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 House by the River
Author: Herbert, A. P.
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 House by the River" ***

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



                     The House by the River

                        By A. P. Herbert


    New York
    Alfred A Knopf

    1921

    COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
    ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.

    PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



I


The Whittakers were At Home every Wednesday. No one else in Hammerton
Chase was officially At Home at any time. So every one went to the
Whittakers' on Wednesdays.

There are still a few intimate corners in London where people, other
than the poor, are positively acquainted with their neighbours. And
Hammerton Chase is one of these. In heartless Kensington we know no more
of our neighbour than we may gather from furtive references to the Red
Book and _Who's Who_, or stealthy reconnaissances from behind the
dining-room curtains as he goes forth in the morning to his work and to
his labour. Our communication with him is limited to the throwing back
over the garden-wall of his children's balls, aeroplanes, and spears,
or--in the lowest parts of Kensington--to testy hammerings with the
fire-irons towards the close of his musical evenings. Overt, deliberate,
avoidable, social intercourse with any person living in the same street
or the same block of mansions is a thing unknown. What true Londoner
remembers going to an At Home, a dance, a musical evening, or other
entertainment in his own street? Who is there who regards with
friendship the occupant of the opposite flat?

Hammerton Chase could scarcely be regarded as a street. A short
half-mile of old and dignified houses, clustered irregularly in all
shapes and sizes along the sunny side of the Thames, with large trees
and little gardens fringing the bank across the road, and, lying
opposite, the Island, a long triangle of young willows, the haunt of
wild duck and heron and swan--it had a unique, incomparable character of
its own. It was like neither street, nor road, nor avenue, nor garden,
nor any other urban unit of place in London, or indeed, it was locally
supposed, in the world. It had something, perhaps, of an old village and
something of a Cathedral Close, something of Venice and something of the
sea. But it was _sui generis_. It was The Chase, W. 6. And the W. 6 was
generally considered to be superfluous.

But, whatever it was, it prided itself on the intimate and sociable
relations of its members. They were all on friendly terms with each
other, and knew exactly the circumstances and employment, the ambitions,
plans, and domestic crises of each other at any given moment. They
"dropped in" at each other's houses for conversation and informal
entertainment; they borrowed wine-glasses for their dinner-parties and
tools for their gardens and anchors for their boats. They were a
community, a self-sufficient community, isolated geographically from
their natural homes in Chelsea and Kensington, W., by the dreary
wilderness of West Kensington and the barbarous expanse of Hammersmith,
and clinging almost pathetically together in their little oasis of
civilization.

And yet they were not suburban. They were in physical fact on the actual
borders of London County; they were six miles from Charing Cross. But
Ealing and the suburbs are farther still. And the soul of Ealing was
many leagues removed from the soul of The Chase, which, like The Chase,
was something not elsewhere to be discovered.

So that on Wednesdays the Whittakers were At Home in the evening, and
every one went. Andrew Whittaker was an artist and art-critic; though
for various reasons he devoted more time to criticism than to execution.
Mrs. Whittaker wrote novels in the intervals of engaging a new servant
or dismissing an old one, and grappling undaunted with the domestic
crisis which either operation produced. They were both exceedingly
pleasant, cultivated, and feckless people, and they well represented the
soul of The Chase. Indeed, no one else was so well fitted to collect the
bodies of The Chase together on Wednesdays.

On this Wednesday there were fewer bodies than usual in the grey
drawing-room. It was a moist and thunderous evening, very heavy and
still, and many of The Chase were gasping quietly in their own little
gardens, reluctant to enter a house of any kind. And there were one or
two households vaguely "away in the country." It was rather the habit of
true members of The Chase to "go away" in May, or in June, or in any
month but August, not simply because it was a wise and sensible thing to
do, August being an overrated and tumultuous month in the country, nor
only because if you lived in the airy Chase the common craving of
Londoners to escape from London in August did not affect you, but
chiefly because if you lived in The Chase that was the kind of thing you
did.

Mrs. Whittaker was a little distressed by the meagre attendance. Six or
seven ladies of The Chase, Mr. Dimple, the barrister, Mr. Mard, the
architect, and his wife were there; but these were all elderly and
unexciting, and without some powerful stimulus from the outer world it
was impossible to prevent them from discussing food and domestic
servants. Domestic worries dominated their lives. Life in The Chase was
one long domestic worry. And the great problem of Mrs. Whittaker's At
Homes was to prevent people from talking about servants, food, and
domestic worries. Her method was to invite large numbers of artistic,
literary, and otherwise interesting people from distant London, who were
apparently immune from domestic worries or were at any rate capable of
excluding them from their conversation. The artistic element was thinly
represented this evening by a psychologist from Oxford and a dramatic
critic. But, nobly though they strove to discuss the drama and the mind,
they were hopelessly swamped by a loud discussion on domestic servants
and food among the ladies of The Chase, vigorously led by Mrs. Vincent
and Mrs. Church. Mrs. Ralph Vincent was a carroty-haired lady of
extraordinary aggressiveness and defiant juvenility in the face of her
forty-five summers and seven children. Mrs. Church was the
widow-daughter of old Mrs. Ambrose, who was ninety and extremely deaf.
Mrs. Church herself had an unfortunate stutter. Yet these two ladies,
living together at Island View, practically constituted the Intelligence
Staff of The Chase. They knew everything. They never went out, except on
Wednesdays to the Whittakers', when the indomitable Mrs. Ambrose strode
unaided under the splendid elms to Willow House and laboured by stages
up the narrow stairs. But their agents came to them daily for teas and
"little talks," and handed over, willingly or no, the secrets of The
Chase. Nor could it be said that either of them knew more or less than
the other. Old Mrs. Ambrose prided herself on her lip-reading, and no
doubt Mrs. Church's unfortunate impediment made it easier for the old
lady to practise this art to advantage. Some said, indeed, that Mrs.
Church's stutter had been assumed in filial piety for this very purpose.

Mrs. Ambrose was busily endeavouring to read the lips of the
psychologist and the dramatic critic, whom she suspected of being
engaged in a discussion of unusual interest, if not actual indelicacy.
People who knew of her supposed gift felt sometimes very uncomfortable
about conversation in her presence, especially if they were speaking to
some reckless person who did not know of it.

The voice of the psychologist was heard protesting to his host the
sincerity and thoroughness of the Oxford method. Whittaker stood
patiently in front of him with a trayful of home-made cocktails. "We
_make_ them concentrate ... _a priori_ ... processes of thought ...
lectures ... philosophy ... system...."

Then domesticity broke out again, and Mrs. Whittaker, listening with one
ear to each party, raged furiously within. "Mary takes the children in
the morning ... the gas-oven ... margarine ... the geyser ... the front
doorstep ... pull out the damper ... simply walked out of the house ...
margarine ... Mrs. Walker's Bureau ... butter ... very good
references ... margarine ... the principles of reasoning ... what about
Susan?... margarine ... a month's wages ... margarine ...
thought-circles ... washing-up ... a lady-help ... margarine...."

Mrs. Whittaker despaired. Were none of her artistic circle coming? She
went over to her husband and whispered fiercely, "Are the Byrnes coming?
Go out and ring them up. Tell them they simply _must_."

Whittaker deposited his tray in the arms of the psychologist and went
out; the psychologist assumed the air of one who is equal to any
emergency, and sat solemnly embracing the tray.

When Whittaker came back there was a wide grin on his pleasant face. He
announced:

"The Byrnes are coming in a minute--and he's bringing the Choir."

"Oh, _good_," said Mrs. Whittaker, and echoing approvals came from
several of the company.

The psychologist said, "Is that _Stephen_ Byrne?" in an awed voice, and
tried not to look as impressed and gratified as he felt when Whittaker
assured him that it was. The elderly ladies looked more cheerful, and
abandoned the barren topic of domestic worries to discuss poetry and Mr.
Byrne. Mrs. Ambrose said, "I _like_ Mr. Byrne"; Mrs. Church said, "A
_nice_ man, Mr. Byrne"; Mrs. Vincent said, "Such a _nice_ couple, the
Byrnes."

There were many accomplished people living in The Chase, but Stephen
Byrne was the lion of them all; there were many delightful people living
in The Chase, but Stephen Byrne was the darling of them all. He was the
gem, the treasure of The Chase. Indeed, he was the treasure of England.
He was a real poet. Men had heard of him before the war; but it was in
the years of war that he had come to greatness. He was one of a few men
who had been able in a few fine poems to set free for the nation a
little of the imprisoned grandeur, the mute emotion of that time. But
none of all those young men, who found their voices suddenly in the war
and spoke with astonishment the splendid feelings of the people, had so
touched the imagination, had so nearly expressed the tenderness of
England, as Stephen Byrne. At twenty-seven he was a great man--a
national idol.

No wonder, therefore, that The Chase delighted in him. But there was
more. He was personally delightful. So many successful men are unusually
ugly, or unusually bad-tempered, or soured, or boorish, or intolerably
rude; and the people of The Chase, being essentially a critical people
and far too noble to be capable of intellectual snobbery, would not have
given their hearts to a successful poet if he had been ugly or boorish
or intolerably rude. Stephen Byrne was none of these things--but
handsome and affable and beautifully mannered. And so they loved him.

While they were waiting for him it grew dark and a little cooler, and
more of The Chase came in. Mr. Dunk, the American, came in, and Petway,
of the Needlework Guild, and Morrison, the publisher. After them came
Mr. and Mrs. Stimpson. Stimpson was a Civil Servant, but his life-work
was cabinet-making. Mrs. Stimpson was an execrable housekeeper and
mother, but knitted with extraordinary finish. Knitting was her craft;
cabinet-making was her husband's craft. Everybody had a craft of some
kind in The Chase. They all made things or did things, which nobody made
or did in Kensington.

Sometimes this making or doing was their profession; sometimes it was a
_parergon_ carried on deliciously in leisure hours. In either case it
was the most important part of their lives. Mr. Dunk kept rabbits; Mr.
Farraday kept boats, and sailed interminably in his cutter or rowed
about in an almost invisible dinghy. However innocent and respectable
they looked, each of them, one felt, was capable of secret pottery, or
privately addicted to modelling or engraving. There was nothing The
Chase could not do.

When these people came in the At Home brightened appreciably; there was
a loud noise of really intelligent conversation, and Mrs. Whittaker was
satisfied. Whittaker laboured assiduously at his home-made cocktails,
and was suitably rewarded by their rapid consumption. Whittaker's
cocktails had the advantages and the defects of an impromptu
composition, which is precisely what they were. He was bound by no
cast-iron rules as to ingredients in manufacture. But they were always
powerful and generally popular; and most of the ladies attempted them if
only because they were such a glorious gamble. Only Mrs. Ambrose
resolutely declined. And as they drank them they were all pleasurably
excited by the imminent advent of Stephen Byrne.

The door opened violently, striking the psychologist in the middle of
the back, and a wave of people surged into the room, with much
chattering and loud laughter. Towering in the centre of the mob was a
huge clergyman, with large, round spectacles and a brick-red face, who
reminded one instantly of Og, Gog, and Magog, however vague one's
previous impressions of those personages had been. He had a voice like a
Tube train, rumbling far off in a tunnel, and his laugh was like the
bursting of shells. He was six foot eight, and magnificently
proportioned. With him was a man about twenty-seven, a Civil Servant and
resident of The Chase, by name John Egerton. In front of these two,
hopelessly dwarfed by the Rev. Peter, were two young ladies--and Stephen
Byrne, a tall figure in a black velvet smoking-jacket.

It said much for the personality, and indeed the person, of the young
poet that in the arresting presence of the Rev. Peter most of the
company looked immediately at Stephen Byrne. Many of them, indeed,
thought it more seemly for some reason to conceal their interest, and
went on talking or listening to their neighbours; they swivelled their
eyes painfully towards the door without moving their heads, and suddenly
said "Quite" or "Really" with a vain affectation of intelligence and
usually in an inappropriate context.

These were mostly men, who could not be expected openly to admit that
there was present a more important male than themselves. But most of the
women, and especially the older ones, regarded with evident admiration
the black-haired, bonny celebrity of Hammerton Chase. It was very black,
that hair, unbelievably black, and of a curious, attractive texture. One
wanted to touch it. And, although he was a poet, it was not too long.

Smiling happily under the light, Stephen Byrne was very good to look at.
A high brow gave him a perhaps spurious suggestion of nobility, for the
rest of the face was not so noble. The modern habit is to affix a label
to every man, and be affronted if he forgets or ignores his label. But
the most inveterate labeller would have been puzzled by the face of
Stephen Byrne. In repose it was a handsome, impressive face, full of
what is vaguely described as "breeding," the nose straight and thin, the
mouth firm and unobtrusive. One felt confidence, sympathy, attraction.
But when he spoke or smiled, one thought again. There was attraction
still, and for most people an immediate irresistible charm, but less
confidence. There was a certain weakness in the mobile mouth, a certain
fleshliness. You could imagine this young man being noble or mean, cruel
or kind, good-humoured or petulant, selfish or magnanimous or simply
damnable. Which is merely to say that he was a complicated affair. But
if indeed he had a darker side, it had never been revealed to the people
of The Chase; and they loved him.

The two ladies were Margery Byrne, his wife, and Muriel Tarrant, a
favourite niece of the Reverend Peter. They were both very fair, both
very delightful without being exactly beautiful. Miss Muriel Tarrant was
the sole unmarried and still marriageable maiden in The Chase. It was a
curious thing; the female population of The Chase consisted almost
entirely of married ladies, young or old, elderly ladies who were past
that sort of thing, and small children. Muriel Tarrant swam like a
solitary comet in this galaxy of fixed or immature stars. None could
imagine why she remained single for a moment, so young and fresh and
admirable she was. People indeed said that John Egerton ... but no one
knew.

Muriel's young brother, George Edwin, a tall youth with the precise
features of Greek sculpture and the immaculate locks of a barber's
assistant, brought up the rear, looking a little dazed.

There was a third young lady, disconcertingly tall and slightly abashed,
and an obviously artistic youth in a blue collar, clinging timidly to
the skirts of the party--both strangers to The Chase.

Stephen Byrne introduced them.

"All these people," he explained, with a comprehensive gesture, "do
pottery and engraving. They are The Chase. Give me one of your
cocktails, Whittaker. No--give me two."

With two thin glasses of Whittaker's latest concoction he walked over to
old Mrs. Ambrose, watching him from her distant corner and wishing she
was less old and less deaf, so that she could command the attentions of
pleasant and distinguished young men. When he came to her she glowed
with contentment like the harvest moon emerging from a mist, and to her
own intense astonishment and the horror of her daughter was prevailed
upon by Stephen to accept and actually consume the cocktail he had
brought her. So excited was she, and so excited was Mrs. Church, her
daughter, that Mrs. Church's stutter became altogether unconquerable,
and the old lady's lip-reading became more than ever an adventure in
guess-work. This meant a complete breakdown in their system of
communications, which made conversation difficult. But Stephen chattered
and sparkled undeterred, and the old ladies chuckled and crooned with
satisfaction. Mrs. Ambrose thought he was talking about domestic
servants, because she had lip-read the word "cook." In fact, he was
talking nonsense about the origin of the word _cock_-tail, as Mrs.
Church kept trying to explain. But she never got further than, "He
d--d--didn't say c--c--_cook_, Mother--he said c--c--c--" because the
old lady always interrupted with "Housemaids, ah--yes," and wagged her
white head with profound meaning.

The rumour travelled round the noisy room that Mr. Byrne had made Mrs.
Ambrose have a cocktail, and they all said, "How _like_ him! the naughty
old thing! No one else would have done _that_." Margery Byrne was trying
to make the dramatic critic talk about the drama, but he had come to the
conclusion that no one in Hammerton liked to talk about anything but
domestic worries. As he lived in a service flat and did not have any, it
was far from easy for him, but he was doing his best, and had
ascertained from Mrs. Byrne that she had just engaged a new maid, named
Emily, who seemed likely to be satisfactory. When Mrs. Byrne heard of
her husband's feat, she looked across at him fondly, but almost
reproachfully. "That means he's had three himself," she said, with a gay
laugh. The dramatic critic, who flattered himself that he had probed the
depths of human nature, thought, "What a nice, easygoing wife!" But Mrs.
Byrne was really thinking, "I _wish_ he wouldn't drink so many--horrid,
strong stuff."

And she saw that, though her husband was being so pleasant and kind to
the two old ladies, he was looking most of the time at Muriel Tarrant,
the pretty girl in the corner beyond him, who was talking to John
Egerton, and blushing prettily about something.

Margery Byrne said to herself, "I am not jealous," and looked away.

An enormous chatter filled the room. The psychologist sat silent,
noticing things. Mr. Whittaker fussed about with coffee and thin
glasses. Odd corners of tables and mantelpieces and bookshelves became
crowded with discarded coffee-cups and dissipated glasses, perilously
poised. Mrs. Whittaker, talking busily to the Reverend Peter, listened
anxiously, with both ears at the public pulse, as it were, and could
detect no single murmur of domestic worries. Every one, it seemed, was
being interesting and intelligent.

Then the carroty-haired Mrs. Vincent bustled up to her. "_Won't_ you
make them sing to us, Mrs. Whittaker?--Mr. Byrne's Choir, I mean. I've
never heard them, you know."

The Reverend Peter roared across the room, "A song, Stephen--a song!
Forward, the Choir!"

The Hammerton Choir was the unduly dignified title of the faintly
flippant, faintly musical company of pleasant people which the Byrnes
gathered periodically at their house along The Chase. They sang, indeed,
informally and wholly impromptu, a wide range of quartettes and choruses
and glees. But volume of sound rather than delicacy of execution was
their strong point, and the prevailing tone was frivolous. Indeed, it
was scarcely in keeping with the sonorous title they had assumed; and
Mrs. Vincent and others of Mrs. Whittaker's guests, who had heard of the
Hammerton Choir, but had not actually heard it, might be pardoned if
they had formed too flattering an impression of its powers.

Some of the Choir showed a certain bashfulness at the proposal that they
should sing so publicly. John Egerton at first definitely refused,
partly perhaps because he was happily occupied with Miss Muriel Tarrant
in an almost impregnable corner. She, however, not wishing the company
to suppose that she had any such thought, urged him into the arena; and
Stephen Byrne prevailed upon the rest of his following. He himself
showed no signs of bashfulness.

Miss Tarrant was the Choir's principal treble, and Stephen, bowing
gallantly, escorted her with Miss Tiffany to the piano, a decayed and
tinny instrument, with many photographs of children obliquely regarding
each other on the top. Stephen sat at the piano, and the Reverend Peter
stood stooping like a tired steeple beyond. He was, of course, the bass.
The young man with the blue collar provided with John Egerton a throaty
and wavering tenor. Egerton tried to stand next to Miss Tarrant, but was
thwarted without intention by his companion tenor. Miss Tiffany grew
slowly pinker and pinker. A solemn hush descended. The company held
their breath.

At the beginning of the Great War Mr. Asquith made a speech. In it he
formulated the principles for which this nation was fighting. The
formula was perfect and worthy of a great master of formulæ, sonorous
and dignified, yet not verbose. It said everything without saying a word
too much. And Mr. Asquith was, justifiably, so pleased with it that for
many years he lost no opportunity of publicly repeating it, or if he
did not repeat it, of reminding people about it in speeches and
pronouncements and letters to the Press. It began, "We shall not sheathe
the sword," and for a long time it was blazoned on every hoarding. Few
men can have had so striking a literary success with four sentences.

But over and above its conciseness and majesty and lucidity the formula
had other qualities which may or may not have been consciously imparted
to it by Mr. Asquith. Its component sentences had the literary form of
Hebraic poetry, the structure and rhythm of the Psalms. They might,
indeed, have come out of the Psalms.

But this was not all. One would understand the Prime Minister of England
modelling some important literary composition on the style of the
Psalms, which is a noble style. And that being so, one could understand
the result being more or less easily adjustable to some one or other of
those Church of England chants, which have done so much to popularize
the Psalms of David. But the extraordinary thing about Mr. Asquith's
formula was that it fitted exactly the Quadruple Chant, the unique and
famous Quadruple Chant, designed by a benignant Church to make the
longest Psalm that David composed less inexpressibly fatiguing than it
would be to the music of a miserable single or double chant. There were
four sentences in Mr. Asquith's formula. There were four musical
sentences in the Quadruple Chant, each divided in twain. And they fitted
each other like a glove, or, rather, like a well-fitting glove. It was
marvellous. The only reasonable conclusion was that Mr. Asquith, in a
moment of pious exaltation, had deliberately set his formula to the
Quadruple Chant.

Alone of the English-speaking race Stephen Byrne had discovered these
astounding truths. Having formed the conclusion that Mr. Asquith had
written the words to that chant, he held that one ought to sing the
words to that chant. This would be the highest compliment to the man and
the best means of perpetuating his work. And so, with many others, he
did. But there is a season for all things; and it cannot be pretended
that Mrs. Whittaker's select and crowded At Home was the season for this
particular thing.

Stephen struck a chord. The company wondered what masterpiece was to be
given them--perhaps some Schubert, perhaps something from Gilbert and
Sullivan.

Then the great anthem rolled out. The voices of the Hammerton Choir were
not individually of high quality, but they blended well, and their
volume was surprising. They sang in excellent time, all stopping at the
asterisks absolutely together, all accomplishing with perfect unanimity
those long polysyllabic passages on one note which make psalm-singing
in our churches so fruitful a source of precipitancy and schism.

"We shall not sheathe the sword" (pause for breath), "which we hàve
not/lightly/drawn,//until Belgium has recovered all and MORE than/all
that/she has/sacrificed.

"Until France is adequàte/ly sec/urèd//against the/menace/of
ag/gression."

(The accentuation of _ate_ in "adequately" was the one blot on the
pointing; it was unworthy of Mr. Asquith.)

"Until the rights of the smaller nationàlit/-ies of/Europe//are placed
upon an ùnass/aila/ble found/ation/."

(That was a grand stanza; the Hammerton singers gave a delicious
burlesque of the country choir gabbling with ever-growing speed through
the first words, and falling with a luxurious snarl on their objective,
the unfortunate accented syllable _al_.)

"And until the military dòmin/ation of/ Prussia//is whòlly and/final/ly
dest/royèd."

(_Prussia_ was given with a splendid crescendo of hate, worthy of the
best Prussian traditions, and "destroy-èd" came with an effective
rallentando.) The Reverend Peter Tarrant, rumbling in a profound bass
the final "destroy-èd," was so life-like an imitation of a real
clergyman leading a real village choir that those of the audience who
had been slightly shocked by the whole performance became suddenly
amused, and those who had not been shocked at all, which was a large
majority, were reduced to the final stages of hysterical approval. The
"turn" was a huge success. A roar of laughter and clapping and
questioning followed the solemn ending. The Choir were urged to "do it
again." The two ladies, flushed and almost overcome by the applause, a
circumstance quite new in the history of the Choir, begged to be
excused; but Stephen once more constrained them. This time, closely
following the best contemporary models on the variety stage, he urged
the audience to assist, and produced from some mysterious source a
number of copies of the words, neatly typed and pointed. And then,
indeed, a wondrous thing was heard. For all that mixed but mainly
respectable company rose up, and, opening timidly, rendered with an
ever-increasing confidence and volume that profane and ridiculous hymn.
Stephen Byrne stood superbly on a footstool and conducted with a poker,
his black eyes flashing, his whole figure vital with excitement and
mirth. And all those people were under his spell. Even the psychologist
forbore for a moment to analyse the workings either of his own or any
man's mind, and concentrated genuinely on the correct pointing of his
words, chuckling insanely at each half-verse. All of them chuckled and
gurgled as they sang.

But such is the hypnotic effect of any music with religious
associations, and so powerful is the simple act of singing vigorously in
unison as a generator of sentiment and solemnity in those who sing, that
by the end of the third stanza they had forgotten that they were being
funny, that the whole thing was a ridiculous joke, and discovered
themselves, to Stephen's intense dismay, chanting with long faces and
tones of inexpressible fervour the pious resolution that the military
domination of Prussia must be wholly and finally "destroy-èd." They
finished, almost with lumps in their throats, so moving was it all, and
stood for a moment in a sheepish hush, half feeling that some one should
say, "Let us pray," or give out a text before they might sit down. Then
some one cackled in the background, and the spell was broken with peals
of insane laughter.

While the hoarse company were having their glasses justifiably refilled,
Margery Byrne came quickly up to her husband, and gave him the look
which means to a husband, "I want to go home now." She was tired and she
looked tired; and she was going to have a baby. Stephen said, "Right you
are, my dear--just a minute." He was talking now to the Reverend Peter
and Muriel Tarrant, who was prettily flushed and a little excited. He
was arguing with the Reverend Peter about the poetry of John Donne. He,
too, was excited and pleased and reluctant to go home. But he knew that
Margery ought to go home. And of such stuff are the real temptations of
man.

He looked an apology and an appeal at his wife and said, "One minute, my
dear.... Would you mind?" knowing well that she minded. Mrs. Byrne said
that of course she did not mind, and went back to her seat by the
dramatic critic, yawning furtively.

So Stephen stood against the piano and defended John Donne, that strange
Elizabethan mixture of piety and paganism and poetry and nastiness. He
had forgotten Mr. Asquith now; he had forgotten the Choir and Muriel
Tarrant, and he was absorbed in the serious pronouncement of an artistic
belief. The Reverend Peter said that he was no prig, but some of John
Donne was too much for him. He could not believe in the essential
greatness of a grown man who could write such stuff. Stephen began to
quote a line or two from memory; then he reached up for an old brown
volume on one of Whittaker's shelves and read from it in a low voice
that only the clergyman could hear. "This is what I make of him," he
said. And he began to talk. He talked with the real eloquence of a
master of words profoundly moved, with growing earnestness and vigour.
He spoke of the eternal contradictions of human personality, of the
amazing mixtures which make up men; how true was the saying of Samuel
Butler that everything a man does is in a measure a picture of himself,
yet how true it was that one could not confidently judge what a man was
like from what he wrote. He told the Reverend Peter that he was narrow
in his estimate--unjust. One must strike a balance. Many of the company
had gathered about him now, and were listening; Stephen saw this at
last, and finished. Then the Reverend Peter laid a large hand
affectionately on his shoulder and said, "You're a wonderful man,
Stephen. I surrender. I dare say I've wronged the fellow.... I'll read
him again.... You poets are certainly an odd mixture." And that was the
thought of all those who had heard the singing and listened to the talk.

Stephen turned from him with a curious smile and saw suddenly the
reproachful figure of his wife.

He said, "Come along, my dear--I'm so sorry! Are you coming, John?"

Egerton looked across at Muriel Tarrant and her mother. They were
entangled with Mrs. Ambrose and showed no signs of escaping. He said,
"No--I shall stay a little, I think."

In the hot darkness of The Chase Stephen took his wife's arm, and knew
at once that she was cross. They walked in silence to The House by the
River and in silence entered the poky little hall. Stephen cursed
himself; it was a stupid end to a jolly evening. In the hall he kissed
her and said that he was sorry, and she sighed and smiled, and kissed
him and went upstairs.

Stephen walked reflectively into the dining-room and mixed himself a
whisky and water. And as he drank, Emily Gaunt came up from the kitchen
to ask if Mrs. Byrne wanted tea. Emily Gaunt was the new maid. Stephen
finished his whisky and noticed for the first time that she was
pretty--in a way.

"No, thank you, Emily," he said, and smiled at her. And Emily smiled.



II


It was nearly high tide. Stephen Byrne stood at the end of his garden
and regarded contentedly the River Thames. The warm glow of sunset
lingered about the houses by Hammersmith Bridge and the tall trees on
the Surrey side. The houses and the tall trees and the great old elms by
William Morris' house stood rigid on their heads in the still water, and
all that wide and comfortable reach between the Island and Hammersmith
Bridge was beautiful in the late sun. There were a few small clouds
flushed with pink in the southern sky, and these also lay like reefs of
coral here and there in the water. The little boats in the foreground,
moored in ranks in the tiny roads off Hammerton Chase, lay already deep
in the shadow of the high houses of the Terrace, and the water about
them was cool and very black. The busy tugs went by, hurrying up with
the last of the flood, long chains of barges swishing delightfully
behind them. The tug _Maud_ went by, and _Margaret_, her inseparable
companion. On their funnels were a green stripe and a red stripe and a
yellow stripe. On their barges were reposeful bargees, smoking old pipes
in the stern, and pondering, no doubt, the glories of their life.
_Margaret_ this evening had a glorious barge, a great black vessel with
a light blue line along the gunwale and a tangle of rigging and
coffee-coloured sails strewn along her deck. As they fussed away past
the Island the long waves crept smoothly across the river and stole
secretly under the little boats in the roads, the sailing-boats and the
rowing-boats and the motor-boats and the absurd dinghies, and tossed
them up and heaved them about with pleasing chuckles; and went on to the
garden-wall of the houses and splashed noisily under Stephen's nose and
frothed back to the boats. And the boats rolled happily with charming
ripply noises till the water was calm and quiet again. A swan drifted
lazily backwards with the tide, searching for something in the back of
its neck. It was all very soothing and beautiful, and Stephen Byrne
could have looked at the high tide for ever.

High tide was a great moment at Hammerton Chase. It had a powerful
influence on the minds of The Chase. There was a tremendous feeling of
fulfilment, of achievement, about the river when the flood was still
sweeping up, wandering on to the road on one bank and almost topping the
towpath on the other, making Hammerton Reach a broad and dignified
affair. The time went quickly when the tide was high. There were long
hours when the tide was low, when the river dwindled to a mean and
dejected stream, creeping narrowly along between gloomy stretches of mud
and brickbats and broken crockery, where the boats lay protesting and
derelict in uncomfortable attitudes. There was a sense of disappointment
then, of stagnation and failure. Those who lived by the river and loved
and studied it were keenly susceptible to the tides.

And this tide seemed particularly copious and good. For one thing, he
had dined well. He had drunk at Brierley's a satisfying quantity of some
admirable Château Yquem, followed by some quite excellent old brandy. He
was by no means drunk; but he was conscious of a glow, a warm
contentment. Life seemed amicable and prosperous and assured. After all,
he was a fortunate young fellow, Stephen Byrne. The life of a successful
poet was undoubtedly a good life.

And he was happily married. His wife was pretty and loving and almost
perfect. Very soon she was to have another baby; and it would be a boy,
of course. The first was a dear, delightful, incomparable creature, but
she was a girl. The next would be a boy.

And he loved his home. He loved Hammersmith and the faithful
companionable river, the barges and the jolly tugs and his little garden
and his motor-boat and his dinghy and the sun-steeped window-seat in the
corner of his study, the white conservatory he had whitewashed with his
wife, and the exuberant creeper they had trained together.

Stephen's house was The House by the River, which stood with one other
in an isolated communion between Hammerton Terrace and the Island. The
bank swung out widely above the Terrace, so that Stephen's house and its
neighbour were on a miniature promontory, commanding unobstructed the
ample curve of the river to Hammersmith Bridge, a mile away. The houses
were old and ill-appointed within, with rattling sashes and loose doors,
but dignified and beautiful without, modest old brick draped generously
with green. And they were full of tall windows drinking in the sun and
looking away to the south towards the hills about Putney and Roehampton,
or westwards to the remote green of Richmond Hill. They were rich with
sunshine and an air that was not London's.

Stephen looked up at his high old house and was proud of it. He was
proud of the thick ivy and creeper all over it and the green untidy
garden below it, and the pretty view of the dining-room, where the light
was on, a lonely island of gold in the dusk, seen delightfully through
matted ropes of creeper.

There was a light in the bathroom, too--Emily Gaunt, the housemaid, no
doubt, having a bath. As he looked up he heard the sound of water
tumbling down the pipes outside the house, and deduced absently that
Emily had pulled up the waste-plug.

Stephen looked over his neighbour's wall into his neighbour's garden.
His neighbour was John Egerton and a good friend of his, probably the
best friend he had. But John Egerton was not in his garden. Stephen was
sorry, for he felt that inclination towards human society which normally
accompanies the warm afterglow of good wine. Mrs. Byrne was dining with
her mother, and would not be back for an hour or so. Stephen regretted
that he had come back so early. He could not write. He did not want to
read. He felt full, but not capable of poetry. He wanted company. The
glow was still upon him, but it was growing chilly on the wall. It was
time to go in. He knocked out his pipe. The dottle fell with a fizzle in
the water.

He walked in slowly to the dining-room and poured out a glass of port.
Failing company there must be more glow. The port was good and admirably
productive of glow. Stephen stood by the old oak sideboard, luxuriously
reviving the sensations of glow. The dining-room, it seemed to him, was
extraordinarily beautiful; the sea-picture by Quint an extraordinarily
adequate picture of the sea; the port extraordinarily comforting and
velvety; the whole of life extraordinarily well arranged.

When he had finished the port he heard a timid creaking on the
staircase. He went into the tiny hall, walking with a self-conscious
equilibrium. Emily Gaunt was coming down the stairs to her bedroom,
fresh from her bath. Emily Gaunt was a pleasant person,
well-proportioned, and, for a housemaid, unusually fair to see. Her
eyes, like her hair, were a very dark brown, and there was a certain
refinement in her features. Her hair was hanging about her shoulders and
her face--usually pale--was rosy from her bath. In the absence of a
dressing-gown or kimono, she wore an old coat of Cook's over her
night-gown. Cook was skinny and Emily was plump, so that Cook's coat was
far from meeting where it ought to have met. There was a great deal of
Emily's neck and Emily's night-gown to be seen.

Stephen, so far, had taken little notice of Emily, except that one
evening he had smiled at her for some reason and she had smiled at him;
but at this moment, in the special circumstances of this lovely evening,
she seemed in his eyes surprisingly desirable. In the half-light from
the dining-room it was easy to forget that she was a servant. She was
merely a warm young female creature, plump and comely, and scantily
clad.

And there was no one else in the house.

"Good evening, Emily," said Stephen, looking up the stairs.

"Good evening, Mr. Byrne," said Emily, halting on the stairs. She was a
little surprised to see him. Cook was having her "evening out" and Emily
had thought herself alone in the house.

Now, Emily Gaunt was a well-behaved young woman. She was accustomed to
being looked at by her male employers, and she was accustomed to keeping
them at a proper distance. For so she had been brought up. But when she
was not looked at she was usually sensible of a certain disappointment.
Stephen Byrne had not looked at her enough, and she was undeniably
disappointed. She liked the look of him; she liked his voice when he
said, "Where are my boots, please, Emily?" And she did not get on well
with Mrs. Byrne. Moreover, she had had a warm bath and was conscious
also of a kind of glow.

So that when she had said, "Good evening, Mr. Byrne," she continued at
once her demure and unaffected descent. Cook would have turned and fled
up the stairs, panting with modesty. So would many another domestic
young person.

But Emily descended. If she had waited, or turned back up the stairs, or
faltered, "Oh, _sir_," and scurried like a young hind away from him,
there is no doubt that Stephen would have made himself scarce--would
have left the coast clear.

But she descended. When she came to the bottom of the stairs where
Stephen was standing, there was hardly space for her to pass. Stephen
made no move. He said fatuously, "Had a nice bath, Emily?" and he put
one arm around her as she passed, lightly, almost timidly, just touching
the back of Cook's coat.

Emily said, "Yes, thank you, sir," and looked at him. Only a glance,
quick and fugitive as an electric spark--but what a glance! Yet she made
no attempt to stop; she did not giggle or stammer or protest; she passed
on. In another moment she would have gone.

But Stephen had touched her. He had received and registered that naughty
and electrical glance. He was inflamed.

He did a thing the like of which he had never done before. He closed his
right arm about the girl and firmly embraced her. And he kissed her very
suddenly and hotly.

Emily screamed.

Stephen pulled her closer and kissed her again. And again Emily
screamed. It was all very unfortunate. For it may be that if he had been
less precipitate he could have been equally amorous without encountering
anything more than a purely formal opposition. Emily Gaunt was prepared
to be kissed, but not suddenly, not violently. It should have been
properly led up to--a little talk, a compliment or two, some blushes,
and a delicate embrace. That was the proper routine in Emily's set, or
in anybody else's set for that matter. But this sudden, desperate,
hot-breathed entanglement was quite another thing. It was frightening.
And who can blame Emily Gaunt for that high-pitched rasping cry?

Stephen blamed her. It startled him a little, that screaming--frightened
him, too. It brought him back to reality. He thought suddenly of
neighbours, of John Egerton, of old Mrs. Ambrose across the way. Suppose
they heard. It became urgent to stop the screaming. Playfully, almost,
he put his hands at Emily's throat. And even the touch of her throat was
somehow inflammatory. It made him want to kiss her again.

"Shut up, you little fool," he said. "I shan't hurt you."

But Emily's nerve had gone. She opened her mouth to scream again.
Stephen's hands tightened about the neck and the scream was never heard.
"_Now_, will you be quiet?" he said. "You're perfectly safe, Emily--I'm
sorry.... I was a fool ..." and he released his grip.

But Emily was thoroughly, hideously, frightened now. A kind of
despairing wail, a thin and inarticulate "Help!" came from her. Stephen
put his hand over her mouth, and Emily bit him.

And then Stephen saw red. The lurking animal which is in every man was
already strong in him that evening, though Emily's first scream had
cowed it a little. Now it took complete charge. With a throaty growl of
exasperation he put both hands at the soft throat of Emily and shook
her, jerkily exhorting her as he did so, "Will--you--be
quiet--you--silly--little fool--will you--be
quiet--you--fool--you'll--have--everybody--here--you ..."

He only meant to shake her--he did not mean to squeeze with his
hands--did not know that he _was_ squeezing--mercilessly. He was between
Emily and the dining-room, and in the dim light of the hall he could not
see the starting, horrible eyes, the darkening flesh of poor Emily
Gaunt. He only knew that this silly screaming was intolerable and must
be stopped--stopped for certain, without further bother ... before the
whole street came round ... before his wife came back ... before ...
"Stop it, will you?... For God's sake, stop it!" he cried, almost
plaintively, as his grip loosened a moment, and a strangled gasp burst
from Emily. He was too much possessed with his anxious rage to notice
_how_ strangled it was. What he wanted was silence ... complete silence,
that was it ... screams and gasps, they were all dangerous.... "Oh ...
stop it ... can't you?"

The shaking process had taken them across the tiny hall. They were by
the hat-stand now. Emily's oscillating head cannoned against a hat-peg.
Her weight became suddenly noticeable. Emily's hands stopped scrabbling
at his wrists ... her bare feet stopped kicking. Good, she was becoming
sensible. Thank God! Cautiously, with a vast relief, Stephen took his
hands away. "That's better," he said.

And then Emily Gaunt fell heavily against his shirt-front and slithered
past him to the floor. Her forehead hit the bottom corner of the
hat-stand. Her body lay limp, face downwards, and perfectly still.

In the dark hall the sound of snoring was heard.

He knew then that Emily Gaunt was dead. But it was absurd.... He turned
on the light, groping stupidly in the dark for the switch. His hands
were shaking--that was from the gripping, of course. And they were
sweating. So was his face.

Kneeling down, he pulled at Emily's shoulders. He pulled her over on to
her back.

"My God!" he whispered. "My God!... my God!..."

A bell jangled in the basement. Some one with his head lowered was
peering through the frosted glass of the front door.



III


In moments of crisis the human mind can become extraordinarily
efficient. Before the bell was silent in the basement, the mind of
Stephen Byrne, kneeling in a sweat by the dead body of a housemaid, had
covered a vast field of circumstance and performed two or three distinct
logical processes. His first instinct was to put out the light. With
that person peering on the doorstep the light in the hall had better be
out. He felt exposed, naked, illuminated. On the other hand, one could
see practically nothing through the frosted glass from outside, only the
shadow of any one actually moving in the hall. That he knew from
experience. Probably the person--whoever it was--could see nothing that
was on the floor, nothing that was below the level of his or her
interfering eye. If Stephen stayed still as he was, the person might
never know he was there, might even go away in disgust. To put the light
out would be a gratuitous advertisement that somebody was in the house.
Besides, it would look so rude.

Stephen did not turn out the light. He knelt there on two knees and a
hand, staring like a snake at the front door. With his right hand he
was stealthily scratching his left armpit. It was itching intolerably.
And his dress-collar was sticking into his neck. He was intensely
conscious of these things.

But all the time the precipitate arguments were jostling in his brain.
What sort of person would peer through the glass? Surely a very familiar
thing to do. He could think of a few people who would do it--the
Whittakers--but they were away; his wife--but it was too early, and she
had a latch-key; John Egerton--but Stephen thought he was out. Or a
policeman, of course.

A policeman who had heard the screaming, or been told of the screaming,
might do it, or even a neighbouring busybody, if he had heard. But they
would have clattered up to the door, run up or stopped importantly on
the doorstep--probably hammered with the knocker. The person had not
done that. He had only rung that damnable bell.

The person's head disappeared. He gave a loud knock with the big brass
knocker which Stephen had bought in Jerusalem. Just one knock. Then the
whole world was silent. Stephen's heart thumped like a steam-engine
going at slow speed. He thought, "It's true what they say in the
books.... I can hear it."

The person shuffled its feet on the step.

"My God!" said Stephen again. "My God!"

In the hall there was an enormous silence. A tug hooted dismally on the
river. Stephen started scratching again. He was thinking of his wife
now, of Margery. He loved Margery--he loved her very truly and well. And
she was just going to have a baby. What would she--How would she--O God!

But she must not know. He would do something in a minute when the damned
fool had gone away. Why the hell didn't he go away, and leave a man
alone? It must be some kind of visitor--not a policeman, or a panicky
neighbour. They would have been more impatient. Why the hell didn't he
go? It was Whittaker, perhaps. Or that South American chap.

The person did not go away. For the person had only been on the doorstep
for thirty seconds in all, and the person was in no hurry.

Soon he would go away--he must go =away=, Stephen thought. The _hours_ he
had been out there. It must be a long time, because Stephen's knees were
so sore. And he did want to get on with doing something--he was not
clear what--but something. "God will provide," he thought.

And as he uttered that hideous blasphemy the person began to whistle. He
whistled gently an air from _I Pagliacci_, and to Stephen Byrne, it was
merciful music. For it was a favourite tune of John Egerton's, bowled
often by both of them at casual gatherings of the Hammerton Choir in
Mrs. Bryne's drawing-room. It must be John, after all, this person on
the doorstep; good old John--thank God! If it was John, he would let him
in; he would tell him the whole story. John must help him.

It was suddenly revealed to Stephen that he could not bear this burden
alone. It was too much. John was the man.

But one must be careful. One must make sure. A cunning look came into
his eyes. With elaborate stealth he crawled backwards from Emily's body
and so into Emily's bedroom, which looked over the street. Under the
blind he reconnoitred the front doorstep. The back of the person was
turned towards him, but it was clear to him that the person was John
Egerton, though he could only see part of the back and nothing of the
head. No two persons in Hammerton Chase, or probably in the world, wore
a shabby green coat like that. It was certainly John, come round for
some singing, no doubt. He walked back boldly into the hall. He was
cooler now, and his heart was working more deliberately. But he was
horribly afraid. He put out the lights.

Then he opened the front door, very grudgingly, and looked round the
corner.

"Hullo!" said Egerton.

"Hullo!" said Stephen. "Come in," and then, with a sudden
urgency--"_quick!_"

John Egerton came slowly in and stood still in the dark.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

Stephen said, "I'm in a hole," and turned on the light.

It was very badly managed. No doubt he should have hidden Emily away
before he opened the door; should have led up gradually to the ultimate
revelation; should have carefully prepared a man like Egerton for a
sight like the body of Emily Gaunt. For it was a coarse and terrible
sight. She lay on her back by the hat-stand, with her dark hair tumbled
on the floor, her face mottled and blue, her eyes gaping disgustingly,
her throat marked and inflamed with the fingers of her employer. The
coat of Cook was crumpled beneath her, and she had torn great rents in
her night-dress in her desperate resistance, so that she lay half-naked
in the cruel glare of the electric light. Her two plump legs were
crossed fantastically like the legs of a crusader, but so that the feet
were wide apart. Her pink flesh glistened and smelt powerfully of soap.

It was not the kind of thing to spring upon any man, least of all
should it have been sprung upon Egerton. For he was a highly sensitive
man and easily shocked. He had not been, like Stephen, to the war--being
a Civil Servant and imperfect in the chest--and in an age when the
majority of living young men have looked largely on, and become callous
about, death, John Egerton had never seen a dead body.

And he was a person of extraordinary modesty, in the sense in which most
women but few men possess modesty. He had a real chastity of thought
which few men ever achieve. John Egerton was no prig. Only he had this
natural purity of outlook which made him actually blush when indelicate
things were said on the stage or hinted at in private society.

And now he was suddenly confronted in the house of his best friend with
the dead and disgusting body of a half-naked female. He was
inexpressibly shocked.

When the light went on and he looked down at the floor, his mouth opened
suddenly, but he said no word; he only stared incredulously at the
sprawling flesh.

Then he began to blush. A faint flush travelled slowly over his rather
sallow face. He looked up then at Stephen, watching anxiously in the
corner.

"What the devil--" he said.

From the tone in which he spoke, Stephen realized suddenly the error he
had made. Pulling down a coat from a peg, he flung it over the body.
Only a few times had he heard John Egerton speak like that and look like
that, but he knew quite clearly what it meant. John should have been
kept out of this. Or he should have had it broken to him. Of course. But
there was no time--no time--that was the trouble. Stephen looked at his
watch. It was twenty to ten. At any moment his wife might be back.
Something must be done.

He opened the dining-room door. "Come in here," he said, and they went
in.

John Egerton stood by the sideboard looking very grim and perplexed. He
could not be called handsome, not at least beside Stephen Byrne. There
was less intellect but more character in his face, a kind of moral
refinement in the adequate jaw and steady grey eyes, set well apart
under indifferent eyebrows. His face was pale from too much office-work,
and he had the habit of a forward stoop, from peering nervously at new
people. These things gave him, somehow, a false air of primness, and a
little detracted from the kindliness, the humanity, which was the secret
of his character and his charm. For ultimately men were charmed by John,
though a deep-seated shyness concealed him from them at a first
meeting. His voice was soft and unassuming, his mouth humorous but
firm. He had slightly discoloured teeth, not often visible. Stephen's
teeth were admirable and flashed attractively when he smiled.

"What's it all mean?" John said. "Is she--"

Stephen said, "She's dead ... it's Emily, our maid."

"How?" Egerton began.

"I--I was playing the fool ... pretended I was going to kiss her, you
know ... the little fool thought I meant it ... got frightened ... then
something ... I don't know what happened exactly ... she bumped her
head.... Oh, damn it, there's no time to explain ... we've got to get
her away somehow ... and I want you to help ... Margery ..."

"Get her away?" said John; "but the police ... you can't ..."

John Egerton was still far from grasping the full enormity of the
position. He had been badly shocked by the sight of the body. He was
shocked by his friend's incoherent confession of some vulgar piece of
foolery with a servant. He was amazed that a man like Stephen should
even "pretend" that he was going to kiss a servant. That kind of thing
was not done in The Chase, and Stephen was not that kind of man, he
thought. No doubt he had had a little too much wine, flung out some
stupid compliment or other; there had been a scuffle, and then some
accident, a fall or something--the girl probably had a weak heart;
fleshy people often did: it was all very horrible and regrettable, but
not criminal. Nothing to be kept from the police.

But it was damnably awkward, of course, with Mrs. Byrne in that
condition. Stephen's spluttering mention of her name had suddenly
reminded him of that. There would be policemen, fusses, inquests, and
things. She would be upset. John had a great regard for Mrs. Byrne. She
oughtn't to be upset just now. But it couldn't be helped.

Stephen Byrne was pouring out port again--a full glass. He lifted and
drank it with an impatient urgency, leaning back his black head. Some of
the wine spilled out as he drank, and flowed stickily down his chin.
Three drops fell on his crumpled shirt-front and swelled slowly into
pear-shaped stains.

His friend's failure to understand was clearly revealed to him, and
filled him with an unreasonable irritation. It was his own fault of
course. He should have told him the whole truth. But somehow he
couldn't--even now--though every moment was precious. Even now he could
not look at John and tell him simply what he had done. He took a napkin
from the sideboard drawer and rubbed it foolishly across his
shirt-front, as he spoke. He said:

"Oh, for God's sake, John ... don't you understand ... I ... I believe
I ... I've killed her ... myself ... I don't know." He looked quickly at
John and away again. John's honest mouth was opening. His grey eyes were
wide and horrified. When Stephen saw that, he hurried on, "I may be
wrong ... but anyhow Margery mustn't know anything about it ... you
_must_ see that ... it would probably kill her ... and she'll be back
any moment now. Oh, _come_ on, for God's sake." A sudden vision of his
wife walking through the front door on to that horrible thing in the
hall spurred him to the door.

John Egerton stood still by the solid table, his hands gripping the edge
of it behind him. He understood now.

"Good God!" he said quickly, as if to himself, and again, "Good God!"
Then starting up, "But, Stephen, it's ... it's ... you mean ..."
Suddenly the word "murder" had flashed into his thoughts, and that word
seemed to light up the whole ghastly business, made it immediately more
hideous. "It's _murder_," he had been going to say, but some fantastic
sense of delicacy stopped him.

Stephen halted at the door. A wild rage came over him. There was a
strange kind of fierce resolution about him then which his friend had
never seen before.

"Oh, for God's sake, don't stand dithering there, John," he flung back.
"Are you going to help me or not? If not, clear out ... if you are, come
on ... quick, before Margery comes." He went into the hall.

John Egerton said no more, but followed. That illuminating unspoken word
"murder," which had shown him the whole awfulness of this affair had
shown him also the urgency of the present moment, the necessity of
helping Stephen to "get her away." For Margery Byrne's sake. Just how he
felt towards Stephen at that moment, what he would have done if Stephen
had been a bachelor, he had had not time to consider. And it did not
matter. For Mrs. Byrne's--for Margery's--sake, something must be done,
as Stephen said. And he, John Egerton, must help.

"What are you going to do?" he said.

Stephen was crouched on his haunches, busily tidying Emily's
night-dress, pulling it about.

"The river," he said shortly. "It's high tide--Thank God!" he added.

John Egerton looked shrinkingly at the torn and ineffective night-dress,
at the wide spaces of pink flesh showing through the rents. He could not
imagine himself picking up that body. He said, "What?--like--like
_that_?"

Stephen looked up. "Yes," he said; "why not?" But he knew very well why
not. Because of a certain insane sense of decency which governs even a
murderer in the presence of death. Emily Gaunt must not be "got away"
like that! Besides, it would be dangerous. He thought for a moment.
Then, "No," he said. "Wait a minute," and clattered down the basement
stairs.

When he came back he was trailing behind him a long and capacious sack,
which had hung on a nail in the scullery for the receipt of waste paper
and bottles and odds and ends of domestic refuse. The sack, fortunately,
had been only half full. All its contents he had tumbled recklessly on
the scullery floor. But as he came up the stairs he was curiously
disturbed by the thought of that refuse. What was to be done with it?
What would Margery say? The scullery had been recently cleaned out, he
knew. And the sack? How could he explain its disappearance? These damned
details.

"Here you are," he said. "This will do," and he laid the sack on the
floor.

He began to put Emily into the sack. He drew the mouth of the sack over
her feet. They were already cold. John Egerton stood stiffly under the
light, in a kind of paralysis of disgust. He felt "I must help!... I
must help!" but somehow he could not move a finger.

The sack was over the knees now. It was strangely difficult. The toes
kept catching.

But Stephen was fantastically preoccupied with the refuse on the
scullery floor, with coming explanations about the sack. "There'll be an
awful row," he said ... "the hell of a mess down there ... what shall I
say about the sack?" Then, suddenly, "What shall I say, John?... Think
of something, for God's sake!"

John Egerton jumped. The wild incongruity of Stephen's question scarcely
occurred to him. He tried solemnly to think of something to say about
the sack. He would be helpful here, surely. But no thought came. His
mind was a confused muddle of night-dresses and inquests and naked legs
and Margery Byrne--Margery Byrne arriving quietly on the
doorstep--Margery Byrne scandalized, agonized, hideously, fatally ill.

"I don't know, Stephen," he said feebly--"I don't know ... say
you ... oh, anything."

He was fascinated now by the progress of the sack, which had nearly
covered the legs. He saw clearly that a moment was coming when he would
_have_ to help, when one of them would have to lift Emily and one of
them manipulate the sack. Already Stephen was cursing and in
difficulties. The night-dress kept rucking up and had to be pulled
back, and when that was done the sack lost ground again.

"Oh, hell!" he said, with a note of final exasperation, "lend a hand,
John--lift her a bit," and then as John still hesitated, sick with
reluctance, "Oh, _lift_ her, can't you?"

John stooped down. The moment had come. He put his hands under the small
of Emily's back, shuddering as he touched her. With an effort he lifted
her an inch or two. With a great heave Stephen advanced the sack six
inches. Then it caught again in those maddening toes. With a guttural
exclamation of rage he turned back towards the feet and tugged furiously
at the sack. When it was free John Egerton had relaxed his hold. Emily
was lying heavy on the slack of the sack. He was gazing with a kind of
helpless horror at the purple inflammation of Emily's throat, realizing
for the first time just how brutal and violent her end had been.

Stephen cursed again. "Lift, damn you, _lift_--oh, hell!"

John lifted, and with a wild fumbling impatience the whole of Emily's
body was covered. Only the head and one arm were left. They had
forgotten the arm. It lay flung out away from the body, half hidden
under an overcoat. Stephen seized it savagely and tried to bend it in
under the mouth of the sack, with brutal ridiculous tugs, like an
ill-tempered man packing an over-loaded bag. John watched him with
growing disapproval.

"That's no good," he said. "Pull down the sack again."

Stephen did so. The sweat now was running down his face; he was spent
and panting, and his composure was all gone. With his black hair ruffled
over his forehead he looked wicked.

Something of his impatience had communicated itself to John, mastering
even his abhorrence. He wanted furiously to get the thing done. It was
he now who seized the recalcitrant arm and thrust it into the sack; it
was he who fiercely pulled the sack over Emily's head, and hid at last
that puffy and appalling face with a long "Ah--h" of relief. At the
mouth of the sack was a fortunate piece of cord, threaded through a
circle of ragged holes.

John Egerton pulled it tight and fumbled at the making of a knot. He
felt vaguely that something special in the way of knots was required--a
bowline--a reef knot or something--not a "granny," anyhow. How was it
you tied a reef knot? Dimly remembered instructions came to him--"the
same string over both times"--or "under," wasn't it?

Stephen crouched at his side, dazedly watching his mobile fingers
muddling with the cord.

A step sounded outside on the pavement. Stephen woke up with a whispered
"My God!" and panic snatched at the pair of them. Feverishly John
finished his knot and tugged at the ends. It was a "granny," he saw, but
a granny it must remain. The steps had surely stopped outside the door.

"Quick," he whispered, and got his right arm under the sack. Stumbling
and straining, with a reckless disturbance of rugs and mats, they
bundled the sagging body of Emily Gaunt into the dining-room. In the
dining-room John Egerton halted and laid his end of her down. He was not
strong, and she was heavy. Stephen clung to her feet, and the two of
them stood listening, very shaky and afraid. There was no sound in the
street now. The steps must have passed the door. From the rear there was
the melancholy hooting of a tug, calling for its waiting barges at
Ginger Wharf. They could hear the slow, methodical panting of her
engines and the furtive swish of the water at her bows. In the garden a
cat was wailing--horribly like a child in pain. To John Egerton these
familiar sounds seemed like the noises of a new world, the new world he
had entered at about a quarter-past nine, when he had become a partner,
an accomplice, in this wretched piece of brutality and deceit. He felt
curiously identified with it now--he was part of it, not merely an
impersonal observer. He had a sensation of personal guilt.

"It's all right," said somebody, very far away, in the voice of Stephen
Byrne--a hoarse and furtive voice.

John Egerton picked up his burden, and another staggering stage was
accomplished into the conservatory.

It was dusk now, but a large moon was up, and thin streams of silver
filtered through the opaque roof and the crowded vine-leaves on to the
long bundle on the floor. It was too light, Stephen thought, for this
kind of work.

When they had halted he said, "Wait a minute, John--I'll go and see if
the coast is clear." He went quickly down the stone steps into the tiny
garden. The long, rich grass of Stephen's "lawn" was drenched and
glistening with dew. There was the heavy scent of something in the
next-door garden, and over all a hot, intolerable stillness. Stephen
became suddenly oppressed with the sense of guilt. Instinctively he
stepped on to the wet grass and rustled softly through it to the river,
his silk socks sponging up the dew.

Over the shallow wall he inspected furtively the silent river. Nothing
moved. It was slack water, and the downward procession of tugs had not
properly begun. The water was smooth; the black reflections of the
opposite trees were sharp and perfect. Down towards Hammersmith a few
lights hung like pendant jewels in the water. Over the far houses there
was a flicker like summer lightning from an electric train. A huddle of
driftwood and odd refuse floated motionless in mid-stream, very black
and visible, waiting for the tide to turn; but along the edges the
stream already crept stealthily down, lapping softly against the moored
ranks of boats, against Stephen's boat riding comfortably beneath him.
In the neighbouring gardens nothing moved. About this hour in the hot
weather the residents of Hammerton Chase would creep out secretly into
their gardens and cast their refuse into the river, and there was often
to be heard at dusk a scattered succession of subdued splashes.

But tonight there were no splashes. Probably the duty was already done.
Stephen remembered incongruously this local habit, and was at once
relieved and disappointed. Too many people prowling in their gardens
might be dangerous. On the other hand, there was a certain safety in a
multitude of splashes. One more would have made no difference.

There were no splashes now, and scarcely any sound: only the fretful
muttering of distant traffic, the occasional rumble of buses on the
far-off bridge, and the small plops of fishes leaping at the moon. Close
to Stephen was an unobtrusive munching in the wired space where Joan's
rabbits were kept. A buck rabbit lay hunched in the moonlight
masticating contentedly the last remnants of the evening cabbage.
Another nosed at the wire-netting, begging without conviction for
further illicit supplies. Stephen stooped down automatically and rubbed
his nose.

But for the moonlight and the present slackness of the tide the moment
was propitious. Stephen walked back more boldly into the conservatory.
"You take the feet," he said.

Without further speech they picked up the bundle and descended
laboriously into the garden. The bright moon intimidated John. He looked
back over his shoulder for people peering out of windows. But only the
windows of his own house commanded the garden; and Mrs. Bantam, his
housekeeper, would be long since in bed. Paddling quietly through the
dew, he, too, thought fantastically of other burdens he had smuggled
down to the river on many a breathless night, pailfuls of
potato-peelings and old tins and ashes. In his mind he gave a mute
hysterical chuckle at the thought. What other residents, he wondered,
had taken this kind of contraband through their gardens in the secret
night? Old Dimple, the barrister--ha! ha!--or Mrs. Ambrose? Perhaps
they, too, had strangled people in their house and consigned them
guiltily to the condoning Thames. Perhaps all those sober, respectable
people were capable, like Stephen, of astonishing crimes. Nothing, now,
could be really surprising. God, what's that?

There was a sudden scuffle and clatter in the dark angle by the river
wall--only the rabbits panicking into corners at the silent coming of a
stranger. But John was aware of the violent beating of his heart.

They laid Emily on the ground and looked over the wall. The tide now had
definitely turned. The middle stream was smoothly moving, oily and
swift. John felt happier. It would soon be over now. An easy thing, to
slip her over into the friendly water ... no more of this hideous
heaving and fumbling with a cold body in a sweat of anxiety.

But to Stephen, regarding doubtfully the close row of boats a hundred
yards downstream, new and disquieting uncertainties had occurred. To
him, too, it had seemed a simple thing to drop Emily over the wall and
let the river dispose of her. But supposing the river failed, flung her
against the mooring-chain of one of those boats, jammed her with the
tide under the sloping bows of Mr. Adamson's decrepit hulk, left her
there till the tide went down.... He saw with a frightening clearness
Emily Gaunt being discovered in the morning on the muddy foreshore of
Hammerton Terrace--discovered by Andrews, the longshoreman, or a couple
of small boys, or Thingummy Rawlins, prowling down from his garden to
tinker with his motor-boat.... No, that would never do.

He said in a low voice, "John ... we'll have to take her out in the
boat ... we can't just drop her.... These damned boats ... supposing
she caught ..."

John Egerton uttered a long groan of disappointment. It was not all
over, then. There must be more liftings and irritations, more damnable
association with this vileness.

"O _Lord_!" he protested. "Stephen, I can't...." His face was pale and
almost piteous under the moon.

Stephen answered him without petulance this time. "John, old man--for
God's sake, see it through ... we _must_ get on, and I can't do it
without you.... I'm awfully sorry.... It's got to be done...." The
appeal in his voice succeeded as an irritable outburst could not have
done.

John Egerton braced himself again. In his own mind he recognized the
practical wisdom of using the boat. He said with a great weariness,
"Come on then."

It was a long and difficult business getting that body into the boat. A
flight of wooden steps led down from the wall to the water, and from
there the boat--a small motor-boat, half-dinghy, half-canoe--had to be
hauled in with a boathook for Stephen to step acrobatically into her and
unfasten the moorings. Then she had to be paddled close up under the
wall and fastened lightly to the steps. While Stephen was doing this a
tug swished by, with a black string of barges clinging clumsily astern.
The red eye of her port-light glared banefully across the water. John
felt that the man in that tug must guess infallibly what work he was at.
A solitary lantern in the stern of the sternmost barge flickered about
the single figure standing at the tiller. He could see the face of the
man, turned unmistakably towards him.

She was travelling fast, and Stephen cursed as her wash took hold of his
little boat and tossed her up and banged her against the wall and the
rickety steps. John, leaning anxiously over, could hear his muttered
execrations as he fended her off.

Then there was a hot, whispered argument--on the best way of getting the
body down, Stephen standing swaying in the boat, with his face upturned,
like some ridiculous moonlight lover, John flinging down assertions and
reasonings in a forced whisper which broke now and then into a harsh
undertone. Stephen thought it should be carted down the steps. John,
with an aching objection to further prolonged contact with the thing,
said it should be lowered with a rope. "Haven't you a bit of rope?" he
reiterated--"a bit of rope--much the best."

Sick of argument, Stephen fumbled with wild mutterings in his locker,
and brought out in a muddle of oil-cans and tools a length of stout
cord. Together they made a rough bight about Emily's middle, together
lifted her to the flat stone parapet of the wall.

When she was there a dog barked suspiciously in Hammerton Terrace;
another echoed him along The Chase. The two men crouched against the
wall in a tense and ridiculous agitation.

Through all these emergencies and arguments and muffled objurgations
there stirred in John's mind ironical recollections of passages in
detective stories, where dead bodies were constantly being transported
with facility and dispatch in any desired direction. It seemed so easy
in the books, it was so damnably difficult in practice--or so they were
finding it.

And always there was the menace of Margery's return; she must be back
soon, she would certainly come out into the garden on a night like
this....

When they had the body stretched flat and ready on the wall, Stephen
went back into the boat. It had sidled down below the steps, and had to
be hauled back. The tide was maddeningly strong. Stephen urged the boat
with imprecations under the wall. To keep it there he must hold on
stoutly with a boathook, and could give little help to John in the
detested task of lowering the sack. John's hands were clammy with sweat
like the hands of a gross man. He gripped the rope with a desperate
energy and thrust Emily gently over the side. The rope dragged and
scraped across the parapet; the body swayed in the moonlight with a
preposterous see-saw motion. When it was half-way to the water, they
heard a tug puffing rhythmically towards them--somewhere beyond the
Island. It was not yet in sight, but a resistless unreasoning panic
immediately invaded them. Stephen, with one free hand, clawed recklessly
at an edge of sacking; John, in a furious effort to quicken the descent
of Emily, lost altogether his control of the rope. The rope slipped
swiftly through his moist and impotent palms. Emily, with an
intimidating bump and a wooden clatter of sculls, fell ponderously into
the boat and lay sprawled across the gunwale. A sibilant "Damned fool!"
slid up the wall from Stephen, almost overbalanced by the sudden descent
of the body. The two men waited with an elaborate assumption of
innocence while the tug fussed past, their hearts pounding absurdly.
Then, before the wash had come, John Egerton stepped gingerly down the
creaking steps, and they pushed out into the rolling reflection of the
moon. The nose of the boat lifted steeply on the oily swell of the tug's
wash, and the head of Emily slipped down with a thump over the thwart,
her feet still projecting obliquely over the side; John Egerton pulled
them in. He looked back with a new disquiet at the still and silvery
houses of Hammerton Terrace, at the dim shrubberies along The Chase.
There were lights in some of the houses. Out there under the public moon
he felt very visible and suspect--a naked feeling.

He heard a remote mutter from Stephen, paddling in the bows: "Too many
of these damned tugs!" and another: "This filthy _moon_!" They were
working slowly against the tide between the Island and the mainland of
The Chase. Stephen's plan was to round the top of the Island, cross the
river, and get rid of Emily in the shadows of the other side, drifting
down with the tide.

Even in the narrow channel by the bank the tide was exasperating, and
paddling the boat, heavy with the engine, was slow work and strenuous.
But the engine would be too noisy. And it was an uncertain starter.

Stephen said at last, "Hell! get out the sculls!"

John Egerton groped in the locker for rowlocks with an oppressive sense
of incompetence and delay. His fingers moved with an ineffectual
urgency in a messy confusion of spanners and oil-cans, tins of grease,
and slimy labyrinths of thin cord. Only one rowlock was discoverable.
The finding of the second became in his mind a task of inconceivable
importance and difficulty. Vast issues depended on it--Stephen ...
Margery ... babies ... Emily Gaunt ... and somehow or other Mrs. Bantam.
Thunderous mutterings rolled down distantly from the bows. John groaned
helplessly. He caught his fingers sharply on the edge of a screw-driver.
"It's not here ... it's not here ... it _can't_ be, Stephen." With a
sense of heroic measures he hauled out in clattering handfuls the whole
muddle of implements in the locker. Under the electric coil lurked the
missing rowlock.

"Row, then, like the devil," ordered Stephen. Out here, in this strange
watery adventure, Stephen was the readily acknowledged commander. John
rowed, with grunts and splashings.

They rounded the Island, the moon glowing remotely beyond it through the
traceries of young willow stems. Stephen was doing something with an
anchor at the mouth of the sack, breathing audibly through his nose.
John sculled obliquely across the river, struggling against the tide,
steadily losing ground, he felt. "Losing ground," he thought insanely,
"ought to be losing _water_, of course." So strangely do the minds of
men move in critical hours.

When they were half-way over, the chunk-chunk of a motor-boat came
lazily upstream. "God!" said Stephen, "a police-boat." John thought,
"Will it _never_ end?" It was appalling, this accumulation of obstacles
and delays and potential witnesses. He was tired now, and acutely
conscious of a general perspiration.

They drifted downstream under the bank, while the police-boat phutted up
on the far side, a low black shape without lights. Caped figures
chattered easily in the stern and took no evident notice of the small
white motor-boat under the bank; but Stephen and John imagined fatal
suspicions and perceptions proceeding under the peaked caps. They
passed.

"_Now!_" Stephen was fiddling with his anchor again, tugging at a knot;
his tone was final. "Take her out into the middle again ... _quick_!"

John pulled gallantly with his left. They were opposite the house again
now, moving smoothly towards Hammersmith Bridge. No other craft was in
sight or sound.

Stephen said thickly, "If we don't get her over now, we never shall ...
stand by.... No, no ... you trim the boat.... I'll manage it."

He edged Emily close up against the gunwale, her extremities on a
couple of thwarts, her middle sagging down the side of the boat. He
looked quickly up the river and down the river and at Hammerton Terrace
and at the oil-mills below and at the empty towpath on the opposite
bank, all silent, all still. Stephen put a hand under the sack. Close by
a tiny fish leaped lightly from the river. Stephen saw the flash of its
belly, and took his hand away with a start. Then with a great heave
under Emily's middle, a violent pushing and lifting with feet and body
and arms, that set the sculls clattering and the boat precariously
rocking he got the body half over the gunwale, John perched anxiously on
the other side, striving to correct the already dangerous list. Stephen
struggled blasphemously with the infuriating sack. Somehow, somewhere it
was maddeningly entangled with something in the boat. Frantic tugging
and thrusting, irritable oaths, moved it not at all. John looked
fearfully behind him. A lighted omnibus was swimming through space,
perilously near ... Hammersmith Bridge. Stephen was kicking the body now
with a futile savagery.

"What the hell?" he said. "O God!"

John groped distantly with a hand in the dark. Then, "The anchor!" he
said--"the anchor's caught...." He heard a relieved "O Lord!" from
Stephen, "thought I'd put the anchor end over first"--and for the first
time made himself a petulant comment, "Why the devil didn't you?" It
was too much--this sort of thing. Then the shaggy end of the sack was
slithering quietly over the side, the anchor twinkled swiftly in the
moon, and the relieved boat rocked suddenly with a wild, delighted
levity. Emily was gone.

Peering back upstream, the two men saw a slowly expanding circle on the
black water And there were a few bubbles. Emily was indeed gone.

Stephen sat in a limp posture of absolute exhaustion, his shoulders
hunched, his head on his hands, speechless.

John looked at his watch. It was a quarter-past ten--only about an hour
since Emily died. He stared incredulous at the faintly luminous hands.
Then he looked round; the boat seemed to be drifting very fast. On his
right were the boat-houses, a dark huddle of boats clinging to the rafts
in front of them. The boat-houses were next to the Bridge.

He looked back and up, with a new fear. The long span of the suspension
bridge hung almost above them. A bus rumbled ominously above. Two
persons were standing on the footpath against the parapet, looking down
at the boat. He could see the pale blobs of their faces. One of them had
a Panama hat.

The boat shot into the dark under the Bridge.

John leaned forward. "Stephen," he whispered--"Stephen." There was no
answer. John touched his knee. "Stephen."

A yellow face lifted slowly. "What is it?"

"There was some one watching on the Bridge ... two men."

Stephen sighed with a profound weariness.

"It can't be helped," he said.

A dreadful paralysis seemed to have succeeded the heavy strain. He
looked as the men used to look after a long spell in the line, sitting
at last in a dingy billet--played out.

John Egerton took the sculls and turned the boat round. The boat moved
stiffly, with a steady gurgle at the bows; the noiseless tide swung
violently by; the oars creaked complainingly.

"This _tide_ ..." muttered John.

Stephen Byrne raised his head. "The tide's going out," he said
stupidly.



IV


Margery Byrne walked home very happily from the Underground Station at
Stamford Brook, The ticket collector uttered a reverent "Good night,
mum"; the policeman at the corner of St. Peter's Square brightened
suddenly at her and saluted with the imperishable manner of past
military service. The world was very kind and friendly, she felt. But
that was the usual manner of the world to Margery Byrne. The world
invariably looked at her as it passed her in the street. The male world
invariably looked again. The mannerless male world usually looked back.
The shameless male world stared at her in Tubes and manoeuvred
obviously for commanding positions. But that part of the world, having
secured its positions, was generally either disappointed or abashed.
There was an aspect of fragility and virtue about her which stirred in
the bold and shameless male the almost atrophied instincts of chivalry
and protection. After a little they ceased to stare, but opened doors
for her with a conscious knighthood. There are women who make a man feel
evil at the sight of them. Margery made a man feel good.

But this aspect of fragility was without any suggestion of feebleness.
It was just that she was slight and fair, and her face small and her
features intensely delicate and refined. She had a rarefied look--as if
all flaws and imperfections and superfluities had been somehow
chemically removed, leaving only the essential stamina and grace. For
she had stamina. She walked with an easy un-urban swing, and she could
walk a long way. Her lips were little and slightly anæmic, but firm.
There was an evident will in the determined and perfectly proportioned
chin. The nose was small but admirably straight and set very close above
the mouth. Only her large blue eyes seemed a little out of proportion,
but these suggested a warm sympathy which the smallness of her features
might otherwise have concealed. Her head, balanced attractively on
straight white shoulders, was covered gloriously, if a little thinly,
with hair of a light gold, an indescribable tint not often encountered
outside the world of books. But such, in fact, was Margery's hair. Her
skin also was of a colour and texture not to be painted in words--it had
that indefinable quality for which there has been discovered no better
name than transparent. And this pale, almost colourless quality of
complexion completed the effect of fragility, of physical refinement.

It was still and sultry in St. Peter's Square. The old moon hung above
the church and lit up the ridiculous stone eagles on the decayed and
pompous houses on Margery's right. "Like lecterns," she thought, for the
thousandth time.

The houses were square and semi-detached, two in one; a life-size eagle
perched over every porch, its neck screwed tragically towards its
sister-eagle craning sympathetically on the neighbouring porch, seeking
apparently for ever a never-to-be-attained communion. What sort of
people lived there, Margery wondered, and why? So far from town and no
view of the river, no special attraction. The people of The Chase always
wondered in this way as they walked through St. Peter's Square. The
problems of who lived in it and why were permanently insoluble since
nobody who lived in The Chase knew anybody who lived in the Square. They
knew each other, and that was enough. They knew it was worth while
travelling a long way if you lived in The Chase, because of the river,
the views, the openness, and the fine old rambling, rickety houses. But
why should any one live in an inland square with eagles over the front
doors?

Margery did not know. And she had other things to think of. Tomorrow she
must speak seriously to Emily. Emily, like all these young women, had
started excellently, but was becoming slack. And impertinent, sometimes.
But one must be careful. Just now was not the time to frighten her
away. Then Trueman's man was coming for the curtains in the morning;
they must be got ready. And there was a mountain of needlework to be
done. And she must run through Stephen's clothes again--before she was
too ill for it. Only a month more now, perhaps less. That was a
blessing. She was not frightened this time--not like the first time,
with little Joan--that _had_ been rather terrifying--not knowing quite
what it was like. But it was a long, interminable business; for such
ages, it seemed, you had to "be careful," not play tennis, or go out to
dinner just when you wanted to. You felt a fool sometimes, inventing
reasons for not doing things, when of course there was only one reason.
And so ugly--especially in London ... going about in shops ... and
Tubes.

Never mind. It was worth it. And afterwards....

Margery cast her mind deliciously forward to that "afterwards." They
would all go away somewhere, her dear Stephen and Joan and a new and
adorable little Stephen. She was determined that it should be a boy this
time. That was what Stephen wanted, and what he wanted, within reason,
he should have. He deserved it, the dear man. Really, he was becoming an
amazingly perfect husband. Becoming, yes--for just at first he had been
difficult. But that was during the war; they had seen so little of each
other--and he was always worried, overworked. But now they had really
"settled down," the horrid war was done with, and he had been too
wonderfully delightful and nice to her. Lately especially. Much more
considerate and helpful and--and, yes, demonstrative. She felt more sure
of him. She was appalled, sometimes, to think how essential he was to
her, how frightfully dependent she had become on the existence of this
one man, met quite by chance, or what was called chance, at somebody
else's house. If anything should happen now--Even the children would be
a poor consolation.

But nothing would happen. He would go on being more and more delicious
and successful; she would go on being happy and proud, watching eagerly
the maturement of her ambitions for him. Even now she was intensely
proud of him--though, of course, it would never do to let him suspect
it.

It was an astounding thing, this literary triumph. Secretly, she
admitted, she had never had enormous faith in his poetical powers. She
had liked his work because it was his. And being the daughter of a
mildly literary man, she had developed a serious critical faculty
capable of generously appraising any artistic effort of real sincerity
and promise. But she had seldom thought of Stephen's poetry in terms of
the market, of public favour and material reward. Certainly she had not
married him as "a poet" or even "a writer." But that only made his
meteoric success more dazzling and delightful. Sometimes it was almost
impossible to realize, she found, that this young man she had married
was the same Stephen Byrne whose name was everywhere--on the bookstalls,
in the publishers' advertisements, in literary articles in any paper you
picked up; that all over the country men and women were buying and
reading and re-reading and quoting and discussing bits of poetry which
_her_ husband had scribbled down on odd bits of paper at her own house.
It was astounding. Margery was passing the small houses at the end of
the Square, the homes of clerks and shop-people and superior artisans.
She glanced at a group of wives, garrulously taking the air at a
doorway, and almost pitied them because _their_ husbands' names were
never before the public. It seemed awful, now, to be absolutely obscure.

No. She didn't think that really. After all, it was an "extra," this
fame. It had nothing to do with her marrying Stephen; it would have
nothing to do with her happiness with Stephen. It was a kind of
matrimonial windfall. What really mattered was Stephen himself, and
Margery herself, and the way in which they fitted together. What, she
really--yes, _adored_--there was no other word--was himself, his black
hair and his twinkling smile, his laugh and jolliness and funny little
ways. And his character. That, of course, was the foundation of it all.
A dear and excellent character. Other men, even the best of them, did
horrid things sometimes. Stephen, she knew, with all his faults--a
little selfish, perhaps--conceited? no, but self-centred, rather--would
never do anything mean or degrading or treacherous. She could trust him
absolutely. He would certainly never disgrace her as some men did
disgrace their wives--women, drink, and so on. "The soul of
honour"--that was the phrase.... That, again, was a marvellous piece of
fortune, that out of a world of peccant questionable men she should have
been allowed to appropriate a man like Stephen, so nearly perfect and
secure. No wonder she had this consuming, this frightening sense of
adoration, sometimes. But she tried to suppress that. It was dangerous.
"Thou shalt not bow down ..."

Margery smiled secretly and turned her latch-key in the lock.

In the hall she noticed immediately Stephen's hat on the peg, and was
glad that he was home. She walked through with her letters to the
garden, and looked out over the wall. The boat was gone, and she was
faintly disappointed. Far down the river she fancied she saw it, a dirty
whiteness, and resisted an impulse to call to Stephen. It must be nice
on the river tonight. The rabbits rustled stealthily in the corner; a
faint unpleasant smell hung about their home. She looked absently at the
rabbit Paul, his nose twitching endlessly in the moonlight, and went in
to bed.

When she had undressed she leaned for a long time out of the high window
looking at the night. Across the river lay the broad reservoirs of the
water company, and the first houses were half a mile away; so that from
the window on a night like this you looked over seemingly endless
stretches of gleaming water; strangers coming there at night-time
wondered at the wide spaciousness of this obscure corner of London. You
could imagine yourself easily in some Oriental city. Hammersmith and
Chiswick and Barnes wore a romantic coat of shadow and silver. The
carved reflections of the small trees on the other bank were so nearly
like reflected rows of palms. The far-off outline of factories against
the sky had the awe and mystery of mosques. In the remote murmur of
London traffic there was the note, at once lazy and sinister,
treacherous and reposeful, of an Eastern town. And now when no tugs
went by and nothing stirred, the silent river, rushing smoothly into the
black heart of London, had for Margery something of the sombre majesty
of the Nile, hinting at dark unnameable things, passion and death and
furtive cruelties, and all that sense of secrecy and crime which clings
to the river-side of great cities, the world over.

Margery wondered idly how much of all that talk about the Thames was
true; whether horrible things were still done secretly beside her
beloved river, hidden and condoned by the river, carried away to the
sea.... Down in the docks, no doubt.... Wapping and so on.

The prosaic thumping of a tug broke the spell of Margery's imagination.
She looked up and down for Stephen's boat, a faint crossness in her mind
because of his lateness. She got into bed. She was sleepy, but she would
read and doze a little till he came in.

She woke first drowsily to the hollow sound of oars clattering in a
boat, a murmur of low voices and subdued splashings ... Stephen mooring
the boat ... how late he was.

A long while afterwards, it seemed, she woke again: Stephen was creaking
cautiously up the stairs. She felt that he was peeping at her round the
door, murmured sleepily, "How late you are," dimly comprehended his soft
excuses ... something about the tide ... caught by the tide ... engine
went wrong ... of course ... always did ... raised her head with a vast
effort to be kissed ... a very delicate and reverent kiss ... remembered
to ask if Cook was back ... mustn't lock the front door ... half heard a
deep "Good night, my darling, go to sleep" ... and drifted luxuriously
to sleep again, to comfortable dreams of Stephen, dreams of babies ...
moonlight ... especial editions ... palm trees and water--peaceful,
silvery water.

Long afterwards there was a distant fretful interruption, hardly heeded.
A stir outside. Cook's voice ... Stephen's voice ... something about
Emily. Emily Gaunt ... not come home ... must speak seriously to Emily
tomorrow ... can't be bothered now. Stephen see to it ... Stephen and
Cook. Cook's voice, raucous. Cook's night out ... late ... go to bed,
Cook ... go to bed ... go to bed, everybody ... all's well.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stephen turned out the light and crept away to the little room behind,
thanking God for the fortunate sleepiness of his wife. The dreaded
moment had passed.

He sat down wearily on the bed and tried to reduce the whirling tangle
in his brain to order. He ought, of course, to be thinking things out,
planning precautions, explanations, studied ignorances. But he was too
muddled, too tired. God, how tired! Lugging that hateful sack about. And
that awful row home--more than a mile against the tide, though John had
done most of that, good old John.... (There was something disturbing he
had said to John, when they parted at last--what the devil was it?...
Something had slipped out.... An intangible, uneasy memory prodded him
somewhere ... no matter.) And then when he did get back, what a time he
had had in the scullery, tidying the refuse on the floor, groping about
under a table ... hundreds of pieces of paper, grease-paper, newspaper,
paper bags, orange skins, old tins, bottles.... He had gathered them all
and put them in a bucket, a greasy bucket, with tea-leaves at the
bottom ... carried it down to the river on tiptoe ... four journeys.
God, what a night!

But it was over now--it was over--that part of it. All that was wanted
now was a straight face, a little acting, and some straightforward
lying. "God knows, I can lie all right," Stephen thought, "though nobody
knows it." What lie was it he had invented about the sack, tired as he
was? Oh yes, that John had borrowed it, and that John had first emptied
the rubbish into the river.... Yes, he had coached John on the steps
about that ... told him to keep it up if necessary. Old John had looked
funny when he said that. John didn't like lies, even necessary ones. A
bit of a prig, old John.

Stephen pulled at the bow of his black tie and fumbled at the stud. He
took off one sock and scratched his ankle reflectively. It was a pity
about John. He was such a good fellow, really, such a good friend. He
had helped him splendidly tonight, invaluable. But God knew what he felt
about it all.... Shocked, of course.... Flabbergasted (whatever that
meant). The question was, how would he get over the shock? How would he
feel when he woke up? Would he be permanently shocked, stop being
friends?... He was a friend worth keeping, old John. And his opinion was
worth having, his respect. Anyhow, it was going to be awkward. One would
always feel a bit mean and ashamed now with John--in the wrong,
somehow.... Stephen hated to feel in the wrong.

Cook lumbered breathlessly up the stairs, and halted with a loud sigh on
the landing. She knocked delicately on Mrs. Byrne's door and threw out a
tentative, "If you please, mum." Stephen went out. The acting must
begin.

"What is it, Mrs. Beach--speak low--Mrs. Byrne's asleep."

"It's Emily, sir, if you please, sir, turned half-past eleven now, sir,
and she's not in the house. I didn't speak before, sir, thinking she
might have slipped out like for a bit of a turn and met a friend like.
She weren't in the kitchen, sir, when I come in, nor in the bedroom
neither. I thought perhaps as how you'd seen her, sir, when you come in
and sent her on a herrand like. What had I best do sir shall I lock up
sir it's late for a young girl and gone out without her mack too."

Mrs. Beach concluded her remarks with a long, unpunctuated peroration as
if fearful that her scanty wind should fail altogether before she had
fully delivered herself.

Stephen thought rapidly. Had he sent Emily out on a "herrand," or had he
not seen her at all?

He said, "No, Mrs. Beach, I didn't see her; I went straight out on to
the river. No doubt she went out for a little walk and met a friend, as
you say. She'll be back soon, no doubt, and I'm afraid you'll have to
let her in ... very naughty of her to stay out so late. Nothing to be
done, I fear. Good night, Mrs. Beach."

Mrs. Beach caught sympathetically at Stephen's meaning suggestion of
Emily's naughtiness. "Good night, sir," she puffed; "she always was a
one for the young men, though I says it myself, but there youth will
'ave its fling, they say, and sorry I am to disturb you, sir, but I
thought as I'd best speak, it was that late, sir."

"Quite right, Mrs. Beach. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

Mrs. Beach sighed herself ponderously down the dark stairs. Stephen went
back into his room with a startling sense of elation. He had done that
well. It would be marvellously easy if it was all like that. That word
"naughty" had been a masterpiece; he was proud of it. Already he had set
moving a plausible explanation of Emily's disappearance--Emily's
frailty--Emily's "friend." Cook would do the rest. Mentally he chuckled.

Suddenly then he appreciated the vileness on which he was congratulating
himself, and the earlier blackness settled upon him. Something like
conscience, something like remorse, had room to stir in place of his
abated fears. It was going to be a wretched business, this "easy" lying
and hypocrisy and deceit--endless stretches of wickedness seemed to open
out before him. What a mess it was! How the devil had it happened--to
him, Stephen Byrne, the reputed, respectable young author?

Suddenly--like the lights fusing ... What, in Heaven's name, had made
him do it? Emily Gaunt, of all people.... Curse Emily! He wasted no pity
on her, no sentimental sorrow for the wiping out of a warm young life.
Emily had brought it on herself, the little fool. It was her
fault--really.... Stephen was too self-centred to be gravely disturbed
by thoughts of Emily, except so far as she was likely to affect his
future peace of mind. And he had seen too much of death in the war to be
much distressed by the fact of death. His inchoate remorse was more of a
protest than a genuine regret for wrong--a protest against the wounding
of self-respect, against the coming worries and anxieties and necessary
evasions, and all the foreseen unpleasantness which this damnable night
had forced upon him. It must not happen again, this kind of thing. Too
upsetting. Stephen began to make fierce resolutions, as sincere as any
resolutions can be that rest on such unsubstantial foundations. He was
going to be a better fellow in future--a better husband.... People
thought a lot of him at present--and they were deceived. In future he
would live up grandly to "people's" conception of him, to Margery's
conception of him.

When he thought of Margery he was suddenly and intensely ashamed. That
aspect of his conduct he had so far managed to ignore. Now he became
suddenly hot at the thought of it. He had behaved damnably to Margery.
Supposing she had come back earlier, discovered Emily. "A--a--ah!" A
strangled exclamation burst from him, as men groan in spite of
themselves at some story of brutality or pain. Sweat stood about his
temples. Poor Margery, so patient and loving and trustful. What a swine
he had been! The resolutions swelled enormously ... no more drinking ...
the drink had done it ... he would knock it off altogether. No, not
altogether--that was silly, unnecessary. In moderation. He slipped his
trousers to the floor.

Margery thought too much of him, believed in him too well. It was
terrible, in a way, being an idol; life would be easier if one had a bad
reputation, even an ordinary "man-of-the-world" reputation. A character
of moral perfection was a heavy burden, if you were not genuinely equal
to it. Never mind, in future, he _would_ be equal to it; he _would_ be
perfect. Tender and chivalrous thoughts of Margery invaded him; the
resolutions surged wildly up, an almost religious emotion glowed warmly
inside him; he felt somehow as he used to feel at Communion, walking
back to his seat. He used to pray in those days, properly.... He felt
like praying now.

He tied the string of his pyjamas and knelt down by the small bed. It
was a long time since he had prayed. During the war, in tight corners,
when he had been terribly afraid, he had prayed--the sick, emergency
supplications of all soldiers--the "O God, get me out of this and I will
be good" kind of prayer. The _padres_ used to preach sermons about such
prayers, and sometimes Stephen had determined to pray always at the safe
times as well as the dangerous, but this had never lasted for long. Now
his prayers were on the same note, wrung out of him like his resolutions
by the urgent emotions of the moment, sincere but bodiless.

He prayed, "O God, I have been a fool and a swine. O God, forgive me for
this night's work and get me out of the mess safely, and I will--I will
be good." That was the only way of expressing it--"being good," like a
child. "In future I will be a better man and pray more often. O God,
keep this from Margery, for her sake, not mine. O God, forgive me, and
make me better. Amen."

Stephen rose from his knees, a little relieved, but with an
uncomfortable sense of bargaining. It was difficult to pray without
driving a bargain, somehow ... like some of those wretched hymns:

    "And when I see Thee as Thou art
      I'll praise Thee as I ought,"

for instance, a close, inescapable contract. The old tune sang in his
head. But if one prayed properly, no doubt one learned to exclude that
commercial flavour.--How hot it was!

He turned out the light and crept slowly under the sheets. For a long
time he lay staring at the dark, thinking now of Emily's night-dress....
Probably it was marked--in neat red letters--Emily Gaunt. Probably the
sacking would wear away where the rope went through it, dragging with
the tide. Probably.... Hideous possibilities crowded back and gloom
returned to him. And what was it he had said to John? He had forgotten
about that. Something silly had slipped out, when John had looked so
shocked, something intended to soothe John's terrible conscience,
something about "doing the right thing afterwards"--after the baby had
safely come. "I'll put things right then," he remembered saying. What
the devil had he meant by that? What did John think he had meant? Hell!

Stephen threw off the blanket; he was sweating again.

When the cold chime of St. Peter's struck three he lay still maddeningly
awake in a feverish muddle of thought. Then at last he slept, dreaming
wildly.

Emily Gaunt shifted uneasily in her oozy bed, tugging at her anchor, as
the tide rolled down.



V


Every misfortune which can happen to a man who travels Underground in
London had happened to John Egerton. Worn and irritable with a sultry
day at the Ministry he had jostled with a shuffling multitude on to the
airless platform at Charing Cross. From near the bottom of the stairs he
saw that an Ealing train was already in; more important, the train was
stopping at Stamford Brook. Stamford Brook was a "non-stop station," so
that if you missed your train in the busy hours you might wait for an
intolerable time. On this sweltering evening it was urgent to escape as
quickly as possible from the maddening crowd of sticky citizens and
simpering girls. It was urgent to catch that train. Already they were
slamming home the doors. John made a nightmare attempt to hurry down the
last few steps and across to that train. His way was blocked by a mob of
deliberate backs, unaccountably indifferent to the departure of the
Ealing train, and moving with exasperating slowness. John, with mumbled
and insincere apologies, dived through the narrow alley between a portly
man and a portly woman. Whistles were blowing now, but once down the
stairs the way would be fairly clear to the desirable train. Only round
the foot of the stairs hovered a bewildered family, a shoal of small
children clinging to their expansive mother and meagre sire, wondering
stupidly what they ought to do next in this strange muddle of a place.
They were back from some country jaunt and bristled with mackintoshes
and small chairs and parcels and spades and other impassable
excrescences.

John governed himself and said, "Excuse me, please," with a difficult
assumption of calm. None of them moved. John longed to seize the little
idiots by the throat and fling them aside, to knock down the meagre man
and trample upon him. Instead, he shouted aggressively, "Let me pass,
please!"--the train was moving now. The large woman looked back, with a
frightened air, shot out an arm with a sharp "Mabel!" and plucked her
first-born daughter aside by the flesh of her arm pinched painfully
between finger and thumb. The child screeched, but the way was clear,
and John flung forward. An open door was moving almost opposite him; he
had only to swing himself in. Then from nowhere appeared a youthful
uniformed official, who barred the way with an infuriating aspect of
authority, and slammed fast the receding door. The train slid
clattering past and vanished with a parting flicker of blue flashes. The
boy walked off with an Olympian and incorruptible air, not looking at
John, as who should say, "Tamper not with me." Interfering ass! John had
an impulse to go after and abuse him, demonstrate with fierce argument
the folly of the youth. The waiting crowd observed him with the
heartless amusement of crowds, hoping secretly that he would lose his
temper, provide entertainment. John saw them and controlled himself,
thinking with a conscientious effort, "His duty, I suppose," and
contented himself with a long glower at the obstructive family.

The next train was a Wimbledon one; the next an Inner Circle; the next a
Richmond, not stopping at Stamford Brook. The endless people shuffled
always down the stairs, drifted aimlessly along the platform, jostled
and barged good-humouredly about the teeming trains. Government flappers
congregated giggling in small groups, furtively examined by ambulant
young men. In spite of the heat and the stuffy smell of humanity and the
exasperation of crowded travelling there was a pleasant atmosphere of
contentment and goodwill. Only here and there were the fretful and
distressed, mainly countryfolk, unaccustomed to the hardships of London.
Tonight the equable John was among these petulant ones, which was
unusual. He was worried and depressed--in no mood for a prolonged
entanglement with a hot crowd. Never had he waited so long. Number 1 on
the indicator now was a Putney train; Number 2 another Inner
Circle--what the devil did they want with so many Circle trains? And why
was Stamford Brook a non-stop station? Hundreds of people used it--far
more than Sloane Square, for example, or St. James' Park. He would write
a letter to the Company about these things. The terms of his letter
began to frame themselves in his mind--conceived in the best Civil
Service style: "It is evident ... convenience of greatest number of
passengers ... revised program ... facilities ... volume of traffic ..."
The Putney train racketed away; Number 2 was an Ealing now. John edged
up to the glaring bookstall and stood with a row of men staring idly at
the dusty covers of old sevenpennies--price two shillings. None of these
men bought anything, only stood silent and gazed, as if in wonder at
such a multitude of unbuyable books. On the cover of one of them--_Three
Years with the Hapsburgs: the Thrilling Chronicle of an English
Governess_--the gaudy picture of a young woman caught his eye. It
reminded him somehow of Emily Gaunt, and he turned away. He did not want
to be reminded of Emily.

The Ealing train came in, and John was swept in with a tight mass of
people through the middle doors of a smoking carriage. The atmosphere
was a suffocating mixture of hot breath and evil tobacco-smoke. The
carriage was packed. Men and women stood jammed together like troops in
a communication-trench. Here and there a clerk stood up with a sheepish
mumble and a sallow woman sank thankfully into his seat. John stared
with increasing resentment at the rows of men who did not get up--tired
labourers in corduroy trousers who sat on in unmoved contentment, or
gross men with cigars who screened themselves behind evening papers,
pretending they did not notice the standing women.

The train stopped, and there was a fierce squeezing and struggling at
the doors. A man behind John remembered suddenly that he wanted to get
out, and began with much heaving and imprecation to hew a passage,
treading violently on John's ankle. But by now there were more people
surging inwards, clinging precariously to the fringe of the mob. The
train rushed on, and the man was left within it, cursing feebly. John
felt glad, maliciously, ridiculously glad. But when he looked again at
the sedentary gross men, the placid labourers, and at the short, pale
women swaying in the centre he became righteously furious with the evil
manners of the men. He felt that he would like to address them, curse
them about it--that fat one with the insolent leer and the cap all
cock-eye, especially; he would say loudly at the next station, "Why
don't you give one of these ladies your seat?" Then the man would _have_
to get up, would stand shamed before the world, while some grateful
female--that nurse there--took his seat. Perhaps all the others would
follow.

Or perhaps it would happen quite differently. The man would not hear, or
pretend not to hear; and he, John, would have to repeat his remark,
losing greatly in dramatic force. And every one would stare at him, as
if he were a madman! Or the man would surrender his seat with a sweet
smile and an apology, "Very sorry, I didn't see"; and then the fools of
women would refuse to take the seat. They would all say they were
getting out at the next station; they would all simper and deprecate and
behave like lunatics. The man would hover with a self-righteous,
ingratiating smirk and sit down again. And John Egerton would look a
fool. No--it couldn't be done. What cowards men were!

A very hot and spotty man breathed disgustingly in John's face; unable
to move his body, he turned his head away to the left. On that side
stood a robust young woman, with hatpins menacingly projecting from a
red straw hat. Her head rocked as the train jolted: the cherries on her
hat bobbed ridiculously, the naked hatpin-points swung backwards and
forwards in front of John's eye. He turned back to the disgusting breath
of the spotty man.

At Earl's Court the crowd melted a little; there were no seats, but
there was room to breathe--room to stand by oneself, free from pressure
of strange bodies. At Baron's Court he crept into a seat. At Hammersmith
a noisy mob of shop-girls and hobble-dehoys surged in, and he
surrendered his seat to a young woman, who was munching something. She
sat down with a giggle and took her sister on her lap. Together they
eyed him, with whispered jocularities. Only two more stations.

The lights were out now. The train ran out through the daylight on to a
high embankment, past an interminable series of dingy houses. There was
more air. The filthy smoke eddied out of the narrow windows. The train
rocked enormously--a bad piece of line. Looking down the car from his
place by the door, John saw through the haze an interminable vista of
uniform right hands fiercely clinging to uniform straps, of right arms
uniformly crooked, of bowed heads uniformly bent over evening papers, of
endless backs uniformly enduring and dull. And as the train gave a
lurch, all the elbows swung out together towards the windows, and all
the bodies bent outward like willows in the wind, and all the heads were
lifted together in a mute and uniform protest. It was all like some
fantastic physical drill. Then he fell into the weary stupor of the
habitual Underground traveller, listening semiconsciously to the insane
chatter of the chuckling girls. Ravenscourt Park shot by unnoticed. The
train ran on for ever.

Stooping suddenly, he saw the familiar letters of Stamford Brook dashing
past at an astonishing speed. Surely--surely the train was stopping. The
porters' room--the ticket collector--the passenger-shelter--the Safety
First pictures--the advertisement of What Ho!--the other name-board of
the station--the whole station--shot maddeningly past. The train rushed
on to the intolerable remoteness of Turnham Green. Hell! John Egerton
uttered an audible groan of vexation. _Two_ non-stop trains running! It
was unpardonable. He had not even thought to look at the non-stop labels
on the train at Charing Cross. It was too bad. Another matter for the
letter to the Company! The women looked at his scowling face and giggled
again, whispering behind their hands.

From Turnham Green you might walk home; but it took nearly twenty
minutes. Or if you were lucky you caught a train quickly back to
Stamford Brook. As they came into the station, John saw an up-train
gliding off on the other side of the same platform. Of course! just
missed it! And no doubt the next one would decline to stop at Stamford
Brook! Once you began having bad luck on the Underground you might as
well give up all hope of improving it that day. You might as well walk.
He _would_ walk. But how damnable it all was!

He waited with the thick crowd at the ticket gate, fumbling for his
ticket in his waistcoat pocket. That was where he had put it--he always
did. Always in the same place--as a methodical man should do. But it was
not there. It was not in the other waistcoat pocket--nor in his
right-hand trouser pocket. "Now, then," said an aggressive voice behind,
and he stepped aside. Lost his place in the queue, now! He put down his
dispatch-case and felt furiously in his pockets with both hands. The
passengers dwindled down the stairs; he was left alone, regarded
indifferently by the bored official. This was a fitting climax to an
abominable journey.

He found it at last, lurking in the flap of a tobacco-pouch, and because
he had come too far he was forced to pay another penny. There was a
preposterous argument. "Putting a premium on inconvenience!"

He walked home at last, cursing foolishly, and adding new periods to
his letter to the Company. All over London men and women walked back to
their homes that evening through the hot streets, bitter and irritated
and physically distressed, ruminating on the problem of over-population
and the difficulties of movement in the hub of the world--only a small
proportion, it is true, as bitter and irritated as John, but every night
the same proportion, every night a thousand or two. Historians, it is to
be hoped, and scientists and statisticians, when they write up their
estimates of that year, will not fail to record the mental and physical
fatigue, the waste of tissue and nervous energy, imposed upon the
citizens of our great Metropolis by the simple necessity of proceeding
daily from their places of work to their places of residence. Small
things, these irritations, an odd penny here, an odd ten minutes there,
the difference between just catching and just missing a train, the
difference between just standing for twenty minutes, and just sitting
down--but they mounted up! They mounted up into vast excrescences of
discourtesy and crossness; they made calm and equable and polite persons
suddenly and amazingly abrupt and unkind.

John Egerton was seldom so seriously ruffled; but then it was seldom
that so peculiarly unfortunate a journey concluded so peculiarly painful
a day. A sticky and intolerable day. A "rushed" and ineffectual day.
"Things" had shown a deliberate perversity at the office, papers had
surprisingly lost themselves and thereafter surprisingly discovered
themselves at the most awkward moments; telephone girls had been pert,
telephone numbers permanently engaged. The Board of Trade had behaved
execrably. John's own Minister had been unusually curt--jumpy.

And hovering at the back of it all, a kind of master-irritation, which
governed and stimulated every other one, was the unpleasant memory of
Emily Gaunt.

So that he walked down the Square in a dark and melancholy temper. And
Emily Gaunt met him on the doorstep. The skinny successor of Emily Gaunt
in the household of the Byrnes stood at the doorway of his house,
talking timidly to Mrs. Bantam. She had come for "some sack or other,"
Mrs. Bantam explained. "And there's no sack in this house--that I _will_
swear." She spoke with the violent emphasis of all Mrs. Bantams, as if
the presence of a sack in a gentleman's house would have been an almost
unspeakable offence against chastity and good taste. The skinny maid
turned from her with relief to the less formidable presence of John.

"If you please, sir, Cook says as the missus says as Mrs. Byrne says
as--as"--the skinny maid faltered in this interminable forest of
"as's"--"as you 'as the big sack that was in the scullery, sir, and if
you've done with it, sir, could we 'ave it back, sir, as the man's come
for the bottles?"

The sack! Emily's sack! John had no need of the young woman's
exposition. He remembered vividly. He remembered now what Stephen had
said about it--in the boat--under the wall. John had "borrowed" it. He
remembered now. But what the devil had he borrowed it for? And why--why
should he have to stand on his own doorstep this terrible day and invent
lies for a couple of women?

And what had the man coming for the bottles to do with it, he wondered?

But a lie must be invented--and quickly. He said, "Will you tell Mrs.
Byrne, I'm very sorry--I took the sack out in my boat--to--to collect
firewood--and--and--lost it--overboard, you know? Tell her I'm very
sorry, will you, and I'll get her another sack?" He tried to smile
nicely at the young woman; a painful smirk revealed itself.

"Thank you, sir."

The young woman melted away, and he walked indoors, feeling sullied and
ashamed. He hated telling lies. He was one of those uncommon members of
the modern world who genuinely object to the small insincerities of
daily life, lying excuses over the telephone for not going out to
dinner, manufactured "engagements," and so on. And the fact that this
lie was part of a grand conspiracy to protect a man from an indictment
for murder did not commend it. On the contrary, it enhanced that feeling
of "identification" with the end of Emily which he had been trying for
two weeks to shake off. Oh, it was damnable!

For his solitary dinner he opened a bottle of white wine--a rare
indulgence. He hoped earnestly that Mrs. Bantam would be less
communicative than usual. Mrs. Bantam had cooked and kept house for him
for six months. She was one of that invaluable body of semi-decayed but
capable middle-aged females who move through the world scorning and
avoiding the company of their own sex, and seeking for single gentlemen
with households; single gentlemen without female encumbrances; single
gentlemen over whom they may exercise an undisputed dominion; single
gentlemen who want "looking after," who are incapable of ordering their
own food or "seeing to" their own clothes, who would, it is to be
supposed, fade helplessly out of existence but for the constant comfort
and support of their superior cook-housekeepers.

Mrs. Bantam was intensely superior. From what far heights of luxury and
distinction she had descended to the obscure kitchen of Island Lodge
could be dimly apprehended from her dignity and her vocabulary and an
occasional allusive passage in her conversation. She was as the
transmigrant soul of some domestic pig, faintly aware of a nobler status
in some previous existence. Where or what that existence had been John
had never discovered; only he knew that it was noble, and that it had
ended abruptly many years ago with the inconsiderate decease of "my
hubby."

Mrs. Bantam, for all her dignity, was scraggy, and had the aspect of
chronic indigestion and decay. She was draped for ever in funereal
black, partly in memory of hubby, partly, no doubt, because black was
"superior." She walked, or rather proceeded, with an elegant stoop, her
head stuck forward like an investigating hen, her long arms hanging
straight down in front of her from her stooping shoulders like
plumb-lines, suspended from a leaning tower. Her face was pinched and
marvellously pale, and her black eyes retreated into unfathomable
recesses. Her chin receded and ended suddenly in a kind of fold, from
which a flabby isthmus of skin went straight to the base of her throat,
like the neck of a fowl; in this precarious envelope an Adam's apple of
operatic dimensions moved up and down with alarming velocity.

Like so many of the world's greatest personalities, she had a noble
soul, but she would make speeches. Her intercourse with others was one
long oration. And she was too urbane. When she laid the bacon before her
gentleman of the moment as he gazed moodily at his morning paper, she
would ask pardon in a shrill chirp, like the notes of a superannuated
yodeller, for "passing in front" of him. This used to drive John as near
to distraction as a Civil Servant can safely go. And though she had
watched over him for six months, she still reminded him at every meal
that she was as yet, of course, ill-acquainted with his tastes, and
therefore unable to cater for those peculiar whims and fancies in which
he differed from the last gentleman. By keeping sedulously alive this
glorious myth she was able to disdain all responsibility for her choice
and treatment of his food.

She served supper now with an injured air, and John knew that she must
be allowed to talk during the whole meal instead of only during the
fish. She always talked during the fish. It was her ration. For she was
lonely, poor thing, brooding all day in her basement. But when she was
offended, or hurt, or merely annoyed, it was John's policy to allow her
to exceed her ration.

So now she stood in the dark corner by the door, clutching an elbow
feverishly in each hand, as if she feared that at any moment her
fore-arms might fly away and be no more seen, and began:

"_Sack_, indeed! What next, I wonder? And I'm shore I hope you'll like
the fillet of plaice, Mr. Egerton, though reely I don't know _what_ your
tastes are. We all have our likes and dislikes as they say, and it takes
time learning gentlemen's little ways. But as for seeing a sack in
_this_ house--well, I'm shore I don't know when you had it, Mr. Egerton.
A pore young thing that maid they have, so mean and scraggy-looking--a
proper misery, _I_ call her. And Mrs. Byrne in that condition, too; one
would think they wanted a good _strong_ gairl to help about the house.
The doctor was sent for this afternoon, Mr. Egerton, and I don't wonder
it came so soon, what with the worry about that other hussy going off
like that--would you like the Worcester, Mr. Egerton? You must _tell_
me, you know, if there _is_ anything. I know the last gentleman would
have mushroom catchup, or ketchop as they call it--nothing would satisfy
him but mushroom catchup, and for those as like their insides messed up
with toadstools and dandelions I'm shore it's very tasty, but, as I was
saying, that Emily was a bad one and there's no mistake, gadding off
like that with a young man and not her night out, and then the sauce of
her people coming round and bothering Mrs. Byrne about her--the idea.
Cook tells me Mr. Byrne told them straight out about her goings on with
young men all the time she's been here, in and out, in and out night
after night--and--"

John woke up with a start.

"What's that you say, Mrs. Bantam? Mr. Byrne--Mr. Byrne did _what_?"

"I was just saying, sir, how Mr. Byrne told Emily's people what he
thought of her when they come worrying round the other day, so Cook was
telling me. A proper hussy she must have been and no mistake--not Cook I
mean, but that young Emily, gadding out night after night, young men and
followers and the good Lord knows what all. Are you ready for your
cutlet now, sir, and all that plaice left in the dish? Well, I never
did, if you aren't a poor eater, Mr. Egerton--and there's no doubt she
was out with one of them one night and went further than she meant, no
doubt, but if you make your bed you must lie on it, though I've no doubt
she's sorry now...."

Mrs. Bantam passed out into the kitchen, her voice trailing distantly
away like the voices of the Pilgrims in _Tannhauser_.

John sat silent, pondering darkly her disclosures. It was a fortnight
now since the fatal evening of Emily Gaunt's destruction and disposal.
During that fortnight he had not once seen Stephen Byrne in private.
They had met at the Underground Station; they had pressed against each
other in the rattling train, shouting odd scraps of conversation with
other members of The Chase; and John had marvelled at the easy
cheerfulness of his friend. But since that night he had never "dropped
in" or "looked in" at The House by the River in the evenings. He had
never been asked to come, and he was glad. He was afraid of seeing
Stephen alone, and he supposed that Stephen was afraid.

He had wondered sometimes what was going on in that house, had felt
sometimes that he ought to go round and be helpful. But he could not.
Like all The Chase, he had heard through his domestic staff of the
sudden and inexcusable disappearance of Emily Gaunt. The soundless,
uncanny systems of communication, which the more skilled Indian tribes
are reputed to employ, could not have disseminated with greater
thoroughness or rapidity than Mrs. Byrne's cook the precise details of
the Emily mystery; how they had carried on angrily without her for three
or four days, railing at her defection and lack of faith; how Mr. Byrne
had at last suggested that she might have met with an accident; how the
police had been informed; how they had prowled about the garden and
looked aimlessly under beds; how they had shaken their pompous heads
again and gone away, and all the rest of it. There had been no
explanation and few theories, so far, to account for the vanishing of
Emily. Now Mrs. Bantam had given him one, invented, apparently, and
propagated by Stephen. And it shook him like a blow. That poor
girl--as good as gold, so far as he knew--should be slandered and
vilified in death by the one man who should have taken care at least to
keep her name clean. A fierce note of scorn and disgust broke
involuntarily from him.

"Coming, sir," cried Mrs. Bantam, hurrying in with the almost
imperceptible bustle of a swan pressed for time. "And it's sorry I am
it's only a couple of cutlets I'm giving you, brown and nice as they
are, but could I get steak at the butcher's today? Not if I was the King
of Spain, sir, no, and the loin-chop that scraggy it was a regular piece
of profiteering to have it in the shop, that it was, let alone sell it.
Well, sir, as my poor hubby used to say, that young woman's no better
than she should be, and she's come to a bad end...."

"Never mind her now, Mrs. Bantam. We don't _know_ anything--"

"_Know_ anything! I should think not, sir, for they're all as deceiving
and artful as each other, of course, and when a nice kind gentleman like
Mr. Byrne--but if one can't know one can guess--a nod's as good as a
wink, they say, and I'm shore--"

The address continued interminably. John made himself as the deaf adder
and scraped his cutlet clean in a mute fever of irritation. He felt as a
man feels in a busy office, working against time at some urgent task in
the face of constant interruptions. He could not fix his mind on the
Emily matter, on Stephen, on the Underground Railway, or his food. There
was a kind of thickness about his temples which he had noticed already
at Turnham Green station, and he felt that he was not digesting. Mrs.
Bantam hammered ruthlessly on his tired head; and the ticket collector
and the Board of Trade, and Emily and Stephen Byrne and the young porter
at Victoria rushed indignantly about inside it. Sometimes he waved a
fork distractedly at Mrs. Bantam and asked her to fetch a new kind of
sauce, to secure a moment's respite. Soon all the sauce bottles he
possessed were ranged before him, a pitiful monument of failure. And
when Mrs. Bantam swept out to organize the sweet, he shouted that he had
finished, and stole out into the garden, defeated.

It was a damp and misty evening, with the hint of rain. The tide was as
it had been a fortnight before on the Emily evening, rolling exuberantly
in. Far out in the centre a dead yellow cat drifted westward at an
astonishing speed, high out of the water. He knew the cat well. For
weeks it had passed up and down the river. As far up as Richmond he had
seen it, and as far down as London Bridge. Some days, perhaps, it caught
under a moored barge, or was fixed for a little in the piers of a
bridge, or ran ashore in the reeds above Putney, or lay at low tide
under Hammerton Terrace. But most days it floated protesting through the
Metropolis and back again. John wondered idly for how long it would
drift like that, and in what last adventure it would finally
disappear--cut in twain by a bustling tug, or stoned to the bottom by
boys, or dragged down to the muddy depths by saturation. He thought of
it straining now towards the sea, now to the open country, yet ever
plucked back by the turning, relentless tide, just as it saw green
fields or smelt the smell of the sea, to travel yet once more through
the dark and cruel city. Once it was a kitten, fondled by children and
very round and lovable and fat. And then the world had become
indifferent, and then menacing, and then definitely hostile. Finally, no
doubt, it had died a death of violence. John thought then of Emily, and
sighed heavily. But he was feeling better now. Silence and the river had
soothed him; and--given quiet and solitude--he had the Civil Servant's
capacity for switching his mind from urgent worries to sedative
thoughts. The cat, somehow, had been a sedative, in spite of its violent
end. He went indoors out of the dark garden, studiously not looking at
Stephen's windows.

While he was on the stairs the telephone-bell rang in his study. He took
off the receiver and listened moodily to a profound silence, varied only
by the sound of some one furtively picking a lock with the aid of a
dynamo. Angrily he banged on the receiver and arranged himself in an
arm-chair with a heavy book.

When he had done this the bell rang again. A petulant voice--no doubt
justifiably petulant--said suddenly, "Are you the Midland Railway?"

John said, "No," and rang off; then he thought of all the bitter and
ironic things he ought to have said and regretted his haste.

He sat down and lit his pipe. The accursed bell rang again, insistently,
with infinitesimal pauses between the rings. He got up violently, with a
loud curse. The blood surged again in his head; the ticket collector and
the maddening train and Mrs. Bantam crowded back and concentrated
themselves into the hateful exasperating shape of the telephone. He took
off the receiver and shouted, "_Hullo! hullo!_ What is it? What is it?
Stop that ringing!" There was no answer; the bell continued to ring. He
had banged his pipe against the instrument, and the first ash was
scattered over the papers on the table. He took it out of his mouth, and
furiously waggled the receiver bracket up and down. He had heard that
this caused annoyance, if not actual pain, to the telephone operator,
and he hoped fervently that this was true. He wanted to hurt somebody.
He would have liked to pick up the instrument and hurl it in the
composite face of the evening's persecutors. His pipe rolled off on to
the floor.

He shouted again, "Oh, _what_ is it? _Hullo! hullo! hullo!_"

The ringing abruptly ceased, and a low, anxious voice was heard: "Hullo!
hullo! hullo! Is that you, John? Hullo!"--Stephen's voice.

"Yes; what is it?"

"Can you come round a minute? I _must_ see you. It's _urgent_."

"What about?" said John, with a vague premonition.

"About--about--you know what!--about the other night--you _must_ come! I
can't leave the house."

"No, I'm damned if I do--I've had enough of that." At that moment John
felt that he hated his old friend. The accumulated annoyances of the day
merged in and reinforced the new indignation he had felt against
Stephen since the sack incident and the revelations of Mrs. Bantam. He
had had enough. He refused to be further entangled in that business.

Then Stephen spoke again, appealingly, despairingly. "John--you _must_!
It's--it's _come up_."



VI


John Egerton prepared himself to go round. He cursed himself for a weak
fool; he reviled his fate, and Emily and Stephen Byrne. But he prepared
himself. He was beaten.

But as he opened the front door the bell rang, and he saw Stephen
himself on the doorstep--a pale and haggard Stephen, blinking weakly at
the sudden blaze of light in the hall.

"I came round after all," he said. "It's urgent!" But he stepped in
doubtfully.

The two curses of John Egerton's composition were his shyness and his
soft-heartedness. When he saw Stephen he tried to look implacable; he
tried to feel as angry as he had felt a moment before. But that weary
and anxious face, that moment's hesitation on the step, and the whole
shamefaced aspect of his friend melted him in a moment.

Something terrible must be going on to make the vital, confident Stephen
Byrne look like that. Once more, he must be helped.

In the study, sipping like a wounded man at a comforting tumbler of
whisky and water, Stephen told his story, beginning in the fashion of
one dazed, with long pauses.

That evening, just before dinner, as Mrs. Bantam had correctly reported,
the doctor had been sent for. And Stephen, waiting in the garden for his
descent, gazing moodily through a thin drizzle at the grey rising river,
had seen unmistakably fifty yards from the bank a semi-submerged object
drifting rapidly past, wrapped up in sacking. A large bulge of sacking
had shown above the surface. It was Emily Gaunt.

He was sure it was Emily Gaunt because of the colour of the sacking--a
peculiar yellowish tint, unusual in sacks. And because he had always
known it would happen. He had always known the rope would work on the
flimsy stuff as the tide pulled, and eventually part it altogether. And
now it had happened.

When he saw it he did not know what to do. "I felt like rushing out into
the boat at once," Stephen said, "and catching the thing--but the
doctor ... Margery ... I had to wait...." he finished vaguely.

"Of course," said John.

"When he came down he said all was well--or fairly so--and he'd come
again this evening. I'm expecting him now." Then with sudden energy, "I
wish to God he'd come.... Is that _him_?" Stephen stopped and listened.
John listened. There was no sound.

"But we mustn't waste time--half-past eight now--tide turning in a
moment." He leaned forward now, and began to speak with a jerky, almost
incoherent haste, telescoping his words.

"When he'd gone I dashed down to the boat ... could still see the--the
thing in the distance--going round the bend ... thought I'd catch it
easily, but the engine wouldn't start--of COURSE! Took me half an
hour ... starved for petrol, I think...." He stopped for a moment, as
if still speculating on the precise malady of the engine.

"When I _did_ get away ... went like a bird ... nearly up to Kew ... but
not a sign of the--the sack ... looked everywhere ... couldn't wait any
longer ... I _had_ to get back ... only just back now ... against the
tide. John, will _you_ go out now?... for God's sake, go ... take the
boat and just patrol about ... slack water now ... tide turns in about
ten minutes ... the damned thing _must_ come down ... unless it's stuck
somewhere ... you must go, John. We must get hold of it tonight ...
tonight ... or they'll find it in the morning. And, John," he added, as
a hideous afterthought, his voice rising to a kind of hysterical shriek,
"there's a label on the sack--with my name and address--I remembered
yesterday."

"But ... but ..." began John.

"Quick!... I've got to get back." Stephen stood up. "God knows what they
think of me at home as it is.... Say you'll go, John--_here's_ the key
of the boat ... she'll start at once now.... It's a thousand to one
chance, but it's worth it.... And if you're not quick it'll go past
again."

Something of his old masterfulness was coming back with his excitement.
But when John still hesitated, his slow mouth framing the beginnings of
objection, the hunted look came upon Stephen again.

"John, for God's sake!" he said, with a low, pleading note. "I'm about
done, old man ... what with Margery and--and ... but there's still a
chance ... John!"

The wretched John was melted again. He left his objections to the
preposterous proposal unspoken. He put his hand affectionately on the
other's shoulder.

"It's all right, Stephen.... I'll manage it somehow ... don't you worry,
old boy.... I'll manage it."

"Thank God! I'll go now, John.... I'll come down when I hear you come
back.... I _must_ go...."

Together they hurried down the stairs, and John found himself suddenly
alone at the end of his garden in an old mackintosh, bemused and
incredulous.

The rain had come, a hot, persistent, sibilant rain, and already it had
brought the dark. The river was a shadowy mosaic of small splashes. The
lights of Barnes showed mistily across the river, like lamps in a
photograph. The tide was gathering momentum for the ebb; a mass of
leaves and dead branches floated sluggishly past under the wall.

John was in the boat, fiddling stupidly at the engine, glistening and
splashing in the rain, before he had thought at all what exactly he was
going to do to discharge his fantastic undertaking. The engine started
miraculously. John cast off and the boat headed doggedly up against the
tide, John peering anxiously from side to side at the rain-speckled
water.

The engine roared and clattered; the boat vibrated, quivering all over;
the oars and boathook rattled ceaselessly against the side of the
boat--a hollow, monotonous rattle; the exhaust snorted rhythmically
astern. The rain splashed and pattered on the engine and on the thwarts,
and rolled with a luxurious swishing sound in the bottom. The fly-wheel
of the engine revolved like a Catherine-wheel composed of water--water
flying in brief tangents from the rim. John had come out without a hat,
and his hair was matted and black; the river splashed on his neck and
trickled slowly under his collar.

It was a heavy task, this, for one man with two hands to attempt, to
shield the engine and himself with the same mackintosh, extending it
like a wing with one arm over the fly-wheel, and to oil occasionally
with an oil-can the mechanism of the pump, to regulate the oil-feed and
the water-supply, and do all those little attentions without which the
engine usually stopped; and at the same time to steer the boat, and look
in the river for the floating body of a dead woman in a sack. It was
madness. In that watery dusk his chances of seeing an obscure sack
seemed ludicrously small. And what was he to do with it when he had
found it? How should he dispose of it more effectually than it had been
disposed of before? John did not know.

But the boat rattled and gurgled along, past the Island, and past the
ferry, till they were level with the brewery, by the bend. The bend here
made at one side a large stretch of slack water where the tide moved
hardly at all. By the other bank the tide raced narrowly down. Here,
John thought, was the place for his purpose. So for a long hour he
steered the boat back and forth from bank to bank, peering intensely
through the rain. Sometimes he saw a log or a basket or a broken bottle
scurrying dimly past and chased it with a wild hope downstream. Once he
made sure that he had found what he had sought--a light object floating
high out of the water; this he followed half-way down the Island. And
when he found it it was a dead cat--a light-coloured cat. "The yellow
cat," he thought. Once, as he headed obliquely across the river,
boathook in hand, a black invisible police-boat shot surprisingly across
his bows. A curse came out of the gloom and a lamp was flashed at him.
The police-boat put about and worked back alongside; a heavy man in a
cape asked him what the hell he was doing, charging about without a
light. John might have asked the same question, but he was too
frightened. He apologized and said he had let go of the rudder line to
do something to the engine. The policemen went on again, growling.

Then the tugs began to come down, very comforting and friendly, their
lights gliding mistily through the wet. John had to be careful then, and
creep upstream along the bank while their long lines of barges swung
ponderously round the corner. And how could he be sure that Emily was
not slipping past him in mid-stream, as he did so? It was hopeless,
this.

The wind got up--a chilly wind from the East. He was cold and clammy
and terribly alone. The rain had crept under his shirt and up his
sleeves; his trousers hung about his ankles, heavy with rain. He wanted
to go home; he wanted to get out of the horrible wet boat; he was tired.
But he had promised. Stephen was his best friend, and Stephen had
appealed to him. He had done a bad thing, but he was still Stephen.

And he, John, was mixed up in it now. If Emily was found at Putney in
the morning, his own story would have to be told. Not a good story,
either, whatever his motives had been. What _had_ his motives been?
Margery Byrne, chiefly, of course. Well, she was still a motive--very
much so.

But how futile the whole thing was, how wet and miserable and vile! It
must have been something like this in the trenches, only worse. What was
that going past? A bottle, a Bass bottle with a screw stopper, bobbing
about like an old man walking. Ha-ha! What would he do when he found
Emily? What the devil would he do? Sink her again? But he had no anchor
now--nothing. Put her ashore on the Island? But somebody would find her.
Take her out of the sack--the incriminating sack? If she was found by
herself, a mere body, in a night-dress.... In a night-dress? The
night-dress wouldn't do. She mustn't be found in a night-dress. He
would have to get rid of that too--that and the sack. Then any one might
find her, and it would be a mystery. And Stephen's stories ... Stephen's
stories about her levity and light conduct--they would come in useful.
People like Mrs. Bantam would quite understand, now they knew what sort
of person Emily had been. John realized with a sudden shame that he was
feeling glad that Stephen had said those things.

But how would he be able to do it? How could he take her out of the
sack, out of the night-dress, and throw her back? How could he do it?
and where? Once, long ago, he had come upon a big sack drifting in the
evening. It was full of kindlewood, little penny packets of kindlewood,
tied up with string. He remembered the weight of it, impossible to lift
into the boat. He had towed it home, very slowly. He would have to tow
Emily--land somewhere. She would be clammy--and slippery--and
disgusting. He couldn't do it. But he _must_. The engine stopped.

The engine stopped, mysteriously, abruptly. The boat slid sideways down
the river. John pulled her head round with a paddle and fiddled gingerly
with the hot engine. The rain fell upon it and sizzled. He turned
vaguely a number of taps, fingered the electric wires; all was
apparently well. He heaved at the starting-handle, patiently at first,
then rapidly, then with a violent fury. Nothing happened. The boat slid
along, turning sideways stupidly in the wind. They were almost level
with The House by the River.

It was no good. John took the paddle and worked her laboriously across
the tide. He had done his best, he felt. The rain had stopped.

When he came to the wooden steps the lights were on in Stephen's
dining-room, in Stephen's drawing-room. And against the light he saw a
head, motionless above the wall. The tide was a long way down now,
faintly washing the bottom of the wall.

A hoarse whisper came over the water:

"John--John--any luck?"

"None, Stephen, I'm sorry." John's voice was curiously soft and
compassionate.

There was silence. Then there came a kind of hysterical cackle, and
Stephen's voice, "John, it's--it's a boy!"

John stood up in the boat and began, "Congratulations, old ..."

There was another cackle, and the head was gone.



VII


Stephen Michael Hilary Byrne had given his mother the maximum of trouble
that Friday evening; and on Sunday morning she was still too feeble and
ill to appreciate his beauty. Old Dr. Browning was less cheerful than
Stephen had ever seen him. He shook his head almost grimly as he
squeezed his square frame into his diminutive car.

Stephen went back disconsolately into the warm garden. He had seen
Margery for a moment, and she had whispered weakly, "You go out in your
boat, my dear," and then something about "a lovely morning ... I'm all
right." Also he had seen his son and tried hard to imagine that he was
two years old, a legitimate object for enthusiasm. He had helped Joan to
feed her rabbits and swept the garden and tidied things in the
summer-house. But he had done all these things with an anxious eye on
the full and falling river. And already he had had several shocks.

Now he felt that he could not leave the river, not at least while the
tide was up and there was all this muddle of flotsam quivering past.
Usually, on Sunday mornings he sat in his sunny window writing, with
the birds bickering in the creeper outside and the lazy sounds of Sunday
morning floating up from the river. Sunday morning along The Chase was
an irreligious but peaceful occasion. The people of The Chase strolled
luxuriously in the hot sun from door to door, watching their neighbours'
children depart with fussy pomp upon their walks. Babies slept
interminably in huge prams under the trees. The old houses looked very
gracious and friendly with the wistaria and ivy and countless kinds of
green things scrambling about the rickety balconies and wandering
through the open windows. Strangers walked in quiet couples along the
path and admired the red roofs and the quaint brass knockers on the
doors and the nice old names of the houses and the nice old ladies
purring sleepily inside. Out on the river the owners of the anchored
boats prepared them happily for action, setting sails and oiling engines
and hauling laboriously at anchors. Two white cutters moved delicately
about in the almost imperceptible breeze. Strenuous eights and fours and
pairs went rhythmically up and down. The hoarse adjurations of their
trainers came over the water with startling clearness. Single scullers,
contemptuously independent, shot by like large water-beetles in slim
skiffs. On the far towpath the idle people streamed blissfully along,
marvelling at the gratuitous exertions of the oarsmen. Down the river
there was a multitude of small boys bathing from a raft, with much
splashing and shrill cries. Their bodies shone like polished metal in
the distance. There were no tugs on Sundays, but at intervals a
river-steamer plodded up towards Kew, a congested muddle of straw hats
and blouses. Sometimes a piano tinkled in the stern, sounding almost
beautiful across the water.

On all these vulgar and suburban and irreligious people the June sun
looked down with a great kindness and warmth; and they were happy. And
Stephen, as a rule, was happy at Hammersmith on Sunday mornings. He
thought with repugnance of Sunday morning in Kensington, of stiff
clothes in the High Street and the shuttered faces of large drapery
stores; he thought with pity even of the promenaders in Hyde Park,
unable to see the trees for the people, unable to look at the sky
because of their collars. He loved the air and openness and pleasant
vulgar variety of Sunday morning at Hammersmith. Here at least it was a
day of naturalness and rest. On any other Sunday, if the tide served, he
would have slipped out after breakfast in his boat to gather firewood
for the winter. Just now there was a wealth of driftwood in the river,
swept off wharves by the spring tides or flung away by bargees--wedges
and small logs and box-wood and beams and huge stakes, and delicious
planks covered with tar. Any one who had a boat went wood-hunting on the
river.

He had a mind to go now. But it would look so odd, with his wife
dangerously ill indoors, though she herself had told him to do it. But
then that was like her. He must not go unless he had to--unless he saw
something.... All Saturday while the tide was up he had furtively
watched from window or garden, and seen nothing. Perhaps he had made a
mistake on Friday.

No. He had made no mistake. Emily Gaunt was drifting somewhere in this
damnably public river. Unless she was already found, already lying in a
mortuary. And if she was--

Stephen looked enviously at the happy crowds on the towpath, on the
steamers, in the boats. A heavy sculling-boat passed close to the wall.
It seemed almost to overflow with young men and women. All of them gazed
curiously at him, muttering comments on his appearance. Their easy
laughter annoyed him. He went indoors.

He sat down automatically at his table in the window, and took out of a
pigeon-hole a crumpled bundle of scribbled paper. It was the beginning
of a long poem. He had begun it--when? Two--three weeks ago. Before
Emily. He read through what he had written, and thought it bad--weak,
flabby, uneven stuff--as it stood. But it was a good idea, and he could
do it justice, he was sure, if he persevered. But not now. Just now he
was incapable. Since Emily's night he had not written a line of poetry;
he had only tried once. Not because of his conscience--it was the
anxiety, the worry. He could not concentrate.

A bell rang below, and he wondered if it was John Egerton. There was the
sound of conversation in the hall, Cook's voice and the voice of a man,
powerful and low. Then Cook lumbered up the stairs.

"If you please, sir, there's a man brought the sack back what Mr.
Egerton took, as used to 'ang in the scullery, and 'e'd like to see
you."

Stephen braced himself and went down. The man in the hall was an obvious
detective--square built and solid, with hard grey eyes and a dark walrus
moustache, a bowler hat in his hand. In the other he held the end of a
yellow sack, muddy in patches and discoloured.

"Sorry to trouble you, sir, but can you tell me anything about this
sack? I'm a police officer," he added unnecessarily.

Stephen felt extraordinarily cool.

He said, "Can't say, Inspector. Sacks are very much alike. We had one in
the scullery once, but--" He had the sack in his hands now, looking for
the label.

"And what happened to _your_ sack, sir?" said the man smoothly.

"We lent it to Mr. Egerton, and--_Hullo!_ where did you find _this_,
Inspector? It is ours!" And he held it out for the other to see the
blurred lines of the label stitched inside the mouth of the sack. The
name of Stephen Byrne, The House by the River, W. 6, was still legible.

"Very curious, sir," said the man, looking hard at Stephen. "Do you
remember when you lent it to Mr. Egerton?"

Stephen made a rapid calculation. The exact period was seventeen days.

He said, "When was it, Cook? About three weeks ago, wasn't it?"

"Couldn't say, sir, I'm sure. All I knows is it went one day, and the
other day we asked for it back from Mr. Egerton when the man came about
the bottles, and he said--Mr. Egerton said, that is--as he was sorry
he'd lost it picking up wood, or so Mabel said, and it was Mabel as went
round for it."

Stephen was feeling cooler and cooler. It was all amazingly easy.

He said, "That's right, Cook; I remember now. I gave it to Mr. Egerton
myself one evening; he was going out to get wood." Then, with a tone of
cheerful finality as one who puts an end to a tedious conversation with
an inferior, "Well, I'm sure we're much obliged to you, Inspector, for
bringing it back. Where--"

"If you don't mind, sir, I'd like to keep it a little longer. Those are
my orders, sir--there's a little matter we're clearing up just now--"

"Just so. Certainly, Inspector. As long as you like."

"Thank you, sir. And as I take it, sir, none of your household has seen
anything of this article since you lent it to Mr. Egerton?"

"As far as I know, no one--I certainly haven't seen it myself. In fact,
I was looking for it only the other day."

The Inspector thought obviously for a moment, and obviously decided to
say no more. "Well, that's all, sir, and thank you."

Stephen bowed him affably out of the door. "Of course, if it's anything
_important_, I should look in and see Mr. Egerton--he's only next door."

"No, sir, it's of no consequence. I'll be off now."

The man departed, with many smiles, and "sirs," and "Thank you's," and
Stephen watched him round the corner.

Then he went into the garden, full of a curious relief, almost of
exultation. He could delight at last in the sun and the boats and the
happy, irresponsible people. He, too, could look at the beloved river
without any urgent anxiety of what it might carry into his view. The
worst was over; the doubts were done with. Emily was found, and there
was an end to it. And he had diddled the policeman. How cleverly, how
gloriously he had diddled the policeman. Perfect frankness and easiness
and calm--a gracious manner and a good lie--they had worked perfectly.
He had never hoped for anything so easy. Almost without intention,
certainly without plan, as if inspired he had uttered those tremendous
lies about John. And, of course, he could hardly have said anything
else. Cook had given John away already; one must be consistent. Poor old
John! He must see John--talk to him--warn him--no, diddle him. He could
manage John all right.

He went down the steps into his tiny dinghy--a minute, fragile,
flat-bottomed affair, just large enough and strong enough for a single
man. It flitted lightly on the surface like one of those
cumbrous-looking waterflies which move suddenly on the quiet surface of
ponds with a startling velocity. He called it _The Water Beetle_.

With a few strokes Stephen shot out into the lovely sun, and drifted a
little, faintly stirring the oars as they rested flatly on the golden
water with a movement which was almost a caress. It was very delightful
out there, very soothing and warm. It was inspiring, too. Stephen
thought suddenly of the long poem. He must have a go at that--now that
things were better, now that his mind was easier.

Then he saw John walk down to the end of his garden, smoking comfortably
the unique and wonderful Sunday morning pipe. He rowed back immediately
to the wall, framing smooth explanatory phrases in his head. John, he
saw, was gazing with a strained look through his glasses at a muddle of
wreckage drifting down from the Island.

"You needn't worry, John," he said; "it's all over--it's--it's
_found_.... Come down the steps."

John came down and squatted at the foot of the steps, saying nothing.
Stephen tied up the boat, but did not get out of it.

"A man's been here this morning--a policeman--with the sack ... he
wanted to know if we knew anything about it.... Cook saw him first, and
let out that it was ours--said we'd lent it to you--silly fool ... about
three weeks back ... when I saw him it was too late to say anything
else...." He stopped and looked up. Surely John was going to say
something.

John looked steadily at him and said nothing.

"She said Mabel went round and asked you for it, and you said--what
_did_ you say, John?"

John looked out across the river and thought. Then he said in a far-away
voice:

"I said I'd taken it out to pick up wood--and lost it. Overboard ... I
had to say something."

"Hell!" Stephen hoped that this exclamation had an authentic note of
perplexity and distress. He was conscious of neither, only of a singular
clearness and contentment.

"Well, what are we going to do now?"

There was no answer.

"Margery's very bad this morning," he went on, with seeming irrelevance.
"We're very worried. The doctor ..."

John interrupted suddenly, "What _can_ we do? What will the police do
next? Will they come and see me?" He had a sudden appalling vision of
himself in a stammering, degrading interview with a detective.

"No, John, they won't bother you.... I'm the man they'll bother....
There'll be an inquest, of course.... And I'm afraid you'll have to give
evidence, John ... say what you said before, you know ... say you lost
it ... about three weeks ago ... that's what I said ... somebody must
have picked it up.... I'm awfully sorry, John--but it will be all
right...." Then, doubtfully, "Of course, John ... if you'd rather ...
I'll go at once and tell them the whole thing.... I hate the idea of
you ... but there's Margery.... The doctor said ... I don't know what
would happen...."

John was roused at last. "Of course not, Stephen ... you're not to think
of it ... it'll be all right, as you say.... Only ... only ..." with a
strange fierceness, "I wish to God it had never happened." And he looked
at Stephen very straight and stern, almost comically stern.

"So do I," said Stephen, with a heavy sigh. For the first time since the
policeman left he had the old sense of guiltiness and gloom.

"There's one thing, Stephen ..." John hesitated and stammered a little.
"I've heard some awful rumours about ... about that girl ... immoral and
so on ... they're not true, are they?... anyhow, don't let's encourage
them, Stephen ... it's not necessary ... and I don't like it...." He
stopped, and was aware that he was blushing.

It was a lame presentation of what he had intended as a firm
unanswerable ultimatum: "If you want me to help you, you must drop all
this." But Stephen somehow always intimidated him.

Stephen thought, "The damned old prig!" He said, "What _do_ you mean,
John? You don't imagine I ... these servants, I suppose ... but I quite
agree.... I must go and see Margery now. So long, John ... and thank you
so much."

John went up into his garden and into his house and sat for a long time
in a leather chair thinking and wondering. Stephen walked briskly in and
whispered to the nurse. Mrs. Byrne was asleep.

He sat down at the sunny table in the study window, and drew out again
the long poem. It was a good idea--a very good idea. He read through
what he had written; uneven, yes, but there was good stuff in it. A
little polishing up wanted, a little correction. All that bit in the
middle.... He scratched out "white" and scribbled over it "pale." Yes,
that was better. The next part, about the snow, was rather wordy--wanted
condensing; there were six lines, and four at least were very good--but
one of them must go--perhaps two. He sharpened a pencil, looking out at
the river.



VIII


After the inquest The Chase had plenty to talk about. Mrs. Ambrose and
Mrs. Church were kept very busy. For few of The Chase had been actually
present in the flesh--not because they were not interested and curious
and indeed aching to be present, but because it seemed hardly decent.
Since the great Nuisance Case about the noise of the Quick Boat
Company's motor-boats there had been no event of communal importance to
The Chase; life had been a lamentable blank. And it was an ill-chance
that the first genuine excitement, not counting the close of the Great
War, should be a function which it seemed hardly decent to attend: an
inquest on the dead body of a housemaid from The Chase discovered almost
naked in a sack by a police-boat at Barnes. Nevertheless, a sprinkling
of The Chase was there--Mrs. Vincent for one, and Horace Dimple, the
barrister, for another--though he of course attended the inquest purely
as a matter of professional interest, in the same laudable spirit of
inquiry in which law students crowd to the more sensational or
objectionable trials at the High Court. There were also Mr. Mard, the
architect, who was on the Borough Council, and Mr. and Mrs. Tatham, who
had to visit the Food Committee that day. These, being in the
neighbourhood of the Court, thought it would be foolish not to "look
in." Few of them overtly acknowledged that the others were visibly
there, or, if they were compelled to take notice, smiled thinly and
looked faintly surprised.

But so startling and sensational was the course of the inquest that when
they returned to their homes any doubts about the propriety of attending
it were speedily smothered by the important fact that they had
positively been there, had been eyewitnesses of the astonishing scene,
whether from chance or compassion or curiosity, or wisdom, or simple
power of divination, which most of them felt they must undoubtedly
possess. They had known all along that there was "something fishy" about
that girl's disappearance, and now, you see, they were right. They
looked eagerly in the morning papers and in the evening papers as only
those look who have seen something actually take place, and insanely
crave to see it reported in dirty print in the obscure corners of a
newspaper. So do men who happen on a day to hear part of a Parliamentary
debate anxiously study on the morrow the Parliamentary reports at which
they have never so much as glanced before, and are never likely to
glance again.... But this is human nature, and we must not be unkind to
The Chase because they were unable to depart from that high standard.

The papers reported the affair with curious brevity and curiously failed
to get at the heart of it. The headlines were all about "Mr. Stephen
Byrne "--"Poet's Housemaid"--"Tragedy in an Author's House"--and so on.
It was only at the end of the small paragraphs that you found out there
were black suspicions about a Civil Servant, one John Egerton,
first-class clerk in the Ministry of Drains. And for The Chase these
suspicions were the really startling and enthralling outcome of the
inquest, as Mrs. Vincent and others described it. Mrs. Vincent described
it after dinner in the house of the Petways, where she had dropped in
casually for a chat. By a curious chance Mr. Dimple had also dropped in,
so that the fortunate Petways had two eyewitnesses at once. The
Whittakers came in in the middle of the story.

And they all agreed that it was a surprising story--highly surprising as
it affected Mr. Egerton, and also highly unfavourable. Dear Mr. Byrne
had given his evidence in his usual charming manner, very clear and
straightforward and delightful: very anxious to help the Coroner and the
jury, in spite of the worry about poor Mrs. Byrne. "Very pale, he was,"
said Mrs. Vincent. "Overstrained," said Mr. Dimple.

And it all depended on this sack, you see. The girl was tied up in the
sack. Mrs. Vincent gave a little shiver. "Of course, it was all _rather_
horrible, you know, but--" "But you enjoyed it thoroughly," thought
Whittaker.

"Mr. Byrne said he remembered lending the sack to Mr. Egerton--to
collect firewood or something--you know, he's _always_ poking about in
that silly boat of his, picking up sticks." (The operation as described
by Mrs. Vincent sounded incredibly puerile and base.) "Then the Coroner
asked him if he remembered _when_. Mr. Byrne said it was about three
weeks ago. Then they asked was it before or after the day that this
young woman disappeared. You could have heard a pin drop.

"I was really sorry for Mr. Byrne; I could see he didn't like it a bit.
He didn't answer for a little, kind of hesitated, then he said it was
_about_ the same day--he couldn't be sure; and that was all they could
get out of him--it was _about_ the same day. And you should have _seen_
Mr. Egerton's face."

Mrs. Vincent paused to appreciate the effect of her narrative.

"Then there was the Byrnes' young woman, Mabel Jones or some such name.
She was sent round to Mr. Egerton's to ask for the sack--one day last
week. And _she_ said--what was it she said, Mr. Dimple?"

"She said Mr. Egerton was 'short like' with her, and--"

"Ah yes!" Mrs. Vincent hastened to resume the reins. "He was 'short
like' and a bit 'uffy with her; and he said he'd lost the sack, picking
up wood--lost it in the river....

"And then Mr. Egerton himself was put in the box and he told _exactly
the same story_!" Mrs. Vincent said these words with a huge ironical
emphasis, as if it would have reflected credit on Mr. Egerton had he
invented an entirely new story for the purposes of the inquest.

"He told exactly the same story, and he told it very badly, in my
opinion--_you_ know, hesitating and mumbling, as if he was keeping
something back--and looking at the floor all the time."

"We must remember he's naturally a very shy man," said Mr. Dimple, "and
a public inquest, at the best--"

"Yes, but look what he _said_--The Coroner asked him the same
question--when was it he had borrowed the sack--before or after the
young woman disappeared. Mr. Egerton said he really didn't know, because
he didn't know when the young woman had disappeared.... As if we didn't
_all_ know, the very next day...."

"Pardon me," said Mr. Dimple, "but I didn't know myself, not till one
day last week--and I live two doors from the Byrnes--"

"Yes, but you're a _man_," said Mrs. Vincent, with a large contempt.

"So is Mr. Egerton."

Mrs. Vincent should have been a boxer. She recovered nobly.

"Anyhow, he didn't impress me, and he didn't impress the Coroner. The
Coroner kept at him a long time, trying to get it out of him, _how_ he'd
lost the sack and so on. Some of the jury asked questions too. They
couldn't understand about the wood-collecting and what he wanted
firewood for in the summer, and--Oh yes, _I_ remember. He said it must
have slipped off the boat, you see, and been picked up by somebody. Then
they asked him what he did with the wood when he picked it up--did he
put it in the sack then and there or what? He said no, he just threw it
in the bottom of the boat. _Then_ the Coroner said, 'When did you put it
in the sack?' Mr. Egerton said, 'In the garden, of course, to take it
indoors.' And then, you see, the Coroner said, 'Why on earth did he take
the sack out in the boat at _all_?' You could have heard a--" Mrs.
Vincent thought better of it. "Mr. Egerton couldn't answer that--he just
looked sheepish, and mumbled something about 'he forgot!'--forgot,
indeed!"

Mrs. Vincent looked at Mr. Dimple--a triumphant, merciless look.

Mr. Dimple murmured reflectively, "Yes--that _was_ odd--very odd."

"And as for that Mrs. Bantam of his, the old frump! _She_ actually swore
that there'd never been a sack in the house! Well, it stands to reason,
if Mr. Egerton borrowed that sack to collect wood in, she _must_ have
seen it, unless he kept it locked up somewhere--and if he did lock it up
somewhere--well, he must have had some funny reason for it...."

Mrs. Vincent shrugged her shoulders expressively.

"So _that_ didn't do him any good--especially as she cheeked the
Coroner."

"And what was the verdict?"

"Oh, the jury were _very_ quick--I only waited ten minutes or so, you
know, just on the chance--and when they came back they said, 'Wilful
murder against somebody unknown'--or something like that. I must say, I
was surprised, because the Coroner was _very_ down on Mr. Egerton--"

"And so were you, I gather," said Mrs. Whittaker, with forced calm; the
Whittakers liked Egerton, and Mrs. Vincent was slowly bringing them to
the boil.

"Well, if you ask me, I really _don't_ think he comes out of it very
well. Of course, I know the jury didn't say anything about him, but--"

"And that being so, Mrs. Vincent, if you will allow me"--Mr. Dimple at
last cast off his judicial detachment; he spoke with his usual
deprecating and kindly air, with a kind of halting fluency that made it
seem as if his sentences would never end--"if you will allow me--er, as
a lawyer--to ah, venture a little advice--that being so, I think one
ought to be careful--not to say anything--which might be--ah,
repeated--by perhaps thoughtless people--of course I know we are all
friends here--and possibly misinterpreted--as a suggestion--that Mr.
Egerton's part in this affair--though I know, of course, that there
were--er--puzzling circumstances--about the evidence--I thought so
myself--that Mr. Egerton's part--was--er--more serious--than one is
entitled strictly to deduce--from the verdict--which _as_ you say--Mrs.
Vincent--did not refer to him directly in any way. You won't mind my
saying so, will you?--but I almost think--"

Mr. Dimple always talked like that. He was a noble little man, with a
thin, peaked, legal countenance and mild eyes that expressed
unutterable kindness and impartiality to the whole world. His natural
benevolence and a long training in the law had produced in him a
complete incapacity for downright censure. His judgments were a tangle
of parentheses; and people said that if he were ever raised to the Bench
his delivery of the death sentence would generate in the condemned
person a positive glow of righteousness and content. He never "thought"
or "said"; he only "almost thought" or "ventured to suggest" or
"hazarded the opinion, subject of course to--" And this, combined with
his habit of parenthesis and periphrasis and polysyllaby (if there is a
word like that), made his utterances of almost unendurable duration. He
was one of those men during whose anecdotes it is almost impossible to
keep awake. Polite people, who knew him well and honoured him for the
goodness of his heart and the charity of his life, sometimes rebuked
themselves because of this failure, and swore to be better when they met
him again. At the beginning of a story (and he had many) they would say
to themselves firmly, "I will keep awake during the whole of this
anecdote; I will attend to the very end; I will understand it and laugh
sincerely about it." Then Mr. Dimple would ramble off into his genial
forest of qualifications and brackets, and the minds of his hearers
immediately left him; they thought of their homes, or their work, or
the food they were eating, or of the clothes of some other person, or of
some story they intended to tell when Mr. Dimple had done; and they came
suddenly out of their dreams, to find Mr. Dimple yet labouring onward to
his climax; and they said, with shame and mortification, "I have failed
again," and laughed very heartily at the wrong moment.

Yet people loved Mr. Dimple; and if it was impossible sometimes to
deduce from what he actually said what it was he actually thought, one
was often able to make a good guess on the assumption that he never
wittingly said anything cruel or unkind or even mildly censorious to or
about anybody.

Mr. Whittaker knew this, and he interrupted with:

"Thank you, Dimple--I thoroughly agree with you--but I don't think you
go nearly far enough." He stood up, looking very severely at Mrs.
Vincent. "I think it's _disgusting_ to say such things about a
man--especially about a man like Egerton. I think we ought to get home
now, Dorothy. Good night, Mrs. Petway."

Mrs. Petway spluttered feebly, but was unable to utter. The Whittakers
departed, trailing clouds of anger.

Mrs. Vincent assumed an air of injury.

"Well, my dear, I'm sure I'm sorry if I said anything to upset them,
but really--Of course, I know I don't understand the _law_, Mr. Dimple,
and I don't want to be unfair to any man, but one must use one's common
sense, and what I think is that Mr. Egerton made away with that poor
girl, and that's all about it."

She looked defiantly at Mr. Dimple. Mr. Dimple opened his mouth and shut
it again. Then he went away.



IX


It is to be regretted that very many of The Chase shared the views of
Mrs. Vincent. Mrs. Vincent was a tireless propagandist of her own views
about other people. The Whittakers, and the Dimples, and the Tathams,
and all the more charitable and kindly people who were faintly shocked
but unconvinced by the whole affair, preferred not to talk about it at
all. So Mrs. Vincent steadily gained ground and John Egerton became a
dark and suspected figure, regarded with a shuddering horror by most of
his neighbours. He found this out very soon at the Underground station
in the mornings. Here on the platform there were always many of The
Chase, watching with growing irritation the non-stop trains thundering
past, and meanwhile chattering with one another of their hopes and fears
and domestic crises. John soon found that men became engrossed in
advertisements or conversations or newspapers as he approached, or
sidled away down the platform, or busily lit their pipes. And twice,
before he realized what was in their minds, his usual "Good morning" was
met with a stony, contemptuous stare. After that he took to avoiding
the men himself. He noticed then that the burly and genial ticket
collector had begun to withhold his invariable greeting and comment on
the weather. And after that John travelled by bus to Hammersmith and
took the train there. Nobody knew him there. And he left off walking up
the Square, but went by Red Man Lane, which was longer. In the Square he
might meet anybody. In the Square everybody knew him. In the Square he
felt that every one discussed him as he passed; the women chattering at
their cottage doors lowered their voices, he was sure, and muttered
about him. The milk-boys stared at him unusually, and laughed suddenly,
contemptuously, when he had gone. Or so he thought. For he was never
sure. He felt sometimes that he would like to stop and make sure. He
would like to say to the two young women with the baskets whom he passed
every day, "I believe you were saying something about me.... I know what
it was.... Well, it's all rot.... It was another man did it, really....
I can't explain ... but you've no right to look at me like that." He
longed to be able to justify himself, for he was a warm and sympathetic
soul, and liked to be on terms of vague friendliness and respect with
people he met or passed in the streets or dealt with daily in shops; he
liked saying "Good morning" to milkmen and porters and policemen and
paper-boys. And the fear that any day any of these people might ignore
him or insult him was a terrible fear.

Contrary to the common belief, it is more difficult for an innocent man,
if he be shy and sensitive, to look the whole world in the face than it
is for the abandoned evil-doer with his guilt fresh upon him. So John
avoided people he knew as much as he could. He avoided even his friends.
The kindly Whittakers made special efforts to bring him to their house.
They urged him to come in on their Wednesday evenings that they might
show the Vincents and the Vincent following what decent people thought
of him. But he would not go. He could not face the possibility of a
public insult in a drawing-room, some degrading, hot-cheeked, horrible
"scene."

And after all, it was only for a little time. Mrs. Byrne was still in a
bad way, but she was "out of the wood," Mrs. Bantam said. And when she
was quite well, Stephen of course would somehow manage to put things
right, in spite of his extraordinary conduct at the inquest. He did not
see Stephen for ten days after the inquest. He had felt sometimes that
he would like to see him, would like to tell him how awkward he had made
things by the way he had given his evidence. But it seemed hardly fair
to worry him. He must be worried enough, as it was, poor man. And John
felt that he would never be able to approach the topic without seeming
to be questioning Stephen's loyalty. And he did not want to do that. He
was quite sure that Stephen had never meant to put things as he had. It
was nervousness; and the muddle-headedness that comes from too much
thinking, too much planning, and the musty, intimidating atmosphere of
the Coroner's Court, and the stupid badgering of the smug Coroner.
Probably Stephen had hardly known what he was saying. He himself had
felt like that. And Stephen had had far more reason for nervousness in
that place. When Margery was better, he would go round and see Stephen,
and Stephen would "do the right thing." That was his own phrase.
Meanwhile, people must be avoided, and Mrs. Bantam was a great comfort.
Mrs. Bantam had shown herself a loyal and devoted soul. She, at least,
had perfect faith in him. There had never been a sack in _this_ house,
_that_ she knew. And that was all about it. Since her spirited
appearance in the Coroner's Court, her inter-prandial addresses were
confined to two themes--the ineptitude of the law and the high character
of her employer. She was wearisome, but she was very soothing to the
injured pride of a shy man who conceived himself as the detested byword
of West London.

There was one other spark of comfort. The Tarrants were away in the
country and had missed all this. But Mrs. Vincent was a friend of Mrs.
Tarrant and would no doubt write to her. John wondered whether he ought
to write to Muriel Tarrant. He did not think so. They were not really on
writing terms.

And in the big room over the river, where the blinds were always down,
but the sun thrust through in brilliant slices at the corners, Margery
Byrne lay very still--sleeping and thinking, sleeping and thinking, of
Stephen and Michael Hilary and Joan, but chiefly of Stephen. In the
morning and in the evening he came up and sat with her for an hour, and
he was very tender and solicitous. She saw that he was pale and weary
looking, with anxious eyes, and she was touched and secretly surprised
that her illness should have made him look like this. Indeed, it pleased
her. But she told him that he must worry about her no more; she told him
he must eat enough, and not sit up working too late. Then she would say
that she wanted to sleep, lest he should become fidgety or bored with
sitting in the darkened room. She would kiss him very fondly, and follow
him with her eyes while he walked softly to the door. Then she would lie
in a happy dream listening to the birds in the ivy, and the soft
river-sounds, the distant cries of the bargemen, and the melancholy
whistle of tugs, and the ripple of their wash about the moored boats;
she would lie and listen and make huge plans for the future--infinite,
impossible, contradictory plans. And the centre of all of them was
Stephen.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Stephen would go down into the warm study and sit down in the sunny
window and write. Ever since that Sunday morning when the detective came
with the sack he had been writing. It was extraordinary that he was able
to write. He knew that it was extraordinary. Sometimes he sat in the
evening and tried to understand it. In that fearful time before the
detective came, and most of all in those terrible days when Emily Gaunt
was drifting irrecoverably up and down in the river, no conceivable
power could have wrung from him a single line. He could no more have
written poetry than he could have written a scientific treatise. But
now, amazingly, he could command the spirit, the idea, the
concentration--everything; he could become absorbed, could lose himself
in his work. The idea he was working on had been with him for a long
time; he had made notes for the poem many weeks back, long before Emily
had come to the house; he had written a few lines of it just before she
left it. But one wanted more than ideas to do good work of that kind;
one must have--what was it?--"peace of mind," presumably. There must be
no tempers, or terrors, or worries in the mind. And, one would have
thought, no remorse, no pricking of conscience. But perhaps that did not
matter. For otherwise how could he now have "peace of mind"? Stephen
felt that his conscience was working; he was sorry for what he had
done--truly sorry. He was sorry for poor old John. But it did not
trouble him when he sat down in the sunshine to write. He could forget
it then. But that day when the baby came, when he had seen the sack go
past and chased it in the boat, and the next day when Emily was still at
large, drifting bulkily for the first police-boat to see--on those days
he could not have forgotten. He had been afraid--afraid for Margery, and
afraid for himself. And now, somehow, he was not afraid. Why was that?
Distressing things, appalling things, might still happen, but he was not
disturbed by them. The day after the inquest he had been a little
disturbed; he had not been able to settle down to work that day; he had
wandered vaguely up and down the house, had sat in the garden a little,
had rowed in the boat a little--restless; and he had slept badly. But
the next day he had worked successfully many hours. In a little diary he
kept a record of work--so many hours, such and such a poem, so many
hundreds of words. All these weeks he had automatically made the entries
as usual, and from Sunday, 1st June, the figures moved steadily upward.
After the 5th there was a distinct bound--seven hours on the 6th. June
1st was the day the policeman came--the day he had told the policeman
about John--almost by accident, he felt. Yes; he had not meant anything
then. And the 4th was the day of the inquest--the day he had made all
those other suggestions about John--quite intentionally--and cleverly,
too. That was the secret of it, of course, that was the real foundation
of his peace of mind--the way he had managed to entangle John in the
affair. He had John hopelessly entangled now.

It was strange how it had worked out. In the beginning he had honestly
intended "to do the right thing." Or he believed he had. From the time,
at any rate, that John had become seriously involved, he had really
meant to "own up" as soon as Margery was well enough. Probably it would
have meant suicide, he remembered--a long time ago it seemed--thinking
of that; but he was going to do _something_. And then the inspiration
and the chance had come hand in hand that Sunday morning to show him a
better way. It _was_ a better way. He knew quite certainly now that he
would never own up--not even if Margery was to die. He would never say a
word to clear John's character. He had a fairly clear idea now of what
would happen. There would (he hoped) be no further proceedings; the
evidence was too thin. All that John would suffer would be this local
gossip and petty suspicion; and he would have to live that down. John
would not mind--a good fellow, John. But if he did mind, if he ever
showed signs of expecting to be cleared, if he ever suggested a
confession or any rubbish of that sort, the answer would be simple:
"Really, my dear John, the evidence is so strong against you that I
don't really think I should be _believed_ now if I said _I_ did it. And
you must remember, John, you've anyhow sworn all sorts of things on your
oath that you'd have to explain away--the Civil Service wouldn't like
that--perjury, you know. Of course, if you _want_ me, John--but I really
think it would be better from _your_ point of view--I only want to do
the best for _you_, John--"

He could hear himself solemnly developing the argument; and he could see
John bowing to his judgment, acquiescing.

If he didn't acquiesce; if he made trouble, or if the police made
trouble--but Stephen preferred not to think of that. Yet if it did
happen he would be ready. If it was oath against oath, with the scales
weighted already against John, he knew who would be believed.

And, after all, John Egerton, good fellow as he was, would leave but a
tiny gap in the world. What were his claims on life? What had he to give
to mankind? A single man, parents dead, an obscure Civil Servant, at
five hundred a year--a mere machine, incapable of creation, easily
replaced, perhaps not even missed. What was he worth to the world beside
the great Stephen Byrne? Supposing they both died now, how would their
obituary notices compare? John's--but John would not have one; his death
would be announced on the front page of the newspapers. But about
himself there would be half-columns. He knew what they would say:
"Tragic death of a young poet still in his prime ... Keats ...
unquestionable stamp of genius ... a loss that cannot be measured ...
best work still unwritten ... engaged, we understand ... new poem ...
would have set the seal ..." and so on.

And it would all be true. Wasn't it _right_, then, that if the choice
had ever to be made, he, Stephen Byrne, should be chosen, should be
allowed to live and enrich the world? It was curious that never before
had he so clearly appreciated his own value to humanity. Somehow, he had
never thought of himself in that way. This business had brought it home
to him.

Anyhow, he must get on with this poem. It was going to be a big thing.
The more he wrote, the more it excited him; and the more contented he
became with the work he was doing, the more satisfied he was with his
material circumstances, the more sure that all would be well for him
with the Emily affair.

This is the way of many writers. Their muses and their moods react upon
each other in a kind of unending circle. When they are unhappy they
cannot write; but when they are busy with writing, and they know that it
is good, they grow happier and happier. Then when they have finished and
the first intoxication of achievement has worked itself out, depression
comes again. And then, while they are yet too exhausted for a new
effort, all their work seems futile and worthless, and all life a
meaningless blank. And until the next creative impulse restores their
confidence and vigour they are, comparatively, miserable.

Stephen Byrne was peculiarly sensitive to these reactions. He had that
creative itch which besets especially the young writer with his wings
still strange and wonderful upon him. At the end of a day in which he
had written nothing new, he went to bed with a sense of frustration, of
failure and emptiness. There was something missing. For weeks on end he
wrote something every day, some new created thing, if it was only a
single verse, apart from the routine work of criticism and
review-writing and odd journalism with which he helped to keep his
family alive. But ideas do not come continually to any man; and when
they come, the weary mind is not always ready to shape them. There were
long periods of barrenness or stagnancy when Stephen could write
nothing. Sometimes the ideas came copiously enough, but hovered like
maddening ghosts just out of his grasp, clearly seen, but unattainable.
Sometimes they came not at all. In either case, like a good artist,
Stephen made no attempt to force the unwilling growth, but let himself
lie fallow for a little. But all these fallow times he was restless and
half-content. He had the sense, somehow, of failure. He became moody and
irritable, and silent at meals. But when the creative fit was upon him,
when he had made some little poem, or was still hot and busy at a long
one, the world was benevolent and good, life was a happy adventure, and
Stephen talked like a small boy at dinner-time.

So this poem he was working at was an important thing. The "idea" was
comparatively old. It had come to him in a fallow time, and had been
stored somewhere away. When the policeman's visit restored his
tranquillity, the fallow time was over. The idea was ready to hand, and
he had only to take it out and sow it and water it. And as it grew and
blossomed under his hand, it commanded him. It made him superior to
circumstance; it decorated his fortunes and made them hopeful and
benign. Nothing could be harmful or disturbing while he was doing such
good work every day. It made him sure that he was right--sure that his
decisions were wise. It made him see that no good purpose would be
served by telling the world the truth about Emily Gaunt and about John
Egerton. So he went on writing.

But there was another curious thing about this poem. It was a kind of
epic, an immensely daring, ambitious affair. The war came into it, but
it was not about the war. Rather it was a great song of the chivalry and
courage of the men and women of our time wherever these have appeared.
There were battles in it, and the sea was in it, and something of the
obscure gallantry of hidden or humble men; and something also of the
imperishable heroisms that did not belong to the war--Scott's last
voyage and Shackleton's voyage, and the amazing braveries of the air.

And day by day, as he sat there in the sun, glorifying, page by page,
the high qualities of these men, their courage and their truth and
straightness, he was conscious distantly of the strange contradiction
between what he was doing and what he was. He stopped sometimes and
thought, "This is sincere work that I am doing; I mean it; it excites
me; the critics, whatever they say, will say that it is sincere and
noble writing. Parents in the days to come may make their children read
it as an exhortation to manliness and truth. They may even say that I
was a noble character myself.... And all the time I am doing a mean and
dirty thing--a cowardly thing. And I don't care. My life is a lie, and
this poem is a lie, but I don't care; it is good work."

All that June the weather was very lovely. In the busy streets the air
grew heavy and stifling, full of dust and the vile fumes of motor buses.
They were like prisons. But by the river there was always a sense of
freshness and freedom; and when the great tide swept up in the evenings
a gentle breeze came in light breaths from the west and fingered and
fondled the urgent water, making it into a patchwork of rippled places
and smooth places, where there swam for a little in a fugitive glow of
amber and rose the small clouds over the Richmond Hills. Then it was
cool and strengthening to sit in a small boat and drink the breeze, and
Stephen always, when the tide was up, would row out into the ripples to
see the big sun go down behind Hammerton Church. And while the boat
rocked gently on the wash of tugs, he would sit motionless, trying to
store the sunset in his mind. He would look at the lights in the water,
the unimaginable pattern and colouring of the clouds, fretted like the
sand when the sea goes out, consciously realizing, consciously
memorizing, thinking, "I must remember how that looked!" For he was not
naturally observant, and often, he knew, made up for his lack of
observation by his power of imagining. But the critics said he was
observant, and observant he was determined to be.

Or he would row across to the eastern end of the Island and tie his boat
to the single willow tree that stood there. From this point, looking
eastward, you saw the whole of the splendid reach, curving magnificently
away to Hammersmith Bridge. You saw the huddled, irregular houses beside
it glowing golden in the last sunlight, with here and there a window
that blazed at you like a furnace; you saw the fine old trees on the
southern bank and the tall chimneys and the distant church that had
something of the grace of Magdalen Tower, and you saw the wide and
exuberant stream with an impression of bigness and dignity which could
never be commanded from the bank; and you saw it rich with colour and
delicate lights--with steel-blue and gold--with copper and with rose.
You knew that it was a thick and muddy stream, that most of the houses
were squalid houses, and many of the buildings were ugly buildings. But
they were all beautiful in the late sun, and Stephen loved them.

And while he sat there, the poem hovered always in the background of his
mind. Everything he saw he saw as material which might somehow take its
place in the poem. Sometimes half-consciously he was shaping ahead the
scheme of what he had next to do, the general form and sequence of it;
and sometimes there was a line that would not come right, a word or a
phrase that would not surrender itself, and this problem would be always
busy in his head, the alternatives chasing each other in a tumbling
perpetual circle. Sometimes he would go into the house again in a vague
depression, simply because this difficulty had not yet resolved itself.

But there were certain evenings of such peace and quiet dignity that he
was stricken with a brief and unwilling remorse. Then the poem was at
last thrust out of his mind; then he thought of Margery and the wrong he
had done her, and of John and the wrong he was doing him, and shame took
hold of him. At these moments he had an impulse to abandon his plans, to
forget his poem and his ambitions and his love of life, and give himself
up suddenly to the police. This was usually when the sun was yet warm
and wonderful. But when the sun had gone, and he had come back into the
dark and silent garden, this mood departed quickly. Fear came back to
him then, the love of warmth and light and comfort and life, and with
that the love of praise and the desire of success. And then he would
think passionately again of his poem; he would snatch, as it were in
self-defence, at the pride and excitement of his purpose, and comfort
his soul with new assurances of his own exceeding worth.

And when he had recaptured that consoling invigorating mood, the great
contradiction would smite him with a fresh and glorious force, the
contradiction of his personal vileness and the beauty and nobility of
the work which he was doing. Then as he sat down in the bright island of
light at his table, he would think again, with a kind of conceited
malice, of the blind and stupid world which judged a man by his
work--which would slobber over a murderer and a liar and a betrayer of
friends simply because he could write good verse about good men.

And sometimes he even formed this thought into an arrogant phrase, "They
think they know me, the damned fools--but they don't!"

Then he would go on with the noble poem. And Margery Byrne lay silent
alone in the cool bedroom, thinking of Stephen.



X


So the weeks went by. And John and Stephen saw little of each other.
Indeed, they saw little of any one. Then, towards the end of June,
Margery Byrne got up for the first time, and little Joan came home from
her grandmother's. In a week Margery was completely and delightedly
"up," full of plans and longing to take up life exactly where she had
left it. Stephen found her curiously eager for company, and especially
the company of old friends; it seemed to her so long since she had seen
them. Very soon she asked why John Egerton was so neglecting them. "Get
him to come round, Stephen," she said. "Ring him up now." Stephen had
lately told her the story of the inquest, of the local feeling and
faction; and Margery had at once determined that she would think nothing
of it. She would do as the Whittakers did; not that she was prepared in
any case to believe evil of John. Yet at the back of her mind there was
just a hint of curiosity about it.

So Stephen reluctantly rang him up--reluctantly because he had wanted to
work that evening, and because he feared this meeting. But he did not
dare to seem unwilling.

And John Egerton came. He had known for some days that he would soon
have to do it, and he, too, had been afraid. But this evening he was
almost glad of the invitation. The long weeks of semi-isolation had
tried him very severely. The sense of being an outcast from his fellows,
suspected, despised, had grown unreasonably and was a perpetual irritant
to the nerves. He had an aching to go again into a friend's house, to
sit and talk again with other men. And even the house of the Byrnes and
the company of the Byrnes might be a soothing relief from his present
loneliness.

And now that Margery was up and well, the time was surely near when
something would be done about this business. Unpleasant things had
happened. The family of the Gaunts had been to see him. They had come
again this evening--in the middle of supper--sly, grasping, malicious
people, a decayed husband of about fifty with a drooping, ragged
moustache, with watery eyes and the aspect of a wet rat, and an upright,
aggressive, spiteful little wife, with an antique bonnet fixed very
firmly on the extreme summit of her yellowish hair. She had thin lips, a
harsh voice, and an unpleasant manner. There was also a meek son of
about twenty, and Emily's fiancé, who looked conscientiously sad and
respectable and wore a bowler hat. But the woman did all the talking.
The men only interposed when they felt that she was going too far to be
effective.

They wanted money. The men might be half-ashamed of wanting it, but they
wanted it, and they clearly expected to get it. They assumed as common
ground that John had made away with Emily and had only been preserved
from arrest by the strange eccentricities of the law. They did not want
trouble made, but there it was: Emily had been a good daughter to them
and had contributed money to the household; and it was only fair that
something should be done to heal the injury to their affections and
their accounts. If not, of course, there would _have_ to be trouble.

John Egerton, disgusted and humiliated, had nobly kept his temper, but
firmly refused to give them a penny. They had gone away, muttering
threats. John had no idea what they would do, but they filled him with
loathing and fear. He could not endure this much longer for any man's
sake. Stephen must release him.

But the evening at the Byrnes' house did nothing to clear things up.
Rather it aggravated the tangle. Mrs. Byrne was lying on the sofa,
looking more fragile yet more delicious than he had ever seen her. She
greeted him very kindly and they talked for a little, while Stephen sat
rather glumly in the window-seat staring out at the river.

She spoke happily of Stephen Michael Hilary Byrne, of his charm and his
intelligence, and how already he really had something of Stephen about
him; and as she said that she smiled at Stephen. And she leaned back
with a little sigh of content and looked round at her drawing-room, rich
with warm and comfortable colour, at the striped material of delicate
purple, at the Japanese prints she had bought with Stephen at a sale, at
the curious but excellent wall-paper of dappled grey, and the pleasant
rows of books on the white shelves, at the flowers in the Chinese bowl
which Stephen had bought for her in some old shop, and the mass of roses
on the shiny Sheraton table; then she looked out through the window at
the red light of a tug sliding mysteriously down through the steely dark
and back again at Stephen. And John knew that she was counting up her
happiness; and he thought with an intense pity and rage how precarious
that happiness was. He realized then that he could not allow Stephen to
"do the right thing"; he would not press for it. After all, it was a
small thing for himself to suffer, this petty local suspicion, even the
visitations of the Gaunts, compared with the suffering which this dear
and delicate lady would have to bear if the truth were told. Surely it
was an easy sacrifice for a man to make.

So John sat glowing with sentiment and resolution, and Margery pondered
the happiness of life, and Stephen brooded darkly in the window, and
they were all silent. Then Margery suggested that the two men should
sing together as they used to do; and they sang. They sang odd things
from an Old English song book, picked out at random as they turned over
the leaves. And it seemed as if every song in that book must have for
those two some hidden and sinister meaning. It was bad enough, in any
case, to stand there together behind Margery at the piano, and try to
sing as they had sung in the old days, when nothing had happened. But
these songs had some terrible innuendoes: "Blow, blow, thou winter
wind," they sang first, and "Sigh no more, ladies." And when they came
to "a friend's ingratitude" and "fellowship forgot" and "Men were
deceivers ever," the two men became foolishly self-conscious. They
looked studiously in front of them, and each in his heart hoped that the
other had not noticed, hoped that his own expression was perfectly
normal and composed. It was exceedingly foolish. There were other songs
like this, and after a few more Stephen said shortly that that was
enough.

Then they tried to talk again; but the men could think of no topic which
did not somehow lead them near to Emily Gaunt and such dangerous
ground. Even when Margery began to speak of the motor-boat, the men
seemed to be stricken silly and dumb. Margery wondered what ailed them,
till she remembered about John's "wood-collecting" evidence, and blushed
suddenly at her folly.

Stephen went down with John to the front door feeling certain that he
would there and then "have it out." But John said nothing, only a quick
"Good night." He did not look at Stephen. They felt then like strangers
to each other. And Stephen, marvelling at John's silence and strangely
moved by his coldness, became suddenly anxious to get at his thoughts.

He said, "John--I--I--I hope you're not ... hadn't I better ... I--I
mean ... are you being worried much ... by this?..."

His vagueness was partly due to a new and genuine nervousness and partly
to calculation--a half-conscious determination not to commit himself.
But John perfectly understood.

"No, Stephen, we'll forget all that ... you're not to do anything....
It's a bit trying, but I can stand it. I don't want to upset things any
more now.... Margery and you ... a fresh start, you know.... Good
night." And he was gone.

Stephen went slowly upstairs, astonished and ashamed, with a confused
sense of humiliation and relief. And while he felt penitent and mean in
the face of this magnanimity of John's, he could not avoid a certain
conceited contentment with the wisdom and success of his planning.

Yes, it was very satisfactory. And now he could get on with the poem
about "Chivalry." He sat down at his table and pulled out the scribbled
muddle of manuscript. But he wrote no word that night. He sat for a long
time staring at the paper, thinking of the chivalry of John Egerton. And
it brought no inspiration.



XI


John went home thinking pitifully of Margery Byrne and vowing hotly that
he would sacrifice himself for her sake. In the hall he found a letter
from Miss Muriel Tarrant. The neat round writing on the envelope stirred
him deliciously where it stared up from the floor. Almost reverently he
picked it up and fingered it and turned it over and examined it with the
fond and foolish deliberation of a lover for whom custom has not staled
these little blisses. The letter was an invitation to a dance. The
Tarrants had just come home and they were taking a party to the Buxton
Galleries on Saturday. And they were very anxious for John to go. It was
clear, then, that they had declined to join the faction of Mrs. Vincent,
though they must have heard the story, numbers of stories, by this time.
And John, as he argued thus, was almost overwhelmed with pride and
tenderness and exultation. He felt then that he had known always that
Muriel was different from the malicious sheep who were her mother's
friends. And this letter, coming at this moment, seemed like some
glorious sign of approbation from Heaven, an acknowledgment and a
reward for the deed of sacrifice to which he had but just devoted
himself. It was an inspiration to go on with it--though it made the
sacrifice itself seem easy.

He took the letter to his bed and laid it on the table beside him. And
for a long time he pondered in the dark the old vague dreams of Muriel
and marriage which, since the coming of the letter, had presented
themselves with such startling clearness. He had not seen her for many
weeks, but this letter was like a first meeting; it was a revelation. He
knew she was not clever, perhaps not even very intelligent; but she was
young and lovely and kind; and she should be the simple companion of his
simple heart. He was very lonely in this dark house, very silent and
alone. He wanted some one who would bring voices and colour into his
home, would make it a glowing and intimate place, like Margery Byrne's.
Poor Margery! And Muriel would do this.

But he would have hard work to bring this about. He knew very little
what she thought of him. He would be very accomplished and winning at
this dance. Probably there would be four of them--Muriel and himself and
her young brother George and some flame of his. They would dance
together most of the evening, and he would dance with Muriel. And he
must not be awkward--slide about or tread on her toes. He was not "keen
on dancing," and he was not good at dancing. But he could "get round";
and Muriel would teach him the rest. She loved teaching people.

But the party was to be a larger affair than John had imagined it. There
were to be at least six, if the men could be found. And in the morning
Muriel Tarrant came herself to the Byrnes' house and asked if Stephen
would come. It was a bold suggestion, for she did not know him very
well, and she knew that he seldom danced, seldom indeed "went out" at
all in the evenings. But such boldness became a virtue in the post-war
code of decorum, and she was a bold person, Muriel Tarrant. This morning
she looked very fresh and alluring, with her fair hair creeping in
calculated abandon from a small blue hat and a cluster of tiny black
feathers fastened at the side of it--tiny feathers, but somehow
inexpressibly naughty. They wandered downwards over the little curls at
the side of her head and nestled delicately against her face.

Margery was yet in bed, and Stephen took his visitor out into the hot
garden, where little Joan was wheeling sedately a small pram and the
rabbits lay panting in dark corners. And first he said that he would not
go to the dance. He was busy and he did not love dancing; and anyhow
Margery could not go. But Muriel perched herself on the low wall over
the river, and leaned forward with her blue eyes on his, and a little
pout about her lips; and she said, "Oh, _do_, Mr. Byrne." And there was
a kind of personal appeal in her voice and her eagerness and her steady
smiling eyes that woke up his vanity and his admiration. He thought,
"She really thinks it is important that I should go; she likes me." And
then, "And I like her." And then he said that he would go. They talked a
little in the sun before she went, and when she was gone Stephen felt as
if some secret had passed between them. Also he wondered why he had
thought so little of her existence before. And Muriel went down The
Chase, smiling at some secret thought.

They dined hurriedly at Brierleys' that Saturday. Muriel and her brother
and Stephen and John, and two young sisters of the name of Atholl, to
whom George Tarrant owed an apparently impartial allegiance. They were
equally plump and unintelligent, and neither was exciting to the outward
eye, but it seemed that they danced well. But to young George this was
the grand criterion of fitness for the purpose of a dance. John's idea
of a dance--and Stephen's--was a social function at which you
encountered pleasant people with whom, because there was dancing, one
danced. But it was soon made clear to him that these were the withered
memories of an obsolete age. For this was the time of the Great Craze. A
dance now was no social affair; it was a semi-gladiatorial display to
which one went to perform a purely physical operation with those who
were physically most fitted to perform it. Dancing had passed out of the
"party" stage; it was no longer even a difficult, but agreeable and
universal pastime; it was practically a profession. It was entirely
impossible, except for the very highly gifted, even to approximate to
the correct standards of style and manner without spending considerable
sums of money on their own tuition. And when they had finished their
elaborate and laborious training, and were deemed worthy to take the
floor at the Buxton Galleries at all, they found that their new
efficiency was a thin and ephemeral growth. The steps and rhythms and
dances which they had but yesterday acquired, at how much trouble and
expense, passed today into the contemptible limbo of the unfashionable,
like the hats of last spring; and so the life of the devotee was one
long struggle to keep himself abreast of the latest invention of the
astute but commercially-minded professional teachers. "For ever climbing
up the climbing wave," for ever studying, yet for ever out-of-date, he
oscillated hopefully between the Buxton Galleries and his chosen priest;
and so swift and ruthless were the changes of fashion and the whims of
the priesthood, that in order to get your money's worth of the last
trick you had learned, it was necessary, during its brief life of
respectability, to dance at every available opportunity. You danced as
many nights a week as was physically or financially possible; you danced
on week-days, and you danced on Sundays; you began dancing in the
afternoon, and you danced during tea in the coffee-rooms of expensive
restaurants, whirling your precarious way through littered and abandoned
tea-tables; and at dinner-time you leapt up madly before the fish and
danced like variety _artistes_ in a highly polished arena before a crowd
of complete strangers eating their food; or, as if seized with an
uncontrollable craving for the dance, you flung out after the joint for
one wild gallop in an outer room, from which you returned, sweating and
dyspeptic, to the consumption of an iced pudding, before dashing forth
to the final orgy at a night-club, or a gallery, or the mansion of an
earl. But it was seldom that you danced at anybody's mansion. The days
of private and hospitable dances were practically dead. Nobody could
afford to give as many dances as the dancing cult required. Moreover, at
private dances there were old-fashioned conventions and hampering
politenesses to be observed. You might have to dance occasionally out of
mere courtesy with some person who was three weeks behind the times,
who could not do the Jimble or the Double-Jazz Glide, or might even have
an attachment for the degrading and obsolete Waltz. On the other hand,
you would not be allowed to dance the entire evening with "the one woman
in the room who can do the Straddle properly," and there was a prejudice
against positive indecency. So it was better from all points of view to
pay a few guineas and go to a gallery or a restaurant or a night-club
with a small number of selected women, dragooned by long practice into a
slavish harmony with the niceties of your particular style and favourite
steps. And after all, what with the dancing lessons, and the
dance-dinners, and the dance-teas, and the taxis to dances, and the
taxis away from dances, and the tickets for dances, and the
subscriptions to night-clubs, and the life-memberships of night-clubs
which perished after two years, you had so much capital invested in the
industry that you simply could not _afford_ to have a moment's pleasure
placed in jeopardy by deficiencies of technique in your guests. Away,
then, with mere Beauty and mere Charm and mere Intelligence and mere
Company! Bring out the Prize Mares and show us their steps and their
stamina, their powers of endurance and harmonious submission, before we
consent to appear with them in the public and costly arena.

A party selected on these lines, however suitable for the serious
business of the evening, could be infinitely wearisome for the purposes
of dinner. Stephen thought he had never beheld two young women so little
entertaining as the two Misses Atholl. All they talked of and all that
George Tarrant talked of was the dances they had been to, and were going
to, and could not go to, and the comparative values of various mutual
friends, considered solely as dancers. It was like the tedious "shop" of
the more fanatical golfers; and indeed at any moment Stephen expected to
hear that some brave or other had a handicap of three at the Buxton
Galleries, or had become stale from over-training, or ruined his form by
ordinary walking. Stephen (or Muriel) had taken care that they should be
sitting together, but though she was very lively and charming, and
though her talk was less restricted in range than the talk of the
Atholls, Stephen began to wish intensely that he had not come. And he
thought of Margery, and was sorry that he had left her alone in the
house to come and listen to this futile jabbering. She had approved
enthusiastically of his coming, for she thought that he went out too
little; but she had looked rather wistful, he thought, when he left. She
liked dancing herself.

To John, too, the talk at dinner and the personality (if any) of the
Misses Atholl was inexpressibly dull; and since he was as far away from
Muriel as it was possible for him to be, and since she scarcely spoke a
word to any one but Stephen, he had nothing to console him but a few
provocative glances and the hope of seeing more of her at the dance. And
even this hope was dimmed by the presence of Stephen and the
intimidating technicalities of the conversation. He did not understand
why Stephen had come, and he rather resented his coming. Wherever
Stephen was one of the company, he always felt himself closing up
socially like an awed anemone in the presence of a large fish. And
tonight in that dominating presence he could not see in himself the
brilliant and romantic figure which he had determined to be at this
party. It was far from being the kind of party he had expected.

The amazing language of young George and the Misses Atholl made it still
less likely that that figure would be achieved at the dance. What were
these "Rolls" and "Buzzes" and "Slides," he wondered. And how did one do
them? The art of dancing seemed to have acquired strange complexities
since he had last attempted it eighteen months ago. Then with a faint
pride he had mastered the Fox Trot and something they called a Boston.
They had seemed very daring and difficult then, but already it seemed
they were dead. At any rate they were never mentioned. John foresaw
some hideous embarrassments, and he too wished fervently that he had not
come.

But Muriel at least was enjoying herself. She was feeling unusually
mischievous and irresponsible. She twinkled mischief at John's glum
face, and she twinkled mischief into Stephen's eyes. Only they were
different kinds of mischief. She had long been fond of John "in a kind
of way"; she was still fond of him "in a kind of way." But he was a slow
and indefinite suitor, old John, and he was undeniably not exciting.
However, there was no one she liked better, and if he should ever bring
himself to the pitch of suggesting it, she had little doubt that she
would take him. His income would not be large, but it would be certain.

But it was slow work waiting, and this evening she had Stephen Byrne;
and Stephen Byrne was undeniably exciting. Not simply because he was a
great poet,--for though she liked "poitry" in a vague way, she did not
like any one poet or one piece of poetry much better than another--but
because he had made a _success_ of poetry, a worldly success. He had
made a name, he had even made money; he was a well-known man. And he was
handsome and young, and his hair was black, and that morning in the
garden he had admired her. She knew that. And she knew that she had
touched his vanity by her urgency and his senses by her charm, and
something naughty had stirred in her, and that too he had seen and
enjoyed with a sympathetic naughtiness. And she had thought to herself
that it would be an amusing thing to captivate this famous young man,
this married, respectable, delightful youth; it would be interesting to
see how powerful she could be. And at least she might waken John Egerton
into activity.

They went on to the dance in two taxis. John found himself on one of the
small seats with his back to the driver, with Stephen and Muriel
chattering aloofly together in the gloom of the larger seat. The small
seat in a taxi is, at the best of times, a position of moral and
strategic inferiority, and tonight John felt this keenly. He screwed his
head round uncomfortably in his sharp collar and pretended to be
profoundly interested in the wet and hurrying streets. But he heard
every word they said; and they said no word to him.

From the door of the galleries where the dancing was done, a confused
uproar overflowed into the passages, as if several men of powerful
physique were banging a number of pokers against a number of saucepans,
and blowing whistles, and occasional catcalls, and now and then beating
a drum and several sets of huge cymbals, and ceaselessly twanging at
innumerable banjos, and at the same time singing in a foreign language,
and shouting curses or exhortations or street-cries, or imitating
hunting-calls or the cry of the hyena, or uniting suddenly in the final
war-whoop of some pitiless Indian tribe. It was a really terrible noise.
It hit you like the breath of an explosion as you entered the room.
There was no distinguishable tune. It was simply an enormous noise. But
there was a kind of savage rhythm about it, which made John think
immediately of Indians and fierce men and the native camps which he had
visited at the Earl's Court Exhibition. And this was not surprising; for
the musicians included one genuine negro and three men with their faces
blacked; and the noise and the rhythm were the authentic music of a
negro village in South America; and the words which some genius had once
set to the noise were an exhortation to go to the place where the
negroes dwelt.

To judge by their movements, John thought, many of the dancers had in
fact been there, and carefully studied the best indigenous models. They
were doing some quite extraordinary things. No two couples were doing
quite the same thing for more than a few seconds; so that there was an
endless variety of extraordinary motions and extraordinary postures.
Some of them shuffled secretly along the edge of the room, their faces
tense, their shoulders swaying faintly like reeds in a light wind,
their progress almost imperceptible; they did not rotate, they did not
speak, but sometimes the tremor of a skirt or the slight stirring of a
patent leather shoe showed that they were indeed alive and in motion,
though that motion was as the motion of a glacier, not to be measured in
minutes or yards. And some, in a kind of fever, rushed hither and
thither among the thick crowd, avoiding disaster with marvellous
dexterity; and sometimes they revolved slowly and sometimes quickly, and
sometimes spun giddily round for a moment like gyroscopic tops. Then
they too would be seized with a kind of trance, or, it may be, with
sheer shortness of breath, and hung motionless for a little in the
centre of the room, while the mad throng jostled and flowed about them
like the leaves in autumn round a dead bird. And some did not revolve at
all, but charged straightly up and down; and some of these thrust their
loves for ever before them, as the Prussians thrust the villagers in the
face of the enemy, and some for ever navigated themselves backwards like
moving breakwaters to protect their darlings from the rough seas of
tangled women and precipitate men. Some of them kept themselves as
upright as possible, swaying gracefully like willows from the hips, and
some of them contorted themselves into hideous and angular shapes, now
leaning perilously forward till they were practically lying upon their
terrified partners, and now bending sideways as a man bends who has
water in one ear after bathing. All of them clutched each other in a
close and intimate manner, but some, as if by separation to intensify
the joy of their union, or perhaps to secure greater freedom for some
particularly spacious manoeuvre, would part suddenly in the middle of
the room and, clinging distantly with their hands, execute a number of
complicated side-steps in opposite directions, or aim a series of
vicious kicks at each other, after which they would reunite in a
passionate embrace, and gallop in a frenzy round the room, or fall into
a trance, or simply fall down; if they fell down they lay still for a
moment in the fearful expectation of death, as men lie who fall under a
horse; and then they would creep on hands and knees to the shore through
the mobile and indifferent crowd.

Watching them you could not tell what any one couple would do next. The
most placid and dignified among them might at any moment fling a leg out
behind them and almost kneel in mutual adoration, and then, as if
nothing unusual had happened, shuffle solemnly onward through the press;
or, as though some electric mechanism had been set in motion, they would
suddenly lift a foot sideways and stand on one leg, reminding the
observer irresistibly of a dog out for a walk; or, with the suggestion
of an acrobat nerving himself for the final effort of daring, the male
would plant himself firmly on both feet while his maiden laboriously
leapt a half-circle through the air about the tense figure of her swain.
It was marvellous with what unanimity these eccentricities were
performed. So marvellous, John thought, that it was impossible to think
of them as spontaneous, joyous expressions of art. He imagined the male
issuing his orders during the long minutes of shuffling motion,
carefully manoeuvring into position, sizing up like a general the
strategic situation, and then hoarsely whispering the final "Now!" And
after that they moved on with all the nonchalance of extreme
self-consciousness, thinking, no doubt, "It cost me a lot to learn
that--but it was worth it."

The look of their faces confirmed this view, for nearly all were set and
purposeful and strained, as men who have serious work in hand; not
soulful, not tense with emotion, but simply expressive of concentration.
With few exceptions there was nothing of the joy of life in those faces,
the rapture of music or of motion. They meant business. And this was the
only thing that could absolve many of them from the charge of public
indecency; for it was clear that their motions and the manner of their
embraces were not the expression of licence or affection so much as
matters of technique.

Upon this whirlpool John Egerton embarked with the gravest misgivings,
especially as he was conscious of a strange Miss Atholl clinging to his
person. Young George Tarrant had immediately plunged into the storm with
her sister, and his fair head was to be seen far off, gleaming and
motionless like a lighthouse above the tossing heads and undulant
shoulders. Stephen had secured Muriel Tarrant, and poor John was very
miserable. If he had been less shy, or more intimate with Miss Atholl,
he might have comforted himself with the comedy of it all. And if he had
been more ruthless he might have bent Miss Atholl to his will and
declined to attempt anything but his own primitive two-step. But he
became solemn and panic-stricken, and surrendered his hegemony to her,
suffering her to give him intricate advice in a language which was
meaningless to him, and to direct him with ineffectual tugs and pushes
which only made his bewilderment worse. The noise was deafening, the
atmosphere stifling, the floor incredibly slippery. The four black men
were now all shouting at once, and playing all their instruments at
once, working up to the inconceivable uproar of the finale, and all the
dancers began to dance with a last desperate fury and velocity. Bodies
buffeted John from behind, and while he was yet looking round in apology
or anger, other bodies buffeted him from the flank, and more bodies
buffeted his partner and pressed her against his reluctant frame. It was
like swimming in a choppy sea, where there is no time to recover from
the slap and buffets of one wave before the next one smites you.

Miss Atholl whispered, "Hold me tighter," and John, blushing faintly at
these unnatural advances, tightened a little his ineffectual grip. The
result of this was that he kicked her more often on the ankle and trod
more often on her toes. Close beside him a couple fell down with a crash
and a curse and the harsh tearing of satin. John glanced at them in
concern, but was swept swiftly onward with the tide. He was dimly aware
now that the black men were standing on their chairs bellowing, and
fancied the end must be near. And with this thought he found himself
surprisingly in a quiet backwater, a corner between two rows of chairs,
from which he determined never to issue till the Last Banjo should
indeed sound. And here he sidled and shuffled vaguely for a little,
hoping that he gave the impression of a man preparing himself for some
vast culminating feat, a sidestep, or a "buzz," or a double-Jazzspin, or
whatever these wonders might be.

Then the noise suddenly ceased; there was a burst of perfunctory
clapping, and the company became conscious of the sweat of their bodies.
John looked round longingly for Muriel.

But Muriel was happily chattering to Stephen Byrne in a deep sofa
surrounded by palms. Stephen, like John, had surveyed the new dancing
with dismay, but his dismay was more artistic than personal. He was as
much amused as disgusted, and he did not intend, for any woman, to make
himself ridiculous by attempting any of the more recent monstrosities.

But, unlike John, he had the natural spirit of dancing in his soul; so
that he was able to ignore the freakish stupidities of the scene, and
extract an artistic elemental pleasure of his own from the light and the
colour and excitement, from the barbaric rhythm of the noise and the
seductive contact of Muriel Tarrant. So he took her and swung her
defiantly round in an ordinary old-fashioned waltz; and she, because it
was the great Stephen Byrne, felt no shame at this sacrilege.

When they had come to the sofa, she talked for a little the idle
foolishness which is somehow inseparable from the intervals between
dances, and he thought, "I wonder whether she always talks like this. I
wonder if she reads my poems. I wonder if she likes them." He began to
wish that she would pay him a compliment about them, even an
unintelligent compliment. It might jar upon him intellectually, but,
coming from her, it would still be pleasing. For it is a mistake to
suppose that great artists are so remote from the weaknesses of other
men that they are not sometimes ready to have their vanity tickled by a
charming girl at the expense of their professional sensibilities.

But she only said, "It's a ripping band here. I hope you'll come here
again, Mr. Byrne." And he thought, "What a conversation!" How could one
live permanently with a conversation like this? But old John could!

But as she said it she looked him in the eyes very directly and
delightfully, and once again there was the sense of a secret passing
between them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then they went to look for John, and Muriel determined that she would be
very nice to him. The next dance was, nominally, a waltz, and that was a
rare event. John asked if he might waltz in the ancient fashion, and
though she was being conscientiously sweet and gracious to him, and
though she had made no murmur when Stephen had done as John would like
to do, some devil within her made her refuse. She said that he must do
the Hesitation Waltz as other people were doing. The chief point of this
seemed to be that you imitated the dog, not by spasms, but
consistently. Even the most expert practitioner failed to invest this
feat with elegance and dignity, and the remainder, poising themselves
pathetically with one leg in the air, as if waiting for the happy signal
when they might put it down, would have looked ridiculous if they had
not looked so sad. Stephen, revolving wearily with the younger Miss
Atholl, wished that the Medusa's head might be smuggled into the room
for the attitudes of this dance to be imperishably recorded in cold
stone. Then he caught sight of the unhappy John, and was smitten with an
amused sympathy. John's study of the habits of dogs had evidently been
superficial, and he did not greatly enjoy his first dance with his love.
He held her very reverently and loosely, though dimly aware that this
made things much more difficult, but he could not bring himself to seize
that soft and altogether sacred form in the kind of intimate clutch
which the other men affected--Stephen, he noticed, included. It was a
maddening complexity of emotion, that dance--the incredible awe and
rapture of holding his adored, however lightly, in his arms, the
intoxication of her nearness the fragrance of her dress, and the touch
of her hair upon his face--and all this ruined by the exasperating
futility of the actual dance, the vile necessity of thinking whether he
was in time with the music and in time with Muriel, and if he was going
to run into the couple ahead, and if there was room to reverse in that
corner, and whether he should cock his leg up farther, or not so far, or
not at all. He envied bitterly the easy accomplishment of the circling
youths about him, who, for all the earnestness of their expressions, had
each of them, no doubt, time to appreciate the fact that they held on
their arms some warm and lovely girl.

Yet Muriel was very kind and forbearing and instructive, and at the end
of it he did feel that he had made some progress, both with his
hesitating and his suit. They sat in the interval on the same sofa, and
Muriel was still gracious. She told him that he would pick it up very
quickly, that it was all knack, that it was all balance, that it was all
practice, that no practice was needed. And John believed everything and
was much excited and pleased. He thanked her for her advice, and vowed
that he would take lessons and become an expert. And Muriel thought, "He
will never be able to dance; could I live permanently with a man like
that?" She thought what a prim, funny "old boy" he was. But he was a
nice "old boy," and that rumour about the maid-servant was positively
ridiculous.

The next dance she had promised to Stephen. The four black men were
playing a wild and precipitate tune. A certain melody was
distinguishable, and it had less of the lunacies of extravagant
syncopation than most of their repertoire. But it was a wicked tune, a
hot, provocative, passionate tune, that fired a man with a kind of fever
of motion. Faster and faster, and louder and louder, the black men
played; and though it was impossible for the dancers to move much faster
because of the press, their entranced souls responded to the gathering
urgency of the music, and they clutched their partners more tightly, and
they were conscious no more of the sweat upon their bodies, of their
sore toes, or disordered dresses, they forgot for a moment the technical
details of the movements of their feet, and they were whirled helplessly
on in a savage crescendo of noise and motion and physical rapture
towards the final Elysium of licence to which this dance must surely
lead them.

Stephen Byrne felt the fever and enjoyed it. He enjoyed it equally as a
personal indulgence and as an artistic experience. He held Muriel very
close, and found himself dancing with an eager pleasure which surprised
him. Yet as he danced, he was noticing his own sensations and the faces
of the people about him, the intense faces of the men, the drugged
expressions of the women. He saw oldish men looking horribly young in
their animal excitement, and oldish women looking horrible in their
coquettishness. And he saw them all as literary material. He thought,
"This is good copy."

Muriel, he knew, was enjoying it too. Her eyes were half-closed, her
face, a little pale, had the aspect of absolute surrender which can be
seen in churches. But sometimes she opened her eyes wide and smiled at
Stephen. And this excited him very much, so that he watched for it; and
when she saw that she blushed. Then he was swept with a hot gust of
feeling, and he realized that he was dangerously attracted by this girl.
He thought of Margery and the late vows he had made, and he was ashamed.
But the mad dance went on, with ever-increasing fury, and the black men
returned with a vast tempestuous chord and a shattering crash of cymbals
to the original melody, and all those men and women braced themselves to
snatch the last moment of this intoxication. Those who were dancing with
bad partners or dull partners were filled with bitterness because they
were not getting the full measure of the dance; and those who held the
perfect partners in their arms foresaw with sorrow the near end of their
rapture, and began, if they had not already begun, to conceive for each
other a certain sentimental regard. Stephen thought no more of Margery,
but he thought tenderly of Muriel and the moment when the dance must
end. For when it ended all would be over; he might not hold her in his
arms any more, he might not enjoy her loveliness in any way, because he
was married, and she was dedicated to John. She was too good for John.
But because he was married he must stand aside and see her sacrificed to
John or to somebody like John. He must not interfere with that. But he
would like to interfere. He would like to kiss her at the end of the
dance.

The dance was finished at last, and while they sat together afterwards,
hot and exhausted, Muriel said suddenly, "What's all this about Mr.
Egerton--and--that maid of yours--? There are some horrid stories going
round--Mrs. Vincent--Mother said she wouldn't listen to any of them."

Stephen was silent for a little. Then he said, in a doubtful, deliberate
manner:

"Well, I've known John as long as anybody in The Chase, and I know he's
a jolly good fellow, but--but--It was an extraordinary affair, that,
altogether. I don't know what to make of it." He finished with a sigh of
perplexity.

Then he sat silent again, marvelling at himself, and Muriel said no
more.

John came up and stood awkwardly before them. He wanted to ask Muriel
for the next dance, but he was too shy to begin. His dress-suit was
ill-fitting and old, his hair ruffled, his tie crooked, and as she lay
back on the sofa Muriel could see a glimpse of shirt between the top of
his trousers and the bottom of the shrunken and dingy white waistcoat,
where any pronounced movement of his body caused a spasmodic but
definite hiatus. His shirt front had buckled into a wide dent. Of all
these things poor John was acutely conscious as he stood uncertainly
before the two.

Stephen said heartily, "Hallo, old John, you look a bit the worse for
wear. How did you get on that time?"

John stammered, "Not very well--I want Miss Tarrant to give me some
more--some more instruction." And he looked at Muriel, an appealing,
pathetic look. He wished very fiercely that Stephen was not there--so
easy and dashing, and certain of himself.

And Muriel had no smile for him. She glanced inquiringly at Stephen, and
said, with the hard face of a statue, "I'm sorry, I'm doing the next
with Mr. Byrne." And Stephen nodded.

She danced no more with John that night. Sometimes as he sat out
disconsolately with one of the Atholl women, she brushed him with her
skirt, or he saw her distantly among the crowd. And he looked now with a
new longing at the adorable poise of her head upon her shoulders, at the
sheen and texture of her hair, at the grace and lightness of her
movements, as she swam past with Stephen. He looked after her till she
was lost in the press, trying to catch her eye, hoping that she might
see him and smile at him. But if she saw him she never smiled. And when
he was sick with love and sadness, and hated the Atholls with a bitter
hatred, he left the building alone, and went home miserably by the
Underground.



XII


July drew on to a sultry end. In the little gardens of Hammerton the
thin lawns grew yellow and bare: and there, by the river-wall, the
people of The Chase took their teas and their suppers, and rested
gratefully in the evening cool. One week after the dance the Byrnes were
to go away into the country, and Margery had looked forward eagerly to
the 27th of July. But Stephen said on the 25th that he could not come:
he had nearly finished the poem "Chivalry," and he wanted to finish it
before he went away; and he had much business to settle with publishers
and so on: he was publishing a volume of _Collected Poems_, and there
were questions of type and paper and cover to be determined; and he had
a long article for _The Epoch_ to do. All these things might take a week
or they might take a fortnight; but he would follow Margery as soon as
he might--she could feel sure of that.

Against this portentous aggregate of excuses Margery argued gently and
sorrowfully but vainly. And sorrowfully she went away with Nurse and
Joan and Michael Hilary. She went away to Hampshire, to the house of an
old friend--a lovely place on the shore of the Solent. You drove there
from Brockenhurst through the fringes of the New Forest, through
marvellous regiments of ancient trees, and wild stretches of heathery
waste, and startling patches of hedge and pasture, where villages with
splendid names lurked slyly in unexpected hollows, and cows stood
sleepily by the rich banks of little brooks. And when you came to the
house, you saw suddenly the deep blue band of the Solent, coloured like
the Dardanelles, and quiet like a lake. Beyond it rose the green
foothills of the Island, patched with the brown of ploughlands and
landslides by the sea, and far-off the faint outline of Mottistone Down
and Brightstone Down, little heights that had the colour and dignity of
great mountains when the light caught them in the early morning or in
the evening or after the rain. On the water small white boats with red
sails and green sails shot about like butterflies, and small black
fishing-craft prowled methodically near the shore. And sometimes in the
evening a great liner stole out of Southampton Water and crept
enormously along the farther shore, her hull a beautiful grey, her
funnel an indescribable tint, that was neither pink nor scarlet nor red,
but fitted perfectly in the bright picture of the land and the sea. And
all day there were ships passing, battleships and aged tramps and
dredgers and destroyers, and sometimes a tall sailing-ship that looked
like an old engraving, and big yachts with sails like snow, and little
yachts with sails like cinnamon or the skin of an Arab boy. At low tide
there were long stretches of mudflats and irregular pools, before the
house and far away to the west; and these at sunset were places of great
beauty. For the sunset colours of the tumbled clouds, and the subtle
green of the lower sky and the bold blue of the cloudless spaces above
were in these pools and in the near shallows of the sea perfectly
recaptured. In this delicate mosaic of golden pools and rose pools and
nameless lights herons moved with a majestic stealth or stood like ebony
images watching for fish; and little companies of swans swam up and down
with the arrogant beauty of all swans and the unique beauty of swans in
sea water: and all the sea-birds of England circled and swooped against
the sun or clustered chattering on the purple mud and saffron patches of
sand, with a strange quietness, as if they, too, must do their reverence
to the stillness and the splendour of that hour.

The sun went down and all those colours departed, but for a sad glow
over Dorsetshire and the deep green of the Needles Light that shot along
the still surface almost to your feet as you stood in the thick grass
above the shore.

Then you went with the sensation of awe into the house; and the house
was old and comforting and spacious, with a mellow roof of gentle red;
and it was rich with the timber of Hampshire trees. There was a lawn in
front of it and a tangled screen of low shrubs and sallow trees; and
when Margery stood in the wide window of her room there was nothing but
these between herself and the sea; and there was no building to be seen
nor the work of any man, only the friendly ships and their lights, and
the far smoke of a farm upon the Island, and at night the blinking lamp
of a buoy-light in the Channel. To Margery it would have been the
perfect haven of contentment and rest--if Stephen had come with her. But
he had not come. At night the curlews flew past the windows with the
long and sweet and musical cry which no other bird can utter and no man
imitate, nor even interpret--for who can say from the sound of it if it
be a cry of melancholy or a song of hope or rejoicing or love? But to
Margery in those weeks it was a song of absolute sadness, of lost
possibilities and shattered dreams, and it was the very voice of her
disappointment, her protest against the exquisite tantalization of her
coming to this exquisite retreat--and coming alone.

And Stephen in London worked on at "Chivalry." He was beginning to be
tired of it now as the end of it came in sight, and it was true that he
wanted to be able to leave the whole burden of it behind him when he
went away. But that was not the whole reason of his staying at home, and
what the whole reason was he had not consciously determined; but faintly
he knew that Muriel Tarrant was part of it.

He was tired of the poem now, and was eager to be done--eager to be done
with the long labour of execution of an idea no longer fresh with the
first fury of inspiration. And now that so much was achieved he was
urgent to finish it quickly and give it to the world, lest some other be
before him. For poets and all authors suffer something of the terrors of
inventors and scientific creators, toiling feverishly at the latest
child of their imagination, while who knows what other man may not
already have stolen their darling, may not this very hour be hurrying to
the Patent Office, filching rights and the patronage of rich men,
ruining perhaps for ever by their folly or avarice or imperfection the
whole glory of the conception.

Stephen had this sort of secret fear. They seemed so obvious now, his
idea and his scheme of execution, though at their birth they had seemed
so strange and bold and original. Surely some other man had long since
thought of writing a poem like his, was even now correcting his proofs,
some mean and barren artist who could never do justice to the theme,
but would make it for ever a stale and tawdry thing. Or maybe in the
winter there would be a paper shortage or a printers' strike or a
revolution, and if his masterpiece had not seen the light by then it
would never see the light at all; or at best there would be long months
of intolerable waiting, and it would be given to the world at the wrong
season, when the world was no longer inspired with the sense of
chivalry, when the critics were bored with chivalry, at Christmas time
when men looked for lighter fare, or in the spring, when men wanted
nothing but the spring.

So all that August he worked, thinking little of Margery, thinking
little of any one. But though there was this fever of purpose and
anxiety driving him on, day by day the labour grew more wearisome and
difficult. Men who go out to offices or factories to do their work think
enviously sometimes of the gentler lot of the author, bound by no
regulations or hours or personal entanglements, but able to sit down at
his own time at his own desk and put down without physical labour or
nervous strain the easy promptings of his brain. They do not know with
how much terror and distaste he may have to drag himself to that desk,
with what agony of mind he sits there. The nervous weariness of writing,
the physical weariness of writing, the mental incubus of a great
conception that must be carried unformed in the heavy mind month after
weary month, for ever growing and swelling and bursting to be born, yet
not able to be born, because this labour of writing is so long, the
hideous labour of writing and rewriting and correcting, of futile
erasions and vacillations and doubt, of endless worryings over little
words and tragic sacrifices and fresh starts and rearrangements--these
are terrible things. An author is to his work as a rejected lover his
love, for ever drawn yet for ever repelled. Stephen sometimes in the
morning would almost long to be transformed into a clerk, or a railway
porter, some one who need ask little of himself since little is asked of
him but the simple observance of a routine; he would have to force
himself to sit on at his work, as a man forces himself to face danger or
bear pain; he would even welcome interruptions, yet bitterly resent
them; for when the words would not come or would not arrange themselves,
when nothing went absolutely right, any distraction was sweet which
legitimately for a single hour released him from the drudgery of
thought; and yet it was hateful, for it postponed yet another hour the
end of that drudgery, and in that precious hour--who knows?--the divine
ease and assurance might have returned, the maddening difficulties
melted away, so strange and fitful are the springs of inspiration.

So all these weeks he worked and saw nobody; he did not see Muriel,
though the Tarrants were still at home, and he did not see John, who had
gone away to Devonshire with a fellow Civil Servant. But at last in the
third week the labour was finished. It was finished at sunset on a
breathless evening; he finished it with a glowing sense of contentment
with good work done. Then he read it over, from beginning to end. And as
he read the glow faded, the contentment departed. The mournful
disillusion of achievement began. Here and there were phrases which
stirred, passages which satisfied; but for the most part he read his
work with a sort of sick shame and disappointment. Who in the wide world
could read these stale and wearisome lines? Each of them at one time had
seemed the fresh and perfect expression of a fine thought; each of them
was the final choice of numberless alternatives; but so often he had
read them, so often written them, so often in his head endlessly recited
them, in the streets and on the river or in the dark night, that they
were all old now, old and dull.

He had learned by long experience to discount a little this gloomy and
inevitable reaction, and now as he turned over the final page of spidery
manuscript, he tried hard to restore his faith, reminding himself that
the world would see his work as he saw it first himself, and not as he
saw it now. Anyhow, it was done, and could not be mended any more.
Perhaps it would be better when it was typed. But then the drudgery
would begin again--the reading and re-reading and alteration and doubt,
the weary numbering of pages, the weary correction of typist's lunacies.
And after that there would be proofs and the correcting of proofs; then
new doubts would discover themselves, and the old doubts would live
again; and he would hate it. Yet it would be better then--it would be
better in print. Now he was tired of it and would forget it. He felt the
impulse to relaxation and indulgence and rest which drives athletes to
excesses when their race is run, their long discipline over. He went out
into the garden and into the boat, and paddled gently upstream with the
tide, under the bank. It was nearly ten and the sun was long down. There
was no moon and it was dark on the river with the brilliant darkness of
a starry night. He paddled gently past John's house, scarcely moving the
oars; past Mr. Farraday's and the two moored barges at the Bakery wharf.
He drifted under the fig-tree by the Whittakers', and came near to the
house of the Tarrants. The Tarrants' house, like his own, was on the
river side of the road, and their garden ran down to a low wall over the
water. As he came out from under the fig-tree he looked up over his
shoulder at the house; and Muriel Tarrant was in his mind. There was a
figure in a white dress leaning motionless over the wall, and as he
looked up the figure stirred sharply. Then he began to tremble with a
curious excitement, for he saw that it was Muriel herself. He dipped the
oars in the water and stopped the boat under the wall.

She said, very softly, "Mr. Byrne?"

He said, "Muriel," and his voice was no more than a whisper. But she
heard.

Then there was an intolerable silence, and they stared at each other
through the gloom; and nothing moved anywhere but the smooth, hurrying
water chuckling faintly round the boat and against the oars and along
the wall. They were silent, and their hearts beat with a guilty urgency;
and in the thoughts of both was the same riot of doubt and scruple and
exquisite excitement.

Stephen said at last,--and in his voice there was again that stealthy
hoarseness,--"Come out in the boat!"

She hesitated. She looked quickly over her shoulder at the house, which
was quite dark, because her mother and their only servant had gone early
to bed. Then without a word she came down the steps. She gave him a hot
hand that quivered in his as he helped her down. Quietly he pushed off
the boat; but on the Island a swan heard them and flew away with a
startling clatter, looking very large against the stars. Still in
silence they drifted away under the trees past the Tathams' and past the
brewery, and past the Petways' and the ferry and the church. There was
something in this silence very suggestive of wrong, making them already
confessed conspirators. Muriel somehow felt this, and said at last:

"Mother's gone to bed. I mustn't be long."

Her voice and her words and her low delightful laugh broke the spell of
self-conscious wickedness which had held them. They felt at last that
they really were in this boat with each other under the stars; it was no
fantastic dream but an amusing and, after all, quite ordinary adventure,
nothing to be ashamed of or furtive about--a gentleman and a lady
boating in the evening on the Thames.

So Stephen steered out into mid-stream and pulled more strongly now,
away past the empty meadows, and the first low houses of Barnes, and
under the big black bridge, and round the bend by the silent factories.
Then there were a few last houses, very old and dignified, and you came
out suddenly into a wide reach where there moved against the stars a
long procession of old elms, and the banks were clothed with an endless
tangle of willows and young shrubs, drooping and dipping in the water.
The tide lapped among thick reeds, and there was no murmur of London to
be heard, and no houses to be seen nor the lights of houses. It was a
corner of startling solitude, forgotten somehow in the urge of
civilization; as if none had had a heart to build a factory there or a
brewery or a wharf, but had built them resolutely to the east or to the
west and all around, determined, if they could, to spare this little
relic of the old country Thames.

And here Stephen stopped rowing, and tied his boat to a willow branch;
and Muriel watched him, saying nothing. Then he sat down beside her in
the wide stern-seat. She turned her head and looked at him, very pale
against the trees. And he put his arm about her and kissed her.

It was very hot in that quiet place, and the night lay over them like a
velvet covering, heavy and sensuous and still. In each of them there was
the sense that this had been inevitable. They had known that it must
happen in that breathless moment at the garden wall. And this was
somehow comforting to the conscience.

So they sat there for a little longer, clinging tremorously in an
ecstasy of passion. A tug thrashed by; there was a sudden tumult of
splashing in the willows and in the reeds and the boat rocked violently
against the branches. Stephen fended her off.

Then they sat whispering and looking at the stars. It was a clear and
wonderful sky and no star was missing. Stephen told her the names of
stars and the stories about them. And she murmured dreamily that she saw
and understood; but she saw nothing and understood nothing but the
marvellous completeness of her conquest of this man, and the frightening
completeness of his conquest of her. She had never meant that things
should go so far.

And he, as he looked at the stars and the freckled gleam upon the waters
and the hot white face of the girl at his side, thought also, "I did not
mean it to go so far. But it is romance, this--it is poetry, and rich
experience--so it is justified." And what he meant was, "It is copy."

The tide turned at last, and they drifted softly and luxuriously down to
Hammerton Reach, and stole at midnight under the hushed gardens of The
Chase to the Tarrants' wall. And there again they kissed upon the steps.
He whispered hotly, "Tomorrow!" and she whispered, "Yes--if I can--" and
was gone.

In the morning there came a letter from Margery, beseeching him to come
to her as soon as he could--a pathetic, gentle little letter. She drew a
picture of the peace and beauty of the place, and ended acutely by
emphasizing its possibilities as an inspiration to poetry.

"Do come down, my darling, as soon as you can. I do want you to be here
with me for a bit. I know you want to finish the poem, but this is such
a heavenly place, I'm sure it would help you to finish it; I sometimes
feel like writing poetry myself here! Joan says that Daddy _must_ come
quick!"

Stephen wrote back, with a bewildered wonder at himself, that he had
nearly finished, but could not get away for at least a week. That day he
wrote a love-song--dedicated "To M." He had never written anything of
the kind before, and it excited him as nothing in "Chivalry" had ever
excited him.

All that week the tide was high in the evenings, and on the third day
the moon began. And every night, when all Hammerton had gone to their
early beds, he paddled secretly to the Tarrants' steps, still drunk with
amorous excitement and the sense of stealthy adventure. Every night
Muriel was waiting on the wall, slim and tremulous and pale; and they
slipped away under the bank to the open spaces where none could see. And
each day they said to themselves that this must be the last evening, for
disaster must surely come of these meetings and these kisses; and each
day looked forward with a hot expectancy to the evening that was to
come, that must be the end of this delicious madness. Yet every night he
whispered, "Tomorrow?" and every night she whispered, "If I can." And
each day he wrote a new love-song--dedicated "To M."

On the seventh day young George came down to see his sister, and,
greatly daring, Stephen proposed a long expedition down the river in his
motor-boat. So those three set out at noon and travelled down river in
the noisy boat through the whole of London. They saw the heart of London
as it can only be seen from London's river, the beauty of Westminster
from Vauxhall and the beauty of the City from Westminster. And as a man
walks eastward through Aldgate into a different world, they left behind
them the sleek dignity of Parliament and the Temple and the Embankment
and shot under Blackfriars Bridge into a different world--a world of
clustering, untidy bridges and sheer warehouses and endless wharves.
They felt very small in the little boat that spun sideways in the
bewildering eddies round the bridges and was pulled under them at
breathless speed by the confined and tremendous tide. They came through
London Bridge into a heavy sea, where the boat pitched and wallowed and
tossed her head and plunged suddenly with frightening violence in the
large waves that ran not one way only but rolled back obliquely from the
massed barges by the banks, and dashed at each other and made a tumult
of water, very difficult for a small boat to weather. Tugs dashed up
and down and across the river with the disquieting quickness and
inconsequence of taxi-cabs in the narrow space between the barges and
the big steamers huddled against the wharves. The men in them looked out
and laughed at the puny white boat plunging sideways under Tower Bridge.
There was then an ocean-going steamer moving portentously out, and
Muriel was frightened by the size of the ship, and the noise and racket
of the wharves, and the hooting tugs, and the mad water splashing and
heaving about them. But they came soon past Wapping into a wide and
quieter reach; and here there were many ships and many barges, some
anchored and some slowly moving, like ships in a dream. All of them were
bright with colour against the sky and against the steel-blue water and
the towering muddle of wharves and tall chimneys and warehouses upon the
banks. The sails of the barges stood out far off in lovely patches of
warm brown, and their masts shone like copper in the sun. Tucked away
among the wharves and cranes were old, mysterious houses, balconies and
lady-like windows looking incongruously over coal-barges.

But it was all mysterious and all beautiful, Stephen thought, in this
sunny market of the Thames. He liked the strange old names of the places
they passed, and told them lovingly to Muriel--Limehouse Causeway, the
Wapping Old Stairs, and Shadwell Basin, and Cherry Garden Pier; and he
loved to see through inlets here and there the high forests of masts,
and know that yonder were the special mysteries of great docks; for for
such things he had the romantic reverence of a boy. But Muriel saw no
romance and little beauty in the Pool of London, and her brother George
saw less. She saw it only as a strange muddle of dirty vessels and ugly
buildings, strongly suggestive of slums and the East End. It was noisy
sometimes, and she had been splashed with water which she knew was dirty
and probably infected; she felt that she preferred the westward
stretches of the Thames, where navigation was less anxious and Stephen
was not so preoccupied with his surroundings.

Stephen perceived this and was aware of a faint disappointment. Only
when they rounded a bend and saw suddenly the gleaming pile of Greenwich
Hospital, brilliant against the green hill behind, did Muriel definitely
admire. And then, Stephen thought, it was not because she saw that the
building was so beautiful from that angle and in that light, but because
it had such an air of cleanliness and austere respectability after the
orgy of raffish and commercial scenery which she had been compelled to
endure. Or perhaps it was because at Greenwich Pier they were going to
get out of the boat.



XIII


They came home in the gathering dusk on the young flood. And because of
this and because it was Saturday evening they had the river to
themselves, and moved almost alone through the silent and deserted Pool.
They followed slowly after the sun and saw the Tower Bridge as a black
scaffolding framing the last glow of yellow and gold. All the
undiscovered colours of sunset and half-darkness lay upon the water,
smooth now and velvety, and they fled away in front of the boat as the
glow departed. At Blackfriars the moon had not yet come, and Nature had
made thick darkness; but man had made a marvel of light and beauty upon
the water that left Stephen silent with wonder. The high trams swam
along the Embankment, palaces of light, and they swam yet more admirably
in the water. There were the scattered lights of houses, and the
brilliant lights of theatres, and the opulent lights of hotels, and the
regimented lights of street-lamps, and the sudden little lights of
matches on the banks, and the tiny lights of cigarettes, where men hung
smoking on the Embankment wall, and sometimes a bright, inexplicable
light high up among the roofs; and the lights of Parliament, and at
last the light of the young moon peeping shyly over a Lambeth
brewery--and all these lights were different and beautiful in the dark,
and made a glory of the muddy water. The small boat travelled on in the
lonely darkness of mid-stream, and to Stephen it seemed a wonderful
thing that no other but he and Muriel and her brother George could look
as they could upon those magical lights and the magical patterns that
the water had made of them. He had a sense of remoteness, of privileged
remoteness from the world; yet he had a yearning for pleasant
companionship, and itched for the moment when young George was to leave
them to go to his Club.

Young George left them at Westminster Pier, and those two went on
together in the boat. The lights of Chelsea were as beautiful as the
lights of Westminster, and Stephen thought suddenly of Margery's
description of evening by the Solent. It was hardly necessary to go so
far for loveliness, he thought. He was glad that Muriel was with him,
because she too was lovely, but when she clung to him in the old
passionate way he kissed her very gently and without fire. For the
poetry of all that he had seen that day had somehow purged him of the
extravagant fever of the previous nights; and he imagined,
unreasonably, that she too would be ready for this refinement of their
relations. But she was not. She was tired with the long day, with trying
to share an enthusiasm which she did not understand, for colours which
she did not see, and lights which after all were only the ordinary
lights she saw in the streets on the way to dances; she wanted to have
done with that kind of thing now that they were alone again; she wanted
to be hotly embraced and hotly kissed. For the end of this adventure was
terribly near now. After tomorrow her brother was coming to live at home
again; after that there would be no more safety. Tomorrow would be the
last night.

Of all this Stephen was but vaguely sensible. She was still a sweet and
adorable companion, and his soul was still bursting with poetry and
romance, but it was the poetry of the moonlit Thames rather than the
poetry of a furtive passion. And because of this, and because he was
dimly conscious that she looked for some more violent demonstration than
he was able in the flesh to give, he thought suddenly of the Love-Songs
which he had made to her, but never mentioned: and he wondered if they
would please her. He stopped the engine and let the boat drift. Then,
very softly, in a voice timid at first with self-consciousness, but
gathering body and feeling as he went on, he spoke for her the words of
his Love-Songs. At the end he felt that they were very good, better than
he had thought, and waited anxiously to hear what she would say. And she
listened in bewilderment. She was flattered in her vanity that a poet
should have written them for her; but she did not understand them, and
she was not moved or deeply interested.

She said at last: "How _nice_, Stephen! Did you really make up all that
about me?"

And at that the last flicker of the fire which had burned in him for so
many days went out. He saw clearly for the first time the insane
unfitness of their intimacy. In the first fascination of his senses, in
the voluptuous secrecy of their meetings under the moon, he had asked
nothing of her intellect; he had been content with the touch of her
hands, with the warm seduction of her kisses. And these, too, were still
precious, but they were not enough. They were not enough to a poet on a
night of poetry now that his senses were almost satisfied.

So all the way home he held her gently and talked to her tenderly, as he
might have talked to Margery. And Muriel saw that she must be content
with that for this night, and was happy and quiet beside him.

But when they parted under the wall it was she who whispered,
"Tomorrow--the last time," and it was he who whispered, "Yes."

In the morning he woke with a vague sense of distaste for something that
he had to do. All that day he had this restless, dissatisfied feeling.
And this was in part the first stirring of the impulse to write which
came always when he had no work in progress and no great effort forming
in his mind.

The weary reaction from the finishing of "Chivalry" was over, and the
creative itch was upon him, which could not be satisfied by the making
of little Love-Songs. And he felt no more like the making of Love-Songs.

He wished almost that he might hurry immediately down to Hampshire. But
his promise for the evening prevented that.

He sat down in the sunny window-seat and thought, pondering gloomily the
wild events of these summer months. And as he brooded over them with
regret and sadness, and the beginnings of new resolutions, there flashed
from them, with the electric suddenness of genuine inspiration, the
bright spark of a new idea, a new idea for the new work which he was
aching to begin. Thereon his mood of repentance faded away, and the
moral aspect of the things he had done dissolved into the
background--like fairies at a pantomime; and there was left the glowing
vision of a work of art.

He was excited by this vision, and immediately was busy with a sheet of
paper--like a painter capturing a first impression--jotting down in
undecipherable half-words and initials the rough outline of his plan,
even the names of his characters and a few odd phrases. There moved in
his mind a seductive first line for the opening of this poem, and that
line determined in the end the whole question of metre; for it was an
inspired line, and it was in exactly the right metre.

All the afternoon he sat in the shady corner of the garden over the
river, dreaming over the structure of this poem. In the evening he began
to work upon it; and all the evening he worked, with a feverish
concentration and excitement. At about ten o'clock the moon was well up,
and the rising tide was lapping and murmuring already about the wall and
about the boats. And he did not forget Muriel; he did not forget his
promise. He knew that she was waiting for him, silent on the wall. He
knew that he was bound in honour, or in dishonour, to go to her. But he
did not go. He had done with that. And he had better things to do
tonight.

So Muriel leaned lonely over the wall, looking down the river past the
fig-tree and the barges, looking and listening. The moon rose high over
Wimbledon, and the twin red lights of the _Stork_ were lit, and the
yellow lights twinkled in the houses and bobbed along the bridge, and
the great tide rolled up with a rich suggestion of fulfilment and hope.
Quiet couples drifted by in hired boats and were happy. But Stephen did
not come. And Muriel waited.

St. Peter's clock struck eleven, and still she waited, in a flame of
longing and impatience. The dew came down, and she was cold; the chill
of foreboding entered her heart. And still she waited. She would wait
till half-past eleven, till a quarter of twelve, till midnight. She knew
now that she loved this man with a deep and consuming love; it had begun
lightly, as a kind of diversion, but the game had turned to bitter
earnest. And still she waited.

It was slack water now, and the river stood still, holding its breath.
Men passed singing along the towpath on the outer side; the song floated
over the water, in sentimental tones of exquisite melancholy. From the
Island a wild-duck rose with his mate, and bustled away with a startling
whir to some sweet haunt among the reeds. A cat wailed at its wooing in
a far garden--a sickly amorous sound. The last pair of lovers rowed
slowly past, murmuring gently. Then all was still, and Muriel was left
alone, alone of the world's lovers thwarted and forgotten.

Midnight struck, and she crept into the house and into her bed, sick
with longing and the rage of shame.

Stephen at midnight went in contentment to his bed. He had written a
hundred lines.



XIV


Lying in bed he made up his mind to go down to Margery the following
Tuesday. But Margery, too, had been making up her mind. She wired at
lunch time, and arrived herself at tea. She was tired, she said, of
living alone in her Paradise. But she did not scold or question or worry
him; so glad she was to be at home again with her Stephen. Stephen also
was very glad, astonishingly glad, he felt. He greeted her and kissed
her with a tender warmth which surprised them both. This sudden
home-coming of his wife, of chattering Joan and bubbling Michael and
comfortable old Nurse, and all that atmosphere of staid domesticity
which they brought with them into the house seemed to set an opportune
seal on his new resolutions, on the final renunciation which he had made
last night. It was the one thing he wanted, he felt, to confirm him in
virtue.

He took little Joan into the garden to see the rabbits. She was two and
a half now, a bright and spirited child, with her mother's fairness and
fragile grace, and something of Stephen's vitality. She greeted with
delighted cries her old friends among the bunnies, Peter and Maud and
Henry, and all their endless progeny, little grey bunnies and yellow
bunnies and black bunnies and tiny little brown bunnies that were mere
scurrying balls of fur, coloured like a chestnut mare. The rabbit Peter
and the rabbit Maud ran out of their corners and sniffed at her ankles,
their noses twitching, as she stood in the sun. She stroked them and
squeezed them and kissed them, and they bore it patiently in the
expectation of food. But when they saw that she had no food, they
stamped petulantly with their hind legs and ran off. Then she laughed
her perfect inimitable laugh, and tried to coax the tiniest bunnies to
come to her with a piece of decayed cabbage; and they pattered towards
her in a doubtful crescent, their tiny noses twitching with the precise
velocity of their parents' noses, their ears cocked forward in
suspicion. When they had eddied back and forth for a little, like
playful children defying the sea, they saw that the bait was indeed a
rotten one, unworthy of the deed of daring which was asked of them, and
they scuttled finally away into corners, where they lay heaving with
their eyes slewed back, looking for danger. The rabbit Maud was annoyed
by the clatter they made, and, chased them impatiently about the run,
nipping them viciously at the back of their necks; and the rabbit Peter,
excited beyond bearing by the commotion, pursued the rabbit Maud as she
pursued their young. Then they all stopped suddenly to nibble
inconsequently at old bits of cabbage, or scratch their bellies, or
scrabble vainly on the stone floor, or stamp with venom in the hutches,
or lie full length and operate their noses. Little Joan loved them
whatever they did, and Stephen, listening and watching while she gurgled
and exclaimed, was sensible as he had never been before of the pride and
privilege of being a father. The sight of his daughter playing with the
young rabbits, young and playful and innocent as they, stirred him to an
appropriate and almost mawkish remorse. For the great writer who, by his
gifts of selection and restraint, can keep out from his writings all
sentimentality and false emotion, cannot by the same powers keep them
from his mind. Stephen Byrne, looking at innocence and thinking of his
own wickedness, forgot his proportions, forgot the balanced realism
which he put into everything he wrote, and swore to himself that by this
sight he was converted, that by this revelation of innocence, he, too,
would be innocent again.

So they began again the quiet routine of domestic content, and Margery
was very happy, putting out of her mind as an artist's madness the
strange failure of Stephen to join her in the country. In the third week
of September there were printed in the autumn number of a literary
Quarterly "Six Love-Songs," by Stephen Byrne, which he had sent in hot
haste to the editor on the morning of the Greenwich expedition. There
was printed above them the dedication "_To M._," and Margery as she read
them was touched and melted with a great tenderness and pride. She would
not speak of them to him, but she looked up, blushing, at the end of
them and said only "_Stephen!_" And Stephen cursed himself in a hot
shame for having thought them and written them and sent them to the
paper. But since she liked them so well, and appreciated them as Muriel
had never done, and since he persuaded himself that at this moment he
might have written the same songs to his wife, so tenderly did he think
of her now, he slowly came to forget the vicious squalor of their
origin; and in time, when literary friends spoke of them and
congratulated him (for they made a great stir) the shame had all gone,
and he answered with a virtuous and modest pride, as if indeed they had
been written to his wife--and so in fact he almost believed.

All September he worked steadily at the new poem. Very soon Margery
asked if she might read as much as he had written. And first he
hesitated, and then he said she might not.

Not till that moment did he realize the true character of what he was
doing. The idea of the poem was very simple. He had taken the base
history of his own life in this amazing summer, and was making of it a
romantic and glorious poem. Everything was there--Emily and his cruelty
to Emily and the chivalry of John Egerton and his treachery to John,
Margery, and Muriel, and his betrayal of both of them, and the second
treachery to John in the stealing of Muriel. They were all there, and
the deeds were there. But the names they bore were the names of old
knights and fine ladies, moving generously through an age of chivalry
and gallant ways; and the deeds he had done were invested with so rich a
romance by the grace of and imagery and humanity of his verse, and by
the gracious atmosphere of knighthood and adventure and forest battles
which he wrapped about them, that they were beautiful. They were poetry.
Himself in the story was a brave and legendary figure, Gelert by name,
and Margery, the Princess, was his fair lady. And he had slain Emily by
mischance in a forest encounter with another knight. He had hidden her
body in a dark mysterious lake in the heart of the forest; this lake was
beautifully described. John, his faithful companion, was present and
helped him, and because of the honour in which he held the Princess, he
engaged to stay in the forest and do battle with the people of Emily if
they should discover the crime, while Gelert rode off on some secret
venture of an urgent and noble character. So John stayed, and was
grievously wounded. But Gelert rode off to the castle of John's love and
poisoned her mind against John, and wooed her and won her and flung her
away when he was tired of her; but she loved him still too well to love
any other from that day; and when John came to her she cast him out.
More, because he was the companion-at-arms of Gelert, and she would do
anything to wound Gelert, she sent word to the people of Emily that it
was John indeed who had slain Emily, and they sought him out and slew
him. But Gelert went home to his castle and swore great vows in passages
of amazing dignity, and was absolved from his sins, and ruled the land
for a long time in godly virtue, helping the weak and succouring the
oppressed. And so finely was all this presented that at the end of it
you felt but a conventional sympathy for the unfortunate John, while
Gelert remained in the mind as a mixed, but on the whole a knightly
character.

It was a lunatic excess of self-revelation, and Stephen was afraid of
it. Nothing would have persuaded him to modify in any way his artistic
purpose, and in his heart he flattered himself that the romantic
disguise of his story was strong enough to protect it from the
suggestion of reality. It would stand that test, he was sure. Yet he
was not sure--not at any rate just now, with the sordid facts still
fresh in his mind. Later, no doubt, when the thing was complete, and he
could polish and prune it as a whole, he would be able to make himself
absolutely safe. But just now, while the work was still shadowy and
formless, he shrank from risking the revelations it might convey. To
Margery most of all. Also, maybe, he was a little afraid that she would
laugh at him.

And Margery said nothing, but wondered to herself what it might mean.

       *       *       *       *       *

John came home in the middle of September, and called the same evening
at the Tarrants' house. But he was told after a long wait that they were
not at home.

The next morning, as he walked to the station, he passed in the street a
parcel delivery van. On the front of it were the twin red posters of _I
Say_, a weekly organ of the sensational patriotic type. It was a paper
which did in fact a great deal of good in championing the cause of the
under-dog, yet at the same time impressing upon the under-dog the
highest constitutional principles. But it had to live. And it lived by
the weekly promises of sensation which blazed at the public from the red
posters all over England, and travelled everywhere on the front of
delivery vans and the backs of buses. There was seldom more than a
single sensation to each issue. But the very most was made of it by an
ingenious contrivance of the editor, who himself arranged the wording of
the posters; for each sensation he composed two and sometimes three
quite different posters, cunningly devised so that any man who saw all
three of them was as likely as not to buy the paper in the confident
belief that he was getting for his penny three separate sensations.

The two posters that John saw ran as follows: one "A CIVIL SERVANT'S
NAME," and the other "OUR ROTTEN DETECTIVES." At the station he saw
another one specially issued to the West London paper stalls--"MYSTERY
OF HAMMERTON CHASE." And at Charing Cross there was yet another--"WHO
OUGHT TO BE HANGED?"

John had no doubt of what he would find in the paper. He had wondered
often at the long quiescence of the Gaunt family. Clearly they had taken
their tale to the editor of _I Say_, and had probably been suitably
compensated for their trouble and expense in bringing to the notice of
the people's champion a shameful case of oppression and wrong.

So John walked on to the station with a strange feeling of lightness in
the head and pain in his heart. At Hammersmith there was no copy of _I
Say_ to be had; at Charing Cross he bought two. The week's sensation
was dealt with in a double-page article by the editor, diabolically
clever. It set out at length the sparse facts of "The Hammerton Mystery"
as revealed at the inquest, with obsequious references to "the genius of
Stephen Byrne, the poet and prophet of Younger England"; and it
contained some scathing comments on "the crass ineptitude of our
detective organization." But it attacked no person, it imputed nothing.
The sole concern of the editor was that "months have passed and a
hideous crime is yet unpunished. This poor girl went forth from her
father and mother, and the young man who had promised to share her life;
she went out into the world, innocent and fresh, to help her family in
the battle of life with the few poor shillings she could earn by menial
services in a strange house. It was not her fault that she was
attractive to a certain type of man; but that attraction was no doubt
her undoing. She took the fancy of some amorous profligate; she resisted
his unknightly attentions; she was done to death. Her body was consigned
in circumstances of the foulest indignity to a filthy grave in the river
ooze.

"We are entitled to ask--What are the police doing? The matter has faded
now from the public memory--has it faded from theirs? It is certain that
it has not faded in the loyal hearts of the Gaunt family. At the time of
the inquest the public were preoccupied with national events of the
first importance, and the murder did not excite the attention it
deserved. We have only too good reason to believe that our Criminal
Investigation mandarins, supine as ever until they are goaded to
activity by the spur of popular opinion, are taking advantage of that
circumstance to allow this piece of blackguardly wickedness to sink for
ever into oblivion. We do not intend that it should sink into oblivion,
etc. etc."

But in the tail of the article lay the personal sting, cleverly
concealed.

"But there is another aspect of this vile affair which we are compelled
to notice. While the family of the murdered girl are nursing silently
their broken hearts; while our inspectors and chief inspectors and
criminal investigators are enjoying their comfortable salaries, there is
a young man in Hammerton, a public servant of high character and
irreproachable antecedents, over whom a black cloud of suspicion is
hanging in connection with this crime. We cannot pretend that his
evidence at the inquest was wholly satisfactory either in substance or
in manner; it was shiftily given, and in the mind of any men less
incompetent than the local coroner and the local dunderheads who
composed the jury, would have raised questions of fundamental
importance. But we are confident that John Egerton is innocent; and we
say that it is a reproach to the whole system of British justice that he
should still be an object of ignorant suspicion owing to the failure of
the police-force to hound down the villain responsible for the crime.

"The fair name of a good citizen is at stake. It must be cleared."

At the office there were whisperings and curious looks; and John's
chiefs conferred in dismay on a position of delicacy that was unexampled
in their official experience.

John went home early, with his _I Say's_ crumpled in his pocket. And
there he found the Rev. Peter Tarrant striding about impatiently with a
copy open on the table before him. His head moved about like a great bat
just under the low roof; his jolly red face was as full of anger as it
could ever be.

"Look here, John," he roared, "what are you going to do about this--this
MUCK?"

"Nothing."

In truth he had thought little of what he was going to do; he had been
too angry and bewildered and ashamed. Only he had sworn vaguely to
himself that whatever happened he would stand by his old determination
to keep this business from Margery. And, now that the question was put
to him, the best way of doing that was clearly to do nothing. He began
to think of reasons for doing nothing.

The Rev. Peter thundered again, "_Nothing?_ But you _must_--you must
do--something." He stuttered with impotent rage and brought his fist
down on _I Say_ with a titanic force, so that the table jumped and the
wedgwood plate clattered on the dresser. "You can't sit down under this
sort of thing--you must bring an action--"

"Can't afford it; it would cost me a thousand if I won--and five
thousand if--if I lost."

"If you _lost_!" The Rev. Peter looked at him in wonder. John tried to
look him straight in the face, but his glance wavered in the shy
distress of an innocent man who suspects the beginnings of doubt in a
friend's mind.

"Yes--you know what a Law Court is--anything may happen--and I should
never make a good show in the witness box, if I stood there for ever."

"I don't care--you can't sit down under it. You'll lose your job, won't
you--for one thing?"

"No--I don't know--I can't help it if I do."

"Well, if you don't lose that you'll lose Muriel." The Rev. Peter
lowered his voice. "Look here, I want you two to fix things up. I've
just been to see her--she looks unhappy--she's lonely, I believe, with
that damned old mother of hers. But you can't expect her to marry you
with this sort of thing going about uncontradicted."

And at that John wavered. But he thought of Margery and his knightly
vow, and he thought of the witness box; of himself stammering and
shifting hour after hour in that box; of pictures in the Press; of
columns in the Press; of day after day of public wretchedness--the
inquest over again infinitely enlarged. And he thought of the open,
perhaps inevitable, ignominy of losing a libel action. And he was sure
that he was right.

They argued about this for a long time, and the Rev. Peter yielded at
last.

But he bellowed then, "Well, you must write them a letter at once. Sit
down now, and I'll dictate it. Sit down, will you? By God, it makes me
sweat, this!"

John sat down meekly and wrote to the editor of _I Say_, as the Rev.
Peter commanded. The Rev. Peter dictated in round tones of a man
practising a speech:

     "'_Dear Sir_:

     "'I have seen your infamous article. It is a cruel and disgusting
     libel. I wish to state publicly that I had nothing to do with the
     death of Emily Gaunt; that so far as I know no suspicion does rest
     upon me here or elsewhere; and that, if indeed there is suspicion,
     it is not in the minds of any one whose opinion I value, and I can
     therefore ignore it. In any case I should prefer to do without your
     dirty assistance.'"

"Can't say 'dirty'--can we?" said John.

"Why not? They _are_ dirt--filth--muck! Well, then--put
'dishonouring'--'your dishonouring assistance.' Go on:

     "'I am not a rich man, and I cannot afford to bring an action for
     libel against you. A successful suit would cost me far more money
     and trouble than I should like to waste upon it. You, on the other
     hand, could easily afford to lose and would probably be actually
     benefited by a substantial increase in your circulation.

     "'I must ask you to print this letter in your next issue and insist
     also on an unqualified apology for your use of my name.

     "'I am sending this letter to the local Press.'"

The editor of _I Say_ did not print this letter, as the Rev. Peter had
fondly imagined he would, but he referred in his second article, which
was similar to the first, only more outspoken, to "the receipt of an
abusive letter from the suspected person."

Slowly that week a copy of _I Say_ found its way into every house in The
Chase; and the article was read and discussed and argued about, and the
whole controversy of May, which had been almost forgotten, sprang into
life again. And the following week the local papers were bought and
borrowed and devoured, and John's spirited and courageous letter was
admired and laughed at and condemned. The Chase fell again into
factions, though now the Whittaker (pro-John) faction was the stronger.
For nobody liked _I Say_, though it was always exciting to read when
there was some special excuse for bringing it into the house. Besides,
the honour of The Chase was now at stake.

John and the Rev. Peter had reckoned without the generosity and communal
feeling of the people of The Chase. They were never so happy as when
they had some communal enterprise on foot, a communal kitchen, or a
communal crèche or a communal lawsuit, some joint original venture which
offered reasonable opportunities for friendly argument and committee
meetings and small subscriptions. This spirit had of course unlimited
scope during the war, and perhaps it was the communal Emergency
Food-Kitchen that had been its most ambitious and perfect expression.
But it lived on vigorously after the war. Several of the busiest and
earliest workers among the men shared a communal taxi into town every
day. There was a communal governess, and one or two semi-communal boats.
There was also a kind of communal Housing Council, which met whenever a
house in The Chase was to be let or sold, and exerted pressure on the
outgoing tenant as to his choice of a successor. Outside friends of The
Chase who desired and were desired to come into residence were placed
upon a roster by the Housing Council, and when the Council's edict had
once gone forth, the outgoing tenant was expected at all costs to see
that the chosen person was enabled to succeed him, and if he did not, or
if he allowed the owner of the house to enter into some secret
arrangement with an outsider, unknown and unapproved by the Council, it
was a sin against the solidarity of The Chase.

And there had already been a communal lawsuit, that great case of
_Stimpson and Others_ versus _The Quick Boat Company_--an action for
nuisance brought by the entire Chase, because of the endless and
intolerable noise and smell of the defendant company's motor-boats,
which they manufactured half a mile up the river and exercised all day
snorting and phutting and dashing about with loud and startling reports
in the narrow reach between the Island and The Chase.

Nine gallant champions had stood forward with Stimpson for freedom and
The Chase. But all The Chase had attended the preliminary meetings; all
The Chase had subscribed; all The Chase and all their wives had given
evidence in Court; and before this unbroken, or almost unbroken, front
(for there were a few black sheep) the Quick Boat Company had gone down
heavily. Judgment for the plaintiffs had been given in the early spring.

So that when it was widely understood that for lack of money John
Egerton, a member of The Chase, was unable to defend himself from a
scurrilous libel in a vulgar paper, the deepest instincts of the
neighbourhood were aroused. A small informal Committee met at once at
the Whittakers' house--Whittaker and Mr. Dimple (for legal advice) and
Andrews and Tatham and Henry Stimpson. Stephen Byrne was asked to come,
but had an engagement.

Mr. Dimple's advice was simple. He said that subject to certain
reservations--as to which he would not bother the Committee, since they
related rather to the incalculable niceties of the law, and lawyers, as
they knew, were always on the nice side (laughter--but not much)--and
assuming that Mr. Egerton won his case, as to which he would express no
opinion, though as a man he might venture to say that he knew of no one
in The Chase--he had almost said no one in London--of whom it would be
more unfair--he would not put it stronger than that, for he liked to
assume that even a paper such as _I Say_ was sincere and honest at
heart--to make the kind of suggestion which he knew and they all knew
had been made in that paper, about Mr. Egerton--a quiet, God-fearing,
honest citizen--but they all knew him as well as he did, so he would say
no more about that--subject then to what he had said first and assuming
what he had just said--and bearing in mind the proverbial--he thought he
might say proverbial (Dickens, after all, was almost a proverb)
uncertainties and surprises of his own profession, he thought they would
not be wildly optimistic or unduly despondent--and for himself he wanted
to be neither--if they estimated the costs of the action at a thousand
pounds, but of course--

Waking up at the word "pounds"--the kind of word for which they had been
subconsciously waiting--the Committee began the process of unravelling
which was always necessary after one of Mr. Dimple's discourses. And
their conclusion was that it was up to The Chase to subscribe as much of
the money as possible, as much at any rate as would enable John Egerton
to issue a writ without the risk of financial ruin.

Henry Stimpson was naturally deputed to collect the money. Stimpson was
an indefatigable man, a laborious Civil Servant who worked from 10 till
7.30 every day (and took his lunch at the office), yet was not only
ready but pleased to spend his evenings and his week-ends, canvassing
for subscriptions, writing whips for meetings, or working out elaborate
calculations of the amount due to Mrs. Ambrose in money and kind on her
resigning from the communal kitchen after paying the full subscription
and depositing a ham in the Committee's charge which had been cooked by
mistake and sent to Mrs. Vincent. He genuinely enjoyed this kind of
task, and he did it very, very well.

Henry Stimpson duly waited on the Byrnes and explained the position.
Stephen Byrne had read the articles in _I Say_, and Margery had read
them. And a gloom had fallen upon Stephen, for which Margery was unable
wholly to account as a symptom of solicitude for his friend's
troubles--especially as they never seemed to see each other nowadays. To
her knowledge they had not met at all since the summer holidays.

Nor had they. They avoided each other. This resurrection of the Emily
affair, these articles and the new publicity, and now on top of that the
prospect of a libel action, was to Stephen like a slap in the face. He
had almost forgotten his old anxieties in the absorption of work and the
soothing atmosphere of his new resolutions. But he would not go to John;
he had been lucky before; he might be lucky again; he would wait. Old
John might be trusted to do nothing precipitate.

So he promised to subscribe to the fund for the defence of John
Egerton's good name, and Stimpson went away. The money was to be
collected by that day week, and on the following Thursday there would be
a general meeting to consider a plan of campaign. Stimpson's eyes as he
spoke of "a general meeting" were full of quiet joy.

And Stephen went on with his work--very slowly now, but he went on. The
poem was nearly finished; he had only to polish it a little. But he sat
now for long minutes glowering and frowning over his paper, staring out
of the window, staring at nothing. Margery, watching him, wondered yet
more what work he was at, and what was the secret of this gloom. She
began to think that the two things might be connected; he might be
attempting some impossible task; he might be overworked and stale. This
had happened before. But in his worst hours of artistic depression he
had never looked so black as sometimes she saw him now. And she noticed
that he tried to conceal this mood from her; he would manufacture a
smile if he caught her watching him. And that, too, was unusual.

Then one evening when she went to her table for some small thing she
saw there the unmistakable manuscript of this new work lying in an
irregular heap on the blotter. Her eyes were caught by the title--"The
Death in the Wood"--written in large capitals at the head; and almost
without thinking she read the first line. And she read the few following
lines. Then, urged on by an uncontrollable curiosity and excitement, she
read on. She sat down at the table and read, threading a slow way
through a maze of alterations and erasions, and jumbles of words
enclosed in circles on the margin or at the bottom or at the top and
wafted with arrows and squiggly lines into their intended positions. But
she understood the strange language of creative manuscript, and she read
through the whole of the first section--Gelert riding through the
forest, the battle in the forest, and the death of the maiden. And as
she read she was deeply moved. She forgot the problem of Stephen's gloom
in her admiration and affectionate pride.

At the end of it Gelert stood sorrowing over the body and made a speech
of intense dignity and poetic feeling. And at that point she heard the
voice of Stephen at the front door, and started away, remembering
suddenly that this reading was a breach of confidence. But why--why was
she not allowed to see it?

Yet that, after all, was a small thing; and she went to bed very happy,
dreaming such golden dreams of the success of the poem as she might have
dreamed if she had written it herself.



XV


The Chase was true to its highest traditions. Before the week was over
it was known that the sum determined on by the Egerton Defence Fund
Committee had been already promised, and more.

Stephen Byrne, with a heavy heart, went to the "general meeting" on
Tuesday evening. To have stayed away would have looked odd; also he was
anxious to know the worst. He walked there as most men go to a battle,
full of secret foreboding, yet dubiously glad of the near necessity for
action. If, indeed, there was to be a libel action, backed by all the
meddlesome resources of The Chase, things would have to come to a head.
This was a development which had never been provided for in his
calculations and plans. It would have been easier, somehow, if John had
been arrested, charged by the Crown with murder. He would have known
then what to do--or he thought he would. He wished now that he had been
to see John, found out what he was thinking. But he was nervous of John
now, or rather he was nervous of himself. He could not trust himself not
to do something silly if he met John in private again; the only thing
to do was to try to forget him, laugh at him if possible. And that was
the devil of this libel business. He would have to be there himself, he
would have to give evidence again, and sit there probably while poor old
John was stammering and mumbling in the box. Yet he had done it
before--why not again? Somehow he felt that he could not do it again. It
all seemed different now.

And that poem! Why the hell had he written it? Why had he sent it to
_The Argus_. He had had it typed on Thursday, and sent it off by special
messenger on Friday, just in time for the October number. _The Argus_
liked long poems. What a fool he had been! Or had he? He knew very well
himself what it all meant--but how could any one else connect it with
life--with Emily Gaunt? No, that was all right. And it was damned good
stuff! He was glad he had sent it. It would go down well. And another
day would have meant missing the October number.

Yes, it was damned good stuff! He stood at the Whittakers' door, turning
over in his head some favourite lines from Gelert's speech in the
forest. Damned good! As he thought how excellent it was, there was a
curious sensation of tingling and contraction in the flesh of his body
and the back of his legs.

When he came out, an hour later, he was a happier man. He was almost
happy. For it had been announced at the meeting, with all the solemnity
of shocked amazement, that Mr. Egerton had refused to avail himself of
the generous undertakings of The Chase and neighbourhood. The money
promised would enable him to sue with an easy mind. But he would not
sue.

There was nothing to be done, then, but put and carry votes of thanks to
the unofficial Committee for their labour and enterprise, to Whittaker
for the use of his house, to Henry Stimpson for his wasted efforts. The
last of these votes was felt by most to be effort equally wasted, since
they knew well that Henry Stimpson had in fact thoroughly enjoyed
collecting promises and cash, and had now the further unlooked-for
delight of having to return the money already subscribed.

This done, the meeting broke up with a sense that they had been
thwarted, or at any rate unreasonably debarred from a legitimate
exercise of their communal instincts.

But apart from this intelligible disappointment there was a good deal of
head-shaking, and plain, if not outspoken, disapproval of Egerton's
conduct. Stephen, moving among the crowd, gathered easily the sense of
The Chase, and it had veered surprisingly since Whittaker's
announcement. For John Egerton had advanced, it seemed, the astounding
reason that he might _lose_ the case. To the simple people of The
Chase--as indeed to the simple population of England--there was only one
test to a libel action. Either you won or you lost. The complex
cross-possibilities of justification and privilege and fair comment and
the rest of it, which Mr. Dimple was heard to be apologetically
explaining in a corner to a deaf lady, were lost upon them. If you
failed to win your case, what the other man said was true, and if you
were not confident of winning, your conscience could not be absolutely
clear. The meeting rather felt that John Egerton had let them down, but
they were certain that he had let himself down. And it was clear that
even his staunchest supporters, men like Whittaker and Tatham, were
shaken in their allegiance.

But Stephen Byrne was happy. He had trusted to luck again, and luck, or
rather the quixotic lunacy of John Egerton, had saved him again. It was
wonderful. It was all over now. John had finally made his bed, and he
must lie on it. He thought little of what this must mean to John, this
aggravation of the local suspicions. He saw only one thing, that yet
another wall had been raised between himself and exposure, that once
more his anxieties might be thrust into the background. That he might
settle down again with a comfortable mind to literature and domestic
calm. He had forgotten with his fears his compunction of an hour ago; he
had forgotten even to feel grateful to John; and if he thought of him
with pity, it was a contemptuous pity. He saw John now as a kind of
literary figure of high but laughable virtue, a man so virtuous as to be
ridiculous, a mere foil to the heroic dare-devils of life--such as
Gelert and Stephen Byrne.

So he came to his own house, thinking again of those excellent lines of
Gelert's speech. In the hall he composed in his mind the description of
the meeting which he would give to Margery.

But Margery, too, was thinking of Gelert. She was reading the manuscript
of "The Death in the Wood." She had watched Stephen go out in a slow
gloom to the meeting, and then she had hurried to the table and taken
guiltily the bundle from the special manuscript drawer. For Stephen,
with the sentimental fondness of many writers for the original work of
their own hands, preserved his manuscripts long after they had been
copied in type and printed and published. Twice during the last week she
had gone to that drawer, but each time she had been interrupted. And at
each reading her curiosity and admiration had grown.

She had suspected nothing--had imagined no sort of relation between
Stephen's life and Gelert's adventures. There was no reason why she
should. For she detested--as she had been taught by Stephen to
detest--the conception of art as a vast autobiography. Stephen's
personality was in the feeling and in the phrasing of his work; and that
was enough for her; the substance was a small matter.

Even the incident of the maiden in the wood, her death and her
concealment in the lake, had scarcely stirred the memory of Emily. For
the reverent and idyllic scene in which the two knights had "laid" the
body of the maiden among the reeds and water lilies of the lake, to be
discovered by her kinsmen peeping through the tangled thickets of wild
rose, was as remote as possible from the sordid ugliness of Emily's
disposal and discovery in a muddy sack near Barnes.

But now she had finished. And she did suspect. When she came to the
passage describing Gelert's remorse for the betrayal of his old
companion-at-arms, his gloomy bearing and penitent vows, she thought
suddenly of Stephen's late extravagant gloom, which she was still unable
to understand. And then she suspected. Idly the thought came, and idly
she put it away. But it returned, and she hated herself because of it.
It grew to a stark suspicion, and she sat for a moment in an icy terror,
frozen with pain by her imaginations. Then in a fever of anxiety she
went back to the beginning of the manuscript, and hurried through it
again, noting every incident of the story in the hideous light of her
suspicions. And as she turned over the untidy pages, the terror grew.

In the light of this dreadful theory so many things were
explained--little odd things which had puzzled her and been
forgotten--Stephen's surprising anxiety when Michael was born (and Emily
disappeared), and that evening in the summer, when they had all been so
silent and awkward together, and the drifting apart of Stephen and John,
and John's extraordinary evidence, and Stephen's present depression. It
was all so terribly clear, and the incidents of the poem so terribly
fitted in. Margery moaned helplessly to herself, "Oh, _Stephen_!" When
he came in, she was almost sure.

It was curious that at first she thought nothing of Gelert's illicit
amours in the castle, the stealing of his own friend's lady. That part
of the poem, of course, was a piece of romantic imagination, with which
she had no personal concern. But while she waited for Stephen, turning
over the leaves once more, the thought did come to her, "If one part is
true--why not all?" But this thought she firmly thrust out. She was sure
of him in _that_ way, at any rate. She flung a cushion over the
manuscript and waited.

He came in slowly as he had gone out, but she saw at once that his gloom
was somehow relieved. And as he told her in studied accents of distress
the story of the meeting, there came to her a sick certainty that he was
acting. He was not _really_ sorry that John had thought it best not to
take any action; he was glad.

When he had finished, she said, in a hard voice which startled her,
"What _do_ you make of it, Stephen? Do you think he really did it?"

Stephen looked at the fire, the first fire of late September, and he
said, "God knows, Margery; God knows. He's a funny fellow, John." He
sighed heavily and stared into the fire.

And then she was quite sure.

She stood up from the sofa, the manuscript in her hand, and came towards
him.

"Stephen," she said, "I've been reading this--You--I--oh, _Stephen_!"

The last word came with a little wail, and she burst suddenly into
tears, hiding her face against his shoulder. She stood there sobbing,
and shaken with sobbing, and he tried to soothe her, stroking her hair
with a futile caressing movement, and murmuring her name ridiculously,
over and over again.

It did not occur to him to go on acting, to pretend astonishment or
incomprehension. She had blundered somehow on the secret, and perhaps
it was better so. To her at least he could lie no more.

At last the sobbing ceased, and he kissed her gently, and she turned
from him automatically to tidy her hair in the glass.

Then she said, still breathless and incoherent, "Stephen, is it
true--that _poor_ Emily--and poor John--Oh, Stephen, how _could_ you?"

The tears were coming back, so he put his arms about her again. And he
spoke quickly, saying anything, anything to hold her attention and keep
away those terrible tears.

"Darling, I was a fool ... it was for your sake in the first place--for
your sake we kept it dark, I mean--it was John's idea--and then--I don't
know--I was a beast--But don't worry. Tomorrow I'll put it all right....
I'll give myself up--I--"

But at these words, and at the picture they raised, a great cry burst
from her, "Oh, no, Stephen. No! no!--you mustn't."

And she seized the lapels of his coat and shook him fiercely in the
intensity of her feeling, the human, passionate, protective feeling of a
wife for her own man--careless what evil he may have done if somehow he
may be made safe for her.

And Stephen was startled. He had not expected this. He said, stupidly,
"But John--what about John?--don't you want me--don't you--?"

"No, Stephen, no--at least--" and she stopped, thinking now of John,
trying conscientiously to realize what was owed to him. Then she went
on, in a broken torrent of pleading, "No, Stephen, it's gone on so long
now--a little more won't matter to him--surely, Stephen--and nobody
_really_ thinks he did it--_nobody_, Stephen. It's only people like Mrs.
Vincent, Mrs. Ambrose was saying so only yesterday--and it would
mean--it would mean--what _would_ it mean, Stephen--Stephen, tell me?"
But as she imagined what this would mean to Stephen she stood shuddering
before him, her big eyes staring piteously at him.

"It would mean--O God, Margery, I don't know--" and he turned away.

So for a long time she pleaded with him, in groping, inarticulate
half-sentences. She never reproached him, never asked him how he had
come to do a foul murder. She did not want to know that, she did not
want to think of what it was _right_ for him to do--that was too
dangerous. All that mattered was this danger--a danger that could be
avoided if she could only persuade him. And Stephen listened in a kind
of stupor, listened miserably to the old excuses and arguments, and
half-truths with which he had so often in secret convinced himself. But
somehow, as Margery put them with all the prejudice of her passionate
fears, they did not convince him. They stood out horribly in their
nakedness. And though he was touched and amazed by the strength of her
forgiveness and her love in the face of this knowledge, he wished almost
that she had not forgiven him, had urged him with curses to go out and
do his duty. No, he did not wish that, really. But he did wish she would
leave him alone now, leave him to think. He _must_ think.

His eye fell on the manuscript lying on the floor, and he began to
wonder what it was in the poem that had told her, and how much it had
told. She had said nothing of that. He interrupted her: "How--how did
you guess?" He jerked his head at the paper.

She told him. And as she went again through that terrible process in her
mind, that other thought returned, that idle notion about the wooing in
the castle, which she had flung away from her.

She said, faltering and slow, her lips trembling, "Stephen--there's
nothing else in it ... is there?... I ought to have guessed?--Stephen,
you _do_ love me--don't you?" She stepped uncertainly towards him, and
then with a loud cry, "Darling, I _do_!" he caught her to him. And she
knew that it was true.



XVI


In the morning he went out as usual to feed the sea-gulls before
breakfast, as if nothing had happened or was likely to happen. He was
pleased as usual to see from the window that they were waiting for him,
patient dots of grey and white, drifting on the near water. The sun
broke thinly through the October haze, and the birds circled in a
chattering crowd against the gold. And he had as usual the sense of
personal satisfaction when they caught in the air, with marvellous
judgment and grace, the pieces of old bread he flung out over the water,
and was disappointed as usual when they missed it, and the bread fell
into the river, though even then it was delightful to see with how much
delicacy they skimmed over, and plucked it from the surface as they
flew, as if it were a point of honour not to settle or pause or wet
their red feet, tucked back beneath them.

And he had breakfast as usual with Margery and chattering Joan, and as
usual afterwards went out with Joan to feed the rabbits, and again
enjoyed the mysterious and universal pleasure of giving food to animals
and watching them eat. He noted as usual the peculiar habits and
foibles of the rabbit Henry and the rabbit Maud, and the common follies
of all of them--how they all persisted, as usual, in crowding impossibly
round the same cabbage leaf, jostling and thrusting and eating with the
maximum discomfort, with urgent anxiety and petulant stamping because
there were too many of them, while all around there lay large wet
cabbage leaves, inviting and neglected. He listened as usual to little
Joan's insane interminable questions, and answered them as usual as
intelligently as he could. And he puffed as usual at the perfect pipe of
after-breakfast, and swept as usual the dead leaves from the path. But
all these things he did with the exquisite melancholy enjoyment of a
schoolboy, knowing that he does them for the last time on the last day
of his holidays at home.

And he had decided nothing. Margery, too, moved as usual through the
busy routine of after-breakfast, "ordering" food for herself and Stephen
and the children and the servants, and promising Cook to get some lard
and "speaking to" Mary about the drawing-room carpet, and arranging for
the dining-room to be "done out" tomorrow, and conferring with Nurse and
telephoning for some fish. She did these things in a kind of dream,
hating them more than usual, and now and then she looked out of the
window, and wondered what Stephen was doing, and what he was thinking.
For she knew that he had not decided. And she would not speak to him;
she had said her say, and some instinct told her that silence now was
her best hope.

So all day they went about in this distressful tranquillity, pretending
that this day was as yesterday, and as the day before. At midday the
tide was down; the grey sky crept up from the far roofs and hid the sun.
There was the damp promise of a drizzle in the air, and the bleak
depression of low tide lay over the mud and the meagre stream and the
deserted boats. They had lunch almost in silence, and after lunch a thin
rain began. Stephen stared out at it silent from the window, thinking
and thinking and deciding nothing; and Margery sat silent by the fire,
darning. And her silence, and the silent riot of his thoughts, and the
silent miserable rain, and the empty abandoned river, united in a vast
conspiracy of menace and accusation and gloom. They were leagued
together to get on his nerves and drive him to despair. He went out
suddenly, and down to the dining-room, and there he drank some whisky,
very quickly, and very strong.

Then, because he must do _something_ or he would go mad, he dragged the
dinghy over the mud and shingle down to the water, and he rowed up to
the Island to pick up firewood from the mud-banks, where the high tides
took it and left it tangled in the reeds and young willow stems.

It was an infinite toil to get this wood, but all afternoon he worked
there, crashing fiercely through the tall forest of withes and crowded
reeds, and slithering down banks into deep mud, and groping laboriously
in the slush of small inlets for tiny pieces of tarred wood, and filling
his basket with great beams and bits of bark, and small planks and
box-wood, and painfully carrying them through the mud and the wet reeds
down to the boat. He worked hard, with a savage determination to tire
himself, to occupy his mind, cursing with a kind of furious satisfaction
when the stems sprang back and whipped him in the face. The sweat came
out upon him, and his hands were scratched, and the mud was thick upon
his clothes. But all the time he thought. He could not stop thinking.

And somehow the fierce energy of the work communicated itself to his
thoughts. As he struck down the brittle reeds he fancied himself
striking at his enemies, manfully meeting his Fate. All his life he had
done things thoroughly, as he was doing this foolish wood-gathering. He
had faced things, he had not been afraid. He would not be afraid now. He
would give himself up. No, no! He couldn't do that. Not fair to
Margery--a long wait, prison, trial, the dock--hanging! Aah! He made a
shuddering cry at that thought, and he lashed out with the stick in his
hand, beating at the withes in a fury of fear. No, no! by God,
no!--hanging--the last morning! Not that.

But still, he must be brave. No more cowardice. That was the worst of
all he had done this summer--the cowardice. No more sitting tight at
John's expense. Whatever Margery said. It was sweet of her, but later it
would be different. When all this was forgotten, she would remember ...
she would be living with him, day after day, knowing every night there
was a murderer in her bed, a liar, a coward, a treacherous coward....
Very soon she would hate him. And he would hate her, because she knew.
He would be always ashamed before her, all day, always.... Just now they
did not mind, because they were afraid. But they _would_ mind.... She
had not even minded about Muriel, when he told her--and he had told her
everything. But she would mind that, too, in the end.... She would
always be imagining Muriels.

No, there must be no more cowardice. It must finish now, one way or
another. But there was only one way.

The rain had stopped now, and a warm wind blew freshly from the
south-west. The two swans of the Island washed themselves in the
ruffled shallows, wings flapping and necks busily twisting. In the west
was a stormy and marvellous sky, still dark pillows of heavy clouds,
black and grey, and an angry purple, with small white tufts floating
irresponsibly across them, and here and there a startling lake of the
palest blue; while low down, beneath them, as if rebellious at the long
grey day, and determined somehow to make a show at his own setting, the
sun revealed himself as an orange dome on the roof of the Quick Boat
Company, and poised grotesquely between the tall black chimneys, flung
out behind the Richmond Hills a narrow ribbon of defiant light, and away
towards Hammersmith all the windows in a big house lit up suddenly with
orange and gold, as if the house were burning furiously within. The boat
was heavy now with wood, and Stephen pushed her off, to row home with
his face to the sunset and the storm. Now the light was caught in the
mud-slopes by the Island, and they, too, were beautiful. And as he rowed
he said a self-conscious farewell to the sun and the warm wind and the
river which he loved. No one loved this river as he did. They lived
smugly in their drawing-rooms like Kensington people, and they looked
out at the river when the sun shone at high tide, and in the summer
crept out timidly for an hour in hired boats like trippers. But when it
was winter and the wind blew, they drew their curtains and shivered
over their fires and shut out the river, so that they hardly knew it was
there from the autumn to the spring. They did not deserve to live by the
river; they did not understand it. They did not see that it was lovable
always, and most lovable perhaps when the tide rushed in against the
wild west wind, and the rain and the spindrift lashed your face as you
tossed in a small boat over the lively waves. They thought it was the
noisy storm rushing down a muddy river; they thought the wind made a
melancholy howl about the windows. They did not know that the river in
the wind was a place of poetry and excitement, such as you might not
find in the rest of London, that the noisy wind and the muddy water and
the wet mud at low tide were things of beauty and healthy life if you
went out and made friends with them. These people never saw the sunset
in winter, and the curious majesty of factories against the glow; they
never saw the lights upon the mud; they did not love the barges and the
tugs, sliding up with a squat importance out of the fog, or swishing
lazily down in the early morning, with the hoar-frost thick upon their
decks. They did not know what the river was like in the darkness or the
winter dusk; you could not know that till you had been on the river many
times at those hours and found out the strange lights and the strange
whispers, and the friendly loneliness of the river in the dark.

And when he had gone, no one here would do that; no one would row out in
the frosty noons or the velvet dusks, no one would feed the sea-gulls in
the morning, or steal out in the evening to watch the dab-chicks diving
round the Island. No one would be left who properly loved the river.
They would sit in their drawing-rooms and shudder at the wind, and say:
"That poor fellow Byrne--he was mad about the river--he was always
pottering about on the river in a boat--and then, you know, he drowned
himself in the river--just outside here." Yes, he would do that. There
would be something "dramatic" about that. Just outside here--in the
dark. He had decided now. Not poison, for he knew nothing about that;
not shooting--for he had no revolver. But the river.

When he had decided his heart was lighter. Very carefully he moored the
boat, and took out the wood and carried it in a basket to the kitchen to
be dried. Then he took a last look at the river and the sun and went in
to tea. All that evening he was very cheerful with Margery in the
drawing-room, and at dinner and afterwards. At dinner he talked hard and
laughed very often. And Margery was easier in her mind, though
sometimes she was puzzled by his laughter. But she thought that she had
persuaded him, or that he had persuaded himself, that she was right, and
this gaiety was the reaction from the long uncertainty of mind. And
indeed it was. She saw also that he drank a good deal; but because he
was cheerful at last, and would be more cheerful when he had drunk more,
she did not mind.

By the late post there came a copy of _The Argus_. They looked at the
parcel, but they did not open it, and they did not look at each other.

When she went up to bed he kissed her fondly, but not too fondly, lest
she should suspect--and said that he would sit and read for a little by
the fire. Then he opened _The Argus_ and read through "The Death in the
Wood" from beginning to end. It pleased him now--it pleased him very
much; for it was more than a week since he had seen it, and some of its
original freshness had returned. It was good. But it seemed to him, as
he read it now, to be a very damning confession of weakness and sin, and
while he glowed with the pride of artistic achievement, he was chilled
with the shame of his human record. It was so clear and naked in this
poem that he had written; it must be obvious to any who read it what
kind of a man he was and what things he had done. Margery had known, and
surely the whole world would know. But no matter--he would be too quick
for them. He would be dead before they discovered.

And anyhow he was going to tell the world. Of course, he had forgotten
that. He was going to tell the truth about John before he went. Of
course. He must do that now.

He took some writing-paper and went down into the dining-room. He felt a
little cold--not so cheerful. A little whisky would buck him up. A
little whisky, while he wrote this letter.

He drank half a tumbler, and sat down. How would it go, this letter? To
the police, of course. He wrote:

"This is to certify that I, Stephen Byrne, strangled Emily Gaunt on the
15th of May; John Egerton had nothing to do with it. I am going to drown
myself."

He signed it and read it over. After "strangled" he squeezed in "by
accident." It looked untidy, and he wrote it all out again. That would
do. He drank some more whisky and sat staring at the paper.

Why should he do that? Wasn't he going to do enough, as it was? He was
going to die; that was surely punishment enough. Why should he leave
this damned silly confession behind? Just for the sake of old John. Damn
John! A good fellow, John. A damned fool, John. Was it fair to Margery?
That was the thing. Was it fair? One more drink.

He filled up the fourth glass and sat pondering stupidly the supreme
selfishness. Outside the wind had risen, and Margery shivered upstairs
at the rattle of the windows. Eleven o'clock--why was Stephen so long?
What was that noise? A dull report--like a distant bomb. She sat up in
bed, listening. Then she remembered. The gas-stove being lit in the
dining-room. Something was wrong with it. But why had it frightened her?
And why was it being lit?

Because it was cold in the dining-room, and the wind was howling, and
there was a numb sensation in his hands. A funny dead feeling. The
whisky, perhaps. But when he had turned on the gas, he forgot about it,
and stood thinking, matchbox in hand, thinking out the new problem. It
was difficult to think clearly. Then it exploded like that, when he put
the match to it. He kicked it. Damned fool of a thing. Like John. It was
John who was responsible for all this worry and fuss. John could go to
the devil. He had fooled John before, and he would fool him again. Ha,
ha! That was a cunning idea. Then they would say in the papers, "A great
genius--a noble character--ha, ha!--'The Death in the Wood'--last work,
imaginative writing"--ha, ha! _imaginative!_--and it was all true. But
nobody would know--nobody would say so--because he would be dead. John
wouldn't say so, and Margery wouldn't say so--because he would be dead.
Mustn't say anything about the dead. Oh no! Must burn this silly
confession. When he had had another drink. It was so cold. No more
whisky--hell! "There's hoosh in the bottle still." But there wasn't. Who
wrote that? Damned Canadian fellow. The Yukon. Port. There was some port
somewhere. Port was warming.

He fumbled in the oak dresser for the decanter, knocking over a number
of glasses. Damned little port left--somebody been at it. Best drink in
the world--port. Good, rich, generous stuff. Ah! That was good. One more
glass. Then he would go out. Half-past eleven. Margery would be
wandering down in a minute--would think he was drunk. He wasn't
drunk--head perfectly clear. Saw the whole thing now. Dramatic
end--drowned in sight of home--national loss--moonlight. No, there was
no moon. Hell of a wind, though. A sou'wester--he, he! Poor Margery,
poor Muriel, poor John! They would miss him--when he had gone. They
would be sorry then. Good fellow, John. Good fellows--all of them. But
they didn't appreciate him--nobody did. Yes, Muriel did. A dear girl,
Muriel. But no mind. He would like to say good-bye to Muriel. And
Margery. But that wouldn't do. Dear things, both of them. Drink their
healths. The last glass. No more port. No more whisky. No cheese, no
butter, no jam. Like the war. Ha, ha!

First-rate port. He was warm now, and sleepy. God, what a wind. Mustn't
go to sleep here. Sleep in the river--the dear old river. Drowning was
pleasant, they said--not like hanging. Would rather stay here,
though--in the warm. Only there was no more port. And he had promised
some one--_must_ keep promises. Come on, then. No shirking. Head
perfectly clear. What was it he was going to do first? Something he had
to do. God knows. Head perfectly clear. But sleepy. Terribly sleepy.

He walked over with an intense effort of steadiness to the door into the
garden, as if there were many watching, and opened the door. The wind
beat suddenly in his face and rushed past triumphant into the house. The
bay-tree tossed and shook itself in the next garden. The dead leaves
rushed rustling up and down the stone path, and leapt in coveys up the
wall, and fled for refuge up the steps and into the house out of the
furious wind. The shock of the cool air and the violence of the wind
sobered him a little, and he paused irresolute at the top of the steps.
Then, with the obstinate fidelity of a drunken man to a purpose once
formed, he walked unsteadily down the steps; he looked up at the lighted
window of Margery's room, and waved his arm vaguely, and shouted a thick
"Good-bye," but his throat was husky, and it was difficult to shout.
Then he passed on down the path, talking to himself. There was a
boathook against the wall and he picked it up, and went down the steps
into the small dinghy. He fumbled for a long time with the rope that
tied her, and pushed off at last with the boathook. He pushed out into
the wind, stupidly paddling with the boathook, because he had forgotten
the oars. But it was no matter. He would not go back. He must go on. Out
into the middle.

Margery, lying wondering in bed, heard the faint sound of a cry above
the wind, and jumped out of bed. From the window she saw nothing but the
hurrying clouds and the faint, wild gleam of the excited river. She
crept down shivering to the drawing-room, where the lights still burned.
A great draught of cold air swept up to the stairs, and she ran down
fearfully to the dining-room. She saw the glasses in the brilliant
light, the empty glasses and the empty bottle and the empty decanter,
and under one of the glasses a sheet of paper flapping in the wind. She
picked it up, stained with a wet half-circle of wine, and then with a
low wail she ran out through the open door into the roaring gloom, her
thin covering whipping about her.

It was dark in the garden, but over the river there was the pale
radiance of water in a wind. And there were some stars now, racing after
the clouds. And away towards the Island she saw the boat, not far off, a
small black smudge against the dirty gleam of the tumbled river. It was
moving very slowly, for the wind was fighting for it with the stubborn
tide. And in the boat she saw a standing figure, swaying as the boat
rocked, leaning with one hand on some kind of a staff, and waving the
other with sweeping gestures in the air, as a man making a speech. As
she looked a squall came over the water, a sudden gust of furious
violence, as if the wind were seized with a passion of uncontrollable
temper. The figure in the boat swayed backwards and recovered itself,
and lurched forward and fell; it fell into the water with a great
splash, which Margery saw, but never heard. Then she gave a wild, high
cry. The wind caught it and flung it away, but many heard it. And none
who heard it in all those houses will ever forget it. She ran crying up
the garden, calling on the name of John Egerton. And John Egerton
heard.



XVII


John Egerton came home very weary that evening; and all the way home
things went wrong as they had gone wrong on a certain evening in June
when he had come home tired to find the Byrnes' maid on the doorstep,
and told the first lie about the sack. Tonight again the trains went
wrong, and they were stuffy and packed, difficult to enter and difficult
to leave and abominable to be in. It was one of the exceptionally
hateful journeys which men remember as they remember battles. It was of
a piece with that night in June, and John thought of them together as he
walked home, hot and jumpy with irritation. Nothing had gone right since
that night--nothing. He had lost his love, and his good name, and his
peace of mind--and his best friend. He had had faith in Stephen then; he
had admired and loved--had almost idolized him. Tonight he felt that he
hated Stephen. Not a word from him--not one word of encouragement or
gratitude in all this filthy business of the articles. Not that he
wanted Stephen to _do_ anything--oh no! He had made his vow and he would
stick to it. But it did hurt that Stephen should take this sacrifice so
much as a matter of course, should do nothing to help him in this new
storm of suspicion. He had been a good friend once--a jolly,
companionable friend, open-hearted and full of laughter--the best friend
a lonely bachelor could have. Well, it was done with now. He had lost
that as he had lost everything else. And it had all begun with that lie.
Perhaps it was a judgment. Perhaps there was never a virtuous lie.

He had bought at Charing Cross the October number of _The Argus_,
because he had seen on the cover the name of Stephen Byrne, and he read
everything that Stephen wrote. After dinner he sat down and read "The
Death in the Wood." And at first he read, as Margery had read, only with
admiration, though it was now a jealous, almost reluctant admiration. He
thought, "How can a mean swine like Stephen create such glorious
high-minded stuff?" It was unnatural, wrong.

While he was reading the bell rang. Mrs. Bantam came in. "It's them
Gaunts," she whispered. The Gaunt family had not been near him for
months, and now they had come to pluck the certain fruit of the _I Say_
articles. They stood in a defiant cluster in the tiny hall. John, for
once, fortified and embittered by the exasperations of the Underground,
allowed himself to be violently angry. He took a stick from the rack
and shouted at them, "Get out of my house--or I'll--I'll throw you out!"
A little to his surprise they did go out, and he went back to "The Death
in the Wood," pleasantly relieved by his self-assertion and anger.

He read on through the burial in the lake, and the finding of the
maiden, and the battle at the lake where the faithful Tristram fought
and was wounded. Then he came to the wooing in the castle, the false
wooing by Gelert of Tristram's lady, the lovely Isobel. And here the
soft heart of John melted within him; for the picture of Isobel which
Stephen had drawn was so like the picture of Muriel that was ever in his
own mind, a fair and gracious and relenting lady; and the hot words of
Gelert were such words as he would have uttered and had dreamed himself
uttering to Muriel Tarrant. But Muriel Tarrant had done with him, it
seemed; she would hardly nod at him across the road; he had not spoken
to her alone since that miserable dance. And this poetry of Stephen
Byrne's was the perfect expression of his faithful devotion, and made
him almost weep with sentimental regret.

He read these passages several times. Then he went on to the poisoning
by Gelert of Isobel's mind against her old lover, and his conquest of
her, and his cruel desertion of her. And somewhere among those terrible
lines the thought came to him as it had come to Margery, with a red-hot
excruciating stab--that this story was a true story. And he looked back
then, as Margery had looked, at the first pages of the poem and at the
memory of those dreadful months in the new light of his suspicions. He
remembered the dance, and Muriel's face at the dance; how kind at the
beginning of it, how cold and cruel at the end--when she had danced many
times with Stephen. He remembered how he had met her in September in the
street; and how in her sidelong look there had been not only that
coldness, but also a certain shame. Could it be?...

Once, he was sure, she had liked him a little--in the end he could have
won her; she would have relieved him of this loneliness--this loneliness
in an empty house with the hateful whining at the windows; but something
devilish and unknown had got in the way.... And if it was Stephen, and
Stephen's lies.... God! He would go to Muriel, he would go to Stephen;
he would have it out of them, he would go now--

And as he paced up and down the room, working himself into a fever of
rage, that terrible cry came out of the night, and he rushed out into
the garden. Over the wall he scrambled to Margery, and heard her
incoherent appeals; then on to Stephen's steps and down into Stephen's
motor-boat. "The oars," he shouted--"the oars!" and Margery pushed them,
trembling, over the wall. He rowed out wildly towards the Island,
missing the water and splashing emptily in his haste. He turned round
and there was nothing to be seen, no other boat, no bobbing
head,--nothing, nothing but the gleam and shadow of the tumbled water.
He rowed round laboriously in a wide circle for many minutes, peering,
shouting, damp with spindrift and the sweat of rowing, though his hands
were frozen and numb upon the oars. The boat was a hideous weight for
rowing in the fierce wind, and when he could see nothing anywhere, he
started the engine--with merciful ease--and steered up past the Island,
since anything that was in the water must move up with the tide at last.
The spray shot over the bows and blinded him. The boat steered drunkenly
as he wiped his eyes and peered out at the water, and shouted weakly at
the wind.

He came out past the Island into the open, and there he saw the dinghy,
fifty yards ahead, a dark blot, dancing aimlessly sideways over the
short waves. Anyhow, he would pick up the dinghy--it might be useful.

But when he came up with the dinghy he saw that there was something in
it, something that was like the carved figures that may be seen brooding
over tombs, with curved back and head drooping over clasped knees, a
figure of utter dejection. But now and then it moved and paddled feebly
in the water with one hand.

John called, with an incredulous question in his voice, "Stephen?
Stephen? Is that you?"

And it was Stephen, brooding bitterly over the shame of his last
cowardice, and exhausted with the long struggle he had made for life.
For the cold clutch of the water had woken up the love of life, and he
had swum in a scrambling terror after the boat, and climbed with
infinite difficulty back into the oarless boat. He was sodden and cold,
and sick with humiliation. And John Egerton of all people must come and
find him. So he turned his head and said with a great bitterness, "O
God! It's _you_, is it?"

When John saw that miserable figure, there began to take hold of him
that old and fatal softness of heart; he felt very pitiful, and he said
gently, "Get in, Stephen." And Stephen crawled over into the other boat,
the water streaming from him; and they sat together on the wide seat in
front of the engine as they had sat so often before.

Then John said, "What happened? We thought you--"

Stephen growled, "So I did--but--but I funked it.... I was drunk." Then
he burst out, "But, damn it, it's nothing to do with you.... Turn her
round--I'm soaked."

And then, at the sullen bitterness of his voice and his words, John
Egerton remembered his rage, he remembered the black grievance and
suspicion he had against this man. And though the impulse to pity and
forbearance struggled still within him, he fought it down. He would be
firm for once. The boats swung sideways in the wind, and drifted,
rolling, round the bend.

He put his hand behind him on the starting-handle of the engine, as he
said:

"We're not going back yet, Stephen. I want to ask you something. What
have you--what have you been--been doing to Muriel? What have you said
to her--about me, and about--?"

"Oh, _hell_, John! I'm frozen, I can't sit jawing here. Start the boat
and let me get home--or let _me_, damn you!" And he too seized the
handle, gripping John's hand; and they sat there, crouching absurdly
over the back of the seat, glowering at each other in the noisy wind.

And John nearly gave way; he felt that he was being unreasonable,
perhaps foolish--this was no place for talk. But he was very angry and
resentful again, and he said he would be firm for once. And so do the
tragedies of life have their birth.

He shouted, "We're not going back till you've told me the truth--you've
been telling lies to Muriel--you've made love to her. God knows what
you've done--and you've got to tell me--_now_!"

"_Will_ you let go of this handle, damn you? It's _my_ boat!"

John held on. Then Stephen gave a great heave with his body, so that
John nearly went overboard; but his grip held firm. So they fought with
their bodies for a minute, heaving and panting and muttering low curses,
and clutching still the disputed handle. The boat rocked dangerously,
and the forgotten dinghy drifted away. They were beyond the houses now,
and beyond the brewery, moving slowly past the flat and desolate
meadows. There was no one to see them. But no one could have seen them.
The rain was coming and it was really dark now; a huge black cloud had
rolled up out of the west and blotted out the last stars. John looked
once towards the meadows, but he could not see the bank--only an endless
flickering blackness. They were alone out there in the howling dark, and
they knew that they were alone. And at last, when nothing came of this
insane struggle, Stephen suddenly took his hand from the handle and
struck John a fierce blow on the side of the head; and John staggered,
but gripped him immediately by the throat with his left hand, clinging
still to the handle with his right. So they sat for a moment, Stephen
clutching at the hand at his throat, and black hatred in the hearts of
both of them, and their eyes fixed in a staring fury. Stephen was the
stronger man, and with a supreme effort he tore away the hand from his
throat. He dived forward over the thwart and seized one of the oars.
Then he turned to attack, standing up in a crouching posture. But John
Egerton had seen red at last, and he dimly knew that Stephen was yet
more mad with fury than himself. He had no weapon except the
starting-handle in his hand, but as Stephen turned, he whipped this from
its place and sprang forward; he struck out fiercely with the iron
handle. Stephen lifted his oar to guard himself, and the handle struck
it with great force, with a heavy thud upon the wood. Stephen swayed a
little, but he was unhurt, and the handle fell from John's hands into
the boat. Then Stephen lifted his oar again and swung it in a wide
circle, like a great sword, a vicious, terrible blow. But John ducked,
and it swept over his head. And while Stephen was yet recovering
himself, he sprang up, and he sprang at Stephen, and he lunged at him
with his fist. John Egerton was no boxer, but fate was with him in that
fight, and all the hoarded resentment of the summer was behind that
blow. It caught Stephen on the jaw as he raised his head. It caught him
on the point of the jaw with the uncanny completeness of precision and
force which no man can endure who is struck in that place. His head went
up, and the oar dropped from his hands. For a moment he tottered, and
then he fell, without a word, without a cry, forward and sideways, into
the water. And John himself fell forward over the thwart, and lay
panting in the rolling boat. When he looked out at last, he could see
nothing, nothing but the empty water, and the empty meadows, and, far
off, the lights of Barnes.

He searched the water for a long time, and after a little he found the
oar, which Stephen had dropped; but he found nothing else. And at last
he was sure that Stephen was dead. He went home slowly against the tide;
and Margery was waiting in the garden, looking out into the wind. He
told her simply that he could not find Stephen; and this time he lied
easily.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night she did not show him the paper which she had found in the
dining-room. But in the morning she gave it to him, and John tore it
carefully into small pieces and threw them on the fire. And this he did
without the sense or the circumstance of drama. For John Egerton was no
artist. But he was a good man.



XVIII


So died Stephen Byrne. And the world talked for many days of the tragic
accident of his drowning, of the tragic failure of his friend to find
him, under the eyes of his wife, under the windows of his home. But the
people of The Chase, at least, were not surprised; they had always said,
they discovered, that he would overdo it at last ... pottering about on
the river at all hours of the night. They found the body, by a strange
chance, among the thick weeds and rushes round the Island, about the
place where Stephen had hunted for firewood on the last day. It had come
down with the tide, and had been blown into the weeds, as the driftwood
was blown. But the world did not know this, and they said it was the
weeds which had pulled him down at last to his death.

Three weeks later the Stephen Byrne Memorial Committee met for the first
time. It was a truly representative body. Lord Milroy was, of course, in
the chair, because he and Stephen were Old Boys of the same Foundation,
and because he was always in the chair. John Egerton was a member
because Margery insisted; and Dimple, Whittaker, and Stimpson
represented The Chase with him. Indeed, the whole affair had its origin
in The Chase. It was clear of course from the beginning that there would
be a memorial somewhere, whether it was at Stephen's school or his
birthplace; or it might even be a national memorial. But before any one
else had made a move the people of The Chase put their heads together
and decided that it should be a Chase memorial, run by The Chase, and
erected in or about The Chase. Further, in order to ensure that The
Chase memorial should be _the_ memorial, they astutely invited all
possible competitive bodies to send representatives to sit on _The_
Stephen Byrne Memorial Committee. All these bodies fell into the trap.
The Old Savonians sent two representatives, and the village of Monckton
Parva another; and a man came from the Home Office and another from the
Authors' Society, and others from various literary bodies.

They met at the Whittakers', and Lord Milroy presided. Lord Milroy was
one of those useful and assiduous noblemen who live in a constant state
of being in the chair. One felt that at the Last Day he would probably
be found in the chair, gravely deprecating the tone of the last speaker
and taking it that the sense of the Committee was rather in favour of
the course which commended itself to him. For although he was courteous
and statesmanlike and suave, he was passionately attached to his own
opinions, and generally saw to it that they prevailed.

On the matter of this memorial he speedily formed an opinion. There were
many alternative proposals--some of them attractive, but expensive or
impracticable, some of them merely fantastic. One man took the view that
the work and character of Stephen Byrne would be most suitably
commemorated by the endowment of a school of poetry in Northern
Australia, where the arts were notoriously neglected. The school, of
course, would bear the name of Stephen Byrne, and this would be a
perpetual link between Australia and the mother country. The Old
Savonians pointed out to the Committee that the gymnasium at Savonage,
where Stephen Byrne had spent perhaps the happiest years of his life,
must somehow be enlarged--if it was to keep pace with the expansion of
the school. And the spirit of the founder's motto, "Mens sana in corpore
sano," could hardly be so perfectly expressed as by the commemoration of
a fine mind in the building up of fine bodies. Besides, there was no
prospect otherwise of getting the gymnasium enlarged. The
representatives of Monckton Parva were more ambitious. They said that
the place where a man was born and the place where a man lived
afterwards were the two great geographical monuments of his life. Since
the Committee did not see their way to arrange for a memorial in each
of these places, why not somehow unite them? The house where Stephen was
born was now unhappily situated between a brewery and a tannery; and
unless sufficient funds were subscribed to provide for the total
destruction of the brewery and the tannery, the house as it stood could
scarcely be regarded as a suitable nucleus for the memorial. They
therefore suggested that the house should be demolished or rather
disintegrated, brick by brick, and re-erected in a suitable site in
Hammerton Chase as near as possible to Stephen's house. The house was
small and comparatively mobile; indeed, there was a legend in the
township that the house had been transplanted once, if not twice,
already. Alternatively both the house at Monckton and the house at The
Chase might be razed to the ground and re-erected as one building on a
neutral site in Kensington, or perhaps Lincolnshire, a county which
Stephen had mentioned very favourably in one of his poems.

Mr. Dimple, who had been got at by the church, strongly advocated the
claims of the Montobel Day Nursery; Stephen, he said, had had two
children himself, and if he had been able to give an opinion, would
almost certainly have elected to be commemorated by a gift to the little
ones of the neighbourhood.

No one thought much of any of these suggestions; and after a great deal
of bland and sugary argument the field of alternatives was thinned down
for practical purposes to two--Mr. Stimpson's plan and Mr. Meredith's
plan. Mr. Meredith was the Home Office man. He had vacillated for a
while between a Stephen Byrne monolith at Hammersmith Broadway and a
Stephen Byrne Scholarship at London University, the balance of the fund
to be devoted to the provision of a mural tablet in Hammerton church,
setting out the principal works of Stephen Byrne, a kind of monumental
bibliography. Finally, however, he decided in favour of the Hammersmith
Broadway scheme. At that time there was much excitement in the Press
over the conduct of foot passengers in the London streets, who were said
to show an extraordinary carelessness of life in the face of the rapid
increase of motor transport. For example, they took no notice of
"refuges"; they crossed the street at any old point. And Meredith's
theory--which was also apparently the official theory of the Home
Secretary, if not actually of the Home Secretary's private
secretary--was that people neglected the refuges because they were such
dull places. An unbeautiful lamp-post, he said, sprouting unnaturally
from a small island of pavement, held out no inducement to pedestrians.
It simply did not attract their attention, so they did not go there.
Now, if they were made _attractive_, if every refuge at the principal
crossings and danger-points were made into a thing of intrinsic beauty
or interest, the people would crowd to them, to look at the statue, or
read the inscription, or drink at the fountain, or whatever it was. And
he proposed that the first experiment should be made with a Stephen
Byrne memorial at Hammersmith Broadway, which was very dangerous and had
nothing striking in the centre of it. He said it was a curious thing
that, if you counted the people who used the Piccadilly Circus refuge or
the King Charles refuge in one day, you would find the number was "out
of all proportion" to the number of people who used an ordinary refuge
where there was no fountain and no flower-girls and no statue of King
Charles. Nobody could remember doing this, and very few of the Committee
were prepared to take his word for it. In fact, Stimpson said that what
Meredith said was not borne out by his own experience (and this was as
near as the Committee ever approached to open incredulity or
contradiction); he also said that you do not _want_ crowds gathering
round refuges and gaping at pieces of sculpture; but then Stimpson was
prejudiced, for Stimpson had his own plan.

And Lord Milroy came down heavily in favour of Stimpson's plan. He
distrusted the Bureaucracy on principle and he disliked Meredith in
particular. And he was not fond of John Egerton; John was another Civil
Servant, and therefore a Bureaucrat, and John was the only member other
than Meredith who was hotly opposed to Stimpson's plan. So that for a
man less free from prejudice than the chairman there would have been a
good deal of prejudice in favour of Stimpson's plan as against
Meredith's plan.

And there was much to be said for Stimpson's plan. It had a certain
imaginative boldness, and just that touch of sentiment which a memorial
demands; and it was simple. He said that the great thing geographically
in Stephen Byrne's life at Hammerton Chase was the river. He had loved
the river; not Hammerton nor even The Chase, but the river. And any
memorial that was made to him in Hammerton should be somehow expressive
of this. There was only one place where such a memorial could
conveniently be made; and that place was the Island, the wild untenanted
Island, the Island where he had died. At the eastern end of the Island,
in sight of his own home, should his monument be put--a simple figure in
some grey stone, sitting there in his favourite posture under the single
willow-tree, with his knees drawn up and the head thrown back, and
looking out with the poetic vision over that noble sweep of the wide
river, at the gracious trees and delicate lights, and the huddled
houses curving away.... Stimpson was almost moving as he developed the
idea, and most of the Committee were captivated at once. Lord Milroy
said that he knew a sculptor who was the very man for such a task. He
specialized in river-work; and Lord Milroy, when travelling in India,
had been specially struck by a figure he had seen--by a figure looking
over the Ganges, which was the work of this man. He also said that he
was attracted by the breadth and freshness of the scheme; and this was
true.

Only John Egerton hotly opposed it. The idea of a stone figure of
Stephen Byrne, sitting for ever under the willow-tree in sight of his
windows, and in sight of Margery's windows, revolted him. But he could
think of no convincing objections. The Island was often submerged at
high tide; the soil was sodden; the banks crumbled away. The land did
not belong to Hammerton; nobody knew to whom it did belong, perhaps to
the Port of London Authority, perhaps to the Crown. Anyhow, it would
take a long time to secure authority. And so on. His difficulties were
easily dealt with; his timid suggestion that Margery might not like it
was scornfully rejected; and after the chairman's summing-up, delivered
in a very statesmanlike manner, the Committee by a large majority
adopted the plan.

So, after many months, the statue was put up, and reverently unveiled.
It was a noble piece of work. The figure was sitting in an easy posture
on the thwart of a boat, and this rested on a low, broad pedestal that
was just high enough to keep the figure out of the water at the highest
tides, yet so low that you did not notice it. You looked over and saw
simply the slight figure of a young man in grey, sitting near the water
under the tree, his hands clasped about his knees, his feet crossed
naturally, and his head thrown back a little, and his lips a little
parted, as if he were asking some question of the things he saw. It was
the exact posture of Stephen Byrne in that place, as many remembered it;
and the tone and colour of the figure were so quiet and right that it
was part of the scene, part of the river, and part of the Island, as it
was meant to be. And on the pedestal there was written, simply:

         IN MEMORY
            OF
       STEPHEN BYRNE
       A GREAT POET
    HE LOVED THIS PLACE

The unveiling was a quaint, unusual ceremony. The time chosen was a
little after high tide on a fortunate afternoon in early January, when
the sun shone amazingly in a clear June sky, and the windless river
wore its most delicate blue. There gathered round the draped figure at
the end of the Island a splendid company of men and women. They came
there necessarily in numbers of small boats, and the greater part of
them remained all the time in these boats. They hung there in a dense
crowd, clinging to ropes made fast to the Island. Only the Committee and
the very great men stood on the Island by the tree. All those others,
great and small, sat absolutely silent in their boats for many minutes;
they had come long journeys, some of them, to see this thing, and some
of them were only Saturday holiday-makers, brought there by curiosity as
they rowed upstream; but they all sat silent. And as the hour for the
unveiling came near, the tugs and the barges and the small boats passing
by stopped their engines or laid aside their sweeps or their oars, and
stood still in reverence; and the river stood still, for it was slack
water. All this quietness of respect was very moving; and the men and
women rowed back afterwards in the warm sun, feeling that they had seen
a fine thing.

It was marred only by one strange note. John Egerton and Margery did not
go over for the unveiling; but they watched together from Margery's
garden. And in the stillness there were many there who heard and
remembered the high cackle of hysterical laughter which came over the
water when the figure was revealed. It was a thin and horrible laughter
that had no mirth in it, only a fierce and bitter derision. It went on
for a full half-minute and faded away to a faint sound, as if the man
laughing had gone suddenly into a house.

Muriel Tarrant heard it, for she was there with her mother, not in
black, as were many of The Chase, but darkly dressed. When she heard
that laughter she looked back quickly over her shoulder; and when she
turned her head to the statue again, her face was very white.

Very soon the figure became a landmark to those who used the river. It
became a mark among the watermen and bargees and the captains of tugs.
And people made pilgrimages in small boats on the warm winter days to
look at it and read the inscription.

Margery Byrne lived on in her house, and John Egerton lived on next to
her in his. But why they stayed in that place it is hard to say. For you
would think it was a cruel fate which set up at their own doors the
graven image of their old idol; you would have said it was a hard thing
to look out of the window at any hour of the day and see always some
pilgrim at the shrine, doing his silent homage to the idol--gazing up
from a boat or standing on the Island with his head bared--knowing
nothing, suspecting nothing. And sometimes, indeed--they confessed to
each other--they wanted to rush out to the river-side, and shout over
the water at these worshippers the secret history of that splendid
figure.

Yet it fascinated them. And it may be that, in spite of all, they were
proud of it; they were proud in secret of the pilgrims and the homage
and the Sunday crowds. It is certain at least that they never went to
their beds--and this also they confessed to each other--they never went
to their beds or threw up a window in the morning to bathe in the sun
without turning their eyes up the river to the end of the Island, to the
seated figure under the tree. On a dark night it was difficult to see,
but on a moonlit night they could see it very clearly. And they looked
at it always. The idol had something still of the old magic, though they
knew that the feet of it were clay. But on the wild sou'wester nights
they looked out very quickly and drew close the blinds. And on those
nights they were always sad.

But the statue stood there for three months only. In April there was a
great storm and a great tide. The wind and the rain came violently out
of the south-west and beat upon the statue; and the swollen tide rushed
up over the Island, and over the road, and over the little gardens of
The Chase; it surged up about the knees of the statue, and tugged and
fretted at the crumbling banks. At dusk the tide was not full, but
already the short waves were slapping the face of the statue, and there
was nothing to be seen under the willow-tree but the head and shoulders
of a man struggling in the furious race of the flood. In the morning it
was seen that the bank and the new stone facing of the bank had
collapsed; and at low tide the statue was found grovelling in the mud,
with its nose shattered. The willow is very near to the edge of the
Island now, and it is strange that it survived that tide. There is
nothing under it now but a small patch of rich green grass, very
noticeable from the windows of the Terrace. This grass is a favourite
haunt of the Island swans; and they stand there for hours, cleaning
themselves.

So for the first time the true story of Stephen Byrne is told; and those
at least who live in The Chase will know the real name of Stephen Byrne,
and the real name of Hammerton Chase. It is to be hoped that they will
be kinder now to John Egerton, and as kind as they can be to the memory
of Stephen Byrne. For there is something to be said for every man; and
Stephen Byrne was a strange mixture.

As for the rest, the pilgrims and the far worshippers, they may
understand the story or they may not; and it can be no great matter to
them. For they never knew Stephen Byrne in the flesh; and they have his
poetry as they had it before. And when the statue is put back securely
in its place, no doubt they will come to see it again. For, after all,
the inscription said that he was a great poet; it did not say that he
was a good man.


THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The House by the River" ***

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