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Title: Yonder
Author: Young, E. H. (Emily Hilda), 1880-1949
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 "Yonder" ***

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http://www.girlebooks.com, Marc D'Hooghe at
http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made
available by the Hathi Trust)



Yonder

By

E.H. Young



New York

George H. Doran Company

1912



CHAPTER I


A boy, slim and white as the silver birches round him, stood at the edge
of a pool, in act to dive. The flat stone was warm to his feet from
yesterday's sun, and through the mist of a September morning there was
promise of more heat, but now the grey curtain hung in a stillness that
was broken by his plunge. He came to the surface, shaking his black
head, and, when he had paddled round the pool, he landed, glistening
like the dewy fields beyond him. Slowly he drew on his clothes, leaving
the quiet of the wood unruffled, but his eyes were alert. If there were
any movement among the birches, with their air of trees seen mirrored in
a lake, he did not miss it. He, too, was of the woods and the water,
sharing their life and taking mood and colour from them. He sat very
still when he had dressed, with lean hands resting on his raised knees,
and eyes that marked how the water in the pool was sinking for lack of
rain and how the stream that fed it had become a trickle. In a wet
season his flat stone was three feet under water, and there was a
rushing river above and below his bathing-place, tearing headlong from
those hills which, last night, had been hidden in heavy cloud and might
be wrapped in it still for all the low mist would let him know. He saw
how the bracken was dried before its time, and the trees were ready to
let fall their leaves at the first autumn wind, and how some of them,
not to be baulked of their last grandeur, had tried to flame into gold
that their death might not be green. There were blackberries within a
yard of him but he did not move to get them for the mist was like a hand
laid on him; but when at length it stirred a little, thrust aside by a
ray of sun, he rose, whistling softly, to take the fruit, and then,
barefooted and bareheaded, he walked home across the fields.

The sun came out more boldly and Alexander broke into louder, gayer
whistling, welcoming the sunshine and warning his mother that it was
breakfast-time. From the back of the low, white house he heard her
answering note, and thus assured that the bacon was in the pan, or near
it, he took a seat on the old horse-block and waited.

Behind him was the house-front and the strip of low-walled garden, where
lad's love, and pinks, and tobacco-plant grew as they chose among the
straggling rose-bushes; before him were the fields he had crossed, the
trees bordering the stream, and, topping the mist, the broad breast of
the Blue Hill. On his left hand the rough road before the house dwindled
to a track that led upwards to the pass between the sloping shoulder of
the Blue Hill and the jagged, precipitous rocks of the Spiked Crags, and
between these and the hill behind the house a deeply cut watercourse was
grooved, hardly more than an empty trough at this moment, but in the
time of rain lashed by a flood of waters that looked from the house like
a white and solid streak. Alexander called this water the
mountain-witch's hair, for it streamed to his fancy like the locks of an
old hag, and when the sound of its roaring came to him through the
winter night he thought she was shrieking in anger, and he pulled the
bed-clothes about his ears. But he told no one of that secret name, and,
like other people, he spoke of it as the Steep Water, because of the
cascades in which it fell. Broad Beck was the name of the stream in
which he bathed, and, but for the one deep pool, it went over stony
shallows to the lake of which Alexander, sitting on the horse-block,
could see a glimmer at his right hand, like a grey pathway between the
inn roof and the trees in the little churchyard. It was a great sheet of
water edged on the hither shore by the high-road and the rough moorland
beyond, on the other by a black mountain-side. It sent its waters to the
sea, and in return the sea sent up the mists that curled, and rolled,
and broke away again among the hills, or sent down the fierce steel
fingers of the rain.

Alexander's eyes were on the Blue Hill, but his thoughts were with his
breakfast, and through the stone passage leading from the kitchen to the
porch there came encouraging sounds and savours.

"Oh, mother!" he cried hungrily; "will you never have it ready?"

He did not heed her shouted answer, for he had heard steps on the stony
track, and seen the shambling figure of a man coming towards him. Drunk,
was he? Alexander knew the signs, but men seldom stagger at
breakfast-time, and the nearest house of call in the direction whence
the stranger came was six or seven long miles away across the hills. No;
on a nearer view he was certainly not drunk. But what, then, was the
matter with the man?

"Boy"--he stood before the horse-block, and plucked at the tufts of moss
clinging to his clothes--"is this a farm?"

"No," said Alexander, wondering at the little man with the sparse,
disordered hair. "There's moss on your head, too," he said.

The stranger put up his hand an inch or two, and dropped it.
"Everywhere," he murmured. "Was it your dog I heard barking?"

"May be. He's a loud barker."

"Do you think I could have a cup of milk? I'm very cold. I lost my way
up there, among the hills."

"Were you out all night?" asked Alexander, kindling.

"All night--yes. Among the rocks. I thought I should fall off. I was
afraid."

"Did you--see things?"

"Mist. Figures in the mist. And a sheep cried, and stones fell
sometimes, and there was a noise of water. If I could get warm----"

Alexander put out a steadying hand. "Will you come in?" he said. "My
mother'll see to you."

The man suffered himself to be led out of the sunshine through a place
which seemed long and dark and cavernous, and so into a room where a
fire glowed and crackled, and an open door and window let in the light.

"Mother!" said Alexander.

A woman looked up swiftly from the frying-pan. "I didn't hear you for
the bacon frizzling," she said. "Oh! who is it, Alec? Here, put him into
the chair. Quick!"

"He's been out all night," he says.

"He looks like it." She touched his hands. "He's perished. Take off his
boots, and tell your father. I'll warm some milk. Poor soul!"

The little man, with Alexander at his feet, had sunk back against the
red cushions of the chair. The strain of his expression had relaxed, and
now he smiled.

"Bacon," he said on a note of satisfaction--"bacon."

"No, no; you'd better have some milk. It will warm you. Milk first,
bacon afterwards, perhaps."

She spoke soothingly, entirely at her ease, doing the work that came
most readily to her. He blinked and straightened himself before he took
the cup. The woman seemed tall, and splendid, and compelling.

"I'm afraid--I'm afraid I had almost fallen asleep. The warmth----"

"Drink this," she ordered.

"Thank you." He shivered. "Forgive my troubling you. If I may rest for a
little while-----"

She patted his shoulder. "Yes; you shall go to sleep. Push the chair
nearer to the fire, Alec. Jim"--she turned to her husband, who stood in
the doorway--"when I've warmed the bed we must get him there, or he'll
be ill." She looked down smilingly at the half-conscious occupant of the
chair. "He's just a bundle of cold and fright," she said.

Bidden to hang up the damp coat of the visitor, who now lay snug in bed,
Alexander obeyed with so much vigour that two small books fell from the
pockets to the floor.

"His name's Edward Webb," he announced. "And he reads poetry. Keats,
this one, and 'Paradise Lost.'" He turned the pages and stood reading.

"Are those your books, Alexander?" said his father. The voice was
irritable, and the dark face moody. Expectant, almost hopeful of a
retort, he watched his son.

"They're his."

"Then put them down."

"But I think he'd like me to dry them. Where was the man lying to get so
wet?"

"Give them here. I'll see to them. What did you say his name was?"

"Edward Webb. I think I'll just put them in the sun. They're good books,
and he's read a lot in them."

"Does it say where he comes from?"

"I wouldn't think of looking," said Alexander. "They're his property.
But I'll dry them."

"Alexander----" began his father noisily, but the boy had stepped out of
doors with a face changed from natural gravity to impishness.

Rutherford shouted at his wife. "Clara, I've had enough of it. He'd defy
me if I lay dying. As if I wasn't fit to touch the books! There's
something wrong with the lad."

"Jim, don't wake that poor man with your shouting," she said briskly.
She looked serene and competent. "Eat your breakfast. And as for
Alexander, he didn't choose you for his father, and it's for you to make
him glad he's got you"--her tone changed--"as glad as I am that you're
my man."

He flushed. "Clara, is it true that you're still glad?"

She had time to drop a light kiss on his hand before Alexander darkened
the doorway.

Edward Webb's first waking thought was that his nightshirt was a new
acquaintance. It was rougher than his own, and so long that he felt like
a babe in swaddling clothes--an apt simile, as he would have confessed
had he been able to see himself disinterestedly, for his face, worn as
it was with anxieties, had in it something of youth and indestructible
innocence. He had slept for hours without a movement, and only his head
was visible above the smoothly turned sheet, but he brought forth an arm
and examined his sleeve. It was drab-coloured, and striped with pink. It
was not his. He looked about him, and remembered.

He was in the house of the Good Samaritans. There was a boy with dark
eyes, and a woman who had appeared to him as Warmth and Strength, and,
more dimly, a man who had helped him to bed--a tall, dark man. No doubt
this was his nightshirt--a durable garment, but irritating to the skin.
He wondered what time it was. He had no idea how long he had slept, nor
at what hour he had found the valley and the white house, with its
blessed signs of habitation; but it was at the first breath of dawn that
he had left his rocky perch, and, stumbling, falling, almost crying
aloud in misery, had made his way down the mountain. Memory took him
again through the night's adventure, and farther back--to last Monday
morning, when he had bidden Theresa good-bye. It was their habit, when
he started on his journeying, to play their game of Beauty and the
Beast.

"What shall I bring back this time, Beauty?" he would ask, and she,
glowing at the name she wished were justly hers, would clasp her hands
ecstatically before she answered: "A white satin dress, please, dear
Papa, and shoes to match, with silver roses on them, and a silver rose
for my hair." Or it might be a string of diamonds, a great feathered
fan, a boar-hound to be her stately guardian.

"The real Beauty," he reminded her one day, "was content with a single
rose from a garden."

"I know," she said, and for a moment lost her brightness; but then, "I
think that's lovely in a story," she told him. "Yes." She acted it.
"'Bring me a white rose, Papa. I don't want anything else.' But she
would, you know, when it came all faded. But I'm glad the story lets her
say that."

But he had slightly changed the form of his question on this latest
morning.

"If you could have anything in the world, Theresa, what would it be?"

"Oh!" she cried joyously, as though that thing were already hers, and
through her mind there paced a fair procession of the desired. But she
knew her decision long before it was spoken. "I should have an
adventure," she said.

"I can't bring you that, I'm afraid."

"No--oh no!"

"But I might have one myself." He was pleased with the idea.

"It wouldn't be the same."

"I should tell you about it."

She agreed that would be much better than nothing, and with his endless
wish to please her he determined that he would have something to tell.

His days were passed in alternate fortnights of travelling about the
country with samples of ugly things incidental to the dressmaking art,
and of conveying the same packages from shop to shop of his native town.
He was to be seen, a small shrinking figure, sitting in a cab with a
pile of cardboard boxes opposite him, and his face turned to the
windows, looking through one and then the other for sights that accorded
better with his nature than these boxes, on which, when the cab jolted,
he laid a hand lest they should slip. The fortnights at home were more
endurable than the others, for he returned at evening to his family and
his books, and during the day he had many a fair thing to bring healing
to his pain, for always he worked with a queer gnawing at the breast.
This was not his rightful work, and he did it ill, and, because he had a
great love of beauty and fitness in all things, he suffered. But he was
driven on to his mighty, ineffectual efforts by the needs of his wife
and little daughters, and as he looked out of the musty cab he would see
comforting white clouds floating behind red roofs, the river that found
its way into the city's heart, and the tall masts of sailing-ships. But
the following fortnight was one of exile and of racket--strange towns
full of unfriendly faces, dull hotels with texts on the bedroom walls,
and the noise and dirt of trains. A book of verses in each pocket was
then his solace, and, two by two, the poets journeyed with him, gilding
the grime of cities. Sometimes, as the train carried him on, with, to
his imagination, something remorseless and inimical to him in its
energy, he would look up from his book and stare longingly at the
country which the fast wheels spurned; but on his lonely Saturday and
Sunday, when he was stranded in some town, he seldom had energy to obey
adventure's whisper, and explore farther than a quiet place where he
could read, and write his daily letter to his wife. But, Theresa having
a hunger for adventure, her father had decided that at least she should
be satisfied by proxy, and he had sought the mountains.

He had seen them once, in boyhood, on a holiday, and their wonder had
remained with him like a treasure. Why should he not add another to his
little store, another gem to shine in the dark parts of his life, and
throw some of its colour and glory on Theresa? That should be his
adventure; he would find the mountains and roam about them, and look
fearfully down their rocky sides, and shudder at the thought of falling,
and stock his memory with things to tell Theresa.

So on the afternoon of Friday he left the little station by the
seashore, and tramped inland, following the road for a while until, as
he turned a corner, he saw the blue shapes of hills, shadowy but strong,
mysterious, lifting themselves to heaven, yet compact of the solid earth
of man. He stood still, drinking in beauty like hill water, and
suffering a glorious new pain. It was more than beauty that he gazed on;
it was the most perfect expression of what man's hopes should be, and
the discovery shook him. He walked on. Above the hills the sky was
stretched in a faint blue shade that swooned into a white, and here,
within a stone's throw of him, the fingers of a chestnut-tree had dipped
themselves in dyes.

He tasted joy as he went, first across fields and then slowly up the
long flank of a hill; it was all joy until, careless or ignorant of the
menace in the clouds that were beginning to circle about the summits, he
found himself shut in by a thick wall of mist.

He stood on a level place strewn with stones, and their grey colour grew
into the grey of the mist that bound him. It was very quiet. Afar off
there was a faint sound of water, but the beating of his own heart was
louder. He held his breath, peering this way and that, but keeping his
feet steady lest the noise they made should break the stillness and
enrage that something which seemed to wait until he moved. He stood,
thinking quickly and anxiously. He must find some way out of this
danger, he must keep cool; but he almost screamed when he heard a light
scattering of stones, followed by a cry. It was only an old sheep that
went bleating away behind the veil, but he could not smile at his alarm.
He began to run to and fro, seeking some landmark, and when he found a
little trickling stream he thought it would be wise to follow it down
the mountain-side. Oncoming darkness was now added to his fears, but he
could still see the silver streak, and beside it, walking in steep,
oozing moss, he went carefully; nervous, but still hopeful, when he
found there were rocks to be descended. Using his shaking hands, he
clambered down, absorbed and unforeseeing, and it was almost dark when
he came to a ledge that ended with a shocking suddenness. He could not
go down. He looked up, and he was afraid. He could not turn his back to
that awful emptiness, and climb the steep rocks he could hardly see; his
own daring of descent amazed him. He was a little giddy; he blinked in
the darkness. He would have to stay there, shivering and afraid. He was
having his adventure and he did not like it, but across his troubled
thoughts words of Theresa came, bracing him to courage.

"I hope I'm brave," she said to him one day, inflecting her voice
inquiringly.

"I hope so, too," he answered, and felt a pang.

"I like brave people," she said. "I like them to be brave and clever."

"Not good?" he asked.

"Oh--good----" That was a lesser virtue.

He was not good, nor clever, nor brave, but he would endure, and all
night long he sat there, trying to control his dread of the mist and
what lay beyond it, stifling the screams that threatened when a stone
fell, crashing, dropping from rock to rock, and, hundreds of feet below,
breaking itself into ultimate fragments on the screes. "Not again," he
prayed. "Not again." So he might fall, but he must not, he would not,
and he sat farther back upon his ledge, gripping the wet heather.

He thought of Nancy, of Grace and Theresa in their beds: Nancy, with her
hand under her cheek, and the humorous, half-mocking smile on her lips,
even in sleep; Grace, with her nose in the pillow, and Theresa
widespread, tossing her tawny head. Heaven keep them and him! If only
the darkness had not been so thick--thick, yet unsteady, promising
cracks of light which did not come, and, as he grew more dazed, taking
unwelcome shapes of small and evil things, of things nameless, gigantic,
formless, yet hideous in suggestion, that came slyly through the folds
of mist to push him from his place. Only with a wrenching effort of will
could he drive them back, and as they went he thought he heard them
chuckling. And again they came with their wavering, softly threatening
movements; he strained his eyes for them, there was a terrible expanded
feeling in his ears, and the mist and darkness were weighted with horror
which pressed about him. His tired eyelids drooped, and he may have
slept, but if he did he found no relief from fear; sleeping and waking
he was stalked by ugly visions, and he was cold. He thought of the
people he had seen shivering in winter streets; so this was how they
felt in their rags. Perhaps, too, they had this dreadful vacancy of
body, which was not hunger, but resulted from it so that now and then he
seemed to be floating in mid-air, a man without a frame, compelled to
drive his numbed fingers into the wet earth to bring himself back to a
sense of solidity and self.

But somehow the night wore through, and with eyes that were wearied with
straining past the dark, that heavy curtain seemed at last to be growing
thin. It was still black, but the texture of it was changing. A little
breeze went by, like a herald bird promising the day. There came a fresh
smell of wind and earth. Slowly the night was mastered.

There was no glowing pageantry of dawn; the light spread and grew
stronger in grey dignity, and soon he could see the glistening mosses
and tender ferns that grew in the crevices of the rocks, and, looking
from these things of vivid green, he could draw from the grey light
about him the forms of distant hills.

Later, the valley seemed to lift itself towards him, showing the fallen
masses of the mountain and the white streaks that were streams. Then,
sharp in the clear air, he heard the barking of a dog.

He rose, stretched his cramped limbs and faced the rocks. The unpassable
danger of last night was only difficulty in the morning, and shakily and
in fear he overcame it.

So, stumbling over the riot of loose stones that strewed the top,
staggering down heather slopes imminent with pitfalls, he came at last
to the sight of Alexander on the horse-block.

That was a good adventure for Theresa.



CHAPTER II


Alexander quietly opened the bedroom door and tiptoed to the bedside.

"I'm awake," said Edward Webb, blinking rapidly.

"I thought you never would be. It's four o'clock."

"Four o'clock!"

"Ay. And I didn't want you to wake up yet a bit." He spoke quickly. "I
think I'd better tell you. I've been reading those books of yours. They
fell out of your pockets, and I simply couldn't help it, but I've had to
do it in the barn for fear my father should see. I'm taking care of
them. Will you let me keep them till I've read a bit more? Just an hour
or two? Well, I'll let you have the Milton back--I've had him at
school--if I can have the Keats. I'll have finished by the time you've
had your tea."

Here was someone who knew what he wanted! "If you will give me my
clothes I will certainly lend you Keats."

"I'm much obliged to you. And would you mind not mentioning it to my
father?" He went to the door. "I'll tell my mother you're awake, and I
should think she'll let you have your clothes. They've been dry this
long while. Did you lose your hat?"

"Isn't it there?"

"No, there's everything but that."

"Dear me! Well, I'm fortunate to have lost nothing else."

Alexander drew nearer. "You said you saw figures in the mist up yonder.
What like were they?"

"Did I say that? I was very nervous, very much dazed; you mustn't
believe all I said. What else did I say?"

"You wanted milk, that's all. Oh, and you seemed to like the smell of
bacon."

"Ah, I remember--yes, it was a pleasant, homely smell. And I am very
grateful to you all. Will you kindly give my thanks to your parents, and
ask if I may be allowed to have my clothes, and thank them myself? I was
a stranger, and ye took me in."

"Mother wouldn't turn away a dog," said Alexander simply.

Clara Rutherford, entering the room with her swift, firm step, felt her
visitor's pulse, laid her hand on his forehead, looked searchingly into
his eyes, and said he might get up.

"The stairs are just in front of you," she told him, "and the kitchen's
at their foot. You'll find us there when you're ready."

When he went downstairs, he saw that rain was slanting across the open
doorway leading to the yard, where it fell with a splatter on the
paving-stones. He caught a glimpse of a copse of larch-trees on the
hillside and heard the crying of their blown branches. Against the
door-post, with a cold pipe in his mouth, Rutherford was lounging, and
his wife sat on the fender with the light of the fire brightening her
hair. Edward Webb stood for an instant before they saw him, and made him
welcome.

"Why, the stairs didn't creak!" said Clara. "That was what I was
listening for. You can never miss that board when you want to. When I go
late to bed and creep upstairs I always tread on it, and then I hear
Alexander turning in his bed. He wakes if a mouse cheeps. Tea's ready."

She went to the door and whistled, and presently Alexander came through
the rain.

"Where've you been?" his father demanded.

"In the barn." He looked at Edward Webb, who ate his bread-and-butter
without so much as an upward glance.

"I can't think what you want to go there for, when we've chairs to sit
on."

"Janet gave me a truss of hay, and it's softer than a bed."

"Janet would do better to keep her hay. She'll be short of fodder before
the winter's out."

"That's what I told her."

"These eggs are excellent," said Edward Webb.

"You shall have a duck's egg for breakfast. My ducks----"

"But I must be getting back to-night."

"Indeed you mustn't. It's ten miles to the station, and it's raining,
and you're not fit. We haven't a trap, either, but we could borrow a
cart for you to-morrow."

"You're very kind, but--but I feel I ought to go. Imposing on you like
this!"

"Not at all. We're glad to have you," said Rutherford. "And you can't
get away if my wife means you to stop."

"I was beginning to suspect that," said Webb, with a half-rueful lift of
the brows.

"And I do mean you to stop, so that's settled. Pass your father's cup,
Alexander."

The rain came down faster and stronger, invading the kitchen, and the
mists, as they swept past the window, hid the larch-trees, but still
through the noise of the falling water their louder murmuring was heard.
The dog came in, shook himself and, whining, lay down near the door. The
room was darkened, but the fire glowed the more brightly, and Clara put
candles on the table.

"Are you warm enough?" she asked of Edward. "Jim can't sit in a room
with the door shut, but we can close the window."

"No, no, please don't. We mustn't shut out these sounds."

Across the candlelight Alexander sharply eyed the man who uttered his
own thoughts. Books of poetry and a love of the wind--these were good
things to have, but love of the wind was best, and a greater bond than
a whole library. He liked this man, he decided, and he would be sorry
when he went away.

When the meal was over, and Edward Webb was sitting again in the
red-cushioned chair, while Clara washed the tea-things and her husband
fetched more coal for the fire, Alexander approached, and gave him a
furtive touch on the shoulder.

"Here's the book," he said, "and thank you."

"You've read it all?"

"Twice."

"What's your other name?"

"Rutherford, we're called."

Edward Webb took a pen from his waistcoat pocket and opened the book.
"It is yours if you will have it," he said, and wrote the boy's name
above his own. "I should like you to have it." He was deprecatingly
courteous. "You have been very good to me, and I hope the book will be
as good a friend to you."

"I cannot thank you," said Alexander hesitatingly, twisting the book. He
was blushing deeply and biting his lips, but the rush of his next words
would not be stayed. "But I'll never forget you," he cried. "A thing
like this hasn't happened to me before," and with that he sank to the
fender and sat there, keeping his watchful dark gaze on Edward Webb's
face.

They fell into conversation after a time.

"Do you go to school?"

"Yes; over the hills to Browick. It's a good step. The Grammar School.
There's nothing here but the Church School. I went there till I could
walk to Browick, and glad I was to go."

"Oh? What was the matter?"

"Why," he cried, "he roared at us! He was that kind of man. He's there
yet, but he's getting old."

"Perhaps he doesn't roar so loudly now."

"Oh yes, he does. I've heard him at it; but they tell me he's not quite
so handy with the stick. It wasn't the stick I minded, though he had a
strong arm. I'll tell you how it was. When he shouted at us, 'William
the Conqueror, 1066,' or 'An island is a piece of land'--you know,
anything--I felt it wasn't true, else why did he expect to be
contradicted? It was a long time before I would believe my dates, but
the island was simpler--I'd seen them."

"You had no confidence in him, in fact."

"That was it."

"Things are different now, I suppose. But it's a rough walk in
winter-time, isn't it?"

"Yes."

He was not ready to tell anyone of his joy in that daily walk, in summer
and in winter, when hailstones pounded him in the face, when he was
drenched with rain or scorched with sun. Moreover, reserve was not his
only reason for silence. It seemed that always his father tried to
thwart him, and if he knew how much he loved the hills and the mists and
the sunshine, the rare birds and the smell of peat, the getting of
knowledge from men who were not afraid of questions and did not roar,
then, perhaps, with the perverseness that baffled and angered his son,
he would take him from the school. So never a word of pleasure had
Alexander let fall, for fear his happiness should be taken from him, and
never a word of discontent, because he did not care to lie; but his
passion for the hills grew stronger, and his analysis of his father's
character became acute.

"He's like a cat with a pet bird," he thought once. "He's watching it
all the time, and hoping the cage-door will open. He knows he oughtn't
to kill it--he's been told he mustn't--but he can't stop himself wanting
to. That's him all through. He can't stop himself."

That lack of self-control and its unpleasant results on himself inspired
the boy to practice the virtue with all his might. To exercise it, he
would go without food when he was hungry, deliberately sniffing at his
mother's hot pastry, and refusing to eat of it.

"If you don't have that, you shall have nothing else. You're getting
fussy," his father had said once. His eyes were stormy under brooding
brows, but Alexander knew he had the advantage, and he wore his impish
look.

"I'm not, then. I'm learning self-control," he said slowly, and saw his
father flinch.

His appetite was left uncriticized after that, but the relations of cat
and bird continued and Alexander saw to it that the cage-door was not
opened, developing an annoying habit of always being in the right, or
managing to appear so.

"Don't worry your father, Alec," his mother said.

"Worry him!" The anger which he found harder to subdue than any hunger
showed in his face, and brought more resemblance to his father than
either would have cared to see. "How else am I going to live? I've seen
wild things in the woods, and they all have weapons, one way or the
other. The daft ones just die."

For a moment her courage seemed to faint, but she straightened her back
and spoke with her infectious hopefulness, her determination that all
was, or should be, well.

"He's impatient, I know, but you're a bit of a mule, Alexander. And
you're both mine, and I won't let my belongings disagree. You've just
got to put up with it."

"And am I not putting up with it?" he flamed out.

"Alec, I'll tell you something. Will you understand? It's this way with
some women, as perhaps you'll see for yourself some day, when you've a
woman of your own. I feel sometimes that you two are both my sons, and
I've got to deal fairly by you both, and see that you do fairly by each
other. Now you've a bigger will than he has--you've found that out
already, and there's no harm in saying it--and it's for you to help, not
hinder, him. But mind, he's a better man than you are--yet. It's just
that he's weak in some ways. There's no need for you to despise him on
that account. Wait till you are tempted or--or see trouble. You're just
a baby, you know nothing, and you see fit to judge, when your real
business is to be a good son to him, never you mind what he is to you.
Call him your brother, and you'll find it easier. Not that I want to
make your way easier." She paused. "But I'd strew roses for him. Have
you got the geese in?" she added sharply.

Edward Webb's talk with Alexander was interrupted by Clara's command
that the lamp be lighted, and Rutherford's entrance with the coal.

"We shall have a lot of rain yet," he said.

"Steep Water's getting fuller every minute," said Alexander. "D'you hear
her? She runs underground just behind the house, and out again by the
inn. She's roaring."

"We shall have a fine night of shaking windows, and howling wind, and
creaking trees," said Clara, coming from the scullery. "This old house
will blow down some day."

"No, no; it's rooted well."

Rutherford went to the doorway and stood there and Clara took her sewing
to the table, where Alexander already sat under the lamplight.

"Have you done your lessons?" she asked him.

"To-morrow'll do."

"To-night, my son. There might be an earthquake to-morrow, and it would
be a pity to leave anything unfinished."

Edward Webb gave a little chuckle. Great drops of rain hissed on the
fire, and Rutherford, beyond the circle of light, began to pace the
floor.

"Jim, I'll play chess with you."

"I think I'll have to get a breath of air."

"Not to-night. I shouldn't go out to-night."

He made no answer, but went to the door again and stood there. Edward
Webb could hear him shifting from one foot to another, and he felt in
the air a disturbance he could not name. Outside, the wind was
shrieking, dashing itself against trees, walls, and counter-winds. It
played with the rain, and tried to outcry the steady roaring of the
streams. Within there was firelight, Clara sewing, Alexander at his
books, and a man growing drowsy in the armchair; but peace was not
there, for desire was trying to break through its prison-house, and its
struggles could be felt.

Rutherford cleared his throat and again marched to and fro in the gloom.
"Well, I think I'll get on my boots," he said, and gave out another
cough.

Clara stitched on, Alexander did not look up, and Edward Webb became
aware of more than that striving, imprisoned thing. He felt the contest
of human wills. He was afraid to move, lest he should throw the balance
to one side or the other, but he could see Clara's face, and he watched
it. He thought he saw decision and indecision chasing each other there
before she laid her work in her lap and spoke to Rutherford.

"I wish you'd go to Janet's for me, Jim."

"Is it important? I wasn't thinking of going that way."

She hesitated before she answered. "Yes; I'd like you to go."

"All right, I will if I have time."

Alexander looked up swiftly, but dropped his chin into his hands again
and his eyes to his book.

"Let me have your pen, Alec." She wrote a note while Rutherford pulled
on his boots. "Here, keep it in your pocket." She held out his overcoat,
and when he had put it on she laid her hands on his shoulders for an
instant. "Come back soon," Edward Webb heard her say softly, and then
there was the sound of Rutherford's boots in the yard.

"Did you see to the geese, Alec?" It was her nightly question.

"No. I'll do it now."

"Better take your coat."

He paused in his passage to the door. "But--oh ay, very well," he said.

To the pleasant accompaniment of Clara's needle going through the cloth,
the storm without, and the crackling of the fire, Edward Webb fell into
one of those dozes when the head, after a few warning shakes, falls like
lead to the breast, and the sleeper is helplessly conscious of his
plight. He could hear the noises still, but now they mingled with his
dreams. The small ones were like little voices speaking to him, and the
great ones were the very stuff of which adventures could be made. He was
chased by a bear with an open mouth and panting breath--but he knew the
wind was answerable for that, and he was not afraid--and then a horde of
animals was let loose on him--and that was only Alexander getting the
fowls in for the night. He could hear his diligent threats and
persuasions, and the clatter of his wooden clogs, sudden, alarmed
clackings, and the fluttering of wings.

He sat up, blinked, and smiled at Clara in what he thought was a wakeful
manner, but before his lips had straightened themselves his head was
down again. Something blotted out the glow of the fire on his face, and
he knew it was Clara putting on the kettle. He heard the splutter of the
drops that clung to it as they touched the flames. There was a murmuring
of voices next, and the sound of it was very soothing now that the fire
shone on him again. He heard the words, "He didn't go to Janet's," and
Clara's quick answering "Hush!"

"I'm not asleep," he said, and his voice seemed very small and far away.

"But you've been asleep," said Clara.

"Have I? I--I beg your pardon. It was rude of me, but the fire and the
comfort and--and last night----"

"Sleep again if you want to," she said. Her voice had the note women use
to tired children, and he understood that he must seem as helpless to
her as he sat there, half asleep, in the chair that was so much bigger
than himself.

"No, oh no; I would rather not. I--I have never thanked you properly,
nor have I explained anything about myself. You don't know who I am. I
have been taken on trust--entirely on trust. You must believe me
grateful. My name----"

"Alexander saw that in your books, Mr. Webb. You haven't left them in
the wet, Alec?"

"No; he returned them, thank you, quite dry again. I must own that I was
anxious about them in the night. It's strange how little things like
that can worry one. Not that I think it a small thing to care for books,
but in the face of--of danger it became trivial."

"You were in danger?"

"Less than I thought. I could see nothing. I had not been in such a
position before, and I am afraid I am a nervous man, more easily alarmed
than one should be. Perhaps, with a little more determination----" He
stopped and stared into the fire. The dancing flames of it reminded him
of Theresa's hair. He went on with difficulty. "I am a traveller. I
mean, a commercial traveller." He seemed to expect reproof.

Clara encouraged him. "Yes?"

"I thought I would spend my Saturday and Sunday among the hills, and
here I am, but at this time last night I thought I should never see home
again."

"There are people who would miss you, I expect."

"Yes; my wife, two little girls." His face brightened. "It was Theresa,
the younger, who really sent me on this expedition. She wanted an
adventure, she told me, and so I had to get it for her."

"How old is she?" This was from Alexander.

"Ten. Ten."

"Oh!" That was a stupid age, he thought.

"Grace is twelve. Dear me! I ought to send a letter. Is it too late for
the post?"

"There's not another till Monday morning."

"Ah, then it will be best to send one to-morrow from the station. Thank
you. We live at Radstowe--a long way, you see."

"Radstowe? That's a port, isn't it?" Alexander asked.

"Yes, rather an unsatisfactory port, but it makes a beautiful city. I
live there for two weeks in each month, and travel for the other two,
and every other month I come this way."

"Then," said Alexander, "you can come and stay with us again."

"Yes; we shall expect you."

"You are very kind. You--you could not have treated me better if you had
known me all your lives. I find it--a little strange."

He thought of Monday, and dreaded meeting cold faces and hard, staring
eyes. There was a certain shop he never entered without a tremor,
because there was a girl there whom he had once seen winking at another
as he passed between the counters. She was a tall girl, with a high
colour and a great deal of hair. She made a joke of him--they all did,
no doubt--and as he approached the portals of that shop he had to take a
deep, sustaining breath before he could brave the merciless glances and
tolerantly twisted lips of the young women there. He knew how he looked,
how nervousness showed up all his disadvantages, and added to them. He
had seen himself in the great mirrors of the place--a small man, bowed
before his time, with thin hair growing grey, and anxious eyebrows. They
would naturally think him a funny little man, yet Nancy, who had a sense
of humour, did not laugh at him. He felt a new richness of gratitude
towards her. Ah! she was loyal, and it was a wonderful thing to love, to
be loved.

Clara was speaking. "We have to help each other, up here; there are so
few of us. There's no doctor to run to, no chemist, no nurse to be had,
not even a general shop--that's three miles off. We nurse each other,
use each other's medicines, send each other's children scurrying on
errands, and we go to each other's doors and say, 'Can I have two ounces
of tea, please? and mother will let you have it back when the cart comes
round.' They're shy folks, close-tongued, but they're willing. It's just
a habit."

"I wish it were a common one. We are afraid to help; afraid of
intruding. There are barriers everywhere. It makes our friends more
precious to us, perhaps."

"It's all for the best, anyway," said Clara. "Let's have supper."

The wind had lessened; it came no longer with bursts of anger, but, as
though craving pardon for its fury, it wailed and moaned about the
house. For once Clara forgot her optimism.

"I cannot bear the wind like this," she said, when the meal was done,
the dishes washed, and they sat by the fire again. She had laid aside
her work and sat in a low chair, clasping and unclasping her hands. They
were large, firm hands, and Edward Webb guessed that when they were not
busy they were generally still. "It's like people who can't find their
way."

"Janet says it's sins coming back on us."

"Janet's full of tales."

"She is that," said Alexander with satisfaction.

"Alec, let's have the door shut. I feel as if something will get through
before we know it."

"That's worse than Janet," he said, as he kicked away the large stone
which had held back the door.

At ten o'clock he was bidden to bed.

"I'll go if you do."

"No, I shall stay up."

"Then I will."

"You mustn't, Alec."

"But you're frightened of the wind. I'll not leave you."

"No, no." She shook her head. "It doesn't do, Alec; you know that."

"You'll let me stay with you, please," Edward Webb said timidly.

"You cannot let him do it, mother!" There was almost anguish in
Alexander's voice.

"He must go to bed, too. Why, I've sat here alone on many a winter
night."

"But I am not sleepy," Edward protested solemnly.

"Oh, very well, very well. You shall stay for a little while--only a
little while. You promise to go when I tell you? Good-night, Alec."

"I shall read in bed," he said sullenly.

"Don't set yourself alight, then."

"Oh, mother----" She always said that to him.

The kitchen was filled with a brooding silence when he had gone; it hung
heavily about the man and woman who tried to talk as though they had no
thought beyond the words which came so slowly until Edward Webb gave way
to his wish to talk about his children. Experience and Nancy's
promptings had taught him that no subject brought people to yawns more
quickly and, indeed, it was too sacred to be dragged before
indifference, but he felt hopeful of Clara for the warmth and breadth of
motherliness were plain in her. Moreover, it was necessary that
something should be said, and she was silent. He could hear the rubbing
of her hands against each other.

"May I tell you about my little girls?" he said.

"Will you?" Her smile was not the perfunctory one which had disheartened
him sometimes. "I should like to have had a daughter," she added.

His shyness fell from him as he talked. He told her of Grace's beauty
and her skill in dancing, he told her of Theresa's cleverness.

"Is she pretty, too?"

"No. No, I suppose you wouldn't call her pretty, but it doesn't seem to
matter. Why, I hadn't even thought of it before. Theresa is not like
other children."

This was what Clara had thought, but never said, of her own son.

"I have great hopes of her, but she is very young. One cannot tell yet
how she will develop. But she shows signs of----"

"Hush!" Clara interrupted him on the verge of his precious revelation.
They heard footsteps. Was it the dark night and the rough road that
caused their loud unevenness?

"I think you'd better go to bed now," she said quietly. "Good-night."

"Good-night," he said, and went up the unlighted stairs. As he reached
the landing a bedroom door was opened, and Alexander showed himself in
his nightshirt.

"Is he back?" he asked.

"He has just come. I think," he whispered--"I think your mother wished
us to be quiet."

"Hush!" said Alexander, "he'll hear nothing," and he banged his door.

Downstairs a key was turned in a lock, and the ashes were raked together
in the grate. A few indistinguishable words floated up, and after a long
pause there came the violent creaking of the stairs. It was a long time
before Edward Webb could sleep.



CHAPTER III

Clara outwatched him. She lay in the extraordinary stillness to which
she had trained herself, with patiently closed eyes and an untroubled
brow, but there was the pain of controlled weeping in her throat. She
had taught herself to keep her mind clear of regrets, of anger and
scorn, that there might always be room for the flooding brightness of
her love, but she had not yet learnt to keep back that hard,
constricting hurt that stretched across her throat from ear to ear, and
made a raw place in her breast.

At her side Rutherford turned, tossed, and ejaculated between his
snatches of sleep.

"Oh, damn the drink! Clara."

"Yes?"

"Did I wake you?"

"No." She smiled at the ceiling.

"I can't sleep."

"You've been to sleep, Jim."

"I tell you I haven't. Clara, are you angry with me? Look here, I hadn't
been there for a month, you know I hadn't."

"Yes, I know."

"And I've told you how it comes on me."

"Go to sleep, Jim."

"I can't. Thoughts come crowding like black imps. If you'll forgive
me----"

"Oh yes, I'll forgive; how many times does the Bible say? Let me put my
arm round you. There." In the dark room the pillars at the foot of the
uncurtained four-poster bed seemed to watch and listen.

"Did that chap know where I'd gone?"

"I didn't tell him, but he may have guessed. Very likely, I should
think."

"Couldn't you have----"

"No, I couldn't, Jim. If you're going to be proud you must have reason
for it. You can tell your own lies, or act a truth you're not ashamed
of."

He flung himself out of reach of her arm. "Oh, why can I not have peace?
Preaching at me when my nerves are in this state!"

"Did you go to Janet's?"

"No, I didn't. Clara!" She made no answer. "Clara!"

"Well?"

"I'm wretched. I'm afraid of falling out of bed. Why should I feel like
this? It makes other people sleepy."

She laughed aloud. "Oh, Jim, Jim, Jim!"

"For God's sake, don't make that noise. It's not canny in the night.
What are you laughing at?"

"At you, my dear. Oh me!"

"Will you put your arm round me again? What a devil I've been to you.
Don't desert me. I'll start again if you'll help me."

She drew him to her. "There, then. You're just a child, a little child."

As she lay with her lips against his hair, steadying her breath that he
might not be disturbed, she felt that he was more her son than Alexander
was. Only for a few years had Alexander looked to her for all his needs;
he had soon grown strong and self-reliant, and changed from baby to
friend almost before she was aware, but this poor Jim, with his head on
her breast, might never have known another resting-place, and it was his
confidence in her, the demand for the comfort she could give, that
satisfied the mother in her, and discounted all his weaknesses. It was
perhaps as well that the daughter for whom she had wished had not been
given to her, for in that house there was not room for two women, let
alone two women of Clara's make, and there would have been contests
with no Solomon to give decision, while now, denied a daughter, Clara
was both rich and supreme. She had been born to cradle men and children,
to caress them and buffet them at her wise will, and with the instinct
which makes mothers care most for their feebler children, she loved
people in proportion to their need of her. There had never been any
danger that Alexander would outstrip his father in her affections, and
if Rutherford could have understood her quality, he would have realized
that he need not be jealous of his son. But it was more than jealousy
that influenced his dealings with Alexander, for the boy had been born
in a black hour, and to the father's eyes the shadow lay on him so
persistently that at last he seemed to have created it. Of the three,
only Clara truly understood its genesis, for the circumstances had
permanently affected Rutherford's vision, inclining it to obliqueness,
and Alexander could remember no life before this one in the old white
house.

When Clara had met James Rutherford she was living as companion--that
refuge for the penniless woman of her generation--to three ladies who
were all at different stages of elderliness and all exacting, but she
had not been one of the typical companions of romance; she was not meek
and forbearing and tearful, nor of that defiant nature which, in
fiction, wins all hearts. She was her sensible and cheerful self; she
was sorry for the old ladies, and she enjoyed being kind to them, for
she had very strongly that quality of helpfulness which all women are
expected to have, and are blamed for not possessing. The old ladies in
all their experience had never before had for companion a nice-looking
young woman who considered herself their friend, chose their clothes
with as much attention as she gave to her own, and had a fund of
interesting things to tell them, including the progress of her love
affairs.

"Has he made you an offer yet?" one of them said wistfully, with one eye
on Clara as a bride, and the other on a lost companion.

"No," Clara answered demurely, hiding the fact that she had not so much
as spoken to the dark-faced young man whom she sometimes met in her
walks, and whom in a dull hour she had once described with such vivacity
and feeling that her hearers were sure she had lost her heart to him;
consequently, that the young man must at least have hinted at his
devotion, or she could hardly have condescended to love him.

"You mustn't give up hope, my dear. There may be reasons."

"There are," Clara said darkly, and left her old friend in a flutter.

"There are reasons," she told her sisters. "It will all come right in
the end."

Clara noticed, with some amusement, that her meetings with the tall
young man were growing more and more frequent. When she set out on her
morning errands he would often chance to pass the gate, and she came to
look for his long figure on her walks, even to think that day
unprofitable on which she did not see him. At length he sat opposite to
her at church, gazing at her with unhappy eyes throughout the service,
and after that she ceased to talk about him, and the old ladies,
thinking she suffered, gave her unexpected little presents of sweetmeats
or knitted cuffs.

At last and, it may be supposed, out of her ready pity and desire to
help, she contrived as he went by to drop a little packet from her muff.
It was a very ancient trick to play, she knew, and merriment was
lighting her eyes and twitching the corners of her mouth as she stood
there in the snow and watched him pounce on the treasure with such an
eagerness of service. She was half-ashamed of herself, but wholly amused
until she saw his eyes as he returned the parcel. He looked hungry, and
the laughter ebbed from her face as, with a strange mixture of horror
and elation, she knew that if he really wanted her he could have her.

His courtship was rapid and their engagement short, but its permanence
was threatened, for when she learnt that he was idly living on the small
income left him by a father who had refused to give him a trade or a
profession, she said she would not marry him until he found one.

"But you can't pick one up by the roadside," he explained with justice.

"But how, oh how, did you ever consent to such wickedness?"

"Ah, you never saw my father," he said.

"I'd like to see him now," she answered angrily, but she wasted no
energy on regrets. She realized that the acquiring of a profession would
entail a loss of time to which neither was willing to submit, and then
one night, as she sat over the fire after the old ladies had gone to
bed, she remembered an incident which had impressed her girlhood.
Driving through a little village once, she had seen, standing back from
the road and fronted by a cobbled courtyard, a white-washed inn. There
were bay-trees in tubs before the door, and at the side of the house a
garden with clipped yews, but, better than all, just beyond the doorway
there had stood a man and a woman with a child on her arm. Something in
their attitude, something simple and content and elemental, had made the
picture unforgettable. Why should not she and Jim have a little inn like
that? He had capital, and they both had strength, and theirs should be a
model public-house, with good entertainment for man and beast, and a
welcome for every traveller. Rutherford met the proposal doubtfully.
"Well, I don't know," he said. "I don't know that it's wise." But he
went no further, and indeed her enthusiasm must have silenced him. Their
inn was to be in some beautiful part of the country where people would
like to stay, and it was not to be primarily a place for the sale of
liquor, and people should not be encouraged to spend their evenings in
hanging over the bar.

"It seems to me," he said drily, "that you'd better sell ginger beer."

"We shall, of course. But it's the visitors I'm counting on, Jim. We'll
show that England can produce a good, cheap inn."

They found the place they wanted among the hills and trout streams, and
they had not long been there when Clara learnt that her husband drank,
not violently, but with incipient ruin.

"I shouldn't do it," he protested, "if I wasn't so near the stuff."

"Why didn't you tell me?" she cried.

"I tried, but I daren't. You wouldn't have married me."

"Yes I should; but I'd never have bought the inn. It must be put up for
sale. Write to the agents to-night and swear, if you love me, you'll
never touch anything again. We'll get a man to attend to the bar and
you'd better see to the garden; it wants digging all over."

This was how she had met her tragedy, but at that time she had good hope
of frustrating it. Her husband was rarely out of her sight, and she kept
him at hard manual labour without any attempt at concealing her design.
And they were both happy. He learnt to trust her, and when desire came
heavily upon him he went to her and asked, without shame, for help. That
was their safeguard; but it was removed on the night when Alexander was
born. In a pitiable state of anxiety Rutherford found his way into the
bar and began to drink. His fear fell from him after a glass or two,
and, to encourage its departure, he drank on. The barman, who had been
drawn to Clara's service from the plough, and was himself a father,
tried to persuade him to go away.

"The mistress will be wanting you soon; you'd better be within call."

"You mind your own business, Potts. Potts! Were you always called Potts
or did we change your name to match the bar? Potts! Good name that! I'll
have some whisky, Potts."

"No, now, really I shouldn't." But for themselves, the place was empty
and the good man remonstrated. "Think of the mistress up there, now. You
know she wouldn't like it. 'Potts,' she said, 'look after the master for
me. Now I trust you,' she said."

"Get out of my way, you fool! I'll help myself."

"For God's sake, hush, man! She'll hear you. Just you go out quietly and
sit down in the parlour and cool yourself. Come along, now. We don't
want to have trouble to-night."

"Who's having trouble? All quite happy an' lively. Never felt better;
and if you don't get out of my way and let me have that drink,
I'll--I'll fell you, Potts."

Nothing of this he remembered afterwards, and it seemed to him that he
only began to live when he heard the thud of the man's body as it
dropped to the floor, the tinkle of a broken glass and the gentle
dripping of the liquor that had been in it. He thought it was the blood
of Potts that he had spilt, and then from upstairs he heard the voice of
Clara crying out from the midst of her pain, "Jim, Jim, what are you
doing? Come up here, I want you."

And before he could remember anything but his own distress he had obeyed
her and fallen to his knees beside the bed, telling her that Potts was
lying on the floor, he believed he had killed Potts.

The nurse, who was both blunt and burly, seized him by the shoulders.
"Get out of it this minute," she said, "or you'll be killing someone
else."

"No, let him stay," said Clara faintly. "Go and see what's the matter.
He'll be quiet."

Rutherford saw with amazement and then with the dreadful beginnings of
understanding and remembrance, that there was a new crease in her
forehead and her lips were white and thin.

"Clara--Clara," he began.

But she said: "Hush! Don't talk. Just let me hold your hand."

It was strange and terribly revealing to hear her ask for help, and he
was more than sobered by the time the nurse returned from bawling over
the banisters, "Potts, are you all right?" and getting answer, "Ay, I'm
that," in a tone of menace.

"Now, out you go!" she said, and locked the door upon him.

He went, staggering, to the bar, and stared at Potts, who was wiping
down the counter. He put a hand to his forehead, for thought was growing
dim again.

"I'm not sure," he said, "what happened. Did I--did I----"

"Yes, you did," said Potts, "and if it wasn't for the mistress I'd give
you another. You're not fit to live."

"That's true," said Rutherford; "that's perfectly true. I'll go out and
think about it."

When he returned, after long wanderings in the dark, he was told he had
a son, but he would not look at what he considered the cause of that
night's work, and later, when reason had more force with him, he still
refused to concern himself with the child, for, at the sight of his
small, solemn face and thick, black hair there always arose a mist
through which there moved pictures of Potts lying on the floor amidst
the broken glass and Clara with that changed, white face. He suffered
from an unspeakable shame which was the greater that Clara never
reproached him; but, as time wore on, and, following her wishes as well
as his, they left the place for this little house among the lonelier
hills, his shame became absorbed into a sense of grievance against the
child.

"You see," he would say to Clara, almost in triumph, when, in answer to
a scowl, Alexander set up a cry, "he hates me!"

"He'd hate me if I looked like you," she replied, with rare sharpness.
"If you'd only learn to be honest with yourself, my man, things would be
better for us all."

Instead of honesty, he developed a fractious gloom which seldom changed
to anything but despair, and if Clara did not lose her courage at this
time, it may be that her buoyancy drooped a little. Yet she made him
work. There was waste ground behind the house, and, after constant
urging and encouragement from Clara, who also found time to ask Heaven
to mete adequate punishment on his father, he made it into a garden of
which he was proud, and when she saw him working there, with a cleared
brow, she felt that, after all, they had not made such a bad thing of
their lives.

There remained the problem of Alexander, for the attitude of the menfolk
towards each other grew bitterer with the years, and she passed her days
in dread of ultimate violence; but it did not do, she found, to live too
much in the future, experiencing troubles which a wise optimism might
frustrate, and so, following the creatures of the wilds, she had
developed those characteristics which were most likely to preserve
herself and hers, until, like the willingness of her neighbours, her
heroic effort had become a habit.



CHAPTER IV


Early on the Saturday morning when her father was expected to return,
Theresa awoke and, quickly flinging off the bedclothes, sat up with a
jerk. The busy fingers of the wind were tapping at the pane, calling her
to come out and play, and from the bottom of the hill there rose a more
imperative summons, the hooting of a steamer making her way out of the
docks. It was high tide, and she smiled her pleasure, hugging her knees.
Every day that sound was borne up to her on the hill, like a trumpet
call to life. From the window of the bedroom which she shared with Grace
she could see the ships, and she believed that cry of theirs was to give
her greeting or farewell. The steamers spoke for themselves, but the
sailing ships borrowed the voices of the tugs that took them down the
river and even in the quiet and mystery of night they did not forget
her. Lying awake, she would wave her hand to them, and as she stared at
the square of dark sky framed in the window, she would fancy she looked
upward from the deck of some sea-going ship, saw the sky streaked and
crossed by the masts and yards above, or mistily, behind a waving flag
of smoke. But that voice of the ships was more than the salute of
friends; there were times when she heard it as a call, a command, or a
sweet persuasion. It called her into the darkness of the night and the
crash of storm, and then, for all she lay snug and safe in bed, she felt
the wind buffeting her, tasted the salt on her lips; or, if the night
were very still and warm, she thought she sailed under a sky of
immeasurable blackness, pricked with stars. She heard the ship swishing
through the water, black, too, as though mirroring the sky, heard the
creaking sounds among the cordage and the spars, and the orders coming
clear and loud into the darkness.

What a morning for going out to sea, with the wind fresh, the air
smelling of all clean things, the sunlight gilding the world! Her eyes
danced as she watched the clouds sailing past her window, driven by the
lusty breeze; these were the boats of the sky--great galleons, little
yachts, riding majestically or bobbing gaily across the blue.

She turned her head sharply to look at the sleeper by her side. "Grace!"
she said, and shook her. "Grace! Wake up, you lazy thing! It's a fine
day."

For answer, Grace's head was rolled from side to side, and her nose
buried more deeply in the pillow.

"You're fat!" said Theresa, pricking a soft cheek with her forefinger;
"fat, fat, fat!"

She flung herself on her back and looked at the ceiling. Across its
rather dirty surface many cracks had spread themselves, and these
furnished Theresa with the scene for an epic in which the adventures of
a courageous family were described. The cracks represented roads,
rushing rivers, and precipitous mountains, according to their shape and
size, and all the weary way from the crack that began near the window to
the safety of the damp stain by the door, that family had to travel.
Each morning she led them a few miles across the waste and there was
never a mile without excitement. There were storms at night when tents
were blown down on their unhappy heads, and must be put up again with no
light for guidance but the reason of a child of ten who alone remained
unafraid; there were combined attacks on their camp by wolves and
tigers, who seemed quite impervious to climate, when fires were lighted
and each member of the party sat with a rifle across her knees; there
were dust storms in the desert, and, not less swift and overwhelming,
onslaughts by brigands clothed as Arabs and riding horses winged like
Pegasus. Precipices must be scaled and swollen rivers crossed, but no
life or battle was ever lost by this gallant company. They would reach
their destination with little scathe, but so great was Theresa's
interest that she could always preserve the necessary illusion and grow
hot and cold with fear for them.

This morning she found she could not lose herself in these perils, for
the boats were calling her too persistently; moreover, she must husband
these adventures if they were to last until the dark mornings came, when
the cracks would be invisible and she must rise by candlelight, so she
gave Grace a parting thump and sprang out of bed.

As she stood at the window, she felt the delicious cold of the bare
boards to her feet and the wind fluttering the frills of her nightgown.
Holding her hands to her throat, she looked out on the untidy sloping
garden with the old apple-tree at its foot. So close to the garden that,
in the autumn, apples were found in its grass, the disused cemetery
continued the descent, studded with grey, mossy stones and spreading
willows--a place of ghosts--and, as if drawn thither by its eerie
neighbourhood, a monumental stone-mason had his yard on the other side
of the road at Theresa's right hand, a road running steeply to the busy
street that edged the river and the docks. But if Theresa looked from
her window, letting her eyes take flight over the river and the shipping
and the level fields that lay on the further side, she saw a great
stretch of meadow land which sought the clouds. It spread from left to
right, for the whole width of her vision, and at night it seemed to
stand up like a wall. The land behind that rampart seemed very far away,
but not beyond her reach, and she meant to get there--not this morning,
for the boats were calling to her, but on some day when spring flowers
were appearing in the hedges.

She lowered her eyes to the shining intricacies of the waterways, the
wide dock basins, the locks, the river and its arms, all spanned by
bridges. She saw the masts of sailing ships rising from the midst of
houses, like slender chimneys for these roofs of many colours and
varying heights. There was dirty smoke issuing from tugs to throw a
mourning veil over the water, there were shouts and whistlings and
hootings, low-voiced warnings from the steamers, shrill shrieks of joy.
"We're going! Look out!" they grunted, and then, on a cry, "We're free!
We're free!" She could stay indoors no longer, and she pulled on her
clothes.

When she reached the docks a sailing ship was in the river, following a
little tug with a reproving grace, under which she hid her limitations
from herself. There were men looking over her side and waving farewell
with such attractive foreign gestures that Theresa stood close to the
water's edge and gazed, with her hands tightly clasped behind her. The
wind acted like a great fan on her hair, stirring it at its roots and
flinging its long red fingers all about her head, thrumming, too, on her
short skirts, lifting them with a twist, and whipping her
tight-stockinged legs. She blinked the hair from her eyes or tossed it
back with a movement of the head, and sometimes she held down her dress
with strangely modest little hands, but she did all impatiently, worried
by the necessity of remembering such things among the sights of these
ocean-going ships, foreigners, and authoritative dockmen issuing orders.

The swing-bridge had swung back to allow some workmen to cross the
water, and another yoked pair waited until it should open again to let
them out. At a whistled signal the way was cleared, the tug snorted
forward and passed close under Theresa's eyes. In one deep draught of
sight she saw it all--the flat broad deck, the dirty men who had so
little likeness to her idea of sailors, the friendly grin one man sent
up to her, the marvellous rope of steel binding the little steamer to
the towering ship which was too wonderful and bewildering in form to be
remembered rightly after her quick passage. But Theresa looked
greedily, and for days there stayed in her memory the vision of the long
grey ship, her great masts growing upwards, swaying a little, too, the
multitude of ropes and other things of which she did not know the names,
of which it was astonishing that anyone could remember the names, and
the whole thing following so meekly, with such submission, in the wake
of the grimy tug. It went to Theresa's heart that anything so lovely
should be dependent, and with sad eyes she watched the passage of that
procession. She peered up at the ship as it passed; the last detaining
rope was flung from it and fell heavily into the water, to be drawn up,
dripping, by a jerseyed dockman, who looked at Theresa quizzically.

"Like to go to sea?" he asked genially. "'Ave to be a little boy 'fore
you can do that," he added cheerfully, pulling at the rope and walking
away as the wet end of it came over the side. "Don't 'ee slip into the
water, little miss."

She tightened her mouth when he had gone, for she was shy of strangers,
and this one had hurt her with the truth. She felt that the man had read
her thoughts, her brave desires to sail the sea, and she could have wept
that he should know her secrets. She had been so happy looking at the
boats, picturing them cargoed with cutlasses, monkeys, tarry ropes, and
strange stuffs of foreign make and brilliance, all the garner of her
reading and her quick eyes, fancying herself free to sail away if she
would, and forgetting she was a girl. She so easily forgot her
disabilities. Never mind! She made queer little gestures with her hands,
and steadied her lips. She had not really wanted to be a sailor; she
was, indeed, in some confusion as to a profession. At one time the
career of a circus lady laid siege to her mind, and assaulted it with
such fierceness and effect that only the thought of her parents' sorrow
held her back from imploring them to let her go and learn to jump
through hoops from the back of a cream-coloured steed, to stand on
tiptoe on its moving haunches, and kiss pretty fingers to a cheering
crowd. There was a life! How the ring-master cracked his whip, and the
horse sprang forward, and the lady stood on those little feet and never
slipped! Theresa liked the clothes that lady wore: sometimes a costume
of scanty pink, neck and arms bare and beautiful, and little flat shoes
secured with cross-gartering to the slim legs, or, in the more stately
parts of the performance, a rich riding-habit of green velvet and a hat
with a sweeping plume; gauntlets, too, and shining boots with yellow
tops. There was something very dashing about that profession, but what
of nursing? How would it feel to be a Florence Nightingale, with a grave
sweet face, and men turning in their cots to bless one's shadow? But no,
she could not fit herself into the part.

But while she turned continually from one tempting vision to another,
her father had already found a future for her, and one which would fill
up the gaps in his own existence, and atone for his own failures.

"I would rather be Keats," he had told her one day as they walked
together in the country, "than all the conquerors in the world."

"Would you?" she said, and held his hand fast. She liked conquerors.
"What's Keats?"

He had told her the poet's tale, and that evening he had found her with
the book open on her knee.

"I like it," she said, and sat silent, moving her lips. She had no wish
to understand it; the sound and the mystery were enough for her, and
that discovery set him dreaming. Cunningly, he dropped little fragments
of knowledge that tempted her to stoop and pick them up, fit them
together like a puzzle, and search for more. As if by accident the names
of women of the craft slipped from his lips and, when she would know
more about them, he showed her where their books stood on his shelves.
She was born to a natural love of books--the feel and smell and sight of
them--and the thought that men and women made them so that for centuries
they should outlive their own poor human bodies was full of poetry for
her. It came to her this morning like a balm, healing the wound made by
that genial sailor. He did not know what she was going to be some day,
in a future so remote, though shining, that effort to reach it was at
present gloriously needless. She would get there; she was already
soaring to the heights. She lifted her head, her hair flew free, her
hands fluttered like fallen leaves before a wind, and as they are
driven, so, elfishly and gaily, she danced along, restored to her belief
in herself; so skilfully could Theresa in these days fit herself into
the pictures she loved best. Now she was hardly concerned with the
details of the life she had chosen; she knew she was to be a person; the
rest was no more than the garments which were to clothe her, and fill
the sailor and his kind with awe.

Wind-blown, happy, hungry, she mounted homewards, climbed the garden
wall, and entered the house, as she had left it, by the garden door.



CHAPTER V


From the end of the dark basement passage she heard the sound of someone
shovelling coal.

"Is that you, Bessie?" she called with a tremor in her voice, for even
in the daytime the gloom had perils for her. "Bessie, is it you?"

Round the cellar door a capped head appeared and vanished.

"Of course it's me. Who else gets the coals--or does anything else in
this 'ouse?"

Theresa ignored the implication, but she felt it sorely, and at the same
time she pitied Bessie. Justice forced her to the admission that she had
scanty help, and the sight of her now holding a dripping candle in one
hand, and in the other a shovel into which she heaped the coal with a
felt-shod foot, gave her a blurred impression to which thus early she
could put no name, of physical energy ill-controlled. Bessie, in the
bowels of the earth, struggling ineffectually, wasting time because with
one hand she must hold that tallow candle which gave off such an
offensive smell; grumbling, but toiling doggedly, with all the labour of
the day looming up before her like a great ash-heap which she must
remove unaided--there was little here of the dignity of labour; it was
chaotic, dark, grimy. Theresa felt herself bewildered by the endlessness
and the dirt of it. There was no danger to enliven it, no beauty to make
it noble; the house did not catch fire, though chimneys smoked and food
was burnt. No, there was nothing glorious in Bessie's life. And
Theresa's own was to be so brilliant! Poor Bessie, it was not all her
fault.

Theresa moved from one foot to the other, and said: "Is mother awake?"

"Yes, but she's breakfasting in bed. 'Asn't slept, so she says. 'Eart
bad."

"I wish she didn't have such a bad heart," said Theresa, looking Bessie
fairly in the eyes. The reality of her mother's complaint was not very
present with her, and Bessie had not tried to hide a like incredulity
which may have had its influence with the child, but Theresa was loyal
to her mother. If she wanted to have a weak heart she must be supported
in her desire, against all the sneers of the kitchen, though Bessie was
Theresa's friend.

"So can I, I can tell you. Out of the way, Miss Terry dear." She carried
a large scuttle to the kitchen. Theresa followed.

"I think I'd better go and wake Grace, don't you?"

"She won't get up unless. Such laziness! And you'll have to have your
breakfasts in the kitchen; I can't be carrying them all up and down the
house."

"Oh no! And we like it here. Bessie, is everybody's kitchen as dark as
ours?"

"I should think not. You should see Alice's at Mrs. Bendall's. It's on
the ground floor and as light! But these old-fashioned 'ouses 'ave no
'earts. Pit ponies, that's what they make me think of."

"I suppose you could get a better place if you wanted to, couldn't you?"

"Now you mind your own business, Miss Theresa, and wake Miss Grace. I'll
have your breakfasts ready in five minutes. And don't wake your mother.
P'raps she's gone off again."

Theresa dragged the bedclothes from a plump and smiling Grace, and put
them beyond her reach. "Get up," she said. "This is a nice day. Father's
coming home. If he travelled in the night he'll be here at ten, and if
he didn't he won't be here till tea. I hope he'll come at ten. I think
he will. Oh, do get up. If I were a fairy I'd turn you into that girl
with the fat legs."

"You silly!"

"I saw her yesterday, and she'd got a longer skirt on, but it didn't
hide them. I can't bear to see her; I think she must be so unhappy. What
would you do if you had legs like that?"

"Dance and dance and dance," said Grace, jumping up in the bed and
making the springs creak.

"But you couldn't."

"Yes I could. I could dance if I hadn't any legs at all."

"That's stupid. And don't make such a noise. Mother's in bed."

"Then why did you leave the door open and talk so loud?"

"I didn't talk loud. I've got a little voice. I can never hear myself
singing at prayers in school, though I try till I get that horrid aching
in my ears. So I don't bother very much now, and I just move my mouth. I
tried in the glass, and it looks the same. Oh, I wish we'd had
breakfast, and it was ten o'clock. I think I'll go and have it."

In the kitchen Bessie was moving from table to cupboard in that dark
groping way of hers.

"I've been more than five minutes," said Theresa.

"Well, I couldn't get the fire to burn. What a grate! Here, Miss Terry,
finish laying for me while I stir the porridge. And your father will be
back hungry, I daresay, and your mother wanting her tray! That's her
bell. Just run up and see what she wants."

Theresa met her mother on the landing going to the bath. Her fair waving
hair was piled confusedly on the top of her head; she wore a long blue
dressing-gown, which was the colour of her eyes, and over her shoulder
she had flung a towel. Theresa thought she looked very lovely, and she
clasped her hands in her quick movement of joy.

"Oh," she said, "are you better?" and tiptoed to be kissed.

"So this is a kissing morning, is it?" said Nancy, with her little
tilting smile.

Theresa nodded. "When you look like that! Did you want anything?"

"Only to tell Bessie I'll have breakfast with Father when he comes. It
wouldn't do to be in bed when he arrived. We won't tell him I wasn't
well, Terry, or he'll never want to go away again."

"He doesn't anyhow," she said. "But I won't tell."

"Mother's up," she shouted to Bessie as she went jumping down the
stairs. "Let's have breakfast. Oh, Grace, you have been quick. You can't
have done your hair properly."

"I did, then."

"Brushed your teeth?"

"Miss Terry, you're very uppish this morning. Just mind your own
business, and eat what's put before you. If you were as perticler as
Miss Grace----"

"Oh, Bessie, the porridge is burnt! Oh, how hateful!"

"It's not very bad," said Grace soothingly. "If you think of something
nice you'll hardly taste it."

"D'you think I'm going to eat it? I hate the stuff anyway; nasty,
drab-coloured mess! It makes me think of what pigs have to eat."

"Miss Theresa, for shame! If your mother would get me a new saucepan, a
double one--but I think you're likely to have burnt porridge every
morning. _I_ haven't time to stand over the pot stirring."

"And it smells! Take it away--take it away! And I'm hungry. And the
tablecloth's so dirty."

"It's Saturday."

"And why don't we have flowers always, and pretty silvery things like
Mrs. Emery has?"

"Oh, be quiet, you little grumbler."

"Here's a crust for you, Terry, a nice burnt one, the kind you like."

"You're spoiling her, Miss Grace. I'd let her starve. Which side did you
get out of your bed this morning?"

"Oh, Bessie, don't. I hate that saying. And I got out on the right side,
too. I went to the docks. I like them. I saw a boat go through--a
beauty."

"You'll fall into the water one of these days."

Theresa leaned her elbows on the table and nursed her chin.

"What do you think," she asked, "would happen if I did? It's dirty
water. I should go splash and get a mouthful. It might make me sick. And
then?"

Gently waving her teacup, Bessie elaborated. "They'd fish you out--with
a 'ook."

"Dead?"

"I should think so. Or p'raps garsping. Your hair'd be black and
plastered, and there'd be little bits of things clinging to you."

Theresa clapped her hands. "Oh, you are good at it!"

But Grace cried: "No, no. It's horrid. Be quiet. It's much worse than
the porridge. You're spoiling the bread and butter now!"

"We'll wait till we're alone, Bessie," Theresa said with a confidential
nod.

When she had helped Grace to make the beds--the one piece of discipline
on which their mother insisted--Theresa went into the little-used
drawing-room to watch for her father. It was a dreary room in which a
fire was seldom lighted except on Christmas Day, and even in summer-time
it smelt of cold. The chairs were what Theresa called "rheumatic" on
account of the twisted nature of their legs, and the clock, which stood
on the mantelpiece and was never wound, presented a supercilious face to
anyone who entered. On the walls there were a few faded watercolour
sketches which might have been of anywhere, and a chiffonier, filled
with odds and ends, stood opposite the fireplace. An empty
photograph-frame on a wicker table was emblematic of the place. When
Theresa went there she always propped open the door, because she said
the room made her feel so lonely, and this though, as Bessie pointed
out, there was a portrait of a maternal grandparent on either side of
the hearth.

She opened the window wide and leaned out until she was in danger of
falling into the area, but finding she could not see far enough down the
street, she ran out at the front door and on to the mossy old pavement.
It seemed a long time before she saw her father turn the corner of
Chesterfield Row, and wave his hand to her.

She ran to meet him. "Hullo, hullo!"

"Well, autumn leaf?" He bent to kiss her, and with a hand on his
shoulder she whispered: "Did you get it? You know what!"

"Yes," he said, "I did. A very good one."

"Tell me!"

"Oh, not yet. We must keep it till after tea."

"I don't think I can wait."

"We'll have the fire lighted, but not the gas."

"Oh, is it that kind?"

"It is indeed."

"How lovely. But I'm glad I sleep with Grace."

"But I shan't tell it at all if I hear you've been bad-tempered."

"I think that's rather mean," she said. "We didn't make that
arrangement. Don't you think it's rather mean yourself?"

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "perhaps it is. It ought to have been in
the bargain."

"I haven't been very bad, anyway. It's been such nice weather for one
thing."

"You find that makes a difference?" he asked gravely.

"Oh yes. Don't you? Come on. You're rather slow. Mother's going to have
breakfast with you. Shall I carry your bag? I can, really. Well, let me
help. I'm strong, you know."

On the doorstep Nancy met him, and turned her soft cheek to his mouth.
"Tired, dear?" she asked in her sweet, high voice.

"Very tired."

"Get Father's slippers, Terry."

"I've lost another customer, and if this goes on--thank you, Theresa."
He sat on the stairs, and unlaced his boots.

"Go and tell Bessie, dear. She heard you, Ned."

His anxious face took on a greyer shade. "Did she? How careless of me!
Perhaps she did not understand. But indeed, Nancy, I am worried, and I
cannot blame myself for this. A pure misfortune which might have
happened to anyone."

"You shall tell me when you have had breakfast, dear. You must not get
disheartened. If only you were a little more conceited, Ned!"

The breakfast-room in the basement was the most cheerful in the house.
The kitchen was frankly underground, but the breakfast-room benefited
from the sloping ground at the back, and its French windows opened on
the garden. Here were the piano, Nancy's work-basket and novels, and the
dolls which Grace had not yet discarded. The room had a pleasant air of
use, and this morning a clean cloth was spread in honour of the master's
breakfast, and Grace, inspired by Theresa's complaint, had arranged a
spray of autumn-hued creeper on the table.

Theresa was drumming her fingers on the window. She could see smoke
rising from the docks, but at this lower level she could not see the
ships. She turned as her father entered.

"Was that the adventure," she asked him quietly, "losing that man?"

"No--oh no, my dear."

"Did you find him again?"

"I didn't really lose him, Theresa. It's just a business expression."

"Oh!" She sighed. "I wish it was tea-time."

"What's going to happen then?" asked Nancy, lifting the tea-cosy.

"Ah," said Theresa.

"I know," said Grace. "Father's going to tell you what happened to him
on the mountain."

"Oh yes, Terry, of course--the great adventure!"

Theresa's face had grown very red. Her lips trembled a little. "You
didn't tell them, did you?" she asked.

"Yes, Theresa, I told Mother about it in a letter."

"And Mother told me--for a secret."

She tried to steady her lips. "But it was _our_ secret. Oh, why did you
tell them? Oh, you've spoilt it all!" The corners of her mouth had
dropped to their utmost limits, tears were flowing and sobs coming fast,
and, angered by her own weakness, she stamped her foot, shaking her
little body violently. "Oh, how horrid of you! W-why did you tell them?
I don't want to hear about it now. I hate it, I hate it; I hate you all!
Treating me like a baby!" She turned to Grace. "You nasty thing!" she
cried, and smacked her face.

"Theresa!"

"I don't care--I don't care!" Clenching her hands and setting her teeth,
her face as flaming as her hair, she lifted a foot and made a vicious
thrust at her sister, but Grace, giggling through her alarm, managed to
dodge the blow. Both her own failure and Grace's good-nature increased
Theresa's passion.

"You pig!" she cried. "You coward! I wish I had a knife! When we go to
bed I'll kill you! O-oh!" With a long wail, she opened a window and
rushed down the garden slope.

Grace took a seat on a low stool, and waited for the interesting
conversation which must follow, but Nancy was leaning back in her chair.

"What is it, Nancy?" Edward Webb, clasping his table napkin with both
hands, had run round the table.

"Nothing much. I'm not very well. And Theresa's temper----"

"You are not going to faint, are you, dear?"

"I'll give you warning," Nancy said, twinkling up at him. "No, I'm
better. Grace, go and see what Theresa's doing."

"She's crying," said Grace. "She always does. And then she makes up
stories about herself, she told me she did, and after that she comes and
does something nice to you. If she's got any money I expect she'll buy
me some sweets."

"I think we had better leave her alone. I blame myself, Nancy. I ought
to have warned you, but I had not realized what store she was setting on
keeping the secret to ourselves. I did not even know it was to be a
secret, but I am afraid I've hurt her feelings."

"Evidently," said Nancy dryly.

"Terry," said Grace in her low, husky voice, "always wants things to
herself. She won't share anything of mine, and when I have girls to tea
she just sits and stares at them. She says she wants a friend of her
very own."

"Poor little girl," said Nancy softly.

"I think she likes it," said Grace serenely. "She's funny. Shall I tell
you what she told me a little while ago? It isn't a secret."

"Not even one of Theresa's secrets?"

"Well, if it is," said Grace acutely, "it's the kind she'd like you to
know. I heard her crying in bed, and I asked her what was the matter.
She wouldn't tell me for a long time, and then she said she wished she
knew about her real father and mother. She says she knows you found her
on a doorstep or something like that. She kept saying, 'I'm a little
waif! Oh, Daddy! oh, Mummy!'"

"You ought to have told us before," said her father seriously. "She may
have suffered more than we shall ever know."

"Oh, I don't think she minded really, because when she stopped crying
she told me the whole story. It was all a make up, and she forgot she
was pretending it was real because she went on to when she was eighteen,
and--oh, I forget what she did then, but I know she rode to hounds and
had a silvery laugh."

Across Edward Webb's worried face a complaisant look was stealing; his
eyes had brightened. He met Nancy's laughing glance and answered it, but
there was more than amusement in his: there was pride.

"You see," he said to her when Grace had left the room, "she's not an
ordinary child."

"I wish her temper were ordinary. It's dreadful, Edward. She threw a
plate at Bessie yesterday; I don't know why."

"Surely you ought to have found out, dear, and done something to correct
her."

"I went to bed," said Nancy simply.

"You'll have to see a doctor."

"My dear, we simply can't afford it. Besides, I know what to do."

"I don't really need that new suit, Nancy."

"My dear shabby little old man, don't be absurd. I saw Mrs. Emery about
Grace. She is willing to apprentice her at once."

"It's too soon. The child is only twelve."

"Nearly thirteen. Of course, it's too soon, but what are we to do?"

"I don't know--I don't know. I do not like to give my daughter so poor
an education."

"She's a dunce, anyhow. We must think about it. Mrs. Emery says she will
only charge a nominal fee, as she has such a high opinion of her
dancing, and finds her such a help already."

"That's a relief. I thought--I was afraid I might have to apply to
George for a loan. I should not like to do that."

"He came here yesterday," Nancy said reluctantly, "and hinted again. I
wish he'd marry someone."

"My dear, it may come to asking him to live here. It would be a great
help, and--I hope I am not pessimistic, but I foresee misfortune. It
must be faced--I am a failure, Nancy. My commissions are getting smaller
every year. They are bound to remove me soon. I could not blame them.
They may give me a clerkship at a paltry income. And there is Theresa's
education."

"And Grace's stockings!" said Nancy. "But oh, Edward, George is
dreadful! I might do without a servant."

"That's impossible." He spoke with a rare decision. "We must do our
best, Nancy."

"I know I'm a bad manager. I'm not economical, but I do try. I suppose I
ought to be thankful that the children's appetites are enormous, and
that Theresa's energy wears her clothes into rags. And the poor child
loathes wearing Grace's outgrown frocks. I dye them and disguise them
when I can, but she thinks everybody knows. She doesn't even have
clothes of her own!"

"If we can only hold out until she is grown up. She is not an ordinary
child."

"Of course she isn't! You knew she wasn't ordinary when she was an hour
old. What was it you said--the moulding of her forehead? You made up
your mind to it before she was born! And I love you for it--at present."

"What do you mean?"

"Only that some day I may want to hear you sing my praises instead of
hers. I suppose"--she gave her twisted smile--"one could become jealous
of a daughter."

"You jealous!"

She looked at him with humorous discernment. "Why not?" And without
waiting for an answer she went on: "Do you know what I wish for both the
children? You'll think it's treachery."

"Tell me."

"Marriage."

He made her a little bow. "May I take that as a compliment. It's perhaps
the happiest wish for them, the happiest work, but I can't have Theresa
wasted. She must have her chance."

"Don't you think she'll make it if she deserves it?"

"Ah, my dear, that's not quite fair. We must do all we can."

"Then I think we'd better try to cure her temper."

"I'm afraid," he confessed--"I'm afraid I like it in her. It's abnormal,
you see."

"Oh, Edward, Edward, isn't that rather like catching at straws?"

"Certainly not," he said, with a little indignation. And then, somewhat
shamefacedly, he added: "The fact is, I can't dislike anything in her."
He looked through the window, and his brow was wrinkled. "Do you think,"
he asked half timidly, "that she is suffering?"

"I hope so," Nancy said.



CHAPTER VI


Sunday morning was the time for putting on clean clothes.

"I wish I was a beggar child," Theresa said in Grace's sleepy ear, when
the bells were ringing for early service.

"Why?" Much of the vividness of Grace's life came from her sister's
attitude towards existence.

"I shouldn't have to put on scratchy things each Sunday."

"If you'd only keep quiet they wouldn't be so bad, and you're such a
good pretender, Terry, that you could easily believe they were made of
silk."

"I suppose princesses have silken things, don't they? I think I could
pretend that." She was glad to have an easy way of keeping her temper,
for, after a scene of great gravity on her parents' part and more or
less contrition on her own, it had been decided that the adventure was
only to be related to her that night if her day had been passed in
amiability; and though her resentment would be long in dying, curiosity
lived more strongly.

"Let's go to sleep again," said Grace.

Theresa nestled into the curve of the other's body. "Did I hurt you
yesterday?" she whispered.

"Not a bit," Grace answered, with disappointing cheerfulness.

Theresa was determined to be sensational. "I really did want to kill
you!"

"Oh, I know," said Grace obligingly.

"Wouldn't it have been awful if I had? Would I have been hung? Perhaps
not, as I'm a little girl."

"Don't talk about it."

"I like to. They would have taken me up and tried me, wouldn't they? And
I should have been dressed in black, and I should have had a
tear-stained face."

"Terry, I wish you wouldn't; I hate things like deaths."

"I love them," said Theresa with relish. "Have you ever seen Bessie's
brother? He's a policeman. He can tell you lots of things."

"I'm sick of Bessie's brother. Yes, I've seen him. I don't believe he
could catch anyone."

"Well, he has--so there."

"Who?"

"It was a man who stole a ham from the shop at their home. He's been
promoted since then, so he must be good. He buys a paper all about
murders and things and gives it to Bessie; they're better than the
tracts she used to get for me from that chapelly aunt of hers. Those
were good stories, but not so good as Bill's, and his haven't that funny
writing that the Bible parts are put in; but that's useful, because you
know you needn't read it."

"It's called italics."

"Oh! Why?"

"_I_ don't know. I wish you'd go to sleep. It's ages till breakfast."

That meal was supposed to be at nine o'clock on Sunday mornings; but
Bessie had learnt the folly of preparing it at that hour for the master
and mistress of the house, so she lay long in bed, knowing that if the
children grew impatient they would raid the larder, and just before the
clock struck nine she would hurry down the stairs in her loose felt
slippers. At half-past nine Edward Webb would appear, and read
yesterday's newspaper until Nancy, lazy and smiling, in her trailing
dressing-gown, entered the breakfast-room.

"Oh, did you wait for me?" she would say, and drop into her place behind
the teacups.

No one went to church, but for an hour before dinner Edward Webb would
take his little daughters for a walk, while Nancy, seated in her
rocking-chair, would read her endless novels. Following the indolence of
her body, which was the result of more ill-health than anyone but
herself suspected, her mind had gradually refused to exercise its
natural, homely criticism in literature, and she read greedily, almost
mechanically, any novel, not too serious, she could procure. Her method
at the circulating library was to work methodically along the shelves,
and the attendant, without question, would put the next book into her
hands. Often she did not know its name, sometimes she could not have
retold the tale. Reading and rocking had become twin habits which were
alike soothing and effortless. Meanwhile the mending-basket would be
filled to overflowing, and her husband would complain that he could not
find a mended pair of socks. Then she would flush all over her rueful
face, and, still rocking, she would darn rhythmically until there was no
more daylight, when, murmuring something about trying her eyes with dark
work, she would pick up her book. But once Theresa, with her sharp nose
in the basket and a keen eye for other people's faults, drew forth in
triumph a light-coloured garment. "But here's a woolly vest of
father's!" she cried. "You can darn that!"

"Oh, can I, Miss Interference? Perhaps you would like to do it yourself.
Yes, you shall. It's time you learnt. Get the stool and sit beside me."

Theresa remained there until long past bedtime, and when she had
finished the darn there was a deep hole in her middle finger, for she
had refused to wear a thimble. She avoided the work-basket in future,
and Nancy had not the energy to turn this lesson to further account by
making her mend her own stockings, so as often as not there were holes
in Theresa's heels; but the inkpot was handy, and she used it freely,
foreseeing to what martyrdom more complaints might lead. Grace, who
seemed to have gathered into her beautiful body all the commonsense the
family could muster, had years ago accepted responsibility for her
personal neatness, and her stockings were faultless; it was not lack of
mending that wore them out, but the constancy with which she practised
her dancing.

On this Sunday there was boiled mutton for dinner. "I won't have any,"
said Theresa; "I can't bear the colour of the fat. It looks like wool."

"Don't you like it, dearie? I'm so sorry."

"We all hate it."

"Oh dear, how stupid of me! Would you like to have eggs?"

"Seven a shilling," said Grace promptly.

"Are they? Well, it would be rather extravagant, and I'm not sure that
we have any."

"Of course we must eat the meat," said Edward manfully. "Don't make
faces, Theresa. I'll excuse you from eating the fat."

She peered at him sideways.

"In fact," he was thus forced to admit, "I don't like it myself."

"There's a lovely pudding to make up," said Nancy. "Blackberry and apple
pie--and cream; so we'll be good children and eat the meat. Sarah is
coming to-morrow, and we'll give the rest of it to her." She smiled
serenely, but when the meal was done her husband drew her aside.

"Is that how you practise economy?" he asked.

"What, the cream? It's only once a week, dear."

"No, no--giving away the joint."

"Oh, I suppose it was rather thoughtless of me. No, it wouldn't be
right. We'll curry it."

She went upstairs for her afternoon sleep, and left him with less
confidence for the future.

A drowsy peace settled on the house. Edward Webb, too, had a nap. Grace
read demurely in the breakfast-room, and Theresa sat on the kitchen
fender when Bessie, having washed up the dinner things by a miracle of
speed, had emerged to the light of day. Theresa always tried to catch a
glimpse of her on these occasions, for she could never feel that this
was the same person who, moving amid dimness, clad in drab colours,
besmirched with black, had cooked the breakfast; for on Sunday and the
weekly night out she seemed to leave herself in her bedroom and bring
forth a cruder creature, gowned in bright blue, and shadowless. Theresa
felt that she did not know this person, that the real Bessie was
upstairs in her room, and she pictured a being without body, but with
the form of it, as much like a skeleton leaf as a human being could be,
sitting on the edge of the bed until the blue girl should return. And
when dusk fell she avoided the topmost landing of the tall house, for
she was afraid of what Bessie had left up there.

This afternoon Theresa escorted her to the door. "Are you going to have
tea with Bill?" she asked.

"Yes; but I'm going to Sunday-school first."

"Is it nice there?"

"Most times."

"Could I come with you some day?"

"You'll 'ave to ask your mother."

"I wish I could go to Sunday-school. Why don't we?"

"_I_ don't know. I'll be late. Good-bye, Miss Terry!"

"Don't forget the things Bill tells you," she shouted after her.

As she returned to the kitchen she was aware of a grievance which had
not troubled her before, and when her father, waking, wandered about the
house until he found her, she looked at him with a reproachful face.

"Well, Cinderella?"

"I've been thinking," she said.

"Yes?"

"Why don't we go to church? And why don't we sing hymns on Sunday
evening? And why don't we have a family Bible? They do in books, with
all the birthdays in. We haven't got one. Other fathers and mothers read
out of a big Bible to their children."

He sat down and drew her to his knee.

"I'll tell you why, Theresa. I think you are old enough now to
understand. If you want to read the Bible, you shall do so, just as I
have given you other books to read when you have asked for them. If I
had made you read the Bible, you wouldn't have loved it--it would have
been like medicine to you--and I want you to love it, as I do. When I
was a little boy, your grandmother made me read a chapter every night. I
didn't understand it, and I was generally too tired to try."

"Was she very strict--grandmother?"

"She was a good woman."

"Did you like her?"

"Yes, Theresa, I did, but for many years I hated that book, and I made
up my mind that my little girls should only read it when they wanted
to."

Blown by winds of imagination, Theresa veered from the subject.

"What was grandfather like? Was he nice?"

"He was the most delightful man I ever knew." There was a noticeable
change in Edward Webb's enthusiasm for this parent. "I wish you had
known him, Theresa. You would have been such friends."

"Tell me." And "Tell me," she urged again, when her father had smiled
too long at his memories.

"He was a musician and a poet, my dear. He played the organ at the
cathedral, and he wrote songs, music, and words. I can see him now as he
sat at the piano, playing and singing, trying to make your grandmother
laugh."

"Why wouldn't she?"

"Because she didn't always approve, I'm afraid. They were very often
about her, too." He chuckled at another recollection.

  "'Your pretty ankle's slender grace,
    Your skirts when they are thrumming.'

"It was on a Sunday night he began that, drawing it out of the last
chords of a hymn. I forget the rest. He reeled it off without a thought.
A strip of a man with a solemn face--until you saw his eyes; then you
had to laugh, you didn't know why."

"Except grandmother."

"Yes-es. Your grandmother hadn't the comic spirit, Theresa."

She nodded. She was on Olympus when her father talked with her thus, a
little above her comprehension, so that she must strain for meanings,
while her faith in herself grew great with her stretch.

"I wish grandfather hadn't died," she said. "I don't mind about
grandmother. I think she must have been flannelly."

"Flannelly?"

"You know the kind--not pretty underclothes like mother's, but grey
things with long sleeves and no trimming."

"Well--yes, yes; I don't know about that. She was very handsome, my
dear."

"But not so pretty as Mother or Grace?"

"Certainly not as pretty as they are."

"Tell me some more about grandfather, and I'll make toast for tea."

"Isn't that rather wasteful of the butter?" he asked anxiously,
conscious that his domestic cares were being doubled by Nancy's
inefficiency.

"There's dripping, Bessie told me, from Thursday's beef. That's cheap,
isn't it?"

"Yes; I think we can still afford that."

"We're poor, aren't we?"

"Yes, Theresa."

"Well, never mind. I think it's rather nice to be poor, and Grace says
she's going to make her fortune. She wants to be a lady in a pantomime.
I think she would look lovely. I should like to be one, too, but then I
shouldn't look right. I shall have to be something where I don't show.
I've decided to write books."

His eyelids flickered. "You will have to work hard at school, then."

"Yes. Would you mind cutting me another piece of bread?" she asked
quickly.

When dusk had fallen, the family seated itself round the fire and Edward
Webb told of his night among the mountains. It was only pride which
permitted Theresa to share the hearing with the two who had been more
favoured than herself, but, realizing the dignity of silence, she
tightened her lips and the clasp of her small hands and prepared to
listen without enthusiasm; but slowly her lips relaxed, and leaving her
little stool at the side of the hearth, she pushed past Grace, treading
on her toes in the dimness, and stood before her father, with her hands
on his knees. "Go on," she kept saying between his halting sentences.

"So I had to stay there all night, you see."

She frowned. "If you'd been a man in a book, you would have got down
somehow."

"But I'm not a man in a book, Theresa."

"People tear up their clothes sometimes and make ropes of them, you
know. In burning houses they use sheets; or you might have leapt from
rock to rock."

Grace giggled. "You baby! How could father do that in the dark?"

"I think it was much braver to sit still all night," said Nancy.

Theresa brightened. "Yes, that was brave. Did things come at you?"

"How could they, dear?"

"But they do. They come at me in the night, through the dark. They are
thick and smooth, and come and come, and you can't stop them. They must
have been there. Are you sure they weren't?"

"Perhaps they were," he admitted.

"Oo! nasty things! Tell me some more."

"At last the dawn began to come, and I was very cold and stiff and wet.
I heard a dog bark, and I thought, 'There must be people somewhere; I'll
try to follow the sound.' So, somehow, I found my way to the mountain's
foot, and I came to a stony track between the hills, and when I had
walked a little way I saw a house--a low white house--and there, sitting
beside the garden wall, was a boy."

"How old?" Theresa whispered.

"He is fifteen."

"Almost a grown-up person," Theresa thought, and aloud she said again,
"Go on."

He obeyed, looking into the eager eyes which stared into his own. Her
fingers twitched on his knee, and she was still gazing when his tale was
ended.

"Tell me about that boy again," she said. "I don't suppose I should be
afraid of geese either when I got used to them, should I?"

He was quite ready to agree that she could do anything.

She sat on his knee. "Is he clever?"

"I don't know."

"I shouldn't think he is," she said comfortably.

"He may be. He had a fine head, I remember."

"Oh! What do you call a fine head?"

"A good shape, good size. It's difficult to explain."

"Oh!" she said again, and after a moment's consideration she added: "But
he ought to be cleverer than me, because he's so much older. What
coloured hair had he?"

"I don't know. It was dark, I think--yes, like his father's."

"And what colour was his mother's? You didn't tell me anything about
her, Ned."

"I told you everything I could remember, dear."

"I meant about her looks."

"She was tall and strong and supple. Ceres, she might be called. I think
her hair was chestnut, and there were freckles on her face."

"But was she pretty?"

"Really I don't know. I don't remember; but she seemed brave and
helpful. She took possession of me, and I felt safe. I'll try to
remember more next time."

"Are you going again?" asked Theresa. "Oh, take me!"

"I did not know you were going again," said Nancy.

"They asked me."

"Yes; but was it the kind of invitation----"

"I think so. Indeed, they made me promise----"

"Do you think it wise?"

"Why not?"

"You don't know them."

"But I want to, Nancy."

"But if the man is what you said----"

"He's not an outcast, my dear, and if he were----"

She was silent, but the air was filled with her voiceless and somewhat
sullen objections. Theresa fidgeted.

"You must do as you please, of course," Nancy said at last.

"Not if it displeases you."

"Why should it?"

He gestured dumbly, and something fell between them like a filmy veil.
It spoilt Theresa's evening, and when she went to bed she wondered what
was happening downstairs in the breakfast-room, where the quiet was
broken now and then by the hooting of tugs in the docks and the voices
of those people who had not gone to church, and walked instead in New
Dock Road. Did her father and mother talk? Were they quarrelling, or,
now the children had gone to bed, was she sitting on his knee? There was
a lump of anxiety in her throat: the world had so many places of
darkness and uncertainty; she felt herself groping among dangers, and
she hoped her mother was not crying. She undressed slowly, thoughtfully,
but as she brushed her hair before the looking-glass she became
interested in the vision of her own pale face, and for a moment she
forgot her trouble.

"Grace," she said, "what do you think of my head?"

The answer came from the midst of bedclothes. "It's red, you silly!"
There could be no two opinions about that, but, as Theresa protested, it
was not just an ordinary red, not like that of the girl who brought home
the washing.

"It's not that awful orange kind, now, is it?"

"No; but I don't like it very much. It's neither one thing nor the
other. It's rather what I call streaky, you know."

"Yes, I'm afraid it is. Well, it doesn't matter. I may grow out of it."

"I wish you would be quick."

"I think," said Theresa, as she buttoned her nightgown over that place
where the anxious pain was felt again--"I think I've got to go
downstairs."

Barefooted, she pattered across the landing and down two flights of
stairs. No light was burning, for gas must be saved, and Theresa was
afraid; but she went on, past the front-door, down the basement steps,
past the dark kitchen which looked vast and cavernous, and so into the
brilliance of the breakfast-room.

"Theresa! Bare feet!"

"I want my book for the morning," she said. "In case I wake, you know."

Her mother was in the rocking-chair, and her father, shading his eyes
under his hand, was sitting at the table, writing. The shadow was still
in the room.

"You should have put on your slippers, dear, and your dressing-gown. Sit
on my lap and warm your feet."

Theresa ran her finger down her mother's pretty nose.

"Aren't you coming to bed soon?"

"Not for a long time. It isn't half-past eight."

"Then will you leave this door open, and I'll leave mine. Then you won't
seem so far away."

"You won't expect it every night?"

"No; just to-night."

"Very well. You must go now."

"I'll carry her up." Edward Webb took off his coat and wrapped it round
her. The three faces were very close together, and Theresa felt the
hastiness of her mother's kiss and the half-unwilling urging of her
hands.

"Go, go; you ought to be asleep."

"Are you sure you can carry me?" Theresa asked as he went carefully up
the stairs. "You're not very big."

"But you are very little."

"I'm going to be tall."

"Are you?" He held her close to him, pressing his cheek against hers.

"Yes, tall and willowy. I'm looking forward to it."

"That's right." He tucked her into bed.

"You won't forget about the door, will you?" She liked to feel that if
anything dreadful happened she would be at once aware of it, for there
was no delay and no evasion in her nature. Better be in the thick of the
fight, see swords drawn and blows given, than find cold bodies in the
morning, and something almost as bad as this, she dreaded. She had been
dowered with a bright and fierce imagination, and had she not read the
literature favoured by Bill and Bessie?

But she fell asleep to no other sounds than those which, all her life,
had carried her into dreams or waked her to a new day, but to-night
there began for her another phase of dreaming, one which was to endure
for many years and make her sleeping hours almost as important and more
adventurous than her waking ones. She dreamed of mountains and of still
lake water. Very black were the rocks and the water, black and awesome,
but holding peace. Sometimes she sat by the lakeside and waited;
sometimes she clambered to perilous places among the rocks, and there
were dangers often, people to be avoided, people with whom she must
fight, but always the mountains and the water were unmoved, unruffled.
They saw all things, and kept their counsel; they seemed to her, as she
grew older, to be both judge and friend; they were more than the scene
of her adventures; they were inseparably part of them, and when there
came nights wherein nothing happened and she sat by the water without
expectation, warmed with content, she knew that her happiness was not
all from within, that if her dream permitted her to wander away from the
precipice and the lake, a chill, like a bitter wind, would fall on her.
Sometimes she made a struggle to get away, but she could never go. There
was a white road somewhere, she knew, but she could not walk on it: she
was a captive beside this dark and burnished mirror wherein she saw a
face not like her own. In the daytime she would continue the stories
begun in dreams. Very often she was a maiden fought for by savage
tribes, a treasure for which men gave their lives in anguish, and at
night she put her head on her pillow with a glad anticipation of horrors
done for her sake. But as she grew older and the dreams themselves grew
and changed their character, keeping pace with her own development, she
was content to be without adventure in a place which never changed,
except to be more beautiful. All other dreams were dull, unwelcome
things, and if many days went by without one of these loved ones, she
felt that half her life was not being lived, and then she would seek out
shops where, by chance, there might be pictures in the windows to allay
her hunger. She was not often fed, for such paintings as she saw were
poor and unreal things, but they made her dreams more perfect. This was
not in the earliest years of her new dreaming, and on this night she had
but a repetition of her father's tale. She sat on a ledge of rock and
she was afraid. She heard a sheep calling through the night, a stone
spattering down the cliff, and she woke, wet and in fear.

"Grace," she cried--"Grace! I was falling. I'm afraid of falling. Will
you hold my hand?"

"What were you dreaming of, Terry? It's all right. I've got you."

"Mountains," she said sleepily, falling back on her pillows--"mountains.
Oh, I hope they'll come again."



CHAPTER VII


Edward Webb did not deny himself another pilgrimage to the mountains.
Tenderly and silently, without disdain or ruthlessness, he put aside
Nancy's prejudices. He knew something which was denied to her; he knew
that the mountains gave him strength--the strength he so much needed to
supplement his own; perhaps, though he hardly thought it, to counteract
her weakness. There were days when he felt the desperation of fear: his
children and his wife must be fed and clothed and housed if they were to
live, and it was only he who could make that possible. He must work yet
harder, he must make himself more valuable, he must be braver. He would
gather endurance and courage from that vast storehouse where they were
garnered, and if he hurt Nancy she would learn some day that it had been
to save her.

When he was away he would tell her very simply of his intentions.
"To-morrow I go to the farm. I am looking forward to the silence of the
hills. They bring me nearer to you and all lovely things." Did she smile
happily as she read, or had her lips the bitterer downward twist? He
never asked aloud, for on that subject there was silence between them
when they met, and it was Theresa's greedy ears that absorbed the tale
of his experiences. "Tell me about that boy," and "Tell me about the
mountains," were her two demands; but she was a willing listener to all,
and Nancy, hearing fragments of their talk, would purse her lips. Yet,
in letters, she, too, would be more open. "I'm glad you are going,
dear." And then the little thrust, "Be happy there, and forget your
worries and your poor useless Nancy." He would sigh over that, grimace
over it painfully, and then settle his features with determination.
There was Theresa: she must not be wasted. He saw her bright, like a
star, and never a day passed but what she seemed more glowing, more
necessary to give light to a world which, at times, was very dark. She
shone for him, but she must shine for others: she must not be hidden
behind the clouds of poverty that threatened. "On, on," he would murmur
to himself as he stepped into that shop where, from behind the counters
the young women laughed at him; and "On, on," he urged himself again,
when his enthusiasm about his wares was failing him. It was hard to be
eloquent about hooks and eyes, safety-pins, patent contrivances for the
support of skirts, collar-bones and buttons, but there were times when
he was served by his very depreciation of the goods, when his nervous
"But no, of course, you would have no sale for things like these"
persuaded his customer that some deep meaning underlay the words, so
that he bought quietly, with covert eagerness. But Edward Webb only
heard doubt in the tones of his own voice. "I was not born to be a
pedlar!" he cried silently to the heavens. "I have no glibness. It is a
gift. I cheapen the things in my very praise of them--but Theresa,
Theresa!" That had become his battle-cry.

But it was good to strip himself of what might be called his uniform,
don a grey suit and a soft hat, and, carrying a walking-stick, take the
train to the little station by the shore. There followed a long walk for
a tired man, but he was sure of a welcome at the end of it and, all the
way, he had the company of the hills.

On a Friday evening in July, a little less than a year, and for the
fourth time, since he had first seen the place, he tapped at Clara's
door. She opened to him, and he saw anxiety in her face.

"Oh, come in," she said, and led him to the kitchen. "Jim's away, but
Alexander'll be home soon. I wondered if you'd come, and your room's
ready."

"You don't look well."

"I've a headache."

"I'm sorry Rutherford's away. Perhaps you'd rather I went back
to-night."

"Of course not. I'm glad to see you, and so will Alexander be. And you
do him good. He has no friends but you and Janet."

"I'm fond of him," Edward Webb said simply.

Moving in the sure strength that gave meaning to everything she did, she
set the table for tea, then stood in the doorway and looked out and up
towards the Spiked Crags, shading her eyes.

She turned to him for an instant. "I shan't be long. Will you mind the
kettle for me? Tell Alec I've only gone a little way."

A few minutes later he heard Alexander's nailed boots in the passage,
saw him enter quickly and look round the room, like a man who takes note
of circumstances for the sake of safety.

"Oh, you're there!" They shook hands. "I've been wishing for you," said
Alexander.

"Your mother has gone out for a little while. I was to tell you she was
not going far."

Alexander leaned against the mantelpiece, and his face was dark with
anger. "She'll kill herself, tearing about the place, worrying her life
out over him," he said in his monotonous tones. "And I'd as soon see him
killed as a rat. Mr. Webb, I hate that man, my father."

"My boy!"

"I do. He's spoilt my life for me. We hate each other, but he hated me
first."

"There's more life before than behind you."

"Perhaps, but I'll never be a boy again. I'll never have been young at
all. I can't remember anything of him but his scowling face and his
drinking fits."

"There are worse men."

"Who do less harm. I believe that."

"Your mother cares for him."

"You think that proves him good. It just proves nothing. And I wish she
didn't. If she hadn't watched over him, he might have killed himself
long ago. And now he's tired of getting quietly drunk, and he's gone
off, and the devil knows where he's gone to. I believe he's mad, but
I'll not be his gaoler. I'll neither look for him, nor be glad when he
comes back; if I saw him walking straight for death, I'd not touch his
coat-tails to keep him back."

"Be quiet!" Edward Webb put up his hand, and there was command in his
voice. "Tell me what's happened, and don't stain your mouth with talk
like that."

"I'll stain it with no lies, and can you not see that I must speak? Do I
talk to my mother like this? I just hold my tongue, but you're the only
friend I've got, and if you'll not let me talk to you I'll just have to
murder him. I've got to do something. Drunkenness, what's that? It's
little enough with some men; I'm not blaming him for that. It's the
black selfishness of the beast that angers me. Anger! It isn't anger;
it's something hard and hot that's been growing in me since ever I can
mind, when he didn't answer my questions and left my mother alone. I've
seen her cry. And I've seen him blubbering over her, sorry for himself,
not for her! Well, he went off two days ago. A kind of fever took him.
He said he couldn't stay, and when she tried to stop him he shook her
off. He said, "I'm my father's son"; he kept saying it--"I'm my father's
son. He came and went like the wind." And my mother says my grandfather
used to wander off when the drinking fits came over him, and no one knew
where he went nor when he would come back. So now she's still more to
bear. I hope _I'm_ not _my_ father's son. For two nights I don't believe
she's slept--she's listening for him. I'm glad you've come. She wouldn't
let me stay away from school; she said it would be better if he came
back and didn't find me here; so I went. It's important for me to get
that scholarship, you see, but if he's playing these tricks all this
next year, well, I'll just have to practise forgetting, when I'm
working."

"If you learn to do that, you'll have a valuable possession. Is there
anything we can do?"

"I'll not stir a foot."

"To help your mother, I meant."

"That's the best way of helping her."

"We must let her decide that, I think."

Leaning his forehead on the hands that held the mantelshelf, Alexander
went on, heedless of all but the desire to speak his black and
clustering thoughts. "She knows I hate him. She likes me less for it."

"I don't believe it. She has a wide heart, a great and simple
understanding."

"But she likes him best."

"She should."

"I'm not jealous, I don't care, but I tell you I've been robbed of
something all my life. I've missed something, and that man's the thief.
He's my father, my father, and what has he done for me all these days?"

"No one can tell you that."

"Ah, but I know. It's just nothing."

His listener rose and moved to and fro in agitation.

"You've no right to say that. How can you tell? How can anybody tell?
You touch me very nearly. I am a parent. I think--I seem to myself to
have done much, very much, given constant thought for my children, yet
to Theresa how do I appear? Careless of her, perhaps, selfish, obtuse. I
do not know. There's a chasm opened before one--a chasm of ignorance and
doubt. One treads so falsely, takes the wrong path, and to her the way
to help her may be so plain. Human beings, all of us, yet we speak
strange tongues. The Tower of Babel with us still--still. It may be that
you misunderstand your father's language, Alexander."

"He never speaks."

"Ah, don't be wilful. Under that ill-temper I believe he suffers."

"But why should I pity him? It's his fault."

"That's why you should pity him. That's the worst suffering."

Alexander shook his head. "I can't feel anything for him but hate. I
hate the things he's touched; I hate to think I'm of his flesh."

"That's wickedness."

"Maybe. I feel all black inside. I'm burnt up like a cinder." He went to
the door. "She's coming back. I'll make the tea."

"Is she alone?"

"Why, yes. He'll be miles away."

The three found little to talk about that evening. Clara sat sewing,
with her ears at stretch; Alexander had a book; and Edward Webb
marvelled at the change in him a year had made. Last September he was a
moody boy; this month he was a still more moody youth. The bones of his
face had grown in prominence; the lines of the jaw and chin were fine
and hard, boding trouble for those who brooked him; and the lips, still
wanting in maturity, had settled themselves in rather sullen curves.
Trouble stirred at the man's heart. He liked this boy: if he had had a
son, he thought, he would have chosen such a one: the brow promised
brains, the flare of his nostrils was sensitive and proud, and passion
brooded in his eyes. There was power in the face, but there was danger
too, until his reason should learn to control his will; and before that
day came there might come another, bringing tragedy. He moved uneasily.
The room to him was like a cup holding a poisonous draught which must be
spilled before it could work harm. He cleared his throat, loudly,
startlingly, as though to warn a would-be drinker; the two looked up,
and Alexander, in that quick hunter's way of his, glanced round the
room.

"Nothing," said Edward Webb--"nothing."

"It's time we went to bed," said Alexander. Last year he had been sent
there.

"Yes, yes. It's half-past ten."

"You'll go, mother?"

"Yes, I'll go. We'll leave the door unlocked and Jock at the stair-foot.
He'll let no stranger past."

"A dog's a grand thing," said Alexander.

They laughed, and bade each other good-night.

Once more Edward Webb lay long awake, listening, as he knew the others
did, for the noise of a hurried step outside. "Poor man! poor woman!
poor boy!" he murmured, and then his thoughts hung hoveringly over the
fact of his own parenthood. What had he done? Worse still, what had he
left undone? The wind rose with a gathering swell of sound; rain fell
and pattered on the window, pattering, pattering, until it seemed like
voices. He fell asleep, but in a little while he wakened. Someone was
moving about downstairs. Very quietly he went to the head of the stairs.

"Who's there?" he called.

Clara answered him. "It's only me."

"What are you doing?"

"Just making up the fire. It's such a stormy night--and cold."

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning was very fair. The world had the washed look it needs in
mid-July, and there were still raindrops sparkling in the sun.

"I think he'll come back to-day," Clara said to Alexander. "Will you
take Mr. Webb for a walk--a long walk? You'd better not be here, either
of you."

"You're not afraid?"

"Afraid! I'm only afraid when you're there, Alexander."

"You needn't blame me."

"I don't," she said.

After breakfast Alexander and Edward Webb set off together.

"Will you have a bathe?" the boy asked when they reached the Broad Beck
pool.

"I should like it."

"Can you swim?"

"Yes--well, I can keep up."

"All right, then. Look how deep it is. Last summer it was shallower by
four feet."

He stripped and dived, and Edward Webb, not to be outdone, followed him
with a splash.

"Ah!" He came up bubbling. "How Theresa would like this. It's cold,
distinctly cold, but it does one good, braces one. But I think I'll just
get out on this rock for a while."

Alexander, lying on his back and kicking the water gently with his
heels, appeared to address the sky. "I thought you had two girls."

"So I have. Oh, I see your point." He slipped into the water again, made
three strokes, and found he could touch bottom. "It's shallower here."

"No," said Alexander; "I really thought she might have died, or
something."

"I'm very fond of her. Alexander, this water's very cold. I think we
ought not to stay too long. But I admit that Theresa does seem more akin
to me. I hope I have not let Grace know it. You were right to reproach
me."

"I didn't mean to--at least, I hope I didn't mean to."

"You must not think I do not care for Grace, but Theresa--well, Theresa
has all the gifts I wanted when I was young. Have you a towel?"

"What were those? No, no towel; the shirt does. What were those gifts?"
he was obliged to ask again.

"You haven't seen her. If you saw her, you would understand. I'll bring
a picture of her next time I come. I wish you'd get out, my boy; it's
very cold."

"I'm used to it. All the year round I bathe here."

"But, besides, she's clever. She'll make a name."

"How?"

Clad now in shirt and trousers, Edward Webb approached the pool, and
perhaps he thought the silver birches bowed their heads to hear.

"She's going to write." There was a gentle rustling among the trees, but
Alexander, showing no more than his wet face and hair, opened his mouth
and said nothing for a space. Then, "Was that what you wanted to do?" he
asked, and paddled to shore.

"Yes, yes, it was my ambition. But I had no time. It was a struggle to
live, and I married. Only lately----"

"You've been doing it?"

He bowed his head. "I have told no one else," he said, and seemed to
wonder at himself.

"Not Theresa?"

"No, no. You see, Theresa is very young. But she shows signs. I have
seen little poems."

"Is it prose you write?"

"No. I'm--I'm afraid not. I cannot think that I ought to do it. It's
self-indulgence, I believe, but if I have given the palest spark to
Theresa, if she----"

"It was you who gave me Keats," Alexander said. "Have you had anything
printed?"

"I haven't tried. What does it matter? It's the doing of it, you see.
I've never found Theresa care for anything that was not good--strange in
a child, I think. Significant. She has unerring taste, if I am any
judge."

"I wonder, would you let me see your things? I've never seen anything
but printed stuff. I'd like to see it fresh from a man."

Edward Webb flushed deeply. "I should be very grateful for your
criticism."

"I couldn't give that."

"To oblige me, please. I--I haven't had the benefit of your education. I
had to leave school early, and I know but little of the classics. I
thought once of pursuing them, but there is so little energy when one's
work is done--exhausting, uncongenial work. I know no scholars; in fact,
I know few men, and those I meet are--are like myself. I want to give
Theresa more than I had."

"Yes. Shall we be going on? Across the stream. There's a little bridge
farther down."

They crossed and, emerging from the birch-wood, were on the flank of the
Blue Hill. A narrow path led them upwards and soon they looked down on
the level valley, its few houses, the church among its yews and the
winding river, fringed by trees, flowing into the wide lake. And far off
there shone a thin line which was the sea. But the path wound round the
hill, so that they must turn their backs on these things and face a
steep ascent, with another stream rushing down the hollow at their
right. Without speaking, they toiled on, Alexander walking as one born
to the hills, Edward Webb panting with an attempt at noiselessness. He
turned once with a forced smile, for the going was hard.

"My wind," he said, "not so good as yours."

"Let's sit down," said Alexander.

Fifty feet below them the torrent dashed itself into foam in its narrow
trough, splashed the rowan trees that overhung it and threatened their
brave roots with the reckless water which, white with froth, showed in
its smoother places, a brilliance of blue that shamed the sky.

"To live here always!" Edward Webb exclaimed.

But Alexander said nothing more than, "We'll follow the stream when
you're rested."

"I'm ready."

They went on, slowly mounting a steep and slippery tongue of land that
lay between the white teeth of the torrent and a sister stream. The
man's breath came sharply, but he plodded upward.

"The muscles of my legs are feeling it," he confessed. "Not that I want
to stop. It does me good. It is more delightful than I can say. Ah!" He
sank to a stone as he reached level ground again. "Ah!" He could find
no more words, for across a wide stone-strewn space there rose a cliff
of black and riven rock. In its grandeur and aloofness it looked
immutable, yet the rents in its great sides, this rocky hollow which was
the pit into which it flung the fragments time had stolen from it, were
proof that even it must suffer change. But it suffered bravely,
stoically, lifting a proud and peaceful face to the sky, and now, about
its summit, a little filmy cloud had wreathed itself.

Looking at it, Alexander wore an expression between pride of possession
and youthful reserve; he lay on his stomach, nibbling a heather stalk,
and frowning that he might not smile. This was his mountain, all the
mountains were his, and he would have led hither no one whom he could
not trust; but Edward Webb's long-drawn sighs, the restless movements of
a pleasure that looked and was not able to express itself, and then the
settled quiet of his drinking gaze, assured him that he had made no
mistake. This man understood that he was in the presence of the mighty.
Alexander gave a small, satisfied nod of the head. It was almost a year
since he had first seen Edward Webb, and it was Edward Webb who had
given him Keats; yet for these ten months he had waited, watching,
before he would bring his friend to the holy places. And now he was
content: he had not offended his mountain, he had brought it another
worshipper.

There was no sound heard in that solitary place but the brawling of the
two waters, the occasional cry of a sheep, and the rattle of the stones
it dislodged as it picked its way about the scree: than that and the
rushing water there was no other movement, except when a rare bird,
poised against the blue, flapped strongly, surely, with its powerful
wings. With every minute the quiet that was a quality of the mountain
gathered and increased. Quietness and courage and endurance--these were
the messages heard by Edward Webb, sent to him by that gaunt and
perfect example fronting him. These, and something more, for the
majestic rock reared against the sky spoke of more than human
attributes, craved and approached the Divine.

"It lifts me; I seem to be afloat," he said, careless of the boy, or
confident in him. "I wish----"

"No, no!" Alexander looked up. "Don't say it! She wouldn't like it; I
know she wouldn't. I won't have her like it."

On Edward Webb's face surprise was chased by pain. "How did you read my
thoughts?" he said. "Have I been talking of her so much? Ah, I have
bored you. I must learn to hold my peace, but it's seldom I speak
freely--seldom."

"You haven't bored me," Alexander said gruffly.

"And you're wrong about Theresa."

"I may be, but I just know I don't want her to see this. I'd rather have
her hating it than liking it. It's only for the few, this is."

"I had hoped to bring her here," the other said sadly.

"Oh, well, I needn't come with you," Alexander said.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was growing dark when they returned, and on the doorstep they found
Clara waiting for them.

"He's come back," she said. "He's gone to bed."

"Where has he been?"

"I haven't asked him. What does it matter? He's back again. Edward, I'm
wondering if you'd go to Janet's for the night. I asked her if she'd
have you. You wouldn't mind? You see, to-morrow--he mightn't like it. I
told him you'd been here last night, and he took for granted you'd gone
back to-day. And--he's not quite himself."

"Mother, you cannot----"

"Don't be silly, Alec. He understands."

"Of course, of course. I'll go. If there were a train----"

"There's not. Janet will be glad to have you--she said so--and she likes
men about. I've put your things together." She thrust a parcel into his
hands. "Alec will take you. Will you need a lantern? No? Good-night,
then--good-night."



CHAPTER VIII


They passed behind the house and, taking a narrow pathway, skirted the
hill. Their boots struck against loose stones and scattered them, and
their going made a great noise in the gloom. All about were the dark
forms of hills, and the lake lay like ink in the hollow of the land. The
larches were sighing very gently--moved, it seemed, of their own will;
for the wind did no more than breathe in sleep.

"She's daft," said Alexander suddenly; and when he had no answer, he
went on: "Do you not think she's daft yourself?"

"I have never seen her."

"It's my mother, I mean. Janet's not daft; she's queer."

"Will you let me have your arm? It's getting dark, and my feet don't
know the way like yours. I've not been round here before."

"Her house is at the hill's foot, among larches."

"More larches?"

"Ay. Shoving you out like this!"

Edward paused and, dropping his hand from the boy's arm, turned himself
slowly round. "Beauty everywhere," he said. "Are there any wicked people
in this place?" That was a false step.

"There's one."

"Don't"--he hesitated--"don't make two of it. Beauty and morality--are
they separable? There's a question. I have theories----" His voice died
away, and he felt that some vast hand had gathered up the sound and laid
it by in the place where all men's thoughts and deeds are stored until
the winds come and drop them, like seed, about the world. It died away,
and they heard the mountain noises--sheep crying, water
falling--rarified and faint. Alexander's voice, violent and shrill,
shook the night's peace.

"There is no God!" he cried.

The man's lips twitched in a secret smile, but his heart had pity in it.
"Yet you are always worshipping," he said.

They walked on again. "Tell me about this lady. Her name is Janet, but
how must I address her?"

"Her name's Beaker--Janet Beaker. It's a good name for her. You'll see.
She's something between that and a bird."

"Is she married?"

"Janet? I should think not. She's a farmer. She takes butter and eggs to
the market every week. You can see her driving there, but you'd never
think she saw you. She does, though, and there are men hereabouts that
know it. Did my mother never tell you the tale about the drunken men? Oh
no, she wouldn't. She pretends there are no such things. Well, she saw
them in the town, and they'd had too much. They were from these parts,
and she knew them, and she never said a word to them, so they say--but
what can they have known about it?--nor so much as looked at them; but
they came back at her cart-tail, all three of them, each blaming
another, and not one of them can tell how it happened. And those three
have been bad friends ever since. But they've never borne her any
malice. If they did that it would be like giving her the credit."

"No, they couldn't do that. The women here seem to be in the ascendant."

"They are that. You wait till you see Janet."

"Miss Beaker. I must remember."

"She'll not expect to be called that. I don't believe she's been called
that in her life. You can't say that. It's--all wrong."

"Really? Well, perhaps I can avoid saying anything. One often has to,
and I admit formality seems out of place. Here things seem clear and
simple."

"But they're not. Sometimes"--he took a deep breath--"I feel as if I'm
in 'Macbeth.' It's a black feeling--ugly."

"But this morning----"

"Oh, well, I didn't say it was always."

They had rounded the hill, and now a dog barked. Alexander called to it.
"Come on, Jenny--come on."

"I must own I am always afraid of dogs."

"Jenny's all right, but Janet's got six of them altogether."

"Six!" He became uncomfortably aware of his legs.

"And she can break horses. She ought to have been a man."

A voice came from the trees ahead of them. "And do you think I ought to
have been a hare because my ears are sharp? And a cat because I can see
in the dark?"

"Oh, Janet, I might have known you'd hear. Here's Mr. Webb."

They trod softly on the fallen needles of the larches, and came to the
door of the house where Janet stood, large and indistinct.

"Will you come in?" she said.

"No; let's stay in the wood, if you'll talk to us."

"I've no more tales."

"The old ones, then."

"I must thank you," Edward Webb began, peering upwards at the tall
figure whose face was no more to him than a pale oval.

"I've wanted to see you, for I dreamt of you one night," she
interrupted. "But I cannot see him in the wood, for all my cat's eyes,
Alexander, so you'll have to come in."

She turned into the kitchen and, getting a light from the low fire, held
a candle aloft. Edward Webb blinked nervously.

"Did you dream true, Janet?"

"When did I dream false?"

"Tell us the dream."

"Afterwards. You'll want to eat. Will you come to the table, Mr. Webb,
and help yourself?"

He held a chair for her, but she refused it. "No, I've eaten. Sit down.
Alexander, cut the pie."

She began to walk up and down the room between the fireplace and the
table, and Edward Webb, hardly looking at her, was aware of her strength
and height and the brooding keenness of her eyes. In a little while she
seated herself on a stool near the fire and Alexander broke the silence
there had been.

"Did you bring my father back?" he asked.

Swiftly she turned her face and then Edward Webb understood Alexander's
description of her; for though her features had no hardness, her eyes
had the look of a hawk's in act to pounce and her head was quick on the
firm neck, but she had a wide mouth capable of softness and she sat
widespread, as though she held in her lap the cup of wisdom whence all
might drink. And for an instant his interest in Alexander's subtlety
swamped the eagerness with which he listened for her answer.

"How do I know?"

"You tried? Then you did it. What for?"

"Ease a woman's heart, perhaps." Her voice had a deeper, longer note.

He looked vindictive. "If we were back a few hundred years, we'd get you
burnt for a witch."

"Oh no, Alexander; the real witches were never burnt, or where was their
witchcraft?"

"Well, if he goes off another time, you can magic him over a precipice."

"Hush!" Edward Webb hissed nervously. No one heeded him.

"If you want that done, you can use your own hands to it. Then you'll be
hanged. But that'll not happen. I can't see that. Did they never tell
you about the black dog?"

"Which one?"

"The one on your shoulder, my lad."

"Daft talk," he muttered.

"You get what you give, you see."

Edward Webb's face was illumined. "That's the world's rule," he said.

She eyed him sharply. "Not the world's."

He made his courteous inclination of acknowledgment. "Not the world's,"
he agreed.

"I'm lost," said Alexander, looking from one to the other.

"That's the dog's fault," she teased him.

He laughed through his annoyance. "Oh, be quiet! Janet, put some more
wood on the fire ready for when we've done, and we'll have the candle
out."

"It'll be time for you to go home."

"There's the dream to tell."

"I'll tell it now. I was walking on a green path and I met a man. The
dream wouldn't let me see his face, but he was a big man, and in each
hand he had a bird. 'Will you give them to me?' I said, for I didn't
like to see them caught; but when he held them out to me, I couldn't
take them. He said: 'They're larks, but I can't get them to fly.'
'They're sparrows,' I said, and so they were. 'No,' he said; 'for
they've got wings.' We didn't seem to be getting much sense out of each
other, so I went on; but in a minute I heard a beating sound, and I
looked, and the birds had flown, and they'd grown as big as eagles, but
the man had fallen down. It was as if their flight had overthrown him.
And I ran to him, but he'd gone, and I kept calling, 'Edward Webb,
Edward Webb'--for I knew it was him; but he'd gone, and I never saw his
face; but, for all that, I knew what he was like. And now, go home,
Alexander."

"Have you nothing more to tell?"

"Not a word?"

"All right, then. Good-night. That's a good dream."

The large, stone-floored kitchen, with its shadowy corners, was a lonely
place to Edward Webb when he had gone. It had the feeling of a vault and
this woman might have been a carved figure, keeping the door; for she
sat quite still and looked on the ground; but, without warning, she
began to speak in a rising murmur.

"There's trouble somewhere," she said. "I can feel it." She stood up,
lifted her arms to their utmost stretch, and dropped her hands on the
high mantelshelf. "But I can't find it. It can't be yet." Suddenly she
seemed to remember him, and spoke with a friendly brusqueness. "Will you
come to the fire? I'll fetch a log."

"Allow me."

"No, I'll do it. Sit down. You don't look like shifting lumps of wood.
You're town-bred, aren't you?"

"Yes." He felt himself a sinner.

"And you've been all over the world, perhaps."

"No, no, indeed I haven't. I wish I had."

"What d'you wish that for? I've never been in a train in my life."

"You interest me. You have never wished to travel?"

"Never yet. The time may come, though I have not seen it coming. What
would I want to travel for? There's men and women in these parts, and
God's earth; there's nothing elsewhere that I know of. I wouldn't say
they're wrong who run about looking for things they'll never find; it's
the way they're made, and they've got to work that way, but I can find
all I want, sitting at my kitchen door."

"You're fortunate."

"I like a wood, and I've got it. I feel safe when there are trees round
me. Why's that, do you suppose?"

"I do not know. My little girl is afraid to sit in a wood alone. She
says there are things watching her. She likes the open."

"That's so that she can run. I'd rather have trees for shelter. You can
slip from one to the other, and what they fling doesn't hit you if you
are quick. There's less chance for you running. You'll be struck or
caught. It's silly, that. She should take shelter when she can, and keep
quiet; then they'll pass by, perhaps, without seeing you."

"I'll be sure to tell her. But--but what are we talking about? Who would
try to catch her? What need to--what were we talking about?"

"Eh? I was saying I've trees before and behind my house. My grandfather
planted them. We've been here for a long while, but I'm the last of us."

Edward Webb brushed his forehead: he blinked. He had an impression that,
made drowsy by the strong air of the mountains, he had been near falling
asleep in the glow of the fire.

"It's sad for a family to die out," he said; and the remark sounded
foolishly in his ears.

"Alexander's a good lad," she said, so that he understood the sequence
of her thought.

"He is, he is. But one is afraid for him."

"Yes, there's trouble--a thick block of trouble on his way."

He fluttered. "You--you are a prophetess?"

"I can see sometimes, but there are dark places. They are mostly dark,
and you must wait till the darkness lifts. I'm no witch. It's not for us
to come across people's paths. But I can't help seeing things when
they're shown. And that poor Rutherford fool--I told the truth to
Alexander. For his wife's sake, I wished him back, but I don't know that
it was my thinking brought him, for I did not think strong. I would not.
Who am I to say he must turn this way or that? I'm not a witch, but
Alexander likes to call me one. He's done it since he was a little chap
and I told him tales. But I've known a witch, and she was an unhappy
woman. She had power, but there were powers over her, and she was never
rid of them. She was more witched than witching, she'd say to me, and
warn me not to meddle. I was a girl then. She said when she went to
sleep her eyelids would feel clogged with sin. That had a bad sound,
and it frightened me. She was itching to teach me, and I itched to
learn, but I had guidance. You wouldn't have known her for a witch. She
had a rosy face, but if you looked into her eyes, you knew she did not
see clean. She died twenty years ago, one night, sitting by the fire in
Clara's kitchen."

"Clara's!"

"Yes; she lived there, and no one's lived there since till Clara came.
It was a bad thing for James to get there, I sometimes think. You never
know what's left and he's a poor empty vessel."

"But the others?" Unwillingly, unreasonably, he thought, he was alarmed.

"Oh, Clara's full and sweet, and Alexander's one to fill himself. And,
anyway, what do we know--what do we know? I sit here thinking, and I
breed fancies." She turned her sharp look on him. "You won't like
sleeping in my house to-night."

Fidgetting, he confessed: "I am a little nervous, and I think, if I may,
I will go to bed."

She laughed frankly, but nodded, and he, with a shamed face, smiled; but
at the door, when he had said his good-night, he stood for a minute,
candle in hand.

"May I ask, is there an interpretation of your dream?"

"There must be, but I don't know it."

"It would be easy to make one."

"You mustn't, or it will lead you the wrong way."

"My imagination," he began, and added, as if to himself: "It is
dangerous to be the servant of one's imagination."

Going up the dark and creaking stairs, he was afraid, but in the big
chamber she had assigned to him he found quietness. Nothing evil or
uneasy dwelt there and he slept peacefully till morning.



CHAPTER IX


This experience, carefully edited, made a new tale for Theresa. The
cavernous kitchen, the big woman sitting on the stool and telling
dreams, the larches, like sentinels, about the house, and the sweet
peace of the upper room, were new pictures to be added to her store, and
they were favoured ones, mystery haunted.

"Do you like this new lady better than Mrs. Rutherford?" she asked. "I
think I do."

"They are different, Theresa--quite different."

"I suppose Alexander likes his mother best?"

"I should certainly think so."

"I hope you'll go there again. I like you to. I've had such lovely times
since you began to go to mountains."

Nancy's reception of his news was different. He felt it due to her to
break the silence she had created. It was what he wished to do, and what
he would have expected of her had she made and lodged with a new
acquaintance; but it was hard to speak naturally through a barrier, and
there was a hesitation in his voice which had no companion in his heart.

"Oh, Edward!" She broke into tears.

"My darling, what is it?"

"I don't know, but somehow they seem to be taking you from me."

"My dear, my dear," he said, distressed, "no one but yourself can do
that."

"But these women--I'm not like them; I'm not strong or helpful."

"You are my wife!" he answered fiercely.

Her humour overcame her weeping. "Oh yes!" she said, laughing while her
tears still trickled.

"Nancy, don't!"

"What, dear?"

"That tone! I will not have it. The name--the name I give you means what
it did when we first loved. No, it means more--more. You shall not
slight it."

She was weakened again by his tenderness. "No, dear, no; but I'm so
lonely, and you go away to--to other women. I'm not really jealous--of
course I'm not--and I know they are ordinary people enough, but you give
them names that put them far above me. Ceres first, and now Cassandra.
It sounds--oh, don't you understand? How would you like it if I went
wandering about with--with mythological characters?" She laughed feebly,
but he gave no answering smile.

"I will never go there again," he said, and on his face there was the
blank surprise of one robbed by a friend. She saw it, and all day shame
for herself and pity for him strove with her jealousy, until at night
she went quiveringly to him where he sat in his little study upstairs,
and begged him to take back his words.

"I do trust you," she said, "but I'm foolish and very much alone,
and--and sometimes I don't feel well, and then, you know--Ned, promise
you'll go there when you want to. Promise me."

"I have never wanted to do anything but make you happy."

"I know--I know. Ned, can you forgive me? I am ashamed. You have all the
work and worry, and I have grudged you this. But it's because I love
you. Promise me."

He kissed her solemnly. "I promise I will try to forget all but the real
you, Nancy."

"That means you'll go?"

"I expect I shall. There, your face has changed already! Oh, Nancy,
Nancy, even if there were no other reason, are you not Theresa's--the
children's mother?"

Again she smiled, a little mockingly. "Yes, but don't think of me as
Theresa's mother. Let me be a person too. Sometimes I feel as if I'm
just part of the breakfast-room furniture. I spend my life there. No
wonder you forget me."

"Why don't you go out more?" he said uneasily.

"I've no energy, no clothes, no money."

"I have brought you very little good."

"I don't mind about the clothes and the money, Edward."

"What is it, then? My dear, you can't hope to be well if you stay
indoors all day. I don't suppose you ever eat anything but
bread-and-butter and biscuits. It's not fair, Nancy."

"I do my best, dear." Trailing her long skirts, she went slowly down the
stairs.

He looked round the room. Everywhere the dust lay thick, and in the
hearth were the torn fragments of letters he had thrown there two weeks
ago. He looked at his frayed cuffs, he was aware of his buttonless
shirt, and he did not like to think of the children's underlinen. He had
no doubt that it was clean, but he knew it would be unmended. Neglect
working with poverty is ruthless in destruction, and he sat like a man
helpless under a threatened violence of storm. So this room, and the one
downstairs littered with newspapers, books, and odds and ends of sewing,
with the knob of the sideboard still waiting for glue, were produced by
Nancy's best efforts! He did not want that knob restored to a place
where it was not necessary a knob should be, but the meaning of its
absence was sinister. There was much sweetness in Nancy, but there was
little help, and she looked ill. His cares dragged at him, and there was
only himself to lift them until the day when Theresa's strong young
hands would cast them off. But there was Grace. Vigorously, and with a
quick memory of Alexander's wet head appearing above the water of the
pool, he remembered her. He blamed himself for his ingratitude to the
nimble toes which would earn a little salary for her next year. "I do
not think of her enough," he murmured. "Wrong of me. Nancy sees it,
Alexander sees it. Yet I love her." Her success, he considered, would
mean much to Theresa; college, perhaps--hope gleamed a little--she ought
to go to college, and it might be managed. He must have courage. For a
moment he dreamed of commercial conquests, of new customers and large
commissions, but he had dreamed before, and he had not Janet's gift for
dreaming true. He roused himself to facts, and one of the hardest of
them was his brother George. In the last resort, there was brother
George, who lived in lodgings with a harmonium, and longed for a home.
He was a man of some substance, a dealer in grains, willing to pay
dearly for what he wanted, and shrinkingly Edward Webb foresaw the day
when George would have that home offered to him, not out of pity for his
loneliness or desire for his company, but for the money he could
give--money which would help Theresa on the road to fame and allow Nancy
to feel ill in comfort. She ought to see a doctor. There were hollows in
the cheeks he had known so fresh and full, and her touch was nerveless.
His heart shook with fear, for he loved her still with the strange
disturbance of his youth. He clenched his fists and shook them. To be so
powerless, so powerless, though he strove his mightiest! His soul was
fretted; life was a jumble; he saw himself struggling along an endless,
dusty road, white to the knees, eyes blinded and throat parched. There
stretched before him years more of such travelling, yet--and his hands
unclenched themselves--was he not greatly blessed? His eyes were
sometimes cleansed by a sight of stars above the hills; he stooped now
and then to a mountain stream, and of his weariness Theresa would reap
the fruits. He took a deep breath, for he saw the steady hills which
were his friends, and felt their wind on his cheeks. Life cleared itself
again; somewhere, unexplained but sure, there was a law of order. He
bowed his head and went on his humble way. Taught by the beauty of the
world and his own need, he was submissive to the unknown and had faith
in it. There was a meaning in life: he could not read the meaning, but
the belief was a renewed inspiration, and he was content; for who was he
to know God's purposes?

       *       *       *       *       *

Blown by each wind and rejoicing in the merry whirl, Theresa passed her
days; they were all adventurous, of mind if not of body, and her nights
were wonders. There was no one in the world whom she could envy; she
felt sorry for every girl who was not Theresa Webb. Who else could be so
certain of a glorious future? Who else turned the corner of every street
with a just expectation of joy? There was no one else, and, since she
could find her thrilled happiness within herself, she seldom missed it.
Sometimes she played at being a princess, with evidence of blood in the
lift of her head; sometimes she was a little genius, early bowed; and
now and then she was just a schoolgirl, but so beautiful and compelling
that people turned to look at her, and were dazzled by her radiant hair.
While she lived she must find enjoyment, if it were but in being
miserable; for while she lived, so must Theresa, that paragon, that
puzzle of which she never tired. But this adoration was a secret,
guessed at home, perhaps, but unimagined at school. She was very quiet,
very good, and so observant that her work suffered. She seemed
attentive, but under the eager solemnity of her face there was a dancing
spirit that betrayed itself, to the quick, in the restless movements of
her hands. How could she care about arithmetical problems when the woman
who proposed them looked as though she had not slept? The reason for
that wakefulness must be discovered--a more attractive hunting than
seeking for the answer, which might be anything, to a question about
apples and potatoes at fluctuating prices. Her reports both delighted
and alarmed her father.

"Theresa," he said seriously, "I see some of your subjects are very
unsatisfactory."

"Yes, they are, aren't they?" She was interested, and looked with him at
the paper he held.

"You are only top in English, Theresa, and you are bottom in a great
many things. Scripture, I see among them, and arithmetic."

"Yes, but they don't matter much, do you think?"

"It all matters, my child."

"Does it? You know"--she moved to the window and came back to his
knee--"I can't understand why those girls get more marks than I do.
They're really very stupid when you talk to them."

"Perhaps they work."

"Oh yes, I think they do. But I'd rather be clever. They just learn
things. I can't learn things for seeing them."

"You are eleven years old, Theresa. I don't want you to be an ignorant
woman. Imagining things is not knowing them, but when you know them you
can embroider them without much harm."

She liked the expression, and nodded.

"At present," he went on, "you are like a woman who has a needle and
thread and no cloth to work on. She is making patterns in the air, and
they vanish."

"No," she said; "they are inside."

"But she can show them to no one else. And--and when you write your
books, Theresa, is no one but you to see them?"

Oh no, she would not like that. "But writing books is different. It's
like poets."

"What do you mean, my dear?"

"Born, not made, you know."

"I don't think you will find it so simple when you try, and birth is not
always easy."

"No, it isn't. I know that. Bessie's sister-in-law----"

He flushed and interrupted with nervous speech. "So you will try to work
hard, Theresa."

"Yes, I suppose I'd better, but I hope I won't get like the girls who
do." To add new qualities to herself or to change old characteristics
was, she dimly felt even at this age, to tamper with the sacredness of
an original. Technically, it might be improved on, but the
individuality, the oneness, would be lost. She would admit the folly of
flaming into tempers, but she did not like to think of herself without
them: in themselves, tempers were evil, but when they were hers they
became good. She did not want to be industrious; the virtue was not
picturesque, and it was not hers; but if it was an instrument necessary
to fashion herself into the shape she had designed for the future which
was so conveniently far off, then she must learn to use it. Mentally,
she picked it up and put it in her pocket, and considered herself
complete.

On this subject, too, she made her usual half-reluctant reference. "Is
Alexander a worker?" She knew the answer before it came, and was ready
with her grimace. "He's perfect, isn't he? I don't like that boy."

"You would like him if you knew him."

She stamped her foot. "I wouldn't! Oh, why do you say that? How do you
know? I hate people to be so sure about me. Rub it out, quick!"

"Very well; it's rubbed out."

"No, it isn't. You still believe it! It's what Grace says about
girls--'You'd like her, Terry'--and it makes me hate them. Anyhow,
they're rather silly girls, her friends. They giggle and they smile at
boys."

"There's no harm in smiling at boys, Theresa. I wish you had some
brothers."

"So do I. I'd love it, but I don't believe Grace wants them. She has
heaps of sweethearts--heaps. There's one who gives her a buttonhole
every Saturday. Haven't you noticed it? She wears it on Sunday, and
keeps it in water all the week. It's horrid by the end, but she won't
throw it away till she gets another. He's quite big--seventeen, I
think."

Here was yet another anxiety for Edward Webb! His brow was furrowed, and
he looked down at his fingers as they twisted his watchchain. "Don't
tell me anything she wouldn't like me to know, Theresa."

"Oh!" She blushed burningly. "Oh, I haven't been telling tales, have I?
I didn't mean to--I didn't! Oh, what shall I do? I'll have to tell her I
told you."

"Yes, I think you'd better."

"She never told me not to. You know I wouldn't be a sneak. I hate them.
And she won't be home for hours. What shall I do till she comes? Could
you read to me?"

"I should like to."

"I don't think I'll let you, thank you. If I went and met Grace from
dancing, I'd get it over sooner, wouldn't I?"

"It's too soon yet."

"I'd rather start."

She left him with his fears--a small, grey, tortured man. His own
boyhood and youth had been ascetic, with no companions except books. No
pretty face but Nancy's had allured him, and to think of Grace courted
by hobbledehoydom was, to his fastidious eyes, to see her tarnished. He
hurried down the stairs to Nancy.

She laughed at him. "My dear, it's natural. And she's beautiful."

"Very beautiful. There--there are dangers, Nancy."

"Don't, Ned. That's horrid. She's a child."

"She must be warned. Yes, it is natural, but what is so dangerous as
nature? She must be warned. Flowers--and perhaps kisses! I can't endure
it, Nancy."

"My dear, you can't change humanity even in your daughters. I can't bear
to hear you talk like that. It worries me."

"Street-corner meetings--secrecy--foolishness--it must be stopped."

"You'll make her think it's serious. She'll fancy she's in love! You
must laugh at her. She is not fifteen."

"I think it's you who ought to speak to her."

"I can't, dear. My heart----"

"Oh, Nancy! Very well. I'll do this, too." He marched upstairs again,
and she lay back in her chair, trying to still a thumping heart. He knew
he had undertaken one of the hardest tasks in the world.

Nancy, complaining of fatigue and proudly reticent about her pain,
retired to bed, and an uncomfortable trio sat round the supper-table.
Edward Webb was jerkily conversational, Grace was sullen and aggrieved,
Theresa had red eyes. She and Grace had quarrelled. She had been called
"sneak," as might have been foreseen, and she had answered, in the
street, with furious little hands and feet, until, despairing of finding
satisfaction in these assaults, she had sunk to the kerbstone, uttering
passionate, half-articulate sobs of rage. Grace had walked on loftily,
not even interested in her tears. With no one but a stolid
policeman--would that it had been Bill!--to look at her, it seemed a
waste of time to sit there longer, so she, too, walked home, pitying
herself and hating Grace; but it was her father on whom she turned her
hatred when she met Grace crying on the stairs, contorting her still
lovely face. It was terrible to see her in distress, and Theresa asked
forgiveness with fleeting touches of her hands. "Tell me--oh, do tell
me!" she whispered. "I'm sorry, Grace."

"He is trying to part us, but he cannot do it," she said, and leaned her
head against the pillar of the banisters.

Theresa was impressed. "Do you really love him?" she asked.

"Love him! Oh, what's the good of talking to a child like you?"

Curiosity overcame Theresa's pride. "I'm nearly twelve, and I've read a
lot of books, you know."

"I'll tell you. I must tell someone. He says we may be friends; but
there must be no foolishness."

"That's flowers," Theresa said.

"And I can have him to tea if I like. Wouldn't it be stupid?"

Theresa failed her here. "Why?" she said.

"Oh, if you can't see that----" Grace went into the bedroom and locked
the door.

Theresa sat on the stairs till supper-time and divided her sympathies
fairly, but Edward Webb was conscious of the first serious revolt.

"I believe I did more harm than good," he moaned as he lay in bed.

"I knew you would," Nancy answered, and tears of utter weakness rolled
down her cheeks.



CHAPTER X


There came an early April day when Alexander walked from school and felt
that, though he was alone, a stranger went with him. Thus companioned,
he passed through the streets of the little town, out on to the wild
moorland country, and so to a pass between the hills and a pathway worn
by his own feet. The sun was very bright and warm, and he sat down by a
tarn where the wind blew the rushes. Pleasant shivers of cold mingled
with the warmth on his back, and in his throat there was an exultant
aching. He did not know himself; he was a new person, for he was
drinking deep of a heady cup. He was to go to Oxford in the autumn.

He lay on his back and watched the clouds, but he did not see their
procession; he saw his own. Success following success kept time with the
filmy white across the blue, and then a future as wide as the expanse of
sky was opened to him. In his dreams he filled and overflowed the place
offered to him by a welcoming world, but, finding himself unduly
swelling, he sat up with a start, warning himself not to be a fool. He
had a hard head, and, long ago, he had learnt many kinds of
self-control, and he did not mean to indulge his imagination more than
his appetites.

"It's nothing, anyway," he muttered. He looked at the ruffled water and
shivered with it; he looked at the new green of the hillsides, where
defiantly black rocks, starting out of it, proclaimed their perpetuity,
and his heart turned sick with dread of going away. He could not do it,
he told himself; he could not live outside his own place, yet, while he
swore, he knew that he would do it, and he ceased protesting, for he
had a horror of pretence. He would go, but would he be doing right? He
thought of his mother on winter nights, sitting in the kitchen alone,
listening for a step; he heard the wind crying round the house, and for
once allowing himself to feel with her, he knew the trouble of her heart
as she waited with none but the dog for company, and perhaps the spirit
of the dead woman who had been a witch. Ought he to go? he asked again.
"But I will go," he said aloud.

He walked homewards, and he went lingeringly, more eager to feel the
young heather under his feet than to tell his news. A few months, and he
would walk on pavements; he would not breathe this wonderful, uplifting
air. The sound of mountain water would only come to him in thoughts, and
when he woke at night he would think the Blue Hill looked down on him
until, leaping out of bed, as was his way, he would find nothing but
grey walls and grass. He would hear the chiming of many clocks and,
looking from his window, he would find the world empty for lack of the
mountains and the babbling water and the smell of the uninhabited night.

He sat down again. A turn of the path had brought him to a wider view.
The hills here stretched their arms to hold the valley, and he saw the
white walls of his home, the silver snake of water winding to the lake,
the fringing trees, birches and mountain ash, and the dark cluster of
the yews with the church roof shining in the midst of them, under the
sun. The smell of peat rose warmly from the earth and the bleating of
lambs was sweet in his accustomed ears. One had to pay dearly for
conquests and satisfied desires, he found, and he was willing to pay the
price demanded--the price of exile. "But it'll not be for all the year,"
he consoled himself; and then he wondered that he had not rejoiced at
the promised separation from his father. What had once seemed a
necessity for decent life had now fallen back among the unimportant
things. He was learning much.

"I'd live with ten like him, and hate them all, if I could live here,"
he said, and went on slowly, all his senses alert and greedy to gather
stores against the future famine.

His mother glanced up, smiled and nodded as he appeared in the kitchen
doorway. "Tea's ready," she said. It was her daily greeting.

He nodded in his turn and stood on the threshold with his hands in his
pockets, watching the waving larches. They spoke to him in a language he
could not interpret, but understood. He felt an unyouthful and
transitory desire to remain rooted as they were, a desire for peace and
life without a struggle. If he stayed here, Janet would give him work;
he would like it well enough, and things would be simpler so. He
considered the proposal with the calm interest of one who has no doubts.
He was going to Oxford almost as surely as he was going to die. He was
ambitious: he wanted what the place could give him; he wanted and
dreaded the companionship of other men, the combat of minds opposed, the
communion of kindred ones, learning, knowledge of humanity. He would get
these and the hills would remain; wherever life might lead him, he would
come back to them and they would still be here.

"There's a letter for you," said Clara.

He took it from the table. "It's from Edward Webb."

"Yes. I've had one, too."

Alexander opened his. A short note, tremulous as the man, asked leniency
for an enclosure which Alexander pocketed. "He's not been here for
months."

"No, but he says he'll be coming soon. He's been going home when he
could. His wife isn't well, and I think he's worried, poor little bit of
a man!"

"He's a big man," he said, and thought of Janet's dream.

"Well, you know," she said good-humouredly, "I think of all of you as
children. Look what he has sent."

"This will never be Theresa," said Alexander. Dark eyes looked merrily
at him from the picture, a soft mouth smiled, a nose, very slightly
tilted, provoked to pleasure.

"No, that's Grace. Here's Theresa. I can't think how he came to have a
girl like Grace: he's plain enough in the other one."

He looked long at Grace, for she had a delicate warmth of beauty
hitherto unknown to him. It made him think of southern sun, ripe fruits,
round, bare limbs, and brilliant wines.

"She's a dancer, isn't she?" He had a vague and ashamed wish to see her
feet and petticoats, and he thrust the photograph aside. Frowning, he
walked to the door. He felt himself unclean, and he bathed his eyes in
the coolness of mountain stream and wood. Then he looked at Theresa. She
came like another breath of wind. Grace was a girl to him, but Theresa
was a child, and her eager look would never have a sensuous appeal: it
was of the open air, of water and of wind. Her lips were closed as on a
sudden determination, her eyes were light and shining, she seemed to
speak the tongue of all creatures in love with the war of life; but he
thought of her at once as of a little leaf blown from a birch-tree, but
a leaf that leapt in the wind because it chose to do so, and with a firm
intention of being blown only where it wished to go.

"I like her," he said aloud.

"She isn't pretty."

"No." He felt there was something indecent in prettiness. "Let's put
Theresa on the mantelpiece."

"Grace shall go in the parlour. She is an ornament."

"I've got that scholarship," he said abruptly. "I heard at school.
There'll be a letter here to-morrow." She stood silent for an instant,
and he saw a deeper colour creep over her cheeks.

"I knew you'd get it." She kissed him. "Bless you, my son! I knew you'd
get it."

"Oh, Mother!"

"I did, or why did I buy all that flannel for your shirts? I've made
three of them already. Your father's in the garden. Go and tell him."

"You can."

"No, you do it. Alexander, it'll mean a lot to him."

"I don't believe it, unless getting rid of me's a lot."

"You're hard, Alec. In all his life he's had no success but this of
yours, and he'll be pleased. You don't know how much--how much he cares
for you."

"Oh, that----" he said, and paused in his walk to the door. "How will
you do without me? Winter coming on, and--he gets worse."

"He takes less," she said sharply.

"He'll take longer dying," was his thought, but he said, "Sometimes. But
he's more restless. He's not responsible. I believe he's possessed."
Again he thought of Janet and of the dead witch.

"Don't say such things! Possessed, indeed! He's not responsible; but
why, poor soul? Because his father was a bad old man. He can't help
himself. It's wicked the way a man's vice can come crawling after his
son. Wicked! It turns me from my prayers sometimes."

"There's a bad chance for me. You'll never have thought of that,
perhaps."

"I'm your mother as well as his wife, my lad; but you're strong, Alec.
I've given you my strength. And he's weak. But for all that he's the one
man in the world for me, so mind what you say of him! He's the one man.
You'll know some day. Why, if I saw him doing murder, I'd just wipe the
blood off his poor hands." She ended, and then, hearing the echo of her
own words, she looked at him with an approach to shyness. "You think I'm
mad."

"No, I think you're wonderful. You're--you're grand," he stammered.

She laughed, and waved him towards the door. "Tell him," she said.

Alexander crossed the yard and leaned his arms on the garden wall. His
father was on his knees before a box of seedlings. His face with the
heavy moustache drooping over the weakness of his bearded chin was
alight with eagerness, his fingers were delicate amid the tender green,
the sun struck on the thinness of his hair. Alexander felt a new pity
for him.

"I've got some news for you," he said, with timid geniality.

"Eh?" A frown appeared. "Don't worry me. I'm transplanting."

"I know. They look healthy. Tea's ready, and I've got yon scholarship."

James Rutherford stood up to his full length. He rubbed his soiled hands
together, put them in his pockets, and drew near to the wall, until his
face was close to Alexander's. "So you've got the scholarship," he said
slowly. "Well, I'll not be sorry to be rid of you, my lad, but I'm
damned proud of you." He stared at him as though he saw a stranger.
"Damned proud," he repeated.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was as he went to bed that Alexander remembered the supposed genius
of Theresa. He had seen no signs of it. Only the ardour of her
personality was clear to him in the picture. Could that be a kind of
genius? He hoped not. He did not want to admit her to the clan of which
he hoped he was a member. He could not imagine himself mediocre, he must
be something in excess, and like claims from this little girl who had
charmed him all the evening, would inexplicably annoy him. He admired
women; but he liked them to be great in character rather than in
intellect, and something in him refused to believe in the rareness of
Theresa's mental qualities. But he liked her and, a few weeks later, he
pleased Edward Webb by saying so.

"Ah, I thought you would. She's vivid, isn't she? One misses her
colouring in the photograph, but she speaks, I think."

Alexander turned aside the threatened monologue. "I'm much obliged to
you for letting me see the verses."

"You had them? You did not mention them. I thought perhaps--foolish of
me, no doubt, but all one makes is dear to one--I had hoped for
criticism: you want to spare me, but I am not afraid."

Alexander was embarrassed. "I can't criticize you. What do I know about
it?"

"You could help me. I have no one else. And I trust your judgment. As a
favour----"

"Well, then, I'll ask one of you. Will you come often while I'm away,
and let me know how things are going? And just tell me how the hills are
looking, will you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Autumn found him in Oxford, miserable but acutely alive. At first his
country speech and his country clothes made him painfully conspicuous to
himself. He seemed to be moving in a strong light which drew unfriendly
eyes, but gradually his sober, native confidence returned. There were
times when he suffered; but he thought no less of himself because he
wore garments which seemed designed to conceal the lithe strength of his
frame, and could not speak the jargon of the men about him, for the
calibre of his mind was as good as that of other folks, and he knew it.
Once sure of that, he settled down to drink steadily of all life could
give him of knowledge and experience: he did it with the stubborn
persistence natural to him, and though he became absorbed he was never
happy. Here there was too much talk, and he never ceased to be heartsick
for the hills.



CHAPTER XI


Three years later, as Theresa was coming down the stairs one Friday
evening, her father opened the front door, and at the sight of his
pallid face she stood still on the bottom step.

"Have you just come home?" she asked, for he had not seen her.

"It's you, Theresa? I went to the office first."

She put her arms round his neck and kissed him. "Are you very tired?"

"No, dear, no. I must find Nancy. Where is she? Where is Mother?"

"In the breakfast-room." She followed him. If there was excitement
anywhere she was not going to miss it; but she was anxious, and a sharp
pain was driven into her heart when she heard his first words to her
mother.

"It has come at last."

Pictures flashed: murder, forgery, bigamy, theft, in which of these had
her father been discovered? Her mother had his hand. "What did they
say?" she asked, and stroked it. It could not be the police: if they had
once caught him, they would never have let him go again.

"Young men. Competition. They tried to be kind. Of course, I cannot
blame them. And, it's terrible to confess it, Nancy, but in that first
moment I was thankful. People's eyes, haunting me for all these years,
seemed suddenly to have closed, and--and I could lift my head. Cowardly!
I deserve dismissal. They have offered me a clerkship, as I said they
would. How to live on it! Theresa! I did not know you were there."

"Yes, I followed you." Her voice shook with pity for him. "Mother saw
me." People's eyes! She saw them socketless, like those she had once
detached from the head of Grace's favourite doll. "Is it only money?
Then we'll manage. I'm not going to eat meat any more. I loathe the
stuff, and lentils are cheap. I'll tell Bessie to order them." They both
smiled wanly, strangely alike in that moment. "You needn't laugh. We
must be practical. Grace is nearly keeping herself, and I shall be soon.
I wish you wouldn't look so miserable." Mere poverty seemed nothing
after her fears of crime.

"We must all do what we can. I know you'll help us. Tell Bessie Father
wants his supper, dear."

He spoke in a still lower voice. "This means George, Nancy."

"Must it?"

"How else?"

She shuddered. "Will he bring the harmonium? What will the children
say?"

"They will suffer more without him."

"But will they?" She had flown past him, beyond their bodily needs, and
she saw their eager spirits starving. "He will spoil things. There will
be no freedom. Grace will be sensible and she tolerates her uncle, but
Theresa hates him. She is so violent, Ned."

"And so good."

"Yes, somewhere she is good. I dare not tell her."

"I trust her. Treat her as a woman, and she behaves as one."

Nancy smiled. "Try it, my dear."

The flinging open of the door prefaced Theresa's return. Her face looked
very thin in its whiteness. "I've just remembered," she said, squeezing
her hands together--"I've just remembered you won't go to the mountains
any more. It doesn't matter about being poor, but I don't know how we're
to do without the mountains. What shall we do? And there's Alexander,
and Mrs. Rutherford, and Janet--they feel gone. I don't know what to do.
Mother, what are we to do?"

In a soft and distinct voice Nancy answered: "I don't know what Father
will do without them, dear!"

He looked up quickly, and again Theresa was conscious of the old shadow.
"I shall miss my friends," he said firmly.

"Of course, dear."

"But there's me!" cried Theresa. "How can I dream----" She broke off,
for the shadow hid her from her parent's sight. Edward Webb was speaking
more loudly than his wont.

"I shall go and see them when I can."

"Take me." Theresa's voice was distant and ignored. She lost her sense
of solidity. Could she really be here, since they neither saw nor heard
her? She touched the sideboard: it was hard and cold.

"Expensive," Nancy said.

"I hope I shall not be self-indulgent."

"There would be excuse."

"Nancy, Nancy, at a time like this!" He dropped his appeal. "If I cannot
go to them, perhaps they would be willing to come to me."

"Not Alexander," Theresa protested.

"How would they enjoy the company of George?"

Theresa took a step forward. "Uncle George? Why?"

A new danger bridged their difference. "Tell her," said Nancy's eyes.
His mood was defiant, for he had been goaded, and he did not hesitate.

"We are thinking of asking your Uncle George to live with us," he said
smoothly.

She sat down, opening and shutting her mouth. "You're not," she said,
very low. "Nobody could live with him. He's a beast."

"Terry!"

"You know he is. What's the good of pretending? You hate him yourself.
When he comes you get all screwed up to nothing. We all hate him. If he
comes here I'll run away. If I were a boy--oh, if I were a boy!" Her
face was like a shell with a light inside it. "I'd go down to the docks,
I wouldn't stay here; I'd go to sea. And, anyway, I--I'll earn my own
living." She sank more deeply into her seat, and her hands shook in her
lap. She looked up. "You're not really going to ask him? It'll make
Mother ill for one thing."

"Not if you keep your temper, Terry."

Her voice broke out on a sob. "I _am_ keeping it! Oh, oh, oh! He'll
preach and he'll pray, and he'll whine on that old harmonium--and try to
convert us, and he'll spy on Grace, and we'll never have any fun any
more. And where's he going to sleep? Fusty old thing--he'll snore. Are
you going to turn us out of our room for him? Are you? I won't go--I
won't go!"

"Theresa, we are in difficulties. We want your help."

"I won't do anything if you let that George come. What's the good of
having money if you're miserable? Religious old pig! I'll tell him I
hate the Bible; I'll fetch it and jump on it before him, and--and throw
it at him. I will not have my life spoilt--it's wicked! I hate him! I
hate you! I loathe his snarly old hymns and his religion. It's all lies.
'Gentle Jesus,' that's the way he says it, watching to see if your eyes
are shut. Old beast! If he comes I'll never speak to him. Never, never!
You're selfish, you're only thinking of yourselves. Oh----" She stood
up, shaking, crying, mad with impotence. She seemed to seek a last
explosive word. It came with a wrench from her throat. "It'll be hell,
hell, hell!" She made a desperate lunge at her chair, overturned it,
kicked it viciously, and rushed from the room. They heard her stumbling
up the stairs, noisily, blindly, and at last, the banging of her bedroom
door.

"She'll kill me," Nancy moaned.

       *       *       *       *       *

Theresa lay on her bed in a blackness of misery that absorbed the
night's darkness entering the room. She seemed to be lying in a pit out
of which she could never be raised. She was not ashamed of her
sentiments, but of having uttered them: she regretted not so much her
cruelty to her parents as the pitiful display of her own weakness. How
could she brave the light and face her father? The questions of her
childhood reappeared. Had Bessie heard the clamour? Would she tell Bill?
Worst of all, how could she live without thinking happily of herself?

She lay there, turning and twisting, gazing through a tunnel-like
future, pitch dark without the light of her self-respect. How long
before she neared the end and saw a glimmer? Already life had taught her
the kindliness of time, but she had not yet learnt patience. How could
she wait until custom and forgetfulness had done their work?

The minutes went slowly by; the two darknesses covered her. She was a
prisoner in the dungeon of her own despair, and, like all prisoners, she
began to plan escape. Dare she creep out and pretend nothing had
happened? Should she crave a forgiveness hardly desired, or should she
offer submission on honourable terms--no mention of her offences, and,
beyond all, no Uncle George? She found it impossible to move. How many
hours had passed? She was cold. She wondered if Alexander, that
recurrent image, were as violent in anger as she; not now, of course,
for he was a man, but when he was a boy.

She heard steps on the stairs, voices, the opening of her mother's door.
Someone was mounting heavily. She held her breath. Was her mother coming
to speak to her? No, she had passed, very slowly, into the opposite
room. Her father was speaking; there was a strange, flapping sound--that
was Bessie's felt slippers wearing her stockings into holes. She seemed
to be in a hurry. Were they all going to bed? Was it so late? And, if
so, why had not Grace returned?

In a little while there was a swift, light step, and Grace entered.

"Terry, where are you? On the bed? Get up quickly. Where are the
matches? Mother's ill, and you must go for the doctor."

"Ill?" Theresa blinked in the gaslight.

"It's her heart."

"Her heart," Theresa repeated dully.

"Yes, be quick! I must go and see to her."

"Is it late?"

"Only nine o'clock."

"Nine!" Theresa slipped from the bed, felt for her slippers, and ran
out, hatless, into the quiet streets. She was accompanied by the fear of
death. She was a fast runner, and she made little noise in her thin
shoes, but more silently ran that fear. She saw it with a mocking face
and claw-like hands.

Peremptorily she summoned the doctor, appearing like a dishevelled
sprite to the startled maid, and sped again down the garden path. The
shrubs were dark and thick and they rustled as she passed.

She found the front-door open when she reached home, and her father
hovering in the hall.

"My child! No hat!" He took her hands and she yielded them gladly,
dropping her head to his shoulder.

"I did it," she whispered. "She isn't going to die, is she?"

"We do not know. We do not know."

"I did it," she repeated.

He patted her shoulder. "Hush. Don't think about yourself. See if Grace
wants you."

Slowly she went upstairs. She could not have analyzed her pain, it had
too many parts, but perhaps the sharpest of them was her sense of
slight. She confessed, tacitly asked forgiveness, and he bade her not
think about herself! Her next thought was not formed, but it lived in
her, telling her that he should have shown gratitude for the killing of
her pride. She drove the nails into her palms. He had thought nothing of
the confession which, to her, had pulsed with more than repentance,
which had been quick with drama. He was blind or callous, and the hot
colour of shame ran up her face, but faded as she reached her mother's
door.

She turned the handle softly, and stepped over the threshold into a dim,
hushed room, full of the mystery of sickness. Grace was at the
washstand, moving crockery and bottles without noise, a conscious
control of the situation plain in her bearing and in the air of the room
which had been miraculously converted into tidiness.

With her back to the door and close to the head of the bed, Theresa
peeped at her mother, who lay with closed eyes, then glanced admiringly
at Grace, who was not afraid of acting nurse, who could lower her voice
naturally and divine needs before they were felt. Theresa envied her:
she was so quiet, so sure and kind--so lovely! She watched her as she
bent over her mother, and the easy curve of her body was so fresh and
perfect that the clothes seemed to fall away, leaving her pristine and
unencumbered. Theresa's soul ached at such beauty and with desire for
it. She felt awkward, useless, in the way. She could not help her
mother, for all her cleverness; indeed, she had driven her to this bed
over which Grace, whom she sometimes despised for her flirtations and
frivolity, could lean with such tenderness and skill. There was
something fine in Grace, and she felt herself shrivelling. Doubts swept
her. Where were the capacities in which she had believed? Oh, but she
would be great! She must begin at once. She could not be wasted. She
felt the strength of her energy leaping in her, and her feet scraped the
shabbily stained boards on which she stood.

Grace raised a hand that commanded silence, and tiptoed to the door.

"She's asleep, I think. Is he coming? Soon?"

Theresa nodded. They whispered on the landing. "Is she going to die?"

"Don't!"

"But I must know. It was me that did it. I was angry. I didn't know her
heart was really bad. I'd like to tell her that, if she's going to die."

"You mustn't speak to her."

"But if she dies without knowing----"

Grace's soft eyes were scornful. "She knows all you could tell her,
child! You'd kill her with your fussings, and I'm not going to let her
die. She shall not. I want her."

"You're not the only one!"

"I must go back." Grace slipped into the room and Theresa sat down on
the stairs, while tears of angry pain rolled into her neck. She
disdained to dry them: their wetness and the after-stiffening of their
channels were balm to soreness, and she could forget her fault in pity
for herself, because no one understood her, because her feelings were
such a torturing, yet somehow delightful medley, past the power of her
own mind to unravel.

The doctor's report was immediately comforting, but not very hopeful for
the future. Edward Webb learnt that his wife's heart was very weak, that
all excitement and worry must be spared her, that a shock would probably
kill her.

"She shall not have a shock," he said, lifting his grey face.

"She must be saved anxiety."

"She shall be."

"She had better do nothing energetic."

"Certainly not." He frowned heavily, as though he saw difficulties here.

"Women," said the doctor genially, "are difficult to manage. They think
they're indispensable, and they're right--but Mrs. Webb must be
persuaded that she's not. You're fortunate in having daughters. Miss
Grace is very capable. She has a head. I think you can rely on her."

"Yes," he said--"yes." He was forlorn and afraid as he closed the door
on the doctor, and he saw Nancy afloat on an ebbing tide. She was
leaving him, very slowly; she was dwindling in his sight, and soon
there would be no more than a memory of her fragrance. He could not stay
the mighty sea which bore her from him, but he strained his eyes for
another glimpse of her grace, and a sob jerked itself from his throat.
"Nancy," he said, "not yet, not yet!" He made indefinite movements with
his hands. He had not known how ill she was. She had hidden her
suffering from him, she was brave and good, and he must keep her. Again
he called on her name, curving his fingers as though they held her hand.
There was a creaking of the stairs. He felt his arm clasped.

"What did he say?" Theresa whispered. "Tell me--tell me, oh, what did he
say?"

They went together to the dark dining-room, and sat close to the table
on the hard, leather-covered chairs.

"She will recover," he said, stretching his limp arms on the tablecloth;
"but she will need care, constant care, Theresa. She must have no
excitement, no shock, no worry."

"I'll help you." The words were hard to say, but her reward came.

"I have great faith in you, Theresa."

"I'll truly try to help." The quivering of her voice was involuntary,
but the sound pleased her.

"I know." There was a silence in which Theresa began an immortal poem.
Very quickly it must be written to bring fame and money to this stricken
house.

"We can't afford another servant, and your mother will need much care."

Theresa's hands worked together under the table.

"Grace is earning money, she must not be taken from her work."

"But there's Uncle George coming," she said in quiet desperation.

"But my salary is halved. We are very poor!"

She sat in a blackness which had become peopled by selfish desires that
warred with unselfish ones. She saw them as opposing hosts, she heard
the clash of armour and weapons, steel against steel, and she bowed her
head in fear of blows, felt herself running from the horrid dangers of
the fray. What a coward, to escape when the issue of battle lay in her
own strength! More than sinners she hated cowards, and suddenly the
tumult ended.

"I'm sixteen--more," she said aloud. "I'll leave school. I'll work at
home. Anyhow, I'm not the kind that gets much good from lessons."

A faint murmur from Edward Webb resolved itself into the words: "There's
your future, your career. It ought not to be sacrificed, my child."

"It doesn't matter," she mumbled.

"I can't allow it, yet," his voice rose wailingly, "what am I to do?
What am I to do?"

She rubbed her untidy head against his shoulder. "I'll work at home,"
she whispered. "There'll be lots of time. I won't--I won't be beaten, I
promise you." She felt again the smouldering force within, and
triumphantly she cried: "If there's any power, it can't be crushed, it
can't! You'll see. And oh!" she added more softly, "let me make up if I
can. I was wicked. I'll even be an angel to Uncle George!"

She could almost hear the slipping of his burden. "Thank you, Theresa.
Thank you, my child. You never fail me."

His faith thrilled her, gave her wings, yet it was now that she had the
first doubt of her ability to fly.



CHAPTER XII


Theresa left school without regret. She had made no friends there, for a
deep shyness overlaid the endearing qualities which she learnt, later,
to use for the capture of hearts: she had not cared for the work she did
easily, if without brilliance, and her ambitions had ignored and swept
far beyond a schoolgirl's triumphs. Moreover, novelty was breath to her:
if her heart had been torn at leaving, she would have welcomed the
wrench for the sake of the new part she was to play. She was the martyr
to domestic affliction and, accordingly, she smoothed the hair which the
years were sobering to the colour of mingled autumn leaves, and fastened
it austerely into a thick, swinging plait.

She was now the mistress of the household. She rose at seven, roused
Bessie from her heavy slumbers, waiting outside the door until she heard
the creaking of the bed and the subsequent thump of sleepy feet on the
floor, before she ran downstairs for a plunge into chilly water. She and
Grace, exiled from their old room by the arrival of Uncle George, now
shared the one above, opposite their father's little sanctum, and, still
higher up, Bessie slept in a long, low room under the roof. The maid
complained of the numerous stairs but Theresa liked them. Rushing up
them and down, she had a sensation of speed that excited her. She went
two steps at a time, and when the flight was composed of an odd number
she descended the last three, perilously, at a leap, and she learnt to
do it so lightly that even Grace the agile was impressed.

"But you'll hurt yourself some day," she said.

"Oh, well, one must do something! I pretend there are wolves after me,
or assassins. It makes life so much more interesting. I get through
everything like that, except dusting. I can't make up anything about
dusting, it's the dullest thing."

"I wish I had time to do it for you. I like the look of things
afterwards."

"I can never see any difference. I'm not doing my natural work."

"What's that?"

"Oh, if you need telling----" She retired to the study and sat in the
cold before a sheet of paper, with a pencil in her hand. The immortal
poem was her natural work, but how could she find time to write it with
a household of six people to care for? Her mother breakfasted in bed,
Uncle George was fastidious about his meals. Grace needed them at any
odd and inconvenient moment, and Theresa found herself a better cook
than Bessie. With a cake in the oven it was not easy to compose her mind
to the calm necessary for her first arresting lines: the family liked
her cakes, and praise was dear to her; therefore the poem and, she
feared, the public suffered, and sometimes at the thought of what
circumstances would not let her do, her body became a vessel for hot,
tumultuous anger. She felt it churning within her, and she longed to
raise her hands and strike. At these times she hated Bessie, she chafed
at her mother's weakness, she scorned Grace, she despised her father and
she took pains to plan annoyance for her uncle. After all, was it not he
who had caused this trouble? she would say, and somewhat against her
will, for she liked a reputation for good management, she would forget
to order the packet of dried cereals which formed his meal at
supper-time, so that he would be forced to eat meat and have
indigestion, or to go hungry. But a growing pride in her task soon
disdained these tricks, and she became almost maternally interested in
his appetite.

"You're not eating your cream," she told him one night. "I got it
specially for you. That stuff looks so husky. It makes me think of the
Prodigal Son."

He ignored the Biblical allusion and looked at her with a cold disregard
for her juvenile irreverence.

"I must use my natural juices," he assured her. He looked singularly
bereft of them. His face, clean-shaven but for short grey whiskers, was
as dried and colourless as his cereals, his grey hair was stiff and
dull, his hands were lean without nervousness.

Watching him, the twitching of her lips grew into a smile. She began to
like him. In his nature there was something grim and uncompromising
which enabled him to keep his teeth shut on speech and the expression of
his religious convictions. She recognized that this gift, or his wisdom,
had thwarted her. She had meant to tease him, to taunt him with his
Seaman's Club, where, on Saturday nights, the strains of the harmonium
he had carried there droned a melancholy yet compelling welcome to the
loafers about the docks, but she was robbed of opportunity. He never
spoke of his pursuits, seldom of himself, and she was startled into a
friendly pity for him. He had wanted a home and, at last, unwillingly,
he had been admitted into this one, yet here, in the place of his
desire, he sat silent and reserved, carefully keeping even a mental
aloofness from the doings of his relatives. Was this gratitude, or a
fear of ejection? And did he find any happiness among them? She frowned,
for her heart was softening, and she foresaw that when she had time,
when that poem was written, she would have to turn her powers to the
understanding of him. This was capitulation, she confessed, but then,
she comforted herself, analysis of men and women was important for her
future.

He looked up, caught her puzzled, eager stare, and smiled. Smiling, too,
she nodded. Really, she thought, why has not someone fallen in love with
him?

When the meal was over and Edward Webb had crept quietly to his study,
and Uncle George had departed to his harmonium, Theresa stood before
the fire and looked down at her mother, gently rocking in the old chair.

"Do you think he has ever been in love?" she said.

"Who?" Nancy asked.

"Uncle George, of course," said Theresa.

"I don't know, dear. I never heard of anyone."

"It's not lawful to marry one's uncle, is it?"

"I suppose not." Nancy's brows were raised.

"I'm coming to the conclusion that he's rather an attractive man--and
very mysterious. If I ever marry, I shall marry a mystery."

"I shouldn't advise it, dear."

"I should tire of anyone else in a year--less! I must have excitement."

"There's a time of life when one longs for peace."

Theresa jerked her head upwards. "Not for me!" she cried, and clasped
her hands behind her back. Like a young horse, not yet broken, she
believed herself unconquerable.

Nancy smiled. "Where's Grace? She has no class to-night."

"No, I expect she has gone to see someone." A little dart of anxiety
pierced her, for she was a shrewed guesser, her eye was quick, and
Grace's symptoms during the last weeks had been disturbing and familiar
ones. She sighed.

"Are you tired, dear?"

"No, thank you."

"Then I wish you'd see what Father's doing. He looks so white to-night.
Just give me those new books off the sideboard, first, dearie."

Theresa went upstairs. She felt a vague irritation against her family,
and tasted life's staleness in her mouth. It brought nothing but a round
of common tasks for her, dreary labour to her father, a strange darkness
of energy to Bessie, and ill-health to her mother; to Uncle George, an
emptiness he tried to fill with a harmonium and a hymnal, and to Grace,
a breathlessness of dancing, smiling, dressing, flirting. All efforts
and all persons seemed so separate, yet so united, and she could find no
meaning in them beyond that. The thought wearied her, her body and mind
felt old, and, remembering that it was long since she had dreamed of
mountains, she realized the cause of her unrest--that romance and
excitement were easily forfeited if she might see the hills in sleep.
She paused on the landing and drew breath sharply, as though it were the
mountain air she gathered.

She opened the study door, and saw her father bowed over his desk. He
was writing, but he stopped and looked up to welcome her.

"Are you busy? Writing letters? Shall I go?"

"No, my dear, stay."

She went to the window. The blind was up, and she could see the quiet,
lamplit street.

"Houses and houses, and people in all of them, and they all have
relatives, and friends, and troubles. And they all care so much more
about themselves than about anything else. I can't get used to that. And
when I see people crowding into tramcars, it's the same. Sometimes I
like it; it's exciting"--she caught her lip over the word and laughed
secretly--"and then sometimes the thought's too big--worrying. I like
the other side of the house best. I feel that I can get out--to the
sea."

He was enchanted by her unusual readiness to talk.

"Do you want to get to the sea?"

"On windy nights, when the ships call me. Do you hear them in your
room?"

"Oh, yes!" he said.

"Does it make you want to go?"

He hesitated. "No, I'm a chilly person, but I admit it stirs me to think
of others facing cold and danger. The sea--I'm afraid the sea frightens
me a little."

Like a child who is too shy to speak of what it loves, she forced him to
name it for her.

"You don't like the sea best, do you?"

"No, Theresa, it's the mountains that have snared me."

"Tell me about them."

"It's so long since I've been."

"Why?"

He showed his jaded face. "I can't get there for nothing, my dear, and I
don't want to leave your mother. But some day, when she is better, I'll
take you there. I think you would be happy."

"Should I?" she questioned innocently, hiding her smile. "Let's pretend
we're on the way. You tell me what we're coming to. I'll shut my eyes."
She chuckled delightedly at her own babyishness, but he seemed unaware
of it, for this was the little girl who had always wanted stories and
never been denied.

"We'd get out of the train," he began, "and smell the sea; and then we
should smell a fresh and wonderful wind, and we should know it came from
the mountains, and we'd hurry along the road. We're hurrying, Theresa,
to the place where that wind was born. It's the spring, I think. There
are primroses in the hedges, lots of them by the stream, but I expect we
shall see some snow on the hills. It lies late in the gullies, and at
night it falls up there, when it is almost warm in the valleys. It's a
long walk, but we're going very fast because we are so eager, and now
we're turning a corner, and the wind comes more smartly, stealing our
breath, and it is hard work to raise our heads against it to see----"

Theresa's parted lips drooped sharply, without warning, and stopped his
speech. "Don't!" she cried imploringly. "Don't tell me! I--I don't think
I like this game. Pretending!" She hid her face and indistinctly
murmured: "I don't think I can bear to talk about it."

"My dear!"

She looked up: there were tears in her eyes. He blinked.

"My dear," he repeated helplessly. "What is it?" She shook her head,
laughing, and yielding to the persuasion of his hand, she sat on the
arm of his chair, and leaned against him.

"I'm silly," she said.

But he would not allow that: he triumphed in her sensibility. "No, no,"
he said. The pressure of his encircling arm assured her that he
understood, and she did not try to check her weeping, for she enjoyed
it, and all the nameless troubles of her youth seemed to be finding
solace. She was surprised at her emotion, and became interested in it:
thought dammed the flood, and with the back of her hand she wiped her
eyes. Edward Webb continued to hold her firmly while she stared before
her, not guiltless of an occasional sniff which had for him the pathos
of a cry. Considering herself, she decided that she was strange. Why had
she silenced her father? Her glance fell, broodingly, to the papers on
his desk. Was it because the hills were her religion, her love for them
her form of worship? She liked the notion and saw herself enhanced by
it. Her heart beat a little faster; there were depths in her she had not
sounded, and her blurred gaze cleared itself in this excitement. Her
mind looked inward while her eyes mechanically followed the lines of her
father's writing. They were partly concealed by blotting-paper, but some
of them she read over and over again, making accompaniment to her
thoughts, until their meaning flashed and blinded her to all else. They
were words of love, brilliant, coloured words that startled, horrified
her. She had read such words in print, but to see them in her father's
handwriting seemed to strike life out of her.

Her mind had a curious sensation of lop-sidedness; it was partly numbed,
partly acute; she was incapable of remembering to shift her glance, but
quite clearly she saw words which told her the letter was written to
that woman in the hills. There was no doubt of that. Was he not
comparing her face to a sun-bathed peak visible through cloud? She
learnt this in half a minute's passing, and then she rose. She was cold,
but her mind was once more a whole, and merciless in its conclusions
and its indictment.

"Are you going, my dear?" He moved his papers into a little heap.

"Yes."

He did not look at her. "I wish," he said, beating a tattoo on the desk
and speaking with an effort--"I wish you would always come to me,
Theresa, when you are--when you are not happy."

"Oh!" she cried chokingly, and rushed away.

He found her confusion easy to understand, and he loved her for the
reserves so seldom and so delightfully broken.

The icy darkness of her bedroom enclosed Theresa with the chill and
colour of life itself. The future was cold and rayless; she groped
towards it and was afraid, but she had the courage of anger and as she
stumbled against the bedpost, she lifted her head. How could he? how
could he? She saw her mother sitting down there by the fire, rocking
gently, with that faint smile curving her lips; she remembered the
shadow that had sometimes seemed to fall between her parents, and
loyalty ran out towards her mother like a wave. And, on the other side
of the landing, bending over his desk, that meek, uncertain father of
hers wrote his love letters in secret. He wrote love letters because he
could not afford to go to the mountains and the woman, because he would
not leave his wife!

The terrible, sickly blackness of things covered her. She struggled
under it, and with the effect of something magical, mockingly plain, yet
distant, she saw, all the time, the lights of the docks, and heard the
clanging of the tramcar bells in New Dock Road. Lights while she
floundered in gloom, human sounds while she wandered in fear-inhabited
caverns! She had rejoiced in the reading of such situations, she had
fancied herself fitted to cope with them, but she found reality too
real. Anger at something greater than a small personal injury was a
bigger passion than she had imagined, and pity, doomed to voicelessness
and impotence, tore her with strong hands.

She moved rapidly to and fro between the dressing-table and the bed's
foot. She had loved her father, and now she saw him a deceiver. The
thought hung on her as she walked. Surely truth had looked out of his
kind eyes, love had shone there, and could deceit give a hand to each?
She found it hard to distrust him utterly, for did he not believe in
her? But she crushed this relenting in her clenched hands, and continued
her restless pacing. That little grey man a lover! Had he been tall, and
strong, and masterful, he had been easier to forgive, but that a small,
meek man should be unfaithful made the insult to her mother doubly
bitter. And that woman Alexander's mother! She came to a stand, holding
her throat. Did Alexander know? He was her father's friend, but she
hated him, and immediately she imagined him the abettor. Oh, how they
sullied her glorious mountains, and, oh! was it possible that she was
dull and prudish? Was she missing the grandeur of a hopeless love
because she was too near to see it well? The question stilled her. In
books--to these her judgments always turned--she was able to sympathize
as much with the guilty as the innocent, but here----. Ah, well, she was
not in a book, and she had loved her father, and downstairs her mother
sat ill and miserable. She might die at any moment, and Theresa felt the
pang of her father's remorse. Had he thought of that? Once more her
heart seemed to stop its beating.

A knock came at her door. "Yes?" she said.

"It's me, Theresa. I want to show you something. May I come in?"

She opened the door to Edward Webb, and stood rigid, glaring fiercely at
him out of her white face. Yet he was unchanged. The odour of sin was
not upon him, and he blinked and smiled as he held a paper towards her.

"All in darkness? Look, my dear, this--this is something Alexander sent
to-day. I should like you to look at it."

"Alexander!" Her low voice had turned shrill. "I don't want to see
anything he has sent! I don't want to know anything about those people!"
She pushed past him and ran down the stairs.

An hour afterwards, having tenderly seen her mother into bed, Theresa
went to her own room, too heart-weary to be anxious about Grace.
Everything seemed ruinous and wrecked, what matter if Grace fell, too?
This was her mood as she slipped off her clothes and bravely stretched
herself between the cold sheets, yet she kept her ears alert, and when
she heard an unmistakable step she made a hurried movement of relief.

Grace flung herself into the wicker chair, which creaked dolefully.

"Oh, Terry!" The gas was turned low, but Theresa could see the beauty of
her pose.

"You're very late."

"Don't be cross. I can't bear it. Terry! Theresa! I'm so happy that I
want to cry!"

"Why don't you, then? I shan't mind. And for Heaven's sake be quick and
come to bed."

"I did hope you would be in a nice temper, and you're horrid." She sat
on the bed and laid her cheek against Theresa's. "You really must be
good to me to-night."

"I suppose you've engaged yourself again?" Her tone was hard at the
thought of love-making.

Grace withdrew her caress. "I have never been engaged before," she said
distinctly.

"Then you've told me lies, twice. A good thing I didn't believe them!"

"You're hateful! You know the other times were only folly."

"Yes, I knew, but I didn't know you did. I shouldn't tell anyone else
about this if I were you. It won't last long."

"It will last for ever and ever." She took off her hat. "Don't you want
to know who it is?"

"Is it that Wilkinson with the undeveloped head?"

"It's a beautiful head--classic. Theresa, you are horrid. I thought you
would understand."

"I do, and I'm not a bit disturbed. He will never be my brother-in-law.
You've too much sense--somewhere. Now do your crying, and then get into
bed. It's rather cold all alone."

"I'm burning," said Grace. She would not be snubbed, and she hummed
gaily instead of weeping.

"Did he ask you to-night?" said Theresa, unwillingly curious.

"Yes."

"Where?"

"I'm not going to tell you."

"Oh, all right. I asked Bessie to leave out your milk and biscuits. Did
you have them?"

"Milk! Biscuits! As if I could eat anything at a time like this! You are
the most unromantic person."

"It's safer," said Theresa wearily. She made a deeper nest for her tawny
head, and dismissed Grace's light affairs. They became negligible in the
face of the tragedy she knew, and with the closing of her eyes she shut
them from her mind. She prayed that sleep would bring the mountains, the
clean mountains which, after all, could not be smirched by human beings,
and they came to her. She saw them, tall, dark, superb, and inviolable,
and she woke with something of their courageous peace.



CHAPTER XIII


Theresa had not the prophetic gift, but she garnered her experiences;
she had good judgment and, when it pleased her, she could use wisdom in
her dealings with her kind, so that, two months later, when Grace came
to her, sore over the sufferings of the young man with the undeveloped
head, yet still determined to be cruel to him, Theresa received her
without surprise or any reference to the promised eternity of Grace's
love.

"It was a great mistake," Grace said ingenuously. "I'm afraid I like
admiration, and I can't help liking people who give it me."

"You must like the whole world, then. What a big heart to carry!"

"It's not quite as big as that, and you take up a lot of room in it,
Terry, though you think I'm such a silly."

"You'll improve," said Theresa cheerfully.

She was able to be cheerful, for two months is a long time at seventeen,
and the pain of her spirit was dulled: she had become used, though not
reconciled, to the sight of a familiar figure, branded with shame. She
no longer compared his every word and action with the truth she knew of
him, for the beautiful green growth of custom was hiding the staring
ugliness of her discovery. It was there, underneath, but now and then
she was able to forget it, and that capacity almost persuaded her
sometimes that her imagination had played her false. She watched him. He
was the same man, it appeared, but for the shrinking wonder with which
he looked at her, hurting her, striking doubt into her young criticism
of things beyond her. Was it his guilt or her cold treatment which had
cast this visible shadow over him? It should have been his guilt, but he
had offended and yet gone clear of cloud before she found him out. It
was her frowns that troubled him, and while she hated the immature
self-righteousness which forced them from her, she could not keep them
back; a smooth brow would have been disloyalty to the woman over whom he
bent with a hypocrisy so perfect that it seemed impossible. She had hard
work to restrain articulate scorn, but her curled lips did duty, exiling
him to that desert place whence he could not see her smiles. In these
days his shoulders became more bent, and Theresa learnt how he had
looked in the shops where he was afraid of people's eyes. The knowledge
shook her; he was like a frightened child who longs for kindness, and
only by repeating those beating words could she forbear from putting her
arms round his neck and kissing him under the brows. She longed to do
it; her love fluttered and struggled in her breast, so that she had to
quiet it with the pressure of her hand, and this was the beginning of a
habit which never left her.

She watched the postman, too. Letters, addressed in Alexander's writing,
came from the farm among the hills: they were thick and sometimes
sealed, and the eagerness with which her father took them to his room
convinced her that they held enclosures. At such times he seemed to her
like an animal secreting food, and the striving love lay still.

On an evening when this had happened, she sat with her mother by the
breakfast-room fire. It was May, but a cold wind rattled the windows,
and Nancy had her feet inside the fender and a shawl round her
shoulders. Theresa was sewing, as a silent protest against the ardent
letter-reading upstairs. Her lips were tightened, and conscious virtue
enveloped all of her but the hair that flamed in love's own colour. She
was now eighteen, and the hair was massed on her head, overweighting it,
strengthening the pallor of a face where only a few golden freckles
broke the white.

She shivered. "May is the worst month of all," she said, and threw down
her sewing. "Such light, long evenings, and spring's news almost old. It
makes me miserable."

"I wish you would go out more, dear."

"I took Uncle George for a walk yesterday, and Father the day before."

"That's not what I mean. Why will you never go with Grace?"

"I don't fit in. I feel like a great piece of furniture when I'm with
her friends. I can't talk as they do. They have a way of making
jokes--all about nothing and really not a bit funny--that turns me dumb.
I don't know how they can think of such imbecilities." She did not add
that she envied their facility, that their gay scraps of talk, their
ease in each other's company, the way in which they wore their clothes
and did their hair, shamed her for her silent awkwardness and robbed her
of any comfort in the belief that she was alien because she was unique.
Her eyes were quick, but they did not see that though she lacked the
loveliness she had always wanted, her face had the beauty of her swift
and vivid spirit, she had the pliant grace of a larch, the freshness of
its early green and the courage which has caused that tree to be set in
wild and desolate places. She thought the more highly of the intellect,
and in this region she was aware that she overtopped the women of her
acquaintance and the men with whom they danced, and laughed, and talked
with such incomparable ease.

Nancy uttered a platitude serenely. "It takes all sorts to make a
world," she said.

"I know, but there don't seem to be any of my sort--and I could be a
friend!"

"You are a friend, dear, to me and Father and Uncle George and Grace.
Since you began to take care of us all, I think I've never been so
happy. You mustn't think I haven't seen, and now I want to tell you in
case I never have another chance. My heart was very bad last night--but
don't tell Father. Don't worry him. The attacks must come, and one of
them will take me with it. I don't want to tell anyone but you, Terry,
and I tell you because you're strong."

The colour rushed over Theresa's face, and she stammered as she spoke;
but it was fear, not pride, that swamped her; though, in after silences,
the words echoed back to her thrillingly.

"You must let me sleep with you. I can't let you have attacks all alone
in the dark like that. Pain"--she breathed the word--"must be so
terrible alone. Doesn't Father wake? I should, if you moved."

"So would he, but I don't move, you see. And I'm not going to be parted
from him for the time that may be so short. And I've endured worse
pangs, Theresa, far worse. Thank God, they're over." The faint smile
deepened, the corners of her mouth were reminiscent, her lips had the
softness of a girl's. "Where you give love, give trust, Theresa, when
your great time comes."

The wavering colour came back to Theresa's cheeks. She looked pityingly,
adoringly, at her mother, and then her brain seemed to swell with
reckless anger.

"I'll never love!" she cried, "because I must trust where I love, and
men--men are so faithless! Oh, I know!" She ceased, trembling, watching
her slim, shaken wrists. She heard laughter.

"Is this books, or Bessie?" And then, as Theresa raised her face,
"Terry! What has happened? Nothing to you--or Grace?"

"No, no, dear, it's just the things I hear about. Truly." She was on her
knees, stroking her mother's face, aghast at her own carelessness. "It's
Grace who is unfaithful, and no one gives a thought to me!"

"You are so dramatic, dear! Don't give way to the temptation."

"I know," Theresa murmured. "It's wicked of me." But this time her
outburst had had no impulse but what came from her own indignant heart.

"You're not always sure, are you, of what you really feel?"

"Oh, how did you know? But is anybody?"

"Lots of people, I think. This--this may be my farewell sermon, Terry,
so be attentive!"

"I won't listen if you talk like that."

"I won't, then, and I'm not going to preach. I only want to tell you to
go on taking care of them all for me. You do it better than I ever did,
and it has been a sacrifice."

Had it? Theresa looked back through the months. What would she have done
with them if they had been hers to use? The thought of the immortal poem
rose up in a cloud of dust. It would never be anything more than dust,
offensive to eyes and nose, choking her. With a defiant movement of the
arms she scattered it, yet still its odour remained, mocking her with
its dry offence. She spurned the idea of herself as poet, her head was
unaccountably humbled, yet through it there darted swiftly the vision of
herself as novelist. It was a vision easier to live with, and she
welcomed it, straightening her back.

"There's Grace," her mother was saying softly; "she is so pretty. Don't
let her marry the wrong person, Terry."

"She's rather clever at dodging the mistakes. She has a lot of
commonsense. I'm much more likely to do something insane, in spite of my
looks! Being plain makes one so independent!"

"You're not plain, dear. Father thinks you're beautiful."

"Oh, Father!" The old allegiance and the new scorn were fairly mingled.

"Yes," said Nancy, twisting her lips, "it is rather like that, I know.
And there's Uncle George. He's much nicer near than at a distance.
Theresa, do you mind him very much?"

"I rather like him," she answered, reddening.

"Aren't we being good?" said Nancy gaily. "And you'll keep Bessie. I
know she's not much use, but she's a friend. I shouldn't like you to
have a stranger. And--and there's Father." Tears dropped straight and
unheeded into her lap. "Theresa, he loves you so much, and he'll need
you. Be kind to him. He's so unhappy when you're not."

The appeal could only throw his treachery into black relief, but in an
illuminating flash that went violently through her head, and left her
weak and giddy, she thought she understood it, understood all things,
and she promised, weeping, too, that she would care for him.

Her mother's gentleness stole through Theresa and stayed there: she felt
in herself a largeness of forgiveness that astonished her, and she
looked on her father without rancour, with the wide gaze, she thought,
of one who sees beyond the flesh. And the mood, unnatural, but not
false, imposed by another's tenderness, lasted, uninterrupted, for the
short time before her mother died. Theresa was glad that inward peace,
as well as that outer one of a June night, surrounded the pale, still
figure on the bed, as she gave the little sighing breath which lightly
sent her spirit across the border, glad that she felt no resentment at
her father's tears. She had time to think these things before there came
over her a terrible quiet which was not peace but desolation, wherein
worlds broke God's rules and changed their course, and, amidst their
bewildered going, she thought her mother tried to find a place. Her
discarded lodging lay in the bed still bearing the imprint of her
spirit, but what was essentially she was racing perilously among
uncertain worlds. She steadied herself. She refused to visualise a thing
she could not understand, and she found strength. The wandering worlds
dropped back into their circuits, she heard the dreadful catch and
outlet of her father's breathing, and, as though this were but part of
her daily task, she stroked her mother's cold, soft hands, and touched a
little wavering lock of hair that had fallen across her brow.

She lived and ate, and slept through the medium of a body which had no
connection with herself. She would rather have suffered tortures, but
she could not regain her personality or any of the emotions it would
have felt. While Uncle George went gloomily about the house and Bessie
sobbed in the kitchen and Grace lay prone upon her bed, Theresa, feeling
ashamed of her coldness, seemed to live a life whose normality was only
broken now and then by the sight of a fleeting, ghostlike figure that
could not find rest. When she woke in that first night she heard its
hurrying, ceaseless steps, and the sound of doors opened by its
unbelieving, eager hands, and she knew that her father's body,
uninformed by his numbed mind, was searching and researching the house
for a living Nancy who would defy the stark evidence of her death.

She sat up in bed. Grace was in the deep sleep that follows weeping, and
she drew herself carefully out of the sheets, set her feet on the rough
carpet of the stairs, and pattered after him. She found him on the
landing below, and she touched his sleeve and patted it.

"You must go to bed," she said very soothingly.

He turned on her, and in the darkness she saw the glistening whites of
his eyes. "Whose bed?" he demanded, and again, "Whose bed? I have none,"
he added on a sob.

She had not thought of that. Only the half of Uncle George's couch
offered him shelter, and the awful pathos of that carefully preserved
space set her chin and her lips trembling.

"We'll go into the breakfast-room. We'll light the fire. I'll stay with
you." And by that fire they sat together, cheek against cheek.

Day comes early in June, and the birds were singing before Theresa had
stiffened in her chair, or their hands had refused to hold each other
any more. In the white light one white face gazed into another.

"You've only got your nightgown on," he told her; and then,
inconsequently, "but I've got you back."

"Yes," she said. She had never felt closer to him, and the guilt which
she could not forget had become no more than a thin film of smoke.

In the afternoon of that day, when she entered her mother's room to put
fresh flowers in her hand, she saw her father already filling them, but
not with flowers. It was a sheet of paper he fixed between those
strangely unresponsive fingers.

Across the bed he looked at Theresa, and frowned in his piteous need to
speak.

"It's all I have to give her," he said, "and she would have liked it.
She hadn't seen it because I never showed her anything until it was as
good as I could make it, but she must have it now. It's hers."

She bent over the paper. She saw the regular lines of verse, and,
starting out of them, the words that haunted her. Her mouth fell open,
and she looked at him through an immeasurable distance, before she
dropped to her knees under the unbearable weight of her abasement.



CHAPTER XIV


On the last Saturday of that month, the sun, waking Theresa to the great
emptiness of the world, robbed Alexander of the sleep which was his by
right of holiday and, a moment later, the clamour of an energetic and
triumphant hen dispersed his drowsiness.

As he lay and looked through the window and felt the wind on his face,
he heard a kind of music in the noise, for in its unconscious, harsh
insistence, there was a glorifying of life, joy in a creative gift, and
praise for the wise use of it. It held, moreover, a call for energy, and
Alexander, who had been born loving pre-eminence, could not consent to
lie in bed while a hen prated of accomplishment. Murmuring gentle
maledictions on the creature, he threw off his coverings and thrust his
head and shoulders through the window.

It was six o'clock, and the earth seemed to have dipped its face in its
own running water, and now, still glistening with drops, it was holding
up its head that the wind might dry it. It was a light and frolic wind,
taking pleasure in the vast spaces of the world and the youth of
morning, whirling about the hill-tops, daring the dark and dripping
gullies that rent the cliffs, yet not disdaining the rose-tree on the
house wall, nor the points of Alexander's flannel collar and the
roughness of his hair. Sharp at his throat it sent its cool, long
fingers, and after them came the sunshine with a warm caress.

The ceasing of the hen's exultation brought a startling quiet, and
through it there came softly a consciousness of water falling. From the
Steep Water and the Broad Beck it was heard, a sound half of melancholy
and half of joy, and sometimes it was loud, and again had a note so
fading that silence caught at it.

There was a cap of cloud on the Spiked Crags, but the Blue Hill stood
broad and clear, and when Alexander turned his head and looked seaward,
he saw that shining thread of water, and the lake, and the lower hills
lying under a pale and lofty sky.

Vague scents of flower and tree, of soil and wind, rose to his nostrils
or went past him: he thought he smelt the very essence of the earth, he
thought he felt God breathing on His world. Peace was spread on it like
a hand, and in that blessing Alexander shared.

A homely sound drew him from the heights to which contemplation had
carried him, and looking down, he saw a procession of brown and speckled
hens, who lifted their feet delicately from the dust of the road, but
did not refuse to peck in it. Dappling the little throng with white,
three solemn ducks waddled heavily, and, last of all, like marshalls of
the flock, the grey geese came, craning their necks and gobbling gently.
They paused at the gate that lead into the field, argued for a while,
and slipped, one by one, under the lowest bar.

Alexander followed them over the wet fields. He left his slippers at the
gate, and went barefooted, for he was in love with the morning, and
greedy of all it had to give: the damp earth was pressed into the arches
of his feet, and the long grasses shook down their hanging drops. A
blackbird sang to him as he swished by, and when he reached the pool
under the birches, he thought it waited for him like a mistress who had
no life but his. Not yet quite wakened from the night, it stirred
languorously and spread dark arms to hold him, while the thin birch
leaves fluttered on their stalks, quivering in a selfless joy.

He raised his eyebrows with a humorous, unequal lift, and looked deeply
into the water he thus appropriated. He was amused, a little dismayed by
a mood in which he tuned the world's music to his own key. His ambition
might have seen men and things alike conquerable by his mind, but his
vanity had never heard them as a refrain to the song of self, yet now a
sparkling morning, a whistling bird, and wet grasses brushing on his
feet, had made a coxcomb of him. That was the epithet he chose to use,
for his proud youth would not confess the power of a summer morning on
his austerity; yet, as he took the plunge into water which still held a
memory of the snows, he was grateful to a cold that vanquished
sentiment, and gave back freedom to the mountain stream. He felt he
ought to ask its pardon on his knees, but he did not pause in his
drying: the feeling, he thought characteristically, was enough, and,
lifting his brows again and twisting his lips in company, he decided to
keep the kneeling posture for the time when he should have learnt to
pray, and with the remembrance that he had been at worship, if not at
prayer, as he stood by his window and divined the immeasurable presence
of God, he walked home soberly, absorbed in the problems of his own
spirit, and heedless of the geese that cackled after him.

He found his mother kindling the kitchen fire and he watched her as he
sat on the table and dried his hair. He had, for everything concerning
her, an eye as keen as that of a woman or a lover: he took pleasure in
the sure quickness of her hands, and the clear skin on the cheek she
turned to him, yet his gaze had that parental quality which, still
unsuspected, had influenced his dealings with her from boyhood. He saw
how the brave back defied the grey that crept unwillingly through her
hair, and he knew that neither age nor sorrow would ever daunt her,
because love had given her an invincible supremacy. Years ago, with the
wisdom of the threatened, her heart had challenged her mind to combat,
and had beaten it, and thereafter she had made of it an ally, so that
her defences were unassailable and her fears at rest. He understood. Had
he not watched it all? At first he had seen her little shifts with
scorn, he had felt pity for her determined blindness, and then his own
sight had been cleared, and he looked straight into a maternal heart
that awed him, though it pulsed so eagerly for the father that there was
hardly room for the son. His training had been a hard and useful one,
and his passions were well chained: he was rarely resentful: what was
noble in him was truly glad of her captured happiness, and he had learnt
to use towards her the indulgent tenderness which she kept for his
father.

He laid aside his towel and stood up. "Let me do that for you."

She gave the laugh, not to be silenced by experience or proof, of the
capable woman who hears man offering to do her work.

"No, it's alight at last. The sticks were damp. You forgot to bring them
in last night."

"I'm sorry."

"I'll see to them in future."

"Oh, isn't that just you! I forget, once in three months, perhaps, and
you talk as though it were only that once that I'd remembered."

She sat on her heels and smiled at him. "Nonsense! I'm juster than you,
my son! And I like doing my own work."

"But this is mine. I gathered kindling wood for you as soon as I could
walk, and I used the chopper before most children are allowed a
table-knife. The smell of the woodshed and the fear I had of it at
night! The door has the same creak yet, when there's a strong wind from
the sea. I've suffered torments, crossing the yard in the dark, and I
have my reward in remembering them. I'm going to get the wood for you
till the end of time. It's bound up with the thought of the geese, and
the smell of earth, and the sound of bees in the heather, and the wonder
if I'll see my father striding out into the black when I'm coming in
with my arms full. And it's queer how you end by loving the bad
memories best. I think it will be because we're all proud to look back
on trouble."

She heard disloyalty in his words. "Trouble! How much of it have you
had? You've had your way in everything, you've never been thwarted." Her
voice dared him to speak his thoughts. He was silent, but he had a
vision of a small and solitary boy's figure moving always under a cloud
that might open to let out thunderbolts. How he had feared, hated, and
at last, when it failed to do more than darken his days, how he had
despised it!

He looked in a kind of wonder at his mother. Her hands were folded in
her lap in a pretence of calm, but he knew she held them tightly, that
her heart went a little faster in her anger. Had she been unaware of his
sufferings, or had she chosen to ignore them? Now, it did not matter.
The horror was over: it had helped to make him what he was, and, were
that good or bad, he answered truthfully when she turned to him with a
sharp: "Well, why don't you speak?"

He was smiling faintly. The lips which had been petulant in boyhood had
taken on firmer, straighter lines that refused the indignity of easy
rage. "I'd not change a day of my life for that of any other man," he
said cheerfully.

She was a little suspicious of his meaning, but she had to take it at
its best. She rose and put a hand on his arm.

"Out of my way, Alexander, if you want breakfast. Why did you get up so
early on a Saturday?"

"Ask the sun."

"Shall I give you a dark curtain?"

"No; I'll go without sleep rather than have my window blinded. What
would I do when I waked in the night if I couldn't see my hills?"

"Sleep again the sooner, perhaps. No wonder I can't make my candles
last. Alec, you're not to touch a book to-day."

"Come for a walk with me, then."

"Get Janet."

"No, she can't walk like you. Come."

"I mustn't." His flattery loosened her tongue. "He wouldn't like it. Go
and get dressed, my son. I'll have your porridge heated in ten minutes."

So after breakfast he set off alone, with a packet of sandwiches in one
pocket and the forbidden book in the other. He followed the little track
amidst the bracken, and, having mounted, looked down on the watered
valley and across it at the opposing hills, and his love and need of the
place leaped in him like a thing alive, and mingled with the steady
happiness of doing his chosen work.

He remembered the summer evening of the year before, when he had come
home from Oxford for the last time. He returned, having done the thing
he meant to do, and his degree was not a disappointment even to himself,
but neither was it a surprise; and if it was possible to have a deeper
satisfaction than that of holding the thing for which he had reached
out, it was in the sure knowledge of the use to which that thing must be
put. An earlier generation might have made a preacher of him, his own
pointed to the school and not the church. He believed he had been born
to teach; he found his most potent temptation in his lust for giving
knowledge, and though not the least worthy of desires, it was none the
less a self-indulgence. But its gratification was not always pleasant,
and after suffering some of the sharp pangs that youth knows how to
inflict on youth, he learnt to hold his tongue among his peers. He had
that cruel lesson in his first year, and for the other three he
contented himself with listening. The power of observation taught by
loneliness was turned on the men who seemed so light-heartedly young to
him. He liked them, he had a kind of envy of them, and watched the
gambols of their minds and bodies with the melancholy pleasure of an old
sheep looking on the lambs of spring. He had the good sense not to try
imitation, but he spent on them the study which he was incapable of
withholding from anything that fronted him, and if he saw little of
women during those years, he had, at the end of them, as good an
understanding of men as his youth could compass, and one that steadied
his belief that there was no higher calling than the one he meant to
follow. The contest in his mind, as he walked homeward that night, a
year ago, had been between ambition and a duty whose existence he did
not disclaim. Here was his mother and her need of a sane being in her
house, and beyond there was a large world with a place in it for his
ability. With all the garnered control of his strength he wanted to find
that place and fill it, yet it seemed the gods willed otherwise, for in
his pocket there lay a letter offering him a mastership at his old
Grammar School, and it was pressing against his side with the urgency of
a command, pricking him with a pointed question. Was it the personal
ambition or the impersonal ideal on which his eyes were set? It was easy
to entangle the two so that the answer fitted with his will, and he
walked bewildered. He found there were many sides to duty, that
inclination is not perforce opposed to it, and he was still struggling
for clearness when he turned the corner of the road and saw the hills.
Their calm mocked his restlessness, and their splendour made a little
thing of him. He stood and fed on them.

Against the tender colour of the sky they held the darkness of the
coming night, and soon their arms would open to let forth a dusky
coverlet for the world. Proud of that burden, they lifted serene heads
above it and waited for the stars, and after them the day, and then the
night once more, and all the buffetings that time, and wind and rain
might bring them. Their beauty and strength and patience were holy to
Alexander, and at the sight of them he was ready for any sacrifice of
his ambition, while his mind was confused with longing to express his
gratitude and praise. This was more than the appeal of the æsthetic:
through nature he was half consciously trying to find God, and his
troubles left him and went like winged things to the heights.

He walked on: he had a conviction that his way would be made clear. This
was strange to a mind that only came to its conclusions after fierce
wrestling; but he did not question it, and, rejoicing in this new
submission and in the clang of his boots on the hard road, he marched on
until the hills drew more closely round him and the lake narrowed to
receive its feeding streams. Green rushes grew in the shallows and were
stirred by the water's gentle surge, and among them, unseen, Alexander
thought the reedy pipe was played. The music woke such echoes in his
heart that his stern self-control tried to refuse it hearing; but the
hour was victor and the hills were its allies. In the perfection of
impulse they swept upwards from the valley, and it was amazing that the
dark and stunted yews round the little church, the scattered houses and
the grazing cattle should have been allowed to keep the places men had
given them, for the curves of the mountain's mysterious sides had the
fatality of a wave. But they had the placidity of their own strength:
themselves the victims of Nature's ruthlessness, they had learnt
ruthlessness from her, yet remained benign, and in the face of their
serenity the man was willing to distrust the efforts of his own mind.
But only for this moment was he the yielding child of these numerous and
mighty parents, ready to let his future be what they decreed: and only
because he was aware of his waiting will, did he find this happiness in
obedience to the evening and the hills.

With the fluty song beguiling him, he left the road and walked by the
banks of the Broad Beck, until his bathing pool shone out among the
birches. He saw himself mirrored dimly in the water, and the blurred
image appeared to him as the true presentment of the thing he was, vague
and incomplete, the rough shape his soul must perfect. The trees, in
their drooping, veiled the fading light and curtained Alexander from the
rest of the world, but he felt the Blue Hill behind him and fancied he
could hear its breathing.

He had meant to take the bath that was always like a new baptism into
the life of the hills, but the shadowy form prayed him not to shatter
it, and the hanging stillness of the wood forbade disturbance, so he
shouldered the knapsack he had laid aside, and treading softly, struck
across the fields for home.

He found Janet sitting on the horse-block.

"You're here!" she said. "What way did you come?"

"By the beck. The water drew me."

"And I've been listening for the sound of your feet on the road. More
than an hour I've been here."

"Where's my mother?"

"Over the hills, somewhere, after that man of hers. He's like a bad
child: runs for the pleasure he gets in seeing her follow, I believe."

"Was he drunk?" he asked, and looking round, he saw a tragedy in every
shadow.

"He'd been drinking. She sent for me."

His look sharpened. "For the first time?"

"The third," she owned.

"It's like that?"

"You see, there've been long years of it."

"I know! Do I not know!"

"He slept till morning, but when the light came he went, and she after
him. It's oftenest at night he goes, and then she cannot always follow.
It's bad, Alexander. You'll not be leaving her again? Or will you?"

He crossed the rutted lane and leaned on the wall. Here was the solving
of his problem ready to his hand as he had foretold, but now he was
rebellious. He stared across the field to where the birches stood about
his pool, and he saw the brilliance of his future sadden and fade as
though a star had drowned itself there, in the water among the trees. He
made a movement as if to follow and bring it back, yet he stayed by the
wall: his hands gripped the stones, but his heart had gone after the
glowing treasure, lost and sunken, and as yet he had no wish to kindle
the little rushlight of his faith, blown out by his own gasping breath.

He faced the blackness and turned to Janet. "I'm staying," he said. He
had made his decision, but, as though he looked at himself from afar
off, he saw all the pitiful struggling of his youth and felt its
loneliness, and his mind swung forward to the years when he should have
ceased to suffer from the unbearable throb of his own being. And though
he was no easy smiler, his mouth widened. Life and his conception of it
were things too mysterious for anger, or sorrow, or speculation, and for
an instant he was glad to think himself splendidly delivered from free
will. But that thought passed swiftly, and he became proud in the
possession of those qualities that make life difficult.

"Janet," he said, and the smile lingered, "you've played me false. Here
I've been thinking you'd save us from the toils; I've been thinking you
were a witch, and I find you're nothing but a common woman after all!"

She had no merriment to give back.

"I've been delivered out of temptation, so far," she said, "but I may
fall yet. How often do you think I've said the Lord's Prayer when I've
known that poor soul was bleating all over the mountains like a lost
sheep, and your mother after him with the lantern in her hand? 'Deliver
us from temptation, deliver me from temptation,' I've said over and
over, to keep back the thoughts. I could say charms over him. I brought
him to my door once--only once--when I knew the drink was crying out in
him; but not again. It wasn't a face that I was meant to see, the one he
showed me that night, so now I say my prayers. I'll do no more,
Alexander."

He drew near. "Ah, but if I wanted you to, Janet? If I needed help?"

"Ah, then." She brushed a hand across her face. "Pray that the day won't
come," she said.



CHAPTER XV


He remembered how he took Janet home through the soft darkness, and
returned to find his father and mother in the kitchen. She was kneeling
at her husband's feet, and though she turned and smiled, she did not
speak. The light of the single candle showed her white face patched with
shadow; her clothes were disordered, her hair fell in wisps on each side
of her face.

"This is a fine welcome," Alexander said. He pushed her aside, and
pulled off the heavy, sodden boots.

"So you're back," said James Rutherford.

Alexander made no answer. With his hands in his pockets he stood and
looked at the smouldering fire. Clara lighted the lamp. "It looks so
cheerless," she complained. Her fingers moved stiffly: she wasted
several matches. "Would you like anything to eat, Jim?"

"No, I'm sleepy. I'll go to bed." His eyes looked glazed. He lifted
himself from his chair and laid an awkward hand on Alexander's shoulder.
"I'm glad you're back," he said, and passed out. Alexander did not move
until the creaking of the stairs had ceased, and his mother spoke.

"Alec, you didn't say good-night--or anything."

"If I'd said what I was thinking----" The red light in his eyes
flickered as he saw how she drooped against the table. "Why are you not
sitting down? Come here. How many miles have you tramped to-day? Let me
have your boots. Why will you do it? Why will you do it?" He chafed her
stockinged feet.

She leant forward to touch his face. "Alec, I'm sorry we weren't here
when you came home. My heart was here."

"No, no!"

"Part of it, then."

"As much as that? I was thinking you'd be in the porch, with the light
from the kitchen creeping round the passage corner; and there was Janet
on the horse-block, like a great black bird. Couldn't you have let him
run by himself for this one day?"

"I daren't." She shivered.

"If you did it once he'd stop."

"No, it's like a disease. It's inherited, Alexander."

"Ay, that's his excuse. It gives him the kind of pleasure a child gets
when it's ill." He thought it was the first time he had heard her sigh.

"You'll have to be patient with us, Alec. And could you stir the fire up
a bit? I'm cold, my son."

"Are you? Ah, you're killing yourself!" He felt her hands. They were of
a clinging cold that frightened him. "I'll have a blaze in a minute," he
said; but as he would have risen he felt her limp arms round his neck
and her cheek against his.

"Such miles, and miles, and miles," she sobbed; "such miles and miles!
And to have you angry at the end of it! You mustn't be angry, Alec."

"I'm not; I'm not."

"You must help me."

"I want to." His own voice was as strange in his ears as her appeal. "I
shan't leave you again. I'm going to stay with you."

She started back from him and sat straight in the chair.

"No! How can you? I'll have no idle son." She wiped her eyes and
smoothed back her hair. "Let me see to the fire," she said briskly.
"What do you mean, Alexander?"

"When did you eat last?"

"I don't know. I won't have you doing things out of pity. I don't need
pity, or you, or anyone. I was tired to-night; and yes, perhaps I do
need some food. Alec, you're not going to live here, buried."

"Will you have your milk hot or cold?" he said. "And here's a
rice-pudding."

"You've never known me behave like that before. I'm getting old, but,
still, I'm strong--very strong."

"Or would you rather have some meat? The pudding will be better at this
time of night."

"You must forget it, Alexander. It seems as if I was
complaining--unhappy. There's no woman happier than I am--and have
always been. Remember that. But the sight of you, and being tired, and
cold, and hungry----"

"I won't listen till you've had your supper," he said, and filled a
pipe.

She ate quickly under the whip of her thoughts.

"If anyone but you had seen me just now----"

"But no one did. And I've forgotten it, very nearly." He raised that
droll left eyebrow, and she smiled at him.

"A night's rest is a very good thing for a memory that's too thorough,"
she said.

"I expect to find it so."

"Then, Alexander, what did you mean by saying that? It's not fair to
take advantage of a woman's crying, and the only time you've ever seen
her do it--or shall."

"I shall remember again if you're not careful. I'd decided before I saw
you. Read that."

She read, and handed back the letter. "You'd never dream of it," she
said.

"Why not?" Her indignation was the mirror that reflected his own late
despair, seen now as a small and foolish thing; and as he gathered the
thoughts which were to silence his mother's protests, the ideal came
floating back to him, with pinions spread, so near and beautiful that he
almost touched it.

"You with your degree! You could go anywhere."

"I don't know. I'm not a social success. I've lived these four years in
fear of being called one of Nature's gentlemen."

"Alexander, I'm not a worldly woman, but to go to that little place
would be wasting you. Why, you're brilliant! And anybody would do to
teach those lumps of boys. I could do it myself."

"I was one of them once. Oh, Mother!" he stood up and let out the
passion of his past restraint and the hopes he wanted to keep uppermost.
"Oh, Mother, does it matter whom I teach? It's not the learning I'll get
into their thick heads--there'll be little enough of that; it's the men
I want to make of them, whether they belong to the tinkers, and tailors,
and the rest, or to the cabinet ministers! Do you think that God has
different values for different folks?"

"Well, I'm not in His counsels, but from the way He makes some of them,
you'd think He had a grudge against them. But you were made whole,
Alexander, and you've got to do something great with yourself."

"And isn't it a grand thing to think you're going to fashion men?"

"I'm sure you'll enjoy the feeling," she said drily; "but I doubt if
you'll do much." She saw the familiar tightening of his lips.

"I'm going to try, anyway," he said.

"Your father won't be pleased."

"That's the last thing I'd expect."

"It's a waste. What did you go to Oxford for? It's a waste of time, and
money, and talent."

"It shan't be, Mother."

"Well, I suppose you'll please yourself; but I won't have you thinking
you've done this for my sake."

"I'm doing it for its own," he said, and spoke the truth, for in
opposing his design, Clara had shown him all its beauty.

A year later, as he strode upward amid high-growing bracken, on that
Saturday in June, he saw the same beauty, and it was undimmed,
untarnished by labour and disappointment. The joy of knowing had been
Alexander's all his life, and he had suffered sincerely at the discovery
that most boys were dull to its delight, and spent their energies in
escaping it. He had lived through some haggard months in trying to lure
them with careful morsels, but he had ended by administering learning
like medicine and under no disguise. But if here he felt himself
cheated, there still lived and grew in him the early belief that in all
he did and was he would be helping to fashion men, and, as he stood to
give a lesson, he knew that the character of Alexander Rutherford was of
more importance to these indifferent listeners than the words of Virgil.
There was a cause for humility, and an inspiration, and if, in that
first year, Alexander watched his soul and his thoughts overmuch, it was
but the fault of his earnestness and his youth, and, outside his work,
he was not given to self-analysis, that frequent offspring of self-pity.
He was not sorry for himself: the brooding time of his boyhood was past,
and now, even when anxiety had its claws in him, and he hurried home
from school in fear of what he should find, he was conscious of an
underflow of happiness as ceaseless as the streams he loved, whose
voices were always with him as he followed the track his own feet had
made. The sound came in changing volume through the curtain of the mist
as though, behind that grey wrapping, doors were opened and then shut.
On these days of dripping quiet, the water cried, but there were others
when it chuckled between its babbling sentences, or roared in its fury
to reach the sea.

The thin figure of trouble might walk with Alexander and lie beside him
when he slept, but it could not rob him of content. Roused in the night
by the opening of a door and stealthy feet on the stairs, he would pull
on his clothes and follow his father into the darkness, and hardly
regret his bed when the freshness of falling rain met his cheek, or the
night smell of flowers assailed him; or, when he waited in the kitchen
while the coals slipped in the fireplace and lost their red, and he
strained his ears for a voice or a footstep, they were comforted by the
singing of the larches. At those times, when he could not read, he made
a comrade of Theresa, who looked down from the mantelpiece. A new
picture of her stood there, with her hair upturned, and a smile that had
no tiresome permanence: it came and went, he thought, according to her
mood or his, and always the eyes looked at him with friendship. He would
nod to her as he filled his pipe, and be glad of her companionship. He
spoke to her sometimes, but his thoughts never went to Radstowe and made
her solid. That would have been to spoil his vague conception of a girl
who gave all he wanted and asked for nothing, who was there when he
desired her and absent when he chose, who was no more and no less real
than he would have her be; and when Edward Webb wrote of his Theresa, it
was of another than this pictured girl that Alexander thought: it was of
the spoiled child of a fond father, fixed by him in a false pose of
genius, and unrelated to the sexless being who looked and smiled at him
on lonely nights, and was as fine, and free, and formless as the wind.

Alexander walked far that day, and came back with the stars. His steps
were loud on the stony path, and through the soft and palpable darkness
he heard the stirring of the creatures in the henhouse and the dog's
welcoming bark.

There was peace in the kitchen. His father and mother sat close together
before the small wood fire, and the lamp, lighting the book from which
he read to her, strengthened the colour of her hair. The murmuring voice
stopped as Alexander entered, and the book was closed. He felt
intrusive, out of season, like one who has come upon lovers unawares.

"There's a letter for you," said Clara, and rose to put food on the
table. "Is it from Edward Webb?"

"Yes."

It was not the usual bulky package: the envelope held no verse for
Alexander's criticism, but a thin sheet of paper, hardly covered. He
read the letter, walked into the yard, and back again.

"His wife's dead," he said.

"Oh, Alexander! Oh, poor soul!" Clara stood in the middle of the room,
seeing the desolation of that man without a mate. "What will he do?" She
set the plates down gently. "There'll be nobody to take care of him,"
she said.

"We could ask him to come here."

"We could."

"I'll write to him."

"There's no post till Monday."

"Time enough."

"Let him be, let him be!" Rutherford said. "He's a poor little stick of
a man, and he's here too often. Why can I never have the house to
myself?"

"It's a long time since he has been here, Jim." She had one of his hands
in hers. "Ask him, Alexander. And tell him to bring that girl of his, if
he will."

"Need we have the girl?"

"He'll be happier with her."

Her glance went to the mantelpiece, and Alexander's followed. He was
near crying out, "But that's not the one he'll bring!" and then the
thought flashed: "But she must be like that, or how did we ever get her
picture?" The reality and the dream jostled each other, merged, and
separated with all their outlines blurred. Discomfort was in his breast
like a snake in grass.

"I'm against asking the girl," he said firmly.

James Rutherford lifted his head. "And I'm for it. You don't consult
me--either of you. Isn't this my house? We'll have the girl; but aren't
there two of them? Let's have them both. Two of them, aren't there,
Clara? Well, then, Alexander--both." He stood before the fire and
stroked his beard.

"They shall be asked. There is also an uncle."

"Oh, never mind him! Three's enough."

Alexander went away laughing, but he was uneasy until he had the letter
in which Edward Webb accepted the invitation for himself, and refused it
for both his daughters.



CHAPTER XVI


He had begged Theresa to go with him, but she had snapped her pale lips
on her decision. "I'm not going."

He looked anxiously at her. The thin figure drooped in its mourning, and
her neck seemed without sufficient strength to hold her head and its
thick, untidy hair. "You don't look well," he murmured in distress.
"Theresa, don't people sometimes have their hair cut off; when they're
ill, I mean?"

"I believe so--yes."

"I think, my dear, you ought to sacrifice some of yours. You have so
much of it, and it seems to tire you."

"But I haven't got a fever!" she protested. Under her shadowed eyes the
nerves were twitching. She wished he would not discuss her; she wanted
to forget her own existence.

"No, you're too pale for that," he agreed, gazing at her so earnestly
that she laughed. He raised his brows. "I don't know why you are amused,
my dear, but I know the mountains would make you strong. And you've
always wanted to go there. Why won't you?"

She could not tell him the whole truth. She could not say: "I thought so
wickedly of you and the woman there that I cannot face you both
together. And the mountains would frown on me in anger and frighten me.
I must wait till I'm forgiven." She told part of the truth.

"I've to learn to earn my own living, and I must begin. And, besides, I
never did like Alexander. If he wasn't going to be there----"

"I don't want to press it," he said, and left her a little disappointed
that he had not pursued the subject.

Edward Webb went to the hills, and she began her training as a
secretarial clerk. For the sum of five pounds Blister's Commercial
Academy undertook to fit her for the work, and find a situation for her
afterwards. She did not like the large condescension of Mr.
Blister--preferably called "The Professor," and, by jocular spirits, the
"Mayor and Corporation"--but she knew she could learn anything he could
teach her, and she tried not to allow her feminine conception of him to
prejudice her against his instruction, tried to be so impersonal as not
to shrink when he stooped over her shorthand, looking, and sometimes,
alas! even feeling, like a large and clever whale.

Her fellow-students, youths as well as women, were to her a new race,
drawn as if by some common inheritance to these inky labours. The youths
were for the most part genuinely young, but the women were of all ages.
There were girls of fourteen, pert or simpering, with premature glances
for the dusty, doubtfully collared young men; there were young women
with the independence of their generation, and scorn or frank
comradeship for men; their glances were straight and piercing, painful
to the undeveloped male, wishing to be paramount. There were older
women, jerked into the necessity of earning bread, with the sheltered
look still on them, and an air of injured or shy surprise at Fortune's
hardy ways, and elderly women, making a last effort to cheat Fate. While
she worked there, these people were of an absorbing interest to Theresa,
but like all, save the most foolish of them, she soon passed out of the
Academy, and, as she went, they fell back into the less active places of
her mind; and it was strange, yet, in some way, pleasing to think that
she, too, made one of a crowd of half-remembered fellow-creatures, with
her own tiny but irrebuttable influence on some one's conception of
life.

For farewell, the Professor embedded her hand in his.

"I'm glad you've got such a nice appointment," he said. "Such a
gentleman. You'll find yourself very comfortable there. Come and tell me
'ow you get on. My young ladies often come and see me."

He was a kind, if somewhat familiar whale, and she decided not to throw
away her glove.

Her gentlemanly employer was a solicitor called Edgar Partiloe. He was,
she judged, about thirty years of age, and beginning to attract clients
to his dingy office. No one could doubt his learning, and ability
glimmered behind his powerful spectacles. His forehead was knobbly, and
it shone, but his hands were beautiful, and she suspected elegance in
his feet, though they were shod in crumpled leather.

She shared the outer office with an elderly and impoverished clerk
called Arnold Jessop. He always wore an overcoat, and keeping his lunch
in the pockets of it, he would begin, from an early hour, to extract
crumbs of bread and cheese, and quickly pop them into his mouth when he
thought she was not looking. He lived with a sister who kept a small
Home for Cats, and his first sign of consideration for Theresa was when
he brought a kitten out of the pocket where it had been sitting on his
lunch.

"It's an orphan," he said, and blew his nose.

"Poor thing," said Theresa, stroking it with a forefinger. "I hadn't
realized a kitten could be."

"Could be?"

"An orphan."

"Of course they can. I should think so! Pussy, pussy, pussy!" she heard
the grating of his teeth as he rubbed the creature's neck, "ain't you an
orphan, then? Ain't you? Course you are--just like anybody else. You can
have him if you like," he added, and turned away as though he disdained
his gift.

"That's very kind of you," she said. She hated cats, but for Mr. Jessop
she felt affection. "That's very kind," she repeated. "But are you sure
you won't miss it?" she asked hopefully.

He gave a single shake of the head, and bunched up his lips.

"There are always more of them coming on," he said with melancholy.

She looked at the little animal as it wandered adventurously on the
office table. "Then I'll take it home to-night; but, till then, would
you mind keeping it in your pocket? I'm afraid it will get trodden on.
And, oh, look, it has put its wretched little paw into the inkpot! If
you dare to smudge my beautiful clean papers----" She held it gingerly
by the body while Mr. Jessop dabbed its foot with blotting-paper.

"You'll be kind to him?" he asked wistfully.

"Of course I shall, and I'll call him Arnold, after you. Because," she
added hastily, in dread of misunderstanding, "because it was so good of
you to give him to me." She smiled vividly, with her unfailing wish to
please.

       *       *       *       *       *

For three years, while Grace danced, and laughed, and made people happy
by the look of her, and fell in love and out of it again; while Edward
Webb did his dull clerkly work until evening brought him to his poets,
and Uncle George bought and sold his grains, and yearned towards his
harmonium and the seamen, Theresa went daily to Mr. Partiloe's office.
She had meant to spend her leisure in writing, and though she had not
yet penned a word, she still saw her future haloed with fame; and when
she was saddened by the thought of her blank pages, and the fact that
she was not even mastering her technique, she found comfort in the
belief that the experiences of her idleness were necessary to her
stock-in-trade.

With the upper froth of her mind, she was learning to be social.

"Grace," she said one night, as they lay in bed, "I wish you'd furbish
me up a little bit, and--and drag me about with you to places, if I
shouldn't be a nuisance."

"Oh, Terry! Would you really come?" There was a break in Grace's voice,
and her hand sought Theresa's. "Would you? I've always wanted to."

"Have you? Won't you be ashamed? I'm such a gawk."

"Ashamed! You're lovely. I shall be so proud to show you off. There's no
one like you, Terry. You're--you're a person! And if you'd only be a
little tidier, you would be pretty. And nothing"--the loyalty of her
heart swelled triumphantly into her voice--"nothing can prevent your
being distinguished!"

Theresa chuckled. She had no illusions as to her outer self.

"Don't overdo it. I don't expect to be a success, but I should like to
have a little fun. I've been--a bit lonely."

"Oh!" Grace moaned over her and held her close. "I didn't know you were
wanting it. I didn't, Terry!"

"And I wasn't--truly. But now---"

"Well, you shan't be lonely any more, darling."

Theresa was wiser. She knew there was something in her nature which
would not be so easily satisfied, but she did not know how to feed it;
it was always piteously hungry, and even when she had drugged it with
the sweet drink of gaiety and laughter, she could hear its muffled
weeping far down in the depths of her heart.

The social engagements of these hard-working young women were not of an
extravagant nature, nor were they many; but there were dances now and
then, and supper parties, and sometimes a bevy of men and maidens would
wait patiently outside the theatre for the joy of sitting in the front
row of the pit, where they eat chocolates between the acts. On these
occasions Uncle George always went to bed before their return, as a sign
of his displeasure, but Edward Webb had the kettle on the fire and warm
slippers for them if the night were cold.

Theresa liked dancing, and she liked going to the theatre, but she never
lost her sense of strangeness in the company of Grace's friends. She
knew she was essentially different from them, and she always found
herself looking at things from the opposite side to theirs, so that
there seemed to be a high wall between them, barring sight and deadening
sound. Yet she had her little success among them. They thought her
amusing, and she enjoyed their admiration, but gradually she dropped out
of their affairs. That voice within was now impervious to the drugs, and
she could get no peace from its clamour. Constant listening to the sound
brought back the elfin eagerness of her looks, she grew thinner and more
restless, yet her face grew indefinably in beauty of line and texture,
for though she was unsatisfied and uncertain, she was at least listening
to the claims of her spirit, and trying to understand them.

"What's the matter, Terry? Why aren't you coming?" Grace asked, with
wide eyes full of anxious love, and Theresa, after searching for a way
of putting it, replied:

"Well, you see, they are all very nice, but one time is just the same as
another, and I think I want to read. I feel dried up inside. And Grace,
I can't stand men. They always seem to be expecting something, and they
bore me horribly when I'm not wondering how they ever came to be
created."

"Yes, that's how you look at them. I'm glad I'm not so particular,
though I don't care for any of them."

"That's because there isn't one you haven't been engaged to."

"Theresa, don't be vulgar."

"Isn't it true?"

"No--not quite. And Terry--I think I'm rather tired of gadding about
myself. Let's stay at home together and mend our stockings."

"Mine do need it," said Theresa, glancing downward.

"And there's Father."

"Yes."

So they stayed at home, but at nine o'clock Grace said she wanted air,
and would go for a little walk.

"Shall I come with you?" Theresa asked lazily, and was so much startled
by Grace's quick and emphatic, "Oh no, thank you!" that she almost felt
it in her conscience to follow her; but she sat still, frowning, and put
a direct question when Grace, returned, unusually silent, and stood to
warm her hands before the fire.

"Have you been out with a man?"

"Theresa, you're horrid. No, I have not. You talk to me as though I were
a servant girl."

Theresa smiled. "I wish you were as unsusceptible as Bessie. She gets
all her romance out of novelettes, bless her!"

Grace drew a troubled breath. "I've been doing something like that
myself to-night." She stared into the fire, and spoke with a slight
blurring of her words. "I feel as if I want to tell you. I've just
been--imagining."

"Don't you often do it?"

"Why, no! I'm generally much too busy with the present, but lately--oh,
well, I expect I'm silly."

"No. Go on."

"I'm nearly twenty-four."

"And I'm twenty-one."

"And, Terry, I'm beginning to want things."

Theresa knew the meaning of this general term. "It must be nice to know
what you want," she said softly. "And to want such simple, beautiful
things of every day."

"Yes, but they're hard to get. You can't do it all by yourself. I've
been wandering up and down the streets, wishing I were going back to a
little house with my own man in it, and a soft thing in a cradle.
Theresa, aren't women wonderful?"

"What makes you say so?"

"They are so good! Oh, I want to be loved! Sometimes I so badly want to
be loved that I could go and ask someone to do it!"

"That's not wanting to be loved," said Theresa bluntly.

"Well, words don't matter so long as you understand. But I don't do it!
And think what men do!"

"It's worse for men."

"Not for all of them. Those are the only times when I want to read
poetry, the only times when there seems any sense in it."

Theresa gave her chuckling laugh and hugged her knees.

"Am I horrid? Are you like that?"

"No; I think it makes me rather sick. But, then, I'm a queer person."

"I'm glad you don't think it's wrong of me. I'm frightened of myself
sometimes."

"I'm sure you needn't be," Theresa said cheerfully, but she was anxious.
Grace, with her beauty and the warm, swift blood flushing her cheeks,
seemed to her the very embodiment of life, and she feared its impulse.
Her own knowledge had the vagueness of inexperience, and it was the more
alarming, so she watched Grace jealously, and knew something of the
cares of parenthood.

Some weeks later, on a cold and windy evening in March, she walked home
very quickly from Mr. Partiloe's office. She held her head high, but for
once she was unobservant of how the chestnut trees were swelling into
black, shining buds, and how the sound of her feet on the pavement had
the ring of spring-time in it, and the birds were giving out shrill
notes of joy. She went to her room, flung her hat on the bed and ran her
fingers through her hair.

"I never go to that man's office again," she said to Grace, who was
sitting on the window-sill with hands loosely clasped in her lap, and a
tender smile on her lips.

"What's the matter?"

"I've left." She flounced on to the bed, expectant of more questions,
but none came, for Grace was gazing straight into heaven.

"I've left," she repeated. "Mr. Jessop nearly cried, and so did I; but
I've asked him to come to tea on Sunday and bring his sister and as
many cats as they like. Grace, do you hear?"

"Yes, I hear. Then we must tell Bessie to take a lot of extra milk on
Sunday. Have you really left?"

"Yes, I have." She kicked her shoes to the far end of the room. "Good
heavens! The creature asked me to marry him!" She shuddered strongly.
"Grace, he asked me to marry him! And his hands trembled! I didn't know
people could go on like that. Never, never, never, shall any other man
do it. I won't give him a chance. It was dreadful."

"It wouldn't have been dreadful if you had loved him." Grace spoke
softly. "Poor little man. What did you say to him?"

"Say! I couldn't speak! How did I know he was going to be so ridiculous?
And to do it in the office! I thought I might conceivably fall in love
some day, but I know now that my affection wouldn't survive the
proposal. Why didn't you tell me people behaved like that?"

"I expect they are all different. Tell me about it, Terry."

Theresa padded up and down the room in her stockinged feet.

"It was this afternoon. I went into his room to take down letters, and
suddenly he stopped dictating. Oh, I can't tell you! But he says he has
loved me for three years, and something about the sunlight on my hair
when I first entered the office--I don't know!--and his eyes looked like
lamps behind those enormous spectacles, and his face was white and--and
quivering. Oh, let me forget it. But I never shall. I want to go into a
nunnery. I feel stained."

"Don't talk like that, Theresa dear. He couldn't do more than ask you to
marry him, could he? And you are insulting him, and--and love, too!"

"Good gracious!" Theresa stood still and looked down on her sister,
whose upturned face was pale and earnest. The luminous eyes looked
steadily at Theresa: they had lost their sparkle, and showed dark and
unsuspected depths. "Who taught you to be love's advocate?"

Grace made a weak little movement with her hands and turned to look out
on the docks. In the silence Theresa heard her breathing and saw the
throbbing pulse in her throat. Speech came with difficulty.

"Love itself, I suppose," Theresa heard.

"Are you ill?" She forced a place for herself on the window-sill, and
took Grace's hands. "Grace, what has happened?" Fear pumped at her heart
and shook her body. "Grace, tell me."

She turned for a long, full look and the eyes were not those of an
unhappy woman. "I'm going to be married in a month," she said.

Theresa's mouth fell slack. "What--on earth for?" she asked. Dreadful
visions flashed, but Grace dispelled them with her bubbling laughter.

"Oh, Theresa! Because I am in love! Because--because I understand your
poor little Mr. Partiloe."

Theresa released her hands. "You don't mean to say that your man behaved
like that?"

Grace was dignified, almost matronly. "My man," she said, "behaved
exactly as I could have wished."

"And where," asked Theresa, with the coarseness of desperation, "did you
pick him up?"

"He lives next door--lodges there."

"Not the man who strums, and fiddles, and sings?"

"He plays in the theatre orchestra."

"Here's fame!"

"He's a musician."

"I'll take your word for it. I've no ear myself."

"Theresa dear, be nice. I have liked him ever since he came here----"

"Are you watching for him to come up that road, because if you are I'm
not going to listen."

"He is at the theatre or he would be here," she said. "It's your Mr.
Jessop who has made the match, Terry. Do you remember the night at
Christmas time, when we couldn't find Arnold?"

"Yes. He was next door."

"But I didn't tell you that when I was outside calling for him, Phil
came up the street--he had been to the theatre--and told me where he
was."

"Who was?"

"Arnold, of course. He was in Phil's room."

"Had he stolen him?"

"Well--temporarily. He truly likes him----"

"Oh, these pronouns!"

"But he got friendly with him in the hope of getting friendly with us."

"With you, you mean. How charming!"

"Yes, I think it was," said Grace simply.

"And so it went on?"

"Yes. I think Bessie knew. Didn't she say anything?"

"Has Bessie ever sneaked, in all her days?"

"This afternoon we went for a walk. We were both free----"

"And now neither of you is. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!"

"Oh, Terry, do be glad."

"But you looked miserable. I thought something terrible had happened."

"So it has. It's terrible to like anyone so much." Her lips trembled.
"And we're not going to waste any time apart. I shall just go and live
with him, and we shall each do our own work. He teaches too, and he
composes. Some day he'll be heard of, now that he has some one to
believe in him. Do be glad. And won't it be lovely to be so near each
other still? Next door, Terry! He is coming to see Father to-morrow, but
I shall tell him to-night, only it had to be you first."

Theresa was meditative. "It seems a mad notion."

"Mad! It's perfect! To be so sure of each other, to feel so safe! Oh,
Theresa, I'm ashamed of all the sillinesses I've done. Letting other men
touch me, and fancying I liked them! But he knows. He knows everything.
And I didn't have to tell him!"

Theresa walked to the dressing-table and studied her face in the glass.

"I wonder if Mr. Partiloe wanted me as much as that," she said. "I'm
beginning to be rather sorry for him."



CHAPTER XVII


"There's snow on the hill-tops," said Clara.

"Yes, I saw."

"Did you have a cold drive?"

"I wasn't cold."

"My dear, your hands are like bits of ice. And your feet, too, I expect.
Let me take your boots off for you."

"No, no, please. I'll do it."

"Very well. You sit there and toast your toes, and you shall have some
nice hot tea in a minute."

Edward Webb pattered down the stone passage, and put his head in at the
door.

"Theresa, come and look at the Blue Hill. It's wonderful in this
light--wonderful."

"Don't go, my dear. Leave her alone, Edward. The Blue Hill will be there
to-morrow, and the child's cold."

"Oh, mayn't I? Just for a minute!" She rose from the red-cushioned chair
and Clara gave consent with a nod of the head and a flourish of the
bread-knife.

Issuing from the dark passage, she was confronted by the Blue Hill.
Night was falling, and what little light there was seemed to be stealing
into the mountain. She thought it had opened its arms and its breast
like a great door, and the day was creeping into it. Only to the west,
beyond the lake and out over the sea, there was a pale amber streak,
refusing shelter, but slowly, as she watched, its colour faded, melted
into the universal grey, and was gathered home with the rest.

"I have often wondered what happened to the day," she said in a small
voice. She thought there was a slight movement of the hill, as though,
with the last light safely housed, it closed its doors and settled down
to sleep. And the other hills folded their arms likewise, and slept. She
heard their breathing, and then she became aware of the ceaseless
running of the streams.

A sharp pain of joy ran through her, and she had to hold her throat lest
a sobbing sigh should be let loose and spoil with human sounds the
marvellous stillness of the night. Swiftly she stepped back into the
passage and leaned against the wall. Its solidity assured her that this
was not another of her lovely dreams, and the smell of tea and hot cakes
was confirmation; yet, as she felt her way to the kitchen, she feared to
wake.

But nothing vanished. James Rutherford, back from returning the cart
Janet had lent, was by the fire, and the dog sat with its nose on his
knee.

"Alexander is away," said Clara.

Yes, Theresa had heard that.

"You are to have his room. Sit in the armchair again and have your
supper by the fire. We're going to have a fine Easter, aren't we, Jim?
Jim is weather-wise," she explained.

Theresa smiled nervously at the gaunt man who was rhythmically stroking
the dog's head. He looked very dark and shadowy where he sat beyond the
rays of the lamp. "Yes, it will be fine," he said, and nodded at
Theresa.

"I should like one day, only one, to be wet," said Edward Webb, fussing
up and down between the two doors of the kitchen. "I want Theresa to see
the mists. She hasn't seen the mountains until she has seen them hidden.
I want her to hear the wind howling and see the rain driven. That's rain
personified, half god, half man, urging and urged. In a town, it's
nothing more than water falling, but here----"

"This is how he goes on," said Clara. "He and Alexander!"

"No, no. Alexander keeps a wise silence. It is I who am so--so
garrulous, I am afraid."

"Oh, we like to hear you," she said.

A voice came from the shadows. "I like soft rain on my face, in the dark
among the mountains. It is very dark among them in the night."

The burning wood stirred uneasily, a flame leapt, and Theresa saw the
hand, pallid in the fierce glow, still working on the dog's head. The
flame sank, and the small sounds in the kitchen, the clink of teacups
and the dull drumming of a light wind at the pane, added to her sense of
mysterious and impending happenings. She sat here, at last, in the
kitchen she seemed to have known all her life. Above her, on the
mantelpiece, her own eyes looked down, smiling in comradeship and
welcome and amusement at her surprise. Those photographs had been sent
without her knowledge and she felt strangely at a disadvantage. For all
these years Alexander had been familiar with her looks, while to her he
was still a vague form, perpetually menacing an exacter shape. She was
like someone who has thought herself alone and finds all her actions
watched. But Alexander was away, and she would not have to meet the
scrutiny that compared reality with pictures. If she had not been
assured of that she would not have been here among the hills.
But--happiness triumphed above discomfiture--she was undeniably here!
The smell of burning wood was in her nostrils and, outside, the hills
were powerfully, peacefully asleep under their caps of snow. She was
here, with the freshness of the mountain air on her cheeks, while, in
the warm west, Grace was a three days' bride. But on the thought of that
surrender Theresa would not dwell.

She felt she was having her revenge on Alexander, when, having been
lighted up the stairs by his father, she closed the door of his room;
for if he had been able to study her face during all these years, she
could now retort with an examination of his belongings. His books, she
considered, would be quite as tell-tale as her appearance--and then she
caught back her thoughts. He had probably never so much as glanced at
the mantelpiece, and why should she be curious as to his tastes?

She went to the window, and, kneeling before it, undressed with hasty
hands. She saw the fields and the mountains, and a great moon swung in
heaven: she had realized a dream, but her one wish was to put out the
light and draw the bedclothes close about her head, and lose
consciousness of this room which moved her like a presence.

It was a long time before she slept. A mouse scratched in the wall,
somewhere a door was shaken in its frame, and often the stairs creaked
as though a foot had pressed them. She hated the bed she lay on, and the
blankets covering her; they were unbearably intimate. This was the
pillow Alexander's head had dinted, and the moon made his possessions
clear to her wakeful eyes. The room was whitewashed, and the walls,
against which many books were stacked, were bare of pictures. "Dull
creature!" she exclaimed, and, muffled to the chin, sat up in bed,
determined to be done with foolishness. She would not allow the man to
mar her joy, for to do so was to admit an importance to which he had no
right. She punched the pillow defiantly and, holding her ankles, rested
her chin on her knees. Sitting thus she could see the shoulder of the
Blue Hill, and she nodded to it grimly, in a kind of challenge, for it
seemed to hold the judicial scales between her and Alexander, and to
persuade her to its own wise tolerance. What, it asked mildly, had
Alexander done to offend? and she was bound to answer: "Nothing. Nothing
but make me feel inferior, ever since I first heard his name. How could
I like a boy who was not afraid of geese when I was terrified by them? A
boy who tramped long miles to school at an age when I thought it an
adventure to go down to the docks, a clever boy who won scholarships I
knew I could never get? I was prejudiced against him at ten years old!
Oh, Alexander, I have been very silly! I'm quite willing to be friends."
She kissed her hand. "We are friends, I tell you. But be careful how
you behave, my man. I'm very hard to please!" She laughed at the moonlit
night. "As if he cares!" And then, hitting the pillow forcefully again,
"Oh, but if I saw him, I'd make him care!"

A beautiful windy morning waked her. She found her father on the
horse-block, his nose and cheeks blue with cold, his eyes reddened but
bright with joy.

"Where shall we go to-day, Theresa? I hoped to take you to see Janet,
but Clara tells me it is not convenient, so that must be for another
time. There are the Spiked Crags--look! You see them? And the Blue Hill,
and what Alexander calls the school track----"

"The Spiked Crags, please," she said.

He nodded. "I knew you would choose them."

During the ascent, she owed it to her father's breathlessness that they
did not talk, and in the silence that was only broken by his panting
Theresa could realize the hills. Yet she wished she were quite alone.
She could feel her father's mind, like his body, straining after her
wondering what she thought of this and that, watching for signs, and her
desire was to sit as unheeded as a stone and let the winds play over
her, and be a little part of something so much vaster than herself that
her petty frets and follies would be of no more moment than the sound of
one heather stalk grating against another.

"Do you mind," she said, "if I go on ahead of you? I'm--I'm so impatient
to get to the top."

He smiled and nodded, patting his chest to account for lack of speech.

"You're sure you don't mind?"

"Yes, yes," he nodded, and she sped on. But she did not sit and ponder
on her insignificance. Joy took hold of her and made her its own. There
was a great tumult of singing in her breast, the wind lashed her,
torturing her skirt and flicking the hair into her eyes until she
clapped a hand to each side of her head to control the struggling
locks, and let go again to wrestle with the greater problem of her
petticoats and to wind her skirt about her waist.

She danced through the hard patches of snow lying here and there; she
shouted because she knew the wind would tear the sound and scatter it;
she was as light as the driven clouds, and she waved her hands to them.
She forgot Mr. Partiloe, or, remembering him, did not shudder; she
forgot the restlessness of her being, and rejoiced in the lithe young
body that bent easily before the wind, and pushed its way against it,
and loved its buffeting. There was no one to watch her and, when she
reached the summit, she behaved with the abandonment of all young things
in the spring-time of the year and their own lives. Little pigs, and
lambs, and colts have their squealing, skipping, prancing ways of
praising God, and Theresa had her own. She ran as fast as the wind would
let her, with her hands high above her head; she lay down in the places
which the snow disdained; she drove her fingers into the snow and sucked
them warm again; and she loosed her hair so that it was flung out like a
pennon. Dishevelment is seldom fair to see, and Theresa did not look
beautiful. She did not care. She wanted to feel the wind's fingers at
the roots of her hair, and she liked the tug and the sound as the
strands were whipped this way and that. She stood alone on the mountain
top, and gave her body to the elements, yet remained free. The elements
made a generous lover: they took all she could give, yet they kept
nothing, and they resigned her at a word. Poor little Grace, she
thought, to be fastened for ever to the body and soul of a man, even
though the man had intelligent green eyes and an adoring heart! It was
better to be the wind's lady--easy come and easy go, and no fragile
human feelings to be a hindrance.

The sight of her father toiling upward sobered her ecstasy. She sat down
to await him, feeding on beauty as she braided her hair. She could see
the valley, the lake, and the river all running towards the sea between
walls of ever lessening hills. Here, at the valley's head, they were
immense; they swept to the sky and rolled their great backs into distant
valleys, and the little homesteads down below were meek in their shadow;
but, like a wave that has spent its strength, the heights diminished as
they approached the shore, that shore lying between two oceans, the one
of water and the one of hills.

Her eyes felt cleansed of all the doubtful sights they had ever met, and
her mind shared in the cleansing. Her happiness was so deep that she did
not know of it; for, as nearly as human beings may, she was seeing
things filtered of self, and the wide winds were in her soul.

She had made two thick plaits by the time her father sank to the ground
and leaned his head against her shoulder.

"I wish your mother could have seen this," he said.

"The dear soul would never have got here. And now she doesn't have to
climb at all. She'll be very glad, you know, to be allowed to look down
on it all without any trouble."

"I came here so often without her, but it was not time I could have
spent with her. That comforts me. But there are little things one did or
did not do. Theresa, when you love, don't be afraid to let your conduct
reflect your heart."

"Well, am I not very nice to you?"

"Very nice, my dear; but I was thinking of a different kind of love."

"Oh, don't talk to me of that! Not till I'm middle-aged. Then, perhaps,
I'll consider it, and marry a comfortable widower, slightly infirm, so
that I can occasionally escape, but not ill enough to need nursing."

"You'll have no such jog-trot end, my dear. I hope you'll run in harness
with a swifter steed."

"I don't want to be harnessed at all," she said, and lay back.

Their thoughts went on different journeys, and his were so absorbing
that, when he halted at his next remark, he had forgotten how easily she
might trace his route.

"I hope you will meet Alexander some day," he said. Then he flushed
guiltily, and, with a pitiful attempt at carelessness, began to hum
untunefully.

Her words came instinctively, like an arm raised against a blow. "Oh, I
expect I shall." The next moment, she could marvel at the readiness with
which she had spoken, in spite of her stiffened body and the lump of
revolt in her throat.

She lay very still, but her heart was thudding and, as though with the
glow of her father's blush, her face was crimsoned; but soon it faltered
into white and her lips trembled. The quality of her anger brought her
near tears, and a great pity for herself surrounded her like air. Was
she a chattel to be proffered in hope of sale? she asked silently, and
that brought pride to drive back her weeping. She sat up with a
beautiful, strong lift of her back. Pride was her strength. It enabled
her to deceive her father.

"Shall we go on?" she said, and smiled, so that he thought she had not
understood, and was thankful. She saw care visibly lifted from him, and
her heart was tender for him. Was he not true to his own advice, and did
not all his actions speak of love? She could not blame him since he
loved her, thought her incomparable, and said so, through his eyes.

She linked her arm in his, but her rage against Alexander was red-hot.



CHAPTER XVIII


On the evening of the next day, James Rutherford was not at supper.
Theresa had been warned of his peculiarities, and she readily obeyed a
hint that she should go early to bed; but she went reluctantly, for she
grudged missing any new experience, and she lay, reading by candlelight,
while the voices of her father and Clara rose, and died away, and rose
again.

She had taken the book from Alexander's shelves. It was the Keats her
father had given him. She saw their two names and the date, and for an
instant she held it close. The feel of it produced a vision of her
childhood as in a pictured show. She saw herself standing by her father
before the breakfast-room fire, listening to that tale of how he was
lost among the mountains. That was the day on which they had become part
of her life, and when, indissolubly united to them, she had first heard
of Alexander. Black-haired boy with the solemn face, clattering about
the yard among the geese, he had been stamped on her eager brain, never
to be removed. She would keep that old memory, lovingly, for her
childhood's sake, and she could feel tender towards the book which she
carried into bed, without doing violence to her cherished independence.

The pages of the book were well-worn, and the cover had suffered. No
doubt it had been with him on many a walk among the hills, on days when
the rain had run off his hair into his mouth and eyes and neck, and
soaked into his pockets, or when the sun's warmth had curled the leaves
while he read. Had he taken it to Oxford? Quickly she began to read.
Questions in ancient history she could allow, but these more modern
ones were unforgivable.

She read until she heard James Rutherford come home. There were sounds
outside, then her father's step on the stairs and the closing of his
door, and Clara's voice ringing clear through a mournful muttering; more
steps on the stairs, the brushing of bodies against the wall, another
door opened and shut, and then peace. She blew out the light.

When she woke it was to find the book held in her body's curve.

Downstairs there was a note for Edward Webb. "You won't be surprised
that we have gone out--probably for the whole day," Clara wrote.
"There's plenty of food in the larder, and Mrs. Spencer will come and
help if you send for her."

"It will be rather nice to be alone," said Theresa. "Who's Mrs. Spencer?
We don't want her, do we?"

"No. It's Easter Sunday. She will be going to church. She is a carter's
wife, down by the inn."

"What a man to be married to! Mr. Rutherford, I mean."

Edward Webb would not discuss his host. He helped to prepare breakfast.

"After handling pens and typewriters for three years," said Theresa, as
she cut the bacon, "it's a relief to turn to the homelier arts. Put that
in the pan, please."

He hesitated. "It looks remarkably greasy."

"Prod it with a fork, then. You're dreadfully civilised. Here's another
piece. Do you think you can cook it while I set the table?"

"I'll try," he said.

"Don't let it stick."

"How," he said politely, "is one to prevent it?"

"Oh, you silly! Perhaps I'd better do it, if I can trust you not to
break the china. Now, think of what you're doing."

"I'll do my best, ma'am." He delighted in her tyranny and in her
company. "Theresa," he said, with a cup hanging on each forefinger, "I'd
like to end my days up here with you. We could rent a little
cottage--there's one close to the church. It--it might be dull for you,
but--there's your writing. You'd have time for that, at last."

"You forget," she said in hurried interruption, for his ambitions for
her always smote her, "you forget that I shall be caring for my
widower." But that unwise allusion brought the red to her cheeks, and
she turned quickly to stir the porridge.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a morning of clear blue and green, with a high wind to blow the
larches and lash the waters of the streams that were swollen with the
melted snow. The shadows of passing clouds made transient blotches on
the shining emerald of the hills. The tolling of the one church bell
came now loud, now low, at the fancy of the wind.

"It's Easter Sunday," Edward Webb said again. "Theresa, there's a
beautiful little church, ten miles away, across the hills. I went there
once to service in the afternoon, and I think I'll go again. Will you
come with me?"

"I'd rather not. I don't like churches. I think I'll just go and sit
beside the stream, and have a little adventure of my own. You'd better
take your lunch in your pocket."

"And you'll wrap up warmly, Theresa. And mind you have enough to eat.
And don't sit too long, and don't wander away too far. A mist might come
on. Be careful."

"I believe you'd like to lock me in a cupboard! Don't you wish you had a
little pouch for me, like a kangaroo?"

"Yes, I do," he said, blinking earnestly.

"Well, I expect I shall stay beside the water. There are pools, and
creeks, and waterfalls, and rapids, and dreadful, silent little woods. I
shall be able to frighten myself finely."

"And Abraham will keep guard over the house and you. I shan't be back
till dark. You won't mind?"

"No, I shall feel quite courageous. And, do you know, I've never been
really alone in my life. There have always been houses, and tramcars,
and policemen, and no chance of being brave! If tramps come, what do you
say to them?"

"Ask Abraham. He'll bark at them, but I think few pass this way. There's
no high-road. Good-bye, my dear."

       *       *       *       *       *

She thought that was the most wonderful morning of her life. It was the
kind of weather she loved best, with a piercing quality of both wind and
sun, and everything glowing, swaying, rustling, creaking. She was
gloriously alone, and as she followed the stream and forced its passage,
jumping from stone to stone, and feeling water oozing through her shoes,
her years fell from her. She was childlike in her acceptance of the
hour, nor did she look in upon herself and say, "See how like a child I
am!" She was enthralled by the gilded water and the little ferns and
mosses growing between the stones, and by the sober presence of the
hills that stood far off and looked down with friendly faces. It was
only when she passed under the brooding silence of a wood that she
remembered her womanhood, and remembered it with fear. Among clustered
trees she was not the mistress of her fate: there were influences at
work on her, malicious eyes peering, hands ready to tease or bind her,
and she hurried from them to the open, where there was nothing between
her and heaven.

It was as she returned across the fields that she saw a man leaving the
house. He stood for an instant just outside the door, gave a quick
glance up and down the lane, and hurried up the valley. She began to
run. The man turned sharply to his left, making for a grassy track that
skirted the larch wood. She followed, realizing the sterling value of
policemen. He went fast, with long, easy strides, and as she noticed
the manner of his walking, she was sure this was no common thief. He was
a free man by the look of him, fearing nobody. His head, his back--she
crushed down a cry, and as, with her eyes still on that back, she would
have swung round to retrace her way, she stumbled against a stone, and
it was he who turned.

She had not fallen, but her hand was at her throat, her attitude was one
of fear, and he ran down the slope. He saw a pale and slightly freckled
face under a crown of heavy, burnished hair. He knew the face very well,
but it had grown thinner, he perceived, and the photographs did not show
the golden freckles, nor the colour of her hair. She was a little
breathless, but her lips were tightly closed, and he was acutely aware
of the physical control she exercised: there was no sound, the hand at
her throat hardly rose or fell. Her eyes, wide at first, narrowed a
little, and her lips quivered into a smile.

"I thought you were a thief--so I ran." She made as if she would wave
him onwards. "I will pretend I haven't seen you."

He looked beyond her. "I ought to have gone out by the back."

"Yes, you were very careless." But as she spoke she knew why he had
chosen the dangerous and longer way. She, too, had rejoiced in the great
blue wall that barred the kitchen passage, but rather than explain her
understanding, she endured the cool distance of the stare that told her
plainly she was alien and unwelcome. But, as she looked at him,
returning his gaze with one of frank, unguarded interest, she decided
that she did not mind his rudeness, that, indeed, she rather liked the
unconsciousness of it, and, without warning, she laughed aloud, and
checked against her sides the friendly impulse of her hands.

He condescended to smile, too, under his drawn brows.

"Well--good-bye," she said.

"Good-bye."

Neither moved: each looked over the other's shoulder; Theresa, upwards
at the swell of green hills against the sky, and Alexander down at the
quiet valley and his home, with Abraham sitting before the kitchen door.

"Where are the others?"

"All gone for walks."

"Don't you walk?" She saw the red sparks in his eyes, and his face
mobile for the next emotion. This one was a gently disguised scorn, and
again she was unmoved.

"I'd rather run."

"If you're alone, won't you come back to Janet's?"

"No, thank you."

"She would like to see you."

"And I should like to see her. I've known about her for so long;
but--it's good to be alone, isn't it? This is the first day I've ever
had like this. I'm greedy of it. But if I could just go and speak to her
and come back again, that would be best of all."

"You can do what you like at Janet's," he said. "I'm staying there."

To that she made no answer, but her mind was busy, adding this last
statement to Janet's refusal to see visitors. She smiled, and through
her thought there ran a pleasant sense of liking for Alexander's
company. His face was almost what she had expected, but his effect on
her was not. She had forgotten her old enmity and all the lurking,
half-seen fears that caused it, and she walked easily by his side and
knew no embarrassment at their silence.

"We've got photographs of you in our kitchen," he said suddenly; "but
how did you know me?"

"Well, I guessed. No I didn't!" She stood still to think. "Oh--I knew."

"You're like your pictures."

"You see," she was explaining her recognition of him--"I've heard about
you since I was ten years old. Did Father ever tell you about me?"

He gave a shout of laughter.

"Oh!" she said, "was it as bad as that? No wonder you wouldn't stay in
the house with us."

His face became grave. "I had work to do."

She looked at him with a like solemnity, showing him a face which might
have been reverential but for the dancing light in the eyes, and for the
lips, held back as in a leash. He lifted his head with a jerk, and
stared before him until they were at the crest of the slope, and Theresa
paused to see the valley.

He cast a glance at her. She wore a short skirt of some dull purple
stuff, and a woollen garment of the same colour that fitted loosely, yet
defined her slimly rounded shape. He thought that among the gold and
copper of her hair he saw a bronze glide into a glinting purple, and it
came into his mind that she was like the heather. Her feet, shod soberly
in brown, were planted firmly, but her body, like that mountain plant,
gave to the wind, and thereafter she and the flower he loved best were
for ever one to him.

She knew he looked at her and she looked back at him, now with a
different smile--how many had she?--frank and friendly.

"I do like being here," she said, and clasped her restless hands behind
her back.

"That's Janet's house among the larches," he said.

The dogs greeted them, and then Janet's tall figure slipped through the
trees.

Shyness took hold of Theresa, and when she sat in the dark kitchen she
was conscious again of the mystery of woods. The larches were close to
the window, scratching the panes, and the room was full of shadows.

Janet did not try to talk, but, having seated Theresa by the fire, she
took her stool on the other side of the hearth and scrutinized her
keenly, while Alexander leaned in the door-way, reading. Theresa could
think of nothing to say, and decided that if these two were content with
silence there was no need for her to break it; so she looked into the
fire, at Janet's face and the plates on the dresser, at the fire again,
at Alexander and the lean hands holding his book.

She had been free and happy outside with him, and now she was uneasy,
fettered.

"I think I'll go back," she said.

Alexander closed his book. "But you're going to stay to dinner. Isn't
she, Janet?"

"Of course." She looked at Theresa in her brooding, unsmiling way. "I
like to have you here. Your father's a friend of mine."

"Did he ever tell you that dream of Janet's?" Alexander asked.

"The one about the birds? Oh yes, he told me that." She smiled. "I think
he tells me everything."

"I'll see about the dinner."

Slightly frowning, Theresa looked at Alexander. "Must I stay?"

"I thought, if you would, I'd take you afterwards to a place I know.
Will you come? It's a fine place."

"I'd like to come," she said.

Janet fetched food from the larder while Laura, the little maid, with
her arms bare beyond the elbow, laid the table and cast casual remarks
at Alexander in a pretty monotone. She herself was pretty, but
Alexander, reading again, hardly looked at her. He murmured his assents
and "no's" and interjections into the book, while she told him how
someone in the village had driven into town, and the white horse had
fallen and cut its knees, and it was a good horse and a new one. "So
they'll have to bide home till its knees are mended, and that's awkward
for them with their coal and all to fetch."

"Ye-es," said Alexander. "It'll be hard work fetching the coal by hand."

"They'll never do that!" she exclaimed, and laughed as she saw the queer
raising of his brows.

Theresa was unreasonably angered by these pleasantries. She wanted to
tell Alexander he was not funny at all, that she could be much funnier
herself; but he had returned to his reading with so little apparent
satisfaction in his mild joke that she forgave him. Moreover, she liked
the way his head rose from his neck, and the line of his chin; he had a
manner of touching books that pleased her, and on small likes and
dislikes Theresa could hang a serious mood.

A little later, with the dogs leaping round them, they set out together
by the front door of the house, and Theresa turned among the larches to
wave farewell to Janet, who stood looking after them with her strange
passivity.

But to-day, below the quiet of her face, she was feeling all the tragedy
of her lost youth and her empty arms. These she folded across her breast
and pressed heavily against her heart to still the pain, and, in the
trouble of a mother who has had no lover but her son, she saw the
shadows drop back into their places as the two figures passed through
and on. And she stood there, rigid, with the hurt smile on her lips,
until the dogs came back and lay down at her feet, with lolling tongues.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alexander led Theresa to a broad green path which they could see curving
far before them.

"Have we to walk on this all the way?" she asked.

"You need not. It's quickest in the end."

"But it's simply crying out for our obedience! Don't let us obey. Take
me the long short cut."

"Well, if you like walking on the sides of your feet----"

"Better than walking in other people's footsteps."

"I like to tread where other men have been," he said quietly. "It links
me to them."

"Links? Chains! I want to be free."

Amused, he looked down at her. "But you can't be, you know."

"But I am!"

"You'll find someone tugging at the other end one day."

Turning her palms up and down, she showed him her unshackled wrists.
"There's nothing there."

"Well, lead on, then. Straight for the gap."

She went before him. To her the walk was a revelation of her capacity
for happiness and when she went to bed that night, she could look back
on the day and marvel at the ease with which she had talked about
herself, what she wished to do, what she feared she would never do,
telling him all without a thought of making any effect, impelled by her
conviction of his sympathy, and her own need to speak. Only now, in the
quiet of the bedroom, did she speculate on Alexander's judgment of her.
She had walked with him for hours, she had been careless of his opinion
because she trusted it, because she had so completely and immediately
accepted him as friend that another conception of the relationship had
seemed impossible, and she saw now that her feeling for him had been too
sure and swift for any reflex action. She was less likely to pose to him
even than to herself, and, pondering on that remarkable fact, she sat on
the bed and drew off her stockings. After all her years of introspection
and enjoyment of an audience, this new condition neared the miraculous,
and it grew in significance as she sat, slowly unfastening her clothes.
Why, it had all been as simple as picking a flower and putting it in her
dress, but that Alexander was hardly comparable to a flower. What was he
like? A hill, she thought, mirroring the clouds and growing light again
with their passing.

She told no one of her meeting with him, and she did not see him again.

To Alexander the memory of that day was a tempting and detested scourge.
He was twenty-seven, and the two women who were his friends had held him
in their laps. Young women were strangers even to his thoughts, and at
Theresa's invasion of his home he had left it, only to have her gold and
purple thrust into his hands. And how tightly he had held them all that
day! How he had watched her going before him, turning, now and then, to
speak! The allurement of her poised body had been strong for him: she
had come upon him out of the very earth, with the sun on her hair, and
his unguarded senses had greeted her in spite of the dictates of his
mind, and, powerful against all warnings, he felt the stirring of the
life that had been so long asleep.

But it was when they rested in the promised place that he felt the
kinship of her spirit, and did his best not to acknowledge it, and
yielded before the vision of her enraptured face. He had taken her to a
tower of grey rocks, whence she could look forth as from a window on
fold after fold of hills: blue and purple they were, green and grey,
colours so intermixed and blended that the eye could hardly part them,
and as she gazed out on these serene and solid waves of earth and the
deep troughs dividing them, or looked straight below her at the narrow
valley streaked with the cotton threads that were streams, up at the sky
and the bird that hung there, and down to the ferns in the crannies of
the rocks, he knew she loved the hills with a passion younger than his
own, but as strong. He knew it through his heart and mind, and in the
same instant, he was jealous that she should love them, and that they
should be loved by her.

Separated from her by a few yards, he sat on a rock, smoking his pipe
and saying nothing, nor did she show any wish to speak. Sometimes he
turned to look at her, and always he saw his own emotions on her face.
She sat very still, leaning a little forward: the fingers of her clasped
hands were interlaced, except when she brushed aside the ruffled hair
that strayed into her eyes: her cheeks were pale, but about her there
was a subdued light like that in the sky long after the sun has dropped
away.

Presently she rose and wandered off, and, in fear lest she should be
lost, he followed and found her lying at full length, propping her chin
with her hands and digging little graves for her toes. Smiling, but
looking at him with solemn eyes, she released one hand and patted the
ground beside her in invitation, and thus they lay until her shiver
warned him that the air was cold.

"We must go," he said, and remembering the softness of his voice, he was
tormented.

She sprang up, and the long silence was broken. They walked home side by
side, and she had talked and drawn talk from him until he was telling
her the thoughts he hardly knew were his, and now found were his best
possessions. With perfect confidence in her interest, he told her the
great and little things about his work, and she did not fail him. It was
her mind he sought and she gave it gladly; he knew there were no
barriers raised against him, and his own were all thrown down.

They had clasped hands in farewell, and she had thanked him for her day,
and suddenly her face had become as beautiful for him as her body. It
was elfin in the gloaming and tremulous with life, and he saw the
loveliness of her lips.

Long after she had left him he sat staring at the stream, shaking and
half-afraid because of his fierce desire to touch her.

The water was dark and hardly discernible except where foam gathered and
pale waterfalls were splashing, but it was Theresa that he saw. Now he
would push her from him in anger, hating himself for his need, and a
moment later twine his fingers among hers and draw her back, looking
into her clear, unflinching eyes, telling her it was her companionship
as well as her sweet frame he wanted, the mind that had sprung so
swiftly to his meaning and never fallen short. And then again there
would come a terrible distrust, born of his physical desire. How was he
to clear himself of that and see an uncaged Theresa flown from the vivid
body that might and might not be the expression of herself? Better
perhaps to see neither bird nor gilded wires, to forget the singing she
had started in his breast, and to go steadily on his chosen road. Why
should he introduce strange new gods into his worship? Would they
satisfy him? Would they not hinder him, and demand the offering up of
sacrifices he could not give?

He cried aloud, and his voice fell in with the sound of the rushing
water. "Oh, Theresa, you heather flower, I'll give you anything but my
work, if you'll only be what your face says you are. But you can't be
that. Can you? Can you? It would be like Heaven opened. Oh,
fool--fool--fool!"

He stood up strongly, holding down his hands. "And I thought myself a
stubborn man to beat! Well, and I'm not beaten yet."

Nevertheless, late that night he stole round the house and sat long on
the horse-block, for it was just below her window.



CHAPTER XIX


While Alexander battled against the physical with hopes divided between
a conquest which might show Theresa to him in spiritual beauty, and a
defeat which would keep her clothed in flesh, and so preserve him from
complete capitulation, Theresa, as yet untrammelled by these cares, went
home rejoicing in a friend. There was no other to whom she could give
that name with the same fulness of meaning, and the glow of her splendid
possession did something to remove the chilliness from a home with no
Grace in it. She had, too, a new belief in herself based, not on fancy,
but on Alexander's confidences and her own understanding of them, and
with that to help her, she set about finding work. Her view of men had
been almost imperceptibly readjusted by half a day's communion with one
of them, and she would have returned to Mr. Partiloe but for the
certainty of planting hope in him. She could not do that, and she spent
much time and weariness of body in looking for someone whom she
considered fit to be her employer. Weariness of mind, she had none; she
was conscious of a strong effect of wind and sunshine there, clearing
the dust and dirt from its corners and making room for fresh and urgent
powers, and she saw life as a thing too short for the use of her
vitality.

"Your holiday has done you good," Grace told her.

"How do you know?" The bride's statements were now delivered with such
authority that Theresa was forced to question them.

"You're so good-tempered."

"You think that because you're not living with me. Ask Uncle George! We
quarrelled this morning. He wants me to be secretary to one of his old
societies. I think it was in aid of the children of devoured
missionaries."

"Oh, Terry!"

"It was something quite as bad. And for a mere pittance! He told me the
work would be reward enough. I nearly threw the coffee-pot at him. Am I
not worthy of my hire? Why can't they employ one of the undevoured
children? And he turned the other cheek. He said he would try to find
something else for me. He likes me, you know."

"People seem to. Phil thinks you're charming."

"Does he? By the way, do ask that enthusiastic young man not to play the
fiddle quite so late at night. I can hear so plainly through the wall
just when I want to go to sleep. First there's a squealing--oh, it
really is squealing; you must face facts--and then there's a wailing,
and then one note that you know is meant to be a musical one, and you
think at last the tune is coming--but he stops there. And there's a long
pause, and I know you are saying, 'Oh, Phil, how wonderful! Play it
again.' And he does. It makes me hot all over, and I hate you both and
call you names. I don't think I like having only a wall between us. I'm
always wondering what you are talking about, and I feel as I used to
when I was little, and heard Father and Mother talking in another room.
It always sounded so mysterious and so important, and I wanted to
listen, but I should have found it very dull, just as I should find your
conversations."

"They're not dull. There are no end of wonderful things to talk about
when you really like a person."

Theresa's lips curved in a small, superior smile. Did she not know?

"You needn't look like that," said Grace sharply. "You'll know some
day."

"Married people," said Theresa, "do nothing but prophesy their own
feelings for other people. Bless you, I don't want to feel as you do.
It would be like--like feeding me on grass."

"I suppose there's meant to be an insult there," said Grace placidly,
"but I don't understand it."

"No, it was only an unsuccessful simile. One can't always hit the nail
exactly on the head. I like that way of doing your hair."

Grace scanned herself in the glass. "Yes. Phil made it up."

"Good Heavens! He ought to be a hairdresser!" She could not imagine
Alexander concerning himself with such trivialities.

"He could only be that if he were in love with all his customers," said
Grace, preening herself delicately and feeling that the last word was
hers.

"The source of all inspiration! Oh me! Where's mine?"

"Your what?" Grace had been executing an intricate step, and now she
stood on tiptoe, poised like a dragonfly.

"My inspiration, and the fountain head thereof. My river is all dried
up. But I never was a river; I only thought I was."

"I don't know what you're talking about." This was the remark which had
punctuated their childhood, and Theresa laughed, swinging forward to
clasp her knees.

"Of course you don't! I'm talking of the nonexistent. Alas, alas, and I
thought myself a torrent that could never be dammed! Grace, Grace, do
you think there's any chance of my becoming a torrent some day?"

"I think," she pirouetted, "you could be almost anything you like,
if--oh, look! wasn't that rather pretty?--if you cared enough."

"That's just it," said Theresa gloomily. "I only care about myself, and
I am that already. At least, I suppose I am. I'm not sure. Grace, have
you got a self you're sure of?"

"Yes."

"Just one whole, compact little bundle of self?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Oh, how did you do it? There are parts of me in every star and in every
earthworm, and I don't know which is which or where! What magnet will
draw them all together?"

"Ah!" said Grace.

"Oh, don't be silly. It's no good talking to a woman with only one idea
in her head."

"It's a good idea," said Grace serenely.

"Yes, for you."

Grace laughed now, with a wise little giggle of premonition. "Poor
Theresa!"

"Go back to your hairdresser. I'm going to do some work."

"My hairdresser is giving a lesson. There's a wretched man who wants to
learn the banjo from him. The banjo!"

"I'd rather hear the banjo any day than Phil playing the fiddle. Why do
you let him? He'll end his days scratching the thing outside
public-houses. He's just the type. And you'll stand on the pavement with
a tin mug. Do go home--while you have one!"

"Yes, I must go. I have a class in an hour. Good-bye, darling. You've a
lot of new freckles, and you look so well. Have you forgiven Mr.
Partiloe?"

"Oh yes, I've forgiven him. He doesn't matter any more."

"What did you think of the Rutherford boy?"

"He's not a boy; he's a man. He was away from home."

"Oh, how dull."

"Not a bit." She straightened the bow of her slipper and spoke quickly.
"There's no need of people when there are mountains."

She did not raise her head until she thought her blush had faded. And
why had she blushed? Why had she replied evasively, she who prided
herself on speaking truth? Because, her ready mind made answer, to say
more would not have been fair to Alexander. And oh, cried the voice of
her heart, taking her by surprise, because, like a miser, she could not
bear to speak about her gold. She held her friend close, and looked on
him as though she tried to appraise his value, which was immeasurable;
she saw his strong, lean figure, the quietness of his face with the
passions subdued below, and heard the voice he so seldom raised beyond
the pitch that accorded with the mountain noises. Looking down, with his
hands in his pockets, he had walked beside her, listening, and at a word
that pleased him or reached beyond the outskirts of his being, he had
swiftly lifted and turned his head to look at her. And when she ceased
and he began to speak, it was haltingly at first, with eyes still
downcast, but again there came those sudden looks, marking his
earnestness. No, of these things she could not speak; they had no
parallel in words, and the miser might as hopefully try to express
adoration of his stores. And it would certainly not be fair to
Alexander, she repeated, doing homage to that useful suggestion of her
mind.

"Father told me he was very sorry."

"Yes, he likes him."

"Have you ever thought, Terry, that Father----" She stopped and looked
through the window, meditatively biting her lips.

"Go on."

"No, I won't say it." Already she had acquired something of the matron's
discretion, and saw the faint barrier between married and unmarried. In
a day her knowledge had so far outspread Theresa's that what she would
have said freely two months ago was now checked for consideration. Was
it wise to say this to Theresa, who was a girl? There was less danger in
silence--so she stood biting her lips.

But Theresa knew that Grace also had divined her father's wish, and
though she was not angry she felt indescribably sad, nor did she
understand why, for the rest of that day, she seemed to move in mist.

In the evening Uncle George pierced the veil. He looked unreal and over
large as he stood before her.

"Theresa, I have found the very thing for you--not the thing I
recommend, mind, but the thing you'll like."

"Lots of money?"

"A hundred a year."

"Oh, good! That's better than the Christian stipend you offered me."

"I'm afraid this will be anything but Christian."

"Oh, good! I mean--tell me about it."

He eyed her with the peculiar expression he kept for her, one hovering
between a controlled frenzy and an amusement greater than his
prejudices.

"Have you ever heard of Simon Smith?"

"No, but one wouldn't, would one?"

"His father was a large manufacturer of cheap--but I don't say
injurious--sweets. Simon Smith is a very rich man and a philanthropist.
I have met him on committees--all of which he has left. I entirely
disapprove of his methods, entirely, but that's no reason why I should
not tell you that he has a vacancy for a secretary. I advise you to go
and see him."

"I certainly shall. Shall I say I'm your favourite niece?"

"Not if you want to get the post," he said grimly.

The next morning Theresa presented herself at Mr. Smith's large front
door, and was ushered into a sunny room where a spruce young man was
sitting. He rose, bowed in a bored manner, and spoke rapidly.

"You are Miss Webb? Please sit down. I understand you are applying for
the post Mr. Smith has vacant. What are your qualifications? Oh, very
well, then will you please take down this letter, type it, and let me
have it as soon as possible. Will you come to the table?"

She drew off her gloves slowly and sat down, awaiting his first words
with a look of pleasant expectation. He gave back a blind and stony
gaze.

"Dear Sir----" She bent her head over the paper.

He carefully examined the typewritten copy, and announced that Mr. Smith
would see her. The sobriety of his face had not relaxed as he opened the
door which communicated with an inner room, and he did not respond to
Theresa's tilted smile of thanks.

"Miss Webb, sir," he said, and disappeared.

Beyond the names she could give for reference, Mr. Smith said he only
wanted to know three things: had she good health--in particular, was she
free from colds in the head which he considered the most objectionable
known complaint? Would she begin work at eight o'clock each morning? And
would she promise to wear shoes that did not squeak?

She answered yes to all these questions and awaited her dismissal, but
Mr. Smith had much more to say. He was a small, dry man, almost
concealed by the great chair in which he sat, but his eyes were
startlingly keen, and they never left Theresa's face. It was her own
habit to fix people in this manner, and she expected it of others, so
she sat, coolly interested, wearing that hint of a smile which was an
inheritance from her mother, proof, in Theresa, of a shy enjoyment.

With a courtesy and shrewdness of which she was quite aware, he led her
willingly into a self-revealing conversation. He learnt her age, the
occupation of her father, her relationship to George Webb--"Harmonium
George, we call him," he said with a twinkle--and many of her
characteristics. She helped him freely in his discoveries, but she did
it with a skill greater than his own.

"Very well," he said, as he rose, "if Mr. Partiloe----By the way, why
did you leave Mr. Partiloe?"

"I had been there three years."

"Decent chap, isn't he? Decent pay? Why did you want to go, then?"

She thought for an instant. "It was a very stuffy office," she said.

"Ah, yes--yes. They are sometimes." He rang the bell. "Will you take a
glass of wine before you go? Excellent port? No? Well, let me show you
my flowers."

He took her through his conservatory, gave her a spray of heliotrope,
and escorted her to the gate.

Two days later she had a letter signed by John Neville, asking her to
begin her duties as Mr. Smith's under-secretary at eight o'clock on the
following Monday morning.

Simon Smith's charities were exclusively his own. He seldom gave to
hospitals, never to missionaries, and all organized societies had learnt
that they were his detestation, that though he might consider individual
cases they brought to his notice, he would never spend a penny on
anything in which he had not a hand.

"My father," he said, "never sold a sweet he hadn't sampled. D'you think
his money is going to be swallowed up while my back's turned? No, I'll
look into this little affair myself."

Through many different channels news came to him of people he was glad
to help, and it was with his vast correspondence that Theresa chiefly
had to deal while Jack Neville, alert and always beautifully dressed,
went hither and thither, making investigations, and finding new subjects
for Mr. Smith's generosity.

"I came across a poor seedy-looking beggar this morning, down by the
docks," he told Theresa one day, when she had worked there long enough
to be considered part of the establishment. "I got into conversation
with him, found he was a poet. He showed me some of his verses written
on a dirty scrap of paper. Jolly good they are, too. Look!"

She fingered the paper delicately. "Was he dirty, too?"

"H'm. What you might call medium. But what do you think of his
production?"

"Excellent." Her lips moved with the rhythm of the words. She did not
look at Neville when she spoke. "Are you going to introduce him and his
verses to Mr. Smith?"

"Well, what do you think?"

"I think Mr. Smith probably doesn't know his poets as well as you and I
do."

"Ah, I wondered if you'd recognize it." She saw his growing approbation
take a leap. "Rather a neat trick though, wasn't it? He must have known
who I was. I shall have to adopt disguises."

"You see," she said, "you are so unforgettably well-groomed."

"My dear girl--I'm sorry."

"Oh, never mind."

"I hate familiarity."

"Let's call it friendship."

"May I? Thanks. I was going to say that my clothes alone lift me from
the ruck. If I am not spick and span I'm nobody. It's the abominable
mediocrity of my features and the shape of my head. There's much in
heads."

"Yes, you can hide your mouths, but we have the advantage when it comes
to skulls." She knew she had no need to conceal one or the other, for
Nature, who had denied her beauty, had given her shapeliness, and she
wondered if Jack Neville knew it. She was very happy in the
companionship of these two men: whether or not they had eyes for her
physical charms she could not tell, and it was not often that she cared,
but she was sure they appreciated her intelligence. In this, as in many
other matters, the two were at one, and gradually she was admitted to
their counsels.

"I wanted this," Mr. Smith said. "I intended it; but I had to see what
you were made of. We need the woman's mind. There's been too much man
about things. Jack is always finding starving genius in a garret--and of
the male gender. Well, it would be a bit awkward for him if it wasn't--I
admit that. Now you--now look here, Miss Webb, here's a delicate bit of
work for you to do. Somebody came this morning with a tale about a young
woman living over a bird shop. Nasty atmosphere, eh? She's been deserted
by her husband, or else there isn't a husband--that's for you to find
out. I want the truth of the matter, and you can get it. Here's the
address. Never mind these letters: they can wait, and if you're a
success as my female agent I can get any fool to play with that
typewriter. Well, what's the matter?"

There was a sound of trouble in her voice. "I should like to do this new
work. I think it's the kind of thing I can do, but please, please, don't
let anyone else touch my papers. I can't bear even Mr. Neville to
interfere with them, and I can easily find time to do everything. Why,
you don't work us half hard enough. And I should hate to give up my
chair, and my table, and my typewriter, and all my beautiful files."

"There you are, keeping some other woman out of a job."

"Oh----"

"Never mind! Never mind! I assure you I don't want a stranger. She'd be
sure to sniff."

The girl who was cooped up in a room hardly bigger than one of the cages
that swung below, opened her heart almost as soon as she had opened her
door to the bright-haired lady who knocked on it, and this case was the
beginning of a little feminist movement of Theresa's own. From one woman
she had hints of the troubles of another, and was off immediately on the
trail, her nose so keen for the scent that it disdained the more
material odours assailing it. She went into strange places and met
strange people, and she made mistakes; but she had more than her share
of her sex's special gifts, and she had, too, some quality that drew the
truth from others. The work absorbed her, she could not have done it
well if she had not found in it something of a mission; but she also
delighted in the perpetual show she made for her own eyes. She had a
large stage to act on, no lack of parts to play, and so she was for ever
in a state of mind that was not self-satisfaction, but an engrossment
which made her every action of interest to herself, and the very tones
of her voice as memorable as the tale some starving woman told her. Yet,
with it all, she never acted falsely, and though she saw herself haloed
by her own skill and popularity, she tried to counteract her tendency to
glance upwards at that adornment. "But it's not so serious as it seems,"
she would say when she was troubled by her egoism. "It's only playing
the same old game. I used to be a beautiful princess, and now I'm a
clever young person. I always knew I wasn't a princess, and now I know
I'm not nearly as clever as I like to think, so where's the harm? Nobody
is deceived, and I have my fun." Nevertheless, she was oftener with a
heartache than without one.

Neville complained of her activities.

"You are swamping us with your women," he said. "My geniuses never get a
chance, and the old man says he has too much on his hands to attend to
my consumptive butcher."

"I don't believe there is such a thing."

"Oh, honour bright! He's more important than that last girl of
yours--you rather rushed the old man over that--and here's my butcher
threatening to marry. We've got to cure him first. We must come to some
arrangement and divide things fairly."

"I want to be fair, but one's enthusiasms----" She ended with a smile,
and as he looked down at her he found her very good to see in her plain
green frock, with a glint of winter sunshine on her hair.

Looking up at him, Theresa saw another face, and felt a dull throb in
her breast. It would soon be a year since she had seen the mountains, a
year since she had seen her friend. Strenuously she called him by that
name, yet she would not obey her eager wish to write to him and so talk
to him again: she was held back by some inherited instinct of waiting on
the male, and she felt her spirit starving. It was hard to live for ever
on her memories, and she turned to her old food. She must shine for some
one, and she did it so glitteringly for her father and Simon Smith and
Neville, that her pangs were dulled; but there returned the restlessness
which, for a little while, had been banished.

Edward Webb had been to stay among the hills, and she thought she would
tear her heart out with his going. She was not included in the
invitation. James Rutherford, it was understood, was so uncertain in his
behaviour, that her presence was not desirable, and her father had
returned in some anxiety.

"What is the matter?" she asked, and the sound of her voice taught her
more than she had wished to know, yet a joy that soared in agony came
with the knowledge.

"He's very bad."

"Who?" Her fingers were torturing each other.

"James. And Alexander--Alexander isn't like himself, Theresa."

"Isn't he?"

"No. He's--so morose. I hardly had a word with him. I own I was a little
hurt."

If her father had looked at her, he would have seen the strain of her
smile as she dared herself to speak her fear.

"Perhaps he is in love," she said.

"Oh, I hope not. But"--he was reluctant--"I must confess that
Janet--Janet hinted something, vague as herself. But I hope not."

She spared him some of her aching pity for herself, and answered
steadily: "He must be twenty-eight. Quite old enough to marry. People
are very disagreeable when they are in love." But as she drove the nails
into her palms, she was saying over and over again: "Thank God I didn't
write to him. Thank God I didn't do it!"

And if she had a prayer, it was that she might not dream about the
hills.



CHAPTER XX


One day, when the summer of the next year had slipped into September,
Theresa was five minutes late for work. She shut the door with a bang
that had a sound of triumph in it, and her face had the flush of
victory.

Neville pointed to the clock.

"Don't be fussy, Jack. This is the first time--and I've been up all
night!"

"It seems to have agreed with you. You've been looking like a wilted
daffodil for months, and now you're like, well--what would you like to
be like? A rose will do. Has your arch enemy died?"

"No." She drew her chair noisily to the table. "No."

"Need you be quite so emphatic in your movements?"

"I must be. It's my form of self-expression, and I wish to express joy.
I've got a niece, Jack, a real live niece. Isn't it glorious?"

"Is it? Felicitations! If we tell the old gentleman, he'll have in a
bottle of champagne."

"Let's have it for lunch, and if you want to dictate, start quickly,
before disinclination conquers me. I've never wanted to stay away from
work before."

He shook his smooth round head. "I've quite a lot of nieces and nephews,
myself, but not one of them ever threw me off my balance--not one.
Women----"

"Well?"

"Queer things! Now, please. To Mr. Thomas Cartright. Dear Sir."

Grace's little daughter revealed the maternal in Theresa. Grace had the
quality in its fairest shape, the one painters choose to picture,
tender, soft and content. Her arms were intimate with the small body
they held, her voice and her laughter had the mother note, and her
smiling lips took on a new and passionate droop. Her eyes, adoring the
baby, adored Phil the more, and he, through worship of his wife,
worshipped the baby.

Watching this ancient and eternal trinity, Theresa felt her eyes pricked
with dreadful tears. She dropped her lids on them, and saw the inner
wilderness in which she lived. It was shorn of beauty, it was a waste,
empty but for the little figure of herself, moving on and on--to what?
There seemed no bourne for her. She did not know what she wanted: she
was not sure that Grace's happiness was one she envied; but she stooped
and seized the baby and held it close, not with the perfection of
Grace's instinct, but with a gaunt desire that savagely portrayed a
universal hunger. She felt the common pangs, the common easing of them
under the pressure of the little body, and while she held the child her
restlessness was soothed and she was comforted. Against all likelihood
she found a certain happiness in sharing the emotions known to other
women. It joined her to them, so that she lost her stabbing
consciousness of self, and she remembered how Alexander had said he
liked to walk in the paths of other men, because it linked his humanity
to theirs. She could consent to that, but only in this mood of soft
desires that came too often for her pride.

She suffered through that autumn. The nights brought happiness that only
made the days more lonely, and she rushed to her work for refuge. She
wrought at it with something near to genius and remained unsatisfied, so
that she began to know a secret, faint despair of self that shook her
into fear, and so into defiance and a determination not to fail. She
drove herself back to the gallant thoughts of childhood: she remembered
that it was wonderful to be alive, splendid to struggle, that she had
looked to difficulties as her destiny, and here was her chance to
combat them. She took the chance, and in those days, Neville, watching
her, saw that she went with her head carried higher, and a new calm
about her lips. He tried to draw her into talk, but she avoided it. She
feared his quickness as she feared her father's love, and it was to
Bessie she went when weariness came to mock at her bright courage, for
Bessie was tonic in her simplicity and her readiness to do without the
thing she could not have.

"Are you happy?" Theresa asked one night, when she came on Bessie
sitting solitary in the dimly-lighted kitchen.

"Happy?" she answered. And more emphatically: "'Appy? Oh, I don't know,
Miss Terry. What's 'appy, anyway?"

Theresa laughed, and put a hand on Bessie's knee.

"I like you, Bessie," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without you.
You see things. That's because you live in this cave and don't get
dazzled by what doesn't matter."

"It's not such a bad kitchen," said Bessie practically. "At least, I'm
used to it."

December came, and one evening, when she returned from work, Theresa
found a letter waiting for her father. It was from Clara, and Theresa
put it on her father's plate, and walked with dignity from the room; nor
did she enter it again until she was called to supper.

After that meal she waited for the word which, sooner or later, she
would have to hear.

"James is better."

"Oh!"

"Clara wishes me to go there for the New Year."

"That would be nice for you."

"If I can get leave. I hope it is not an extravagance."

"Your only one."

"There may be an excursion."

"Very likely."

"Would you like to read the letter, my dear?"

Her brows were doubtful. "Oh yes, thank you." She read it. Clara had
included her in the invitation. She handed back the sheet.

It was a little while before he said: "You notice that she asks for
you?"

"Yes, it's very kind of her. Please thank her, nicely and regretfully."
She added lightly, finally: "And do be careful not to take cold up
there. I suppose you won't stay longer than a week?"

Blinking, he put the letter in his pocket. "Not so long as that. Three
days perhaps."

She nodded. The subject was dismissed.

On New Year's Eve, Theresa was kept late at work, for the affairs of
twelve months had to be finally set in order, and long after the usual
hour Neville and she had tea together. Simon Smith was out, and these
two sat by the hearth with the tea-table between them and a shaded lamp
to light the luxurious room they called the office.

"This is comfortable," said he.

"Yes. How many hours of work have we?"

"Bless you, I'll do it all."

"No, you won't. You always muddle up my things. And I want to stay."

"I don't call that sufficient reason. Have some muffin. I shall begin to
think you yearn overmuch for my society."

She leaned forward as she laughed, and touched his sleeve.

"Jack, do you know what a dear you are?"

"Certainly. This is my favourite coat, Theresa. Are your fingers buttery
by any chance?" He took them in his and gave them a friendly squeeze.
"Well, I think we've always dealt honestly by each other. And now I'm
going to catechize you. What time do you go to bed?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"Do you sleep?"

"Why else should I go to bed?"

"Theresa Webb, how often do you lie awake?"

"Not often."

"And do you dream?"

She raised her brows. "That's part of sleep."

"Not with me, thank God," he said heartily. "But you come here in the
mornings, looking as if you'd had nightmares."

"I don't believe it! But I do have nightmares--wild beasts and
burglars--all the ordinary things. I daresay it tires one." Colour was
in her cheeks, and her eyes were guarded. She looked at him, but she saw
the place of the dreams that came in spite of prayer; the quiet lake
under the riven rock. She felt the soft wind in her hair, and heard the
water lapping.

The shaking of Neville's head blurred her vision, and his voice boomed
through the chaos of dissolving hill and lake.

"It won't do. I've watched men and women for years, and I know there's
something on your mind. What's the matter?"

She leaned back, with all her defences up and pride for the strong inner
wall. She scorned herself for sentimental weakness, and with feverish
hands she thrust it back for the enemy it was.

"There's nothing the matter," she said, and determined that, henceforth,
those words should be the faithful echo of her heart. "I'm a restless
sort of creature. I wear myself out. I'll try to be more sensible." Her
smile was a little stretched. "One doesn't always know what one wants."

"I think----" He jumped up and took a pipe from his pocket. "Let's talk
in peace till the old gentleman comes back. He has gone to the station
for the Landed Proprietor."

"Who's that?"

"Nephew. Quite a swell. Sits on the bench, I believe; rides a horse in
the Yeomanry; very good-looking, quite intelligent. The sort of man who
is a father to his tenants. You'll see. I was going to say, I don't
think the independent woman is a great success. Now, then!" But the
expected indignation did not come.

"Oh?" she said politely.

"Aren't you even going to show fight?"

"I'm much too lazy. But go on."

"It's difficult to argue with a non-combatant, but I'll try to rouse
you. You're a failure yourself, Theresa."

She raised her tired eyes, and again she encouraged him.

"Oh?"

"You do your work almost perfectly, and it doesn't satisfy you."

"Yes, it does."

"No, it doesn't."

"Well, does yours?"

"Of course. But you have some female hankering or other. God knows what
for."

"I expect He does, Jack, even though you don't. I suppose you are
suggesting that I ought to marry. You're as bad as Grace. A husband and
a home, and then content! I won't believe it! I don't believe it! My
life can't be bound within a wedding-ring. As though that could soothe
one's restlessness, satisfy one's desires! Yet it's the only solution
anybody offers."

"Then you admit the problem?"

"Oh yes--I admit it!"

"Ha----"

"There's no life without it. But I don't think the hankering is a
feminine one, Jack. I think it's--it's of the spirit, and I had it when
I was quite a little girl. I can't find what I want. It's up and
away--beyond everything else."

"And love has wings," he said, twisting his face comically to roughen
the words.

"It has nothing to do with love. Mind, I don't despise it. How could I?
But"--she threw out her hands--"I will not have myself hemmed in by it.
I want wide spaces."

"You'll get them when you get love," he said. "You see--I know."

She looked up with a different animation. "Oh, Jack, why haven't you
married her?"

"She's dead," he said.

She gave a little strangled sob, and stared at him as though she saw
something wonderful, and when she spoke, it was to say a strange thing.

"Then you have her quite, quite safe." She seemed to look on him as on
one who has reached the desired harbourage.

Her own uncertain voyaging seemed the lonelier, the more endless. She
could not steer a course, she needed piloting. She confessed the need,
and then, lifting her head, her pride strove with such pitiful
dependence. She remembered that long-past morning by the docks, when she
had suffered to see the stately sailing-ship obediently following the
little tug: she remembered how the lofty masts had bowed themselves in
submission, with what a sad humility the ship had been drawn through the
water. She felt the old pain, yet here she was crying out for a leading
hand.

"No, no!" she said, and looked across at Neville. "I'm sufficient for
myself," she told him; but in her face he saw the danger of her hungry
moment.

"That's right," he said; "don't borrow a particle of anyone unless
you're forced to it."

"I shan't be forced to it," she answered.

The maid had carried away the tea-things, Neville had gone into the
inner room to fetch some papers, and Theresa stood looking into the fire
with one foot on the fender, one hand on the mantelpiece and the other
hanging at her side. The room was in darkness but for one rosy light and
the flames of the fire, and in this brilliance she stood enshrined.

The door opened, she slowly turned her head, and her hand dropped from
the mantelpiece in the excess of her trembling. A tall, dark man,
wrapped in a great coat, stood by the door, and for an instant she had
thought she looked at Alexander; the next, Mr. Smith had bustled in,
exclaimed at the darkness, turned on another light, and presented his
nephew to Theresa.

Mr. Basil Morton made a deep bow in response to her exquisite little
inclination, and she had an impression of a handsome, serious face
emerging from the upturned collar of his coat.

"Bitter night," said Simon Smith. "I'll drive you home, Miss Webb. Much
too cold for you to walk, and you never have thick boots. You shall have
the brougham. We had the dog-cart. B-rrrh!" He rang the bell, and tried
to shake himself into warmth.

"Please don't order the carriage." She was vividly aware of Mr. Morton's
continued gaze. "I can't go home for hours."

"Why not? What's Neville thinking of? Jack! You two know each other,
don't you?"

Neville shook hands heartily with the Landed Proprietor. "Cold drive?"

"Very." He turned to Theresa. "But your streets are beautiful at night."

"The docks are best," she said, and as a siren called through the
darkness, she waved a hand towards the window. "It's full tide."

"We didn't pass the docks," he said.

They spoke in low voices: there seemed to be a wall round them, and,
from outside it, Simon Smith harangued Neville for allowing Miss Webb to
overwork herself.

"She wanted to stay, sir. I can't use force!"

Theresa made an effort to overcome the barrier dividing her from these
two. "I can't have Mr. Neville put in authority over me! I want to stay.
And there's nobody at home."

"Very well. We dine at eight. But if you hadn't been gadding after that
young woman with the false address and the false face, you would have
had your correspondence done."

"We're doing the accounts."

"I don't care what it is. I'll get that clerk if you're not careful.
Wasting your time over a woman anybody could have seen through in a
blink! Miss Webb," he said, turning to Morton, "is an anomaly. You can't
deceive her about men, but she's a tool in the hands of her own sex."

"I'm really the best judge of character of us all, male and female," she
said, lifting her chin. "Don't you think so, Jack?" She felt power
strong in her. She was the centre of a little circle which she
controlled. The eyes of the three men were on her, and she knew she was
admired according to the nature of each one.

Neville answered with his cheerful friendliness: "Of course you are!"
Simon Smith chuckled indulgently. At Morton she did not look. She could
feel the colour in her cheeks, and the sparkle in her eyes; she held her
lips in their easy smile, and the weariness of her heart and mind had
leapt from her.

"Well, we'll leave you to your work."

She made Neville laugh three times while he did addition sums and she
classified cases.

"It's a long time since I've been so funny," she said in great
contentment.

"Or wasted so much time."

"Oh!" She made a rueful face. "Don't you like me to be gay?"

"I always like you. Does that satisfy you? Let's attend to business."

At dinner Theresa talked very little. She had an instinctive wisdom in
the making of her half-conscious effects, a sense of fitness that rarely
failed her, and having let these men feel the tug of her personality,
she let go her grip, and became responsive to theirs. She dropped a word
here and there, laughed when she was amused, and presented no more than
an intelligent expression to jokes that bored her, and throughout the
meal she watched every movement Morton made, and was sensitive to each
tone of his voice. It was a full, low voice, like that of many another
man, and he treated his syllables with respect. This, like his
appearance, pleased her; and when he turned his dark eyes full on her,
she felt a little tremor run from her feet to her throat. In his looks
she read lofty and earnest aspirations and a fastidiousness of mind
which made her own view of things seem coarse. She was not humble, but
she put a higher value on her own opinions when he turned and asked for
them with his deferential air.

At five minutes to ten Simon Smith bade Theresa put on her hat. She said
good-night, and again she knew that sense of power as Mr. Smith got out
of the chair that dwarfed him, and Neville stopped in his light playing
of the piano and gave her his good smile, and Morton looked deeply into
her eyes as he opened the door. These were courtesies that men always
paid to women, but she knew she had more from them, that they gave her
of their minds because she demanded the gift, and she laughed as she ran
up the stairs and fastened her hat to her shining hair, and settled her
coat to the lines of her slim shape.

She liked walking downstairs because there was something in the pointing
of her toes that always pleased her, and to-night, because she was
rejoicing in all the little skilfulnesses of her body, she went down
slowly, pulling on her gloves, and, as she looked into the hall, she saw
Morton looking up.

"May I be allowed to see you home?" he asked, as she touched the bottom
stair.

"Please don't. I'm going in the carriage."

"I know." His words were almost a reproof. "You won't forbid me?"

She flashed her brightest, frankest look at him. "Why no!"

He put the rug over her knees and took his seat beside her. She did not
speak. She leaned back against the cushions, taking pleasure in the
shadows of the bare trees, splashed across the pavements.

He told her it was long since he had been to Radstowe, and the tone
implied regret. She had made no answer before the horses stopped.

"This is my home," she said.

"So soon," he murmured.

"It was absurd to have the carriage, wasn't it? Look, down there are the
dock lights." They stood together on the pavement. "And there's a boat
going out. You can see the light at her masthead. Oh--do you like it?"

"It is very beautiful," he said, but the next moment his eyes were on
her face.

The house was very quiet when Theresa entered it. The hour was early,
but, in the hall, the lowered gas told her that Uncle George and Bessie
had already gone to bed. She was glad to be alone.

She leant against the door, listening to the sound of the departing
carriage; and when she could hear it no longer, she stretched up an arm
and put out the light. The darkness fell on her warmly, clothing her.
For a little while its thickness hid her thoughts and muffled the quick
beating of her heart; but as the umbrella stand took shape, and the
dining-room door became more than a pale blot, she had to face her mood.

Something lighter than laughter seemed to be bubbling in her throat. She
was sharply conscious of her body and its strength. She stood straight,
tightening her muscles, throwing back her head. She found herself
smiling, and at that, with a gesture half of denial and half of shame,
she ran up the stairs; but her room was like a friend, and in its
presence she was doubly aware of her own strangeness. Her mood was still
to be faced, and she attempted no evasion.

She shut the door and sank to the bare boards beside it. She took off
her hat, and threw it, like a quoit, on to the bed. She laughed at
that, and frowned, hugging her knees, staring into the gloom, swaying
very slightly to and fro. Her meditations grew to a point that was a
single name, and she uttered it on a growing note.

"Alexander, Alexander, if you knew how tired I am----"

The rasp of her boots on the boards was like her mind made audible.

"If you think I'm going to make excuses----" she whispered fiercely, and
stood defiant. Her cheeks were hot with old memories, and new thoughts
rushing to the future. She shook her head impatiently.

"Be quiet!" she said. "Be quiet!" But she talked to herself without
ceasing, while she undressed.

"Life's very lonely. I haven't lighted the gas. It doesn't matter. I
don't want to see my ugly little face. No, I won't be humble. And it
isn't ugly. I like it. I won't be humble, and I won't be bound. No
fetters--but--I should like to be loved."

She brushed her hair and plaited it. She was uncertain whether to smile
or frown, but she nodded in acquiescence.

"Jack's right. What a nuisance! Alexander, if you're not careful I shall
hate you soon. No, I won't. You're apart--apart. My friend. But I'm
rather hungry. If you had given me honest food, food of a friend--but
you didn't after the first bite--and you won't. You can't blame me if I
take delicacies, things which are not very good for me, but nice! Are
you laughing at me? I don't care a bit, but I seem excited. I'd better
think things out."

Wrapt in her eider-down, she sat on the window-sill and watched the
lights, but she did not think. Her mind refused the effort. It gave her
pictures. She saw herself standing before the fire, with that empty,
aching place in her breast; she saw the opening of the office door and
the entrance of a man, dark, like Alexander, but with no other likeness,
unless it were the power to make her whole, for her suffering had
vanished under his long gaze.

"But that was only because I was interested," she said sensibly.

He had been interested, too, and more than that. The expression on his
face was new to her. She had come to believe that admiration was her
right; mingled with adoration, she had taken it from her father; Uncle
George had mixed it with his annoyance; Neville had given it frankly;
and Simon Smith, in the guise of petulant pleasure; but in this stranger
it was overwhelmed by something for which she had no name. Surprise,
baffled by courtesy, baffling his own unwillingness, had looked from his
eyes and behind that there had been eagerness restrained. It was for
her. She knew it surely, and the knowledge brought again that bubbling
to her throat. This time she laughed, stretching out her hands. She felt
like one caressed, secure, yet free, with power to capture and skill to
elude captivity.

"It's fun!" she cried, and stayed her gaiety at the remembrance of
Morton's grave and courteous face. She found nobility in it, and she was
sobered.

"No, it isn't fun," she said--"it isn't fun. You must try to be an
honest woman, Theresa. But I wish the morning would come."

She checked another laugh as she slipped into bed.



CHAPTER XXI


To Basil Morton, haste was as foreign a quality as dignity was a native
one. He lived slowly, marshalled his actions into order and subdued his
thoughts into a fair sequence, worthy of the noble mind of man. Even in
his imaginations of a future wooing, he had pictured it as a smooth and
rhythmic progress, for, seeing his lady fair and holy, fit to be adored,
the celebration of his worship must be beautiful and stately; she must
be won to the delicately pacing music of his heart. That lady of his
fancy had been tall and dark, gracious and reserved, with no ink stain
on her middle finger, and no happy comradeship with men. She must be
above them, loftily enthroned, white-fingered, perfect; yet here he was
ensnared by this Theresa with her red hair and her quickness and her
fearless glances of eyes that were rarely veiled. He was ensnared when
he first looked into those eyes, heard her voice, and watched her nimble
gestures; and, as though to lie held in her toils were not enough, she
had magically animated him with her own quickness. The courtship he had
planned for the dark, imagined lady faded and left a fragrance of old
things, while his heart leapt with a strangeness of hurry and his brain
was hot with his impatience. Yet he liked to remember his first sight of
her, for she had been gazing into the fire, as maidens should, and for
that instant she had looked soft and vulnerable and young, needing the
protection he had to give. He longed to give it. Thought of the lives of
unprotected women could always give his social conscience its sharpest
pang, and as he saw Theresa turn her latch-key in the lock, that pang
had changed to bitter pain. How often did she walk home late at night
alone? Into what dreadful slums and dens of wickedness was she forced by
his uncle's folly? What right had he to employ her for these purposes?
What horrid sights had she seen, what language heard? She should not
suffer that degradation of eyes and ears. He hated the hours she spent
with Neville. She must be taken from such work; she should live, he
vowed, a life more fitted for a woman, and he resolved to win her to it.

Wondering greatly at the headlong manner in which he had fallen at her
feet, he forced himself to sleep, anxious to bring the day and meet his
lady on her way to work.

It was a foggy morning, and she came towards him through a grey mist
which had bedewed her clothes and hair. Her cheeks were a pale pink, her
eyes were very bright, and at the sight of her he felt as though he had
been bathing in some rare air where prejudices could be blown away, and
youth regained and strengthened.

"May I be the first to wish you a very happy New Year?" he said.

"You are too late. Bessie, our domestic drudge and best friend, was the
first; then Uncle George. He seemed to have very little hope. You are
the third--and thank you. And a happy New Year to you, too."

"It has begun happily," he said gravely.

"Yes. I can smell the spring coming through the mist. And soon there'll
be snowdrops and crocuses."

"You are fond of flowers?" His words were more a statement than a
question, and his implied sureness of her love for beauty hampered while
it pleased her.

She shook her shoulders and spoke quickly. "Yes, but I like spring
better. I like the smell of the wind and the way the earth lets things
through. It's so eager!"

"Autumn is my favourite time of year."

She looked at him acutely. "It's not so pushing, is it? More
resigned--and all the dying things have the respectability of age. But
my buds insist on coming out. They're active, and your autumn leaves are
passive: they just flutter down, poor things. The buds for me!"

He thought she was like the spring herself, and was immediately
converted to her view. "I shall watch spring this year with different
eyes," he said, and the blood ran swiftly, joyously in her veins.

He left her at the foot of the broad steps leading to the front door,
but they met at lunch, and when Theresa went home that evening she found
a sheaf of flowers awaiting her.

"Who brought them, Bessie?" she asked, fingering them softly, for they
were the flowers a lover chooses--roses, lilies and violets, delicate
and sweet-scented things.

"A tall young feller--strange to me. 'Andsome."

"Fair?"

"Dark, with a moustache."

"I'd better put them in water," Theresa said quickly, and carried them
upstairs.

The next day was long in coming, yet she would have urged the night to
stay. It was glorious to be courted, but she was half ashamed. If a man
had picked her up without question and borne her away, she would have
struggled fiercely, but she would have been without this strange
shrinking of the mind. She was uncertain of her position: this wordless
gift of flowers affected her like a lurking enemy. Moreover, though of
all things she loved power, and though people sometimes seemed to her
like pawns she could move at will, she suddenly felt herself unfitted to
receive such gentle homage. It made her feel large and clumsy:
remembering Morton's quiet voice, her own sounded too loud and rough,
and she was aware again of his fastidious mind. Hers was not fastidious:
she liked the truth, whatever the garb it wore, and for knowledge of
life she had a thirst ready for the bitterest dregs. Had he known that,
would he have sent those flowers? And had he sent the flowers? Should
she thank him or be silent? To thank him would surely be to assume too
much, yet she wished to thank him, for she loved the flowers. She could
see them gleaming faintly as they stood on the table by her bed, and
their scent stole towards her. She put out a hand and touched them. They
were like friends. But she would be silent: she had no choice, and it
would be sweeter so: unnamed, they would lie the closer in her heart.

These were the thoughts that kept her waking through the night, so that
she arose pale and heavy-eyed with all her quickness gone but for the
restlessness of her hands.

Twice during that morning she met Morton in the hall, gave him a smile
and half a smile, and passed on. At lunch they faced each other, but
Theresa's eyes skimmed over his, and she would not talk. Shyness was
like a weight on her head, and she could not shake it off. Once more she
was ashamed; she, the independent, the undaunted, to be sitting there
like a bashful child! And oh, did she look as foolish as she felt? She
hated the flowers that bound her: they had stolen her freedom. For the
first time in her unbridled life she felt the curb, and she would have
bitten the hand that forced it on her; yet, looking on Morton as the
stern master, she lost the shame she had in seeing him as the adorer.
She could kick and bite and struggle against hard measures, but against
softer ones she had no weapon, only the pain of seeing herself
unwillingly subdued.

What were these people talking about? Their words flowed past her like a
river, until Simon Smith addressed her.

"You'd better go home directly after lunch, Miss Webb. Make up for all
that extra work. Jack has to go out this afternoon, so there'll be
nothing for you to do."

Slowly she turned that weighted head, and the effect was dignified,
reproachful.

"My work does not depend on Mr. Neville," she said. "Except for the few
letters he dictates every morning our work is quite distinct. There's no
reason why I should go early."

"Very well, very well. I thought you looked tired, that's all. Do as you
please. Do as you please. Of course, the house and the whole concern is
entirely under your management!"

She smiled at him, he smiled at her: they understood each other very
well and, pleased with her little show of power, she glanced at Morton,
surprising from him a look so tender and unguarded that her face was
crimsoned. She felt that even her eyes were blushing, and she covered
them with rosy lids, hating her weakness, hating him, yet conscious of a
new respect for a man who could make her flinch.

In the afternoon a knock came at the office door, and Morton entered at
Theresa's bidding.

"I wondered if I could help you," he said; "for, indeed, you do look
very tired." He stood near her chair, looking down at her. His eyes were
deep and soft, the lines of his face were firm and fine. He seemed firm
and fine all over: his hands, his clothes, his figure, belonged to a
type of man she had not known: he stood for something orderly and
seemly, something her life had missed.

"I am not tired," she said. "And I don't think you can help. Thank you.
It would be more trouble to tell you what to do. I don't suppose you can
use a typewriter?"

"No." He felt the vastness of his ignorance. "But I think I could
learn."

"It's not much harder than organ grinding." Laughter crept slyly about
her eyes and mouth. "Would you like to try?"

"I should, very much."

"Then you may take the typewriter into the library. It's rather an
irritating noise to work with, but I shan't hear it from there. And
then, some other day, you may be useful."

He could do nothing but carry the heavy thing away with him, and for the
rest of the afternoon he sat before it, trying, for his dignity's sake,
to pretend he liked the sound which deafened him to the other one he
listened for, so that Theresa went home without his knowledge.

Morton stayed in Radstowe for a fortnight, and each day hurried his
determination to win Theresa. Yet even to his fondness, to fancy her a
wife, was to imagine the chaining of a dragon fly. The moods she showed
him were as changeful as the colours in that creature's wings, her
glances were as swift as its flight. Sometimes he would find her steady,
as though she had settled on a flower, and at a word she would dart off
again whither he could not follow. He could not always even watch her
passage, it was so tortuous and so quick, and she left him puzzled,
bewildered, uncertain of her, but the more certain of himself.

Every day they met decorously at luncheon, and often, if Neville were
out, she made him welcome in the office. "You must let me help you."

"Of course." Her lifted eyebrows snubbed him delicately. "Will you read
out this list for me? I want to type it. Oh, but faster than that! No,
let me have it. I shall manage better alone."

He protested. "I'm very sorry. I wasn't thinking. Let me try again."

She was lenient: she knew he had been watching her.

"Very well." And when they had finished she nodded cheerfully. "With a
little practice you might become quite useful."

"I believe you despise me for a drone."

"No, I don't despise you. And I haven't quite decided what you are."

He looked up from the paper in his hand. "I hope you will make a
decision in my favour," he said, and his voice was vibrant.

She sat facing the light, and he saw the slight quiver of her features.
"I expect I shall." She had no inner doubts. She found in him something
good and rare, something the more valuable because of its aloofness and
its difference from herself, and if she could not yet see him as a
whole, she was drawn to the parts made visible.

She broke the moment's strain by pushing aside her papers and setting
her elbows on the table. She took her face in her hands.

"Let's talk," she said. And then, "Do you ever laugh?"

He smiled instead. "Not often."

"I should like to see you helpless with laughter, doing all sorts of
undignified things--crying and uncontrolled. Do you think you could?"

"I'm sure I couldn't. You'll set that down against me?"

"I'm not making a list of your qualities," she said sharply. "But you're
honest."

"Had you doubted it?"

"I don't think we'll talk, after all," she said. He pleased her with the
steady look that ended in a smile, and she went home that night in a
state of happy restlessness.

She felt herself being involved in a liking for him which resulted from
his liking for her, but was none the less sincere, and characteristically
she chafed while she rejoiced. Love, she found, has more than one means
of entry, and though she had always pictured herself seized roughly by
the intruder, life was teaching her to mistrust imagination, and she
resigned herself easily to this daintier form of worship, for there was
a novel pleasure in being enthroned, spreading herself for homage and
startling the worshipper with sudden incongruities.

For those fourteen days she was richly fed with the delicacies she had
foretold, and when Morton went away he left her hungry. Irritation came
with the pangs, and the old anger against herself, against him and all
the world. Neville offended her with indiscreet remarks, Grace dared to
suggest she was not well, and Bessie threatened to give notice.

"What for?" Theresa was sitting in her old place on the kitchen fender,
and Bessie was wandering, felt-shod, in apparent aimlessness.

"Your temper always was a bit awkward, Miss Terry. D'you remember when
you had your clean clothes? We'd all try to keep clear of you for an
hour or two, and it would pass off, but for this last month--well! I've
never known when you were going to flare, and I haven't pleased you
once."

"That's your fault. You needn't blame me. Oh, Bessie, I am a
bad-tempered wretch! Don't take any notice of me. Just be kind!"

"It's 'ard sometimes, Miss Terry dear."

"I know. I know. But you've got to go on loving me. I can't live unless
people like me--and, anyhow, you can't help it!"

"But you shouldn't take advantage, Miss Theresa."

"It is rather mean, isn't it?" she said thoughtfully; "but, you know,
Bessie, I have a hunger that's never satisfied."

"If it's for something 'olesome----"

"But it isn't. It's just to be made a fuss of."

"And there's your father thinking of you day and night."

"Yes, there's Father." She had been neglecting him of late; she had
allowed him to come home without a single question about his visit to
the farm, and now, repentant, she ran upstairs to his little room.

"How dare you sit here without a fire?" she asked.

"I'm wearing my overcoat, my dear."

"Come downstairs at once!"

"I'm afraid your Uncle George is in the dining-room. I can work better
alone."

She knelt and put a match to the wood and paper.

"We can't afford it, Theresa."

"I can, though. What are you working at?"

"I've begun again. It's foolish, no doubt--a waste of time, but the old
impulse returns. Though now there is no one who cares for it."

"There's me." She was kneeling by the growing fire, and she could only
see her father's back, but its stillness and his silence were a
punishment for all the kindnesses she had left undone, and for an
instant she knew how she would feel when he lay dead. Gripping the
fender, she dropped her head to her knees. "And there's Alexander," she
said, in a voice muffled against her dress.

There was a pause. "Yes, there's Alexander."

"Did you have a happy time," she stopped, and deliberately she used
Alexander's words, "up yonder."

"Very. Very. He was like himself again. And, I hope you won't mind,
Theresa, he wants to come here for his Easter holiday. I didn't ask
him--I wouldn't do that without your consent. He asked himself. I could
only make one answer, could I, my dear?"

"No. No. I don't mind at all. Why should I?"

He turned in his chair. "You seemed to have such an extraordinary
dislike for him, my child."

On her knees she crossed the narrow space between them, and leaned her
head against his arm.

"I've always hated to hear other people praised, and that was the way
you began about him, fourteen years ago. Fourteen years! And you've been
praising him ever since. But I'm trying to be more sensible. At least,
I'm different. At least, I think I am! Oh--I don't know! Anyhow, I don't
mind his coming a bit, a bit! He can live here if he likes!" She sank to
a sitting posture, and she beat the ground softly, hurriedly, with her
fists.

"He won't want to do that," Edward Webb said unnecessarily. "He seems
wedded to his life there."

"I thought he was in love." Her voice scorned the state in him.

"So Janet seemed to think. I have heard no more of it. And he seems
content."

"Contented people," she snapped, "have fat souls."

"I didn't say self-content, my dear," he explained mildly. "But he is
willing to live a life of obscurity--for the sake of an ideal. That's
rather great, Theresa. With his scholarship and his power he might have
made himself a name."

"Then he ought to have made it. Anybody could teach those stodgy boys."
Yet his own words came back to her, mingling with the water and the
wind, and once more she gave assent.

"That's just what he does not believe. Does a preacher think one soul of
more value than another? And should a teacher? That is what he asks, my
dear--and answers. And I am proud to call him my friend."

She went to bed, to lie there cold and stiff, her thoughts hideously and
mercifully formless, until at last, out of that mangled heap of
indistinguishable things, sleep came to her as gently as a fallen
feather.

Morning brought her a letter from Morton, and her sores were healed. It
was the letter she had wanted. It told her delicately something of what
she seemed to him, and it revealed the aspirations of the man; it
implied that they had been blown still higher by the bright strong
breath of her spirit, and it satisfied the ancient hunger that, last
night, had shrieked ravenously for food. No one else had ever claimed
her for his inspiration, and as she put the letter in her breast, the
action was like a gage flung down, though the name of her enemy was not
cried.

The next day, flowers came, and then another letter, and after a few
more days, more flowers, and, lying among them, a little missive,
telling Theresa that these but heralded his own approach.

"Have you heard the news?" Neville said, when she entered the office
that morning.

"Which news?"

"The L. P. is coming here again--arrives to-night."

"Yes, I knew that."

"Oh, then, good-bye, Theresa. If you are an accessory before the act,
it's all over, but the old gentleman and I have been hoping against
hope."

"What hope?" she asked coldly, her hands on the back of her chair.

"We don't want you to marry the L. P."

"I have not been asked to marry him. Oh, how can you talk like this? I
think you're vulgar!" Tears darted to her eyes. "And you spoke so
beautifully about love!"

She had betrayed herself, but he hid his knowledge. "I say--I'm sorry,
Theresa. I only meant it as a joke. Silly fool! And beastly bad form, I
know; but, really, we do live in dread of someone's stealing you, and
we've made special plans for his abduction. You shouldn't make yourself
so lovable, my dear." He was right when he said he understood men and
women, for now she laughed brokenly, but with pleasure, and spoke
forcibly in spite of her trembling lips.

"I don't know why I should behave like this. Is it like me? Jack, is it
like me?"

"Not a bit! Yes--exactly," he added, and again she had to laugh.

"And you've made me self-conscious and ridiculous!"

"I promise I won't look when you meet."

"Oh, Jack! Let's get to work. I do wish sometimes we were all one sex."

Neville's promise was an unnecessary one, for Theresa did not see more
than Morton's coat hanging in the hall until the second evening of his
visit, when he called on her father.

"The flower-man's come," said Bessie, flapping into the kitchen where
Theresa was making soup.

"The flower-man?"

"I mean the young feller that brought them on New Year's Day."

"Oh!" said Theresa, on a long, indifferent note, and stirred steadily.

"Miss Terry, is he coming after you?"

"I don't know, Bessie." She spoke in a voice that had the clear
emptiness of a puzzled child's. "I don't know," she repeated, and then
her uncouth young womanhood came strongly on her. "Oh, Bessie, Bessie, I
think it's terrible to be a woman--terrible. Men--oh--and yet I know it
is our destiny. Nature drives us. And I'm pushing against the chariot
she sits in, pushing, pushing"--she brandished the wooden spoon--"and I
know I shall be beaten in the end."

"Oh, Miss Terry, you've dropped some soup on your dress. Just look at
that!"

"And I want to be beaten--oh, never mind the soup! It will wash out."

"I'm going to wash it out now. D'you think I'd let you go upstairs like
that?"

When they had had supper and Morton had gone, Edward Webb and Theresa
sat silently by the fire. She was happy, for Morton was better than her
memory of him, and though her heart was beating fast, she was conscious
of a kind of peace.

She did not look at her father until he spoke.

"He told me about himself," he said, and there was a tragedy of appeal
in the words. They implored her to reassure him, to swear that this man
had not come to take her from him. But she only nodded, looking down
again.

"His mother is the sister of Simon Smith, it seems. I imagine he is
rich, not that he told me that, of course, but incidentally. And I think
he is an honest man." There seemed to be something he had left unsaid,
but before he had time to say it, she lifted her head and showed him
her face aglow. He could not say the words. Instead, he put out his
hands.

"Theresa," he said. "Theresa."

She held tightly to him, steadied her mouth against his hands, and
laughed. That laughter was unmistakable: it sounded the farewell to all
his hopes, and he heard them go clanging down to the very place of
disappointments.



CHAPTER XXII


The months after Theresa's departure had been black ones for Alexander.
For a time her face lived before him like a flame, but it had been
extinguished by the winds of the mountains as he battled through them,
and though his hands were burnt, he was glad of the scars. They told him
he was stronger than the small vivid woman who had tried to steal his
heart and the singleness of mind that meant so much to him. He desired
nothing but his work to wife, yet Theresa had come fleetly into his
existence, luring him to unfaithfulness. He threw her off, he trained
himself to look coldly at the pictures on the mantelpiece, to tell her
he had good reason to hate those smiling lips; but at bedtime, when he
stood in the glow of the firelight and looked up at her, and bade her
his unwilling good-night, he had no heart to leave her gazing into the
darkness, and quietly turned her on her face, that she, too, might
sleep.

In truth, he could not hate those lips, for they were nobly human, and,
with a young wisdom of their own, they defied his hatred, but his
resentment against the eager life in her had a healthy bitterness. He
could cast her off, but he could not cast out the passions her womanhood
had aroused.

There are men as fiercely virginal as any maiden, but this was no
quality of Alexander. His disdain of the flesh, and now his loathing of
it, came of his desire to be unhampered, untrammelled, the servant of
nothing but his mind and spirit: it was the desire of the boy who had
fought his temper and controlled his ordinary, wholesome hunger, because
he must be supreme. It had been strengthened by experience of his
father's weakness and encouraged by the clean solitude of the hills.
Walking among them, lifting his feet high to overcome the heather, he
had trampled, too, on ambition, and believed himself the master of his
life; yet Theresa had come and thrown the commonest, most perilously
lovely shackles on his hands and feet.

Now, as he walked, he had another foe to conquer, and that was a harder
matter, for he had thought himself secure, and lo! his enemy came on him
before he was aware. The wildness that he had cloaked with his strength
made him a fierce fighter, but the same wildness and the same strength
were the qualities he had to combat. He was aghast at the terrible
determination of nature. He had seen the torn sides of the hills, he had
heard storms, howling round them with awful ruthlessness, but he had
known no ruthlessness like this he battled with, that dragged the life
from him and left him sunken in eye and cheek so that the raging of the
winds was thereafter a little thing to him.

The sight of Janet's pretty Laura was a shameful torture to him; he did
not fear her beauty but it rose before him as the very emblem of the
thing he dreaded. He drove it off at last, routed it utterly, and lay
prone in a mental exhaustion that was like sleep. And into it, as though
she were a dream, Theresa came laughing back. He felt no surprise: it
seemed she was the thing he had been waiting for. He took her coming as
a symbol, a reward for valour, and he welcomed her, but not alone for
that. It was her very self he wanted. What choice had he, when he saw
her full of courage and comradeship, with eyes that were the doorways to
her larger life, and open hands that were like an offering? He took the
hands, and as his own tightened on them, as he looked on her, he saw
clear. She cleaned his sight, and he knew that arduous fight of his had
been more a failure than a triumph. He had not fought for virtue's sake,
but for that of his own pride; it was not goodness that he loved, but
his own strength, and he was warned that it would have been less a sin
had he fallen by his weakness, and not conquered by his strength.

Theresa taught him shame as well as love: the face that was before him
was not now a flaming one; it shone with the steady light of her eyes,
like truth made manifest.

"It seems I need you," he said to the vision, and the moment when he
realized his human need of her was the moment when he first felt, like
an inspiration, his divine need of God.

This was in November, more than a year and a half since he had seen
Theresa, and this was when his work became a sacrament. He had never
lacked in enthusiasm or high purpose, but now, with the fervour of his
nature, he offered all he did, through Theresa, up to God. Of these two
presences he was always conscious; they were as living as his own heart.
Theresa was the high priestess of his temple: it was she who had
interceded, she who had handed him the bread of humility to eat.
Inevitably, he saw her all spirit for a while, mingled her too freely
with the divine, but as he sat by his window on starry winter nights,
watching the great bulk of the Blue Hill stand free of the sky, she
slipped quietly into her rightful place and, already servant to her
bright spirit, he became aware of the holy beauty of her body, and his
own love of it. He saw love tearing off the ugly vestments with which
men clothe their thoughts, and felt the inseparable fusion of soul and
body that love alone can make.

He loved her: he never dreamt that she might not love him. His need was
so imperative and so profound that it did not permit of doubt, and his
faith was so complete that, without vanity, it presupposed and claimed a
like faith in her.

When Edward Webb had gone back to Radstowe and the promise of Easter
seemed to be carried the further from Alexander, he found he could not
wait so long in silence, and he began to shape a letter for Theresa. He
did not set it down in writing, but, as he came and went between the
Grammar School and the farm, or watched the tardy spring coming to the
mountains, he made the sentences, rounding them fairly, and choosing
words that would express his thought and please her ear. He did not tell
her of his love, yet he revealed it, for he let her into the very
recesses of his mind, the most intimate details of his work were made
known to her, he spoke of the strivings of his spirit, and through all
his confidences there flashed the bright feet of spring. He told her how
the quiet of the valley would soon be shattered, and yet built up, by
the penetrating cries of lambs and the bleating mournfulness of their
mothers, how the primroses would shine out like eyes from the banks, and
the buds would swell and glisten, with the melting of the snow. There
was no sight of bird, or beast, or growing thing that he did not
register for her and turn into a glowing sentence; no promise of spring
but had another, quicker pulse. But though this letter was written at
last, it was not sent, for he was a stiff-tongued man, and this inky
eloquence seemed to present him falsely, and too fairly, to Theresa.
This was a height of correspondence to which he could not always soar,
and she must be content with the humdrum lowlands of his life. He tore
up the paper on which he had written this careful prose, and taking
another sheet, he plunged into an unstudied letter which he did not
deign to read when it was done.


     "My Dear Theresa,

      "I'm watching for the new heather, but it seems long in coming,
      and will be longer yet. There's the old stuff still on the bushes,
      but the colour's gone and it's the purple flower I want. Will you
      not be here to see it flush the hills? But it's months till then,
      and just now there's little here but snow, and the streams so
      fierce and heavy that it takes your breath away. I think it's the
      early morning that I like best, when there's hardly any light but
      what comes from the snow; and this morning, just at that hour, I
      was wakened by the stairs creaking, and there was my father going
      out, half-dressed, and I heard my mother cry out to me to stop
      him, for he'd taken the razor. We'd had peace for these last
      weeks, and I'd begun to hope he'd worn himself into quiet, and
      there he was again, rushing into the snow and the grey morning. It
      was like chasing a ghost across the fields, for there was no sound
      on the snow, and the trees looked like spectres that had never
      known the run of sap. And my mother stood by the gate holding a
      lantern that gave a little flame the morning mocked at. It was
      like a lamp showing the door of the underworld I'd rushed into. I
      came up with him at last, and he laughed at me. He had no razor,
      he said, and it's true he hadn't, but he'd chosen to frighten my
      mother with that lie. What are we to do with the man? He threatens
      to take his life, and if it wasn't for my mother, I think I'd let
      him do it; but I've got to stop him, and then he laughs at us. I
      was near knocking him down, but I've always kept my hands off him
      so far, and I hope I always may. But he's mad, though my mother
      will not have it. And he is still laughing at his joke. Is it
      cunning to put us off the scent, I'm wondering?

      "When I look back into my life, I see so many pictures of
      darkness; the night and the sound of his shambling feet coming
      home, the early morning and the creaking stairs, and my mother
      calling softly and telling me to stay in bed, for that was when I
      was young, and he had a spite against me; and the shadows in the
      kitchen when I did my work, and the moving shadow on the ceiling
      as my father prowled up and down. The darkness followed me when I
      went to school in the sun, and when I came back I knew it waited
      for me. If I went in mist or rain, there was nothing strange in
      that, for it was just the shadows going with me. Yet I'm
      exaggerating, for the hills always stood clear of all else, and
      were themselves and friends to me. Even you, who love them, cannot
      know what they have been. There's no good name I cannot give
      them--except one.

      "I have written all this about myself, but it's hardly of myself I
      have been thinking. Indeed, I've written without thought at all,
      as if my pen knew all that I must say. I've been waiting for that
      book of yours. Is it coming soon? It's nearly two years since you
      were here, but I can squeeze all those months up into my hand and
      throw them from me. Will you send me a letter?

      "Alexander."

The day after he had posted this letter to Theresa, he heard from Edward
Webb.

     "Something has happened which I can hardly believe," he wrote,
     "which I do not wish to believe. Theresa is to marry a Basil
     Morton, nephew of the Mr. Smith for whom she works. I know nothing
     against him, I believe she is happy, I hope she will be happy in
     the future. Perhaps a father always dreads marriage for his child,
     and yet I can conceive of circumstances in which I should not feel
     this heavy load, like death. I tell you what I would say to no one
     else, but I feel as if my affection for Theresa had made my very
     body sensitive to what may hurt her, and receptive of warnings. Yet
     she is a woman; she is twenty-five, and my feelings may be nothing
     but an old man's jealousy and anger at a turn of events I had not
     planned. Please understand--Mr. Morton is a man of breeding and
     education. His devotion to Theresa is evident. My objections are
     all of that strongest, inexplicable sort, and I feel that she has
     already gone from me for ever. Perhaps I have dwelt too
     persistently on the thought of her all these years, if one can
     think too much of what one loves; perhaps my perception of most
     things has become blunted by looking too keenly at the one thing. I
     do not know. It all seems very dark to me, and the burden of
     child-bearing is not all the mother's. I have borne Theresa for
     five-and-twenty years, and now she is snatched from me. Is this
     selfishness? I think I could have given her more willingly to
     another, but perhaps not, for I find my baseness is unfathomable."

The darkness which had so seldom left him now thickened and settled on
Alexander, but first there was a bright spurt of light, a scattering of
sparks that were the red colour of rage, and like the imprecations of
his mind made visible.



CHAPTER XXIII


Mrs. Morton sat by the drawing-room fire, listening for the sound of
wheels. The wind was high and as it dashed among the trees it made a
roaring as of many chariots. Three times already she had laid down her
crotchet and picked it up again, and now, wrapping a little shawl about
her shoulders, she went to the window and watched for a blot on the
whiteness of the drive that followed the side of the lawn for a little
way before it curved out of sight.

The grass before the house sloped to a glimmer of water, and was edged
by clustered trees; on the other side of the lake more trees stood black
against the fading light, and close to the house there was a group of
elms in which the rooks were busy. The branches of all the trees were
swaying, flinging themselves this way and that, dipping towards the
earth and springing up again in defiance of their humility, shaking
their heads in denial, lowering them in contrite affirmation. The noise
they made was like that of the sea, but, because it was rarer, it was
more foreboding. The roaring of the sea, now loud, now soft, is as
unceasing as its ebb and flow, but the trees only cry out when the wind
whips them, and their voice is full of lamentation.

Mrs. Morton did not like the wind. She loved her home best when the
summer sun shone on it, and the trees were clothed in green to hide
their nakedness, when the flower-beds were bright with colour, and she
could stroll beside them under the shade of her parasol. The gaunt
energy of leafless trees, their moans and wailings, were akin to the
sight and sound of a soul laid bare, and this tall, white-haired lady
with the passive face disliked them according to her dread of the
primitive and unruly.

She shuddered as she waited for Theresa. This was no fit day for Basil
to bring home his betrothed; there was no bridal softness in the air
and, with a carelessness unlike him, he had driven to meet her in the
dog-cart. She had protested, for the wind was cold, but he had smiled,
told her Theresa loved the wind, and repeated his inconsiderate order.
She would be cold when she arrived.

Mrs. Morton looked round the white-panelled room with its shining floor
and furniture, and she looked approvingly, for the lamps were warmly
shaded, the fire was bright, and the tea-table and comfortable chairs
were drawn close to the hearth.

Again she strained her eyes into the dusk, and when they had cleared
themselves of the reflected lamplight and the dim picture of herself on
the other side of the window, she saw the dog-cart moving quickly.

She was at the hall door, as she had planned, at the moment when Morton
reined in the horse and the groom sprang to its head, and she saw the
startling dexterity of Theresa's leap to the ground.

She heard her son's reproachful tones. "You might have hurt yourself."

And Theresa's answer, clear and gay: "No I mightn't. I can calculate a
jump to an inch."

Morton laughed, and led the small figure up the steps.

"Mother, here is Theresa," he said.

She was embraced, but, in the half light, Mrs. Morton could not see her
face. She felt the cold firmness of her cheeks, and she kissed them
through strands of wind-blown hair.

With a processional solemnity, they passed into the drawing-room, where
Mrs. Morton, Basil and a maid helped to free her of her wraps.

"You must be very cold, dear. Come to the fire."

"I'm not cold, thank you. I loved it. I felt as if we were another wind,
we went so fast."

"I wanted Basil to take the brougham," Mrs. Morton murmured. She had
pictured herself settling Theresa in a chair, putting a cushion to her
back, holding one of her hands, perhaps; but Theresa was standing very
straight--her back seemed unusually strong--and she was smiling faintly,
while her hands were occupied in the swift removal of her gloves. There
seemed no point at which she could be conveniently caressed, and Mrs.
Morton sank into the chair beside the tea-table.

"You will be glad of tea," she said. "Basil, won't you make Theresa sit
down? She looks so tired. Now, dear, you would like some hot toast."

Theresa was in an uncertain temper, and if she had not been very eager
for buttered toast, she would have refused it as a form of
contradiction; but the sight of it shining in the hearth overcame
annoyance with desire. She foresaw, however, a quick starvation if Mrs.
Morton continued to accompany offers of food with these firmly uttered
statements.

"You had a tiring journey?" There was just a redeeming tilt at the end
of the sentence, and Theresa condescended to consider it a question.

"No thank you. I liked watching the country."

"But in winter time it is all so sad."

"But this is spring--almost! And I saw some lambs--the first. They're
early here." And as she spoke she saw the green cleanliness of the earth
when the snow has melted into it, and lambs, like little forgotten
patches of that snow, leaping about the hills.

She went on quickly. "And there were pigs. I like them. They're so
greedy, and they don't pretend to care for anything except their--except
what they eat."

The subject of pigs was not encouraged. Basil was handing her more
toast, as though he wished it were a kingdom, and she knew he was too
much engaged with the joy of her presence to listen to her babblings. It
was right that he should be happy at seeing her in the home they were to
share, yet, in that moment, he lost something with which she once had
dowered him. She eyed him critically. He was good to look at, and beauty
always softened her; but his strongest appeal for her had been his
distance, and here, among the teacups with his mother, he was too near,
he almost seemed domestic. She realized the cold cruelty of her phase,
she hoped it would not last, but she could do nothing to be rid of it.
She was forced to her callous scrutiny, she was entirely shorn of any
sense of possession, and while her mind told her she would recover her
old sensations, her heart was like a dead thing in her breast. She knew
the reason, for it lay on that heart which it had struck, and when she
stirred she felt the sharp edge of Alexander's letter.

She moved now, quickly.

"She wants a cushion," Mrs. Morton cooed, but Basil was already propping
Theresa's back.

She smiled at him, from the lips, trying to feel the kindness that lay
crushed.

"You're lovely," he said, under cover of Mrs. Morton's manipulation of
the tea things.

She gave her emphatic half-shake of the head. She knew the wind had
nipped her, that her hair fell in wisps about her face, and his loving
blindness made her disloyalty the blacker. She would not be disloyal,
but she questioned her love for him, she faced the possibility of
resigning him, and at once she had an impulse to thrust herself into his
arms. Instead, she put her hand in his and held it fast, and, like a
gentle tide, she felt the return of tenderness.

Alone in the pretty room prepared for her, and still with that
determined loyalty upon her, she made to throw Alexander's letter in the
fire; yet to do that, she argued, was to admit its power, and it had no
power for anything but a disturbance that would pass. It came too late.
A little while ago--she did not follow the thought, but she knew its
path. She shut her eyes to it.

She loved Basil. She could not picture life without him. After herself
she belonged to him. She was proud to be his. He was good, and true,
and for all her self-esteem she wondered how he came to love her.

After dinner, as they all sat in the drawing-room Theresa gazed at Mrs.
Morton in a kind of wonder. She sat in her chair, crotcheting slowly,
with frequent reference to an instruction book, and counting her
stitches half aloud between her amiable sentences. In uttering
commonplaces, she had a dignity which forced the listener to reach
deeply or loftily for truth, and return from that vain pilgrimage with a
sensation of having been robbed by the wayside. When she announced that
their nearest neighbours, the Warings, were to have tea with them on the
following day, Theresa waited anxiously for the something more implied
in those pregnant tones. But Mrs. Morton serenely counted stitches. At
length, "You will like the Warings," she said.

Theresa stared into the fire. She was prepared to hate anyone thus
introduced. She was not far from hating Mrs. Morton. Her lips tightened,
her idle hands pressed each other closely. Had this placid person ever
been in love? Was she so obtuse that she could not feel the fret of
Theresa's spirit? Did she not know that solitude is the great need of
lovers, or realize that Basil had not yet so much as kissed her? The
presence of the groom had prevented confidences on the drive, and in the
house Mrs. Morton had shadowed her in excess of welcome. She looked at
Basil, who was looking at her, and raised her eyebrows wearily. He
raised his own, and they smiled in the delightful comradeship of
annoyance shared. She wanted to talk to him, to make amends for the
wickedness of her thoughts, and here they sat, all three, and her tongue
was tied. She longed to tear the crotchet from Mrs. Morton's plump white
hands; she felt the old anger of her childhood rising to her throat, and
she pressed her hand to it and forced it back.

"Basil, Theresa's throat is sore. You shouldn't have driven her in the
dog-cart on such a day. You shall have some sugared lemon, dear. Ring
the bell, Basil."

"Not for that, please! I haven't a sore throat. I--just happened to
touch myself there--oh, really!" There was a laughing anguish in her
voice. Was she to be handcuffed as well as starved?

"Don't be afraid of giving trouble, dear."

"Theresa always tells the truth, Mother."

"Oh, of course! Very well. But she looked as if she had a sudden pain."

"I'm afraid it is a habit."

"That reminds me of an old lady I knew when I was young. I thought she
had St. Vitus's dance, until her maid told me that she wore all her
valuable jewellery on her--under her dress, and she was constantly
touching herself to make sure it was all there."

"What were you hiding, Theresa?"

She lifted her chin to show him the pretty lines of her bare neck.

"Ah, your own beauty," he added softly.

"Something else," she said.

"Tell me."

She shook her head. "You must find out."

Mrs. Morton's voice penetrated this happy murmur.

"You crotchet, Theresa?"

Morton had to shake the hand he held. "Theresa, Mother asks you if you
crotchet."

"Oh! No, I don't. That's very pretty."

"It is for you."

"Is it?"

"Yes, a tray cloth."

"Thank you. How clever of you!"

"I'll teach you if you would care to learn."

"I don't think I could. I've got such stiff fingers for things like
that. They're good enough for typing. Basil, did I tell you about that
last woman of mine?"

It was during the recital of this tale that Mrs. Morton left the room.
Theresa stopped and looked at the closing door.

"Was I saying anything wrong?" she asked. "I am so used to talking
frankly to Mr. Smith and Jack, that I forget other people may not like
it. Was I?"

"No, dear, but the whole thing is rather disagreeable to her."

"But how?"

"Well, you see----"

"Is it that she doesn't like you to marry a woman who has earned her own
living?"

"That, of course, was rather a shock. Darling, try to understand her
attitude. She has old-fashioned notions of womanhood. She thinks you
should not have been allowed to do the work you did, and I own that it
seems unnatural to me, too. But you are wonderful, Theresa. You are the
exceptional woman who can do these things. You are unscathed."

She stood up and fell into that attitude in which he had first seen her.

"I am not unscathed," she said. "If you drop down into hell, even
another person's hell, you come back--scorched. And I have the marks."
She turned to him quiveringly. "Basil, have you ever suffered?"

"I think so. My father was killed--I found him. And I--he was a great
deal to me."

"Death!" She flung back her head. "Oh yes, yes, yes; death is so much
worse, and so much better, than people fancy. But have you felt your own
heart shrivelling to a thing like a dried nut? Have you carried that
about with you as--as some people do? And have you heard stories told by
women whose eyes are dry because they have no tears left? I have. I
have. Oh, shocking stories of sin, of things no girl should know the
name of!" She spoke more quietly. "It's quite possible that I know more
than you do of the world's evil, for you are the kind of person who
never looks in the gutters: you keep your head high, but I look
everywhere. And I want to see the gutter dirt: it's part of life, and
the sun shines on that as well as on the flowers in the gardens. But I
don't like it. You're not to think I like it. But you are to think I am
very proud of having done that work. I suppose Mrs. Morton has not told
your friends I am a working woman?"

"She did not wish them to know. You must not think us snobs, Theresa,
but in a place like this there are so many prejudices, and we do not
want you to be hurt by them."

"I can't be hurt by foolishness, and I won't be in the conspiracy. And
why should your mother feel like that? She is Mr. Smith's sister, and
their father educated himself, and then made sweets. From her point of
view isn't that as bad, worse even, than my honourable calling?"

"You see, you are a woman, Theresa."

"Are we never to go unveiled and free?"

He smiled gently. "Moreover, when my mother married my father she
considered herself a member of his family rather than of her own."

"Oh!"

"Some women do, you know."

"Oh! Don't hope for that from me, Basil. I won't be welded into
anybody's family or anybody's nature."

"Darling,"--his arms were round her--"I never want you to be anything
but yourself."

She leaned back.

"But is it a self you like? Are you satisfied with it? You know"--she
touched his chin lightly with her forefinger--"we're going to have a lot
of trouble."

"If we are together----"

"Because we are together. Oh, I can smell it afar off. I did directly I
came into the house."

"Don't you like it?" he asked, and released her gently.

"The house is beautiful--but we're not going to be alone in it, are we?
Oh, I'm not complaining, but I rather wish we were going to have a
semi-detached villa, and a maid like Bessie. Yet I hate housework! I'm
afraid--I'm dreadfully afraid--I shall get annoyed." Her head was on one
side, she twisted her fingers among his.

"Theresa, you will be considerate of my mother."

"Don't, don't, don't! If you put questions in the form of statements I
shall go mad."

There was patience in his look, but he redeemed it with a laugh. "I beg
your pardon. Theresa, will you be considerate of my mother?"

"I'll try."

"I thought you prided yourself on your tact."

"I do. I have it highly developed, but the devil sometimes steals it."

"You are a little childish."

"Very!"

"And my mother is dear to me."

"So was mine to me. She was--sweet, my mother was, but that didn't
prevent my getting angry with her. I wish I didn't get so angry. Do you
understand that you're engaged to a volcano, an active one?"

"I'm beginning to."

"And I'm in eruption now. Be careful."

"I love my volcano."

"She'll hurt you, often. Destroy you altogether, perhaps. Basil, I want
to tell you something. There'll be times when I shall nearly hate you."

"Why?"

"I don't know. It's just me. I'm cruel. But love me always, and I'll
come back to you."

"I can't help loving you, dear," he said, and kissed her hair.

"But do you trust me?"

"Darling, of course!"

She made herself more comfortable in his arms. "Then I'll be worthy, if
I can. Take care of me."

She was happy that night when she went to bed, and, sitting by the fire
with her softly slippered feet close to the blaze, she could take
Alexander's letter from its place, and hold it easily in a hand on
which Basil's diamonds sparkled.

Only that morning the letter had been dropped into the hall as she stood
there in her travelling coat, with the veil that swathed her little hat
pushed up so that she might drink the hot milk Bessie offered.

"That'll be for the master," Bessie said. "No, it's for you, Miss Terry.
Now, drink the milk. I won't have people telling me you're thin. Of
course, you're thin! You tell 'im I've given you hot milk every morning
this last week."

"All right, Bessie, all right. He knows you take care of me."

"So 'e ought."

She had held the letter in her pocket, stroking it with her thumb; and
then Grace and the baby had come in to say good-bye, and not until she
was in the train had she been able to read what Alexander wrote. Then
she read it many times. "Will you not be here to see it flush the hills?
And the streams so fierce and heavy that it takes your breath away." She
wanted to be there. She thought she felt the cold spray on her face. She
felt the air: passing through it was to be new-made. Her steps were
buoyant, her eyes were washed and clean. She heard the water, she heard
the larches singing, and her heart cried in her breast. She would dream
to-night, and she longed for the darkness and feared it. She would see
the lakeside and the black precipice, the water would be whispering at
her feet, and she would be waiting, waiting. It was a long time since
she had been there.

But Alexander's letter roused her to more than this sickness of longing
that she dared not analyse too closely. "I've been waiting for that book
of yours," he said. There would never be a book. And he was looking for
it. She was hurt and shamed as by a promise broken to a child. Talking
freely on that wonderful one day of theirs, she had told him what she
meant to do, and he had given her that plunging look of response. How
had she dared to talk like that, and then do nothing? She knew the
answer. And now it was too late. She was to be a county lady. She had
come to an age when she was no longer sure that she had the power she
had always wanted; but she ought to have put it to the test, for she had
told Alexander what she was going to do; she had told Alexander. The
words came with such force that her lips framed them. She had told
Alexander. She had another tale for him now. "Oh yes," she said, "you
shall have a letter," and she quickly wrote it, sitting there with the
firelight on her bare arms and her quick, thin hands.


     "Dear Alexander,

      "Thank you for your letter. It was like seeing the place. I didn't
      begin the book. I lost faith, and I'll never get it back. I'm
      weak, but perhaps it is a good thing and has saved the spilling of
      much ink. It was a young ambition of mine, and you know what
      Father is! So I'm going to be married instead, for that's a
      profession we all think we are fit for! I shall see you at Easter.
      It will be two years then.

      "Theresa."

She felt like a penitent who has relieved her soul of sin and planted a
dart in the breast of her confessor.



CHAPTER XXIV


As Theresa entered the drawing-room on the following afternoon, she felt
the imminence of ceremony. Mrs. Morton had cast aside her crotchet and
sat, in satin and old lace, awaiting the coming of her guests; and the
room, softly and rosily shaded, seemed to Theresa like a temple raised
to the social cult, with the tea-table for altar and Mrs. Morton for
ministrant.

She closed the door with a decorous quiet and advanced, her mouth curved
into the faint smile that had some mobile quality though the lips were
still.

"I thought you would be late," said Mrs. Morton.

"I did my hair three times. I wanted to look nice."

"You look charming, dear. I hope you are not feeling nervous."

"Oh no!"

"I expect you are--a little. I remember my own introduction to the
friends of Basil's father. It was in this room. It was a very anxious
moment for me. One naturally wants to please, and I was very shy as a
girl."

"You were younger than I am, perhaps."

"Only eighteen."

"Ah, I'm twenty-five. That makes a lot of difference." The picture of a
maiden hearkening to the wisdom of the matron, she stood before Mrs.
Morton with her hands behind her back, her head bent to look and listen.

"But you are not married, dear." Mrs. Morton was finding it unexpectedly
easy to talk to Theresa. "And until a girl is married----"

"Yet I sometimes feel as though I have been married several times," she
said.

The words suggested a shocking fertility of imagination.

"My dear, what do you mean?"

Theresa laughed. "Just that. One knows so much one hasn't actually
experienced."

"I hope not!"

"But I can't help it," she urged. "It's how I happen to be made."

Mrs. Morton moved uneasily. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. I
suppose I am very old-fashioned." She was disappointed at the very
moment when she thought she was beginning to understand her son's love
for this pale, quick girl with the watchful eyes, whose glances
half-alarmed her. She was glad when the door was opened. "Ah, here's
Basil."

Theresa turned to him. "Basil," she said, "have you ever been in a
balloon?"

"No."

"But you can imagine what it's like, can't you?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Of course you can." She was eager, persuasive. "You would have a
feeling of having no inside, wouldn't you, and no feet? And you would
feel like a little speck of dust, and because you were so small, it
wouldn't seem to matter if you fell out into that enormous empty space?
Would it?"

He humoured her, smiling as he took in the radiance of her hair, the
slimness of the green-clad body, the thin feet in their bronze-coloured
shoes.

"Very likely," he said.

"You see!" she exclaimed, laughing. "Basil knows all about something he
hasn't experienced. Why shouldn't I?" Her lips changed their curve. "Is
it because I am a woman?" Her little taunt was for him: she had
forgotten his mother, on whose face there were small evidences of
distress.

"What is it now, dear?" he murmured, and led her to the window. "Come
and look at the trees against the sky."

She went meekly, for the sake of the hand holding her; but she was
shaken by inward laughter. Like a child she was being drawn out of
mischief and enticed to look out of the window at the pretty sky.

And later, when the guests had arrived, when Mr. and Mrs. Waring talked
to her kindly and ponderously, and the three Misses Waring in the glow
of their healthy young beauty asked who was her favourite author and if
she liked the country, she knew that Mrs. Morton watched her nervously.
She was annoyed by that suspicion of her manners, but stronger than her
annoyance was her determination to please, not, like Mrs. Morton, for
her lover's sake, but for her own. Her one sure talent cried loudly to
be used, and as she listened to it, she felt a stir of physical pleasure
in her breast. She, who had drawn the truth from unwilling lips, and
brought back long-forgotten laughter, had no doubt of making what effect
she chose on these amiable strangers.

Sitting in a low chair, with folded hands on her knee, and looking
younger than she was, she listened, smiled, and answered quietly while
she studied the faces ringing her. She saw Mr. and Mrs. Waring deciding
that she was a nice little thing, not pretty, not clever, but possessed
of the vague niceness necessary for the complete young lady. That was
not sufficient tribute for Theresa, and she awaited the opportunity to
make Mr. Waring laugh. It came, she seized it with some audacity, and
the old gentleman's guffaw acknowledged her. Her lifted brows wondered
at his amusement, but her mouth betrayed her.

A pale flush of excitement was in her cheeks. Mrs. Waring and her
daughters were smiling politely, while the head of the family leaned
back in his chair to laugh, and, between his cackles, he repeated the
joke to Morton. Morton, too, smiled politely; the humour did not reach
him and, a little ashamed of his guest's clamour, he drew him on to
agricultural matters; but those stiff smiles were Theresa's triumph, for
the joke had been aimed at Mr. Waring alone, and it had hit the mark.

The two matrons fell into talk, and, still wearing that gentle look of
surprise, Theresa turned to the three young women: she seemed to ask for
conversational help, and they gave it in the form of questions. Did she
ride? No, she wished she did. She thought Basil was going to teach her.

"He rides perfectly." The second Miss Waring looked across the room to
where he sat, and in that shy glance Theresa read renunciation, maidenly
and empty of all bitterness.

"I expect you all do," she said.

"No, my sisters don't care for it. I love it."

"Basil taught her when she was small. She can ride anything," said the
eldest sister proudly. "They hunt together."

"We haven't lately, Rose," the other said, and blushed.

Theresa leaned forward coaxingly. "Oh, do go next time and let me see
you both!" she cried. "It's splendid to see people doing things really
well."

"Oh, do you think so?" The second Miss Waring controlled a smile.

Was she fond of gardening? This question was from the youngest beauty.
No, she didn't know anything about it. They only had a patch of rough
grass at home, and an apple-tree. There was a pause. It was Rose who
returned to the subject of books.

"I expect you are a great reader?"

"Oh, more or less."

"I adore reading. And poetry. Whose poetry do you like best?"

"I don't know," said Theresa slowly.

She had assured them all of their superiority: they liked her; Mrs.
Morton forgot to be nervous, Basil was glad to see her in that group of
girls.

Other visitors came and went. Two elderly sisters, adorned with large
brooches and pendulous ear-rings, seated themselves before Theresa and
told her anecdotes of Morton's childhood. Their voices defied her to
rob him of his early virtues, and their looks prophesied her pernicious
influence. She liked these ladies with their pleasant acidity: there was
resistance in them; but it was with the arrival of Conrad Vincent that
enjoyment brightened her eyes and loosed her tongue. He came in slowly
and greeted his friends without haste, but when he stood before Theresa
she felt the hurry of his mind. Behind the lazy glances of his eyes she
saw the racing thoughts and warmed to him. He sat beside her, she turned
to him as though at last she could greet a comrade, and the group broke
up, leaving them alone.

"Do you know," Morton said, when his guests had gone, "you talked to
Vincent for a whole hour?"

"Was it so long? It went in a flash. He is a good talker--provocative. I
enjoyed it very much."

"You seemed to do so."

"Do you mind?"

"No dear; but----"

"Was I rude?"

"Not rude."

"What then?"

"You rather ignored the others."

"I really did my best, but when Mr. Vincent came I forgot them. I like
him. I hope he'll come again. I should like to marry him for dull days
when I've nothing to do, and you for all the rest."

"Don't, Theresa. I can't bear to hear you flippant about our love."

"It's the result of talking to him and of listening to the others. I
wish Mr. Smith could have heard them. Did you hear the conversation
about the thriftlessness of the agricultural labourer? They had the
decency not to mention his wage. It was the eldest Miss Waring who was
so eloquent. It seems she has been telling Jim somebody's wife how to
spend her money! I wonder how much her own weekly bill of luxuries would
come to."

"She is a charming girl."

"Yes, her complexion has been formed on fresh air, good food, pleasant
exercise, and an easy conscience. I'm sure she's nice. I wonder what
Mrs. Jim's complexion is like. And is she charming on a few shillings a
week? Basil, while, in my professional manner, I was laughing at that
ignorant young woman, I was searching my own conscience, and I thought,
'Can I--can I be going to live in this beautiful place while Mrs. Jim is
so hungry?' And I don't think I can."

"What do you mean, Theresa? Is this--is this my dismissal?"

"Not unless you make it that. Basil, I wish you would come out into the
world. You are a good man: ever so much better than these dear souls who
hunt, and ride, and shoot, and prop up the country. You tower above
them. The nice hard lines of your face proclaim you! I wish you earned
your living."

"I think I do. No one can call me idle."

"No, you are very busy."

"And I employ a large number of men."

Her lips twitched. "I know. You are one of the props. But you have so
much more than you need. Wouldn't you like to do something with it? Will
you let me be another Simon Smith?"

"I think his system of charity is pernicious!"

"What's yours? Don't you give jellies to your Mrs. Jims?"

"Yes."

"It is just the same thing."

"We shall never agree on these subjects, Theresa."

"No; they will be fruitful in discussion. Don't you want me to talk to
you?"

"Certainly."

"You're angry, aren't you?"

"I hope not."

"Yes, you are! Look how good-tempered I am." Her eyes were alight with
battle, her lips only parted for speech, and her hands were restless.
Now she clasped them and swayed back and forward as she spoke. "I
should like to have four--no, five--hundred a year, and do good things
with the rest of your income. Perhaps to-morrow I would rather have
those pearls you want to give me, but I don't think so. Pearls do not
become me! And to-day I want to build model cottages. We could let this
house----"

"Theresa! Let us end this nonsense. We have lived here for generations."

She laughed softly. "I know, but somebody has to begin doing something
else. And your workmen have lived in pigsties for generations."

"My workmen----! You don't know what you are talking about! The women of
this house have never interfered in outside matters."

She banged her fist on the little tea-table. "Don't talk to me as though
I belonged to a harem!"

"Don't be absurd, Theresa." He was very handsome when he was angry.

"I'm not absurd. If you say I'm not fit to know about your affairs--yes,
and to interfere with them--I'm, I'm a chattel."

He smiled. "Nothing so peaceful," he assured her.

"If you wanted insignificance----"

"I didn't. I wanted you."

"I don't believe you knew what you were getting," she said, and left
him.

When she came downstairs for dinner, she found him awaiting her in the
hall.

"Well?" she said. Her eyes were very bright; she laughed at him. "Have
you forgiven me for the harem?"

"Oh, hang the harem! Come into the smoking-room."

She touched him on the arm. "Basil," she said, "you nearly swore. I
wish--I wish you would really do it."

"I've no doubt there will be plenty of opportunity."

"Oh, I like you!" she cried. "I like you!"

He looked down at her. "That's not enough."

He saw her eyes darken, her mouth grow tremulous, but she controlled her
lips and fortified herself against this new insistence. "Then you must
give me everything."

"I will. Theresa, forgive me. I've lived too long without you. And if
you will come round the estate with me to-morrow, I'll show you where
and how my people live."

"Bless you! Thank you. I really want to help, and, of course I'll come."
She gave him his reward. "Don't let us quarrel, because--I love you."

He caught her hands. "Do you? Do you?"

"Am I not proving it? I'm thrusting myself into a very uncomfortable
place because of you. If you are not very nice I shan't be able to
endure it. Mrs. Morton tells me you all dine regularly with each other
once a month! This is a dreadful welding of opposites! But love--love is
supposed to be a strong cement."

"And I love you more than ever, Theresa, more every day." He kissed her
with a violence that hurt her lips. They parted painfully, and she
looked up at him with a tiny crease between her brows, before she thrust
her face into his coat, burrowing there, holding fearfully to his arm.

"Keep me," she said. "Keep me."

He had no words tender enough for her. The appeal swelled his love to a
flood too full for turbulence, and he stroked her hair, drew her to his
knee and rocked her there, so that she felt secure and was comforted
like a child.

"But can you keep me?" she said, sitting up with a jerk. "Do you think
you can?"

"I mean to."

"But you won't if you lock me outside yourself. I don't feel that you
have quite opened your doors." She hesitated, and spoke. "Basil, I
sometimes think there's an enemy of yours after me, and I'm hammering
for you to let me in, and you're not quick enough."

He laughed. "Who is this enemy?"

"Ah, do you think I dare turn round and face him? Open your doors, open
your doors?"

"They're wide," he said, and spread his arms.

"But it's rather a narrow wideness," she said, as she put her head on
his shoulder. "One might easily miss it in a hurry."

They were quiet for a little while, then Theresa spoke dreamily. "I wish
they wouldn't sound the dinner-gong. I never want to move again. Didn't
I dress quickly? It was to get back to you. Basil, I like you in this
mood."

"I'm not in a mood, dear. I'm always like this when you will let me be."

"No," she said positively, "you are different. You were an indulgent
potentate. Now you are a friend. You can't deceive me."

"I don't want to deceive you, but it is you who have changed."

"Oh, I hope not!" she said heartily.

He laughed: she was teaching him to do that, and the friendly sound
mingled with the loud summons of the gong.

She screwed up her eyes in merriment. "I really believe you are
beginning to appreciate me," she said, and hand in hand they went across
the hall.

"I am going to show Theresa the plans of the estate, Mother," he said,
during the progress of the stately meal.

"Certainly, dear. You will like that, Theresa."

"I am not at all sure that I shall," she said clearly.

"Then don't worry her, Basil, if she doesn't want to see them."

"But I do! And if I didn't I would!"

"Well, don't get tired, dear. I'm afraid it will make your back ache."

"Oh, my back! That was suppled long ago, by a typewriter."

"Poor little Theresa," Mrs. Morton murmured, for the servants had left
the room.

Theresa cracked a nut as though it had been the lady's head. She cast a
hot glance at Morton, who was delicately peeling an apple. He looked
softly at her. In his eyes there was the tenderness of a pity more
understanding and deeper than his mother's: it was pity for all the
laborious, independent women in a hard world.

The lift of Theresa's head was a signal that Mrs. Morton was growing to
fear.

"You needn't be sorry for me. You're sorry and half ashamed. Why? Why?
Why?" She held in her voice, and spoke with a breaking strain in it.
"And I resent being pitied. Why, as soon as I knew anything, I was
trying to decide what I should be when I grew up."

Mrs. Morton was propitiatory. "It was very sweet and brave of you, my
dear."

"No, it was just as natural as eating. And if I were the wife of
Croesus, my daughters should have professions."

She had a vision of those daughters: they were bright and eager, and
they were her own, and for a moment the sight of them matured her
impulsive and intolerant youth. She warmed to them: she felt a spreading
as of wings, a softening of all her being, and her hands and lips were
quieted and strong.

She laughed as water laughs, trickling through the moss. She smiled from
one end of the table to the other. "I'm sorry I get so vehement," she
said. "I can't help it. I hope I wasn't rude."

An apology from Theresa was almost more alarming than a scolding. "No,
no, dear, I quite understand," Mrs. Morton said in haste, while Basil
smiled slowly, a little stiffly, conquering uneasiness with love.

In the smoking-room, Theresa sat down emphatically and spoke with great
decision.

"I'm horrid to your mother," she said.

"You are not very nice."

"She raises the devil in me!"

"Theresa!"

"It's true. I wanted to throw the wine-glasses about, I wanted to dance
on the table. She always makes me feel like that. What am I to do? How
are we to live peaceably together?"

"My mother never quarrels with anyone."

"If she only would! Doesn't she worry you?"

"Not at all."

"Not when she tells you what you think?"

"Why should I mind that?"

"Oh, I can't explain! I'm afraid you're rather like her!" She looked up
at a portrait on the wall. "I like your father. He knows just how I
feel, and he would have liked me. Are you angry with me?"

He passed a hand across his eyes. "No, dear."

"Are you ashamed?"

"No, darling."

"What is it, then?"

"I love you."

"Does it hurt so much?" she whispered softly.

"Sometimes."

"Oh, dear. Would you like to do without me?"

"Theresa! Theresa!"

"Basil," she said, "if you'll love me very much, I'll try to cultivate
patience, though I look upon it as a sin. And I hate the intrusion of
qualities that will make me different. That's not self-satisfaction--it's
love of an old friend!"

He returned to his old thought. "Theresa, what have you been doing with
yourself all these years? You talk like a child."

"I've been making up stories. That doesn't give you time to grow up.
Does it matter? Shall I try to grow?" She looked at him with serious
eyes, but there was a betraying twist to her lips. "My one anxiety is to
oblige."

He made a gesture of deprecation, bewilderment and love, and she jumped
up with an energy that spurned her foolishness.

"Let's get to work," she said. "Where are the plans?"

She was deft, alert and quick. He told her how his money was invested,
and she nodded. On paper he showed her the extent of his land, pointed
out the farms, told her of the tenants and what rent they paid, the
fields and what crops they bore, he talked of woods and forestry, and
she listened, making no comments, biding her time.

"You are wonderful, Theresa," he said. "You understand everything."

"Don't say that," she said gravely. "Why shouldn't I? Will you take me
to see all these places and these people, especially the people? I want
to talk to them."

He hesitated. "You will be discreet, won't you, darling? Don't
misunderstand me----"

She waved him into silence. "Do you think I don't know how to talk to
people?" She straightened her back. "I was Mr. Smith's secretary for two
years."

It puzzled him that she should still think this her greatest claim to
honour.



CHAPTER XXV


That was the beginning of their happy time. Morton taught Theresa to
ride and, mounted on a steady grey animal while he bestrode one more
mettlesome, she went with him into every corner of his land, and began
to understand his pride of possession. He was a good landlord, and there
was nothing he did not oversee, little of which she could complain, and
she said so frankly; but she startled him with a question as they rode
out one morning, waving farewell to a Mrs. Morton who was beginning to
find herself neglected by young people unnaturally busy over cottages
and plans.

"Basil, were you going to give me a wedding present?"

"Of course."

"Then may I choose it?"

"I wanted to give you a surprise."

"No, no, let me choose."

"Tell me, then."

"I don't want diamonds, or pearls, or gold. I want lead--I think it's
lead. Perhaps it's iron. Yes, I think it is. I want you to take water
into those old cottages on the peppermint land."

"Where do you mean, dear?"

"I mean the land Mrs. Morton bought, not the hereditary domain! Wasn't
it bought with peppermint, and sticks of bright pink rock, and yards of
liquorice? I like to think of ragged little children putting their dirty
faces against dirty window panes, and gloating over masses of your
grandfather's sweets. Don't you?"

"I'm afraid I have often wished he had made money, if he had to make it,
in a different way."

"That's because you have more false pride than imagination. Why, he has
made a fairy feast for children! Think of the dark winter streets, wet,
perhaps, and the lamps just lighted and bright reflections in the
pavements, and children staring at pyramids of sweetness. It's
lovely--magical, like being a perpetual Father Christmas. So when I call
it the peppermint land, I do not sneer, and you'll lay on the water,
won't you?"

"There's a well quite near, darling."

"It's across a field."

"A small field."

"Quite big enough."

"Theresa, you know I treat my tenants like human beings, but you want to
pamper them."

"No I don't. I know it's the tendency, but I don't. Oh, my good soul, if
you had ever done any housework, you would know the value of water! Have
you ever done any? Have you ever so much as washed up a dish? No; I
thought not. I have. And I've scrubbed floors--don't shudder; it's good
exercise--and I've cooked; but I have not had several children to look
after at the same time, and that's what many of these women have to do.
I know it's pastoral and patriarchal to go to the well, but it's not so
pleasant to come back with two heavy pails. And it has to be done a good
many times a day if there's to be cleanliness. I'm not a stickler for
too much cleaning, but I saw a woman the other day carrying pails when
she wasn't fit to lift a weight. She rested four times between the well
and the house. I reached her in time to prevent her going on a second
journey. It was when you were seeing about those young trees."

"The larches?"

"Yes." She frowned. She had avoided naming them, and now he stabbed her
with their remembered scent.

"Did you--what did you say to her?"

"I told her she wasn't to do it. No; I didn't complain about the
landlord! But she wanted the water for washing, so I fetched it myself."

"Theresa!"

"There, you see! And I'm a strong young woman. Imagine--oh, try to
imagine me in her position!"

"I'll do it."

She leaned to touch his hand. "Thank you. You only need to see things.
'The bride presented the bridegroom with a pair of spectacles, and the
bridegroom's gift to the bride was a ton of iron piping!'" She shook her
reins. "Shall we gallop? I wish this old omnibus were a bit friskier. He
gives me nothing to do. Can't I be promoted to something else?"

"I have been seeing about a splendid chestnut," he said slyly, "but that
was to be part of your wedding-present."

"Ah well, it's better to be a ministering angel than a fiery horsewoman,
and the rushing of the water in those pipes will be sweeter to me than
the sound of clattering hoofs. A-ha! Oh, do give this old beast a good
knock with your whip!"

She was happy. Mrs. Morton continued to ruffle the smoothness of life,
but she could do no more, and she was allowed few opportunities of
attempting it, for on most evenings she sat alone in the drawing-room,
and in the daytime Basil and Theresa were far afield. This was not the
daughter-in-law she had desired. Where were the afternoon calls, the
drives with Theresa by her side and Basil opposite, the pleasant hours
after dinner, with a little music, a little talk, a little work? Theresa
could not even play the piano, her hands were idle, and Mrs. Morton was
really glad when she did not talk, for she feared what she might say;
but the sound of her voice coming across the wide hall when the
smoking-room door was open, her sharp exclamations and her laughter gave
the elder woman a new sense of isolation. In some subtle way the house
seemed to be no longer hers. Theresa, who had been the stranger, had
taken a possession stronger than that of keys and command, and whereas
the girl had once stood out glaringly against the sober, peaceful
background of the house, it had now become but an appendage of herself.
The quick thud of her feet as she ran down the stairs, her manner of
opening doors, the whistling call with which she summoned Basil--these,
by the vividness of her strength, had overcome the old stillness, the
old ordered atmosphere.

And, indeed, the place had become a home to Theresa. Her irritability
was soothed by Morton's loyal companionship. They were friends as well
as lovers; she was breaking down his fences, and she loved power. She
knew she was changing his attitude in a hundred little ways. She was
moulding him to the kind of man with whom it was possible to live, and
daily she liked him better. But she had another cause for happiness. She
was still making up her stories, and as she wandered about the house she
was accompanied by little illusive figures with sunny heads. They went
before her in the passages, they ran up and down the stairs and
scampered across the broad polished floors, and for her, too, the
silence and decorum of the house were banished. And the garden was
inhabited. There were more voices than those of the rooks among the elms
and she saw happy people by the lakeside. She saw herself among them,
dabbling with the water, racing across the lawn or climbing trees, and
she surprised herself with the positive belief that this life was far
better than one of fame. She felt that through her means some joyous
spirit of childhood had burst its bonds and broken into these separate
fragments which were to be her children, and the thought brightened her
eyes and her voice. It solaced her for the tiny disappointments that
pricked, but were too small to have a name, almost too small to be felt.

She waved her hand towards an upper window, one afternoon as they rode
down the drive, and he looked sharply at the house and then at her. "To
whom are you waving?" he asked.

"To someone you could not see, my good grammarian," she said, and hoped
a little fearfully for further questions.

He turned in the saddle and looked back, and for the sake of the strong,
easy twist of his body she forgave his lack of curiosity as he said:
"Fancies again?"

And she said: "Yes; fancies."

He was content to remain ignorant of them, as he had often been before.
He had no desire to enter into that very real part of her existence, and
she blocked out her disappointment with a quick word of another nature.

"I like you best in your riding things." She was never tired of summing
up the things she liked in him.

He smiled and let his eyes run over her trim, green figure, the thick
plaits of hair under the little hat. She nodded.

"I know what you are thinking. You are congratulating yourself that I'm
quite presentable, in spite of my intolerable past."

"Will you never stop teasing me about that? As if I'm not as proud of it
as you are!"

"Then I have taught you how to be."

"I'm willing to acknowledge my teacher. But I wasn't thinking that. You
look so fair and free--like the breath of the morning."

"Oh ho! Aren't we being nice to each other? And who is having fancies
now? Basil"--she could never let a wound fester in her--"Basil, I wish
you'd want me to tell you everything."

"But I do. What is it you want to say?"

She controlled the petulance of her lips. "Would you like me to have
secrets?"

"I can't imagine your having them."

Under her gauntlets the muscles of her hands were tightened. The promise
of possession had very slightly changed his attitude towards her, and
she resented his security. She was not willing that he should have no
doubts, even had there been no cause for them. She wanted the old
uncertainty, the old waiting on her moods. He grew more loving, more
demonstrative, but he was less her servant, and she stretched against
the bonds; but if he were so little eager to know the utmost of her, so
impervious to jealousy or to hints, then she could in honesty keep her
cherished silence. She changed the subject. They were happiest when
their talk was clear of personalities. Discussions about tenants, the
wisdom of giving help there or refusing it here, and information from
Morton about crops and the raising of cattle, drew them into a closer
comradeship. But to-day Theresa's questions were half-hearted, and had
Morton been less enthusiastic he would have noticed that she did not
listen.

The day was of a new-washed clearness, but it seemed to her that someone
had smudged it with a dirty hand; and in her breast was the vague
longing that was like a hole there, while the clamorous voices, stilled
for a little while, were taking deep breaths as if they would test their
powers.

She blamed herself, she blamed her restlessness, but she looked
frowningly at Morton, and while she owned her fault she could put the
burden of some of it on his back. It seemed to Theresa that he loved the
surface of her and would not look into the depths, that a principle of
his life was to avoid looking into depths; and as she had been eager to
know the evil of the world and the turmoil and the stain of it, and
below that the great serenity, so she longed for a like capacity to see
into his soul, to show him all, or nearly all, of hers. He baulked her
constantly, and the more successfully, by his very ignorance of her
need. Other barriers she had broken down, but here she failed.

She put an abrupt question as they rode home.

"Had you ever been in love before you saw me?"

"Never until I saw you, and now--for always."

He took for granted her own singleness of affection. He was benign,
smiling a little, and content. Little flushes of colour came and went in
her cheeks. She straightened herself, and then drooped in the saddle.

"You are tired," he said tenderly.

"No." And with a jerk she added: "I am cross."

That, too, he accepted without question. There was no doubt that he was
very patient. He watched her as he rode close to assure her of his care,
and when he helped her to dismount he held her for an instant, in spite
of the groom; but, making no response, she hurried to her room and to
her secret treasure there.

She was unpleasant all that evening and very much ashamed of herself,
but she could not shake the blackness from her, though she tried. She
heard in Morton's voice a distressing likeness to his mother's, and the
way he handled his knife and fork seemed to her sufficient excuse for
murder. At table she felt like a naughty schoolgirl, and she went early
to bed; but as she sat beside her fire the remembrance of Basil
standing, puzzled, in the hall as she went up the stairs, smote her with
the shame she would have felt if she had hurt a child. She was not fit
to have children--she, who had no self-control. She was capricious,
vain, exacting. She asked more than she was willing to give, yet she was
willing to give more than Basil asked. She knew she was endangered by
his complaisance, and she wanted to be loyal. She would be loyal. She
stared at the fire through mist and strands of hair, and slowly the mist
gathered itself into drops that fell with a little crack on her silken
petticoat. She was cold, though the flames were bright. She was not
conscious of the room. All round her there was a dark loneliness like
nothing she had ever seen or tasted. It was not the lonely terror of the
sea, nor the great cleansing solitude of the mountains, but something
formless, perilous. Now, everything was obscure, but she had a fear that
if she could not save herself she would emerge into a clearness that
would be terrible and enduring--a prison from which she could never
escape, whose walls were formed of what was ignoble in herself.

How long she sat there she could not tell. Now she did not cry, and
thought had left her; yet, in some dim way, she had made her resolution,
and news of it was carried to her mind.

She combed out her hair steadily and plaited it; she put on her lavender
dressing-gown, and the shoes that matched it, and she bathed her face.
It was white, and seemed to have fallen thinner in that hour, for she
had touched a deeper tragedy than her mother's death. She must be
honest, but such an honesty tore the heart from her.

She unlocked the little box where she kept no other thing than
Alexander's letter. She took it out and held it fast between her palms,
but she did not read it. She raised the upper hand, and laid her cheek
in its place.

"I ought not to have kept you," she said, and gave a little moan. "But
it's not because you're a man, Alexander; it's because you are a spirit.
You and Father are the only ones I've known. Must I resign you to keep
the other things? You see, Alexander, I do want the other things--a
home, and love, and--other things. But oh, there's no need to tell you,
for you know--you know."

She opened her door softly. The landing lights were out, no light came
from the hall, but as she followed the staircase curve she saw a golden
streak under the door of the smoking-room. A little nearer, and she
smelt tobacco. She entered, and saw Morton deep in a leather-covered
chair. He sprang to his feet.

She appeared to him like a sprite. She was pale and small, she seemed to
be overweighted by her hair, and the movements of her dressing-gown
revealed white ankles and white arms. The tender little hollow of her
neck was plain to him, and though he had seen it that very night it had
seemed a more modest thing than this between the close folds of her
gown.

She shut the door. "Basil. I want to talk to you."

"Not now, dear." He put the cigar on the mantelpiece, and held his hands
behind his back. "You must go to bed now. It's after twelve. Haven't you
been to sleep?"

"No; I've been thinking." She looked at him with wide, strained eyes. He
had never seen her so simple and so frail. "There's something I must
tell you."

"Is it so very important?"

Her voice quivered. "You may not think so."

"Can't it wait? Darling, you mustn't sit here with me at this hour of
night with all the house asleep."

"For me, there's no one in the house but you, and you are awake." She
put out her left hand, but dropped it when he did not take it. She went
on, with the hand at her throat. "There's a great gap in my life I've
never told you of. I don't feel honest. I want to tell you everything
to-night, and go on clear."

"Are you sure you're not asleep now, Theresa darling?" He drew nearer,
and she leaned against him.

"Basil, help me."

He held her off. "Not now. You must go back. You are over-tired, dear.
You've not been well all day."

"It's my soul that's sick," she said.

"It will be better in the morning. Hush! Did you hear something?" He
opened the door and listened. "Mother sleeps so lightly. Go back,
Theresa. Good-night, darling--good-night. Why, your eyes are heavy with
sleep."

"No," she said, and she had the look of someone starved--"no, that's
with crying."

He seized her hand and drew her limp figure to him. "Why, my sweet--why?
Because we didn't have a happy day? Darling, I'll think no more of it.
And you shall tell me everything in the morning. Only go now. You
mustn't wander about like this at night."

She was leaning against the door. Her lips twitched with an emotion
which was no longer one of distress.

"What are you afraid of?" she said.

He hesitated. "Your--good name," he answered.

She lifted her hands and dropped them, and for a moment he thought
something terrible was going to happen, for her eyes closed sharply, and
in her pale face her opened mouth was like a blot.

"Oh!" she cried. "Oh! oh! oh!" She laughed weakly, uncontrollably. She
dropped into a chair, while the tears rolled down her cheeks and her
body was shaken with her mirth.

He stared at her stonily and turned away to look into the fire. The
sound of her laughter shocked him, for it had entirely gone beyond her
keeping, but gradually it grew quieter and he thought he heard in it the
break of sobs. He looked at her. She was leaning her head on her hand
and crying softly, but as he turned she smiled and began to shake again.

"Why don't you laugh, too?" she said. "You are so funny."

"I can see nothing to laugh at. Go to bed at once. You are overwrought."

"I am in the best of health," she said. "Oh dear, I wish I could stop
laughing! But I'll go to bed."

"And you'll talk to me in the morning?"

"Yes, I'll talk to you in the morning." That was an answer he had not
expected, and he would have kissed her, but she turned her face aside.
He noticed that she had a little roll of paper in her right hand.



CHAPTER XXVI


An immense and palpable calm surrounded her as she undressed, and when
she stretched herself between the sheets she fell at once into an
untroubled sleep. For a little while the firelight licked the walls,
danced on the chair where her clothes were tumbled and leapt to the
ceiling to look down on her in the bed, lying pale and flaccid with her
cheek on Alexander's letter. Then the fire's heart called back the
flames, and they were gathered into a red and tranquil glow which faded,
while the dropping coals slowly ticked out their life. But that noise
had ceased and the room was entirely dark when Theresa woke and sat up.

She thought there was someone in the room, but she was not afraid. She
listened, leaning on her hands.

"What is it?" she whispered.

The room was quiet, but its stillness was heavy as with a presence. She
looked behind her; only the wall was there.

"What is it?" she repeated.

There was something she had to do, and even while she strove to discover
it she had slipped from bed and pattered across the floor. She ran with
a swift sureness down the stairs and through the hall. The locks and
bolts of the front-door yielded to her fever, and then the night air
smote her and the cold of the steps shocked her feet.

"What am I doing?" she asked.

What little wind there was moaned stealthily among the elms, and on the
house-wall the ivy-leaves scratched each other. The lawn stretched
before her like water of an unimagined blackness.

"I must have been asleep," she murmured, looking at the night for
confirmation, but its waiting patience made her no answer. She thought
all the trees had faces that looked kindly on her. She was not afraid of
the night, yet it was imminent and sorrowful with doom. Something was
going to happen.

"I had to do something," she said in a strange voice, and closed the
door. Her fingers were weak now, and slow. Her strength had gone and she
was very cold. She stood shivering in the hall, trying to solve this
mystery. Had she been warned in some way? Was the house on fire? She
sniffed earnestly. There were no signs anywhere of danger or
disturbance, and she turned to climb the stairs. Half-way up she began
to run. Where was her letter? She had forgotten her letter. Someone had
stolen it, and, stealing it, had waked her. But she found it, crumpled,
in the bed.

"I don't understand," she said, and lay long awake, conquering the cold
of her body and the puzzle of her mind.

When the morning came through the windows, she was lying deep in the
bed, as though she were rooted to it and she was conscious of a fatigue
she had not known before. It was her habit to spring from bed with the
first opening of her eyes, but this morning she had to be reminded of
coming battle before she could be roused, and then the adventurous
spirit that welcomed any new experience, and would have dreadful ones
rather than none, took command over her tired frame.

She had an enigmatical smile for Morton at the breakfast table, and
afterwards, when he would have smoked a pipe before the fire, she was
imperative.

"Come into the garden quickly," she said.

"He would like to read the newspaper first, dear. He always likes to
read the paper and have a pipe."

She clapped her hands together. "He must come into the garden with me."

He glanced at her feet. "Put your shoes on first, darling."

"And you would like my woolly shawl."

"My slippers are thick, and I don't want a shawl, or anything, thank
you. I'm burning. Are you coming, Basil? Can't you see--can't you see
that you must come?"

She ran out before him and on to the lawn, and the wind caught her hair
and buffeted her so that she had to lean against it to find rest. She
watched his slow approach, and as soon as he was close to her she said
clearly, loudly, because of the wind: "I can't marry you."

"What?" He took her by the arm and stooped. "What did you say?"

She freed herself. "I can't marry you."

He heard. "Can we get out of the wind?" he said.

She made a gesture that told him to lead on, and she followed him to a
dusty summer-house. The sudden quiet of the place was like a blow and
there was a singing in her ears.

"It's dirty, I'm afraid."

"I don't want to sit down. Did you hear what I said, Basil?"

"You don't want to sit down?"

"No. I can't marry you."

He saw no ring on her hand. "Why?" he breathed. He was shocked into the
use of his imagination. "Is it--it isn't Vincent?"

"Vincent?" She had to frown before she could remember him. "Oh no, no,
no!"

"Why?" he asked again, and his voice seemed to hold back the word as it
was uttered.

"I don't know. I'm very fond of you." She smiled with a touch of
drollery. "I think I love you, as one loves some people, but not--one's
lover. I thought I did, except when I heard voices."

He frowned, uncertain of her sanity. He shook his head.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Theresa. What have I done?"

"Nothing. But I've known secretly all the time--nearly all the
time--that in saying I would marry you I fell below myself. Not"--she
smiled again--"because I think you are unworthy, but just because you
are not--the man for me. I made you into him for a little while, but
truth is stronger than my will. It's possible that a very good man may
do one more harm than a very bad one. But I'm not thinking of my safety.
It's just my necessity, and I don't know what is going to follow. I
can't explain. There are no words, for, you see, it's something that
belongs to the wordless things. I ought to have found out before. I
might have, if I had been quite honest."

The word had a memory for him. "Was this what you came to say last
night?"

"No."

"What was it?"

"I can't tell you now."

"I think I have a right to know."

"You had last night; not now."

He showed her a terrible, drawn face. "Theresa, forgive me for last
night. Let us begin again. We are so different--but I want to learn from
you. Let us begin again."

"We can't." She twisted her hands together, and shook them with the
faint shaking of her body.

"A little thing like that--Theresa, I love you."

"I know." She stood silent, with head bowed, but she lifted it with a
thought. "You've never wanted the best of me, Basil. And--I can't give
it to you. There's a dam, somewhere. And I've never been true to you.
Ah, you see, you don't understand. Isn't that proof enough? I thought I
loved you, but all my life I've been playing parts, half consciously.
There has only been one day--only one--when I did not think about
myself."

"When was that?" It was the first time she had seen him curious.

She smiled waveringly, as though she would soon cry.

"It was before I met you. Will you let me finish? I want to tell you.
It's not your fault. It's something in myself. Don't think I'm blaming
you. You've never seen me, Basil. You've seen a woman who likes being
spoilt, who likes being loved, who knows how to get what she wants, and
yet contrives to do it with a kind of fiendish decency, for I haven't a
blatant fashion of alluring. And you've seen the other woman who likes
power. Perhaps it is the same woman on her more intellectual side. Yes,
power! When I look back, I see that it is a distorted kind of power I've
wanted. And to know one's self loved is to have power. You see how I was
tempted, yet I did not know that I was falling. Now I know--and there's
an end to it. I have to ask your pardon for making you the victim, and
to--to thank you for all your sweetness--too much sweetness."

She was like a bit of smiling steel, he thought--a sword, sorry to have
to wound, yet bound to do it. He had no hope of mastering her, though he
saw pity dragged from her heart into her eyes. He was haggard. She had
been right to call him victim.

"But why after last night?" he asked.

"It had to be some time, hadn't it? Before marriage, or after it."

"But why last night? There's something you're not telling me."

"Haven't I said enough?"

"You needn't be afraid of hurting. I shall be glad of it."

She nodded comprehension. "I had a fight last night. I had to give you
all my confidences or none, and I wanted to keep you because I like you,
and because I'd entangled you with some of my dearest thoughts. But it
was hard to tell you what I was going to tell you, and then you wouldn't
listen, and you made me laugh, and I saw--oh, clearly--that you would
never have understood, and I felt--oh, must I tell you?--I felt I'd
saved something very precious from destruction. And so there was an
end."

He was sitting on the dusty, wooden bench, staring before him.

"If only there weren't any people," she said for him. He started. "It's
hateful for you, dear. All those good friends of yours, looking so
sorrowful and being so curious. Oh, I am sorry! You can tell them
anything you like about me, and nothing will be bad enough."

"Please don't, Theresa."

She began to count the cobwebs hanging from the roof.

"Why don't you have this place kept clean?"

"I do, in the summer."

Over and over again she counted them. She made calculations of the
height of the walls, the length and breadth of the floor, while the
sight of Morton sitting there, inert and miserable, roused her to an
irritated, helpless pity.

"Do you think I could go home this morning, please?" she asked softly.

"I'll see about it."

"You won't want to tell Mrs. Morton, will you? I'll do it."

"Be kind to her, Theresa."

"My dear, she'll thank God for an escape."

"Ah, don't----"

"No. Good-bye."

He stood up. He seemed very tall and broken, resting one hand heavily on
the little rustic table.

"Basil," she said thoughtfully, "did you come into my room last night?"

"Your room? Your bedroom?"

"Yes, long after I had left you?"

"No dear. Of course not! Why?"

"I had a queer feeling that someone was in the room."

He stumbled over his words. "I--I dreamt of you last night."

Her mouth drooped; he saw the quiver of her nostril. "Oh--don't dream of
me any more," she said. "Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Theresa."

"May I kiss you? Stoop down. Lower, lower. How tall you are!" She kissed
him on each cheek. "I always liked that little hollow place," she said,
and left him with the sound of her sobbing breath for company.

       *       *       *       *       *

George and Edward Webb, eating their hybrid meal at seven o'clock, were
startled by the entrance of Theresa. Above her coat collar and below the
veil banded across her forehead, her eyes were luminous and
black-rimmed.

Edward Webb sprang up and, forgetting the restricting presence of his
brother, exclaimed anxiously: "My dear, my dearest! what is the matter?"

"Nothing, dear. It's nice to see you."

"You look ill, Theresa."

"I've had a journey, and the train jolted so."

"Where's Basil?"

"In his home, I hope." She became flippant for the benefit of Uncle
George. "I'd better tell you. I have resigned the situation. Do you
think I can have some of your tea?"

"H'm, and now, I suppose, you'll be wanting another?"

"Will you find me one, Uncle George? If not, I've no doubt Mr. Smith
will take me back."

Edward Webb still held Theresa's hand. "I think," he said with dignity,
"we need not discuss the matter until Theresa has had some tea. You're
cold, my dear."

"Desperately," she said.

He seated her by the fire, and brought her tea, and ordered Bessie to
bring hot toast.

"Lots of it, please, Bessie," said Theresa.

"And more coal, and perhaps we'd better have Miss Grace."

"No, not Miss Grace until to-morrow."

"But, my dear, I'm afraid you're going to be ill. You're shivering."

"It's just a cold. I want to be alone with you to-night."

"Well, I'm going to finish my tea, anyhow," said Uncle George.

She nodded at him, laughing. He nodded back, in his grim way. This was
how they always told each other of their friendship.

"And there was a time when I didn't like you!" she exclaimed
involuntarily.

He ducked his head again. "I'm quite aware of that, my girl."

He went to his harmonium, and Bessie, with a thousand fancies in her
romantic heart, retired to wash up the dishes.

"Now tell me," said Edward Webb.

"It was only because I didn't love him enough," she said, and burst into
a foolish weakness of tears.

He was pacing behind her chair, and she heard him muttering: "Thank God!
thank God! Are you crying, Theresa? You mustn't do that, my dear. You've
come home. I've got you back again. You must be happy." He patted her
clumsily on the shoulder, and she dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief.
"It's good to have you back. We've missed you. Even George admitted
that."

"Don't tell me such things," she said. "They've been the ruin of me. And
you must let me be miserable for a little while! It's all I can do for
Basil. I think I'll go to bed."

"Not yet. I told Bessie to light the fire."

"But what extravagance!"

"You don't come home every day," he said, and he spoke as though she had
come on a far journey.

Afterwards, when she lay warm and comforted in bed, he came to see her.
He made up the fire, he altered the opening of the window by an inch, he
felt the heat of the hot-water bottle, and hovered on the threshold to
find more to do.

"I wish I had a thermometer," he murmured.

"I'm glad I broke it. I refuse to have my temperature taken. I'm much
too sleepy. Good-night, dear. I'm so comfortable."

"Good-night, my child," he said, and crept down the stairs in a great
happiness of hope.



CHAPTER XXVII


Very late, on a dark and moonless night in March, when the larches were
stiff and silent under the frost that bound the hills, and the air was
of an imprisoned stillness, Janet, sewing by lamplight, heard a dog's
bark cut through the quiet, and then hurried footsteps that were Alec's.

Her fingers lost their steadiness for an instant, but as he opened the
door she peered round the lamp and said sharply: "So you're here at
last! You've not touched my doorstep for four weeks, and now you come at
this time of night and expect a welcome! What made you think I would be
up?"

"I didn't think," he said. "I just came."

He was within the circle of the lamplight, and she looked at him. He was
frost-powdered from head to foot, from ruffled hair to heavy boots, and
his eyes were dull in a face the whiter for the tan it had to conquer.
She went on with her sewing:

"Where have you been?" she said.

"God knows."

"That'll be why I didn't go to bed," she said quietly.

"I've been walking since dark, nearly." He moved away into the gloom,
and there he went back and forth, across the kitchen's width, with a
restlessness like his father's.

"And I've had the devil for company."

"Well, you're here now," she said. The years had slipped away from her,
and Alexander was the gloomy, passionate boy again, come to her for
comfort, and she had a tremulous sensation of delight.

"Ay, but the devil's here, too."

"Had you not better tell me?" she said.

His language, also, was that of his youth. "Janet, d'you mind when I
wanted to kill him? D'you mind me telling you to wish him over a cliff
side? Well, you've got to pay for all your evil, and I'm paying for mine
this day." His boots on the stone floor marked the hurry of his
thoughts. "It comes back on you when you think you've strangled it. I
hated him, I would have laughed to see him dead, and then I learnt a
thing here and there, and I wouldn't hate him any more. Well, I couldn't
hate him. He seemed too poor a thing. He'd just got to be cared for like
a child. And things went well with me for a bit, and there's no doubt
but what I was pleased with the state of my soul. It's a pity man was
ever taught the name of it," he cried violently.

She sewed on. There was no sound but the rasp of her needle through the
coarse stuff, for Alexander was standing still.

"I thought I'd killed him this afternoon," he said, and moved on again.
He spoke through the noise of his walking. "I cannot get it off my
mind," he said, "that there've been men hanged for less than I did
to-day. It's something beyond me that's saved my neck. It was as good as
murder. I know how men feel when they've killed. I'll never get my hands
clean of it. And while I've been tramping over these white hills that
should have spurned me, I've felt like a man hunted, with that grisly
death behind him. And I didn't know the rage was in me. I thought it
died ten years ago, but it came back like a flood, and blinded me, and
felled him. God! I'm nothing but a savage. I that thought myself walking
a little above the earth! Well," he said grimly, "I'm learning yet!"

"If you'll tell me----," she began. "But wait a bit. We'll have some
broth. D'you know it's twelve o'clock? And you've school in the
morning."

He frowned heavily and pushed his fingers through his hair.

"It smells good, and I'm hungry," he said.

They sat by the fire, each with a bowl of soup, and Janet watched him as
he drank. There were lines in his face that had not come there in a day.

"These four weeks," she said, "I've waited for you every night. That's
what women spend their time in doing. Your mother for James, and me for
you. And you come running to us when you want us. And neither she nor I
would have it different! But for all that, I'm not going to have you
getting like your father, my man, running about the hills at night, and
tumbling into a woman's lap!"

He flushed, and tried to cover shame with emphasis. "You'll have my
blood to change, then. It's black, Janet--black."

"And that's like him, too! I'm this, and I'm that, and I'll never be
anything else! Black blood! His isn't black--it's white! He's just a
coward. He's never finished running away from himself, and crying out he
cannot help it, and getting behind your mother's skirts. And all she
should have done was to have skelped him well."

"I'm willing to take my skelping, if you'll cure me."

She laughed with a kind of girlishness that startled him.

"I've frightened you--that's enough. You're not much more like your
father than I am, but when you've done wrong you've got to stand on the
wrong and climb up."

"I'm trying to," he said. "If I talk like this to you it's because it's
you, and there's only you that wants to hear. Only you and one other I'd
tell it to."

Another listener might have heard her take a breath.

"Who's that?" she asked.

He faced her, troubled but unflinching. "You've seen her," he said, and
his utterance of the words was like a song in praise of her.

"Yes," she said quietly, and covered her hands with her work.

He lay deeper in his chair, and watched the fire. His hands were thrust
into his pockets, and his chin was dropped; his face had the lost look
of one who has forgotten his bodily existence. He had forgotten Janet,
but she, looking on him with a kind of hatred, loved every curve and
line of him with a pure jealousy of passion. This was the son she had
never had, yet felt she must have borne. She looked back, and believed
she had held him naked to her breast. Yet it was with a sharp cruelty
that she spoke. "Well, can you not get her?"

"No," he said, "not unless I stole her."

"You'd never be called thief. Could you not do it?" she tempted him,
taking pleasure in her own pain.

"She's not a piece of goods," he said, and fell into a silence; but the
muscles of his cheek were twitching, and at the sight of that her heart
ached with a sickness of pity for him. She was all compassionate mother
now, and she would have rent the world to get Theresa for him.

She broke the stillness with a laugh he did not like to hear.

"There's me," she said. "I'd get her for you." And her voice was
venturesome, half afraid, ashamed of its own shame.

She saw the quick red leap to his eyes.

"Leave her alone!" he cried in anger. All the influences of his youth
were strong on him. "But you'd never move her," he said, and his faith
and his scorn stung her to a pang she hid from him.

"Eh, would I not?" she answered coolly. "This'll be why you've not been
here, then?"

"I think it's why I nearly killed my father. It's easy blaming myself
for nearly doing murder, but I see now that all these days I've been
feeling murder towards that man she's going to marry. D'you know I've
not seen the sky for weeks? I've been walking through a visible
blackness. It's the truth I'm telling," he said simply. "And then to-day
I came home, and found him drunk or mad, raving against my mother
because she'd had a letter from old Webb, and one she'd read to him, as
innocent and clean as Webb himself. And she stands there, smiling at
him, stroking his hand, talking to him, as if he had a fever. If she'd
had half a dozen children it would have been better for them both.
Janet, it's pure self-indulgence in her, or was, and now it's just a
habit. She's mothered him, and mothered him, because she has an endless
power of giving, and he's gulped it all down, and will go on doing it
till the end."

"But you didn't knock him down for that?"

"No; it was when he took Theresa's picture, and threw it on the fire,
and said bad things about her. I saved it first, and then he went. I
know he didn't mean it, I know he'd never think it--he's not that kind
of beast--but he said it. And he was on the floor before I knew it,
white, and with blood trickling. And I think my mother hated me that
minute."

"She'll be wondering where you are."

"No; she'll be thinking of nothing in the world but him. She might have
cared for half a dozen of us, but one seems to have been worse than
useless!"

"That's because you gave help, instead of asking it."

He bent his lips into a wry smile. "But I feel I've been cheated, all
the same. And I'm a nasty, evil-tempered brute, but I've had the grace
to thank God for delivering Theresa from my hands."

"And the day may come when she reproaches Him for it. Is the lass blind
or daft?"

"Now, Janet!"

"It's time you went to bed."

"I'm going. I think I'll have to tell old Webb he mustn't come here. I
was going to stay with him this Easter, but--well, I've changed my mind!
I'll have to let him know I can't leave home, and tell him not to come
here. I hardly think it's safe for him. Heaven knows what he'll do next.
Good-night."

"Good-night, Alec."

"I don't know what I'd do without you," he said awkwardly.

She waited until she could hear his footsteps no longer, and then she
put out the light. In a little while the window-pane emerged from the
darkness, square and grey, and on it the austere larches were chiselled
blackly. She rocked herself in her seat. She saw Alexander's face, lined
by a fierce craving and repression, and pitifully overlaid with
patience. He seemed to have looked bitter disappointment in the eyes,
and made a comrade of it. His own eyes were dulled that had been so
bright. She saw the painful twitching of his cheeks, and how his hands,
which he had thought were hidden, clenched themselves in his pockets.
She felt a masterful indignation against Theresa, who could love another
than this man, and a yearning over Alexander like a mother's over a
hungry child whom she is powerless to help. But Janet was not powerless.

She sat immobile, and she had first a strange ecstasy of physical
lightness, as though her mind had soared easily beyond her body, and was
rejoicing in the freedom, and looked distantly on the numb husk it had
left, and then, with a leap, it was back in its place again, grinding at
all the memories it had stored, bringing them from the corners where she
had covered them in the dark, forcing them into the light. And she saw
them. They were put into her hands, and she turned them over and over,
knowing them again, and the power she had resisted in her clean youth
swooped on her like an evil, moulting bird, and under its spread and
meagre wings she sat, rocking now in pitilessness, in place of pity,
dead to everything but the one thing she meant to do.

The fire dropped in the grate, the flames that had illumined her clasped
hands and played fitfully on the moving body lost their power to leap,
and the coals were grey, when a dog outside howled at the night.

That sound of an inexpressible woe, challenging the peaceful hour of
sleep, wrenched Janet from the dark place of her wandering. She started,
crossed herself, and murmured words she did not understand. She stood
up, shivering, and stretched out her hands. She passed them across her
eyes.

"God keep my soul from sin!" she said aloud.

She went to the door, and let the frosty cold clean her of evil.

"He mustn't get her that way," she muttered as she lit her candle. "I
was lost--lost. God guard me!" And again, unknowingly, she made the sign
on breast and brow, for this was what her ancestors had done.



CHAPTER XXVIII


For the first time since her school days Theresa had to stay in bed.

"You need not think I'm overcome with grief," she said, when Grace
peeped round the door. "And don't whisper, and don't be tenderly
tactful. I'm in bed of an aching body, not a broken heart."

"And a sharp tongue, I should think. Let me look at it. Oh, that's all
right."

"No, it isn't. I don't believe you know anything about it. It's that
colour because I've been eating those pink lozenges that Uncle George
keeps in his waistcoat pocket. There are knives sticking into me
everywhere."

Grace seated herself on the bed, and eyed her with the judicial air
befitting one who is a mother. "You've taken cold," she said soothingly.

"I have indeed. I'm surrounded by hot-water bottles, and I can't get
warm. It seems to be a mistake to stand on the doorstep in one's
nightgown."

"What on earth did you do that for?"

"I'm trying to find out. I don't know whether I was asleep or awake, but
there I was. I must have been awake, for I can remember running down the
stairs. I had to do it."

With a little crease between her brows Grace said easily: "You must have
been over-tired."

"That's a comfortable solution. We'll leave it at that. Would you mind
tucking the clothes into my back? No, don't touch my pillows. How nice
you look! Like a pretty apple. Can you stay with me?"

"No, dear; I'm going to a lesson. Would you like Baby?"

"I don't think I feel equal to a baby. Come and see me on your way back.
How's Phil?"

Grace's cheeks could still flush at the sound of his name.

"I think he is going to leave the theatre. He has so many pupils now,
and it's torture to him to play the same trash night after night. We
shall manage quite well, and he wants more time for composing."

"Oh, poor me! I shall have to hear the writhings of his genius all of
every night. Tell him to come and see me. That will keep him quiet for a
little while. Will you pull down the blind, and tell Bessie I'm going to
sleep? She comes in every five minutes with something on a plate, and it
grows a little monotonous."

"If you're not better to-night, I shall send for the doctor."

"Then I shall be better. I'm glad I'm at home again."

"So am I. I didn't like him, Terry."

"I like him very much."

"I mean, I didn't like him for you, and I feel--I feel as if you've
escaped out of an ogre's castle!"

"Ah, if he had been more ogreish, I might have stayed for the fun of it.
Let's thank God he is just a man."

The ministrations of an adoring family speedily cured Theresa without a
doctor's help, and a few days after her return Neville appeared as
emissary of Simon Smith.

"We want you to come back," he said.

"I don't think Mrs. Morton would consider it etiquette. Of course I'll
come, Jack. When?"

He stroked his chin. "Well, we haven't given the present good person
notice yet. She got the post through sheer force of character, for we
both hated her at sight. There'll be a difficulty in turning her out.
The old gentleman is afraid to do it, and I tell him it's not my
business. It will come to writing her a note and enclosing a cheque
during the Easter holidays."

"What's the matter with her?"

"Oh, she's horrid. I let her have the office to herself. The old
gentleman is certainly a sportsman. He just gave a nod when I carried my
things into his room. Ah well, trouble has drawn us more closely
together!"

"Does she do her work properly?"

"I don't know! Oh yes, I suppose she does, in a mechanical kind of way.
We don't let her go outside the house. You know, you have a spark of
genius, Theresa, and you've spoilt us."

"Anybody could do what I did, if they used my methods."

"I don't believe it; but what are they?"

She shook her head. "I'm trying to forget them."

"Then you'll be no further use to us."

"Yes, I shall. I'm not so limited as that. Jack, why do you love your
work?"

"I don't know. I can't help loving it."

"For its own sake?"

"I imagine so."

"That's what I'm going to do."

"Didn't you?"

"No."

"Why, then?"

"Chiefly for mine, but not altogether--not nearly altogether. I am not
made of stone, but I have eyes that are turned inwards. A mental
squint!"

"It never showed."

She laughed. "Oh, I'm an expert in my profession, but I'm very sick of
it, so don't say nice things to me. Don't help me to think about
myself."

He raised his brows in a comical dubiety. "This sounds a little morbid."

"And I want to think it's the beginning of health." She turned quietly
to stand by the window, and as she looked out on the street, where
spring was coming, he found a new dignity in her pose, one born of some
dignity of the mind, and her thinness, the manner in which her hand hung
by her side, something in the lift of her head, impressed him with a
sense of pathos hitherto alien to his thoughts of her. Yet, when she
faced him, she was vivid again, and sparkling. He noticed how the words
seemed to come upon her lips before she spoke them.

"You'll tell me when you have evicted the lady?"

"Yes," he said mournfully. "It's quite likely she'll refuse to go
quietly. We may have to invent a rich relative who dies and leaves her
with a competency."

"A little courage would be cheaper."

"But that's what we haven't got."

"You begin to make me wonder if your compliments are more than sops."

"Compliments in their relation to you are barred as topics of
conversation. Good-bye. Oh, I was to ask you if you would like any
salary in advance."

"No, thank you. I'm a thrifty soul. I must have quite ten shillings."

"But, I say, Theresa----"

"My good man, you've no idea how long ten shillings can be made to last.
I can assure you that my stockings are no rivals to your socks, and I
don't have a new tie every week. I'm not going to have any money I
haven't earned."

"Bless the child! It will be quite a month, you know, before we get rid
of the Gorgon."

"I don't mind. I want a rest. I'm tired, Jack."

He drew a step nearer, and looked kindly down at her.

"Theresa, I'm rather worried about you. Have you some disease lurking?"

"No; but I've been in such a hurry all my life, and done so little. I
have a weary spirit. I wish I could go riding on the clouds for a week
of these March winds. I should look down and see the earth so small,
and people of my size not visible at all, and the heavens so infinite."

"But if you know all that----"

"Knowing is not enough," she said. "That's one of the easy things, I
find. It's feeling I have to cultivate."

He nodded curtly. "You're quite right. I do believe you're growing up.
Good-bye, my dear."

The weariness she confessed to was in her face, the taste of humiliation
was in her mouth, but hope was in her heart, like a low sound of
singing. She would not listen to it frankly, but it murmured there like
the noise of constant water, hardly acknowledged, yet filling life with
meaning. It sang through her dreams at night and mingled with the
talking of the dark lake's water, for she was restored to her place
under the mountain, and now, while she waited, she had no doubt of whose
footfall she expected, whose hand she wished to grasp, and, when the
morning came, flashing truth on her receptive mind, she had to own her
need of Alexander. But, indeed, she was glad to own it. She had gone
past a state in which pride could be greater than her love and, as if to
make amends for her disloyalty, she acclaimed him. It was not love she
tried to disavow, but hope, and even there she failed.

He was coming at Easter, and Easter was not far off, yet she looked for
a letter. If he knew the truth--and when had her father kept it from
him?--he would surely write; but she did not hear from him, and the
tiredness in her face overcame the secret joy. With a little twist of
bitterness about her lips, she looked back at her girlhood and saw a
fiercely independent Theresa stretching out hands to a future made
glorious only by her own powers, subject only to her own genius, and
here was Theresa, grown a woman, wearing out her strength with longing,
conscious that her whole life had been bound by human beings, that she
had no genius but that of drawing people to her and giving them of
herself. There was to be no widespread fame for her, but there might be
happiness and growth; and Alexander was the soil in which she knew her
roots could deepen, he was the sun and the rain, yet he denied her
everything. Oh, why did he not write? she cried within herself. Since
the coming of that one letter he had sent her, filled with the breath of
the hills and his own being, she had believed in Alexander's love; yet
he was silent, though he must know her to be free. Did he scorn her
fickleness, or had he changed? She tortured herself with questions, then
cast them from her and stilled herself, glad to give love without
reward.

"You are not grieving, not regretting?" her father asked her one night.

It was a few days before Easter, the time which was to bring Alexander,
yet the marks of trouble were fretted under her eyes and hollowed in the
shadowy places of her cheeks, for hope and despair and dread were
battling for her heart.

"Yes, I'm regretting many things. No, I don't want Basil back, but I
want my--my wholeness back. I had no right to give him anything, poor
soul! and I feel there are little bits of me strewed everywhere." She
laughed. "It's not that I set so high a value on those little bits, but
it doesn't seem quite fair on a possible other person!"

Without the usual hesitation of his emotions, he asked a direct
question, looking her in the eyes. "Would you like some other person?"
He seemed to hold his breath until he heard.

She coloured, but looked smiling back at him. "Of course I should. A
satisfactory one. I'm human--and I want the human gifts. Look--I'm
twenty-five, and I have done none of the things you wanted me to do.
Have I? Have I?"

"My dear, you have been nearly all the world to me."

"But you wanted me to be more, and so did I. And I find I'm just an
ordinary person, and I want--I want--oh, I may as well say it--I want
love. To have it and to give it. I have been feeding on myself all
these years, and I am so weary of the taste of me. It's as though I had
grown old since New Year's Day. I wonder if I'm any wiser. I feel to-day
as if you couldn't teach me anything, but to-morrow--oh, to-morrow, I
may be young and brave again! It's strange," she went on thoughtfully,
"I have had a very humdrum life, and yet I feel that I have lived
through great adventures. It's quite an effort to convince myself of
their unreality. I have been loved, and I have loved; I have had
children, and seen them die. I've heard men shouting as they fight, and
giving grunting, gasping breaths under the shriek of steel, and I have
gone on long voyages and seen far countries. I know how they smell. Why
is it? Why is it?"

He made no answer, and they both gazed in the fire, and, defying the
habits of youth and age, it was Theresa who saw the scrolls of the past,
and Edward Webb who looked towards the future.

"I want you to promise me something," he said at last.

"What is it?"

"You'll marry no one whom you do not love with your best self; you will
try not to be the servant of your imagination. Teach it to serve you,
Theresa."

"I'll promise that," she said.

"And, Theresa, while--while we are speaking of serious things, I want to
tell you I made my will long ago, of course, and it is in the desk with
the rest of my papers. Those are all yours. There are your mother's
letters to me, mine to her, and all the letters you ever wrote to me,
and Grace's, too. You will find I have been very methodical; everything
is ticketed and dated; and there are all my poems, Theresa, with
Alexander's criticisms, and his letters. You can do what you like with
them."

She put her hand on his knee, and he saw how thin she was.

"Why are you telling me all this? I won't have you giving these
instructions. It's what Mother did. You are not ill, are you? Don't have
secrets from me.

"I am not ill, my dear. I am very well and happy. But there is never any
knowing what may happen. The train might run off the lines when I go to
the farm on Easter Saturday."

She took her hand away and held it. She would not let it shake.

"But," she said--and in the effort to steady her voice, it came
loudly--"but what about Alexander?"

"He cannot come. I heard last night--only last night. And I--I have
decided to go there instead."

"Why can't he come?" she asked, and she seemed to hear the thudding drop
of her heart.

"He cannot leave his mother. He is a good son."

She was silent. Then, "I'm glad you're going," she said. "It will do you
good."

"I have no doubt it will do me good." He gave a secret smile she did not
see.

She waited for the request he had made so often, which she must refuse
again, but it did not come. Was he tired of asking for a companionship
she would not grant? Through the blackness of her disappointment she
looked at him, wondering how often she had given him pain, and, as if in
answer, he spoke, fidgeting with his hands.

"You mustn't think because you have not done all we hoped, you mustn't
think yourself a failure. It is not given to many daughters to be what
you have been to me. I want you to remember that--try to remember that."

"Do you think I could forget it?" she cried, in a voice that broke into
harshness. "You put all your own goodness into me, and call it mine!"

She could not see for tears. She made a little fluttering movement with
her hands and dropped her head against his shoulder. He slipped his arm
about her waist, and so they sat, in an according silence.

On the Thursday before Good Friday, George Webb packed a small black bag
and started off on a solitary holiday, and a few hours later
Chesterfield Row was animated by the departure in a cab of Grace and the
baby, Phil and the violin, sundry packages, and a puppy.

"Heaven knows how we'll get there," Grace said cheerfully to Theresa,
from the depths of the musty cab. "We have to change three times, and
this wretched animal always wants to eat people's feet, but I dare not
leave him behind. He's as strong as a lion, and would be sure to kill
something. And I thought he would be a sort of plaything for Baby!"

"I hope Phil's mother will appreciate him."

"That entirely depends on her affection for her boots. What's Phil
doing? We shall lose the train."

"Tearing his hair. He can't find something. It's his umbrella. It's
here, Phil, in the cab. What a family! And fancy troubling about an
umbrella!"

"He never touches it except when he is going on a journey. Men----Oh, do
get in, Phil."

"And don't tread on Grace's toes! Good-bye, good-bye!"

Theresa went indoors, laughing. These people were so perennially young
and beautiful.

Early on Saturday morning it was Edward Webb's turn to go.

"Will you be very lonely with all of us gone?" he asked.

"No. There's Bessie; and I shall read your poems. May I?"

"Of course, my dear, of course. They are all yours. I hope you won't
think the less of me for them."

"I can't think any more, dear, if they are the most marvellous ever
written. You are not eating any breakfast."

"I have had some coffee."

"I shan't let you go unless you eat a lot."

"I'll try, my dear, but before a journey, and so early in the
morning----"

"That's dyspepsia, worthy of Uncle George!" She took him by the chin and
turned his face to the light. "You don't look well. Didn't you sleep?"

"Oh yes, yes." He ate hastily, guiltily, and she was not deceived, but
she did not know the reason for his sleeplessness, nor that he had sat
long by her bed that night, watching her quiet features and the shades
of dreams passing across her face.

He held her in farewell as though he could not let her go; he said
good-bye, and kissed her on each cheek, and hurried into the street, but
only to come back again and look dumbly in her face, while she looked
into his.

"You'll see the hills to-night," she said, "and hear all those sounds of
water, and the sheep crying, and the little lambs. Will you think of me?
I shall be thinking of you."

"Will you, my child? Will you, Theresa? Ah! I'm glad of that."

"I don't think you understand," she said, "how much I like you. And I
like the hills. When you see them, will you wave your hand to each one
and tell them you are doing it for me? And will you look at all the
other things and give them messages?"

He nodded. His lips were twitching, and there was a long ridge of pain
across his brow.

She brought back her thoughts to him. "Dear, do you think you ought to
go? You don't look well. Do you want to go?"

"I always want to go, my child. It's only leaving you I do not like."

"But you'll soon come back to me, and if you can wait just a minute
longer I'll get my hat and come to the station to take care of you."

"No, Theresa--no, my darling," he said firmly. "I want to say good-bye
to you here, not in that dark station, where I cannot see you."

She stood on the pavement with the spring wind ruffling her hair and the
spring sunshine delighting in its ruddy gold and, standing very straight
and proud, she waved her hand to him as his small bent figure turned the
corner. He was the message she sent to Alexander, and he carried no
lesser treasure than her heart.

That night, when she and Bessie had supped together in the kitchen,
Theresa went upstairs to her father's room, and, sitting before his
desk, unlocked the drawers. She wanted Alexander's letters and finding
them, neatly arranged in order of their dates, she read them one by one.
The correspondence had not been heavy, but it had lasted for nearly
fifteen years, and time was swallowed as she sat there.

Her hand was on the last letter when Bessie knocked at the door.

"Miss Terry, it's half-past eleven. You ought to be in bed. I've locked
up and put out all the lights, so just drink this milk and go."

"Yes, yes, Bessie, in a minute. How you do fuss!"

"The master said I was to see to you."

"I'm going to read this letter. Then I'll go."

She read it twice, and looked up with so dazed and wild a look that
Bessie cried aloud in wonder.

"What is it, Miss Theresa? Are you ill?"

"No." Her hand went to her forehead. "I'm just thinking. Wait a bit.
There's rather a lot to think about. Don't talk to me."

Memories and half-memories rushed and whirled about her. She saw her
father's pallid face and felt his kisses. She remembered his silences as
clearly as his words, and to all she fitted meanings, and fitted them
again. She was afraid, yet the very immensity of her suspicion was its
best derision, and so the wheels of her mind turned and clanked until
the room went round with them, and meanwhile she sat very still, resting
her head on her hands.

"Is it all right, Miss Terry?"

"Yes, all right, Bessie."

"Then good-night, my dear."

"Good-night."

The door was closed; she heard Bessie tramp higher up the stairs, and
she rose stealthily to her feet. She was in that state of fear when to
breathe is to court danger, and noiselessly she turned and took the
time-table from its shelf. The leaping of her heart seemed to confuse
her sight, but soon she had made sense of the narrow print and turned
down the page.

She locked the desk and put out the gas, and crossed the dark landing to
her dark room. Standing before her window, with the twinkling dock
lights to comfort her, she was able to believe herself fanciful and
absurd. Yet he had been told danger lay in wait for him among the hills,
and he had gone without asking for her company, and he had gone
strangely, and those letters she had read so eagerly seemed to have been
given to her with his dying breath.

But she would not think it. She refused the horror of her thoughts, and,
jumping into bed, she forced herself to sleep.

Easter morning came strong and sunny, with the sound of many bells that
scattered fear relentlessly in their pealing joy, yet they had not done
their ringing when the summons came. "Will you come at once?" it said,
and it bore Alexander's name.



CHAPTER XXIX


On that long journey she thought hardly at all of what lay before her.
She tried to feel anxiety, and could not. Her mind was occupied with
little things. She became interested in her fellow-travellers, and
talked to them; they told her their family histories as surely as they
looked at her, and sometimes, across their narratives, there dropped the
cloud of her distress. It lived in her consciousness, vague and
impenetrable, and she was aware of it as one is aware of thunder in the
air. She was amazed at her own callousness. Something dreadful had
happened; some horror was awaiting her among the quiet hills, but she
hardly feared it, and, having splashed a few rough and lurid pictures on
her brain, her imagination rested, and she was content to see how the
trees were budding and the flowers sprinkling the fields.

But when she stood on the little windswept station and saw the sea, grey
and cold in the evening light, and heard the wind whistling through the
coarse grass growing on the sand, fear took her by the heart. For an
instant she stood stock still, then, straightening herself in
vindication of her courage, she approached the burly station-master.

"Where can I get a trap?" she said.

"I think that one outside will be for you."

She recognized Janet's little cart and horse, and the youth lolling
against the wheel smiled sheepishly.

"Get in, miss."

"You drove me last time, didn't you?" He nodded, gave an inarticulate
assent, and shook the reins.

The road was dim and the fields bordering it were like a darker sky
where the primroses were stars, and slowly the other stars came out,
while the cold green of the spring sky slipped, as at their bidding,
into a matchless, immeasurable blue. The trees, and the hedges, and the
houses lost their colours; all were but different shades of the dark
except when a whitewashed building challenged the night. The glow of
lighted lamps shone behind people's windows, dogs gave the travellers
greeting, and voices and the clinking of pots came through the opened
doors. The vision of a red-frocked child standing in a doorway flamed
like a beacon in Theresa's memory.

And slowly they drew away from habitations: the road was no longer
enclosed by hedges; the land stretched black and free on either hand,
and with the turn of the road they were beside the lake. It glistened,
and its ripples stirred the reeds, and with every fiercer gust of wind
its shining surface was troubled. The precipice on its farther shore was
one great shadow streaked with the white of late-lying snow, and there
was the sound of many little streams draining the moorland and trickling
below the road to join the lake. The road, growing faint and thin, was
threatened afar off by the spreading shoulders of the hills.

Theresa tightened her muscles until they ached. She had no lack of
feeling now, and a dumb exaltation at every breath of air she breathed
was tangled with her horror and her happiness. Her pulses refused to
keep time with the terrible slow sameness of the horse's pace and they
leapt until she thought her very frame was shaken. She may have
shuddered, or he may have felt her quiver, for the boy offered her
another rug.

"Here, miss," he said in his soft voice.

She thanked him. "We are not very far from the lake's head, are we?"

He was slow in answering, and his tones fell among the loose beating of
the hoofs. "About a half a mile."

"It is a long way."

The hills were closing on them. The air seemed darker, and she could
hear more water running to the lake--water wider and quicker than the
little streams which had kept them company.

The cart rumbled across a little bridge, and left the lake, and, as they
went carefully along the rutted lane, Theresa could look into the fields
where lambs were sleeping. At their passing, a sheep cried out with a
loud and bitter melancholy, voicing a dumb, bewildered world, and it was
like waking from a long dream when the jolting ceased. The driver was
speaking to someone in the road; she could not distinguish the words,
and she sat passive, huddled in her coat and rugs, until the cart should
move on again. It seemed impossible that it should have stopped; her
body was still conscious of the movement, and she was swaying lightly.

The boy's unwrapping of the rugs aroused her. She heard the unseen
person pass behind the cart, and saw a man's figure standing by the
wheel.

"Is that you, Theresa?"

"Yes."

"I want you to get out here."

"Yes." She took his hand and stepped stiffly to the ground.

"Give me the bag, Jack. You can turn here, can't you? Good-night."

They stood together near the churchyard yews, and the stars lighted
their faces. They did not speak. For Theresa, the world had fallen away,
and nothing remained but this patch of earth on which she and Alexander
stood. That isolation passed, the trees came back and the hills, and
while he was still looking at her, she touched him lightly on the
sleeve.

"Tell me."

"It's your father. My father--I told him not to come."

"I know. I didn't know until last night. I read your letter. Please
will you tell me everything? I want to know at once if he is dead."

"Yes, he's dead."

"It's all right. I am not going to fall."

"My father shot him. Then himself. I--he was mad. It is my fault; but I
didn't know how mad--and I warned him. They're both dead, two of them. I
saw my father fall. And yours spoke to me as I passed. He said: 'Send
for Theresa.'"

"I think I'd like to hold your hand. Thank you. Are you sure he's dead?"

"Quite sure. And he died happy. He was smiling. It seemed--it seemed as
if it were what he had been wanting. It may be that the dead are always
glad."

"When was it?"

"Last night. He was with my mother in the kitchen. I didn't know my
father had a pistol, but then, I ought to have known. We've lived with
it so long, it has seemed part of life. I didn't understand how bad he
was. Theresa, my father's murdered yours."

"Yes, yes. Never mind." She held very tightly to his hand. "Never mind.
He wouldn't like you to be sad. Oh"--her voice quavered on the
stillness, and she dropped against him--"oh, Alexander, take care of me
for a little while."

Her face was against the rough fabric of his sleeve. He loosed her hand
and put his arm about her, holding her steadily, and so they stood
beneath the yews.

Each stirred at the same moment, and, without a word, walked on. At the
house end Alexander stopped and spoke quietly.

"Janet is with my mother. She is afraid to leave her. You are to have my
room. Tread softly: she may be sleeping."

In the little front-room supper was spread, and a fire was burning.
Alexander pushed her gently into a low wicker chair, and knelt to unlace
her boots, and when he took them off he rubbed her feet.

"Was there no straw in the cart? I told him to have plenty. Let me push
you nearer to the fire."

"Alexander, can't I go and see him?"

"When you have had some food. Here's Mrs. Spencer with the coffee. No,
sit still. I'll serve you."

But for the small homely sounds of cup against saucer and knife on
plate, Theresa sat, and Alexander moved between her and the table, in a
silence that held no discomfort.

Suddenly she looked up, frowning. "I can't feel unhappy. I wish I could,
but I seem to have come into the very home of peace! Are you unhappy?"

"It seems as if I've killed a friend," he said.

"No, no, not you." The light fluttered from her face. "I think, if you
look back far enough, I did it."

"You!"

She turned to look into the fire, and from the stillness of the room she
could tell how fiercely he was thinking, and though she, too, had much
to think of, she found herself waiting on his thoughts.

But when he spoke it was to say with a quickness that, made him rough:
"Would you like a message sent to Mr. Morton? I could send that lad
early in the morning."

He saw the blank widening of her eyes. "No, thank you." The faculties of
her mind rushed together, and cleared themselves, and even while she was
thinking, "Shall I tell him?" she was saying calmly: "I am not going to
marry Mr. Morton."

"Oh!" There was a certain foolishness in his tone. "I hadn't heard." The
silence was now busy and thick with thoughts.

She went upstairs to make herself fit to look upon her dead, and, taking
her lighted candle, she entered the room where he was lying. She had no
fear of him. She went and turned back the sheet as though she only went
to rouse him in the morning, and the familiarity of his striped flannel
garment was like a mockery of death. How could he be dead when his thin
hands protruded from the wristbands she had mended? But he was dead,
for he neither opened his eyes nor smiled at her. She looked down,
waiting.

"I'm here," she said aloud, but very low--"I'm here, Father."

But he was not there to answer her.

The lips which had smiled in dying had fallen stern, and the cheeks she
kissed were of a bitter cold. She sank to her knees and laid her hands
on his.

"Well, we loved each other, didn't we?" she said, and her swollen tears
fell into the lips parted to speak to him. "We loved each other, didn't
we?"

She knelt there, crying because he would not look at her, and, for the
first time, had no kind word. It seemed impossible that she should go on
living in a world without his voice, but she knew he had meant to
silence it so that he might give her something else. And she was not, in
truth, unhappy. She knew she was in the presence of a love infinitely
greater than any death, enduring when even the signs of death had
crumbled into dust and been gathered in to feed the eager body of earth,
and by that love she was ennobled beyond grief.

She dried her tears, smoothed back the grey wisp of hair her breathing
had disturbed, and went to the chair where Alexander had neatly laid her
father's clothes. She thought there might be a letter for her there, but
she found only the book of Shakespeare's sonnets which she had given
him, and inside it the latest picture of herself and one of Nancy's
youth.

She knelt by the widely opened window, and sensed the night. She thought
his spirit must be out there among the hills he loved; that he saw her
by the window, and could hear what she was telling him; knew what she
was thinking, and felt the swamping pain of her regrets. She stretched
her hands over the window-sill, forgetful of the figure on the bed,
appealing only to the departed spirit companioning the stars.

"You need not have done it," she said, "if I hadn't been so proud. But
I didn't tell you. Did you think you would never manage for us to meet?
And all the time, all the time, I loved him. Oh, why did I not tell you?
Forgive me, dear, forgive me. I was unfaithful to him and cruel to you,
and now----But how could I reckon with anyone as good as you?" Her head
drooped and rested on the woodwork, and she looked down the long avenue
of people she had loved and hurt. She lifted her head and beat her hands
upon the sill. "But I did love you, and you knew it--at least, I never
failed in giving love."

A low tap came on the door, and she opened it to Alexander.

"Won't you come downstairs?"

"Yes, I'm coming now." She kissed her father. "Say good-night to him."

He, too, stooped and kissed him. "He was the first man that was ever
kind to me."

Speaking seldom, they sat together in the parlour. They were both idle,
but Alexander smoked, and now and then they would lift their eyes from
the fire and look across the little space dividing them, and through the
smoke wreaths Alexander's eyes would soften at the sight of Theresa's
smiles. His memory was already stored with them. There was the frank one
for friendship, the slow one for thought; the little, twisted, mocking
one, the quick one that was an affirmation; and now this wavering one
that came with a pale flood of colour, and would not be stilled, and
stirred his heart as the lake water stirred the reeds.

Looking at his watch, he bade her to bed at last, and she rose with a
strange pleasure in obedience.

"You won't be afraid?" he asked.

"No. Will you be very far away?"

"At the end of the passage in what we call the store-room. They've put a
bed for me there. Theresa, you are not blaming me?"

"How could I?"

"Do you think he understood?"

"I know he did," she said firmly.

"Then why----"

Again there came the questioning and again her words outran the answer.
"I'll tell you in the morning--in the sunlight, please."

"You know?" She nodded. "In the morning, then. Good-night."

He lighted her to her bedroom door but when she had shut it and heard
him go down the stairs she wished the house were not quite so still, and
with the wish she heard a low, shuddering moan, and then another. That
was Clara Rutherford crying for her dead.

She undressed with fumbling, nervous fingers, and, stealing into bed,
she covered her ears to shut out the dreadful quiet punctuated by that
sound, yet she sat up again, compelled to listen while, with a regular
insistence, the moaning invaded the night. A little later there came a
stealthy, bumping sound along the passage, and she was ready to leap out
and bolt her door, when Alexander's voice came low and clear.

"It's me, Theresa. I'm sleeping just outside your door."

"Oh, is it you?" she cried.

"You won't be lonely now?"

"Oh no, I won't be lonely."

"You must go to sleep."

But she did not try to do that. She lay awake for the joy of being near
him.



CHAPTER XXX


Theresa had slept at last, but she had waked often out of dreadful
dreams and lain in a sweat of terror in spite of Alexander's nearness,
and so her mind had passed to picturing the manner of her father's
death. She saw it as a confusion of noise, and smoke, and fallen bodies;
she heard his last three piteous words, and felt strength fading from
her as it must have dropped from him, and the stern beauty of death was
lost in the welter she made of it.

She rose more wearied than she had gone to bed and had a white and
hollow face for Janet and Alexander when she descended to the kitchen.
She had gone down with no thought about herself, but when she looked at
Alexander a trembling shyness took her.

Through the kitchen door the sun came strongly, and the smell of the
larches was blown in. She hardly knew what she did as she stepped across
the threshold and held her palms upwards to the clean air; whether she
went for cleansing from the night or for refuge from Alexander, she did
not know nor did she question; she knew only that for the first time,
and in the house where her father and his were lying dead, Alexander's
presence shook her like a wind. But she had always loved the wind and
she had courage, and her shadowed eyes were steady when she sat opposite
to him at table, with a sunbeam shining on his head and hers, joining
them as by a bar.

They hardly spoke, and when the meal was over and Theresa had done what
household tasks she could, she went out to the horse-block and sat
there. Behind her there were violets growing in the little garden, and
they sent their sweetness up to her for comfort, and around were the
hills, assuring her of life's loveliness and truth.

The world was coloured with brilliant greens and blues, veiled by the
passing winds; the earth smelt of dampness and of growth; every tree and
bush was budding, and the streams were roaring with the energy of
spring; the impulse of all living things was leaping towards the sun;
the voices of wind, and water, and singing trees, and of the sheep
bleating on the hills, were praising life and the life-giver, while
upstairs her father's hands had stiffened in the fold of death. She
tried to teach herself that he was dead, but to that lesson she was dull
and deaf. She felt him near her in every brushing of the wind and every
scratching sound of the rose branches on the porch, so that she could
only shake her head and say he lived.

She looked up at the sound of footsteps, and saw Alexander in the lane.

"Will you come with me a little way," he said, "while it's still early?
Soon there will be people I'll have to see, and things to do. We'll both
be wanted, but now, while the world's so fresh and empty, can we be
together?"

She slipped from the horse-block and stood beside him.

"Which way?" she said.

"To the Broad Beck, but not under the trees. I want the sun."

They followed the grassy track and struck across the new green of the
bracken to the stream that rioted among the rocks, teasing itself into
foam, lashing itself into waterfalls, or lying in still pools. By one of
these, on a broad slab of stone, Theresa and Alexander halted. The sun
struck on the water and on them; it gilded the purple of Theresa's gown
until it was illuminated like a missal; it found the lurking red in
Alexander's hair, it turned hers to flame, and to each one it showed the
suffering of the other.

"Theresa," he said, "the sun is shining. You said you would tell me in
the sunshine, but if you cannot I will wait."

"No, I must tell you, because I said so, and because you must not blame
yourself." She held her hands behind her back, twisting them there, and
she looked up at him, frowning a little, with a rare appeal in her
unflinching eyes.

"He always wanted us to meet," she said. "I believe he did this so that
we might meet."

"And we had met."

"But then, I did not tell him."

"Why did you not?"

"Because I knew how much he wanted it. Can you not see? Oh, why must I
always speak the truth to you? But I do not care. It is the truth, and
you must make what you can of it." She was flushed with the colour of
pride, and pride had stilled her hands. "And even now I have not told
you all the truth. There is no need to tell you this, but I choose to do
so. It was not only because I saw what it was he wanted; it was because
I could not speak of that one day we had together, when I knew what it
was to have a friend and to forget myself. I wanted to keep that secret,
like a treasure, and it is a secret that has killed him. And these are
things I think I might have been forgiven for not telling you, but I
tell you because that day made you my friend. And there should be no--no
falseness between us."

He laughed, and caught suddenly at her hand, and let it go.

"I love the truth of you," he said. "Theresa, let me tell you now. There
shall be no shadows between you and me, unless you put them there. The
day on which you called me friend made me your lover. Theresa, can you
love me back? I am not satisfied with serving. I will not say I am. I
want all I have ever seen, or heard, or dreamt of you, and all I do not
know, all you may grow to be. Last night, when I was lying outside your
door, listening for the sound of you, I did not think about my mother; I
did not think about my father or yours. I remembered how you had put
your head against my arm, under the yews, and how you had smiled at me
in the firelight, and I could not sleep for hoping, and I thought you
must have heard me crying out to you; that perhaps the door would open,
and I should see you, like a moonbeam, and you'd put your hand in mine.
But the door kept shut----"

"Oh," she said on a long, low note, "do you think I did not want to open
it? Were you awake, too? Oh, Alexander, we've wasted half a night! We
shall never make it up. Here are my hands now." She put them shaking
into his, then snatched them from him. "No," she said, and knelt beside
the water. "Look, I'm washing them in water from the hills because I
once lent them to someone else. I only lent them, Alexander, but I
wasn't true. Oh, do you think they're clean?" She held them up,
glistening with drops.

"I cannot see unless you give them to me."

With one swift movement she was on her feet and he had her hands.

"These are all the diamonds you'll ever get from me," he said.

She laughed, throwing back her head. "You know you wouldn't give them to
me if you could."

"I should, I should. I'd give you all that man could give you."

"Ah! don't," she said soberly. "That's a silly kind of jealousy, but I
like it."

"And I am jealous. Do you think I'll ever forgive him for having touched
you, and put a ring on your finger, and set you on a horse, and promised
himself to give you all the beauty he could buy? Do you think I don't
want to outdo him a hundred times in those as in all other ways?"

"I did not think you were so simple," she said, smiling. "Oh, Alexander,
I want to cry. I needed you. I needed someone strong to lift me up and
understand those crying voices in me, and you have given me yourself!
Oh, will you let me cry?"

He was smiling at her in a way she had not seen before, teasingly and
with possession. "We'll have to get a place to sit comfortably in
first," he said, so that they laughed together.

"Let us sit on this stone," she said. "I promise not to cry, because
I've laughed instead, and the water seems to be making noises for me.
Let me have your hand. Isn't it wonderful? There's no need to talk, but
I want to do it. And there's nothing to explain. It's like being born
and knowing all about it--coming into the world grown up. I don't like
looking back into the dark."

She laid his hand against her eyes; he felt the twitching of her
eyelids, and when she showed her face, he saw it puzzled, reminiscent.

"Alexander, something happened the night before I told Basil I wouldn't
marry him. Were you thinking of me?"

He spoke in his queer, toneless voice. "Did I ever stop?"

She gave the laugh that no one else had heard, and clasped her hands
round his. "Oh, but you are the man I wanted! I mean, thinking very
specially. It was the tenth of March."

"What happened?"

"Someone woke me and drove me down the stairs into the night. Alexander,
was it you?"

"It wasn't me. Would I have meddled? Do you remember how you said you
must be free?"

"And you said I never could be, and it's true!"

"And was that all?"

"Yes, I went back to bed, but there _was_ someone. What is it?" She felt
how he had stiffened. "Your hand's not loving me. What is it?"

"It's Janet, the witch--the witch! It was that night I told her, and she
threatened me with her tricks. Theresa, was it then you knew you didn't
love that man? Could you not learn it for yourself?"

"I did, I did." He saw the swift lines of her throat as she raised her
head. He knew how she would look when she was angered.

"I had your letter for a pillow. Before I slept I knew I couldn't marry
him. I was only waiting to tell him in the morning, and I was yours that
night. It happened--that strange thing happened, after I knew--after!
How dare you think I didn't choose to do it!"

For a long time he looked at her. He had forgotten nothing of her face.

"It's not easy to believe you're all you are," he told her slowly.

She laughed again on her low note of joy.

"You always say the perfect thing. Here are my hands again. Oh, you poor
soul, you can't be half as happy as I am, for you have never been
engaged to someone you did not love. Or have you?"

"No. I wish you would not talk about that man. Theresa, I've got a bad,
black temper. I ought not to let you marry me."

"And I have a bright blazing one. There will be thunder and lightning
among these hills. Do you think I am afraid of your tempers?" Her lips
and her eyelids drooped, her grasp tightened, and she drew closer to
him. He felt her body tremble. "I'm afraid of nothing but your love,"
she said; and at the words he crushed her to him so that she felt the
hard and hurried beating of his heart and the fury of his kisses on her
hair.

"Oh, my heather flower," he said--"my heather flower!"

And the water babbled by, and a bird hung with spread wings like a
canopy above them, and the sheep cried to their young, and the wind blew
a strand of Theresa's hair across Alexander's face--a strand of
quivering gold, smelling of sun, and wind, and earth.

He took a deep strong breath, and put her from him. "We must go back,"
he said.

She looked quickly in his face "You are not thinking we should not feel
like this?"

"No, my heart, no."

"Because it's what he wanted us to feel. Oh, he knew. How could he know
so well? I am not ashamed of being happy, though he's dead. And this
day, and the sunshine, and all the beauty of the hills, are much more my
father than the one that's--that's lying on the bed. I'm sorry for your
sadness, but, except that, I haven't any of my own. Oh yes, I feel as if
I have just been born, and the world is new, too, and life is beginning
for you and me, and we are going to do things! But, Alexander, it isn't
only mothers who die in bearing children." She checked a sob, dropping
her head to her knees, and, looking past her, Alexander watched the
shadows on the hills.

"To-morrow Grace will come, and Uncle George. They wouldn't understand
if we looked happy, would they? Nobody would understand that death could
be so beautiful." She rose and stood beside him. "Alexander, why don't
you speak to me?"

He gave her the quick look she had loved to remember through the years.
"Theresa, do you see what he has done? He's joined us with a seal we
dare not break."

"Why should we want to break it?" she asked on a breath.

"Because we're frail and stupid, my beloved. Yes, you with your temper
and your pride, and me with the evil in me like a weed. We've got to be
more finely faithful than other folks. Do you think he had not seen
that? He had a poet's soul. Common kindnesses and loyalty will not be
memorial enough for him. We can give him nothing but the highest. Ah!
you mustn't think I wouldn't want to give it to you, that you don't
shine for me until I feel it's sacrilege to touch you, but though we may
live all our lives in more worship of each other than we dream of yet,
there'll be other things, Theresa. Hard work, and trouble, and
weariness, and poverty, and they may breed anger, and hard words, and
that unfaithfulness of the mind that's worse than any fleshly one. All
these might come, even to lovers such as you and me; but what would _he_
think? If we feel him in the wind and among the hills where you and I
are to live and work together, we'll live and work so that he need never
suffer for us. That's what he's done for us, Theresa. He might have
joined us in some other way, but not so surely, not so fast."

Her eyes were filled with awe and wonder for the man who had done this
thing and the one who understood. "I had a dream of waiting for you
among the hills," she said, "and now it has come true; but do you
remember that dream of Janet's--the one about the birds, the little ones
that grew to eagles? We've got to make that one come true as well. Oh,
Alexander, shall we ever do it?"

He shook his head as he bent to kiss her. "No, most dear," he said.

She gave that laugh which was of happiness. Their glances met and rested
in each other, and there was no shadow lying between their souls, and so
they entered again into the house where Life had clothed itself in the
quiet garments of Death.





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