she would say, "It beats me where he gets it from."

He may have got some of it from her, for she, poor thing, had sunk,
adventurously, in one disastrous marriage her whole stock of youth and
gaiety and charm. It was Ranny's youth and charm and gaiety that made
him so surprising and so unaccountable.

Circumstances were not encouraging to Ranny's youth, nor to his private
and particular ambition, the cultivation of a superb physique. For, not
only was he a little chemist's son, he was a great furniture dealer's
inexpensive and utterly insignificant clerk, one of a dozen confined in
a long mahogany pen where they sat at long mahogany desks, upon high
mahogany stools, making invoices of chairs and tables and wardrobes and
washstands and all manner of furniture. You would never have known, to
see him sitting there, that John Randall Fulleymore Ransome was a leader
in Section I of the London Polytechnic Gymnasium.

So far, in his way, he testified, he bore his torch. Confined as he was
in a mahogany pen, born and brought up in the odor of drugs, and
surrounded by every ignominious sign of disease and infirmity, his dream
was yet of cleanness, of health, and the splendor of physical
perfection. The thing that young Ransome most loathed and abhorred was
Flabbiness, next to Flabbiness, Weediness. The years of his adolescence
were one long struggle and battle against these two. He had them ever
before him, and associated them, absurdly but inveterately, with a
pharmaceutical chemist's occupation; of Weediness his father being the
prime example; while for Flabbiness, young Mercier, his father's
assistant--well, Mercier, as he said, "took the biscuit." It was
horrible for young Ransome to inhabit the same house with young Mercier,
because of his flabbiness.

In all cities there are many thousand Ransomes, more or less confined in
mahogany cages, but John Randall Fulleymore stands for all of them. He
was one of those who, in a cold twilight on a Saturday afternoon,
stagger from the trampled field, hot-eyed under their wild hair, whose
garments are stained from the torn grass and uptrodden earth, with here
and there a rent and the white gleam of a shoulder or a thigh; whose
vivid, virile odor has a tang of earth in it. He is the image and the
type of these forlorn, foredoomed young athletes, these exponents of a
city's desperate adolescence, these inarticulate enthusiasts of the
earth. He bursts from his pen in the evening at seven or half past, he
snatches somewhere a cup of cocoa and a sandwich, and at nine he is
seen, half pagan in his "zephyr" and his "shorts," sprinting like mad
through the main thoroughfares. In summer some pitch, more or less
perfect, waits for him in suburban playing fields; and the River knows
him, at Battersea, at Chelsea, at Hammersmith, and at Wandsworth, the
River knows him as he is, the indomitable and impassioned worshiper of
the body and the earth.

And if the moon sees him sometimes haggard, panting, though indomitable,
though impassioned, reeling on the last lap of his last mile, and
limping through Wandsworth High Street home to the house of the weedy
pharmaceutical chemist his father, if the moon sees Ransome, why, the
Moon is a lady, and she does not tell.

       *       *       *       *       *

If you asked him what he did it for, he would say you did it because it
kept you fit, also (if you pressed him) because it kept you decent.

And to know how right he was you had only to look at him, escaped from
his cage; you had only to follow his progress through the lighted
streets and observe his unbending behavior before the salutations of the
night. His fitness, combined with his decency, made him a wonder, a
desire, and a despair. Slender and upright, immaculately high-collared,
his thin serge suit molded by his sheer muscular development to the
semblance of perfection, Ranny was a mark for loitering feet and
wandering eyes. Ranny was brown-faced and brown-haired; he had brown
eyes made clear with a strain of gray, rather narrow eyes, ever so
slightly tilted, narrowing still, and lengthening, as with humor, at the
outer corners. There was humor in his mouth, wide but fine, that tilted
slightly upward when he spoke. There was humor even in his nose with its
subtle curve, the slender length of its bridge, and its tip, wide
spread, and like his mouth and eyes, slightly uptilted.

Ranny, in short, was fascinating. And at every turn his mysterious
decency betrayed the promise of his charm.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Fred Booty, his friend and companion of the pen, who first put
him in the right way, discerning in him a fine original genius for
adventure.

For when Ranny's mother said he was that venturesome, she meant that he
was fond, fantastically and violently fond of danger, of adventure. His
cunning in this matter beat her clean--how he found the things to do he
did do; the things, the frightful things he did about the house with
bannisters and windows, of which she knew. As for the things he found to
do with bicycles on Wandsworth Common and Putney Hill they were known
mainly to his Maker and Fred Booty. Booty, who could judge (being "a bit
handy with a bike" himself), said of them that they were "a fair treat."

But these were the deeds of his boyhood, and in nineteen-two Ransome
looked back on them with contempt. Follies they were, things a silly kid
does; and it wasn't by those monkey tricks that a fellow developed his
physique. Booty had found Ransome in his attic one Saturday afternoon, a
year ago, half stripped, and contemplating ruefully what he conceived to
be the first horrible, mushy dawn of Flabbiness in his biceps muscle.
All he wanted, Booty had then declared, was a turn or two at the Poly.
Gym. Then Booty took Ransome round to his place in Putney Bridge Road,
and they sat on Booty's bed with their arms round each other's shoulders
while Booty read aloud to Ransome from the pages of the Poly.
Prospectus. Booty was a slender, agile youth with an innocent, sanguine
face, the face of a beardless faun, finished off with a bush of blond
hair that stood up from his forehead like a monumental flame.

He read very slowly, in a voice that had in it both an adolescent croak
and an engaging Cockney tang.

"The Poly.," said Booty, "really was a Club, '_where_,'" he underlined
it, "'every reasonable facil'ty shall bee offered fer the formation of a
steadfast character, _and_--_of_--true friendships; fer trainin' the
intellec'--'"

"Int'lec' be blowed," said Ransome.

"'_And_ fer leadin' an upright, unselfish life. Day by day,'" read
Booty, "'the battle of life becomes more strenuous. To succeed entyles
careful preparation and stern'--stern, Ranny--'deetermination, it
deemands the choice of _good friends_ and the avoid'nce of those persons
and things which tend _to_ lessen, instead of _to_ increase the
reesources of the individyool.' There, wot d'you think of _that_, Ran?"

Ran didn't think much of it until Booty pointed out to him, one by one,
the privileges he would enjoy as a member of the Poly.

For the ridiculous yearly sum of ten-and-six (it was all he could rise
to) Ransome had become a member of the Poly. Ten-and-six threw open to
him every year the Poly. Gym., the Poly. Swimming Bath, and the Poly.
Circulating Library. For ten-and-six he could further command the
services (once a week) of the doctor attached to the Poly. and of its
experienced legal adviser.

That tickled Ransome. He didn't see himself by any possibility requiring
communion with that experienced man. But it tickled him, the sheer
fantastic opulence and extravagance of the thing. It tickled him so much
that whenever you disagreed with or offended Ransome his jest was to
refer you, magnificently, to "my legal adviser."

Yes, for fantastic opulence and extravagance, Ransome had never seen
anything to beat the Poly. There was no end to it, no end to the
privileges you enjoyed. He positively ran amuck among his
privileges--those, that is to say, offered him by the Poly. Swimming
Bath and the Poly. Gym. As he said, he "fair abused 'em." But he
considered that the Poly. "got home again" on his exceptionally moderate
use of the Circulating Library, and his total abstention from the Bible
Classes. He was not yet aware of any soul in him apart from that
abounding and sufficing physical energy expressed in Fitness, nor was he
violently conscious of any moral sense apart from Decency.

And Ranny despised the votaries of intellectual light; he more than
suspected them of Weediness, if not of Flabbiness. Yet (as he waited for
Booty in the vestibule), through much darkness and confusion, and always
at an immeasurable distance from him, he discerned, glory beyond glory,
the things that the Poly., in its great mercy and pity, had reserved for
those "queer johnnies." It made him giddy merely to look at the posters
of its lectures and its classes. It gave him the headache to think of
the things the fellows--fellows of a deplorable physique--and girls,
too, did there. For his part, he looked forward to the day when, by a
further subscription of ten-and-six, he would enroll himself as a member
of the Athletic Club.

It was as if the Poly. put out feeler after feeler to draw him to
itself. Only to one thing he would not be drawn. When Booty advised him
to join the Poly. Ramblers he stood firm. For some shy or unfathomable
reason of his own he refused to become a Poly. Rambler. When it came to
the Poly. Ramblers he was adamant. It was one of those vital points at
which he resisted this process of absorption in the Poly. Booty
denounced his attitude as eminently anti-social--uppish, he called it.



CHAPTER II


All that winter Ransome's nights and days were regulated in a perfect
order--making statements of account for nine hours on five days of the
week and four on Saturdays. Three evenings for the Poly. Gym. One for
the Swimming Bath. One for sprinting. One (Saturday) for rest or
relaxation after the violence of Rugger. One (Sunday) for the
improvement of the mind. On Sundays he was very seldom good for anything
else.

But in the spring of nineteen-two something stirred in him, something
watched and waited; with a subtle agitation, a vague and delicate
excitement, it exulted and aspired. The sensation, or whatever it was,
had as yet no separate existence of its own. So perfect, in this spring
of nineteen-two, was the harmony of Ransome's being that the pulse of
the unborn thing was one with all his other pulses; it was one,
indistinguishably, with the splendor of life, the madness of running,
and the joy he took in his own remarkable performances on the horizontal
bar. It had the effect of heightening, mysteriously and indescribably,
the joy, the madness, and the splendor. And it was dominant, insistent.
Like some great and unintelligible _motif_ it ran ringing and sounding
through the vast rhythmic tumult of physical energy.

Not for a moment did he connect it with the increasing interest that he
took in the appearance of the Young Ladies of the Poly. Gym. He was not
aware how aware he was of their coming, nor how his heart thumped and
throbbed and his nerves trembled at the tramp, tramp of their feet along
the floor.

For sometimes, it might be twice a year, the young men and the young
women of the Gymnasium met and mingled in a Grand Display.

He was fairly well used to it; and yet he had never got over his
amazement at finding that girls, those things of constitutional and
predestined flabbiness, could do very nearly (though not quite)
everything that he could, leaving him little besides his pre-eminence on
the horizontal bar. And yearly the regiment of girls who could "do
things" at the Poly. increased under his very eyes. Their invasion
disturbed him in his vision of their flabbiness; it rubbed it into him,
the things that they could do.

Not but what he had felt it--he had felt _them_--all about him, outside,
in the streets where they jostled him, and in the world made mostly of
mahogany, the world of counters and of desks, of pens where they too
were herded and shut up and compelled, like him, to toil. Queer things,
girls, for they seemed, incomprehensibly, to like it. Their liking it,
their businesslike assumption of equality, their incessant appearance
(authorized, it is true, by business) at the railings of his pen, the
peculiar disenchanting promiscuity of it all, preserved young Ransome in
his eccentricity of indifference to their sex. In fact, if you tried to
talk about sex to young Ransome (and Mercier did try) he would denounce
it as "silly goat's talk," and your absorption in it as "the most
mutton-headed form of Flabbiness yet out."

       *       *       *       *       *

But that was before the Grand Display of the autumn of last year, when
Winny Dymond appeared in the March Past of Section I of the Women's
Gymnasium; before he had followed Winny as she ran at top speed through
all the turnings and windings of the Combined Maze.

There were about fifty of them, picked; all attired in black stockings,
in dark-blue knickerbockers, and in tunics that reached to the knee,
red-belted and trimmed with red. Stunning, he called them; so much so
that they fair took away his breath.

That was what he said when it was all over. By that time he was ashamed
to confess that at the moment of its apparition the March Past had been
somewhat of a shock to him. He had his ideas, and he was not prepared
for the uniform; still less was he prepared for a personal encounter
with such quantities of young women all at once.

All sorts of girls--sturdy and slender girls; queer girls with lean,
wiry bodies; deceptive girls with bodies curiously plastic under the
appearance of fragility; here a young miracle of physical culture; there
a girl with the pointed breasts and flying shoulders, the limbs, the
hips, the questing face that recalled some fugitive soul of the woods
and mountains; long-nosed, sallow, nervous Jewish girls; English girls
with stolid, colorless faces; here and there a face rosy and full-blown,
or a pretty tilted profile and a wonderful, elaborate head of hair. One
or two of these heads positively lit up the procession with their red
and gold, gave it the splendor and beauty of a pageant.

They came on, single file and double file and four abreast, the long
line doubling and turning upon itself; all alike in the straight drop
of the arms to the hips, the rise and fall of their black-stockinged
legs, the arching and pointing of the feet; all deliciously alike in
their air of indestructible propriety. Here you caught one leashing an
iniquitous little smile in the corners of her eyes under her lashes; or
one, aware of her proud beauty, and bearing herself because of it, with
the extreme of indestructible propriety.

There were no words to express young Ransome's indifference to proud
beauty.

If he found something tender and absurd in the movements of all those
long black stockings, it was for the sake and on account of the long
black stockings worn by little Winny Dymond.

Winny Dymond was not proud, neither was she what he supposed you would
call beautiful. She was not one of those conspicuous by their flaming
and elaborate hair.

What he first noted in her with wonder and admiration was the absence of
weediness and flabbiness. Better known, she stirred in him, as a child
might, an altogether indescribable sense of tenderness and absurdity.
She stood out for him simply by the fact that, of all the young ladies
of the Polytechnic, she was the only one he really knew--barring Maudie
Hollis, and Maudie, though she was the proud beauty of the Polytechnic,
didn't count.

For Maudie was ear-marked, so to speak, as the property (when he could
afford a place to put her in) of Fred Booty. Ransome would no more have
dreamed of cultivating an independent acquaintance with Maudie than he
would of pocketing the silver cup that Booty won in last year's Hurdle
Race. It was because of Maudie, and at Booty's irresistible request,
that he, the slave of friendship, had consented, unwillingly and
perfunctorily at first, to become Miss Dymond's cavalier. Maudie, also
at Booty's passionate appeal, had for six months shared with Winny
Dymond a room off Wandsworth High Street, so that, as he put it, he
might feel that she was near him; with the desolating result that they
weren't by any means, no, not by a long chalk, so near. For Maudie, out
of levity or sheer exuberant kindness of the heart, had persuaded Winny
Dymond to join the Polytechnic. In her proud beauty and in her affianced
state she could afford to be exuberantly kind. And Booty in his vision
of nearness had been counting on the long journey by night from Regent
Street to Wandsworth High Street alone with Maudie; and, though Miss
Dymond practically effaced herself, it wasn't--with a girl of Maudie's
temperament--the same thing at all. For Maudie in company was apt to be
a little stiff and stand-offish in her manner.

Then (one afternoon in the autumn of last year it was) Booty sounded
Ransome, finding himself alone with him in the mahogany pen when the
senior clerks were at their tea. "I say," he said, "there's something I
want _you_ to do for me," and Ransome, in his recklessness, his
magnificence, said "Right-O!"

He said afterward that he had gathered from the expression of his
friend's face that his trouble was financial, a matter of five bob, or
fifteen at the very worst. And you could trust Boots to pay up any day.
So that he was properly floored when Boots, in a thick, earnest voice,
explained the nature of the service he required--that he, Ransome,
should go with him, nightly, to a convenient corner of Oxford Street,
and there collar that kid, Winny Dymond, and lug her along.

"Do you mean," asked Ransome, "walk home with her?"

Well, yes; that, Booty intimated, was about the size of it. She was a
Wandsworth girl, and they'd got, he supposed, all four of them, to get
there.

He was trying to carry it off, to give an air of inevitability to his
preposterous proposal. But as young Ransome's face expressed his agony,
Booty became almost abject in supplication. He didn't know, Ranny
didn't, what it was to be situated like he, Booty, was. Booty wanted to
know how he'd feel if it was him. To be gone on a girl like he was and
only see her of an evenin' and then not be able to get any nearer her,
because of havin' to make polite remarks to that wretched kid she was
always cartin' round. At that rate he might just as well not be engaged
at all--to Maudie; better engage himself to the bloomin' kid at once. It
wasn't as if he had a decent chance of bein' spliced for good in a year
or two's time. His evenin's and his Sundays and so forth were jolly well
all he'd got. It was all very well for Ransome, _he_ wasn't gone on a
girl, else he'd know how erritatin' it was to the nerves. And if Ranny
hadn't got the spunk to stand by a pal and see him through, why, then
he'd cut the Poly. and make Maudie cut it too.

To most of this Ranny was silent, for it seemed to him that Boots was
mad, or near it. But at that threat, so terrible to him, so terrible to
the Polytechnic, so terrible to Booty, and so palpable a sign of his
madness, he gave in. He said it was all right, only he didn't know what
on earth he was to say to her.

Booty recovered his natural airiness. "Oh," he threw it off, "you say
nothing."

And for the first night or so, as far as Ransome could remember, that
was what he did say.

And he wasn't really clever at collaring her, either. There was
something elusive, fugitive, uncatchable about Winny Dymond. It was
Booty, driven by love to that extremity, who collared Maudie and walked
off with her, with a suddenness and swiftness that left them stranded
and amazed. "Fair pace-makin'," Ransome called it.

And Winny struggled and strove with those little legs of hers (jolly
little legs he knew they were, too, in their long black stockings),
strove and struggled, as if her life depended on it, to overtake them.
And it was then that Ransome felt the first pricking of that sense of
tenderness and absurdity.

He felt it again after a long silence when, as they were going toward
Wandsworth Bridge, Winny suddenly addressed him.

"You know," she said, "you needn't trouble about _me_."

"I'm not troublin'," he said. "Leastways--that is--" he hesitated and
was lost.

"You are," said she, with decision, "if you think you've got to see me
home."

He said he thought that, considering the lateness of the hour and the
loneliness of the scene, it was better that he should accompany her.

"But I can accompany myself," said she.

He smiled at the vision of Miss Dymond accompanying herself, at eleven
o'clock at night, too--the idea! He smiled at it as if he saw in it
something tender and absurd. He knew, of course, for he was not
absolutely without experience, that girls said these things; they said
them to draw fellows on; it was their artfulness. There was a word for
it; Ransome thought the word was "cock-a-tree." But Winny Dymond didn't
say those things--the least like that. She said them with the utmost
gravity and determination. You might almost have thought she was
offended but for the absence in her tone of any annoyance or
embarrassment. Her tone, indeed, suggested serene sincerity and a sort
of sympathy, the serious and compassionate consideration of his painful
case. It was as if she had been aware all along of the frightful
predicament he had been placed in by Fred Booty; as if she divined and
understood his anguish in it and desired to help him out. That was
evidently her idea--to help him out.

And as it grew on him--her idea--it grew on him also that there was a
kind of fascination about the little figure in its long dark-blue coat.

She wasn't--he supposed she wasn't--pretty, but he found himself
agreeably affected by her. He liked the queer look of her face, which
began with a sort of squarishness in roundness and ended, with a sudden
startling change of intention, in a pointed chin. He liked the clear
sallow and faint rose of her skin, and her mouth which might have been
too large if it had not been so firm and fine. He liked, vaguely,
without knowing that he liked it, the quietness of her brown eyes and
the faint, half-wondering arch above them; and quite definitely he liked
the way she parted her brown hair in the middle and smoothed it till it
lay in two long, low waves (just discernible under the brim of her hat)
upon her forehead. He did not know that long afterward he was never to
see Winny Dymond's eyes and parted hair without some vision of strength
and profound placidity and cleanness.

All he said was he supposed there was no law against his occupying the
same pavement; and then he could have sworn that Winny's face sent a
little ghost of a smile flitting past him through the night.

"Well, anyhow," she said, "you needn't talk to me unless you like."

And at that he threw his head back and laughed aloud. And quite suddenly
the moon came out and stared at them; came bang up on their left above
the River (they were on the bridge now) out of a great cloud, a blazing
and enormous moon. It tickled him. He called her attention to it, and
said he didn't remember that he'd ever seen such a proper whopper of a
moon and with such a shine on him. They hadn't half polished him, he
said. Any one would think that things had all busted, got turned bottom
side upward, and it was the bally old sun that was up there, grinnin' at
them, through the hole he'd made.

"The idea!" said Winny; but she laughed at it, a little shrill and
irresistible titter of delight always, as he was to learn, her homage to
"ideas." He had them sometimes; they came on him all of a sudden, like
that, and he couldn't help it; he couldn't stop them; he got them all
the worse, all the more ungovernably, when Booty lunged at him, as he
did, with his "Dry up, you silly blighter, you!" But that anybody should
take pleasure in his ideas, that _was_ an idea, if you like, to
Ransome.

They got on after that like a house on fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

But only for that night. For many nights that followed Winny proved more
fugitive, more uncatchable than ever. As often as not, when they arrived
in Oxford Street, she would be gone, fled half an hour before them,
accompanying herself all the way to Wandsworth. Once he pursued her down
Oxford Street, coming up with her as she boarded a bus in full flight;
and they sat in it in gravity and silence, as strangers to each other.
But nearly always she was too quick for him; she got away. And never (he
thanked Heaven for that, long afterward), never for a moment did he
misunderstand her. She made that impossible for him; impossible to
forget that in her and all her shyness there was no art at all of
"cock-a-tree," only her fixed and funny determination not "to put upon
him."

And so the seeing home of Winny Dymond became a fascinating and
uncertain game, fascinating because of its uncertainty; it had all the
agitation and allurement of pursuit and capture; if she had wanted to
allure and agitate him, no art of "cock-a-tree" could have served her
better. He was determined to see Winny Dymond home.

And all the time it grew, it grew on him, that sense of tenderness and
absurdity. He found it--that ineffable and poignant quality--in
everything about her and in everything she did--in the gravity of her
deportment at the Poly.; in her shy essaying of the parallel bars; in
the incredible swiftness with which she ran before him in the Maze; in
the way her hair, tied up with an immense black bow in a door-knocker
plat, rose and fell forever on her shoulders as she ran. He found it in
the fact he had discovered that her companions called her by absurd and
tender names; Winky, and even Winks, they called her.

That was in the autumn of nineteen-one; and he was finding it all over
again now in the spring of nineteen-two.

At last, he didn't know how it happened, but one night, having caught up
with her after a hot chase, close by the railings of the Parish Church
in Wandsworth High Street, in the very moment of parting from her he
turned round and said, "Look here, Miss Dymond, you think I don't like
seeing you home, don't you?"

"To be sure I do. It must be a regular nuisance, night after night," she
answered.

"Well, it isn't," he said. "I like it. But look here--if you hate it--"

"Me?"

She said it with a simple, naïve amazement.

"Yes, you."

He was almost brutal.

"But I don't. What an idea!"

"Well, if you don't, that settles it. Don't it?"

And it did.



CHAPTER III


It was the night of the Grand Display of the spring of nineteen-two.

To the Gymnasium of the London Polytechnic you ascended (in
nineteen-two) as to a temple by a flight of steps, and found yourself in
a great oblong room of white walls, with white pillars supporting the
gallery that ran all round it. The railing of the gallery was of iron
tracery, painted green, with a brass balustrade. The great clean white
space, the long ropes for the trapezes which hung from the ceiling and
were looped up now to the stanchions, the coarse canvas of the
mattresses, the disciplined lines, the tramping feet, the commanding
voices of the instructors, gave a confused and dreamlike suggestion of
the lower deck of a man-of-war. To-night, under the west end of the
gallery, a small platform was raised for the Mayor of Marylebone and a
score of guests. The galleries themselves were packed with members of
the Polytechnic and their friends.

The programme of the Grand Display announced as its first item:

                      PARALLEL BARS
                      _Tableau by_
       MESSRS. BOOTY, TYSER, BUIST, WAUCHOPE, AND
                     J. R. F. RANSOME

There was a murmur of surreptitious, half-ironic applause. "Stick it,
Ransome; stick it, old boy!"

The reference was to his extraordinary attitude.

J. R. F. Ransome appeared as the apex and the crown of a rude triangular
structure whose base was formed by the high parallel bars, flanked at
each end by two bodies (Booty and Tyser front), two supple adolescent
bodies, bent backward like two bows. He stood head downward on his hands
that grasped and were supported by the locked arms of two solid
athletes, Buist and Wauchope, themselves mounted gloriously and
perilously on the straining bars.

Considered as to his arms, and the white "zephyr" and flannels that he
wore, he was merely a marvelous young man balancing himself with
difficulty in an unnatural posture. But his body, uptilted, poised as by
a miracle in air, with the slender curve of its back, its flattened
hips, its feet laid together like wings folded in the first downrush,
might have been the body of a young immortal descending with facile
precipitancy to earth.

He maintained for a sensible moment his appearance of having just flown
from the roof of the Gymnasium. Far below, the photographer fumbled
leisurely with his apparatus.

"Hurry up, there!" "Stick it, Ransome!" "Half a mo!" "Stick it, Ranny;
stick it!" they whispered. "Steady does it."

And Ranny stuck it. Ranny actually, from his awful eminence, sang out,
"No fear!"

The flashlight immortalized his moment.

That was his way--to stick it; to see it out; to go through with the
adventure alert and gay, wearing that fine smile of his, so
extravagantly uplifted at the corners. "Stick it!" was the motto of his
individual recklessness and of the dogged, enduring conservatism of his
class. It kept him in a mahogany pen, at a mahogany desk, for forty-four
hours a week, and it sustained him in his orgies of physical energy at
the Poly. Gym.

Best of all, it sustained him in his daily and nightly encounters with
young Mercier.

He was all the more determined to stick it by the knowledge that young
Mercier was up there in the gallery looking at him. He could see him
leaning over the balustrade and smiling at him atrociously. He took
advantage of an interval and joined him. He was half inclined to ask him
what he meant by it. For he was always at it. Whenever young Mercier
caught Ranny doing a sprint he smiled atrociously. At Wandsworth, behind
the counter, or in the little zinc-roofed dispensing-room at the back,
among the horribly smelling materials of his craft, he smiled,
remembering him.

Mercier was a black-haired, thick-set youth with heavy features in a
heavy, pasty face, a face oddly decorated by immense and slightly
prominent blue eyes, a face where all day long the sensual dream brooded
heavily. His black eyebrows gave it a certain accent and distinction. It
was because of his dream that Leonard Mercier could afford to smile.

He was one of those who wanted to know what Ranny did it for. He
couldn't see what fun the young goat got out of his evenings. Not half,
no, nor a quarter of what he, Mercier, could get from one night at the
Empire or when he took his girl to Earl's Court or the Wandsworth
Coliseum. And, though up there in the gallery he had said "By Jove!" and
that he was blowed, and that that young Ransome was a corker, though he
boasted to three entire strangers that that young fellow was a friend of
his, his curiosity was still unsatisfied. He still wanted to know what
the young goat did it for.

He wanted to know it now. And at his insistence young Ransome was
abashed. How could he explain to old Eno what he did it for or what it
felt like? He couldn't explain it to himself, he had no words for it,
for that ecstasy of living, that fusion of all faculties in one rhythm
and one vibration, one continuous transport of physical energy. Take
sprinting alone. How could he convey to Jujubes in his disgusting
flabbiness any sense of the fine madness of running, of the race of the
blood through the veins, of the hammer strokes of the heart, of the soft
pad of the feet on the highway? To Jujubes, who went in like a cushion
no matter where you prodded him, how describe the feel of a taut muscle,
the mounting swell of it, the resistance, and the small, almost
impalpable ripple and throb under the skin? He couldn't have described
it to himself.

So he gave Jujubes his invariable casual answer. You did it because it
kept you fit and because (he let old Eno have it) it kept you decent.
Old Eno would be a lot decenter if he went in for it. It would do him
worlds of good.

To which old Eno replied that he thought he saw himself! As for joining
Ranny's precious old Poly., why, for all the Life you were likely to see
there, you might as well be in a young ladies' boarding-school. And
Ransome said that that was where Jujubes ought to be. He liked young
ladies. Among them (he intimated) his flabbiness might not excite
remark. Girls (he pondered it) were flabby things.

Chivalry constrained him to a mental reservation: Winny Dymond and the
young ladies of the Poly. Gym. excepted.

But he was glad that Mercier didn't stay to see them. Young Leonard
(whose smile was growing more and more atrocious) had declared that the
young ladies of the Empire ballet were a bit more in his line, and he
had made off, elbowing his way through the crowded gallery and crooning
"Boys of the Empire!" as he went, while Ransome pursued him with the
scornful adjuration to "Go home and take a saline draught!"

But you couldn't shame old Eno. He triumphed and exulted in his
flabbiness. For he was a Boy of the Empire. He had seen Life, and would
see more and more of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ransome went down again into the hall. He removed himself from the crowd
and leaned against a pillar, in abstraction, arms folded, showing the
great muscles; a splendid figure in his white "zephyr" trimmed with
crimson, with the crimson sash of leadership knotted at his side. Thus
withdrawn, he watched, half furtively, the performance of the young
ladies of the Polytechnic Gymnasium.

One by one, with an air incorruptibly decorous, the young ladies of the
Polytechnic Gymnasium hurled themselves upon the parallel bars; they
waggled themselves by their hands along them; they swung themselves from
side to side of them, and outstretched themselves between them with a
foot and a hand upon each bar; they raised their bodies, thus supported,
like an arch; they slackened them and flung themselves (with a crescendo
of decorous delirium) from side to side again, and over; alighting on
their feet in a curtseying posture and with the left arm extended in a
little perfunctory gesture of demonstration to the audience, as much as
to say, "There you are, and nothing could be easier!"

Nothing could be more conventional and more unspeakably correct. Only
when Winny Dymond did it there was a difference, or it seemed so to
young Ransome. Winny approached the bars with shyness and a certain
earnestness and gravity of intent. She hesitated; for a moment she was
adorable in vacillation. She shook her head at the bars, she bit her lip
at them; she set her face at them in defiance; then, with a sudden
amazing celerity she gave a little run forward and leaped upon them; she
swung herself in perfect rhythm and motion onward and upward and from
side to side; she arched her sturdy but exquisitely supple body like a
bridge, flung herself over as if in pure abandonment of joy and lighted
on her feet, curtseying correctly but with something piteous in the
gesture of the outstretched arm, and upon her face an expression of
great surprise and wonder at herself, as if Winny said, not "There you
are!" but "Here I am, and oh, I never thought I should be!"

And from his place by the pillar Ransome gave the little inarticulate
murmur he reserved for Winny. It was charged with his sense of
tenderness and absurdity.

       *       *       *       *       *

A quarter to ten. His own performances--his wonderful performances on
the horizontal bar--were over; and over the demonstration by F. Booty
with the Indian clubs, where young Fred, slender and supple as a faun,
played on his own muscles in faultless rhythm. And now with an eye upon
the Mayor the order was given for the last item on the programme:


/#
     THE COMBINED MAZE
#/

There was a rush of energetic young men who flung themselves upon the
properties of the Gymnasium. They ran them--the parallel bars, the
horses, the mattresses--in under the galleries; they uprooted the posts
of the horizontal bar; they cleared the whole of the vast oblong space
bounded by the pillars.

An attendant then appeared with a bit of chalk in his hand, and with the
chalk he drew upon the floor certain mystic circles, one at each corner
of the oblong, one in the center, the heart of the Maze, and facing it
two smaller circles, one at each side on a visionary line. Seven mystic,
seven sacred circles in all did he draw, and vanished, unconscious of
the sanctity and symbolism of his deed.

For he, with his bit of white chalk, had marked the course for the great
running, for the race that the young men and the young girls run
together with the racing of the stars, for the unloosening of the holy
primal energies in a figure and a measure and a ritual old as time.

It was all very well for the instructor (blind instrument of unspeakably
mysterious forces) to pretend that he invented it, that august figure of
the seven-circled Maze; to explain it, as he does to the inquiring, by
the analogy of a billiard table with its pockets. For never yet, on any
billiard table, was a race run and a contest waged like that in which
these young men and girls ran and contended. Drawn up at the far end of
the hall under the east gallery in two ranks, four-breasted, the men on
the one side and the women on the other, they waited, and the leader of
each rank had a foot on a corner circle. They waited, marking time with
their feet, first, to the thudding beat of the barbell on the floor and
then to an unheard measure, secret and restrained, the murmur of life in
the blood, the rhythm of the soundless will, the beat of the unseen,
urging energy, that gathered to intensity, desirous of the race.

As yet the soul of it slept in their rigid bodies, their grave,
forward-looking faces, their behavior, so excessively correct. Somebody
whispered the word, and on a sudden they let themselves go; they
started. Young Tyser, breasting the wind of his own speed, his head
uplifted and thrown backward, led the men, and she with the questing
face and wide-pointing breasts of Artemis led the girls; and he had
young Ransome on his heels and she Winny; and behind them the fourfold
serried ranks thinned and thinned out and spun themselves in two lines
of single file, two threads, one white, one dark blue, both flecked with
crimson, two threads that in their running were wound and unwound and
woven in a pattern, dark blue and white and crimson, that ran and never
paused and never ended and was never the same. For first, each line was
flung slantwise from the corner circle whence it had started, and where
the two met, point by point perpetually, in the center circle, they as
it were intersected, men and women wriggling, sliding, and darting with
incredible dexterity through each other's ranks; and the pattern was a
cross, a tricolor. Then they wheeled round the circle that was and was
not their goal, and did it all over again; but instead of intersecting
at the center circle they struck off there at a tangent, and the
pattern, blue by blue divided from white by white, and all red-flecked,
was two wide V's set point to point, a pattern that ran away and
vanished as each thread, returning, wheeled round the circle whence the
other thread had started.

And all this at the top speed set by Tyser, and with the thud of the
men's feet and the pad of the women's; all this with a secret challenge
and defiance of one sex to the other, with separation and estrangement,
with a never-ending, baffling approach and flight, with the furtive
darting of man from woman and of woman from man, whirled in their
courses from each other as they met.

And now the lines doubled; they were running two abreast, slantwise; and
as they intersected in the sacred center circle it was with a mingling
of the threads, a weaving of blue with white, and white with blue; so
that each man had in flight before him a maiden, and so that at their
circles, east and west, where they wheeled they wheeled together, side
by side, as the Maze flung them. And now they were circling and
serpentining up and down, and down and up, with contrary motion, in a
double figure of eight; they were winding in and out among the pillars
and wheeling round the middle circles north and south, side by side,
till they split there and parted and met again in the center and were
flung from it, to wheel again deliriously, double-ringed, round all the
six outermost circles at once.

And now, as if they were torn from the ends of the earth by the
irresistible attraction of the seventh circle, they were whirling round
the center in a double ring, a ring of young men round a ring of girls;
and then, as by some mysterious compulsion, they divided and cast
themselves off in rows of two couples, man and girl by man and girl,
linked with arms on each other's shoulders, eight rows in all, eight
spokes that sprang from the sacred circle ringed with eight, four men
and four girls, who were the felly of the wheel, all running, all
revolving. Such was the magic of the Maze, and the unconscious genius of
the instructor, that the pattern of the running wound and unwound and
knit itself together in the supreme symbol of the great Wheel of Eight
Spokes, the Wheel of Life.

And the ancient rhythmic rush and race of the worlds, and the wheeling
of all stars, the swinging and dancing of all atoms, the streaming and
eddying of the ancestral stuff of life was in the whirling of that
living Wheel; it was one immortal motion, continuous and triumphant in
the bodies of those men and maidens as they ran. And they, shop-girls
and shop-boys and young clerks, slipped off their memories of the desk
and counter, and a joy, an instinct, and a sense that had no memory woke
in them, savage, virgin, and shy; the pure and perfect joy of the young
body in its own strength and speed; the instinct of the hunter of the
hills and woodlands; the sense of feet padding on grass and fallen
leaves, of ears pricking alert, of eyes that face the dawn on the high
downs and go glancing through the coverts. And as this radiant and
vehement life rose in them like a tide their gravity and shyness and
severity passed from them; here and there hair was loosened, combs were
shed, and nobody stopped to gather them; for frenzy seized on the young
men, and their arms pressed on the girls' shoulders, urging the pace
faster and faster; and light, swift as their flying feet, shot from
their eyes, and they laughed each to the other as they ran. So divine
was now the madness of their running, so inspired the whirling of the
Wheel, that the thing showed plainly as the undying, immemorial ecstasy;
showed as the secret dance of magic and of mystery, taken over by the
London Polytechnic, and, at the very moment when its corybantic nature
most declared itself, constrained to an order and a beauty tremendous
and austere.

So wise and powerful was the London Polytechnic.

For Ransome, mixed with that joy of the running, there was a joy of his
own, an instinct and a sense, virgin and shy, absolved from memory. He
found it, when Winny Dymond ran before him, in the slender, innocent
movement of her hips under her thin tunic, in the absurd flap-flapping
of the door-knocker plat on her shoulders, in the glances flicked at him
by the tail of her eye as she wheeled from him in the endless pursuit
and capture and approach and flight, as she was parted, was flung from
him and returned to him in the windings of the Maze. He found it to
perfection in the pressure of each other's arms as the Maze wed them and
whirled them running, locked together in the pattern of the wheel. It
was not love so much as some inspired sense of comradeship mingled
inextricably with that other sense of absurdity and tenderness.

Not love, not passion, even when in the excitement of the running she
swerved to the wrong side and he had to turn her with his two hands upon
her waist. For it was the law of their running that, though it was one
with the movement of life itself, mysteriously, while the thing lasted,
it precluded passion.



CHAPTER IV


Ransome left Winny Dymond at St. Ann's Terrace, and went home along the
High Street. He went very slowly, as if in thought.

At the railings of the Parish Church he paused, recalling something. Low
and square-towered, couchant in the moonlight behind its railings, the
Parish Church guarded under its long flank its huddled graves.

He smiled for very Youth. It was here that he had run Winny to earth and
caught her. The Parish Church had been his accomplice in that capture.

Wandsworth High Street twists and winds with the waywardness of a river.
The first turn brought him to the old stone bridge over the Wandle. On
the bridge before him, in the crook of the street, were the booths and
stalls of the night market, lit by blazing naphtha, color heaped on
color in a leaping, waving flare as of torches. On either side was a
twisted and jagged line of houses--brown-brick, flat-fronted,
eighteenth-century houses, and houses with painted fronts. Here a tall,
red-brick modern Parade shot up the gables of its insolent facade.
There, oldest of all, a yellow house stooped forward on the posts that
propped it. Somewhere up in the sky a tall chimney and a cupola. All
beautiful under the night, all dark or dim, with sudden flashes and
pallors and gleams, lamplit and moonlit; and all impressed upon
Ransome's brain with an extraordinary vividness and importance, as if he
had suddenly discovered something new about Wandsworth High Street.

What he had discovered was the blessedness of living as he did in
Wandsworth High Street within three minutes' walk of St. Ann's Terrace.

To be sure, what with the shop and the storage for drugs, Ransome's
father's house, with Ransome and his father and his mother and Mercier
and the maid in it, was somewhat cramped. And neither Ransome nor his
father nor his mother knew how beautiful it was with its brown-brick
front, its steep-pitched roof, and the two dormer windows looking down
on the High Street like two sleepy eyes under drooping lids. A narrow
slip of a house, it stood a foot or two back between the wine merchant's
and John Randall the draper's shop, and had the air of being squeezed
out of existence by them. Yet the name of Fulleymore Ransome, in gold
letters on a black ground, and with Pharmaceutical Chemist under it in a
scroll, more than held its own beside John Randall. The chemist's
dignity was further proclaimed by the immense bottles, three in a row
(the Carboys, Mr. Ransome called them), holding the magic liquids, a
blue, a red, and a yellow, wide-bellied at the base, and with pyramids
for stoppers. Under them, dividing the window pane, a narrow gold band
with black lettering advertised three distinct mineral waters.

A yellow-ochre blind now screened the lower half of that window. Drawn
down unevenly and tilted at the bottom corner, it suffered a vague
glimpse of objects that from his earliest years had never ceased to
offend Ranny's sense of the beautiful and fit.

He had not as yet considered very deeply the problems of his life.
Otherwise, in returning every night to his father's house, it must have
struck him that he was not what you might call a free man. For his
father's house had no door except the shop door, and it was the
peculiarity of that shop door that it did not admit of any latch key.
Every night young Ransome had to ring, and it was usually Mercier, with
his abominable smile, who let him in.

To-night the door was opened cautiously on the chain and somebody
whispered, "Is that you, Ranny?"

The chain was slipped, and he entered.

A small bead of gas burned on a bracket somewhere behind the counter.
The light slid, pale as water, over the glass and mahogany of the
show-cases, wherein white objects appeared as confused and disconnected
patches. The darkness effaced every object in the shop that was not
white, with the queer effect that rows upon rows of white jars showed as
if hanging on it unsupported by their shelves. Very close, turned up to
him out of the darkness, was Ranny's mother's face. He kissed it.

"Where's that Mercier?" said Ranny's mother.

"What? Isn't he back yet?"

"No," said Ranny's mother. "And your father's got the Headache."

By a tender and most pardonable confusion between the symptoms and its
cause Ranny's mother had hit upon a phrase that made it possible for
them to discuss his father's affliction without the smallest, most
shadowy reference to its essential nature. For Ranny's mother, such
reference would have been the last profanity, a sacrilege committed
against the divinities of the hearth and of the marriage bed. But for
that phrase Mr. Ransome's weakness must have been passed in silence as
the unspeakable, incredible, unthinkable thing it was.

At the phrase, more frequent in his mother's mouth than ever, Ranny drew
in his lips for a whistle; but instead of whistling he said, "Poor old
Humming-bird."

"It's one of His bad ones," said Ranny's mother.

He raised the flap of the counter, and they went through. He turned up
the gas so that the outlines of things asserted themselves and the
labels on the white jars gave out their secret gold. On one of these
labels, Hydrarg. Amm., which had no meaning for him, Ranny fixed a
fascinated gaze, thus avoiding the revelations of his mother's face.

For Ranny's mother's face showed that she had been crying.

Plump, and yet not large, her figure and her face were formed for gaiety
and charm. Her little nose was uptilted like Ranny's; but something that
was not gaiety, but pathos, had dragged down and made tremulous the
corners of a mouth that had once been tilted too--a flowerlike mouth, of
the same tender texture as her face, a face that was once one wide-open,
innocent pink flower. Now it was washed out and burnt with the courses
of her tears. Worry had fretted her soft forehead into lines and twisted
her eyebrows in an expression as of permanent surprise at life's
handiwork. And under them her dim-blue eyes, red-lidded, looked out with
the same sorrow and dismay. There was nothing left of her beauty but
her exuberant light-brown hair, which she dressed high on her head with
a twist and a topknot piteously reminiscent of gaiety and charm.

She laid her hand on the knob of the left-hand inner door.

"He's in the dispensin'-room," she said.

Ranny turned round. His features tilted slightly, compelled by something
preposterous in the vision she had evoked.

"Whatever game is he playin' there?"

A faint flicker passed over his mother's face, as if it pleased her that
he could talk in that way.

"Prescription," she said, and paused between her words to let it sink
into him. "Makin' it up, he is. Old Mr. Beesley's heart mixture."

"My Hat!" said Ranny. He was impressed by the gravity of the situation.

There were all sorts of things, such as toothbrushes, patent medicines,
babies' comforters, that Ranny's father with a Headache, or Ranny
himself or his mother could be trusted to dispense at a moment's notice.
But the drug strophanthus, prescribed for old Mr. Beesley, was not one
of them. It was tricky stuff. He knew all about it; Mercier had told
him. Whether it was to do Mr. Beesley good or not would depend on the
precise degree and kind of Ranny's father's Headache.

"I've never known your father's Headache so bad as it is to-night," said
Ranny's mother. "As for makin' up prescriptions, sufferin' as He is,
He's not fit for it. He's not fit for it, Ranny."

That was as near as she could go.

"Of course he isn't."

(They had to keep it up together.)

But Ranny's mother felt that she had gone too far.

"He ought to be in His bed--"

"Of course he ought," said Ranny, tenderly.

"And He would be if it wasn't for that Mercier."

Thus subtly did she intimate that it was not his father but Mercier
whose behavior was reprehensible.

"P'r'aps you'll go to him, Ranny?"

"Hadn't we better wait for Mercier?"

(Old Mr. Beesley's mixture was a case for Mercier.)

"Him? Goodness knows when he'll be in. And it's not likely that y'r
father'll have him interferin' with him. They're sendin' at ten past
eleven, and it's five past now."

Thus and thus only did she suggest the necessity for immediate action.
Also her fear lest Mercier should find Mr. Ransome out. As if Mercier
had not found him out long ago; as if he hadn't warned Ranny, time and
again, of what might happen.

"All right, I'll go."

       *       *       *       *       *

He went by the right-hand door at the back of the shop, and down a short
and exceedingly narrow passage, lined with shallow shelves for the
storage of drugs.

Another door at the end of the passage led straight into the
dispensing-room outside, a long shed of corrugated iron run up against
the garden wall and lined with honey-colored pine. Under a wide stretch
of window was a work table. At one end of this table was a slab of
white marble; at the other a porcelain sink fitted with taps and sprays
for hot and cold water. From the far end of the room where the stove was
came a smothered roar of gas flames. On the broken inner wall were
shelves fitted with drawers of all sizes, each with its label, and above
them other shelves with row after row of jars. Near the stove, more
shelves with more and more jars, with phials, kettles, pannikins, and
pipkins. Everywhere else shelves of medicine bottles, innumerable
medicine bottles of all sorts and sizes, giving to the honey-colored
walls a decorative glimmer of sea-blue and sea-green.

All this was brilliantly illuminated with gas that burned on every
bracket.

To Ransome's senses it was as if the faint, the delicate colors of the
place gave a more frightful grossness and pungency to its smell. Dying
asafetida struggled still with gas fumes, and was pierced by another
odor, a sharp and bitter odor that he knew.

At the long table, under the hanging gaselier, in shirt sleeves and
apron, Mr. Ransome stood. The light fell full on his sallow baldness and
its ring of iron-gray hair; on his sallow, sickly face; on his little
long, peaked nose with its peevish nostrils; even on his thin and
irritable mouth, unhidden by the scanty, close-trimmed iron-gray
mustache and beard. He was weedy to the last degree.

Ranny came near and gazed inscrutably at this miracle of physical
unfitness. Under his gaze the pitiful and insignificant figure bore
itself as with a majesty of rectitude.

Mr. Ransome had before him a prescription, a medicine bottle, a large
bottle of distilled water, two measuring-glasses, and a smaller bottle
half full of a pale-amber liquid. He had been standing motionless,
staring at these objects with a peculiar and intent solemnity. Now, as
if challenged and challenging, he drew the smaller measuring-glass
toward him with one hand. He held it to the light and moved his finger
nail slowly along the middle measuring line. Then with two hands that
trembled he poured into it a part of the infusion. The liquid went
tink-tinkling in a succession of little jerks. He held it to the light;
it rose a good inch above the line he had marked. He shook his head at
it slowly, with an air of admonition and reproof, and poured it back
into the bottle.

This process he repeated seven times, always with the same solemn
intentness, the same reproving and admonitory air.

At his seventh failure he turned with the dignity of a man overmastered
by outrageous circumstance.

"Mercier not in?" he asked, sternly. (You would have said it was his son
Randall that he admonished and reproved.)

"Not yet," said Ranny. And as he said it he possessed himself very
gently of the measuring-glass and bottle. (Mr. Ransome affected not to
notice this man[oe]uver.)

"What is it?"

"Tincture of strophanthus, sodæ bicarb., and spirits of chloroform. Just
you mind how you handle it."

"Right-O!" said Ranny.

The chemist's small, iron-gray eyes were fixed on him with severity and
resentment.

"How much?" said Ranny.

"Up to three." Mr. Ransome's head was steadier than his hand.

Ranny poured the dose.

"Ac-acqua distillata--to eight ounces," said Mr. Ransome, disjointedly,
but with an extreme incision.

Ranny poured again, and decanted the medicine into its bottle through a
funnel, corked it, tied on the capsule, labeled, addressed, wrapped, and
sealed it. The long-drawn, subtle corners of Ranny's eyes and mouth were
lifted in that irrepressible smile of his, while Mr. Ransome asserted
his pharmaceutical dignity by acrimonious comment. "_Now_ then! You
might have club feet instead of hands. Tha's right--mess the
sealin'-wax, waste the string, spoil anything you haven't got to pay
for. That'll do."

Mr. Ransome took the parcel from his son's hand, turned it round and
round under the gaslight, laid it down, and dismissed it with a flick as
of contempt for his incompetence. At that Ranny gave way and giggled.

Ten minutes later he and his mother stood in the doorway of the back
parlor and watched the master's superb and solitary ascent to his
bedroom on the first floor back. It was then that Ranny; still smiling,
delivered his innermost opinion.

"Queer old Humming-bird. Ain't he, Mar?"

His mother shook her head at him. "Oh, Ranny," she said, "you shouldn't
speak so disrespectful of your father."

But she kissed him for it, all the same.



CHAPTER V


That was how they kept it up together.

Not that Mrs. Ransome was conscious of keeping it up, of ministering to
an illusion as monstrous as it was absurd. She had married Mr. Ransome,
believing with a final and absolute conviction in his wisdom and his
goodness. What she was keeping up had kept up for twenty-two years, and
would keep up forever, was the attitude of her undying youth. It was its
triumph over life itself.

In her youth the draper's daughter had been dazzled by Mr. Ransome, by
his attainments, his position, his distinction. Fulleymore Ransome had
about him the small refinement of the suburban shopkeeper, made finer by
the intellectual processes that had turned him out a Pharmaceutical
Chemist.

In her world of Wandsworth High Street his grave, fastidious figure had
stood for everything that was superior. He was superior still. He had
never offered his Headache as a spectacle to the public eye. Born in
secrecy and solitude, it remained unseen outside the sacred circle of
his home. Even there he had contrived to create around it an atmosphere
of mystery. So that it was open to Mrs. Ransome to regard each Headache
as an accident, a thing apart, solitary and miraculous in its
occurrence. Faced with the incredible fact, she found a certain
gratification in the thought that Mr. Ransome's position enabled him to
order the best spirit wholesale, and with a professional impunity. So
inviolate was his privacy that not even the wine and spirit merchant
next door could gage the amount of his expenditure in this item.

Thus, in Mrs. Ransome's eyes, the worst Headache he had ever had could
not impair his innermost integrity. Her vision of him was inspired by an
innocence and sincerity that were of the substance of her soul. And in
this optimism she had brought up her son.

Ranny, with his venturesomeness, had carried it a step further. For
Ranny, not only did Mr. Ransome's inebriety conceal itself under the
name of Headache, but in those hours when the Headache cast its
intolerable gloom over the household Ranny persisted--from his childhood
he had persisted--in regarding his father, perversely, as the source and
fount of joy.

It was in this happy light he saw him on Sunday morning, when Mrs.
Ransome came into the back parlor, where he was hiding his paper, _The
Pink 'Un_, behind him under the sofa cushions. She was wearing her new
slaty-gray gown with the lace collar, and a head-dress that combined the
decorum of the bonnet with the levity and fascination of the hat. Black
it was, with a spray of damask roses and their leaves, that spring
upward from Mrs. Ransome's left ear.

"Your father's goin' to church," she said.

Ranny sat up among his cushions and said: "Oh, Lord! That Humming-bird's
a fair treat."

He took it as a supreme instance of his father's humor.

But that was not the way Mrs. Ransome meant that he should take it.
Ranny's admiration implied that the Humming-bird was carrying it off,
successfully, if you like, but still carrying it. Whereas what she
desired him to see was that there was nothing to be carried off.
Obviously there could not be, when Mr. Ransome was prepared to go to
church.

For the going to church of Mr. Ransome was itself a ritual, a high
religious ceremony. Hitherto he had kept himself pure for it, abstaining
from all Headache overnight. It was this habitual consecration of Mr.
Ransome that made his last lapse so remarkable and so important, while
it revealed it as fortuitous. Ranny had missed the deep logic of his
mother's statement. Mr. Ransome was sidesman at the Parish Church, and
at no time was the Headache compatible with being sidesman.

Nothing had ever interfered with the slow pageant of Mr. Ransome's
progress toward church. Outside in the passage he was lingering over his
preparations: the adjustment of his tie, the brushing of his tall hat,
the drawing on of the dogskin gloves he wore in his office. It was not
easy for Mr. Ransome to exceed the professional dignity of his frock
coat and gray trousers, and yet every Sunday, by some miracle, he did
exceed it. Each minute irreproachable detail of his dress accentuated,
reiterated, the suggestion of his perpetual sobriety.

Still, there remained the memory of last night. Mrs. Ransome did not
evade it; on the contrary, she used it to demonstrate the indomitable
power of Mr. Ransome's will.

"_I_ say he ought to be layin' down," she said. "But there--He won't.
You know what He is since He's been sidesman. It's my belief He'd rise
up off his deathbed to hand that plate. It's his duty to go, and go He
will if He drops. That's your father all over."

"That's Him," Ranny assented.

His mother looked him in the face. It was the look, familiar to Ranny on
a Sunday morning, that, while it reinstated Ranny's father in his
rectitude, contrived subtly, insidiously, to put Ranny in the wrong.

"You're going, too," his mother said.

Well, no, he wasn't exactly going. Not, that was to say, to any church
in Wandsworth. (He had, in fact, a pressing engagement to meet young
Tyser at the first easterly signpost on Putney Common, and cycle with
him to Richmond.)

"It's only a spin," said Ranny, though the look on his mother's face was
enough to tell him that a spin, on a Sunday, was dissipation, and he,
recklessly, iniquitously spinning, a prodigal most unsuitably descended
from an upright father.

And then (this happened nearly every Sunday) Ranny set himself to charm
away that look from his mother's face. First of all he said she was a
tip-topper, a howling swell, and asked her where _she_ expected to go to
in that hat, nippin' in and cuttin' all the girls out, and she a married
woman and a mother; and whether it wouldn't be fairer all around, and
much more proper, if she was to wear something in the nature of a veil?
Then he buttoned up her gloves over her little fat wrists and kissed her
in several places where the veil ought to have been; and when he had
informed her that "the Humming-bird was a regular toff," and had
dismissed them both with his blessing, standing on the doorstep of the
shop, he wheeled his bicycle out into the street, mounted it, and
followed at the pace of a walking funeral until his parents had
disappeared into the Parish Church.

Then Ranny, in his joy, set up a prolonged ringing of his bicycle bell,
as it were the cry of his young soul, a shrill song of triumph and
liberation and delight. And in his own vivid phrase, he "let her rip."

Of course he was a prodigal, a wastrel, a spendthrift. Going the pace,
he was, with a vengeance, like a razzling-dazzling, devil-may-care young
dog.

A prodigal driven by the lust of speed, dissipating his divine energies
in this fierce whirling of the wheels; scattering his youth to the sun
and his strength to the wind in the fury of riotous "biking." A
drunkard, mad-drunk, blind-drunk with the draught of his onrush.

That was Ranny on a Sunday morning.

       *       *       *       *       *

He returned, at one o'clock, to a dinner of roast mutton and apple tart.
Conversation was sustained, for Mercier's benefit, at the extreme pitch
of politeness and precision. It seemed to Ranny that at Sunday dinner
his father reached, socially, a very high level. It seemed so to Mrs.
Ransome as she bloomed and flushed in a brief return of her beauty above
the mutton and the tart. She bloomed and flushed every time that Mr.
Ransome did anything that proved his goodness and his wisdom. Sunday was
the day in which she most believed in him, the day set apart for her
worship of him.

By what blindfolded pieties, what subterfuges, what evasions she had
achieved her own private superstition was unknown, even to herself. It
was by courage and the magic of personality--some evocation of her lost
gaiety and charm--but above all by courage that she had contrived to
impose it upon other people.

The cult of Mr. Ransome reached its height at four o'clock on this
Sunday afternoon, when Ranny's Uncle John Randall (Junior) and Aunt
Randall dropped in to tea. Both Mr. and Mrs. Randall believed in Mr.
Ransome with the fervent, immovable faith of innocence that has once for
all taken an idea into its head. Long ago they had taken it into their
heads that Mr. Ransome was a wise and good man. They had taken it on
hearsay, on conjecture, on perpetual suggestion conveyed by Mrs.
Ransome, and on the grounds--absolutely incontrovertible--that they had
never heard a word to the contrary. Never, until the other day, when
that young Mercier came to Wandsworth. And, as Mrs. Randall said,
everybody knew what he was. Whatever it was that Mr. Randall had heard
from young Mercier and told to Mrs. Randall, the two had agreed to hold
their tongues about it, for Emmy's sake, and not to pass it on. Wild
horses, Mrs. Randall said, wouldn't drag it out of her.

Not that they believed or could believe such a thing of Mr. Ransome, who
had been known in Wandsworth for five-and-twenty years before that young
Mercier was so much as born. And by holding their tongues about it and
not passing it on they had succeeded in dismissing from their minds, for
long intervals at a time, the story they had heard about Mr. Ransome.
"For, mind you," said Mr. Randall, "if it got about it would ruin him.
Ruin him it would. As much as if it was true."

Long afterward when she thought of that Sunday, and how beautifully
they'd spoken of Mr. Ransome; that Sunday when they had had tea upstairs
in the best parlor on the front; that Sunday that had been half pleasure
and half pain; that strange and ominous Sunday when poor Ranny had
broken out and been so wild; long afterward, when she thought of it,
Mrs. Ransome found that tears were in her eyes.

She had no idea then that they had heard anything. Family affection was
what you looked for from the Randalls, and on Sundays they showed it by
a frequent dropping in to tea.

John Randall, the draper, was a fine man. A tall, erect, full-fronted
man, a superb figure in a frock coat. A man with a florid, handsome
face, clean-shaved for the greater salience of his big mustache (dark,
grizzled like his hair). A man with handsome eyes--prominent, slightly
bloodshot, generous eyes. He might have passed for a soldier but for
something that detracted, something that Ranny noticed. But even Ranny
hesitated to call it flabbiness in so fine a man.

Mr. Randall had married a woman who had been even finer than himself.
And she was still fine, with her black hair dressed in a prominent
pompadour, and her figure curbed by the tightness of her Sunday gown.
Under her polished hair Mrs. Randall's face shone with a blond pallor.
It had grown up gradually round her features, and they, becoming more
and more insignificant, were now merged in its general expression of
good will. Ranny noted with wonder this increasing simplification of
his Aunt Randall's face.

She entered as if under stress, towing her large husband through the
doorway, and in and out among the furniture.

The room that received them was full of furniture, walnut wood,
mid-Victorian in design, upholstered in rep, which had faded from
crimson to an agreeable old rose. Rep curtains over Nottingham lace hung
from the two windows. There was a davenport between them, and, opposite,
a cabinet with a looking-glass back in three arches. It was Mr.
Ransome's social distinction that he had inherited this walnut-wood
furniture. Modernity was represented by a brand-new overmantle in
stained wood and beveled glass, with little shelves displaying Japanese
vases. The wall paper turned this front parlor into a bower of gilt
roses (slightly tarnished on a grayish ground).

And as Mrs. Ransome sat at the head of the oval table in the center you
would never have known that she was the woman with red eyes, the
furtive, whispering woman who had opened the door to her son Randall
last night. She sat in a most correct and upright attitude, she looked
at John Randall and his wife, and smiled and flushed with gladness and
with pride. It took so little to make her glad and proud. She was glad
that Bessie was wearing the black and white which was so becoming to
her. She was glad that there was honey as well as jam for tea, and that
she had not cut the cake before they came. She was proud of her teapot,
and of the appearance of her room. She was proud of Mr. Ransome's
appearance at the table (where he sat austerely), and of her brother,
John Randall, who looked so like a military man.

And John Randall talked; he talked; it was what he had come for. He had
a right to talk. He was a member of the Borough Council, an important
man, a man (it was said of him) with "ideas." He was a Liberal; and so,
for that matter, was Mr. Ransome. Both were of the good, safe middle
class, and took the good, safe, middle line.

They sat there; the Nottingham lace curtains veiled them from the gazes
of the street, but their voices, raised in discussion, could be most
distinctly heard; for the window was a little open, letting in the
golden afternoon. They sat and drank tea and abused the Tory Government.
Not any one Tory Government, but all Tory Governments. Mr. Ransome said
that all Tory Governments were bad. Mr. Randall, aiming at precision,
said he wouldn't say they were bad so much as stupid, cowardly, and
dishonest. Stupid, because they were incapable of the ideas the Liberals
had. Cowardly, because they let the Liberals do all the fighting for
ideas. Dishonest, because they stole the ideas, purloined 'em, carried
them out, and sneaked the credit.

And when Ranny asked if it mattered who got the credit provided they
_were_ carried out, Mr. Randall replied solemnly that it did matter, my
boy. It mattered a great deal. Credit was everything, the nation's
confidence was everything. A Government lived on credit and on nothing
else. And his father told him that he hadn't understood what his uncle
had been saying.

"If anybody asks _me_--" said Mr. Ransome. He interrupted himself to
stare terribly at Mrs. Ransome, who was sending a signal to her son and
a whisper, "Have a little slice of gingercake, Ran dear."

"If anybody asks me _my_ objection to a Tory Government, I'll put it for
'em," said Mr. Ransome, "in a nutshell."

"Let's have it, Fulleymore," said Mr. Randall.

And Mr. Ransome let him have it--in a nutshell.

"With a Tory Government you always, sooner or later, have a war. And
who," said Mr. Ransome, "_wants_ war?"

Mr. Randall bowed and made a motion of his hand toward his
brother-in-law, a complicated gesture which implied destruction of all
Tory Governments, homage to Mr. Ransome, and dismissal of the subject as
definitively settled by him.

Mrs. Ransome seized the moment to raise her eyebrows and the teapot
toward Mrs. Randall, and to whisper again, surreptitiously, "Jest
another little drain of tea?"

Then Ranny, who had tilted his chair most dangerously backward, was
heard saying something. A bit of scrap, now and then, with other nations
was, in Ranny's opinion, a jolly good thing. Kept you from gettin'
Flabby. Kept you Fit.

Mr. Randall, in a large, forbearing manner, dealt with Ranny. He wanted
to know whether he, Ranny, thought that the world was one almighty Poly.
Gym.?

And Mr. Ransome answered: "That's precisely what he does think. Made for
his amusement, the world is."

Ranny was young, and so they all treated him as if he were neither good
nor wise.

And Ranny, desperately tilted backward, looked at them all with a smile
that almost confirmed his father's view of his philosophy. He was
working up for his great outbreak. He could feel the laughter struggling
in his throat.

"I don't say," said Mr. Ransome, ignoring his son's folly, "that I'm
complaining of this Boer War in especial. If anything"--he weighed it,
determined, in his rectitude, to be just even to the war--"if anything
we sold more of some things."

"Now what," said Mrs. Randall, "do you sell most of in time of war?"

"Sleepin' draughts, heart mixture, nerve tonic, stomach mixture, and so
forth."

"And he can tell you," said Mr. Randall, "to a month's bookin' what
meddycine he'll sell."

"What's more," said the chemist, with a sinister intonation, "I can tell
who'll want 'em."

"Can you reelly now?" said Mrs. Randall. "Why, Fulleymore, you should
have been a doctor. Shouldn't he, Emmy?"

Mrs. Ransome laughed softly in her pride. "He couldn't be much more than
He is. Why, He doctors half the poor people in Wandsworth. They all come
to Him, whether it's toothache or bronchitis or the influenza, or a
housemaid with a whitlow on her finger, and He prescribes for all. If
all the doctors in Wandsworth died to-morrow some of us would be no
worse off."

"Many's the doctor's bill he's saved me," said Mr. Randall.

"Yes, but it's a tryin' life for Him, sufferin' as He is in 'is own
'ealth. Never knowin' when the night bell won't ring, and He have to get
up out of his warm bed. He doesn't spare Himself, I can tell you."

And on they went for another quarter of an hour, boldly asserting,
delicately hinting, subtly suggesting that Mr. Ransome was a good man;
as if, Ranny reflected, anybody had ever said he wasn't. Mr. Ransome
withdrew himself to his armchair by the fireplace, and the hymn of
praise went on; it flowed round him where he sat morose and remote; and
Ranny, in the window seat, was silent, listening with an inscrutable
intentness to the three voices that ran on. He marveled at the way they
kept it up. When his mother's light soprano broke, breathless for a
moment, on a top note, Mrs. Randall's rich, guttural contralto came to
its support, Mr. Randall supplying a running accompaniment of bass. And
now they burst, all three of them, into anecdote and reminiscence,
illustrating what they were all agreed about, that Mr. Ransome was a
good man.

Nobody asked Ranny to join in; nobody knew, nobody cared what he was
thinking, least of all Mr. Ransome.

He was thinking that he had asked Fred Booty in to tea, and that he had
forgotten to say anything about it to his mother, and that Fred was
late, and that his father wouldn't like it.

       *       *       *       *       *

He didn't. He didn't like it at all. He didn't like Fred Booty to begin
with, and when the impudent young monkey arrived after the others had
gone, and had to have fresh tea made for him, thus accentuating and
prolonging the unpleasantly, the intolerably festive hour, Mr. Ransome
felt that he had been tried to the utmost, and that courtesy and
forbearance had gone far enough for one Sunday. So he refused to speak
when he was spoken to. He turned his back on his family and on Booty. He
impressed them with his absolute and perfect disapproval.

For, as the Headache worked in Mr. Ransome, all young and gay and
innocent things became abominable to him. Especially young things with
spirits and appetites like his son Randall and Fred Booty. This
afternoon they inspired him with a peculiar loathing and disgust. So did
the malignant cheerfulness maintained by his wife. Escape no doubt was
open to him. He might have left the room and sat by himself in the back
parlor. But he spared them this humiliation. Outraged as he was, he
would not go to the extreme length of forsaking them. He was a good man;
and, as a good man, he would not be separated from his family, though he
loathed it. So he hung about the room where they were; he brooded over
it; he filled it with the spirit of the Headache. Young Booty became so
infected, so poisoned with this presence that his nervous system
suffered, and he all but choked over his tea. Young Booty, with his
humor and his wit, the joy of Poly. Ramblers, sat in silence, miserably
blushing, crumbling with agitated fingers the cake he dared not eat, and
all the time trying not to look at Ranny.

For if he looked at Ranny he would be done for; he would not be able to
contain himself, beholding how Ranny stuck it, and what he made of it,
that intolerable, that incredible Sunday afternoon; how he saw it
through; how he got back on it and found in it his own. For, as Mr.
Ransome went from gloom to gloom, Ranny's spirit soared, indomitable,
and his merriment rose in him, wave on wave.

What he could make of it Booty saw in an instant when Mr. Ransome left
the room at the summons of the shop-bell. Ranny, with a smile of
positive affection, watched him as he went.

"Queer old percher, ain't he?" Ranny said.

Then he let himself go, addressing himself to Booty.

"The old Porcupine may seem to you a trifle melancholy and morose. You
can't see what's goin' on in his mind. You've no ideer of the glee he
bottles up inside himself. Fair bubblin' and sparklin' in him, it is.
Some day he'll bust out with it. I shouldn't be surprised if, at any
moment now, he was to break out into song."

Booty, very hot and uncomfortable under Mrs. Ransome's eyes, affected to
reprove him. "You dry up, you young rotter. Jolly lot of bottlin' up
there is about you."

But there was that in Ranny which seemed as if it would never dry up. He
hopped a chair seven times running, out of pure light-heartedness. The
sound of the hopping brought Mr. Ransome in a fury from the shop below.
He stood in the doorway, absurd as to his stature, but tremendous in the
expression of the gloom that was his soul.

"What's goin' on here?" he asked, in a voice that would have thundered
if it could.

"It's me," said Ranny. "Practisin'."

"I won't 'ave it then. I'll 'ave none of this leapin' and jumpin' over
the shop on a Sunday afternoon. Pandemonium it is. 'Aven't you got all
the week for your silly monkey tricks? I won't 'ave this room used,
Mother, if he can't behave himself in it of a Sunday."

And he slammed the door on himself.

"On Sunday evenin'," said his son, imperturbably, as if there had been
no interruption, "eight-thirty to eleven, at his residence, High Street,
Wandsworth, Mr. Fulleymore Ransome will give an Entertainment. Humorous
Impersonations: Mr. F. Ransome. Step Dancin': Mr. F. Ransome. Ladies are
requested to remove their hats. Song: _Put Me Among the Girls_, Mr. F.
Ransome--"

"For shame, Ranny," said his mother, behind her pocket handkerchief.

"--There will be a short interval for refreshment, when festivities will
conclude with a performance on the French Horn: Mr. F. Ransome."

His mother laughed as she always did (relieved that he could take it
that way); but this time, through all her laughter, he could see that
there was something wrong.

And in the evening, when he had returned from seeing Booty home, she
told him what it was. They were alone together in the front parlor.

"Ranny," she said, suddenly; "if I were you I wouldn't bring strangers
in for a bit while your father's sufferin' as he is."

"Oh, I say, Mother--"

Ranny was disconcerted, for he had been going to ask her if he might
bring Winny Dymond in some day.

"Well," she said, "it isn't as if He was one that could get away by
Himself, like. He's always in and out."

"Yes. The old Hedgehog scuttles about pretty ubiquitous, don't he?"

That was all he said.

But though he took it like that, he knew his mother's heart; he knew
what it had cost her to give him that pitiful hint. He was balancing
himself on the arm of her chair now, and hanging over her like a lover.

He had always been more like a lover to her than a son. Mr. Ransome's
transports (if he could be said to have transports) of affection were
violent, with long intermissions and most brief. Ranny had ways, soft
words, cajoleries, caresses that charmed her in her secret desolation.
Balancing himself on the arm of her chair, he had his face hidden in the
nape of her neck, where he affected ecstasy and the sniffing in of
fragrance, as if his mother were a flower.

"What do you _do_?" said Ranny. "Do you bury yourself in violets all
night, or what?"

"Violets indeed! Get along with you!"

"Violets aren't in it with your neck, Mother--nor roses neither. What
did God Almighty think he was making when he made you?"

"Don't you dare to speak so," said his mother, smiling secretly.

"Lord bless you! _He_ don't mind," said Ranny. "He's not like Par."

And he plunged into her neck again and burrowed there.

"Ranny, if you knew how you worried me, you wouldn't do it. You reelly
wouldn't. I don't know what'll come to you, goin' on so reckless."

"It's because I love you," said Ranny, half stifled with his burrowing.
"You fair drive me mad. I could eat you, Mother, and thrive on it."

"Get along with you! There! You're spoiling all my Sunday lace."

Ranny emerged, and his mother looked at him.

"Such a sight as you are. If you could see yourself," she said.

She raised her hand and stroked, not without tenderness, his rumpled
hair.

"P'r'aps--If you had a sweetheart, Ran, you'd leave off makin' a fool of
your old mother."

"I wouldn't leave off kissin' her," said he.

And then, suddenly, it struck him that he had never kissed Winny. He
hadn't even thought of it. He saw her fugitive, swift-darting,
rebellious rather than reluctant under his embrace; and at the thought
he blushed, suddenly, all over.

His mother was unaware that his kisses had become dreamy, tentative,
foreboding. She said to herself: "When his time comes there'll be no
holding him. But he isn't one that'll be in a hurry, Ranny isn't."

She took comfort from that thought.



CHAPTER VI


Ranny had received his first intimation that he was not a free man. And
it had come upon him with something of a shock. He had made his burst
for freedom five years ago, when he refused to be a Pharmaceutical
Chemist in his father's shop, because he could not stand his father's
ubiquity. And yet he was not free to leave his father's house; for he
did not see how, as things were going, he could leave his mother. He was
not free to ask his friends there either; not, that was to say, friends
who were strangers to his father and the Headache. Above all, he was not
free to ask Winny Dymond. He had thought he was, but his mother had made
him see that he wasn't, because of his father's Headache; that he really
ought not to expose the poor old Humming-bird to the rude criticism of
people who did not know how good he was. That was what his mother, bless
her! had been trying to make him see. And if it came to exposing, if
this was to be a fair sample of their Sundays, if the Humming-bird was
going to take the cake for queerness, what right had he to expose little
Winny?

And would she stand it if he did? She might come once, perhaps, but not
again. The Humming-bird would be a bit too much for her.

Then how on earth, Ranny asked himself, was he going to get any further
with a girl like Winny? His acquaintance with her was bound to be a
furtive and a secret thing. He loathed anything furtive, and he hated
secrecy. And Winny would loathe and hate them, too. And she might turn
on him and ask him why she was to be made love to in the streets when
his mother had a house and he lived in it?

It was the first time that this idea of making love had come to him. Of
course he had always supposed that he would marry some day; but as for
making love, it was his mother who had put into his head that
exquisitely agitating idea.

To make love to little Winny and to marry her, if (and that was not by
any means so certain) she would have him--no idea could well have
agitated Ranny more. It blunted the fine razorlike edge of his appetite
for Sunday supper. It obscured his interest in _The Pink 'Un_, which he
had unearthed from under the sofa cushion in the back parlor, whither he
had withdrawn himself to think of it. And thinking of it took away the
best part of his Sunday night's sleep.

For, after all, it was impossible; and the more you thought of it the
more impossible it was. He couldn't marry. He simply couldn't afford it
on a salary of eight pounds a month, which was a little under a hundred
a year. He couldn't even afford it on his rise. Fellows did. But he
considered it was a beastly shame of them; yes, a beastly shame it was
to go and tie a girl to you when you couldn't keep her properly, to say
nothing of letting her in for having kids you couldn't keep at all.
Ranny had very fixed and firm opinions about marrying; for he had seen
fellows doing it, rushing bald-headed into this tremendous business,
for no reason but that they had got so gone on some girl they couldn't
stick it without her. Ranny, in his decency, considered that that wasn't
a reason; that they ought to stick it; that they ought to think of the
girl, and that of all the beastly things you could do to her, this was
the beastliest, because it tied her.

He had more than ever decided that it was so, as he lay in his attic
sleepless on his narrow iron bedstead, staring up at the steep slope of
the white-washed ceiling that leaned over him, pressed on him, and
threatened him; watching it glimmer and darken and glimmer again to the
dawn. He had put away from him the almost tangible vision of Winny lying
there, pretty as she would be, in her little white nightgown, and her
hair tossed over his pillow, perhaps, and he vowed that for Winny's sake
he would never do that thing.

As for the feeling he had unmistakably begun to have for Winny, he would
have to put that away, too, until he could afford to produce it.

It might also be wiser, for his own sake, to give up seeing her until he
could afford it; but to this pitch of abnegation Ranny, for all his
decency, couldn't rise.

Besides, he had to see her. He had to see her home.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so he took his feeling and put it away, together with a certain
sachet, scented with violets, and having a pattern of violets on a
white-satin ground, and the word Violet going slantwise across it in
embroidery. He had bought it (from his mother) in the shop, to keep (he
said) in his drawer among his handkerchiefs. And in his drawer, among
his handkerchiefs, he kept it, wrapped tenderly in tissue paper. He
tried hard to forget that he had really bought it to give to Winny on
her birthday. He tried hard to forget his feeling, wrapped up and put
away with it. But he couldn't forget it; because every day his
handkerchiefs, impregnated with the scent of violets, gave out a whiff
that reminded him, and his feeling was inextricably entangled with that
whiff.

It was with him as he worked in his mahogany pen at Woolridge's. All day
a faint odor of violets clung to him and spread itself subtly about the
counting-house, and the fellows noticed it and sniffed. And, oh, how
they chaffed him. "Um-m-m. You been rolling in a bed of violets, Ranny?"
And "Oo-ooh, what price violets?" And "You might tell us her name, old
chappie, if you _won't_ give the address." Till his life was a burden to
him.

So to end the nuisance he took that sachet wrapped in tissue paper, and
put it in the round, japanned tin box where he kept his collars, and let
his collars run loose about the drawer. He shut the lid down tight on
the smell and took the box and hid it in the cupboard where his boots
were, where the smell couldn't possibly get out, and where the very next
day his mother found it and received some enlightenment as to Ranny's
state of mind. But, like a wise woman, she kept it to herself.

And the smell departed gradually from the region of Ranny's breast
pocket, and he had peace in his pen. His fellow-clerks suspected him of
a casual encounter and no more. A matter too trivial for remark.

The counting-house at Woolridge's was an immense long room under the
roof, lit by a row of windows on each side and a skylight in the middle.
The door gave on a passage that ran the whole length of the room,
dividing it in two. Right and left the space was partitioned off into
pens more or less open. On Ransome's right, as he entered, was the pen
for the women typists. On his left the petty cashier's pen, overlooking
the women. Next came the ledger clerks, then the statement clerks; and
facing these the long desk of the checking staff. At the back of the
room, right and left, were the pens of the very youngest clerks, who
made invoices. From their high desks they could see the bald spot on the
assistant secretary's head. He, the highest power in that hierarchy, had
a special pen provided for him behind the ledger and the statement
clerks; a little innermost sanctuary approached by a short passage.
Surrounded entirely by glass, he could overlook the whole of his
dominion, from the boys at the bottom to the gray-headed cashier and the
women typists at the top.

And in between, scattered and in rows, the tops of men's heads: heads
dark and fair and grizzled, all bowed over the long desks, all
diminished and obscured in their effect by the heavy mahogany of their
pens, by the shining brass trellis-work that screened them, by the
emerald green of the hanging lampshades, by the blond lights and clear
shadows of the walls, and by the everlasting streaming, drifting, and
shifting of the white paper that they handled.

The whole place was full of sounds: the hard clicking of the
typewriters, and under it the eternal rustling of the white papers, the
scratching of pens, the thud of ledgers on desks, the hiss of their
turning leaves, and the sharp smacking and slamming as they closed.

And, in the middle of that stir and motion made by hands, all those tops
of heads were still, as if they took no part in it; through the
intensity of their absorption they were detached. Every now and then one
of them would lift and hold up a face among those tops of heads, and it
was like the sudden uncanny insurgence of an alien life.

That stillness was abhorrent to young Ransome. So was the bowing of his
head, the cramping of his limbs, and his sense of imprisonment in his
pen.

And all his life he would go on sitting there in that intolerable
constraint. He had no hope beyond exchanging a larger pen at the bottom
of the room for a smaller one at the top. He had begun at the very
bottom as an invoice clerk at a pound a week. He was now a statement
clerk at eight pounds a month. Working up through all his grades, he
would become a ledger clerk at twelve pounds a month. He might stick at
that forever, but if he had luck he might become a petty cashier at
sixteen pounds. That couldn't happen before he was thirty, if then. He
was bound to get his rise in the autumn. But that was no good. It
wouldn't be safe, not really safe, to marry until he had become a petty
cashier. To end in the petty cashier's narrow pen by the door, that was
the goal and summit of his ambition.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day in day out he worked now with desperate assiduity. He bowed his
young head; he cramped his glorious limbs; he steeped his very soul in
statements of account for furniture. Furniture bought with hideous
continuity by lucky devils, opulent beasts, beasts that wallowed
inconsiderately; worst of all by beasts, abominable beasts, who couldn't
afford it and were yet about to marry and to set up house. Woolridge's
offered a shameless encouragement to these. It lured them on; it laid
out its nets for them and caught and tangled them and flung them to
their ruin. All over London and the provinces Woolridge's posters were
displayed; flaunting yet insidious posters where a young man and a young
woman with innocent, idiotic faces were seen gazing, fascinated, into
Woolridge's windows. Woolridge's artist had a wild humor that gave the
show away by exaggerating the innocence and idiocy of Woolridge's
victims. It appealed to Ransome by the audacity with which it had defied
Woolridge's to see its point. Woolridge's itself was a perpetual
tempting and solicitation. Ranny wondered how in those days he ever
resisted its appeal to him to be a man and risk it and make a home for
Winny.

       *       *       *       *       *

And as the months went on he kept himself fitter than ever. He did
dumb-bell practice in his bedroom. He sprinted like mad. He rowed hard
on the river. He was so fit that in June (just before stock-taking) he
entered for the Wandsworth Athletic Sports, and won the silver cup
against Fred Booty in the Hurdle Race. He was more than ever punctual at
the Poly. Gym.

And sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, he would take Winny for a bicycle
ride into the country. He liked pushing her machine up all the hills;
still more he liked to help her in her first fierce charging of them,
with a strong hand at the back of her waist. That was nothing to the joy
of scorching on the level with linked hands. And it was best of all when
they rested, sitting side by side under a birch tree on the Common, or
lying in the long grass of the fields.

Thus on a Sunday afternoon in June they found themselves alone in a
corner of a meadow in Southfields. All day Ransome had been overcome by
a certain melancholy which Winny for some reason affected to ignore.

They had been silent for a perceptible time, Ransome lying on his back
while Winny, seated beside him, gathered what daisies and buttercups
were within her reach. And as he watched her sidelong, it struck him all
at once that Winny's life was worse even than his own. Winny was clever,
and she had a berth as book-keeper in Starker's, one of the smaller
drapers' shops in Oxford Street, near Woolridge's. Her position was as
good as his, yet she only earned five pounds a month to his eight. And
he hated to think of Winny working, anyway.

"Winny," he said, suddenly, "do you like book-keeping?"

"Of course I do," said Winny. She didn't, but she was not going to say
so lest he should think that she was discontented.

"They--are they decent to you at Starker's?"

"Of course they are. I would like," said Winny, in her grandest manner,
"to see anybody trying it on with _me_."

"Oh, well, I suppose it's all right if you like it. But I
thought--perhaps--you didn't."

"You'd no business to think."

"Can't help it. Born thinkin'."

"Well--it shows how much you know. I mean to enjoy life," said Winny.
"And I do enjoy it."

Ranny, lying on his back with his face turned up to the sky, said that
that was a jolly sight more than he did; that for his part he thought it
a pretty rotten show.

Winny stared, for this utterance was most unlike him.

"My goodness! What ever in the world's wrong with you?"

Everything, he answered, gloomily, was wrong.

"What an idea!" said Winny.

It _was_ an idea, he said, if it was nothing else. At any rate, it was
his idea. And Winny wanted to know what made him have it.

"Oh, I dunno. There are things a fellow wants he hasn't got."

"What sort of things?"

"All sorts."

"Well--don't think about them. Think," said Winny, "of the things you
_have_ got."

"What things?"

"Why," said Winny, counting them off on her fingers, "you've got a
father--and a mother--and new tires to your bike. Good boots" (she had
stuck buttercups in their laces) "and a most beautiful purple tie." (She
held another buttercup under his chin.)

"It _is_ a tidy tie," Ranny admitted, smiling because of the buttercups.
"But me hat's a bit rocky."

"Quite a good hat," said Winny, looking at it with her little head on
one side. "And you've won the silver cup for the Wandsworth Hurdle Race.
What more do you want?"

"It's what a fellow hasn't got he wants."

"Well, what haven't you got, then?"

"Prospects," said Ranny. "I've no prospects. Not for years and years."

"No," said Winny, with decision. "And didn't ought to have. Not at your
age."

She had no sympathy for him and no understanding of his case.

Ranny sat up, stared about him, and sighed profoundly.

And because he could think of nothing else to say he suggested that it
was time to go.

Winny sprang to her feet with a swiftness that implied that if it was to
go he wanted, she was more than ready to oblige him. As she mounted her
bicycle, the shut firmness of her mouth, the straightness of her back,
and the grip of her little hands on the handle bars were eloquent of her
determination to be gone. And her face, he noticed, was pinker than he
ever remembered having seen it.

And he wondered what it was he had said.



CHAPTER VII


It was after that evening that he observed a change in her, a change
that he could neither account for nor define. It seemed to him that she
was trying to avoid him, and that he was no longer agreeably affected by
her behavior, as he had been in the beginning by her fugitive, evasive
ways. Then she had, indeed, led him a dance, but he had thoroughly
enjoyed the fun of it. Now the dancing and the fun were all over. At
least, so he was left to gather from her manner; for the strangeness of
it was that she said nothing now. There was about her a terrible
stillness and reserve, and in her little face, once so tender, the
suggestion of a possible hardness.

He was not aware that the stillness and reserve were in himself, nor
that the hardness was in his own face as it set in his indomitable
determination to stick it, and not to do the beastly thing, nor yet that
there were moments when that stillness and that set look terrified
Winny. Neither was he aware that Winny, under all her terror, had an
instinct that divined him and understood.

And as the months went on he saw less and less of her. Though he was
punctual at their corner in Oxford Street, he was always too late to
find Winny there. He gave that up, and began to haunt the door in
Starker's iron shutter at closing-time. He had found out that girl
clerks, what with chattering and putting on their hats and things, were
always a good ten minutes later than the men. He had seen fellows
(fellows from Woolridge's, some of them) hanging round the shutters of
the big draperies to meet the girls. By making a dash for it from
Woolridge's he could reach Starker's just in time to catch Winny as she
came out, delicately stepping through the little door in the great iron
shutter.

Evening after evening he was there and never caught her. She was off
before he could get through the door in his own shutter.

Then (it was one evening in August) he saw her. He was not making a dash
for it; he was strolling casually and without hope in the direction of
Starker's, and he saw her walking away, arm in arm with another girl, a
girl he had never seen before. He would have overtaken them but that the
presence of the girl deterred him.

He followed, losing them in the crowd, recovering, losing them again;
then they turned northward up a side street and were gone. He noticed
that the strange girl was taller than Winny by the head and shoulders,
and that she went lazily, deliberately, with sudden lingerings, and
always with a curious swinging movement of her hips. He had been close
upon Winny at the corner as they turned, so close that he could have
touched her. He thought she had seen him, but he could not be sure. He
was also aware of a large eye slued round toward him in a pretty profile
that lifted itself, deep-chinned, above Winny's head. Their behavior
agitated him, but he forbore to track them further. Decency told him
that that would be dishonorable.

The next evening and the next he watched the door in the iron shutter,
and was too late for Winny. But the third evening he saw her standing by
the door and talking to the same strange girl. The girl had her back to
him, but Winny faced him. She was not aware of him at first; but, at the
signal that he gave, she turned sharply and went from him, drawing the
girl with her, arm in arm.

They disappeared northward up the same side street as before.

That was on a Friday. On Sunday he called at St. Ann's Terrace and saw
Maudie Hollis, who told him that Winny had gone up Hampstead way. No,
not for good, but with a friend. She had been very much taken up lately
with a friend.

"You know what she is when she's taken up," said Maudie.

He sighed unaware, and Maudie answered his sigh.

"It isn't a gentleman friend."

"No?" It was wonderful the indifference Ranny packed into that little
word.

"Catch _her_!" said Maudie.

She smiled at him as he turned away, and in the middle of his own misery
it struck him that poor Maudie would have to wait many years before
Booty could afford to marry her, and that already her proud beauty was a
little sharpened and a little dimmed by waiting.

On Monday he refrained from hanging round the door in Starker's iron
shutter. But on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday he was at his post, and
remained there till the door was shut almost in his face.

On Friday he was late, and he could see even in the distance the shut
door.

But somebody was there, somebody was standing close up against the
shutter; somebody who moved forward a step as he came, somebody who had
been waiting for him. It was not Winny. It was the tall girl.

He raised his hat in answer to the movement that was her signal, and
would have passed on, but she stopped him. She stood almost in front of
him, so that he should not pass. And the biggest and darkest blue eyes
he had ever seen arrested him with a strange bending on him of black
brows.

The strange girl was saying something to him, in a voice full and yet
low, a voice with a sort of thick throb in it, and in its thickness a
sweet and poignant quality.

"Please," it was saying, "excuse me, you're Mr. Ransome, aren't
you--Winny Dymond's friend?"

With a "Yes" that strangled itself and became inarticulate, he admitted
that he was Mr. Ransome.

The girl lowered her eyelids (deep white eyelids they were, and hung
with black fringes, marvelously thick and long); she lowered them as if
her own behavior and his had made her shy.

"I'm Winny's friend, too," she said. "That's why I'm here."

And with that she looked him in the face with eyes that shot at him a
clear blue out of their darkness. Her eyes, as he expressed it
afterward, were "stunners," and they were "queer"; they were the
"queerest" thing about her. That was his word for their
half-fascinating, half-stupefying quality.

"Are you waiting for her?" he asked.

"No. It's no good waiting for her. She's gone."

"Gone?"

"Gone home."

He rallied. "Then what are you waiting for?"

"I was waiting for you," she said, "to tell you that it's no good."

He had moved a little way out of the stream of people, so that he was
now placed with his back against the shutter, and she with her shoulder
to the stream. As she stood thus a man jostled her, more to attract her
attention than to move her from his path. She gave a little gasp and
shrank back with a movement that brought her nearer to Ransome and to
his side. And as she moved there came from her, from her clothes, and
from her hair, a faint odor of violets, familiar yet wonderful.

"You don't mind my speaking to you?" she said.

"No," said he, "but let's get out of this first."

He put his hand lightly on her arm to steer her through the stream.
There was something about her--it may have been in her voice, or in the
way she looked at him--something helpless that implored and entreated
and appealed to his young manhood for protection. Her arm yielded to his
touch, yet with a slight pressure that made him aware that its tissue
was of an incredible softness. Somehow, for the moment while this touch
and pressure lasted, he found it impossible to look at her. Some
instinct held his eyes from her, as if he had been afraid.

They moved on slowly, aimlessly it seemed to Ransome; yet steering he
was steered, northward, up the side street where he had seen her
disappear with Winny. It was quiet there. He no longer touched her. He
could look at her now.

He looked. And what he saw was a girl well grown and of incomparable
softness. She could not have been much more than twenty, but her body
was already rounded to the full flower of its youth. This body was
neither tall nor slender nor particularly graceful. Yet it carried
itself with an effect of tallness and slenderness and grace.

In the same way she impressed him as being well dressed. Yet she only
wore a little plain black gown cut rather low, with a broad lace collar.
There was a black velvet band round her waist and another on her wide
black hat. And yet another and a narrower band of black velvet round her
full white neck.

The face above that neck was not beautiful, for her little straight nose
was a shade too blunt, her upper lip a shade too long and too flat; her
large mouth, red and sullen-sweet, a shade too unfinished at the edges.
There was, moreover, a hint of fullness about the jaw and chin. But the
color and the texture of this face made almost imperceptible its flaws
of structure. It was as if it had erred only through an excess of
softness that made the flesh of it plastic to its blood, to the subtle
flame that transfused the white of it, flushing and burning to rose-red.
A flame that even in soaring knew its place; for it sank before it could
diminish the amazing blueness of her eyes; and it had left her forehead
and her eyelids to the whiteness that gave accent to eyebrows and
eyelashes black as her black hair.

That was how this girl's face, that was not beautiful, contrived to give
an impression of strange beauty, fascinating and stupefying as her
voice.

Her voice had begun again.

"It really isn't any good," it said.

"What isn't?"

"Your hanging about like this. It won't help you. It won't, really. You
don't know Winny."

"I say, did she ask you to tell me that?"

"Not she! 'Tisn't likely. And if she did, you don't suppose I'd let on.
I'm giving you the straight tip. I'm telling you what I know about her.
I'm her friend, else I couldn't do it."

"But--why?"

"Don't ask me--how do I know? I suppose I couldn't stand seeing you
waiting outside there, night after night, all for nothing."

She drew herself up, so that she seemed to be looking down at him; she
seemed, with all her youth, to be older than he, to be no longer
childlike and innocent and helpless. And her voice, her incomparable
voice, had an edge to it; it was the voice of maturity, of experience,
of the wisdom of the world.

"You can take it from me," said this voice, "that it doesn't do a man a
bit of good to go on hanging about a girl and worrying her when she
doesn't want him."

"You mean--she doesn't like me?"

"Like you? As far as I know she likes you well enough."

"Then--for the life of me I can't see why--"

"Liking a man isn't wanting him. And you're not going the way to make
Winny want you."

"Oh--"

He had drawn up in the middle of the pavement just to consider whether,
after all, there wasn't something in it.

"You're--you're not offended?" Her voice implored now and pleaded.

"That's all right."

"Well--if you're sure you're not--would you mind seeing me home?"

"Certainly. With pleasure."

       *       *       *       *       *

She was all helpless again and childlike, and he liked her that way
best.

"I don't like the streets," she explained. "I'm afraid of them. I mean
I'm afraid of the people in them. They stare at me something awful. So
horribly rude, isn't it, to stare?"

"Rude?" said Ransome. "It's disgustin'."

"As if there was something peculiar about me. Do _you_ see anything
peculiar about me? Anything, I mean, to make them stare?"

He was silent.

"_Do_ you?" she insisted, poignantly.

They were advancing headlong toward intimacy and its embarrassments.

"Well, no," he said, "if you ask me--no, I don't. Except that, don't you
know, you're--"

"I'm what?"

"Well--"

"Oh!" (She became more poignant than ever.) "You _do_, then--"

"No, I don't--on my honor I--I only meant that--well, you _are_ a bit
out of the way, you know."

Her large gaze interrogated him.

"Out of the way all round, I should fancy. Something rather wonderful."

"Something--rather--wonderful--" she repeated, drowsily.

"Strikes me so--that's all."

"Strange?"

"Sort of--"

"It _is_ strange that we should be talking this way--when you think--
Why, you don't even know my name."

"No more I do," said Ransome.

"My name is Violet. Violet Usher. Do you like it?"

"Very much," said Ransome.

He did not know if this was "cock-a-tree"; but if it was he found
himself enjoying it.

"And yours is Randall. Mr. Randall Ransome, aren't you?"

"I say, you know; how did you get hold of that?"

"Why--Winny told me."

In the strangeness of it all he had forgotten Winny.

"Then she told you wrong. Now I think of it, Winny doesn't know my real
name. My real name would take your breath away."

"Tell it me."

"Well--if you will have it--stand well back and hold your hat on. Don't
let it catch you full in the face. John--Randall--Fulleymore--Ransome.
Now you know me."

She smiled enchantingly. "Not quite. But I know something about you
Winny doesn't know. That's strange, isn't it?"

It was, if you came to think of it.

They had crossed the Euston Road now, and Miss Usher turned presently up
another side street going north. She stopped at a door in a long row of
dingy houses.

"This is me," she said, "I've got a room here. It was awfully good of
you to bring me."

"Not at all," he murmured.

"And you're sure you didn't mind my speaking to you like that? I
wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been Winny's friend."

"Of course not."

She was not sure whether he were answering her question or assenting to
her statement.

"And now," she said, "you're going home?"

"I suppose so." But he remained rooted to the doorstep, digging into a
crevice in it with his stick.

From the upper step she watched him intently.

"And we sha'n't see each other again."

_He_ was not sure whether it was a statement or a question.

"Sha'n't we?" He said it submissively, as if she really knew.

She was opening the door now and letting herself in. Miss Usher had a
latch key.

"Where?" said Miss Usher, softly, but with incision. She had turned now
and was standing on her threshold.

"Oh--anywhere--"

"Anywhere's nowhere." Miss Usher was smiling at him, but as she smiled
she stepped back and shut the door in his excited face.

He turned away, more stupefied than ever.

For the first time in his life he had encountered mystery. And he had no
name for it.

But he had made a note of her street, and of the number of her door.



CHAPTER VIII


That night Ransome was more than ever the prey of thought, if you could
call it thought, that mad racing and careering of his brain which
followed his encounter with Miss Usher. The stupefaction which had been
her first effect had given way to a peculiar excitement and activity of
mind. When he said to himself that Miss Usher had behaved queerly, he
meant that she had acted with a fine defiance of convention. And she had
carried it off. She had compelled him to accept her with her mystery as
a thing long known. She had pushed the barriers aside, and in a moment
she had established intimacy.

For only intimacy could have excused her interference with his innermost
affairs. She had given him an amount of warning and advice that he would
not have tolerated from his own mother. And she had used some charm that
made it impossible for him to resent it. What could well be queerer than
that he should be told by a girl he did not know that his case was
hopeless, that he must give up running after Winny Dymond, that he was
only persecuting a girl who didn't care for him. Ransome had no doubt
that she had spoken out of some secret and mystic knowledge of her
friend.

He supposed that women understood each other.

And after all what had she done that was so extraordinary? She had only
put into words--sensible words--his own misgivings, his own profound
distrust of the event.

What _was_ extraordinary, if he could have analyzed it, was the calmness
that mingled with his disturbance. Calmness with regard to Winny and to
the issue taken out of his hands and decided for him; calmness, and yet
a pain, a distinct pain that he was not subtle enough to recognize as
remorse for a disloyalty. And, under it all, that nameless, inexplicable
excitement, as if for the first time in the affairs of sex, he had a
sense of mystery and of adventure.

He did not ask himself how it was that Winny had not stirred that sense
in him. He did not refer it definitely to Violet Usher. It had moved in
the air about her; but it remained when she was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

So far was he from referring it to Miss Usher that when it died down he
made no attempt to revive it by following the adventure. He was
restrained by some obscure instinct of self-preservation, also by the
absurd persistence with which in thought he returned again and again to
Winny Dymond. That recurrent tenderness for Winny, a girl who had no
sort of tenderness for him, was a thing he did not mean to encourage
more than he could help. Still, it kept him from running after any other
girl. He was not in love with Violet Usher, and so, gradually, her magic
lost its hold upon his memory.

       *       *       *       *       *

Autumn came, and with it another Grand Display at the Polytechnic
Gymnasium, the grandest he had yet known. As if it had been some great
civic function, it was attended by the Mayor of Marylebone in his robes.
To be sure, the Mayor, who was "going on" that night, left some time
before the performance of Mr. J. R. F. Ransome on the Horizontal Bar.

But Ranny was not aware of the disappearance of the Mayor. He was not
perfectly aware of his own amazing evolutions on the horizontal bar. He
was not perfectly aware of anything but the face and eyes of Violet
Usher fixed on him from the side gallery above. The gallery was crowded
with other faces and with other eyes, all fixed on him; but he was not
aware of them. The gallery was for him a solitude pervaded by the
presence of Violet Usher.

She was seated in the front row directly opposite him; her arms were
laid along the balustrade, and she leaned out over them, bending her
dark brows toward him, immovable and intent. He did not know whether she
was alone there. To all appearance she was alone, for her face remained
fixed above her arms, and it was as if her eyes never once looked away
from him.

And under their gaze an exultation seized him and a fierce desire, not
only to exceed and to excel all other performers on the horizontal bar,
but to go beyond himself; beyond his ordinary punctual precision; beyond
the mere easy swing and temperate rhythm. Instead of the old
good-natured rivalry, it was as if he struggled and did battle in some
supreme and terrible fight. Each movement that he made fired his blood;
from the first flinging of his lithe body upward, and the sliding of its
taut muscles on the bar, to the frenzy of his revolving, triumphal,
glorious to behold. Each muscle and each nerve had its own peculiar
ecstasy.

And when he dropped from the high bar to the floor he stood tingling and
trembling and breathless from the queer violence with which his heart
threw itself about. So utterly had he gone beyond himself. And he knew
that his demonstration had not been quite so triumphal, so glorious as
he had thought it. There had been far too much hurry and excitement
about it. And Booty told him he was all right, but perhaps not quite up
to his usual form.

It was with the air of a conqueror that Ranny pushed his way through the
packed line of spectators in the gallery. It was with a crushed and
nervous air, as of some great artist, conscious of his aim and of his
failure, that he presented himself to Violet Usher, sliding slantwise
into the place she made for him.

It was as if she had known that he would come to her. They shook hands
awkwardly. And with the stirring of her body there came from her that
faint warm odor of violets.

"I didn't expect to see you here," he said, at last.

"Winny brought me; else I shouldn't have come."

She was very precise in making Winny responsible for her appearance. He
gathered that that was her idea of propriety.

"Well--anyhow--it's a bit of all right," he said. Then they sat silent
for a while.

And the girl's face turned to Ranny with a flying look; and it was as if
she had touched him with her eyes, lightly and shyly, and was gone. Then
her eyes began slowly to look him up and down, up and down, from his
bare neck and arms, white against the thin crimson binding of his
"zephyr," from his shoulders and from his chest where the lines and
bosses of the muscles showed under the light gauze, and from his crimson
belt, down the firm long slopes to his knees; and it was as if her eyes
brushed him, palpably, with soft feather strokes. They rested on his
face; and it was as if they held him between two ardent hands. And over
her own face as she looked at him there went a little wave of change.
Her rich color stirred and deepened; her lips parted for the quick
passage of her breath; and her blue eyes looked gray as if veiled in a
light vapor.

Ranny was seized with an overpowering, a terrible consciousness of
himself and of his evolutions on the horizontal bar.

"Well," he said, as if in apology, "you've seen me figuring queerly."

"Oh, it's all right for men," she said. "Besides, I've seen _you_
before."

"Why, you weren't here last time?"

"No. Not here."

"Where, then? Where on earth can you have seen me?"

She bent her brows at him in that way she had, under the brim of her
wide hat. "I saw you at Wandsworth--at the Sports--running in that race.
When you won the cup."

"Oh, Lord," said Ranny, expressing his innermost confusion.

"Well, I'm sure you ran beautifully."

"Oh, yes, I _ran_ all right."

"And you jumped!"

"Anybody can jump," said Ranny.

"Can they?"

"Oh, Lord, yes. You should see Fred Booty."

"I did see him. You won the cup off him."

She drew herself up, in that other way she had, as if challenged.

"And he'll win it off me next year. You bet. Look--here they are."

Some instinct, risen he knew not whence, compelled him to divert her
gaze.

From below in the great hall came the sound of the rhythmic padding and
tramping of feet. The Young Ladies of the Polytechnic were marching in.
Right and left they wheeled, and right and left ranged themselves in two
long lines under the galleries. Now they were marking time with the
stiff rise and fall of black stockings under the short tunics. Facing
them, at the head of her rank, was Winny Dymond, very upright and
earnest. And with each movement of her hips the crimson sash of
leadership swung in rhythm at her side.

Miss Usher turned to him. "Is Winny with them?"

"Rather. There she is. Right opposite. Jolly she looks, doesn't she?"

Miss Usher looked at Winny. The bent black brows bent lower, and a large
blue eye slued round into her profile, darting a sudden light at him.

"Don't ask _me_," she said, "I'm sure _I_ don't know." And she turned
her shoulder on him and sat thus averted, gazing at her own hands folded
in her lap.

Ransome leaned out over the balustrade and watched Winny. And for a
moment, as he watched her, he felt again the old sense of tenderness and
absurdity, mingled, this time, with that mysterious pain.

A barbell struck on the floor. A feminine voice gave the sharp word of
command, and the Young Ladies formed up for their performance on the
parallel bars.

Miss Usher still sat averted.

"Look," he said, at last, "it's Winny's turn."

She turned slowly, reluctantly almost, and looked.

Winny Dymond, shy, but grave and earnest, was going through her little
preliminary byplay at the bars. Then, with her startling suddenness, she
rushed at them, and swung herself, it seemed to Ransome, with an
increased abandonment, a wilder rhythm and motion; and when she raised
her body like an arch, far-stretching and wide-planted, it seemed to him
that it rose higher and stretched farther and wider than before, that
there was, in fact, something preposterous in her attitude. For as Miss
Usher looked at Winny she drew herself up and her red mouth stiffened.

Ranny's tension relaxed when Winny flung herself from side to side again
and over, and lighted on her feet in the little curtseying posture,
perfunctory and pathetic.

He clapped his hands. "'Jove! That's good!" He was smiling tenderly.

He turned to Miss Usher, eager and delighted. "Well--what'd you think of
it?"

The eyes he gazed into were remote and cold. Miss Usher did not answer
him. And he gathered from her silence that she disapproved profoundly of
the performance. He wondered why.

"Oh, come," he said. "She's the best we've got. There's not one of those
girls that can touch her on the bars. Look at them."

"I don't want to look at them. I didn't think it would be like that. I'm
not used to it. I've never been to a Gymnasium in my life before."

"You ought to come. You should join us, Miss Usher. Why don't you?"

"Thank you, Mr. Ransome, I'd rather not. I don't see myself!"

He didn't see her either. Some of his innocence had gone. She had taken
it away from him. He was beginning to understand how Winny's performance
had struck her. It was magnificent, but it was not a thing that could be
done by a nice woman, by a woman who respected herself and her own
womanhood and her own beauty; not a thing that could be done by Violet
Usher. He was not sure that in her view it was consistent with
propriety, with reticence, with a perfect purity. And he began to wonder
whether his own view of it had not been a little shameless.

He rushed, for sheer decency, into a stuttering defense.

"Well, but--well, but--but it's all right, don't you know?"

"It's all right for men. They're different. But--"

"Not right for women?"

"If you reelly want to know--no. I don't think it is. It isn't pretty,
for one thing."

"Oh, I say--how about Winny?"

"Winny's different. It doesn't seem to matter so much for her."

"Why not--for her?"

"Well--she's a queer creature anyhow."

"How d'you mean--queer?"

"Well--more like a boy, somehow, than a girl. She doesn't care. She'll
do anything. And she's plucky. If she's taken a thing into her head
she'll go through with it whatever you say."

"Yes, she's got pluck," he assented. "_And_ cheek."

"Mind you, she's as good as gold, with all her queerness. But it _is_
queer, Mr. Ransome, if you're a woman, not to care what you do, or what
you look like doing it. And she's so innocent, she doesn't reelly know.
She couldn't do it if she did. All the same, I wish she wouldn't."

She seemed to brood over it in beautiful distress.

"It's a pity that the boys encourage them. Boys don't mind, of course.
But _men_ don't like it."

And with every word of her strange, magical voice there went from him
some shred of innocence and illusion. It was, of course, his innocence,
his ignorance that had made him tolerant of a Grand Display, that had
filled him with admiration for the Young Ladies of the Polytechnic
Gymnasium, and that had attracted him to Winny Dymond. Everything he had
thought and felt about Winny was illusion. It was illusion, that sense
she gave him of tenderness and of absurdity. Gymnastics were all very
well in their way. But nice women, the women that men cared about, women
like Violet Usher, did not make of their bodies a spectacle in Grand
Displays. Little Winny, whatever she did, was all right, of course; but
now he came to think of it, he began to wish, like Violet Usher, that
she wouldn't do it. It was as a boy and her comrade that he had admired
her. It was as a man that he criticized her now, looking at her through
Violet Usher's eyes. And it was as a boy that he had cared, and as a man
that he had ceased to care.

In one night Ranny had suddenly grown up.

Of course, it might have been different if she had cared for _him_.

"What does it mean, the Combined Maze? What is it?"

Miss Usher was studying her programme.

The Combined Maze? That wasn't so easy to explain. But Ranny explained
it. It was, he said, a maze, because you ran it winding in and out like,
and combined, because men and women ran in it all mixed up together.
They made patterns accordin' as they ran, and the patterns were the plan
of the maze. You didn't see the plan. You didn't know it, unless you
were leader. You just followed.

"I see. Men and women together."

"Men and women together."

"Are you running in it?"

"Yes."

"Does Winny run in it?"

"Rather. We run together. You'll see how it's done."

Miss Usher thought she saw.

       *       *       *       *       *

And they ran in it together, Ransome with Winny before him, turning from
him, parting from him, flying from him, and returning to him again.
Always with the same soft pad of her feet, the same swaying of her
sturdy, slender body, the same rising and falling on her shoulders of
her childish door-knocker plat.

Winny was a child; that was all that could be said of her; and he, he
was a man, grown up suddenly in a single night.

He ran, perfunctorily, through all the foolish turnings and windings of
the maze. He put his hands on Winny's waist to guide her when, in her
excitement, she went wrong. He linked his arm with hers when they ran
locked, shoulder to shoulder, in the Great Wheel; but it was as if he
held and caught, and was locked together with a child. Winny's charm was
gone; and with it gone the sense of tenderness and absurdity; gone the
magic and the madness of the running. For in Ranny's heart there was
another magic and another madness. And it was as if Life itself had
caught him and locked him with a woman in the whirling of its Great
Wheel.



CHAPTER IX


He haunted that door in the shutter more than ever in the hope of seeing
Violet Usher. Not that he wanted to haunt it. It was as if, set his feet
southward as he would, they were turned back irresistibly and drawn
eastward in the direction of the door.

There was nothing furtive and secret in his haunting. He had a right to
hang about Starker's, for he knew Miss Usher now. He had been formally
introduced to her by Winny as they left the Polytechnic together, on the
night of the Grand Display. Winny, preoccupied with her own performance
on the parallel bars, had remained unaware of their communion in the
gallery, and Violet Usher had evidently judged it best to say nothing
about their previous interviews.

The introducing, of course, made all the difference in the world; for
Ransome, reckless as he was, respected the conventions where women were
concerned. He had seen too much of the secret and furtive ways of other
fellows, and he knew what their hanging about meant. It meant in nine
cases out of ten that they wanted kicking badly. And Ranny would have
told you gravely that, in his experience, it was the "swells" who wanted
kicking most of all. The "fellows," the shop assistants, and the young
clerks, like himself, were fairly decent, but sometimes they wanted
kicking, too, and in any case the "flabby" way they fooled about with
girls, and their "silly goats' talk" outraged Ranny. It made a girl
cheap, and kept other fellows off her. It didn't give her her chance. It
wasn't cricket.

He was prepared to kick, personally, any fellow he found making Winny
Dymond or Violet Usher cheap.

Not that Winny lent herself to cheapness, but about Violet he was not
quite sure. And if you had asked why not, he would have told you it was
because she was so different. By which he meant so dangerously, so
disastrously feminine and innocent and pretty. He knew now (she had
"jolly well shown him") that Winny could take care of herself; but
Violet, no; she was too impulsive, too helpless, too confiding. To think
of her waiting for him like that--for a fellow she'd never met
before--in Oxford Street at closing-time! How did she know that he
wasn't a blackguard? Supposing it had been some other fellow? Ranny's
muscles quivered as he thought of Violet's innocence and Violet's
danger.

All this was luminously clear to Ranny.

But when he asked himself why, and to what end he himself desired to
cultivate her acquaintance, it was there that obscurity set in. One
thing he was sure about. He did not intend to marry her. If he couldn't
afford to marry Winny he most certainly could not afford to marry
Violet, not for years and years, so many years that you might just as
well say never, and have done with it. Violet was not the sort of girl
you could ask to wait for you years and years. His youth was not too
sanguine to divine in her the makings of a more expensive woman than
even a petty cashier could afford.

To be sure, Ranny did not enter into any sordid calculations, neither
did he think the thing out in so many words; for in this matter of
Violet Usher he was incapable of any sustained and connected thought. It
came to him--the utter hopelessness of it--in glimpses and by flashes,
as he sat at his high desk in the counting-house.

But no flashes came to him with the question, Why, then, did he keep on
running after Violet Usher? He ran because he couldn't help it; because
of the sheer excitement of the running; because he was venturesome, and
because of the very mystery and danger of the adventure.

But, though he hung round Starker's evening after evening, from the
middle to the very end of October, he never once caught sight of Violet
Usher. Winny he caught, as often as not, now that he had given up trying
to catch her; sometimes he caught her at Starker's, sometimes at their
old corner by the Gymnasium; and whenever he caught her he walked home
with her. If Winny did not positively seek capture, she no longer
positively evaded it. She was no longer afraid of him, recognizing, no
doubt, that he wanted nothing of her, that he would never worry her
again. It was as if she had given him his lesson, and was content now
that he had learned it.

One night, early in November, as they were going over Wandsworth Bridge,
the question that had been burning in him suddenly flared up.

"What has become of your friend Miss Usher?"

"Nothing," said Winny, "has become of her. She's gone home. Her father
sent for her."

"What ever for?"

"To look after her. She never should have left home."

Then she told him what she knew of Violet, bit by bit, as he drew it out
of her. She was very fond of Violet. Violet had pretty ways that made
you fond of her. Everybody was fond of Violet. Only her people--they'd
been a bit too harsh and strict with her, Winny fancied. Not that she
knew anything but what Violet had told her.

Where was her home?

In the country. Down in Hertfordshire. Her father was a farmer, a small
farmer. The trouble was that Violet couldn't bear the country. She
wouldn't stay a day in it if she could help it. She was all for life.
She'd been about a year in town. No, Winny hadn't known her for a year.
Only for a few months really, since she came to Starker's. She'd been in
several situations before that. She was assistant at the ribbon counter
at Starker's. The clerks didn't have anything to do with the shop girls
as a rule: but Winny thought the custom silly and stuck up. Anyhow,
she'd taken a fancy to Violet, seeing her go in and out. And Violet
needed a deal of looking after. She was like a child. A spoiled child
with little ways. Winny had tried her best to take care of her, but she
couldn't be taking care of her all the time. She was glad she had gone
home, though she was so fond of her. But she was afraid she wouldn't
stay long.

"You think," said Ransome, "she'll come back?"

"I shouldn't be surprised if she turned up any day."

"And you'll take care of her?"

"Yes, I shall take care of her."

He looked at her, and for a moment it revived, it stirred in his heart,
that odd mingled sense of absurdity and tenderness.

       *       *       *       *       *

She would come back, he told himself; she would come back. Meanwhile he
could call his soul his own, to say nothing of his body. Under all the
shock of it Ransome felt a certain relief in realizing that Violet Usher
had gone. It was as if some danger, half discerned, had been hanging
over him and had gone with her.

But winter and spring passed, and she did not come back. They passed
monotonously, like all the springs and winters he had known. He had got
his rise at Michaelmas; but he was free from the obsession of the
matrimonial idea and all that he now looked forward to was an indefinite
extension of the Athletic Life.

In June of nineteen-four he entered for the Wandsworth Athletic Sports.
He hoped to win the silver cup for the Hurdle Race, against Fred Booty,
as he had done last year.

Wandsworth was sure of its J. R. F. Ransome. Putney and Wimbledon,
competing, were not sending any better men than they had sent last year.
And this year, as Booty owned, Ransome was "a fair masterpiece," a young
miracle of fitness. His admirable form, hitherto equal to young Booty's,
was improved by strenuous training, and at his worst he had what Booty
hadn't, a fire and a spirit, a power, utterly incalculable, of sudden
uprush and outburst, like the loosening of a secret energy. When he
flagged it would rise in him and sting him to the spurt. But, while it
made him the darling of the crowd, it was apt to upset the betting of
experts at the last minute.

There is a level field not far from Wandsworth which is let for football
matches and athletic sports. Railings and broken hedges and a few elm
trees belt the field. All round the space marked out for the contest, a
ring of ropes held back the straining crowd; and all round, within the
ring, went the course for the mile-flat race. Down one side of the
field, facing the Grand Stand, was the course for the jumping, for the
hundred yards' flat race, and for the hurdle race, which was the last
event. On this side, where the crowd was thickest, the rope was
supplemented by a wooden barrier.

The starting-post was on the right near the entrance to the field; the
winning-post on the left directly opposite the Grand Stand. Those who
could not buy tickets for the Grand Stand had to secure front places at
the barrier if they wished to see anything.

Here, then, there was a tight-packed line of men and women, youths and
girls, with an excited child here and there squeezed in among them, or
squatting at their feet under the barrier. Here were young Tyser and
Buist and Wauchope of the Polytechnic, who had come to cheer. And here,
by the winning-post, well in the front, having been there since the
gates were open, were Maudie Hollis and Winny Dymond, in flower-wreathed
hats and clean white frocks. Behind, conspicuous in their seats on the
Grand Stand as became them, were Mr. and Mrs. Randall, and with them was
Ranny's mother.

For all these persons there was but one event--the Hurdle Race. For all
of them, expectant, concentrated on the imminence of the Final Heat,
there was but one distraction, and that was the remarkable behavior of a
young woman who had arrived too late for a satisfactory place among the
crowd.

She had wriggled and struggled through the rear, with such success that
her way to the front row was obstructed only by the bodies of two small
children. They were firmly wedged, yet not so firmly but that a
determined young woman could detach them by exerting adequate pressure.
This she did; and having loosened the little creatures from their
foot-hold, she partly lifted, partly shoved them behind her and slipped
into their places at the barrier. This high-handed act roused the
resentment of a young man, the parent or guardian of the children. He
wanted to know what she thought she was doing, shoving there, and told
her that the kids had as much right to see the blooming show as she had,
and he'd trouble her to give 'em back the place she'd taken. And it was
then that the young woman revealed herself as remarkable. For she turned
and bent upon that young man a pair of black brows with blue eyes
smiling under them, and said to him in a vivid voice that penetrated to
the Grand Stand, "Excuse me, but I _do_ so want to see." And the young
man, instead of making the obvious retort, took off his hat and begged
her pardon and gave her more room than she had taken.

"Well," said Mr. Randall (for he had been observing her for some time
with sidelong appreciation), "some people have a way with them."

"Some people have impudence," said Mrs. Randall.

"And if it was you or me, Bessie," Mrs. Ransome said, "it wouldn't have
been made so easy for us."

"I see you wanting to shove anybody, Emmy," said her brother.

"If I did, I shouldn't begin with little innocent children. I should
shove some one of my own size."

Then they were silent and paid no more attention to the young woman and
her ways.

For far down at the end of the course the racers, the winners of the
first four heats, were being ranged for the start, four abreast; the two
young men from Putney and Wimbledon on the inside of the course, Fred
Booty in the middle, and Ransome outside. Booty knew that, starting even
with his rival, he hadn't much of a chance. As for the young men from
Putney and Wimbledon, they would be nowhere.

Of those four young bodies, Ransome's was by far the finest. Even Booty,
with his wild slenderness and faunlike grace, could not be compared with
Ransome, so well knit, so perfect in every limb was he. Beside him the
two young men from Putney and Wimbledon were distinctly weedy. He stood
poised, with head uplifted, his keen mouth tight shut, his nostrils
dilated, his eyes gazing forward, intent on the signal for the start.
His brown hair, soaked in the sweat of the first heat and then
sun-dried, was crisped and curled about his head. Under his white gauze
"zephyr" and black running-drawers the charged muscles quivered. His
whole body was a quivering vehicle for the leashed soul of speed.

The pistol-shot was fired. They let themselves go. From far up the
course by the winning-post, where Winny leaned out over the barrier, it
was as if at the first row of hurdles four bodies leaped into the air
like one and wriggled there. At the sixth row, well in sight, two
bodies, Booty and Ransome, soared clean and dropped together. Putney and
Wimbledon rose wriggling close behind their drop. At the seventh row
Ransome was in front, divided from Booty by an almost imperceptible
interval. Putney and Wimbledon were several yards behind. At the eighth
and the ninth hurdles he rose gloriously and alone; Booty dropped with a
dull thud a yard behind him. Putney and Wimbledon were nowhere. Nobody
looked at them as they went lolloping, unevenly, dejectedly, over their
seventh hurdle.

And now Booty was catching up, but the race was Ransome's. He knew it.
Booty knew it. The field knew it.

Ranny's mother knew it. Little shivers went up and down her back; there
was a painful constriction in her throat, and tears of excitement in her
eyes; her hand was clenched convulsively over her pocket handkerchief
which had rolled itself into a ball. She had been holding herself in;
for she knew that these symptoms would increase when she saw Ranny, her
boy, come running.

Below, at the barrier, there were hoarse cries, shrill cries, deep
shouting. "Go it, Ransome! Go it, old Wandsworth! Wandsworth wins!"
Tyser and Buist and Wauchope were yelling "Stick it, Ranny! Stick it!"
"Stick it!" "Stick--it!" The last voice, which was Wauchope's, died away
in a groan.

Somebody was leaning over the barrier, on a line with the last hurdles.
Somebody stretched out an arm and shook a little white handkerchief at
him as he came on. Somebody caught his eyes and struck him with a blue
flash under black brows. She struck and fixed him as he ran to his last
leap.

He looked at her and started and stood staggering with checked speed.
And as he staggered Booty rose slenderly and dropped and rushed on to
the tape-line at the winning-posts. The white tape fluttered across him
as he breasted it. Booty had won the race.

They cheered him; they were bound to cheer the winner. But at the
barrier and from the Grand Stand there burst forth a more frantic uproar
of applause as Ransome recovered himself and took his last hurdle at a
stand.

It was all very well to cheer him; but he was beaten, beaten in the race
that was his.

       *       *       *       *       *

He staggered out of the course. Hanging his head, and heedless of his
friends, and of Booty's hand on his bent shoulder, he went and hid
himself in the dressing-tent.

And there in the dressing-tent, his faunlike face more sanguine than
ever in his passion, Booty burst out like a young lunatic. He swore most
horribly. He swore at the umpire. He swore at Ransome. He swore at
everybody all round. The more Ranny congratulated him, the more he swore
at him. He called Ranny a blanky young fool, and asked him what the
blank he did it for. He said it was a blanky shame, and that if anybody
tried to give _him_ a blanky cup, he'd throw it at 'em. Even when they'd
calmed him down a bit, he still swore that he'd give Ranny the cup, for
Ranny'd given him the race. He explained to them in his hoarsest tones
that it stood to reason he could never have got in with the pace Ranny'd
got on him. It wasn't fair, he said. It was a fluke, a blanky fluke.

And round him Tyser and Buist and Wauchope clamored in the tent and
agreed with him, declaring that it wasn't fair. Of course it was a
fluke, a blanky fluke.

And Ranny, though he told Booty to dry up and stow it; though he put it
to Tyser and Buist and Wauchope that it wasn't any blanky fluke, that it
couldn't well be fairer, seeing how he'd funked it at the finish, Ranny
knew in his heart that somewhere there was something queer about it. He
couldn't think why on earth he'd funked it.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, in her little room in St. Ann's Terrace, Winny lay awake and
cried.

Violet Usher had come back.



CHAPTER X


It was from the next day, Sunday, that he dated it--what happened. It
followed as a sequel to the events of Sunday.

For Ransome was convinced that it never could have happened if he had
not gone with Wauchope on Sunday evening to that Service for Men. He
used to say that if you traced it back far enough, poor old Wauchope was
at the bottom of it. It was poor old Wauchope who had "rushed" him for
the Service (in calling him poor old Wauchope, he recognized him as the
unknowing and unwilling thing of Destiny). Thus it had its root and rise
in the extraordinary state of Wauchope's soul.

Wauchope had realized that he _had_ a soul, and was beginning to take an
interest in it. That, of course, was not the way he put it when he
approached Ransome on Saturday night after the Sports Dinner at the
"Golden Eagle." All he said was that he was "in for it." Been let in by
a curate johnnie who'd rushed him for a Service for Men to-morrow night
at Clapham. Wauchope wasn't going because he wanted to, but because the
curate was such a decent chap he didn't like to disappoint him. He ran a
Young Men's Club in St. Matthias's, Clapham, and Wauchope helped him by
looking in now and then for a knock-up with the gloves. The curate was
handy with the gloves himself. A bit cumbrous, but fancied himself as a
featherweight, in a skipping, dodging, dance-all-round-you,
land-you-one-presently sort of style. Well, the curate johnnie had been
handing round printed invitations for this Service. "All Welcome," don't
you know? "Come, and bring a Friend." Wauchope had promised, Honor
Bright, he'd come and bring a friend. And Ransome, in a weak moment, had
consented to be brought.

The Service would be at eight, and would last, say, till nine. Half past
nine was the very earliest hour he could fix for his appointment with
Miss Usher.

For he had seen her. She had risen up before him, to his amazement, on
that Sunday evening, as he turned out of his own door on his way to
supper with Wauchope at Clapham. He had walked with her for five
minutes, wheeling his bicycle in the gutter, while they settled how and
where they were to meet.

She was living in Wandsworth, lodging in St. Ann's Terrace, near to
Winny Dymond, so that Winny could take care of her. She had got another
situation at Starker's, in the millinery department.

He proposed that he should meet her at closing-time to-morrow, and she
smiled at him and said she didn't mind; but Winny would be there (he had
forgotten Winny). Then he suggested next Saturday afternoon or Sunday
about three; and she said she really couldn't say. Saturday and Sunday
were such a long way off, and things might be different now that she was
in the millinery. And she smiled again, and in such a manner that he had
a vision, a horrible vision, of other fellows crowding round her on
Saturdays and Sundays. He more than suspected that this was
"cock-a-tree"; but it made him desperate, so that he said, "Well--how
about to-night?"

Well--_to-night_ she'd promised Winny she'd be good and go to church.

If he had been madder, if he'd been more set on it, he would have gone
off with her that minute; he would have persuaded her to give up church;
he himself would have broken his promise to old Wauchope. But he did
none of these things, and his abstention was the sign and measure of his
coolness, of his sanity. He only said, as any cool and sane young man
might say: How about after church? And if he called when he got back
from Clapham? He wouldn't be a minute later than half past nine.

And Violet had said: Oh, well--she didn't know about calling. You see,
she only had one room. And he had reckoned with that difficulty; for
Winny Dymond only had one room which she shared with Maudie. By calling,
he'd meant, of course, on the doorstep, to take her for a walk.

But Violet, for some reason, didn't care about the doorstep. She'd
rather, if he didn't mind, that he met her somewhere out of doors.

And so they had been drawn into an assignation at the old elm tree by
the Causeway on Wandsworth Plain.

Thus, if it had done nothing else to him, the Service for Men could be
held responsible for throwing that meeting with Violet much too late.

Still, he had no misgivings. It was June; and in June nine o'clock was
still daytime. And when he went to the Service he hadn't any idea what
it would do to him.

No more, of course, had poor old Wauchope. Wauchope was grateful and
apologetic; before they got there he said he didn't know what he might
be letting Ransome in for. The curate johnnie was bossing the Service,
but he understood they'd engaged another joker for the Address. What he,
Wauchope, funked, personally, more than anything was the Address. And
Ransome, generously, declared that whatever it was like, he'd stick it.
He'd stand by Wauchope to the finish, like a man.

       *       *       *       *       *

They left their bicycles in Wauchope's rooms, and walked the few hundred
yards to St. Matthias's Mission Church.

St. Matthias's Mission Church was a brand-new yellow-brick building in
the latest Gothic, with a red-tiled roof, where a shrill little bell
swung tinkling under the arch in the high west gable.

Inside, cream distempered walls with brown stencilings; in the roof,
bare beams of pitch pine, stained and varnished; north and south, clear
glass windows shedding a greenish light; one brilliant stained-glass
window above the altar at the east end.

Up and down the aisles between the open pews of pitch pine went the
workers of the Mission, marshaling the men into their seats. By the west
door, Wauchope's friend, the cumbrous curate, who fancied himself as a
featherweight, stood smiling and shaking hands with each man as he came,
and thanking him for coming, thus carrying out the idea that it was an
entertainment. He had his largest smile, his closest grip for Wauchope
and for Ransome, for they were men after his own heart. Ransome observed
the curate critically, and without committing himself irretrievably to
an opinion, he owned that he looked fit enough. There was not about him
any sign that you could see of flabbiness or weediness. He was evidently
a decent johnnie, and for all that happened afterward Ransome forbore to
hold him personally responsible.

The service, conducted by the curate, was extremely brief. Everything
was left out that could be left, to make room for hymns wherever it was
possible to place a hymn. The Psalms were chanted, and the curate
intoned the Prayers in a voice that was not his natural voice, but
something far more poignant and impressive.

There were no boys in the choir, and the singing, that lacked their
purifying and clarifying treble, had a strange effect, somber yet
disturbing. It acted on Ranny like an incantation.

Of course, if he had known what it was going to do to him, he would have
kept away.

For though there was nothing in his flesh and blood and muscle that
suggested an inebriate father, yet in his profounder and obscurer being
he was Fulleymore Ransome's son. The secret instability that made
Fulleymore Ransome drink had had its effect on Ranny's nervous system.
His nerves, though he was not aware of it, were finely woven and highly
strung. He had a tendency to be carried away and to be excited, exalted,
and upset. Since Saturday afternoon Ranny had remained more or less in a
state of tension induced by the hurdle race, by the shock of seeing
Violet Usher, and by the dinner at the "Golden Eagle." And, coming
straight from Violet, he had entered St. Matthias's Mission Church keyed
up to his highest pitch. So that the Service for Men which subdued
Wauchope and made him humble and ashamed and sent him away trying to be
a better man, that very same Service worked Ranny up to a point when
anything became possible to him.

First of all, then, the intoning and the chanting acted on him exactly
like an incantation. Ranny's will, the spiritual part of him, was lulled
to sleep by the rhythmic voices, and as his sense of decency had no
reason whatever to expect an outrage, it was also off its guard,
quiescent, passive to the charm. The rest of Ranny was exposed,
piteously, to the rhythm that swelled, that accentuated, accelerated the
vibration of his inner tumult.

Then the obvious safety-valve was closed to him. A sense of strangeness
and of sudden shyness prevented him from joining as he should have
joined in the Service. Ranny could not take it out all at once in
singing. That silence and passivity of his left him open at every pore
to the invasion of the powers of sound. These young, intensely vibrant
bass and tenor voices sang all round him, they sang at him and into him
and through him. There was a young man close behind him with a tenor
voice that pierced him like a pain. There was Wauchope at his right ear
thundering in a tremendous barytone.

First of all it was a trumpet call that shook him.

/P
    "Sold-ier-ers o-of Christ! a-arise,
    And put your armor on,"
P/

sang Wauchope. The sound of that singing made Ransome feel noble; and
there is nothing more insidiously destructive than feeling noble.

And then, later on, it was a strange and a more poignant cry that melted
him, so that his very soul dissolved in tenderness and yearning.

/P
    "Jesu, Lover o-of my soul,"
P/

sang the young man with the tenor.

/P
    "Let me to Thy bosom fly,
    While the gathering wa-ters roll.
    While the tempest sti-ill is high."
P/

(Ranny felt them about him, the waters and the tempest.)

/P
    "Other refuge ha-ave I none,
    Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
    Leave--ah! leave me no-ot alone,
    Still support and co-omfort me."
P/

And as the infinite pathos and pleading of the tenor voice played on
him, Ranny sank, lost and shelterless and alone, till at the word "Life"
he rose again and exulted, he rose above himself, even to the point of
singing.

/P
    "Thou of Life the fountain art,
    Freely let me take of Thee;
    Spring Thou up with-in my heart;"
P/

sang Ranny.

/P
    "Rise to all eternity."
P/

There was something about that hymn, and his own sudden crying out in
it, that made him peculiarly susceptible to the influences of the
Address. When the preacher rose in the pulpit, when he looked about him
with ardent and earnest eyes in a face ravaged by emotion, when his wide
and somewhat loose and mobile lips gave out the text, Ranny had an
obscure foreknowledge of what would happen to him.

For he was not altogether virgin to the experience he was undergoing. It
belonged to certain moods of his childhood and his adolescence when more
than once, in Wandsworth Parish Church, he had been stirred mysteriously
by the tender music of the Evening Service, and by the singing of
certain hymns. There were layers upon layers of emotion sunk beyond
memory in Ranny's soul. So that what happened to him now had the
profound and vehement, though secret, force of a revival. The submerged
feelings rose in him; they were swollen, intensified, dominated beyond
recognition by the virile and unspiritual passion that leaped up and ran
together with them and made them one. It gave them an obscure but superb
sanction and significance.

For that incantation not only called up the past; with a still greater
magic and mystery it evoked the future. It was a prophecy, a premonition
of the things to be. It cried upon the secret, unseen powers of life. It
brought down destiny.

"'Know ye not that your bodies,'" said the preacher--and he leaned out
and looked to the young men on the right--"'your bodies'"--and he looked
to the young men on the left--"'are the temples, of the Holy
Ghost'"--and he looked straightforward and paused as if he saw invisible
things.

He may have drawn a bow at a venture, but he seemed to have singled out
Ranny from among all those young men. He leaned over his pulpit, and
fixed his kindled and penetrating eyes on Ranny. He adjured Ranny to
remember that Sin which he had never committed; he implored him to
recall the shame which he had never felt, and at the same time to purge
himself of that unholy memory, and put away from him the sensual
thoughts that had never occurred to him and the abominable intentions
that he had never had.

Then, with a subtle and plastic inflection of his voice, like the poise
of wings descending, he dropped from that almost inspired height of
emotion, and became shrewd and practical, thoroughly informed and
competent, a physician with a flair for the secret of disease, a surgeon
of the Soul, relentless in his handling of the knife, a man of the world
who spoke to them of what he knew, in all sincerity, as man to man. And
then he soared again, flapping his great wings that fanned emotion to a
flame.

And through it all the young curate who had brought them there sat
folded more and more within his surplice, and became more and more red
as to his face, more and more dubious as to his eyes. He was like some
young captain, wise though intrepid, who sees his brave battalions
routed through the false move of his general.

The magic worked. A man behind Ransome was heard breathing heavily. The
gentle drowsiness habitually expressed by Wauchope's broad and somewhat
flattened features was intensified to stupefaction. His head had sunk
slightly forward, but he looked up, lowering at the preacher with his
little innocent eyes, half sullen, half afraid.

Wauchope was merely uncomfortable. He suffered on the surface. But Ranny
was disturbed profoundly, shaken, excited, and most curiously uplifted.

He and Wauchope compared notes afterward on the preacher, whom they
called "that imported josser." They thought he rather fancied himself at
that particular job, and supposed that he was some sort of a "pro" who
had spoiled his "form" by overdoing it, and had lost the confidence of
his backers. They agreed that if Wauchope's friend the curate had given
them a straight talk it would have been much straighter. As it was,
nothing could have been more devious, more mysterious and serpentine
than the discourse that turned and wound and wormed its way into the
last obscurities and secrecies of Ranny's being.

In the Mission Church of St. Matthias's Ranny underwent illumination. It
was as if all that was dark and passionate in him had been interpreted
for him by the preacher. Interpreted, it became in some perverse way
justified. Over and above that innermost sanction and recognition it had
the seal outside it of men's acknowledgment, it took its place among the
existent, the normal, the expected. Ranny was not alone in his passion
and confusion. He was companioned, here and now, in the great
enlightenment.

But even Ranny could not have foretold the full extent of his reaction
to that sinuous and evocative Address.

Meanwhile, so carried away was Ranny that he joined Wauchope in a
furious singing of the final hymn, "Onward, Christian so-o-oldier-ers!"

He had felt noble; he had felt tender; now he was triumphant.



CHAPTER XI


Wauchope, who hadn't a nerve in his composition, recovered soon after he
got into the open air. But in Ransome, without intermission, the magic
of that incantation worked.

The symptoms of its working were a frightful haste, anxiety, and fear.
He left Wauchope without any explanation, and rode off to his
appointment at a dangerous speed and with a furious ringing of his bell.
He was afraid that if he were late by five seconds Violet Usher would be
gone. It was incredible to him that she should be there. It was
incredible that it should have come to this, that he should be flying in
haste and anxiety and fear unspeakable to meet her at the elm tree by
the Causeway on Wandsworth Plain. The whole adventure was incredible.

Yet there could not be a better place for it than Wandsworth Plain, a
three-cornered patch of bare ground, bounded on one side by the river
Wandle, and on the other by a row of brown cottages and two little old
inns, with steep tiled roofs and naked walls, "The Bell" and "The
Crane." They were pure eighteenth century, and they give to Wandsworth
Plain its lonely and deserted air as of a little riverside hamlet
overlooked by time and the Borough Council. On a Sunday evening in
summer they stand as if in perpetual peace, without rivalry, without
regret, very bright and clean and simple, one washed yellow and the
other chalk-white. The river runs under brown walls, shaded on one side
by espalier limes, on the other over-hung with elder bushes in flower.
Lower down, on the banks, are willows and alders, and the wild hemlock
grows there, lifting up its great white whorls. Beyond the farther wall
and the limes there is a vast yard, stacked with timber; beyond the
banks a dock; and beyond all, on the great River, unseen, a distance of
crowded warehouses and gray wharves.

The elm tree, muffled in green, leans out over the stream as the
lightning bowed it long ago, propped by wooden stays, mutilated to the
merest torso of a tree. A sacred thing, the elm tree is inclosed and
guarded by a wooden railing as in a shrine.

Ransome was ten minutes too early, and it was impossible that she should
be there. Yet there she was, in her white dress, leaning up against the
wooden railing, as if swept and then left there in her detachment, so
inaccessible, so isolated was she, so unaware or so disdainful of the
couples, the young devotees of passion, who had made the elm tree their
meeting-place. She was there too soon, yet about her there was no air of
haste, but rather of brooding and delay. You would have said of her in
her stillness that she could afford to wait, she was so certain of her
end.

She scarcely stirred from her place to greet Ransome as he came. He
leaned up against the railing close beside her.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I tore like mad. Did you think I was never
coming?"

She smiled with a curious smile.

"No," she said. "I knew that you would come."

And they stayed there. (Some instinct had impelled him to call at the
shop, and leave his bicycle with Mercier. A bicycle was an encumbrance,
a thing inappropriate to the adventure.) They stayed while the couples,
the young devotees of passion, stood locked in each other's arms, or
moved away, slowly, like creatures in an enchantment, linked together,
and passed into the dusk. And in the end his hand sought and found hers,
secretly, behind the shelter of her gown, and they too passed, hand in
hand and slowly, like creatures in an enchantment; they were drawn into
the dusk, beyond the barrier at the Causeway, to the footpath by the
river.

When they returned to the elm tree it was all dark and secret there.
They stood as those others had stood, creatures of the enchantment,
locked, with hands on shoulders and faces looking close and seeing each
other's eyes large and strange in the darkness.

Over Wandsworth Plain came the sound of the Parish Church clock striking
ten.

When they reached St. Ann's Terrace the little brown house where Violet
lodged was shut up, asleep behind drawn blinds.

Violet could let herself in. She had a key. At least, she thought she
had. She could have been almost sure she had brought it. But no, it was
not in her purse, nor yet in her pocket. She turned the pocket inside
out and shook it, and there was no key. Oh, dear, she was afraid she had
lost it, or else--perhaps--she hadn't brought it after all. She was that
careless. She thought she must have left it in her room on the
dressing-table.

They knocked three times, and nobody answered. Nobody was there. They
had all gone out early in the evening, and evidently they had not come
back. Sometimes, Violet said, they weren't back till eleven or past it.

Well, she didn't want to stand out there much longer. She wondered how
she was ever going to get in.

They looked at each other and laughed at their helplessness. There is
always something funny about being locked out. Ranny said, "What a
lark!"

Then he thought of the window.

It was low. He stepped on to the ledge, and stood there. He slipped the
latch with the blade of his pocket knife. He raised the sash and dropped
into the room. He groped about in it till he found his way into the
passage and opened the door and let Violet in.

She said she was all right now. Her candle would be left there for her,
on the shelf. But it wasn't, and Violet didn't like the dark. She was
afraid of it. So Ranny lit a match. He lit several matches and lighted
her all the way up the narrow staircase to the door of her little
bedroom at the back. She took the matches from him and went in to look
for the candle, leaving the door ajar and Ranny standing outside it on
the mat.

He heard her soft feet moving about the room; he heard the spurt of the
matches, and her little smothered cry of impatience as they went out one
by one. It seemed ages to Ranny as he waited.

At last she found the candle and lit it and set it down somewhere where
it was hidden behind the door.

And then she came to him with her eyes all shining in the dusk.

She filled the half-opened doorway; and round and about her and in the
room beyond there hung, indescribable but perceptible, palpable almost
as a touch, the thick scent of her hair. And they stood together on the
threshold as they had stood by the elm tree in the dark.

She closed her eyes, and his hold tightened. She called his name
thickly, "Ranny!" and suddenly it was as if his very nerves and the
strength of his knees dissolved and flowed like water, and drawing he
was drawn over the threshold.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Don't worry about it, Ranny. It had got to be."

She said it, clinging to him with soft hands, as he parted from her. For
a moment she was moved beyond herself by his compunction, his passion of
tenderness for the helpless thing she seemed.

What would have surprised him if he could have thought about it was
that, above it all, above the tenderness and the compunction, he still
felt that triumphant sense of sanction and completion, of acquiescence
in an end foreappointed and foreseen.

But before he could think about it he was overtaken by an astounding, an
incredible drowsiness.

He dragged himself home to his attic and his bed, where, astoundingly,
incredibly, he slept.



CHAPTER XII


It was about nine o'clock of another Sunday evening a week later.

Winny Dymond was sitting on the edge of Violet's bed in the little back
room in St. Ann's Terrace. Violet, in a white petticoat and camisole,
overcome by the heat, lay stretched at length, like a drowsy animal, in
the hollow of the bed where she had flung herself. Her head, tilted
back, lay in the clasp of her hands. Her breasts, drawn upward by the
raised arms, left her all slender to the waist. The soft-folded, finely
indented crook of her elbows made a white frame for her flushed face.
She was looking at Winny with eyes narrowed to the slits of the sleepy,
half-shut lids.

In a thick, sweet voice, a voice too drowsy for anything beyond the bare
statement of the fact, she had been telling Winny that she was engaged
to be married to Mr. Ransome.

Now she was looking at Winny (all her intelligence narrowed to that
thread-fine glint of half-shut eyes), looking to see how Winny would
take it.

Winny took it with that blankness that leaves the brain naked to all
irrelevant impressions, and with a silence that made all her pulses
loud. She heard the rattle and roar of a distant tram and the clock
striking the hour in the room below. She saw the soiled lining and the
ugly warp of Violet's shoes kicked off and overturned beside the bed.
Beyond the shoes, a stain that had faded rose and became vivid on the
carpet. Then a film came over Winny's eyes, and on the far border of the
field of vision, somewhere toward the top of her head, a yellow chest of
drawers with white handles grew dim and quivered and danced like the
yellow and white specter of a chest of drawers.

"I suppose you're surprised," said Violet.

"No, I'm not. Not at all."

And she wasn't. But she was amazed at her own calmness.

"I knew it," she said.

"Knew it?"

"Yes."

Of course she had known it. If she hadn't, how could she have endured it
now?

"When did you know?"

"Last week. When you came back."

That was not true. She had known it before last week. She had known it
as long as she had known Violet. And she had known that because of it
Violet would come back.

She hadn't blamed Violet for coming back. Even now, as she sat on
Violet's bed and was tortured by those lights under Violet's eyelids,
even now she didn't blame her. And if she turned her shoulder it was not
because she minded Violet looking at her (she was past minding that),
but because she was afraid to look at Violet. She didn't want to see her
lying there. It was almost as if she were afraid of hating her.

Behind her Violet was stirring. She had drawn up her outstretched limbs
and raised herself on the pillows. Winny felt her behind her, restless
and alert.

Then she spoke again.

"You needn't mind, Winny. It's got to be."

"Mind? What makes you think I'm minding?"

"The way you sit there with your mouth shut, saying nothing."

"There's nothing to say. I'm not surprised. You've not told me anything
I didn't know."

"Well, any one would think you didn't approve of it. Why can't you get
up and say you hope we'll be happy, or something?"

"Of course, I hope you'll be happy. I want you to be happy."

(Of course she did.)

"Look here"--Violet was sitting up now--"_was_ there anything between
you and him?"

Winny rose straight and turned and looked at her.

"You've no business to ask that," she said.

"Yes I have." She rose slowly, twisted herself, slid her foot to the
floor, and stood up facing Winny. "If I'm going to marry him I've a
right to know. Not that it'll make a scrap of difference."

"Who told you there was anything between us?"

"Nobody told me. I mean--_was_ there--before I came?"

"There was never anything--never. Any one who tells you anything
different's telling you a lie. I'm not saying we weren't friends--"

Violet smiled.

"I'm not saying you were anything else. You can go on being friends. _I_
sha'n't care. Only don't you go saying I came between you--that's all."

At that Winny fired.

"As if I'd do any such a thing! I don't know what can have put it into
your head."

Violet laughed.

"You should see _your face_," she said. "Why--any one could tell you
were gone on him. They've only got to look at you."

There are some insults, some insolences that cannot be answered.

"You can believe that," said Winny, "if you like--if it makes you any
happier. But your believing it won't make it true."

She walked slowly, in her small dignity, to the chair where she had
thrown down her hat. She took up the hat and put it on, deliberately,
with a high bravery, before the glass.

Then she turned to her friend and smiled at her.

"It's all right," she said, "though you mightn't think it. Good-by."

Whereupon Violet rushed at her and kissed her.

"It isn't your fault, and it isn't mine, Winky," she whispered. "It's
got to be, I tell you."

She drew herself from the embrace, erect and rosy, in a sudden passion
that had in it both triumph and despair.

"Wild horses couldn't have torn him and me apart."

       *       *       *       *       *

And Winny didn't blame her; even in the pain of the night that followed,
when she lay awake in the bed she shared with Maudie Hollis, stifling
her sobs lest she should waken Maudie, clutching the edge of the
mattress where she had writhed out of Maudie's reach. For at the first
sound of crying the proud beauty had turned to her friend and put her
arms about her, and held her in a desolate and desolating embrace.

"Don't cry, Winny; don't cry, dear. It isn't worth it," had been
Maudie's consolation. For, though Winny hadn't said a word to her, she
knew. And she had followed it up by declaring that she hated that Violet
Usher; and she hated Ransome; she hated everybody who made little Winky,
little darling Winky, cry.

But Winky didn't hate them. It had to be. Nothing could be more
beautiful in its simplicity than her acceptance of the event.

And she didn't blame them. She didn't blame anybody. She had brought it
on herself. The thing was as good as done last summer, when she had
stopped Ranny making love to her. She had stopped it on purpose. She
knew he couldn't afford to marry her, not for years and years; she knew
he had been trying to tell her so; and it didn't seem fair, somehow, to
let him get worked up all for nothing. That was how girls drove men mad.
She considered that she was there to take care of Ranny, and she had
seen, in her wisdom, that to keep Ranny well in hand would be less hard
on him than to let him lose his head.

Violet hadn't seen it, that was all.

Besides, Violet was different. She had ways with her which made it no
wonder if Ranny lost his head. In Winny's opinion the man didn't live
who could resist Violet and her ways. She got round you somehow. She had
got round Winny last year when she had come imploring her to take her to
the Grand Display at the Polytechnic Gymnasium, teasing her and
threatening that if she didn't take her she'd go off to the Empire by
herself. She had spoken as if going to the Empire was a preposterous and
unheard-of thing. Winny didn't know that Violet had gone there more than
once, not by herself, but with the foreman of her department.

And she had had to take her, and that, of course, had done it. Though
she had been afraid of this thing and had foreknown it from the
beginning, she had taken her; though she had been afraid ever since she
had seen Violet's face and watched her ways. So afraid was she that she
had tried to keep Ranny from ever seeing Violet. Time and again she had
hurried her away when she had seen Ranny coming, while the fear in her
heart told her that those two were bound to meet. She had lived from
hand to mouth on her precarious happiness, contented if she could stave
off the evil day.

And it was all worse than useless. Violet had been aware that she was
being hurried away when Ranny came in sight, and it had made her the
more set. As for Winny's hope that Violet would forget all about Ranny
when some other man appeared, it was futile as long as she took care of
Violet. Taking care of Violet meant keeping her as far as possible out
of the way of other men--so that there again! It seemed as if she had
arranged it so that Ranny should be the only one. For Winny had divined
her friend's disastrous temperament even while she maintained hotly that
there was no harm in her. And she had almost quarreled with Maudie
because the proud beauty had said, "Well, you'll see."

Winny knew nothing about Violet and the foreman.

And with the same innocence she never doubted that when Violet and
Ransome met that night at the Polytechnic it was for the first time.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so she stitched with a good will at a white muslin blouse for
Violet's wedding present, and folded it herself and put it away in the
yellow chest of drawers with the rest of Violet's wedding things. It lay
there, all snowy white, with a violet-scented sachet on the top of it, a
sachet (Winny had found it in the drawer) with a pattern of violets on a
white satin ground and the name "Violet" sprawling all across it in
embroidery.



CHAPTER XIII


Ransome had barely risen from that sleep of exhaustion when he realized
the disastrous character of the night's adventure. He was no longer
uplifted by any sense of sanction and of satisfaction. Of the pride of
life there remained in him only sufficient to prevent him from regarding
his behavior as in any sense a shame and a disaster to his own youth.
Otherwise his mood was entirely penitential. He could not look at the
thing as it affected himself. However it might be for him, he had
wronged Violet, and that was calamity enough for any man to face.
According to all his instincts and traditions, he had wronged her.

Of course, he was going to marry her. He was going to marry her at once;
as soon as ever they could get their banns put up. It never occurred to
him that delay could, in such a case, be possible.

For, from the very moment of that morning after, in Ranny's heart there
was an awful and a sacred fear, a fear of fatherhood. It was the first
thing he thought of as soon as he could think at all.

He wanted to put Violet right at once, before a suspicion of that
possibility should have crossed her mind. It would have seemed to him
abominable to risk it, to wait on, as fellows did, on the off-chance of
a reprieve, till she came to him, poor child, with her whispered tale.
That, to Ranny's mind, was where the shame came in; not in the fact,
but in the compulsion of the fact. It was intolerable that any man
should have the right to say of his own wife that he had been forced to
marry her. Hence his desperate haste.

Violet couldn't understand it. She didn't want to be married all at
once. She said there was no hurry; that he couldn't afford it; that
there was no rime nor reason in it; let them go on as they were a bit;
let them wait and see.

In all this Ranny saw only a tenderness and a desire to spare him. But
he stood firm. He was not concerned with reasons and with rimes; he
wouldn't wait, he wouldn't see; and (this astonished Violet and secretly
enraged her) he absolutely refused to go on as they were.

For his fear was always before him.

It was no doubt to that refusal of his that he owed Violet's consent.

His family were appalled at the news of Ranny's engagement. It was so
unexpected, so unlike him; and how it had happened Ranny's mother
couldn't think. She knew all his comings and goings for the last year.
His temperance and discretion had given her a sense of imperishable
security. She had made up her mind that Ranny wasn't one to be in a
hurry; and now she had been right only in her prophecy that when his
time came there would be no holding him.

And there _was_ no holding him.

They had all tried it. They had all been at him; his Uncle Randall and
his Aunt Randall, and his mother and his father. For the first time in
his life Mr. Ransome was roused to take an interest in his son, to
acknowledge him as an adult, capable of formidably adult things. And
though they all told him that he was too young to know his own mind,
that he was doing foolish, and behaving silly, under the show of
disapproval and disparagement it was clear that they respected him, that
they realized his manhood, and that he was somehow important to them as
he had never been important in his life before.

What was more, rage as they would at it, they were impressed by Ranny's
firmness, his unalterable and imperturbable determination to marry, and
to marry the unknown Violet Usher.

And on the main issue they gave way. They owned that it was natural that
the boy should want to marry; they saw that he would have to marry some
day; and his mother went so far as to say she wanted him to marry and to
settle down. What they did not understand, and most certainly did not
approve of, what they did their best to talk him out of, was the awful
hurry he was in. There wasn't any hurry, they said, there shouldn't be,
when he was so young. He couldn't afford to marry now, but he could
afford it very well in two years' time. Why, he was only twenty-three,
and in two years' time he'd have got his next rise, and he'd have saved
more money.

"If you'd wait, Ranny," said his mother, "but the two years." And his
father and his uncle said he _must_ wait.

But Ranny wouldn't. He wouldn't wait six months. No, and he wouldn't
wait three months and look about him. He wouldn't have waited three
weeks if it hadn't been for the banns. It was no use their talking.

They knew it. It had been no use their talking seven years ago, when
Ranny had refused to become a Pharmaceutical Chemist, and had given no
reasons, because the only reason he could give was that life would be
intolerable if spent in the perpetual presence of his father. And he
didn't give them any reasons now.

Before the Ransomes and the Randalls knew where they were the banns had
been put up in Wandsworth Parish Church and in the Parish Church of
Elstree, in Hertfordshire, and Violet had been twice to tea.

He had looked for opposition down at Elstree, in Hertfordshire, fierce
and insurmountable opposition from Mr. Usher, that father who had been
so harsh to Violet. It was incredible that Violet's father would allow
him to marry her; it was incredible that her mother would allow it. He
would just have to marry her in spite of them.

But, as it happened, the attitude of Mr. and Mrs. Usher surpassed
probability. Not only were they willing that he should marry Violet,
they desired that he should marry her at once. The sooner the better,
Mr. Usher said. If young Ransome could marry her to-morrow he'd be best
pleased. It was almost as if Mr. Usher knew. But, of course, he didn't,
he couldn't possibly know. He would have scouted the proposition
altogether if he hadn't had three other younger girls at home. It
wasn't, Ranny reflected, as if Violet was the only one. So far from
putting obstacles in Ranny's way, Mr. Usher positively smoothed it.
Understanding that the young man was not, as you might call it, rolling,
he said there wasn't much that they could do, but if at any time a
hamper of butter and eggs and fruit and vegetables should come in
handy, they'd send it along and welcome; he shouldn't even wonder if, in
case of necessity, they could rise to a flitch of bacon or a joint of
pork. Ranny was exquisitely grateful; though, as for the necessity, he
didn't see himself depending on his father-in-law for his food supplies.
He had no foreboding of the importance that hamper from Hertfordshire
was to assume in the drama of his after life. For the actual hour it
stood simply as the measure of Mr. Usher's approval and good will.

He was much moved when at parting Mrs. Usher pressed him by the hand and
asked him to be gentle with her girl. There was no harm, Mrs. Usher
said, in poor Vi. She was a bit wilful and wildlike; all for life was
Violet--but there, she'd be as good as gold when she had a home and a
kind husband and children of her own. "Mark my words," said Mrs. Usher,
"once the babies come she'll settle down."

And Ranny marked her words.

This unqualified backing that he got from Violet's parents went far to
sustain Ransome in the conflict with his own. He could, indeed, have
embraced Mr. and Mrs. Usher when, in consequence of one Sunday
afternoon's communion with these excellent people, his mother declared
herself more reconciled than she had been to the idea of Ranny's
marrying. Between Ranny's mother and Mrs. Usher there was established in
one Sunday afternoon the peculiar sympathy and intimacy of parents who
live supremely in their children. With her rosy, full-blown, robust
benevolence, Mrs. Usher was a powerful pleader. She put it to Mrs.
Ransome that nothing mattered so long as the young people were happy.
If in the pursuit of happiness the young people failed in the first year
or two to make ends meet, surely among them all they could be given a
helping hand. She was sure that Mr. Usher would do anything he could, in
reason. The comfortable woman declared that she had taken a fancy such
as never was to Ranny, so had Mr. Usher, and he wasn't, she could assure
you, one to take a fancy every day. She had never had a boy (and it
wasn't for not wanting), but if she _had_ had one she'd have wished him
to be just such another as Ranny. Ranny, she was certain, was that
clever he'd be sure to get along. To which argument Mrs. Ransome had to
yield. For she was confronted with a dilemma, having either to agree
with Mrs. Usher or to maintain that her Ranny was not clever enough to
get along. So that before Sunday evening she found herself partaking in
the large-hearted tolerance and optimism of Violet's parents, and
forcing her view upon Uncle and Aunt Randall.

Only Mr. Ransome held out. He refused to be worked upon by argument. To
Ranny's amazement, the old Humming-bird bore himself in those days of
stress, not with that peculiar savage obduracy that distinguished his
more insignificant hostilities, but with a certain sad and fine
insistence. It was as if for the first time in his life he was aware
that he cared for his son Randall and was afraid of losing him. The
Humming-bird could hardly have suffered more if the issue had been
Randall's death and not his marriage. But when the thing was settled,
all he said was, "I don't like it, Mother, I don't like it."

How profoundly it had disturbed him was shown in this, that for the
three weeks before Ranny's wedding-day he remained completely sober.

       *       *       *       *       *

So precipitate, so venturesome was Ranny, that in a month from that
memorable Sunday he found himself married and established in a house. A
house that in twenty years' time would become his own.

That was incredible, if you like. Cowardly caution and niggardly
prudence had suggested rooms; two low-rented, unfurnished rooms such as
could be found almost anywhere in Wandsworth; whereas a house in
Wandsworth was impossible even if you sank as low as Jew's Row or Warple
Way. For the first two days of his engagement Ranny had devoted every
moment of his leisure to the drawing up and balancing of imaginary
household accounts; with the result that he wondered how he ever could
have regarded marriage as a formidable affair. Why, in the seven years
since he had begun to earn money he had been steadily putting money by.
Five pounds a year in the first three years, then ten, then twenty, and
a whole fifty in the year and a half since he had got his rise. With the
interest on his savings and his salary, his present income was not less
than a hundred and twenty-five pounds a year.

In the night watches he grappled like a man with the financial problem.
Scheme after scheme did Ranny throw on the paper from his seething
brain. In the fifth--no, the thoroughly revised and definitive seventh,
he made out that, by a trifling reduction in his personal expenditure,
housekeeping on the two-room system would leave him with a considerable
margin. (In the first rough draft--even in the second--he had allowed
absurdly too much for food and clothing.) But, mind you, that margin
existed solely and strictly on the two-room system.

And here Ranny's difficulties began; for neither Violet nor her parents
would hear of their living in two rooms. Violet, who had lived in one
room, said that living in two rooms was horrible, and Mrs. Usher said
that Violet was right. It was better for all parties to begin as you
meant to go on. Begin in hugger-mugger and you may end in it. But if he
gave Violet a home of her own that _was_ a home at the very start, she'd
soon settle down in it. He needn't worry about the hard work it meant.
The only thing that would keep Violet steadylike was downright hard
work. No; she didn't mean anything cruel. They could have a char once a
fortnight for a scrub-down and the heavy washing.

And Ranny began all over again and made out another set of accounts on
the house basis and allowing for the char.

Impossible; even in Jew's Row or Warple Way. Skimp as he would in
personal expenditure, on the house basis the two ends of Ranny's income
simply _wouldn't_ meet.

All the same, he began looking for the house. The idea of the house, the
desire for the house worked in his brain like a passion; the more
impossible it was, the more ungovernable, the more irresistible he found
it.

And, as he wandered forth on that adventure, seeking for a house, one
Saturday afternoon, accompanied by Violet, Ranny fell into the hands of
the Speculative Builder.

Not very far from Wandsworth, in the green pasturelands of Southfields,
that great magician was already casting into bricks and mortar his
tremendous dream--the city of dreams, the Paradise of Little Clerks.

As yet he had called into being only a few streets of his city,
stretching eastward and southward into the green plain. About it,
southward and eastward, there lay acres of naked earth upturned, torn
and tamed to his hand. Beyond were the fields with their tall elms,
unbroken, virgin, mournful in their last beauty, as they waited for the
ax and pick.

He had done terrible things to the green earth, that speculative
builder, but you could not say of him that he had shut out the sky. The
city ran very low upon the ground in street after street of diminutive
two-storied houses. Each house was joined on to the next, porch to porch
and bow window to bow window, alternating in an endless series, a
machine-made pattern that repeated; a pattern monotonous and yet
fantastic in its mingling of purple, white, and red. Each had the same
little mat of grass laid before each bow window, the same little
red-tiled path from gate to front door, the same front door decorated
with elaborate paneling and panes of colored glass, the same little
machine-made iron gate, the same low red wall and iron railing and
privet hedge; so indistinguishably, so maddeningly alike were all these
diminutive houses. Each roof had the same purple slates, each roof tree
the same red earthwork edging it like a lace; the same red tiles roofed
each porch and faced each gable and the space between the stories. Only
when your eyes became accustomed to the endless running pattern could
you trace it clearly, grasp the detail, note that every two bow windows
were separated by one rain pipe, every two porches sustained by one
pillar, one diminutive magnificent purple pillar, simulating porphyry
and crowned with a rich Corinthian capital in freestone, the outline of
each porch being picked out and made clear and decisive with woodwork
painted white. Then, and not till then, did you see that the
all-important detail was the porphyry pillar, for it was as if every two
houses sprang from it as two flowers from one stem.

Inside, each little house had the same narrow passage and steep stairs;
each had the same small room at the front and one still smaller at the
back; the same little scullery behind the same back door at the end of
the passage that led off into the garden; and upstairs the same bathroom
over the scullery, the same bedrooms back and front, and the same tiny
dressing-room with its little window looking out over the porch.

"Quite enough, if we can run to it," Violet said.

Violet, hitherto somewhat indifferent to the adventure, was caught by
the redness and whiteness, the brandnewness and compactness of the
little houses; she was seduced beyond prudence by the sham porphyry
pillar.

"Quite enough. More than we want, really," said Ranny.

But that was before they had seen the Agent and the Prospectus.

They went to the Agent, not because they could afford to take a house,
but just for curiosity, just to say they'd been, just to supply Ranny
with that information that he craved for, now that the passion of the
house hunt was upon him.

"No good going," said Violet. "The rent will be something awful--why,
that pillar alone--"

And Ranny, too, said he was afraid the rent wouldn't be any joke.

But that was precisely what the rent was--a joke. A joke so good that
Ranny took for granted it couldn't possibly be true. Ranny chaffed the
Agent; he told him he was trying to get at him; he said you didn't find
houses with bathrooms and gardens back and front, going for thirteen
shillings a week, not in this country.

And the Agent, who was very busy and preoccupied with making notes in a
large notebook at his table, mumbled all among his notes that that was
right. Of course you didn't find 'em unless you knew where to look for
'em. And that was not because a good 'ouse couldn't be made to pay for
thirteen shillings a week, if there was capital and enterprise at the
back of the Company that built 'em. This here Estate was the only estate
in England--or anywhere--where you could pick up a house, a house built
in an up-to-date style with all the modern improvements, for thirteen
shillings a week.

And Ranny with a fine shrewdness posed him. "Yes, but what about rates
and taxes?"

They were included.

And as the Agent said it calmly, casually almost, making notes in his
notebook all the time, Ranny conceived a ridiculous suspicion. He fixed
him with a stare that brought him up out of his notebook.

"Included? _What's_ included?"

"District rate," said the Agent, "poor rate, water rate, the whole bag
of tricks for thirteen shillings."

That took Ranny's breath away. As for Violet, she said instantly that
they must have the house.

"Of course you must 'ave it," said the Agent. He might have been an
indulgent father. "Why not? Only thirteen shillings. And I can make you
better terms than that."

It was then that he produced the Prospectus.

By this time, as if stirred by Violet's beauty, he had thrown off the
mask of indifference; he was eager and alert.

They spent twenty minutes over that Prospectus, from which it appeared
that the profit of the Estate Company, otherwise obscure, came from what
the Agent called the "ramifications" of the scheme, from the miles and
miles of houses they could afford to build. Whereas Ranny's profit was
patent, it came in on the spot, and it would come in sooner, of course,
if he could afford to purchase outright.

"For how much?"

"Two hundred and fifty."

But there Ranny put his foot down. He said with decision that it
couldn't be done, an answer for which the Agent seemed prepared.

Well, then--he could give him better terms again. Could he rise to
twenty-five?

Ranny deliberated and thought he could.

Well, then--only twenty-five down, and the balance weekly.

The balance? It sounded formidable, but it worked out at exactly
tenpence a week less than the rent asked for (twelve and twopence
instead of thirteen shillings), and in twenty years' time--and he'd be a
young man still then--the house would be his, Ranny's, as surely as if
he had purchased it outright for two hundred and fifty pounds.

It was astounding. Such a scheme could only have been dreamed of in the
Paradise of Little Clerks.

And yet--and yet--it was impossible.

Ranny said he didn't want to be saddled with a house. How did he know
whether he'd want that particular house in twenty years' time?

Then he could let or sell, the Agent said. It was an investment for his
money. It was property. Property that was going up and up. Even
supposing--what was laughable--that he failed to sell--he would be
paying for his property--paying for house and land--less weekly than if
he rented it. Ordinarily you paid your rent out of income or
investments. He would be investing every time he paid his rent. People
made these difficulties because they hadn't grasped our system--or for
other reasons. Maybe (the Agent fired at him a glance of divination) he
was calculating the expense of furnishing?

He was.

Nothing simpler. Why--you furnished on the hire-purchase system.

"Not much," said Ranny. He knew all about the hire-purchase system.

So he backed out of it. He backed out of his Paradise, out of his dream.
But to save his face he said he would think it over and let the Agent
know on Monday.

And the Agent smiled. He said he could take his time. There was no
hurry. The house wouldn't run away. And he gave Ranny a copy of the
Prospectus with a beautiful picture of the house on it.

All the way home Violet reproached him. It was a shame, she said, that
he couldn't afford the furniture. There was nothing in the world she
wanted so much as that beautiful little house. She hung on his arm and
pleaded. Would he ever be able to afford the furniture? And Ranny said
he thought he could afford it in two years. Meanwhile the house wouldn't
run away. It would wait two years.

And as if it had been waiting for him, motionless, from all eternity,
the house, with its allurements and solicitations, caught him before six
o'clock on the evening of that very day.

Ranny's mother, as if she had known what the house was after, played
into its hands. Attracted by the Prospectus and the picture, she walked
over to Southfields directly after tea. She looked at the house and fell
in love with it at first sight. It had taken her no time to grasp the
system. You couldn't get a house like that in Wandsworth, not for fifty
or fifty-five, not counting rates and taxes. It was a sin, she said, to
throw away the chance. As for furnishing, she had seen to that. In fact,
Ranny without knowing it had seen to it himself. For the last five years
he had kept his father's books, conceiving that herein he was fulfilling
an essentially unproductive filial duty. And all the time his mother,
with a fine sense of justice, had been putting by for him the
remuneration that he should have had. Out of his seven years' weekly
payments for board and lodging she had saved no less than a hundred
pounds. Thus she had removed the one insurmountable obstacle from
Ranny's path.

It might have been better for Ranny if she hadn't. Because, on any
scheme, on the lowest scale of expenditure, with the most dexterous
manipulation of accounts, the house left him without a margin. But who
would think of margins when he knew that he would grow steadily year by
year into a landlord, the owner of house property, and _that_, if you
would believe it, for less rent than if he didn't own it? So miraculous
was the power of twenty-five pounds down.

As if he thought the house could, after all, run away from him, he
bicycled to Southfields with a letter for the Agent, closing with his
offer that very night.

And by a special appointment with the Agent, made as a concession to his
peculiar circumstances, he and Violet went over before ten o'clock on
Sunday morning to choose the house.

For after all they hadn't chosen it yet.

It was difficult to choose among the houses where all were exactly
alike; but you could choose among the streets, for some were planted
with young limes and some with plane trees, and one, Acacia Avenue, with
acacias. Ransome liked the strange tufted acacias. "Puts me in mind of
palm trees," he said. And finally his fancy and Violet's was taken by
one house, Number Forty-seven Acacia Avenue, for it stood just opposite
a young tree with a particularly luxuriant tuft. It was really as if the
tree belonged to Number Forty-seven.

Then they discovered that, outwardly uniform, these little houses had a
subtle variety within. All, or nearly all, had different wall papers. In
Number Forty-seven there were pink roses in the front sitting-room and
blue roses in the back, and, upstairs, quiet, graceful patterns of love
knots or trellis work. The love knots, blue with little pink rosebuds,
in the front room (_their_ room) caught them. They were agreed in favor
of Number Forty-seven.

Then--it was on the following Saturday--they quarreled. The Agent had
written inquiring whether Mr. Ransome wished to give his residence a
distinctive name. He didn't wish it. But Violet did. She wished to give
his residence the distinctive and distinguished name of Granville. She
said she couldn't abide a number, while Ranny said he couldn't stand a
name. Especially a silly name like Granville. He said that if he lived
in a house called Granville it would make him feel a silly ass. And
Violet said he was a silly ass already to feel like that about it.

Then Violet cried. It was the first time he had seen her cry, and it
distressed him horribly. He held out against his pity all Saturday
evening. But on Sunday morning, when he thought of Violet, he relented.
He said he'd changed his mind about that old family seat. Violet could
call it what she liked.

She called it Granville.

The name, in large white letters, appeared presently in the fanlight
above the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Woolridge's, on Monday morning in his dinner-hour, Mr. Ransome of the
counting-house strolled with great dignity and honor through seven
distinct departments as a customer. He ear-marked, for a beginning, and
subject always to the approval of a Lady, three distinct suites of
furniture which he proposed, most certainly, to purchase outright. None
of your hire-purchase systems for Mr. Ransome.

On Tuesday, accompanied by two ladies, he again appeared. Between two
violent blushes, and with an air which would have been light and offhand
if it could, Mr. Ransome presented to his friend, the foreman, his
mother--and Miss Usher. And as if the foreman had not sufficiently
divined her, Miss Usher's averted shoulders, burning cheeks, and lowered
eyelids made it impossible for him to forget that she was the Lady whose
approval was the ultimate condition of the deal.

After an immensity of time, in which Mr. Ransome's dinner hour was
swallowed up and lost, Miss Usher decided finally on the suite in
stained walnut, upholstered handsomely in plush, with a pattern which
Ransome imagined to be Oriental, a pattern of indefinite design in a
yellowish drab and heavy blue upon a ground of crimson. A splendid
suite. The overmantle alone was worth the nineteen pounds nineteen
shillings he paid for it.

The furnishing of the chamber of the love knots was arranged for,
decorously, between Mrs. Ransome and the foreman. Over every item, from
the wardrobe in honey-colored maple picked out with black, to the china
"set" with crimson reeds and warblers on it, Ranny's friend, the
foreman, communed with Ranny's mother in an intimate aside; and Ranny's
mother, in another aside of even more accentuated propriety, appealed to
flaming cheeks and lowered eyelids and a mouth that gave an almost
inarticulate assent. The eyelids refused to open on Ranny where he
stood, turning his back on the women, while he shook dubiously the
footrail of the iron double bedstead to test the joints; and the mouth
refused to speak when Ranny was heard complaining that the bedstead was
about three sizes too large for the room. Eyes and mouth recovered only
downstairs among the carpets, where they again asserted themselves by
insisting on a Kidderminster with a slender pattern of blue on a drab
ground; though Ranny's mother had advised the black and crimson. Ranny's
mother contended almost with passion that drab showed every stain. But
Violet would have that carpet and no other.

And when by struggles and by prodigies of strength on Ranny's part, and
on the part of Woolridge's men, by every kind of physical persuasion,
and by coaxing, by strategy and guile, all that furniture from seven
distinct departments was at last squeezed into Granville--well, there
was hardly room to turn round. Granville, that would have held its own
under any treatment less severe, was overpowered by Woolridge's.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What's wrong with it?" said poor Ranny, as they stood together one
Saturday evening and surveyed their front sitting-room. He couldn't see
anything wrong with it himself.

They had been married that morning. Ranny had had to bring his bride
straight from her father's house to Granville. There could be no going
away for the honeymoon. Woolridge's wouldn't let Ranny go till the sales
were over.

It was only a minute ago that he had had his arm round Violet's waist,
and that her face had pressed his. It seemed ages. And suddenly Violet
had shown sulkiness and irritation. He couldn't understand it. He
couldn't understand how she could have chosen their first hour of
solitude for finding fault with the arrangement of the room. He himself
had been distinctly pleased; proud, too, of having furnished throughout
from Woolridge's, in a style that would last, and at a double discount
which he owed to his payment in ready money, and to his connection with
the firm.

Now he faced a young woman who had no understanding of his pride and no
pity.

"It's _all_ wrong," said she. "And I'll tell you for why. It's too
heavy. You should have furnished in bamboo."

"Bamboo? Sham-poo! It wouldn't last," said Ranny.

"Who wants the silly things to last?" said Violet.

"Come to that, you never let on it was bamboo you wanted."

"How could _I_ know what I wanted? You rushed me so, you never gave me
time to think."

"Oh, I say," said Ranny, "what a tiresome kiddy!"

With that he kissed her, and between the kisses he asked her, with
delirious rapidity: "Who gave you a drawing-room suite? Who gave you a
nice house? Who let you call it Granville?" But he knew. Nobody, indeed,
knew better than Ranny how tight a squeeze it was; and what a horrible
misfit for Granville.

Then suddenly something in the idea of Granville tickled him.

"Whether is it," he inquired, "that the drawing-room suite is too large
for Granville? Or that Granville is too small for the drawing-room
suite?"

"It's too small for anything. And I think you might have waited."

"Waited?"

"Yes. Why shouldn't we have gone on as we were?"

He couldn't criticize her in a moment that was still so blessed;
otherwise it might have struck him that Granville was certainly too
small for Violet's voice.

But it struck Ranny's mother as she heard it from the bedroom overhead,
where she labored, spreading with her own hands the sheets for her son's
marriage bed.

"Why shouldn't we?" Violet's voice insisted.

"Because we couldn't."

He drew her to him. Her eyes closed and their faces met, flame to flame.

"Poor little thing," he said. "Is its head hot? And is it tired?"

"Ranny," she said, "is your mother still upstairs?"

"She'll be gone in a minute," he whispered, thickly.



CHAPTER XIV


Violet's connection with Starker's ceased on the day of her marriage.
Violet herself would have continued it; she had meant to continue it;
she had fought the point passionately with Ranny; but Ranny had put his
foot down with a firmness that subdued her. She had said, "Oh,
well--just as you like. If you think you can get along without my pound
a week." And Ranny, with considerable warmth, had answered back that he
hoped to Heaven he could. And then, again and again, with infinite
patience and gentleness, he explained that the privileges of acquiring
Granville entailed duties and responsibilities incompatible with her
attendance in Starker's Millinery Saloons. He pointed out that if they
were dependent upon Granville, Granville was also dependent upon them.
Granville, she could see for herself, was helpless--pathetic he was.

And Violet would laugh. In those first days he could always make her
laugh by playing with the personality they had created. She would come
out into the roadway on an August morning, as Ranny was going off to
Woolridge's, and they would look at the absurd little house where it
stood winking and blinking in the sun; and morning after morning Ranny
kept it up.

"Look at him," he would say, "sittin' there behind his little railin's,
sayin' nothing, just waitin' for you to look after him."

And Violet would own that Granville was pathetic. But she triumphed.
"You wouldn't feel about him that way," she said, "if he was only Number
Forty-seven."

Just at first there was no doubt that Violet was fond of Granville. Just
at first it was as if she couldn't do too much for him, to keep him
spick and span, clean from top to toe, and always with a happy polish.
Just at first he was, as Ranny said, "such a pretty little chap with his
funny purple pillar, and his little peepers winkin' at you kind of
playful, half the time." For the sun shone on him all that August
honeymoon. It streamed down the Avenue between the rows of young acacias
whose green tufts with that light on them put Ranny more and more in
mind of palm trees. He was more and more in love with the brand-new
Paradise. He expressed all the charm of Southfields, of Acacia Avenue,
when he said it was "so open, and so up-to-date." It made Wandsworth
High Street look old and tortuous and grimy by comparison.

But Ranny was more and more in love with Violet; so much in love that he
could never have expressed her charm. And yet he couldn't hide the
effect it had on him. The neighbors knew it was their honeymoon. They
smiled when they saw Ranny and Violet come out of Granville every
morning wheeling the bicycle between them; they smiled when Violet ran
beside him as he mounted; most of all they smiled when Ranny, riding
slowly, turned right round in his saddle and the two young lunatics
waved and signaled to each other as if they would never have done.

No doubt that in those first days Violet was in love with Ranny. No
doubt that she looked after him as much as Violet could look after
anything; every bit as much as she looked after Granville.

But the hard fact was that Granville and all his furniture required a
great deal of looking after.

Ranny too. To begin with, he had what Violet called an awful appetite.
Which meant that a joint and a loaf went twice as fast as Violet had
calculated; so that she found herself driven to pan bread and tinned
meat in self-defense. She had found that for some reason Ranny didn't
eat so much of these. What with his walking and his "biking," and his
sitting, Ranny's activities wore through his ordinary every-day clothes
at a frightful rate. And then his zephyrs and his flannels! Ranny's
mother had always seen to them herself. She had washed them with her own
hands. Ranny's wife sent them to the laundress, not too often. So that
Ranny, the splendid, immaculate Ranny she had fallen in love with,
appeared after his marriage a shade less immaculate, less splendid than
he had been before.

It was not, of course, that Violet couldn't wash things. For, as Ranny's
mother said to Mrs. Randall, You should see her own white blouses. There
was washing for you! Mrs. Ransome owned quite handsomely that the girl
"paid for it." By which she meant that Violet's appearance justified the
extravagant amount of time she spent on it. And it was not that
Granville demanded from her the downright hard work Mrs. Usher had
considered salutary in her case. Ransome had seen to that. He had not
agreed with Mrs. Usher. If he couldn't keep a servant, he could, and
did, engage a charwoman for all the heavy work. It was not that the
light work Violet did was unbecoming to her. On the contrary, Violet
bloomed in Granville. She had had to own that the unaccustomed exercise
was a good thing, giving a fineness and a firmness to outlines that had
been a shade too lax. It was that you can have too much of a good thing
when you have it every day; too much of light washing and light cooking,
of the lightest of light sweeping, of dusting, and the making of even
one double bed.

Ransome did his best to spare her. He thought that she was tired of
looking after Granville, when in reality she was only bored. As for her
fits of sullenness and irritation, he had been initiated into their
mystery on his wedding-day. The sullenness, the irritation had ceased so
unmysteriously that Ranny in his matrimonial wisdom was left in no doubt
as to its cause. There was even sweetness in it, for it proved that,
however tired Violet might be of things in general, she was by no means
tired of him.

Ransome himself was never tired in those days, and never, never bored.
Granville as Number Forty-seven might have palled upon him; Granville as
a personality assumed for him an everlasting charm. It was astonishing
how right Violet had been there. Granville, after all, hadn't made him
feel a silly ass. It kept him in a state of being tickled. It tickled
Wauchope and Fred Booty. They met him with "What price Granville?" They
called him by turns Baron Granville of Granville, and the Marquis or the
Duke of Granville. They "ragged" while Ranny lunged at them and said,
"Cheese it"; until one day Booty, suddenly serious, asked, why on earth,
old chappie, he had called it Granville? When Ranny replied
significantly, "I didn't." Then they stopped.

But Granville tickled him only, as it were, on one side. The other side
of Ransome was insensitive. His undeveloped taste was not aware of the
architectural absurdity of Granville, with its perky gable and its sham
porphyry pillar. He could look at it, and yet think of it quite gravely
and with a secret tenderness as his home, and more than all as the home
he had given Violet, the blessed roof and walls that sheltered her.

And all the time, in secret, it was taking hold of him, the delicious
thought of property, of possession, of Granville as a thing that in
twenty years' time would be his own. Brooding over Granville, Ranny's
brain became fertile in ideas. He was always calling out to Violet:
"Vikes! I've got _another_ idea! When he gets all dirty next year I'll
paint him green. That'll give him a distinctive character, if you like."
Or, "How would it be if I was to cover him up all over with creepers,
back and front?" Or, "Some day I'll whip off those tiles and clap him on
a balcony. He'd look O.K. if he only had a balcony over his porch."

His porch was the one thing wrong with Granville, because it wasn't
absolutely and entirely his. The porphyry pillar for instance; he had
only half a share in it; the other half belonged to Number Forty-five;
and you couldn't rightly tell where Number Forty-five's share ended and
his began. Still it wasn't as if anybody ever wanted to swarm up the
pillar. But there was a party wall, and that was a serious thing. It
was so low that a child could clear it at a stride. And when the postman
and errand boys and tradespeople went their rounds, instead of going
down Forty-five's front walk and up Granville's, they all straddled
insolently over the party wall. Ransome said it was "like their bally
cheek," by which he meant that it was an insult to the privacy and
dignity of Granville. And he stopped it by setting a high box, planted
with a perfect little hedge of euonymus, on Granville's half of the top
of the party wall. And he and Violet hid behind the window curtains all
one Saturday afternoon, and watched "the poor johnnies being sold."

There was no end to the fun he was getting out of Granville. Every
evening he hurried home from Woolridge's that he might put in an hour's
work in his garden before supper. He was never tired of digging and
planting and watering the long strip at the back, or of clipping the
privet hedge that screened his green mat at the front. Only Violet got
tired of seeing him doing it. More than once, when Ranny's innocent back
was turned she watched it, scowling. She was so far "gone on him" that
she couldn't bear to see him taken up with Granville. She hated the very
flowers as his hands caressed them. She hated the little tree he had
planted at the bottom of the back garden. For the little tree had kept
him out one night till nearly ten o'clock, after Violet had expressly
told him that she was going to bed at nine.

       *       *       *       *       *

Violet was not tired; but she was tired of Granville.

After six weeks of it she began to long secretly for Starker's
Millinery Saloons. In the saloon you walked looking beautiful through a
flowery and a feathery grove of hats. You had nothing to do but to try
hats on and to sell them, and each sale was a personal triumph for the
seller. Violet knew she could sell more hats than any other of the girls
at Starker's; she knew she had a pretty way of putting on a hat, of
turning slowly round and round in it to show the side and crown, of
standing motionless before a customer while her blue eyes made play that
advertised the irresistible fascinations of the brim. At Starker's she
went from one triumph to another.

For gentlemen came to the Millinery Saloons, gentlemen whose looks said
plainly that they found her prettier than the ladies that they brought;
gentlemen who sometimes came again alone, who for two words would buy a
hat and give it you. At Starker's there was always a chance of something
happening.

At Granville nothing happened, nothing ever could happen. Granville,
when it didn't keep you doing things, gave you nothing to look at,
nothing to think about, nothing to take an interest in, and nobody to
take an interest in you. It left you sitting in a lonely window looking
out into a lonely Avenue, an Avenue where nobody (nobody to speak of)
ever came. And not only did Violet long for Starker's Millinery Saloons,
she longed for Oxford Street, she longed for the adventurous setting
forth in bus or tram, with the feeling that anything might happen before
the day was over; she longed for the still more adventurous stepping out
of the little door in Starker's shutter into the amorously hovering
crowd, for the furtive looking round with eyes all bright for the
encounter; above all she longed for somebody, no matter who, to come,
somebody to meet her somewhere and take her to the Empire.

And nobody but Ranny ever came.

Sometimes, of course, he took her to Earl's Court or the Coliseum; but
going there with Ranny wasn't any fun. Ranny's idea of fun was not
Earl's Court or the Coliseum; it was to mount a bicycle and ride from
that lonely place, Acacia Avenue, into places that were more lonely
still. Sometimes they would have tea at a confectioner's, but what Ranny
loved best was to put bits of cake or chocolate in his pocket, and to
eat them in utter loneliness sitting in a field. In short, Ranny loved
to take her into places where there was nothing for them to do, nothing
for them to look at, and nobody to look at them. If Violet hadn't been
gone on Ranny she couldn't have endured it for a day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then in the late autumn the bicycle rides ceased. Violet was overtaken,
first, with a dreadful lassitude, then with a helplessness as great as
Granville's. And with it a sullenness that had no sweetness in it, for
Violet defied her fate. And now when she raised her old cry again, "I
can't see _why_ I shouldn't have gone on at Starker's like I did,"
instead of saying "Somebody's got to look after Granville" Ranny
answered, "_This_ is why."

All through the winter the charwoman came every day. And one midnight,
in the first week of March, nineteen-five, Violet's child was born. It
was a daughter.



CHAPTER XV


On that night Ransome acquired a dreadful knowledge. Granville was not a
place where you could be born with any decency. It seemed to participate
horribly in Violet's agony, to throb with her tortures and recoils, to
fill itself shuddering with her cries, such cries as Ransome had never
heard or conceived, that he would have believed impossible. They were
savage, inhuman; the cries and groans of some outraged animal; there was
menace in them and rebellion, terror, and an implacable resentment.

And as Ransome heard them his heart was torn with pity and with remorse
too, as though Violet's agony accused him. He could not get rid of the
idea that he had wronged her; an idea that he somehow felt he would
never have had if the baby had been born a month later. He swore that
she should never be put to this torture a second time; that if God would
only spare her he would never, never quarrel with her, never say an
unkind word to her again. He couldn't exactly recall any unkind words;
so he nourished his anguish on the thought of the words he had very
nearly said, also of the words he hadn't said, and of the things he
hadn't done for her. Casting about for these, he found that he hadn't
taken her to Earl's Court or the Coliseum half as often as he might. He
had been wrapped up in himself, that's what he had been; a selfish, low
brute. He felt that there was nothing he wouldn't do for Vi, if only
God would spare her.

But God wouldn't. He wasn't sparing her now. God had proved that he was
capable of anything. It was incredible to Ransome that Violet should
live through that night. He wouldn't believe his mother and the doctor
and the nurse when they told him that everything was as it should be. He
knew that they were lying; they must be; it wasn't possible that any
woman would go through that and live.

All this Ransome thought as he sat in the front parlor under the little
creaking room. He _would_ sit there where he could hear every sound,
where it was almost as if he was by her bed and looking on.

And he wouldn't believe it was all over when at midnight they came and
told him, and when he saw Violet lying in her mortal apathy, and when he
kissed her poor drawn face. He couldn't believe that Violet's face
wouldn't look like that forever, that it wouldn't keep forever its
dreadful memory, the resentment that smoldered still under its white
apathy.

       *       *       *       *       *

For there could be no doubt that that was Violet's attitude--resentment,
as of some wrong that had been done her. He didn't wonder at it. He
resented the whole business himself.

It was a pity, though, that she didn't take more kindly to the baby,
seeing that, after all, the poor little thing was innocent, it didn't
know what it had done.

Ranny would not have permitted himself this reflection but that a whole
fortnight had passed and Violet had not died. Ranny's fatherhood was
perturbed by Violet's indifference to the baby. He spoke of it to the
doctor, and suggested weakness as a possible explanation.

"Weakness?" The doctor stared at him and smiled faintly. "What
weakness?"

"I mean," said Ranny, "after all she's gone through."

The doctor put his hand on Ranny's shoulder. "My dear boy, if half the
women went through as little and came out of it as well--"

Ranny flared up.

"I like that--your trying to make out she didn't suffer. Tortures
weren't _in_ it. How'd you like--"

But the doctor shook his head.

"We can't alter Nature, my dear boy. But I'll tell you for your
comfort--in all my experience I've never known a woman have an easier
time."

"D'you mean--d'you mean--she'll get over it?"

"Get over it? She's got over it already. She's as strong as a horse."

He turned from Ranny with a swing of his coat tails that but feebly
expressed his decision and his impatience. He paused before the closed
doorway for a final word.

"There's no earthly reason why she shouldn't nurse that baby."

"What's that, sir?" said Ranny, arrested.

"She _must_ nurse it. It's better for her. It's better for the child. If
I were her husband I'd insist on it--_insist_. If she tells you she
can't do it, don't believe her."

"I say, I didn't know there'd been any trouble of that sort."

"That's all the trouble there's been," the doctor said. And he entered
on a brief and popular exposition of the subject, from which Ranny
gathered that Violet was flying in the face of that Providence that
Nature was. Superbly and exceptionally endowed and fitted for her end,
Violet had refused the task of nursing-mother.

"Why?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders, implying that anything so abstruse as
young Mrs. Ransome's reasons was beyond him.

He left Ranny struggling with the question: If it isn't weakness--_what_
is it?

       *       *       *       *       *

For Violet persisted in her strange refusal, in spite of Ranny's
remonstrances, his entreaties, his appeals.

"It's been trouble enough," she said, "without that."

She was sitting up in her chair before the bedroom fire. They were
alone. The nurse was downstairs at her supper. The Baby lay between them
in its cradle, wrapped in a white shawl. Ranny was watching it.

"I should have thought," he said, at last, "you couldn't have borne to
let the little thing--"

But she cut that short. "Little thing! It's all very well for _you_. You
haven't been through what I have; if you had, p'raps you'd feel as I
do."

The Baby stirred in its shawl. Its eyes were still shut, but its lips
began to curl open with a queer waving, writhing movement.

"What does it mean," said Ranny, "when it makes that funny face?"

"How should _I_ know?" said Violet.

Little sounds, utterly helpless and inarticulate, came now from the
cradle.

"What nice noises it makes," said Ranny. He was stooping by the cradle,
touching the Baby's soft cheek with his finger.

"Look at it," he said.

But Violet would not look.

The Baby's face puckered and grew red. Its body writhed and stiffened.
It broke into a cry that frightened him.

"Oh, Lord!" said Ranny, "do you think I've hurt it? Hadn't you better
take it up or something?"

But Violet did not take it up. He looked at her in astonishment. She
looked at him, and her face was sullen.

The Baby screamed high.

Ranny put his arm under the small warm thing and lifted it up out of its
cradle. He had some idea of laying it on its mother's lap.

The Baby stopped screaming.

Ranny held it, with the nape of its absurdly loose and heavy head
supported on his left wrist, and its little soft hips pressed into the
hollow of his right hand. And as he held it he was troubled with a
compassion and a tenderness unlike anything he had ever known before.
For the Baby's helplessness was unlike anything he had ever known.

And its innocence! Why, its hand, its incredibly tiny hand, had found
his breast and was moving there for all the world as if he had been its
mother. And to Ranny's amazement, with the touch, a queer little
pricking pang went through his breast, as if a thin blood vessel had
suddenly burst there.

"D'you see that, Vi? Its little hand? What a rum thing a baby is!"

But even that didn't move Violet, or turn her from her purpose, though
she smiled.

       *       *       *       *       *

From that moment Ranny's paternal instinct raised its head again. It had
been crushed for the time being in his revolt against Violet's
sufferings. But now it was indescribable, the feeling he had for his
little daughter Dorothy. (Violet, since they _had_ to call the Baby
something, had called it Dorothy.) Meanwhile, he hid his feeling. He
maintained a perverse, a dubious, a critical silence while his mother
and his mother-in-law and his Aunt Randall and the nurse overflowed in
praise which, if the Baby had understood them, must have turned its
head.

Ranny was reassured when the other women were about him; because then
Violet did show signs of caring for the Baby, if only to keep them in
their places and remind them that it was her property and not theirs.
She would take it out of their arms, and smooth its hair and its
clothes, and kiss it significantly, scowling sullen-sweet, as if their
embraces had rumpled it and done it harm. For as long as the nurse was
there to look after it, the Baby's adorable person was kept in a
daintiness and sweetness so exquisite that it was no wonder if Ranny's
mother, in her transports, called it "Little Rose," and "Honeypot," and
"Fairy Flower"; when all that Ranny said was, "It's a mercy it's got
hair."



CHAPTER XVI


Just at first the miracle of the Baby drew a crowd of pilgrims from
Wandsworth to Acacia Avenue. Granville had become a shrine.

People Ransome hardly knew and didn't care for, friends of his mother
and of his Aunt Randall, came over of a Sunday afternoon to see the
Baby. And Wauchope and Buist and Tyser of the Polytechnic came; and old
Wauchope got excited and clapped Ranny on the back and said: "Go it,
Granville! Steady does it. Here's to you and many more of them." And
Booty brought Maudie Hollis, who was not too proud and too beautiful to
go down on her knees before the Baby, while young Fred stood aloof in
awe, and grew sanguine to the roots of the hair that rose, tipping his
forehead like a monumental flame.

As for the Humming-bird, he was amazing. He insisted on the Baby being
christened in Wandsworth Parish Church (marvelous, he was, throughout
the ceremony); and he actually appeared at Granville afterward with the
christening party.

       *       *       *       *       *

That Sunday afternoon Ransome saw Winny Dymond for the first time since
his marriage. He saw her, he could swear that he saw her, standing with
Maudie Hollis in a seat near the door. He was certainly aware of a
little figure in a long dark coat, and of a face startlingly like
Winny's, and of eyes that could only have been hers, profound and
serious eyes, fixed upon the Baby. But when he looked for her afterward
as the christening party passed out of the church, led by Mrs. Randall
carrying the Baby, Winny was nowhere to be seen. No doubt the
christening party scared her.

He thought of Winny several times that week. He wondered what she had
been doing with herself all those months, and why it was she hadn't come
to see them.

And the very next Saturday, as Ransome, on his return from Woolridge's,
was wheeling his bicycle with difficulty through the little gate, the
door of Granville opened, and Winny came out.

Ransome was so surprised that he let the bicycle go, and it went down
with a horrid clatter, hitting him a malicious blow on the ankle as it
fell. He was so surprised that, instead of saying what a man naturally
would say in the circumstances, he said, "Winky!"

It would have been like her either to have laughed at his clumsiness or
to have flown to help him, but Winky wasn't like herself. She stood in
an improbable silence and gravity and stared at him, while her lips
moved as if she drew back her breath, and her feet as if she would have
drawn herself back, but for the door she had closed behind her; so
inspired was she with the instinct of retreat.

Her scare (for plainly she was scared) lasted only for a second; only
till he spoke again and came forward.

"So it's little Winky, is it? Well, I never!" He laughed for pure
pleasure.

She smiled faintly and came off her doorstep to take the hand he held
out to her.

"I came," she said, "to see Violet and the Baby."

At that he smiled also, half furtively. "And have you seen them?"

"Oh yes. I've been sitting with Violet for the last hour. I must be
going now."

"Going? Why, what's the hurry?"

"Well--"

"Well--" He tried to sound the little word as she did. He remembered it,
the funny little word that summed up her evasiveness, her reluctance,
her absurdity.

She was still standing by the doorstep, stroking the sham porphyry
pillar with her childish hand, as if she wanted to see what it was made
of.

"It isn't _reelly_ marble," Ransome said.

She gazed at him, wondering. "_What_ isn't?"

"That pillar."

"Oh--I wasn't thinking--" She took her hand away suddenly as if the
pillar had been a snake and stung her. Then she looked at it.

"How beautiful they make them!" She paused, absolutely grave. Then, "Oh,
Ranny, you _have_ got a nice house," she said.

"Have you seen it?"

"No. Not _all_ of it." She spoke as if it had been a palace.

"Come in and have a look round," said Ranny.

"Well--"

There was distinct yielding in her voice this time. Winny was half
caught.

"I _do_ love looking at houses."

He lured her in. She came over the threshold as if on some delicious yet
perilous adventure, with eyes that shone and with two little teeth that
bit down her lower lip; a way she had when she attempted anything
difficult and at the same time exciting. He showed her everything except
the room she had seen already, the room with the love knots and the
rosebuds where Violet and the Baby were. Winny admired everything with
joy and yet with reverence, from the splendid overmantel in the front
sitting-room to the hot-water tap in the bathroom.

"My word," Winny said, "what I'd give to have a bath like that!"

"I say," said Ransome, suddenly moved, "you take a lot more interest in
it all than Virelet does."

"She's used to it," said Winny. "Besides, I always take an interest in
other people's houses."

She pondered. They were both leaning out of the back bedroom window now,
looking down into the garden.

"Think of all those little empty houses, Ranny, and the people that'll
come and live in them. It seems somehow so beautiful their coming and
finding them and getting things for them; and at the same time it seems
somehow sad." She paused.

"I don't mean that _you're_ sad, Ranny. You know what I mean."

He did. He had felt it too, the beauty and the sadness, but he couldn't
have put it into words. It was the sadness and the beauty of life.

It was queer, he thought, how Winny felt as he did about most things in
life.

But Winny's joy over the house was nothing to her joy over the garden,
the garden that Ranny had made, and over the little tree that he had
planted. It was the most beautiful and wonderful tree in the whole
world. For in her eyes everything that Ranny did and that he made was
beautiful and wonderful. It could not be otherwise: because she loved
him.

And oh! she had the most intense appreciation of Granville, of the name
and of the personality. She took it all in. Trust Winny.

And as they stood in the gateway at parting, he told her of the system
by which in twenty, no, in not much more than nineteen years' time
Granville would be his own.

"Why, Ranny, it sounds almost too good to be true!"

"I know it does. That's why sometimes I think I'll be had over it yet. I
say to myself Granville looks jolly innocent, but he'll score off me,
you bet, before he's done."

"He _does_ look innocent," said Winny.

He did. (And how Winny took it in!)

"_That's_ what tickles me," said Ranny. "Sometimes, when I come home of
a evening and find him still sittin' there, cockin' his little eyes as
if he was goin' to have a game with me, it comes over me that he's up to
something, and--what do you think I do?"

"I don't know, Ranny." She almost whispered it.

"I burst out laughin' in his face."

"How _can_ you?" She was treating Granville as he did, exactly as if it
was alive.

"Well--you see how comical he is."

"Yes. I see it." (Of course she saw it.) "Still--there's something about
him all the same."

There was something about everything that was Ranny's, something that
touched her, something that made her love it, because she loved him.
Winny couldn't have burst out laughing in its face.

"I'm glad I came," she said. "Because now I can see you."

He misunderstood. "I hope you will, Winky--very often."

"I mean--see you when you're not there."

He looked away. Something in her voice moved him unspeakably. For one
moment he saw into the heart of her--placid, profound, and pure.

He was going down the Avenue with her now. For in that moment he had
felt the beauty of her and the sadness. He couldn't bear to think of her
"seeing herself home," going back alone to that little room in St. Ann's
Terrace, where some day, when Maudie married, she would be left alone.
The least he could do was to walk with her a little way.

"I say, Win," he said, presently, "why ever haven't you come before?" He
really wondered.

There was a long silence. Then, "I don't know, Ranny," she said, simply.

They had come to the end of Acacia Avenue before either of them spoke
again. Then Ranny conceived something brilliant.

"What did you think of the Baby?" he said.

She fairly shone at him, and at the same time she was earnest and very
grave.

"Oh, Ranny," she said, "it's the most beautiful baby that ever
was--Isn't it?"

Ranny smiled superbly.

"They tell me so; but I dunno. _Is_ it?"

"Of course it is."

She had turned, parting from him at last, and she flung that at him as
she walked backward, smiling in his face.

"Well--I must be going back to Vi," he said.

And he went back.



CHAPTER XVII


In April Ransome looked confidently for Violet to "settle down." Mrs.
Usher had assured him again and again that the next month would bring
the blessed change.

"She'll be all right," said Mrs. Usher, "when the nurse goes and she has
you and Baby to herself."

And at first it seemed as though Violet's mother knew what she was
talking about.

April put an end to their separation. April, like a second honeymoon,
made them again bride and bridegroom to each other. Nature, whom Ranny
had blasphemed and upbraided, triumphed and was justified in Violet's
beauty, that bloomed again and yet was changed to something almost fine,
almost clear; as if its coarse strain had been purged from it by
maternity. Something fine and clear in Ranny responded to the change.

And, as in their first honeymoon, Violet's irritation ceased. She was
sullen-sweet, with a kind of brooding magic in her ways. She drew him
with eyes whose glamour was tenderness under lowering brows; she bound
him with arms that, for all their incredible softness, had a vehemence
that held him as if it would never let him go; and in the cleaving of
her mouth to his there was a savage will that pressed as if it would
have crushed between them all memory and premonition. This was somewhat
disastrous to fineness and clearness, and Ransome's no doubt would have
perished but for the persistence with which he held Violet sacred as the
mother of his child.

Her attitude to the child was still incomprehensible to him, but he was
beginning to accept it, perceiving that it had some obscure foundation
in her temperament. There were moments when he fell back on his old
superstition (exploded by the doctor) and told himself that Violet was
one of those who suffer profoundly from the shock of childbirth. And in
that case she would get over it in time.

       *       *       *       *       *

But time went on, and Violet showed no signs of getting over it, no
signs, at any rate, of settling down. On the contrary, before very long
she slipped into her old slack ways. With all her fierce vitality it was
as if she had no strength to turn her hand to anything. The charwoman
came every week. (That was no more than Ransome was prepared for.)

The charwoman worked heavily against odds, doing all she knew. And yet,
in the searching light of summer, it was plain, as Ransome pointed out,
that Granville was undergoing a slow deterioration.

First of all, the woodwork cracked and the paint came off in blisters,
and the dirt that got into the seams and holes and places stayed there.
Granville was visited with a plague of fine dust. It settled on
everything; it penetrated; it worked its way in everywhere. Violet,
going round languidly with a silly feather brush, made no headway
against the pest.

"For Heaven's sake get it out," said Ransome, "or we shall all be
swallowed up in it and die."

"Get it out yourself, if you can," said Violet. "You'll soon see how you
like my job."

She was developing more and more a power of acrimonious and unanswerable
retort.

"Can't you let it be, Ranny?" (He had found the feather brush.)

"No. It's spoiling all my O.K. cuffs and collars."

"I can't help your cuffs and collars. What do you suppose it's doing to
mine?"

Ransome went on flourishing the feather brush. Presently he began to
cough and sneeze.

"If you wouldn't rouse it," said Violet, "it would do less harm."

He admitted that the dust was terrible when roused.

So the dust got the better of them. Ransome was not the sort of man who
could go about poking his nose into cupboards and places, or flourish a
feather brush with a serious intention. He was even more incapable of
badgering a beautiful girl whom he had already wronged sufficiently, who
declared herself to be sufficiently handicapped by Baby.

Since the Baby came he had abstained from comment on his wife's
shortcomings; though in the matter of meals, for instance, she had begun
to add unpunctuality to incompetence. Ransome would have considered
himself "pretty flabby" if he couldn't rough it. But he found himself
looking forward more and more to the days they spent at Wandsworth,
those rare but extensive Sundays that covered the hours of two square
meals, not counting tea-time. Then there was the hamper from
Hertfordshire. To be sure, in common decency, it could only be regarded
as a lucky windfall, but providentially the windfall was beginning to
occur at frequent intervals. The Ushers must have had an inkling.
Everybody who came to the house could perceive the awful deterioration
in the food.

The next thing Ransome noticed was a faint, a very faint, but still
perceptible deterioration in himself. And by "himself" Ranny meant in
general his physique and in particular his muscles. They were not
flabby--Heaven forbid!--but they were not the superb muscles that they
had been. All last year he had attended the Gymnasium religiously once a
week, just to keep in form. This year his wife was having a bad time,
and it wasn't fair to leave her too much by herself. Instead of going to
the Polytechnic he practised with his dumb-bells in the back bedroom.
And now and then after Violet had gone to bed he sprinted. There was no
need to worry about himself.

What Ranny worried about was the steady, slow deterioration in the Baby.

It began in the third month of its existence. Up till then the Baby
hadn't suffered. It was naturally healthy, and even Violet owned that it
was good. By which she meant that it slept a great deal. And for a whole
month after she had it to herself she had made tremendous efforts to
keep it as the nurse had kept it. She saw (for she was not
unintelligent) that trouble taken now would save endless trouble in the
long run, in dealing with its inconceivably tender person. As for its
food, Violet had been firm about the main point, but it was no strain to
order once for all from the dairy an expensive kind of milk which Ranny
paid for.

Only, whereas Nurse had made a Grand Toilette for Baby every other day,
insisting that the little frocks and vests and flannels should be put on
all clean together, Violet observed a longer and longer interval. On
Sundays, when Ranny's mother saw her, Baby was still a Little Rose, a
Honeypot, and a Fairy Flower. On other days, when tiresome people
dropped in unexpectedly, Violet hid everything under a clean overall
when she could lay her hands on one.

But from Ranny she hid nothing; and presently it came upon him with a
shock that to caress and handle Baby was not the same perfect ecstasy
that it had been. It puzzled him at first; then it enraged him; and at
last he spoke to Violet.

"Look here," he said, "if you want that child to be a Little Rose and a
Honeypot and a Fairy Flower, you'll have to keep it cleaner. That's got
to be done, d'you see, whatever's left."

Violet sulked for twenty-four hours after that outburst, but for a whole
week afterward he noticed that Baby was distinctly cleaner.

But whether it was clean or whether it was dirty, Ranny loved it, and
became more and more absorbed in it.

And with Ranny's absorption Violet's irritability returned and
increased, and sullenness set in for days at a time without
intermission.

"_This_," said Ranny, "is the _joie de veeve_."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three more months passed.

For Ransome every day brought a going forth and a returning, a mixing
with the world, with men and with affairs, the affairs of Woolridge's.
His married life had done one thing for him. It taught him to
appreciate his life at Woolridge's, and to discern variety where variety
had not been too apparent. There was the change from Granville to
Woolridge's, and from Woolridge's to Granville. There was the dinner
hour when he rose from his desk and went out to an A B C shop with Booty
or some other man. Sometimes the other man had ideas, views of life and
so forth, that interested Ransome; if he hadn't, at any rate he was a
man. That is to say, he didn't sulk or nag or snap at you; or nip the
words out of your mouth and twist them; he wasn't perverse; he didn't do
things that passed your comprehension, and he let you be. For Ransome
the world of men brought respite. Even at home, in that world of women,
of one woman, when things (he meant the one woman) were too much for
him, menacing his as yet invincible hilarity, he could turn his back on
them, and work in the garden or play with the Baby. Or he could leave
them for a while and mount his bicycle and ride out into the open
country. For Ransome life still had interests and surprises.

For the Baby surprise and interest lurked in the feeblest of its
sensations; every day brought, for the Baby, excitement, discovery, and
adventure. And then, it had attached itself to Ransome. It behaved as if
it had some secret understanding with its father. Its sense of comedy,
like Ranny's, seemed imperishable. It would respond explosively to
devices so old, so stale, so worn by repetition, that the wonder was
they didn't alienate it, or disgust. The rapid approach and withdrawal
of Ranny's hand, his face suddenly hidden behind its pinafore and
exposed, still more suddenly, with a cry of "Peep-bo!" its own inspired
seizing of Ranny's hair, would move it to delirious laughter or silent
strangling frenzy. And when Ranny wasn't there, and nobody took any
notice of it, it had its own solitary and mysterious ecstasies of mirth.

It was all very well for Ranny and the Baby.

But for Violet it was one interminable, intolerable monotony. Always the
same tiresome things to be done for Granville and for the Baby and for
Ranny, when she did them; and when she didn't there was nothing to do
but to sit still, with no outlook, no interest, no surprise, no
possibility of variety and adventure.

Now and then they would leave the Baby at Wandsworth with its
grandmother, and Ranny would take her to Earl's Court or the Coliseum.
But these bright hours were rare, and when they passed the gloom they
had made visible was gloomier. And brooding over it, she suffered a
sense of irremediable wrong.

Nothing to look forward to but bedtime; the slow, soft-footed ascent to
the room with the walls of love knots and rosebuds, Ranny carrying the
Baby. Nothing to look forward to but the dark when the Baby slept and
Ranny (who _would_ hang over it till the last minute) couldn't see the
Baby any more, the dark when he would turn to her with the old passion
and the old caresses.

And even into the darkness and into their passion there had come a
difference, subtle, estranging, and profound. Between them there
remained that sense of irremediable wrong. In Violet it roused
resentment and in Ransome a tender yet austere responsibility. For he
blamed himself for it.

Violet blamed the Baby.

And in those three months Winny Dymond came and went. By some fatality
she contrived to call either on a Sunday when they had all gone to
Wandsworth or on a Saturday when Ransome was not there. Once or twice in
summer, when he was kept at the counting-house during stock-taking or
the sales (for Woolridge's season of high pressure came months earlier
than Starker's), Winny had dropped in toward supper-time, when Violet
had asked her to keep her company. But she always left before Ranny
could get back, because Violet told her (as if she didn't know it) that
Ranny would be too tired to see her home.

One Saturday evening in August he had come in about nine o'clock after a
turn on Wimbledon Common. Granville with its gate, its windows, and all
its doors flung open, had a scared, abandoned look. A strange sound came
from Granville, the sound of a low singing from upstairs, from--yes, it
was from the front bedroom.

He went through the lower rooms and out into the garden. Nobody was
there. The Baby's cradle and pram were empty. And still from upstairs
the voice came singing. In all his knowledge of her he had never known
Violet to sing.

He went upstairs. The door of the front bedroom was closed as if on a
mystery. He knocked and opened it tentatively, like a man who respected
mysteries. The voice had left off singing, and was saying something. It
was a voice he knew, but not Violet's voice.

It was saying, with a lilt that was almost a song, "Upsy daisy, upsy
daisy, den!"

There was a pause and then "Diddums!" and a sound of kissing.

He found Winny Dymond sitting there, alone, with the Baby on her knee.
He caught her in the act of slipping a nightgown over its little naked
body, that was all rosy from its bath. The place was full of the
fragrance of soap and violet powder and clean linen.

"Hello, Winky!" he said. "What a lark!" He stood fascinated.

But Winky with a baby in her lap was not capable of levity. It struck
him that the Baby was serious, too.

"Violet's just this minute gone out for a breath of air," she said. "I'm
putting Baby to bed for her. She's been very fretful all day."

"Who? Virelet?"

"No, Baby. (Did it then!)."

"How's that?" (He sat perched on the footrail of the bedstead, for there
was not much room to spare, what with the wardrobe and Winny and the
bath.)

"I don't know. But I fancy she isn't very well."

The Baby confirmed her judgment by a cry of anguish.

"I say, what's wrong?"

"I think," said Winny, "it's the hot weather and the bottles."

"The what?"

"The bottles. They're nasty things, and you can't be too careful with
them."

His face was inscrutable.

"Do you think," she said, "you could find me a nice clean one somewhere?
I've got _two_ in soak."

He smiled in spite of himself at the gravity, the importance of her
air.

He went off to look all over the house for the nice clean one that Winny
was certain must be somewhere. In a basin by the open window of the
bedroom he found the two horrors that she had put there to soak.

"What's wrong with these?" said he.

For one moment it was as if Winny were indignant.

"You put your nose to them and you'll soon see what's wrong."

He did and saw. It was not for nothing that he had been born over a
chemist's shop in Wandsworth High Street. He had heard his father and
his mother (and Mercier even) comment on the sluts whose sluttishness
sent up the death rate of the infant population.

He kept his back to Winny as he stood there by the window.

"The bi--!" A bad word, a word that he would not for worlds have uttered
in a woman's presence, half formed itself on Ranny's lips. He turned.
"Well," he said, aloud, "I _am_--Let's throw the filthy things away.
They're poisonous."

"No, I'll see to it. Just bring me another."

"There isn't another."

She gazed at him with eyes where incredulity struggled with terror that
responded to his fierceness. She didn't believe, and she didn't want
Ranny to believe that Violet could be so awful.

"There _must_ be, Ranny, somewhere."

"There isn't, I tell you."

"Then run round to the chemist's and get _three_."

"All right, but it's no good. The kid's been poisoned. Goodness knows
how long it's been going on."

She looked at him, reproachfully, this time.

"No, no; it's only the hot weather come on sudden."

The Baby set up a sorrowful wail as if it knew better and protested
against Winny's softening of the facts.

"Poor lamb, she's hungry. Jest you run, there's a dear."

He ran. The chemist, a newcomer, had set up his shop very conveniently
at the corner of Acacia Avenue.

As Ransome approached, a familiar figure emerged from the shop doorway;
it stood there for a moment as if undecided, then turned and disappeared
round the corner.

It was Leonard Mercier.

"What on earth," thought Ranny, "is old Jujubes doing here?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The flying wonder of it had barely flicked his brain when it was gone.
Ranny's thoughts were where his heart was, where he was back again in an
instant, in the bedroom with Winny and the Baby.

He prepared the child's food under Winny's directions (it was wonderful
how Winny seemed to know); and before nightfall, what with rocking and
singing, she had soothed the Baby to sleep.

Nightfall, and Violet hadn't come back.

"I'm glad she's got out at last," Winny said. "She's had such an awful
day."

"You think she doesn't get out enough, then?"

She hesitated.

"I do. Not really _out_ because of Baby."

They sat near, they spoke low, so as not to wake the child that slept on
Winny's knee.

"The kid doesn't give her many awful days. It's such a jolly kid. Any
one would think she'd be happy with it."

"She's so young, Ranny. You should think of that. She's only like a
child herself. She's got to be looked after. She doesn't know much about
babies. She hasn't had one very long, you see."

"_You_ know, Winny. How's that? You haven't had one at all."

"No. I haven't had one. I can't say how it is."

He smiled. "To look at you any one would say you'd nursed a baby all
your life."

So she had--in fancy and in dreams.

"It comes more natural to some," she said. "All Violet wants is telling.
You should tell her, Ranny."

"Tell her what?"

"Well--tell her to take Baby out more. Tell her to give her a bath night
_and_ morning. Tell her little babies get ill and die if you don't keep
everything about them as clean as clean. Tell her anything you like. But
don't tell her to-night."

"Why not?"

"Because she's upset."

"What's upset her?"

"I don't know. _You'll_ upset her if you go flying out at her about
those old bottles like you did; and if you go calling her bad names. _I_
heard you."

Was it possible? (Why, he hadn't let it out, or, if he had, it had gone,
quite innocently, through the open window.)

"If you're not as gentle as gentle with her you'll upset her something
awful. You've got to be as gentle with her as you are with Baby."

So she thought he wasn't gentle, did she? She thought he bullied Violet
and upset her? Whatever could Violet have been saying about him?
Well--well--he couldn't tell her that he _had_ been as gentle with her
as he was with Baby, and that the gentler he was the more Violet was
upset.

He didn't know that Winky was punishing him in order to punish herself
for having given Violet away.

"All right, Winky," he said. "If you think I'm such a brute."

"I don't think anything of the sort, Ranny. You know I don't."

She rose with the sleeping child in her arms and carried it to its cot.
He followed her and turned back the blanket for her as she laid Baby
down. But it was Winny and not Baby that he looked at.

And he thought, "Little Winky's grown up."

To be sure, her hair was done differently. He missed the door-knocker
plat.

But that was not what he meant. He had only thought of it after she had
left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was past ten before Violet came back. He found her in the
sitting-room, standing in the light of the gas flame she had just lit.
Her eyes shone; her face was flushed. She panted a little as if (so he
thought) she had hurried, being late.

"Well," he said to her, "have you had your little run?"

She stared and flung three words at him.

"I wanted it!"

And still she stared.

"Vi--" he began.

"Well--what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing's the matter with _me_. But I'm afraid Baby's going to be ill."

She stood before him, her breast heaving. She drew her breath in and let
it out again in a snort of exasperation.

"What makes you think so?"

"Something Winny said."

"What does she know about it?"

He wanted to say "A jolly sight more than you do," but he stopped
himself in time.

He began to talk gently to her.

And Violet was horribly upset.

Wrap it up as tenderly as he might, there was no mistaking the awfulness
of the charge he brought against her. He had as good as taxed her with
neglecting Baby. She had recourse to subterfuge; she sheltered herself
behind lies, laid on one on the top of the other, little silly
transparent lies, but such a thundering lot of them that Ranny could say
of each that it was jolly thin and of the whole that it was a bit too
thick.

That brought her round, and he wondered whether gentleness was the best
method for Violet after all. He was disgusted, for he hated subterfuge.

And she might just as well have owned up at once; for in a day or two
she was defenseless. The Baby was ill; and the illness was accusation
and evidence and proof positive and punishment all rolled into one;
Baby's sufferings being due to the cause that Ransome had assigned. It
had been poisoned, suddenly, from milk gone sour in the abominable
bottles, and slowly, subtly poisoned from the still more abominable
state of its Baby's Comforter. Ransome and his wife sat up three nights
running, and the doctor came twice a day. And every time, except on the
last night, when the Baby nearly died, the doctor spoke brutally to
Violet. _He_ knew that gentleness was not a bit of good.



CHAPTER XVIII


Still, that was in August, and they could put a good half of it down to
the hot weather.

Besides, the Baby got over it. With all its accusing and witnessing, it
was, as Ranny said, a forgiving little thing; it had never in its life
done anybody any harm. It did not hurt Violet now.

And the hot days passed; weeks passed; months passed, and winter and
spring. The Baby had one little attack after another. It marked the
passage of the months by its calamities; and still these might be put
down to the cold weather or the stress of teething. Then, in a temperate
week of May, nineteen-six, it did something decisive. It nearly died
again of enteritis; and again it was forgiving and got over it.

There could be no doubt that things would have been simpler if it had
been cruel enough to die. For the question was: What were they to do
now?

Things, Ransome said, had got to be different. They couldn't go on as
they were. The anxiety and the discomfort were intolerable. Still, that
he had conceived an end to them, showed that he did not yet utterly
despair of Violet. She had been terrified by the behavior of the Baby
and by the things, the brutal things, the doctor had said to her, and
she had made another effort. Ransome's trouble was simply that he
couldn't trust her. He said to himself that she had good instincts and
good impulses if you could depend on them. But you couldn't. With all
her obstinacy she had no staying-power. He recognized in her a
lamentable and inveterate flabbiness.

If he had known all about her he might have formed a larger estimate of
her staying-power. But he did not yet know what she was. That bad word
that he had once let out through the window had been in Ranny's simple
mind a mere figure of speech, a flowering expletive, flung to the dark,
devoid of meaning and of fitness. He did not know what Violet's impulses
and her instincts really were. He did not know that what he called her
flabbiness was the inertia in which they stored their strength, nor that
in them there remained a vigilant and indestructible soul, biding its
time, holding its own against maternity, making more and more for
self-protection, for assertion, for supremacy. He felt her mystery, but
he had never known the ultimate secret of this woman who ate at his
board and slept in his bed and had borne his child. It was with his
eternal innocence that he put it to her, What were they to do now?

And that implacable and inscrutable soul in her was ready for him. It
prompted her to say that she couldn't do more than she did, and that if
things were to be different he must get some one else to see to them. He
must keep a servant. He should have kept one for her long ago.

Poor Ranny protested that he'd keep twenty servants for her if he could
afford it. As it was, a charwoman every week was more than he could
manage, and she knew it. And she said, looking at him very straight,
that there was one way they could do it. They could do as other people
did. In half the houses in the Avenue they let apartments. They must
take a lodger.

Violet had thrown out this suggestion more than once lately. And he had
put his foot down. Neither he nor Granville, he said, could stand a
lodger. A lodger would make Granville too hot by far to hold him.

Now in their stress he owned that there was something in it. He would
think it over.

Thinking it over, he saw more than ever how impossible it was. The
charwoman, advancing more and more, had been a fearful strain on his
resources, and the expenses of the Baby's birth had brought them to the
breaking-point. And then there had been Baby's illnesses. Before that
there was the perambulator.

But that was worth it. He remembered how last year he had seen an
enormous poster in High Street, with the words in scarlet letters: "Are
you With or Without a Pram for Baby?" He had realized then for the first
time that he was without one. And the scarlet letters had burnt
themselves into his brain, until, for the very anguish of it, he had
gone and bought a pram and wheeled it home under cover of the darkness,
disguised in its brown-paper wrappings to heighten the surprise of it.
Violet had not been half so pleased nor yet surprised as he had
expected; but he had got his money back again and again on that pram
with the fun he'd had out of it.

But before that again, in their first year, things had had to be done
for the house and garden. Ranny shuddered now when he thought of what
the lawn-mower alone had cost him. And that tree! And then the little
pleasures and the outings--when he totted them all up he found that he
had taken Violet to Earl's Court and the Coliseum far, far oftener than
he could have believed possible. Looking back on that first year, he
seemed to have been always taking her somewhere. She wasn't happy when
he didn't.

No, and she hadn't been very happy when he did. He would never forget
that week they had spent at Southend last Whitsuntide, when he got his
holiday. And it had all eaten into money. Not that he grudged it; but
the fact remained. His margin was gone; half his savings were gone; his
income had suffered a permanent shrinkage of two pounds a year.

Impossible to keep a servant without the aid of the lodger he abhorred.
But with it not only possible but easy, easy as saying how d'you do.
Except for the presence of the loathsome lodger, nothing would be
changed. The back bedroom was there all ready, eating its head off; and
for all they used the front sitting-room, they might just as well not
have had one.

They could get somebody who would be out all day.

He thought about it for three weeks; but before he made up his mind he
talked it over with his mother. She had come to see them late one
evening in June, and he had walked back with her. She was tired, she
said, and they had found a seat in a little three-cornered grove where
the public footpath goes to Wandsworth High Street.

In this favorable retreat Ranny disclosed to his mother as much as he
could of his affairs. Mrs. Ransome didn't like the idea of the lodger
any more than he did, but she admitted that it was a way out of it.
"Only," she said, "if I was you I should have a lady. Some one you know
about. Some one who might look after Vi'let."

"That's right. But Virelet would have to look after her, you see."

"Vi'let's no more idea of looking after anybody than the cat."

"It isn't her fault, Mother."

"I'm not saying it's her fault. But it's a pity all the same you should
have to put up with it."

"It's larks for me to what Vi puts up with. I shouldn't mind, if--"

He drew back, shy before the trouble of his soul.

"If what, Ranny?" she said, gently.

"If she seemed to care a bit more for the kid. Sometimes I think she
actually--"

Though he could not say it, Mrs. Ransome knew.

"Don't you think that, Ranny. Don't you think it, my dear."

She was playing at the old game of hiding things, and she expected him
to keep it up. She had never admitted for one moment that his father
drank; and she wasn't going to admit, or to let him admit, for a moment
that his wife was a bad mother.

So she changed the subject.

"That's a nice little girl I see sometimes down at your place. That
Winny Dymond. Is she a friend of Vi'let's?"

Ranny said she was.

"Has Vi'let known her long?"

"I think so. I can't say exactly how long."

"Before she was married?"

"Yes."

Something in his manner made her pause, pondering.

"Did _you_ know her before you married, Ran?"

"Ages before."

His mother sighed.

"I suppose," said Ranny, harking back, "some women _are_ like that."

"Like what now?" She didn't want to go back to it. She was afraid of
what she might be driven to say.

"Not caring much about their own kids."

"Oh, Ranny, why do you 'arp on it?"

"Because I don't understand it. It's just the one thing I can't
understand. What does it _mean_, Mother?"

"Well, my dear, sometimes it means that they can't care for anything but
their 'usbands. It's 'usband, 'usband with them all the time. There's
some," she elaborated, "that care most for their 'usbands, and there's
some that care most for their children."

(He wondered which would Winny Dymond care for most?)

"And there's some," said Mrs. Ransome, "that care most for both, and
care different, and that's best."

(Winny, he somehow fancied, would have been that sort.)

"Which did _you_ care for most, Mother?"

"You mustn't ask me that question, Ranny. I can't answer it."

But he knew. He felt her yearning toward him even then. There was
something very artful, and at the same time very comforting, about his
mother. She had made him feel that Violet was all right, that he was all
right, that everything, in fact, was all right; that he was, indeed,
twice blest since he had a wife who loved him better than her child, and
a mother who loved him better than her husband.

"Talking of husbands," he said, "how's the Torpichen Badger?"

She shook her head at him in the old way; keeping it up.

"Oh, Ranny, you mustn't call your father that."

"Why not?"

"It's a whisky, my dear."

(He could have sworn there was the ghost of a smile about her soft
mouth.)

"So it is. I forgot. Well, how's the Hedgehog?"

For all her smile Mrs. Ransome seemed to be breaking down all of a
sudden, as if in another moment the truth would have come out of her;
but she recovered, and she kept it up.

"He's had the Headache come on more than ever. I've never known a time
when His Headache has been so bad. Most constant it is."

Ranny preserved a respectful silence.

"He's worrying. That's what it is. Your father's got too much on His
mind. The business isn't doing quite so well as it did now He can't see
to things. And here's Mercier saying that he's going to leave."

"What? Old Eno? What's he want to leave for?"

"To better himself, I suppose. You can't blame him."

They rose and went on their way that plunged presently into Wandsworth
High Street.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time he got home again Ransome had braced himself to the prospect
of the thing he hated. They might let the rooms, perhaps, for a little
while, say, till Michaelmas when he would have got his rise. Yes,
perhaps; if they could find a lady.

But Violet wouldn't hear of a lady. Ladies gave too much trouble; they
nagged at you, and they beat you down.

Well, then, if she liked, a gentleman. A gentleman who would be out all
day, and whose hours of occupation would coincide strictly with his own.
But he impressed it on her that no rooms were to be let in his absence
to any applicant whom he had not first inspected.

So they settled it.

Then, as if they had scented trouble, Mr. and Mrs. Usher came up from
Hertfordshire the very next Saturday. They looked strangely at each
other when the idea of the lodger was put before them, and Mr. Usher
took Ranny out into the garden.

"I wouldn't do it," Mr. Usher said. "Let her work, let her work with her
'ands. A big, strapping girl like her, it won't hurt her. Why, my Missis
there could turn out your little doll-'ouse in a hour. Don't you take no
gentlemen lodgers. Don't you let her do it, Randall, my boy, or there'll
be trouble."

The advice came too late. That very evening Violet informed her husband
that she had let the rooms.

And while Ranny raged she assured him that it was all right. She had
done exactly what he had told her. She had let them to a friend of
his--Leonard Mercier.



CHAPTER XIX


She gathered from his silence that it was all right. Not a muscle of
Ranny's face betrayed to her that it was all wrong.

Ever since his marriage he had kept Leonard Mercier at a distance. He
had had to meet him, of course, and Violet had had to meet him, now and
again at dinner or supper in his father's house; but Ranny was not going
to let him hang round his own house if he could help it. When Jujubes
suggested dropping in on a Sunday, Ranny assured him that on Sundays
they were always out. And Mercier had met the statement with his
atrocious smile. He understood that Randall meant to keep himself to
himself. Or was it, Mercier wondered, his young wife that he meant to
keep?

And wondering, he smiled more atrociously than ever. It pleased him, it
excited him to think that young Randall regarded him as dangerous.

But Randall did not regard him as dangerous in the least. To Ranny,
Jujubes, in his increasing flabbiness, was too disgusting to be
dangerous. And his conversation, his silly goat's talk, was disgusting,
too. Ranny had thought that Violet would find Jujubes and his
conversation every bit as disagreeable as he did.

Even now, while some instinct warned him of impending crisis, he still
regarded Leonard Mercier as decidedly less dangerous than disgusting.
He wasn't going to have the flabby fellow living in his house. That was
all; and it was enough.

And in this moment that his instinct recognized as critical, he acquired
a wisdom and a guile that ages of experience might have failed to teach
him. With no perceptible pause, and in a voice utterly devoid of any
treacherous emotion, he inquired what Mercier was doing there, and
learned that Mercier was leaving Wandsworth next week, on the
thirteenth, and would be established as chief assistant in the new
chemist's shop in Acacia Avenue.

He remembered. He remembered how last year he had seen Jujubes coming
out of the chemist's shop and looking about him. So _that_ was what he
was after! There had been no chance for him last year; but Southfields
was a rising suburb, and this summer the new chemist was able to
increase his staff.

It was not surprising that Mercier should want to leave Wandsworth, nor
that the new chemist should desire to increase his staff, nor that these
two desires should coincide in time. Nothing, indeed, could be more
natural. But still Ranny's instinct told him that there had been a
curious persistency about old Eno.

Well, he would have to interview old Eno, that was all.

He waited a whole hour, to show that he was not excited; and then,
without saying a word to Violet, he whirled himself furiously down to
Wandsworth.

The interview took place very quietly over his father's counter. He
found his quarry alone there in the shop.

Leonard Mercier greeted him with immense urbanity. He could afford to be
urbane. He was dressed, and knew that he was dressed, with absolute
correctness in the prevailing style, a style that disguised and
restrained his increasing flabbiness, whereas, though Ranny's figure was
firm and slender, his suit was shabby. Leonard Mercier had the
prosperous appearance of a man unencumbered with a wife and family. And
unless you insisted on hard tissues he was good-looking in his own
coarse way. His face, with all its flabbiness, had its dark accent and
distinction; and these were rendered even more emphatic by the growth of
a black mustache which he had trained with care. The ends of it were
waxed and drawn finely to a point. His finger nails and his skin, his
hair and his mustache showed that the young chemist did not disdain the
use of the cosmetics that lay so ready to his hand.

The duologue was brief.

"Hello, old chappy. So you're going to be my new landlord?"

"Not _much_."

"What's that?"

"Some error of my wife's, I fancy."

"As _I_ understand it Mrs. Ransome's let me two rooms, and I've taken
them."

"That's right. But you can't have 'em."

"But I've engaged them."

"Sorry, Jujubes. You were a trifle previous. I'm not letting any rooms
just yet."

"Mrs. Ransome told me the contrary."

"Then Mrs. Ransome didn't know what she was talking about."

"Rats! When _you_ told _her_--"

"It's immaterial," said Ranny, with great dignity, "what I told her. For
I've changed my mind. See?"

"You can't change it. You can't play fast and loose like that. I've
engaged those rooms from a week to-day. Where am I to go to?"

"You can go to hell if you like," said Ranny, with marked amiability.

Up to that point Mercier had been amiable too. But when Ranny told him
where he might go to he began to look unpleasant.

Unpleasant, not dangerous; oh no, not dangerous at all. Ranny looked at
him and thought how he would go in like a pillow if you prodded him, and
of the jelly, the jelly on the floor, he would make if you pounded.

"You've got to account to me for this," said Mercier. "Those rooms are
let to me from the thirteenth, and on the thirteenth I come into them,
or you pay me fifteen bob for the week's rent."

"Have you got that down in black and white?" He had not.

"Well--if you come into those rooms on the thirteenth I shouldn't wonder
if you get it down in black and blue."

Whereupon Mercier pretended that he was only joking. He was glad that
the counter was between him and young Randall, the silly ass. And Ranny
said it was all right and offered him (magnanimously) the fifteen
shillings, which Mercier (magnanimously) refused on the grounds that he
had been joking. Then Ranny, beholding Jujubes for the lamentably flabby
thing he was, and considering that after all he had not dealt quite
fairly with him, undertook to find him quarters equal if not superior
to Granville; where, he assured him, he would not be comfortable. And
having shaken hands with Jujubes across the barrier of the counter, he
strode out of the shop with a formidable tightening and rippling of
muscles under his thin suit.

Mercier leaned back against the shelves of white jars and pondered.
Recovering presently, he made a minute inspection of his finger nails.
He then stroked his mustache into a tighter curl that revealed the rich
red curve of his upper lip. And as he caught the pleasing reflection of
himself in the looking-glass panel opposite he smiled with a peculiar
atrocity.

Up till then his mood had been the petty fury of a shopman balked of his
bargain and insulted. Now, in that moment, the moment of his recovery,
another thought had occurred to Mercier.

It accounted for his smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ransome went back to Granville with his mind unalterably made up. He was
not going to let any rooms to anybody, ever. The letting of rooms was,
if you came to think of it, a desecration of the sanctity of the home
and an outrage to the dignity of Granville. When he thought of Jujubes
sprawling flabbily in the front sitting-room, strolling flabbily (as he
would stroll) in the garden, sleeping (and oh, with what frightful
flabbiness he would sleep!) in the back bedroom next his own, filling
the place (as he would) with the loathsome presence and the vision and
the memory of Flabbiness, he realized what it was to let your rooms. And
realizing it, he had no doubt that he could make Violet see the horror
and the nuisance of it. Come to that, she shrank from trouble, and
Jujubes would have been ten times more trouble than he was worth.

In fact, Ranny, having settled the affair so entirely to his own
satisfaction, could no longer perceive any necessity for caution, and
rushed on it recklessly at supper; though experience had taught him to
avoid all unpleasant subjects at the table. The unpleasantness soaked
through into the food, as it were, and made it more unappetizing and
more deleterious than ever. Besides, Violet was apt to be irritable at
meal-times.

"It's off, Vikes, that letting."

He saw nothing at all unpleasant in the statement as it stood, and he
was not prepared for the manner in which she received it.

"Off? What d'you mean?"

"I've been down and I've seen Mercier."

"He told you what?"

She had raised her head. Her red mouth slackened as if with the passage
of some cry inaudible. Her eyes stared, not at her husband, but beyond
and a little above him; there was a look in them of terror and enraged
desire, as if the object of their vision were retreating, vanishing.

But it was all vague, meaningless, incomprehensible to Ranny. He only
remembered afterward, long afterward, that on that night when he had
spoken of Mercier she had "looked queer."

And the queerest thing was that she did not know Mercier then, or
hardly; hardly to speak to.

He answered her question.

"He told me he'd taken the rooms, of course."

"And so he _did_ take them!"

"Yes, he took them all right. But I had to tell him that he couldn't
have them."

"But you can't act like that. You can't turn him out if he wants to
come."

"Oh, _can't_ I? _He_ knows that. Jolly well he knows it. _He_ won't want
to come. Anyhow, he isn't coming."

"You stopped him?"

"Should think I did. Rather," said Ranny, cheerfully.

She shot at him from those covering brows of hers a look that was
malignant and vindictive. It missed him clean.

"Y--y--you----!" Whatever word she would have uttered she drew it back
with her vehement breath. "_What_ did you do that for?"

"Why, because I don't want the fellow in the house."

"Why--don't--you want him?" Her shaking voice crept now as if under
cover.

"Because I don't approve of him. That's why."

"What have you got against him?"

"Never you mind. I don't approve of him. No more would you if you knew
anything about him. Don't you worry. You couldn't stand him, Vi, if you
had him here."

She pushed her plate violently away from her with its untasted food, and
planted her elbows on the table. She leaned forward, her chin sunk in
her hands, the raised arms supporting this bodily collapse.
Foreshortened, flattened by its backward tilt, its full jowl strained
back, its chin thrust toward him and sharpened to a V by the pressure of
her hands, its eyes darkened and narrowed under their slant lids, her
face was hardly recognizable as the face he knew.

But its sinister, defiant, menacing quality was lost on Ranny. He said
to himself: "She's rattled, poor girl; and she's worried. That's why she
looks so queer."

"You haven't told me yet," she persisted, "what you've got against him."

And Ranny replied in a voice devoid of rancor: "He's a low swine. If we
took him in I should have to build a pigsty at the bottom of the garden
for him, and I can't afford it. Granville isn't big enough for him and
me. And it wouldn't be big enough for him and you, neither. You'd be the
first to come and ask me to chuck him out." He spoke low, for he heard
the neighbors talking in the next garden.

"Fat lot you think of _me_!" she cried.

"It's you I _am_ thinking of."

She rose from the table, dragging the cloth askew in her trailing,
hysterical stagger. She lurched to the French window that, thrown back
against the wall, opened onto the little garden. And she stood there,
leaning against the long window and pressing her handkerchief to her
mouth till the storm of her sobbing burst through.

The people in the next garden stopped talking.

"For God's sake," said Ranny, "shut that window."

He got up and shut it himself, moving her inert bulk aside gently for
the purpose. And she stood against the wall and laid her face on it and
cried.

And Ranny called upon the Lord in his helplessness.

He went and put his arm round her, and she thrust him from her, and then
whimpered weakly:

"Wh--wh--wh--why are you so unkind to me?"

"Unkind! Oh, my Aunt Eliza!"

"You don't care. You don't care," she moaned. "You don't care what
happens to me. I might die to-morrow, and you wouldn't care."

"Oh, come--" he ventured.

But Violet wouldn't come. She was off, borne from him on the rising tide
of hysteria.

"It's true! It's true!" she cried. "Else you wouldn't use me like you
do."

"But look here. Whatter you goin' on about? Just because I don't want
you to have anything to do with Mercier."

She raised her flaming face at that.

"It's a lie! It's a beastly lie! I never had anything to do with
Mercier."

"Who said you'd had anything to do with him?"

"You did. And I hardly know him. I've hardly seen him. I've hardly
spoken to him be--be--before."

"I never said you had."

"You thought it."

"You know I didn't. How _could_ I think it?"

"You _did_. That's why you wouldn't let him come. You won't trust me
with him."

"Trust you with him? I should think I _would_ trust you. Him! The flabby
swine!"

Violet's sobs sank lower. They shook her inwardly, which was terrible to
see.

And as he looked at her he remembered yet again how in the beginning he
had wronged her. _That_ was what made her think he wouldn't trust her.
There would always be that wrong between them.

He drew her (unresisting now) to the other side of the room and lowered
her to the couch that stood there. He looked into the teapot, where the
drained leaves were still warm. He filled it up again with boiling water
from the kettle on the gas ring, and poured out a cup and gave it her to
drink, supporting her stooping head tenderly with his hand. Her forehead
burned to his touch.

"Poor little Vi," he said. "Poor little Vi."

She glanced at him; slantwise, yet the look made his heart ache.

"Then you _do_ trust me?" she muttered.

"You _know_ I do."

They sat there leaning against each other till the room grew dim. Then
they rose, uncertainly; and hand in hand, as it were under the old
enchantment, they went upstairs into the dark room where the Baby slept.

To-night he did not look at it.



CHAPTER XX


That was on the eighth of June.

He remembered, because it was a Saturday, Saturdays and Sundays being
the landmarks of his existence by which alone he measured the distances
and marked the order of events. The habit of so regarding them was
contracted in his early days at Woolridge's, when only in and by those
hours snatched from Woolridge's did he live. All other days of the week
were colored and had value according to their nearness to Saturday and
Sunday. Monday was black, Tuesday brown, Wednesday a browny gray,
Thursday a rather clearer gray (by Thursday you had broken the back of
the week), Friday distinctly rosy, and Saturday and Sunday, even when it
rained, a golden white.

He hadn't been married a year before all the seven were shady; the
colors ran into each other till even Sundays became a kind of grayish
drab. And still he continued to date things by Saturdays and Sundays; as
he did now in his mind, exultantly, thus: "Saturday, the eighth: Jujubes
knocked out in the first round."

Not that the dates went for very much with Ranny, to whom interesting
things so seldom happened. He remembered this one more because of his
scoring off Jujubes than because of the scene with Violet and its
sequel. He was used to scenes and sequels, and was no longer concerned
to note their correspondence and significance. So that he never noted
now that it was on and after Thursday, the thirteenth, that what he
called the Great Improvement had begun.

He meant the improvement in Violet's appearance. He had accepted the
fact that, in all household matters, his wife was a slut and a slattern;
yet it staggered him when it first dawned on him that, in the awful
deterioration of Granville and the Baby, the standard of her own
toilette had gradually lowered. Then gradually he got inured to it. The
tousled, tumbling hair, the slipshod feet, the soiled blouse gaping at
the back, were, he reflected bitterly, in perfect harmony with
Granville, and of a piece with everything. He had ceased to censure
them; they belonged so inalienably to the drab monotone; they were so
indissolubly a part of all his life. And somehow she bloomed in spite of
them. Ranny's unconquerable soul still cried "Stick it!" as he grappled
with her shameless blouses.

And now, suddenly, she had changed all that. She had become once more
the creature of mysterious elegance, of beauty charged with magical
reminiscence, in the trim skirt and stainless blouse, clipped by the
close belt; and with the bit of narrow black velvet ribbon round her
throat. Even in the morning she appeared once more with a clear parting
in her brushed and burnished hair. Even in the morning her soft skin was
once more sweet in its sheer cleanness. And in the evening there soaked
through and fell and hung about her that old fragrance of violets that
invariably turned his head.

And she had bought new stockings and new shoes; openwork stockings that
showed her white feet through, and little, little shoes with immense
steel buckles. And her new mushroom with the big red roses round it
assaulted, battered, and beat into cocked hats all the other mushrooms
in the Avenue.

But it was the stockings and the shoes that made him kiss her feet when,
on Sunday, the sixteenth, he first saw them coming down the stairs.

"Do you like my shoes?" she said. And she stuck them out one after the
other. As she was standing four steps above him they were on a level
with his mouth; so he kissed them one after another, on the instep, just
above the buckles.

"Do you like my dress?"

"It's ripping."

"Do you like my hat?"

"It's an A 1 hat; but it's those feet that fetch me."

He had not been so fetched for a whole year. It was a most peculiar
fetching.

They went to church together (they had hired a little girl for the last
week to mind the toddling Baby in the mornings). It might have been for
church that she had put on that hat. It could only be for him that she
wore the shoes. All through the service Ranny's heart was singing a hymn
to the blessed little feet that had so fetched him, the blessed little
tootsy-woots in the blessed little shoes. He knelt, adoring, to the hem
of the new white dress. He bowed his head under the benediction of the
hat.

The fact that Mercier was established in the chemist's pew opposite, and
was staring at the hat, and under it, did not interfere with his
devotions in the least. He could even afford to let old Jujubes walk
home with them, though he managed to shake him off adroitly at his shop
door. Nothing could really interfere with his devotions. For he felt
that those things, especially the shoes, were the outward and visible
signs of an inward and spiritual grace. Some grace that had descended
out of Heaven upon Violet.

The signs would be, no doubt, expensive; they should not have been so
much as dreamed of before Michaelmas, when he would get his rise; that
splendiferous get-up would in all probability just about clean him out,
rise and all; but he tried not to look on the dark side of it. He was
not one to quench the spirit or the smoking flax.

But, as the hours and the days went by, it was borne in upon him that
there was absolutely no connection between Violet's inward state and
that regenerated outside. This perturbed him; and it would have
perturbed him more but that he had other things to think of, and that in
any case he believed that a woman's clothes do not necessarily point to
an end beyond themselves.

Now, if he had been less preoccupied and had paid more heed to dates, he
would have noted three things: that it was on and after the evening of
Thursday, the twentieth, that her mood of gay excitement and of
satisfaction died and gave place to restlessness, irritation, and
expectancy (a strained and racking, a dismayed and balked expectancy);
that Thursday, the twentieth, was early-closing day in Southfields; and
that consequently Leonard Mercier was at large. And having gone thus far
in observation, he must have seen that it was on and after Thursday, the
twenty-seventh (early-closing day again) that she became intolerable.

Intolerable. There was no other word for it. The "_joie de veeve_" was
so intense that it was not to be borne. She had days of stupor now that
followed fits of fury. He didn't know which was the worse, the fury or
the stupor.

But it was the stupor that made him burst out one night (at supper; it
was always at supper that these things happened).

She had brought it on herself by asking what he wanted _now_ when he had
broken the frightful silence by addressing her affectionately as
"Vikey."

"What I want," said Ranny then, "is a change. I want bracing; and bright
surroundings, and entertaining society. I shall go and live at
Brookwood."

At last it was too much for anybody (the fury, this time). It was too
much for the charwoman, even once a fortnight, and she refused to come
again. It was too much for the little girl who minded Baby in the
mornings, and she left. Her mother said she wouldn't "have her put
upon," and complained that Mrs. Ransome had served her something
shameful. Ransome hardly liked to think how Violet could have served the
little girl.

Before long he had an inkling. For presently a new and incredible
quality revealed itself in Violet.

Up till now she had never been unkind to the Baby. She had neglected it;
she had been indifferent to it; but it had seemed impossible, not only
to Ransome, but to Violet herself, that she could be positively unkind.
He had charged the neglect to her ignorance, and the indifference to the
perversity of her passion for her husband. It was thus that his mother
had explained the mystery, and at moments it looked as if she might be
right.

But now that the little thing was on its feet, padding about with a
pathetic and ridiculous uncertainty, stumbling and upsetting itself,
sitting down suddenly, and clutching at things as it overbalanced, and
dragging them with it in its fall, Violet could only think of it as a
perfect and omnipresent nuisance, a thing inspired to torment her with
its malignant and deliberate activity. And from this she went on to
think of it as grown-up at fifteen months, a mature person, infinitely
responsible. Its misfortunes, its infirmities, its innocences were
counted to it as sins. When jam spread itself over Baby's face and
buried itself in Baby's neck, and leaped forth and ran down to the
skirts of its clothing, Baby was "a nasty little thing!" and "a naughty,
naughty girl!"

Then once, in a fit of exasperation, Violet slapped Baby's hands and
found such blessed relief in that exercise that the slapping habit grew
on her. Cries of anguish went up from Granville, till the neighbors two
doors on either side complained.

But tiny hands, slapped till (as she said) she was tired of slapping
them, gave no scope, offered no continuous outlet to the imprisoned
spirit within. Violet, under a supreme provocation, advanced to
arm-dragging and shaking.

She found that shaking on the whole did her most good.

And then, one Sunday morning, Ransome caught her at it.

He caught her, coming up softly behind her and pinning her, so that her
fingers relaxed their hold, and he swung her from him.

"I'm not going to have that, my girl," he said.

He was deadly quiet about it; and the deadliness and quietness subdued
her. But he kept the child away from her all day till it dropped off to
sleep at bedtime.

After that he never knew another peaceful moment. All his life was
narrowed suddenly into the circle of one terror and one care. It was
like a nightmare while it lasted. And it tethered him tight. He couldn't
get off by himself now on Saturdays and Sundays, for he was afraid to
leave the child with Violet and Violet with the child. He came pounding
home from Woolridge's at a frantic pace, for he never knew now what
might be happening, what might have happened in his absence.

And so on to the last days of July.

       *       *       *       *       *

In that month Granville, so long deteriorating, was at its worst. The
paper on the walls was blistering here and there like the paint; the red
and blue roses and the rosebuds wilted, with an effect of putrefaction,
and the love knots faded.

The front sitting-room, furnished so proudly and expensively, had been
long abandoned because of the attendance it exacted. In there you could
positively smell the dust. The pile of the plush held it and pierced
through it, as grass holds and pierces through the earth. Ranny had a
landed estate in his chairs and sofa. And the bright surfaces of
polished wood and looking-glass were blurred as if the breath of
dissolution had passed over them. Ranny's silver prize cups, standing in
a row on the little sideboard, were tarnished every one. Violet had no
pride in them. That sitting-room was not supposed to be sat in; yet
Ranny sat in it sometimes with Baby, as a refuge from the other.

For the other was awful. It had the look, not only of being lived in,
but of having lived; of having lived hard, brutally, squalidly, and of
being worn out. A room of which Ranny said that, go into it when you
would, it looked as if it had been up all night. A stained,
bleared-eyed, knocked-kneed sinner of a room.

And oh! the scullery, where the shining sink had grown a gray, rough
skin, a sort of fungoid coat, from the grease that clung to it, and the
gas stove, furred with rust, skulked like some obscene monster in its
corner. He was afraid, morally and physically afraid, to look at that
thing of infamy behind the back door. He tried to pretend the scullery
wasn't there.

And in the middle of it, and through the fury and the stupor, Violet
bloomed.

That was what he could not understand; how between her own cruelty and
that squalor she had the heart to bloom.

He dreaded every interruption and delay that detained him at
Woolridge's, every chance encounter that kept him from that lamentable
place where he feared and yet desired to be.

Yet it was in those last days of July that Granville, as if it had
passed through its mortal crisis, took, suddenly, a turn for the better.

He came into his house late one evening and found peace and order there,
and the strange, pungent smell of a thorough cleaning. There was a
clean, white cloth spread in the sitting-room for supper, spoons and
forks, and the china on the dresser and the table glistened; everything
that could be made to shine was shining. From the gas stove in the
scullery there came the alluring smell of a beefsteak pie baking. It was
wonderful. And it all seemed to have been done by some divine, invisible
agency. There was nobody about; not, at any rate, at the back; and
overhead there was no sound of footsteps.

He was gripped by a sense of mystery, almost of disaster; as if a wonder
so extreme had something ominous in it. Then he went into the front
sitting-room.

On the plush sofa, which had been moved from its place against the wall
and drawn right across the bow of the window, Violet lay, veiled from
the street by white Nottingham lace curtains. Pure white they were; such
whiteness as was not to be seen in the newest houses in the Avenue. The
furniture had been polished till it looked like new. All in a row
Ranny's silver prize cups shone again as on the day when he bore them
from the field. The smell of dust was gone. Instead of it there came
toward him a sweet smell of violets and of woman's hair.

On the sofa in the window Violet lay like a suburban odalisk,
voluptuous, heavy-scented. The flesh of her neck and arms showed rosy
under the thin, white muslin of her gown that clung to her in slender
folds and fell away, revealing the prone beauty of her body. The dim
light came on her through the Nottingham lace curtains, as light might
come through some Oriental lattice of fretted ivory. She bloomed, like a
heavy flower, languid, sullen-sweet, heavy-scented.

It was Thursday, the twenty-fifth.

Ransome looked about him and smiled.

"I say, this is a bit of all right. Did you do it yourself, Vi?"

Her large eyes opened on him in the pale light; dark they were with a
sensuous mockery in them.

"Do I look as if I'd done it myself?" she said.

She certainly didn't.

"Did you get a woman in, then, or what?"

She hesitated a moment.

"Yes. I got a woman in."

And the miracle continued; so that Ranny said that Granville was not
such a bad little fellow, after all, if you took him the right way and
humored him.

Then he began to make discoveries.

The first was on the Sunday morning when he went to his drawer for a
pair of clean socks. He had no hope of finding so much as one whole one.
And yet, there were all his socks sorted, and folded, and laid in a row;
and every single one of them had been made whole with exquisite darning.
The same with his shirts and vests and things; and they had been in rags
when he had last looked at them. And something had been done to his
cuffs and collars, too.

Then there was the Baby. Her hair, that used to cling to her little head
in flat rings as her sleep had crushed it, was all brushed up and
fluffed into feathery ducks' tails that shone gold in gold. She came to
him lifting up her little clean pinafore and frock to show him. She knew
that she was fascinating.

"It must be Mother, bless her," he said to himself.

But it wasn't Mother; or if it was she lied about it.

Then Violet let it out.

It was on the night of Tuesday, the first of August, at bedtime. Ransome
was leaning over the cot where the Baby lay, tossed half naked between
sleep and waking, drowsy with dreams. She was adorable with her Little
Rose face half unfolded, and the Honeypot smell of her silken skin.

Violet stood beside him, looking at the two, sullenly, but with a
certain unwonted tolerance. She was strange and still, as if the unquiet
spirit that had torn her was appeased.

"I say, it's worth while keeping this kid clean, Vi. It repays you."

"It pays Winny, I suppose. Else she wouldn't do it."

"_Winny?_"

"Yes. What are you staring at? She's a pretty kid," she added, as if the
admission had been wrung from her.

"She's not been here?" said Ransome.

"Hasn't she! She was here all morning and all day yesterday, and pretty
nearly every day last week."

"But--how did she get off? Why--it's sale-time!"

"She's chucked them."

"What's she done that for?"

"You'd better ask her."

His instinct told him that he would do well to let it pass. He said no
more that night.

But in the morning, over his hurried breakfast, he returned to it.

"I don't like this about Winny," he said. "Has she got another job, or
what?"

"She's got what she wanted."

"What's that?"

"A job at Johnson's."

Johnson's was the new drapers at the other corner of Acacia Avenue,
opposite the chemist.

"Johnson's?" Ranny could not conceal his innocent dismay. Johnson's
operations and his premises were so diminutive that for Winny--after
Starker's--the descent seemed awful.

"Are you sure she wanted it?"

"She must have wanted it pretty badly when she's willing to take seven
bob a week less screw. And if she'd waited till Michaelmas she'd have
got her rise."

Ranny bent his head low over his cup. He felt his face burning with a
shame that he could not comprehend. He knew that Violet was looking at
him, and that made it worse.

"You needn't worry," she was saying. "It isn't your fault if she makes a
fool of herself."

"Makes a fool of herself? What do you mean?"

The heat in his face mounted and flamed in his ears; and he knew that he
was angry.

"_You_ ought to know," she sneered.

He was hotter. He was intolerably hot.

"I don't, then," he retorted.

"You silly cuckoo, d'you mean to say you don't know she's gone on you?
Lot of pains she takes to hide it. You've only got to look at her to
know."

At that the fire in him blazed out. He rose, bringing his fist down on
the table.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he said. "A low animal wouldn't
say a thing like that. When she's been so good to you! Where would you
be, I should like to know, if it hadn't been for Winny?"

She looked at him under her lowered brows; and in her look there was
that strange tolerance, and mockery, and a feigned surprise. And with it
all a sort of triumph, as if she were rich in some secret and insolent
satisfaction and could afford her tolerance.

"Me?" she mocked. "Do you suppose it's me she comes for?"

"I don't know and I don't care. But as long as she does come you've got
to be decent to her. See?"

"I _am_ decent to her. _I_ don't mind her coming. What difference does
it make to _me_?"

"I should say it makes a thundering lot of difference, if you ask me.
Considering the work you've managed to get out of her for nothing."

"It isn't my business. I can't help it, if she likes to come here and
work for nothing."

"You make me sick," said Ranny.

His eyelids stung him as if they had been cut by little, little knives
close under the eyeballs. He turned from her, shamed, as if he had
witnessed some indecency, some outrage on a beautiful innocent thing.

Outside in the sunlight his tears dazzled him an instant and sank back
into their stinging ducts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, it had stung him. And he had got to end it, somehow, for Winny's
sake. He had no idea how to set about it. He could not let the little
thing come and do his wife's work for her, like that, on the sly, for
nothing. And yet he could not tell her not to come.

And he asked himself again and again, "Why, why does she do it? Why?
Like that--for nothing?"

His heart began to beat uncomfortably, trying to tell him why. But he
did not listen to it. He was angry with his heart for trying to tell him
things he did not know and did not want to know.

No. He ought not to let her keep on coming. But what was he to do? How
could he tell her not to come?

He went home through Wandsworth that evening and called at St. Ann's
Terrace. Winny was there. She came down to him where he waited on the
doorstep. As they stood there he could see over the low palings of the
gardens the window of the little house where he had climbed in that
night, that Sunday night, more than two years ago.

He said he had come to ask her to spend Bank Holiday with them. They
might go for a sort of picnic to Richmond Park, and she must come back
to supper.

That was his idea, his solution, his inspiration; that she must come;
that she must be asked, must be implored to come; but as a guest, in
high honor, and in festival.

They settled it. And still he lingered awkwardly.

"I say--is it true that you've left Starker's?"

"Yes."

"What did you do that for, Winky?"

He did not know that he was going to ask her that; but somehow he had
to.

She paused, but with no sign of embarrassment; looking at him with her
profound and placid eyes. It was as if she had to search for the truth
before she answered him.

"I thought it best," she said at last. "I didn't want to stay."

"Were you wise?"

She smiled.

"Yes, Ranny. I think so."

No. There was not a trace of embarrassment about her, such embarrassment
as she would have been bound to feel if Violet had been right. She had
spoken in measured tones, as if from some very serious, secret, and
sincere conviction.

She went on. "You see, Maudie won't want me any more. They're going to
be married when Fred gets his holiday."

"Yes. But it isn't such a good thing for _you_, is it?"

Her deed thus exposed, presented to her in all the high folly of it, she
seemed to flinch as if she herself were struck with the frightful
indiscretion of her descent from Starker's.

"It's quieter. That's more what I want."

He smiled. Pressed home, she was evasive as she had ever been.

"Look here," he said, as if he were changing the subject. "_You've_ been
found out."

"Found out, Ranny?"

"Yes. What have you been about this last week? I can't have you going
and doing Vi's work for her, you know."

"Oh _that_! That was nothing. I just put things straight a bit, and now
she's got to keep them straight."

He sighed, and reverted. "I don't like your throwing up that good job. I
don't reelly."

He meant to go, leaving it there, all that she had done,
unacknowledged, unexplained between them, as she would have it left. And
instead of going he stood rooted to that doorstep, and to his amazement
he heard himself saying, "I wish I could do something for you, Winny."

And then (he took his own breath away with the abruptness of it). "Look
here--why not come and make your home with us, when Maudie's married?"

She smiled dimly, as if she hardly saw him, as if, instead of standing
beside him on the doorstep, she were saying good-by to him from
somewhere a long way off.

"Oh no, Ranny, that would never do."

"Why not? There's that back room there doing nothing. We don't want it.
You'd be welcome to it if it was any good."

She shook her head slowly. "It's very kind of you, but it wouldn't do.
It really wouldn't. I don't mean the room, Ranny--it's a dear little
room--I mean--I mean, you know----"

Now at last she was embarrassed, helpless, shaken from her defenses by
the suddenness of his proposal.

"All right, Winky," he said, gently.

Then she broke down, but without self-pity, tearless, in her own
fashion.

"Oh, Ranny, _please_ don't think I'm horrid and ungrateful."

"That's all right," he said, feebly.

He turned as if to go; but she recalled him.

"There's one thing you could do," she said.

"What's that? I'll do anything."

"Well--You can let me come over Saturdays and Sundays sometimes and look
after Baby while you take Violet somewhere."

He said nothing, and she went on.

"If I were you, Ranny, I'd take her somewhere every week. I'd get her
out all I could."

And he said again for the third time, very humbly:

"All right."

And as he went he called over his shoulder, "Don't forget Monday."

As if she was likely to forget it!



CHAPTER XXI


And, after all, Monday, that is to say the day at Richmond, never came.

On Monday morning when Violet got up she was seized with a slight
dizziness and sickness. It passed off. She declared that earthquakes
shouldn't stop her going to Richmond, and dressed herself in defiance of
all possible disturbance. Ransome took the Baby over to Wandsworth, to
his mother, to be looked after. At ten o'clock he joined Winny and
Maudie and Fred Booty at St. Ann's Terrace, where they had arranged that
Violet was to meet them. Following on her bicycle, she would be there at
ten sharp, when the five would go on to Richmond by the tram that passed
Winny's door.

Ransome had no sooner left Granville than Violet slipped out to the
chemist's at the corner.

Ten o'clock struck, and the quarter and the half hour, and Violet had
not appeared at St. Ann's Terrace.

Ransome proposed that the others should go on without him; he said he
thought there must be something wrong, and that he had better go and see
what had happened. They argued about it for a while, and finally Maudie
and Fred Booty started. Winny refused flatly to go with them. She was
convinced that they would meet Violet on the road to Southfields. She
must have had a puncture, Winny said.

But they did not meet her.

And there was no sign of her downstairs at Granville.

"Hark! What's that?" said Winny, listening at the foot of the stair.
"Oh, Ranny!"

From the room above there came a low, half-stifled sound of sobbing and
groaning.

He dashed upstairs.

In a few minutes he returned to Winny in the front sitting-room.

"What's the matter? Is she ill?" she said.

"No, I don't think so. She won't tell me. She's horribly upset about
something."

"Shall I go to her?"

"No; better not, Winny. Look here, she won't come to Richmond. She says
we're to go without her."

"We can't, Ranny."

"I don't know. Upon my word, I think we may as well. She'll be more
upset if we don't go. She says she wants to be left to herself for _one_
day."

A sort of tremor passed over her eyes. They did not look at him; they
looked beyond him, as if somewhere they saw something that frightened
her.

"You mustn't leave her, Ranny," she said.

He laughed. "She doesn't want me. She's just told me so."

"Whether she wants you or not you've got to stay with her."

She said it sternly.

"I say, you needn't talk like that. To hear you any one would think I
fair neglected her."

She bit her lip. Her eyes wandered in their troubled way. She looked
like a thing held there under his eyes against its will and seeking
some way of escape.

"I don't think you neglect her, Ranny," she said at last.

"Well, then, what _do_ you think?"

She turned. "I think I'm going for a little spin somewhere by myself. I
shall come back in time for dinner. Then I shall go down to Wandsworth
and fetch Baby."

"I'll do that."

"No, you won't. You'll stay with Violet," she said.

"And what about your holiday?"

"My holiday's all right. Don't you worry."

She was out of the house and in the garden. Mechanically he wheeled her
bicycle out into the road. He was utterly submissive to her will.

She mounted, and he ran by her side; she pressed on her pedals,
compelling him to run fast and faster; she set her mouth hard, grinning,
and forced the pace, and he ran at the top of his speed and laughed. At
the end of the Avenue she turned, waved to him gaily and was gone.

Upstairs on her bed, in the room of the love knots, Violet lay and
writhed. She lay on her face. She had wetted her pillow with her tears;
she had flung it aside and was digging her hands into Ransome's pillow
with a tearing, disemboweling motion. Every now and then, with the
regularity of a machine, she gave out a sob and a groan that shook her.

He found her so.

She turned on her side as he entered, and showed him her face scarlet
and swollen with crying.

"What have you come for?" she said. "I _told_ you to go."

"I haven't gone. I'm not going."

"But you've got to go. You shall go. D'you hear? I won't have you
hanging about, watching and tormenting me. What are you afraid of? What
d'you think I'm going to do?"

She turned and raised herself on her elbow and stared about her as if at
a host of enemies surrounding her, then she sank back helpless.

"Won't you tell me what it is, Vi?" he said, tenderly.

He sat beside her, leaning over into her hot lair, and made as though he
would have put his hand on her shoulder. She writhed from him.

"Why can't you let me be," she cried, "when I don't want you? I don't
want you, I tell you, and I wish you'd go away. You've done enough harm
as it is."

He rose and went to the foot of the bed and stood there, regarding her
somberly.

"What did you mean by that? What harm have I done you?"

She had flung herself down again.

"You _know_--you _know_," she moaned into the pillow.

"My God, I wish I did!"

Then he remembered.

"Unless--you mean--"

"You ought to know what I mean without my telling you."

"Well, if I do, you needn't cast it up to me. I married you right
enough, Vi."

"Yes, that's what you did. And that's why I hate you."

"It seems to me a queer reason. But, come to that, what else could we
do?"

She sat up, pulling herself together like a woman who had things to say
and meant to say them now.

"We could have done as I wanted. We could have gone on as we were."

"That's what you wanted, was it?"

"You know it was. I never asked you to marry me. I asked you not to. And
you _would_--you _would_. I didn't _want_ to marry you."

"And why didn't you want? That's what I'd like to get at?"

"Because I knew what it would be."

"Has it been so very bad then?"

She sat up straighter, wringing her hands as if she wrung her words out.
"It's been awful--something awful. All the things I don't like--all the
time. And it's made me hate the sight of you. It's made me wish I'd died
before I'd seen you. And I want to get away. I want to get out of this
horrid, hateful little house. I knew I would. I knew--I knew----"

"My God--if _I_'d known----"

"_You_? If _you_'d known! I wish to God you had. I wish you had just! If
that would have stopped you marrying me. Oh, you _knew_ all right; only
you didn't care. You never have cared. I suppose you think it's what I'm
made for."

"I don't follow. It may be all wrong. I'll allow it _is_ all wrong, all
the time. What I want to know is what's up now?"

"Can't you see what's up? Can't you think?"

He thought. And presently he saw.

"You don't mean to say it's--it's another?"

"Of course it is. What else have I been talking about?"

"Are you sure, Vi?"

He was very grave, very gentle.

"Sure? D'you think I wouldn't make sure, when it's what I'm afraid of
all the time?"

"Don't you want it? Have you never wanted it?"

"Want it? Want it? I'll hate it if it comes. But it won't come. It
sha'n't come. I won't have it. I won't live and have it. I shall die
anyway."

"Oh no, you won't," he said.

But she flung herself back and writhed and sobbed again. He sat down and
watched with her. In silence and utter hopelessness he watched.
Presently she lay motionless, worn out.

       *       *       *       *       *

At one o'clock Winny knocked at the door and said dinner was ready.

Violet stirred. "What's the good of sitting staring there like a stuck
ox?" She raised herself. "Since you _are_ there you can get me that
eau-de-Cologne."

He brought it. He bathed her hands and forehead and wiped them with his
handkerchief.

She dragged herself downstairs and sat red-eyed through the dinner, the
materials for the picnic which Winny had unpacked and spread.

The day wore on. Violet dragged herself to her bed again, and lay there
all afternoon while Ransome hung about the house and garden, unable to
think, unable to work, or take an interest in anything. He was oppressed
by a sense of irremediable calamity.

At four o'clock he made tea and took it to Violet in her room.

She sat up, weak and submissive, and drank, crying softly.

She turned her face to him as she sank back on her pillow. "I'm sorry,
Ranny," she said; "but you shouldn't have married me. I'm not that sort.
I told you; and you see."

He could not remember when she had ever told him. But it was clear that
he saw. For he said to himself, "They say a lot of things they don't
mean when they're like this."



CHAPTER XXII


That was the first and by far the most impressive of their really great
scenes. There was no doubt about it, Violet could make scenes, and there
was no end to the scenes she made. But those that followed, like those
that had gone before, were beyond all comparison inferior. They lacked
vehemence, vividness, intensity. After that first passion of resentment
and revolt Violet declined upon sullenness and flat, monotonous
reproach.

Ransome put it all down to her condition. He set his mouth with a hard
grin and stuck it. He told himself that he had no illusions left, that
he saw the whole enormous folly of his marriage, and that he saw it
sanely, as Violet could not see it, without passion, without revolt,
without going back for one moment on anything that he or she had done.
He saw it simply as it was, as a thing that had to be. She, being the
more deeply injured of the two, must be forgiven her inability to see it
that way. He had done her a wrong in the beginning and he had made
reparation, and it was not the reparation she had wanted. She had never
reproached him for that wrong as many women would have; on the contrary,
he remembered how, on the night when it was done, she had turned to
comfort him with her "It had got to be." She had been generous. She had
never hinted at reparation. No; she certainly had not asked him to marry
her.

But that also had had to be. They couldn't help themselves. They had
been caught up and flung together and carried away in a maze; like the
Combined Maze at the Poly., it was, when they had to run--to run, locked
together.

What weighed on him most for the moment was the financial problem. He
lived in daily fear of not being able to pay his way without breaking
into the rest of his small savings. His schemes, that had looked so fine
on paper, had left, even on paper, no margin for anything much beyond
rent and clothing and their weekly bills. There had been no margin at
all for Baby; Baby who, above all, ought to have been foreseen and
provided for. Baby had been paid for out of capital. So that from the
sordid financial point of view Violet's discovery was a calamity.

It was a mercy he had got his rise at Michaelmas. But even so they were
behindhand with their bills. That, of course, would not have happened if
he hadn't had to buy a new suit that winter. Ranny had found out that
his bicycle, though it diminished his traveling expenses and kept him
fit, was simply "ruination" to his clothes.

It was awful to be behindhand with the bills. But if they got behind
with the rent they would be done for. He would lose Granville. His rent
was not as any ordinary rent that might be allowed to run on for a week
or two in times of stress. Granville was relentless in exaction of the
weekly tribute. If payments lapsed, he lost Granville and he lost the
twenty-five pounds down he paid for it.

And Granville, that scourged him, was itself scourged of Heaven. That
winter the frosts bound the walls too tight and the thaws loosened
them. The rain, beating through from the southwest, mildewed the back
sitting-room and the room above it. The wind made of Granville a pipe, a
whistle, a Jew's harp to play its tunes on; such tunes as set your teeth
on edge.

Ransome said to himself bitterly that his marriage had not been his only
folly. He should have had the sense to do as Booty had done. Fred had
married soon after Michaelmas, when he too had got his rise. He and
Maudie had not looked upon houses to their destruction; they had simply
taken another room in St. Ann's Terrace where she had lived with Winny.
And she had kept her job at Starker's, and meant to keep it for another
year or so. Fred wasn't going to have any kids he couldn't provide for.
Ranny's case had been a warning to him.

And Ranny's case was lamentable that winter, after he had paid for his
suit. They lived almost entirely now on hampers sent from Hertfordshire.
The hampers were no longer treated as mysterious windfalls; they came
regularly once a week, and were shamefully and openly allowed for in the
accounts. And regularly once a week the young Ransomes had their Sunday
dinner at Wandsworth; they reckoned it as one square meal.

All this squeezing and pinching was to pay for a little girl to look
after Baby in the mornings. They had found another, and had contrived to
keep her. For Violet, though she went on making scenes with Ranny, was
quiet enough now when Ranny wasn't there, if only Baby was kept well out
of her way. In the autumn months and in the early winter she even had
her good days, days of passivity, days of exaltation and of rapt
brooding, days when she went as if sustained by some mysterious and
secret satisfaction, some agreeable reminiscence or anticipation. And if
Ransome never noticed that these days were generally Thursdays, it was
because Thursday (early-closing day in Southfields) had no interest or
significance for Ranny. And of all Violet's moods he found the one
simple explanation in her state.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the whole, he observed a change for the better in his household.
Things were kept straighter. There was less dust about, and Ranny's
prize cups had never ceased to shine. His socks and vests were
punctually mended, and Baby at his homecoming was always neat and clean.
He knew that Winny had a hand in it. For Winny, established at Johnson's
at the corner, was free a good half hour before he could get back from
Oxford Street; and as often as not he found her putting Baby to bed when
Violet was out or lying down. But he did not know, he was nowhere near
knowing, half the things that Winny did for them. He didn't want to
know. All that he did know made him miserable or pleased him according
to his mood. Of course it couldn't really please him to think that Winny
worked for him for nothing; but to know that she was there, moving about
his house, loving and caring for his child as he loved and cared for it,
whether it was sick or well, clean or dirty, gave him pleasure that when
he thought about it too much became as poignant as pain. For there was
nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could do for Winny to repay her. He
did not know that Winny paid herself in a thousand inimitable
sensations every time she touched the things that he had touched, or
that belonged to him; that with every stitch she put into his poor
clothes her fingers satisfied their longing, as it were, in an
attenuated, reiterated caress; that to feel the silken flesh of his
child against her flesh was for Winny to know motherhood.

Her life had in it the wonder and beauty and mystery of religion. All
the religion that she knew was in each service that she did for Ranny in
his house. Acacia Avenue, with its tufted trees, with its rows of absurd
and pathetic and diminutive villas, was for Winny a shining walk between
heavenly mansions. She handled each one of Ranny's prize cups as if it
had been the Holy Grail.

And religion went hand in hand with an exquisite iniquity. In all that
she did there was something unsanctioned, something that gave her the
secret and essential thrill of sin. When Winny made that beefsteak pie
for Ranny she had her first taste of fearful, delicious, illegitimate
joy. For it was not right that she should be there making beefsteak pies
for Ranny. It was Violet who should have been making beefsteak pies. But
once plunged in Winny couldn't stop. She went on till she had mended all
Ranny's clothes and sewed new Poly. ribbon on all the vests he ran in.
She loved those vests more than anything he wore. They belonged to the
old splendid Ranny who had once been hers.

And under it all (if she had cared to justify herself), under the
mystery and the beauty and the wonder, there was the sound, practical
common sense of it all. As long as Violet was comfortable with Ranny
she would stay with him. But she would not be comfortable if she had too
many things to do; and if she became uncomfortable she would leave him;
and if she left him Ranny would be unhappy. So that the more you did for
her the more likely she was to keep straight. Keeping Violet straight
had always been Winny's job; it always would be; and she was more than
ever bound to stick to it now that it meant keeping Ranny's home
together. In Winny's eyes the breaking up of a home was the most awful
thing that could happen on this earth. In Leonard Mercier (established
so dangerously near) she recognized a possible leader of the forces of
disruption. When she left Starker's for Johnson's (where, as she put it
to herself, she could look after Violet), she had hurled her small body
into the first breach. Johnson's was invaluable as a position whence she
could reconnoiter all the movements of the enemy.

But it was a strain upon the heart and upon the nerves; and the effect
on Winny's physique was so evident that Ranny noticed it. He noticed
that Winny was more slender and less sturdy than she used to be; her
figure, to his expert eye, suggested the hateful possibility of
flabbiness. He thought he had traced the deterioration to its source
when he asked her if she had chucked the Poly.

She had.

What did she do that for? Well--she didn't think she cared much for the
Poly. now. It was different somehow. At least that was the way she felt
about it. ("Same here," said Ranny.) And she couldn't keep up like she
did. The running played her out.

He saw her, then, a tired, indifferent little figure, padding through
the circles and the patterns of the Combined Maze; padding listlessly,
wearily, with all the magic and the joy gone out of her.

"We had grand times there together," he said then. "Do you remember the
Combined Maze?"

She remembered.

"Sometimes I think that life's like that--a maze, Winny. A sort of
Combined Maze--men and women--mixed up together."

She thought so too.

       *       *       *       *       *

Violet had got used to Winny's being there. She took it for granted, as
if it also were one of those things that had to be. She depended on it,
and owned herself dependent. When Winny was there, she said, things went
right, and when she wasn't there they went wrong. She didn't know how
they had ever got along without her.

Ransome was surprised to see in Violet so large a heart and a mind so
open. For not only did she tolerate Winny, she clung, he could see that
she clung, to her like a child. She even tolerated what he wouldn't have
thought a woman would have stood for a single instant, the fact, the
palpable fact, that Ranny couldn't get along without her any more than
she could.

And if they could, the Baby couldn't. Baby (she was Dorothy now and
Dossie) cried for Winny when Winny wasn't there. She would run from her
mother's voice to hide her face in Winny's skirts. Baby wasn't ever
really happy without Winny.

That was how she had them, and she knew it, and the Baby knew it; and
the two of them simply rode roughshod over Ranny and his remonstrances.

"What are you doing there, Winky?" he would say, when he caught her on a
Sunday morning in the bathroom, with Baby happy on a blanket at her
feet.

"Washing Dossie's pinafores," she would sing out.

"I wish to Goodness I could stop you."

"But you can't. Can he, Lamby Lamb? Laugh at him, then. Laugh at Daddy."

And the Lamby Lamb would laugh.

He knew, and they knew, that he couldn't stop her except by doing the
work for her; and the more things he did the more things she found to do
that he couldn't do, such as washing pinafores. So he gave it up; and
gradually he too began to take it for granted that Winny should be
there.

And she was more than ever there after April of nineteen-seven, when the
little son was born. The little son that they called Stanley Fulleymore.

When _he_ came more and more of Ranny's savings had to go. He didn't
care. For he had gone again through deep anguish, again believing that
Violet would die, that she couldn't possibly get over it. And she _had_
got over it; beautifully, the doctor said. He assured him that she
hadn't turned a hair. And after it she bloomed as she had never bloomed
before; she bloomed to excess; she coarsened in sheer exuberance and
rioting of health. She was built magnificently, built as they don't seem
able to build women now, built for maternity.

"You don't think," said Ranny to the doctor, "that it really does her
any harm?"

For she had tried to frighten him with the harm she said it did her.

"My dear Ransome, if she had a dozen children it wouldn't do her any
harm."

It was the same tale as before, and he couldn't understand it. For of
the flame of maternity, the flame that burned in Winny, it was evident
that Violet hadn't got a spark. If she had been indifferent to her
daughter Dorothy, she positively hated her son, Stanley Fulleymore. She
intimated that he was a calamity, and an ugly one at that. One kid, she
said, was bad enough; what did he expect that she should do with two?

She did nothing; which was what he had expected. She trailed about the
house, glooming; she sank supine under her burden and lay forever on the
sofa. When he tried to rouse her she burst into fury and collapsed in
stupor. The furies and the stupors were worse than he had ever known.
They would have been unendurable if it had not been for Winny.

And in the long days when Winny was not there he was always afraid of
what might happen to the children. He had safeguarded them as far as
possible. He had engaged an older and more expensive girl, who came from
nine to six, five days a week and Saturday morning. Soon after six Winny
would be free to run in and wash the Baby and put Dossie to bed.

Shamelessly he accepted this service from her; for he was at his wits'
end. As often as not he took Violet out somewhere (to appease the
restlessness that consumed her), leaving Winny in charge of the babies.
Winny had advised it, and he had grown dependent on her judgment. He
considered that if anybody understood Violet it was Winny.

And slowly, month by month, the breach that Winny had hurled herself
into widened. It was as if she stood in it with arms stretched wide,
holding out a desperate hand to each of them.

Everything conspired to tear the two asunder. In summer the heat of the
small rooms became intolerable. Ransome proposed that he should sleep in
the back bedroom and leave more air for Violet and the children.

Violet was sullen but indifferent. "If you do," she said, "you'll take
Dossie. _I_ won't have her."

He took Dossie. The Baby was safe enough for all her dislike of it, and
for all it looked so sickly. For it slept. It slept astoundingly. It
slept all night and most of the day. There never was such a sleeper.

He thought it was a good sign. But when he said so to Winny she looked
grave, so grave that she frightened him.

Then suddenly the Baby left off sleeping. Instead of sleeping he cried.
He cried piteously, inveterately; he cried all night and most of the
day. He never gave them any peace at all. His crying woke little Dossie,
and she cried; it kept Ransome awake; it kept Violet awake, and she
cried, too, hopelessly, helplessly; she was crushed by the everlasting,
irremediable wrong.

And it was then, in those miserable days, that she turned on Winny,
until Ransome turned on her.

"It's shameful the way you treat that girl, after all she's done for
you."

"What's she been telling you?" There was fright in Violet's eyes.

"She's not told me anything. I've got eyes. I can see for myself."

"Oh, you've got eyes, have you? Jolly lot you see!"

But she was penitent that night and asked Winny to forgive her. She
implored her not to leave off coming.

And Winny came and went now in pain instead of joy. Everything in
Ranny's house pained her. Violet's voice that filled it pained her, and
the crying of the little children. Ranny's face pained her. Most of all
it pained her to see Dossie's little cot drawn up beside Ranny's bed in
the back room; they looked so forlorn, the two of them; so outcast and
so abandoned.

She went unhindered and unheeded into Ranny's room, tidying it and
putting the little girl to bed. But into Violet's room she would not go
more than she could help. She hated Violet's room; she loathed it; and
she dared not think why.

       *       *       *       *       *

One Saturday evening in the last week of September Ransome had come home
late after a long solitary ride in the country. Violet, who was busy
making a silk blouse for herself, had refused to go with him. Winny had
laid it down as a law for Ranny that Violet was never to be left for
very long to herself, if he wanted her to be happy. And, of course, he
wanted her to be happy. But if ever there was a moment when he could
leave her with a clear conscience it was when she was dressmaking.

She gave herself to it with passion, with absorption. He had known her
to sit for hours over a new blouse in apparently perfect happiness.

And to-day he could have sworn that she was happy. She had risen of her
own accord and kissed him good-by and told him to enjoy himself and not
hurry home. She would be all right, and Winny had said she would drop in
for tea. He left her sewing white lace onto blue silk in a matchless
tranquillity.

And he _had_ enjoyed his ride, and he had not hurried home, for he knew
that the children would be all right (even if Violet's happy mood had
changed) as long as Winny was there to look after them.

He rode far out into the open country, into the deep-dipping lanes,
between fields, and through lands scented with autumn. And as he rode he
was a boy again. Never since his marriage had he known such joy in
freedom and such ecstasy in speed. There was a wind that drove him on,
and the great clouds challenged him and raced with him as he went.

He came home against the wind, but that was nothing. The wind was a
challenge and a defiance of his strength; it set the blood racing in his
veins, and cooled it in his face when it burned. It was good to be
challenged by the wind and to defy it. It was good to struggle. It was
all good that happened to him on that day.

Night had fallen when he returned. Granville was lit up behind its
yellow blinds. Winny stood at the open door with the lighted passageway
behind her. Granville in the autumnal dark, with the gas turned full on
inside it, looked all light, all quiet flame, as if the walls that were
the substance of it had been cut clean away, leaving a mere shell, a
mere framework for its golden incandescence.

So small, so fragile, so insubstantial was the shell, that Winny's
slight figure in the doorway showed in proportion solid and solitary and
immense, as if it sustained the perishable fabric.

She was leaning forward now, bearing up the shell on her shoulders. She
was looking out, up and down the Avenue.

"That you, Winny?" he said.

"Yes. I'm looking for Vi."

"She gone out?"

"Gone into Wandsworth."

"What did she go for?"

"To have a dress tried on."

"I say, she _is_ going it!"

"There's a girl in St. Ann's," said Winny, "what makes for her very
cheap."

He sighed and checked his sigh. "You bin slavin', Win?"

"No. Why?"

"You looked fagged out."

Winny's face was white under the gaslight.

She said nothing. She stood there looking out while he propped his
bicycle up against the window sill.

He followed as she turned slowly and went through the passage to the
back room.

"Kids asleep?"

"Yes. Fast."

She went to the dresser, and he helped her to take down the cups and
plates and set the table for their supper. In all her movements there
was a curious slowness and constraint, as if she were spinning time
out, thread by thread. It was five-and-twenty past eight.

"Who's that for?" she asked as he laid a third place at the side.

"Well, I should think it was for you."

She started ever so slightly, and stared at the three plates, as if
their number put her out in some intricate calculation.

"I must be going," she said.

"Not you. Not much!"

She submitted, moving uneasily about the place, but busy, folding things
and putting them away. He ran upstairs to wash. She could hear him
overhead, splashing, rubbing, and brushing.

When he came down again she was sitting on the sofa with her hands
clasped in front of her, her head bent, her eyes fixed, gazing at the
floor.

"I suppose we've got to wait for Vi," he said.

"Oh yes."

They waited.

"I say, it's a quarter to nine, you know," he said, presently.

"Hungry, Ran?"

"My word! I should think I was just. D'you think she's gone to Mother
and had supper there?"

"She--might have."

"Well, then, let's begin. Come along."

She shook her head. There was a slight spasm in her throat as if the
idea of food sickened her.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing--nothing. I'm all right. I don't want to eat anything, that's
all. I must be going soon."

"You're tired out, Win. You've got past it. Tell you what, I'll make you
a cup of tea."

"No, Ranny, don't. I'd rather not."

She rose, and yet she did not go. He had never known Winny so undecided.

Then suddenly she stooped. On the floor of the hearth rug she had caught
sight of some bits of blue silk left from Violet's sewing. With an
almost feverish concentration of purpose she picked up each one of the
scraps and snippets; she threw them on the hearth. Slowly, deliberately,
spinning out her thread of time, she gathered what she had strewed; she
gathered into a handful the little scraps and snippets of blue silk,
powdered with the gray ashes from the hearth, and dropped them in the
fire, watching till the last shred was utterly destroyed.

There was a faint cry overhead and Ransome started up.

The cry or his movement clenched her resolution.

"_I'll_ go, Ranny," she said.

And as she went she drew a letter in a sealed envelope from the bosom of
her gown and laid it on the table.

"Vi said I was to give you that if she wasn't back by eight. It's nine
now."

He stared and let her go. He waited. He was aware of her footsteps in
the front room upstairs, of the baby crying, and of the sudden stilling
of his cry. Then he opened the letter.

He read in Violet's tottering, formless handwriting:

/#
     Dear Randall,--This is to let you know I've gone and that I'm not
     coming back again. I stuck to you as long as I could, but it was
     misery. You and me aren't suited to live together, and it's no use
     us going on any more pretending. If you'd take me back to-morrow I
     wouldn't come. I can't live without Leonard Mercier, nor he without
     me. I dare say you know it's him I've gone with.

     We're awfully sorry for all the trouble we're bringing on you. But
     we couldn't help ourselves. We were driven to it. I've been off my
     head all this year thinking how I must do it, and all the time
     being afraid to take the step. And ever since I made up my mind to
     it I've been quiet inside and happy, which looks as if it was meant
     and had got to be.

     You needn't blame Leonard. He held off till he couldn't hold off
     any more, because he was a friend of yours and didn't want to hurt
     you. It was really me made him. It's a tragedy, but it would be a
     bigger tragedy if we didn't, for we belong to one another. And he's
     taking me to Paris to live so as nobody need know anything about
     it. He's got a post in a shop there. And we're starting on a
     Saturday so as you can have Sunday to turn round in.

     You'll forgive me, Ranny dear. It's what I've always told you--you
     shouldn't have married me. You should have married a girl like
     Winny. She was always fond of you. It was a lie what I told you
     once about her not being. I said it because I was mad on you, and I
     knew you'd marry her if I let you alone. So you can say it's all my
     fault, if you like.

     Yours truly,

     [she had hesitated, with some erasures, over the form of
     valedictions]

     Vi.
#/

There was a postscript:

/#
     "You can do anything you like to me as long as you don't touch
     Leonard. It's not his fault my caring for him more than you."
#/

And in a small hand squeezed into the margin he made out with difficulty
two more lines. "You needn't be afraid of being fond of Baby. There was
never anything between me and Leonard before July of last year."

He did not read it straight through all at once. He stuck at the opening
sentence. It stupefied him. Even when he took it in it did not tell him
plainly what it was that she had done besides going away and not coming
back again. It was as if his mind were unable to deal with more than one
image at a time, as if it refused to admit the hidden significance of
language.

Realization came with the shock of the name that struck at him suddenly
out of the page in a flash that annihilated the context. The name and
his intelligence leaped at each other and struck fire across the
darkness. His gorge rose at it as it would have risen at a foul blow
under the belt.

Leonard Mercier; he saw nothing else; he needed nothing else but that;
it showed him her deed as the abomination that it was. If it had been
any other man he thought he could have borne it, for he might still have
held her clean.

As it was, the uncleanness was such that his mind turned from it
instinctively as from a thing unspeakable. He closed his eyes, he hid
his face in his hands, as if the two had been there with him in the
room. And still he saw things. There rose before him a sort of welter of
gray slime and darkness in which were things visible, things white and
vivid, yet vague, broken and unfinished, because his mind refused to
join or finish them; things that were faceless and deformed, like white
bodies that tumble and toss in the twilight of evil dreams. These white
things came tumbling and tossing toward him from the gray confines of
the slime; urged by a persistent and abominable life, they were borne
perpetually on the darkness and were perpetually thrust back into it by
his terror.

He turned the letter and read it to the end, to the last scribble on the
margin: "You should have married a girl like Winny Dymond." "It was a
lie what I told you once about her." "You needn't be afraid of being
fond of Baby." There was nothing evocative, nothing significant for him
in these phrases, not even in the names. His mind had no longer any grip
on words. The ideas they stood for were blurred; they were without form
or meaning; they rose and shifted like waves, and like waves they
disappeared on the surface of the darkness and the slime.

He was roused from his sickening contemplation by a child's cry
overhead. It came again; it pierced him; it broke up the horror and
destroyed it. He woke with it to a sense of sheer blank calamity, of
overpowering bereavement.

His wife had left him. That was what had happened to him. His wife had
left him. She had left her little children.

It was as if Violet had died and her death had cleansed her.

When the child cried a third time he remembered Winny. He would have to
tell her.



CHAPTER XXIII


He rose and went to the fireplace mechanically. His impulse was to tear
up and burn Violet's letter and thus utterly destroy all proof and the
record of her shame. He was restrained by that strong subconscious
sanity which before now had cared for him when he was at his worst. It
suggested that he would do well to keep the letter. It was--it was a
document. It might have value. Proofs and records were precisely what he
might most want later on. He folded it and replaced it in its envelope
and thrust it into the breast pocket of his coat.

And it occurred to him again that he had got to tell Winny.

He could hear her feet going up and down, up and down, in the front room
overhead where she walked, hushing the crying baby. Presently the crying
ceased and the footsteps, and he heard the low humming of her cradle
song; then silence; and then the sound of her feet coming down the
stairs.

He would have to tell her now.

He drew himself up, there where he was, standing by his hearth, and
waited for her.

She came in softly and shut the door behind her and stood there as if
she were afraid to come too near. Her face was all eyes; all eyes of
terror, as before a grief too great, a bereavement too awful for any
help or consolation. She spoke first.

"What is it, Ranny?" Her low voice went light like a tender hand that
was afraid to touch his wound.

"She's left me; that's all."

Her lips parted, but no words came; they parted to ease the heart that
fluttered with anguish in her breast. She moved a little nearer into the
room, not looking at him, but with her head bowed slightly as if her
shoulders bore Violet's shame. She stood a moment by the table, looking
at her own hand as it closed on the edge, the fingers working up and
down on the cloth. It might have been the hand of another person, for
all she was aware of its half-convulsive motion.

"Oh, Ranny, _dear_--" At last she breathed it out, the soul of her
compassion, and all her hushed sense of his bereavement.

"Did you know?"

She shook her head, slowly, closing in an extremity of negation the eyes
that would not look at him.

"No--No--" It was as if she had said, "Who _could_ have known it?" Yet
her voice had an uncertain sound.

"But you had an idea?"

"No," she said, taking courage from his incredible calmness. "I was
afraid; that was all." And then, as one utterly beaten by him and
defenseless, she broke down. "I tried so hard--so hard, so as it
shouldn't happen."

It was as if she had said, "I tried so hard--so hard to save her for
you; but she had to die."

"I know you did."

But it was only then, in the long pause of that moment, that he knew;
that he saw the whole full, rich meaning and intention of the things
that she had done for him.

And now, as if she were afraid lest he should see too much, as if
somehow his seeing it would sharpen the perilous edge she stood on,
would wind up to the pitch of agony her tense feeling of it all, Winny
suddenly became evasive. She found her subterfuge in stark matter of
fact.

"You haven't had any supper," she said.

"No more have you."

"I don't want anything."

"I'm sure _I_ don't. But you must. You'll be ill, Winny, if you don't."

White-faced and famished, they kept it up, both struck by the indecency
of eating in the house of sorrow. Then for his sake she gave in, and he
for hers.

"If you will, I will," she said.

"That's right," said he.

And together helping each other, they filled the kettle and set it on
the fire to boil, moving in silence and with soft footsteps, as in the
house where death was. And together they sat down to the table and
forced themselves to eat a little, each for the sake of the other,
encouraging each other with such difficult, broken speech as mourners
use. They behaved in all ways as if the ghost of a dead Violet sat in
her old place, facing Ranny. The feeling, embraced by each of them with
the most profound sincerity, was that Ranny's bereavement was
irreparable, supreme. Each was convinced with an inassailable and
immutable conviction that the thing that had happened was, for each of
them, the worst that could happen.

Half through the meal he got up suddenly and left her. He was seized
with violent sickness, such sickness as he had never yet known, and
would have believed impossible. The sounds of his bodily anguish reached
her from the room above. They stirred her emotion to a passion of
helpless, agonizing pity. If she could only go up to him and put her
hand on his forehead, and do things for him! But she couldn't; and she
felt poignantly that if she did Ranny somehow wouldn't like it. So, as
there was nothing she could do for him, she laid her head down on her
arms and wept.

She raised it suddenly, like a guilty thing, and dashed the tears from
her eyes, as if she were angry with them for betraying her.

Ranny had recovered and was coming downstairs again. As he came in he
saw at once what she had been doing.

"You've been crying, Winny?"

She said nothing.

"I wouldn't if I were you," he said. "There's no need."

She rose and faced him bravely, for there were things that must be
thought of.

"What are you going to do, Ranny?" she said.

"Nothing. What is there to be done?"

"Well--" She paused, breathing painfully.

"Look here, Winny, you're dead-beat and you must go home to bed. Do you
know it's past ten?"

She drew herself up. "I'm not going."

"You must, dear, I'm afraid."

He smiled, and the smile and his white face made her heart ache. Also
they made her more determined.

"You must have somebody. You can't be left like this all by yourself. Do
you think I can go and leave you, when you're ill and all?"

"I'm all right now. I wish I could see you home, but I can't leave the
house with the kids, you see, all alone."

"Ranny," she said, "I'm not going." She was very grave, very earnest,
absolutely determined, and, child that she still was, absolutely unaware
of the impossibility of the thing that she proposed. She was blind to
herself, blind to all appearances, blind to all aspects of the case, but
one, his desolation and his necessity.

"I can't leave you. I wouldn't be happy if I didn't stay. You might be
taken bad or something, in the night."

"You can't stay, Winny. It wouldn't do." They were the words she had
used to him, in her wisdom, when he had asked her to make her home with
him and Violet.

But the vision of propriety, which he raised and presented thus for her
consideration, it was nothing to her. She swept it all aside.

"But I _must_," she said. "There's Baby."

He remembered then that little one, above in Violet's deserted room.
Almost she had persuaded him, but for that secret sanity which had him
in its care.

"I'll take him. You must go now," he said, firmly. "Now this minute."

He looked for her hat and coat, found them and put her into them,
handling her with an extreme inflexibility of manner and tenderness of
touch, as if she had been a child.

"Well, then," she compromised. "Let me help you move him."

He let her; and they went upstairs and into Violet's room. Winny had
removed every sign of disorder left by Violet in the precipitancy of her
flight. Between them, very gently, they carried the cot, with the
sleeping baby in it, out of the room of the love knots and the rosebuds
into Ranny's room. They set the cot close up against the side of his bed
with the rail down so that Ranny's arms might reach out to Baby where he
lay. Dossie's little bed was drawn up at the foot. They stood together
for a moment, looking at the two children, at Dossie, all curled up and
burrowing into her pillow, and at Baby, lying by Ranny's bed as a
nursling lies by its mother.

They were silent as the same thought tore at them.

Night after night, for years, as long as Dossie and Baby were little,
Ranny would lie like that, on that narrow bed of his, shut in by the two
cots, one at his side and the other at his feet. And to Winny it had
come, for Ranny had rubbed it into her (tenderly enough; but he had
rubbed it in), that this was the last night when she could stand beside
him there. She had tried so hard to hold him and Violet together; and
all the time it had been Violet who had held her and him. It was
Violet's presence that had made it possible for her to go in and out
with Ranny in his house.

She stooped for a final, reassuring look at Baby.

"Can you manage with him?" she whispered.

He nodded.

"I've made him his food in that saucepan. You'll have to heat it on the
gas ring--in there."

"In there" was Violet's room.

They went downstairs together.

"I wish I could see you home," he said again.

"I'm all right." But she paused on the doorstep. "You ought to have
somebody. You can't be left all alone like this. Mayn't I run down and
fetch your mother?"

"No," he said, "you mayn't. I'll go down myself to-morrow morning, if
you wouldn't mind coming in and looking after the kids for a bit."

"Of course I'll come. Good night, Ranny."

"Good night, Winky. And thanks--" His throat closed with a sharp
contraction on the words. She slipped into the darkness and was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was thankful that he had had the sense to see the impossibility of
it, of her spending the night in his house with nobody in it but the two
of them and the two children.

But it was only when, in the act of undressing, he was reminded of
Violet's letter by its bulging in his breast pocket, that he glimpsed
the danger they had escaped. Up till then he had only thought of Winny,
of her reputation, of her post at Johnson's (imperiled if she were not
in by eleven), of all that she would not and could not think of in her
thought for him. Now, that inner sanity, that secret wisdom which had
made him preserve Violet's letter as a possibly valuable document,
suggested that if Winny had stayed all night in the house with him that
document would have lost its value. Not that he had meant to do anything
with it, that he had any plan, or any certain knowledge. Those two
ideas, or rather, those two instinctive appreciations, of the value of
the document, and of the awfulness of the risk they ran, were connected
in his mind obscurely as the stuff of some tale that he had been told,
or as something he had seen sometime in the papers. He put them from him
as things that he himself had no immediate use for; while all the time
subconscious sanity guarded them and did not let them go.

But that was all it did for him. It did not lift from him his
oppression, or fill with intelligible detail his blank sense of
calamity, of inconsolable bereavement. This oppression, this morbid
sense, amounted almost to hallucination; it prevented him from thinking
as clearly as he might about all that, the value of the document, and
the rest of it, and about what he ought to do. It was with him as he lay
awake on his bed, shut in by the two cots; it, and the fear of
forgetting to feed Baby, got into his dreams and troubled them; they
watched by him in his sleep; they woke him early and were with him when
he woke.

Dossie woke too. He took her into his bed and played with her, and in
playing he forgot his grief. A little before seven he got up and
dressed. He washed Dossie and dressed her as well as he could, with
tender, clumsy fingers that fumbled over all her little strings and
buttons. Pain, and pleasure poignant as pain, thrilled him with every
soft contact with her darling body. He tried to brush her hair as Winny
brushed it, all in ducks' tails and in feathers.

He went down and busied himself, hours earlier than he need, making the
fire, getting ready Dossie's breakfast and Baby's and his own. Foraging
in the larder, he came upon a beefsteak pie that, evidently, Winny had
made for him, as if in foreknowledge of his need. When he had washed up
the breakfast things and the things that were left over from last night,
he went upstairs and made his bed, clumsily. Then he went down again and
tidied the sitting-room. In all this he was driven by his determination
to leave nothing for Winny to do for him when she came. He went to and
fro, with Dossie toddling after him and laughing.

Upstairs, Baby laughed in his cot.

And all the time, Ranny, with his obsession of bereavement and calamity,
was unaware of the peace, the exquisite, the unimaginable peace that had
settled upon Granville.

       *       *       *       *       *

At half past eight Winny looked in (entering by the open door of
Granville) to see what she could do.

She found him in the bathroom, trying to wash Baby. He had put the
little zinc bath with Baby in it inside the big one.

"Whatever did you do that for, Ranny?" Winny asked, while her heart
yearned to him.

He said he had to. The little beggar splashed so. Good idea, wasn't it?

Almost he had forgotten his bereavement.

Winny shook her head.

"Anyhow, I've washed him all right."

"Yes," said she. "But you'll never dry him."

"Why not?"

"You can't. Not in here. There isn't room for you to set. Where's your
chair and your flannel apron?"

"Flannel apron?"

"Yes. If you don't wear one you'll not get any hold on him. He'll slip
between your knees before you know he's gone."

"Not if I keep 'em together."

"_Then_ there's no lap for him. What he wants is petticoats."

(Petticoats? That was the secret, was it? He had tried to soap Baby, bit
by bit, as he had seen Winny do, holding him, wrapped in a towel, on his
knees--a disastrous failure. It was incredible how slippery he was.)

"There's his blanket. I thought I'd dry him on the floor."

"He'll catch his death of cold, Ranny, if you do. There, give him to me.
We'll take him downstairs to the fire."

He gave her the little naked, dripping body, and she wrapped it in the
warm blanket and carried it downstairs.

"You bring the towels and the powder puff, and all his vests and
flannels and things," said Winny.

He brought them. She established herself in the low chair by the fire
downstairs. He played with Dossie as he watched her. And all the time,
through all the play, his obscure instinct told him that she ought not
to be there. It suggested that if he desired to preserve the integrity
of the document, Winny and he must not be known to be alone in the house
together.

But it was a question of petticoats. He realized it when he saw Baby
sprawling in the safe hollow of her lap. He had meant to tell Winny
that she mustn't stay; but she had him by those absurd petticoats of
hers, and behind her petticoats he shielded himself from the upbraidings
of his sanity.

But Winny knew. She was not going to stay, to be there with him more
than was strictly necessary. When, with exquisite gentleness, she had
inserted Baby into all his little vests and things, she put on him his
knitted Baby's coat and hat, and gave him to Ranny to hold while she
arrayed Dossie in her Sunday best. Then she packed them both into the
wonderful pram, and wheeled them out into the Avenue, far from Ranny.

For she knew that Ranny didn't want her. He wanted to be left alone to
think.



CHAPTER XXIV


He had been incapable of thinking until now, the first moment (since it
had happened) that he had been left alone. Last night the thing had
stupefied him so that he could not think. If he had tried to describe
what had been before him last night, he would have said there was a lot
of cotton wool about. It had been all like wool, cotton wool, nothing
that the mind could bite on, nothing that it could grasp. Last night
Winny had been there, and that had stopped his thinking. It was absurd
to say that what had happened had disturbed his night's rest. What had
disturbed his night's rest had been his fear lest he should forget to
feed Baby. And in the morning there had been too many things to do,
there had been Dossie and Baby. And then Winny again.

And now they were all gone. There was silence and a clear space to think
in. His brain too was clear and clean. The clouds of cotton wool had
been dispersed in his movements to and fro.

As an aid to thinking he brought out of his breast pocket Violet's
letter. He spread it on the table in the back sitting-room and sat down
to it, seriously, as to a document that he would have to master, a thing
that would yield its secret only under the closest examination. He was
aware that he had not by any means taken it all in last night.

That she had gone off with Leonard Mercier, _that_ he had indeed
grasped, _that_ he knew. But beyond that the letter gave him no solid
practical information. It did not and it was not meant to give him any
clue. In going off Violet had disappeared and had meant to disappear. He
gathered from it that she had been possessed by one thought and by one
fear, that he would go after her and bring her back.

"What on earth," he said to himself, "should I go after her for?"

She made that clear to him as he read on. Her idea was that he would go
after her, not so much to bring her back as to do something to Mercier,
to inflict punishment on him, to hurt Mercier and hurt him badly. That
was what Violet was afraid of; that was why she tried to shield Mercier,
to excuse him, to take the whole blame on herself. And, evidently, that
was what Mercier was afraid of too. That was why he had bolted with her
to Paris. They must have had that in their minds, they must have planned
it months before. He must have been trying for the post he'd got there.
Ransome could see further, with a fierce shrewdness, that it was
Mercier's "funk" and not his loyalty that accounted for his "holding
off." "He held off because I was his friend, did he? He held off to save
his own skin, the swine!"

And now she drew him up. What was all this about Winny Dymond? He must
have missed it last night. "She was always fond of you. It was a lie
what I told you about her not being. I said it because I was mad on you.
I knew you'd have married her if I'd let you alone."

She was cool, the way she showed herself up. That's what she'd done,
had she? Lied, so that he might think Winny didn't care for him? Lied,
so that he mightn't marry her? Lied, so that she might get him for
herself? For her fancy, for no more than a low animal would feel. He
could see it now. He could see what she was. A woman who could fancy
Mercier must have been a low animal all through and all the time.

How he had ever cared for her he couldn't think. There must have been
some beastliness in him. Men _were_ beasts sometimes. But he was worse.
He was a fool to have believed her lie. Even her beastliness sank out of
sight beside that treachery.

Well--she'd been frank enough about it now. She must have had a face, to
own that she'd lied to him and trapped him! After that, what did it
matter if she _had_ left him? "I dare say you know who I've gone with."
What did it matter who she'd gone with? Good God! What did it matter
what she'd done?

He could smile at her fear and at the cause of it. Mercier must have
terrified her with his funk. The postscript said as much. "You can do
anything you like to me, so long as you don't hurt Leonard." He smiled
again at that. What did she imagine he'd like to do to her? As for
Mercier, what should he want to hurt the beast for? He wouldn't touch
him--now--with the end of a barge-pole.

Oh, well, yes, he supposed he'd have to leather him if he came across
him. But he wouldn't have any pleasure in it--now. Last year he would
have leathered him with joy; his feet had fairly ached to get at him, to
kick the swine out of the house before he did any harm in it. Now it was
as if he loathed him too much in his flabbiness to care for the contact
that personal violence involved.

Yet, through all the miserable workings of his mind the thought of
Mercier's flabbiness was sweet to him. It gave him a curious consolation
and support. True, it had been the chief agent in the process of
deception; it had blinded him to Mercier's dangerous quality; it had
given him a sense of false security; he could see, now, the fool he'd
been to imagine that it would act as any deterrent to a woman so
foredoomed as Violet. Thus it had in a measure brought about the whole
catastrophe. At the same time it had saved him from the peculiar
personal mortification such catastrophes entail. In comparison with
Mercier he sustained no injury to his pride and vanity of sex. And
Mercier's flabbiness did more for him than that. It took the sharpest
sting from Violet's infidelity. It removed it to the region of insane
perversities. It removed Violet herself from her place in memory, that
place of magic and of charm where if she had remained she would have had
power to hurt him.

When he considered her letter yet again in the calmness of that thought,
it struck him that Violet herself was offering him support and
consolation. "You shouldn't have married me. You should have married a
girl like Winny Dymond."--"I knew you'd marry her if I let you alone."
Why, after all these years, had she confessed her treachery? Why had she
confessed it now at the precise moment when she had left him? There was
no need. It couldn't help her. No, but it was just possible (for she was
quite intelligent) that she had seen how it might help him. It was
possible that some sort of contrition had visited her in that last
hour, and that she had meant to remind him that he was not utterly
abandoned, that there was something left.

That brought him to the lines, almost indecipherable, squeezed in her
last hurried moment into the margin of the letter. "You mustn't be
afraid of being fond of Baby. There was nothing between me and Leonard
before July of last year."

She had foreseen the supreme issue; she had provided for the worst
sting, the unspeakable suspicion, the intolerable terror. It was as if
she had calculated the precise point where her infidelity would touch
him.

Faced with that issue, Ranny's mind, like a young thing forced to sudden
tragic maturity by a mortal crisis, worked with an incredible clearness
and capacity. It developed an almost superhuman subtlety of
comprehension. He looked at the thing all round; he controlled his
passion so that he might look at it. It was of course open to him to
take it that she had lied. Passion indeed clamored at him, insisting
that she did lie, that lying came easier to her than the truth. But,
looking at it all round without passion, he was inclined to think that
Violet had not lied. She had not given herself time or space to lie for
lying's sake. If she had lied, then, she had lied for a purpose. A
purpose that he could very well conceive. But if she lied for _that_
purpose she would have given importance and prominence to her lie. She
wouldn't have hidden it away in an almost invisible scrawl on an
inadequate margin.

Of course, she might have lied to deceive him for another purpose, for
his own good. But there again conscious deception would have made for
legibility at the least.

Besides, she had put it in a way that left no room for doubt. "You
needn't be afraid of being fond of Baby." Even passion had to own that
the words had the ring of remorse, of insight, of certainty, and, above
all, of haste. Such haste as precluded all deliberation. Evidently it
was an afterthought. It had come to her, inopportunely, in the last
moment before flight, and she had given it the place and the importance
she would naturally give to a subject in which she herself was not in
any way concerned.

There remained the possibility that she might be mistaken. But the dates
upheld her. In the beginning he and she had, of necessity, gone very
carefully into the question of dates. He remembered that there had been
a whole body of evidence establishing the all-important point beyond a
doubt. All of his honor that he most cared for she had spared. She had
not profaned the ultimate sanctity, nor poisoned for him the very
sweetness of his life.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were sounds in the front garden. Winny was bringing in the
children. He went out to meet them as they came up the flagged walk.
Dossie toddled, clinging to the skirts of Winny, who in all her
tenderness and absurdity, with her most earnest air of gravity and
absorption in the adventure, pushed the pram. In the pram, tilted
backward, with his little pink legs upturned, Baby fondled, deliciously,
his own toes. He was jerking himself up and down and making for the
benefit of all whom it might concern his very nicest noises.

Ranny stood in the doorway, silent, almost austere, like a man escaped
by a hair's breadth from great peril.

When he caught sight of the silent and austere young man in the doorway,
Baby let go his fascinating toes. He chuckled with delight. He jerked
himself more than ever up and down. He struggled to be free, to be
lifted up and embraced by the young man. Silence and austerity were no
deterrent to Baby, so assured was he of his position, of his welcome, of
the safe, warm, tingling place that would presently be his in the hollow
of the young man's arm. The desire of it made Baby's arms and his body
writhe, with a heartrending agitation, in his little knitted coat.

All this innocent ecstasy of Baby the young man met with silence and
austerity and somber eyes.

With Winny's eyes on him he indeed lifted Baby up, disclosing, first,
his pathetically bunched and bundled back, and then his face,
exquisitely contorted.

And Winny, who had _forgotten_ for a minute, laughed.

"He is funny, isn't he? He smiles just like you do, all up in the
corners like."

At that the young man's arms tightened, and he gripped Baby with passion
to his breast. He kissed him, looking down at him, passionately,
somberly.

Winny saw, and the impulse seized her to efface herself, to vanish.

"I must be going," she said, "or I shall be late for dinner. Can you
manage, Ranny? There's a beefsteak pie. I made it yesterday."

As she turned Dossie trotted after her; and as she vanished Dossie
cried, inconsolably.

He managed, beautifully, with the beefsteak pie.

His sense of bereavement which still weighed on him was no longer
attached in any way to Violet. He could not say precisely what it _was_
attached to. There it was. Only, when he thought of Violet it seemed to
him incomprehensible, not to say absurd, that he should feel it.



CHAPTER XXV


In the afternoon Winny came again for the children, so that he could go
to Wandsworth unencumbered. The weather was favorable to her idea, which
was not to be in Ranny's house more than she could help, but to be seen,
if seen she must be, out of doors with the children, in a public
innocence, affording the presumption that Violet was still there.

Above all, she was not going to be seen with Ranny, or to be seen by him
too much, if she could help it. With her sense of the sadness of his
errand, the sense (that came to her more acutely with the afternoon) of
things imminent, of things, she knew not what, that would have to be
done, she avoided him as she would have avoided a bereaved person
preoccupied with some lamentable business relating to the departed.

He was aware of her attitude; he was aware, further, that it would be
their attitude at Wandsworth. They would all treat him like that, as if
he were bereaved. They would not lose, nor allow him to lose for an
instant, their awestruck sense of it. That was why he dreaded going
there, why he had put it off till the last possible moment, which was
about three o'clock in the afternoon. His Uncle Randall would be there.
He would have to be told. He might as well tell him while he was about
it. His wife's action had been patent and public; it was not a thing
that could be hushed up, or minimized, or explained away.

As he thought of all this, of what he would have to say, to go into, to
handle, every moment wound him up to a higher and higher pitch of
nervous tension.

His mother opened the door to him. She greeted him with a certain
timidity, an ominous hesitation; and from the expression of her face you
might have gathered, in spite of her kiss, that she was not entirely
glad to see him; that she had something up her sleeve, something that
she desired to conceal from him. It was as if by way of concealing it
that she let him in stealthily with no more opening of the door than was
absolutely necessary for his entrance.

"You haven't brought Vi'let?" she whispered.

"No."

They went softly together through the shop, darkened by the blinds that
were drawn for Sunday. In the little passage beyond he paused at the
door of the back parlor.

"Where's Father?"

She winced at the word "Father," so out of keeping with his habitual
levity. It was the first intimation that there was something wrong with
him.

"He's upstairs, my dear, in His bed."

"What's the matter with him?"

"It's the Headache." She went on to explain, taking him as it were
surreptitiously into the little room, that the Headache had been
frequent lately, not to say continuous; not even Sundays were exempt.

"He's a sad sufferer," she said.

Instead of replying with something suitable, Ranny set his teeth.

She had sat down helplessly, and as she spoke she gazed up at him where
he remained standing by the chimney-piece; her look pleaded, deprecated,
yet obstinately endeavored to deceive. But for once Ranny was blind to
the pathos of her deception. Vaguely her foolish secrecy irritated him.

"Look here, Mother," he said, "I want to talk to you. I've got to tell
you something."

"It's not anything about your Father, Ranny?"

"No, it is not."

(She turned to him from her trouble with visible relief.)

"It's about my wife."

"Vi'let?"

"She's left me."

"Left you? What d'you mean, Ranny?"

"She's gone off--Bolted."

"When?"

"Last night, I suppose--to Paris."

She stared at him strangely, without sympathy, without comprehension. It
was almost as if in her mind she accused him of harboring some monstrous
hallucination. With her eternal instinct for suppression she fought
against it, she refused to take it in. He felt himself unequal to
pressing it on her more than that.

"Would she go there--all that way--by herself, Ranny?" she brought out
at last.

"By herself? Not much!"

"Well--how--"

And still she would not face the thing straight enough to say, "How did
she go, then?"

He flung it at her brutally, exasperated by her obstinacy.

"She went with Mercier."

"With _'im_--? _She_--"

Her face seemed suddenly to give way under his eyes, to become
discolored in a frightful pallor, to fall piteously into the lines of
age.

This face that his words had so crushed and broken looked up at him with
all its motherhood, mute yet vibrant, brimming in its eyes.

"Sit down, dear," she said. "You'll be tired standing."

He sat down, mechanically, in the nearest chair, bending forward,
contemplating his clenched hands. His posture put him at her mercy. She
came over to him and laid one hand on his shoulder; the other touched
his hair, stroking it. He shrank as if she had hurt him and leaned back.
She moved away, and took up a position in a seat that faced him. There
she sat and gazed at him, helpless and passive, panting a little with
emotion; until a thought occurred to her.

"Who's looking after the little children?"

"Winny--Winny Dymond."

"Why didn't you send for _me_, Ranny?"

"It was too late--last night."

"I'd have come, my dear. I'd have got out of me bed."

"It wouldn't have done any good."

There was a long pause.

"Were you alone in the house, dear?"

He looked up, angry. "Of course I was alone in the house."

She sat silent and continued to gaze at him with her tender, wounded
eyes.

Outside in the passage the front-door bell rang. She rose in
perturbation.

"That's them. Do you want to see them?"

"I don't care whether I see them or not."

She stood deliberating.

"You'd better--p'raps--see your uncle. I'll tell him, Ranny. Your
Father's not fit for it to-day."

"All right."

He rose uneasily and prepared himself to take it standing.

He heard them come into the shop, his Uncle and his Aunt Randall. He
heard his uncle's salutation checked in mid-career. He heard his
mother's penetrating whisper, then mutterings, commiserations. Their
communion lasted long enough for him to gather that his mother would
have about told them everything.

They came in, marking their shocked sense of it by soft shufflings at
the door of the parlor, his sanctuary. He felt obscurely that he had
become important to them, the chief figure of a little infamous tragedy.
He had a moment's intense and painful prescience of the way they would
take it; they would treat him with an excruciating respect, an awful
deference, as a person visited by God and afflicted with unspeakable
calamity.

And they did. It was an affair of downcast eyes and silent, embarrassed
and embarrassing hand-shakings. Ransome met it with his head in the air,
clear-eyed, defiant of their sympathy.

"I think," his mother said, "we'd better come upstairs if we don't want
to be interrupted." For on Sundays the back parlor was assigned to the
young chemist, Mercier's successor, who assisted Mr. Ransome.

Upstairs, the ordered room, polished to perfection, steadfast in its
shining Sunday state, appeared as the irremovable seat of middle-class
tradition, of family virtue, of fidelity and cleanliness, of sacred
immutable propriety. And into the bosom of these safe and comfortable
sanctities Ranny had brought horror and defilement and destruction.

His Uncle Randall, try as he would, could not disguise from him that
this was what he had done. Because of Ranny's wife, Respectability, the
enduring soul of the Randalls and the Ransomes, could never lift up its
head superbly any more. All infamies and all abominations that could
defile a family were summed up for John Randall in the one word,
adultery. It was worse than robbery or forgery or bankruptcy; it struck
more home; it did more deadly havoc among the generations. It excited
more interest; it caused more talk; and therefore it marked you more and
was not so easily forgotten. It reverberated. The more respectable you
were the worse it was for you. If, among the Randalls and the Ransomes,
such a plunge as Violet's was unheard of, it made the more terrific
splash, a splash that covered the whole family. The Ransomes, to be
sure, stood more in the center, they were more deplorably bespattered,
and more, much more intimately tainted. But, by the very closeness of
their family attachment, the mud of Violet's plungings would adhere
largely to the Randalls, too. The taint would hang for years around him,
John Randall, in his shop. He had hardly entered his sister's room
before he had calculated about how long it would be before the scandal
spread through Wandsworth High Street. It wasn't as if he hadn't been
well known. As a member of the Borough Council he stuck in the public
eye where other men would have slipped through into obscurity. It was
really worse for him than any of them.

All this was present in the back of John Randall's mind as he prepared
to deal efficiently with the catastrophe. Having unbuttoned his coat and
taken off his gloves with exasperating, slow, and measured movements, he
fairly sat down to it at the table, preserving his very finest military
air. The situation required before all things a policy. And the policy
which most appealed to Mr. Randall, in which he showed himself most
efficient, was the policy of a kindly hushing up. It was thus that for
years he had dealt with his brother-in-laws' inebriety. Ranny's case, to
be sure, was not quite so simple; still, on the essential point Mr.
Randall had made up his mind--that, in the discussion that must follow,
the idea of adultery should not once appear. If they were all of them as
a family splashed more or less from head to foot with mud of a kind that
was going to stick to them, why, there was nothing to be done but to
cover it up as soon as possible.

It was in the spirit of this policy that he approached his nephew. It
involved dealing with young Mrs. Ransome throughout as a good woman who
had become, somehow, mysteriously unfortunate.

"I'm sorry to hear this about your wife, Randall. It's a sad business, a
sad business for you, my boy."

From her seat on the sofa beside Ranny's mother, Aunt Randall murmured
inarticulate corroboration of that view.

Ranny had remained standing. It gave him an advantage in defiance.

"I've never heard anything," his uncle continued, heavily, "that's
shocked and grieved me more."

"I wouldn't worry about it if I were you, Uncle."

At that Mr. Randall fumed a little feebly, thereby losing some of the
fineness of his military air. It was as if his nephew had disparaged his
importance, ignored his stake in the family's reputation, and as good as
told him it was no business of his.

"But I _must_ worry about it. _I_ can't take it like you do, as cool as
if nothing had happened. Such a thing's never been known, never so much
as been named in your mother's family, or your father's, either.
It's--it's so unexpected."

"I didn't expect it any more than you did."

"You needn't take that tone, Randall, my boy. I'm sorry for you, but
you're not the only one concerned. Still, I'm putting all that aside,
and I'm here to help you."

"You can't help me. How can you?"

"I can help you to consider what's to be done."

"There isn't anything to be done that I can see."

"There are several things," said Mr. Randall, "that can be done." He
said it as if he were counsel giving an opinion. "You can take her back;
you can leave her alone; or you can divorce her. First of all I want to
know one thing. Did you give her any provocation?"

"What do you mean by provocation?"

"Well--did you give her any cause for jealousy?"

Ranny's mother struck in. "He wouldn't, John." And his Aunt Randall
murmured half-audible and shocked negation.

Ranny stared at his uncle as if he wondered where he was coming out
next.

"Of course I didn't."

"Are--you--quite--sure about that?"

"You needn't ask him such a thing," said Ranny's mother; and Ranny
fairly squared himself.

"Look here, Uncle, what d'you want to get at?"

"The facts, my boy."

"You've got all there are."

"How about that young woman up at your place?"

"What young woman?"

"That Miss--"

Ranny's mother supplied his loss. "Miss Dymond."

"What's she got to do with it?" said Ranny.

"I'm asking you. What _has_ she?"

"Nothing. You can keep her out of it."

"That's what I should advise _you_ to do, my boy."

Ranny dropped his defiance and sank his flushed forehead. "I _have_ kept
her out of it." His voice was grave and very low.

"Not if she's there. Taking everything upon her and looking after your
children."

"What harm's she doing looking after them?"

"You'll soon know if you take it into a court of law."

"Who told you I was going to take it?"

"That's what I'm trying to get at. _Are_ you?"

"Am I going to divorce her, you mean?"

That was what he had meant. It was also what he was afraid of, what he
hoped to dissuade his nephew from. Above all things he dreaded the
public scandal of divorce.

"Yes," he said. "Is it bad enough for that?"

"It's bad enough for anything. But I don't know what I'm going to do."

"Well, it won't do to have that young woman's name brought forward in
the evidence."

"Who'd bring it?"

"Why, _she_ might" (Randall's face was blank). "Your wife, if she
defends the suit. That would be her game, you may be sure."

It would, Randall reflected. That was the very point suggested last
night by his inner sanity, the use that might be made of Winny. Winny's
innocent presence in his house might ruin his case if it were known.
What was worse, far worse, it would ruin Winny. Whatever he did he must
keep Winny out of it.

"I haven't said I was going to bring an action."

"Well--and I don't advise you to. Why have the scandal and the publicity
when you can avoid it?"

"Why, Ranny," his mother cried, "it would kill your Father."

Ranny scowled. Her cry failed to touch him.

Mr. Randall went on. He felt that he was bringing his nephew round, that
he was getting the case into his own hands, the hands that were most
competent to deal with it. It was only to be expected that with his
experience he could see farther than the young man, his nephew. What Mr.
Randall saw beyond the scandal of the Divorce Court was a vision of
young Mrs. Ransome, wanton with liberty and plunging deeper, splashing
as she had not yet splashed, bespattering them all to the farthest
limits of her range. The question for Mr. Randall was how to stop her,
how to get her out of it, how to bring her to her sober senses before
she had done more damage than she had.

He wondered, had it occurred to Randall that he might take her back?

"Have you any idea," he said, "what made her do it?"

"Good God, what a question!"

Mr. Randall made a measured, balancing movement of his body while he
drummed with his fingers on the table.

"Well--" It was as if he took his question back, conceding its enormity.
He leaned forward now in his balancing, and lowered his voice to the
extreme of confidence.

"Have you any idea how far she's gone?" (It was as near as he could get
to it.)

"She's gone as far as Paris," said Ranny, with a grin. "Is that far
enough for you?"

Mr. Randall leaned back as with relief, and stopped balancing. "It might
be worse," he said, "far worse."

"How d'you mean--worse? Seems to me about as bad as it can be."

"It's unfortunate--but not so serious as if--" He paused profoundly. He
was visibly considering it from some private and personal point of view.
"She might have stayed in London. She might have carried on at your own
door or here in Wandsworth."

His nephew, Randall, was now regarding him with an attention the nature
of which he entirely misconceived. It gave him courage to speak out--his
whole mind and no mincing matters.

"If I were you, Randall, the first thing I should do is to get rid of
that young woman--that Dymond girl--" He put up his hand to ward off the
imminent explosion. "Yes, yes, I know _all_ you've got to say, my boy,
but it won't do. She's a young girl--"

"She's as good as they make them," said Ranny, glaring at him, "as good
as my mother there."

"Yes, yes, yes. I know all about it. But you mustn't have her there."

"Have her where?"

"Where I know she's been--where your mother says she's been--in your
house. Now, don't turn on your mother; she hasn't said a word against
her. I'm not saying a word. But you mustn't--have--her--about, Randall.
You mustn't have her about. There'd be talk and all, before you know
where you are. It isn't right and it isn't proper."

"No, Ranny, it isn't proper," said his mother; and his aunt said, No, it
wasn't, too.

Ranny laughed unpleasantly.

"You think it's as improper as the other thing, do you?"

He addressed his uncle.

"What other thing?" said Mr. Randall. It had made him wince even while
he pretended not to see it. It had brought him so near.

"What my wife's done."

"Well, Randall, since you ask me, to all appearances--appearances, mind
you--it is."

"Appearances?"

"Well, you must save appearances, and you must save 'em while you can."

"How am I to save them, I should like to know?"

"By actin' at once. By stoppin' it all before it gets about. You can't
have your wife over there in Paris carryin' on. You must just
start--soon as you can--to-morrow--and bring her back."

"Not much!"

"It's what you got to do, Randall. She's been unfortunate, I know; but
she's young, and you don't know how she may have been led on. 'S
likely's not you haven't looked after her enough. You don't know but
what you may have been responsible. You got to take her back."

"What should I take her back for?" said Ranny, with false suavity.

"To save scandal. To save trouble and misery and disgrace all round. You
got to think of your family."

"What do you mean by my family? Me and my children?"

"I mean the family name, my boy."

A frightful lucidity had come upon Ranny, born of the calamity itself.
It was not for nothing that he had attained that sudden violent maturity
of his. He saw things as they were.

"You mean yourself," he said. "Jolly lot you think of me and my children
if you ask me to take her back. Not me! I'll be damned first."

"You married her, Randall, against the wishes of your family; and you're
responsible to your family for the way she conducts herself."

"I should rather think I _was_ responsible! If I wasn't--if I was a
bletherin' idiot--I might take her back--"

"I don't say if she leaves you again you'll take her back a second time.
But you got to give her a chance. After all, she's the mother of your
children. You married her."

"Yes. That's where I went wrong. That's what made her do it, if you want
to know. _That's_ the provocation I gave her. It's what she always had
against me--the children, and my marrying her. And she was right. She
never ought to have had children. I never ought to have married
her--against her will."

"Well, I can't think what you did it for--in such haste."

"I did it," said Ranny, in his maturity, his lucidity, "because it was
the way I was brought up. I suppose, come to that, I did it for all
you."

He saw everything now as it was.

"How d'you make that out? Did it for us!"

Then Ranny delivered his soul, and the escape, the outburst was
tremendous, cataclysmic.

"For you and your rotten respectability! What you brought me up on. What
you've rammed down my throat all along. What you're thinking of now.
You're not thinking of me; you're thinking of yourself, and how
respectable you are, and how I've dished you. You don't want me to take
my wife back because you care a rap about me and my children. It's
because you're afraid. That's what it is, you're afraid. You're afraid
of the rotten scandal; you're afraid of what people'll say; you're
afraid of not looking respectable any more. You know what my wife's
done--you know what she _is_--"

"She's a woman, Randall, she's a woman."

"She's a--Well, she _is_, and you know it. You know what she is, and you
want me to take her back so as you can lie about it and hush it all up
and pretend it isn't there. Same as you've done with my father. He's a
drunkard--"

"For shame, Randall," said his uncle.

"He is, and you know it, and he knows it, and my mother knows it. And
yet you go on lying about him and pretending. I'm sick of it. I'm sick
of hearing about how good he is, and his Headaches--Headaches!"

"Oh! Ranny, dear," his mother wailed, piteously.

"I'm not blaming him, Mother. Poor old Humming-bird, he can't help it.
It's the way he's made. I'm not blaming Virelet. She can't help it,
either. It's my fault. If I'd wanted her to stick to me I oughtn't to
have married her."

"What ought you to have done then?" his uncle inquired, sternly.

"Anything but that. That's what started her. She couldn't stand it.
She'll stick to Mercier all right, you'll see, because she isn't married
to the swine; whereas if I took her back to-night she'd chuck me
to-morrow. Can't you see that she's like that? She's done the best day's
work she ever did for herself and me, too."

"Well, how you can speak about it so, Ranny," said his mother.

"There you're at it again, you know--pretendin'. You go on as if it was
the most horrible thing that could happen to any one, her boltin', when
you know the most horrible thing would be her comin' back again. To look
at you and Uncle and Aunt there, any one would think that Virelet was
the best wife and mother that ever lived, and that she'd only left me to
go to heaven."

"Well, there's no good my saying any more, I can see," said Mr. Randall.
And he rose, buttoning his coat with dignity that struggled in vain
against his deep depression. He was profoundly troubled by his nephew's
outburst. It was as if peace and honesty and honor, the solid,
steadfast tradition by which he lived, had been first outraged, then
destroyed in sheer brutality. He didn't know himself. He had been
charged with untruthfulness and dishonesty; he, who had been held the
soul of honesty and truth; who had always held himself at least sincere.

And he didn't know his nephew Randall. He had always supposed that
Randall was refined and that he had a good heart. And to think that he
could break out like this, and be coarse and cruel, and say things
before ladies that were downright immoral--

"Well," he said, as he shook hands with him, "I can't understand you, my
boy."

"Sorry, Uncle."

"There--leave it alone. I don't ask you to apologize to me. But there's
your mother. You've done your best to hurt her. Good-by."

"He's upset, John," said Ranny's mother, "and no wonder. You should have
let him be."

"I'm not upset," said Ranny, wearily. "What beats me is the rotten
humbug of it all."

And no sooner did Mr. Randall find himself in the High Street with his
wife than he took her by the arm in confidence.

"He was quite right about that wife of his. Only I thought--if he could
have patched it up--"

"Ah, I dare say he knows more than we do. What I can't get over is the
way he spoke about his poor father."

"Well--I wouldn't say it to Emma, but Fulleymore _does_ drink. Like a
fish he does."

(It was his sacrifice to honesty.)

"But Randall was wild. He didn't quite know what he was saying. Poor
chap! It's hit him harder than he thinks."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ranny, alone with his mother, put his arm round her neck and kissed her.
(She had gone into her room and returned dressed, ready to go back with
him to Southfields.)

"I'm sorry, Mother, if I hurt you."

"Never mind, Ranny, I know how hurt you must have been before you could
do it. It was what you said about your Father, dear. But there--you've
always been good to him no matter what he's been."

"Is he _very_ bad, Mother?"

"He is. I don't know, I'm sure, how I'm going to leave him; unless he
can manage with Mabel and Mr. Ponting. She's a good girl, Mabel. And
he's got a kind heart, Ranny, that young man."

"D'you think I haven't?"

"I wasn't meaning you, my dear. Come, I'm ready now."

They went downstairs. Mrs. Ransome paused at the kitchen door to give
some final directions to Mabel, the maid, and a message for Mr. Ponting,
the assistant; and they went out.

As they were going down the High Street, her thoughts reverted to
Ranny's awful outburst.

"Ranny, I wish you hadn't spoken to your uncle like you did."

"I _know_, Mother--but he set my back up. He was talkin' through his
Sunday hat all the time, pretendin' to stick up for Virelet, knowin'
perfectly well what she is, and cussin' and swearin' at her for it in
his heart, and naggin' at me because there wasn't anybody else to go
for."

"He was trying to help you, Ranny."

"If God can't help me, strikes me it's pretty fair cheek of Uncle to
presume--" He meditated.

"But he wasn't tryin' to help me. He was thinkin' how he could help his
own damned respectability all the blessed time. He knows what a bloomin'
hell it's been for Virelet and me this last year--and he'd have forced
us back into it--into all that misery--just to save his own silly skin."

"No, dear, it isn't that. He doesn't think Vi'let should be let go on
living like she is if you can stop her. He thinks it isn't proper."

"Well, that's what I say. It's his old blinkin', bletherin' morality
he's takin' care of, not me. Everybody's got to live like he thinks they
ought to, no matter how they hate it. If two Kilkenny cats he knew was
to get married and one of them was to bolt he'd fetch her back and tie
'em both up, heads together, so as she shouldn't do it again. And if
they clawed each other's guts out he wouldn't care. He'd say they were
livin' a nice, virtuous, respectable and moral life.

"What rot it all is!

"Stop her? As if any one could stop her! God knows she can't stop
herself, poor girl. She's made like that. I'm not blamin' her."

For, with whatever wildness Ranny started, he always came back to
that--He didn't blame her. He knew whereof she was made. It was proof of
his sudden, forced maturity, that unfaltering acceptance of the fact.

"Talk of helpin'! Strikes me poor Vi's helpin' more than anybody, by
clearin' out like she's done."

That was how, with a final incomparable serenity, he made it out.

But his mother took it all as so much wildness, the delirium, the
madness, born of his calamity.

"He'd have been all right if I'd been ass enough to play into his hands
and gone blowin' me nose and grizzlin', and whinin' about my misfortune,
and let _him_ go gassin' about the sadness of it and all that. But
because I kept my end up he went for me.

"Sadness! He doesn't know what sadness is _or_ misfortune.

"My God! If every poor beggar had the luck I've had--to be let off
without having to pay for it!"

Up till then his mother had kept silence. She had let him rave. "Poor
boy," she had said to herself, "he doesn't mean it. It'll do him good."

But when he talked about not having to pay for it, that reminded her
that paying for it was just what he would have to do.

"How'll you manage," she said now, "about the children? I can take them
for a week or two or more while you get settled."

"Would you?"

It _was_ a way out for the present.

"I'd take them altogether--I'd love to, Ranny--if it wasn't for your
Father bein' ill."

In spite of the cataclysm, she still by sheer force of habit kept it up.

"I don't want you to take them altogether," he said.

"I could do it--if you was to come with them--"

That, indeed, was what she wanted, the heavenly possibility she had
sighted from the first. But she had hardly dared to suggest it. Even
now, putting out her tremorous feeler, she shrank back from his refusal.

"If you could let Granville--and come and live with us."

His silence and his embarrassment pierced her to the heart.

"Won't you?" she ventured.

"Well--I've got to think of them. For them, in some ways, the poor old
Humming-bird might, you see, be almost as bad as Virelet."

She knew. She had known it all the time. She had even got so far in
knowledge as to see that Ranny's father was in a measure responsible for
Ranny's marriage. If Ranny had had more life, more freedom, and more
happiness around him in his home, he would not have been driven, as he
was, to Violet.

"Well, dear, you just think it over. If you don't come you must get
somebody."

Yes. He must get somebody. He had thought of that.

"It can't be Winny Dymond, dear."

"No," he assented. "It can't be Winny Dymond."

"And you'll have to come to me until I can find you some one."

They left it so. After all, it made things easier, the method that his
mother had brought to such perfection, her way of skating rapidly over
brittle surfaces, of circumnavigating all profound unpleasantness, and
of plunging, when she did plunge, only into the vague, the void.

And through it all he was aware of the brittleness, the unpleasantness,
the profundity of what was immediately before him, how to deal with poor
Winny and her innocent enormity; the impropriety, as it had been
presented to him, of her devotion.

But even this problem, so torturing to his nerves, was presently lost
sight of in the simple, practical difficulty of detaching Winny from the
children; or rather, of detaching the children from Winny, of tearing,
as they had to tear, them from her, piecemeal, first Baby, then Dossie,
with every circumstance of barbarous cruelty.

It was a spectacle, an operation of such naked agony that before it the
most persistent, the most incorruptible sense of propriety broke down.
It was too much altogether for Mrs. Ransome.

Dossie was the worst. She had strength in her little fingers, and she
clung.

And the crying, the crying of the two, terrible to Ranny, terrible to
Winny, the passionate screams, the strangled sobs, the long,
irremediable wailing, the terrifying convulsive silences, the awful
intermissions and shattering recoveries of anguish--it was as if their
innocence had insight, had premonition of the monstrous, imminent
separation, of the wrong that he and she were about to do to each other
in the name of such sanctities as innocence knows nothing of. For
outrage and wrong it was to the holy primal instincts, drawing them, as
it had drawn them long ago, seeking to bind them again, body and soul,
breaking all other bonds; insult and violence to honest love, to
fatherhood and motherhood, to the one (one and threefold) perfection
that they could stand for, he and she.

It ended by its sheer terror in Winny's staying just for that evening,
to put the little things to sleep. For nobody else, not Ranny, and not
his mother, was able to do that. The dark design of their torturers was
to take these innocent ones by night, drugged with their sleep, and pack
them in the pram, snugly blanketed, and thus convey them in secrecy to
Wandsworth, where, it was hoped, they would wake up, poor lambs, to a
morning without memory.

"Well--Winky," he said. But it was not yet well. He had to stand by and
see Winky stoop over Baby's cot (it was her right) for the last look.

She knew it was her last look, in that room--in that way that had been
the way of innocence.

"Well, I never!" said Ranny's mother, as he returned from seeing Winky
home. (So much was permitted him. It was even imperative.)

"Did they ever cry like that for their Mammy?"

He smiled grimly. His illumination was more than he could bear.



CHAPTER XXVI


It was in the cruelty of it, in that sudden barbarous tearing of the
children from Winny, of Winny from Ransome, and of Ransome from his
home, in that hurried, surreptitious flight through the darkness, that
he most felt the pressure and the malignant pinch of poverty. Owing to
his straitened circumstances, with all his mother's forethought and good
will, with all the combined resources of their ingenuity, they could do
no better to meet his lamentable case than this. "This," indeed, was
imperative, inevitable. He reflected bitterly that, if he had been a
rich man, like the manager or the secretary of Woolridge's, instead of a
ledger clerk (that was all that his last rise had made him) at a hundred
and fifty a year, he would have been spared "this." It would have been
neither inevitable nor imperative. It simply wouldn't have happened. He
would have had a house with a staff of competent servants, a nurse for
the children, a cook, and maybe a housemaid to manage for him, and so
forth. Winny wouldn't have come into it. It would never have occurred to
her to run the risks she had run for him. There would have been no need.
She would have remained, serene, beautiful in sympathy, outside his
calamity, untouched by its sordidness, its taint. All the machinery of
his household would have gone on in spite of it, without any hitch or
dislocation, working all the more smoothly in the absence of its
mistress.

That was how rich people came out of this sort of thing, right side up,
smiling, knowing as they did that there was nothing to spoil the peace
of it for them, or make them apt to mistake it for anything but the
blessing that it was. Thus they got, as you may say, the whole good out
of it without any waste. At the worst, if they didn't like it, rich
people, driven to flight, depart from the scene of their disaster with
dignity, in cabs.

But Ranny's departure, with all its ignominy, was not by any means the
worst. The worst, incomparably, was the going back on Monday evening to
settle up. There was a man coming from Wandsworth with a handcart for
the cots, the high chair and all the babies' furniture, and the kids'
toys and the little clothes, their whole diminutive outfit, and for what
he needed of his own. And when all the packing was done he would still
have to go into things.

By the things he had to go into he meant the drawers and the cupboards
in his wife's room.

And such things! It was as if the whole tale of her adultery, with all
its secret infamy, its squalor, its utter callousness, was there in that
room of the love-knots and the rosebuds.

In the locked wardrobe--the key was on the chimney piece where he could
find it--he came on her old skirts, draggled and torn and stained as he
had known them, on the muslin gown of last year, loathsome and limp,
bent like a hanged corpse; and on her very nightgown of the other night,
dreadfully familiar, shrinking, poor ghost of an abomination, in its
corner. And under them, in a row, the shoes that her feet had gone in,
misshapen, trodden down at heel, gaping to deliver up her shame.

These things Winny had collected and put away in order, and hidden out
of his sight as best she could. Seeing, she too, the tale they told, she
had hung a sheet in front of them and locked the door on them and laid
the key aside, to break in some degree the shock of them. For they were
things that had been good enough for him, but not good enough for
Violet's lover. She had gone to him in all her bravery, leaving them
behind, not caring who found them.

And there was more to be gone through before he had finished with it.
There were the drawers, crammed with little things, the collars, the
ribbons and the laces, and one or two trinkets that he had given her,
cast off with the rest, all folded and tidied by Winny, smoothed and
coaxed out of the memories they held, the creases that betrayed the
slattern; and with them, tucked away by Winny, defiled beyond
redemption, almost beyond recognition, the sachet, smelling of violets
and with the word "Violet" sprawling all across it in embroidery.

All these things, the dresses, the shoes, and the rest of them, he
gathered up in handfuls and flung into an old trunk which he locked and
pushed under the bed.

Then he set his teeth and went on with his task. In the soiled linen
basket, among his own handkerchiefs as he counted them, he found one
queerly scented and of a strange, arresting pattern. It had the monogram
"L. M." stitched into the corner. She must have borrowed it from the
beast. Or else--the beast had been in the house and had left it there.

That finished him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Finished as he was in every sense, thoroughly instructed, furnished with
details that fitted out and rounded off all that was vague and
incomplete in his vision of the thing, he was still unprepared for the
question with which his mother met him.

"Have you told Mr. and Mrs. Usher?"

He hadn't.

He had forgotten Mr. and Mrs. Usher, forgotten that this prolongation of
his ordeal would be necessary.

"Well, you'll have to."

"Of course I'll have to."

"Will you go and see him?"

"No. I--can't. I'll write."

He wrote in the afternoon of the next day at Woolridge's, in the
luncheon hour when he had the ledger clerks' pen to himself. He was very
brief.

He received his father-in-law's reply by return. Mr. Usher made no
comment beyond an almost perfunctory expression of regret. But he said
that he must see Randall. And, as the journey between Elstree and
Wandsworth was somewhat long to be undertaken after office hours, he
proposed the "Bald-Faced Stag," Edgware, as a convenient halfway house
for them to meet at, and Wednesday, at seven or thereabouts, as the day
and hour. Thus he allowed time for Randall to receive his letter and, if
necessary, to answer it. No telegraphing for Mr. Usher, except in case
of death, actual or imminent.

Ransome supposed that he would have to see him and get it over. Soon
after seven on Wednesday, then, Mr. Usher having ridden over on his mare
Polly and Ransome on his bicycle, they met in the parlor of the
"Bald-Faced Stag," Edgware. Mr. Usher's friend the landlord had
undertaken that they should not be disturbed.

It was impossible for Ransome not to notice something queer about his
father-in-law, something utterly unlike the bluff and genial presence he
had known. Mr. Usher seemed to have shrunk somehow and withered, so that
you might have said the catastrophe had hit him hard, if that, his mere
bodily shrinkage, had been all. What struck Ransome as specially queer
about Mr. Usher was his manner and the expression of his face. You could
almost have called it crafty. Guilty it was, too, consciously guilty,
the furtive face of a man on the defensive, armed with all his little
cunning against a possible attack, having entrenched himself in the
parlor of the "Bald-Faced Stag" as on neutral territory.

"What say to a bit of supper, my boy, before we begin business?"

It was a false and feeble imitation of his old heartiness.

Over a supper of cold ham and cheese and beer they discussed Ransome's
father's health and his mother's health, and Mrs. Usher's health, which
was poor, and Mr. Usher's prospects, which were poorer, not to say bad.
He leaned on this point and returned to it, as if it might have a
possible bearing on the matter actually in hand, and with a certain
disagreeable effect of craftiness and intention. It was as if he wished
to rub it in that whatever else Randall forgot, he wasn't to forget
_that_, that he had nothing to look to, nothing to hope for in his
father-in-law's prospects; as if he, Mr. Usher, had arranged this
meeting at the "Bald-Faced Stag" for the express purpose of making that
clear, of forestalling all possible misunderstanding. He kept it before
him, with the cheese and beer, on the brown oil-cloth of the table from
which poor Randall found it increasingly difficult to lift his eyes.

It was almost a relief to him when Mr. Usher pushed his plate away with
a groan of satiety, and began.

"Well, what's all this I hear about Virelet?"

Randall intimated that he had heard all there was.

"Yes, but what's the meaning of it? That's what I want to know."

Randall put it that its meaning was that it had simply happened, and
suggested that his father-in-law was in every bit as good a position for
understanding it as he.

"I dare say. But what I'm trying to get at is--did you do anything to
make it happen?"

"What on earth do you suppose I did?"

"There might be faults on both sides, though I don't say as there were.
But did you do anything to prevent it? Tell me that."

"What could I do? I didn't know it was going to happen."

"You should have known. You was warned fair enough."

"Was I? Who warned me, I should like to know?"

"Why, I did, and her mother did. Told you straight. Don't you go for to
say that I let you marry the girl under false pretenses, or her mother
either. I told you what sort Virelet was, straight as I could, without
vilifying my own flesh and blood. Did you want me to tell you
straighter? Did you want me to put a name to it?"

His little eyes shot sidelong at Randall, out of his fallen, shrunken
fatness, more than ever crafty and intent.

He was pitiful. Randall could have been sorry for him but that he showed
himself so mean. His little eyes gave him so villainously away. They
disclosed the fullness of his knowledge; they said he had known things
about Violet; he had known them all the time, things that he, Randall,
never knew. And he hadn't let on, not he. Why should he? He had been too
eager, poor man, to get Violet married. His eagerness, that had appeared
as the hardy flower of his geniality, betrayed itself now as the
sinister thing it was--when you thought of the name that he could have
given her!

Randall did not blame him. He was past blaming anybody. He only said to
himself that this explained what had seemed so inexplicable--the
attitude, the incredible attitude of Mr. and Mrs. Usher; how they had
leaped at him in all his glaring impossibility, an utter stranger, with
no adequate income and no prospects; how they had hurried on the
marriage past all prudence; how they had driven him on and fooled him
and helped him to his folly.

But he was not going to let them fool him any more.

"Look here, Mr. Usher, I don't know what your game is and I don't care.
I dare say you _think_ you told me what you say you did. But you
didn't. You didn't tell me anything--not one blessed thing. And if you
had it wouldn't have done any good. I wouldn't have believed you. You
needn't reproach yourself. I was mad on Virelet. I meant to marry her
and I did marry her. That's all."

"Well," said Mr. Usher, partially abandoning his position, "so long as
you don't hold me responsible--"

"Of course, I don't hold you responsible."

"I'm sure me and the Missis we've done what we could to make it easier
for you."

He gazed before him, conjuring up between them a quiet vision of the
long procession of hampers, a reminder to Randall of how deeply, as it
was, he stood indebted.

"And we can't do no more. That's how it is. No more we can't do."

"I'm not asking you to do anything. What do you _want_?"

"I want to know what you're going to do, my boy."

"Do?"

"Yes, do."

"About what?"

"About Virelet. Talk of responsibility, you took it on yourself contrary
to the warnings what you had, when you married her. And having taken it
you ought to have looked after her. Knowing what she is you ought to
have looked after her better than you've done."

"How _could_ I have looked after her?"

"How? Why, as any other man would. You should have made her work, work
with her 'ands, as I told you, 'stead of giving her her head, like you
did, and lettin' her sit bone-idle in that gimcrack doll-house of yours
from morning till night. Why, you should have taken a stick to her.
There's many a man as would, before he'd 'a' let it come to that. Damn
me if I know why you didn't."

"Well, really, Mr. Usher, I suppose I couldn't forget she was a woman."

"Woman? Woman? I'd 'a' womaned 'er! Look 'ere, my boy, it's a sad
business, and there's no one sorrier for you than I am, but there's no
good you and me broodin' mournful over what she's done. Course she'd do
it, 's long's you let her. You hadn't ought to 'ave let 'er. And seein'
as how you have, seems to me what you've got to do now is to take her
back again."

"I can't take her back again."

"And why not?"

"Because of the children--for one thing."

That argument had its crushing effect on Mr. Usher. It made him pause a
perceptible moment before he answered.

"Well--you needn't look to me and her mother to 'ave her--"

Randall rose, as much as to say that this was enough; it was too much;
it was the end.

"We've done with her. You took her out of our 'ands what 'ad a hold on
her, and you owe it to her mother and me to take her back."

"If that's all you've got to say, Mr. Usher--"

"It isn't all I've got to say. What I got to say is this. Before you was
married, Randall, I don't mind telling you now, my girl was a bit too
close about you for my fancy. I've never rightly understood how you two
came together."

There, as they fixed him, his little eyes took on their craftiness again
and his mouth a smile, a smile of sensual tolerance and understanding,
as between one man of the world and another.

"I don't know, and I don't want to know. But however it was--I'm not
askin', mind you--however it was"--He was all solemn now--"you made
yourself responsible for that girl. And responsible you will be held."

It may have been that Mr. Usher drew a bow at a venture; it may have
been that he really knew, that he had always known. Anyhow, that last
stroke of his was, in its way, consummate. It made it impossible for
Randall to hit back effectively; impossible for him to say now, if he
had wished to say it, that he had not been warned (for it seemed to
imply that if Mr. Usher's suspicions were correct, Randall had had an
all-sufficient warning); impossible for him to maintain, as against a
father whom he, upon the supposition, had profoundly injured, an
attitude of superior injury. If Mr. Usher had deceived Randall, hadn't
Randall, in the first instance, deceived Mr. Usher? In short, it left
them quits. It closed Randall's mouth, and with it the discussion, and
so that the balance as between them leaned if anything to Mr. Usher's
side.

"Well, I'm sorry for you, Randall."

As if he could afford it now, Mr. Usher permitted himself a return to
geniality. He paused in the doorway.

"If at any time you should want a hamper, you've only got to say so."

And Randall did not blame him. He said to himself: "Poor old thing. It's
funk--pure funk. He's afraid he may have to take her back himself. And
who could blame him?"

Funny that his father-in-law should have taken the same line as his
Uncle Randall. Only, whereas his Uncle Randall had reckoned with the
alternative of divorce, his father-in-law had not so much as hinted at
the possibility.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was almost as if Mr. Usher had had a glimpse of what was to come when
he had been in such haste, haste that had seemed in the circumstances
hardly decent, to saddle Ransome with the responsibility.

For, if Ransome had really thought that Violet was going to let him off
without his paying for it, the weeks that followed brought him proof
more than sufficient of his error. He had sown to the winds in the
recklessness of his marriage and of his housekeeping, and he reaped the
whirlwind in Violet's bills that autumn shot into the letter box at
Granville.

He called there every other day for letters; for he was not yet
prepared, definitely, to abandon Granville.

The bills, when he had gathered them all in, amounted in their awful
total to twenty pounds odd, a sum that exceeded his worst dreams of
Violet's possible expenditure. He had realized, in the late summer and
autumn of last year, before the period of compulsory retirement had set
in, that his wife was beginning to cost him more than she had ever done,
more than any woman of his class, so far as he knew, would have dreamed
of costing; and this summer, no sooner had she emerged triumphant
than--with two children now to provide for--she had launched out upon a
scale that fairly terrified him. But all her past extravagance did
nothing to prepare him for the extent to which, as he expressed it, she
could "go it," when she had, as you might say, an incentive.

The most astounding of the bills his whirlwind swept him was the bill
from Starker's--from Oxford Street, if you please--and the bill (sent in
with a cynical promptitude) from the chemist in Acacia Avenue at the
corner. That, the chemist's, was in a way the worst. It was for scent,
for toilette articles, strange yet familiar to him from their presence
in his father's shop, for all manner of cosmetics, for things so
outrageous, so unnecessary, that they witnessed chiefly to the shifts
she had been put to, to her anxieties and hastes, to the feverish
multiplication of pretexts and occasions. Still, they amounted but to a
few pounds and an odd shilling or two. Starker's bill did the rest.

That, the high, resplendent "cheek" of it, showed what she was capable
of; it gave him the measure of her father's "funk," for, of not one of
the items, from the three-guinea costumes (there were several of them)
down to the dozen of openwork Lisle-thread hose at two and eleven the
pair, had Ransome so much as suspected the existence. The three-guinea
costumes he could understand. It was the three nightgowns, trimmed lace,
at thirteen, fifteen, and sixteen shillings apiece, that took his breath
away, as with a vision of her purposes. Still, to him, her husband,
Starker's statement of account represented directly, with the perfection
of business precision, the cost of getting rid of her; it was so simply
and openly the cost of her outfit, of all that she had trailed with her
in her flight.

Yet, as he grasped it, he saw with that mature comprehension which was
now his, that, awful as it was, that total of twenty pounds odd
represented, perfectly, the price of peace. It was open to him to
repudiate his wife's debts, in which case she would appear in the County
Court, which, with its effect of publicity, with the things that would
be certain to come out there, was almost as bad as the Divorce Court.
Then the unfortunate tradespeople would not be paid, a result of her
conduct which was intolerable to Ranny's decency. Besides, he wanted to
be rather more than decent, to be handsome, in his squaring of accounts
with the woman whom, after all, in the beginning he had wronged. He
could even reflect with a humor surviving all calamity, that though
twenty-odd pounds was a devil of a lot to pay, his deliverance was
cheap, dirt cheap, at the money.

But that was not all. There was Granville.

He hated Granville. He could not believe how he ever could have loved
it. The fact that he was gradually becoming his own landlord only made
things worse. It gave Granville a malignant power over him, that power
which he had once or twice suspected, the power to round on him and
injure him and pay him back. He knew he was partly responsible for
Granville's degradation. He had done nothing for this property of his.
He had not given it a distinctive character; he had not covered it with
creepers or painted it green or built a balcony. He had left it to
itself.

He asked himself what it would look like in seventeen years' time when
it would be his. In seventeen years' time he would be forty-two. What
good would he be then? And what good would Granville be to him? What
good was it now? In its malignancy it demanded large sums to keep it
going and if it didn't get them it knew how to avenge itself. Slowly
perishing, it would fall to dust in seventeen years' time when it came
into his hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

But he had not dreamed of the extent to which Granville could put on the
screw.

He was enlightened by the agent of the Estate Company to which Granville
owed its being. The agent, after a thorough inspection of the premises,
broke it to Ransome that if he did not wish to lose Granville, he would
have to undertake certain necessary repairs, the estimate for which
soared to the gay tune of ten pounds eight shillings and eightpence. It
was the state of the roof, of the southwest wall, and of the scullery
drain that most shocked the agent. Of the scullery drain he could hardly
bring himself to speak, remarking only that a little washing down from
time to time with soda would have saved it all. The state of that drain
was a fair disgrace; and it was not a thing of days; it dated from
months back--years, he shouldn't be surprised. It was fit to breed a
fever.

Of course, it wasn't quite as bad as the agent had made out. But Ranny,
knowing Violet, believed him. It gave him a feeling of immense
responsibility toward Granville, and the Estate Company, and the agent.

Finally, owing to Violet's reckless management, his debts to the grocer,
the butcher, and the milkman had reached the considerable total of nine
pounds eighteen shillings and eleven pence. It would take about forty
pounds odd to clear his obligations.

The question was how on earth was he to raise the money? Out of a salary
of twelve pounds a month?

He would have to borrow it. But from whom? Not from his father. To
whatever height his mother kept it up, she could not conceal from him
that his father was in difficulties. Wandsworth was going ahead, caught
by the tide of progress. The new Drug Stores over the way were drawing
all the business from Fulleymore Ransome's little shop. Even with the
assistance of the young man, Mr. Ponting, Fulleymore Ransome was not in
a state to hold his own. But John Randall, the draper, if you like, was
prosperous. He might be willing, Ransome thought, to lend him the money,
or a part of it, at a fair rate of interest.

And John Randall indeed lent him thirty pounds; but not willingly. His
reluctance, however, was sufficiently explained by the fact that he had
recently advanced more than that sum to Fulleymore. He was careful to
point out to Randall that he was helping him to meet only those
catastrophes which might be regarded as the act of God--Violet's bills
and the deterioration of Granville. He was as anxious as Randall himself
to prevent Violet's appearance in the County Court, and he certainly
thought it was a pity that good house property should go out of his
nephew's hands. But he refused flatly to advance the ten pounds for the
weekly arrears, in order to teach Randall a lesson, to make him feel
that he had some responsibility, and to show that there was a limit to
what he, John Randall, was prepared to do.

For days Ransome went distracted. The ten pounds still owing was like a
millstone round his neck. If he didn't look sharp and pay up _he_ would
be County-Courted too. He couldn't come down on his father-in-law. His
father-in-law would tell him that he had already received the equivalent
of ten pounds in hampers. There was nobody he _could_ come down on. So
he called at a place he had heard of in Shaftesbury Avenue, where there
was a "josser" who arranged it for him quite simply by means of a bill
of sale upon his furniture. After all, he did get some good out of that
furniture.

And he got some good, too, out of Granville when he let it to Fred Booty
for fifteen shillings a week.

He was now established definitely in his father's house. The young man
Mr. Ponting had shown how kind his heart was by turning out of his nice
room on the second floor into Ranny's old attic. The little back room,
used for storage, served also as a day nursery for Ranny's children. Six
days in the week a little girl came in to mind them. At night Ranny
minded them where they lay in their cots by his bed.

It was all that could be done; and with the little girl's board and the
children's and his own breakfast and supper and his Sunday dinner, it
cost him thirty shillings a week. There was no way in which it could be
done for less, since it was not in him to take advantage of his
mother's offer to let him have the rooms rent free.

       *       *       *       *       *

And underneath Ranny's rooms, between the bedroom at the back and the
back parlor, between the parlor and the shop, between the shop and the
dispensing-room, Fulleymore Ransome dragged himself to and fro, more
than ever weedy, more than ever morose, more than ever sublime in his
appearance of integrity; and with it all so irritable that Ranny's
children had to be kept out of his way. He would snarl when he heard
them overhead; he would scowl horribly when he came across the "pram,"
pushed by the little girl, in its necessary progress through the shop
into the street and back again.

But at Ranny he neither snarled nor scowled, nor had he spoken any word
to him on the subject of the great calamity. No reproach, no reminder of
warnings given, none of that reiterated, "I told you so," in which,
Ranny reflected, he might have taken it out of him. He also seemed to
regard his son Randall as one smitten by God and afflicted, to whose
high and sacred suffering silence was the appropriate tribute. His very
moroseness provided the sanctuary of silence.

And all the time he drank; he drank worse than ever; furtively,
continuously he drank. Nobody could stop him, for nobody ever saw him
doing it. He did it, they could only suppose, behind Mr. Ponting's back
in the dispensing-room.

They were free to suppose anything now; for, since Ranny's great
delivering outburst, they could discuss it; and in discussion they
found relief. Ranny's mother owned as much. She had suffered (that also
she owned) from the strain of keeping it up. Ranny's outburst had saved
her, vicariously. It was as if she had burst out herself.

There were, of course, lengths to which she would never go, admissions
which she could not bring herself to make. There had to be some
subterfuge, some poor last shelter for her pride. And so, of the
depression in Fulleymore's business she would say before Mr. Ponting,
"It's those Drug Stores that are ruining him," and Mr. Ponting would
reply, gravely, "They'd ruin anybody."

Mr. Ponting was a fresh-colored young man and good-looking, with his
blue eyes and his yellow hair sleeked backward like folded wings, so
different from Mercier. Mr. Ponting had conceived an affection for Ranny
and the children. He would find excuses to go up to the storeroom, where
he would pretend to be looking for things while he was really playing
with Dossie. He would sit on Ranny's bed while Ranny was undressing, and
together they would consider, piously, the grave case of the
Humming-bird, and how, between them, they could best "keep him off it."

"It's the dispensary spirits that he gets at," Mr. Ponting said. "That's
the trouble."

(And it always had been.)

"The queer thing is," said Ranny, "that you never fairly see him tight.
Not to speak of."

"That's the worst of it," said Mr. Ponting. "I wish I _could_ see your
father tight--tumbling about a bit, I mean, and being funny. The beastly
stuff's going for him inside, all the time--undermining him. There
isn't an organ," said Mr. Ponting, solemnly, "in your father's body that
it hasn't gone for."

"How d'you know?"

"Why, by the medicines he takes. He's giving himself strophanthus now,
for his heart."

"I say--d'you think my mother knows that?"

"It's impossible to say what your mother knows. More than she lets on, I
shouldn't be surprised."

Mr. Ponting pondered.

"It's wonderful how he keeps it up. His dignity, I mean."

"It's rum, isn't it?" said Ranny. He was apparently absorbed in tying
the strings of his sleeping-suit into loops of absolutely even length.
"But he always _was_ that mysterious kind of bird."

He began to step slowly backward as he buttoned up his jacket. Then, by
way of throwing off the care that oppressed him, and lightening somewhat
Mr. Ponting's burden, he ran forward and took a flying leap over the
Baby's cot into his own bed.

Mr. Ponting looked, if anything, a little graver. "I wouldn't do that,
if I were you," he said.

"Why not?" said Ranny over his blankets, snuggling comfortably.

"Oh, I don't know," said Mr. Ponting, vaguely.

In a day or two Ranny himself knew.

His arrangements had carried him well on into October. In the last week
of that month, on a Tuesday evening, he appeared at the Regent Street
Polytechnic, where he had not been seen since far back in the last year.
It was not at the Gymnasium that he now presented himself, but at the
door of that room where every Tuesday evening, from seven-thirty to
eight-thirty, a qualified practitioner was in attendance.

It was the first time that Ransome had availed himself of this privilege
conferred on him by the Poly.

He said he wouldn't keep the medical man a minute.

But the medical man kept Ranny many minutes, thumping, sounding,
intimately and extensively overhauling him. For more minutes than Ranny
at all liked, he played about him with a stethoscope. Then he fired off
what Ranny supposed to be the usual questions.

"Had any shock, worry, or excitement lately?

"Been overdoing it in any way?

"Gone in much for athletics?"

Ranny replied with regret that it was more than three years since he had
last run in the Wandsworth Hurdle Race.

He was then told that he must avoid all shock, worry, or excitement. He
mustn't overdo it. He must drop his hurdle-racing. He mustn't bicycle
uphill, or against the wind; he mustn't jump; he mustn't run--

"Not even to catch a train?"

"Not to catch anything."

And the doctor gave him a prescription that ran:

/P
    Sodæ Bicarb., one dram.
    Tinct. Strophanthi, two drams--
P/

He remembered. That was the stuff he'd measured for old Mr. Beasley's
heart mixture. It was the stuff that Ponting said his father was taking
now.

If any one had told him three years ago that his heart was rocky he'd
have told them where to go to. It had been as sound as a bell when he
entered for the Poly. Gym.

Well, he supposed that was about the finishing touch--if they wanted to
do the thing in style.

He went slowly over Wandsworth Bridge and up the High Street, dejected,
under the autumn moon that had once watched his glad sprinting.



CHAPTER XXVII


And in all this time he had not heard again from Violet, nor had he
written to her.

Then--it was in the first week of November--Violet wrote.

She wrote imploring him to set her free. It was rooted in her, the fear
that he would compel her to come back, that he had the power to make
her. She wanted (he seemed to see it) to feel safe from him forever.
Leonard had promised to marry her if she were free. She intimated that
Leonard was everything that was generous and honorable. She wanted (she
who had abused him so for having married her), she wanted to marry
Mercier, to have a hold on him and be safe. Marriage was her idea of
safety now.

She went on to say that if he would consent to divorce her, it would be
made easy for him, she would not defend the suit.

That meant--he puzzled it out--that meant that it would lie between the
two of them. Nobody else would be dragged into it. Winny's name would
not by any possibility be dragged in. Violet would have no use for
Winny, since she was not going to defend the suit. She might--at the
worst--have to appear as witness, if the evidence of Violet's letters
(her own admission) was not sufficient. It looked as if it would be
simple enough. Why should he not release her? He had no business not to
give her the chance to marry Mercier, to regulate the relation, if that
was what she wanted.

It was his own chance, too, his one chance. He would be a fool not to
take it.

And as it came over him in its fullness, all that it meant and would yet
mean, Ranny felt his heart thumping and bounding, dangerously, in its
weakened state.

On a Wednesday evening in November, he presented himself once more at
the Regent Street Polytechnic and at the door of an office where, on
Wednesday evenings, an experienced legal adviser held himself in
readiness to give advice, that legal adviser who had been the jest of
his adolescence, whose services he had not conceived it possible that he
should require.

He had a curiously uplifting sense of the gravity and impressiveness of
the business upon which at last, inconceivably, he came. But this odd
elation was controlled and finally overpowered by disgust and shame, as
one by one, under the kind but acute examination of the legal man, he
brought out for his inspection the atrocious details. And he had to show
Violet's letter of September, the document, supremely valuable,
supremely infamous, supported by the further communication of November.
The keen man asked him, as his uncle and his father-in-law had asked, if
he had given any provocation, any cause for jealousy, misunderstanding,
or the like? Had his own conduct been irreproachable? When all this part
of it was over, settled to the keen man's satisfaction, Ranny was told
that there was little doubt that he could get his divorce if--that was
the question--he could afford to pay. Divorce was, yes, it was a costly
matter, almost, you might say, the luxury of the rich. A matter, for
him, probably of forty or fifty pounds--well, say, thirty, when you'd
cut expenses down to the very lowest limit. Could he, the keen but
kindly man inquired, afford thirty?

No, he couldn't. He couldn't afford twenty even. With all his existing
debts upon him he couldn't now raise ten.

He asked whether he could get his divorce if he put it off a bit until
he could afford it?

The legal man looked grave.

"Well--yes. If you can show poverty--"

Ranny thought he could undertake to show _that_ all right.

At the legal man's suggestion he wrote a letter to his wife assuring her
that it was impossible for her to desire a divorce more than he did;
that he meant to bring an action at the very moment when he could afford
it, pointing out to her that her debts which he had paid had not made
this any easier for him; that in the meanwhile she need not be anxious;
that he would not follow her or molest her in any way; and that in no
circumstances would he take her back.

And now Ranny's soul and all his energy were set upon the one aim of
raising money for his divorce. It was impossible to lay his hands upon
that money all at once. He could not do it this year, nor yet the next,
for his expenses and his debts together exceeded the amount of his
income; but gradually, by pinching and scraping, it might be done
perhaps in two or three years' time.

His chief trouble was that in all these weeks he had seen nothing of
Winny. He had called twice at the side door of Johnson's, but they had
told him that she was not in; and, hampered as he was with the children,
he had not had time to call again. Besides, he knew he had to be
careful, and Winny knew it too. That, of course, would always help him,
her perception of the necessity for care. There were ways of managing
these things, but they required his mother's or his friends'
co-operation; and so far Mrs. Ransome had shown no disposition to
co-operate. Winny was not likely to present herself at Wandsworth
without encouragement, and she had apparently declined to lend herself
to any scheme of Maudie's or of Fred Booty's. With Winny lying low there
was nothing left for him but the way he shrank from, of persistent and
unsolicited pursuit.

November passed and they were in December, and he had not seen her.
After having recovered somewhat under the influence of the drug
strophanthus, he now became depressed, listless, easily fatigued.

Up till now there had been something not altogether disagreeable to Mrs.
Ransome in the misfortunes of her son. They had brought him back to her.
But he had not wanted to come back; and now she wondered whether she had
done well to make him come, whether (after all he had gone through) it
was not too much for him, realizing as he did his father's awful state.
It had gone so far, Mr. Ransome's state, that there was no way in which
it could be taken lightly.

And she was depressed herself, perceiving it. Mr. Ransome's state made
him unfit for business now, unfit to appear in the shop, above all
unfit for the dispensary. Fit only to crawl from room to room and
trouble them with the sad state of his peaked and peevish face. He
required watching. He himself recognized that in his handling of tricky
drugs there was a danger. The business was getting out of hand. It was
small and growing smaller every month, yet it was too much for Mr.
Ponting to cope with unassisted. They were living, all three of them, in
a state of tension most fretting to the nerves.

The whole house fairly vibrated with it. It was as if the fearful
instability of Mr. Ransome's nervous system communicated itself to
everybody around him. At the cry or the sudden patter of Ranny's
children overhead, Mr. Ransome would be set quivering and shaking, and
this disturbance of his reverberated. Ranny set his teeth and sat tight
and "stuck it"; but he felt the shattering effect of it all the same.

And the children felt it too, subtly, insidiously. Dossie became
peevish, easily frightened; she was neither so good nor so happy with
her Granny and the little girl as she had been with Winny. Baby cried
oftener. Ranny sometimes would be up half the night with him.

All this Mrs. Ransome saw and grieved over and was powerless to help.

In Christmas week the state of Mr. Ransome became terrible, not to be
borne. Ranny was working hard at the counting-house; he was worn out,
and he looked it.

The sight of him, so changed, broke Mrs. Ransome down.

"Ranny," she said, "I wish you'd get away somewhere for Christmas. Me
and Mabel'll look after the children. You go."

He said there wasn't anywhere he cared to go to.

"Well--is there anything you'd like to do?"

"To do?"

"For Christmas, dear. To make it not so sad like. Is there anybody," she
said, "you'd like to ask?"

No, there wasn't. At any rate, if there was he wouldn't ask them. It
wouldn't be exactly what you'd call fun for them, with the poor old
Humming-bird making faces at them all the time.

His mother looked at him shrewdly and said nothing. But she sat down and
wrote a letter to Winny Dymond, asking her to come and spend Christmas
Day with them, if, said Mrs. Ransome, she hadn't anywhere better to go
to and didn't mind a sad house.

And Winny came. She hadn't anywhere better to go to, and she didn't mind
a sad house in the least.

They wondered, Ranny and his mother, how they were ever going to break
it to the Humming-bird.

"Your Father won't like it, Ranny. He's not fit for it. He'll think us
heartless, having strangers in the house when he's suffering so."

But Mr. Ransome, when asked if he was fit for it, replied astoundingly
that he was fit enough if it would make Randall any happier.

It did. It made him so happy that his recovery dated from that moment.
He had only one fear, that Dossie would have forgotten Winky.

But Dossie hadn't, though after two months of Wandsworth she had
forgotten many things, and had cultivated reserve. When Ranny said,
"Who's this, Dossie?" she tucked her head into her shoulder and smiled
shyly and said, "Winty." But they had to pretend that Baby remembered,
too. He hadn't really got what you would call a memory.

And, after all, it was Ranny (Winny said to herself) who remembered
most. For he gave her for a Christmas present, not only a beautiful
white satin "sashy," scented with lavender (lavender, not violets, this
time), but a wonderful hot-water bag with a shaggy red coat that made
you warm to look at it.

"Ranny! Fancy you remembering that I had cold feet!"

That night he went home with her to Johnson's side door, carrying the
sachet and the hot-water bag and the things his mother had given her.

Upstairs, in the attic she shared with three other young ladies, the
first thing Winny did was to turn to the Cookery Book she had bought a
year ago and read the directions: "How to Preserve Hot-Water Bags"--to
preserve them forever.



CHAPTER XXVIII


Thus nineteen-seven, that dreadful year, rolled over into
nineteen-eight. By nineteen-ten, at the very latest, Ransome looked to
get his divorce. He had no doubt that he could do it, for he found it
far less expensive to live with his mother at Wandsworth than with
Violet at Granville. He knew exactly where he was, he had not to allow
so considerably for the unforeseen. His income had a margin out of which
he saved. To make this margin wider he pinched, he scraped, he went as
shabby as he dared, he left off smoking, he renounced his afternoon cup
of tea and reduced the necessary dinner at his A B C shop to its very
simplest terms.

The two years passed.

By January, nineteen-ten, he had only paid off what he already owed. He
had not raised the thirty pounds required for his divorce. Indomitable,
but somewhat desperate, he applied to his Uncle Randall for a second
loan at the same interest. He did not conceal from him that divorce was
his object. He put it to him that his mind was made up unalterably, and
that since the thing had got to be, sooner or later, it was better for
everybody's sake that it should be sooner.

But Mr. Randall was inexorable. He refused, flatly, to lend his money
for a purpose that he persisted in regarding as iniquitous. Even if he
had not advanced a further sum to young Randall's father, he was not
going to help young Randall through the Divorce Court, stirring all that
mud again. Not he.

"You should wash your dirty linen at home," he said.

"You mean keep it there and never wash it. That's what it comes to,"
said young Randall, furiously.

"It's been kept. And everybody's forgotten that it's there by this time.
Why rake it up again?" said his Uncle Randall.

And there was no making him see why. There was no making any of them
see. Mrs. Ransome wouldn't hear of the divorce. "It'll kill your Father,
Ranny," she said, and stuck to it.

And Ranny set his mouth hard and said nothing. He calculated that if he
put by twelve shillings a week for twenty-five weeks that would be
fifteen pounds. He could borrow the other fifteen in Shaftesbury Avenue
as he had done before, and in six months he would be filing his
petition.

As soon as he was ready to file it he would tell Winny he cared for her.
He would ask her to be his wife.

He had not told any of them about Winny. But they knew. They knew and
yet they had no pity on him, nor yet on her. When he thought of it Ranny
set his face harder.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet Winny came and went, untroubled and apparently unconscious. She was
not only allowed to come and go at Wandsworth as she had come and gone
at Granville, by right of her enduring competence; she was desired and
implored to come. For if she had (and Mrs. Ransome owned it) a "way"
with the children, she had also a way with Mrs. Ransome, and with Mr.
Ransome. The Humming-bird, growing weedier and weaker, revived in her
presence; he relaxed a little of his moroseness and austerity. "I don't
know how it is," said Ranny's mother, "but your Father takes to her. He
likes to see her about."

Saturday afternoons, and Sundays, and late evenings in summer were her
times, so that of necessity she and Ranny met.

Not that they pleaded necessity for meeting. Since his awful
enlightenment and maturity, Ransome had never thought of pleading
anything; for he did not hold himself accountable to anybody or require
anybody to tell him what was decent and what wasn't. And Winny was like
him. He couldn't imagine Winny driven to plead. She had gone her own way
without troubling her head about what people thought of her, without
thinking very much about herself. As long as she was sure he wanted her,
she would be there, where he was. He felt rather than knew that she
waited for him, and would wait for him through interminable years,
untroubled as to her peace, profoundly pure. He was not even certain
that she was aware that she was waiting and that he waited too.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the spring of nineteen-ten it looked as if they would not have very
long to wait. He had measured his resources with such accuracy that by
June, if all went well, he could set about filing his petition.

And now, seeing the thing so near and yet not accomplished, Ranny's
nerve went. He began to be afraid, childishly and ridiculously afraid,
of something happening to prevent it. He had a clear and precise idea of
that something. He would die before he could file his petition, before
he could get his divorce and marry Winny. His heart to be sure was
better; but at any moment it might get worse. It might get like his
father's. It might stop altogether. He thought of it as he had never
thought of it before. He humored it. He never ran. He never jumped. He
never rode uphill on his bicycle. He thought twice before hurrying for
anything.

Against these things he could protect himself.

But who could protect him against excitement and worry and anxiety? Why,
this fear that he had was itself the worst thing for him imaginable. And
then worry. He _had_ to worry. You couldn't look on and see the poor old
Humming-bird going from bad to worse, you couldn't see everybody else
worrying about him, and not worry too. He would go away and forget about
it for a time, and when he came back again the terrible and intolerable
thing was there.

And at the heart of the trouble there was a still more terrible and
intolerable peace. It was as if Mr. Ransome had made strange terms with
the youth and joy and innocent life that had once roused him to such
profound resentment and disgust. His vindictive ubiquity had ceased.
When the spring came he could no longer drag himself up and down stairs.
His feet and legs were swollen; they were like enormous weights
attached to his pitifully weedy body. His skin had the sallow
smoothness, the waxen substance that marked the deadly, unmistakable
progress of his disease. He could not always lie down in his bed.
Sometimes he lived, day and night, motionless in his invalid's chair,
with his legs propped before him on a footrest. He would sit for hours
staring at them in lamentable contemplation. He could measure his span
of life from day to day as the swelling rose or sank. On his good days
they wheeled him from his bedroom at the back to the front sitting-room.

And through it all, as by some miracle, he preserved his air of
suffering integrity.

It was quite plain to Ranny that his father could not live long. And if
he died? Even in his pity and his grief Ranny could not help wondering
whether, if his father died any time that year, it would not make a
difference, whether it would not, perhaps, at the last moment prevent
his marrying?

Partly in defiance of this fear, partly by way of committing himself
irretrievably, he resolved to speak to Winny. He desired to be
irretrievably committed, so that, whatever happened, decency alone would
prevent him from drawing back. Though he could not in as many words ask
Winny to marry him before he was actually free, there were things that
could be said, and he saw no earthly reason why he should not say them.

For this purpose he chose, in sheer decency, one of his father's good
days which happened to be a fine, warm one in May and a Saturday. He had
arranged with Winny beforehand that she should come over as early as
possible in the afternoon and stay for tea. He now suggested that, as
this Saturday was such a Saturday as they might never see again, it
would be a good plan if they were to go somewhere together.

"Where?" said Winny.

Wherever she liked, he said, provided it was somewhere where they'd
never been before. And Winny, trying to think of something not too
expensive, said, "How about the tram to Putney Heath?"

"Putney Heath," Ranny said, "be blowed!"

"Well, then--how about Hampton Court or Kew?"

But he was "on to" her. "Rot!" he said. "You've been there."

"Well--" Obviously she was meditating something equally absurd.

"What d'you say to Windsor?"

But Winny absolutely refused to go to Windsor. She said there was one
place she'd never been to, and that was Golder's Hill. You could get tea
there.

"Right--O!" said Ranny. "We'll go to Golder's Hill."

"And take the children," Winny said.

Well, no, he rather thought he'd leave the kids behind for once.

"Oh, Ranny!" Voice and eyes reproached him. "You couldn't! You may never
get a day like this again."

"I know. That's why," said Ranny.

The kids, Stanley, aged three, and Dossie, aged five, understanding
perfectly well that they were being thrown over, began to cry.

"Daddy, take _me_--take _me_," sobbed Dossie.

"And me!" Stanley positively screamed it.

"I say, you know, if they're going to howl," said Ranny.

"You _must_--"

"That's it, I mustn't. They can't have everything they choose to howl
for."

"There," said Winny. "See! Daddy can't take you if you cry. He can't,
really."

(She had gone--perfidious Winny!--to the drawer where she knew Stanley's
clean suit was. Stanley knew it too.)

The children stopped crying as by magic. With eyes where pathos and
resentment mingled they gazed at their incredible father. Tears, large
crystal tears, hung on the flame-red crests of their hot cheeks.

Winny turned before she actually opened the drawer.

"Who wants," said she, "to go with Daddy?"

"Me," said Dossie.

"Me," said Stanley.

"Well, then, give Daddy a kiss and ask him nicely. Then perhaps he'll
take you."

And they did, and he had to take them. But it was mean, it was
treacherous of Winny.

"What did you do that for, Winky?" he said, going over to her where she
rummaged in the drawer.

"Because," she said, "you promised."

"Promised what?"

"Promised you'd take them. Promised Stanny he should wear his knickers.
They told me you'd promised."

And he had.

"I forgot," he said.

"_They'd_ never have forgotten."

She was holding them, the ridiculous knickers, to the nursery fire.

It took ten minutes to get Stanley into them, into the little blue linen
knickers he had never worn before, and into his tight little white
jersey; and then there was Dossie and her wonderful rig-out, the clean,
white frock and the serge jacket of turquoise blue and the tiny mushroom
hat with the white ribbon. It took five minutes more to find Stanley's
hat, the little soft hat of white felt, in which he was so adorable.
They found it on Ranny's bed, and then they started.

It was a great, an immense adventure, right away to the other side of
London.

"We'll take everything we can," said Ranny. And they did. They took the
motor bus to Earl's Court Tube Station, and the Tube (two Tubes they had
to take) to Golder's Green. The adventure began in the first lift.

"Where we goin'?" the children cried. "Where we goin', Daddy?"

"We're going down--down--ever so far down, with London on the top of
us--All the horses"--Winny worked the excitement up and up--"All the
people--All the motor buses on the top of us--"

"On top of me?"

"And on me?" cried Dossie. "And on Daddy and on Winky?"

"Will it make us _dead_?" said Stanley. He was thrilled at the prospect.

"No. More alive than ever. We shall come rushing out, like bunny
rabbits, into the country on the other side."

Ever so far down into the earth they went, with London, and then Camden
Town, and then Hampstead Heath--a great big high hill--right on the top
of them; and then, all of a sudden, just as Winny had said, they came
rushing out, more alive than ever, into the country, into the green
fields.

But there was something wrong with Ranny. He wasn't like himself. He
wasn't excited or amused or interested in anything. He looked as if he
were trying not to hear what Winny was saying to the children. He was
abstracted. He went like a man in a dream. He behaved almost as if he
wanted to show that he didn't really belong to them.

Of course, he did all the proper things. He carried his little son. He
lifted him and Dossie in and out of the trains as if they had been
parcels labeled "Fragile, with Care." But he did it like a porter, a
sulky porter who was tired of lifting things; and they might really have
been somebody else's glass and china for all he seemed to care.

Ranny was angry. He was angry with the little things for being there. He
was angry with himself for having brought them, and with Winny for
having made him bring them; and he was angry with himself for being
angry. But he couldn't help it. Their voices exasperated him. The
children's voices, the high, reiterated singsong, "Where we goin'?"
Winny's voice, poignantly soft, insufferably patient, answering them
with all that tender silliness, that persistent, gentle, intolerably
gentle tommy-rot.

For all the time he was saying to himself, "She doesn't care. She
doesn't care a hang. It's them she cares for. It's them she wants. It's
them she's wanted all the time. She's that sort."

And as he brooded on it, hatred of Winky, who had so fooled him, crept
into his heart.

"Oh, Daddy!" Dossie shouted, with excitement. (They had emerged into the
beautiful open space in front of Golder's Green Station.) "Daddy, we're
bunnies now! We'll be dea' little baby bunnies. You'll be Father Bunny,
and Winky'll be Mrs. Mother Bun! _Be_ a bunny, Daddy?"

Perceiving his cruel abstraction, Dossie entreated and implored. "_Be_
it!"

But Daddy refused to be a bunny or anything that was required of him. So
silent was he and so stern that even Winny saw that there was something
wrong. She knew by the way he let Stanny down from his shoulder to the
ground, a way which implied that Stanny was not so young nor yet so
small and helpless as he seemed. He could walk.

Stanny felt it; he felt it in the jerk that landed him; but he didn't
care, he was far too happy.

"He's a young Turk," said Winny, and he was. By his whole manner, by the
swing of his tiny arms, by his tilted, roguish smile, by his eyes,
impudent and joyous (blue they were, like his mother's, but clear,
tilted, and curled like Ranny's), Stanny intimated that Daddy was sold
if he imagined that to walk was not just what Stanny wanted. And in
spite of it he was heartrending, pathetic; so small he was, with all his
baby roundness accentuated absurdly by the knickers.

"He's just such another as you, Ranny," Winny said. (She was
uncontrollable!) "Such a little man as he is, in those knickers."

"Damn his knickers," said Ranny to himself, behind his set teeth. But he
smiled all the same; and by the time they had got into the wonderful
walled garden of Golder's Hill he had recovered almost completely.

It was not decent to keep on sulking in a place which had so laid itself
out to make you happy; where the sunshine flowed round you and soaked
into you and warmed you as if you were in a bath. The garden, inclosed
in rose-red walls and green hedges, was like a great tank filled with
sunshine; sunshine that was visible, palpable, audible almost in its
intensity; sunshine caught and contained and brimming over, that
quivered and flowed in and around the wall-flowers, tulips and
narcissus, that drenched them through and through and covered them like
water, and was thick with all their scents. You walked on golden paths
through labyrinths of brilliant flowers, through arches, tunnels and
bowers of green. You were netted in sunshine, drugged with sweet live
smells, caged in with blossoms, pink and white, of the espaliers that
clung, branch and bud, like carved latticework, flat to the garden wall.

Neither could he well have sulked in the great space outside, where the
green lawns unrolled and flung themselves generously, joyously to the
sun, or where, on the light slope of the field beyond, the trees hung
out their drooping vans, lifted up green roof above green roof,
sheltering a happy crowd.

And even if these things, in their benignant, admonishing, reminding
beauty, had not restored his decency, he was bound to soften and unbend,
when, as they were going over the rustic bridge, Stanny tried to turn
himself upside down among the water lilies. And as he captured Stanny by
a miracle of dexterity, just in time, he realized, as if it had been
some new and remarkable discovery, that his little son was dear to him.

By slow stages, after many adventures and delays, they reached the
managerie on the south side.

"Oh, Daddy, Daddy, look at that funny bird!"

Dossie tugged and shouted.

In a corner of his yard, round and round, with inconceivable rapidity
and an astounding innocence, as if he imagined himself alone and
unobserved, the Emu danced like a bird demented. On tiptoe, absurdly
elongated, round and round, ecstatically, deliriously, he danced. He
danced till his legs and his neck were as one high perpendicular pole
and his body a mere whorl of feathers spinning round it, driven by the
flapping of his wings.

"He _is_ making an almighty fool of himself," said Ranny.

"What does he do it for, Daddy?"

"Let's ask the keeper."

And they asked him.

"'E's a Emu, that's what 'e is," said the keeper. "That's what he does
when he goes courtin'. Only there won't be no courtin' for him this
time. 'Is mate died yesterday."

"And yet he dances," Winny said.

"And yet he dances. Heartless bird!" said Ranny.

They looked at the Emu, who went on dancing as if unobserved.

"Scandalous, I call it," Ranny said. "Unfeelin'."

"Perhaps," said Winny, "the poor thing doesn't know."

"Per'aps he does know, and that's why he's dancin'."

Winny gazed, fascinated, at the uplifted and ecstatic head.

"_I_ know," she said. "It's his grief. It's affected his brain."

"It's Nacher," said the keeper, "that's what it is. Nacher's wound 'im
up to go, and he goes, you see, whether or no. It's the instint in 'im
and the time of year. 'E don't know no more than that."

"But that," said Winny, "makes it all the sadder."

She was sorry for the Emu, so bereaved and so deluded, dancing his
fruitless, lamentable dance.

"He _is_ funny, isn't he?" said Stanny.

And they went slowly, spinning out their pleasure, back to that part of
the lawn where there were innumerable little tables covered with pink
cloths, set out under the trees, and seated at the tables innumerable
family parties, innumerable pairs of lovers, pairs of married people,
pairs of working women and of working girls on holiday; all happy for
their hour, all whispering, laughing, chattering, and drinking tea.

On the terrace in front of the big red house were other tables with
white covers under awnings like huge sunshades, where people who could
afford the terrace sat in splendor and in isolation and listened to the
music, played on the veranda, of violins and cello and piano.

Ransome and Winny and the children chose a pink-covered table on the
lawn under a holly tree in a place all by themselves. And they had tea
there, such a tea as stands out forever in memory, beautiful and
solitary. What the children didn't have for tea, Ranny said, was not
worth mentioning.

And after tea they sat in luxurious folding-chairs under the terrace and
listened to the violins, the cello, and piano. Other people were doing
the same thing as if they had been invited to do it, as if they were all
one party, with somewhere a friendly host and hostess imploring them to
be seated, to be happy and to make themselves at home.

And down the slope of the lawn, Stanny and Dossie rolled over and over
in the joy of life. And up the slope they toiled, laughing, to roll
interminably down.

And the moments while they rolled were golden, priceless to Ranny.
Winny, seated beside him on her chair, watched them rolling.

"It's Stanny's knickers," she said, "that I can't get over!"

"I don't want to hear of them again" (the golden moments were so few).
"You make me wish I hadn't brought those kids."

"Oh, Ranny!" Her eyes were serious and reproachful.

"Well--I can't get you to myself one minute."

"But aren't we having quite a happy day?" she said. "What with the
beautiful flowers and the music and the Emu--"

"You were sorry, Winky, for that disgraceful bird, and you're not a bit
sorry for me."

"Why should I be?"

"My case is similar."

Her eyes were serious still, but round the corners of her mouth a little
smile was playing in secret by itself. She didn't know it was there, or
she never would have let it play.

"Don't you know that I want to say things to you?"

She looked at him and was frightened by the hunger in his eyes.

"Not now, Ranny," she said. "Not yet."

"Why not?"

"I want"--she was desperate--"I want to listen to the music."

At that moment the violins and the cello were struggling together in a
cry of anguish and of passion.

"You _don't_," he said, savagely.

He was right. She didn't. The music, yearning and struggling, tore at
her heart, set her nerves vibrating, her breast heaving. It was as if it
drew her to Ranny, urgently, irresistibly, against her will.

"Not now, Ranny," she said, "not now." And it was as if she asked him to
take pity on her.

"No," he said. "Not now. But presently, when I see you home."

"No. Not even then. Not at all. You mustn't, dear," she whispered.

"I shall."

They sat silent and let the music do with them as it would.

And the sun dropped to the fields and flooded them and sank far away,
behind Harrow on the Hill. And they called the children, the tired
children, to them and went home.

Stanny had to be carried all the way. He hung on his father's shoulder,
utterly limp, utterly helpless, utterly pathetic.

"He's nothing but a baby after all," said Winny.

They were going over Wandsworth Bridge.

"Do you remember, Ranny, the first time you ever saw me home, going over
this bridge? What a moon there was!"

"I do. That _was_ a moon," said Ranny.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no moon for them to-night.

It was in a clear twilight, an hour later, that he saw her home.

They went half the way without speaking, till they came to the little
three-cornered grove beside the public footpath. It was deserted. He
proposed that they should sit there for a while.

"It's the only chance I'll ever get," he said to himself.

She consented. The plane trees sheltered them and made darkness for them
where they sat.

"Winky," he said, after an agonizing pause, "you must have thought it
queer that I've never thanked you for all you've done for me."

"Why should you? It's so little. It's nothing."

"Do you suppose I don't know what it is and what you've done it for?"

"Yes, Ranny, you know what I did it for, and you see, it's been no
good."

"How d'you mean, no good?"

"It didn't do what I thought it would."

"What was that?"

"It didn't keep poor Vi and you together."

"Reelly"--She went on as if she were delivering her soul at last of the
burden that had been too heavy for it--"I can see it all now. It did
more harm than good."

"How do you make that out?"

"D'you mind talking about it?"

"Not a bit."

"Well, don't you see--it made it easier for her. It gave her the time
and everything she wanted. If I hadn't been there that night she
couldn't have gone, Ranny. She wouldn't have left the children. She
wouldn't, reelly. And I hadn't the sense to see it then."

"I'm glad you hadn't."

"Oh, why?"

"Because then you wouldn't have been there. I knew you were trying to
keep it all together. But it was bound to go. It couldn't have lasted.
_She'd_ have gone anyhow. You don't worry about that now, do you?"

"Sometimes I can't help thinking of it."

"Don't think of it."

"I won't so long as you know what I did it for."

He meditated.

"I know what you did it for in the beginning. But--Winks--you were there
_afterward_."

"Afterward--?"

"After Virelet went you were doing things."

"Well--and didn't you want me?"

"Of course I wanted you. Did you never wonder why I let you do things?
Why I can bear to take it from you? Don't you know I couldn't let any
other woman do what you do for me?"

"I'm glad if you feel like that about it."

"I don't believe you've any idea how I feel about it. I don't believe
you understand it yet." His voice thickened.

"I couldn't have let you, Winny, if I hadn't cared for you. I should
have been a low animal, a mean swine to let you if I hadn't cared. I'm
not talking as if my caring paid you back in any way. I couldn't pay you
back if I worked for you for the rest of my life. But that's what I'm
going to do if I can get the chance."

She could feel him trembling beside her and she was afraid.

"Would you let me?" he said. "Would you have me, Winny? Do you care for
me enough to have me?"

"You know I've always cared for you."

"Would you marry me if I was free?"

"Don't talk about it, dear. You mustn't."

"And why mustn't I?"

"It's no good. You're not free. You married Vi, dear, and whatever she's
done you can't un-marry her."

"Can't I? That's precisely what I can do; and it's what I'm going to
do."

"You're not. You couldn't."

It seemed to him that she shrank from him in horror.

"You don't understand. You're talking as if she and I cared for each
other. That's at an end. It's done for. She's asked me to divorce her."

"Asked you? When?"

"More than two years ago, and I promised. She wants to marry Mercier,
and she'd better. I'd have been free two years ago if I'd had the money.
But I've got it now. I've been saving for it. I've been doing nothing
else, thinking of nothing else from morning till night for more than two
years, because I meant to ask you to marry me."

"All that time?"

"All that time."

"But Ranny, you know you _needn't_. I'm quite happy."

"Are you?"

"Yes. You mustn't think I'm not and that you've got to make anything up
to me, because that would make me feel as if I'd--there's a word for it,
I know, but I can't think of it. It's what horrid girls do to men when
they're trying to get hold of them--as if I'd comp--comprised--"

"D'you mean compromised?"

"Yes."

"I make you feel as if you'd compromised me?"

"That's right."

"Well, I _am_ jiggered! If that doesn't about take the biscuit! Winky,
you're a blessing, you're a treasure, you're a treat; I could live for a
fortnight on the things you find to say."

He would have drawn her to him, but she held herself rigid.

"Well, but--I haven't--have I?"

"If you mean, have you made me want to marry you, you _have_. Haven't I
told you I've thought of nothing else for more than two years?"

"D'you want it so badly, Ranny?"

"I want _you_ so badly. Didn't you know I did? Of course you knew."

"No, Ranny, I didn't. I thought all the time perhaps some day poor
Virelet would come back."

"She'll never come back."

"But, if she did? If she changed her mind? Perhaps she's changed it now
and wants to come back and be good."

"If she did I wouldn't take her."

He felt her eyes turn on him through the dark in wonder.

"But you'd have to. You couldn't not."

"I could, and I would."

"No, Ranny, you wouldn't. You'd never be cruel to poor Vi."

"Don't talk about her. Don't think about her."

"But we must. There she is. There she's always been--"

"And here we are. And here we've always been. Have you ever thought for
a minute of _yourself_? Have you ever thought of _me_? I'm sick of
hearing you say 'poor Vi.' Poor Vi! D'you know why I won't take her
back? Why I can't forgive her? It's not for what you know she's done.
It's for something you never knew about. I've a good mind to tell you."

"No--don't. I'd rather not know. Whatever it was, she couldn't help it."

"You ought to know. It was something she did to you."

"She never did anything to me, Ranny."

"Didn't she? She did something to me that came to the same thing. I
suppose you think I cared for her before I cared for you?"

"Well--yes."

"I didn't then. It was the other way about. And she knew it. And she
lied to me about you. She told me you didn't care for me."

"She told you--?"

"She told me."

"I didn't think that Virelet would have done that."

"Nor I."

She paused, considering it.

"How did you find out it was a lie, Ranny? Oh--oh--I suppose I showed
you--"

"Not you. She owned up herself."

"When?"

"That night she went off. She wrote it in that letter. She told me why
she did it, too. It was because she knew I cared for you and was afraid
I'd marry you. She wasn't going to have that. Now you know what she is."

"Why did you believe her?"

"Why, Winky, you, you little wretch, you took care of that all right."

"But, Ranny, if you cared for me, why did you marry her?"

"Because I was mad and she was mad, and we neither of us knew what we
were doing. It was something that got hold of us."

"Aren't you mad now, Ranny?"

"Rather! But I know what I'm doing all the same. I didn't know when I
married Violet."

"Don't talk as if you didn't care for her. You _did_ care."

"Of course I cared for her. But even that was different somehow. _She_
was different. Why do you bother about her?"

"I'm only wondering how you'd feel if you was to see her again."

"I shouldn't feel anything--anything at all. Seeing her would have no
more effect on me than if she was a piece of clockwork." He paused.

"I say--you're not afraid of her?" he said.

"No. I've been through all that and got over it. I'm not afraid of
anything."

"You mean you're not afraid to marry me?"

"No. I'm not afraid."

He felt her smile flicker in the darkness.

It was then that in the darkness he drew her to him, and she let herself
be drawn, her breast to his breast and her head against his shoulder.
And as she rested there she trembled, she shivered with delight and
fear.



CHAPTER XXIX


He had seen her home. At her door in the quiet Avenue he had held her in
his arms again and kissed her. Her eyes shone at his under the
lamplight.

He went back slowly, reviving the sweet sense of her.

A great calm had followed his excitement. He was sustained by an
absolute certainty of happiness. It was in his grasp, nothing could take
it from him. He would raise the rest of the money on Monday. He would
see that lawyer on Wednesday. Then he would take proceedings. Once he
had set the machinery going it couldn't be stopped. The law simply took
the thing over, took it out of his hands, and he ceased to be
responsible.

So he argued; for at the back of his mind he saw more clearly than ever
(he could not help seeing) something that might stop it all, disaster so
great, so overwhelming that when it came his affairs would be swallowed
up in it. In the face of that disaster it would be indecent of him to
have any affairs of his own, or at any rate to insist on them. But he
refused to dwell on this possibility. He persuaded himself that his
father was better, that he would even recover, and that the business
would recover too. For the last six months Ponting had been running it
with an assistant under him, and between them they had done wonders with
it, considering.

And on the Sunday something occurred that confirmed him in his rosy
optimism.

His father was having another good day, and they had wheeled him into
the front sitting-room. Upstairs in the small back room Ransome was
getting the children ready for their Sunday walk, when his mother came
to him.

"Ranny," she said, "take off their hats and coats, dear. Your Father
wants them."

"What does he want them for?"

"It's his fancy. He's gettin' better, I think. I don't know when I've
seen him so bright and contented as he's been these last two days. And
so pleased with everything you do for him--There, take them down, dear,
quick."

He took them down and led them into the room. But they refused to look
at their grandfather; they turned from him at once; they hid their faces
behind Ranny's legs.

"They're afraid of me, I suppose," said Mr. Ransome.

"No," said Ranny, "they're not." But he had to take Stanny in his arms
and comfort him lest he should cry.

"You're not afraid of Gran, are you? Show Gran your pretty pinny, Doss."

He gave her a gentle push, and the child stood there holding out her
pinafore and gazing over it at her grandfather with large, frightened
eyes. Mr. Ransome's eyes looked back at her. They were sunken, somber,
wistful, unutterably sad. He did not speak. He did not smile. It was
impossible to say what he was thinking.

This mutual inspection lasted for a moment so intense that it seemed
immeasurable. Then Mr. Ransome closed his eyes as if pained and
exhausted.

And Ranny stooped and whispered, "Kiss him, Dossie, kiss poor Gran."

The child, perceiving pity somewhere and awed into submission, did her
best, but her kiss barely brushed the sallow, waxen face. And as he felt
her there Mr. Ransome opened his eyes suddenly and looked at her again,
and Dossie, terrified, turned away and burst out crying.

"She's shy. She's a silly little girl," said Ranny, as he led her away.
He knew that, in the moment when the child had turned from him, his
father had felt outcast from life and utterly alone.

Mr. Ransome stirred and looked after him. "You come back here," he said.
"I've something to say to you."

Ranny took the children to his mother and went back. Mr. Ransome was
sitting up in his chair. He had roused himself. He looked strangely
intelligent and alert.

He signed to his son to sit near him.

"How old are those children?" he said.

"Dossie was five in March, and Stanny was three in April."

"And they've been--how long without their mother?"

"It'll be three years next October."

"Why don't you get rid of that woman?" said Mr. Ransome. It was as if
with effort and with pain and out of the secret, ultimate sources of his
being that he drew the energy to say it. They would never know what he
was thinking, never know (as Ranny had once said) what was going on
inside him. And of all impossible things, _this_ was what he had come
out with now!

"Do you mean that, Father?"

"Of course I mean it."

"Well, then--as it happens--it's what I'm going to do."

"You should have done it before."

"I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"I hadn't the money."

Mr. Ransome closed his eyes again as if in pain.

"I'd have given it you, Randall," he said, presently. He had opened his
eyes, but they wandered uneasily, avoiding his son's gaze. "If I'd had
it. But I hadn't. I've been doing badly."

And again his eyelids dropped and lifted.

"Things have gone wrong that hadn't ought to if I'd been what I should
be."

There was anguish in Ranny's father's eyes now. They turned to him for
reassurance. As if in some final act of humility and contrition, he
unbared and abased himself, he laid down the pretension of integrity.

His shawl had slipped from his knees. His hands moved over it as if,
having unbared, he now sought to cover himself. Ransome stooped over him
and drew the shawl up higher and wrapped it closer with careful, tender
touches.

"Don't worry about that," he said.

"Your Mother'll be all right, Randall. She's got a bit of her own. It's
all there, except what she put into the business. You won't have to
trouble about her." He paused. "Have you got the money now?" he said.

"I shall have. To-morrow, probably."

"Then don't you wait."

"It'll be beastly work, you know, Father. Are you sure you don't mind?"

"What _I_ mind is your being married to that woman. I never liked it,
Randall."

He closed his eyes. His face became more than ever drawn and peaked. His
mouth opened. With short, hard gasps he fought for the breath he had so
spent.

Ransome's heart reproached him because he had not cared enough about his
father. And he said to himself, "He must have cared a lot more than he
ever let on."

The way to the Divorce Court had been made marvelously smooth for him.
His mother couldn't say now that it would kill his father.

But on Monday morning things did not go with Ransome entirely as he had
expected. Shaftesbury Avenue refused to lend him more than ten pounds on
the security of his furniture. Still, that was a trifling hitch. Now
that the proceedings had been consecrated by his father's sanction,
there could be no doubt that his mother would be glad to lend him the
five pounds. He would ask her for it that evening as soon as he got
home.

       *       *       *       *       *

But he did not ask her that evening, nor yet the next. He did not ask
her for it at all. For as soon as he got home she came to him out of his
father's room. She stood at the head of the stairs by the door of the
room, leaning against the banisters. And she was crying.

"Is Father worse?" he said.

"He's going, my dear. There's a trained nurse just come. She's in there
with the doctor. But they can't do anything."

He drew her into the front room, and she told him what had happened.

"He was sittin' in his chair there like he was yesterday--so bright--and
I thought he was better, and I made him a drop of chicken broth and sat
with him while he took it. Then I left him there for a bit and went
upstairs to the children--Dossie was sick this morning--"

"Dossie--?"

"It's nothing--she's upset with something she's eaten--and I was there
with her ten minutes per'aps, and when I came back I found your Father
in a fit. A convulsion, the doctor says it was; he said all along he
might have them, but I thought he was better. And he's had another this
evening, and he hasn't come round out of it right. He doesn't know me,
Ranny."

He had nothing to say to her. It was as if he had known that it would
happen, and that it would happen like this, that he would come home at
this hour and find his mother standing at the head of the stairs, and
that she would tell him these things in these words. He even had the
feeling that he ought to have told _her_, to have warned her that it
would be so.

On Wednesday evening, at eight o'clock, when Ransome should have been in
the lawyer's room at the Polytechnic, he was standing by his father's
bed. Mr. Ransome had partially recovered consciousness, and he lay
supported by his son's arms in preference to his own bed. For his bed
had become odious to him, sinking under him, falling from him
treacherously as he sank and fell, whereas Ranny's muscles adjusted
themselves to all his sinkings and fallings. They remained and could be
felt in the disintegration that presently separated them from the rest
of Ranny, Ranny's arms being there, close under him, and Ranny's face a
long way off at the other end of the room.

The process of dissolution had nothing to do with Mr. Ransome. It went
on, not in him but outside him, in the room. He was almost unaware of
it, it was so inconceivably gradual, so immeasurably slow. First of all
the room began to fill with gray fog, and for ages and ages Ranny's face
and his wife's face hung over him, bodiless, like pale lumps in the fog.
Then for ages and for ages they were blurred, and then withdrawn from
him, then blotted out.

This dying, which was so eternally tedious to Mr. Ransome, lasted about
twenty minutes, so that at half past eight, when Ranny should have been
listening to his legal adviser, he was trying to understand what the
doctor was trying to tell him about the causes, the very complicated
causes of his father's death.

       *       *       *       *       *

And with Mr. Ransome's death there came again on Ranny and his mother,
and on all of them, the innocence and the immense delusion in which they
had lived, in which they had kept it up, in the days before Ranny's wife
had run away from him and before Ranny's enlightenment and his awful
outburst. Only the innocence was ten times more persistent, the delusion
ten times more solemn and more unutterably sacred now. Mr. Ransome's
death made it impossible for them to speak or think or feel about him
otherwise than if he had been a good man. If Ranny could have doubted it
he would have stood reproved. From the doctor's manner, from his Uncle
Randall's manner and his Aunt Randall's, from Mr. Ponting's and the
assistant's manner, and from the manner, the swollen grief, uncontrolled
and uncontrollable, of the servant Mabel, he would have gathered that
his father was a good man.

But Ransome never doubted it. He spoke, he thought, he felt as if his
father's death had left him inconsolable. It was the death of a man who
had made them all ashamed and miserable; who had tried to take the joy
out of Ranny's life as he had already taken it out of Ranny's mother's
face; who had hardly ever spoken a kind word to him; who, if it came to
that, had never done anything for him beyond contributing,
infinitesimally, to his existence. And even this Mr. Ransome had done by
accident and inadvertence, thinking (if he could be said to have been
thinking at all) of his own pleasure and not of his son's interests; for
Ranny, if he had been consulted, would probably have preferred to owe
his existence to some other parent.

And even in his last act, his dying, in his choice of that hour, of all
hours open to him to die in, Mr. Ransome had inflicted an incurable
injury upon his son. He had timed it to a minute. And Ranny knew it. He
had had the idea firmly fixed in his head that if he did not go to the
Polytechnic and find out how to set about filing his petition that
Wednesday night, he would never get his divorce. Things would happen,
they were bound to happen if he gave them time.

And yet that death, so ill-timed, so disastrous for Ranny in its
consequences, Ranny mourned as if it had been in itself an affliction,
an irreparable loss. He felt with the most entire sincerity that now
that the Humming-bird was dead he would never be happy again.

On the Sunday after the funeral, which was on the Saturday, he sat in
the front parlor with his mother and Mr. and Mrs. Randall, listening
with a dumb but poignant acquiescence to all that they were saying about
his father. Their idea now was that Mr. Ransome was not only a good man,
a man of indissoluble integrity, but a man of unimaginably profound
emotions, of passionate affections concealed under the appearance of
austerity.

"No one knows," Mrs. Ransome was saying, "what 'E was thinking and what
'E was feeling--what went on inside him no one ever knew. For all he
said about it you'd have thought he didn't take much notice of what
happened--Ranny's trouble--and yet I know he felt it something awful. It
preyed on 'is mind, poor Ranny being left like that. Why, it was after
that, if you remember, that he began to break up. I put all his illness
down to that.

"And then the children--you might say he didn't take much notice of
them, but 'E was thinking about them all the time, you may depend upon
it. 'E sent for them the Sunday before he died. I'm glad he did, too.
Aren't you, Ranny?"

"Yes, Mother," Ranny said, and choked.

"It'll be something for them to remember him by when they grow up. But
they'll never know what was in his heart. None of us ever knew nor ever
will know, now."

"He was a good man, Emmy, and a kind man--and just. I never knew any one
more just than Fulleymore. We were saying so only last night, weren't
we?"

"Yes, John," said Mrs. Randall. "We were saying you could always depend
upon his word. And, as _you_ say, there were things in him we never
knew--and never shall know."

And so it went on, with tearful breaks and long, oppressive silences,
until some one would think of some as yet unmentioned quality of Mr.
Ransome's. Every now and then, in the silences, one of them would be
visited by some involuntary memory of his unpleasantness and of the
furtive vice that had destroyed him, and would thrust the thought back
with horror, as outrageous, indecent, and impossible. They all spoke in
voices of profound emotion and with absolute, unfaltering conviction.

"We shall never know what was in him." Always they came back to that,
they dwelt on it, they clung to it. Under all the innocence and the
delusion it was as if, through their grief, they touched reality, they
felt the unaltered, unapparent splendor, and testified to the mystery,
to the ultimate and secret sanctity of man's soul.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of all that Ransome was aware obscurely, he shared their sense of that
hidden and incalculable and enduring life. But his own grief was
different from theirs. It was something unique, peculiar to himself and
incommunicable.

Even he had not realized what was at the bottom of his grief until he
found himself alone with it, walking with it on the road to Southfields.
He had left the Randalls with his mother and had escaped, with an
irritable longing for the darkness and the open air. He knew that the
reason why he wanted to get away from them was that his grief was so
different from theirs.

For they were innocent; they had nothing to reproach themselves with. If
they had not loved his father quite so much as they thought they did,
they had done the next best thing; they had never let him know it. They
had behaved to him, they had thought of him, in consequence, more
kindly, more tenderly than if they _had_ loved him; in which case they
would not have felt the same obligation to be careful. They had never
hurt him. Whereas he--

That was why he would give anything to have his father back again. It
was all right for them. He couldn't think what they were making such a
fuss about. They had carried their behavior to such a pitch of
perfection that they could perfectly well afford to let him go. There
was no reason why they should want him back again, to show him--

All this Ranny felt obscurely. And the more he thought about it the more
it seemed to him horrible that anybody should have lived as his father
had lived and die as he had died, without anybody having really loved
him. It was horrible that he, Ranny, should not have loved him. For that
was what it came to; that was what he knew about himself; that and
nothing else was at the bottom of his grief, and it was what made it so
different from theirs. It was as if he realized for the first time in
his life what pity was. He had never known what a terrible, what an
intolerable thing was this feeling that was so like love, that should
have been love and yet was not. For he didn't deceive himself about it
as his mother (mercifully for her) was deceiving herself at this moment.
This intolerable and terrible feeling was not love. In love there would
have been some happiness.

Walking slowly, thinking these things, or rather feeling them, vaguely
and incoherently, he had come to the grove by the public footpath. It
was there that he had sat with his mother more than six years ago, when
she had as good as confessed to him that she had not loved her husband;
not, that was to say, as she had loved her child.

And it was there, only the other night, that he had sat with Winny. One
time seemed as long ago as the other.

And it was there that Winny was sitting now, on their seat, alone,
facing the way he came, as if positively she had known that he would
come.

He realized then that it was Winny that he wanted, and that the grief he
found so terrible and intolerable was driving him to her, though when he
started he had not meant to go to her, he had not known that he would
go.

She rose when she saw him and came forward.

"Ranny! Were you coming to me?"

"Yes." (He knew it now.) "Let's stay here a bit. I've left Uncle and
Aunt with Mother."

"How is she?"

"Oh--well, it's pretty awful for her."

"It must be."

He was sitting near her but a little apart, staring at the lamplit road.
She felt him utterly removed from her. Yet he was there. He had come to
her.

"I don't think," he said, presently, "Mother'll ever be happy again. _I_
sha'n't, either."

She put her hand on his hand that lay palm downward between them on the
seat and that was stretched toward her, not as if it sought her
consciously, but in utter helplessness. There was no response in it
beyond a nervous quivering that struck through her fingers to her heart.

He went on. "It's not as if _he_ had been happy. He wasn't. Couldn't
have been."

She fell to stroking gently that hand under her own. Its nervous
quivering ceased.

"You know that funny way he had--the way he used to go poppin' in and
out as if he was lookin' for somebody? That's what I can't bear to think
of. Like as if he'd wanted something badly and wouldn't let on to
anybody about it. Nobody knew what was going on inside him all these
years. That's the horrible thing. We ought to have known and we didn't.
There he was, poppin' in and out, and he might have been a mile off for
all we could get at him. We didn't know anything about him--not reelly."

He mused.

"That's it. We don't know anything about anybody--ever. I didn't know
anything about Virelet--don't know now. I never shall know. Come to
that, I don't know anything about you. Nor you about me--reelly."

"Oh, Ranny," she whispered. It was her one protest against the agony he
was making her share with him.

"What do we know about anything? What does it all mean? The whole
bloomin' show? The Combined Maze? They shove us into it without our
leave. They make us do things we don't want to do and never meant to do.
I didn't want to care for Virelet. I wanted to care for you. I didn't
want to marry her, nor she me. I didn't mean to. I meant to marry you.
But I did care for her, and I did marry her. I don't suppose _he_ wanted
to do like he did or ever meant to. And look how he was treated--shoved
in--livin' his horrible little life down there--doin' the things he
didn't mean--lookin' for things he never got--and then shunted like
this, all anyhow, God knows where--before he could put a hand on
anything. There's no sense in it.

"I wouldn't mind so much if I'd only cared for him. But I didn't. I
wanted to--I meant to--but I didn't. There you are again. It's all like
that and there's no sense in it."

"But you _did_ care, Ran, dear. You're caring now. You couldn't talk
like this about him if you didn't care."

"No. I'm talkin' like this--because I didn't care. Not a rap. My God! If
I thought Stanny would ever feel to me as I felt to my father, I'd go
and kill myself."

"But he won't, dear. You haven't behaved to him like your father behaved
to you," said Winny, calmly.

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. At any rate, you will know presently when you can
look at it as it reelly is. Nobody could have done more for your father
than you did. If he'd been the best father in the world you couldn't
have done more."

"Doin' things is nothing. Besides, I didn't. D'you know, I wouldn't go
into his business when he wanted me to? I wouldn't do it, just because I
couldn't bear bein' with him all the time. And he knew it."

"I don't care if he did know it, Ranny. You'd a perfect right to live
your own life. You'd a right to choose what you'd do and where you'd be.
As it was, you never had any life of your own where your father was
about. I can remember how it was, dear, if you don't. If you'd given in
because he wanted you to; if you'd been boxed up with him down there
from morning till night, you'd never have had any life at all. Not as
much as _that_! And then, instead of caring for him as you did, you'd
have got to hate him, and then he'd have hated you; and your mother
would have been torn between you. That's how it would have been, and you
knew it. Else you'd never have left him."

"I say--fancy your knowin' all that!"

"Of course I know it. I knew it all the time."

"Who told you?"

"You don't have to be told things like that, Ranny."

The hand she was stroking moved from under her hand and caught it and
grasped it tight.

"Didn't I always know you were a dear?" she went on. "You said I didn't
know anything about you. But I knew that much."

"Yes--but--how did you know I cared for him?"

"Oh, why--because--you couldn't have called him the Humming-bird and
all those funny names you did if you hadn't cared. And, of course, he
knew that too. That's what he wouldn't let on, dear--the lot he knew. It
must have made him feel so nice and comfortable inside him to know that
whatever he was to do you'd go on calling him a Humming-bird."

"D'you think it did--reelly?"

"Why--don't you remember how it used to make your mother smile? Well,
then."

Well, then, she seemed to say, it was all right.

That was how she brought him round, to sanity when he thought his brain
was going and to happiness when he felt it so improbable, not to say
impossible, that he should ever be happy again.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fortnight passed.

In the three days following the death he had not thought once about his
own concerns. He simply hadn't time to think of them. Every minute he
could spare was taken up with the arrangements for his father's funeral.
Sunday had been given over to mourning and remorse. It was Monday
morning and the weeks following it that brought back the thought of his
divorce. They brought it back, first, in all its urgency, as a thing
vehemently and terribly desired, then as a thing, urgent indeed, but
private and personal and, therefore, of secondary importance, a thing
that must perforce stand over until the settlement of his father's
affairs, till finally (emerging from the inextricable tangle in which it
had become involved) it presented itself as it was, a thing hopeless and
unattainable.

His father's affairs were worse than anything he had believed. For,
except for that terror born of his own private superstition, he had not
really looked forward to disaster on an overwhelming scale.... He had
imagined his father's business as surviving him only for a little while,
and his father's debts as entailing perhaps strict economy for years.
But for the actual figures he was not prepared.

And how his father, limited as he was in his resources and destitute,
you would have thought, of all opportunity for wild expenditure, how he
could have contrived to owe the amount he did owe passed Ranny's
understanding.

Into that pit of insolvency there went all that was fetched by the sale
of the stock and the goodwill of the business and all that Mrs. Ransome
had put into the business, including what she had saved out of her tiny
income. As for Ranny's savings and the sum he had borrowed--the whole
thirty pounds--they went to pay for the funeral and the grave and the
monumental stone.

There could be no divorce. Divorce was not to be thought of for more
than two years, when he would have got his rise.

He broke the news to Winny, sitting with her in their little halfway
grove, the place consecrated to Ranny's confidences.

"I can't do different," he said, summing it all up.

"Of course, you can't. Never mind, dear. Let's go on as we are."

It was what Violet had said to him, but with how different a meaning!

"But Winky--it means waiting years. It'll be more than two before I can
get a divorce--and we can't marry till six months after. That's three
years. I can't bear to ask you to wait so long."

"Don't worry about me. I'm quite happy."

"You don't know how much happier you would be. Me too."

She pressed her face against his shoulder.

"I don't think I could be any happier than I am."

"You don't know," he repeated. "You don't know anything at all."

"I know I love you and you me, and that's enough."

"Oh--_is_ it?"

"It's the great thing."

"Winny, d'you know, that if poor Father hadn't died when he did--we
missed it by a day. To think it could happen like that!"

He clinched it with, "This Combined Maze has been a bit too much for you
and me."



CHAPTER XXX


Mrs. Ransome for the first time in her life was thinking. She called it
thinking, although that was no word for it, for its richness, its
amplitude, its peculiar secret certainty. You might say that for the
first time in her life Mrs. Ransome was fully conscious; that, with an
extraordinary vividness and clarity she saw things, not as she believed
and desired them to be, but as they were.

She saw, for the first time since Mr. Ransome's death, that she was
happy; or rather, that she had been happy for more than two years, that
is to say, ever since Mr. Ransome's death. And this vision of her
happiness, of her iniquitous and disgraceful satisfaction, was shocking
to Mrs. Ransome. She would have preferred to think that ever since Mr.
Ransome's death she had been heartbroken.

But it was not so. Never in all her life had she been so at peace; never
since her girlhood had she been so gay. This state of hers had lasted
exactly two years and four months, thus clearly dating from her
bereavement. For it was in May of nineteen-ten that he had died, and she
was now in September nineteen-twelve.

She might not have been aware of it but that it, her happiness, had only
six months more to run.

For two years and four months she had had her son Ranny to herself. She
had been the mistress of his house, the little house that she loved,
and the mother of his children whom (next to her son Ranny) she adored.
For two years and four months she had made him comfortable with a
comfort he had never dreamed of, which most certainly he had never
known. With tenderness and care and vigilance unabridged and unremitted,
she had brought Granville and Stanley and Dossie to perfection. It had
not been so hard. Stanley and Dossie she had found almost perfect from
the first, more perfect than Ranny she had found them, because they were
not so near to her own flesh, and not loved so passionately as he.

And Granville, once far from perfect, had responded to treatment like a
living thing. Maudie and Fred Booty had cherished it, they handed it on
to Mrs. Ransome spotless and intact. Spotless and intact she had kept
it. Spotless and intact no doubt it would be kept when, in six months'
time, she in turn would hand it over to Winny Dymond, to Ranny's second
wife.

He had only just told her.

That was what hurt her most, that she had only just been told, when for
more than two years he had been thinking of it. It was no use saying
that he couldn't have told her before, because he wasn't free. He wasn't
free now; not properly, like a widower.

That he would, after all, get rid of poor Violet, who hadn't, in all
those years, troubled him or done him any harm, _that_ had been a blow
to her. She hadn't believed it possible. She had thought the question of
divorce had been settled once for all, five years ago, by his Uncle
Randall. And John Randall in the meanwhile had justified his claim to
be heard, and his right to settle things. He had canceled the debt that
poor Fulleymore had owed him. To be sure, he could afford it. He was
more prosperous and prominent than ever. He was, therefore, less than
ever likely to approve of the divorce.

If the idea of divorce had been appalling five years ago, it was still
more appalling now. Since, after all, poor Violet had removed herself so
far and kept so quiet, the scandal of her original disappearance had
somehow diminished with every year, while, proportionately, with every
year, the scandal, the indecency, the horror of the Divorce Court had
increased, until now it seemed to be a monstrous thing.

And that Ranny should have chosen this time of all times! When they'd
paid off all the creditors and got clear, and stood respected and
respectable again. As if his poor father's insolvency, which, after all,
he couldn't help (since it was the Drug Stores that had ruined him), as
if that wasn't enough disgrace for one family, he must needs go and rake
up all that awful shame and trouble, after all these years, when
everybody had forgotten that there _had_ been any trouble and any shame.

That was what Mrs. Ransome found so hard to bear. And that she had been
deceived; that he should have let her go on thinking that it wasn't
possible, up to the last minute (it was Saturday and he was going to the
lawyer on Monday), she who had the first right to be told.

All these years he had deceived her. All these years he had meant to do
it the very minute he had got his rise.

For Ransome had attained the summit of his ambition. He was now a petty
cashier with a pen all to himself at the top of the counting-house, and
an income of two hundred a year. Short of making him assistant secretary
(which was ridiculous) Woolridge's could do no more for him.

And Winny Dymond (Mrs. Ransome reflected bitterly), though he hadn't
been free to speak to her, though he was practically (it didn't occur to
Mrs. Ransome that what she meant was theoretically) a married man, Winny
had known it all the time.

It was extraordinary, but Mrs. Ransome, who was really fond of Winny,
felt toward her more acute and concentrated bitterness than she had felt
toward Violet, whom she hated. She was able to think of Ranny's first
wife as poor Violet, though Violet had made him miserable and destroyed
his home and had left him and his children. And the thought of his
marrying Winny Dymond was intolerable to Mrs. Ransome, though she had
recognized her as the one woman Ranny ought to have married, the one
woman worthy of him, and she would have continued to welcome her in that
capacity as long as Ranny had refrained from marrying her.

For Ranny's mother knew that in Violet her motherhood had had no rival.
Violet's passion for Ranny, Ranny's passion for Violet, had not robbed
her of her son. Violet, not having in her one atom of natural feeling,
and caring only for her husband's manhood and his physical perfection,
had left to Mrs. Ransome all that was most dear to her in Ranny. Married
to Violet, he was still dependent on his mother. He clung to her, he
deferred to her judgment, he came to her for comfort. If he had been
ill it was she and not Violet who would have nursed him. Whereas Winny
would take all that away from her. She would take--she could not help
taking--Ranny utterly away; not from malice, not from selfishness, not
because she wanted to take him, but because she could not help it. She
was so made as to be all in all to him, so made as to draw him to her
all in all. There would be absolutely nothing of Ranny left over for his
mother, except the affection he had always felt for her, which, for a
woman of Mrs. Ransome's temperament, was the least thing that she
claimed. Her instinct had divined Winny infallibly, not only as a wife
to Ranny, but as a mother. A mother Winny was and would be to him far
more than if she had used her womanhood to bear him children.

So that, without the smallest preparation, she saw herself required at
six months' notice to give up her son. And while she blamed him for not
having told her, she overlooked the fact that if she had been told she
could not have borne the knowledge. It would have poisoned for her every
day of the eight hundred and forty-five days for which in her ignorance
she had been so happy.

She did not attempt to deny that she had been happy. But what she had
_said_ to Ranny when he told her was, "It's a mercy your poor father
doesn't know."

And in that moment she thought of her happiness with a sharp pang as if
it had been unfaithfulness to her dead husband.

It was at half past seven on a Saturday evening in the last week of
September, nineteen-twelve, that Mrs. Randall sat alone in the back
sitting-room at Granville and meditated miserably on those things.

Upstairs in his bedroom overhead she could hear Ranny moving very
softly, for fear of waking Stanley. She knew what he was doing. He was
changing, making himself smart enough to take Winny Dymond to the Earl's
Court Exhibition.

       *       *       *       *       *

Upstairs in his bedroom overhead, Ranny moved very softly, for fear of
waking Stanley. He was changing into a new gray suit, making himself
more smart than he had been for years to take Winny to the Earl's Court
Exhibition.

In that shirt, glistening, high-collared, in a gray-blue tie, in
gray-blue socks and brown boots, Ranny looked very smart indeed. And the
suit, the suit looked splendid, the fold down the legs of the trousers
being as yet unimpaired.

And Ranny looked young, ever so young still, though he was thirty-two.
The faint lines at the corner of his eyes and of his mouth accentuated
agreeably their upward tilt. He had gained distinction by the increasing
firmness of his face. Virile in its adolescence, it had kept its youth
in its maturity. Ranny's face expressed him. It was fine and clean; it
had not one mean or faltering line in it. And his figure had not, after
all, deteriorated. Flabbiness was as far from him as it had been in his
youth.

With infinite precautions, Ranny opened a drawer where he found a small
japanned tin box, very new. This he unlocked softly, and from a little
canvas bag that lay in the compartment specially reserved for it he took
a sovereign, one of four, that represented rather more than a week's
proportion of his new salary.

He had made up his mind that when the day came he would spend no less a
sum. So great a rise could not be celebrated on less. If a cashier of
Woolridge's could have been capable of saving, say, one and ninepence
out of that sovereign, the man who was engaged to Winny Dymond would
have died rather.

Of course, it was a thundering lot to spend. But then Ranny desired, he
was determined to spend a thundering lot. It was extravagant, but he
wished to be extravagant. It was reckless, irresponsible, but reckless
and irresponsible was what he felt. He meant to go it. He meant to have
his fling just for once. And he meant that Winny, who had never had
hers, nor any share in anybody else's, should taste, just for once, the
rapture of a fling. She should have it for three solid hours of that
delicious night, in one mad, flaming, stupendous orgy at the Earl's
Court Exhibition.

For it wasn't really his rise that called for it. That was only a means
to his divorce and marriage. It was his engagement that he proposed to
celebrate.

The engagement, though he could hardly believe it, was a fact. True, it
could not be made public until a decent interval after the divorce; but
it had been acknowledged and settled between him and Winny as soon as
ever he knew that he had got his rise. They would never celebrate it at
all if they didn't celebrate it now before all the beastliness began.

For he knew perfectly well that it would be beastly. Winny would feel it
even more than he did. She would feel it for him. Things that they had
both forgotten would be raked up again, all the misery and all the
shame. Now that it was imminent he dreaded the Divorce Court. His Uncle
Randall could not have shrunk more painfully from this public washing of
his dirty linen. He would come out of the Great Washhouse feeling
almost, but not quite as unclean as if his linen had been kept at home
and never washed at all.

And the trail of all that nastiness would spread over the six months of
their engagement; it would poison everything.

He didn't mean to think about it or let Winny think. They were going to
enjoy themselves to-night while they could, while they still felt
innocent and clean and jolly.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stooped for a moment over the crib where his little son lay curled
and snuggling, his face hidden, his head, with its crop of dark hair,
showing like the fur of some soft burrowing animal. He freed the little
mouth muffled in bedclothes, and tucked the blankets closer. He picked
up Stanny's Teddy bear that had fallen lamentably to the floor, and laid
it where Stanny would find it beside him when he woke.

Treading softly, he went into the next room where Dossie lay in her own
little bed beside his mother's, her little seven-year-old girl body
stretched out in all its dainty slenderness (so unlike Stanny's. He saw
with a pang of sudden passion the sweet difference). Her face, laid
sideways in her golden-brown hair, showed already a fine edge, nose, and
mouth and chin turned subtly, and carved out of their baby softness to
the likeness of his own. He stooped and kissed Dossie's hair, and took
without touching the sweetness of her mouth. Then he ran softly down the
stairs.

His mother heard him running and came to the door of the room. "You're
not going out like that," she said, "without an overcoat? It'll rain
before you're back, I know, and that new suit'll be ruined."

"Rot! It _can't_ rain on a night like this. Good night, Mother. Don't go
sittin' up. I don't know when I'll be in."

"I'll hot some cocoa for you last thing and leave it on the trivet."

"Sha'n't want cocoa."

"What shall you want then?"

"Oh, Lord!" His nerves were all on edge. He couldn't bear it.
"_Nothing!_" he cried, as he rushed out.

At the gate it struck him that he had been a brute to her. He turned. He
rushed back to her. He put his arm round her and kissed her.

"You're all right now, aren't you?"

"Yes, Ran, dear, I'm all right." She smiled. "Run away and don't keep
Winny waiting."

(Heaven only knew what it cost her.)

And Ranny looked back, laughing, through the doorway. "You know, Mother,
it reelly _is_ all right. And you're an angel."

And she said, "There! Go along with you."

He went.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Ranny, how nice you look!"

Winny herself was looking nice and knew it. She wore a green cotton
gown trimmed with white pipings, and a thing she called a Peggy hat that
was half a bell and half a bonnet and had diminutive roses sewn on it
here and there like buttons.

They were going down the long entrance to the Exhibition, between
painted walls, in brilliant illumination, and in publicity that might
have been trying if they had had eyes for anything except each other.

Winny's eyes were brimming with joy and tenderness as she looked at him.
If she loved the new gray suit, the brown boots, and the Trilby hat, she
did not love them more than the shabby blue serge with the place she
knew in the lining where she had mended it. All the same, it was
impossible to see him in such things without that little breathless
thrill of wonder and excitement. There wasn't one man at Earl's Court
that night who could compare with Ranny. He made them all look weedy,
flabby; pitiful, uninteresting things.

And then, all of a sudden (they were at the paygate), as she looked,
astonishment, grief, and anxiety appeared on Winny's face. Something had
dismayed her tenderness, dashed her joy. She had seen Ranny take out of
his waistcoat pocket gold--not ten shillings, but a whole sovereign. And
a dreadful fear awoke in her.

He was going to spend it all.

She knew it, something told her; she could see by the way he smacked it
down, careless like. And Winny couldn't bear it; she couldn't bear to
think that Ranny, who had pinched and scraped and done without things
for years, should go and throw away all that on her!

But anybody could see that he was going to do it, by the strange
excitement and abstraction in his eyes, by the way he gathered up the
change and took Winny by the arm and walked off with her. His eyes and
the close crook of his arm drawing her along with him in his course, the
slight leaning of his body toward hers as they went, his stride and the
set of his head proclaimed that he had got her, that she couldn't
escape, that he meant to go it, that he had the right to spend on her
more than he could possibly afford.

She could see what he was thinking. In one tremendous burst he was going
to make up to her now for all that she had missed. What was more, he was
going to rub it into her that he had the right to. She couldn't realize
their happiness as he did. They had been cheated out of it so long that
she couldn't believe in it, couldn't believe that it was actually in
their grasp, the shining, palpitating joy that for five years had been
dangled before them only to be jerked out of their hands. He wanted to
make her feel it; to make her taste and touch and handle the thing that
seemed impossible and yet was certain.

Ranny was intoxicated, he was reckless with certainty.

And Winny couldn't bear it. All the way up between the painted walls she
was trying to think what she could do to prevent his spending a whole
sovereign. She knew that it was no use fighting Ranny. The more she hung
on to him to stop him, the more Ranny would struggle and break loose.
Persuasion was no good. The more she reasoned, the more determined he
would be to spend that sovereign, and the more ways he would find to
spend it.

It was to be one of those mortal combats between man's will and woman's
wit. Winny meant to circumvent Ranny and to defeat him by guile.

And at first it looked as if it could be done easily. For at first the
Exhibition seemed to be on Winny's side.

They had emerged from between the painted walls into Shakespeare's
England, into the narrow, crooked streets under the queer old
overhanging houses with the swinging signs--hundreds of years old Ranny
said they were. And in the streets there were strange crowds, young men
and young women who went shouting and singing and were marvelously and
fantastically dressed. And they had glimpses through lattice windows of
marvelous and fantastic merchandise. Marvelous and fantastic it seemed
to Winny at first sight. But when she saw that it was just what they
were selling in the shops to-day the delicious confusion in her mind
heightened the effect of fantasy and of enchantment.

"I didn't think it would be like this," she said.

But why it was like that and why it was called Shakespeare's England,
what on earth Shakespeare had to do with it, Winny couldn't think.

"Shakespeare? Why, he wrote books, didn't he?"

"Plays, Winky, plays."

"Plays then."

And when Ranny told her that it meant that England was like this in
Shakespeare's time, hundreds of years ago, and reminded her that they
had a scene from one of his plays on at the Coliseum the other day,
Winny thought that only made it more marvelous and more like a dream
than ever.

And she thought Ranny was more marvelous than ever, with the things he
knew.

And then, having lured him into this tangled side issue, she began, as
cool and offhand as you please. He gave her the opening when he asked
her what she'd like to do next.

"This is good enough for me," she said.

For the most marvelous thing about Shakespeare's England was that you
could walk about in it free of charge.

He looked at her almost as if he knew what she was up to.

"But you've seen it, Winky. You've seen all there is of it. You don't
want to stay here all night, do you?"

He had her there, with his reminder of the hours they had to put in.

"Well"--she was lingering in the most natural manner, as if fascinated
by the exterior of the Globe Theater. For she wished to spin out the
time.

She saw Ranny's hand sliding toward his pocket.

"Would you like to go inside it?" he said.

"No, Ranny, dear, I wouldn't. At least, I'd rather not if you've no
objection."

She spoke firmly, seriously, as if she knew something against the Globe
Theater, as if the Globe Theater were disreputable or improper.

Then (it was wonderful how she contrived the little air of excited
inspiration), "Tell you what," she said, "let's go and sit down
somewhere and listen to the band. There's nothing I love so much as
listening to a band."

She knew that they charged nothing for listening to the band.

It was a prompting from the Exhibition itself, proving, here again, that
it was on her side, an entirely friendly and benignant power.

"All right," said Ranny. "_That's_ in the Western Garden."

He took her by the arm and drew her, not to the Western Garden, but to a
street (he seemed to know it by instinct) through which Shakespeare's
England, iniquitously, treacherously, led them to their doom, the Water
Chute.

For there the Exhibition threw off her mask and revealed herself as the
dangerous Enchantress that she was. Hung with millions of electric
bulbs, crowned and diademed, and laced with jewels of white flame, she
signaled to them out of the mystery and immensity of the night. For a
moment they were dumb, they stood still, as if they paused on the brink
and struggled, protesting against this ravishing of their souls by the
Exhibition. Straight in front of them, monstrous yet fragile, its
substance withdrawn into the darkness, its form outlined delicately in
beads of light, in brilliants, in crystals strung on invisible threads,
the Water Chute reared itself like a stairway to the sky, arch above
arch, peak above peak, diadem above diadem, tilted at a frightful pitch.
Chains of light, slung like garlands from tall standards, ringed the
long lake that stretched from their feet to the bottom of the stair. The
water, dark as the sky, showed mystic and enchanted, bordered with
trembling reeds of light.

From somewhere up in the sky, under the topmost diamonded arch, there
came a rumbling and a rushing--

It thrilled them, agitated them.

And their youth rose up in them. They looked at each other, and their
eyes, the eyes of their youth, shone with the same excitement and the
same desire.

She knew that he had deceived her, that this was not the Western Garden,
where the band played; she was aware that the Exhibition was not to be
trusted either; that it was in league with him against her; that if she
yielded to it they were lost. And yet she yielded. The deep and high
enchantment was upon her. The Exhibition had her by the hair. She was
borne on, breathless, unprotesting, to the white palings where the
paygate was.

It was worth it. She had to own it. Never before had either of them
tasted such ecstasy; from the precipitous climb in the truck that hauled
them, up and up, to the head of the high diamonded stair; the brief,
exciting passage along the gangway to the boat that waited for them, its
prow positively overhanging the topmost edge, the sliding lip of danger,
where the rails plunged shining to the blackness below; the race they
had for the front seat where, Ranny said, they would get the best of it;
and then--the downrush!

It was as if they had been shot, exulting, from the sky to the water,
sitting close, sitting tight, linked together, each with an arm round
the other's waist, and the hand that was free grasping the rail, their
bodies bowed to the hurricane of their speed, with the rapture in their
throats mounting and mounting, a towering, toppling climax of delight
and fear, as the boat shot from the rails into the water and rose like
a winged thing and leaped, urging to the heights that had sent it forth,
and dropped, perilously again, with a shudder and a smack, once, twice;
so tremendous was the impetus.

They heard young girls behind them scream for joy; but they were dumb,
they were motionless; they drank rapture through set teeth; it went
throbbing through them and thrilling, prolonging its brief life in
exquisite reverberations.

And as if that wasn't enough, they went and did it all over again.

And Winny struggled; she tried to hold him back; she put forth all her
innocent guile; she pitted her fragile charm against the stupendous
magic of the Exhibition. She loitered, spellbound to all appearance, in
the bazaar, before the streaming, shining booths that poured out their
strange merchandise, Italian, French, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese.

"I don't want to do anything but walk about and look at things," she
said. "Why, we might have traveled for years and not seen as much."

Winny seemed to be scoring points in the bazaar.

Then, before she knew where she was, Ranny, with all the power of the
Exhibition at his back, had bought her a present, a little heart-shaped
brooch made of Florentine turquoises.

That came of looking at things. She might have known it would.

"I'm tired of these shops," said Winny. "We shall be too late to hear
anything of the band."

Thus she drew him to the Western Garden, so that for the moment she
seemed to have it all in her own hands. For here there were more
lights, and even more extravagant and fantastic display of electric
jewelry, more garlands of diamond and crystal, illuminating, decorating
everything. And there were rubies hanging in strange trees, and at their
feet the glamour of light dissolved, half of it perished, gone from the
world, drunk up by the earth, half living on where gray walks wound like
paths in a dream, between rings of spectral green, islands of dimmed,
mysterious red, so transformed, so unclothed and clothed again by
glamour, as to be hardly discernible as beds of geraniums in grass.

Here they wandered for what seemed an eternity of bliss.

"What more do you want?" said Winny. "Isn't this beautiful enough for
anybody?" Neither of them had any idea that the beauty and the glamour
of it was in their own souls as they drank each other's mystery.

"Let's just sit and listen to the band," she said. And they sat and
listened to it for another eternity, till Ranny became restless. For
thirteen and eleven pence halfpenny was burning in his pocket.

The thought of it made him take her to a restaurant where they sat for
quite a long time and drank coffee and ate ices. Winny submitted to the
ices. They were delicious, and she enjoyed them without a shadow of
misgiving. She was, in fact, triumphant, for she looked on ices as the
close and crown of everything, and she calculated that out of that
sovereign there would be exactly eleven and twopence halfpenny left.

"Well--it's been lovely. And now we must go home," she said.

"Go home? Not much. Why, we've only just begun." He looked at her.
"D'you suppose I don't know what _you're_ up to? You're jolly clever,
but you can't take _me_ in, Winky. Not for a single minute."

"Well, then, Ranny, let me pay for _something_." And she took out her
little purse.

After that it was sheer headlong, shameful defeat for Winky. He had
found her out, he had seen through her man[oe]uvers, and he and the
Exhibition, the destructive and terrible Enchantress, had been laughing
at her all the time. A delirious devil had entered into Ranny with the
coffee and the ices, urging him to spend. And Winny ceased to struggle.
He knew at what point she would yield, he knew what temptations would be
irresistible. He got round her with the Alpine Ride; the Joy Wheel
fairly undermined her moral being; and on the Crazy Bridge Ranny's
delirious devil seized her and carried her away, reckless, into the
Dragon's Gorge.

Emerging as it were from the very jaws of the Dragon, they careered arm
in arm through the rest of the Exhibition, two rushing portents of youth
and extravagance and laughter; till, as if the Enchantress had twisted
her wand and whisked them there, they found themselves inside the
palisades of the Igorrote Village.

A swarm of half-naked savages leaped at them.

It was Ranny who recovered first.

"It's all right, Winky. They're the Philippine Islanders."

"Well, I never--"

"Nor I. Talk of travelin'--"

But it was all very well to talk. The sight had sobered them. Gravely
and silently they went through that village. At last, Ranny paused
outside a hut no bigger than a dog-kennel. It bore the label: "Beda And
His Fiancée Kodpat Undergoing Trial Marriage."

Ranny laughed. "By Jove, that tickles _me_!" he said.

"What does it mean, Ranny?"

"Why, I suppose it means they try it first and if they don't like it
they can chuck it."

"What an idea!"

"It's a rippin' good idea, Winky. Shows what a thunderin' lot of sense
these simple savages have got. You bet they're not quite so simple as
they seem. They know a thing or two. Why, they must be hundreds of years
ahead of us in civilization, to have thought it all out like that. Think
of it, that fellow Beda's had a better chance than me."

They turned away from Beda and Kodpat, and presently Winny stood
entranced before the little house that contained Baby Francis (born in
the Exhibition) and his mother. She looked so long at Baby Francis that
Ranny couldn't bear it.

"Oh, look at him, Ranny! Isn't he a little lamb?" Winny's eyes were
tender, and her face quivered with a little dreamy smile.

"D'you want to take him home and play with him? Shall I ask if he's for
sale?"

"Oh, Ranny!"

She turned away. And he drew her arm in his. "You won't be happy till
you've got him, Winky."

She said nothing to that; only her mouth, without her knowing it, kept
for him its little dreamy smile.

"I believe," said Ranny, "you've never reelly got over Stanley's goin'
into knickers."

"I _love_ his knickers," she protested.

"Yes, but you'd love _him_ better if he was that size, wouldn't you?"

"I couldn't love him better than I do, Ranny. You know I couldn't. And I
wouldn't like him to be any different to what he is."

She was very serious, very earnest, almost as if she thought he'd really
meant it.

Silent in the grip of an emotion too thick and close for utterance, they
wandered back again to the enchanted garden where the band had played
for them. The garden was silent, too. The bandstand was empty, black,
unearthly as if haunted by some thin ghost of passionate sound; and
empty, row after row of seats in the great parterre, except for a few
couples who sat leaning to each other, hand in hand, finding a happy
solitude in that twilight desolation.

Like worshipers strayed into some church, they joined this enraptured,
oblivious company of devotees, choosing seats as far as possible from
any other pair.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hadn't we better be going?"

They had sat there in silence, holding each other's hands. The
excitement, the delirious devil in them, had spent itself, and under it
they felt the heaving, dragging groundswell of their passion.

To Winny it had never come before like this. Up till now it had been
enough simply to be with Ranny. Merely to look at him gave her profound
and poignant pleasure. To touch him in those rare accidental contacts
the adventure brought them, to feel the firm muscles of his arm under
his coat sleeve, stopped her breath with a kind of awe and wonder, as if
in Ranny's body thus discerned she came unaware upon some transcendent
mystery.

Yet Winny knew now why, in what way, and with what terrible strength she
loved him and he her. She loved him, primarily and supremely, for
himself, for the simple fact that he was Ranny. She loved him also for
his body, for his slenderness, and for his strong-clipping limbs, and
she loved him for his face because it could not by any possibility be
anybody else's.

And in her joy and tenderness, in their engagement and in the whole
adventure, this going out with him and all the rare, shy contacts it
occasioned, instalments of delight, windfalls of bliss that Heaven sent
her to be going on with, in the very secrecy and mystery of it all,
Winny felt that disturbing yet delicious sense of something iniquitous,
something perilous, something, at any rate, unlawful. It was the same
sense that she had known and enjoyed in the days when she went into the
scullery at Granville to make beefsteak pies for Ranny; the same sense,
but far more exquisite, far more exciting.

She did not connect it in any way with Violet. Violet had ceased to
exist for them. Violet had of her own act annihilated herself. But Winny
knew that until Ranny was divorced from his wife the law continued to
regard him as married to her. So that, while firm land held and would
always hold her, she was aware that he and she were walking on the
brink, and that by the rule of the road Ranny went, so to speak, upon
the outer edge where it was far more dangerous. She knew that he had
more than once looked over; and she knew (though nothing would induce
_her_ to look) that the gulf was there, not far from her adventurous
feet.

Still, it was wonderful how all these years they had kept their heads.

So she said: "Hadn't we better be going? I think we ought to."

She had unlaced her hand from his, and had turned in her seat to face
him with her decision.

"Not yet."

"Well--soon. It's getting rather chilly, don't you think?"

At that he jumped up. "Are you cold, Winky?"

"My feet are, sitting."

"I forgot your little feet."

He raised her.

"It isn't late," he said. "We can walk about a bit."

They walked about, for he was very restless again.

"Wherever does that music come from?" Winny said.

Sounds came to them of violins and 'cellos, of trombones and clarinets,
playing a gay measure, a dance, insistent, luring, irresistible.

They followed it.

In a vast room fronted by a latticed screen, all green and white, roofed
by a green and white awning, and having a pattern of latticework, green
and white, upon its inner walls, on a vast polished floor was a crowd of
couples dancing to the music they had heard. It came loud through the
open lattices, the insistent, luring, irresistible measure, violent now
in solicitation, in appeal; and over it and under went the trailing,
shuffling slur of the feet of the dancers and the delicate swish of
women's gowns as they whirled.

Standing close outside, they could see into the hall through the
lattices of the screen. They saw forty or fifty couples whirling slowly
round and round to the irresistible measure; some were stiff and
awkward, palpably shy; some with invincible propriety whirled upright
and rigid, like toys wound up to whirl; some were abandoned to the
measure with madness, with passion, with a corybantic joy. Here and
there a girl leaned as if swooning in her lover's arms; her head hung
back; her lower lip drooped; her face showed the looseness and blankness
of a sensuous stupor. Other faces, staring, upraised, wore a look of
exaltation and of ecstasy. All were superbly unaware.

Winny's face pressed closer and closer to the lattice. One of her little
feet went tap-tapping on the gravel, beating the measure of the waltz.
For at the sound of the music, at the sight of the locked and whirling
couples, her memory revived; she heard again the beating of the measure
old as time; she felt in her limbs the start and strain of the wild
energy; and instinct, savage and shy, moved in the rhythm of her blood,
and desire for the joy of the swift running, of the lacing arms and
flying feet.

In her body she was standing outside the Dancing Saloon at the Earl's
Court Exhibition, with her face pressed to the lattice; she was
twenty-seven last birthday in her body; but in her soul she was
seventeen, and she stood on the floor of the Polytechnic Gymnasium,
beating time to the thud of the barbell. She was Winny of the short
tunic and the knickers, and the long black stockings, and had her hair
(tied by a great bow of ribbon) in a door-knocker plat.

"Oh, Ranny--" She looked at him with her shining eyes, half tender and
half wild. "If we only _could_--"

Something gave way in him and dissolved, and he was weak as water when
he looked at her.

The violins gave forth a penetrating, excruciating cry. And he felt in
him the tumult evoked, long ago, one Sunday evening by the music in the
Mission Church of St. Matthias's.

Only he knew now what it meant.

His voice went thick in his throat.

"I mustn't, Winky. I daren't. Some day--you and I--"

It was the supreme temptation of the great Enchantress; and they fled
from it. The violins shrieked out and cried their yearning as they went.

       *       *       *       *       *

A scud of rain lashed the carriage windows as their train shot out of
the Underground at Walham Green. When they stepped out onto the platform
at Southfields, the big drops leaped up at them.

"Well, I never," said Winny. "Who'd have thought it would have done
that?"

They scuttled into shelter.

"It'll be a score for Mother. She said it would come, and I said it
wouldn't."

"It'll ruin your new suit."

"And there won't be much left of your dress."

"My dress'll iron out again. It's me poor hat."

(The Peggy hat was not made for rain.)

"I'll take it off and pin it up in me skirt. It's you I'm thinking of."

She felt his coat to see what resistance it would offer to the rain. It
offered none. It made no pretense about it.

"It'll be soaked, and it 'll never be the same again," she wailed.

But Ranny remained godlike in his calm. There was still one and sixpence
of his sovereign left.

"You can keep your hat on. We're going to take a cab."

If he had said he was going to take an aeroplane she couldn't have been
more amazed. It was only seven minutes' walk to Acacia Avenue. And it
was not a common cab, it was Parker's fly that he was taking.

She surrendered because of the new suit.

"I can count the times I've ridden in a cab," she said. "This is the
third. First time it was going to Father's funeral. Second time it was
poor Mother's funeral. I've never been happy in a cab till now."

"Poor little girl! Next time it'll be coming from our wedding. Will you
be happy then?"

"I'm so happy now, Ranny, that I can't believe it."

"It'll only be six months, or seven at the outside."

"Are you sure?"

"Certain."

The worst of the cab was that it cut short their moments.

It had been standing a whole minute before Johnson's side door. He sent
it away.

For fifteen seconds, measured by hammer strokes of their hearts, they
were alone. On the streaming doorstep, under the dripping eaves, he held
her. He kissed her sweet face all wet with rain.

"Little Winky--little darling Winky." He pushed back her Peggy hat, and
his voice lost itself in her hair.

"They're coming," she whispered.

There was a sound of footsteps and of a bolt drawn back. Somebody behind
the door opened it just wide enough to let Winny through, then shut it
on him.

It was intolerable, unthinkable, that she should disappear like that.
Through a foot of space, in a hair's breadth of time, she had slipped
from him.



CHAPTER XXXI


Nobody had seen them, for at this hour Acacia Avenue was deserted. The
long monotonous pattern of it stretched before him, splendidly blurred,
rich with lamplight and rain, bordered with streaming stars, striped
with watered light and darkness, glowing, from lamp to lamp, with dim
reds and purples that the daylight never sees, and with the strange
gas-lit green of its tree tufts shivering under the rain.

Otherwise the Avenue was depressing in its desolation. The more so
because it was not quite deserted. At the far end of it the lamplight
showed a woman's figure, indistinct and diminished. This figure, visibly
unsheltered, moved obliquely as if it were driven by the slanting rain
and shrank from its whipping.

He could not tell whether it were approaching or going from him. It
seemed somehow to recede, to have got almost to the end of the road,
past all the turnings; in which case, he reflected, the poor thing could
not be far from her own door.

There was no mistaking his. Among all those monotonous diminutive houses
it was distinct because of its lamp-post and its luxuriantly tufted
tree. The gas was still turned on in the passage, so that above the door
the white letters of its name, Granville, could be seen. There was no
other light in the windows. Entering, he closed the door noiselessly,
locked it, slipped the chain, and turned the gas out in the passage. The
lamplight from outside came in a turbid dusk through the thick glass of
the front door. A small bead of gas made twilight in the sitting-room at
the back.

The house was very still.

His mother had evidently gone to bed; but she had left a fire burning in
the sitting-room, and she had set a kettle all ready for boiling on the
gas ring, and on the table a cup and saucer, a tin of cocoa, and a plate
of bread and cheese.

He turned up the gas, put the tin of cocoa back into its cupboard, and
carried the bread and cheese to the larder in the scullery. He tried the
back door to make sure that it was locked, and paused for a moment on
the mat. He was thinking whether he had better not undress in there by
the fire and spread his damp things round the hearth to dry.

And as he stood there at the end of the passage he was aware of
something odd about the window of the front door. Properly speaking,
when the passage was dark, the window should have shown clear against
the light of the lamp outside, with its broad framework marking upon
this transparency the four arms of a cross. Now it showed a darkness, a
queer shadowy patch on the pane under the left arm of the cross.

The patch moved sideways to and fro along the lower panes; then suddenly
it rose, it shot up and broadened out, darkening half the window, its
form indiscernible under the covering cross.

And as it stood still there came a light tapping on the pane. He thought
that it was Winny, that she had run after him with some message, or
that perhaps somebody else had run to tell him that something was
wrong.

He went to the door; and as he went the tapping began again, louder,
faster, a nervous, desperate appeal.

He opened the door, and the lamplight showed them to each other.

"Good God!" He muttered it. "What are you doing here?"

It was his instinct, not his eyes that knew her.

She had not come forward as the door opened; she had swerved and stepped
back rather, gripping her skirts tighter round her as she cowered.
Sleeked by the rain, supple, sinuous, and shivering, she cowered like a
beaten bitch.

Yet she faced him. Shrinking from him, cowering like a bitch, backing to
the edge of the porch where the rain beat her, she faced him for a
moment.

Then she crept to him cowering; and as she cowered, her hands, as if in
helplessness and fear, let fall the skirts they had gathered from the
rain. Her eyes, as she came, gazed strangely at him; eyes that cowered,
bitchlike, imploring, agonized, desirous.

She crept to the very threshold.

"Let me in," she said. "You will, won't you?"

"I can't," he whispered. "You know that as well as I do."

Her eyes looked up sideways from their cowering. They were surprised,
bewildered, incredulous.

"But I'm soaked through. I'm wet to me skin."

She was on the threshold. She had her hand to the door.

He could see her leaning forward a little, ready to fling her body upon
the door if he tried, brutally, to shut it in her face. It was as if
she actually thought that he would try.

He knew then that he was not going to shut the door.

"Come in out of the rain. And for God's sake don't make a noise."

"I'm not making a noise. I didn't even ring the bell."

He drew back before her as she came in, creeping softly in a pitiful
submission. Though the passage was lighted from the street through the
wide-open door, she went as if feeling her way along it, with a hand on
the wall.

Ransome turned. He had no desire to look at her.

He struck a match and lit the gas, raised it to the full flame, and
then, though he had no desire to look at her, he looked. He stared
rather.

Outside in the half darkness he had known her, as if she stirred in him
some sense, subtler or grosser than mere sight. Now, in the full light
of the hanging lamp, he did not know her. He might have passed her in
the street a score of times without recognizing this woman who had been
his wife; though he would have stared at her, as indeed he would have
been bound to stare. It was not only that her body was different, that
her figure was taller, slenderer, and more sinuous than he had ever seen
it, or that her face was different, fined down to the last expression of
its beauty, changed, physically, with a difference that seemed to him
absolute and supreme. It was that this strange dissimilarity, if he
could have analyzed it, would have struck him as amounting to a
difference of soul. Or rather, it was as if Violet's face had never
given up her soul's secret until now; never until now had it so much as
hinted that Violet had any soul at all. The comparative fineness and
sharpness of outline might have reminded him of his wife as she had
looked when she came out of her torture after the birth of her first
child, but that no implacable resentment and no revolt was there. It was
plainly to be seen (nor did Ransome altogether miss it) that here were a
body and a soul that had suffered to extremity, and were now utterly
beaten, utterly submissive.

This suggestion of frightful things endured was more lamentable by
contrast with the shining sleekness, the drenched splendor of her
attire. Ransome saw that her clothes helped to build up the impression
of her strangeness. Violet was dressed as his wife, at the most frenzied
height of her extravagance, had never dressed, as even Mercier's wife
could not have dressed, nor yet his mistress. The black satin coat and
gown that clung to her body like a sheath showed flawless, though they
streamed with rain; the lace at her throat, the black velvet hat with
the raking plume that had once been yellow, the design and quality of
the flat bag slung on her arm were details that belonged (and Ransome
knew it) to a world that was not his nor Mercier's either. And as he
took them in he conceived from them an abominable suspicion.

His eyes must have conveyed his repulsion, for she spoke as if answering
them.

"You mustn't mind my clothes. They're done for."

She looked down, self-pitying, at her poor slippered feet standing in a
pool of rain.

"I'm making such a mess of your nice hall."

A little laugh shook in her throat and turned into a fit of coughing. He
saw how instantly one hand went to her mouth and pressed there while the
other struggled blindly, frantically, with the opening of her bag.

"What is it?"

"My hanky--" She coughed the words out. It, the childish word, moved him
to a momentary compassion.

"Here you are."

She stepped back from him as she stretched out her arm; then she turned
and leaned against the wall, hiding her face and muffling her cough in
Ransome's pocket handkerchief.

Each gesture, each surreptitious and yet frantic effort at suppression,
showed her a creature that some brute had beaten, had terrified and
cowed. The old Violet would have come swinging up the path; she would
have pushed past him into the warm and lighted room; this one had come
creeping to his door. She took no step to which he did not himself
invite her.

"Come in here a minute," he said.

He put his hand upon her arm to guide her. He led her into the warm room
and drew up a chair for her before the fire.

"Sit down and get warm."

She shook her head; and by that sign he conceived the hope that she
would soon be gone. She looked after him as he went to the door of the
room to close it. When she heard the click of the latch her cough burst
out violently and ceased.

She crouched down by the hearth, holding out her hands to the blaze. He
stood against the chimney-piece, looking down at her, silent, not
knowing what he might be required to say.

She peeled off the wet gloves that were plastered to her skin; she drew
out the long pins from her hat, took it off, and gazed ruefully at the
lean plume lashed to its raking stem. With the coquetry of pathos, she
held it out to him.

"Look at me poor feather, Ranny," she said.

He shuddered as she spoke his name.

"You'd better take your shoes off, and that coat," he said.

She took them off. He set the shoes in the fender. He hung the coat over
the back of the chair to dry. As she stood upright the damp streamed
from her skirts and drifted toward the fire.

"How about that skirt?"

"I could slip it off, and me stockings, too, if you didn't mind."

"All right," he muttered, and turned from her. He could hear the
delicate silken swish of her draperies as they slid from her to the
floor.

She was slenderer than ever in the short satin petticoat that was her
inner sheath. Her naked feet, spread to the floor, showed white but
unshapely. She stood there like some beautiful flower rising superbly
from two ugly, livid, and distorted roots.

But neither her beauty nor her ugliness could touch him now.

"Look here," he said, "I'll get you some dry things."

His mind was dulled by the shock of seeing her, so that it was unable to
attach any real importance or significance to her return. He knew her to
be both callous and capricious; therefore, he told himself that there
was no need to take her seriously now. The thing was to get rid of her
as soon as possible. He smothered the instinct that had warned him of
his danger, and persuaded himself that dry things would meet the
triviality of her case.

He went upstairs very softly to his room. In a jar on the chimney-piece
he found a small key. Still going softly, he let himself into the little
unfurnished room over the porch where boxes were stored. Among them was
the trunk which contained Violet's long-abandoned clothes. He unlocked
it, rummaged, deliberated, selected finally a serge skirt, draggled but
warm; a pair of woolen stockings, and shoes, stout for all their
shabbiness.

And as he knelt over the trunk his mind cleared suddenly, and he knew
what he was going to do. He was going to fetch a cab, if he could get
one, and take her away in it. If she was staying in London he would take
her straight back to whatever place she had come from. If she came from
a distance he would see her started on her journey home. He was
prepared, if necessary, to hang about for hours in any station, waiting
for any train that would remove her. If the worst came to the worst he
would take a room for her in some hotel and leave her there. But he
would not have her sitting with him till past midnight in his house. It
was too risky. He knew what he was about. He knew that there was danger
in any course that could give rise to the suspicion of cohabitation. He
knew, not only that cohabitation in itself was fatal, but that the
injured husband who invoked the law must refrain from the very
appearance of that evil.

Of course, he knew what Violet had come for. She was beginning to get
uneasy about her divorce. And, personally, he couldn't see where the
risk came in unless the suit was defended. And it wasn't going to be
defended. It couldn't be. The suspicion of collusion would in his case
be a far more dangerous thing. It was what he had been specially warned
against.

These two ideas, collusion and cohabitation, struggled for supremacy in
Ranny's brain. They seemed to him mutually exclusive; and all it came to
was that, with his suit so imminent, he couldn't be too careful. He must
not, even for the sake of decency, show Violet any consideration that
would be prejudicial to his case.

Whereupon it struck him that the most perilous, most embarrassing detail
of the situation was the disgusting accident of the weather. In common
decency he couldn't have turned her out of doors in that rain.

And under all the confused working of his intelligence his instinct told
him that what happened was not an accident at all. His inmost prescience
hinted at foredoomed, irremediable suffering; profound, irreparable
disaster.

       *       *       *       *       *

But with his mind set upon its purpose he gathered up the shabby skirt,
the stockings, and the shoes, he took his own thick overcoat from its
peg in the passage; he warmed them well before the sitting-room fire.

Violet watched him with an air of detachment, of innocent
incomprehension, as if these preparations in no way concerned herself.
She was sitting in the chair now, with her bare feet in the fender.

He then put the kettle on the fire, and her eyes kindled and looked up
at him.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to make you a cup of hot tea before you go."

"I _can't_ go," she whispered.

He was firm.

"I'm awfully sorry, Violet. But you've got to."

"But, Ranny--you couldn't turn a cat out on a night like this."

"Don't talk nonsense about turning out. You know you can't stay here. I
can't think what on earth possessed you to come. You haven't told me
yet."

She did not tell him now. She did not look at him. She sat bowed
forward, her elbows on her knees, and her chin propped on her hands,
while she cried, quietly, with slow tears that rolled down her bare,
undefended face.

He made the tea and poured it out for her, and she took the cup from him
and drank, without looking at him, without speaking. And still she cried
quietly. Now and then a soft sob came from her in the pauses of her
drinking.

Ransome sat on the table and delivered himself of what he had to say.

"I don't know what's upsetting you," he said. "And you don't seem
inclined to tell me. But if you're worrying about that divorce, you
needn't. You'll get it all right. The--the thing'll be sent you in a
week or a fortnight."

"Ranny," she said, "are you really doin' it?"

"Of course I'm doing it."

"I didn't know."

"Well--you might have known."

He was deaf to the terror in her voice.

"I'd have done it years ago if I'd had the money. It isn't my fault
we've had to wait for it. It was hard luck on both of us."

He stopped to look at her, still, like some sick animal, meekly
drinking, and still crying.

He waited till her cup was empty and took it from her.

"More?"

"No, thank you."

He put down the cup, turned, and went toward the door. There was a
savage misery in his heart and in all his movements an awful gentleness.

She started up.

"Don't go, Ranny. Don't leave me."

Her voice was dreadful to his instinct.

"I must."

"You're going to do something. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to leave you to change into those things. I'm going to look
for a cab, and I'm going to take you back to wherever you came from."

"You don't know where I came from. You don't know why I've come."

There was the throb of all disaster in her voice. His instinct heard it.
But his intelligence refused to hear. It went on reasoning with her who
was unreasonable.

"I don't know," it said, "why you want to stick here. It won't do either
of us any good."

"Has it began?" she said. "Can't anything stop it?"

"Yes. You can stop it if you stay here all night. If you want it to go
right you must keep away. It's madness your coming here at this time of
night. I can't think why you--I should have thought you'd have known--"

"Oh, Ranny, don't be hard on me."

"I'm not hard on you. You're hard on yourself. You want a divorce and I
want it. Don't you know we sha'n't get it--if--"

"But I _don't_ want it--I don't indeed."

"What's that?"

"I don't want it. I didn't know you were divorcing me. I never thought
you'd go and do it after all these years."

"Rot! You knew I was going to do it the minute I had the money."

"You don't understand. I've come to ask you if you'll forgive me--and
take me back."

"I forgave you long ago. But I can't take you back. You know _that_ well
enough."

She made as if she had not heard him.

"I'll be good, Ranny. I _want_ to be good."

He also made as if he had not heard.

"Why do you want me to take you back?"

"That's why. So as I can be good. Father's turned me out, Ranny."

"Your father?"

"I went to him first. I didn't think I'd any right to come to you--after
I'd served you like I did."

"Oh, never mind how you served me. What's Mercier been doing?"

"He's got married."

"Just like him. I thought he was going to marry _you_?"

"He wouldn't wait for me. He couldn't. He thought you were never going
to get your divorce. He _had_ to settle down so as to get on in his
business. He wanted a Frenchwoman who could help him, and he daren't so
much as look at me--after, for fear she'd divorce him."

"I told you he was a swine."

"He wasn't. It wasn't _his_ fault. He'd have married me two years ago if
you could have divorced me then."

Her mouth was loose to the passage of her sigh, as if for a moment she
felt a sensuous pleasure in her own self-pity. She did not see how his
mouth tightened to the torture as she turned the screw.

She went on. "Lenny was all right. He was good to me as long as I was
with him. _He_ wouldn't have turned me into the street to starve."

"Who _has_ turned you into the street?" He could not disguise his
exasperation.

Then he remembered. "Oh--your father."

"I don't mean Father. I mean the other one."

"There _was_ another one? And you expect me to take you back?"

"I'm only _asking_ you," she said. "Don't be so hard on me. I _had_ to
have some one when Lenny left me. He's been the only one since Lenny.
And he was all right until he tired of me."

"Who's the brute you're talking about?"

"He's a gentleman. That's all I can tell you."

"Sounds pretty high class. And where does this gentleman hang out?"

"I oughtn't to tell you. He's a painter, and he's awfully well known.
Well--it's somewhere in the West End, and we had a flat in Bloomsbury."

She answered his wonder. "I met him in Paris. He took me away from
there, and I've been with him all the time. There wasn't anybody else. I
swear there wasn't--I swear."

"Oh, you needn't."

He got up and walked away.

"Ranny--don't go for the cab until I've told you everything."

"I'm _not_ going. What more have you got to say?"

"Don't look at me like that, as if you could murder me. You wouldn't if
you knew how he's served me. He beat me, Ranny. He beat me with his
hands and with his stick."

She rolled up the sleeves of her thin blouse.

"Look here--and here. That's what he was always doing to me. And I've
got worse--bigger ones--on me breast and on me body."

"Good God--" The words came from him under his breath, and not even his
instinct knew what he would say next.

He said--or rather some unknown power took hold of him and said it--"Why
didn't you come to me before?"

She hesitated.

"He never turned me out until last night."

Her pause gave him time to measure the significance of what she said.

"He didn't really tire of me till I got ill. I had pneumonia last
spring. I nearly died of it, and I've not been right since. That's how I
got me cough. He couldn't stand it."

She paused.

"I ought to have gone when he told me to. But I didn't. I was awfully
gone on him.

"And--last night--we were to have gone to the theater together; but he'd
been drinkin' and I said I wouldn't go with him. Then he swore at me and
struck me, and said I might go by myself. And I went. And when I came
home he shut the door on me and turned me into the street with nothing
but the clothes on me back and what I had in me purse. And he said if I
came back he'd do for me."

She got it out, the abominable history, in a succession of jerks, in a
voice dulled to utter apathy.

And an intolerable pity held him silent before this beaten thing,
although with every word she dragged him nearer to the ultimate,
foreseen disaster.

She went on.

"I was scared to walk about the streets all night in these things. I
always was more afraid of that than anything. Though _he_ never would
believe me when I said so. You don't know the names he called me. So I
took a taxi and I went to the first hotel I could think of--the
Thackeray. But I hadn't enough money with me, and they wouldn't take me
in. Then I went and sat in the waiting-room at Euston Station till they
closed. Then I sat outside on the platform and pretended to be waitin'
for a train. _He_ wouldn't believe me if I told him I'd spent the night
in that station. But I did. And I got me death of cold. And in the
morning me cough started, and they wouldn't take me in any of the shops
because of it.

"I tried all morning. Starker's first. Then in the afternoon I went to
Father, and he wouldn't have me. He won't believe I haven't been bad,
because of me things and me cough. I suppose he thinks I've got
consumption or something. He saw me coming in at the gate and he turned
me out straight. I didn't even get to the door."

"He couldn't--"

"He did--reelly, Ranny, he did. He said he'd washed his hands of me and
I could go back to you. He said--No, I can't tell you what he said."

There was no need to tell. He knew.

She looked at him now, straight, for the first time.

"Ranny--he knows. He knows what we did."

"Did you tell him?"

"Not me! He'd guessed it. He'd guessed it all the time. Trust _him_. And
he taxed me with it. And I lied. I wasn't goin' to have him thinkin'
_that_ of you."

"Of _me_?"

"Yes--_you_." It was her first flash of feeling since she began her
tale. "It doesn't matter what he thinks of me. I told him so."

"Well? Then?"

"Then I started lookin' for work again. Couldn't get any. Then I came
here. If you turn me out there'll be nothing but the streets. If I was
to get work nobody'll keep me. I haven't properly got over that illness.
I'm so weak I couldn't stand to do anything long. There are times when I
can hardly hold myself together."

And still there was no feeling in her voice, and barely the suggestion
of appeal; only the flat tones of the last extremity.

"I've come here because I'm afraid of going to the bad. I don't want to
be bad--not reelly bad. But I'll be driven to it if you turn me out."

It might have been a threat she held out to him but that her voice
lacked the passion of all menace. Passion could not have served her
better than her dull, unvibrating statement of the fact.

"If you won't take me back--"

Her spent voice dropped dead on the last word and her cough broke out
again.

Ransome's next movement averted it. She revived suddenly.

"Ranny--are you going for that cab?"

He turned.

"No," he said. "You know I'm not."

"Then, what are you thinking of?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was thinking: "I won't have Dossie and Stanny sleeping with her. And
I can't turn Mother out. So there's no room for her. Yes, there is. I
can get a camp bed and put it in the box room. I shall be all right in
there, and she can have my room to herself."

No other arrangement seemed endurable or possible to him.

And yet, while his flesh cried out in the agony of its repulsion, it
knew that in the years, the terrible, interminable years before them, it
could not be as he had planned. There would be a will stronger than his
own will that would not be frustrated.

And he told himself that he could have borne it if it had not been for
that.

There was a knocking at the door. The handle turned, and through the
slender opening which was all she dared make, Mrs. Ransome spoke to her
son.

"Ranny, do you know you've left the front door open? Who's that
coughing?" she said.

Neither of them answered.

"Hasn't Winny gone yet? You shouldn't keep her out so late, dear. It's
time both of you were in bed."

At that he rose and went to her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently they could be heard moving Stanny's little cot into his
grandmother's room.

That night Violet slept in Ransome's bed.

Ransome lay on the sofa in the front sitting-room. He did not sleep, and
at dawn he got up and looked out. The rain had ceased. It was the
beginning of a perfect day.

He remembered then that he had promised Winny to walk with her to
Wimbledon Common.



CHAPTER XXXII


"She's ill. Fair gone to pieces. But the doctor says she'll soon be all
right again if we take care of her."

It was early evening of Sunday. They were going slowly up the steep hill
that winds, westward and southward, toward the heights of Wimbledon.

He had just told her that Violet had come back.

"I couldn't in common decency turn her out."

In a long silence he struggled to find words for what he had to say
next. She saw him struggling and came to his help.

"Ranny, you're going to take her back," she said.

"What must you think of me?"

"Think of you? I wouldn't have you different." The whole spirit of her
love for him was in those words.

She continued. "You see, dear, it comes to the same thing. If you didn't
take her back I couldn't marry you, for it wouldn't be you. You'll have
to take her."

"You talk as if I'd nobody but her to think of. Look what she's making
me do to you--"

"I'm strong enough to bear it and she isn't. She'll go straight to the
bad if we don't look after her."

"That's it. She said there was nothing but the streets for her." He
brooded. "If I was a rich man I could divorce her and give her an
allowance to live away. I can't stand it, Winny, when I think of you."

"You needn't think of me, dear. It isn't as if I hadn't known."

"How _could_ you know?"

"I knew all the time she'd come back--some day."

"Yes. But if Father hadn't died when he did we should have been safe
married. We missed it by a day. Mercier'd have married her two years
ago. If I'd had thirty pounds then it couldn't have happened. But I was
a damned fool. I should have thought of you _then_--I should have let
everything else go and married you."

Slowly, drop by drop, he drank his misery. But she had savored sorrow so
far off that now that the cup was brought to her it had lost half its
bitterness.

"You couldn't have done different, even then, dear. Don't worry about
me. It's not as if I hadn't been happy with you. I've had
you--reelly--Ranny, all these years."

But the happiness that by way of comfort she held out to him was the
very dregs of Ranny's cup.

"That's it," he said. "I don't know how it's going to be now. She's the
same, somehow, and yet different."

It was his way of expressing the fact that Violet's suffering had given
her a soul, and that this soul, this subtler and more inscrutable
essence of her, would not necessarily be good. It might even be
malignant. Most certainly it would be hostile. It would come between
them.

"It's a good thing the children'll be at school now--out of her way."

"P'raps she's better--kinder, p'raps."

"I don't know about that, Winny. I'm afraid. Anyhow, it'll never be the
same for you and me."

He paused, and then seeing suddenly the full extent of their calamity,
he broke out.

"What'll you _do_, Winny?"

"I'll ask Mr. Randall if he'll take me on."

"You won't stay here?"

"No. Better not. I mustn't be too near, this time. That was the mistake
I made before. And you've got your mother."

"And what have _you_ got?" he cried, fiercely.

"I've got plenty--all I've ever had. These things don't go away, dear."

They stood still, looking before them, with their unspoken misery in
their eyes.

At their feet, down there, creeping low on the ground, spreading its
packed roofs for miles over the land that had once been green fields,
its red and purple smoldering and smoking in the autumn mist and sunset,
there lay the Paradise of Little Clerks.

They turned and went slowly toward it down the hill.

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Combined Maze" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home