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Title: Arundel
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made


ARUNDEL

BY

E. F. BENSON

AUTHOR OF "DODO," "MRS. AMES," ETC.


"And for those who follow the gleam there
is always light sufficient to show them their
way..."


NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

1915



CONTENTS


PROLOGUE       I.   The Call From Without
              II.   The Riddle Grows

BOOK ONE     III.   Comfortable Mrs. Hancock
              IV.   Comfortable Plans
               V.   Comfortable Settlements

BOOK TWO      VI.   Elizabeth Enters
             VII.   The Intermezzo
            VIII.   The Mountain-top
              IX.   Edward's Absence
               X.   Edward's Return
              XI.   The Telegram

BOOK THREE   XII.   April Evening
            XIII.   The Grisly Kittens
             XIV.   Heart's Desire



ARUNDEL



PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I

THE CALL FROM WITHOUT


Colonel Fanshawe was riding slowly back to his bungalow about an hour
before the sunset of a hot and brilliant day in the middle of March.
He had spent a long day in the saddle, for the Commander-in-Chief of
the Indian Forces was at Peshawar on a visit of inspection, and he had
reviewed and inspected and inspected and reviewed and given medals
and colours and compliments and criticism till the whole garrison,
who had been under arms on the parade ground since an early hour that
morning, was ready to drop with a well-earned fatigue. That evening
there was to be a great dinner-party followed by a dance at the house
of the Resident. To-morrow the Commander-in-Chief was to go up the
Khyber pass, returning just in time to catch the night train to Lahore,
arriving there at daybreak, and prepared to spend another day similar
to this. And yet, so reflected Colonel Fanshawe, he was made, to all
appearance, of flesh and blood, exactly like anybody else: indeed,
he was endowed with flesh to a somewhat phenomenal extent; for,
though not of unusual height, he swung a full eighteen stone into his
saddle, ate and drank in perfectly amazing quantities, and, without
doubt, would to-night prance genially and colossally from beginning
to end of every dance with a succession of the prettiest girls in
Peshawar. It was equally certain that at the conclusion he would go
in person to the bandmaster and beg as a personal favour for an extra
or two.... And Colonel Fanshawe, lean and slight and in excellent
condition, felt himself a pigmy and an invalid in contrast with this
indefatigable elephant who all day had seemed only to wax in energy
and boisterousness and monumental briskness. It was as if some huge
Government building had burst into active life: John Bull himself, as
in the pages of some patriotic print, had become incarnate, commanding
and guffawing and perspiring.

But the day, though fatiguing to everybody else except the
Commander-in-Chief, had been highly satisfactory. Twice had he
complimented Colonel Fanshawe on the smartness of his Pathan regiment,
and since the regiment was one of the two institutions for which the
Colonel lived and loved, it followed that in retrospect his habitual
content, which at all times was of a very sterling quality, had been
lifted to the levels of the sublime. And anticipation was up to the
level of retrospect, for the second of these institutions which engaged
all his energies and affection was the home towards which he was now
ambling along the dusty roads. In the imperturbable fashion of a man
who was not gifted with much imagination, he enjoyed what he had to
the almost complete exclusion of desiring that which he had not; and
though, if a genuine wishing-cap had been put ready to his hand, he
would certainly have had a request or two to make, he never, in the
absence of that apocryphal piece of headgear, let his mind dwell on
what it might have brought him. His wife, the second of that name, and
Elizabeth, the daughter of the first, almost completely exiled from
his mind all desires connected with his home, and were sufficient to
satisfy the emotional needs of a love which was not the less luminous
because it lacked the iridescence of romance. It burned with a steady
and unwinking flame, without rockets and multi-coloured stars, and was
eminently suited to light a man's way, so that he should go without
stumbling through the dusk of a hazardous world. For the sake of his
wife or of Elizabeth he would have given his life unquestioningly and
with cheerfulness, regretting the necessity should such arise, but he
would have done so without any of the ecstasy of self-sacrifice that
inspired the hymns and the beatitudes on the lips of martyrs. In this
sunny afternoon of middle age which had come to him there were none of
the surprising flames that glorify the hour of dawn.

The road from the parade ground through cantonments lay level and
dusty; carob-trees, dense and varnished of foliage, with the long
scimitar-shaped seed-pods of last year still clinging to them, met
and mingled their branches together overhead, giving a vault of
shadow from a midday sun, but now, as the day drew near to its close,
the level rays poured dazzling between the tree-trunks, turning the
dust-ridden air into a mist of dusky gold. In front, seen through the
arching trees, the huddled native town rose dim and amorphous through
the haze, and the acres of flowering fruit-trees were a flush of pink
and white petals. Southwards, level and infinite as the sea, the
Indian plain stretched to the farthest horizons, to the north rose the
hills shoulder over shoulder till they culminated in fleecy clouds,
among which, scarcely distinguishable, there glistened the immemorial
whiteness of the eternal snows. Here, down in the plain, the very
existence of those frozen cliffs seemed incredible, for, though there
were still a dozen days of March to run, it seemed as if the powers
of the air, in whose control is the great oven of India, had drawn the
damper, so to speak, out of that cosmetic furnace during the last week,
to see if the heating apparatus was all in order for the approaching
hot season, and Colonel Fanshawe's decision, against which there had
been the growlings of domestic mutiny, that Elizabeth should start for
England the next week, crystallized itself into the inexorable. He had
gone so far in the freshness of the morning hours to-day as to promise
her to reconsider his decision, but he determined now to telegraph for
her passage as soon as he got home.

He quickened his pace a little as he approached his gate, at the lure
of the refreshing hours that he had promised himself in his garden
before it was necessary to dress for the dinner and the ball. The hot
weather had already scorched to a cinder the herbs and grasses of
unwatered places, but no such tragedy had yet overtaken this acre of
green coolness, with its ditches and channels of unlimited irrigation,
where the unusual heat had but caused the expansion, in a burst of
premature luxuriance, of all the flowers that should have decorated
April. So brilliant was this galaxy, that Colonel Fanshawe could
hardly regret it, though it meant that even now the days of the garden
were numbered, and that through April it would sleep unblossoming,
till the rains of May stirred it into that brief and delirious frenzy
of flowering again that lasts but for a day or two, in some sultry
intermission of the streaming skies that so soon open their flood-gates
again, and cover the steaming earth with disjected petals. But at
present, though April would pay the price in barrenness and withered
leaf, summer and spring were in flower together, and tulips and
petunias, marigolds and flame-flower, morning-glory and bougainvillæa
made a jubilance of many-coloured carpet, while, more precious than all
to the Colonel's soul, his rose hedges of crimson ramblers, Gloire de
Dijon, and the briars of Peshawar flared with innumerable fragrance. A
few days before, reluctantly, and with some inkling of the sentiments
of a murderer who plans a crime, he had abandoned, marooned, so to
speak, his tennis-court to die of drought, but the motive of his deed
really gave a verdict of nothing more bloodthirsty than justifiable
grassicide, for the well had given unmistakable signs that it was
not capable of keeping the whole garden alive. Besides--and here for
a moment his content was clouded again--Elizabeth was starting for
England next week, and the tennis-court became an investment that paid
no dividends in pleasure. His wife never played; she would as soon have
thought of coming downstairs to breakfast, and certainly she never did
that. She preferred dancing all night.

He gave his horse into the charge of his orderly at the gate, and, a
little stiff and bow-legged from so many hours in the saddle, walked
up the short drive that lay between the abandoned tennis-court and the
rose-garden which was in full effervescence of flower and fragrance.
Between him and his garden there was a relation as intimate almost and
as comprehending as that between two personalities, and had some one
with the gift of vivid yet easily intelligible eloquence presented
his feeling towards it, as towards some beautiful dumb creature with
a living identity of its own, the Colonel, though it had never struck
him in that light before, would have acknowledged the truth of the
imagery. Just now this silent sweet-smelling creature had begun to make
a stir again after the hot windlessness of the day, for the breeze
of sunset, invigorating as wine, had just sprung up, and wafted the
evidence of its fragrant life in sheets and webs of perfume through the
sibilant air, while as evidence of Elizabeth there came through the
open windows of the drawing-room as complicated a _mêlée_ of sound from
the grand piano. Devoted and affectionate as father and daughter were
to each other, Colonel Fanshawe felt slightly shy of Elizabeth when
she was at the piano, for Elizabeth playing was Elizabeth transformed.
A sort of fury of passion and intentness possessed her; she evoked
from the strings a personality as real to herself as was his garden
to the Colonel, and all this intensity, as her bewildered father
occasionally said to himself, was born from the compositions of "some
German Johnny." In that rapt adoration of melody Elizabeth's mother
lived again, just as she seemed to glow again from within Elizabeth's
flushed face and sparkling eyes as she played. So, refraining from
interrupting his daughter in her ecstatic communings with the
particular German Johnny who engaged her attention at the moment, the
Colonel stepped softly round the corner, and ordered himself a cup
of tea in his bedroom, with which he refreshed himself as he adopted
a garden-garb for his hot and close-fitting uniform. His wife, as he
well knew, would be resting in her sitting-room in anticipation of
the fatigue of the dinner and dance which were to close the day. Had
there been no dance or dinner in prospect, she would be doing the same
thing in repair of previous fatigue. She was one of those women who are
capable of exertion as long as that over which they exert themselves
furnishes them with amusement; an hour's uncongenial occupation tired
her completely out. But she was able to do anything she wanted to, and
such a performance under such circumstances seemed but to invigorate
her. Her husband rejoiced in her strength, and sympathized with her
weakness with equal sincerity.

He was no lily-handed gardener, no finger-tip lover, who, with an
ivory-handled _sécateur_, snips off minute dead twigs, and selects
a rosebud for his buttonhole, but went about his business with the
tender ruthlessness that true gardening demands. Up one of the pillars
of the veranda there climbed together a great ramping mass of blue
convolvulus and an Ard's pillar; and the constricting plant was quietly
intent on strangling the rose. Now, the convolvulus was an interloping
adventuress, invading territories that were not her own, and
regretfully but inexorably Colonel Fanshawe committed murder, snipping
off the sappy stem at its root, and gently disentangling its voluted
tendrils. As he stripped it down the new bull-pup came with sentimental
sighs out of the house, and then, becoming aware, no doubt by some
subtle brain-wave, that the murdered morning-glory was an enemy, flung
himself on the bestrewn tendrils, and got tightly involved therein,
and rolled away in a state of wild-eyed and bewildered entanglement,
barking hoarsely. Upon which an observant pigeon on the roof remarked
quite clearly, "Look at the fool! Look at the fool!" Simultaneously,
with a loud false chord, the wild torrents of notes within ceased.
There came a sound quite exactly as if somebody had banged down the
lid of a piano, and Elizabeth came out on to the veranda. She was very
tall, as tall almost as her father, and the long lines of her figure
showed slim and boylike through the thin blouse and blue linen skirt
against which the evening breeze pressed, moulding them to the limbs
within. Her hair lay thick and low above her small face, and her mouth,
in spite of the heightened colour of her cheeks and the vividness
of her eyes, drooped a little as if fatigued. She had clasped her
long-fingered hands behind her head, and she stood there a moment
without seeing her father, with amusement gathering in her eyes as she
observed the comedy of the constricted puppy. Then, turning her head,
she saw him.

"Oh, daddy!" she cried. "Are you back? And, if so, why didn't you
tell me? The fact is that you love your garden better than your only
daughter."

Colonel Fanshawe had two nails and a piece of bass string in his mouth
destined for the support of the disentangled rose, and could give no
assurance beyond an incoherent mumbling.

"It is true," said Elizabeth. "And what makes me feel it more keenly is
that I haven't had any tea. Daddy, do leave your silly plants and talk
to me. I haven't spoken to a soul all day. Mamma had lunch in her room.
She is saving up for this evening, and I haven't seen anybody. In fact,
it has all been rather dismal. I've been playing the piano, and I have
come to the conclusion that I shall never be able to play at all. So I
banged down the lid, and I shall never open it again. Do get down from
that silly ladder and talk to me."

Colonel Fanshawe was methodical. He put the two nails in a box and
looped up the spray of the rose in a manner which, though temporary,
would last till he could get to work again.

"That sounds rather a dismal little chronicle, Lizzy," he said. "So if
you feel that we can't talk while I go on gardening----"

"It has nothing to do with my feelings," remarked Elizabeth; "it is a
mere question of external impossibilities. Have you had tea?"

"Yes."

"Then come and see me have mine. I shall eat quantities and quantities
of tea, and not have any dinner, I think. One can't dine alone, and
you and mamma are dining out at the Residency and going to the dance.
Daddy, I do think mamma might have let me go to the ball; I'm eighteen,
and if one isn't old enough to go to a dance at eighteen, I don't know
when one is."

Elizabeth paused a moment, and put her nose in the air.

"I don't believe mamma will want me to come out till it is time for me
to go in again," she remarked.

Colonel Fanshawe had an admirable gift of silence. When he concluded
that there was no advantage to be gained by speech he could refrain
from it, instead of, like the most part of mankind, making a series of
injudicious observations. At the bottom of Elizabeth's remark, as he
well knew, there lay stewing a herb of rather bitter infusion, which he
had no desire to stir up. But Elizabeth, so it seemed, felt disposed to
do the stirring herself.

"Mamma will have the next eight months all to herself," she said, "and
she can dance all the time. I wish to state quite explicitly that I
think she might have let me go to this dance. I have told her so, and
so for fear she should tell you, I do it myself."

Elizabeth's eye wandered on to the path, and she broke off suddenly.

"Oh, my beloved Shah Jehan," she said, "you will certainly strangle
yourself."

This appeared highly probable, for Shah Jehan, the young and imperial
bull-pup, had managed to entangle himself so strictly in the yards
of strong convolvulus which the Colonel had cut down that his eyes
were starting out of his head, and only the most remote sort of growl
could escape from his enveloped throat. With the cake-knife, which she
snatched up from the tea-table, Elizabeth ran to his rescue.

"It's such a blessing, daddy," she said as she returned to him, "that
you and I are so very much one person, because we can say anything we
like to each other, and it is certain that the other one--how tiresome
language is--the one I mean, who listens only really listens to his own
thoughts."

"Ah, my dear Elizabeth!" said he suddenly, laying his hand on her arm.
If Elizabeth's mother lived again when Elizabeth played, masked behind
her daughter's face, she appeared with no guard of flesh in between
when Elizabeth said that.

She drew his hand through her arm and strolled with him up the path.

"It is so, daddy," she repeated; "and when I grumble to you it is only
as if I grumbled to myself. Mamma might have let me go to this one
dance, and she doesn't, because she wants all the dancing she can get
herself, and naturally doesn't want to sit in a row instead. But she'll
have to let me come out next autumn. Oh, by the way, I had forgotten
the most important thing of all. Have you settled when I am to go to
England?"

"Yes, dear; next week. I have telegraphed for your passage."

"What a loathsome and disgusting daddy," remarked Elizabeth.

"Possibly! But the loathsome daddy isn't going to have a tired and
white-faced daughter, if he can avoid it. I shall miss you more than
you can possibly guess, Lizzie."

Elizabeth gave a great sigh.

"I'm so glad!" she said. "I hope you will be thoroughly unhappy. I
shan't like it, either. But mamma won't mind; that's a comfort."

"Elizabeth, I wish----"

"Yes, I know, dear; so do I. You needn't explain. I wish to begin to
eat my enormous tea also, so let us sit down. I don't want to go to
England; and, besides, staying with Aunt Julia is exactly like lying
on a feather-bed, with all the luxuries of the season on a table close
to you, and the windows tightly shut. And Edith is like the clean
lace-border to the pillow. I shall be so comfortable."

"Well, that's something, Lizzie."

"It isn't; it's nothing and worse than nothing. I don't want to be
comfortable. Nothing that is really alive is ever comfortable. Aunt
Julia and Edith and all Heathmoor generally are dead and buried. I am
not sure they do not stink----"

"My dear----"

"As it says in the Bible," said Elizabeth, "nobody there is ever hungry
or thirsty, nobody is unhappy or happy, nobody wants. They are all like
fishes in an aquarium; you can't get at them because there is a sheet
of strong glass in between. And there aren't any tigers or burning
ghats or cobras or cholera."

"I shouldn't be particularly sorry if there were fewer of those
blessings here," remarked her father.

"Perhaps; but they help to make things real. It is so easy to lose all
sense of being alive if you are too comfortable."

Elizabeth pointed to the molten west.

"There," she said, "that's a sunset. But in England for the most part
they wrap it up in nice soft thick clouds, so that it isn't a real
sunset. And dear Aunt Julia wraps up her own life and the life of every
one about her in the same way. She mops up every one's vitality as with
a sponge by thinking exclusively about not getting wet or tired. Oh,
how I love this naked, tired, wicked, mysterious land, with all its
deadliness and its dust and its sunsets and its secrets, which I shall
never fathom any more than I can fathom Schumann! I'm a savage, you
know. I love wild, unhappy things----"

Elizabeth broke off suddenly.

"I don't believe even you understand what I mean, daddy," she said.

"Yes, my dear, I do," said he. "I could tell you exactly what you mean.
But have your say first; you have not nearly done yet. I will tell you
what you mean when you have finished."

Elizabeth laughed.

"That will be a good thing," she said, "because, though I know that I
mean something, I often have not the least idea what it is. Daddy, I
wish I was a boy so terribly sometimes, and I know you do too. If I
was a boy I would get up now and kiss you, and walk straight off into
the direction of where the moon is just going to rise. I would have
adventures--oh, such adventures!"

"My dear, you would get malaria, and come home next morning with a
violent headache and ask me for some quinine."

She shook her head.

"You are wrong," she said. "I wouldn't come back even to you for
years, not until I had learned what it all means. I would be afraid
of nothing; I would shrink from nothing. Perhaps I should see Malaria
herself in the jungle down there by the Indus--a tall, white-faced
woman, with golden irises to her eyes, and I would talk to her and
learn about her. I would go into the temple of the Brahmins at Benares
and listen to them preaching sedition. I would sit by the corpse as it
burned by the river bank, watching it, oh, so quietly, and loving it.
I would go into the opium dens and learn how to dream.... Learn how to
dream! I wonder if that is what I want to do? I think it must be that.
Sometimes when I am playing I begin to dream, and just as I am getting
deep I strike a false chord and wake myself up, or mamma comes in and
says it is time for me to go driving with her."

Elizabeth had forgotten about the enormous tea she had intended to
eat, and still sat upright on the edge of her chair, looking out over
the gathering night. Already in the swiftly darkening dusk the colours
were withdrawn from the flower-beds, and only the heavy odours gave
token of their blossoming. A streak of dwindling orange lingered in the
west; above, in the fathomless blue, stars that five minutes before had
been but minute pinpricks of luminance were grown to yellow lamps and
globes of light. Somewhere in the lines a bugle suddenly blared out its
message to the stillness and was silent again. A little farther off a
tom-tom beat with endless iteration.

Then she spoke again, more rapidly.

"It is only by dreaming that you can get close to the world," she said,
"and hope to get at its meaning. People who are completely awake spend
all their time in doing things that don't matter. You, for instance,
daddy--you and your inspections and reviews. What does it all come to?
Would this world be one whit the worse if you didn't do any of it? Yet
perhaps I am wronging you, for, anyhow, you can go mooning about your
garden for hours together. Let me see--where had I got to?"

Colonel Fanshawe was watching Elizabeth a little uneasily. This strange
mood of hers was not new to him. Half a dozen times before he had known
her go off into these dim rhapsodies, and they somewhat disconcerted
him. He made an effort to bring her back into realms less shadowy.

"Where had you got to?" he asked. "Upon my word, my dear, I don't think
you had got anywhere particular. Wouldn't it be well to begin that
enormous tea of which you spoke?"

But the girl was fathoms deep in this queer reverie of speculation. She
shook her head at him.

"No; you don't understand yet," she said. "One has to dream first
before one can do any good while one is awake. Unless you call baking
bread and milking cows doing good. You have to penetrate, penetrate.
It is a kingdom with high walls round it, and I expect there are many
gates. Perhaps we all have our own gates; perhaps mine is a gate made
of music and yours is a garden-gate. Don't misunderstand me, daddy,
or think I am talking nonsense, or think, again, that what I mean is
religion, though I dare say there is a religion-gate as well. All I
know is that you have to pass dreaming through one of the gates in
order to get inside the kingdom. And when you do get inside you find
that it isn't so much that you have got inside the kingdom as that the
kingdom has got inside you. I know it must be so. Each of us, I expect,
has to find himself, and when he has found himself.... Oh, God knows!"

She broke off, and instantly poured herself out a cup of tea.

"I am so hungry," she said, "and I had quite forgotten. While I eat and
drink, daddy, you shall keep your promise and tell me what I mean. You
said you knew. Or have I been talking the most dreadful rubbish? But,
if so, I am rubbish myself, for what I have said is Me."

Colonel Fanshawe lit a cigarette.

"No, my dear, you haven't been talking rubbish," he said. "But if I
had said exactly the same it would have been rubbish." He meditated a
moment or two, for, though he felt what he wanted to say, it was rather
difficult for him to find the words for it. At the same time also
there was that in what Elizabeth had said which strangely moved him;
it recalled to him in this sunny afternoon of life something of what
he had felt when he brought home, worshipping and loving, Elizabeth's
mother.

"You have talked admirable sense, dear," he said, "for the very simple
reason that you are eighteen. But it would be rubbish in my mouth at
forty-eight. You feel that you are surrounded by delicious mysteries,
into the heart of which you mean to penetrate. You can do it too, and
I so earnestly hope you will. While you are yet young you can fall in
love."

Elizabeth looked at him in disappointed amazement.

"Is that all?" she asked.

"I assure you it is enough. You will not believe it now----"

"But fall in love?" said the girl again. "With a man? Just with a
common man?"

"Yes, just with a common man," said he. "At least, it is quite certain
that the immense majority of mankind will call him a common man. You
will find that he makes everything beautiful."

"But I know how beautiful it all is already," said she.

"Yes, and it all puzzles you. You don't know what it means. Well, it
means what I have told you--love."

"Oh, daddy, is that all?" said the girl again.

"In a way, it is. I mean that you can't go beyond that. But----"

Again he paused, feeling a sudden shyness, even with his own daughter,
in speaking of anything that concerned him so intimately.

"But though you can't go beyond love," he said, "you can go into
it--penetrate, penetrate, as you said just now, yourself. And the more
you penetrate into it the more you will see that there is no end to it,
and no beginning either. And then you will call it by another name."

He paused for a moment, and got up as he heard himself somewhat shrilly
summoned from within the house.

"It seems to you all rather dull, I am afraid, my dear," he said, "but
it isn't."

Elizabeth rose also.

"But why would it be nonsense for you to speak of it as I did?" she
asked. "And why is it excellent sense for me to do so?"

"Because when you are forty-eight, my dear, you will have had to learn
a certain sort of patience and indulgence, which is quite out of place
when you are eighteen. You will have seen that the people who bake
bread and milk cows and review troops, as I do, may conceivably be
doing--well, doing quite nicely. But you are quite right to think them
useless old fogies at present!"

Elizabeth gave him a quick little kiss.

"You are a darling!" she said. "And now I am going to vanish swiftly
round the corner of the veranda. Mamma has called you three times and
you haven't answered. You will get into trouble, and so I desert you."

Elizabeth's amiable scheme was executed a little too late. She had
barely got half-way down the veranda when her stepmother rustled out
of the drawing-room, already dressed for her party. Her light, slight
figure was still like a girl's--like a girl's, too, was her evening
dress, with its simple, straight cut. Nor did her face--smooth,
delicate, and soft--belie the impression; but her forehead and the
outer corners of her eyes were a little lined, as if a sleepless night
had momentarily devitalized her youth. And her voice, when she spoke,
was old--old and querulous.

"Bob, I have been calling and calling you!" she said. "And are you not
dressed yet? What have you been doing? Elizabeth, why did you not send
your father to dress? We shall be late, as usual, and if husband and
wife are late every one always thinks it is the wife's fault. Do go and
dress, my dear; and Elizabeth, my darling, will you come and talk to
me while I wait for him? I am so dreadfully tired! I am sure I do not
know how I shall get through the evening. What a pity you are not a
year older, and then you could go instead of me and let me pass a quiet
evening at home! Or why are not you and I going to have a dear little
evening alone together?"

Elizabeth retraced her steps.

"I am quite willing to go instead of you, mamma!" she said.

"Dearest, I know how unselfish you are. But you must keep your sweet
girlish freshness another year, and not tire yourself with sitting up
and dancing all night. I know you think I ought to have let you go
to-night, but you must allow me to judge of that. Indeed, my dear, I
feel sure you do."

This little speech was admirably characteristic of Mrs. Fanshawe. At
one moment she would be finding fault with everybody, at the next she
would shower tenderness on them. It mattered nothing to her that only
a few hours ago she and Elizabeth had exchanged peculiarly clear-cut
and opposed views on the subject of this dance; she was quite capable,
a few hours later, of assuming that they were quite in accord about
it. She never had the smallest qualms on the subject of her own
sincerity, as is the habit of thoroughly insincere people. She was
merely quite determined to get her own way over any point in which she
had a preference, and, having got it, always proceeded to make herself
charming in a rather helpless and clinging kind of manner. Whether her
husband had ever gone so far as to admit even to himself the fact of
her insincerity is doubtful. Where his affection was engaged he lost
all power of criticism; where he loved he swallowed whole.

Mrs. Fanshawe gave a delicate little sigh--a very perfect and appealing
little sigh. It might have been supposed, so finished was it, so
perfectly phrased, that she had practised it for years in private. Such
was not the case; it was quite natural to her artificial self, and came
to her lips as spontaneously as song to a thrush.

"We must see a great deal of each other these next days, Elizabeth,"
she said, "before you go off to all the gaiety and delights of England.
How I long to come with you, for I am sure the hot weather will utterly
knock me up; but of course my duty is with your father. I should not
dream of leaving him while I went home to enjoy myself."

"But you will go up to the hills next month, mamma, will you not?" said
the girl. "And stop there till the autumn? And you will like that,
won't you?"

Mrs. Fanshawe gave the famous little sigh again.

"Like it? My dear, it is the emptiest, emptiest life," she said;
"nothing but gossip and parties all day and dancing in the evening.
I would far sooner stop down here with your father, and only go away
with him when he can get off. But of course he would not hear of that,
for he knows very well that to spend the summer here would kill me. I
should not dream of distressing him by suggesting it."

Occasionally Elizabeth's patience gave way before the accumulation of
such insincerities. In general she put up with them unrebelliously,
adapting herself to the experience of daily life. But now and then she
rose in flagrant and unsuspected mutiny. She did so on this occasion,
as her father appeared again dressed for this evening's functions.

"Daddy," she said, "mamma has been telling me how much she would like
to stop here with you instead of going up to the hills. Wouldn't that
be nice for you? It sounds a charming plan, mamma."

Mrs. Fanshawe did not suffer a moment's discomposure. She took
Elizabeth's chin daintily in her fingers and gave her a little
butterfly kiss, which could not disarrange anybody's complexion.

"Darling, what an idea!" she said. "What can I have been saying to make
you think I meant that! Good-night, my little sweet one. Go to bed
early, and I shall come to my room like a mouse, so as not to disturb
you. And, in turn, dear, would you mind not beginning to practise till,
shall we say, eleven to-morrow morning. Begin then and wake me up with
some delicious thing like what you were playing so very early this
morning. Good-night, sweet Cinderella!"

Elizabeth's rebellion vanished in a sense of amusement. She knew
that she might as well expect to cause a blush of embarrassment on
the face of the serene moon, by repeating to a mere mortal some
unconsidered remark of hers, as to cause her stepmother a moment's loss
of self-composure, and she smiled at the butterfly lips. Even when
Mrs. Fanshawe caused her the greatest irritation she could not banish
altogether the instinct of protection and tenderness towards that
remarkably well-equipped little lady. She was really about as capable
of taking care of herself as an iron-clad battleship anchored in a
calm sea, with guns agape and torpedo-nets spread, but she conveyed so
subtle an impression of dependence and timidity that even the victims
of her most trying insincerities relented towards her as towards a
pretty child eager for enjoyment. It was so easy to strike the smile
off her face.

"Good-night, little mamma!" said Elizabeth. "Have a nice time and dance
every dance. And I shan't disturb you to-morrow by my practising, as I
am going with daddy up the Khyber."

"My darling, won't that be rather a long day for you? I hoped, perhaps,
we should spend to-morrow quietly together, you and I."

"Oh no, not a bit long!" said Elizabeth, again with a little spark
of irritation. "I shan't have spent all night dancing like you.
Good-night, dear daddy! I shall be ready to start at eight."

Elizabeth made a renewed but absent-minded attack on her tea when the
others had gone, countermanded dinner, and, in spite of her lately
registered vow never to touch a piano again, went back into the
drawing-room and opened it. A modern musician, a modern and ordinary
concert-frequenter, indeed, would have pitied the rusticity of her
old-fashioned taste, for not only were the works but even the names
of later authors unknown to her, and at the present moment she was
finding Schumann's Noveletten a source of rapture and mystery to her.
But, however old-fashioned in taste, she had the root of the matter
in her profound love of melody and her secret, unswerving sense that
in music was contained the riddle and the answer of the world. She,
even as all others who have felt the incommunicable spell that lies
in beauty of sound, knew that to put her feeling into words, or even
into the cramping outlines of definite thought, was to distort and
parody it, for the essence of the whole matter was that its spell was
wordless. Images, of course, thronged in spate through her mind as she
played or listened to music; sometimes it was a figure with veiled face
that sang; sometimes it was a band of militant spirits who marched;
sometimes through many-coloured mists, that grew thinner and more
opalescent as a climax approached, there shone an ineffable light.
But whatever image there came to her, she felt its inadequacy; it was
at the most what a photograph is compared to the landscape which it
records. Music was music; to those who understood, that would be a more
satisfactory statement than any array of images which it suggested.

To-night as she played she found running, like a strong undertow
beneath sunlit and placid surfaces, certain words of her father. Was
it, indeed, love that inspired this beauty? If so, how was it that she
who so ceaselessly worshipped its manifestation had never a glimpse
of the spirit that inspired it?... He had said more than that. He had
said--here the ripple of the triplets enthralled and enchained her
for a moment--he had said that for her the love of a common man would
interpret things for her.

Elizabeth was playing with divided mind. Her fingers, that is to say,
already schooled to the notes, rendered bar after bar to her inner, her
contemplative self, while her thoughts, that swarm of active honey-bees
that bring the crude treasure to the hive, were busy on their quests.
Love, he had said, would teach her. Had love taught Schumann this
moon-melody, this star-sown heaven of song?... Had the thought of
Madame Schumann made vocal to him the magic spell?... This was a thing
to smile at. Daddy did not understand, of course, what music was. He
did not know how far it transcended in reality all else that can be
felt or thought.

But, to do him justice, that was not the sum, the conclusion of his
words. The love of a man, he had said, would teach her love, and
the dwelling in that would teach her that love had neither end nor
beginning, and she would call it by another name.

Instantly and ludicrously an image presented itself, the image of the
regimental church, with its pitch-pine pews, its crude windows, its
encaustic tiles, its braying harmonium. Yet all these unlovely objects
somehow symbolized to her father all and more than all that music
symbolized to her. And he was not imaginative; he was not poetical; he
was not artistic. But to him, here was the one eternally satisfying
answer to all questions that could ever be asked.

Elizabeth's fingers had come to the end of the first Novelette, but her
unconscious mind, even as her thinking mind, heeded them no longer. The
whole of her mind, conscious and unconscious alike, peered eagerly into
this, asking itself what it saw there. And it saw nothing except the
coloured glass and the pitch-pine; heard nothing but the wheeze of the
harmonium, and the somewhat bucolic merriment of a chant in C major.

She rose from the piano and strolled out into the yellow,
honey-coloured moonlight--a moonlight not pale and cold, but partaking
of the ardour and the weariness of the Indian day. She recalled all
that religion, direct religious worship, that is to say, and adoration
of a personal and inner principle, had meant to her life, and, fully
honest with herself, she saw how intensely little, how infinitesimally
small that had been. There were her childish prayers, first of all,
sentences which she could never remember having learned, for they came
out of her earliest mists of childhood, and she could no more recollect
being taught either them or their meaning than she could recollect
being taught to wash her face. They were both on exactly the same
plane; they belonged to the ritual of getting up and going to bed.
There was washing to be done; there were buttons to be negotiated;
there were prayers to be said. She had taken it on trust that these
performances had to be gone through; the reason for them had never
interested her. Then a further piece of observance had been introduced
into the routine of life, and with her best frock and hat she had
stood and sat and knelt, sometimes with tedium, sometimes in absorbed
attention to interesting members of the congregation, while words were
recited, and hymns sung. It was rather pleasant to recognize among the
formulas of public worship her own bedside ejaculations, just as it is
pleasant to recognize familiar faces in a crowd. It was pleasant also
to be encouraged to join her small voice in the more cheerful intervals
of singing. Church, in fact, was a not unattractive way of spending an
hour on Sunday morning, and was part of Sunday in precisely the same
degree and with exactly the same meaninglessness as her prayers were
part of the ritual of dressing and undressing. Much of what was recited
there was connected with the Jews who had astounding adventures in
Egypt and in the wilderness.

She had heard, she had listened, she had been taught, prepared for
confirmation, and taken to communion. She supposed that she believed
that she was a Christian, but she believed, for that matter, in
Australia, and, for that matter, she knew she was English. But neither
her belief in Australia nor in the truth of Christianity was coloured
with emotion or directed her actions. She would not, as far as she was
aware, behave any differently if Australia was suddenly swallowed up in
the ocean, or if the historical facts on which Christianity was based
were proved to be fallacious. In no way did either fact enter into her
life. She was not, for instance, kind and honest and truthful because
she was a Christian.

But she knew that in beauty she sought a meaning that she had never
yet found, that at times she agonized to discover, and catch hold of,
something on which to rest, from which to derive....

She had wandered down the length of the dusky garden alleys between
the roses and yellow mimosas until she had come to the low stone wall
at the bottom of her father's garden. Here the cantonments ended, and
half a mile of dry dusty land lay between her and the native city,
which rose a black blot against the blue of the night sky. A few low
huts of cattle-tenders were scattered about, and the feather-like
plumes of tamarisk, and clear-cut aloes broke the level monotony. One
such aloe close at hand flowered a few days before, and now the great
stalk, fifteen feet high, with its cluster of blossoms at the end of
the horizontal twigs, stood like a telegraph pole across the face of
the moon, and Elizabeth wondered at this prodigious force that from
the empty air and barren soil raised in so few days this triumphant
engine and distributor of life. For years this plant had silently and
slowly grown, a barren growth in a barren land; then suddenly it had
been caught in the whirlpool of production, of fruition, and with a
stupendous output, which should cause its own exhausted death, had
erected that beacon flame with that torch of transmitted life. Had
it felt a death-bed revelation, as it were? Was it satisfied to bear
witness to life and to die? What did it mean? What did it all mean?

A small trodden track lay just below the three-foot wall on which she
leaned, and at the moment she heard something stir there close to her.
Looking over, she saw that an old man was squatting there. He had a
long white beard that fell nearly to his waist; he was naked but for
the loin-cloth about his middle, and by his side lay a tall crutch and
an empty begging-bowl of wood. But round his shoulders, which glistened
in the moonlight, she saw that there was bound the three-fold cord that
marks a Brahmin.

Apparently he heard her movement as she leaned over, and turned his
head towards her. Deadly weakness and exhaustion were printed there,
but more clearly than that there shone from it a quiet indwelling joy,
an expression of rapture, of ecstasy.

Elizabeth spoke to him in the vernacular.

"You want food?" she said.

"I want nothing, lady," said he.

Elizabeth suddenly felt that there was something here for _her;_ that
this aged, quiet face, so full of joy, so shadowed by weakness, had a
message. The feeling was instinctive and unaccountable.

"I will get you food in a moment," she said.

"I do not want food," said he.

Elizabeth put her hand on the top of the low wall and easily vaulted
over.

"But you are tired and hungry," she said, "and you must have travelled
far from your native place to come up here. Where are you from?"

"From Benares. I have searched all my life, but to-day my search is
over."

A sudden wave of uncontrollable emotion seized the girl.

"Oh, tell me what you have searched for?" she said. "What _is_ it?"

"It is the Life itself," he said. "And I have found."

He fell back, and lay quite still, with open eyes and smiling mouth.
Even as he said he had found.



CHAPTER II

THE RIDDLE GROWS


In these days of the diffusion of the products of trade and the
benefits doubtful and otherwise of civilization, when the Amir of
Afghanistan has a piano, and the Grand Llama of Thibet a bicycle, it
must not shock the reader to know that Elizabeth travelled up the
Khyber Pass in the company of her father and the Commander-in-Chief
in a motor-car. That military hero who had danced three-quarters of
the night with the young ladies of Peshawar, not singling out any one
for his favours, but cutting up his heart into a large number of small
pieces, and giving one to each, was delighted to find there was yet
another charming maiden whom he had not yet seen, and, rolling his
jolly sides with laughter, supposed that there had been a conspiracy
among the beauties of Peshawar to keep the fairest of them all out of
the ballroom. Gallantry and excessive animal spirits are apt to be
rather disgusting in elderly and obese persons, but the vitality of
this amiable old warrior was so genuine in its boyishness that the
primmest of the sex that he so indiscriminately adored were disarmed
by his monstrous flatteries. But when our party had passed the fort of
Jamrud that guards the Indian end of the historic road, and entered on
the defile which from immemorial days has been the coveted key that has
locked and unlocked the treasure of India, each yard of which has been
bought and paid for in blood, Sir Henry's gallant loquacity was abated,
and the magic of the most historic highway in the world cast its spell
on him.

Elizabeth had hardly slept last night, but that which had kept her
still and wakeful during the dark hours had been so strong a stimulus
to her mind, that morning saw no haggard cheeks and drooping eyelids,
but an alert and fresh-coloured face. That strange sudden death of
the white-haired traveller had not in the least shocked or terrified
her, for her whole soul was full of the discovery of how wonderful and
beautiful a thing is death to one who has lived, and who, like this
aged Brahmin, had looked upon it not as a cold hand that locks the
gates of the sepulchre, but as a friend who opens a door into a fuller
life, an ampler perception. Hitherto she had never looked on death,
and in so far as she thought of it at all, viewed it as a remote and
cruel contingency, horrible to contemplate and best forgotten. She
had no idea that it could be like _that,_ that calm moment of healing
that had not distorted the peace and the joy on the old man's face,
but had merely wiped off, as if it had been some travel-stain, some
superficial blur, the weariness and the age that had a moment before
overlaid it. She found, too, that she had no horror at the touch of
the lifeless shell, and had helped the servants to move the body. But
before she had called for assistance she had sat a minute or two alone
with the body, the face of which was calmer and more serene than the
flooding moonlight that illuminated it, and had kissed, in a sort of
inexplicable reverence and tenderness, the lined forehead.

And all night long that face had remained with her. If she shut
her eyes it hovered before her in the darkness of her closed lids,
answering the question she did not know how to frame. Triumph,
conviction, certainty, attainment was the response. She could not doubt
that this death by the wayside of but one of the teeming millions, and
that one so aged, so stricken, was a royal entry from an ante-chamber
into a throne-room. She had seen a soul attain; the dead smiling face
no less than the last words which the triumphant lips had spoken
assured her of it. All his life he had sought, knowing what he sought;
as yet she but felt the conviction that there was something to seek.

For a while, however, all this sank out of sight in her mind, as if
she had dropped treasure into a well. It was there safe, and when she
dredged for it she would find it again, but for the present, as they
wound upwards on the narrow road, the magic of the way enchained her.
Barer and more precipitous rose the barren hill-sides of neutral native
territory, between which wound the narrow riband of the English road.
All the way along it, within communicable distance from each other, the
sentries of the Khyber Rifles guarded the pass, to give safe conduct
to the caravan that came with carpets and dried fruits and incense
from the unknown country beyond, and to that which, with the products
of civilization, oil and sheet iron and calico, passed from the plain
into the mountains of Afghanistan. They overtook and passed the
caravan that had rested last night at the entrance to the pass, going
westwards; six hundred camels, bearded and with soft, padding steps,
carried the amorphous mass of merchandise. Some were gentle beasts,
mild-eyed and depressed, others were muzzled with rope and foamed at
the mouth. Myriad were the types of those who drove them; there were
pale-faced boys with flaxen hair; there were hawk-nosed eager Pathans
of the type so familiar to Elizabeth in the parades of her father's
regiment, snub-nosed Mongolians, Thibetans, with their high cheek-bones
and wide-lipped mouths, and of them all there was not one in whose face
this morning Elizabeth did not see signs of some secret quest, some
unconjecturable search. One perhaps desired money, one an end to this
mounting road; one was hungry, another thirsty, but behind all these
superficial needs she read into each face a desire, a quest. Often, as
if in answer to her eager glance, she received a questioning stare,
as if the gazer sought from her some signal that he was waiting for.
All nature that morning had a question on its lips for Elizabeth, and
an answer if she could but interpret it. The grey climbing hill-sides
already aquiver in the hot sun seemed ready to tell her why they stood
there broad-flanked and menacing. The brook that came cool and bubbling
from below a rock by the wayside, fringing its course with cresses
and feathery grass, had learned in the darkness of the earth, in the
sub-terrestrial caves from which it sprang, the reason of its going.
Scattered by the roadside here and there were Afghan villages, and at
the mouths of excavated dwellings in the hill-side stood the wild-eyed
native folk who were born and lived and loved and fought and murdered,
maybe, all in obedience to some law of being that caused the aloe to
shoot up in erect strong stem and blossom, and that lit the fires of
victory in the eyes of the dying Brahmin. All seemed ready to tell her
the answer could she but frame her question.

Like an obsession this sense of revelation ready to show itself to
her, could she but put herself on the plane of thought where it lay,
besieged her all day, and as they returned to the caravanserai at
the foot of the pass as the sun, declining behind the western hills,
turned them for a moment into glowing amber, it seemed to elude her
but by a hair's-breadth. There all was ready for the reception of the
caravan that had marched through the pass into India that day; the
sellers of bread were pulling out of their circular ovens excavated
in the ground the flat cakes of unleavened bread, the brass samovars
hissed at the booths of the tea-sellers, and cauldrons of hot soup
boiled and bubbled. Already the van of the wayfarers was entering the
guarded gates that were pierced in the mud walls, and the camels, weary
with the long stage, bent their unwieldy joints and lay down for their
drivers to strip off their load. Some were too tired to eat, and,
resting their queer prehistoric heads on their bended forelegs, closed
their long-lashed eyes and slept. Others, hungry and restless, foamed
and lathered and snapped greedily at the mounds of dried fodder that
their drivers placed before them. Tired men got their bowls of soup or
tea from the stalls, and, leaning against the sides of their beasts,
ate their supper, and wrapping their heads in their dusty gay-coloured
shawls, slept by their sleeping animals. Others, inclined for a chat,
collected round the shops of the provision-sellers against the wall of
the serai, and smoked and talked when their supper was done; others,
three or four clubbing together, lit fires of the brushwood they had
gathered during the day, and cooked their own food at cheaper rate
than obtained in the stores. Ponies nickered and twitched at their
heel-ropes, the sharp, pungent smell of the wood fires and the wreaths
of aromatic smoke drifted slowly along the sluggish currents of the
almost windless air, and gradually the empty space of the serai became
a mosaic of sleeping men and beasts. The hills that the sunset had
turned into molten tawny gold grew dark again with the gathering
night, and in the depth of the velvet vault above the wheeling stars
grew large.

And behind all the various forms of life, behind the molten hills,
behind the sky, behind the limbs of the bearded camels, behind the
chatter and smoke of the provision booths, there lurked, so it seemed
to Elizabeth, one impulse, one energy common to all. In her head lay
some remembered melody of Schumann, that seemed to beat to the same
indwelling rhythms to which the stars pulsated.

Her father was standing alone beside her; a little way off the genial
Commander-in-Chief was tasting the soup that bubbled in the tin-plated
cauldrons, pronouncing it excellent, and bidding his aide-de-camp,
a slim young, weary Englishman, translate his verdict of it to the
gratified booth-keeper. Some word of the identity of this great
boisterous hedonist had been passed about the serai, but the tired
drovers of the caravan paid little heed. And yet, here incarnate, was
the figure-head of the English power that guaranteed their safe journey
through the turbulent lands of the frontier, and that would avenge with
wicked little spitting guns and a troop of khaki-clad soldiers any
raid that the ungoverned tribe might make. But Sir Henry, in spite of
this, roused but little attention; the tired drovers slept; those who
were more alert were but employed with jokes and snatches of song round
the samovars and soup-cauldrons. The hills and the stars attended as
little; everything and everybody was intent on his own inward calls,
just as last night the Brahmin who lay by the wayside had no need of
food, and but thought of the finding of that for which all his years
had searched.

And then Elizabeth's questing soul suddenly gave up the pursuit of a
hidden cause, and felt content with the obvious explanation. She took
her father's arm.

"Oh, daddy, I've had such a lovely day!" she said. "What heaps of
different things there are in the world, and what heaps of different
businesses. And it all makes such a jumbled incoherent whole! In half
an hour we shall be back home again, and it will be time to dress,
and mamma will tell us all she has done to-day. After dinner I will
play the piano to you till you snore, and as soon as you snore I shall
wake you up again and make you write to Aunt Julia to say when I shall
arrive at Heathmoor."

He pressed her hand as it lay in the crook of his arm.

"It is a less tragic view than that of last night," he said.

"I know. At this moment I don't mind the least about going to England.
I'm--I'm going to take things as they come."

Elizabeth paused a moment, as with the vividness of ocular
hallucination the Brahmin's face once more swam before her eyes.

"But that doesn't mean I am not going to be serious," she said. "I want
'richly to enjoy.' Doesn't that come in the Bible somewhere? I expect
there are many routes that arrive at the same place."

To anybody unacquainted with the sum of Elizabeth's musings that day,
this was necessarily a cryptic speech. It grew more cryptic yet.

"Perhaps drink leads the drunkard there," she said, "and music the
musician. Doesn't one develop, daddy, through one's passions, and not
through one's renunciations? I can't see how starving your desires can
possibly help one."

"My dear, there are desires and desires," he said.

"And where do they all come from? Surely from the search."

He was silent a moment, and at that moment anything short of
enthusiastic acceptance of her illumination was a coldness, a hand of
ice to Elizabeth.

"Daddy, you don't understand," she said. "As long as we want, it
doesn't much matter what we want. Isn't it half the battle to be eager?"

He shook his head.

"Again I should talk nonsense if I agreed with you," he said.
"Eagerness is a sword, my dear; but it is not armour."

"I don't want armour," she said quickly. "I am not afraid of being
hurt."

"Ah, don't get hurt, my darling!" he said.

"Not I. And if I do get hurt, daddy, I shall come crying to you, and
you will have to comfort me. Oh, oh--look at all those tired men, with
no beds to lie on, and no pillows and no tooth powder or sponges! Don't
you envy them? They will wake up in the morning, and find _themselves_
there, and, after all, nothing else can matter. I don't want to be
bothered with possessions. I want to be----" Elizabeth suddenly broke
off, interrupting her speech and thought alike.

"Daddy, that darling Sir Henry has had soup, and now he is eating
unleavened cakes, and a peculiarly murderous-looking Pathan is tempting
him with a pomegranate. Do stop him; he is dining with us in an hour's
time, and mamma will be so vexed if he doesn't eat the most enormous
dinner."

Colonel Fanshawe, with Elizabeth still on his arm, stepped over a
couple of sleeping prostrate forms.

"Yes, we will go to him," he said, "and you shall tell me more about
the simple life afterwards. It is getting late."

Sir Henry had just cracked a pomegranate in his enormous beefy hands.

"God bless me!" he was saying. "I never saw anything look so good.
Fanshawe, be kind enough to tell this man in your best Pushtoo, that
there's a fortune in pomegranates. Why, it's quite delicious; never
tasted such a fine fruit."

Colonel Fanshawe made some amiable equivalent of all this in Pushtoo,
and spoke to Sir Henry again.

"He says that his trees will bear in greater abundance than ever now,
sir. But it is rather late. I think we ought to be getting home. You
won't have more than time to eat your dinner in comfort before the
train----"

Sir Henry rejected a mass of seeds.

"Yes, yes; we'll go," he said. "Why, here's my Miss Elizabeth come to
insist. I always obey the ladies, Colonel; you obey the ladies always,
and you'll have a confoundedly pleasant time. Now, Miss Elizabeth,
quick march, is it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A sleepless day following on a dancing night, had produced in Mrs.
Fanshawe that uncertainty of temper which, when it exhibits itself in
children, is called fractiousness. The Commander-in-Chief, who dined
with them _en famille,_ had been obliged to leave in order to catch his
train before dinner was over, and in consequence the very expensive
strawberries which she had designed to form an exceptional dessert were
eaten by herself and Elizabeth, while the Colonel went to the station
to speed his parting chief. The chief also during dinner had paid,
according to her estimate of what was proper, insufficient attention
to his hostess, and more than sufficient to Elizabeth, on whom he
rained showers of robust gallantries. In addition, some vague story of
a dead man found in the garden had agitated her, while not a single
soul from the rest of the station had called to tell her how complete
was the eclipse that all other women suffered at the ball last night
in consequence of her effulgence. This was enough to start a promising
crop of grievances and gloomy forebodings in Mrs. Fanshawe's mind,
which she served up, so to speak, young, succulent, and tender like
mustard and cress. The crop was of extremely varied growth--a perfect
macedoine of mixed and bitter vegetables, among which her habitual
helplessness and childlike manner had been completely volatilized.

"I think it is no wonder," she said, "that the military future of India
gives politicians grave anxiety at home, when there is such a doddering
old goose at the head of affairs."

"Oh, mamma, it's rather a telling sort of doddering!" said Elizabeth.
"They gave him a tremendous reception at Jamrud."

"And laughed at him behind his back, I know," said Mrs. Fanshawe, with
decision. "And his conduct at dinner, too, with his absurd jokes. I
had hoped, Elizabeth, that your good sense would have enabled you to
see through them, and for my part, the most charitable explanation I
can think of is that he had had too much wine, which I am sure I hope
he will sleep off before he makes another laughing-stock of himself
at Lahore. Stuffing himself with soup and pomegranates, too, like a
school-boy at a confectioner's!"

Elizabeth forebore to suggest that a school confectioner who sold soup
and pomegranates would be a unique species of tradesman, and proceeded
to eat strawberries one by one from the dish. Her stepmother did not
often spout with vinegar, when she did the wisest thing was not to
attempt to staunch the flow, but merely wait till it ran dry. But it
appeared that her silence acted as spur sufficient.

"And as you have nothing to tell me about the pleasures of your
expedition," observed Mrs. Fanshawe, "I must be content with picturing
it to myself, as, indeed, I have been doing all day, thinking that now
you had got to Landi Kotal, and now to the other place, the name of
which I forget."

"We started at eight," began Elizabeth.

"I am quite aware of that, dear," said Mrs. Fanshawe. "I had lain awake
till then after the ball, and was just beginning to think I should get
to sleep, when I heard you laughing and calling so merrily. I only
thought, 'Now my dear ones are starting on their expedition,' nothing
more at all. Except to look out of my window, though the light hurt my
eyes, to see if you were likely to have a fine day. But, since you have
nothing to tell me----"

"Indeed, mamma, we all talked about our day at dinner," said Elizabeth.
"I should have thought you had heard enough of it."

Mrs. Fanshawe closed her eyes until Elizabeth ceased speaking, and then
went on exactly where she had left off.

"What you have been doing," she said. "I must try to entertain you with
what happened last night. The room was very hot and full, and indeed,
with Sir Henry bouncing about, there was little space for anybody else
to dance at all. Such an elephant I have never yet seen outside a
menagerie or at the Durbar, and I should not wonder if when he retired
next year, as I am told he does, Barnum offered something handsome for
him. But it would be a risky purchase; he might burst any day and cover
the place with pomegranate seeds."

Elizabeth gave a little inward gurgle of laughter at this picturesque
phrasing. A peculiarity of Mrs. Fanshawe, and one which she shared
with many of the human race, was that, when vexed, her sense of humour
entirely deserted her, though her humour itself indulged in admirable
touches. There was, for instance, humour in her swift thumbnail sketch
of an exploding warrior in a menagerie, but her perception of her own
felicity failed to recognize it. Under these circumstances it was not
diplomatic for others to greet it; their amusement was not wanted. Mrs.
Fanshawe proceeded in her inimitable way, in a rather faint voice.

"Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," she said. "I hope, Elizabeth, you will
be able to let me see a little of you before you bury yourself in your
trunks. I hope, too, you will keep a hand on your natural exuberance
during your voyage. You must not be carried away by such foolish
sallies and witticisms as seemed to amuse you during dinner, and make
undesirable acquaintances. There is sure to be a number of skylarking
young men on board going home, who will want to romp with any girl
handy. And be careful to dress very plainly and quietly. You will earn
in respect what you will lose in being stared at. Of course you will
chiefly sit in the ladies' saloon, especially after dark, and not
play any of those foolish games with buckets and bits of rope, which
occasion so much silly shouting and giggling, unless there are one or
two elderly women playing!"

She observed, with a shaded glance, that Elizabeth had finished the
strawberries.

"Perhaps you would pass me the strawberries, dear," she said. "They are
quite excellent."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" began Elizabeth.

"Ah, you have eaten them all, have you? It is not of the slightest
consequence. I only wanted one or two, and no doubt I am quite as well
without them. Indeed, I am only glad that you have enjoyed them so
much, and wish for your sake there were more. Ah, here is your father
back from seeing poor Sir Henry off. Take the dish off the table,
darling, so that he shall not see we have had strawberries, for they
are his favourite fruit."

The goaded Elizabeth turned.

"Daddy," she said, "I have eaten all the strawberries, so that there
are none for you and mamma."

Mrs. Fanshawe gave her a reproachful glance.

"Really, Elizabeth!" she said. "So you are back, Bob. Did you see the
poor old man into his train? I was saying to Elizabeth that I hoped it
was only wine, but I am afraid his brain must be going. I should not
wonder if he became quite childish."

Colonel Fanshawe lifted his eyebrows in mild surprise.

"Sir Henry?" he said. "I hope neither conjecture is true, my dear. By
the way, he sent his warmest thanks to you and hoped so much that when
you went up to Simla you would stay with him a week or two. He will be
there all next month. But of course if you are afraid of his being sent
for to go to the asylum----"

Mrs. Fanshawe did not waste time over her transitions; she did not
modulate from key to key, but, without sequence of transitional chords,
put her finger firmly down on the notes she intended to play.

"My darling, how literally you take my little joke!" she said. "Dear
Sir Henry! He is like a great boy, is he not, with his jokes and high
spirits! I declare he made me feel a hundred years old. I must say
that it is very civil of him, and of course I shall go. I regard the
invitations of the Commander-in-Chief as a royal command, when one is
in India."

An unusual impulse of candour took possession of her.

"Besides," she said, "it will be much more amusing and comfortable than
at the hotel."

Elizabeth, as had now been settled, was to start for England the next
week, and since, after the visit of the Commander-in-Chief, a quiet
reaction settled down on Peshawar, Mrs. Fanshawe was at liberty to work
herself to the bone, as she herself phrased it, to make preparations
for her departure. As a matter of strict fact, her labours in this
regard were to order her _ayah_ to wash out a Thermos flask of hers,
the possession of which, she declared, would make "all the difference"
to Elizabeth's comfort on her journey down to Bombay, and to determine
to finish a woollen crochet scarf for her, which would make "all the
difference" when she was on the boat. The necessity of finishing
this--for her determination was invincible on the point--caused her to
insist on a good deal of reading aloud in the evening, which she always
enjoyed, while the breaking of the Thermos flask--quite irreplaceable
in Peshawar--by her _ayah_ gave her an excuse, which she had long been
wanting, for dismissing her, since it was quite impossible to trust
a woman who could be careless over such a treasure, and to keep a
servant whom she could not trust, was to violate one of her most sound
household laws. Under the stress of these duties it was only prudent to
rest for rather longer hours than usual after lunch, with the crochet
scarf put on a table by her sofa, in case her afternoon insomnia was
persistent, and except for lunch, she was practically invisible until
evening. Under these circumstances, though she continued to plan long
quiet days for herself and Elizabeth before the wrench of parting came,
the girl saw more than usual of her father, for, to speak frankly,
it was impossible to have the sense of seeing anybody else when Mrs.
Fanshawe was present. She was obtrusive in the faint but shrill
trumpeting manner of a mosquito.

To Elizabeth, therefore, and, though loyalty prevented his ever
forming such a thought to himself, perhaps to her father, too, these
days had a recaptured charm. It was now a couple of years since her
stepmother had made the third--not shadowy--in her home; before that,
for her mother had died in her infancy, she and her father had been
inseparable companions. And in these two years Elizabeth had grown up;
from the high romantic mists of childhood, she had stepped down into
the level plains, and saw womanhood stretching out in front of her. As
was natural, that expanse had come slowly and gradually into sight,
and it was not till these few days of companionship with her father
brought back the habit of earlier years that she began to realize
how far she had travelled. She found, too, that the adequacy of the
prattling companionship of childhood no longer satisfied her; her heart
needed a more mature diet, her brain was awake and tingling with a
hundred questions and surmises such as a few days before had inspired
her wondering conjectures when she found him at work in his garden.
Then, for the first time quite consciously, she had asked herself that
momentous question as to the meaning, the principle that lay behind
all the phenomena which she had taken for granted; then, too, she had
realized that to her father the explanation lay in, or, at any rate,
was bound up with, something inherent in the prayers and hymns at
church. There to him was the finality which she had been consciously
seeking, about which for the first time she felt any real curiosity.

But she was as diffident about putting any question to him about it as
he, all these years, had been of initiating any speech on the subject.
A man's religious convictions necessarily take the colour and texture,
so to speak, of his mind, and this quiet, unassertive man was no more
in the habit of speaking about them than about his loyalty to the King
or his habits of personal cleanliness. Such subjects as these, rightly
or wrongly, are the last to find vocal expression; he would have found
it as difficult and as unnatural to speak to Elizabeth on religious
topics as to discourse on the meaning of the National Anthem, or ask
her at breakfast if she had performed her ablutions with thoroughness.
In his own case, his conduct, his work, and his immaculate appearance
bore witness to the reality of his convictions on these three respects,
and, though he shared with no mother the responsibility of parentage,
he assumed her welfare in these regards. It was not because the reality
of them was faint to him that he was reticent, it was because the
reality was a matter of instinct, deeply felt and inwardly imperative.
Throughout the reigns of various governesses, he had from time to time
reminded those ladies of his wish that a Bible lesson should inaugurate
the labours of the day, and, having thus provided for the material
of religious instruction, he believed that the child's nature would,
out of that pabulum, secrete, in the manner of well-nourished bodily
glands, the secret essences that sustained and built. But there had
resulted from this method of reticence, a symptom which should have
troubled him if he wanted confirmation of its success, for Elizabeth,
so open, so garrulous with him on all other subjects, had never spoken
to him on this one. This he set down to the same instinct that made
himself shy of speech on such subjects, namely, the inherent conviction
that does not care to discuss matters like loyalty and cleanliness. It
had never occurred to him that her silence was due to indifference, to
incuriousness, and that religious instruction was to her no more than
a part of the curriculum of the week-day church, an hour's slightly
distasteful feature of Sunday morning.

But now Elizabeth's curiosity was aroused. "The scheme of things
entire" had begun to make audible to her its first faint flute-like
call, a call that, before there has fallen on the spirit any experience
of agony, of darkness, of loneliness, is as fascinating as the music of
Pan or the voice of Sirens, and she longed to know how it sounded in
the ears of others. For herself, she was confused, bewildered by the
remote uncapturable melody, that at present only gave hints in broken
phrases to her untrained ear.

The two were riding back one day from a horseback saunter along the
lanes among the fruit orchards. The blossom was beginning to fall, and
when a puff of wind disturbed its uncertain clinging the ground below
would be showered with snowy pear-blossom or pink with the flower of
the peach. Elizabeth, in tune with the spring, was inclined to lament
this.

"I would almost go without peaches," she said, "if that would save the
blossom from falling."

He laughed.

"Yet it would be a hard choice," he said, "to determine whether one
would look at a tree covered with blossom, instead of having dessert. I
think I should let Nature take its course, Lizzie, after all."

"Is it meant that the blossom has to fall before the fruit comes?" she
asked.

"Well, yes. To want it otherwise would be parallel to wanting girls and
boys not to grow up."

"And you do?"

"Naturally, though it is at the expense of their rosy petals." This
seemed to give Elizabeth sufficient material for a pondering silence,
which lasted a couple of minutes.

"_I_ want to grow up," she observed, "and keep all my youth as well."

He smiled at her.

"Hard, but worth attempting," he said.

"Oh ... do you mean it is possible, daddy?"

"Certainly! You can keep all of youth that is really worth having. But,
as I said, hard. For instance, you can continue to have all the glow of
enthusiasm of youth till it is time to think about--about turning in."

"Dying? I don't want ever to think about it. I think it is a perfectly
disgusting prospect. Don't you hate the idea of it, daddy?"

He let his eyes dwell on her a moment.

"I can't say that I do, Lizzie," he said. "Don't misunderstand me. I
enjoy life tremendously; I'm not in the least tired of it. But, as for
hating the idea of death, why no! You see, you see, it's only another
stage in growing up, which is a process with which, as I said, I am in
sympathy."

They were passing through a lane deeply sunk between its adjacent
fields; a cool draught flowed down it, and Elizabeth shivered.

"Oh, daddy, to be put in the cold earth!" she said. "That, anyhow, is a
quite certain accompaniment of death; there is no doubt about that. And
about the rest, who knows?"

"My dear, you don't doubt, do you?" he asked.

"I don't know that I do. One is taught; I was taught. I suppose I
believe in the arithmetic I learned, and in the geography I learned----"

She broke off suddenly as a little wind, as it were, blew across the
placid sunlit sea of her consciousness, shattering the brightnesses.

"But because I have learned a thing it does not become part of me, as
people tell me," she said. "You have to leaven a thing with love in
order to assimilate it. I've always known that those things are bone
of your bone to you, part of you, vital part of you, part that could
not be amputated. Even the fact that you have never talked to me about
them has shown that. You don't tell me that you love me, simply because
it is part of you to do so; nor do I remind you that I have ten fingers
and ten toes."

She checked her horse as they emerged from the lane into the stream of
the traffic that was passing into the native city.

"That's why we have never talked about it, daddy," she said in sudden
enlightenment. "It was too real to you, and it didn't touch me."

She had never seen him so troubled.

"Didn't touch you?" he asked. "You don't believe----"

Elizabeth laid her hand on his knee.

"Daddy dear, I believe in all things living and beautiful, and true.
Don't take it to heart--pray don't. Does--does the blossom know what
fruit is coming? But surely the fruit comes."

Swiftly, suddenly at this supreme instant of sunset, all the world was
changed; it was as if it passed into the heart of an opal. The dust
of the main road into which the two had just turned was transfigured
into mist of gold and rose; the wayfarers who passed along, plodding
home with camels and mild-eyed buffaloes, were changed into citizens of
some rainbow-kingdom. More brilliant grew the excellent opalescence,
and then all the tints of it were sucked up into one soft crimson that
flooded earth and sky. Then, as the darkness began to overlay it, it
grew dusky and yet duskier, till the incarnadined air was robbed of
its glories. But high above them northwards and eastwards flamed the
rose-coloured snows.



BOOK ONE



CHAPTER III

COMFORTABLE MRS. HANCOCK


It is almost doubtful whether it is right to call Heathmoor a village,
since there is something plebeian about the word, implying labourers'
cottages and public-houses and an admixture of corduroy in the trousers
of the male inhabitants with strings tied, for reasons eternally
inexplicable, below their knees. Even less is Heathmoor a town, if by
a town we denote an assemblage of houses cheek to jowl, streets with
tramways or omnibuses and a scarcity of trees and gardens. Indeed,
no known word implying the collected domicile of human beings--which
Heathmoor certainly is--will describe it, and the indication of it
necessitates a more verbose method.

It lies at so convenient a distance from the metropolis, and is served
by so swift and proper a succession of trains at those hours when
Heathmoor travels, that it combines, as its inhabitants unanimously
declare, all the advantages of town with the pleasures and fine air
of the country. Twenty minutes in a well-padded railway-carriage with
bevelled mirrors and attractive photographs of beaches and abbeys and
nice clear rivers lands the business men to whom Heathmoor almost
entirely belongs in one of the main and central arteries of the London
streets, and twenty-three minutes suffices to take them and their
wives and daughters home again after they have dined in town and
been to the play. The question of those extra minutes is a staple of
conversation in Heathmoor, and there is a great deal of high feeling
about it, for nobody can see, especially after hours of conversation on
the subject, why the railway company should not quicken up the return
trains in the evening. Another peculiarity of those otherwise admirable
trains is that the first-class carriages are invariably full and the
rest of the vehicles comparatively empty. Tickets, moreover--those mean
little oblongs of cardboard--are seldom seen, and ticket collectors
never make their demands. If some energetic young man, newly promoted,
ventures to open a first-class carriage-door between Heathmoor and
London, by the train that leaves Heathmoor at 9.6 a.m., for instance,
or the later one at 9.42 a.m., its occupants look at him in disgusted
astonishment. One, perhaps, sufficiently unbends to murmur, "Season,"
but probably no notice is taken of him till the guard, hurrying up,
gives him a couple of hot words, and apologizes to the gentlemen.
On the whole, they are not made uncomfortable by such intrusions;
interruption, in fact, rarely occurring, somewhat emphasizes the
privileged aloofness of these Heathmoor magnates, just as an occasional
trespasser in well-ordered domains makes to glow the more brightly the
sense of proprietorship. The impertinence receives but a shrug, and a
settlement behind the page of the _Financial Times_ follows.

The second of these trains, namely, the 9.42 a.m. from Heathmoor,
performs a more sociable journey, for there is less of the _Financial
Times_ in it and more of the ladies of Heathmoor, who, with business
to transact in the shops, go up to town in the morning with amazing
frequency, returning, for the most part, by an equally swift transit,
which lands them back at home again at twenty minutes past one. All the
morning, in consequence, between those hours the roads at Heathmoor,
which are level and well drained owing to its famous gravelly soil,
which renders it so salubrious a settlement, are comparatively empty,
for those who do not go to London find in their houses and gardens
sufficient occupation to detain them there till lunch-time. Once again,
between five and six the male population swarms homewards, and a row of
cabs uniformly patronized awaits the arrival of the midnight train from
town, which enables its travellers to have stayed to the very end of
most theatrical performances.

A small mercantile quarter clusters round the station, but the local
shops are neither numerous nor, as Mrs. Hancock, Colonel Fanshawe's
widowed sister, sometimes laments, "choice." Butcher, baker, and
greengrocer supply the less "choice" comforts of life, but if you
want a sweetbread in a hurry, or a bundle of early asparagus, it is
idle to expect anything of the sort. A "Court milliner," who lately
set up there behind a plate-glass window and some elegant "forms,"
has a great deal of time on her hands, and a tailor, who professes
to have the newest suitings, and to be unrivalled in the matter of
liveries, does little more than put an occasional patch in the garments
of the male inhabitants, for Heathmoor, in general, gets its apparel
from metropolitan markets, and prefers to be waited on by large and
noiseless parlourmaids. In fact, the mercantile quarter forms but an
insignificant fraction of Heathmoor residences, the bulk of which
consists of admirably comfortable and commodious villas, each standing
segregate in its acre or half-acre of garden. All along the well-kept
roads--the roads at Heathmoor seem to be washed and dusted, like
china, every morning--are situated these residences, so aptly described
as desirable, each with its gate, its laurel hedge, and small plot of
grass in front, each with its tennis-court or croquet-lawn at back,
its tiled roofs, its "tradesmen's entrance," and its crimson rambler
aspiring above the dining-room bow-window. The larger houses--those
in fact which stand on acre plots--have a stable or garage attached
to them, though all are in telephonic communication with the livery
stables that are situated on the far side of the railway-bridge, and
all are built in accordance with a certain English norm or rule,
designed to ensure solid comfort and an absence of draughts. There is
none that lacks the electric light, none in which rivers of hot and
cold water are not laid on upstairs and downstairs, none that lacks
a lavatory situated close to the front door, in which is hung up a
convincing and lucid diagram of the system of drainage. But there is
no monotony or uniformity in the appearance of these houses; some
are of brick, some of rough-cast, and all have a certain mediocre
individuality of their own--like the faces of a flock of sheep--which
renders them to the observer as various as the high-sounding names that
are so clearly printed on their front gates.

Most of these exceedingly comfortable houses, designed for the
complete convenience of couples with or without small families, are,
as has been said, built on half-acre or acre plots. They are all of
modern construction, with a view to the saving of domestic labour,
for Heathmoor as a place of residence for well-to-do City men is but
of late discovery. But here and there a more spacious specimen can
be encountered, and Mrs. Hancock, who found nothing choice in the
Heathmoor shops, had some ten years ago, on the death of her husband,
bought two of these acre plots, and had built thereon a house of larger
rooms, a boudoir, and a stable with coachman's quarters. Since then she
had devoted nearly all her income to rendering herself completely and
absolutely comfortable. An excellent cook, salaried at sixty pounds
a year, a sum which, according to the regular Heathmoor standard,
would be considered to be sufficient to pay the wages of a parlourmaid
also, largely contributed to her well-being, and a maid, a serious
butler with the deportment of a dean, a chauffeur, two housemaids, a
kitchen-maid, a gardener, and a daughter were all devoted to the same
mission. The daughter occupies the ultimate place in this list, not
because Edith was not loving and loved, but because on the whole her
contribution to her mother's comfort was materially less than that
of any of the others, though perhaps physically more. Indeed, she
shared in rather than subscribed to it, drove with her in her motor,
ate of the delicious food, while in the evenings she laid out her own
game of patience, without being called upon to advise or condole or
congratulate in respect of Mrs. Hancock's. It is true that the window
on Edith's side of the car was put down if her mother required a
little more air without being too close to its ingress, and put up if
Mrs. Hancock in her seat wished to avoid a draught, but she was by no
means enserfed to the ruling spirit that directed and controlled the
movements of the other dependents. Naturally she drove and dined with
her mother, read her into a comfortable doze after tea, and did all
the duties of a daughter, but she had, even when with Mrs. Hancock, an
existence and a volition of her own, which the others had not.

Indeed, there was at this present time an event maturing that promised
to provide Edith with a completer independence yet, for Mrs. Hancock
had for months been encouraging an attachment that was wholly sensible,
and, like most sensible things, could not possibly be called romantic.
Edward Holroyd, the young man in question, was very well off, being
partner in a firm of sound, steady-going brokers in the City, was
regularity itself in the persistence with which he caught the 9.6 a.m.
train to town every morning, and, as far as could be ascertained, had
never, in spite of his twenty-seven years, given any serious attention
to a girl until Mrs. Hancock firmly turned his well-featured head in
Edith's direction. He lived, furthermore, in a half-acre residence of
his own, next door to Mrs. Hancock, and this she reckoned as a solid
item among his eligibilities, for Edith would be able to give a great
deal of companionship to her mother during the hours when her husband
was in the City. Mrs. Hancock did not forget to add--to her own credit
side, so to speak--that, since Edith would thus generally lunch with
her, and drive with her afterwards, this would save her daughter
something substantial in house-books, and give her the motor-drive she
was accustomed to. It is true that her prospective husband had a motor
of his own in which it might be supposed that Edith could take the air
if so inclined, consequently Mrs. Hancock added another item to her own
credit when she reflected that if Edith drove with her there would be
effected a saving in Edward's tyre and petrol bills. This was entirely
congenial to her mind, for she delighted to make economies for other
people as well as herself, if the perfection of her own comfort was not
affected thereby.

On this genial morning of early May, ventilated by a breath of
south-west wind, and warmed by a summer sun, the dining-room windows of
Arundel--the agreeable name of Mrs. Hancock's house--were both open,
and she was sitting at a writing-table just within, fixing her plans
for the day. She always sat here after breakfast until she had seen her
cook, sent orders to her chauffeur, and read the smaller paragraphs in
the _Morning Post._ Usually the plans for the day, the marching orders,
as she habitually called them, depended completely on the weather. If
it was fine she drove in her car from twelve to a quarter-past one, and
again, after a salutary digestive pause after lunch, when she engaged
with the more solid paragraphs in the _Morning Post,_ from three till
a quarter to five. This, it must be understood, was the curriculum for
the summer; in the winter radical changes might occur; and sometimes
if the morning was fine, but promised rain later, she would start as
early as eleven, and went out--if the weather still held up--for quite
a short time in the afternoon. But she always went out twice, even
if occasionally her inclination would have been to stop at home, for
Denton, the steady chauffeur, and Lind, the serious butler, would have
thought it odd if she did not take two airings. Did she, then, go out
when she had a bad cold? No; but then she never had a bad cold.

To-day, however, being Ascension Day, the marching orders became
exceedingly complicated; and when Lind came in to say that Denton was
waiting for her commands, he received the same instructions that had
been given him last Ascension Day, but never since. These were not the
same as on Sundays and Christmas Days, because on Ascension Day Mrs.
Hancock drove in the afternoon.

"Tell Denton I shall want the car at ten minutes to eleven," she said.
"No; you had better say a quarter to--to take me to church. He must be
back there at a quarter-past twelve, or, say ten minutes past. I shall
drive this afternoon at three. Or----"

Mrs. Hancock pondered a moment, exactly as she had done on last
Ascension Day.

"Edith, dear," she said to her daughter, who was winding the clock, "I
think we had better lunch to-day at one instead of at half-past. There
will not be time to settle down to anything after church. And in that
case we had better go out this afternoon at half-past two. And lunch
will be at one, Lind. I will see Mrs. Williams now."

She paused again. This was not a usual Ascension Day pause, though
connected with it.

"I see there is a holiday on the Stock Exchange, Edith," she said, "so
perhaps Mr. Holroyd will lunch with us. Wait a moment, Lind."

She did not scribble a note, and never had done so, but wrote it very
neatly, begging pardon for so short a notice, and hoping that if--a
verbal answer was all that was required.

"I will see Mrs. Williams as soon as I get the answer, Lind," she said,
"and I will tell you then whether we shall be two at lunch or three."

It was not worth while to "settle" to anything when an interruption
would come so soon; and Mrs. Hancock looked quietly and contentedly
out over the garden, where Ellis was mowing the tennis-court. The
flower-beds below the window dazzled with the excellence of their
crimson tulips, and swooned with the sunny fragrance of their
wallflowers, and the hedge of espaliered apples that separated the
lawn from the kitchen-garden was pink with blooms of promise. The
rose-trees were all cut back in storage for their summer flowering; no
spike of weed was insolent on the well-kept paths or garden-beds, and
no tending that the most exacting gardener's companion could suggest
as suitable to the season had been left undone. The same flawless
neatness distinguished the dining-room from which Mrs. Hancock looked
out. Landseer prints hung quite straight on the paper of damask red.
Such chairs as were not in use stood square-shouldered to the walls;
the writing-table where she sat was dustlessly furnished with pens,
pen-wipers, pencils, sealing-wax, and all stationery appertaining; the
maroon curtains were looped back at exactly the same angle, and six
inches of green blind showed at the top of each window. Room and garden
were as _soignés_ as Mrs. Hancock's own abundant hair.

Mrs. Hancock's pass-book had been returned to her from her bankers that
morning, and she found it quite pleasant reading, pleasant enough,
indeed, to open and read again as she waited for the arrival of the
verbal message from next door. Next to devising and procuring all that
could be secured of material comforts, the occupation that, perhaps,
chiefly administered to her content was that of saving money. This
seemed to her an extremely altruistic pleasure, since, if you took
a large enough view of it, she was saving for Edith. Thus she would
always purchase anything she wanted at the place where it could most
cheaply be obtained, provided its quality was in no way inferior, and
she never omitted to lay in a replete cellar of coal during the summer
months. Anything like waste was abhorrent to her, and, though her
ordinary living expenses were excessively high, she could not secure
absolute comfort and the flawless appointment of her house at a smaller
outlay. She paid high wages to her servants and gladly defrayed their
doctors' and dentists' bills, since she wished to make it impossible
for them to think of leaving her when once she was satisfied with them,
for a change of servants was uncomfortable, and produced days of uneasy
suspense before it became certain that the new one would suit her. All
such expenses were incurred to procure comfort, and so were necessary,
but beyond them she was extremely economical and dearly liked the
secure and continued feeling of a big balance at the bank. When that
balance grew very large she made a prudent investment, often through
Edward Holroyd, and told herself that she was doing it for the sake of
Edith.

Before long came a warm acceptance of her hospitality from next door,
and, having sent for Mrs. Williams, she added mutton cutlets to the
menu, and withdrew the asparagus, as her cook was certain there was
not enough for three; then she got up from her writing-table, since
the marching orders were now completed. Her plump and pleasant face
was singularly unwrinkled, considering the fifty years that had passed
over it, yet it would perhaps have been even more singular if the years
had written on it any record of their passage. It is true that she had
married, had borne a child, and had lost a husband, but none of these
events had marred the placidity of her nature. At the most, they had
been but pebbles tossed into and swallowed up below that unruffled
surface, breaking it but for a moment with inconsiderable ripples. She
had married because she had easily seen the wisdom of becoming the
wife of a well-to-do and wholly amiable man instead of continuing to
remain the once handsome Miss Julia Fanshawe. Wisdom still continued
to be justified of her child, for she enjoyed the whole of her late
husband's income, and since her clear four thousand pounds a year was
derived from debenture stock and first mortgage bonds, it was not
likely that these fruits of prudence would wither or decay on this side
of the grave. But she did not ever distress or harass herself with
the thought of anything so comfortless as sepulchres, but devoted her
time and money to the preservation of her health, and the avoidance
of all such worries and anxieties as could possibly disturb the poise
and equilibrium of her nervous system. She was slightly inclined to
stoutness, and occasionally had rheumatic twinges in the less important
joints, but a month spent annually at Bath sufficed to keep these
little ailments in check, while the complete immunity she enjoyed there
from all household anxieties, since she lived in a very comfortable
hotel, was restorative to a nervous system that already hovered on
perfection, and enabled her to take up her home duties again--which, as
has been said, consisted in providing comfort for herself--with renewed
vigour. This visit to Bath was to take place next week, and for the
last ten days she had thought of little else than the question as to
whether she would take Denton and her motor-car with her. Last night
only she had come to the determination to do so, and consequently there
was a great deal to be thought about to-day as to cushions, luggage,
and where to lunch, for she was herself going to travel in it.

Edith had finished winding the clock when her mother got up.

"There is still half an hour before we need think of getting ready for
church, dear," she said, "and we might go on planning our arrangements
for next week. The maps are in the drawing-room, for Denton brought
them in last night, but the print is so small that I should be glad if
you would get my number two spectacles which I left in my bedroom. They
are either on my dressing-table or on the small table by my bed. Filson
will find them if you cannot put your hand on them. Oh, look; there are
two starlings pecking at the garden-beds. How bold they are with the
mowing-machine so close! I hope Ellis will scare them away from the
asparagus."

Edith managed to find the number two spectacles without troubling
Filson, and devoted her whole mind, which was as tranquil and lucid
as her mother's, to the great question of the journey to Bath. Though
the distance was something over a hundred miles, it was clearly better
to risk being a little over-tired, and compass the whole in one day,
rather than spend the night--perhaps not very comfortably--at some
half-way country inn, where it was impossible to be certain about the
sheets. After all, if the fatigue was severe a day's rest on arrival
at Bath, postponing the treatment till the day after, would set things
right. But in that case lunch must either be obtained at Reading, or,
better still, they could take it with them in a luncheon-basket, and
eat it _en route_. Denton could take his, too, and they would stop for
half an hour to eat after Reading, thus dividing the journey into two
halves. So far so good.

The question of Filson's journey was more difficult. If the day was
fine she could, of course, travel outside with Denton, but if it was
wet she would have to come inside--a less ideal arrangement with regard
to knees. In that case also Lind would have to go up to town with
the heavy luggage, and see it firmly bestowed in the Bath express at
Paddington. At this point Edith triumphantly vindicated the superiority
of two heads over one, and suggested that Filson should go up to town
with the heavy luggage, and catch the 2.30 express (was it not?) at
Paddington, thus arriving at Bath before them. Indeed, she would have
time almost to unpack before they came.

The 2.30 train was verified, and thereafter all was clear. Lind would
escort Filson and the heavy luggage to the station, and since Mrs.
Williams would be putting up lunches anyhow, Filson could take hers
as well.... But it was time to get ready for church, and the question
of cushions and cloaks for so long a drive which might be partly cold
and partly warm must wait. But certainly Denton would have to come in
either after church or in the evening, for the route, which appeared to
lie straight down the Bath road, had not been tackled at all yet.

Mrs. Hancock's religious convictions and practices, which Edith
entirely shared with her, were as comfortable as her domestic
arrangements, but simpler, and they did not occupy her mind for so many
hours daily. It must be supposed that she recognized the Christian
virtue of charity, for otherwise she would not, in the course of the
year, have knitted so large a quantity of thick scarves, made from a
cheap but reliable wool, or have sent them to the wife of her parish
clergyman for distribution among the needy. She worked steadily at them
after the short doze which followed tea, while Edith read aloud to her,
but apart from this and the half-crowns which she so regularly put into
the offertory-plate, the consideration of the poor and needy did not
practically concern her, though she much disliked seeing tramps and
beggars on the road. For the rest, a quiet thankfulness, except when
she had rheumatism, glowed mildly in her soul for all the blessings
of this life which she so abundantly enjoyed, and even when she had
rheumatism she was never vehement against Providence. She was quite
certain, indeed, that Providence took the greatest care of her, and she
followed that example by taking the greatest care of herself, feeling
it a duty to do so. For these attentions she returned thanks every
morning and evening in her bedroom, and in church on Sunday morning,
and also frequently in the evening, if fine. When rheumatism troubled
her she added a petition on the subject and went to Bath. Never
since her earliest days had she felt the slightest doubts with regard
to the religion that was hers, and dogma she swallowed whole, like
a pill. Her father had been a Canon of Salisbury, and in the fourth
and least-used sitting-room in the house, where smoking was permitted
if gentlemen were staying with her, was a glass-fronted bookcase in
which were four volumes of his somewhat controversial sermons. These
she sometimes read to herself on wet Sunday evenings, if Edith chanced
to have a sore throat. Her evening doze usually succeeded this study.
But to say that the principles of a Christian life were alien to her
would be libellous, since, though neither devout nor ascetic, she was
kind, especially when it involved no self-sacrifice, she was truthful,
she was a complete stranger to envy, slander, or malice, and was quite
unvexed by any doubts concerning the wisdom and benevolence of the
Providence in which she trusted as firmly as she trusted in aspirin and
Bath for her rheumatism.

At the church in which she was so regular an attendant, she found
both doctrine and ritual completely to her mind, even as it was to
the mind of the comfortable and prosperous inhabitants of Heathmoor
generally. No litany ever lifted up its lamentable petitions there, the
hymns were always of a bright and jovial order, unless, as in Lent,
brightness was liturgically impossible, and the vicar even then made
a habit of preaching delightfully short and encouraging sermons about
the Christian duty of appreciating all that was agreeable in life, and
told his congregation that it was far more important to face the future
with a cheerful heart than to turn a regretful eye towards the sins
and omissions of the past. To this advice Mrs. Hancock found it both
her pleasure and her duty to conform, and, indeed, with her excellent
health, her four thousand pounds a year, and her household of admirable
servants, it was not difficult to face the future with smiling
equanimity. And though, again, it would have been libellous to call
her pharisaical, for she was not the least complacent in her estimate
of herself, she would have experienced considerable difficulty in
making any sort of catalogue of her misdoings. Besides, as Mr. Martin
distinctly told them, it was mere morbidity to dwell among the broken
promises of the past. "Far better, dear friends, to be up and doing in
the glorious sunlight of a new day. Sufficient, may we not truly say,
to the day is the good thereof. Let that be our motto for the week. And
now."

And the refreshed and convinced congregation poured thankful
half-crowns into the velvet collecting pouches, and themselves into the
glorious sunlight.

Edward Holroyd, from the bow-window of his dining-room next door--like
most of the inhabitants of Heathmoor he habitually sat in his
dining-room after breakfast when not leaving for the City by the 9.6
a.m. train--saw the Hancocks' car glide churchwards at ten minutes
to eleven, and then proceeded to his drawing-room to practise on his
piano with slightly agitated hands. The agitation was partly due to
the extraordinary number of accidentals which Chopin chose to put
into the Eleventh Etude, partly to a more intimate cause, connected
with the invitation he had just accepted. For some months now--in
fact, ever since his twenty-seventh birthday--he had made up his mind
that it was time to get married, and had held himself in a position
of almost pathetic eagerness--like a man crouching for the sprint,
waiting the signal of the pistol--to fall in love. But either the
pre-ordained maiden or some psychical defect in himself had been
lacking, and he had long been wondering if there was to be any
pistol at all. If not, it was idle to maintain himself in the tense,
crouching strain. But he had no doubts whatever that he wished to be
married, and that Mrs. Hancock--when he allowed himself for a moment
to face a slightly embarrassing question--wished him to be married,
too. She constantly turned his head in one particular direction, and
that direction showed him, in house-agents' phrase, a very pleasing
prospect, which, without complacency, he believed smiled on him with an
open and even affectionate regard. But he wondered at himself for not
being of a livelier eagerness in emotional matters, for he brought to
the vocations and avocations of his busy and cheerful life a fund of
enthusiasm which was of more than normal intensity. Like the majority
of the males of Heathmoor, he rounded off days of strenuous work in
the City with strenuous amusements, and with croquet in summer and
bridge and piano-playing in the winter, filled up to the brim the
hours between the arrival of the evening train and bedtime. But the
failure of the inevitable and unique She to put in an appearance and
bewitch the eyes and the heart which were so eager to be spellbound was
disconcerting. For years he had looked for her, for years he had missed
her, and since his twenty-seventh birthday he had begun to determine to
do without her. He accepted the limitations, namely, his own inability
to fall in love, for which he could not devise a cure, and was prepared
to close gratefully with so pleasant and attractive an arrangement as
he believed to be open to him. He liked and admired Edith, her firm
and comely face, her serene content, her quiet capable ways. She was
as fond of croquet and bridge as himself, and--this was a larger
testimonial than he knew--really enjoyed his piano-playing. And if the
lightnings and thunders of romance roused no reverberating glories
in his heart, it must be remembered that romance is a shy rare bird,
coming not to nest under every eave, and that there would be a very
sensible diminution in marriage fees if every man delayed matrimony
until the blinding ecstatic light fell upon his enraptured eyes.

It is clear "what was the matter," in medical phrase, with this
handsome and lively young man. At heart he was an idealist, but one
ready to capitulate, to surrender to beleaguering common sense. He was
ready to sacrifice his dreams, a somewhat serious offence in a world
where true dreamers are so rare. By nature he was a true dreamer, but
accumulating wealth and the dense comfort of life at Heathmoor had
done much to rouse him, though in music he still saw the fiery fabric,
unsubstantial and receding. In performance he was quite execrable, in
imagination of the highest calibre. Through all his patient and heavy
strumming he heard the singing of the immortal bird, and even his
reputation as a piano-player in the drawing-rooms of Heathmoor had not
made him lose his profound appreciation of his own incompetence. But in
music alone was he worthy any more of the title of a dreamer; to-day
he stood pen in hand ready to sign the greatest capitulation to common
sense that a man is ever called upon to make, for he was ready to
give up the image of the invisible conjectured She that stood faintly
glimmering in the inmost chamber of his heart and throw it open for a
charming enemy to enter.

It was not long before he gave up his attempts on the piano, for this
invitation to lunch next door had caused him to take a definite
resolution which upset all steadiness and concentration, and, lighting
a pipe, he strolled out into his garden. He had not room there for a
full-sized croquet lawn, and had contented himself with three or four
hoops of ultra-championship narrowness, through which, with the fervour
of the true artist, he was accustomed to practise various awkward
hazards. But here, again, as by the piano, desire failed, and, with
an extinguished pipe, he sat down on a garden-seat, and experienced a
sharp attack of spurious middle-age, such as is incidental to youth,
regretting, as youth does, the advent of the middle-age, which in
reality is yet far distant. He had completely made up his mind to
propose to Edith that day, believing, without coxcombry, that he would
be accepted, believing also that the future thus held for him many
years of health and happiness, with the addition, no slight one, of
a charming and inalienable companion whom he liked and admired. Yet
something, the potentiality of the fire which had never yet been lit in
him, caused him an infinite and secret regret for the step which was
now as good as taken. He longed for something he had never experienced,
for something of which he had no real conception, but of which he
felt himself capable, for, as the flint owns fire in its heart, but
must wait to be struck, he felt that his true destiny was not to be
but a stone to mend a road, or, at the best, to be mortared into a
house-wall, with all his fiery seed slumbering within him. Yet ... what
if there was no fire there at all? He had long held himself ready,
aching, you might say, for the blow that should evoke it, and none had
struck him into blaze.

It was not surprising that the approaching motor-drive to Bath loomed
conversationally large at lunch, and Edward proved weighty in debate.
He had a sharp, decisive habit in social affairs; his small change of
talk was bright and fresh from the mint, and seemed a faithful index to
his keen face and wiry, assertive hair.

"Quite right not to break the journey, Mrs. Hancock," he said. "Most
country hotels consist of feather-beds, fish with brown sauce, and
windows over a stable-yard. But if you do it in one journey, get most
of it over before lunch. I should start by ten at the latest."

Mrs. Hancock consulted a railway time-table.

"Then Filson will have to be finished with her packing at half-past
nine," she said. "The heavy luggage must go to the station in the car
before we start."

"Have it sent in a cab afterwards," suggested Holroyd.

Mrs. Hancock pondered over this.

"I don't think I should like that, should I, Edith?" she said. "I
should prefer to see it actually leave the house. Or can I trust Lind
and Filson? Edith, dear, remember to remind me to take the patience
cards in my small bag. There is room to lay out a patience on the
folding-table in the car, and it will help to pass the time."

"And have you got footstools?" asked Edward.

Over Mrs. Hancock's face there spread a smile like the coming of dawn.
Here was a comfort that had never occurred to her.

"_What_ a good idea!" she said. "I have often felt a little strained
and uncomfortable in the knees when motoring for more than an hour or
two. Very likely it was just the want of a footstool. Remind me to take
out my bedroom footstool in the car this afternoon, Edith, to see if it
is the right height. You _are_ helpful, Mr. Holroyd. I never thought of
a footstool."

His next half-dozen suggestions, however, showed that Mrs. Hancock had
thought of a good deal already, including a Thermos flask of coffee,
a contour map of the country, and a stylograph pen in case she found
that she had left anything behind, and wanted to write a postcard _en
route_. Postcards she always carried in a green morocco writing-case.

"Filson must take a postcard, too," she said, "ready directed to Lind,
in case anything goes wrong with the luggage. That is a good idea. She
will be very comfortable, do you not think, Mr. Holroyd, in a nice
third-class compartment for ladies only. I am often tempted to go
third-class myself, when I see how cheap and comfortable it is."

Edward felt quite certain that this was a temptation to which Mrs.
Hancock had never yielded, and lunch proceeded in silence for a few
moments. Then, since nobody was able to make any further suggestion
whatever which could lead to additional comfort or security on this
momentous journey, Mrs. Hancock allowed herself to be drawn into other
topics, still not unconnected with Bath, such as the efficacy of the
waters, and the steepness of the hills which surrounded it, which,
however, with Denton's careful driving and the new brakes she had had
fitted to her car, presented no unmanning terrors.

"I shall be there," she said, "exactly four weeks, so as to get back
early in June. Bath is very hot in the summer, but I do not mind that,
and the hotel rates are more reasonable then. After that we shall be
occupied, for my niece, Elizabeth Fanshawe, will arrive almost as soon
as I return. She will be with me till she goes back to India to her
father in October."

Out of the depths of half-forgotten memories an image, quite vague and
insignificant, broke the surface of Holroyd's mind.

"Was she not with you two years ago?" he asked. "A tall, dark girl with
black hair."

"Fancy your remembering her! I so envy a good memory. Edith, dear,
remind me to get the piano tuned. I will write from Bath. Elizabeth
is for ever at the piano now, so my brother tells me. She will enjoy
hearing you play, Mr. Holroyd. Well, if everybody has finished, I am
sure you will like to have a cigarette in the garden. Edith will take
you out and show you the tulips."

It must not be supposed that this arrangement was to be dignified into
the name of manoeuvre on Mrs. Hancock's part, except in so far that
after lunch she liked to skim the larger paragraphs of the _Morning
Post,_ comfortably reclining on the sofa in her private sitting-room.
She was not a person of subtle perceptions, and it had certainly
never occurred to her that Holroyd had come to lunch that day with
his purpose formed; she only wanted to read the _Morning Post,_ and,
as usual, to throw him and Edith together. As for Edith, she had been
quite prepared a dozen times during this last month to listen with
satisfaction to his declaration, and to give him an amiable affirmative
on the earliest possible occasion. Each time that her mother arranged
some similar little _tête-à-tête_ for them she felt a slight but
pleasurable tremor of excitement, but was never in the least cast down
when it proved that her anticipations were premature. She was perfectly
aware of her mother's approval, and it only remained to give voice to
her own. She had long ago made up her mind that she would sooner marry
than remain single, and she had never dreamed or desired that it should
be any other man than this who should conduct her to the goal of her
wishes. That she was in any degree in love with him--if the phrase
connotes anything luminous or tumultuous--it would be idle to assert;
but equally idle would it be to deny that, according to the manner of
her aspirations, he seemed to her an ideal husband. For ten adolescent
years--for she was now twenty-four--she had lived in the stifling and
soul-quelling comfort of her mother's house, and it would have been
strange if the dead calm and propriety of her surroundings had not
bred in her a corresponding immobility of the emotions, for there is
something chameleon-like in the spirit of every girl not powerfully
vitalized; it assimilates itself to its surroundings, and custom and
usage limn the hues, which at first are superficial and evanescent,
into stains of permanent colour. Passion and deep feeling, so far from
entering into Edith herself, had never even exhibited themselves in the
confines of her horizons; she had neither experienced them nor seen
others in their grip. But she thought--indeed, she was certain--that
she would like to be mistress in the house where Edward Holroyd was
master. She felt sure she could make herself and him very comfortable.

She went out, hatless like him, into the warm bath of sun and
south-west wind, and they passed side by side up the weedless
garden-path. All Nature, bees and bright-eyed birds and budding
flowers, was busy with the great festival of spring and mating-time;
nothing was barren but the salted weedless path, so carefully
defertilized. The tulips were a brave show, and in their deep bed
below the paling a border of wallflowers spun a web of warm, ineffable
fragrance. Ellis, returned from his midday hour, was still engaged with
the clicking mowing machine on the velvet-napped lawn, and they went on
farther till the gravel of the paths of the flower-garden was exchanged
for the cinders of the kitchen patch, and the hedge of espaliers hid
them from the house. Then he stopped, and a moment afterwards she
also, smoothing into place a braid of her bright brown hair. And
without agitation came the question, without agitation the reply.
Indeed, there was nothing for two sensible young people to be agitated
about. Each was fond of the other, neither had seen any one else more
desirable, and over the hearts of each lay thick the cobwebs of comfort
and motor-cars and prosperous affairs and unimpassioned content. Only
as he spoke he felt some vague soul-eclipse, some dispersal of a dream.

Then he drew her towards him and kissed her, and for one moment below
the cobwebs in her heart something stirred, ever so faintly, ever so
remotely, connected with the slight roughness of his close-shaven face,
with the faint scent of soap, of cigarette. But it did not embarrass
her.

They stood there for a moment looking into each other's faces, as if
expecting something new, something revealed.

"Shall we tell your mother now?" he asked.

Still she looked at him; he was not quite the same as he had been
before.

"Oh, in a minute or two," she said.

Suddenly he felt that he had to stir himself somehow into greater
tenderness, greater----But he felt disappointed; it had all been
exactly as he had imagined.

"I am very happy," he said. "I have thought about this moment so much,
Edith."

It was the first time he had used her name.

"Edward!" she said, looking straight at him. "Edward! No, I don't think
I shall call you Edward. I must have a name of my own for you."

At the moment the sound of a gong from within the house droned along
the garden.

"The motor is round," she said.

This time it was he who delayed, though without passion.

"Your mother will not mind waiting a minute," he said.

"No. What else have you to say to me?"

"Everything; nothing."

She laughed.

"There is not time for the one," she said, "and no time is required for
the other. Besides, all the time that there is is ours now."

In all her life she had never phrased a sentence so neat, so nearly
epigrammatic. Its briskness was the fruit of the stimulus that had come
to her.

They delayed no further, but went back to the house, where Mrs. Hancock
was already waiting. She did not attempt to appear surprised at their
news, but, placidly delighted at it, kissed them both, and took it for
granted that Edward would come in to dine with them that evening. Then,
since there was no use in vain repetitions, she reverted to the topic
which had to be considered at once.

"Let me see," she said. "I think the motor is round, and Filson has
brought down the footstool from my bedroom to see if it is the right
height. A quarter to eight, then, dear Edward, to-night; we shall be
quite alone, and if you will come in half an hour sooner I have no
doubt that you will find my darling dressed and waiting to talk to
you. Fancy what a lot you will have to say to each other now! And
then, after dinner, as you are drinking your glass of port, I shall
claim you for a little conversation, while we send Edith to wait in
the drawing-room. Oh, I see you have brought the footstool from the
spare room as well, Filson. That _was_ well thought of, as they are of
different heights, and one might suit if the other did not. Let me get
in, and see which suits me best.... Now try them one on top of the
other, Filson. Well, really I think that is the most comfortable of
all. Edith, dear, are you ready? And I have brought down my patience
cards, and if I put them into the pocket under the window at once I
can dismiss them from my mind. There! A quarter-past seven, then, dear
Edward, for a chat before dinner. Yes, leave the footstools in the car,
Filson, and we will measure the height when I come back."

Denton was standing with the door knob in his hand, waiting for orders.

"You might take us first to Slough, Denton," she said, "so that we
shall see what the road is like before we join the Bath road next week,
and then we can go through the Beeches. We are ten minutes late in
starting, but if we are a little late for tea it won't matter for once
in a way. Tell Mrs. Williams, Lind, that we may be ten minutes late for
tea."

Mrs. Hancock habitually wore a perfectly natural and amiable smile on
her pleasant face, except when her rheumatism gave her an exceptional
twinge, or, more exceptionally yet, Mrs. Williams was not quite up to
the mark. To-day the discovery of the footstools and Edith's engagement
seemed to her to be touching examples of the care of Providence, and
she was beamingly conscious of the variety of pleasant objects and
topics in the world. She laid her hand in Edith's as the car started.

"And now I want to hear all--all about it, darling," she said. "Oh,
look, there are two magpies! Is not that lucky? And will you let your
window quite down, dear? It is so warm and pleasant this afternoon. I
will have mine just half-way up. There! That is nice! And now I want to
hear all about it."

Edith returned the affectionate pressure of her mother's hand.

"It was all so sudden, mother," she said, "and yet I was not at all
startled. He--Edward stopped when we reached the kitchen-garden, and so
I stopped, too. And, without any speeches, he just asked me, and I said
'Yes' at once, as I had always meant to. And then he said he was very
happy, and kissed me."

Mrs. Hancock thought that Denton was driving a little too fast, as if
he meant to make up the lost ten minutes, but she checked herself from
calling down the tube to him.

"My dearest!" she said. "You will never forget the first kiss given you
by the man who loves you. Oh, what a jolt!"

The jolt decided her, and she called to Denton not to go quite so fast.
Then she pressed Edith's hand again.

"Tell me more, dear," she said. "Had you expected it at all?"

Edith looked at her with complete candour.

"Oh, yes!" she said. "And that is why it seemed so natural when it
came."

The faintest flush glowed on her face.

"But I never liked him so much before as when he kissed me," she said.
"It did not make me feel at all awkward. I used to think that if such
a thing ever happened to me I should not know which way to look. But
it all seemed quite natural. Our tastes agree in so many things,
too--music and croquet and so on. That is a good thing, is it not?"

Mrs. Hancock beamed again.

"My dear, of course," she said. "Community of taste is half
the"--battle, she was going to say--"half the strength and joy of
marriage. Oh, here we are in Slough already. Turn to the right,
Denton, and go through Burnham Beeches. Yes, what games of croquet
you will have, and what music. I will get a gate made in the paling
between his garden and ours, so that there will be no need to go round
by the front door and ring the bell. I dare say Ellis could do it, or
even if I had to get a carpenter it would be but a trifle anyhow, and
I certainly shall not permit Edward to pay half of it, however much he
may insist. Bless you, my darling! I feel so happy and contented about
it. Look, there is a Great Western express. What a pace they go!"

Edith usually gave excellent attention to the various bright objects
which continually caught and pleased her mother's eye. But to-day she
wandered, or rather, did not wander.

"It was wonderful," she said. "I hadn't guessed."

But her mother had other things as well to think about.

"Edward was quite right," she said. "A footstool, or rather one on top
of another, makes all the difference. I shall order a very thick one
from the stores, sending the height I require. And I think I must give
a little dinner-party before I go to Bath, dear, just to tell a few
friends our news. I wish the asparagus was a little more forward. How
lovely the beeches are! And look at those sweet little birds! Are they
thrushes, I wonder, or what? And what do you guess they are saying to
each other? I will ask Mr. Beaumont, I think, and the Martins and Mr.
and Mrs. Dobbs. It will not do to have it on Wednesday if we start
early on Thursday, as we shall find plenty of little jobs on the last
evening, and it will be wise to get to bed early if we are to motor
all next day. It must be Tuesday. Perhaps the asparagus will have come
popping up, if the hot weather holds. Darling, I cannot tell you how
pleased I am! And what an excitement for your cousin Elizabeth. Fancy
if she was a bridesmaid before she went back to India! What a lot she
would have to tell to Uncle Robert! We shall soon have to begin to
think when it is to be."

Mrs. Hancock said no more on this subject, for the fact was that she
had not made up her mind when she wished the marriage to take place.
She had vaguely contemplated going to Egypt with her daughter next
winter, and she could not offhand balance the disadvantages of going
alone (in case she settled that Edith should be married first), with
the advantage of saving the expenses of taking her. Then a brilliant
possibility struck her. Edward might be induced to come too, in which
case the marriage must certainly take place first. Since then he would,
of course, pay for Edith. But all this required consideration.

Indeed, there were many things which would need a great deal of careful
thought. Chief among them, already blotting out the beauty of the
beeches, was the whole question of settlements. Edith would naturally
inherit the whole of her mother's money at her death (an event to be
contemplated with only the most distant recognition), and Mrs. Hancock
had no intention of making serious inroads into her income, which,
handsome as it was, did not more than provide her with everything
she wanted, and enable her to put by a nice round sum of money every
year. This she was so much accustomed to do that it was unreasonable
to expect her at her age to break so prudent and long-established a
habit. But all this must depend to some extent on Edward's attitude
and expectations. She had no doubt that, for his part, he would do all
that was generous, which would obviate the necessity of being very
open-handed herself. Living next door, Edith would be able to come in
to lunch every day when he was in the City, and enjoy her motor-drive,
as usual, without any expense. The croquet-lawn, too, would be quite at
Edward's disposal.... Practically, she was presenting the young couple
with a motor-car, a lunch daily, and a croquet-lawn, kept in excellent
order by Ellis, straight away. Then there were wedding presents to be
thought of, which would be a great expense; and Elizabeth was going
to spend four months at least with her--an additional drain.... Mrs.
Hancock began to feel quite worried and pressed for money, as she was
accustomed to do when, having made some considerable investment, she
found she had not more than two or three hundred pounds lying at her
bank.

Edward arrived, as had been already agreed, half an hour before dinner,
and found Edith, already dressed, waiting for a lover's talk in the
drawing-room. Lind had seen that the housemaids had completed the
evening toilet of the room, and strict injunctions had been issued that
the two were not to be disturbed. Edward kissed her again as soon as
they were left alone, but after that no interruption, however sudden,
would have surprised a fiery scene. Both were placid, content, happy,
undisturbed by strong emotion, and unembarrassed by its absence. But
though as yet no surface signs gave indication, the evenly hung balance
had begun to quiver. Once more his kiss woke in her a tremor of dim
agitation, while inwardly he wondered, though as yet unembarrassed,
at his own want of emotion. Not for a moment did he regret what he
had done; he was happy in the event of the day, but only a little
surprised, a little scornful of himself for finding that he felt so
precisely as he had anticipated that he would feel. He had not expected
to be inflamed with sudden rapture, and was not. Dimly he saw that the
adventure to which they were committed promised more to her than it
did to him, and he was ashamed of that. Yet to him it had its definite
promise. This charming girl whom he liked, whom he admired, with whom
he was in sympathy, had consented to share his life with him. To no
one would he have so willingly offered himself as to her who had so
willingly accepted him. His horizon, such as it was, was filled with
her.... Only he wondered, and that but vaguely, what lay over that
horizon's rim. But he found no difficulty in framing his lips to the
sense and nonsense of lover's talk.

"I have been too happy all the afternoon to do anything," he said. "I
have just sat and strolled and thought and waited."

He possessed himself of her hand, and told himself how capable it was,
yet how soft, how pretty. Hitherto he had not given many thoughts to
hands; now he realized that this particular one concerned him. He
admired it; it was strong and fine.

"Ah, I am having a bad influence upon you already," said she, "if I
make you idle."

Suddenly it appeared to him a wonderful and beautiful thing that he
and a charming girl should be saying these intimate things, and his
response was almost eager.

"I was only idle from happiness," he said. "Isn't it all wonderful?
Would you have had me go to tea with some foolish people whom I did not
want to see?"

"I make you misanthropic as well. But I'm not ashamed if I make you
happy."

Something stirred within her, some new beating pulse. She came a little
closer to him.

"You looked so nice, Edward," she said, "this afternoon, when you
stopped and spoke. But I couldn't bear your tie. I shall knit you one
the same shade of brown as your eyes. I will do it at Bath."

"It is a great nuisance your going to Bath," he said. "Must you really
go? I want you here. But the tie will be lovely."

"Oh, conceit," she said, "after I have told you it is to be the colour
of your eyes."

"I forgot that. Aren't you being rather malicious?"

He looked up from her hand to her face. Never before had he noticed
how bright and abundant was her hair, how delicate the line of black
eyebrow. He corrected himself.

"Malicious, did I say?" he asked. "I meant--I meant delicious. And,
talking of eyes, I must give you a turquoise engagement ring for the
day, and a sapphire one for the evening."

"What has that to do with eyes?" she asked.

"Everything. Yours are light blue in the sunlight, and dark blue at
night."

"I feel as if I ought to apologize. But I don't think I shall; it
wasn't my fault."

"I don't insist," said he. "But I insist on knowing one thing. When?"

"When? What do you mean?" she asked.

"Look me in the face, and say you don't know."

Edith laughed--a happy little quiver of a laugh that she had never
heard yet.

"I could if I liked," she said. "But I don't choose to. If you mean----"

"That is exactly what I mean."

"How can you know before I have said it?" she asked.

"I can. Do say what I mean."

Again she laughed.

"When shall we be married was what you meant."

She looked extremely pretty and rather shy. He had never noticed before
how fine was her mouth, how fine and fair the curve of her upper lip.

"Yes, sapphire and turquoise," he said. His lips said it, his brain
said it.

The sonorous tones of the Chinese gong, manipulated with so cunning a
crescendo and diminuendo by Lind, boomed through the house. Immediately
afterwards Mrs. Hancock's tread, noticeably heavy, was heard on the
stairs. She hummed some little nameless ditty in warning. Edith got up.

"Dinner already?" she said.

Edward, perhaps, was not quite so much surprised at the swiftness of
the passage of this half-hour.

"Before you have answered my question," he said as the door opened.



CHAPTER IV

COMFORTABLE PLANS


Had the Day of Judgment or any other devastating crisis been fixed for
the morrow, that would not have delayed Mrs. Hancock's retirement to
her bedroom not later than eleven the night before. Sometimes, and not
rarely, she went upstairs at half-past ten in order to get a good night
before the fatigues of the next day, whatever they might happen to be,
but in no case, unless by chance she went to the theatre in town, was
she later than eleven. She did not always go to bed immediately on
arrival in her room; frequently, after she had played her invariable
game of patience, while Filson brushed her hair, she read a book,
since, as she so often lamented, she had so little time for reading
during the day; sometimes she sat in front of her fire making further
plans for her comfort.

To-night plans occupied her for a considerable time, and though they
directly concerned Edith, they might still be correctly classified as
bearing on her own comfort. She had literally enjoyed half an hour's
conversation with Edward after dinner; this had been of a highly
satisfactory character, for she had ascertained that he was making a
really substantial income, and that he had investments, all of a sound
character, which already amounted to over thirty thousand pounds. This,
in the event of his death--to which apparently he did not mind alluding
at all--he was prepared to settle on his wife. The house next door
was freehold property of his, and, though he had contemplated selling
that and purchasing one that was more of the size to which Edith was
accustomed, he seemed perfectly ready to fall in with Mrs. Hancock's
clearly expressed wish that he should remain where he was, for the
wrench of parting with Edith at all was only tolerable to her if the
parting was not to be more than a few yards in breadth. The question
of the garden-gate in the paling did not, however, fill him with any
intense enthusiasm, and she, after making it quite clear that he was
not expected to pay for it, let the subject drop. But she intended
to give Ellis the necessary instructions all the same, for she was
quite sure he would like it when it was done. Furthermore, he had not
expressed the least curiosity as regards what allowance or dowry she
was intending to give Edith, which showed a very proper confidence. He
could not, in fact, have behaved with greater delicacy, and yet that
delicacy had put Mrs. Hancock, so to speak, rather in a hole. She had
to determine, by the light of her own generosity alone, what she was
prepared to do.

It was this point that now occupied her, after she had written a note
to the stores, ordering a footstool nine inches high, covered in a
dark red shade of russia leather.... So _that_ was off her mind.
Edward had given quite a warm welcome to the scheme of the Egyptian
expedition, and had expressed his readiness to take no holiday this
summer, but have his vacation then. In this case, marriage in November,
a month's honeymoon with his bride, and a reunion with Mrs. Hancock
at Cairo, was an ideal arrangement. All this kindled Mrs. Hancock's
sense of generosity, for it would relieve her of the expense of Edith
on the Egyptian tour, and in the first glow of her gratification, she
proposed to herself to settle on Edith a sum that should produce four
hundred pounds a year. She was almost surprised at herself for this
unhesitating open-handedness, and sat down to consider just what it
meant.

Four hundred a year represented a capital of over ten thousand pounds.
That seemed a great deal of money to put without restriction into the
hands of a girl who hitherto had been accustomed to control only an
allowance for dress and pocket-money paid quarterly. It would be much
more prudent, and indeed kinder, to give her, at first anyhow, till by
experience in household management, she became accustomed to deal with
larger sums, a quarterly allowance as before. Four hundred a year was
more than double what she had been accustomed to, and no doubt Edward,
who was clearly the soul of generosity, would give her no less. Edith
would then be mistress, for her own private expenses alone, of no
less than eight hundred a year. This was colossal affluence; enough,
carefully used, for the upbringing and support of an entire family. She
could never spend eight hundred a year, and there was no need for her
to save, since she was the wife of a well-to-do husband, and heiress
to a considerable fortune. So much money would but be a burden to
her. If her mother allowed her two hundred a year, that added to what
Edward would no doubt insist on giving her--Mrs. Hancock had settled
that he would certainly give as much as she had originally thought of
giving--would make her a more than ample allowance.

Her thoughts went back for a moment to the note to the stores which
lay on the table. Certainly a footstool made a motor-drive much more
comfortable, and, since Edith was going to accompany her to Bath, her
mother could not bear the thought that she should lack the comforts she
gave herself. She would order two footstools.... Without a moment's
hesitation she opened the letter and made the necessary alteration.
There! That was done. How pleased Edith would be.

She returned to the question of the allowance, viewing it, as it were,
from a rather greater distance. She hoped, she prayed that Edith would
have children, who must certainly adore their granny. Their granny
would certainly adore them, and it would be nothing less than a joy to
her to give each of them, say, a hundred pounds every birthday, to be
prudently invested for them, so that when they came of age they would
have tidy little fortunes of their own. She glowed with pleasure when
she thought of that. Children's education was a great expense, and it
would be so nice for Edward to know that, as each child of his came of
age, he would have waiting for him quite a little income of his own;
or, capitalized, such a sum would start the boys in life, and provide
quite a dowry for the daughters. At compound interest money doubled
itself in no time; they would all be young men and women of independent
means. Perhaps Edith would have five or six children, and, though Mrs.
Hancock's munificence would then be costing her six hundred a year--or
interest on fifteen thousand pounds--she felt that it would be the
greatest delight to pinch herself to make ends meet for the sake of
being such a fairy-granny. But if she was paying Edith two hundred a
year all the time the very queen of the fairy-grannies would scarcely
be able to afford all this. And she felt quite sure that Edith would
choose to have her children provided for rather than herself, for she
had the most unselfish of natures.

Hitherto Edith had received a hundred and fifty a year for dress and
travelling expenses when she went alone. She had done very well on
that, and was always neat and tidy; now without doubt her husband
would pay all her travelling expenses, since they would always travel
together. Even if she continued to give Edith a hundred and fifty
pounds a year, that, with her travelling expenses paid by her husband,
and an allowance--as before--of four hundred a year from him, would
be far more than she could possibly require. Besides, her mother had
already settled to provide lunch for her every day while Edward was
in town, and a motor-drive afterwards, while to keep the croquet-lawn
at such a pitch of perfection as so fine a player as Edward would
expect--and she was determined he should find--would mean very likely
another gardener, or, at any rate, a man to come in once or twice a
week to help Ellis. Then there was the trousseau to be thought of,
which Mrs. Hancock was invincibly determined to provide herself, and
that would cost more than the whole of Edith's allowance for the year.
Certainly, with this necessary visit to Bath, and the winter in Egypt
which she had promised Edward she would manage, and with the expense
of having Elizabeth in the house all the summer she herself would be
very poor indeed for the next year. It seemed really unreasonable that
for these twelve months she would give Edith any allowance at all. And
by that time, please God, there might be a little grandchild to begin
providing for. Evidently she would have to be very careful and saving,
but the thought of those for whom she would be stinting herself made
such sacrifice a work of joy and pleasure. But for a moment she looked
at the note to the stores again, wondering whether it would not be
possible to put one footstool between them to be shared by both. That
red leather was very expensive.

Then there were wedding presents to be thought of, and, though she was
determined to give Edith her whole trousseau, she meant to behave
lavishly in this respect, and, glowing with the prospective delight
of giving, she opened the Bramah-locked jewel safe which was let into
her bedroom wall. She quite longed to clasp round Edith's neck the
four fine rows of pearls which had come to her from her late husband,
but this was impossible, since she was convinced they were heirlooms,
and must remain in her possession till her death. There was a diamond
tiara, which, it was true, was her own property, but this was far too
matronly an ornament for a young bride; diamond tiaras also were out
of place in Heathmoor, and she had not once worn it herself in the ten
years that she had lived there; it was no use giving dear Edith jewels
that she would but lock up in her safe. Then there was an emerald
necklace of admirable stones, but it was old-fashioned, and green never
suited Edith. She disliked green; she would not wear it. But pink was
her favourite colour, and here was the very thing, a dog-collar of
beautiful coral with a pearl clasp. How often had Edith admired it! How
often had her mother thought of giving it her! There was a charming
moonstone brooch, too, set in dear little turquoises. The blue and the
pink would go deliciously together. As a matter of fact the turquoises
were rather green, too.

But it was late; time had flown over those liberal schemes. She
locked up the coral necklace and the moonstone brooch in a drawer
by themselves--Edith's drawer she instantly christened it--said her
prayers with an overflowing heart and went to bed. Just before she
fell asleep she made up her mind to order new morocco boxes lined
with dark-blue velvet, with Edith's new initials in gilt upon them,
to hold these wedding-gifts. Then there was Edward; she must give him
something he would use and take pleasure in; there was no sense in
giving presents which were not useful.... Suddenly an excellent idea
struck her. How pleased he would be at her remembering the want he had
expressed the other day--a want that was only one item out of the gift
she contemplated. She would give him a whole set, and he might keep
them in her garden-house since he would use them here. It would be
necessary to write another letter to the stores. What a lot of things
there were to think about and provide when young people were going to
be married!

The little party which Mrs. Hancock invited to receive officially the
news of Edith's engagement were all "delighted to be able to accept,"
even though the notice was so short. Dinner-giving at Heathmoor, though
during the summer croquet and lawn-tennis parties, with iced coffee and
caviare sandwiches, were of almost daily occurrence--indeed, sometimes
they clashed--was chiefly confined to Saturday evening, when no sense
of early trains on the morrow made writing on the wall to check
conviviality. Mrs. Hancock knew that quite well, though in her notes to
her guests she had said, "if by any chance you happen to be disengaged
on Tuesday," and would have been much surprised if any previous
engagement had forced any one to be obliged to decline. Personally,
she would have liked to get together a somewhat larger gathering,
for Ellis said there was no doubt about a sufficiency of asparagus,
but Lind invariably set his hatchet-like face against a party of
more than eight, which he considered a sufficiently festive number.
In the earlier years of Lind's iron rule Mrs. Hancock had sometimes
invited a larger party, but on these occasions the service had been
so slow, the wine so sparingly administered, and Lind's demeanour, if
she remonstrated next morning, so frozen and fatalistic, so full of
scarcely veiled threats about his not giving satisfaction, that by
degrees he had schooled her into submission, and she was beginning
to consider that eight was the pleasantest number of guests, and a
quarter-to the most suitable hour, which also was Lind's choice. So on
this occasion there were the engaged couple and herself, the clergyman,
Mr. Martin, and his wife, an eminent and solid solicitor, Mr. Dobbs
with Mrs. Dobbs, and Mr. Beaumont, one of the few men in Heathmoor who
was not actively engaged all day in making money, partly accounted for
by the fact that he had a great deal already, partly that he would
have certainly lost it instead. Idle, however, he was not, for he was
an entomologist of fanatical activity. He spent most summer evenings
in spreading intoxicating mixtures of beer and sugar on tree-trunks
to stupefy unwary lepidoptera, most of the night in visiting these
banquets with a lantern, and taking into custody his inebriated guests,
and the entire day in beating copses for caterpillars, in running over
noonday heaths with a green butterfly net, and in killing and setting
the trophies of his chase. For a year or two Mrs. Hancock had spread
vague snares about him for Edith's sake, feigning an unfounded interest
in the crawlings of caterpillars and the dormancy of chrysalides, but
her hunting had been firmly and successfully thwarted by his gaunt
sister, who devoted her untiring energy to the destruction of winged
insects and the preservation of her brother's celibacy. She never went
out into Heathmoor society, though she occasionally played hostess at
singularly uncomfortable dinners at home. These entertainments were not
very popular, since escaped caterpillars sometimes came to the party,
a smell of camphor and insects pervaded the house, and Miss Beaumont
began yawning punctually at ten o'clock, until the last guest had
departed. Then she killed some more moths. But her brother was the
nucleus of Heathmoor dinners, and hostesses starting with him built
up agreeable gatherings round him, for, though Heathmoor was not one
atom more snobbish than other settlements of the kind, it was idle
to pretend that the nephew of an earl, brother of a viscountess, and
member of the Royal Entomological Society was not a good basis on which
to build a social evening. He had a charming tenor voice which he had
not the slightest notion how to use; and Heathmoor considered that,
had he chosen to go on the operatic stage, there would not have been
so much talk about Caruso; while the interest with which he listened
to long accounts of household difficulties with fiends in the shape
of housemaids was certainly beyond all praise. At home he managed the
whole affairs of the _ménage_ from seeing the cook in the morning to
giving his dog his supper in the evening, since his sister, when not
occupied with his moths, was absorbed in Roman history.

Mr. Martin and his wife were the first to arrive, and, as usual, the
vicar took up his place on the hearthrug with the air of temporary
host. This, indeed, was his position at Mrs. Hancock's, for it was
he whom she always left in charge of the men in the dining-room when
the ladies left them to their wine, with instructions as to where the
cigarettes were, and not to stop too long. It was his business also,
at which he was adept, to be trumpeter in general of the honour and
glory of his hostess, and refer to any late acquisition of hers in the
way of motor-cars, palings, or rambler roses. In this position of host
he naturally took precedence of everybody else, and his _mot_ "Round
collars are more than coronets" when conducting the leading lady to
the dining-room in the teeth, you may say, of a baronet, dazzled
Heathmoor for weeks whenever they thought of it. His wife, a plump
little Dresden shepherdess, made much use of the ejaculation, "Only
fancy!" and at her husband's naughtier sallies exclaimed, "Alfred,
Alfred!" while she attempted to cover her face with a very small hand
to hide her laughter. Soon they were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs, and
shortly after by Mr. Beaumont, who looked, as was indeed the case, as
if he had been running.

Mrs. Hancock's dinners were always admirable, and since Mrs. Williams
kept a book of all her menus there was no risk of guests being
regaled with dishes they had lately partaken of at the house. The
conversation, if anything, was slightly less varied, since, apart from
contemporaneous happenings that required comment, the main topics of
interest were rather of the nature of hardy perennials. Mr. Beaumont's
sister was always inquired after, and usually the opinion of his uncle
with regard to the latest iniquity of the Radical government. Weather,
gardens, croquet were questions that starred the conversational heavens
with planet-like regularity, moving in their appointed orbits, and Mr.
Dobbs filled such intervals as he could spare from the mastication of
his dinner with its praise.

"Delicious glass of sherry, Mrs. Hancock," he said, very early in the
proceedings. "You can't buy sherry like that now."

Mr. Martin's evening clothes were not cut so as to suggest his
profession. He based his influence not on his clothes, but on his
human sympathy with the joys and sorrows of his friends. "There is a
time to mourn, to weep, to repent," he said once in a sermon; "but
undoubtedly there is a time to be as jolly as a sand-boy." He did not
approve of teetotalism; any one could be a teetotaller. You are more
of an example by partaking of the good things of this world in due
moderation. He drank half his glass of sherry.

"I always tell Mrs. Hancock that her wine would cause a Rechabite to
recant," he observed gaily.

Mrs. Martin covered her face with her hand and gave a little spurt of
laughter. This was an old joke, but social gaiety would speedily become
a thing of the past if we never appeared to be amused at familiar
witticisms.

"Alfred, Alfred!" she said. "How can you? Is not Alfred wicked?"

Conversation became general.

"And have you begun croquet yet this year, Mr. Holroyd?" asked Mrs.
Dobbs. "I suppose you will carry off all the prizes again, as you
always do. I wish you would make Mr. Dobbs take to it instead of
spending all his time catching slugs in the garden. So much better for
him."

"Do not listen to Mrs. Dobbs, Holroyd!" cried the vicar. "I use my
authority to forbid your listening to Mrs. Dobbs. The slugs spoil the
flowers, and, like a greedy fellow, I want every flower in Heathmoor
for Trinity Sunday."

"Alfred! Alfred!" said his wife.

"Yes, my dear, and you will never guess what Mrs. Hancock has just
promised me. While she is at Bath I may order Ellis to send a basket
of her best flowers up to the church every Sunday. No limitation over
the basket, mind you. It shall be a clothes-basket! And as for best
flowers--well, all I can say is that any one who hasn't seen Mrs.
Hancock's tulips this year doesn't know what tulips can be."

Mr. Dobbs, who ate with his head perpendicularly above his plate,
looked up at his wife.

"I told you salmon could be got, my dear!" he said.

"You shall have it," she said, "but don't blame me for the fishmonger's
book."

Mr. Martin laughed joyfully.

"My wife tells me I mustn't play golf so much," he said, "because it
gives me such an appetite that I eat her out of hearth and home. But I
tell her it is one of my parochial duties. How can I get to know the
young fellows of the place unless I join in their amusements? They will
never tell me their difficulties and temptations unless they have found
me in sympathy with their joys. And if when I am playing with them
there is trouble in the long grass, and occasionally a little word, a
wee naughty little word slips out--("Alfred, Alfred!")--you may be sure
that I never seem to hear it."

"Well, I do call that tact!" said Mrs. Hancock genially. "But you must
take a little cucumber with your salmon, Mr. Martin. This is the first
cucumber Ellis has sent me in."

"A gourd--a positive gourd," said Mr. Martin, taking a slice of this
remarkable vegetable. "Jonah and his whale could have sat under it."

"Is not Alfred wicked?" said his wife.

"And you are really off to Bath the day after to-morrow?" asked he.
"And are going to drive all the way in your car? Though, of course,
with a car like yours it is no distance at all. Sometimes I see your
car on one horizon, and then, whizz, you are out of sight again over
the other. But no noise, no dust, no smell. But the speed limit, Mrs.
Hancock? I am tempted to say no speed limit, either."

He refrained from this audacious suggestion, and continued--

"Such an excellent steady fellow, too, you have in Denton. I always see
my friend Denton coming in during the Psalms after he has taken your
car home, and if he has to leave again in the middle of the sermon,
I'm sure he only does at the call of duty what half the congregation
would do for pleasure if they had the courage. They have my sympathy.
How bored I should get if I had to listen to a long-winded parson every
Sunday."

Mrs. Hancock cast an anxious eye on the asparagus. But there was a
perfect haystack of it.

"How much I enjoyed your sermon last Sunday," said she, "about the duty
of being cheerful and happy, and doing all we can to make ourselves
happy for the sake of others. Oh, you must take more asparagus! Ellis
would be miserable if it was not all eaten. It is only the second time
we have had it this year."

For the moment she thought of telling Mr. Martin to supply himself with
asparagus while she was at Bath. But the duty of making herself happy
prevailed, and she refrained, for it occurred to her that Ellis might
dispatch daily bundles early in the morning in cardboard boxes, so
that they would reach Bath in time to be cooked for dinner. The hotel
commissariat would certainly not rise to asparagus so early in the
season.

Mrs. Martin in the meantime, with one sycophantic ear open to catch her
husband's jokes, was full of fancy ejaculations to Mr. Beaumont, who
was describing to her the romantic history of the female oak-egger,
which exercised so extraordinary a fascination on all young males for
miles around. Here Mr. Dobbs was lacking in felicity, for he remarked
that a great many unmarried young ladies would be glad to know how
the female oak-egger did it. But Mr. Beaumont made it unnecessary for
Mrs. Dobbs even to frown at him, so rapidly did he wonder whether it
was called an oak-egger because it laid upwards of a million eggs.
Then Mrs. Hancock called the attention of the table generally to the
fact that the gooseberry tartlets were the produce of the garden--the
first of the year--and Mr. Martin alluded to the Feast of the Blessed
Innocents, saying that even massacre had a silver lining, though not
for the massacred. A savoury of which Mr. Dobbs was easily induced to
take a second helping brought dinner to what musicians call "a full
close."

Then came the moment of the evening. Port was ruthlessly supplied by
Lind to all the guests, whether they wanted it or not, and Mrs. Hancock
rose with her kind brown eyes moist with emotion.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she said, "I have a toast to propose. I ask
you to drink the health of my dear daughter and of Edward Holroyd, my
future son-in-law. Your health, my dear, dear children!"

Mr. Beaumont instantly led off the musical honours on so high a note
that those of the party who could sing followed with faint gasps and
screams. And, under cover of the hubbub of comment and congratulation
that followed, shyly and eagerly Edith's eye sought her future husband.
And when his eye met hers she felt her heart rap out a tumultuous dozen
of unbidden beats, fast and sweetly suffocating. Then she blushed
furiously at a sudden self-accusation of indelicacy, of unmaidenness.
But her heart acquitted her of the indictment. Was it not right to give
that tattoo of welcome?

       *       *       *       *       *

The start for Bath was made in strict accordance with the scheduled
plan. Filson, with the heavy luggage on the top of the motor,
accompanied by Lind, her lunch, and a freshly cut bundle of asparagus
destined for Mrs. Hancock's dinner in the evening, left the house in
such good time that she had to wait twenty-five minutes at the station,
which it took exactly three to reach. The motor returned in time for
Lind to serve Mrs. Hancock's breakfast with all the finish and decorum
to which she was accustomed. Then the new nine-inch footstool--Mrs.
Hancock had decided against the extravagance of two--the map of the
route, the large luncheon-basket, the adjustable card-table, the
writing-case, a couple of new volumes from Mudie's, cloaks of varying
thickness, and the great green russia leather travelling sack were
conveniently bestowed, and full five minutes before the appointed time
the car slid silently away from the door, with all possible provision
made for a comfortable journey.

The first five minutes were spent in verifying the presence of all
these conveniences, and Mrs. Hancock sank back on her carefully
adjusted cushions.

"There!" she said. "We are in for it now, dear; and if all goes as
well as it has begun we shall be at Bath by five. How much nicer than
all the fuss of crossing London, and the risk of having somebody put
into our carriage. Fancy our never having thought of motoring to Bath
before! Oh, look, there is Mr. Martin going to play golf! How early we
all are this morning! And perhaps we shall see Mr. Beaumont with his
butterfly net. Then as soon as we get into the main road I shall have
a look at the morning paper. There has not been a minute to glance at
it yet; or perhaps you would look at it for me, dear Edith, and tell me
what there is. The motion always makes the print dance a little before
my eyes. I expect the time will slip by so that we shall be astonished
when we find we are at Bath, and very likely not be at all tired. And
you must be on the look-out for anything interesting, and write to
Edward about it, in case, when he comes down for a Sunday, he comes by
motor. Then he will be on the look-out and see it, too. Why, we are at
Slough already! There is the Great Western line. Filson's train will go
along there. If she had started three or four hours earlier her train
might have gone by as we passed, and she could have looked out of the
window and seen us. That would have been a coincidence!"

The car ran so smoothly on the excellent surface of the Bath road that
Mrs. Hancock found that the print of her _Morning Post_ had not the
smallest tendency to "dance," and reserving, as usual, the leaders and
longer paragraphs for the digestive period after lunch, she soaked
herself gently as in a warm bath, in the announcements of the arrival
in London of people she had never seen, and the appearance at the opera
of those she had never heard of. What taste exactly was gratified
by these tit-bits of information it would be hard to say. Possibly
the sense that so many people were moving backwards and forwards
enhanced the enjoyment of her own leisure; she mentally contrasted the
bustle that was incident to journeys from Paris with her own smooth,
unhurrying progress to Bath. Edith, meantime following her mother's
suggestion that she should look out of the window in order to be able
to communicate to Edward objects of interest to be seen by the road,
soon passed from external observation to introspection.

These last four or five days since she had so unemotionally accepted
his offer of himself to her had about them something of the
unconjectured surprises of dawn, when, after a night of travel, the
darkness begins to lift off from the face of a new and unfamiliar
country. It was he, in this image, who took the place of the light,
and the country which its gradual illumination revealed, as it soaked
through and dissolved the webs of darkness, was herself. For it is an
undeniable truth that love, that absorption of self in another self,
cannot take place till the giver has some notion of the nature of the
gift that he brings, and Edith up till the present time was as ignorant
of herself as are all girls whose emotions and womanhood have never
been really roused. She had accepted her lover without knowing what
devotion meant, or who it was who accepted him, except in so far that
her name was Edith Hancock, her years twenty-four, and her complexion
fair. For the arrows of love are at the least feathered with egotism;
they will not fly unless a conscious personality enables them to steer
straight, but flutter and dip and reach no mark.

At first, frankly, she was appalled by the barrenness which the light
of her lover showed. It appeared to be level land, without streams
or inspiring hill-tops, a country uncovetable, a featureless, a
mountainous acreage. But it was not stonily barren; even her eyes,
unaccustomed to the light and that which it revealed, saw that. It
was barren but from emptiness, and empty, perhaps only as the winter
fields are bare. It was not an unkindly, an inhospitable land; the very
soil of it cried out and told her that. All day the image of her empty
country, but not unkindly, hung in her mind even as an unborn melody
hovers a little above the brain of the musician, until condensing like
dew it melts into it. And all day, but very gradually, for these dawns
of love come seldom in a blinding flash of a sun upleaping over the
horizon, but rather in a slow crescendo of illumination as of a waxing
flame that shall mount to who knows what transmitted fire, the first
wonderful twilight of the day grew rosy. And in that morning-rose,
which showed her herself, she saw also him whom it welcomed. Eagerly
and with strong sense of possession, she claimed him. It was to her
that he belonged; he was hers, to be loved and adored, but also to be
owned.

Outwardly, she was the Edith whom her mother knew, though in her spirit
were beginning those changes which must soon make her old self a thing
unrecognizable to her clearer vision. But it was scarcely strange that
Mrs. Hancock saw no hint of change, for, as may have been perceived,
she had the gift, or limitation of being completely taken up with the
surface of things; indeed, to her mind any inquiry into the mechanism
of the spirit and its pulses was of the same indelicacy as discussion
of the functions and operations of the human body. If your body was
ill you went quickly to the doctor, and did not call your friends'
attention to your infirmity; if your soul was ill----But Mrs. Hancock's
soul was never ill.

They had the satisfaction of seeing a great many more Great Western
trains at Reading, and passed out into the delectable country beyond.
Then totally unexpected difficulties began to occur with regard to the
spot where they should stop and take their lunch. Just outside Reading,
indeed, there was seen an entirely suitable place, secluded, shady, out
of the wind, and strongly recommended by Denton, but unfortunately it
was then only a quarter-past one, and Mrs. Hancock had not intended to
lunch till half-past. Therefore they pushed on, going rather slow so as
not to miss any really proper encamping ground. Ten minutes later they
were again favoured by an oak-tree and a sheltering hedge, but here
unfortunately a tramp was asleep by the wayside. At any moment he might
wake, and prove to be intoxicated, and Mrs. Hancock was quite sure she
could not enjoy her lunch in his vicinity. Further on again there was a
wayside cottage too near a proposed halting-place, for children might
come out of it and stare, and the cottage was succeeded by a smell of
brick fields. Before long Tilehurst began to show up roofs, and it was
necessary to get clear of Tilehurst on the far side before any sort
of serenity could be hoped for. Then for nearly a mile they had to
follow an impenetrable flock of sheep, and it was imperative to get
well ahead of them. Pangbourne appeared, and it was already after two
o'clock. It will hardly be credited that they had scarcely got free of
this contaminating village when a tyre punctured. A halt was inevitable
while it was being repaired, but then Denton could not eat while he
was mending it, and since they would have to stop again for Denton to
have his lunch (since he could not drive during that process), it was
better to make a halt for general refreshments when the tyre trouble
was overpast.

Mrs. Hancock looked despairingly round.

"It is most annoying," she said. "I do not know that we should not have
done better to have had lunch at an inn at Reading, or to have stopped
at that first place. Remember to tell Edward, dear, to look out for
that first place if he drives down; there is positively nowhere after
that where he can find a quiet spot. I wonder if we had better eat a
couple of biscuits now in case we can't find a suitable place soon.
Dear me, here come those sheep again! They ought not to be allowed to
drive sheep along a road that is meant for carriages. Put the window
up, dear, against the dust."

Suddenly illumination like a cloud-piercing ray shone on Edith. It
struck her that all her life had been spent in looking for a place
to have lunch in, so to speak, in putting up windows for fear of the
dust, in avoiding the proximity of tramps. Infinitesimal as was the
occasion, it seemed to throw an amazing light on to her life. Up till
the present it was hardly an exaggeration to say that anything more
important, anything more directly concerned with existence had never
happened to her. Was it this comfortable ordered life in which an
infinite agglomeration of utterly trivial things made up the sum total
that caused her lately discovered country to appear so barren? She
looked at her mother's face; it was flushed with childish annoyance,
just as it had been about three years ago when a perfectly satisfactory
housemaid gave notice because she was going to be married. Since
then she could remember nothing that had so disconcerted her mother,
except when once Denton shut the corner of the new fur carriage-rug
into the hinge of the motor-door. On both these previous occasions
she had been impressed with the magnitude of the moment; now she felt
slightly inclined to laugh. Even if the unthinkable, the supreme
disaster happened, and they did not lunch at all, would the world come
completely to an end?

But a second glance at her mother's face checked her tendency to laugh,
and encouraged a feeling that was quite as novel to her. She felt
suddenly and overwhelmingly sorry that this drive, this lunch which her
mother had planned with such care and with such pleased anticipation
of comfort, should have disappointed her. It was like a child's
disappointment over the breakage of a toy or the non-fulfilment of some
engaging expedition. There was laughter in her heart no longer; only a
tenderness, a commiseration that sympathized in womanly fashion with a
childish trouble.

It is darkest before dawn, and this Cimmerian gloom, composed of
puncture and the absence of a possible luncheon place, began to lift.
Denton was handy with his tools; the sheep were herded through a gate
into a field by the roadside, so that when they went on again there
was no further passage through the flock to be negotiated. Goring
streamed swiftly by them, and hardly were they quit of its outlying
houses when a soft stretch of grass by the roadside, uncontaminated by
tramp and untenanted by child, spread itself before their eyes. And
Mrs. Hancock, as she finished the last jam puff, was more beaming than
the sun of this lovely May afternoon.

"I'm not sure that it was not worth while going through all these
annoyances and delays," she said, "to have found such a lovely place
and to have enjoyed our lunch so much. I was afraid the jam might have
run out of the puffs; but it was as safe as if they had just come up
from the kitchen. I wish Edward was here to have enjoyed it with us.
You must tell him what a good lunch we had!"

And Edith found her mother's enjoyment as tenderly pathetic as her
disappointment had been.



CHAPTER V

COMFORTABLE SETTLEMENTS


Edward Holroyd had arranged to go down to Bath for a certain Saturday
till Monday, some fortnight after the safe arrival there (on the stroke
of five) of Mrs. Hancock's motor. He had spent a couple of rather
lonely weeks at Heathmoor since the departure of his neighbours,
and he was pleased to find how much he missed Edith. His failure to
achieve poignant emotion over his engagement had troubled him; he was
distressed about the indolence of his temperament. He had never yet
seen a girl whom he so much admired and liked, but the very fact that
he was able to contemplate her image and tell himself how charming she
was, seemed to him part of that failure. She affected him with the same
degree of emotion that a spring morning or a melodious song stirred in
him. He could, while basking in her charm, tell himself that he basked;
he was not by the exquisitiveness of the conditions rendered in the
least oblivious of himself; his sensations had not any overpowering
mastery over him. Duly he sat and thought about her when he got home
in the evening from his day in the City, duly and honestly he told
himself how delightful her perpetual presence would be to him. But he
did not dream and doat; he never lost himself in haze of rapture; he
was not blinded by any intolerable brightness. But he wanted immensely
to see her again; he missed her as much as he was capable of missing
anything. But his industry at his office and his appetite at his dinner
were wholly unaffected, though they would quite certainly have been
impaired if for any reason his engagement had been broken off. She was
the nicest girl he had ever seen, and in the autumn she was going to
marry him.

To-night, on the eve of his departure to Bath, he reminded himself
many times of his great good fortune. He had known friends who had
suffered the torments of the lost over the obduracy or the indifference
of girls whom they wanted to marry, and his sympathy with such men was
tinged with jealousy that they felt so keenly. She had been neither
indifferent nor obdurate; she had at once granted him his heart's
desire. And then he faced the question that arose out of his fortunate
situation. Would he have suffered unutterable torments if she had
refused him? He knew he would not.

The night was warm; a full moon rode high in an unclouded heaven; and
he let himself out of the French windows of his drawing-room into the
small lawn behind the house. A windless calm reigned, and the shadow of
the trees that bounded his lawn fell in sharp unwavering outline on the
dewy grass. Next door the black mass of Mrs. Hancock's house, unpierced
by any lights except the small illuminated square from servants' rooms
in the top story, stood with blinds drawn down over the windows, solid,
concrete, comfortable, a brick and mortar rendering of the ordered life
that was lived there. No roofs, he felt sure, leaked; no windows stuck;
no door squealed on its hinges; and its inhabitants, whom he knew so
well, to whom he was so sincerely attached, were equally strangers to
squealing and leaking. Soul and body they were watertight; undesirable
emotions no more percolated into their souls than did rainwater into
their roofs; they stood with their well-built walls cool in summer
and warm in winter; their windows never rattled when gales bugled
outside. And he himself, he knew also, was in the same excellent state
of repair; it was a characteristic of Heathmoor to be in an excellent
state of repair. They all stood like that, side by side in detached
residences, with small though charming gardens behind.

For the moment he was in revolt against this deadly respectability;
then, with a comical despair, he knew that he was not even in revolt.
He could not do more than imagine being in revolt. Rightly or wrongly,
he connected all this well-ordered comfort, those eggs and bacon for
breakfast and buttered toast for tea with his inability to feel keenly.
Life had never stung or prodded him any more than it appeared to have
stung or prodded Mrs. Hancock; and that she could be stung or prodded
by anything was beyond the bounds of the most fantastic imagination.
There were no wasps' nests in all Heathmoor; the gardens were too well
looked after. And there were no psychical wasps or gadflies either;
the gospel of Mr. Martin, preached so regularly and convincingly every
Sunday, made it a sin to be otherwise than cheerful and contented and
well-fed. No disturbing influence ever came down in those first-class
carriages; not even Mrs. Grundy ever paid them a visit; she left
her own dear children to look after themselves with a complete and
untroubled confidence in their good behaviour.

As for Edward, his conduct had from boyhood upwards been such as to
justify that lady's absence. In life he was a natural Grundyite,
indisposed to the venial if unjustifiable violences of youth, not
so much from a lack of vitality or, on the other hand, from high
principle, but from a sheer, innate respectability which beat in his
blood. He had been one of those boys who never have given their parents
a moment's anxiety, not from any stern sense of right behaviour, but
because he was that exceedingly rare product in a world that is almost
entirely composed of exceptions--a perfectly normal young man, one,
that is, who lies just about upon the mean which is fixed resultantly
by contending forces. He was that _lusus naturæ,_ an average young
man, a sport, an exception, a rare variety (to be collected by the
Mr. Beaumont of human moths), an instance in himself of the average,
which in the sum is made up of qualities of specimens, none of which
is average. He was in life and conduct what the average young man is
supposed to be and, in the mass, not individually, is. He was neither
milksop nor adventurer, neither celibate by nature nor debauchee.
He was not miserly with money or spendthrift, neither devout nor
irreligious. In two points only did he depart from the perfect
specimen of the average: he was exceedingly good-looking, and he had
been a dreamer, though his dream blossoms as yet had borne no fruit.
Indeed, as has been already stated, he had largely acquiesced in their
barrenness, and in the matter of the ideal She had shaken himself
awake. Round one subject only did they linger, that was music, in
regard to which, so far as he performed at all, he was so atrocious a
practitioner.

It was long past midnight as he stood there in his garden and surveyed
the solidity of the house next door, and the novelty (to him) of his
reflections about it had been perhaps induced by his listening that
night to that out of which his dreams were made, for he had just
come back--motoring down in great comfort--from a performance at the
opera of the "Gotterdämmerung." All evening he had been wrapped and
absorbed in the immense tragedy of its portentous people, and just
now they and their woes and their loves seemed to him more real, more
essentially existent than all the actual and tangible things with which
he was surrounded. They were the substance of which this moonlight,
this square house next door, the remembrance of Edith even, were but
the shadows of the spaces they moved among, even as the shadows on
the grass were but an accident of light occurring to the trees that
cast them. On such a night after the uproar of cosmic cataclysm the
moon shone on the waters of the Rhine with their restored treasure;
through a hundred and a thousand such nights Brunnhilde slept below her
breast-plate on the mountain-top, maiden, but goddess no more, till
to Siegfried's soul she resumed a nobler divinity.... And that divine
duet, with its webs of melody passing through and through it like a
shuttle of pure light, was but the expression of love, such love as it
had been given to man to feel, since a man wrote and recorded it. It
was such music now that his soul should be making when he thought of
Edith. But he knew that no such frenzy of fire inspired him; if his
soul sang it was but a cheerful little tune, admirably adapted to the
domestic hearth. And that was the best music he could make. Anyhow, it
had no wrong notes in it; it had no wild cadences or broken and sobbing
rhythms. It was just a cheerful little tune such as they sang in church
about morning gilding the skies. You only had to substitute "moon" for
"morning" ... and you were as jolly and comfortable as possible.

Edward began to be aware that his brain was dictating thoughts which
his conscious mind did not endorse. They resembled the tissue of
confused images which lie on the borderland which intervenes between
the sheer incoherence of sleeping dreams and the drowsiness which
precedes it. But there was an uneasy, though only momentary, wonder
in his mind whether these disordered images sprang not from the poppy
soil of sleep but from a gradually awakening brain, whether they
were not the light at the end of a tunnel rather than the dimness of
its entrance. The cool cells of thought had grown feverish with the
excitement of the drama he had just seen ... or had they begun to stir
to their own proper activity? Which was real, in fact, the white cool
flame of the moonlight as it shone on still trees and dewy grass, or
the song of Siegfried, which burned the sunset air and blinded with
rapture the eyes of Brunnhilde, when she woke, goddess no more, and by
that the more divine?

Heathmoor, the essential spirit of Heathmoor, in the incarnation of the
striking of the clock at the livery stables, came to his rescue, for it
unmistakably reminded him that the hour was two in the morning--a time
which probably occurred every night, but a time of which the evidence
was a matter of inference rather than experience. He hailed it as a
navigator driving before the wind in rock-sown and dangerous waters
might hail a harbour light that betokened an inlet in a wave-beaten and
inexorable cliff. He could "put in," and escape from these threats of
wave-crest and storm. It was long past the proper time to go to bed,
or, in Heathmoor phrase, he would "never" get up in the morning.

But that waiting in the still moonlight shadowed by the unwavering
trees had been a moment of revelation. A little light, coming from the
realms of music where alone his imagination worked, had been blinked
into the windows of the dark and tidy room where otherwise he lived. It
was like a distant lightning flash coming at night to a room where in
a cool clean bed a man lay drowsy but awake. He wondered whether the
storm would move nearer. And before he slept he wondered whether Edith
would understand. She knew he was "fond of music." Would she understand
that "fond of music" was a mere phrase of nonsense if meant to convey
what it held for him?

He fell into a slightly priggish sleep.

He arrived at the admirable Star Hotel at Bath next afternoon, and
found a room had been engaged for him by Mrs. Hancock, who, with Edith,
welcomed him at the station. He had been uncertain whether he was her
guest or not, but she at once put and end to all doubt on this point
by telling him that she had bargained with the manager on his behalf,
and that he had granted him the reduced terms on which she, making a
long stay, was entertained, which saved him half-a-crown a day, and
included the unlimited use of the bathroom. Of course he would use
their sitting-room quite freely, just as if it was his own.

"And I can't tell you how pleased I am to see you, dear Edward," she
said, laying a cordial hand on his knee. "We will have tea at once, as
my bath is at half-past five, and I like to reach the establishment a
full ten minutes before the hour, and so after tea you and Edith will
be left to your own devices. What a lot you will have to tell each
other, for it's a fortnight and three days since we left home, though
I'm sure it doesn't seem more than a week. Ellis sends us a bundle of
asparagus every morning, and says it will last another ten days at
least. They are most civil about having it cooked, and don't charge a
penny for it or for giving melted butter with it. I quite expected they
would charge for the melted butter!"

This seemed to be the sum of Mrs. Hancock's news, and shortly after
tea (she had brought her own tea with her, which, perhaps, served to
counterbalance the munificence of the management as regards the melted
butter) she went off to her bath, leaving the two together.

Edward had occupied a chair, while Edith sat on the sofa; now he came
beside her.

"Well?" he said, capturing her hand.

Edith looked at him as she had never looked before; her eyes sought and
held and embraced him.

"Tell me all you have been doing," she said, "especially the little
things. I think the little things matter most. They are more intimate."

"But I want your news," said he.

She flushed a little.

"I have wanted you," she said simply. "What a little thing!"

Not till then did he understand the change that had come over her
in this last fortnight--the change that concerned him alone. It was
clear that the music which her soul made was no cheerful little chant.
Inarticulate, it sang and soared. A little of that fire leaped across
to him, kindling him.

"That was sweet of you!" he said. "But it makes me feel rather nervous.
What if you are disappointed?"

She came a little closer to him.

"I've got an awful confession to make!" she said. "When--when you asked
me first, I was so pleased and glad, but I didn't care. Not care. But
since then----" She looked up at him.

"I care so much," she said. "And I want to be worthy. You have such
fine thoughts, Edward, thoughts so much above me. I've always known
that, but now that I care for you I realize it. When you play, for
instance, you are hearing things I am deaf to, seeing visions, perhaps,
that I am blind to. But I do want to learn. Will you teach me? Nobody
but you can teach me."

Her confession ennobled her; he saw a glimpse of her far above him. All
the years that he had known her he had thought that there was nothing
up high like that. But it had always been there; it wanted but the sun
and wind of love to part the cloud and show the shining peaks. Human
peaks, divine peaks, the highlands of dawning love. She was beginning
to realize for herself, quite easily, quite without effort all that he
lacked, all that in the vague dream of his youth he believed to lie
outside of him. Already she was there, her foot on the eternal snows,
bathed in the eternal sunshine. The commonest and greatest miracle of
all was in process within; the waterpots were already reddening with
the true grape.

"I never guessed," she said. "And, oh, Edward, if only caring made me
less stupid! But be patient with me and wait for me to learn. I shall
be able to learn if you will teach me. There is a whole great world
round me, full of splendour and beauty, which somehow doesn't come
in one's way at Heathmoor. I think"--and she laughed--"I think the
asparagus, so to speak, shuts it out. But it is there; it's everywhere.
You took me right up to it, and even then I didn't recognize it at
once. Now I am beginning to recognize it. I get glimpses of it, anyhow."

This was near enough to the dream-thoughts that had come to him last
night as he looked at the square house next door to enable him to join
her. But she, who besought him to teach her, spoke authentically of
what she had seen; he, the teacher, but babbled and halted over things
imagined and not realized.

"Ah, that is so much what I felt last night," he said. "I went to the
'Gotterdämmerung' in town, and when I came back I stood in the garden,
and all that you say was in my mind. There is a splendid world round
us, and too much asparagus. I don't mean----"

She guessed just what he stopped himself from saying.

"But mother is such a dear," she said. "I love her comfortable little
plans. They are as touching as a child's. I wouldn't spoil her pleasure
for anything. Tell me about the 'Gotterdämmerung'; it is all that which
I want to learn. There's love in it, and tragedy, all big. Music says
what you feel. Isn't that it? I can see it does to you when you play.
And what music says to you, you, the fact of you, say to me."

Yet he felt this was exactly the same girl whom he had long known,
comfortable, pleasant, pretty. The change was but the change that
happens to a plant when the spike of blossoms shoots upwards from its
heart, and was not so much change as growth. She had shot up, far away
ahead of him with her budding stem, and all the time she thought she
was reaching up to him. And he, gratified and a little embarrassed,
thought so, too.

"You mustn't say such things to me," he said. "It makes me feel as
if--as if you had put me on a pedestal, somehow. But it is true, that
music says to me things which turn into ideas, longings, aspirations.
But, so far from me teaching you what it means, it is you who have got
to teach me. It is you who are the explanation of it all. Don't you
see----"

He stopped a moment, trying himself to grasp the thought which eluded
him. So, at least, he imagined to himself; in reality he sought the
fire that should kindle him. And fire of a sort was not hard to find,
for they sat alone together, and she, whom he liked and admired, clung
to him. He kissed her and found himself nearer to passion than he had
ever been yet.

"It must have been you that I was looking for," he said.

Again in her the tremulous flame of a girl's first love shot up, fed
with the new fuel. Then, by a sudden impulse, she got up and stood a
little away from him, passing her hand over her eyes.

"I feel as if it can't be," she said, "and yet when you say it is, I
can't disbelieve you. But are you sure?"

He got up also.

"I tell you the truth when I say that I never cared like this before,"
he said. "All that I know of love is yours; you lit it."

She looked at him mutely, inquiring, scrutinizing. Something within
her wanted more, wanted a conviction that she had not yet got. It was
as if there was still some closed chamber in her heart that was not
yet flooded; the tide did not flow freely throughout her. And for that
moment's space she wondered if he, too, was in the same incomplete
stress of emotion, if the entire abandonment which she knew she lacked
held off from him.

For a moment only the doubt lasted, the next it was enough for her that
so much was hers already; the unfolding of love was at work on the
petals of her girlhood, and she did not even desire to hurry the hour
of full-blowing.

That for the present was the apex of the mounting flame in her, which
made the air round it quiver and glow, so that its heat and radiance
were beginning to touch with lambency all the common things of every
day around her, transforming them, as by the light of an Indian sunset,
into opalescent brightnesses. Already to her the sun was of a wider
light, the wind of May more caressing, the fields greener, the faces
she passed in the street lit with a happiness and a humanity she had
never noticed before. She saw and heard and apprehended all that
touched her senses with a greater vividness; the paper she read from to
Mrs. Hancock when she rested after her bath had a new significance, and
as she conned aloud the list of surnames of those who had been born,
married, and died--which was the opening chapter of the daily lecture,
in case her mother knew any of them--she found herself wondering about
the history of their loves. The most commonplace events filled her with
reflections which, though delightfully commonplace themselves, were
utterly new to her as material for thought. If the Prime Minister went
to Balmoral--the kind of news that was particularly gratifying to Mrs.
Hancock--Edith now was interested in it, not from wonder--like her
mother--as to what they would say to each other, but because before the
Prime Minister was a baby in his cradle, a man and a woman had looked
with eyes of dawning love on each other. The whole world was vivified,
a keener pleasure infused the common actions of life, she ate and drank
with a new savour, she went to sleep with a more luxurious sense of
that drowsy gulf, and, above all, she awoke with welcome for the day.
She joined every morning the ranks of those living and sentient things
to whom the knowledge of love had come; she was struggling, yet the
struggle was effortless, as if a new force invading her soul did the
battle for her--on to the level of real existence, leaving the desert
for fertile lands. She read the secret in the eyes and mouths of those
she met in the street, for they knew it, even as did the wind and the
sun, and the stars that wheeled. Sometimes she spoke of this new thing
to her mother, who must be among the initiated, and then the wing of
comedy shed a feather as it passed. Mrs. Hancock's reminiscences of her
beautiful days were of the nature of pressed flowers; it seemed that
their fragrance had departed, though they retained their outward form.

"Your father was a very handsome young man, dear," she would say--"very
handsome, indeed, with a rather bluish chin, for at that time he had
no beard. I don't think there can ever have been a more poetical
lover, and scarcely a day passed when he did not bring me some volume
of Tennyson's early poems, or Mr. Browning's. Edith, if you would put
the window just an inch more up we can talk. Thank you, dear! He could
understand all Mr. Browning wrote about different ways of love, and
explained it most beautifully. There was 'One Way of Love' and 'Another
Way of Love,' and one of them happened about the middle of June. I
learned that one by heart in order to please him. He used to say the
most wonderful of all was 'By the Fireside,' which was in November;
but that was after they married. Oh, look, dear; what a tiresome dog!
Some day it will be run over, and it won't be Denton's fault. Your
father was very jealous, and, though I hope you will never give Edward
any cause for that any more, I am sure, than I did, men are like that
sometimes, and they don't seem to be able to help it. He was quite
devoted to me, so it sprang from a good cause. Yes, he used to read Mr.
Browning's poems, though he was very fond of Mrs. Browning's too. Mr.
and Mrs. Browning! What a lot of poetry they must have read to each
other--all made up by themselves! I wonder if she understood it as
well as your father! He never found any difficulty about carrying on
the sense between the lines, which I think is the hardest part. And
to think that now you are going through the same happy time! Darling,
look, it is half-past three; and we must turn at once, else we shall
never get home in time for tea. Will you tell Denton down the tube to
turn as soon as he possibly can? When we get home I will let you read
the copies of Mr. Browning's poems which your father gave me. Have you
heard from Edward this morning? When he comes I shall have to talk to
him about business."

This business talk, which, so far as Mrs. Hancock was concerned,
followed on the lines which she had laid down for herself in the
matter of allowance for Edith, took place next morning. He had
suggested the more usual course that their respective solicitors
should represent their clients' views to each other, but Mrs. Hancock
preferred a personal and direct interview. She felt that Edward, who
was so generous, would understand the somewhat peculiar position that
she fully intended to take up, whereas the more practical and less
sympathetic mind of a solicitor might not see things in so romantic a
light. So Edith was informed when it was twenty minutes to eleven and
time that she should put her hat on, while Edward was told that it was
quite excusable that he should not want to go to church after sitting
in an airless office all the week. But it was a little chilly, and she
asked him to shut completely the window of the sitting-room.

"And now, dear Edward," she said, "we must have a little business talk,
which I am sure will soon be done, since I am as certain to approve of
your plans about Edith as you are to approve of mine. And then, when
we have talked it over, we can instruct our solicitors, and they will
draw up the settlement. Please smoke a cigarette; you will be more
comfortable so. There we are!"

Mrs. Hancock, indeed, felt perfectly comfortable. She had pictured her
plans in such delicious grandmotherly colours to herself that they
could not fail to touch Edward's heart. And she proceeded to lay them
before him.

"I am what they call fairly off, my dear," she said, "and, indeed, I
put by a little every year, though, as you know, to do that I live
extremely simply, just with the ordinary little comforts of life to
which I have been accustomed. Now at my death every penny of my fortune
will go to Edith, with the exception of two or three little bequests to
servants. At present it is something over a hundred thousand pounds.
You and Edith will enjoy that for many, many years after I am gone."

Mrs. Hancock felt as if she was making some deed of tremendous
generosity; the sense of that and the allusion to her own death caused
her eyes to stand in moisture, which she wiped away with one of her new
handkerchiefs, which were so expensive.

"But I am beginning at the end," she said, "and we must come back
to the present. I mean, dear Edward, to give Edith the whole of her
trousseau. I shall be very much vexed with you if you want not to let
me have my way about that. Everything she can want, and, indeed, much
more than I ever had, in the way of frocks and linen, shall be hers,
and shall be paid for by me. Put your cigarette in your mouth, and
don't think of interrupting me."

She beamed delightedly at him, sure that had she not positively
forbidden it he would have protested against her munificence.
Munificence, too, she really thought it, when she considered how much
lace....

"But that is not my great plan," she said. "I know so well, without
your telling me, that you will shower on Edith more than a girl
accustomed to the simplicity of life she has hitherto led can possibly
dream of spending, and so I have thought of a great expense which,
please God, will certainly come upon you and her, which you have not, I
expect, taken into consideration. Children, my dear Edward; I want it
to be my pleasure and privilege to provide for them, and, with careful
management, I shall be able to give each of your children as they
are born the sum of a hundred pounds, and on every one of all their
birthdays, if they live to be a hundred, fifty pounds more!"

To Mrs. Hancock's cars this sounded immense. It is true that her
original plan had been to make the yearly birthday gift a hundred
pounds to each of them, but in the interval between forming that idea
and to-day she had seen that such a scheme would amount to a lavishness
that was positively unreasonable, if not actually wrong. It is true
that it was not exactly likely that she would continue to be in a
position to shower this largess on children that were yet unborn for a
hundred years after their birth, unless she was to outrival the decades
of old Parr; but the sentence sounded well, and expressed, though
hyperbolically, the sumptuous extent of her intentions. But she had to
climb down from those great heights, and proceeded to small details.

"Take another cigarette, Edward," she said, "or otherwise you will be
arguing with me, and, as I have quite made up my mind, there would be
no use in that. My dear, I am a very determined person when once my
mind is made up, and I shan't listen to your remonstrances, so you
needn't trouble to make them. There! I can afford to do this, and since
I can, I am determined to. Now, as regards smaller matters, I know you
are very well off, but I want to spare you any extra expenses that I
possibly can, and a hundred little schemes occur to me. I send myself
to sleep at night with thinking what I can take on my shoulders, for
I assure you it is the little drains on one's purse that make the big
hole in it, so in the first place let me tell you that your motor bills
for tyres and petrol needn't be a penny more after your marriage than
they are to-day. I intend that Edith--and I shall tell her so--shall
consider my car as hers, in exactly the same manner as she has always
considered it ours, shall we say? Morning and afternoon, whenever she
feels inclined, she can have her drive with me, on _my_ tyres, and on
_my_ petrol. You will be sure when you are away in the City that your
car won't be scouring all over the country, eating up every penny you
make."

There is a psychical phenomenon known as suggestion, whereby the
operator produces a hypnotic effect on his subject, causing his mind to
receive and adopt the desired attitude. For the moment, at any rate,
Mrs. Hancock was producing this effect on Edward; her own sublime
conviction that she was making the most generous provision infected
him as she reeled off this string of benefits. But there are subtle
conditions under which suggestion acts, which, perhaps, she did not
appreciate, for at this point the effect began to wear off. Probably
she should have stopped there; unfortunately she continued. It may be
that she began to see through herself, and thus enabled her subject to
see through her.

"Household books, too!" she said. "You have no conception, nor has
Edith--for it takes years of careful housekeeping to understand all
about it--you have no conception what economies can be made in them,
nor, if you do not practise them, what a tremendous drain they are. Let
us say that Edith is alone for lunch, while you are in the City, and
she orders a fillet of sole, and a cutlet, with some French beans,
and a little cherry tart, and perhaps a peach to finish up with, for
dear Edith has such an excellent appetite, I am glad to say, and is not
like so many women who, when they are alone, have a sandwich on a tray
or a piece of cake, and find themselves getting anæmic and run down in
consequence. Edith, as I was saying, orders a decent little lunch like
what she is accustomed to, every day like that, when she is alone, and
at the end of the week I shouldn't wonder if her lunches had cost her
twenty-five or thirty shillings. Well, I want to spare you all that
expense; there will be lunch for Edith every day at my house, so that
all the household books for your purse will be a couple of poached eggs
in the morning and a plain little dinner in the evening, if you want to
be alone with her. Otherwise you can both find your dinner, and such a
warm welcome, my dear, as often as you like where she had her lunch.
And even if it costs me another gardener, I am determined to have my
croquet-lawn as good as a croquet-lawn can be, and you can come across
and play on it, and have your cup of tea or your whisky and soda with
me any day you like. I mean to turn my house into a hotel for you and
my darling, where you will ask for whatever you like, motors and what
not, and never have a bill sent in to you. Everything provided, Edward,
all the year round, and the warmest welcome from the old proprietress.
There! I don't think I can say more than that; and I certainly don't
mean less. About wedding presents I shall say nothing, because I mean
them to be a surprise."

But the suggestive glamour had faded, and Edward found himself adding
up in a clear-sighted and business-like manner what this all amounted
to. Immediately the result seemed to be that Mrs. Hancock would
have Edith's companionship at lunch and in her drives, and that he
could play croquet next door. Edith the day before had alluded to
her mother's childlike pleasure in her plans, but it seemed to him
that a certain power of parsimonious calculation presided over their
childlikeness, and it was not without a sense of surprise and almost
of incredulity that he made the inference that Mrs. Hancock had no
intention of giving her daughter any allowance or of settling anything
on her. For himself, he could not by any stretch of malignant criticism
be called niggardly or close-handed, and he felt justified in making
quite sure of the unlooked-for situation.

"Then you do not propose to settle anything on Edith," he said, "or
make her any allowance?"

He knew that this was a perfectly proper suggestion to make, that the
absence of any provision for Edith was ludicrous, yet the moment he
had made the suggestion he was sorry. He understood also what Edith
had meant by "childlikeness," for Mrs. Hancock's face changed suddenly
from its beaming and delighted aspect, and looked pathetic, hurt,
misunderstood. It was clear that she had taken the sincerest pleasure
in devising all these dazzling plans, which at present, anyhow, cost
her nothing, and in avoiding any direct expenditure. She had quite
certainly convinced herself of her own generosity, and of the unselfish
thought and ingenuity--which caused her to lie awake at night--that had
devised those schemes. But this miserliness, the ingenuity of which was
so perfectly transparent to anybody else, was not, he felt convinced,
transparent to her. Hurriedly he corrected himself; it was as if he
had unthinkingly taken a toy away from a child; now he made the utmost
haste to restore it, to anticipate the howl in preparation for which
it had opened its mouth.

"How stupid of me!" he said. "I had quite forgotten in the multitude
of your gifts that you were providing with such generosity for our
children. Of course you do that instead of giving money to Edith.
I think that is a delightful plan. Why, they will all be heirs and
heiresses by the time they grow up. And the lunches and drives for
Edith, too; she will never be lonely while I am away in town. And the
croquet and everything. I never heard so many nice plans."

He knew he was being weak, was yielding on points on which he really
had no business to yield, in order to avoid a scene. It was quite
ridiculous--and he was aware of that fact--to treat this middle-aged
and wideawake woman as if she was a child, to give her anything to
prevent her howling, but the morality of the matter did not trouble
him at all. She was like a child; he saw the resemblance; but no less
striking was the resemblance to a selfish child, or to a very miserly
grown-up person. He did not really doubt that some part of her brain,
carefully walled up and sequestered, knew that she was acting in a
thoroughly miserly manner, but she entirely refused to attend to that,
treating it as we treat some involuntary suggestion of a disobedient
mind, putting it from her even as she put away secular reflections
when in church, and indulging instead and painting in tender but
vivid colours the image of the beloved old granny--not so old,
either--incessantly signing the most sumptuous cheques for the benefit
of her beloved chicks, or looking from the drawing-room window on to
the velvet-napped croquet-lawn where Edward stood with brimming whisky
and soda, while Edith, a child tugging at her skirts, went through hoop
after hoop. She loved to see everybody happy round her, all enjoying
the fruits of her bounty, and if, incidentally, she herself gained a
companion in her daily drives, at any rate Edith would not sit solitary
over her expensive lunch while Edward was in town. And if, in reality,
she was a somewhat selfish person, and one somewhat insincere, how much
more comfortable that she should think that she was brimming with kind
plans for other people, when as a matter of fact she was only making
the most pleasing schemes for herself. It was not possible entirely
to agree with her in her estimate of herself, but there was certainly
no use in distressing her by letting her know that he saw through
her. She had hypnotized herself--by excessive gazing--into her creed
about herself, and any dissension from it was only likely to make her
think that the dissentient was unkind, not shake her belief in her own
tender benevolence. She started from that even as Euclid starts his
amazing propositions from certain postulates; if you did not accept the
postulates you could not proceed any further in her company.

Normal human vanity renders complete self-knowledge impossible, but
complete self-blindness is almost equally uncommon, and at the very
back of her mind Mrs. Hancock knew very well that she was acting
in a manner which, if occurring in anybody else, she would have
unhesitatingly labelled mean. But she never indulged in such thoughts
about herself; she turned a deliberate back upon them, for they were
rankly inconsistent with the spirit of cheerful selfishness which was
the key to her character. She shut the door on them as she shut it on
tales of misery and crime, ignoring and, if necessary, denying their
existence. And if it was easy to spoil her childlike pleasures, it
was easy also to restore them in all their integrity, and Edward's
assurance that he had never heard so many nice plans was amply
sufficient for her. Again her well-favoured face beamed with delighted
smiles.

"I thought you would like them," she said, shutting the door not only
on her knowledge of her meanness, but on his also, "and you have no
idea what a pleasure it was to me to make them. So, since you approve,
we will regard my share of the arrangements as settled. And now for
your part. I am certain I shall be as satisfied with what you intend to
do as you are with my intentions. But before we go on you must tell me
what I have to do. Must I have a deed drawn up? Is it a deed they call
it?"

He was careful not to spoil pleasure this time.

"I think that is scarcely necessary," he said. "You see you are--are
making no settlements on Edith. You have promised to do certain things
for our children, but for the present, anyhow----"

She interrupted.

"I see," she said, "but you must be certain to tell me whenever it is
necessary for me to have a deed drawn up. I shall be always ready to do
it, and to thank you for reminding me. Well, then."

She settled herself in her chair with an air of pleased expectation,
and, it must be confessed, a secret gratification that she had not got
to "put her name" to anything at all.

"I shall draw up a will," he said, "settling the whole of my property
on Edith in trust for her children, if she has any, and, if not,
for her use during her lifetime. In other words, she will enjoy the
interest on my money, though the property itself will be in the hands
of trustees. It amounts at present to about thirty thousand pounds."

Edward paused, for it was clear that Mrs. Hancock was pondering some
point.

"Let me thoroughly understand," she said. "In case of your death,
Edward, without children (though it really is quite horrid to think
about such a thing), if she wanted to build herself a little house,
shall we say, would she not be able to put her hand on three or four
thousand pounds?"

"No. She would have the income from my money for life."

Mrs. Hancock was almost as eager to secure financial advantages for
Edith, as she was to retain her own herself--almost, not quite.

"But she would find it difficult to live in a suitable house, the sort
of house to which she has been accustomed, on the interest of thirty
thousand pounds," said she.

"Do you think so? It means about fifteen hundred a year."

"Yes, I know, my dear, a very nice pleasant little income. But you must
think what she has been accustomed to, for I must say that, though, as
you know, I live very simply, yet I have never grudged Edith anything.
Think if she was ill! A long illness is so terribly expensive. Would it
not be better to insure your life, and settle that on her, so that she
could have a little fund for a rainy day? I know my husband insured his
life long before he married me."

Edward stiffened a little.

"I think, then, she might look to you for assistance," he said.

"Ah, how pleased I should be to make any economies for her sake," she
said, with feeling. "But what if I am no longer here to help her?"

"In that case she will have all your money in her complete command," he
remarked.

This was undoubtedly the case, and it was not possible to pursue that
particular line of grabbing any further. She smiled at him not quite
so tenderly.

"My dear, how sharp the City makes you business men," she observed.

Heathmoor seemed to have done pretty well in that line for her, but he
did not draw attention to that.

"I don't think I feel inclined to make any further provision over
that," he said. "Edith is coming to me, I must remind you, quite
portionless."

A sudden resentment at her attitude seized him.

"Or how would it be if you and I both insured our lives for, let us
say, ten thousand pounds," he suggested, "and settled it on her?"

Mrs. Hancock became dignified.

"At my death," she said, "she already comes into a considerable
fortune."

"Very well. I quite agree with you that no further provision is
necessary."

Mrs. Hancock had not much liked the reminder that Edith came
portionless to him, and did not want that section of the argument--for
it really was becoming an argument--pursued further. She retreated into
her stronghold of satisfaction again.

"And now about the allowance you will make her?" she asked genially.

"I was proposing to give her two hundred and fifty a year for her
private and personal expenses," he said.

Mrs. Hancock's smile completely faded.

"Yes," she said, "yes."

"I gather from your tone that you are not satisfied?" said he.

There was a short, rather unpleasant pause. Then she assumed an air of
confiding candour.

"I did expect, dear Edward," she said, "that you would make a rather
larger allowance than that for her. It is no use my denying it. And
would you mind not smoking another cigarette just yet? The air is
getting quite thick. Now, just as you have told me quite frankly what
you think of my provision for Edith, so I will tell you. There is
nothing like a perfectly frank talk for getting over difficulties. All
her life dear Edith has had a very handsome allowance from me, with
really nothing to spend it on except a dress or a pair of boots. I
don't deny that I have often stinted myself so as not to stint her,
but what her mother has done, that, I think, her husband should do. I
don't think you consider how many more calls a married woman has on her
purse than a girl living at home--all the running up to London to get
household necessities for you, all the greater expenditure on dress
that a married woman must make beyond what a girl requires. Indeed, I
don't see how Edith can manage it on the sum you mention."

Edward's sympathy with Mrs. Hancock's childlike pleasure evaporated. He
did not believe for a moment that the "very handsome allowance" given
her by her mother amounted to anything like the sum he proposed. He
knew also that the sum he proposed was a very reasonable one.

"If you would tell me how much she has hitherto spent," he said, "I
should have some guide."

This Mrs. Hancock did not in the least wish to do.

"I do not mean to say that dear Edith is extravagant," said she, "but
there is a great deal of difference between extravagance and counting
every penny. There has been no need for her to do that; she is not
accustomed to it."

It was impossible for him to ask her point blank what Edith's allowance
had been; it was impossible also to ask the girl herself. He could
not do such things; they were contrary to his average politeness of
behaviour.

"It is true that when I settled to give Edith this allowance," he said,
"I supposed that you would also give her something. I did not know what
your intentions might be."

Mrs. Hancock brightened.

"But you do now, dear Edward," she said, "and you said you quite
appreciate them. Dear me, what was the expression you used which warmed
my heart so? Oh, yes; you had never heard so many nice plans. I am
going to provide--and I assure you the more it costs me the better
shall I be pleased--for your children when I give Edith, oh, so gaily,
into your care. That shall be my part; you were pleased with that. I
dare say it had never occurred to you, and you thought it very likely,
that I should give Edith a hundred or a hundred and fifty a year, so
that she would have three hundred and fifty or four hundred pounds of
her own a year. Then, indeed, she would be well off; she would be as
comfortable as she had ever been."

Suddenly the intolerable sordidness of the discussion struck him.
Justly he told himself that it was none of his making, but he could at
any rate decline to let it continue. He did not hug himself over his
generosity, for he knew that in his comfortable circumstances it made
no real difference whether he gave Edith four hundred a year or not;
merely he could not possibly go on bargaining and disputing. He got up.

"She shall have four hundred a year," he said.

Mrs. Hancock gave a little cry of delight.

"Exactly what I thought that your generosity would insist on giving
her," she said. "It is nice to find how well we agree. I was sure we
should. And what a delicious sunny morning!"



BOOK TWO



CHAPTER VI

ELIZABETH ENTERS


Elizabeth was sitting with her cousin in the garden-house at the end
of the croquet-lawn, waiting for the sound of the gong which should
announce to her that the motor was round to take her for a drive with
Aunt Julia. She had arrived the evening before, after spending a week
at Paris with some relations of her mother, and had, at Mrs. Hancock's
special desire, breakfasted in her room that morning, this being the
correct after-cure for any journey that implied a night in the train
or a crossing of the Channel, for had Mrs. Hancock started at midday
from Calais and come to her journey's end at Dover she would certainly
have had breakfast in her room next day. Elizabeth, as a matter of
fact, feeling extremely vigorous when she woke this morning at six, had
let herself discreetly out of the house, and much enjoyed a two hours'
ramble, returning in time to steal back unobserved to her room, where
she ate her breakfast with remarkable heartiness at nine. Soon after,
she had come out with Edith, while her aunt read small paragraphs in
the paper and saw the cook. The usual schedule for the day had been
altered so that Elizabeth might have a good long drive that morning,
and the motor had been ordered for half-past eleven, instead of twelve;
she could then get a good long rest in the afternoon, which should
complete the journey-cure inaugurated by breakfasting in bed. But this
dislocation of hours had proved too serious to face, and Lind had come
out half an hour ago to say that if it suited Miss Elizabeth equally
well, the car would come round at twelve--or a few minutes before--as
usual.

Elizabeth, as has previously been mentioned, had not looked forward
to this summer in England with her aunt, nor had she considered that
the well-remembered comfort of the house was an advantage. But on this
glittering summer morning, after the dust of trains and the roar of
towns, she found herself in a singularly contented, amused and eager
frame of mind. There was, for the present, a charm for her in the warm
airy house, the exquisitely kept garden, the cheerful serenity of her
aunt. As is the way of youth, she delighted in new impressions, and
she found that in her two years' absence from England, for she had
spent the last summer in the Hills, she had forgotten the aroma of home
life. She was recording those new impressions to Edith with remarkable
volubility.

"But the most beautiful bath!" she said. "All white tiles, and roses
at the window, and silver handles for everything. You should see our
Indian bathroom, Edith! There is a horrible little brown shed opening
from your bedroom, and a large tin pan in a corner, and if you are
lucky a tap for the water. Usually you are unlucky, and there are only
tin jugs of water. In the hot weather the first thing you have to do
is to look carefully about to see that a cobra hasn't come to share it
with you. Then there are no bells; nobody knows why, but there aren't;
and if you want your ayah you shout. If she doesn't want to come she
doesn't appear for a quarter of an hour or so, and explains that she
didn't hear you shout."

"Then how did she know you shouted?" said Edith brightly.

"That is what you ask her, and she explains at such length that you
wish you were dead. Oh, look at the grass--real grass, and there's
still dew on it in the shadow. I long to take off my shoes and
stockings and walk about on it. May I?"

"Oh, Elizabeth, I think not!" said Edith, slightly alarmed. "Ellis
would think it so odd."

"Ellis? Oh, the gardener! He looks like a clergyman, with his
side-whiskers. But does it matter much what he thinks? Servants must
think such a lot of awful things about us. However, I don't mind. I
wanted my bath tremendously this morning, if you'll promise not to
tell, because it wasn't exactly what Aunt Julia meant. You see, she
thought I was tired, and really I wasn't, so I got up at six and had
a delicious ramble. I went on to a quiet common covered with heath,
and there was nobody there but a sort of lunatic with a butterfly net,
running madly about. He caught his foot in a root of heather and fell
flat down at my feet. Of course I howled with laughter."

"Mr. Beaumont," remarked Edith in a tone of inspiration.

"So he told me, because we sat and talked after that. I rather liked
him, and he gave me a cigarette."

"A cigarette?" asked Edith. "You don't mean----"

Elizabeth laughed.

"Oh, dear, have I done anything improper?" she asked. "But, anyhow,
Ellis wasn't there. He is rather mad, I suppose, isn't he--Mr.
Beaumont, I mean? Then while we were sitting there an awful woman came
along the path, like a witch in spectacles and the most enormous boots
I ever saw."

"Yes?" said Edith, rather apprehensively.

"You would never guess; it was his sister. After I had said she was
like a witch. Then she became like a policeman and took him in charge,
and I was left smoking my cigarette all alone. The heather smelt so
good, better than the cigarette. But everything smells good in England,
and reminds you of being clean and happy and cool. But oh, Edith, the
Indian smell, the old tired wicked smell! There's always a little bit
of it smouldering in my heart like a joss-stick. It's made of incense
and hot sand and brown naked people and the filth of the streets and
the water-cart; it's savage and eternal, and it reeks of--it doesn't
matter.... Oh look! Ellis is brushing the grass's hair! Docs he comb it
as well?"

Edith had but little chance of saying anything at all while these
remarkable statements were being poured out by her cousin, but as a
matter of fact she was well content to listen. Two years ago, when she
had seen Elizabeth last, the latter was a tall, thin, sallow girl, with
bursts of high spirits and long intervals of languid silences, and now,
with the strength of two years added and the flow of her adolescent
womanhood tingling in her veins, she was a very different creature.
Her sallow face was tinged with warm blood, giving her the warm brown
complexion that goes with black hair and soft dark eyes; it was as
impossible not to feel the kindly effect of her superb vitality as to
be insensible to the glow of a frosty-burning fire. She was taut and
poised, and full of vigour as a curled spring of steel or the strained
wings of a hovering hawk, with the immobile balance that implies
so intense an energy. Edith, with a rather unaccustomed flight of
imagination, compared herself to a sparrow hopping cheerfully about a
lawn, with a nest in the ivy, and an appetite for bread-crumbs.... But
apparently the sparrow had to chirrup.

"And now I want to hear all sorts of things, Edith," she said. "Tell
me about Mr. Beaumont, and the witch, and who lives next door on that
side and on that. On that side"--and she pointed with her long brown
hand--"I saw a roundabout little woman like a cook, sitting on a
bench and reading the paper. Was it the cook? Was she looking in the
advertisements for another place, I wondered."

"No; Mrs. Dobbs," said Edith. "She's a friend of mother's and mine."

"Tell me about her. What does she think about?"

It had never occurred to Edith to conjecture what Mrs. Dobbs thought
about. You did not connect Mrs. Dobbs with the idea of thought.

"She is very fond of dogs," said Edith.

"I saw them too, curled and brushed. I expect she blacks the ends of
their noses like horses' hoofs. I don't call them dogs. But what does
she think about if she lies awake at night? What you think about lying
awake is what you really think about. Perhaps she doesn't lie awake.
We'll leave her. I don't seem to be interested in her. Who lives there?"

"Mr. Holroyd."

"Whom Aunt Julia said was coming to dinner to-night? She called him
Edward--dear Edward, I think--and I am sure she was going to tell me
something about him when the old man--Lind, isn't it?--came in to say
Mrs. Williams was waiting. So I came out here. Tell me about Edward. Is
he a relation? Shall I call him Edward?"

Elizabeth gave one glance at Edith's face, stopped suddenly, and
clapped her hands.

"I guess, I guess!" she said. "He isn't a relation, but he is going
to be. Edith, my dear, how exciting! I want to hear all about him
instantly."

She stopped again.

"I think he must have come out of his front gate in rather a hurry at
nine o'clock," she said. "Is he rather tall and clean-shaven, with the
look that some people have as if he had washed twice at least that
morning? Also, he was whistling Schumann's first Novelette, very loud
and quite out of tune. I thought that was rather nice of him, and I
whistled too, out of my bedroom window. I had to; I couldn't help it.
Of course I didn't let him see me, and he stopped and looked up at
the sky to see where it came from. My dear, tell me all about Edward
instantly."

Edith gasped in the grip of this genial whirlwind of a girl.

"You are quite right, Elizabeth," she said; "and--and there's nobody
like him. I should have come up to talk to you last night, but mother
said you would be tired. How did you guess? It was quick of you."

Elizabeth laughed.

"Not very, dear!" she said. "You looked as if--as if you were in
church. And as you weren't, it was obvious you were in love. 'Mr.
Holroyd'--you said it like that, like an 'Amen.' My dear, what fun! But
I do hope he's good enough for you, and attractive enough. A man has
to be so tremendously attractive to make up for being a man at all,
with their tufts of hair all over their faces. Of course, I shall never
marry at all. I shall----Oh dear, I've begun to talk about myself, and
really I'm not the least interested in myself. Tell me straight off all
about Cousin Edward."

This was a task of which Edith was hopelessly incapable. She could no
more talk about him than she could talk about religion. Reticent at
all times, on this subject her inability to speak amounted almost to
dumbness. Her thoughts, unable not to hover round him, were equally
unable to alight, to be put into words. The very thought of speaking of
him embarrassed her.

"Quick!" said Elizabeth, putting her arm round her.

"I can't! I can't say anything about him except that he is he. You must
see for yourself. But oh, Elizabeth, fancy his wanting me! And fancy
that when he asked me first I didn't really care. But very soon I began
to care, and now I care for him more than anything. If I go on like
this I shall begin not to care about anybody else. Oh, there is the
gong; that is for the motor. You must go. But in the interval I think
you are a dear. I care for you."

Edith got up, hearing the sonorous Chinese music, but Elizabeth pulled
her back to her seat again.

"Surely the motor can wait five minutes," she said. "We are beginning
to know each other."

"But mother doesn't like waiting," said Edith.

"Nor does daddy; but he very often has got to. What do you and Cousin
Edward talk about? I shall call him Cousin Edward at once, I think, to
show him that I know. Or is that forward and tropical of me?"

Lind approached swiftly across the grass.

"Mrs. Hancock is waiting, miss," he said to Elizabeth. "She thinks you
can't have heard the gong out here."

Elizabeth gave him a ravishing smile.

"Oh, I heard it beautifully!" she said. "Say I'm coming."

"I think Mrs. Hancock expects you at once, miss," said Lind, quite
unsoftened, and continuing to stand firmly there until Elizabeth should
move.

Under these circumstances it was impossible to continue anything
resembling an intimate conversation, and Elizabeth rose just as Mrs.
Hancock herself came out on to the gravel walk below the drawing-room
window. She had been waiting at least three minutes--a thing to which
she was wholly unaccustomed except when going by train. Then, for the
sake of the corner seat facing the engine, she cheerfully waited twenty.

Elizabeth was quite unconscious of any severity of scrutiny on the part
of her aunt as she ran across the lawn and jumped over a flower-bed,
nor did she detect the slightest intention of sarcasm in Mrs. Hancock's
greeting.

"Arc you nearly ready, Elizabeth?" she asked. "If so the car has been
waiting some time."

"I'm quite ready, Aunt Julia," she said, "and I am so looking forward
to my drive."

The usual detailed discussion was gone through with Denton as to their
exact route, and Mrs. Hancock put her feet up on the footstool that had
been bought for the journey to Bath.

"Now we're off," she said; "and if you would put down your window two
more holes, dear, or perhaps three, we shall be quite comfortable.
You look quite rested; that's what comes of stopping in your room for
breakfast. And if you get a good long rest again this afternoon, while
Edith and I are out, I've no doubt you'll be quite brisk this evening.
Mr. Holroyd is coming to dinner, and you'll hear him play. That will be
quite a treat for you as you are so fond of music. And now I want to
tell you----"

Elizabeth interrupted her aunt. To this also she was unaccustomed.

"I think I know," she said. "Do you mean about Mr. Holroyd? Edith told
me. But she didn't seem able to describe him at all. Do tell me about
him! Is he good enough for her? I think she's a dear!"

"Edward is a young man in a thousand," began Mrs. Hancock.

"Yes; but is he the right young man in a thousand? I hope he's rich
too, though of course that doesn't matter so much for Edith. Aunt
Julia, what a lovely car! May I drive it some day? Would your chauffeur
lend me his cap and coat? I used often to drive daddy, till one day
when I went into a ditch. It was so funny; one door was jammed, of
course, against the side of the ditch and we couldn't open the other.
Mamma was inside. We thought we should have to feed her through the
window. But daddy said afterwards that it wasn't entirely my fault. May
I drive now? Or perhaps I had better learn about the car first. And now
about Cousin Edward?"

Mrs. Hancock had received several shocks during this hurricane speech,
and she had to collect herself a little before she could reply. But
before she could reply Elizabeth was away again.

"Oh, here we are on that nice heath!" she said. "It did smell so good!
Oh, Aunt Julia, I think I had better confess! I couldn't stop in bed
this morning, though it was nice of you to want me to get rested, and I
went for a walk about six."

"My dear! All alone?"

"Some of the time. I met a man whom I thought was a lunatic with a
butterfly net, but Edith says it was Mr. Beaumont. He fell down, so we
talked. And his sister came out of a wood! Oh, I believe that is he
again, coming along the road towards us now!"

"But, my dear, what odd conduct on your part!"

"Was it? It seemed the only thing to do. Had I better bow to him, Aunt
Julia?"

Mrs. Hancock felt slightly bewildered by so puzzling a question
of etiquette as that involved by a girl conversing with a total
stranger--particularly when that stranger turned out to be Mr.
Beaumont--at six o'clock in the morning. Prudence prevailed.

"We will both look at the view out of the side-window," she said, and
Mr. Beaumont encountered a pair of profiles.

But Mr. Beaumont and his butterfly net being left behind, Mrs. Hancock
thought well to take advantage of the opportunity for a few general
remarks. Already she had been kept waiting, been interrupted, and
been faced with this problem arising from quite unheard-of conduct on
Elizabeth's part. And as a gentian thrusts blossoms through the snow,
so at the base of her cordiality of tone lay a frozen rigidity. As
her custom was, when she wanted to say something of the correcting
and improving nature, she laid her hand softly--then squeezed--on
Elizabeth's. This was symbolical of the affectionate nature of her
intention.

"I can't tell you, dear Elizabeth," she said, "how I have been looking
forward to your coming here, and I am quite certain we shall have the
happiest summer together. And I hope you won't find the manners and
customs expected of a young lady in England very strange, though I know
they are so different to what is quite right and proper in India, with
all its deserts and black people. Most interesting it all must be, and
I am greatly looking forward to hearing about it all, and I'm sure when
you tell me I shall want to go to India myself. But here, for instance,
dear Edith would never dream of taking a walk at six o'clock in the
morning all alone, when there might be all kinds of people about, or
talking to strangers, or thinking even of driving a motor-car. My dear,
if you would reach down that tube and blow through it and then say, 'To
the right, please, Denton,' he will take us a very pleasant round, and
we shall get back ten minutes before lunch and have time to rest and
cool. Had we started a few minutes sooner, when the car came round, we
should have had time to go a long round, past a very pretty mill which
I wanted to show you. As it is, we will take a shorter round."

There was all Mrs. Hancock's quiet masterfulness in these agreeable
remarks, all the leaden imperturbability which formed so large a factor
in the phenomenon of her getting her own way in her own manner, and
of everybody else doing, in the long run, what she wished, until they
were reduced to the state of abject vassalage in which her immediate
circle found themselves. The effect it produced on Elizabeth, though
not complete, was material.

"I'm afraid that it was my fault we didn't start punctually, Aunt
Julia," she said. "But couldn't we go round by the mill all the same
and be a little late for lunch?"

Mrs. Hancock laughed.

"And make other people unpunctual as well?" she said. "No, my dear;
when anybody has been unpunctual--I am never unpunctual myself--my rule
is to get back to punctuality as soon as possible and start fair again.
We will go to the mill another day, for I hope we shall have plenty
of drives together. About Mr. Beaumont, I hardly know what to do. If
only, you naughty girl, you had not got up but stayed quietly in bed,
as I meant you to do, it would never have happened. I think the best
plan will be for me to ask him to lunch with us and then introduce
you quite fresh, so that he will see that we all mean to forget about
your meeting on the heath. Look, here are the golf links! Very likely
we shall see Mr. Martin playing. He is our clergyman, and we are most
lucky to have him. Yes, upon my word, there he is! Now he sees my car
and is waving his cap! Well, that was a coincidence, meeting him, for
now you will recognize him again when you see him in his surplice and
hood in church to-morrow morning. Dear me, it is the first Sunday in
the month, and there will be the Communion after Morning Service. Mr.
Martin never calls it Matins; he says that is a Roman Catholic name.
How quickly the Sundays come round!"

Elizabeth looked out of the window at the celebrated Mr. Martin, and
saw that here was an opportunity for saying what she felt she must say
to her aunt before Sunday morning. The talk she had had with her father
on the reality of religious beliefs to her had been renewed before she
left India, and, with his consent, she had made up her mind not to go
to church while the reason for so doing remained inconclusive to her.
To attend public worship seemed to her a symbolical act, an outward
sign of something that, in truth, was non-existent.... It was like a
red Socialist joining in the National Anthem. But she had promised
him--and, indeed, the promise was one with the desire of her heart--to
pray, not to let neglect cement her want of conviction.

"Aunt Julia," she said, "I want to tell you something. It is that I
don't want to go to church. It--it doesn't mean anything to me. Oh, I'm
afraid you are shocked!"

It seemed a justifiable apprehension.

"Elizabeth!" said Mrs. Hancock. "How can you say such wicked things?"

This roused the girl.

"They are not wicked!" she said hotly. "It is very cruel of you to say
so. I had a long talk, two talks, with daddy about it. He agrees with
me. He was very sorry, but he agrees."

It is hard to convey exactly the impression made on Mrs. Hancock's
mind. If Elizabeth had confessed to a systematic course of burglary or
murder she would not have been more shocked, nor would she have been
more shocked if her niece had announced her intention of appearing at
dinner without shoes and stockings. The conventional outrage, in fact,
was about as distressing to her as the moral one. She knew, of course,
perfectly well that even in well-regulated Heathmoor certain most
respectable inhabitants, who often sat at her table, were accustomed to
spend Sunday morning on the golf-links instead of at public worship,
but she never for a moment thought of classing them with Elizabeth. She
could not have explained that; it was merely matter of common knowledge
that grown-up men did not seem to need to go to church so much.
Similarly it was right for them to smoke strong cigars after dinner,
whereas the fact that Elizabeth had consumed one of Mr. Beaumont's
cigarettes, had she been cognizant of that appalling occurrence, would
have seemed to her an almost inconceivable breach of decency. Girls
went to church, and did not smoke; here was the statement of two very
simple fundamental things.

"I hardly know what to say to you," she said. "Talking to Mr. Beaumont
is nothing to this. I must ask you to be silent for a little while,
Elizabeth, while I collect my thoughts, and on our first drive too,
which I hoped we should enjoy so much, although your being late made it
impossible for us to go round by the mill as I had planned."

The poor lady's pleasure was quite spoiled, and not being accustomed to
arrange her thoughts in any order, except when she was forming careful
plans for her own comfort, she found the collection of them, which
she desired, difficult of attainment. But very quickly she began to
see that her own comfort was seriously involved, and that gave her a
starting-point. It would be known by now throughout Heathmoor that her
niece from India had come to stay with her for the summer, and it would
be seen that no niece sat with her in the pew just below the pulpit.
Almost all the seats in the church faced eastwards; this, with one or
two others, ran at right angles to them, and was thus in full view of
the congregation. It followed that unless she explained Elizabeth's
absence, Sunday by Sunday, when there was always a general chat--except
on the first Sunday of the month--at the gate into the churchyard, by
a cold or some other non-existent complaint (and this was really not
to be thought of), her circle of friends would necessarily come to the
most shocking conclusion as to Elizabeth's non-appearance. Certainly
Mr. Martin would notice it, and it would be his duty to inquire into
it. That would be most uncomfortable, and if inquiries were made of
her she could not imagine herself giving either the real reason or a
false one. No doubt if Mr. Martin talked to Elizabeth he could soon
awake in her that sense of religious security, of soothed, confident
trust--a trust as complete as that with which any sane person awaited
the rising of the sun in the morning, which to Mrs. Hancock connoted
Christianity, but that he should talk to her implied that he must know
what ailed her. And in any case the rest of Heathmoor would notice
Elizabeth's absence from church.... It was all very dreadful and
puzzling, and was no doubt the result of a prolonged sojourn in India,
where heathens, in spite of all those missions to which she did not
subscribe, were still in such numerical preponderance. But the cause of
Elizabeth's proposed absence did not in reality so greatly trouble her.
What spoiled her pleasure, in any case, was the uncomfortableness of
the situation if Elizabeth was seen to be consistently absent from the
eleven o'clock service.

Then the light began to break, and conventional arguments flocked to
the assistance of her beleaguered conventionality.

"I am so shocked and distressed, dear," she said, "though you will tell
me, I dare say, that there is little good in that, and on this lovely
morning, too. But of the reason for your not going to church I will
not speak now. I am thinking of the effect. Every one knows that you
are here with me, and, unless I am to say you are unwell every Sunday
morning, what am I to say? And, indeed, I could not bring myself to say
you are unwell, and keep on repeating it. Of course we all say, 'Not at
home,' when it is not convenient to receive callers, but on a subject
like this it would be out of the question. There is Mr. Beaumont again;
we seem always to be meeting him. And the servants, too. Lind and
Denton and Filson will all certainly know you don't go to church, and
Mrs. Williams, who can't go, though I am sure she would if her duties
allowed her to, will be certain to hear you moving about from the
kitchen. They will talk among themselves and say how odd it is. It will
offend them, dear, and you know what is said about giving offence. I am
sure you did not think of that"--Mrs. Hancock had only just thought of
it--"or consider what effect your absence would have. I assure you that
often and often I have felt inclined not to go on Sunday morning, and
should much prefer, when it is wet, to read the psalms and lessons at
home. Even then Lind and Filson and the others would know that it was
only the weather that prevented me, and they would see the prayer-books
and Bibles lying about."

Elizabeth again interrupted.

"You needn't say any more, Aunt Julia," she said. "Certainly I will go
to church on Sunday. It seems to me that it would be an offence against
your hospitality for me to refuse. It is part of the routine, is it
not, a rule of the house? On those grounds I will go. Will that satisfy
you?"

Mrs. Hancock found that all that had "shocked and distressed her" was
sensibly ameliorated. The feelings of Lind and Filson would be spared,
and the chat at the churchyard gate would be as cheerful as usual. She
beamed on her niece.

"I knew you would see it in the right light, if it was put to you," she
said. "And, with regard to your reasons for not wanting to go, would
you like to talk to Mr. Martin about it? He is so wise. Anyhow, you
will hear him preach, and I cannot imagine any one hearing Mr. Martin
preach without feeling the absolute truth of what he says. But that
we will talk of another time. Dear me, we are back at the golf links
again; we have made a loop, you see. And if that isn't Mr. Martin going
into the club-house. Fancy seeing him twice in a morning! Well, we have
had a nice drive, after all. And when we get in you must remind me to
give you a volume of sermons by your grandfather, in which he tells
about his own doubts when he was a young man, and how he fought and
overcame them. It is all so beautifully put, and after that he never
had any more doubts at all. And we shall get back ten minutes before
luncheon-time, which is just what I like to do."

Edward was the only guest that evening, and during dinner Elizabeth
found herself observing him somewhat closely, and coming to no
conclusions whatever about him. Certainly he was good-looking, he
was well-bred and quiet of voice, but she found nothing in him to
distinguish him from the host, nothing that to her could account for
the lighting up of Edith's face when she looked at him. He had a couple
of Stock Exchange jokes to repeat, one of which made Mrs. Hancock
call him naughty, and the subjects of perennial interest, such as the
weather and the train-service--it appeared that the directors were
going to cut off the vexing three minutes in the evening train from
town--took their turns with the hardy annuals, such as the forthcoming
croquet tournament and the ripening strawberry crop. New plays going on
in town, the criticisms of which Mrs. Hancock had read in the _Morning
Post,_ followed, and the much-debated action of the Censor in refusing
to license the Biblical drama called "David" infused a tinge of extra
vividness in discussion, and Mrs. Hancock exhibited considerable
ingenuity in avoiding the word "Bathsheba."

"Mr. Beaumont was talking to me about it the other day," she said, "and
he said his cousin, who is in the Lord Chamberlain's office, told him
that there was no question about its having the licence refused. There
were episodes quite unfit for the stage."

Everybody looked regretfully at the dessert.

"I am very glad it was stopped," continued Mrs. Hancock. "I feel so
uncomfortable at the theatre if I think there is something coming which
isn't _quite_----"

"But we have it all read in the lessons in church, don't we, Aunt
Julia?" asked Elizabeth.

"Yes, my dear; but what is suitable to read is often not suitable for
the stage. For my part, even if they do give 'Parsifal' in town, I
shall not think of going to it."

"But that is not quite parallel to David and Bathsheba," said Elizabeth
straight out. Lind was at her elbow, too, with the savoury.

"And do come in to-morrow afternoon, Edward," said Mrs. Hancock, with
extraordinary presence of mind, "and play these two young ladies at
croquet."

Smoking, of course, was not allowed in Mrs. Hancock's drawing-room, and
Edward was firmly shut into the dining-room, with the injunction not to
stop there long. No word was said regarding Elizabeth's awful lapse,
nor did any silence reproach her. The one swift change of subject at
the moment of the crisis had called sufficient attention to it. The
table with patience cards was set ready, and Mrs. Hancock, over her
coffee, got instantly occupied and superficially absorbed in her game.
Before long Edward, as commanded, reunited himself.

"And now give us our usual treat, dear Edward," said Mrs. Hancock,
building busily from the king downwards in alternate colours, "and play
us something. That beautiful piece by Schumann now, where it keeps
coming in again."

From this indication Edward was quick enough to conjecture the first
of the Noveletten, and opened the Steinway grand, covered with a piece
of Italian embroidery on which stood a lamp, two vases of flowers, and
four photograph frames. Edith moved round to the other side of the
card-table, where she could see the player; Elizabeth, with a flash of
delighted anticipation, shifted round in her chair and put down the
evening paper. She adored the piece "which kept coming in again," and,
knowing it well herself, felt the musician's intense pleasure at the
idea of hearing what somebody else thought about it. Somewhat to her
surprise, Edward put the music in front of him; more to her surprise,
he did not show the slightest intention of moving the lamp, the vase of
flowers, or the photograph frames.

Then he began with the loud pedal down, as the composer ordered, and
Elizabeth listened amazed to an awful, a conscientious, a correct
performance. Never were there so many right notes played with so
graceless a result; no one could have imagined there was so much wood
in the whole human system as Edward contrived to concentrate into his
ten fingers, those fingers which, Elizabeth noticed, looked so slender
and athletic, and for all purposes of striking notes properly were as
efficient as a row of wooden pegs. He made the piano bellow, he made
it shriek, he made it rattle; and when he played with less force he
made it emit squeaks and little hollow gasps. As for phrasing, there
was of course none at all; each chord was played as written, each
sequence that made up the phrase played with laborious and precise
punctuality. To any one of musical mind the result was of the most
excruciating nature, or would have been had not the entire performance
been so extremely funny. As a parody of how some quite accomplished but
unsympathetic pianist performed the Novelette it was beyond all praise.
Elizabeth rocked with noiseless laughter. So much for the sound, and
then Elizabeth, looking at his face in the twilight of the shaded lamp,
saw that in it was all that his hands lacked. The features that at
dinner, when she somewhat studied him, had appeared so meaninglessly
good-looking, were irradiated, transfigured; he heard all that his
fingers could not make others hear, his eyes saw and danced with
seeing, all the abounding grace and colour that lay in the melodies his
hands were incapable of rendering. Then, in three inflexible leaps, as
if a wooden marionette jumping down from platform to platform of rock,
the piece came to an end.

Edith gave a great sigh.

"Oh, it's splendid!" she said.

Mrs. Hancock triumphantly put the knave of hearts on to the queen of
clubs.

"Thank you, Edward!" she said. "I like it where it comes in again.
There! I believe it's going to come out!"

He faced round on his music-stool to receive their compliments, his
eyes still glowing, and met Elizabeth's look. Perception flashed
between the two, wordless and infallible. He knew for certain that she
knew, knew all the exultant music meant to him, knew all the entire
incompetence of his rendering. He got up and went to her.

"You play, don't you?" he said, speaking rather low. "Can't you take
the taste of that out of our mouths?"

Elizabeth almost laughed for pleasure at the complete understanding so
instantaneously established between them.

"Yes. What shall I play?" she asked.

"If only you happened to know that first Novelette," he said.

She raised her eyebrows.

"Shall I really?" she said. "I think I know it."

"And won't you give us that other delicious one?" said Mrs. Hancock,
plastering the cards down. "The one I like next best, which is sad in
the middle."

Elizabeth did not answer, but went straight over to the piano. He
had shut the book from which he played, and she did not open it, for,
though she suspected she might not be note-perfect, she intended to
play, not to practise. Mrs. Hancock, absorbed in the patience that
really was "coming out," did not notice that she had no reply to her
question, and the click of her triumphant sequence of cards continued.
Edith, who had not heard what had passed between the two, remembered
that Elizabeth was fond of music, but felt surprised and slightly
nervous at the thought that she should think of playing when the echoes
of that reverberating performance still lingered in the air. But
neither Elizabeth nor Edward seemed to heed her.

Elizabeth sat down, then half-rose again, and gave a twirl to the
music-stool. Then she paused for a moment, with her hands before her
face, and without any preliminary excursions, plunged straight into
the first Novelette again. And all that had been in Edward's brain,
all that could not communicate itself to his hands, streamed from
her firm, soft finger-tips. The images imprisoned in his brain broke
out and peopled the room with colour and with fire. Banners waved,
and a throng of laughing youths passed, jewel-decked, in wonderful
processions down a street of noble palaces. At every corner fresh
members joined them, for on this joyful morning the whole world of
those spirit-presences kept festival, and whether they sang or not, or
whether the marching melody was but the sound of joy, he knew not....
Innumerable as the laughter of the sea they glittered along, until by
some wonderful transformation they were the waves on a spring morning,
and over them a song floated.... Or were they a field of daffodils,
and over them the scent of their blossoming hovered? From the sunlight
they passed into a clear blue shadow, and out of it, as out of waters,
came the strain.... From shadow into sunlight again they passed, and
from sunlight into waves with singing sea-birds flashing white-winged
over them. Once more sun and banners, and in the sunlight a fountain
of water aspired.... Where under his hands the wooden doll had tumbled
from rock to rock, bouquets of rainbowed water fell from basin to basin
of crystal.... And that was the first Novelette.

Mrs. Hancock had noticed the change of performer, though not at first,
for it only occurred to her that Edward was playing the same piece
over again. But it struck her very soon that he was not "keeping the
time" with such precision as usual, and the moment afterwards that
this was altogether different from the tune that kept coming in again,
as rendered before. Then, looking up, she saw it was Elizabeth at
the piano, and there followed a couple of obviously wrong notes. How
foolish and forward of this girl to play after Edward, to play his
piece, too, and make mistakes in it. And when the tune came in again
she didn't put half the force into it that Edward did. Certainly she
had not Edward's "touch," nor his masculine power, that stamped out the
time with such vigour.

Her natural geniality prevented her saying or even hinting at any of
these things, and she was extremely encouraging.

"Thank you, Elizabeth!" she said. "What a coincidence that you should
be learning one of Edward's tunes. Now you _have_ heard it played,
haven't you? I am sure you will get it right in time. You must play it
to Edward again next week, when you have practised, and he will see how
you have got on."

"Ah, do play it again to me next week," said he, "or before next week."

"And now, Edward," said Mrs. Hancock, "do let us have the tune that
gets sad in the middle."

He turned to her, with face that music still vivified.

"After that all my tunes would be sad," he said--"beginning, middle,
and end. But won't Miss Fanshawe play again?"

Mrs. Hancock thought that charming of him; it was so tactful to make
Elizabeth think she had played well; poor Elizabeth, with her wrong
notes that any one with an ear could detect. As a matter of fact she
did not care one particle who played or if anybody played, so long as
her patience came out. She perceived nothing of the situation, guessed
nothing about the fire from the girl's fingers which tingled in his
brain.

But Edith saw more; she saw, at any rate, that something in Elizabeth's
playing had enormously pleased and excited her lover. And he had said
that it was surely she herself who lay behind melody, she whom he
sought. She went to Elizabeth and gently pushed her back on to the
music-stool.

"Do play again, dear!" she said. "It gives us such pleasure."

Elizabeth, as her father knew, was conscious of little else than her
"German Johnnies," when there was singing in her brain, and she sat
down at once.

"Do you know this?" she said. "Quite short."

She touched the keys once and then again, as if to test the lightness
of her fingers, and then broke into the Twelfth Etude of Chopin,
letting the piano whisper--a privilege so seldom accorded to that
belaboured instrument. Even Mrs. Hancock responded to it, and laid down
her cards and spoke.

"What a delicious tune, my dear," she said. "Tum-ti-ti; tum-ti-ti!"

The tune was still hovering and poised. Elizabeth put her hands firmly
down on a suspension and stopped.

"But what an abrupt end!" said Mrs. Hancock.

"Yes," said Elizabeth, turning round on the stool.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mrs. Hancock had had enough patience and conversation she
secretly rang an electric bell which was fixed to the underside of
her card-table, upon which Lind brought in a tray of glasses and
soda-water, which was rightly regarded by her guests as a stirrup-cup.
This signal occurred rather earlier than usual to-night, for it was
likely that the two lovers would wish to say a few words to each
other in the library before parting. This was made completely easy
for them by Mrs. Hancock's suggestion that Edith would find Edward's
hat and coat for him, as Lind no doubt had gone to bed--he had left
the soda-water tray about three minutes before--and the two went out
together.

The words of parting were short, and Edward, still tingling with music,
still inflamed by that lambent fire, went back to his house. In musical
matters, despite his own incompetence in matter of performance, he had
an excellent judgment, and he knew that he had been listening that
night to the real thing. There was no question as to the quality of
Elizabeth's playing; she had authority, without which the most agile
execution is no more than a mere facility of finger, acquirable like
the nimble manoeuvres of a conjurer, and in itself as devoid of
artistic merit. That magic, like his, is a matter of mere manipulation,
and no more constitutes a pianist than does the power of pronouncing
words without stammer or stumbling constitute an actor. But behind
Elizabeth's playing sat the master, who understood by virtue of
perception the meaning of music, and by virtue of hands co-ordinated
with that burning perception, could interpret. And, above all, he felt
that in music she spoke his language, uttered the idioms he understood
but could not give voice to. Her soul and his were natives of the same
melodious country; not foreigners to each other.

He told himself, and honestly believed it, that there was no more than
this--as if this was not enough--in the hour he had spent in Mrs.
Hancock's drawing-room. He was not even sure whether he liked Elizabeth
or not; certainly she was as different as might well be from the type
of marriageable maidenhood which had so greatly and so sanely attracted
him that he rejoiced to know that his future life would be intimately
and entirely bound up in hers. All through dinner Elizabeth had _meant_
nothing at all to him, and he had noted, rather than admired, her
vitality, for certainly she was like a light brought into a dusky room,
dispersing the shadows that completely and somnolently brooded in the
corners, and restoring colour to mere grey outlines. But he was not
very sure that he desired or appreciated this unusual illumination;
they had all of them got on very nicely in the dark, where if you dozed
a little, there was not much probability of being detected, and of
late he had sat with chair close to Edith's, so to speak, and listened
with tenderness to Mrs. Hancock talking on in her sleep. Into this had
Elizabeth come with her vivid bull's-eye lantern, which got in one's
eyes a little, and was slightly disconcerting.

So had it been until she played, and at that moment and in that
regard he found her simply and utterly adorable; and he poured out
his homage for her as he would have done for some splendid Brunnhilde
awaking and hailing the sun. And he knew the nature of the homage he
brought, so he as yet confidently told himself, a homage as sexless
and impersonal as that which prompts the presentation of wreaths to
elderly and perspiring conductors at the close of an act. It needed
not a Brunnhilde to evoke that, for it was merely the tribute to
artistic interpretation manifested by man or woman, and responded to by
those who could appreciate. Mrs. Hancock's deplorable ejaculation of
"Tum-ti-ti; tum-ti-ti" was of the same nature. It was not a tribute to
Elizabeth, nor was his abandonment of himself to her spell, or, at the
most, it was a tribute to her fingers, for the music that flowed from
them. But how he would have worshipped that gift in another; if only it
had been Edith who played!

He had sat himself down in the broad window-seat of his drawing-room,
which looked out into the garden and trees that a fortnight before
had stood made of ebony and ivory in the blaze of the May moonlight,
on the night when the house next door had been empty. To-night it was
tenanted, tenanted by the girl who, within a few months, would come
across so short a space of lawn and make her home with him, tenanted
also by the dark, vivid presence of her who had made music to them. In
his drawing-room where he sat, empty and blazing with electric light,
for some unaccounted impulse had made him turn on all the switches,
stood his big black piano, with inviolate top, standing open. How would
Elizabeth awake the soul in it, even as Siegfried had by his kiss
awakened Brunnhilde, by the magic of her comprehending fingers! Almost
he could see her there, with her profile, a little defiant, a little
mutinous, cut, cameo-wise, against the dark grey of his walls, with her
eye kindling as she listened to the music in her brain, which flowed
like some virile, tumultuous heart-beat out of her fingers. How well
she understood the tramp and colour of that Novelette!--yet he knew
he understood it quite as well himself--how unerringly her fingers
marshalled and painted it! In her was the secret, the initiation,
and--oh, how much it meant!--in her also was the mysterious power of
communication. She was not one of those incomplete souls who are born
dumb, as so many were. She could speak.... Others were born empty,
and so their power of speech was but a bottle of senseless sounds, of
flat wooden phrases.... And then, with a shock of surprise to himself,
he became aware that he was thinking no longer about the music which
Elizabeth made, but Elizabeth who made it.



CHAPTER VII

THE INTERMEZZO


Business on the Stock Exchange had been, as was not uncommon, somewhat
slack during this month of June, and Edward found it easy to get down
to Heathmoor by the train that arrived soon after five instead of that
which started an hour later. It was natural for him, after getting rid
of the habiliments of town, to come round next door, where he would
find Mrs. Hancock and Edith ready to give him a slightly belated cup
of tea in the garden-house that adjoined the croquet-lawn. As a rule
Elizabeth was not there, but her whereabouts was indicated by the sound
of the piano, for she was practising with the energy of the enthusiast,
and found this hour, when the house was empty and she could escape from
the sense of disturbing or being disturbed, the most congenial time in
which to make as much noise as she chose, or to practise a particular
bar in endless repetition. Mrs. Hancock continued to believe--and to
reiterate--that Edward was the _maestro_ and that Elizabeth followed,
faint but pursuing, in the wake of his victorious fingers, and she
often asked him how he thought she was getting on. He frequently dined
there, and, with the regularity that characterized her, she insisted
on his playing one or more of his "pieces" when he had smoked the
cigarette that detained him in the dining-room. And on these occasions
his eye was wont to seek Elizabeth's in tacit apology, and though no
word had passed between them on the subject the situation was quite
clear to them both. More than once he had attempted to convince Mrs.
Hancock that while he could only strum abominably her niece played,
and she, perfectly incredulous, thought it was nice of him to be so
modest himself and to encourage Elizabeth. So, protest being utterly
useless, he played, with Elizabeth in his confidence. But the sense
of this secret between them--for Edith shared her mother's belief in
the _maestro_--gave him a peculiar and, so he still told himself, an
inexplicable satisfaction. With that knowledge he enjoyed, rather than
otherwise, his own long-drawn murders of the classical authors, and he
completely understood the dimpling smile that fluttered, light-winged,
over Elizabeth's face as he performed his ruthless deeds.

During this last fortnight life at Arundel had pursued, to all outward
appearance, the regulated and emotionless course that characterized
existence at Heathmoor. The time of strawberries had come, and
therefore also the time of garden parties; and a quarter of an hour
after the arrival of the evening train from town the well-laid roads
were thick with hurrying flannelled figures, carrying lawn-tennis
racquets or croquet mallets, for this latter game was taken with
extreme seriousness, and nobody among the regular players would have
dreamed of trusting to a mallet of the house. Elizabeth naturally had
her share in these invitations, and it was a source of never-ending
surprise to see young and athletically limbed men, of the same species
apparently as those who in India spent their leisure in polo and
pig-sticking, pursuing their laborious way through hoop after hoop, and
talking about the game afterwards with greater gusto and minuteness
than if they had been tiger-shooting. Chief amongst those heroes of
the lawn was Edward, but he, as she did him the justice to observe,
preserved the reticence of the accustomed conqueror and sat silent when
the Vicar and Mr. Dale "lived their triumphs o'er again." Elizabeth
felt that to be like him, but she made the admission grudgingly.

The fact that she grudged him such credit was symptomatic of her
feelings towards him, and in especial of those feelings which she did
not admit. Though she would honestly have denied it, she was fighting
him. Again and again, not knowing why, she assured herself that he
was a very ordinary young man, that Edith must be blind, so to speak,
to see anything in him. Except in one point, she told herself that
there was nothing there, that a lanky frame--it was beyond her power
to deny his inches--crowned by a vacant face, was the harbourage of an
insignificant soul. He spent his day among the money-bags, his evening
on the croquet-lawn, and found that sufficient for him. He was not
nearly worthy of Edith or of Edith's inexplicable adoration; he was not
even, so he appeared to Elizabeth's eye, in love with her, which would
have been a foundation for worthiness. He seemed indulgent of her,
kind to her, sometimes a little impatient of her. There Elizabeth did
not wholly acquit her cousin of blame; she set him, willy-nilly, on a
pedestal, and those on pedestals, for he did not deprecate the plinth,
are bound to stoop. But he should have stepped down from the pedestal,
he should not have consented to be edified into the statuesque; here
was the ground of Elizabeth's censure of him. In fine, she reminded
herself twenty times a day of some reason for belittling to her own
mind her cousin's betrothed, and concealed from herself that she
belittled him. That was an affair of her instinct, and instinctively
she knew, though she whispered it not to herself, why she did it, for
she feared to give rein to her liking for him.

One exception she made in this policy of self-defence; in one thing
she gave him his due, for she never attempted to deny or belittle
the validity of his musical passion. It was a fingerless passion, so
to speak; between his brain and his hands there seemed to be a total
want of co-ordination; he was paralytic, but she could not doubt the
intensity of his perception. He was but an alphabet-babbler when
he tried to communicate, but when she played to him she knew by a
glance at his face whether she did ill or well. Thus, ironically,
Mrs. Hancock's judgment of him as _maestro_ and Elizabeth as pupil
was strangely correct, and the girl did not attempt to conceal from
herself that it was of him and his opinion that she thought, when she
practised, with a greater diligence and fire than had ever been hers
before, the music which he understood and loved so discerningly. Day
by day she slaved exultingly at the piano, and the thought that he
would appreciate her progress became an inspiration to her. But at
present this reverence for his gift was like an insoluble lump in the
cup of her cold indifference towards him; it neither sweetened nor
embittered the beverage. But certainly through him she was beginning
to get closer every day to the ineffable spring and spirit from which
that bewildering beauty of sound is poured forth, that "dweller in the
innermost," one glance from whom sends the beholder mad with melody.

On one afternoon at the end of the month, graciously exempt from
garden-parties, Elizabeth was alone in the house, for the hour after
lunch had been too hot for Mrs. Hancock's drive, and the whole
curriculum of the day had been upset, tea having taken place at the
very unusual hour of half-past four, so that she might enjoy a cooler
progress between that time and dinner--a dislocation of affairs that
had not occurred since the year before last. But the heat was so
intense that she really hardly cared at all whether Denton and Lind
thought it odd or not, and punctually at five she had set out with
Edith, leaving a message with Lind that if Mr. Holroyd came round he
was to be told that they were out, but would be back by half-past six.
Thus--here Denton became concerned--they would have time to go round by
the mill, proceeding very slowly where the road had been newly mended,
and so forth. But if--here Lind was attentive again--Mr. Holroyd came
by the six o'clock train he might be offered a whisky and soda and
asked to wait, but if by the five o'clock train the original message
should be delivered. Then Filson brought out a light dust-cloak and
the heavier blue one was taken out; then it was put back again in case
the evening got chilly. They passed over the bridge by the station the
moment after the five o'clock train got in, and Edith thought she saw
Edward stepping out of it, but she was not sure. But Edward saw the
motor and its passengers without any doubt whatever.

He went straight to his house and out into the garden. There from
the open French windows of the house next door the piano was plainly
audible. Elizabeth was playing the first of the Brahms' intermezzi,
and the air sang like a bed of breeze-stirred flowers.... In less than
a minute he had rung the bell, and in answer to Lind's message had
said he would come in and wait. In spite of the fact that the offer of
whisky and soda applied only to the six o'clock train Lind suggested
it. But Edward said he wanted nothing, and, turning the handle of the
drawing-room door very softly, he entered.

Elizabeth, utterly intent on her music, heard nothing of his coming,
and he sat down in a chair close to the door, knowing that he was doing
a rude and an ill-bred thing, knowing, too, in his heart that he was
doing worse than that, for he was definitely indulging infidelity,
even though the infidelity was, in fact, no more than listening to the
girl's playing. But he knew quite well why he listened, and it was not
for the sake of the music alone; it was to allow himself, unseen and
unsuspected--for there was in this questionable conduct something of
the self-effacing quality of love--to see incarnated the dreams from
which he had roused himself when a month ago he engaged himself to
Edith. For years of his youth he had cherished this unrealized vision,
fondling it in his dreams; now, when too early he had told himself that
the time for dreaming was done and he must awake to the average humdrum
satisfaction of domesticity with a delightful partner, the dream
incarnate had walked into his waking hours.

The sound of what she played had been the magnet which drew him here,
but now that he had come he was scarcely conscious of her music, which
throughout this month had been that which attracted him to her. Now it
was as if that had done its work, for it had brought his heart to her,
and Nature, or the law of attraction, threw it aside like a discarded
instrument, and for the first moments that he sat here he scarcely
heard the sweetness of the melody. Then it seemed to him that the
strong and tender tune was Elizabeth's soul made audible; she played,
thinking she was alone, as she had never played before. She seemed to
reveal herself.... And then it struck him that he had done, and was
doing, what was equivalent to looking through a keyhole at somebody who
thought she was alone. Shame awoke in him for that, but shame passed
and was swallowed up in his intense consciousness of her, of Elizabeth
and the tune that was Elizabeth herself.

She finished, and sat still for a moment with her fingers still resting
on the last chord. Then she gave a long sigh, and, turning round, saw
him.

"Cousin Edward!" she said, almost incredulously, feeling exactly what
just now he had felt, namely, that he had been looking through a
keyhole at her.

He got up, only dimly conscious of the rebuke in her voice.

"I came in after you had begun that intermezzo," he said, "and I didn't
want to disturb you. I know how you hate an interruption. I----"

He paused a moment, dead to all else except the fact of her.

"I never heard you play like that before," he said. "It was you."

She still looked troubled.

"I don't think you should have done that," she said. "Didn't Lind tell
you that Aunt Julia and Edith were out?"

"Yes. If you think I oughtn't to have come in I am sorry. But I can't
help rejoicing that I have heard you play like that."

Suddenly it seemed to Elizabeth that it was ridiculous of her to object
to what he had done. She had often played to him alone before, and what
difference did it make if on this occasion she did not know of his
presence? But her reason was at variance with her instinct.

She smiled at him.

"It is nothing," she said; "I was absurd to mind. I am glad you
thought I played it well. Have you had tea? Shall we go into the
garden?"

He saw his danger slipping away from him; he had but to make a
commonplace reply and it would be past. But he saw his dream, that had
become incarnate, slipping away from him also, and at the moment that
meant everything in the world to him. He was reckless, on fire, and
came close to her and stammered a little when he spoke.

"For the last fortnight," he said, "I have thought of nothing else but
you----"

Loyalty and cowardice mixed caused him to stop. He saw amazement and
utter surprise flood Elizabeth's face; he saw also, faint as the
reflection of far-away lightning, something that responded to him,
something that leaped towards him instead of recoiling from him. But
all the rest of her was lost in pure bewilderment, which only wanted
to get rid of him. She did not even answer him, but, with finger and
following eye, pointed to the door.

"I beg your pardon!" he said quickly.

"Please go!" said the girl.

       *       *       *       *       *

She sat down on the music-stool which she had so lately left, and
while waiting for her brain to work again struck a random note or two.
As far as she felt anything she felt surprise. Then in a flash came
indignation that, while he was but a month old in his engagement to
Edith, he should speak thus to her. And following instantly on that,
like some burglar violently breaking into her mind, came the unbidden
thought, "He cares for me."

She tried to eject it; she called for help, so to speak, but the
burglar contemplated her quite calmly, as if he had a right to be
there. He seemed to speak to her, to say, "You will have to get used to
me." In turn she looked at him and ceased calling for help. Something
inside her--that, without doubt, which Edward had seen faintly behind
her first amazement and surprise--seemed to recognize, to smile at
him.... And Elizabeth ceased from being surprised at Edward and became
surprised at herself. But what was to be done? Beyond all doubt the
answer was clear. There was nothing to be done at all; at any rate,
there was nothing for her to do. It was ludicrous to contemplate
telling Aunt Julia; it would not have been more ludicrous to tell
Edith. Nobody must know; nobody must ever so faintly conjecture what
had happened. Edward was going to marry Edith on the eighth of October,
and there were to be six bridesmaids, of whom she herself was to be one.

Elizabeth's surprise at herself waxed and grew, and her surprise was
due to the fact that she was not in the least shocked. She made one
unsuccessful attempt to tell herself that Edward had not meant what he
said, but she swiftly gave that up, being quite aware that he meant
much more than he had said. His trembling voice, his fingers that
plaited themselves together, told her that. He was quite in earnest.
Then, as suddenly as if she had been shaken out of some deep sleep, she
obtained complete control and consciousness of herself. She was not
shocked because she welcomed what he had said, because she responded to
it. Shame and a secret rapture overwhelmed her, and the burglar went
neck and crop out of the wide-flung window of her mind. It was not till
she had turned him out that any struggle in her own mind began. She
knew now why she had made a habit of belittling and criticizing him to
herself: she had been defending herself against him. Now she had to
defend herself against herself as well. She had to inquire into the
fidelity of her own garrison. And she knew that there were traitors
among them. But still she was not the least shocked; certainly they
must be turned out or executed or drawn and quartered, but their crime
against herself did not anger her against them.

The practical aspect of the situation engaged her again, and she saw
now that there was just one thing to be done, namely, to obliterate
altogether what had happened--not to think of it any more at all. No
doubt it was very bad that Edith's affianced lover should have said
what he had said, should have meant so much more than he said, and
that she should not have been horrified at him, but only surprised,
and when her surprise was passed that she should have found that there
was response to him in her soul. But all this must be expunged, and
if she could not forget it she must remember it only as some queer
distorted dream that in reality is nonsense, though, while the dreamer
still slept, it seemed so intensely real. She felt she could answer
for herself in this matter, that she was quite competent to seal the
affair up in her mind, as bees seal up in wax some intruder to their
hive. Edward must also see that to her the whole episode was no longer
existent, since non-existence was undoubtedly the best fate for it, and
thus her manner to him must be exactly what it had been before he had
made his unfortunate intrusion. Hardly less important was it that Edith
and her aunt should remain unaware that anything had occurred between
Edward and herself. This gave a reason the more for her treating him
quite normally. Only ... how did she treat him before?... How did she
look at him? Did she usually smile when she spoke to him? She felt that
to meet him again now without consciousness of what had just happened
would be like meeting a perfect stranger. But it had got to be done.
To admit in her bearing to him that any recollection of the scene
still had a place in her mind, to indicate even by coldness of manner
and an aloof demeanour that he must keep his distance was impossible,
for Edith would be sure to notice it, and, above everything almost, it
was essential that Edith should be utterly unaware of any--she hardly
knew what to call it--any understanding or misunderstanding between
them. Over those three minutes there must be pasted a sheet of white
paper. It seemed to her well within her power to do that. And she must
continue to make her mind fight and belittle and criticize him. That
ought to be easy now that he had done what she knew to be a despicable
thing. Unfortunately she did not despise him for being despicable, or,
at the most, her reason did, but not her instinct.

She heard the sound of the motor-wheels crunching the gravel, and felt
perfectly prepared to resume not only her natural manner, but her
normal consciousness. She swung round on her music-stool and began the
intermezzo again, getting up as her aunt entered with Edith.

"Well? And I hope you've had a good practice, dear!" said Mrs. Hancock
very cordially. "And we've had a pleasant drive, and not so dusty as
I expected it would be. But we hurried back sooner than I intended
originally, because there was a huge black cloud coming up, and Denton
said he wouldn't be surprised if it came on to rain very suddenly. So I
think I shall sit out in the garden to get a little more air, and you
and Edith might have a game of croquet. I expect Edward will come in
when the six o'clock train arrives. Dear me, it is after six. Perhaps
he has been, Edith, and went back. Lind will know. Then you can all
three play croquet. If you touch the bell, dear."

Elizabeth found the natural manner perfectly easy.

"He came in," she said, "and went back to his house again, I think. I
was practising."

Suddenly she found herself wondering whether her manner was quite
natural, and she glanced at Edith, who was "touching" the bell.

"No doubt he did not want to disturb your practice," said Mrs. Hancock,
who always liked to remind herself of the comforts she showered on
other people, "for I have given strict orders, dear, that you are not
to be disturbed when you are practising. Perhaps he is in the garden.
We will call to him over the wall. I want him to come in to dine, and
you shall both play to us afterwards. I wonder if we could not get
some nice duets with an easy part for you, dear, which you could play
together. Look, it has begun to rain already; Denton was quite right.
I am glad he advised us to turn, though it was Edith who saw the big
black cloud first. There is an end to our going into the garden and
to your croquet, I am afraid, but I will send a note round to Edward.
I think that was a flash of lightning. Perhaps you would write the
note for me, Edith, and give it to Lind. Oh yes, Lind, there will be a
note. Yes, there is the thunder. Quite a loud clap. What a blessing we
turned!"

Lind's wooden face looked inquiringly round when he was told that there
was a note for Edward to be taken round, as if he expected to find him
concealed under the piano.

"I thought Mr. Edward was here, ma'am," he said. "Perhaps he is in the
garden. He said he would wait."

Elizabeth, gathering her music together, made a sudden awkward movement
and spilled it.

"No, he went back home, Aunt Julia," she said. "He came in when I was
practising, as I told you."

"I told him you were out, ma'am," repeated Lind, "and he said he would
wait."

Elizabeth felt a wild exasperation. There was nothing to explain, and
yet she had to go on explaining.

"But he went away again," she repeated.

"Yes, dear; I quite understand," said Mrs. Hancock. "He saw you were
practising. Did he say he would come back? If so, I need not send this
note!"

It all seemed like a plot of the Inquisition.

"No, he said nothing," remarked Elizabeth rather shortly, feeling that
this perfectly straightforward visit was somehow becoming suspicious.

"Did he stop long?" asked Edith, quite casually.

"No, five minutes--ten, perhaps," said Elizabeth. "I really did not
time him."

Mrs. Hancock always kept a feather in a small vase of water on her
writing-table. With this she smeared the gum on the flap of envelopes
in preference to the more ordinary use of the tongue on such occasions.
It seemed to her slightly indelicate to put out her tongue--even the
tip of it--in public; and besides, who knew what the gum was made of or
who had been touching it? This genteel observance singularly annoyed
Elizabeth, and it was her privilege to snatch away envelopes from
her aunt and lick them herself, with, so to speak, yards of tongue
protruding, rather than allow the use of the horrible feather. Here
she saw her opportunity, and with a complete resumption of her natural
manner, which up to that moment had not been a complete success, upset
the feather's water and brought an end to the senseless catechism.

Lind was obliging enough to take the note himself, and prepared for
this expedition of about forty yards by putting on a cap, a mackintosh,
and goloshes, and providing himself with an umbrella. There was need
only for a verbal answer, but he waited some five minutes before an
acceptance came. By this time the rain had completely ceased, but
Edward, from his window, saw him put up his umbrella again--no doubt to
guard against drippings from the trees. He observed this with a very
minute detached feeling of interest. Then he sprang up to call to Lind
and substitute "regrets" for his "delight." Then that impulse died
also, and he sat down to think over what had happened.

He did not fall into the mistake of considering it a little thing,
though the incident in itself was nothing. It was, at the least, a
feather of carded cloud high up in the heavens, that told, though so
insignificant and remote a thing, of the great wind that blew there. He
had not spoken idly; rather, he scarcely knew that he had spoken at all
until his own words sounded in his ears. He had not addressed pretty
words to a pretty girl; it seemed to him that they had been squeezed,
as it were, by some force infinitely superior to his power of will out
of his resisting mouth. His whole conduct, from the chance hearing of
the Brahms' intermezzo in his garden, leading on to his ill-bred and
silent intrusion into the room where Elizabeth played and his words,
all seemed to have been dictated by an irresistible power that arose
out of the sense of his incarnate dream. It had been perfectly true
that for the last fortnight he had thought of nothing else but her,
that the affairs of every day had for him moved like shadows across
that solid background.... In the meantime he had promised his substance
and his life to one of the shadows, and, as far as he knew or guessed,
he was nothing more than a shadow, rather a distasteful one, to the
girl who for him was the only reality.

Then the practical side of the situation, the "what next" which always
hastens to stir the boiling pottage of our emotions with its bony
fingers, held his attention, even as it had held Elizabeth's. He came
to the same conclusions, but with an important reservation. She had
consigned the whole affair to complete oblivion, whether or no the
consignment lay in her power; he was as glad as she to consign it also,
until and unless, in legal phrase, something modified the existing
conditions. He knew very well what he connoted by that modification:
it meant some sign, some signal from Elizabeth that should confirm the
secret welcome that her amazement had so instantly smothered. Just
now he had told himself that he was but a distasteful shadow to her;
now again the remembrance of her soul's leap towards him told that he
was not that. Yet he had had no right to see that smothered welcome
any more than he had a right to intrude himself privately into her
presence. But in his heart of hearts he was ashamed of neither feat.
Only his surface, his sense of breeding, his respect for things like
conduct and convention rebuked him. He himself, the seer of dreams,
cared not at all; rather, he hugged himself on it.

He had drifted away from practical considerations and wrenched himself
back to them. On the eighth of October next, as matters stood,
he was to be married to Edith, and his conduct--again with that
reservation--must be framed on the lines demanded by that condition. He
felt no doubt whatever that Elizabeth would breathe no word of what had
passed to her aunt or Edith, for, if she did so, it would imply wanton
mischief on her part, of which he knew her to be incapable, or the
determination to stop his marriage for--for other reasons.... She would
only speak if she intended to spoil or to stop. She might, it was very
likely that she would, interpose between herself and him that screen of
manner, invisible as a sheet of glass, which yet cuts off all rays of
heat from a fire, while it suffers to pass through it the sparkle of
its brightness. She would probably appear to others to shine on him as
before, but he, poor shivering wretch, would know that all warmth had
been cut off from him.

For a moment his passion blazed up within him, and he felt himself
barbarian and primitive man without code of morals, without regard for
honour and environment. He who spent his innocuous days in an office
making money, wearing a black coat, living the dull, respectable,
stereotyped life, who spent his leisure in reading papers about affairs
that he cared not one drop of heart's blood about, in tapping foolish
croquet balls through iron hoops, in playing the piano at Heathmoor
dinner-parties, in enveloping himself and his soul in the muffled
cotton-wool of comfort and material ease, knew that within this swathed
cocoon of himself, that lay in a decorous row of hundreds of other
similar cocoons, there lurked, in spite of all contrary appearance,
an individual life. He found himself capable of love and utterly
indifferent to honour or obligations, regarding them only as arbitrary
rules laid down for the pursuance of the foolish game of civilized
existence. In essentials he believed himself without morals, without
religion, without any of the bonds that have built up corporate man
and differentiate life from dreams. And this flashed discovery did not
disconcert him; he felt as if he had found a jewel in the muddy flats
of existence.

Then, in another flash, he was back in his cocoon again, prisoner
in this decorous roomful of things which he did not want. There
was a silver cigarette-box on a polished table; there was an ivory
paper-knife stuck into the leaves of a book he was reading, a
parquetted floor spread with Persian rugs, and all these things were
symbols of slavery, chains that bound him, or, at the best, bright
objects by which a baby is diverted from its crying for the moon. And
the clock chiming its half-hour after seven told him he must conform to
the prison rules and go to dress for dinner at Mrs. Hancock's.

He took out of his coat-pocket an envelope about which, up to this
moment, he had completely forgotten. It contained the ticket for a
box at the opera, which he had bought that day for a performance of
"Siegfried" in a week's time. He hoped to persuade the ladies next door
to be his guests, and since the pursuance of this formed part of the
resumption of ordinary normal life he meant to propose his plans to
them. But both when he bought the ticket and now, he saw that it might
bear on the life that lay within the cocoon. More than all the material
diversion or business of the world he wanted to go with Elizabeth to
"Siegfried." And, with his hat, when he started to dinner, he took the
book of the music with him.

He was a little late as judged by the iron punctuality of Arundel, and
he found the ladies assembled. He had one moment of intense nervousness
as he entered, but it was succeeded by an eagerness not less intense
when he saw Elizabeth's cordial and welcoming smile. That set the note
for him; he had already determined on the same key, and he knew himself
in tune with it.

As he shook hands with the girl he laughed and turned to Mrs. Hancock,
involuntarily detaining Elizabeth's hand one second, not more, than
was quite usual.

"I was rather nervous," he said. "I intruded on Elizabeth's practice
this afternoon. Perhaps she has told you. In fact, I meant to stay to
wait for your return and Edith's, but I found it quite impossible."

"Dear!" said Mrs. Hancock. "Yes, Lind has told us dinner is ready. Did
Elizabeth scold you?"

Elizabeth, equally relieved, laughed.

"You behaved very rudely, Edward," she said; "and, as a matter of fact,
I didn't tell them. I wanted to screen you. But as you don't seem in
the least ashamed of yourself I shall give you up."

"What revelations we are going to have!" said Mrs. Hancock. "Yes, your
favourite soup, Edward. Mrs. Williams thought of it when she heard you
were coming. She sent out for the cream. Now let us hear all about it.
I thought there was some mystery."

This was not quite true. Mrs. Hancock had not thought anything whatever
about it. But this phrase of purely dinner conversation disconcerted
Elizabeth for a moment. Edith, suddenly looking up, perceived this
obscure embarrassment.

"No, Aunt Julia, there was no mystery," said Elizabeth. "There was
merely my mistaken kindness in sparing Edward. Now I shall sacrifice
and expose him. He came in when I was practising quietly, so that I
didn't hear him, and sat down to listen. And when I had finished my
piece I turned round and saw him, and, of course, I was startled and
annoyed. Wasn't it caddish of him! Do say it was caddish!"

That should have been sufficiently robust to have carried off and
finished with the subject. But it so happened that Mrs. Hancock went
on.

"My dear, what words to use!" she said. "Edith will be up in arms.
Look, there is another flash of lightning! We shall have a regular
storm, I am afraid. And what did you say to him?"

"She told me to go away," said Edward, "which I did. And I asked her to
forgive me. I don't know if she's done that yet."

The desire for secret communication with her prompted and impelled him.

"I shall ask her later if she has," he said, raising his eyes to her
face. "Her screening me was a sign of her softening."

"But her giving you away now shows signs of hardening again," said
Edith.

"Perhaps she doesn't know her own mind," said Edward, still looking
at her, and knowing but not caring that he had no business to force
replies on her, so long as he could talk with a meaning that was clear
to her alone.

This time the secret look that leaped out to him below her amazement
showed again through the trouble and brightness of her face.

"I know my mind perfectly," she said. "I will forgive you if you are
sorry."

"I am. But I liked hearing you play when you didn't know any one was
there."

Mrs. Hancock looked vaguely and beamingly round.

"But I always thought that people played best when there was an
audience to listen to them," she said.

"There was an audience," remarked Edward.

Mrs. Hancock saw the fallacy without a moment's hesitation, and
enlarged on it till it became more clear than the sun at noonday.

"But she didn't know there was," she said lucidly, "and so it would
count as if there wasn't. Listen, there is the rain beginning again,
like that beautiful piece of Edward's which always makes me feel sad.
He shall play it to us after dinner. Was it one of your pieces that
Elizabeth was playing before, Edward?"

Mrs. Hancock always spoke of immortal works by classical masters as if
Edward's atrocious renderings of them gave him the entire right and
possession of them.

"No," said he, "it was her own. I shall always think of it as the
Elizabintermezzo."

Mrs. Hancock turned an attentive eye on the asparagus dish.

"Finish it, Edward," she said; "it is the last you will get from my
garden this year, and what an amusing conversation we are having about
Elizabeth and you! Elizabintermezzo--the intermezzo which Elizabeth
plays! What a good word! Quite a portmanteau!"

All this private signalling of Edward to her, all his double-edged
questions as to whether she had forgiven him, seemed to Elizabeth in
the worst possible taste. She had just now announced, so frankly that
she could not be imagined to be serious, that he had behaved caddishly
that afternoon, and his behaviour now seemed to endorse her judgment.
And yet she, by her outspokenness perhaps, had set the fashion of
double-edged speech; it was justifiable in him to think that she
meant to allude to what neither of them openly alluded to. But he was
caddish; she felt irritated and disgusted with him. She looked at him
with eyebrows that first frowned and then were raised in expostulation.

"Haven't we all had enough of my practice this afternoon?" she said.

As she looked at him she noticed what she had noticed a hundred times
before, how his hair above his forehead grew straight and then fell
over in a plume. And while her mind was ruffled with his behaviour,
she suddenly liked that enormously. She wondered if it was elastic,
that thickness of erect hair, like a spring-mattress; she wanted to
put her hand on it. And that radical and superficial emotion called
physical attraction had begun--superficial because it concerns merely
the outward form and colour of face and limbs, radical because all
the sex-love in the world springs from its root which is buried in
the beating heart of humanity. Afterwards, no doubt, those roots may
dissolve and become part of the life-blood, red corpuscles of love, but
without them there has never yet opened the glorious scarlet of the
flowers of passion, nor the shining foliage that keeps the world green.

Thus, at the very moment when he was indifferent to her except that she
was a little nauseated by his behaviour, he began to become different
to all others, and very faintly but authentically it was whispered
to her that he and she "belonged," that they fitted, entwined and
interlacing, into this great Chinese puzzle of a world. Instantly she
shut her ears to the whisper. But she had heard it.

He had the decency, she allowed, to change the subject.

"No encore for the intermezzo," he said; "but 'Siegfried' is being
given this day week, and I have got a box for it. I want you all to
come."

"Well, that would be a treat," said Mrs. Hancock. "These are the first
white-heart cherries we've had from the garden, Edward. You must take
some! 'Siegfried!' That is by Wagner."

Elizabeth banished from her mind caddishness and springy hair alike.

"Oh, Aunt Julia!" she exclaimed.

"That is capital, then!" said Edward, knowing the value of an
atmosphere of certainty. "We had better all sleep in town so that we
can stop to the end without any sense of being hurried, which would
spoil it all. I'll see to all that, and, of course, it's my treat."

Mrs. Hancock's face changed, but brightened again as she caught the
full flavour of the first white-heart.

"Sleep in town!" she said. "I never----Aren't the cherries good? I
shall tell Ellis he was quite right when he wanted extra manure.
Delicious! But sleep in town, Edward! Is that necessary? Can't we come
away before the end, for I quite agree with you that it is no use
stopping in your seat grasping a fan in one hand and your dress in the
other, waiting for the curtain to go down. And even then, they all come
on and bow. Wouldn't it be better if we all slipped out in plenty of
time to catch the theatre-train, as we always do?"

Elizabeth sighed.

"Aunt Julia, I would sooner not go at all than come away before the
end," she said. "It's the love duet, you know, and oh! I've never seen
it!"

Aunt Julia looked mild reproof.

"My dear, we mustn't be in a hurry. We must think it over and see how
we can contrive."

"We can contrive by stopping in town," said Elizabeth. "Or couldn't you
drive down in your car afterwards?"

"But, my dear, it might be a wet night, and if we drove back it would
only be reasonable to drive up. Shall we have coffee in here now for
an exception, and then we need not interrupt ourselves? Yes, Lind,
coffee in here, not in the drawing-room, but here. It would only be
reasonable, as I said, to drive up, for it would be no use going by
train, while Denton took up the car empty, and if it was a wet night
I should not like him hanging about all afternoon and evening, for his
wife expects a baby." This was aside to Edward, though since Edith was
soon to be married she did not so much mind her hearing.

"But his wife isn't going to hang about all afternoon and evening,"
said Elizabeth swiftly.

"My dear, let me talk it over with Edward! And Denton would not know
how to meet us at the opera--we might miss him, and then what would
happen?"

Edward laughed.

"Then, Mrs. Hancock, you would have to sleep in town uncomfortably,
without night things, instead of sleeping comfortably according to my
plans."

"But I should have to take Filson," said Mrs. Hancock, rather unwisely,
since if you mean not to do a thing--and she had not the smallest wish
to see "Siegfried"--it weakens the position to argue, however sensibly,
about it.

"Of course you would take Filson!" said Edward. "Take Lind as well, if
you like! I will arrange it all."

"Well, it would be an event, wouldn't it, to see the opera and sleep
up in town," said Mrs. Hancock, who, though she did not mean to go,
a little hankered after anything of this sort, if it was to be had
without any expense. "But there would be a great deal to think of and
to plan. I always forget if you take cream, Edward. Yes? A great deal
to plan, for if one is to go one must look tidy, and have a few jewels."

She formed a rapid mental picture of herself in the front of a box with
the pearls, and perhaps the tiara. It rather attracted her, but she
felt that if she stayed in a hotel she would not get a wink of sleep
all night with thinking of those treasures. She rejected the picture,
but simultaneously a bright idea struck her.

"Wednesday next, did you say?" she asked guilefully.

"No, Thursday."

Mrs. Hancock made a gesture of impatience.

"Well, if that isn't annoying," she said, "when we were arranging it
so nicely and getting over every difficulty. Because Thursday is Mrs.
Martin's garden-party, which I haven't missed in all the years I have
been at Heathmoor, and I mustn't miss it! She would think it so unkind,
for she always says she depends on me. I wonder if she could possibly
change her day. Listen to the rain. I hope you have brought your
mackintosh, Edward. No, I'm afraid it's too late to ask her, for the
invitations are already sent out. Well, that does knock our delightful
plan on the head. How battered the garden will be, though we want
rain. And 'Siegfried,' too; of all operas that is the one I should so
like to see again. But I have an idea. Yes, pray light your cigarette,
Edward! What if you took these two girls up to see it? Couldn't they be
supposed to chaperone each other, and Edith so nearly married, too? I
don't know what people would think, though!"

Mrs. Hancock was the soul of good nature, and having so adroitly shown
the impossibility of herself partaking in this plan, thought nothing of
the disagreeableness of spending an evening alone.

"But couldn't you come after the garden-party, mother?" asked Edith.

"My dear, I should be a rag! Mrs. Martin says that she feels no
responsibility if I am there at her party, but I assure you I do. I
have always said it is no use trying to listen to music unless you
are fresh. It is an insult to the music. But I wonder if it is very
wrong of me to suggest such a thing. Edith, darling, the candle-shade.
Well done! You have saved it. But if you girls go up together and join
Edward in town I don't see who will know. Well, that will be a secret
for us all to keep! Shall we all go into the drawing-room? Hark how the
rain is falling! We must have some music."

"Then that's settled?" asked Edward.

"If these young ladies approve. But what a lot we have to
arrange--where you are to go, and where they are to meet you, and the
train they are to come back by in the morning." She paused a moment as
she took up her patience pack.

"And Filson shall go up with them!" she proclaimed. "It will make me
feel more comfortable if I know Filson is there. What a talk we have
had! I declare it is half-past nine already! Do let us have some music!
Edith, dear, I think you might open the window into the garden a little
bit. If any of us feel it damp, we can close it again. Look, there are
two aces out already. What a good beginning!"

Edward turned to Elizabeth.

"And you like the 'Siegfried' plan?" he asked.

"But it's too nice of you! I----"

She stopped.

"Do go on," he said, speaking low.

Suddenly Elizabeth saw that Edith was observing them.

"I suppose I shall have to forgive you," she said, in a voice clearly
audible, "now that you are taking me to 'Siegfried.'"

And the very fact that she spoke aloud, so that Edith could hear,
falsified, so she felt, the truth of her light speech. She knew he
would not take it quite lightly, and she allowed him to put one
construction on it, so that Edith might put another.

His eye quickened with the secret message he sent to her, and she did
not refuse it.

"But it wasn't a bribe," said he with his lips. "I made the plan before
I sinned. So play your intermezzo."

       *       *       *       *       *

A week afterwards Elizabeth was walking up and down the long
garden-path while the morning was yet dewy. She had awoke early on
this day that she and Edith were going up to town to see the opera,
woke with a sense of ecstatic joy in life, of intense and rapturous
happiness. For the last week she had been living in a storm of emotion,
that seemed not to come from within her, but from without, beating
and buffeting her, but giving her, from time to time, serene and
wonderful hours. She had wrestled with and worked over the transcript
of "Siegfried" until she had made the music her own, and she seemed
to have come into a heritage that was waiting ready for her to claim
it. The passionate excitement of the true musician, with all its flow
of flooding revelations, its stream of infinite rewards was hers;
she had entered that kingdom which, to all except those few who can
say "we musicians know," is but a beautiful cloudland and a place of
bewildering mists. But now for her it had cleared; she had come into
her own, and saw steadfastly what she had before but guessed at, of
what she had heard but hints and seen images. Till now, with all her
love of music, she had been but a speller of the mere words that made
its language, knowing the words to be beautiful and feeling their
nameless charm. But now it was as if the printed page of their poetry
was open to her. There was meaning as well as beauty, coherence and
romance in the sounds which had hitherto but suggested images to her.

The revelation had not come singly; the golden gates had not swung open
of their own accord. Well, she knew the hand which for her had thrown
them open, the wind that had dispersed the mists. She was in love, in
love, as she had once said indifferently and disappointedly, with "a
common man." Beyond any shadow of doubt it was that which had opened
out the kingdom of music for her; thus quickened, her receptive nature
had been enabled to receive. Hitherto she had been like a deaf man,
vivid in imagination, to whom the magic of sound had been described.
Her perceptions had been dormant; she had but felt the light as the bud
of a folded flower may be imagined to feel it. Now she received it on
expanded petals.

About that love itself she had at present no qualms, she admitted no
recognition of its hopelessness, she had no perception of its dangers.
She was too full of the first wonder of its dawning to guess or to
care what the risen day might bring forth. The fact that Edward was
engaged to be married to her cousin was a complete safeguard against
dangers which she barely conjectured, and the very thought of hope or
hopelessness made no imprint on her mind, for in the presence of the
thing herself she could not bring herself to consider the possible
issues of it. It exalted and possessed her; the fact that she loved
filled her entire being, which already brimmed with her new perceptions
of music. Each heightened the other, each was infinite, possessing
the whole of her. She had no thought for the morrow, or for the day,
or for herself. The whole of the eagerness of her youth was enslaved
in a perfect freedom. She was blind and ecstatic, and in truth was
running heedlessly, sightlessly between quicksands and deep seas and
precipices, unconscious of them all, and above all, unconscious of
herself, absorbed by love and melody, even as the dew on the lawn was
being absorbed by the sun.

Above, the sky was unflecked by cloud and as yet of pale and liquid
blue; the warm air had still a touch of night's coolness in it, and
the young day seemed like a rosy child awakening from sleep. At the
end of the garden the tall elms stood motionless, towers of midsummer
leaf, and the smell of the evaporating dew that had lain all night in
the bosom of red roses and among the thick-blade grass of the lawn,
told her where it had slept. It hung thick on the threads of the netted
fruit-trees, and glimmered on the red-brick wall that ran alongside the
shining gravel walk. Already the bees had begun their garnerings, the
birds were a-chuckle in the bushes, and suddenly the whole pervading
sweetness and song of the morning smote on Elizabeth's heart, already
full to overflowing, and demanded the expression of her gratitude. She
was compelled to thank somebody for it--not Ellis, not Aunt Julia, not
Edward even.

"Somebody, anyhow!" she said aloud.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MOUNTAIN-TOP


Edward, from long living at Heathmoor, had little to learn about
comfort, and the arrangements he had made for the two girls were of a
completeness that Mrs. Hancock could hardly have rivalled, even if she
had been concerned with plans for herself. He had gone up to town by
the 9.6 a.m. that morning, and had shown himself but briefly at his
office, devoting the rest of his time to orders and inspection. He
had been to see the rooms prepared for their reception at the Savoy,
bedrooms for the two girls, with a sitting-room between, had shown in
a practical way that he recollected Elizabeth's ardour for sweet peas
and Edith's respect for roses, had ordered tea to be ready for their
arrival, a table to be reserved in the restaurant for their dinner
between the acts, and an entrancing little supper to be served in the
sitting-room when the opera was over. Finally, he was waiting at the
station with his motor for their arrival.

It was not only the desire for their comfort that prompted this
meticulous supervision, for the evening in prospect was symbolical
to him of a parting, a farewell, and, with the spirit in which all
farewells should be said, he wished to join hands with Elizabeth once
more festally and superbly, not with lingering glances and secret
signs, but to the sound of music and to the sight of a glorious drama.
He had spent this last week among waves and billows of emotions,
and, though his ship had not foundered, his lack of experience as a
sailor in such seas had completely upset him in every other sense.
But to-night, he had told himself, he would reach port; already he
had rounded the pier-head, and within a few hours now he would put
Elizabeth ashore. The pier was decorated for her reception, flags waved
and bands played. He would part with her splendidly, and go back to his
boat, where Edith would await him for their lifelong cruise in calm and
pleasant waters.

He had made, so he honestly believed, the honest decision, and though
honesty is a virtue which is so much taken for granted that it is
ranked rather among the postulates of life than among its acquirements,
honest decisions are not always made without struggle and difficulty.
He felt for Elizabeth, the actual flesh and blood and spirit of
her, what he had only hitherto imagined in the dreams which, a few
months before, he had settled to have done with. Bitterly, and with
more poignancy of feeling than he had thought himself capable of, he
regretted his precipitancy in their abandonment; in a few months more
he would have seen them realized, he would have had his human chance,
of an attractive boy with a girl, to have made them true. But he had
not waited; he had shaken himself awake, and, with full sense of what
he was doing, had made love to and been accepted by the girl he knew
and liked and admired. To-day he acknowledged his responsibility and
had no intention of shirking it. A week of what was not less than
spiritual anguish had resulted in this decision. In one direction
he was pulled by honour, in the other by love. He had a "previous
engagement," which, he had settled, took rank before anything else
whatever. He believed, without the smallest touch of complacency, that
Edith loved him, but he believed also (and again not a grain of that
odious emotion entered into his belief) that had he been free Elizabeth
would have accepted him. Since his deplorable lapse a week ago, she had
treated him with a friendlier intimacy than ever; this, for they had
had no further word on the subject, he interpreted to mean that out
of the generosity of her nature she had completely forgiven him and
obliterated the occurrence, and that her friendliness was meant to show
how entirely she trusted him for the future. In this he was absolutely
right; he was right also in the corollary he instinctively added, that
she would not have adopted this attitude unless she was fond of him.
She could quite correctly have kept him at arm's length, she could have
continued to manifest that slight hostility to him which had previously
characterized her behaviour. But she had not; she had given him a
greater warmth and friendliness than ever before.

So far he could let his thoughts bear him without shame or secrecy. But
there went on beneath them a tow, an undercurrent, which, though he
suppressed and refused to regard it, was what had caused, in the main,
the soul-storm in which he had been buffeted all this week. He believed
there was more than friendliness in her regard for him, and with the
terrible sharpsightedness of blind love (as if one of his eyes saw
nothing, while the other was gifted with portentous vision) he had not
missed the signs, little signs, a look, a word, a movement, which are
the feelers of love, waving tentacles of infinite sensitiveness, that
threadlike and invisible to the ordinary beholder, shrivel and spring
and touch instinctively without volition on their owner's part. No one,
fairly and impartially judging, could say that Elizabeth had behaved to
him except with friendly unreserve. But to him she seemed to reserve
much, to reserve all.

In spite of all this, Edward, as he waited on the platform for the
arrival of their train, had no doubt that he was doing right in
following the demands of honour. He had killed his dreams, so to speak,
when he engaged himself to Edith; to-night, to the sound of flutes and
violins, he was going to conduct their funeral, and did not see that
in reality he was intending to bury them alive, and that dreams are
not smothered by burial; rather, like the roots of plants, they grow
and flourish beneath the earth, sending up the sap that feeds their
blossoms. He did not contemplate the future with dismay; he believed
that both he and Edith would have a very pleasant, comfortable life
together, according to the Heathmoor pattern. And with a touch of
cynicism, which was unusual with him, he added, as the train steamed
in, that this was more than could be said for many marriages. Then,
before the train stopped, he saw Elizabeth get out and look round
for him with shining, excited eyes, and his heart beat quick at her
recognition of him.

The three met with jubilance, and drove straight to the Savoy, for
there was not more than time to have tea and dress. The day, like the
last dozen of its predecessors, had been dry and dusty, and the roadway
in front of the hotel had been liberally watered. Stepping out of the
motor, Edith slipped and fell heavily, her foot doubled under her.
Bravely she tried to smile, bravely also she tried to get up. But the
smile faded in the agony of her twisted ankle, and she was helped into
the hotel.

It seemed at first that it might be a wrench of little consequence,
the pain of which would be assuaged by ten minutes' rest. But all that
ten minutes did for her was to give her a badly swollen ankle, and
show the utter impossibility of her setting foot to the ground. Then,
swathed in wet bandages, and lying on the sofa in the sitting-room, she
took a peremptory line with the others.

"You two must go," she said; "and if you wait here any longer you will
be late. If you aren't both of you ready to start in a quarter of an
hour, I shall go myself, bandage and all, if I have to hop there."

"But you can't spend the evening alone," said Elizabeth. "And we----"

"I shan't spend the evening alone, because we shall all have supper
together. Dinner, too, if you will be awfully kind, Edward, and have it
up here with me instead of in the restaurant."

Edward had already yielded in his heart--yielded with a secret exulting
rapture. The Fates, though at Edith's expense, were giving him a
splendid farewell to Elizabeth. They would be alone together for it; he
did not let his thoughts progress further than that.

"If you insist----" he began.

"Am I not insisting? My dear, it is a dreadful bore, but we must make
the best of it. Be kind, and order dinner here instead, and go to
dress."

Elizabeth was left alone with her cousin.

"But Aunt Julia!" she said. "What will she say?"

"I have thought of that. Mother mustn't know. You must coach me up
when you come back, and--and I shall have sprained my ankle when we
came back to the hotel at the end. Don't forget! Oh, do go and get
ready, Elizabeth; it's all settled! I can't bear that Edward should be
disappointed in not seeing 'Siegfried,' nor, indeed, that you should.
It would be perfectly senseless that you should stop at home because I
can't go!"

It cost Elizabeth something to argue against this. She wanted
passionately to see the opera, and if a dream-wish, a fairy-wish,
for a thing that was impossible could have been presented to her that
morning, she would have chosen to see the awakening of Brunnhilde
alone with Edward. His wild-blurted speech when he intruded upon her
practising a week ago she had buried, so complete since then had been
his discretion, and if she thought of it at all, she thought of it
only as a momentary lapse, an unguarded exaggeration. Since then she
had not defended herself against him by any coldness of manner, any
unspoken belittlement of him, and they had arrived at a franker and
more affectionate intimacy than ever before. She did not inquire or
conjecture what his secret emotional history was. She was safeguarded
enough from him by his engagement to Edith; while from herself her own
integrity of purpose seemed a sufficient shield. Yet she argued against
Edith's insistence on the fulfilment of the fairy-wish.

"But Aunt Julia wouldn't like it," she said.

"I can't help that!" said Edith. "I want it so much that I don't care
what mother would think. Besides, she won't think anything. She will
never know." Edith paused a moment and flushed.

"Besides, dear," she said, "if I asked you and Edward, or even wanted
you not to go, what reason could there be for it? It would appear
so--so odious--as if----I can't say it! Oh, go and dress!"

The unspoken word was clear enough, and it contained all that Elizabeth
was conscious of. It would have been odious that either of them should
harbour the thought that Edith could not put into words. It was
sufficient.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two came back to dine at the end of the first act, full to the brim
of music, intoxicated with the beady ferment of sound and drama, and
both a little beside themselves with excitement. At present the music,
and that alone, held them; in the flame of their common passion each as
yet paid little heed to the other, except as a sharer in it. Elizabeth
hardly touched any food; she was silent and bright-eyed, exploring her
new kingdom. But with Edward, the return to the hotel, to the common
needs of food and drink, above all, to Edith, took him poignantly back
into the actual world again. Once again, more vividly than ever before,
his choice which he told himself was already decided, was set before
him as he sat with Elizabeth silent and strung-up on the one side,
with Edith intelligently questioning him, with a view to subsequent
catechism of herself on the other. Her questions seemed idiotic
interruptions; he could barely make courteous narrative--"And then Mime
told him about his youth. And then he began to forge the sword. Yes, it
was Palstecher who played Siegfried--he was in excellent voice...."

He did not revoke his choice, but he ceased to think of it. He wanted
only, for the present, to hasten the tardy progress of the hands of
the clock to the moment when it would be time for him to go away again
alone with Elizabeth. But the aspect of this evening, as his farewell
to her, was ousted in his mind by the prospect of the next hour or
two. He thought less of what it symbolized; more and growingly more of
what it was. But even as no thunderstorm bursts without the menace of
gathering clouds, so the thickening intensity of his emotions warned
him with utterly disregarded caution, that forces of savage import were
collecting. Had a friend laid the facts, the possibilities, the danger
before him, and asked his opinion as to what a man should do under such
circumstances, unhesitatingly would he have advised, without regard to
any other issue, that he should not go back alone with Elizabeth. Let
him take a waiter from the hotel, a stranger out of the street, rather
than trust himself alone to keep a steady head and a firm foot in those
precipiced and slippery places. Had he believed that Elizabeth had no
touch of more than pleasant friendly feelings towards him, he might
have been justified in believing in himself. But--and this was the very
spring and foundation of his excitement, his expectancy--he did not so
believe. He fancied, rightly or wrongly, that she had shown signs of
a warmer regard for him than that. But still, as unconvincingly as a
parrot-cry, he kept saying to himself, "Edith trusts me, and therefore
I trust myself." He did not even feel he was doing a dangerous thing;
he felt only that he had an irresistible need to be with Elizabeth in
the isolation of the darkened house when Brunnhilde awoke.

The performance, viewed artistically, was magnificent. From height to
height mounted the second act, till the sounds of the noonday, the
murmurs of the forest, grew from the scarcely audible notes to the
full triumphant symphony of sunlight and living things, pervading,
all-embracing, bringing the voice of all nature to endorse heroic
deeds, and at the same time to bring to the hero the knowledge of his
human needs. To him, even as to Siegfried, it woke in his heart the
irresistible need of love, of the ideal mate, of the woman of his
dreams, who sat beside him. Once only, as the clear call of the bird
rang through the hushed house, did Elizabeth take her eyes off the
stage, and turned them, dewy with tears and bright with wonder, on him.
She said no word, but unconsciously moved her chair a little nearer his
and laid her ungloved hand on his knee.

He had one moment's hesitation--one moment in which it was in his
power to check himself. There was just one branch of a tree, so to
speak, hanging above the rapids down which he was hurrying, and it was
just possible, with an effort, to grasp it. He made no such effort.
Deliberately, if anything in this fervour of growing madness could be
called deliberate, he let that moment go by; deliberately he rejected
the image of Edith awaiting their return, and, all aflame, acquiesced
with his will in anything that should happen. Deliberately he cast the
reins on the backs of his flying steeds, and not again did the sense
that he had any choice in the matter come to him. The last atom of his
manliness was absorbed in his manhood. Elizabeth's hand lay on his
knee, the fingers bending over it inwards. Gently he pressed them with
his other knee, and he felt her response. She had but sought that touch
to assure herself she was in tune with him, one with him over this
miracle that she was looking at; but on the moment she felt there was
more than that both in that pressure of her hand and her own response
to it. But she was too absorbed, too rapt to care; nothing mattered
except Siegfried, and the fact that she and Edward were together and
beating with one heart's-blood about it.

And presently afterwards Brunnhilde lay beneath the pines in her
shining armour, and through the flames, the vain obstacle that barred
his approach to her, came Siegfried. Of no avail to her was the armour
of her maidenhood, for while she slept he loosened it, and of no avail
to stay his approach was the fierceness of the flames that girt her
resting-place. At his kiss--the kiss that sealed her his--the strong
throb of her blood beat again in her body; the eyes that had so long
been shut in her unmolested sleep were unclosed, and she sat up and
saluted the sun, and she saluted the day and the earth and all the
myriad sounds and sights and odours that told her she was born into
life again. Siegfried had stood back in awe at the wonder and holiness
of her awakening, and she turned and saw him. And once more Elizabeth
turned to Edward, and their eyes met in a long glance.

To each, at that moment, to her no less than to him, it was the drama
of their own souls that was unfolding in melody and love-song before
them. She needed to look at him but for that one glance of recognition,
for there on the stage she learned, as she saw the immortal lovers
together, the immortality of love. The whole air rang with this supreme
expression of it, the violins and the flutes and that glorious voice
of Brunnhilde spoke for her, and it was her companion, here in the
box with her, who bore the rapture higher, who completed it, made it
perfect. Indeed, there was greeting in the farewell; if he said "vale"
to her he sang "ave" also. But his "vale" was less now than a mutter
below his breath.

She sat with her arms resting on the front of the box till the last
triumphant notes rang out, and through the applause that followed she
still sat there, unmoving. There was no before or after for her then;
her consciousness moved upon a limitless, an infinite plane. He had
left his place, and when she turned he was standing close behind her.
Again their eyes met in that long look, and the question that was in
his saw itself answered by the smile, shy and solemn, that shone in
hers. Then, still in silence, they went out into the crowd that filled
the passages.

The entrance porch was crowded with the efflux of the house, waiting
for their carriages to arrive, and Elizabeth saw the surging,
glittering scene with a strange, hard distinctness; but it all seemed
remote from her, as if it was enclosed in walls of crystal. The crowd
was no more to her than a beehive of busy, moving little lives,
altogether sundered in intelligence and interests from herself and
Edward. The whole world had receded on to the insect-plane; it crawled
and skipped and jostled about her, but he and she were infinitely
removed from it, and it aroused in her just the vague wonder of a
man idly gazing at a disturbed ant-hill, hardly wondering what all
the bustle was about. Here and there stood members of this throng,
waiting quietly in corners, taking no part in the movement, and it just
occurred to her that in a room in the Savoy Hotel there was another
such member of this queer, busy little race waiting their return. But
even the thought of Edith barely found footing in her mind; she was but
another specimen under glass.

The night was quite fine, and in a moment or two they had made their
way out of the doors and were walking down the queue of carriages to
find their motor. He had suggested that she should wait while he hunted
it and brought it up, but she preferred to go out of this crowded
insect-house to look for it with him. The street was full also of
the vague throng, that also seemed utterly unreal, utterly without
significance; she would scarcely have been surprised if the lights and
the people and the houses and the high-swung moon had all collapsed and
melted away, leaving only a mountain-top girt with flames that rose and
fell with gusts of sparkling melody. She would not be alone there; her
whole self, her completed self, at least would be there--the self which
she had seen so often, had criticized and belittled, which, till this
evening, she had never known to be herself. Now she knew nothing else.
All the rest was a mimic world, full of busy little insects.

The motor was soon found, and she stepped in, followed by Edward. She
had heard him give some directions to the chauffeur about driving
down to the Embankment, and going to that entrance of the hotel, and
they slid out of the queue and turned. So intensely did she feel his
presence that it seemed to bring him no nearer to her when he took her
hand in his, when she heard him whisper--

"Brunnhilde--you awoke!"

"Yes, Siegfried," she answered.

And his arms were round her, and for one second she clung close to him
as he kissed her.

Then, even while his fire burned close to her, so that it mingled with
her own blaze, and while the ringing of the music that was mystically
one with it drowned all other sound, the real world, the actual world,
which had quite vanished from her consciousness, stood round her
again, menacing, reminding, appalling. Her real self, her integrity,
her honour pointed at her in amazement, in horror, so that through
their eyes, and not through the eyes of her passion, she saw herself
and what she was doing, and what she was permitting, and what she was
rapturously welcoming. Memory, loyalty, honesty cried aloud at her, and
though it seemed that she was tearing part of herself away she wrenched
herself free.

"Oh, what are we doing?" she cried. "We are both mad! And you----Oh,
why did you let me? Why did you make it possible for me? Let me go,
Edward!"

He had seized her again.

"I can't!" he said. "You are mine, and you know it! It's you that
I have dreamed of all my life! We both dreamed, and we have awoke
to-night to find it is true!"

Again, and this time easily, she shook herself free of him, for that
in him which had struggled before, which had planned this evening as
a farewell to her, came to her aid. For the moment, Elizabeth, far
stronger than he in will, was wholly against him, and against him he
had honourable traitors in his own house.

"We dreamed to-night of impossible things," she said; "and I have awoke
again."

She began to tremble violently as the struggle to maintain that first
flush of true vision seized her. It had come to her with the flashing
stroke of impulse; now--and here was the difficulty--she had to keep
hold of it.

"Edward, you see it as I do really!" she said. "You know we've been
mad, mad! Ah, thank God, here we are!"

The motor had stopped by the hotel door, and already a porter was
coming across the pavement to it.

"No, we can't leave it like this," he said. "Let's drive on for a
little. Just for ten minutes, Elizabeth." He was on the near side of
the carriage and tried to prevent her getting up.

"Come to your senses!" she said.

"But it is impossible to meet Edith like this!" he said. "She will
see----"

He considered that for a moment. What if she did see? Was not that
exactly what he desired? But Elizabeth interrupted him.

"She won't, because she mustn't," she said. "I can do my share, you
must do yours. Get out, please!"

Next moment he followed her into the hotel. At the door of the
sitting-room she paused a moment, feeling suddenly tired and incapable,
and she looked appealingly at him as he joined her.

"Edward, do help me!" she said. "I rely on you!"

The tremendous pressure at which she had been living all day helped
Elizabeth now, for reaction had not come yet, and whatever at that
moment she had been set to do she would have done it with ten thousand
horse-power. She made a rush of it across the room to where Edith lay,
dropping fan, gloves, handkerchief on her way, and it seemed that
Edward's help would chiefly consist in listening.

"Oh, my dear," she cried, "we've gone quite mad, both Edward and I!
There is nothing in the world but Brunnhilde and Siegfried!"

She kissed Edith, and went on breathlessly, turning the deep tumult of
her soul into the merest froth.

"Siegfried and Brunnhilde, Brunnhilde and Siegfried! I felt I was
Brunnhilde, darling, and I was rather surprised that Edward did not
kiss me!"

"I will now, if you like!" remarked Edward, taking his cue unerringly.

"Yes, do; you're such a dear for having taken me! Perhaps you had
better not, though. It's a little late; you should have done it
earlier, and besides, Edith might not like it. We must consider Edith
now, after thinking about our own enjoyment all the evening. How is the
ankle? I ask out of politeness, dear; I don't really care in the least
how your ankle is! I only care for Siegfried! Oh, do let's have supper
at once. I had no dinner to mention, and I am brutally hungry. That is
the effect of emotion. After daddy was charged out pig-sticking, and
was nearly killed, I ate the largest lunch I ever remember. Ah, they
are bringing it! I shall never go on hunger-strike whatever happens to
me! Siegfried! That wasn't quite in tune. Oh, Edith! Now help me to
pull her sofa up to the table, Edward. Then she needn't move at all.
And how is your ankle? I do care, really!"

This remarkable series of statements and questions could hardly be
called conversation, but it served its purpose in starting social
intercourse again.

Edith turned to Edward.

"Is she mad?" she asked. "And are you mad, too?"

"Yes, he has got dumb madness," said Elizabeth. "He hasn't said a word
all the evening. Occasional sighs. Oh, I wish you had been there,
Edith! Yes, certainly soup! For the third time I inquire about your
ankle!"

Looking up, she caught Edward's eye for a moment. He was eagerly gazing
at her, as Siegfried gazed at Brunnhilde--that was in some opera she
had once seen in remote ages ago, in some dim land of dreams, in----And
as she looked at him the stream of her babbling talk froze on her lips
and her heart beat quick, and she was back again in the darkness of the
motor, and she was saying to him, "Yes, Siegfried!" without thought of
anything but the present moment, and of her love. Then, with a sense of
coming from some infinite distance, she was back in this sitting-room
again, conscious that Edith had said something, and that she had not
the remotest notion what it was.

But Edward answered.

"That is capital!" he said. "I am glad it is better. Of course, you and
Elizabeth will drive down in the motor to-morrow morning, so that you
needn't walk at all. When will you go? I must tell Joynes at what time
he is to come round."

So he, Edward, also belonged to his world, not to the world of the
mountain-top and the ring of flame. Of course he did; he was going
to marry Edith on October 8th, and it was not yet certain if she
herself would be there or not. She would be leaving about then for
India--it depended on whether she could get a passage by the boat
that left Marseilles on the 15th. She felt like a child saying
over to itself some absurd nonsense rhyme. July, August, September,
then October--"Thirty days hath October." It did not sound right.
Quail--yes, why not quail? So little while ago she lay on her
mountain-top, and Siegfried loosed her armour and kissed her.

Supper was over, and Edith was saying something to her about her
looking very tired. She was suggesting that she should go to bed. For
herself, she was going to sit up a little longer and have a chat with
Edward, for he had to coach her thoroughly in the opera, since Mrs.
Hancock was never to know--at least, not at present--the true history
of the evening.

Elizabeth found herself laughing at that; it seemed so unnecessary
to say that Mrs. Hancock must never know the true history of the
evening. Nor must Edith herself ever know the true history of the
evening--never, never. There was no question of "not for the present"
about that. But that Mrs. Hancock should not know the mere fact that
she and Edward went to the opera alone seemed a ludicrous stratagem,
laughable.

"What a tangled web we are going to weave all about nothing," she said.
"I warn you, Edith, I shall be sure to forget, and let it out!"

"Oh, mother would be horrified!" said Edith. "You must take care!"

Elizabeth sat down and took one of Edward's cigarettes. Somehow, her
revulsion of feeling against him had altogether vanished, and her
yearning for him was stealing back again like pain that has been
temporarily numbed and begins to reassert itself. The dream, the
impossibility was that on October 8th he was going to marry Edith. It
was quite incredible, a mere piece of nonsense that she had heard down
at some dream-place called Heathmoor, where everybody was fast asleep.
It was just part of the dreams of one of them, of Aunt Julia, perhaps,
who certainly had no pains or joys, only comforts. She herself had to
humour the dream-people, saying things to those drowsy people (of whom
Edith was one) which really had a meaning, but not for them.

"But have we really done anything so awful?" she asked. "Is it highly
improper that Edward and I should go to the opera together? There were
about two thousand people there to chaperone us, and a lot of them were
so respectable--bald men and stringy women!" She laughed again. "Did
you see the one just behind us, Edward?" she said. "I'm sure you did!
She had been out and got caught in a sudden shower of diamonds. She was
peppered with them. There were several on her forehead, and I think one
on her nose. Oh, dear!"

"And why that?" asked Edith.

"Because I feel quite mad, and because I am afraid I shall recover. I
suppose I shall go to Heathmoor again to-morrow. There will be Lind
there, and Mr. Martin, and, and----Any other place would be as bad. It
isn't that Heathmoor is more impossible than London or India, or any
other place would be. Yes, I'll remember that you sprained your ankle
after the opera--about now, in fact; and then I helped you to bed,
and then I went to bed myself, exactly as I'm going to do! Oh, I'm so
tired! Good-night, Siegfried and Brunnhilde! Edward, you are a darling
for taking me!"

Next minute she was alone in her bedroom, and there shot through her
like fire a pain, agonizing and contemptible, which she had never known
before; the intolerable torture of jealousy seized her, and she writhed
in its grip. As clearly as if the scene was before her eyes, she knew
what was happening next door. She could almost hear Edith saying in
that quiet, sincere voice of hers, "Now we shall have a little time
alone, Edward. I thought dear Elizabeth was never going. Is she not
queer and excited to-night?" And she would hold out her hand to him,
and he would sit on the edge of her sofa holding it in his, and he
would bend to kiss her, not once, not once only. They would whisper
together the words that were natural and proper between pledged lovers,
the words that but an hour ago he was burning to say to her. Now, she
made no doubt, he was glib with them to Edith. And yet an hour ago she
had wrenched herself away from his arm and his kiss with horror and
upheaval of her nature. Of that horror there was nothing left now in
the hour of the first onslaught of jealousy. Now it was inconceivable
to her that when he had offered her what she longed for, the thought
of which, given to another, made her writhe with jealousy, she could
have rejected it. She had repulsed him for wanting to give her what her
whole heart cried out for, and what was hers, though he had already
sworn it away to another. He had not met her, then; he did not know
that she was ordained for him, even as he for her. And now, just
because he had promised like a child, not knowing what he promised, he
was giving all that by right was hers to a girl whom he did not love.

For a moment that thought, namely, that Edith was nothing to him,
assuaged her; she might as well be jealous of a dog that he caressed
and mumbled nonsense-love to, and her rage turned against herself for
having been so insane as to give him scruples instead of welcome. What
if she went back now into the room she had so lately left, and said
to Edith, "Let him go; you will have to let him go. It is not you he
cares for!" What if she challenged him to say which of them he chose?
She knew well what his answer would be.

Inconceivable as was her folly in rejecting him, equally inconceivable
was her mood on that morning--was it only the morning of to-day?--when
she walked about the dewy garden in an ecstasy of happiness at the
knowledge of her love. She had thought it was sufficient to love; it
had made her happy to do that. But she had understood nothing of its
nature then. It was only when she saw Brunnhilde awake to Siegfried's
kiss that she had begun to understand. And the full understanding
had come when Edward clasped and kissed her, and she for that moment
had clung to him, only to push him away, to thrust from her just
that which she wanted, which her whole soul needed. It was but a
foolish fairy-tale she had told herself among the roses and sweet
peas--a tale of sexless, bodiless love, fit for a Sunday School or a
Bible-reading--a tale of white blossoms and white robes--a thing for
children and old maids.

The Inquisition had another pair of pincers heating for her; they
were ready now, and glowing. What if his moment's heat and flash of
desire for her was but the fruit of excitement, but the froth which
the music had stirred up in him? Certainly it had been easy to quell
it. She had but to tell him to let go of her and he obeyed; to get
out of the motor, and then he stood on the pavement. She despised his
weakness, for surely a man who was in earnest, who was stirred even
as she was stirred, not by some mere breeze of attraction, or by the
excitement of a stimulated scene, but felt the heart's need, would
not have relinquished her as easily as that. Yet it looked to her in
unreasoning agony that it was so, for now he was with Edith, indulging
in more madrigals, no doubt. Yet, when she thought as collectedly as
might be for a second she had the cold water ready for those pincers.
She knew really that what she now called his weakness was in reality of
the same stuff as her own strength; that which made her strong--that
grotesque angular old image called "Honour"--was one with the reason
of his yielding to her. She was left alone with that now; next door a
precisely similar idol presided over the two whom she raged to think
upon.

Yet, if he had not so easily succumbed to her strength, or if, to put
it more truthfully, if they had not both been held in by the force that
restrained the hot impulse, that governed, that laid cool hands on the
reins he had flung away, would she, so she asked herself now, have
continued to persist, have ranged her will and purpose against his,
till there was no more courage left in her? She did not know; swift and
decisive though the struggle had been, it seemed to have taken all the
force of which she was capable to make it at all.

For the moment there was remission for her at the hands of her
jealousy, and she walked across to the window and stood behind the
curtain looking out on to the moon-emblazoned river. The flood-tide
was at its height, and the reflection of the lights from the farther
bank lay on the lake-like surface in unwavering lines. Stars and moon
burning in the blaze of an everlasting day, and something in the calm
of the night, in the eternal progress of those shining worlds, gave
her a momentary tranquillity, so that she was able to ask herself this
question, on the answer to which all depended, with a mind aloof from
herself. How long her will could have held out against her love she did
not know, but she knew she would not have chosen to yield.

And at that moment she had won, had she but known it, the first real
battle of her life. For that moment she stood with her banner waving
round her. The next she was back in the thick of the _mêlée_ again,
without tactics, without any sense of there being any one in command
of the army she fought with, or even of herself being but a unit in an
immense warfare. She felt utterly alone, struggling, yet hardly knowing
why, knowing only that the odds against her seemed desperate.



CHAPTER IX

EDWARD'S ABSENCE


The injury to Edith's ankle which, according to the authorized version,
had happened on their return from the opera to the hotel, gave more
trouble than she had expected, and ten days after its infliction
she was still a limping pedestrian. This morning she was whiling
away the half-hour that would elapse before the motor took her out
with her mother, in a long chair in the strip of shade just outside
the drawing-room window, with an unread paper on her knees, hearing
rather than listening to Elizabeth's stormy performance on the piano.
The agitation that sounded there was not confined to those musical
excursions, for ever since that night at the opera there had been
something about Elizabeth that her cousin would have summed up in
the word "queer." Had not other circumstances and other people been
"queer," too, she would probably have been content to define without
analysis. As it was, she had spent a good deal of time during this
last week in attempting to penetrate this queerness of Elizabeth, and
seeing if it fitted in with other oddities. And she had come to the
uncomfortable conclusion that they were not unconnected.

Very small phenomena--more remembered now than noticed at the time--had
announced, like horns faintly blowing, the train of circumstances that
were growing peaked, like a volcano-cone, and promised eruption. Such,
for instance, had been her sense that something had happened on the
afternoon when Edward had interrupted Elizabeth's practising. It was
barely noticeable at the time, but it tended to confirm her view of
subsequent happenings, which began to take shape and substance in her
mind on the evening of the opera. That night Elizabeth had been rather
oddly excited, and though an excited Elizabeth was a daily, if not an
hourly, phenomenon, her excitement then had been of peculiar texture.
Though not given to similes, it had represented itself, quaintly
enough, to Edith's mind, under the image of Elizabeth holding some
young living thing--a puppy or a kitten--down in a bucket of water to
drown it, while to draw off attention from her employment she had been
wildly and incoherently talkative. At the time it had struck Edith that
her excitement was not merely a reaction from the climax of music and
drama; she was certainly attempting to drown something, and while her
tongue was voluble with vivid talk her fingers were holding something
down, shrinking but resolute.

This was not wholly an affair of memory and interpretation; the
impression had been conveyed to Edith at the time, and now, taken
in conjunction with other events and conclusions, it assumed the
importance of a cipher, when a numeral is prefixed to it. And the
numeral, without doubt, was Edward. For on the night of the opera,
after Elizabeth had gone to her bedroom, Edward had lingered for a
talk, and he had been as inanimate as Elizabeth had been vivid, as
grey as she had been rainbowed. He was absent-minded, preoccupied,
inaccessible; he had nothing enthusiastic or enraptured to tell her
about the opera which had so stirred his companion, and yet when
questioned he said that so far from being disappointed with it it had
been magnificent. To her comment that Elizabeth had seemed to enjoy
it, he had for reply, that "he believed she did." Half a dozen times he
had tried to rouse himself, and for a few minutes had pulled himself up
by muscular effort, as it were, to a normal level, but as often as he
thus exerted himself he fell back again below the surface, below waves
and waters. And once more her own image of Elizabeth trying to drown
something occurred to her. Then, again, Edward would ask after her
injured ankle, and not listening to her reply, repeat his inquiries; he
suggested a train for their return next morning to Heathmoor, having
himself arranged half an hour before they were to drive down in his
car. Finally, Edith, half-amused, half-piqued with him, had told him
that whether he knew it or not, he was tired, and had better follow
Elizabeth's example and go to bed. For a few minutes after that he had
roused himself to the performance of the little loverlike speeches, the
touches and hints of their relationship. It had never been the habit of
either to be demonstrative, but to-night these attentions seemed to her
purely mechanical things, wooden and creaking, not the result of the
fatigue with which she had saddled him.

Since that night, instead of seeing him, as she was accustomed to do,
every evening on his return from town, she had not once set eyes on
him. He had telephoned next day that stress of business kept him that
night in London (a thing that occasionally happened) but the same
stress of business, it appeared, had prevented his coming down to his
house next door ever since. A Sunday had intervened, and he had merely
told her that he was engaged to pay a week-end visit, and this morning
a further note had come, saying that a similar engagement prevented his
coming down on the Saturday that was at hand. It was true that he had
written to her with frequent regularity, for every morning presented
her with a note from him, but those communications were of the most
unsatisfactory description, with perfunctory regrets for his continued
absence, and perfunctory assurances of the imperativeness of the
employments which detained him. Once he had said that the hot weather
had pulled him down from the usual serenity of his health, and visited
him with headaches, but her inquiry and sympathy on this point had
brought forth no further allusion to it. He was still staying at the
Savoy Hotel, for while work was so heavy it was not worth while getting
to Heathmoor late in the evening, only to leave by the early train
in the morning. This, he said, would only add further fatigue to a
fatiguing day. And he had clearly written in, between lines, "I should
not set eyes on you, even. How is your ankle?"

These notes, as has been mentioned, arrived with regularity, but they
were not the only communications received at Arundel from him. Twice,
to Edith's knowledge, Elizabeth had heard from him, and, allowing
herself now to suspect everything and everybody, Edith imagined
that her cousin had heard oftener than that. For the early post was
delivered at the house an hour before breakfast-time, and was sent up
to the rooms of its various destinations. But a week ago now, Edith,
by chance, had come down before its arrival, and when it came had
sorted it out herself and seen the neat unmistakable handwriting; and
to-day, in obedience to a definite jealousy and suspicion, she had
come down early again, and again found that Edward had written to her
cousin. This time, hating herself for it, yet unable to resist, she
had fingered the envelope and come to the conclusion that there were
certainly two sheets in it. To neither of these letters had Elizabeth
made the slightest allusion.

There remained to colour, as it were, all these various outlined
features with a general "wash" the aspect of Elizabeth, the impression
of her. Of Edward she could only judge by the tenor of his notes,
and in them he revealed nothing except reticence. But Elizabeth was
here, her moods, her appearance, her voice, all gave information about
her; and if Edward's notes suggested reticence, Elizabeth suggested
repression. It required very little knowledge of human nature (luckily
for Edith, since her acquirements in that supreme branch of knowledge
were of the most elementary description) to see that her mind was beset
by some monstrous incubus. Often she sat silent and absorbed, and
then, with an effort, would break into a torrent of broken-winged high
spirits and gaiety, which presented the appearance of a fair forgery of
her normal appreciative pleasure in life. Then, with equal suddenness,
she would seem incapable of keeping up this spurious pageant, and in
the middle of some voluble extravagance she would sink back again into
a nervous silence. More than once this change had come on the ringing
of the front door bell, which, sounding in the kitchen passage, was
clearly audible from the garden. Not once or twice only in this last
week had Edith seen her drop suddenly into a restless silence when this
innocent harbinger was heard, while with eager and shrinking anxiety
she watched beneath dropped eyelids for the appearance of a visitor.
Sometimes some such would appear and Elizabeth would soon make an
excuse for a visit to the house or a conjecture as to the arrival of
the post.

Now up till the moment of her falling in love with Edward, Edith's
potentialities for jealousy had remained practically dormant and
sealed up in her nature, the reason presumably being that she had not
cared enough about anybody to be able to wake that green-eyed monster,
three-quarters fiend and one-quarter angel, from its hibernation. For
though jealousy is a passion which at first sight seems wholly ugly
and contemptible, it must not be forgotten that its very existence
postulates the pre-existence among its ancestors of love. Love, we may
say, represents one of its grandparents; it is always of that noble
descent. Or, if it be argued that a passion so utterly mean is wholly
lacking in the open-hearted trust which so emphatically is in the
essence of love, it must at least be conceded that love is in the hand
that turns the key or breaks the seal of the cell where jealousy lies
confined, then flings open the door to let the wild and secret prisoner
escape and roam. The love that is lofty, that seeks not its own, will
no doubt wring its hands in despair to see what sort of intruder it has
set loose, will use its best efforts, shocked at the appearance of this
monster, to confine it again; but without love never has jealousy been
allowed to get free, to root about among the springing crops of the
heart, devouring, trampling, spoiling. And in Edith's case her love had
from the first come mixed with the sense and pride of possession; its
first act, while yet new-born, was to set guards round its treasure,
sentinels to watch. To-day they were wide-eyed and alert.

From inside the drawing-room came the sound of the galloping squadrons
of chord and scale and harmony; Brahms was working up to one of his
great intellectual crises with an attack thought out, brilliantly
manoeuvred, before delivering the irresistible assault. Then quite
suddenly the music entirely ceased in the middle of a bar, and there
was dead silence. For half a second Edith conjectured the turning of a
page, but the half second grew and grew, and it was clear that it was
no such momentary halt as this that had been called. Simply, Elizabeth
had finished, had broken off in the middle.

An idea, an explanation leaped into Edith's mind, suggested to her by
one of her green-eyed sentinels, and in her present mental condition,
sapped as it was by the secret indulgence of a week's jealousy, she was
unable to resist testing the accuracy of her conjecture as she was to
resist the demands of her lungs for air. But in pursuance of her object
she waited without moving until the pulse in her clenched hand had
throbbed a hundred beats. Then very quietly she got out of her chair
and went softly in through the open garden door into the drawing-room.

Elizabeth was sitting with her back towards her at the writing-table
that stood at the far end of the room. As Edith entered the swift
passage of her pen ceased, and she sat with her head resting on one
hand, thinking intently. Then, taking it up again, she began writing
once more. Edith had seen enough for her present purpose, and she took
an audible step forward. Instantly Elizabeth turned round, and as she
turned she shut the blotting-book on her unfinished letter.

"Oh, how you startled me!" she said. "I thought somehow you had gone
out driving with Aunt Julia."

Edith sat down.

"No, the car has not come round yet," she said. "It will be here in a
minute. We shall pass the post-office; I will post your letter for you."

Elizabeth turned farther round in her chair, but her hand still lay on
the closed blotting-book.

"Oh, I was only just beginning a scribble to father!" she said. "It
will not be ready."

Edith considered the days of the week; but she felt that she knew it
was not to her father that Elizabeth was writing.

"It will just catch the mail if I post it for you," she said.
"Otherwise it will have to wait another week."

"Then it must wait another week," said Elizabeth.

Jealous people never themselves feel the wantonness and cruelty of
their unconfirmed suspicions; they only know that these are not
suspicions at all, but certainties.

"I noticed that you had a letter from Edward again this morning," she
said.

Elizabeth slightly shifted the blotting-book, and Edith registered the
fact--for so it seemed to her--that the letter was lying there.

"Again?" said Elizabeth.

Edith felt that she was not being wise. But jealousy is of all passions
the most pig-headed; it only says "I must know, I must know!"

"Yes, you heard from him a week ago."

Elizabeth, who had been startled by her cousin's entry, was cool enough
now. She perfectly understood what prompted this catechism. But little
did Edith know how gallant a battle was being fought on her behalf
by the girl whom she now so utterly distrusted and suspected; little
also did she know that which Elizabeth was using her whole strength to
conceal.

Elizabeth laughed; she meant to laugh, anyhow; the effort might pass
for a laugh.

"Yes, I believe I did," she said. "And as for that, I rather fancy you
have been hearing from him every day."

"Naturally. Did he say in his letter to you when he expected to come
down here again? He has not told me that."

"No, he did not mention it, as far as I remember. He appears to be very
busy."

"He appears to have time to write very long letters to you!" said
Edith, hatred and resentment flashing out. Till that moment she had not
known that she hated her cousin.

Elizabeth opened her blotting-book, took out of it her unfinished
letter, and from under it Edward's. She slipped them into a piece of
music that lay there, and, holding it in her hand, stood up and left
the table.

"What do you know about the length of his letter to me?" she asked.

Edith saw her mistake. The instinct that said "I must know, I must
know!" had been wonderfully ill-inspired in its notions of how to find
out.

"I happened to take it up; it was a thick letter," she said, hopelessly
trying to efface her steps, giving as reason an irrational excuse.

"I don't know the thickness of Edward's letter to you," said Elizabeth.
"It is no concern of mine how many sheets he writes you."

She paused a moment.

"You speak as if you resent Edward's writing to me at all," she added.

Edith saw that she could get at nothing in this way. Swiftly and
unexpectedly she shifted her attack, answering Elizabeth's comment by
another question.

"Why does he keep away from Heathmoor?" she said.

Elizabeth had not been expecting anything of this kind. She winced as
from a blow, and had to wait a moment before she could trust her voice
to be steady.

"Has he not told you?" she asked. "I thought it was work during the
week, and a couple of visits for the Sundays that he is away."

Two instincts were dominant in Edith--love and jealousy, inextricably
intertwined, disputing for mastership. Love and its yearning anxiety--a
cord, so to speak, of which jealousy held the other end, pulled her
here.

"But it's so strange of him," she said; "and his letters are strange! I
don't understand it at all. Can't you help me to understand, Elizabeth?
You are so much cleverer than I! Has it anything to do with music?"

There was no mistaking the sudden and piteous sincerity of her tone.
Half a minute ago she had been all anger, all hate, all suspicion. Now
she appealed to her whom she had hated and suspected.

Elizabeth felt her eyes grow suddenly dim.

"If I were you, I wouldn't worry, Edith!" she said. "I should be quiet,
not let my thoughts run away with me, and--and trust that everything is
all right."

"Then there is something wrong?" asked Edith.

"I didn't say that. I didn't mean to imply it. Take it that he is busy,
that he has visits he feels he must pay. Why should he conceal things
from you? Why should you assume there is anything to conceal?"

Edith instinctively shrank from making the direct accusation which all
this week her jealousy had been dinning in her ears so that her head
rang with it. Elizabeth would simply deny it, but it would put her on
her guard (here jealousy was busy to prompt) and the chance of finding
out more would be lost. Her emotion had narrowed and enfeebled the
scope and power of thought; she could make no plan.

"I am very unhappy," she said simply.

Elizabeth took a step towards her.

"I am sorry for that, dear," she said. "But--but don't make yourself
unhappy. Don't contribute to it."

The expected summons came, and even as the wheels of the motor
crunched the gravel Lind sounded the gong and Mrs. Hancock entered.
The household books had proved at least a sovereign less than she had
expected, also the coral necklace with the pearl clasp had come back
from the jeweller's in its new case, with Edith's initials on it. She
felt that these two delightful phenomena were somehow dependent on each
other; the money she had spent on the new case seemed to be returned to
her by the modesty of the household books.

"Dearest, are you ready?" she asked Edith. "Let us start at once and we
can go round by the old mill. And what delicious tunes you have been
playing, Elizabeth, my dear. Edward will think you have got on when he
hears you again. Why, you hardly limp at all this morning, Edith! I
knew that the lotion I gave you last night would make you better."

Mrs. Hancock settled herself among her cushions. She had lately got
a new one, rather stiff and resisting, which admirably supported the
small of her back. The footstool from the stores continued to give
complete satisfaction.

"And such a lovely day!" she said. "Just not too hot! Oh, what a jolt,
and yet I hardly felt it at all with my new cushion. I see there has
been a dreadful accident in a Welsh colliery. So sad for the poor
widows and families! What a lot of misery there is in the world. But,
as Mr. Martin says, we should not dwell on it too much, for fear of
dimming our sense of thankfulness for all our blessings. And Edward?
Have you heard from Edward? When is that naughty boy coming back? You
will have to scold him, dear, for neglecting you while he absorbs
himself in making money. There! Did you not hear the cuckoo just say
'Cuck'?--there is a rhyme about it. Yes, Edward is really quite greedy,
stopping up in London like this to make money. Yet, after all, dear,
you must consider that he is working for you, making himself rich for
you."

Edith turned round sharply, so sharply, in fact, that her mother was
startled, for sudden movements were not characteristic of her.

"Do you really think that is all, mother?" she said. "And if so, how
about the Sundays? He was not here last Sunday, and he is not coming
down for next Sunday."

"But what do you mean, Edith?" asked Mrs. Hancock. "You have not had a
quarrel or anything?"

What Edith could not say to her cousin was possible now.

"No, we have not quarrelled," she said. "But what if he doesn't even
care to quarrel? What if he has ceased to care at all? Or"--it came out
with difficulty--"or if he cares for somebody else?"

Mrs. Hancock was sufficiently disturbed not to call attention to
another cuckoo, that, in defiance of the rhyme, was still gifted with
complete speech.

"But what a wild and dreadful idea!" she said. "Have you any reason for
supposing so?"

So far could Edith go. But she could not tell her mother that she had
definite suspicions that affinities, attractions had begun to exert
their force between her lover and Elizabeth. The chief feeling that
kept her silent was pride. The confession would be humiliating; she
would be acknowledging herself as having failed to feed the affection
she had inspired. Her love for him, genuine though it was, and the best
of which her nature was capable, was not large enough to make her drown
herself. She still kept her own head above water, not guessing that
it is through the drowning, the asphyxiation of self, that the full
life of love is born. A second cause of reticence, less dominant, was
her belief in Edward's loyalty. It was overlaid with suspicion, which,
ivy-like, covered it, and thrust pushing tendrils between the stones
of its solidity, but beneath all this rank growth it was still there.
She did not yet quite soberly believe all that she suspected. She sat
silent a moment, to her mother's huge discomfort, weighing her pride in
the balance and confusing it with her loyalty.

"If it were not for his absence I should not have any reason," she
said. "But I don't understand his absence."

The gospel according to Mr. Martin was of the greatest assistance on
this point.

"Then, my dear, dismiss it altogether," said Mrs. Hancock, with relief.
"Why, it was that very point that Mr. Martin spoke of last Sunday.
Ah! I remember; you could not go to church because of your ankle.
But he told us that we ourselves were responsible for most of our
own unhappiness, and that if we only determined to feel cheerful and
thankful we should find the causes of thankfulness being multiplied
round us. Was it not a coincidence that he preached on that very
subject? One can hardly call it a coincidence; indeed, one feels sure
there must have been some purpose behind it. What lovely sunshine, is
it not? And there is the old mill. So picturesque! Tell Denton to stop
a moment and let us look at it."

A pause was made for the contemplation of this particular cause for
thankfulness, and Mrs. Hancock put up her parasol to temper the other.

"Well, that is nice!" she said. "Shall we drive on? I have never heard
Mr. Martin more convincing and eloquent, and I'm sure he practises
what he preaches, for he has always got a smile and a pleasant word
for everybody. So dismiss it all from your mind, dear, and I'll be
bound you will find Edward coming down here before many days are past,
just the same as ever, showing how right Mr. Martin is, for your
cheerfulness will be rewarded. I see nothing odd in his having to stop
up in town all the week; and as for his going away for a couple of
Sundays to see his friends, what could be more natural? You would not
wish him to be without friends, I am sure, or to shirk the claims of
friendship. And since you said that his absence was your only ground
for your dreadfully foolish idea, I think we may consider that we've
disposed of that. Now let us look about us and enjoy ourselves. Oh,
there's a windmill! How its sails are going round!"

Mrs. Hancock cast a slightly questioning glance at her daughter to
see if Mr. Martin's wonderful prescription was acting at once, like
laughing-gas, and, finding that Edith still sat serious and silent,
proceeded to administer other fortifying medicines.

"He has often told us to busy ourselves with plans and thoughts
for others," she said. "And there, again, how he practises what he
preaches: he has had the dining-room repapered, since Mrs. Martin
thought it was a little gloomy, and has given her the most beautiful
new carpet for her sitting-room. And I'm sure I've never been happier
in my life than this summer, with all your future, dear, to plan and
scheme for, and with Elizabeth as well to think about. I must say I
haven't had a moment to think about myself, even if I had wanted to."

Her kind face beamed with such smiles as Mr. Martin considered to be
symptomatic of the Christian life.

"I've got a plan about Elizabeth," she said, "though it's a secret
yet. But I should like to tell you about it. I am thinking of making
a proposal to Elizabeth and suggesting that she should not go back
to India as early as October. There is no great affection between
her and her stepmother, and I expect she often feels very lonely and
unhappy there, with no music and, as far as I can judge, only soldiers
to talk to. Dear Elizabeth! I think she is enjoying our quiet life
at Heathmoor. I dare say that after those dreadful wildernesses and
jungles in India it seems to her one round of excitement and pleasure
and parties and operas, all given her free. Indeed, I have a further
plan still, which will make her quite wild with pleasure, I am sure. I
am thinking of asking her to come with me to Egypt, and I have written
to ask Uncle Bob about it, just to see if he will allow it before I say
anything to her. Of course, he would pay for her journey--and, indeed,
it is all on the way to India--and her hotel expenses. But I should not
dream of charging her for her share of our sitting-room, if we have
one. I shall go shares with Edward in that, and I dare say the servants
at the hotel would not expect her to tip them!"

Mrs. Hancock's plans for other people always necessitated a certain
amount of interpretation; it was important to look at them from her
point of view. Here the interpretation was easy. It had occurred to
her that she would be rather lonely when Edith and Edward left after
their marriage, and that in Egypt it would be pleasant to have somebody
in constant attendance on her, since the other two, presumably, would
want to make all kinds of expeditions that she herself might not care
to join in. She liked Elizabeth's vitality and fervour, finding it
stimulating. This point she touched on next.

"I declare Elizabeth is as good as a tonic," she said, "with all her
high spirits and gaiety, though for the last ten days she has not been
quite so lively. I dare say it is the hot weather, though, to be sure,
she ought to be used to that. Here we are, on the heath again. We shall
be at home in ten minutes. How quickly we have come! Well, my darling,
I do think I have managed to disperse your clouds for you this morning.
I don't think Edward's absence will give you any more anxiety now
that we have talked so fully about it. There is nothing like talking
a thing thoroughly over. You will see that it will not be long before
his stress of work is finished. Perhaps he is making quantities and
quantities of money, for I hear that sometimes on the Stock Exchange
people make fortunes in quite a short time. Would not that be exciting?"

Mrs. Hancock, as has been seen, had a great belief in the imitative
instinct, which she interpreted by means of her own. To her it meant
that if she herself felt thoroughly content and happy, it was certain
that those round her would feel happy too, for she diffused happiness.
In the same way, if she felt very well she knew that she diffused a
spirit of health. It was a comfortable belief (like all the clauses of
her creed), and she would have been quite incredulous if she had been
told that all she had done was to accentuate Edith's suspicions by
her allusion to Elizabeth's diminished liveliness, and to depress her
thoroughly at the thought of Elizabeth joining them on the Egyptian
tour. And had Edith known how Elizabeth had been spending this last
hour while her mother had been so rich in unconvincingness, she would
have known how solid her suspicions really were.

The girl had gone up to her bedroom after the motor had started in
order to be secure against any further interruption, and had again
read through the letter she had received from Edward that morning,
which, as Edith had ascertained, contained two sheets. She heard his
voice in the pleading sentences; it seemed to her as she read, with
eyes that ever and again were too dim to decipher the words, that he
was actually talking to her. And she could not interrupt him, argue
with him as she would have done if he had been here; she had to fight
the cumulative effect of those close-written lines. He besought her to
allow him to come down, for it was at her instance that he stayed away,
and tell Edith all. He scouted as childish the idea that absence could
make any difference, that he could forget what she had called "the
excited madness of that evening." Above all, again and yet again, with
a lover's clamorous iteration, he begged her to see him.

Elizabeth sat with this letter in front of her for a long time after
she had finished reading and rereading it, letting her tears have their
way with her. In strange guise had the soft god come to her, girt about
with bitterness and impossibilities. She raged at herself for loving
him; she reviled this torturing demon that others found so sweet, but
how she longed for the changed, transfigured aspect that he burned
to show her. Once, for mere relief of heart, she filled a page with
scrawled words of love, only to tear it up again, and once she filled
another page with useless denials, with cold assertions that Edward
was nothing to her, that she was perfectly indifferent to him. That,
too, was fruitless; he knew she loved him, and even if she could have
convinced him that it was not so, she could not have brought herself so
to convince him to deny the most sacred truth that she had ever known.
She could no more have done that than she could accept the love which
brought misery on another and rose from the ashes of a broken promise.
If there was no binding force in loyalty all ties were dissolved.

After a while her sobs grew quieter, and she tore up the letter she had
begun to him when Edith, that morning, had come in from the garden.
Till then, Elizabeth had not known that her cousin suspected anything,
that she had begun to put the real construction on Edward's absence.
Now it was necessary to quiet those suspicions, to let Edward know
also, in a way she could not convey by letter, that while Edith claimed
his promise, that promise could not be broken for any reason whatever.
Nothing in the world seemed so certain as this. Edith must voluntarily
give him up before.... Then she carefully erased that sentence. That
contingency was not to be thought of yet.

Elizabeth felt utterly weary and confused and heart-sick. Obstacles,
menacing and monstrous, faced her in whichever direction she turned.
Perhaps Edward's presence would only confirm and strengthen Edith's
suspicions, and lead her to the certainty which she suspected. Yet if
Edward continued to be absent, that would lead to a break on his side,
at his initiative, and it was that above all that must be avoided.
If he threw her over, said he could not marry her, the hosts of hell
and heaven combined would not be able to bring Elizabeth to him. She
could not take what by right was Edith's against Edith's will. It was
possible, and more than possible, that Edith might see he did not love
her, and not release him only, but bid him begone. And yet Edward had
never loved her, while she, loving him in her own manner, had been
content with his liking and friendly intimacy. When she knew that his
heart had been awakened, but not for her, would she still desire that
moonlight, when his sun had risen on another land? Elizabeth, as she
finished her letter to Edward, felt that she had not the slightest idea.

The letter got written, and no word of tenderness or love appeared
in it; it might have been penned by some fossil of a family friend
and written in prehistoric ink, for if she had not written like that
there was but one other way in which she could write to him, and she
would have said, "I am coming to you." The thinnest partition, but
a partition the most impenetrable, insulated her from him. On this
point her will stood utterly firm. In this short, dry note she did not
attempt to argue the question; she merely told him that he must come
down at once, and put an end to Edith's intolerable suspicions. "But
for you to break your engagement to her will not bring me one step
nearer you," were the concluding words. Whether she was acting wisely
or not, whether there was not some step she could take later that would
be cleverer, more tactful, she could not consider. The situation was
simple enough, and they had to wait for Edith to decide its solution.

The thing was done; that cold, hard little sentence that finished
her letter was written. All this last week of his absence she had
wondered whether her will would stand firm enough to enable her to
tell him that, and to make no other answer to his pleading. She knew
that when he came down, as he assuredly would on the next day, she
would be obliged to see him, to let him in justice state the case for
himself. But she had now her own word to bind her; she would be able,
by memory, to recapture the spirit of the moment when she wrote it. It
was her definite decision, and the knowledge of it would fortify her.
She would need it, she felt, when she was face to face with him and her
overwhelming need of him.

A resolution taken and embedded in the mortar of fact always gives
relief, even if a death-sentence is involved in it. The acute edge of
suspense is removed, and when Elizabeth, having posted her letter,
strolled out again into the garden, she was conscious of a certain
tranquillity, to which for the last ten days she had been an utter
stranger. She did not suppose that there was anything more than a lull
in the tempest; she knew that it must again howl and buffet round her,
but even as on the night after the opera, she had felt a momentary calm
as she looked at the moonlit flood-tide, so now she was given another
respite. But now she felt securer; she had gained a little ground, she
could look out over the contention and estimate the odds against her as
less desperate.

It was just here she had walked on the dewy morning, in ecstasy of
unreflecting happiness, when the instinct to give thanks to Some One
first came to her. To-day she saw the triumphant riot of midsummer
under a noonday sun, and she, no less than the garden, was surrounded
by the burden and heat. The dew and freshness had faded from the cool
petals, and the heavy heads of the roses drooped on their stems. But
with brimming eyes and bitten lip she encouraged herself to exhibit a
sturdier pluck than they. She would not yield, she would not hang her
head, she would, whatever the issues might be, be grateful to the power
that had come into her soul, the power to love. Ignorantly, ten days
ago, she had thought that sufficient; now, with greater knowledge,
she wondered whether her ignorance had not told her right, after all.
Then it seemed to matter nothing so long as she loved; now, just for a
little while, she knew it mattered nothing. She caught a glimpse, as of
snow-peaks behind storm-clouds, of a reality so lofty, so serene, that
she almost distrusted her eyes.

Suddenly her mind sped on its magic flight to the low white house at
Peshawar, from which so often she had lifted her eyes up through the
heat-haze to the quivering lines of eternal snows, to the steadfast
peaks that rose above all dust and storm-cloud, and she smiled as she
recognized by what association of ideas her mind had winged its way
thither. The gardens there would be withered in the heat, but she
yearned for the scene where life had been so unperplexed. Above all,
she yearned for her father, who even now retained the simplicity of
youth; she yearned for his comradeship, his wisdom, his patience,
his sympathy. She could have told him all the trouble so easily and
confidently; she could hear him say, "Lizzie, dear, I am so sorry, but,
of course, you had to do just what you did." She could have argued with
him, taking the side of her longing and love, telling him that nothing
could be counted or reckoned with against the fact that she and Edward
loved each other. And again she could hear him say, "My dear, I know
you don't think that really." And then she could have said, "No, no,
I don't mean it," and have sobbed her heart out against that rough
homespun jacket which he wore in the garden.

The garden! At the end was a low wall, over which one night she had
vaulted, when, just outside, lay the dying Brahmin, to whom a beggar's
death by the wayside, needy, indigent, was a triumph that transcended
all telling, was the finding of that which all his life he had sought.
His eyes, already dim in death, were open not upon death, but life.
He had renounced all the fair things that the world offered to find
something infinitely fairer. Round him, tired, hungry, dying, the
banner of some stupendous triumph waved.

How had he reached that? By seeking.

And how had he sought? By renunciation.

And what had he found? Life.

The moment had worn the vividness and splendour of a dream, and
Elizabeth was again conscious of the heavy-headed flowers and the
noonday heat. The wheels of the motor scraped on the gravel sweep at
the other side of the house, and in another minute she would be plunged
back in the deeds and the needs of every day. But she no longer felt
so utterly alone and desolate; far behind the storm she had seen the
snows, and for a moment the moonlight had shone on the face of the
dying Brahmin. There was some tie between them all, something that
expressed itself in the peace of the great silence, and in the vision
of the dying eyes, and--was she not right in hoping?--in the choice she
had just made. There was one thread running through them, there was a
factor common to them all.

And here was Mrs. Hancock coming into the garden.

"My dear, is it wise to be out in this sun without a hat?" she asked.
"You have had a nice quiet time for your practising, haven't you? I was
telling Edith that I felt sure Edward would think you had got on, when
he comes down here again."



CHAPTER X

EDWARD'S RETURN


Elizabeth's letter to Edward had pressed upon him an immediate return
to Heathmoor, at the cost of his week-end engagement, if such existed.
To them both the desire of their hearts for each other had been
revealed on that night of the opera, as chaos suddenly made manifest by
a flash of lightning, and on all considerations it had been more decent
and wise that he should absent himself. But, as Elizabeth had foreseen,
this absence could not indefinitely continue, since it implied absence
from Edith as well as herself, and was but of the nature of a temporary
measure, to give breathing-space and time for reflection. She had told
him, but not with confidence, that absence would restore his legitimate
allegiance; poor girl, she had but little trust herself in the mildness
of that prescription, which was, so to speak, but a dose where the
knife was called for. In any case, Edith's revealed suspicions had
rendered his return necessary. Whatever the solution of that knot into
which the heart-strings of three young folk were tangled, it must be
dealt with by his presence here.

For both girls the interval before he could answer, whether his reply
was an argued negative to Elizabeth or an affirmative announcement to
Edith, passed in acute discomfort, that rose and fell, like the ebb and
flow of the physical pain of some deep-seated mischief, into crises of
anguish and numb reactions. There was not an employment, there was
scarcely a topic of conversation that did not conduct them sooner or
later to an impassable road, where was a red flag and a danger signal.
The hours passed in broken conversation and aching silences, with
Edith sentinelled about by her fears and jealousies, Elizabeth torn
with longings, and hearing amid the troubled peace of her renunciation
voices that accused her of bitter cruelty to herself and to him and
poured scorn on the tragic folly of her refusal. Twenty times that
day she felt she could barely resist the need of telegraphing to him,
cancelling her letter, and, acceding to his imperative desire, of
simply taking the next train up to town, going to him, and saying,
"I have come." But her will renounced him still, and her will still
dominated her deeds. And all the time she knew that Edith watched her
with sidelong glances that were quickly removed when her own eyes met
them. Sometimes it seemed that Edith must speak, so intense was the
miserable strain, but she always shied away at the last moment. Over
those palpitating duellists, who never quite came to blows, presided
Mrs. Hancock, unconscious and bland, foolish and voluble. She had
experienced a moment's discomfort this morning, when Edith spoke to her
of Edward's continued absence, but, as Mr. Martin would have her do,
she dismissed it with complete success from her mind, telling herself
that she had quite cleared it all up, and made Edith comfortable again.
The obvious constraint that hung over the two girls she merely refused
to admit into her mind. It might batter and ring at the door, and there
was no need for her even to open that door a chink, and assert that
she was out. She sat and knitted at her crossovers, and in the evening
played patience, refusing to hear the signals of distress and trouble.
Next day came a telegram from Edward to Edith announcing his arrival
at half-past seven that evening, and asking, or rather supposing, that
he might dine with them. It was delivered at lunch-time, and Edith, as
she tore it open, glanced at Elizabeth opposite, and saw the sudden
whiteness of her face, saw that she sat with her fork half-raised to
her lips, then put it back on her plate again, that she waited with
hand pressed to the table to control its trembling. His message gave
rise to debate, for Mrs. Hancock and Edith were engaged to dine at the
Vicarage that night, and a small solitary dinner had already, three
hours before, been ordered for Elizabeth. There was to be a slip, a
lamb cutlet--quite enough and not too much.

"Of course, it would be natural," said Mrs. Hancock, "to ask him to
come and have a little dinner with you, dear Elizabeth, and then you
could amuse yourselves by playing to each other afterwards till Edith
and I returned. And then Edith and I could have made an excuse to get
away perhaps at ten, or even five minutes before. But now your dinner
is ordered; it is very provoking, and Mrs. Williams----"

Edith interrupted, watching Elizabeth narrowly. Her jealousy seemed to
have divided itself into two camps. Part (and for the moment this was
the stronger) allied itself with this scheme; if Elizabeth and Edward
had an evening together, things (if there were things) would declare
themselves; there would be an answer to that eternal question, "I want
to know; I want to know!"

"That's a delightful plan, mother," she said; "and surely Mrs. Williams
has got some cold beef. Edward says nobody can need more than plenty of
cold beef for dinner. He and Elizabeth will enjoy an evening together;
they will talk over the opera and play. And we shan't be obliged to
hurry back from the Martins'."

This rather diabolical speech hit its mark. Elizabeth blushed furiously
as she heard the yapping bitterness in Edith's voice. And it was not
only with the rush of the conscious blood that her face flared; anger
flamed at the innuendo, the double meanings.

"In fact, I needn't reply to Edward's telegram at all," said Edith,
"and he will naturally come here for dinner."

Elizabeth looked up at her cousin. At the moment she completely and
fervently hated her.

"Oh, that wouldn't do, Edith!" she said. "Edward would come over
here all anxiety to see you, and find only me. He would be horribly
disappointed and make himself very disagreeable. I shouldn't wonder if
he went straight back to London again."

That was the first pass of the naked swords between them; yesterday
they had not come to the touch of the steel, and the first bout was
distinctly in Elizabeth's favour. Elizabeth had not parried only,
she had attacked. And yet it was only with foolish words that could
not wound that she had thrust. Had Edith only known, her cousin was
fighting for her with a loyalty that was as divine as it was human, and
calling on the loyalty of her lover to be up in arms. But her assault,
with its sharp double meaning, only gratified a moment's laudable
savagery and she instantly turned to her aunt.

"Oh, Aunt Julia," she said, "I should so like an evening alone. Do tell
Edward you are out; he can be here all Sunday. I want to write to Daddy
and I want to practise. Not play, but practise."

"Well, it would put Mrs. Williams out," said Mrs. Hancock, "to know
that she had to provide dinner for Edward as well, for as for letting
him eat nothing but cold beef, I think she would sooner leave my
service than do that. Edward is a great favourite with Mrs. Williams.
Indeed, where she would get provisions I don't know, for it's early
closing, and even such shops as we have here are shut. I think your
plan is the best, dear, and your father wouldn't like not to hear from
you, and then there's your practice as well. I'll write a note to him.
Has everybody finished? And which of you would like to drive with me
this afternoon?"

Elizabeth, conscious of her own loyalty, did not in the least mind
having another thrust at her cousin. Edith had provoked her; Edith
should take the consequences--the superficial ones. She turned to her.

"It will be a good punishment for Edward," she said, "to find that you
are out. You will be paying him back in his own coin for keeping away
so long. Perhaps he will come round after you get back. If I were you I
should say I was tired and would not see him."

Edith looked at her with her real anxiety, making anxious, imploring
signals. Elizabeth saw and disregarded them.

"Of course, it would be the worst punishment of all for him," she said,
"if you let him come round expecting to find you and he found only me
alone with my lamb-cutlet. But you mustn't punish him as much as that,
Edith. It would be too cruel."

Mrs. Hancock had passed out of the dining-room on the quest for the
longer paragraphs in the _Morning Post,_ and for a moment the two girls
faced each other. Elizabeth was still quivering with indignation at
Edith's first wanton attack, the attack which sounded so friendly and
pleasant a salutation and which both knew was so far otherwise. And
if Edith only knew what wrestlings, what blind strivings after light
Elizabeth had undergone for her....

"Don't scold him too much," she said. "He is so nice. I love Edward!
Shall I drive with Aunt Julia this afternoon, or would you like to?"

Elizabeth ran upstairs to her room and locked herself in. Already she
was sick at heart for her barren dexterity. She had pricked Edith
with her point, made her wince, startled her into miserable silence.
And what was the good of it all? It did not even for the moment allay
the savage anguish of her own wound. She threw herself on her bed and
sobbed.

By soon after eight she had finished her dinner and was sitting in the
drawing-room, neither writing to her father nor practising. For the
last half-hour she had had one overpowering sensation in her mind,
which absorbed the active power of thought, and spread itself like a
dense enveloping mist, obscuring all other perceptions--namely, the
knowledge that in the house next door Edward sat alone, or perhaps
walked in the garden, longing to catch sight of her over the low brick
wall. She, too, would have spent this hour of darkening twilight
outside but for fear of seeing him, or more exactly but for the longing
to see him which she must starve and deny. No doubt she would have to
see him, have to listen to his pleading; but it was part of her resolve
that she would use all her will to hold herself apart. But the thought
of him possessed her, and she could not concentrate her mind enough
even to attempt to practise or to write her overdue letter. It had
taken all her nervous force to arrive where she was; now, like a bird
after the flight of migration, she had to rest, to let the time go by,
without stirring up her activities; for any activity she roused seemed
to be directed from the cause of purpose that excited it, and to be
sucked into the mill-race that but ran the swifter for an added volume
of awakened perception.

Soon mere inactivity became even more impossible than employment,
and she opened the piano. The wonder of music, which his love had so
magically quickened in her, perhaps would not desert her even now, and
she set herself to study the intellectual as well as the technical
intricacies of Brahms' variations on the Handel themes. If she could
give them any attention at all, she felt she could give them her
whole attention; it was impossible merely to paddle knee-deep in that
profound and marvellous sea; you had either to swim, or not enter it
at all. She bent her mind to her work, as a man bends the resisting
strength of a bow. She would string it; she willed that it should bend
itself to its task.

How marvellous was this artistic vision! To the composer, the theme
was like some sweet, simple landscape, a sketch of quiet country with
a stream, perhaps, running through it. Then he set himself to see
it in twenty different ways. He saw it with gentle morning sunshine
asleep over it; he saw it congested with winter, green with the young
growth of spring, triumphant in the blaze of summer, and gorgeous with
the flare of the dying year. He saw it with rain-clouds lowering on
its hills and swelling its streams with gathered waters; he saw it
underneath the lash of rain, and echoing to the drums of thunder; he
saw it beneath the moonlight, and white with starshine on snow.

Suddenly Elizabeth held her hands suspended over the keys, and in her
throat a breath suspended. Through the maze of melody she had heard
another sound, faint and tingling, that pierced through the noise
of the vibrating strings. A bell had rung. Hearing it, she knew that
unconsciously she had been listening for it with the yearning with
which the eyes of the shipwrecked watch for a sail.

There were steps in the hall, a few words of indistinguishable talk,
and she turned round on her music-stool and faced the door. It opened,
whispering on the thick carpet, and Edward stood there.

In silence he held out both hands to her, and she rose. But she did not
advance to him, or he to her.

She felt her lip trembling as she spoke.

"You should not have come," she said.

"You told me to come."

"But not to me. I told you to come to Edith."

He sat down in a chair near her.

"You have got to hear what I have to say," he said. "You have not heard
it yet."

"Yes; you have written to me. I have answered you."

"I can't express myself in writing. I can only write symbols of what I
mean."

"I understood your symbols very well. I am sure you understood mine."

It seemed to her that the real struggle had only just begun. Even as
he had said, what he wrote had only been symbols compared to the awful
reality of his presence. The short, sharp sentence that each had spoken
rang with keen hostility; in each love was up in arms, battling, as
with an enemy, for a victory that must be hard won.

"You speak as if you hated me for coming," he said. "If you do, I can't
help it."

She raised her eyes to him.

"Oh, my dear, don't make it harder for me," she said. "It's hard enough
already. I can't bear much more."

"I am going to make it as hard for you as I possibly can," said he. "I
don't care what it costs you, so long as I convince you."

"You won't even convince me."

"I shall try my best. I believe your happiness as well as mine is at
stake."

He paused a moment, and his voice, which had been low and quiet, like
hers, suddenly raised itself.

"I want you!" he cried. "Oh, can you know what it means to want like
that? I don't believe you can, or you could not resist. Do you realize
what has happened? how, by a miracle of God-sent luck, we two have
found each other? And you think that there can be an obstacle between
us! There can't be! There is nothing in the world that is real enough
to come between us. You do love me. I was wrong when I said I didn't
believe you knew what it meant to want. When, for one moment, you clung
to me, you knew. You were real then; you were yourself. But since then
you have held up a barrier between us. I am here to tear it down."

"You can't tear it down," said Elizabeth.

"You shall tear it down yourself. I didn't know what love meant when I
got engaged to Edith; that was because I hadn't seen you. Oh, I know,
two years ago I had set eyes on you, but I hadn't seen you. It was
obvious that I couldn't love just because I hadn't seen you. I couldn't
unlock my heart without the key. And you were the key. Elizabeth, oh,
Elizabeth, I worship you! Oh, my darling, what is the use of torturing
me as you have been doing during these awful days! You won't go on--you
won't!"

He had left his chair and was kneeling before her, with his hands
clasped together on her lap. As he had said, his written words were
but symbols compared to the reality; they were but as pictures of
flames compared to the burning of authentic fire, as splashes of paint
compared to actual sunshine. She could not speak just yet; only with
the quivering semblance of a smile and eyes that were bright with tears
could she answer him. But she did not shrink from him, nor move, and
she laid her hands on his.

"Edward!" she said at last, and again, "Edward!"

Against some inward weight of unacknowledged conviction he allowed
himself to hope, and, bending, he kissed the hands that lay on his. Not
now, even, did she shrink, for she could not. It was as much as she
could do not to respond. And she could not respond.

"You see, then?" he whispered. "At last you see!"

He looked up and faced the tender, inexorable love in her eyes.

"I see more clearly than ever," she said. "Please, dear, don't
interrupt me. Not by word or by look even. I can't marry you
unless--unless Edith voluntarily gives you up. I can't. I can't accept
love that can be mine only through your disloyalty, through your
breaking a promise you have given. And I can't let you take my love on
those terms. It would kill love; it would kill the most sacred thing
there is. No; loyalty is as sacred. And you mustn't ask her to set you
free. Love can only give, only give--it cannot ask for itself."

He got up, wild with impotent yearning, inflamed to his inmost fibre.

"But are you flesh and blood!" he cried, "or are you some--some
unsubstantial phantom that does not feel?"

She rose also with fire of loyalty to meet his fire of passion,
and flung out her words with a strength that more than matched his
violence.

"No, I am flesh and blood," she said, "and you know that I love you.
But love is holier to me than to you. I can't love you differently. We
can never come together while a single thread of loyalty, of common
honour, has to be snapped to let us."

He interrupted.

"Trust your heart, my darling," he said; "only trust that!"

"I do trust it. And I trust yours. You know you are battling with not
me alone, but yourself. There is something within you that tells you I
am right."

"My cowardice. Nothing more. My fear of unpleasant things for which my
real self does not care two straws."

She shook her head at him; then advanced and laid her long hands on his
shoulders.

"It is just your real self that does care," she said. "Oh, my dear, I
do not mean it is your false self that loves me. But it is your false
self that has been urging me to-night. Edward"--and again her lips so
trembled that she could scarcely speak--"Edward, I don't want to spare
you one moment of the wretchedness that has come upon us, nor would I
spare myself. If we were not suffering so, we should not love so. All
our suffering is part of our love. I don't know why it has happened
like this, why God didn't allow us to meet sooner. And that doesn't
concern us. It is so. What does concern us is not to graft our love
on to disloyalty and unfaithfulness. It is in our power to do right.
I can't deliberately choose to find happiness for you or for me in a
crime."

"Crime!"

"Yes, the worst sort of crime, for it is one that is a crime that we
should commit against each other. I don't think"--and a shadow of a
smile hung round Elizabeth's mouth--"I don't think I should feel so
very bad if I murdered some one whom I hate. But in this I should be
murdering all that is best in the man I love."

"You are talking wildly!" he said. "Murder! What nonsense!"

"I never spoke more deliberately," said she.

Again he was stung to a frenzy of impotence.

"And you admit you love me!" he cried. "You admit it!"

"But of course. Don't--don't be so silly!"

"But I can't do it. I can't let you go!" he broke out again. "And would
you have me marry Edith, you, who talk about the sacredness of love?"

Elizabeth pushed him gently away from her.

"I don't know. I haven't had room in me to think about that," she said.
"It has taken me, well--all my time to think about us."

He was silent a moment,

"Do you think she will let me go, when she knows?" he asked.

"I think she does know. At least I think she guesses."

"Well?"

"I can't tell. But I think she loves you. I am sure she loves you. And
it is hard to let go a person one loves."

"It's impossible!" he cried suddenly.

"She may find it so."

"I wasn't thinking of her," said he.

He stretched out his arms wide and towards her.

"Elizabeth!" he cried.

She wavered where she stood. Never yet had the balance hung so evenly,
as when now he made his final appeal to her, wordless except for her
own name, for into that his whole soul went. She felt dragged to him by
a force almost irresistible. From him and her alike for the moment all
the ties and considerations of loyalty and honour were loosed; he knew
only his overmastering need, she, the intensity of a woman's longing to
give herself. Had the choice been then for the first time to be made,
she would have flung herself to him. But the force of the choice she
had made before had already made itself firm within her.

"No, no, no!" she said, and the words were drops of blood. Then once
more she had power to turn from him.

She went back to the piano to close it, and mechanically shut up the
music she had been playing from. Then, though she had heard nothing,
she felt that some change had come into the room. From the edge of the
field of vision she saw that Edward had turned towards the door, and
she looked. The door was open, and Edith stood there.

Elizabeth let the piano-lid slip from her hands, and it fell with a
bang and jar of wires.

"You are back early," she said. "At least it is early, is it not? Has
Aunt Julia come back?"

"No. I telephoned for the car, and left almost immediately after
dinner. My ankle began to hurt again."

The reaction after her struggle had begun in Elizabeth. Though it was
for Edith's advantage she had done battle, it was not for Edith's sake,
and the sight of her cousin suddenly filled her with bitter resentment.
She felt perfectly sure also that this reason for her return was wholly
fictitious; she had come back like this for an entirely different
purpose. Elizabeth feigned an exaggerated sympathy.

"Oh, I am so sorry," she said, "and surely, Edith, it is madness to
stand like that. I am sure you are in agonies. Of course you will go to
bed at once. Shall not I ring for Filson? And then I will telephone
and ask Dr. Frank to come round immediately. Is it very bad? Poor dear!
But anyhow you have the pleasure of seeing Edward. You did not expect
to find him here, did you? Did you?"

Goaded and self-accused of a foolish attempt at deceit, Edith turned to
her.

"Yes, I did," she said, "I thought it extremely probable."

"Ah, and can it have been for the sake of finding him here as much as
for the sake of your ankle, which I see you still continue to stand on,
that you came back? Edward, do you hear? Edith expected to find you
here. So she is not disappointed. And I'm sure her ankle feels much
better."

It was scarcely possible to believe that this jeering, scoffing girl
was the same who five minutes before pleaded with her lover with such
womanly strength, such splendid self-repression, or that she could have
thus battled for the rights of her whom she now so bitterly taunted.
And indeed the mere identity of Edith was but a casual accident;
Elizabeth had ranged herself on the side of a principle rather than the
instance of it. For the rest, after the scene in which she had called
upon every ounce of her moral force to aid her, she had nervously,
entirely collapsed with a jar like that of the fallen piano-lid. Then
her collapse spread a little farther; the angry fire that burned in her
for this pitiful subterfuge went out, and, swaying as she stood, she
put her hands before her eyes.

"I'm giddy!" she said. "I'm afraid I'm going to faint!"

Edward took a quick step towards her, but she waved him aside and fell
on to the sofa. Edith looked at her without moving.

"You will be all right if you sit still a moment," she said, "and then
I think it is you who had better go to bed. As Edward is here, I want
to talk to him privately. Leave her alone, Edward; she is better left
alone."

He paid no attention to this, and went to the sofa.

"Can I do anything for you?" he said. "Can't I get you some water, or
some brandy?"

Elizabeth sat up.

"I shall be all right," she said. "I will just sit here a minute or
two. Then I will go. Edith wants to talk to you. She--she has not seen
you for so long."

Slowly her vitality returned, and with it for the second time that day
the aching sense of the uselessness of her bitter, ironical words to
her cousin, of the sheer stupidity of their wrangle. If Edith chose to
tell a foolish tale about her ankle, it concerned nobody but herself.
It did not matter, for one thing only in the world mattered. And with
regard to that, for the present, she felt a total apathy. She had done
her part; nobody, not even herself, could require anything more of her.
She felt hugely and overwhelmingly tired, nothing more at all. She got
up.

"I shall take your advice, Edith, and go to bed," she said. "If there
is anything you want to tell me afterwards, please come up to my room.
Good-night, Edward!"

Not till her steps had passed away up the stairs did either of the
two others speak. Edith's face, firm, pretty, plump, showed not the
slightest sign of emotion. She stood in front of the empty fire-place,
waving her feather fan backwards and forwards opposite her knee,
looking at it.

"I think you had better tell me what has happened," she said. "Or if
you find a difficulty in doing that I will tell you. You imagine that
you have fallen in love with Elizabeth."

An answer seemed superfluous. After a little pause she apparently
thought so too, and went on, still in the same quiet, passionless tone.

"I have often watched you and her," she said. "She has used her music
as an instrument to encourage you and draw you on----"

"That is not so!" said Edward.

"Of course you are bound to defend her. It is manly of you, and what I
should expect from you. But that does not matter."

"Yes, it does matter," said he. "Throughout the fault has been entirely
mine. You have got to believe that. You do not understand her at all if
you think otherwise."

"I do not want to understand Elizabeth. Her nature and mine are so far
apart that I do not attempt to understand her. What is perfectly clear
to me is that she knew that you and I were engaged, and she has tried
to come between us. So far I understand her, and for me that is far
enough."

Edward looked at her. Half an hour ago he had wondered whether
Elizabeth was flesh and blood. Now he wondered if Edith was.

"You are absolutely mistaken about her," he said. "It is she who has
been unswervingly loyal to you. The disloyalty has been entirely mine.
I know I can't make you believe it, but it is so."

Edith met his eye looking at her steadily without tremor.

"Yes, you can make me believe it, if you ask me to release you from
your engagement to me," she said. "Do you do that?"

The waving of her fan ceased as she waited for his answer. She stood
absolutely still, a marvel of self-control.

"No, I don't ask that," he said. "All the same, you must believe what
I tell you about your cousin."

"And if I can't?"

"I will force you to. I will tell you what happened on the night of the
opera; I will tell you why I have kept away all these days. I will even
show you the letter from her that brought me back. You will have to
believe."

For the moment nothing seemed to matter to him except that Edith should
believe this, and in the silence that followed he watched her face, and
marvelled at the change that came there. It was as if it was possible
to see the belief penetrating into her brain, and transforming her
features, even as the thaws of the spring penetrate into the congealed
ground, softening its outlines and bedewing the spear-heads of frozen
grass with moisture, that percolates and liquefies the ice-bound
tussocks. Even so, Edith, frozen with jealous hate for Elizabeth,
melted at the words the truth of which it was impossible to doubt,
for the nature of the proofs he offered was the guarantee for them.
She had to believe. And this unfreezing melted her; the crust of her
hardness was dissolved, and pitiful imperative yearnings welled up from
the very springs of her, that pierced and flooded the ground that had
been sealed to their outflow. As far as her will went, she banished her
bitterness and blame of Elizabeth; she was herself alone with her lover
and her love, that was more adamantine than this mere frozen surface of
hatred and jealousy had been. Till that crust was dissolved, the inner
springs could not flow; now it was melted and they flooded her.

Her fan dropped unregarded at her feet, and she clasped her hands
together.

"I believe you," she said. "It is you who--who are responsible. But you
don't ask me to release you. That is well, for--for I can't release
you. You can refuse to marry me, I suppose. A man can always do that if
he has made a girl love him and has asked her to marry him."

He did not answer, and she went on winding and unwinding her fingers.

"You see I love you," she said, "and I can't let you go. And only a
few weeks ago you liked me enough anyhow to want me to marry you.
You thought you would be very well content to live with me always. I
think that was about it. And I felt much the same towards you. Then
immediately, when I found you wanted me, I began to love you. And I
love you more and more. Before that nothing in the world had meant
anything to me. Even if you asked me to let you go, I could not."

Still he said nothing, and she came up close to him, treading on her
fan and breaking the ivory sticks of it.

"It would be simply impossible for me," she said. "Do you think that
by my own act I could give you up, and let you marry Elizabeth--as I
suppose you would do?"

She pointed through the open window at his house next door.

"Could I see you living there with _her?_" she asked. "Hear the gate
clang as you went in on your return in the evening? See the lights lit
in the house and quenched again at night, and know you were there with
her, and that I had permitted it? Never, never! You can refuse to marry
me, if you will; that is your affair. But don't, Edward, don't!" and
her voice broke.

He felt utterly humiliated by her sudden entreaty. It was pitiful, it
was intolerable that she whom he had sought light-heartedly with a view
to comfort and quiet happiness and domestic peace should abase herself
to him, asking that he should not withdraw so paltry a gift. He had
known and liked and admired her for years, and had offered her, not
knowing how cheap and shabby was his devotion, what was wholly unworthy
of her acceptance. In return now she gave him unreservedly all she had,
all she was capable of, only asking that his rubbish should not be
taken from her.

And now as he sat there, full of cold pity for her, full of scorn
for himself that he should give her pity and be unable to give her
warmth, she knelt to him, clasping his knees. And her beseeching, so
grovelling, so abandoned, seemed only to degrade him. Knowing now that
he knew what love was, how royal was the gift she brought him, he saw
himself bankrupt and abject, receiving the supplications of some noble
petitioner.

With streaming eyes and voice that choked she besought him.

"Just give me what you can, my darling," she said, "and oh, how content
I will be! It is so short a time ago that you thought I could make you
happy, and I can--believe me, I can. I was not worthy when you asked
me first, but I have learned so much since I began to love you, and I
am worthier now. You have always liked me, we have always been good
friends, and you will get over this sudden infatuation for Elizabeth. I
will be so good about that; I won't be jealous of her. It wasn't your
fault that you fell in love with her; I will never reproach you for it.
We shall be so happy together very soon; she will go back to India and
you will forget. I will do anything except give you up!"

Once or twice he had tried to interrupt her, but she swept his words
away in the torrent of her entreaties. But here for a moment her voice
utterly choked, and he put his arm round her, raising her, dragging
her from her knees. Weeping hysterically, she clung to him, burying
her face on his shoulder, and all the tenderness and kindliness in his
nature came to him.

"My dear, don't talk like that," he said, soothing her, "and don't cry
like that. Dry your eyes, Edith; there is nothing to cry about."

"Tell me, then," she sobbed, "what are you going to do with me?"

Still with his arm about her he led her across the room to the sofa
where, half an hour ago, Elizabeth had fallen. There was no possibility
of choice left him, and he saw that clearly enough. He could not
break a promise made to one who loved him, the strength of whose love
he had not even conjectured before. Undemonstrative and reticent by
nature, Edith had never yet shown him her heart, nor had he known how
completely it was his. There was no struggle any more; there was left
to him only the self-humiliating task of comforting her.

"God knows I will give you all I can," he said. "I will do my best to
make you happy. But, my dear, don't humiliate me any more. I know that
you are giving me all a woman can give a man. And it is sweet of you to
forgive me; I don't deserve to be forgiven. There, dry your eyes. Let
me dry them for you. Never, never, I hope, will you cry again because
of me."

Edith's sobbing had ceased, and with a woman's instinct she began to
repair with deft fingers the little disorder of her dress.

"Oh, I will love you so, my darling!" she whispered. "We shall be
happy; I know we shall be happy. And when I give you the best gift of
all, when I give you a child, and another child...."

"Yes, yes, I know," he said. "And how their grannie will love them!"

She shrank away from him a moment at this. He had said anything that
might comfort and quiet her, which came to his tongue.

"And how we shall love them!" he added quickly. "There, you look more
yourself."

Still leaning on him, as if loth to let him go, she turned her
tear-stained face round to the mirror above the sofa.

"Ah, but what a fright!" she said. "I shall just go and wash my face
and then come back to you. Mother will be in any minute now. And I
shall look into Elizabeth's room, shall I not? She--she said she wanted
to know."

The sounds of the arrival of the motor hastened her departure upstairs,
and next moment Mrs. Hancock came in.

"Well, it is nice to see you, my dear!" she said. "But I can't say it's
a surprise, for I told Edith I was sure you would look in. But where's
Edith? And where's Elizabeth?"

Edward shook hands.

"Elizabeth went to bed half an hour ago," he said. "She was not feeling
very well. Edith has just gone upstairs. She was going to look in and
see how she was."

Mrs. Hancock sat down to her patience-table. She always played patience
when she had been to a party, to calm herself after the excitement.

"Isn't that like my darling Edith!" she said. "Forgetting all about her
ankle, I'll be bound, and even about you, though you mustn't scold her
for it. She will have told you that her ankle began to pain her. Fancy!
There is a second king already. Ring the bell, dear Edward, I must
have a little lemonade, and no doubt you would like a whisky and soda.
Another ace--how provoking!"

Mrs. Hancock had a tremendous belief in her own perspicacity, and,
looking at the young man, came to the very distinct conclusion
that something had happened. His voice sounded rather odd, too.
Simultaneously she caught sight of the wreck of Edith's fan on
the floor. Her remarkable powers of imagination instantly enabled
her to connect this deplorable accident--for Edith was usually so
careful--with whatever it was that had happened. Perhaps there had been
a little tiff over Edward's long-continued absence. She summoned up all
her tact and all her optimism.

"Why, if that isn't Edith's fan!" she said. "She must have dropped it
and stepped on it. Or it would be more like Elizabeth to step on it.
And what a long time you have been away. Edith was almost disposed to
blame you for that, until she and I had a good talk together. I told
her it would never do for you to neglect either your business or your
friends. Once Mr. Hancock was away from me for a month, when there was
either a slump or a boom in the markets. Dear me, how the old words
come back to one, though I'm sure I forget what they mean! Has it been
a slump or a boom, dear Edward, all this last fortnight?"

"Oh, everything has been pretty quiet," said he absently. He could
barely focus his attention enough on what she was saying to understand
her. Upstairs Edith had gone in to see Elizabeth--to tell her what had
happened----

"I see," said Mrs. Hancock, with great cordiality. "And so you have had
to watch things very carefully. Such a pleasant dinner at Mr. Martin's,
and a great deal of wise and witty talk. And I have such a lovely plan
for Elizabeth, which I shall tell her about to-morrow, so there's no
reason why I should not tell you now. I mean to let her stay with me
after you have taken my darling away, all October and November, and
come with me to Egypt, so that we shall all meet again, our happy
little party. I have just heard from her father, who, of course,
will pay for her travelling expenses, and he is quite agreeable, if
Elizabeth likes. I quite look forward to telling her; she will go mad
with joy, I think, for imagine a girl seeing Egypt at her age! I am
very fond of Elizabeth; she is lively and cheerful, though I think she
has felt the heat this last fortnight. So affectionate, is she not? And
I'm not sure she doesn't like her Cousin Edward best of all of us."

This amazing display of tactful conversation, designed to take Edward's
mind off any little tiff that he might have had with Edith, demanded
some kind of appreciation from him.

"I should be delighted to know that Elizabeth liked me," he said.

"You may be sure she does. Such a common interest you have, too, in
music. Ah! here is Edith; and my patience is coming out in spite
of that horrid ace which blocked me so long. We were talking about
Elizabeth, dear, and I was telling Edward how fond she is of him."

The poor lady had touched the limit of his endurance.

"I think I must be getting to bed," he said.

"Not wait and chat while I have my lemonade? Well, dear, it is nice to
see you again, and I have no doubt that Edith will see you out, and
lock the door after you, so that I need not ring for Lind again. Edith,
my darling, your fan! Who could have stepped on it? Was it Elizabeth?
And has your ankle ceased to pain you?"

Edward followed Edith out into the hall. There was no repressing his
anxiety to know.

"Did you see her?" he asked.

"Yes. Oh, Edward, I have been wronging Elizabeth so. And I am sorry.
She told me she didn't care for you, not one scrap. It--it had never
entered her head. I asked her forgiveness for having had such dreadful
thoughts about her. I don't know how I thought so. It has made me quite
happy. You see, she never thought of you. And she kissed me and forgave
me."

She lifted her face to his.

"She told me to tell you," she said. "She----"

Edward kissed her quickly and stepped out into the black,
cloud-shadowed night.



CHAPTER XI

THE TELEGRAM


Mrs. Hancock was distinctly aware when, three days afterwards, she
started in her motor for a drive with Elizabeth, that in order to live
worthily up to Mr. Martin's pattern of the thankful, cheerful Christian
life, she had to keep a very firm hand on herself and nail her smile
to her pleasant mouth. Indeed, for these last few days she had to set
before herself an ideal not of cheerful, but of grinning Christianity.
Like a prudent manager, however, she had steadfastly saved up as an
all-conquering antidote to the depression and queerness which was so
marked in Elizabeth, her joyful plan that should give the girl a month
more of Heathmoor and her own undivided society and a reunited tour in
Egypt afterwards at Colonel Fanshawe's expense. The prospect of that,
she felt sure, could not possibly fail to restore to Elizabeth her
accustomed exhilaration and liveliness.

Meantime Mrs. Hancock had carefully forborne to ask either of the girls
(for Edith also had exhibited symptoms of queerness) what was ailing
with the serenity of life. It fitted in with the cheerful gospel to
know as little as possible about worrying and annoying topics, lest
their infection should mar the soothing and uplifting influence over
others of a mind wholly untroubled. Two inquiries only had she made
(and those were from Edward), which elicited the comfortable fact that
the event of the 8th of October still remained firm, and that he had
not lost any money in the City. After that she firmly shut her eyes to
any possible cause of trouble, and though one (and that the correct
one) actually stood immediately in the foreground of her mental vision,
she by long practice in obedience to Mr. Martin's gospel had reached a
pitch of absolute perfection in the feat of mental eye-closing, even
as a child frightened by the dark can by an effort of will shut out
terrifying possibilities by the corresponding physical feat, or firmly
bury its head under the bed-clothes.

But her victory over these subtle influences of gloom and general
oddity had not been gained without effort. It had been distinctly
hard to maintain an equable cheerfulness with Elizabeth. Sometimes
for a little the girl was quite herself with a short-lived flood of
high-spirited talk; sometimes from her sitting-room Mrs. Hancock
would hear a flight of brilliant song-birds on the piano. But then
suddenly the flood would cease from pouring, and the flight fail in
mid-air. Once just after a silence had fallen on the ringing air she
had come into the drawing-room to find Elizabeth sitting with her hands
still resting on the keys, and her head bowed forward over them. Her
assertion that she was not ill carried conviction; her denial that
anything was the matter was less easy of belief. But she said it,
and since successful inquiry might lead to disturbing information,
Mrs. Hancock fell back on the unimpeachable general duty of trusting
everybody completely and in particular of believing what Elizabeth said.

But it required an effort to remain perfectly comfortable, for she
was surrounded with people who did not appear to be so, and Edward,
so it seemed to her, though he had lost no money and was going to
marry Edith on the 8th of October, seemed to have been drawn into
what she looked upon as a vicious circle--vicious since it was wrong,
positively wrong, not to be happy and comfortable. She was not quick
or discerning in the interpretation of symptoms, nor, indeed, when she
suspected that anything was amiss, quick to see symptoms at all. But
through her closed eyelids, so to speak, there filtered the fact that
Elizabeth altogether avoided looking at Edward, but that he observed
her with furtive, eager glances, that somehow seemed disappointed in
what they sought. Also, though Elizabeth took spasmodic and violent
spells at the piano, she never played in the evening when Edward was
there, but had evinced a sudden desire to learn the new patience which
Mrs. Hancock had found in a ladies' paper. Mrs. Hancock did not so
much wonder at that, for this particular mode of killing time was
undoubtedly of thrilling interest, and she almost thought of buying
Elizabeth a little patience-table for her birthday, which occurred in
October. She intended in any case to look out the article in question
in the catalogue from the stores and see how much it cost. There would
be no harm in that, and if it cost more than she felt she could manage,
why, there would be no necessity to say anything about it. But then
an admirable notion struck her--her own table was getting a little
rickety; it shook when she put cards down on to it. Also it was rather
small for the great four-pack "King of Mexico," which she had fully
determined to learn this autumn. So Elizabeth should have her old
table, and she would get a new one of size No. 1 (bevelled edges and
adjustable top). That it was even more expensive did not trouble her,
and she impressively told herself that she would not have dreamed of
buying it had it not been that she wanted to give dear Elizabeth a
present. In fact, though she bought it apparently for herself it was
really Elizabeth for whom this great expense was incurred. And all
these rich and refreshing rewards--namely, another month at Heathmoor,
instead of the cobras and deserts of India, a tour in Egypt, and the
most expensive patience-table at the stores--she would announce to her
fortunate niece as they went round by the Old Mill. How all the look
of trouble and depression would fade from dear Elizabeth's face as
she listened to the announcement of those delicious joys, one after
the other. Mrs. Hancock felt a sudden gush of thankfulness to the
kind disposition of Providence that had endowed her with the ample
income which she was so eager to spend in securing the happiness of
others; and even while, without self-conscious commonplace, she felt
herself blessed in such opportunities and the will to take advantage
of them, she could not help feeling how true it was that kindness and
thought for others is so laden with gain for oneself. For she herself
would have a new patience-table (size No. 1, with bevelled edges), a
delightful companion throughout October, after Edith had left her,
while Elizabeth's father would pay her expenses in Egypt. She could not
help feeling also how much more Christian and how much more Martinesque
it was to stifle, smother, and destroy whatever might be the cause of
Elizabeth's trouble by this perfect shower of causes for happiness,
rather than inquire into it and thus run the risk of being herself
unsettled and made uneasy. But it had certainly required an effort;
she had to put firmly out of her mind not only Elizabeth's possible
worries, but also the remembrance of the evening when she had come back
from dinner with the Martins, and thought Edward's voice had sounded
odd, and seen Edith's fan lying broken on the floor. That had never
been explained. Edith had said subsequently that she supposed she must
have stepped on it, but it was very odd she should not have noticed
it, for the breaking of all those ivory sticks must have made quite a
loud snap. Meantime the gong that heralded the arrival of the motor
had sounded quite two minutes and Elizabeth had not yet appeared.
Mrs. Hancock thought she would just speak to her on the subject of
punctuality, and then wipe all impression of blame away by the recital
of these prospective benefits. Elizabeth was not downstairs, and it was
just possible that she had not heard the gong; Lind was told to sound
it again.

Elizabeth heard it the second time that it boomed, and rose from where
she knelt by her bed, by the side of which five minutes ago she had
flung herself, following, so it seemed to her, some blind instinctive
impulse. That morning there had broken over her a storm of rayless
despair. For a couple of days after her final rejection of Edward,
when Edith's absolute determination not to give him up voluntarily
had been known to her, the apathetic quiet of the step taken, of
deliberate renunciation, had been hers. But it had not been, and the
poor girl guessed it, the peace that is always eventually not only the
reward but the consequence of self-abnegation, but only the exhaustion
that follows a prolonged mental effort. Edith's choice, apart from
the tremendous significance it had for herself, was incredible and
monstrous to her nature. She did not question the fact that Edith
loved Edward, but the notion of love not seeking the happiness of
the beloved was to her inconceivable. She could not understand it,
could not in consequence have the smallest sympathy with it. But this
she had to take and did take on trust, and let depend on it her own
unalterable decision--that decision that, as far as she could see,
took the sun bodily out of her own life. From mere weariness she had
found in the dull acquiescence in this an apathy that had for a couple
of days anæsthetized her. Against this insensitiveness, knowing that
it was valueless, she had made pitiful little struggles, seeking now
to establish some kind of sympathy and renewal of intimacy with her
cousin, now to rouse herself to feel in music the passion with which
it had inspired her. Instead, for the present, she found she had a
shrinking abhorrence of it. Its beauty had become remote, and from its
withdrawn eminence, its unassailable snow-peaks, it mocked her. It did
more than mock; it reminded her of all it had done for her, how through
it she and Edward had been brought together, to stand now close to each
other, embracing, overlapping, yet with a thin, unmeltable ice between
them.

Then in due course had come the recuperation of her vital forces, and
she had awoke this morning after long and dreamless sleep to find that
the anæsthesia of her mind had passed off. For a couple of minutes
perhaps she had lain still in the delicious consciousness of restored
vigour, and of delight in the new freshness of the early day. Then as
she became fully conscious of herself again, she found that what had
been recuperated in her was but her capacity for suffering, and the
blackness of a vivid despair, bright black, not dull black, fell on
her, more black because she knew that it was a darkness of her own
making. A word from her to Edward would scatter it and let loose the
morning. She had no doubt of that, no doubt that he, at her bidding,
would break the fetters of his promise that bound him as easily as if
they had been but a wisp of unwoven straw. She told herself and, what
was the more persuasive, she could hear his voice telling her that she
was committing a crime against love, that she was refusing and bidding
him profane the most sacred gift of all. She told herself that she was
a fool to listen to any voice but that which sounded so insistently,
but there was yet a voice, still and small, that was steadfast in its
message to her. It was not that she cared one jot for the ordinary
external consequences of a disobedience to that; she guessed that there
would be a consensus of opinion in her favour if she disobeyed. No
doubt they would say it was a deplorable accident that she and Edward
had fallen in love with each other, but once the accident had happened
it was best to make the best of a regrettable situation. The young man
had never been in love with poor Edith; he had but fallen a lukewarm
victim to the influence of propinquity and Mrs. Hancock. Certainly it
was very sad for Miss Hancock, but she was young, she would get over
it, and probably end by making quite a good marriage.

Elizabeth cared little for either the approval or condemnation of
the world in general. The thought of it was remote and stifled and
insignificant. But it was Edward who called to her, called loud, called
closely and low, and she must be deaf not to listen to him, not hear
him even. At whatever cost she had to approve of herself.

Black, empty aching, an intolerable loneliness. She had but one desire,
apart from the desire of her heart, and that was to escape from it all,
to go away as quickly as possible, to be out of sight of what she might
not contemplate. Far away, across leagues of hot ocean and miles of
plain baking from the summer solstice, was her father. No one else in
the world did she want to see, to no one else--if even to him--could
she pour out her woe. He would comprehend, would approve, she knew,
of all she had done, not blaming her for letting love so completely
envelop her, not praising her rejection of it, but simply seeing even
as she had seen, in loneliness and heart's anguish, that there was
no other course possible. She knew that as thoroughly as if she had
already opened her whole heart to him.

There was a letter already written which she had not yet posted; now
she opened it and added a postscript: "Father, dear," she wrote, "I am
awfully--awfully unhappy, and can't write to you about it. But when you
get this, please send me a telegram saying you want me home at once.
Trust me that this is wiser. Don't delay, dear daddy."

The pen dropped from her fingers after she had re-directed her letter,
and she sat quite still looking blankly at it. She had told Edith she
did not love Edward, that she had never thought of him like that. If
there could be degrees in this abject wretchedness, hers was a depth
unplumbable. Yet this colossal lie seemed to her necessary. Edith,
believing that her cousin loved Edward, yet refused to release him
of her own will. So she was to have him, she must be given what was
already hers, handsomely, largely. It would be wicked, even at the cost
of this denial, to give him her with a stab, so to speak.

Emptiness, utter loneliness self-ordained. She must tell somebody about
her misery; she must pour out her unshared grief, for the burden of
it was intolerable. With dry blind eyes, with the groping instinct to
seek, just to seek, she threw herself on her knees by her bed. She
knew not what or whom she sought; there was just this blind unerring
instinct in her soul, the instinct of the homing pigeon.

Mrs. Hancock put up her parasol when the three cushions were perfectly
adjusted, and the car slid slowly forward.

"I think we shall have time to go round by the Old Mill," she said,
"though we are a little late in starting. I wonder, Elizabeth, if you
could make an effort to be more punctual, dear. I don't think there
is a person in the world who hates blaming people as much as I do, so
I don't want or mean to blame you. I only ask you to make a little
effort. It is so easy to form a habit, and while you are about it you
might just as well form the habit of punctuality as of unpunctuality."

"I am so sorry, Aunt Julia," said she. "I--I wasn't thinking about the
time."

"No, dear, that is just it. I want you to think about the time a little
more. There is just a little touch of selfishness and inconsiderateness
in keeping other people waiting, and selfishness is so horrible, is it
not? Edith is never unpunctual, though all the time her ankle was bad
she got downstairs very slowly. But she allowed for that. What was the
engrossing employment to-day that kept you?"

"I was saying my prayers, Aunt Julia, At least, I was trying to."

Mrs. Hancock laid her hand on Elizabeth's.

"My dear, that is a very good reason," she said, "though I am afraid
it means that you forgot to say them when you got up. It's a very
good plan, Elizabeth, to say them the moment you get out of bed.
Then they are off your mind. Oh, what a beautiful fresh air there
is this morning! I think we might almost have my window half down,
and yours quite down. Your prayers, yes. And to think that when you
came you didn't want to go to church at all. But I felt sure that Mr.
Martin--why, there he is, do you see, in a red coat, playing golf?
Fancy, what a coincidence! He is dining with us to-night, and I must
be sure to tell him that we saw him just the very moment that I was
speaking of him. But the only way to get through the day's work is to
do everything punctually, prayers and all. Then when bedtime comes you
are ready for it, with nothing left undone to keep you awake. And now,
my dear, I have a great deal to tell you, and I'm sure I look forward
to doing so. It is almost as great a pleasure to me as it will be to
you to hear about all the plans I have made for you."

Mrs. Hancock had settled that her climax was to be Egypt. The
patience-table perhaps was the least sensational of the benefits, and
she was going to begin with that.

"I have often noticed lately, dear," she said, "what an interest you
take in my patience, so much so indeed, Elizabeth, that we've had not
a note of music in the evening for a week past, though I've thought
sometimes that I have seen Edward looking at the piano as if he would
like to hear how you are getting on. Look, there is the Old Mill. Will
you tell Denton to stop, so that we can enjoy looking at it? So I
thought to myself the other night, or perhaps a little bird whispered
it to me, that you would like to play patience, too, in the evening.
And so you shall, dear. You shall have my patience-table all for your
very own, and I will get another one for myself. Mind, Elizabeth, it is
not lent you to use only as you use the other things in the house, but
it is quite yours, the moment my other table comes from the stores. You
may take it back to India if you wish, when you go. _When_ you go."

"Oh, that is kind, dear Aunt Julia," said the girl. "But why should you
give it me, and go to the expense of a new one? I enjoy seeing you play
just as much as I should enjoy playing myself."

Mrs. Hancock wondered if this was really true. Her generosity about
taking the table to India, which so neatly introduced the next topic,
had been an unpremeditated flash. Of course, if Elizabeth did not want
to play patience, there was no kind of reason for getting a new table.
But luckily at this moment she remembered "King of Mexico," which,
employing four packs, could not be properly laid out on the table she
at present used.

"My dear, I am determined you shall have a table of your own," she
said, "to take to India with you if you wish. And perhaps you noticed
that I said 'when you go,' and repeated it. That brings me on to my
second plan. I should enjoy, dear, I should really enjoy your stopping
on here after Edith and Edward are married; then you will no longer
share the little treats, like having a drive in my motor, with Edith,
but you can come out in it whenever I go, twice a day if you like.
And if you like, you shall have Edith's room, and I shall make Mrs.
Williams and Lind and all of them quite understand that you are to take
Edith's place. You shan't be a visitor any more. Arundel shall be your
English home."

"Oh, Aunt Julia----!" began Elizabeth.

"No; wait a minute. You shall have all my plans together. Here you will
be all October, with your own patience-table, and Edith's room, until
I go to Egypt in November. And then, and then, my dear, you shall come
with me. I have written to your father, and we have quite arranged it.
You will be absolutely one of our party, and when Edith and Edward
join us, as they will do at Cairo--oh, look at those starlings, what
a quantity!--when they join us at Cairo we will all go up the Nile
together and see everything there is to be seen. How busy we shall be,
you and I, all October, my dear, reading all sorts of learned books;
I am sure you will read aloud very well with a little practice. We
shall be quite a pair of blue-stockings when we meet Edith and Edward
again, and be able to tell them all sorts of interesting things about
the Greeks and ancient Egyptians. We will take your patience-table with
us, for it shuts up more conveniently than any table I have ever seen,
and I dare say I shall often ask you for the loan of it, if you will
be so kind as to lend it me. And then we shall all come down the Nile
together, such a happy party, and I know very well, dear Elizabeth,
that when we come to part, and you go on to India from wherever it is
that the boats call, I for one shall miss you very much indeed."

Mrs. Hancock had warmed herself up into the most pleasurable glow
of generosity, and felt that all these wonderful plans, which, as a
matter of fact, had been made solely with a view to her own comfort,
were entirely due to her altruistic desire for Elizabeth's delight.
Her self-deception was complete and triumphant; she had for the time
quite lost sight of the undoubted fact that she had thought of herself
and herself only in the making of them. She had secured an excuse for
a new patience-table, a companion during what would have otherwise
been a month of loneliness, and, at no expense to herself, of somebody
who would look after her in Egypt and be devoted to her comfort. She
fully expected a burst of gratitude, a rapturous and scarcely credulous
assent from the girl.

Elizabeth sat quite silent for a moment.

"Oh, Aunt Julia, it is sweet of you," she said, "but I think it is all
quite impossible. I must go back to India; I must get back to father."

Aunt Julia still glowed.

"My dear, your father has made up his mind to do without you and let
you enjoy yourself," she said. "I wrote to him about it, oh, weeks ago,
telling him not to allude to it at all to you, but that I would tell
you. He will rejoice in your happiness as much as I."

Elizabeth clasped her hands together on her knee.

"Oh, I can't, I can't!" she said. "But thank you ever so much, Aunt
Julia. Indeed, I wrote to father only to-day, saying that I wanted
to come back to him quite soon, sooner than I had planned. I can't
explain. You have been so kind to me, I know, but I must go back to
India as soon as possible. Simply that."

Mrs. Hancock recognized the earnestness of the girl's tone, and all the
pleasure and glow faded from her face.

"Really, I think your words do require some explanation," she said. "To
think of me so busy planning and contriving for your pleasure, and you
saying that you don't want any of my plans! Yes, Denton, drive on. We
have looked at the Old Mill long enough. I think you ought to tell me
what it all means, Elizabeth."

"I can't tell you," said she. "Try to think it means nothing, or that
it means only just what I have said. It does mean that. I want to go
back to India. If it was possible I would go back to-day. I want to see
father. I have been a long time away from him, and though you and--and
Edith and Edward are so kind I miss him dreadfully. I am homesick; I
want to get back."

Mrs. Hancock's own beautiful architectural designs for Elizabeth's
happiness tumbled in ruins, and Elizabeth's notions of replacing them
did not seem in the least satisfactory. She who avowedly had "planned
and contrived" for this end found herself accusing the girl of the
most barefaced selfishness when she stated what she really wanted.
Apparently she thought about nothing but herself.

"Well, all I can say at present," said Mrs. Hancock, "is that I am
dreadfully disappointed and grieved."

"Yes, I am sorry," put in Elizabeth, "but--but it is quite impossible.
You mustn't think I am ungrateful, Aunt Julia."

"I do not think you can expect me to praise you for your gratitude,"
said Mrs. Hancock.

"No. I don't want praise; I don't deserve it. But I want to go back to
father."

Mrs. Hancock's sense of ill-usage, of having her kindness met by black
ingratitude, rankled and grew. This was worse, much worse, than the
painful case of the housemaid, who suited her so well, going away
from her service to be married. Indeed, that misguided creature--the
marriage did not turn out very happily, and Mrs. Hancock was sure she
didn't wonder--the cause of so many bitter memories, appeared now as a
perfect angel in comparison.

"I must say that I cannot consider this a pretty return for all the
indulgences I have showered on you," she said. "I have treated you
like my own daughter, Elizabeth, with the piano always ready dusted
for you, and the most expensive motor always whirling you about the
country, wherever you like to go, and the new table for your patience,
and never a thing asked of you in return till I suggest that you should
keep me company during October, and this you flatly refuse. And what
your father will say I don't know, with all his kindness in paying for
your tour in Egypt, when we settled between us to let you come with me
all up the Nile, at a great deal of expense. And now all you can say
is that you don't want to go, and can't explain why. And here was I
thinking of ordering books on Egypt from the London library this very
afternoon, and even planning going up to London some day this week to
make sure of getting places in the sleeping-car to Marseilles. And you
can't explain!"

Elizabeth felt suddenly goaded to exasperation at this child's babble
of books from the library and tickets for the sleeping-car. It was
round such things as these that her aunt's emotions clung like swarming
bees around their queen. She felt a wild desire to supply Aunt Julia
with something real to think about, something that would really pierce
through those coils of comfort-padding that wrapped her up as in
eiderdown quilts. At present all that ever reached her was a slight
disarrangement, a minute tweaking of one of her quilts. Or if by years
of habit they were too firmly tucked round her, it would be something
to let her see that others were not so grossly wadded against the
world, against reality.

"I will explain if you like," she said quickly, and almost smiled to
see Aunt Julia huddling her quilts round her, clutching them with eager
fingers, dreading lest they should be taken from her by cruel and
inconsiderate hands.

"My dear, you haven't given me your confidence voluntarily," she said
in a great hurry, "and I am the last person in the world to ask for
confidence when it is not freely given. Dear Edith has always told me
everything, but that is no reason why you should----"

"Do you mean that Edith has told you about _this?_" asked the girl.

"About your inexplicable rejection of all my plans for you, including
the patience-table? No, certainly not. That, I imagine, concerns
you. My dear Edith would be the last to betray what seems to be a
secret----"

Elizabeth broke in again.

"But I am offering not to make a secret of it from you," she said.

Mrs. Hancock turned an almost imploring face to her.

"No, Elizabeth," she said. "You have not come to me with it of your own
accord, and I was quite wrong to hint that you owed me an explanation.
If I have hinted so I withdraw it. Look, there is Mr. Beaumont with
his butterfly-net. Let us be silent for a little and collect ourselves
again; our talk was getting very wild and uncomfortable. Would you
kindly put your window a shade more up?"

Mrs. Hancock regarded the view with a severe and compressed face, into
which there stole by degrees an expression of relief. She felt that
she had dealt with this threatening situation in an extremely tactful
manner. Elizabeth had not chosen to confide in her, and she had put,
so she told herself, all, all her natural curiosity aside and refused
to hear the secret which had not voluntarily been made known to her.
That waiving of her personal feelings in the matter had, as usual, its
immediate rewards, for she had averted the risk of hearing something
thoroughly uncomfortable. She dismissed that consideration, and in
the silence for which she had asked devoted herself to the pained
contemplation of Elizabeth's selfishness, which had so much surprised
and grieved her. Hitherto she had not thought Elizabeth at all selfish,
except in the matter of unpunctuality, and the discovery was a great
blow to her. She had quite made up her mind that the girl would jump
at those delightful proposals, which had been the fruit of so much
thought. About Egypt she did not care so particularly, but she felt
terribly blank at the prospect of a lonely October. With Elizabeth
taking a real solid interest in patience, with the interval between
tea and dinner filled in by readings about the ancient Egyptians, and
with a companion for the two daily motor drives, she had felt really
quite resigned to losing Edith, since on their return from Egypt she
would be living again next door, and of course would be only too
delighted to enjoy her mother's companionship during Edward's daily
absence in the City. And now there had come this earthquake, upsetting
everything. There was a proverb that misfortunes never come singly, and
she felt an indefinable dread that Filson would want to marry next,
or Mrs. Williams threaten to leave her. Of course, she could raise
Mrs. Williams's wages again to stem this tide of disaster, but if
Filson wanted to marry----No doubt she could try the effect of raising
Filson's wages, and could point to the awful fate of the housemaid, but
even that might not prove sufficient if Filson loved some hypothetical
young man very much. Then she tried to cling to the gospel of Mr.
Martin, and determined not to dwell on these unnerving possibilities.

Meantime, Elizabeth sat silent (as requested) by her, and the
kindliness of Mrs. Hancock, which existed in large crude quantities,
and her affection for the girl, which in its own way was perfectly
genuine, came to her aid. However startling and deplorable Elizabeth's
selfishness was, she was sorry for whatever might be the trouble
that lay at the root of it, and, provided only that trouble was not
confided to her, was willing and eager to do her best to alleviate
it. Secretly she guessed that Edward was concerned in it; she guessed
also that the girl's affections were concerned in it. She rejected
without difficulty that Elizabeth had conceived a hopeless passion for
Mr. Beaumont, or an illicit one for Mr. Martin, and she inferred that
Elizabeth's affections and Edward were synonymous terms. But that was
only a guess--she hastened to assure herself of that--and might really
be as insubstantial as she hoped was the shattering notion that Filson
was engaged in a love affair, and she shut the door on it. There was
poor Elizabeth's trouble safely locked up, and she wondered how she
could help her. She turned to the girl.

"My dear, I am sure you have some trouble," she said, "and, though I
would be the last to ask you about it, is there not anybody you could
consult? Perhaps your wanting to go back to your father means that you
think he could help you. But is there no one here? Could you not tell
Edith, if she does not know about it already? Or there is Mr. Martin.
You would find him all kindness and wisdom. I often think of him as my
mind-doctor, to whom I would certainly go myself if I was worried."

"Oh, thank you, Aunt Julia," said she. "But I don't think I will worry
Mr. Martin. I should like to tell daddy about it, and I shall."

"But it would be no worry for Mr. Martin," said Mrs. Hancock. "He is
so used to hearing about other people's troubles. It is quite his
profession. He has often said to me that his wish is to bring joy to
people and take away their wretchedness. Such a noble career! I can't
think why they don't make him a bishop."

Elizabeth gave a little squeal of laughter, as unexpected to herself as
it was to her aunt.

"I don't think I will, really, Aunt Julia," she repeated.

This appeared to Mrs. Hancock another bit of selfishness. It seemed to
her quite likely that Mr. Martin's really magical touch might easily
remove Elizabeth's trouble, in which case Egypt and the patience-table
blossomed again instead of withering on their stalks. But she
determined not to give it all up quite yet and abandon Elizabeth, so it
represented itself to her, to the moral pit of her selfishness.

Mr. Martin, who dined with Mrs. Hancock that evening, and spoke of
Egypt as if it was a newly acquired possession of hers, like her
motor or the gate that had, in spite of Edward's luke-warmness on
the subject, been put into the wall that separated the two gardens,
trumpeted her praise in his usual manner.

"We shall miss you terribly," he said. "Heathmoor will not be itself
without you. But still how right you are to go and see it all for
yourself. You take your car with you? No? Then I shall be down on
Denton and expect him to stop for my sermon every Sunday morning, poor
fellow! instead of stealing out to bring your car back for you. Poor
Denton! Ha, ha! He'll be glad, I'll warrant, when you come back again
and he can shirk the padre's jaw as usual. An excellent fellow, Denton!
Upon my word, I am sorry for him. I shall skip a page or two every now
and then if Denton looks too reproachfully at me."

"Alfred, Alfred!" said his wife.

"I shall nobble--isn't it nobble, Edward?--I shall nobble Denton to
sing psalms in the choir," said Mr. Martin, "while Mrs. Hancock is
away. He will have no car to take back after she has gone to church.
Yes, yes; give Denton a dose of David to begin with, and Alfred to
finish up with!" Mr. Martin looked furtively round to see if Lind was
amused, and Mrs. Martin put her hand to her face.

"Alfred, Alfred!" she said. "Is not Alfred naughty!"

Mrs. Hancock beamed delightedly. This wild religious badinage always
pleased her. It seemed to make a human thing of religion, to bring it
into ordinary life.

"I will leave Denton in your hands," she said, "with the utmost
confidence."

"So long as we don't make a clergyman of him before you come back,"
suggested Mr. Martin. "We won't do that; there are many mansions, and
I'm sure that a good fellow in his garage occupies one of them. We all
have got our mansion, have we not? You, Miss Elizabeth, in your music,
Edward here in the City, though he's a lucky fellow to be sure, for he
has a musical mansion as well. And we all meet; we all meet."

This was a shade more solemn than Mr. Martin's usual dinner-table
conversation, and Mrs. Hancock, crumbling her bread with dropped eyes,
saw here a very good gambit to open with again in a little serious
conversation she meant, if possible, to have with him afterwards.
Then the appearance of a very particular salad roused her immediate
attention.

"This you must eat, Mr. Martin," she said; "it is the new sort of
lettuce which Ellis insisted on my getting. I am told that in Egypt it
is quite unsafe to eat salad or any raw vegetable, for you can't tell
who has been touching it, or what sort of water it has been washed in.
It's the same in India, is it not, Elizabeth?"

Mr. Martin turned briskly to the girl.

"And why don't you join your aunt in her tour to Egypt?" he said. "It's
all on the way back to India, is it not? Why not put Afric's sunny
fountains in before India's coral strands? Dear me, how wonderful
Bishop Heber's grasp is!"

This was indeed another coincidence, that Mr. Martin should suggest,
quite without consultation, the very scheme that Mrs. Hancock had
"planned and contrived." That Mr. Martin should think of it quite
independently, seemed to Mrs. Hancock a tremendous, almost a religious,
argument in its favour.

"Well, that is odd now that you should have mentioned that," she said,
"for I was proposing to Elizabeth only this morning that she should do
that very thing. And that Mr. Martin should agree with me! Well!"

Edward looked up, caught Elizabeth's eye, ricocheted, so to speak, on
to Edith's, and returned in time to catch the drift of Mr. Martin's
further comment on Bishop Heber. Mrs. Hancock saw the sudden colour
flame in Elizabeth's face, saw the glance that played between her three
young people, and shut more firmly than ever the door into which she
had thrust her conjecture on this subject. She entirely refused to
recognize the possible existence of anything so very uncomfortable. Mr.
Martin observed that his wife had got well under way again with Bishop
Heber, and spoke confidently to his hostess.

"I've got schemes in my head, too, about Egypt," he said, "though I
don't know that they will come to anything. I want to send my dear
Minnie to the South for a month or two of the winter. You remember,
perhaps, how unwell she was last winter, and what wonderful jellies
Mrs. Williams sent her. Indeed, if I think I can manage it, I believe
I shall really have the courage to suggest that she goes out about
the same time as you, so that she won't be quite alone in the land
of bondage. Of course, I don't for the moment hint at her actually
joining your party. But hush, Mrs. Hancock, we are observed! I have not
said a word about it to her yet."

It was impossible that Mrs. Hancock should not feel that Providence had
kindly turned his attention to her disappointment about Elizabeth and
the Egyptian tour. It was true that the even more harrowing subject of
her lonely October--in case Elizabeth persisted in her selfishness--had
not at present attracted his notice, but this suggestion of Mr.
Martin's seemed to her to be a direct and Divine contrivance for her
comfort. She had no wish to examine into the logic of her belief; she
did not dream of inquiring if she really thought that Mrs. Martin had
suffered from bronchitis last winter in order that her husband might
think of sending her South now, so that Mrs. Hancock should have
somebody to attend to her in Egypt, but she felt that Elizabeth perhaps
was not intended to go to Egypt, which being so, Providence, having a
special regard for her comfort, had put forward this utterly unexpected
idea to see if she liked it. She did like it. She also formed the
conclusion that she on her side was meant not to urge Elizabeth any
more, nor even to see if Mr. Martin could not probe and heal her
trouble. It was evident that her entire arrangements were being
seen after for her. But she had to meet this half-way, to acquiesce
thankfully, and help it on. She turned beamingly to Mr. Martin.

"The very thing!" she said. "And as for dear Mrs. Martin not being of
our party, how could you suggest such an idea?"

Some subject cognate to Bishop Heber was actively engaging Mrs. Martin,
and Mrs. Hancock could speak without fear of being overheard.

"She shall share my sitting-room, as my guest, of course, and
everything," she said. "And after dinner you and I must have a couple
of words together, if it is only the question of expense that troubles
you. If there is any difficulty there you must allow me to help. And
Elizabeth says, for the matter of that, that the second-class cabins on
the liners to Port Said are every bit as good as the first."

This offer to help was not so precipitate as it sounded. Mrs. Hancock
had seriously considered during the afternoon what the expense of a
companion would be, and had come to the conclusion that if Elizabeth
would not join her, she would be able to afford it. But this
providential idea would save her the greater part of that expense, for
no doubt, if she could persuade Mr. Martin to let her pay (since she
would then be saved the full expenses of a companion) some forty pounds
or perhaps thirty towards Mrs. Martin's travelling, his doubts on the
subject of whether it could be afforded would be completely removed.
She would tell him that she looked on it as a form of charity, which he
must not be too proud to accept. She was subscribing to Mrs. Martin's
efficiency in parochial work, which was a clear duty. Mrs. Martin must
be induced to see it in the same light, and she surely would, when she
saw that her husband and Mrs. Hancock were so completely in accord
on the subject. And if--if behind that locked door in her mind there
was shut up the true reason for Elizabeth's unwillingness to go to
Egypt, how wonderfully it had been conveyed to her that she must not
urge her any more. That, of course, was the most important thing of
all. She must also cease from accusing Elizabeth in her mind of any
selfishness. She must dismiss it all now, not even wonder whether it
was true or not. Providence had locked the door on it, and indicated,
quite unmistakably, that Elizabeth was not to go to Egypt. Providence,
too, had caused her pass-book to be returned to her disclosing a very
sound position; even forty pounds would not worry her at all. But that
was no reason why she should not see whether thirty would not put Mr.
Martin's mind at ease on the question of expense. She would certainly
ask Elizabeth to play to them after dinner, and go out into the garden
with Mr. Martin to enjoy the music from there.

Mr. Martin, left alone with Edward after dinner, had another glass of
port before he took his cigarette on general principles of _bonhomie_
and partaking in the pleasure of other people, and also on the
particular principle that Mrs. Hancock's port was a very charming
beverage. He continued also to trumpet her praises in a confidential
manner.

"The most generous woman I know!" he said. "You are indeed lucky
to be allying yourself with her daughter. An instance occurred at
dinner. I mentioned that I was thinking of sending my wife South for
the winter--not a word of this yet to anybody, my dear fellow--and
she guessed that expense might be a serious consideration to me. I
had but ever so faintly alluded to it. Instantly she offered to help,
suggesting that my wife should be of her party. You join them, I think,
you and your bride, at Cairo, do you not?"

"That is the idea."

"A very good one. And Miss Elizabeth, is she going too? It seemed to
have occurred to her aunt."

Edward got up.

"I know she thought of it," he said, "but--but I do not suppose
Elizabeth will go. Shall we join the others? I get scolded if we stop
in the dining-room too long."

"Certainly, certainly, if you will allow me one more whiff of this
excellent cigarette. Mrs. Hancock always gives her guests of the very
best. And how much more, my dear fellow, has she given you her best of
all."

Edward did not reply to this, but waited in silence while Mr. Martin
took his one whiff. As they crossed the hall the front-door bell
sounded and Lind took in a telegram.

"Miss Elizabeth, sir," he said to Edward.

Edward just glanced at it; it was a foreign telegram.

"I'll take it in," he said.

Mrs. Hancock had stationed herself strategically near the window, so
that she could easily stroll out with Mr. Martin.

"There you are," she said; "and you've both been good and not waited
too long. Now let us have some music. There's room for you here, Mr.
Martin. Who will begin--you, Edward, or Elizabeth? I meant to have got
some duets for you, and then you could have played together. What is
that, Edward?"

"A telegram for Elizabeth," he said.

"Open it then, dear," said Mrs. Hancock to the girl. "We'll excuse you."

The little hush that so often attends the opening of a telegram fell
on the room as Elizabeth tore open the thin paper. She looked at the
message, and, standing quite still, handed it to her aunt. It was from
her stepmother, and told her that her father had died of cholera that
morning.



BOOK THREE



CHAPTER XII

APRIL EVENING


Elizabeth was sitting in the drawing-room window of the little house
that her mother and she had taken in Oakley Street on a warm, uncertain
afternoon of April in the following year. The window was wide open and
the breeze that blew in from the south-west ruffled the leaves of the
music that stood open on the piano. It seemed to the girl's indolent
mood that there was quite a good chance of their not blowing on to the
floor, and since that was so, she much preferred going to pick them up
if this happened rather than disturb herself for fear of its happening.
Outside there was a small brick-walled enclosure, with strips of
flower-bed, bright, nodding with daffodils, and a fig-tree, rather
sooty in foliage, and hopelessly incapable of bearing any fruit at all,
was thrusting out broad handlike leaves from its angled boughs. This
enclosure Mrs. Fanshawe was accustomed to call "that dreadful little
backyard" when she felt like that, but in more cheerful moods alluded
to it as "that dear little garden." For some days past it had been a
dreadful little backyard.

Colonel Fanshawe had left his widow and daughter in circumstances that
admitted of comfort and demanded care, and Mrs. Fanshawe sometimes
complained of, sometimes rather enjoyed the practice of economy.
Elizabeth was rather afraid of those bouts of economical enjoyment,
for they meant that Mrs. Fanshawe was apt to order more coal than
the cellar would possibly hold, as she got a cheaper quotation for
large quantities, or would take a taxicab to some far-distant shop in
Oxford Street, keep it waiting an hour and drive back in it bursting
with innumerable packages. She would then gleefully reckon up the
saving she had effected by not buying the same goods at the shop just
round the corner; sometimes it amounted to as much as two shillings,
in which case she would give Elizabeth quite a little homily on the
virtue of thrift and the immense importance of looking after the pence.
The shillings apparently as represented by the taxi were capable of
looking after themselves. After this thrifty afternoon she would feel
that a little treat was owing to them, and she would take Elizabeth to
a concert. At other times, still enjoying it, she would help in the
housework, and, putting on a very pretty grey apron, dust the china
on the chimney-piece in the drawing-room, or even clean the handle of
the front door with some sample that had been sent her which was of
unrivalled merit in polishing brasswork. She still required a great
deal of rest to recuperate her from labours past, and fit her for those
to come, and always had breakfast in bed. Apart from this necessary
repose and the fatigue engendered by the practice of economies, her
time for the last two months had been largely taken up in collecting
materials for a "Short Memoir" of her late husband.

"I feel that I who know him best," she said to Elizabeth, "owe it to
his large circle of friends at home and abroad, who loved him, to tell
them what I can about him. It is my duty, dear. In addition to that,
his public service as a soldier was never properly appreciated by the
War Office, and it is right that they should know what they have lost,
now that it is too late."

Elizabeth felt as if a file had been drawn across her front teeth, and
her stepmother went on with a certain degree of complacency, with a
sense of importance, and yet not without sincerity.

"It is so beautiful, that passage in 'In Memoriam,'" she said, wiping
her eyes, "where Tennyson says that to write about Mr. Hallam is a
'sad narcotic, numbing pain.' I know he would have understood my
feeling about it, which is just that. I shall, of course, state in the
preface my reasons for writing the memoir, and say that, though it is
like tearing open a wound that will never heal, I owe it to my dear
husband's memory."

She paused a moment.

"It will be privately printed, of course," she said, "and I shall give
it to all his friends. I was thinking of having a purple cloth binding
with gilt lettering."

"Won't it be very expensive, mamma?" asked the girl.

"I cannot bring myself to think about the expense. You and I will have
to be very economical, I know; but when a call of duty comes like this,
I feel that no other consideration can stand in my way. If you think it
quietly over, Elizabeth," she said, again crying a little, "I believe
you will agree with me, when you recollect all that your dear father
was. It will help--I hope it will help--you to appreciate him, too, as
well as the War Office."

This awful little conversation, which held for Elizabeth a certain
miserable wounding humour, had taken place soon after Mrs. Fanshawe
had come back to England after her husband's death. She had returned
as soon as she had settled her affairs in India, and had sold, not
unsuccessfully, the bungalow and all it contained, retaining only a
few personal possessions of his and what belonged to Elizabeth and
herself. This private property included many packets of his letters,
which she tied up in a black ribbon and bestowed in an immense tin
dispatch-box, with "Corrospondence" (the orthography of which was not
worth correcting) printed in white letters on it. This, indeed, had
suggested to her the idea of the "Short Memoir," and with it by the
side of her chair or sofa she made masses of extracts, with a view to
arranging them afterwards in the chapters on his second marriage and
his home-life. The pieces which she selected for publication almost
entirely consisted of affectionate words to herself, and she mostly
omitted messages he sent to Elizabeth, or, indeed, anything that did
not directly refer to his affection for his wife. Mrs. Hancock had been
put under contribution to supply details about his boyhood and early
manhood, which similarly consisted for the most part in stories to show
how fond he was of her. These for a month had poured in in immense
quantities, and before they came to an end Mrs. Fanshawe had begun to
find them exceedingly tedious. Dry details, in the same way, about his
military service, did not so much engage Mrs. Fanshawe's attention,
and it was Elizabeth's duty to get the facts about those from Army
Lists, while she, during the long winter evenings, searched through
his letters for fresh instances of his devotion to her, and wrote and
had typewritten the preface, which was on the lines already indicated.
The chapter on "Social Life in India" was already arranged also, in a
rambling sort of fashion, and showed without the slightest doubt how
popular Mrs. Fanshawe was at dinner-parties and balls, and how her
husband, with the wonderful confidence and trust he had in her, was
never the slightest bit jealous. His first wife, Elizabeth's mother,
was scarcely to be mentioned in the "Short Memoir." She might have been
a week-end visitor who had not made much impression on him....

       *       *       *       *       *

The wind, which had been threatening so long to spill the music that
stood open on the piano, carried out its intention at last, but still
Elizabeth did not stir. Something of the languor of spring had invaded
her, and meaning every moment to get up and go on with her practising,
which had been the excuse for her not going out with her mother on an
expedition of economy to the Army and Navy Stores, she still lounged in
the window-seat thinking over all that had passed since that evening
when Edward came into the drawing-room at Arundel with the foreign
telegram in his hand. It had been a shock to her, the violence of which
she had not been conscious of at the time, but which showed itself
afterwards in the weeks of nerve fatigue that followed. There had been
taken away something in the very core and kernel of her life, and for
the time she had known less of grief than of an inexplicable lack, as
if, on the physical plane, a limb had been amputated, and that she
had just awoke from the operation and found herself with arm or leg
no longer there. Indeed, the feeling was not so much that he was dead
as that a piece of herself was gone. She sent out messages from her
brain and they were not received anywhere, nothing thrilled or moved in
correspondence with them.

And then slowly and by degrees there began to wake in her that new
sense that almost always wakens in those who have suffered some
intimate bereavement. Her mind could not take in, could not conceive,
when once faced with it, the notion of annihilation, of ceasing to
be. It revolted from it, and though for a time her reason (as she
accounted her reason) kept telling her that he was gone, that the
days of their love and confidence were over, she found the conclusion
growing incredible. It began to dawn in her, like the waking of a new
intelligence, that there was nothing of him gone, except the sight of
him, and the possibility of his presence being apprehended any more
by her physical senses. She knew she would not again see or touch him
as she had known him before, or again hear his voice, but she found
herself daily realizing more and more distinctly, by some perception
as innate in her as growth, the knowledge that he was not and could
not have been taken away, amputated, destroyed. All of him that she
missed so dreadfully, all that for which she stretched out empty
arms in the dark, was not her essential father, but only the signs
by which she knew him. He became her companion again, by no effort
of the imagination, but by the assertion of an instinct that could
not be contradicted. Never in those communings with his quiet wisdom
beneath the fading crimson of the Indian sunsets had she felt more
strongly than now the immortal kinship between them, the reality of
their spiritual alliance. He had told her once in words that at the
time seemed to her to have been spoken in an unknown tongue that it
was impossible to go beyond love, that you can only penetrate into it,
finding it without beginning and without end. It was by his death that
she had begun to understand that, by the knowledge of the impotence of
the supreme divider----The supreme divider! She echoed the meaningless
words, the words from which all meaning had departed. Death did not
divide; it was only meanness, falseness, impatience that could do so
tragic a work.

She remembered with growing clearness, as she lay in the window
seat, with the daffodils nodding outside, and the music splayed on
the floor, their talk in the garden that evening. It was as if it
had been written in her mind with invisible ink, which required some
spiritual solution to be poured over it, to bring out the words again.
She herself, she remembered, had been full of vague visions as to the
possibilities and wonders of the world. She had been full of the dreams
that were coloured with the vivid unsubstantial hues that are painted
by inexperience. Now behind them, not removing them or painting over
them, there was stealing, soaking into them the colours that at the
time seemed to her to be somehow dull, dingy, stereotyped. What he had
said to her about love had seemed somehow commonplace, and when an
hour or two afterwards she had sat by the dying fakir at the bottom
of the garden, it was more the sensationalism, the picturesqueness
of that weary and happy passing that had affected her. Now she saw
differently--she saw that precisely the same spirit, precisely the same
inborn knowledge had inspired both. The same rich and unclouded vision
was their daily outlook. They had both staked their all on love. Then
a few days afterwards Elizabeth had ridden out with her father, and he
had spoken to her in the same quiet way about death. He had said he
enjoyed life tremendously, but as for death it was to him but another
stage in growing up....

       *       *       *       *       *

Elizabeth turned her face to the garden and the bright daffodils.

"Daddy! Daddy!" she said aloud.

She raised herself on her elbow, with the indolence and languor of
spring quite slipped off from her, overwhelmingly conscious of her
nearness to her father, not to his memory, but to him. None knew,
none ever would know except herself, and she but guessed at the huge
significance of it, just what his death had done for her with regard
to her comprehension of life. The news had come to her in days of
despair, when love itself seemed manifested to her only in the form of
a desperate renunciation, when she who loved and was loved in return,
was severed just by an untimely promise, by a bond signed blindly.
Even then she had known, though only by the groping of instinct, that
to disown that, or to allow it to be disowned, was to poison the very
fountain and well-spring of love. Edward, she knew well, with reason on
his side, had longed to marry her in despite of that, believing that
the eternal gushing of that spring would wash away from the mouth of
it the taint that had been laid there. But now she had begun to see
how it was that her instinct had directed her, for even then, when her
need was the sorest, she had comprehended, though without conscious
knowledge of her comprehension, that while loyalty was of the very
essence of love, passion was but a symptom of it; that while love died
at the breath of disloyalty, it existed still, deep and calm, though
the symptom, the froth on the surface was blown off it by the austere
wind of mere straightforward, commonplace duty, or was suffered to die
down under the frozen dawn of renunciation. How she had longed through
those thirsty days to be able to go to her father and be comforted by
his steadfast upholding of her choice, a draught of cold, sweet water
in the sultriness of a barren land. Never, so it had been ordained,
should she whisper to him the story of the summer, nor cry her fill on
his shoulder, but his upholding and his comforting had been not one
whit less vivid and present to her, though far away the parching wind
swept over the grave beneath the tamarisk-trees in that remote cemetery.

But it was not often she thought either of the grave or of his death
itself, for those things seemed to her even as they had seemed to him,
but little incidents of the wayside, not events of great moment in the
onward march of his soul, nor to be given a place beside what he had
been and what he was to her. He had died swiftly under the stroke of
the sword of the pestilence, died in a few hours from the time that he
had been taken ill. They had buried him that night as the moon rose,
with the wheeling planets for his funeral lamps, and the flitting owls
crying his requiem. It was but little of him and that no more than a
garment outworn that had there been laid to rest; he, his essential
self, seemed to Elizabeth never to have left her through all the dark
days of autumn and winter, nor through the lengthening evenings of this
long-delayed spring.

It had been a hard struggle and a stern one, this work in which his
spirit seemed so continually to have been at her side. There was
so much which appeared inextricably intertwined with her love for
Edward that must be cast out, annihilated; there was so much also,
and this was of even greater moment, that must be so loyally and
uncompromisingly kept. Not one of those threads of pure gold that ran
through the whole fabric must be drawn out of it; there must be no loss
of that, no turning the royal mantle into a cloak for a funeral. She
must not part, if her shoulders, on to which it had fallen, were to be
worthy of it, with one gleam of its splendour, with one atom of its
gold, and here was a task to test the utmost of her patience and her
wisdom, in preserving all this, and yet unravelling and disentangling
certain other threads. There were feelings, there were attitudes of
mind, there were desires connected with Edward that seemed at first to
be an integral part of the fabric, so strictly were they woven into it;
it seemed that to draw these out must make rents. And yet it had to be
done, to be done radically and completely, though no rent must be seen
or exist there. It was not that these things were in themselves no part
of love; it was only that circumstances had made it impossible that
they should be part of her love for him. Indeed, they were not hers;
they belonged by right to Edith. They must come out of her fabric; each
one of them must come out. She had to divert from it certain strains,
certain colours, the human longing, the desire, the yearning even.
They were natural, they were proper for one other woman only, but not
for herself. How well she remembered how her father had told her that
knowledge would come to her through love, through love of a "common
man," as she had added. It was even so; it had come to her thus, and
even more through the right renunciation, not the mere rejection of
the whole, but the rejection of a certain part of it. The gold, all
that was infinitely precious, must remain. But the rest was not dross;
merely it was not hers.

Not only at first, but through long months of patient effort, the task
appeared impossible, so intimately was the passion of her love woven
in with the love itself. Sensibly enough, she let her subconscious
mind work at it, while she employed her best efforts in filling the
days with other interests and occupations. Yet so many of these, and
of them all the one that hitherto had most enthralled and engrossed
her, namely, the study of music, gave her every moment stabs of
recollection. Her passion for it had been so immensely kindled and
quickened by him, that when she tried to kindle it again, it was still
the thought of him that fed the flame. All that had to go; she must
retrace her steps and find for it the inspiration of itself alone. She
had to shatter the dreams with which it filled her; she had to shake
herself awake from them. The associations which it roused in her must
be disconnected from it; it had to be made to speak to her with its own
voice. Often she thought of giving it up altogether, of cutting off
from the stem of her life the flowers of melody and harmony, so closely
were they set with thorns that made her heart bleed. Yet that again
would have been a wanton and a mutilating renunciation. Instead, with
patience that sometimes shrank and fainted, she set herself to pick off
the thorns that were no essential part of the growth. Yet the thorns
bled; the very stem seemed to ooze with the life-sap.

And of all the spiritual tasks which filled Elizabeth's days with
strivings, and drove sleep from her during the weary nights, the most
haunting, the most difficult of all remains to be mentioned--namely,
that of keeping her heart sweet when she thought of Edith. It seemed at
first that mere patience, mere daily and unremitting striving, was of
no avail to quarry away that adamantine block; the tools of her armoury
were blunted at its contact. She tried not to judge her, or to attempt
to record a verdict about an action that was morally unintelligible to
her, if, indeed, she could preserve herself from thinking it vile, but
when she contemplated the choice Edith had made, her refusal to let
Edward go free from the promise he had made, before he knew what love
was, she could scarcely abstain from revolted condemnation, or succeed
in leaving the case unjudged. It was not easy to dissociate from it
the momentous personal consequences that this refusal held for her, or
to look at it impartially, as if the situation had been presented to
her as an incident that had happened among strangers; but even when
she most schooled herself to put her own entanglement in it out of the
question she felt it difficult not to seethe with scorn over it. She
could not understand how a girl with respect either for herself or the
great emotions could refuse to set free a man who no longer wished to
be tied to her, who longed, as Edith knew very well, to be acquitted
of his promise. It was inconceivable, even had he not given his heart
elsewhere, to claim a right in such a matter, to refuse to uncage
the bird of love which was beating its wings against the wires, just
because the cage was hers, and in her hands it was to close or unclose
the door. It seemed to Elizabeth that the very fact that Edith loved
him, though it made it more difficult for her to give him up, must make
that giving of him up the more imperative. Love, so it appeared to her,
must have relaxed the fingers that detained him. Had she not cared for
him, had she not known what love was, these other desires, the liking
she had for him, the desire in a general way to be married, the feeling
that she would be happy with him, might have caused her to keep him,
or, at any rate, not voluntarily to release him from his promise. But
that she could love (as Elizabeth rightly felt she did) and yet not
find predominant over everything else the longing for his happiness was
the thing that was utterly inconceivable.

Whether Edith had secured her own happiness she had no idea whatever.
She had but seen her some half-dozen times since Edward and Edith had
returned from Egypt in the early spring, and Edith seemed to have
developed a sort of sheath over her, a carapace that was insensitive
to the touch. It was natural--indeed, anything else would have been
impossible--that no mention of past history or how it bore on the
present should take place between them, but it seemed to Elizabeth
that her cousin had shut herself up in this hard integument, and gave
no indication of her real self. If she spoke of her home, it was to
say that they had put a fresh carpet down in the drawing-room, if of
her daily life, to say that she often lunched with her mother; if of
Mrs. Hancock, that she had raised Denton's wages; if of Edward, that
he seldom came back from the City before the later of the two trains.
Once or twice, it is true, it had seemed to Elizabeth as if Edith was
wanting to say something more, that, as if shipwrecked on some desert
island, she was silently waving an inconspicuous flag, that might,
indeed, not be a flag at all. But nothing came of these efforts, and
it was impossible for Elizabeth to urge her to confidence, when it
was so very doubtful whether she wished to confide, or, indeed, had
anything to say. Once Elizabeth had made an impulsive attempt--had said
suddenly, not pausing to consider the wisdom of such a speech, but
eager for her own sincerity--

"Oh, Edith, I hope you are happy. You are, aren't you?" And Edith, if
she had been signalling, furled her flag at once, as if afraid it had
been seen.

"Quite happy, thank you," she had said, and picked up from the floor
the umbrella with a false onyx top that had fallen there. She proceeded
to explain about the top. Mrs. Hancock had bought it in Cairo very
cheap, and Edith hoped she would never know it was not real onyx. She
need not have been afraid, for Mrs. Hancock had had her doubts on the
subject, but had resolutely put them from her before she made this
present.

It has been said that Elizabeth was "eager for her own sincerity" in
wishing to know that Edith was happy. That expresses with fair accuracy
the measure of her success in trying not to judge Edith. It may be
taken also as the epitaph on the grave where her jealousy of her was
buried. The cynic is at liberty to reflect that since Edward did not
love his wife she had no cause for jealousy.

Of all the virtues that lift the eyes of men to the hills, patience
is the least admired, has the least to attract the attention and
thus earn the encouragement of others, and yet none is more certain
of its results. Never does it fail in putting forth its fruits in
due season, nor in accomplishing its perfect work. But for the most
part its growth is imperceptible; it does not shoot up like the aloe
flower, nor challenge attention from the brilliance of its blossoming;
and, like the violet, it hides its lovely fragrance, and those who
observe carelessly and without love are usually quite unaware of its
blossoming. It trumpets forth no deeds of valour, it fills the stage
with no heroic attitudes and splendid speeches; and only those who
watch tenderly and closely can see the growth of its sweet-smelling
purple. It was not a matter for wonder then that Mrs. Fanshawe, eagerly
intent on herself, interested in her own grief and bereavement, and
marvellously anxious that others should be (if possible) equally
interested in them, should have observed nothing of this modest
flowering, not even now, when on this languid April day Elizabeth's
plot was thick with the flowers of her silent gardening. Indeed, she
was disposed to blame her stepdaughter for many omissions in her
general conduct. There was much to be desired in her that she did not
get. When she played to her, so to speak, Elizabeth was not always
ready to dance; when she mourned Elizabeth did not always weep. She
took but a tepid interest in Mrs. Fanshawe's brilliant and absorbing
economies, and though she was always ready to go on searching through
Army Lists, she did not bring to that employment the eager zeal which
might have been expected from one who had just lost so well-beloved a
father. Worse still, when Mrs. Fanshawe's voice sometimes broke and her
eyes filled with self-pitying tears, as she read aloud to Elizabeth
some fresh and pathetic page of the memoir, describing how her father
had sat up till half-past three on two consecutive nights so that his
wife should have her fill of dancing, Elizabeth seemed as hard as
adamant over this poignant recollection. Indeed, Elizabeth had tried
to persuade her (quite unsuccessfully) to cut out from the preface the
concluding paragraph which began "Out of the depths of my broken heart
I wish to thank all those friends whose sympathy has supported me in my
bereavement."

Indeed, Mrs. Fanshawe was afraid that she had not been far astray when,
on first marrying, she had formed the conclusion that Elizabeth was
a selfish sort of girl. She had believed then that she had a great
affection for her father (who really rather spoiled her) and had tried,
the dear fellow, to spoil his wife as well; but now, so quietly did
Elizabeth take her bereavement, she was afraid that, after all, her
affection for her father was not so very deep. Otherwise she must have
found the writing of the memoir a work at which it was an agonizing
yet exquisite pleasure to assist. Otherwise, again, Elizabeth could
not have been so remarkably industrious in her music; she could not,
within a couple of months of her father's death, begin a course of
instruction in the piano at the Royal Institute. She would have been
unable to give her mind, as she was undoubtedly doing, to this very
nice accomplishment of playing the piano, but have immured herself
in the privacy of Oakley Street, and refused to see anybody but her
stepmother, to whom she must have been irresistibly drawn by the
bond of their common sorrow. Incidentally, too, these music lessons
seemed to Mrs. Fanshawe very expensive for the gratification of a mere
luxurious whim, and the thought of them often impelled her to distant
economical expeditions, implying a huge expense in taxi-cabs. It was
on one of these that she had gone out this afternoon, the object being
to purchase large quantities of violet soap, so cheap if you bought a
large box of it, and other little things that would probably occur to
her, from a shop in High Holborn. Though the distance was considerable,
Elizabeth was surprised she was not back by the time the servant
brought up tea; but since she might return any moment, and be querulous
over the fact that tea was not made, she prepared it, risking the other
possibility that it might be cold when her stepmother returned, who
would then drink it with the air of a martyr, or be compelled, though
she hated extravagance and unnecessary trouble to servants, to order a
fresh teapot. One of the two was likely, since, as has been mentioned,
the open space at the back of the house had been for the last fortnight
the horrid little backyard.

But an agreeable surprise was in store. Mrs. Fanshawe came in before
long in the most excellent spirits, full of affection and tenderness.

"And my dear little musical Cinderella has made tea," she said, "all
ready for her wicked stepmother! Darling, you should have come out
with me, it is the loveliest day; you are too industrious. Perhaps
this evening you will play to me something you have been so diligently
practising."

Elizabeth poured out tea.

"I'm afraid I haven't been so very industrious, mamma," she said. "I've
been sitting in the window nearly an hour doing nothing."

"Ah, it is not doing nothing to enjoy this sweet breeze and look at the
daffodils in our sweet little garden. My dear, what a good cup of tea!
Nobody makes tea like you. I often say it."

She often did, though with quite a different _nuance_. But clearly the
days of the horrid little backyard were over for the present.

"Such an afternoon as I have had, dear," she continued. "You would
never guess all the things that have happened to me. Who should I
meet, for instance, in Isaacs and Redford's but your Aunt Julia, so
pleasant and full of welcome! And nothing would content her but that I
must promise to bring you down to stay with her next Friday over the
Sunday. Her dear little Elizabeth, she called you. We quite quarrelled
over that. I said you were my dear little Elizabeth. She has been so
busy, she said, since her return from Egypt in February, getting things
straight after her long absence or she would have asked me many times
before. I never thought it odd, I am glad to say, that she had not done
so; I always refrained from wondering at it, though, to be sure, three
months is a long time to take putting things straight after an absence
of two. But now she quite insists on it; she simply would not let me
go until I had promised, and she will send her motor to the station to
meet whatever train we settle to travel by."

Here was a prospect that had long daunted Elizabeth to look forward
to, yet of necessity it must sometime come close to her. She had not
so much as seen Edward since he handed her the telegram last August in
Mrs. Hancock's drawing-room; he and she, tacitly contriving together
in sundered co-operation had averted that. Her heart leaped and sank
and leaped again; she shrank from seeing him, and had not known till
now, when in the natural course of events she must see him, how much
she longed to. On her side there was no reasonable excuse to urge
against the plan, and had there been she hardly knew whether she would
have urged it. On his side, he might escape the meeting, say that he
had arranged to take Edith away for the Sunday, but she felt sure that
if he understood that she had consented to go down to her aunt's he
would not absent himself. He waited, so she instinctively knew, for a
sign that she was willing to meet him. Otherwise he would long ago have
been to see her. She quite understood his absence and his silence.

Any sign of emotion that might have escaped her was certainly not seen
by her stepmother, who was full of the wonders of this afternoon. But
Elizabeth felt that something beyond this invitation to Heathmoor
had occurred to send Mrs. Fanshawe's mental barometer up to such
exhilarated serenity of fair weather, and she waited for it to be told
her. It did not come at once; she mentioned first the other objects on
which some ray had beamed which gilded and transfigured them.

"Such a long and dear talk I had with her," she went on, "and she
begged, if it did not hurt me too much, to bring down all the memoirs
that I have written to read to her quietly. After she had gone I
bought the soap and the other little things I wanted, which were even
cheaper than I had anticipated, and you never would guess, dear, how
I came back here. Perhaps you will scarcely believe it when I tell
you, for I got on the top of a 'bus, with my great box of soap and my
other parcels, and came all the way right to the Chelsea Town Hall
for threepence, not counting the sixpence with which I tipped the
conductor, who was most obliging and helped me with my things. Really
very polite! In spite of my packages, he of course saw I was not just a
common woman like the rest of the passengers, and I hesitated whether I
ought to have given him a shilling. But I have never enjoyed making a
little economy and denying myself comforts more than I did when I got
up on that 'bus."

No, it was not the 'bus ride, so thought Elizabeth, that had produced
this exhilaration and pleasure. She waited.

"But before I got up on to my 'bus I gave myself just a little treat,"
Mrs. Fanshawe proceeded, "and went into one of those electric palaces,
as they call them, where you see the cinematograph. I was not quite
sure whether it was the sort of thing that is thought respectable, and
so I looked pretty closely at the programme before I entered. But I
need not have been afraid; I never saw anything more refined, and you
and I will go together one of these days, dear. So cheap, too; only a
shilling. Why, you could go every day for a week and not spend more
than in one evening in the dress-circle at the theatre."

Mrs. Fanshawe looked up at Elizabeth with that glance of soft, shy
helplessness which many men found so provocatively feminine and
pleading, and called forth the instinct of protection in their somewhat
unobservant minds. For, on the whole, nobody was less in need of
protection than she; she was almost aggressively able to take care of
herself.

"And I didn't have to carry my parcels after all," she said, "from
where the 'bus stopped, for whom should I see just coming out
of the chemist's there but that dear Sir Henry Meyrick, who was
Commander-in-Chief in India. Do you remember? He came home only a
couple of days ago on leave, and will be here till January. He stayed
with us once at Peshawar, darling, in those happy, happy days!"

Mrs. Fanshawe took out her handkerchief and dabbed the corners of
her eyes. This was a piece of ritual that had lost its practical
significance (for there was not the semblance of moisture there), and
was merely the outward and visible sign of an inward grief.

"I stayed with him afterwards at Simla," she said, "and got, oh, so
fond of him! It was while I was staying there, you know, that the news
came that caused my poor heart to break. My dear, he was like a woman
for tenderness to me, and yet he had the strength of a man; and I can
never, never forget what I owe dear Sir Henry. If it had not been for
him I am convinced I should quite have broken down, or even made away
with myself."

Elizabeth felt sure that she had here the origin of the wonderful rise
in her stepmother's spirits. And an idea, horrible to contemplate, came
close to her and stared her in the face. She resolutely turned away
from it.

"Yes, I remember him quite well," she said. "I thought you found him
rather foolish and ridiculous."

"Foolish and ridiculous!" said Mrs. Fanshawe, with great energy. "I
cannot imagine what you mean, Elizabeth. You must be confusing him with
some one else."

"Perhaps I am," said the girl. "It is stupid of me. How was he looking?"

Mrs. Fanshawe calmed down at once and became softly pathetic again.

"Oh, so different to what he was when you saw him," she said, "when he
was so cheery and jolly, and made all the women in Peshawar fall in
love with him. At least, I am sure that I did. He looked so anxious and
unhappy, Elizabeth, that my heart quite went out to him, and I longed
to comfort him. And he brightened up so when he saw me; he looked quite
radiant again. And you will never guess what a pretty welcome he gave
me, though of course it was very foolish of him. He said, 'My dear
little girl--my dear little girl!' twice over, just like that. And he
held out both his hands to me, and dropped his umbrella in a puddle
and never seemed to notice it. And there was I with my arms full of
great heavy parcels. I declare for a moment I was quite ashamed before
so true a gentleman as Sir Henry is. And he took all the parcels from
me--and oh, my dear, it was so wonderful to me in my loneliness in the
crowded streets to be taken care of again like that!--and carried them
right up to the door, and gave them to Mary when she opened it. He
would not let me touch them again myself."

Again the idea stood close to Elizabeth, holding her, so it seemed, not
letting her turn her face away. And the soft, childlike voice went on.

"He asked after you, too," she said, "so nicely and affectionately. He
would not come in then, for he had some other appointment; and though
he wanted to break it I did not let him. But he is coming to dine here
to-night. I shall not think of making any extra preparation for him. He
will like it best just to see me in my quiet, modest little house just
naturally."

There was a moment's rather awkward pause, for Mrs. Fanshawe had to
consider how to reintroduce a topic that had been spoken of that
morning between her and Elizabeth in hours of the "horrid little
backyard." Elizabeth had wanted to go to the Queen's Hall to attend a
concert of the most ravishing character that was to be performed that
night, but had given up the idea owing to a marked querulousness on her
stepmother's part at the prospect of passing a deserted evening. There
had even been pained wonder at the girl caring to go out to an evening
of pleasure so soon. But she was not apt to be troubled at her own
inconsistencies, and the pause was not long.

"He will be sorry not to see you, I am sure, darling," she said, "but I
think you told me you were going to a concert at the Queen's Hall. Very
likely you will not be in till nearly eleven, and you may be sure I
shall have a nice cosy little supper ready for you when you come back."

To Elizabeth this seemed but to confirm the idea that had forced itself
on her; it needed, at any rate, little perspicacity to see that her
stepmother, with the prospect of dining alone with Sir Henry, wanted
her to keep the engagement which, in deference to her desire, she had
abandoned. Nor was she surprised at the tenderness that followed.
Mrs. Fanshawe rose in willowy fashion from her chair and stood behind
Elizabeth's, gently stroking her hair.

"I want you to enjoy all the pleasures that I can contrive for you,
dear," she said. "He whom we both miss so dreadfully, I know would wish
us to enjoy--'richly to enjoy,' does not the Bible say? He would have
hated to think that we were going to lose all our gaiety and happiness."

Elizabeth felt physically unable to bear the touch of that insincere,
caressing hand. She got up quickly.

"Yes, mamma," she said; "I am sure of that. I have tried not to lose
the joy of life."

"So right, darling!" said Mrs. Fanshawe, in a dreadful little cooing
voice. "And we have helped each other, I hope, in that. I know you
have helped me. I will not let my life be spoiled and broken; it would
grieve him so."

She paused a moment with handkerchief-ritual, and with her head a
little on one side, spoke with childlike timidity.

"It was lovely being taken care of again," she said, "though only
in a little matter like having a parcel carried. Are you going now,
dear? Enjoy yourself, my sweetest, and stop till the very end of your
concert. I know what a treat music is to you; I would not have you miss
a note."

       *       *       *       *       *

Elizabeth felt the need of air after this interview, and having an hour
yet to spare before she need think of going to the concert, went down
the broad, quiet street and on to the Thames Embankment at its lower
end. She felt stifled by this atmosphere of insincerity from which
she had come; she choked at the pitiful nauseating deception that she
believed almost deceived her stepmother and caused her to refer to the
duty of behaving as her late husband would have had her behave, at
all her little subterfuges for facilitating her own arrangements. The
falseness of it all was so blatant, so palpable that it would not have
deceived a baby, and yet Elizabeth was not wrong in thinking that it
largely deceived the very author of it. Her acting might not appear
at all life-like to her audience, but it seemed real to herself. For
years she had, while diligently pursuing paths of complete selfishness,
been employed, so to speak, on modelling a figure of herself, that was
winning, child-like, and trustingly devoted to the love of others, and
now regarding that, with conscious approval, she had come to believe
that it was the very image of herself. And Elizabeth felt sure (and
again was not mistaken) that Mrs. Fanshawe was even now getting herself
into another graceful pose for the reception of Sir Henry. To say that
she was deliberately laying herself out to attract him would have been
the coarsely true way of putting it, but things that were coarse and
things that were true were almost equally abhorrent to Mrs. Fanshawe's
mind. She told herself that she owed a great debt to Sir Henry for his
kindness and sympathy at her husband's death, a debt that she would
never be able to repay. She was bound to treat him as an old friend,
to confide in him her plans for the future; to tell him how she was
"oh, so content" to live quietly here, devoting her life to Elizabeth,
who was so sweet to her. And she would somehow make it appear that it
was her own sweetness, not Elizabeth's, that she was really talking
about. She would hint that she was a great deal alone, but that it was
by her own wish that Elizabeth spent so many evenings enjoying herself
with hearing music. Elizabeth was right, "oh, so right!" to do it.
And Elizabeth, thinking over these things, executed a few wild dance
steps on a lonely piece of the Embankment, from sheer irritation at the
thought. She wondered also whether her stepmother would show Sir Henry
the written chapters of the Memoir. She rather thought not.

This little ebullition of temper passed, and she let her mind quiet
down again as she leaned her elbows on the stone balustrade and looked
out over the beautiful river, which brimmed and swirled just below,
for the tide, near to full flood, was pouring up from the sea, still
fresh and strong and unwearied by its journey. Barges were drifting
up with it in a comfortable, haphazard sort of fashion, and a great
company of sea-gulls hovered near, chiding and wheeling together. The
hour was a little after sunset, and the whole sky was bright with
mackerel-markings of rosy cloud, and the tawny river, reflecting
these, was covered with glows and gleams. Opposite, the trees in the
park were dim in the mist of fresh green that lay over them, blurring
the outlines which all the winter had stood stark and clear-cut under
cold, grey skies. And the triumphant tide of springtime which flushed
everything with the tingle of new growth, unfolding the bells of the
tulips in the patches of riverside garden, and making the sparrows busy
with gathering sticks and straws for their nestings, sent a sudden
thrill through Elizabeth's heart, and she was conscious again, as she
had not been for many weary weeks, of the youth and glory of the world.
From the great sea of life came the vivifying wave, covering for the
moment the brown seaweed tangle of her trouble that had lain dry and
sun-baked so long, flushing and freshening and uplifting it.

Relieved of its irritation, and refreshed by this good moment of
spring evening, her mind went back to her stepmother. She felt sure
that it was her intention to marry that jolly old warrior, if it could
possibly be managed, and that she was going to employ all her art in
the shape of her artlessness and simplicity to bring that about. It
was but eight months since her husband had died, but, after all, what
did that matter? The actual lapse of time had very little to do with
the question, and she would be sure to have touching and convincing
reasons for such a step. It had seemed horrible at first to Elizabeth,
but where, after all, was the horror? Of course, her dead husband would
have wished her to be happy. Elizabeth knew her father well enough
to know that, and it was only horrible that she should give (as she
undoubtedly would) as a reason for her marrying again what she knew his
wishes would be on the subject. Whether Sir Henry would be brought up
to the point was another matter, and on this Elizabeth had no evidence
except her stepmother's account of their meeting. But clearly Mrs.
Fanshawe thought that things promised well.

Elizabeth's eyes suddenly filled with tears. Only once had the grass
sprung up on that far-distant grave; not yet had the Memoir, so quickly
taken in hand, been completed.

"Daddy, daddy!" she said aloud.

She turned from the rosy river, and set out to walk down the Embankment
to the next bridge, from where she proposed to take the conveyance that
had thrilled her stepmother that afternoon with a sense of incredible
adventure. The pavement stretched empty and darkening in front of her,
and at the far end the lamplighter had started on his luminous round.
Some two hundred yards off a figure was walking quickly towards her,
and long before she could distinguish face or feature, Elizabeth, with
heart in sudden tumult, saw who it was. Almost at the same moment
she saw him pause suddenly in his rapid progress, and halt as if
undetermined whether or no to turn and retrace his steps. But he came
on again, and soon they stood face to face. All the tumult in her had
died down again; she held out her hand with the friendliest, most
unembarrassed smile.

"At last, Edward!" she said. "And we shall meet again soon. Aunt Julia
has asked mamma and me down for next Sunday."

He looked at her a moment without speaking. She saw that his breath
came quickly as if he had been running.

"I know. She told me she was going to write," he said.

"She met mamma this afternoon, and said it instead."

"Must I go away?" he asked. "Of course I will if you wish it. But--but
mayn't I see you again?"

At his voice, at the entreaty in his eyes, all but her love for him,
unstained and bright-burning, vanished utterly.

"Yes, why not, if you want to?" she said. "But I shall understand so
well if you do not."

"I have wanted nothing else every day," he said.

All her heart went out to him.

"Aren't you happy, dear?" she said.

"How can you ask that?"

"I'm sorry," she said simply. "And Edith?"

"I don't know. I don't know anything about her. I try to be kind and
nice to her. In fact I am."

A wretched, quivering smile broke out on the girl's face.

"Conceit!" she said. "I'm glad we have met, Edward, for we had to get
this over, you know. Well, it's over."

They stood in silence a moment. Then suddenly he broke out--

"Why wouldn't you trust your own heart, Elizabeth, and let me
trust mine? What good has come of it all? What has come of it but
wretchedness? I don't ask if you are happy. I know you aren't."

"No. But you kept faith. That good has come of it. Don't say those
things. It isn't the best of you that says them. And what are you doing
here?"

"I often walk this way," he said. "Then I go up Oakley Street. The
evenings are getting light now. Do you mind my doing that?"

Then something swelled in her throat forbidding speech.

"I--I must go on," she said at length.

"May I walk with you a little?"

"To the corner. I shall take a 'bus there."

There was but a little way to go, and they stood together, waiting for
the 'bus, looking at the darkling river, down which poured the wild
west wind.

"Sea-gulls," she said to him, pointing. "Sea-gulls and spring, Edward."

And she mounted quickly up the winding iron stairs, not looking back.
But as the 'bus swung round a corner a little distance up the road she
could not resist turning round. He was still there at the corner where
she had left him, a minute speck on the pavement that glowed in the
rose-coloured sunset, so minute, so significant. It seemed to her that
all of her essential self, her heart, her power of love, was standing
there with him; that he gazed but at an empty wraith of herself who
sat on the pounding, swaying 'bus, while she stood by his side as the
spring evening darkened and the sea-gulls hovered and wheeled.



CHAPTER XIII

THE GRISLY KITTENS


Elizabeth, as requested by her stepmother, did not leave her concert
that night until the very last note of all had died away. But it
is doubtful whether that request had very much to do with it: the
probability is that she was really incapable of doing so. Just as the
hypnotized subject has his will taken possession of by his controller,
so that all his wishes, his intentions, his desires are for the time in
abeyance and the independence of his own powers completely paralysed,
so that night Elizabeth was taken captive by the power of sound. Many
times before she had felt that she was penetrating into a new kingdom,
a fresh province of thought and feeling, but to-night a more surprising
adventure held her bound. She penetrated into no fresh kingdoms, she
saw no new peaks upraise themselves or valleys carve themselves at
her feet. She was completely in familiar places; only a fresh light,
one that for her had never lit sea or land, shone on them, which
transfigured them not by fantastic effects and the sensationalism of
musical limelights, but with the dawning as of the everlasting day.

She was unconsciously prepared for this, as she had never been before.
She, or a hundred others whose souls were steeped with the love of
melody, might have heard just what she heard that night, and have had
their tastes gratified, their emotions roused, without being gripped
in this manner so supreme, so enlightening. New sensations might have
flitted through her, new beauties been perceived, new glories been
manifested, without this ethical perception being awakened. But with
her to-night, all the quiet patience of these past months, of the
succession of dark and difficult days, to solve the meaning of which
she had applied herself with efforts and strivings after the light, so
unremitting, so unnoticed, had rendered her capable of receiving the
true illumination. Cell by cell, she had stored honey in the dark; now
with the coming of spring, the workers of her soul swarmed out with
rush of joyous wings into the light. She was charged to the brim with
supersaturated waters; it wanted but the one atom the more to be added
that should solidify all that had been put into her, all that by the
grace of God she had gathered. Probably the meeting with Edward gave
her the last crystal of the salt, took out from her love the grain of
bitterness that still lurked there. That made her ready to receive the
ultimate gift that music has to bring, namely, the identification of it
with all other noble effort, the perception of its truth, which is one
with the truth of everything that is beautiful, and is lit by the light
that illuminates the whole world, and turns it into the garden of God.
Never again in those on whom one gleam of the light has shone can it be
wholly quenched. For the future they know from their own selves, from
the recollection of the one thing in the world which it is impossible
to forget, that whatever storms of adversity, thunder-clouds of trouble
lower, there is no such thing any more for them as a darkness quite
untransfused, no place so slippery that they can doubt whether their
feet are set on a rock and their goings ordered.

The hall was but half-filled, and Elizabeth, seated at the back of the
amphitheatre, saw she would be uncumbered with the distraction of near
neighbours. The concert opened with the Third Symphony of Brahms, and
immediately she was carried into it. Even as one who looks at some
superb statue has his mind modelled, as it were, into the image of what
he sees, so that his body can, faintly following, unconsciously drop
into a pose somewhat like it, so, listening to this, she was made one
with it, fused into it, so that, while it sang its message to her, she
knew of no existence separate from it. Her mind, her nature became part
of it; she, like a sheet of calm waters, burned with the glories of the
melodious sky. She became godlike, as she inhaled that ampler ether of
glorified intellect through music, which perhaps alone of the arts can
make wholly visible to the spiritual eye the wonder and the beauty of
pure and abstract thought. No longer did its melodies suggest images to
her; her brain strove not after similes to express, as it were, in mere
black and white the effect of the rainbow song; it revealed itself,
mind.

Then the hall swam into sight again; there was applause. It sounded
quite meaningless; you did not clap your hands when daylight came.

There were but three items in the programme, and for the second, the
grand piano in front of the stage was opened. The player was familiar
enough to her, he with his magical fingers and exuberant youth, but
just now he seemed a detached and impersonal figure, as nameless as the
viol-holding cherubim in a canvas of Bellini, who make music for the
reverie of the saints and angels who stand on either side of the Mother
of God. But it was no song of heavenly soul and sexless quires that
he was to sing; he was the interpreter of the joy of life and of love
and of the myriad emotions that spring like flowers from the fruitful
earth. Brahms had revealed what is possible to the wise mind of man,
here in the great concerto Tschaikowsky poured out the inspired tale of
its emotions; the splendour of their shining, the tenderness of their
reveries. Instantly in the presence of this more concrete, more frail
and human music the images leaped and danced again in Elizabeth's mind.
The noonday shone on the innumerable smile of a blue sea; high above
the sultry plain were fixed the spear-heads of Chitral; the dusk fell
on the Indian garden with its tangle of Peshawar roses. More personal
yet grew the appeal. She walked with her father there; she showed him,
as never yet had it been given her to show him, how love had touched
her, even as he had said, with its enchantment, how the loyalty of her
renunciation of its material fulfilment had not withered its stem, but
caused it to blossom with a rarer and more fragrant flowering. She told
him how the bitter waters had been sweetened, how the sting had been
sheathed, how through darkness love had felt its way up to the day.
With tender glance at the pain of it that was passed they dwelt on it;
with smiles for her miscomprehension of its growth, for her ignorance
of where it led they traced its springing tendrils, on which there were
the traces of healed scars where it had bled. But its bleeding was
over, and strong grew its shoots over unsightly places. The whole world
danced together, not men and women only, not only boys and girls, but
sun and sea and sky, and the lions in the desert and the tigers burning
bright in the jungle. The peaks and ledges of untrodden snow danced in
a whirling magical maze of rhythmic movement. The angels of God joined
in it; the devils of hell would have done so had there been such things
as devils, or such a place as hell. Again the music grew more personal.
All she had ever known of joy, and that was much, was marshalled round
her, and through the dancers, this crowd of earthly elements, came he
whom every nerve and agent of perception in her body loved. Her human
power of emotion leaped to the supremest arc of that rainbow curve, and
with him stood there poised. By some divine right he was hers, by a
right no less divine he was separated from her. Yet that separation was
somehow one with the union.

Then followed a pause of some ten minutes. But no reaction came to
her, for it was no mimic show that was now over, no feigned dramatic
presentment that she had watched or listened to (she hardly knew
which), but something quite real, more real than the rows of dark red
stalls, than the shaded scarlet lights, like huge inverted anemones,
which hung above the orchestra, more real even than the actual music
itself, which was but the husk or at most the temporary embodiment
of the truth that underlay and illumined it. She had been shown the
vision of mind at its highest, of emotion in its supremest degree.
There was something still lacking, which should bind them together,
exhibit them, as they truly were, parts of an infinite whole. She knew
what was coming, and with the tenseness of an expectation that must be
fulfilled, with a suspense that was not the less for the certainty of
its coming resolution, she waited.

Half an hour later she came out into the mellow spring night, that
teemed with the promise of the south-west wind. Just as the Brahms
symphony had summed up for her the glory of mind, and the Tschaikowsky
concerto had sung of the depth and sunlit splendours of human emotion,
so the Good Friday music had bridged and connected the two, and shown
her whence came the light that shone on them. But whereas the concerto
had led her through generalities to its culmination of the appeal to
her own individual personality, and its needs and longings, in this
she was led across the dim threshold of herself, so to speak, into the
halls that were full of light, into the house of many mansions. Vivid
and ecstatic at first had been the sense of her own intense experience;
she was bathed in sun and sea, and then was opened to her a communion
of soul with those she loved that transcended all she had ever felt
before. And yet, very soon, that faded into nothingness, it passed off
the shield of her perception, as a breath is dispersed in frosty air;
soon she was no longer the centre of her consciousness, but only an
atom of infinite insignificance in it. It was no revelation of herself
that was thus manifested, yet inasmuch as she was part of the vital
essence of the love that crowned the human understanding, the human
passions, inasmuch as she could give thanks for its great glory, that
glory was part of her, her love part of it. One and indivisible it
stirred in her, even as it moved the sun and all the stars....

It was with no sense of interruptions or of a broken mood that she came
out into the jostling of the populous streets, for truth is not a mood,
and they with their crowded pavements and whirring roadways were part
of it also, and knew her solemn and joyful secret. Without doubt she
would not always be able to feel with the same vividness of perception
that the eternal peace encompassed her, but, having once realized it,
she knew that it would be there always, a sure refuge, that it was the
answer to all the riddles and difficulties that life assuredly would
continue to ply her with. Again and again, she knew, they would puzzle
and perplex her, again and again she would be mist-blinded by them. But
she had seen an authentic glimpse, as from Pisgah, of the kingdom to
which led the royal roads. They might wind over stony hill-sides, be
packed with sand, or clogged with resistant mire, but they led to the
promised land, to the kingdom that was within, the gates of which stood
open night and day, for all who willed to enter.

It was late, already after eleven, when she dismounted from the 'bus
at the corner of Oakley Street, and she half expected to find that her
stepmother had gone to bed. It must be allowed that Elizabeth would
not have been very sorry if this proved to be the case, for she felt
that she could give but a vague attention to the voluble trivialities
that would otherwise await her. But not till she had softly closed the
street door behind her, did she bring into focus the fact that Mrs.
Fanshawe had been dining alone with Sir Henry, or that the voluble
trivialities might be supplanted by news not trivial at all.

The idea when first it had occurred to her had repelled her, with the
repulsion that a deep love must naturally feel for any self-conscious
and shallow affection. There was a sort of heart-breaking jar in the
thought that Mrs. Fanshawe, with her pen still dipping for ink to write
the Memoir, should be thinking about re-marriage. But now the repulsion
had left her; she found herself less jealous for her father's memory,
more ready to let the immortality of love look after itself, more
capable of sinking her personal feeling. It was not that the idea had
lost its sharp edges from her greater familiarity with it; she saw it
as distinctly as ever; only the sharp edges now failed to fret her.
Besides, how could the shallowness of her stepmother's affections, the
insincerity that in itself was of so unreal a nature, affect anything
that was real?

Mrs. Fanshawe had not gone to bed, but was sitting in a very pretty
pensive attitude (hastily assumed when she heard Elizabeth's step on
the stairs) over a brisk little fire, in front of which was standing in
the fender a small covered dish. She had put on a white bedroom wrapper
with little black bows of ribbon; her long, abundant hair streamed over
her shoulders; there was never so bewitching a little widow. She held
out her arm with a welcoming gesture as Elizabeth entered.

"Darling, how late you are!" she said. "But if you have been enjoying
yourself that is all I ask of you. I could not bear to think that my
little Elizabeth should come in and find a silent house, with no one to
welcome her home."

She got up and gave Elizabeth a little butterfly kiss.

"See, dear, I lit the fire for you with my own hands, so that your
supper might keep warm. There is a napkin which I spread for a
tablecloth, and a little rack of toast, and some lemonade with plenty
of sugar in it, and just the wing of a chicken, which I saved for you,
and ate a leg myself instead. And a little bunch of grapes to follow
and some gingerbread cake. And while you eat, dear, you shall tell me
all about your concert. Fancy if some day you played at a concert at
the Queen's Hall. How proud I should be! And should I not burst my
gloves in applauding?"

To "tell all about the concert" was a somewhat extensive suggestion,
but there was no need for Elizabeth to reply, as Mrs. Fanshawe went on
without pause.

"I could not attend to anything, dear," she said, "until I had quite
settled in my mind what would be the nicest little supper I could think
of for you. I had quite a little squabble with Sir Henry about eating
a leg myself, though I assured him that all epicures prefer the leg.
And he helped me to light the fire; I assure you, he was as zealous on
your behalf as I was. And he told me to be sure and give you his love,
if I did not think you would consider that a liberty."

"Thank you, mamma," said the girl. "And it was good of you to take so
much thought for me. I almost expected to find you had gone to bed; I
am so late. I suppose Sir Henry has been gone some time?"

"A quarter of an hour ago perhaps. I had not more than time to take off
my dress and brush my hair. But I could not go without a peep at you
when you returned. And I promised myself a little cosy talk over the
fire when you had finished your supper."

Elizabeth left the table and sat down in a big arm-chair near Mrs.
Fanshawe. The latter took Elizabeth's hand as it lay on the arm, and
held it in both of hers.

"I have been thinking of you so much, dear," she said, "all the time
dear Sir Henry was here. You have been in my mind every minute. Such a
wise, kind man he is, and so full of sympathy and tenderness for me.
And he shows it with such wonderful tact, not by dwelling on my great
loss, but by encouraging me and cheering me up. I declare I laughed
outright as I have not done for months at some of his delicious,
droll stories. He is the sort of man to whom one can open one's heart
completely. All kinds of things we talked about--about old, dear, happy
days, and about India, and oh, Elizabeth, how I long to see dear India
again! He quoted something which I thought so true, about hearing
the East a-calling, and said it ought to be 'when you hear the East
a-bawling.' Was not that quaint of him? The East a-bawling! Yes. That
is just what it does. Dear, happy days in India, with all its pleasant
parties and society and balls! I miss the gaiety of it all in our sad,
secluded life here in this little tiny house. Why, the drawing-room is
not much bigger than my bathroom was at Peshawar. I think that I am
naturally of a gay and joyous nature, dear. I was not made for sadness."

Apparently Mrs. Fanshawe was taking a rest from thinking about
Elizabeth all the evening. She seemed to realize this and hurried back
to her subject.

"And if it is sad for me, how much more sad it must be for you,
darling, for you used to enjoy yourself so in India with your horses
and dogs. I am sure you used to laugh fifty times a day out there,
for once that I hear you laugh now. But it is not only of your loss
of gaiety that I have been thinking so much. There are things more
important than that, especially while you are young. The loss of your
father's care and thought for you makes such a dreadful blank, and I,
weighed down with all the petty cares and economies which we have to
practise, cannot look after you as constantly as I used. My days are so
full with the care of the house, and with writing your dear father's
Memoir, which all these weeks has been to me nothing less than a sacred
duty. And even if I was quite free, it would be impossible for me, a
little weak, silly, helpless woman, to supervise your growing up with
the wisdom and large grasp of a man. I have been doing my best, I think
I can say that, but I know how feeble and wanting my best has been."

There had been no opportunity, so continuous had been the prattle
of this monologue, for Elizabeth to speak at all. For this she was
grateful, for she would have found it difficult enough to frame any
sincere reply to this endless tissue of insincerities that were
only half-conscious of themselves. Mrs. Fanshawe had been so long
accustomed to look upon the utterly inaccurate picture of herself, of
which she was the artist, so long unaccustomed to look on the actual
origin of it, that she really had got to confuse the two, or, rather,
to obliterate the one in favour of the imaginary portrait. But to-night
Elizabeth did not feel the smallest resentment at this imposture; she
regarded her mother as she would have regarded some charade-acting
child, and was willing to encourage its belief in the reality of its
acting. For Mrs. Fanshawe, as for a child, this dressing-up was real.
And Elizabeth could almost see her father listening with a smile
that for all its tenderness did not lack humour. He would have been
amused, surely, at it all. For all his own simplicity and sincerity,
he had never wanted to improve and edify others. At the most he only
encouraged them, like the beloved plants in his garden, to grow and
blossom. Besides, he had loved his wife (for the life of her Elizabeth
had never been able to guess why), and that simple fact--a fact which
no one should try to explain away--took precedence of everything else.

There was a pause for a few gentle applications of a very small lace
handkerchief, and it became incumbent on Elizabeth to say something.
She knew, of course, perfectly well what her stepmother was leading up
to, and since she appeared to find it difficult to come to the point,
Elizabeth decided to help her.

"And so you and Sir Henry----" she began.

That was quite enough. Mrs. Fanshawe rose swiftly from her chair, bent
over her, and kissed her.

"My darling, yes," she said. "And I am so glad you have guessed. I was
so afraid it would come as a shock to you, that I only promised Henry
that I would tell you to-night, if I could. I said he must trust to
my instinct, as to whether I should not only begin to prepare you for
it. I told him that he could not know, as I knew, how deeply you loved
your father, and that I must judge whether to tell you at once or not.
I said I would not wound my dear little Elizabeth's heart for anything.
But now you have guessed, how nice that is! And, oh, what a true and
wise friend and second father you will find in him, Elizabeth! Do you
wonder now, my darling, that I said how much I had been thinking of you
all this evening!"

Suddenly it was borne in upon the girl that this play-acting was
really going too far. It seemed impermissible to allow even a child
to take its inventions quite so seriously. It was as if the child
insisted on having real solid food and real champagne provided for
its pasteboard banquet. Yet, yet--was there any gain to any one in
saying, "Remember, you are only acting?" She knew well there was
not. Detection and exposure of even such abominable insincerities as
these never yet did any good to the--the criminal. It only made her
resent the cruel perspicacity of their exposer, or possibly exercise a
little more ingenuity in their inventions. She would be wiser to enter
into the spirit of these imaginative flights. But it was like seeing
somebody waving his arms, saying, "See, I am a bird; how high I fly!"
and pretending to look upwards and be dazzled and made giddy by this
reckless feat of aviation.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was sweet of you to think of me as well," was as much as could
humanly be expected of the best intentions.

That did not nearly satisfy Mrs. Fanshawe.

"My dear, my central thought was of you," she declared. "Almost the
first thing I said to Henry when--when he would not let me go, for
he has such an affectionate nature, and oh, my darling, how he loves
me!--almost the first thing I said was, 'What about Elizabeth? You must
not think that I have said yes to you until you assure me that you will
be a father to Elizabeth.' And he said--it was so like him--'We'll
offer her a grandfather, anyhow, Birdie.' That was what he said he must
call me--his bright-eyed little Birdie--so foolish of him."

The clock on the chimney-piece chimed twelve, and Mrs. Fanshawe rose to
an apex of surprising fatuity.

"Gracious me, what an hour!" she said. "I believe I have not sat up
till twelve this last two months. We must go to bed, or Henry will find
a dull-eyed little Birdie when he comes back in the morning, and will
never love her any more. He will think he has made a great mistake, and
want to marry Elizabeth instead. Dear Henry! I shall tease him about
that but only just for a minute. I would not vex his big, loving heart
for anything."

She looked at Elizabeth with an expression that she was familiar with
in her imaginary portraits of herself, an expression which she called
wistful.

"Of course I shall not dream of marrying until a whole year has
passed," she said, "nor, I am sure, would my Henry wish me to. He knows
what a tender heart I have for my beloved memories. But I think, dear,
that I shall put the Memoir on one side, or perhaps give it to your
Aunt Julia to deal with as she likes. I dare say she would be glad of
something to do in her poor, empty life. I will take it down with me on
Friday. Perhaps it has done its work."

She did not explain exactly what this last sentence meant, and as
there was no explanation whatever of it, except that it seemed to
finish up with the Memoir in a vague and beautiful manner, it would
have been idle to attempt any.

"So sleep well, my precious!" she said, kissing Elizabeth. "I think you
will do that, won't you, now that all our little anxieties are removed?
He is really immensely well-off. What a responsibility that will be for
me! I hope I shall prove not quite unworthy of it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Hancock had never seen much of her sister-in-law, and perhaps
she would not have been so kindly disposed towards the task of making
herself better acquainted with her had she known that she had been
pitied for her poor, empty life. For "poor, empty life" was indeed
not a phrase that fitly described the passage of a pilgrim of Mr.
Martin's gospel through this pleasant world. But Mrs. Hancock had no
idea that so slanderous a thing had been said of her, and she looked
forward to her sister-in-law's visit with considerable pleasure, which
was enhanced by the prospect of having Elizabeth in the house again.
She intended Elizabeth to be in the best of spirits, to play the
piano to her very loudly and brightly (Mrs. Hancock knew she was just
a little deaf and had seen four eminent specialists on the subject,
who implored her, so she said, not to be in the least disquieted, but
to eat rather less meat, as her very slight dullness of hearing was
certainly gouty in origin), to drive with her on Saturday afternoon,
and to sit constantly by her and admire her masterly methods with the
"King of Mexico," which had rendered thrilling so many after-dinner
hours in Egypt. Then Mrs. Fanshawe should drive with her on Saturday
morning, and they would have a great deal of beautiful talk about the
Colonel. In her mind's eye she saw her sister-in-law crying a little,
and herself with touches and caresses administering the gospel of Mr.
Martin, as through a fine hose, in the most copious and refreshing
abundance. When she was quite refreshed and had been made to see that
death is the gate into life, no doubt she would read her part of the
Memoir in which Mrs. Hancock took a great interest, seeing that she
had supplied so much material for the chapter (or chapters, it was to
be hoped) on his early life. She expected to enjoy the account of the
early life very much, in the sort of way that a mellow sunset may be
imagined to enjoy thinking over its own beautiful sunrise. And if she
found Mrs. Fanshawe very sympathetic and understanding, she thought,
she almost thought that she would confide in her something that she
had never yet confided in anybody, and after making clear to her what
her own intentions in the matter were, ask her advice, if it appeared
probable that it would turn out consonant with what she herself had
practically made up her mind to do.

These last six months had been crowded with incident; Mrs. Hancock
did not think any year in all her tale of forty-eight summers had
held so much, except perhaps the one year when she had married and
Edith had been born. For now Edith had married, Mrs. Williams had
had an operation for the removal of a small tumour, her brother had
died, she had been to Egypt and had brought back scores and scores of
photographs, which she pasted at intervals into large half-morocco
scrap-books procured at staggering expense from the stores. She
had forgotten what precisely a good many of them represented, but
Edith, with her wonderful memory, usually knew, and if she did not,
Mrs. Hancock, in her exquisitely neat hand, wrote under them some
non-committing title such as "Temple in Upper Egypt," or "Nile in
January" (which it certainly was).

All this was sensational enough, and Mrs. Hancock, had she read about
a year so full of incident in a novel, would have probably felt that
fiction was stranger than truth, when she was asked to believe that
so many things happened really "all together." But with her another
thing had happened fraught with more potential significance than them
all. For the death of her brother, of whom she had seen so little for
so many years, had not really strongly moved her; Mrs. Williams had
quite recovered and cooked just as well as ever; Edith still constantly
drove and lunched with her, and agitating though the pasting in of the
photographs was (she had pasted one in upside down, and not noticed
it till the next day when the paste was quite dry and "stuck"), she
did not ever look at them again. But one event seemed likely to make
a real difference to her life, for while they were at Luxor, Mrs.
Martin had been suddenly taken ill with pneumonia and had died three
days later. She had proved herself a charming travelling companion,
and Mrs. Hancock had been very much shocked and grieved at so sad an
incident marring their holiday. But she did not break down under the
bereavement; she ordered a beautiful tombstone, though not expensive
(since she knew that Mr. Martin was not very well off), and left
Luxor as soon as possible, bringing back with her a large photograph
of the grave. The widower, being what he was, behaved with the most
characteristic fortitude and faith, and she felt that she had been
permitted to be a wonderful help and consolation to him since her
return. Desolate though he was, he had not let his work suffer. Indeed,
he added to his ordinary duties the supervision of the choir-practices
which his wife had always managed, and after a suitable interval played
golf as regularly as ever. And only last Sunday he had preached the
most wonderful sermon that Mrs. Hancock had ever heard on the text
of "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them."
Thankfulness and joy was the keynote of it, and everybody understood
that the wilderness was Egypt. He showed how that in the midst of death
we are in life, and that joy cometh in the morning. He had lunched with
Mrs. Hancock afterwards, and she had settled that it must be printed
with a purple (not black) line round the cover, and with "In Memoriam,
January 4, 1913," printed on the inner leaf. He did not go away till
it was time for him to take the children's service at four, but before
that he had asked her if, when his broken heart was healed (it appeared
to be making excellent progress), she would become in name as well as
in fact the partner of his joys and sorrows. She rather thought she
would, though there were a great many things to be considered first,
and she promised him his answer in a week's time. Mrs. Hancock had
practically settled what that answer was to be, and at present she had
told nobody, nor asked anybody's advice about it. She had, indeed,
thought of seeing how Edith received the idea, but on the other hand
she felt that she would not give her the encouragement she wanted.
Edith, indeed, had been altogether rather discouraging for months past,
ever since the party met at Cairo, and did not give the lively interest
in and applause of her mother's plans which she would have liked. It
was not that she seemed unhappy (if she had Mrs. Hancock would have
applied the cheerful gospel to her), she simply appeared to be like a
house shut up with blinds down and shutters closed. No face looked out
from it; it was also impossible to penetrate into it. Perhaps, like a
caretaker, Edward had the key, but Mrs. Hancock, as already noticed,
did not like to pry into affairs that might possibly prove depressing,
and she had not asked for it. Besides, it was difficult to imagine any
cause of unhappiness that could be hers. Edward always came home by the
train just before dinner; she expected a baby in July; and, after a
tremendous struggle with herself, Mrs. Hancock had let her have her own
peerless kitchenmaid as a cook.

But she felt that she would like to tell somebody who would probably
agree with her what she contemplated, and she had great hope that her
sister-in-law would prove sympathetic. It had been a prepossessing
trait to find her buying soap in High Holborn, and she had received
with touching gratitude all the stories about Mrs. Hancock which were
to go into her husband's Memoir.

But there had been a great deal to think about before she made up her
mind. She had a real liking, a real admiration for her vicar, about
which there was, in spite of her eight and forty years, something
akin to romance. He was a very wonderful and encouraging person, and
certainly she had needed encouragement in the lonely month after
Edith's marriage. Again, she felt sure that he would be devoted to
her comfort, and though the ecstasy of youthful love might be denied
them, she did not know that she was sorry for that. She was perhaps
some five years older than he, but as youthful ardour was not part
of her programme, that little discrepancy of years was but of small
consequence. But there were other considerations; she could not
possibly go to live at the vicarage, where the servants' entrance
was close under the dining-room windows, and there was no garage.
She could not also be expected to help in parish work beyond the
knitting of thick mufflers, which went to warm deep-sea fishermen. But
his golf-playing presented no difficulties at all. She could start
rather earlier, drive him to the club-house, and pick him up on her
way home. To be sure that would somewhat restrict her drives, if she
always had to start and come back by the same road. Perhaps it would
be better if Denton took him there first, and she could call for him.
Then what was to happen to the present furniture in the vicarage, for
she did not want any more in her own house? She did not intend that
such difficulties should be obstacles of magnitude, but her mind, which
so long had been completely taken up in affairs of detail, the whole
general course of it being already marked out, could not resist the
contemplation of them. Here again a woman who went all the way to High
Holborn for soap might prove both comprehending and enlightening.

Mrs. Fanshawe, who, with Elizabeth, was met on the platform by Denton
and by the car outside the station, was an immediate success. After
the crude sort of harbourage in Oakley Street, with its small rooms
and its "dreadful backyard," with its parlourmaid, who had a perennial
cold and no notion of cleaning silver, this perfectly ordered house,
with its smooth service and atmosphere of complete comfort, was as
cream to a cat that had been living on the thinnest skim-milk. She
admired, she appreciated with a childlike sort of pleasure; ate two
buns with sugar on the top at tea, because they were so delicious
("Elizabeth, darling, you must eat one of these lovely buns!") and made
herself instantly popular. All the time, in the depth of her heart,
she hugged the knowledge that she would so soon be in a position of
extreme affluence, and a ladyship, and pitied Mrs. Hancock for her
poor, empty life. Simultaneously, Mrs. Hancock felt what a treat it
must be for her sister-in-law to have a few days of comfort and luxury,
instead of going all the way to High Holborn to get soap a little
cheaper. Having seen her brother's will in the paper, she knew exactly
how much she and Elizabeth had to live upon at five per cent. of the
capital, and, doubting whether they got more than four, was warmed with
a sense of her own benevolence in saving them three days of household
books at the cost of a third-class ticket (she felt sure they had gone
third-class) to Heathmoor. It was dreadfully sad for the poor thing to
be left a widow, and it was not to be expected that she would find a
second husband very easily. But her cordial admiration of all she saw
was certainly prepossessing; Mrs. Hancock felt that she would probably
prove a worthy recipient of her secret, and give exactly the advice
she wanted. More metaphysically each of them felt drawn to the other
by the striking similarity between them in the point of their lack of
sincerity, and the success they both achieved in deceiving themselves.

The three dined alone that night, and soon after her stepmother having
discovered that her sweetest Elizabeth looked tired, the two elder
ladies were left alone.

"And now, my dear," said Mrs. Hancock (they had got to my-dearing each
other before dinner was half over), "I so want to have a good talk to
you. I want to know all your plans, and all about the Memoir, which I
am sure will be most interesting. Shall I lay out a patience, while
we talk? I can attend perfectly while I am playing one of the easier
patiences. Elizabeth, too, it is such a joy to see Elizabeth again,
after the sad, sad parting in the summer."

Mrs. Fanshawe put her head a little on one side wistfully.

"Elizabeth can hardly talk of the happy weeks she spent here," she
said, "and I'm sure I don't wonder at her enjoyment of them. My dear,
how happy it must make you to make everybody around you so happy. I
don't believe you ever think of yourself."

Mrs. Hancock smiled; a long-wanted red queen had appeared.

"It does make one happy not to think of oneself," she said, "and
how the time goes when you are thinking of other people. I am often
astounded when Sunday comes round again, for the weeks go by in a
flash. I take my dear Edith out for her drives--it is so good to her
to have plenty of fresh air--and she comes to lunch with me every day
almost, so that she shall not be alone in her house, with her husband
away all day, and it is Sunday again, and I get what I call my weekly
refresher from our dear Mr. Martin. Such a beautiful sermon he gave us
last Sunday--ah, there is the ten I wanted--on the subject of his sad
bereavement. His wife, you know. I took her out to Egypt with me; it
was most important that she should get out of the winter fogs and damp
of England, and she died at Luxor after three days' illness. How glad I
was she had a friend with her--my dear, forgive me, how thoughtless I
am."

"No, not thoughtless, my dear," said Mrs. Fanshawe. "Not thoughtless.
And Mr. Martin. Tell me about Mr. Martin. I feel sure I should like Mr.
Martin."

Mrs. Hancock bundled her patience cards together. She had not left a
patience unfinished, except when the patience had finished her, for
years. Perfectly as she could attend when she was playing it, she
prepared now to be absolutely undistracted.

"Indeed, no one could help liking Mr. Martin," she said. "He has the
noblest of characters, and with it all not a touch of priggishness. To
see him play golf, or to hear him laugh, talk, you would never think he
was a clergyman, but to hear him preach you would think he was a bishop
at least. I know of nobody whom I admire more. Listen. Was not that the
front-door bell? How tiresome if we are interrupted in our talk. Yes;
I hear Lind going to open it. Now he has shut it again. Ah, it is only
a note. Will you excuse me? Yes, from Edward. Just to say he and Edith
will come to lunch to-morrow, as he is not going up to the City. No
answer, Lind."

Now Mrs. Fanshawe had not failed to mark the expression of her
sister-in-law's face when she spoke of Mr. Martin. If she had worn it
herself she would have called it a "rapt expression," but it was not
so admirable on the features of a woman who, to adopt Mrs. Fanshawe's
point of view, was already aground, so to speak, on the shallows of
advanced middle-age, where there is not sufficient youth to carry you
over those emotional banks. Still, on a younger and perhaps a more
spiritual face, it would have been rapt, and it occurred to her that in
mind perhaps her sister-in-law was not as old as she looked or as she
was. It would be very ridiculous if at that age a woman was the prey
of sentimental notions--but then she had a very comfortable house, a
delightful retreat from the stuffy little kennel in Oakley Street.

Mrs. Hancock waited till Lind had quite shut the drawing-room door, and
then turned to her sister-in-law again.

"My dear, I want your advice," she said, "for you are a woman of the
world and I am sure are wise. You see this spring, after poor Mrs.
Martin's death, I saw a great deal of the vicar, and I think I was
able to comfort and uphold him, so that he leans a good deal on me
now, though of course we have been very great friends for years. Could
you give that footstool just a little kick this way? He feels his
loneliness very much; he wants some one whom he knows and trusts and,
shall I say, admires?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Fanshawe. "Admires, I am sure."

"How kind of you! Well, admires, to take the place of her whom he has
lost, and who was a very good, sweet sort of woman indeed."

Mrs. Hancock leaned forward.

"He has told all this to me," she said, putting her hand on Mrs.
Fanshawe's arm. "Now you know what I think of him. Do advise me--what
am I to say to him? Edith and Edward, you see, are both so young. It
would be a wonderful thing for them to have a father to go to in those
difficulties in which a man is so much more competent to advise them
than a woman. Lind and Denton, too, there is a great deal that a master
of a house can do to influence men-servants. What shall I say to him?"

Probably no more wholly original reason for matrimony had ever been put
forward than that it would provide a man to look after the butler, but
one of the stories about the Colonel's early life had shown that he had
the highest opinion of his sister's originality. To-day if never before
that opinion was justified. Mrs. Fanshawe did not remember the story,
nor did the delirious originality strike her now. But she saw quite
clearly what Mrs. Hancock, the owner of this comfortable house, wanted
her to say. She got up from her chair and knelt on the footstool which
she had kicked a little.

"My dear, I envy you your beautiful, unselfish nature," she said. "And
let me be the first to congratulate Mr. Martin."

"You shall be," said Mrs. Hancock, kissing her.



CHAPTER XIV

HEART'S DESIRE


Mrs. Hancock had made so touching a tale of the help she had been to
Mr. Martin, and of Mr. Martin's devotion to her, and how the chief
reason for her contemplated marriage was that he might exercise a wise
and fatherly care over Edward and Edith and Denton and Lind, that Mrs.
Fanshawe lay awake for quite a considerable time that night in spite of
the extreme comfort of her bed, vividly exercising her imagination to
see how she might paint with an even nobler brush the loves of Henry
and Birdie. She flattered herself that she had far more promising
material to work with, for what in point of romance was a middle-aged
country vicar to compare with the Commander-in-Chief in India, or
what was the elderly Mrs. Hancock in comparison with her young and
graceful sister-in-law? She was slightly chagrined that Mrs. Hancock
had already "bagged" as a motive for matrimony the care of a fatherless
daughter, but she had rendered it ridiculous when it was thought over
by the addition of a butler and a chauffeur. Besides, Edith was already
married, and no longer in the touching desolation of a newly orphaned
girl just growing up. However, she found she had many very beautiful
things to say, and only hoped that Mrs. Hancock would prove as zealous
and absorbed a listener as she herself had been. She had an opportunity
of testing this when they started on their drive next morning. Mrs.
Fanshawe was not quite ready when the motor came round, but after a
prolonged debate it was decided to go round by the Old Mill just the
same, and put off lunch for five minutes. Her unpunctuality, however,
was quite forgiven her when she explained that she and Elizabeth had
been "so wrapped up" in the tulips that she had no idea how late it was.

Mrs. Fanshawe began preparing for her exquisite revelation without loss
of time.

"You've no idea how thrilled I was, dear, by what you told me last
night," she said. "I lay awake so long thinking about it. And it is
such a treat, oh such a treat to be confided in. I feel we are quite
old friends already."

Mrs. Hancock beamed approval.

"We _had_ a nice talk," she said, "and I should not wonder if we saw
Mr. Martin playing golf. In any case you will see him--oh, what a jolt!
That must have been something big on the road. Do you think we might
have your window a little more down, dear? I want you to profit by
this lovely air. Yes, just like that. I wonder how I shall tell Mrs.
Williams and Edith and them all about it. I shall feel so nervous.
Perhaps I had better leave it to Mr. Martin. What do you think? Yes, if
you look out of this window you will see him there. That is he hitting
away with his golf-stick at that furze-bush. How vigorous, is he not?
Oh, did you see his ball fly away then? He plays so beautifully!
Indeed, dear, I feel such old friends with you, too, and to think
that--there, he is talking to his partner. Now they are quite out of
sight."

Mrs. Fanshawe could not at once decline from the high standard of
sympathy and comprehension she had set last night.

"And I only just caught a glimpse of him!" she said. "I shall have to
curb my impatience till I meet him at your house. But I warn you, my
dear, I shall be very critical of the man who is going to take care
of you. He will have to think about you much more than you ever think
about yourself."

Mrs. Hancock shook her head.

"No, quite the other way round, dear," she said. "I shall have to take
care of him. He wears himself out with work. I have no doubt that
after his game to-day--he plays golf really entirely for the sake of
the influence it gives him over the young men here, and he introduces
a spirit of earnestness among the caddies--are they not called, who
carry the sticks?--after his game, I dare say he will go straight to
his study and finish up his sermon. There is the Great Western Railway.
Look! What a long luggage-train! I wonder what it contains. Perhaps the
new lawn-tennis net which I ordered from the stores yesterday. I know
that when I have charge of Mr. Martin I shall not let him wear himself
out so. He ought to have a curate, for instance. I wonder how much a
good curate costs."

Mrs. Fanshawe had no data on which to base this calculation, and Mrs.
Hancock allowed the conversation to veer a little in her direction.

"You are getting quite a colour in your cheeks, dear, already," she
said, "with our good air. You must come here often and have plenty of
it. I can't tell you how often I have meant to ask you here with dear
Elizabeth, but I was determined to get everything straight first after
my long absence so that you would be quite comfortable. And how often
my heart has bled for you in your loneliness! I remember so well after
my dear husband died I thought I should never enjoy anything any more.
Even now sometimes I should feel dreadfully depressed if I allowed
myself to. But I have always told myself what great causes I have for
thankfulness. Mr. Martin----"

Mrs. Fanshawe broke in, feeling that there was a limit at which
sympathy passes into drivel and comprehension into idiotic
acquiescence. Besides, it was only fair that she should have some sort
of an innings.

"I feel so much all that you say, dear," she said, "especially about
causes for thankfulness. I am sure they are showered on me. And Bob was
always so anxious and thoughtful for my happiness that I should feel
that I should be failing in my duty to him if I lost any opportunity of
securing it."

This sentence did not seem to come out exactly as she had meant; it
sounded as if the imputation of selfishness might possibly be applied
to it, which she did not at all wish to incur. She continued hastily--

"And happiness only lies, as you, dear, show so well, in the making of
others happy. I wish I had more people to take care of and think about.
At present there has been only Elizabeth who has needed me. I think I
may say I have given myself to Elizabeth, for I am sure I have thought
of little else but her and the Memoir since August last. I have brought
down the Memoir, as far as I have got. You will like to see it. I might
leave it with you when I go away on Monday after my happy visit."

Mrs. Hancock rapidly considered whether she wanted her new friend to
stop till Tuesday. She felt she could not make up her mind on the spur
of the moment.

"That will be a great treat!" she said. "Or perhaps you would read some
of it aloud to me. I am sure you have written it beautifully, and I
so much like being read aloud to. The chapter on his early life will
bring back old times. Look, there are the towers of Windsor Castle. We
can only see them on a very clear day. Mr. Martin has wonderfully long
sight."

Mrs. Fanshawe wrenched the conversation back again. She was going to
set up another standard for their joint admiration.

"But I want more to look after, more to take care of," she said. "And
would you think it very weak of me if I said I wanted also to be a
little taken care of myself? I am so inexperienced, and I am afraid
Bob spoiled me and made me used to being so lovingly looked after. And
there is somebody, dear, who wants, oh so much, to be allowed to look
after me."

Mrs. Hancock was just about to remark that the towers of Windsor Castle
were no longer visible, but this completely arrested her. She had a
momentary sense that Mrs. Fanshawe had taken a mean advantage of her
in allowing anything to interfere with the unique interest of her own
situation. It came into her mind also that any one who had married her
brother ought not to think of re-marriage for years and years, if ever.
But both these impressions were overscored by curiosity. She gave a
little excited scream.

"My dear, how you surprise me!" she said. "Yes, pray tell me more. Who
is it?"

Mrs. Fanshawe pulled out this ace of trumps.

"Sir Henry Meyrick," she said. "Commander-in-Chief, you know, in India.
Such devotion! I am sure that if I had the hardest heart in the world,
instead of a very soft one, I should not be able to let such devotion
go unrewarded. And Elizabeth--think how he will look after Elizabeth!
He is so devoted to her, I declare I should be quite jealous if I did
not know that it was just a fatherly affection."

This allusion to the daughter-motif seemed to Mrs. Hancock rank
plagiarism, and spoiled in the stealing. Elizabeth was not Mrs.
Fanshawe's daughter; she had no right at all to use that as a reason.
She made up her mind (if that dim mirror which reflected fleeting
emotions can be called a mind) that Mrs. Fanshawe should go away on
Monday. Then immediately the mirror reflected another image--it would
be rather interesting to speak about "my sister-in-law, Lady Meyrick."
To be sure it was a very short time since Colonel Fanshawe's death ...
but then it was a much shorter time since Mrs. Martin's.

Rapidly these evanescent images chased each other over the field. And
before the pause grew uncordial she fixed on one of them, namely, "my
sister-in-law, Lady Meyrick."

"My dear, I am quite overcome with your news," she said. "It is most
interesting, and I am sure I wish you happiness with all my heart. I
have often seen Sir Henry's name in the newspapers and wondered what he
was like. And now to think that he is to become so near a relation!"

By an effort of great magnanimity she decided to pass over the
plagiarism altogether.

"And what good fortune for Elizabeth," she said, "whose welfare was
always such a source of thought and contriving to me. And what does
she think of it all? Why, we are at the Old Mill already! If you could
just reach that speaking-tube, dear, and call to Denton to stop, so
that we may enjoy looking at it. Mr. Martin always calls it the most
picturesque corner in Middlesex. How swiftly the water runs, does it
not? Of course, you will not think of being married for a long time to
come. Is it not a coincidence that our dear Bob should have married
twice, and now you are going to do the same, and Mr. Martin, too, and
me? I declare I never heard of such coincidences! You must be sure and
tell Sir Henry to come down to see me. Mr. Martin and he must make
friends. And who knows that I shall not flap my wings a little further
yet and come out to see you in India? Where does the Commander-in-Chief
live? Look, there is the miller fishing! I wonder if he has caught
anything. I am afraid we must turn, or we shall be late for lunch,
which would never do, as we have postponed it in order to be in time.
And I hope you won't dream of going away on Monday. You must stop till
Tuesday at the very least."

Mi's. Fanshawe was not perfectly satisfied, though she felt she was
being envied. She determined not to be so easy of access.

"You must get Henry's leave for that," she said, "for I promised him I
would be back on Monday. I don't know what he would do if I broke my
promise to him. And such a business as I had to allow him to let me go
away at all."

For the first time for many years Mrs. Hancock found herself in the
position of one who asked instead of granted favours.

"Ah! I wonder if you could induce him to come down here on Monday to
take you back the next day or the day after?" she said.

Mrs. Fanshawe greedily pursued her advantage and assumed an air of
odious superiority.

"But, dear, we should be taxing the capabilities of your charming
little house too much," she said, feeling certain of her ground. "I
should not wonder if Henry was unable to go anywhere without his
secretary, as well as a servant. He must have to keep in constant touch
with the India Office. But it is delightful of you to suggest it, only
we must not trespass on your good-nature."

"No difficulty at all!" cried Mrs. Hancock. "There is the pink room
and the best blue bedroom and the lilac dressing-room next mine, into
which Elizabeth can go. The thing is done, dear, if you will only
say the word. And if Sir Henry plays golf, there will be Mr. Martin
delighted to lend him some golf-sticks and go round with him, do they
not call it? It will be a pleasure to him; he has always had such an
admiration for soldiers, for, to be sure, as he says sometimes, he is a
soldier himself, fighting battles continually. I will get up a little
dinner-party for Monday night, and Edward and Elizabeth shall play
afterwards, if Sir Henry likes music."

While this kittenish comedy was going on something younger and more
tragical was in progress in the two adjacent houses. Edward had been
sitting in his smoking-room after breakfast, with eyes that wandered
over his uncomprehended newspaper, conscious of an overmastering desire
to slip across to the house next door merely to see Elizabeth, to
satisfy the eyes that ached for her and, as he knew well, but to render
the more acute the aching of his heart. His wife, as was often her
custom, had come in after she had attended to her household duties, and
sat in her usual seat by the window, speaking occasionally to him, or
replying in perfectly commonplace fashion, to his dropped observations.
They had spoken of their plans for the day, of the arrival of Mrs.
Fanshawe and Elizabeth, and now and then, focusing his eyes but not his
mind, he had mentioned some newspaper topic. Such half-hours they had
spent a hundred times before, but to-day each was intensely conscious
of something that, always lying behind their intercourse and never
spoken of between them, had suddenly enveloped and enshadowed, like the
gathering of a tropical storm, the foreground of their life as well.
He tried to imagine himself putting down his newspaper in a leisurely
way, and forming his voice to say, lightly and casually, that he would
stroll across to Mrs. Hancock's. But he felt that, as if intoxicated,
his tongue would stammer and stumble on the words. Once he laid his
paper down, and saw that on the instant she had started into attentive
expectation, had fixed her eyes on him ready for what she knew would
come from his lips, for she read, so he felt, his unspoken sentence,
knowing what filled his mind. But still he sat there, unable to tell
her what he ached to do, while she waited. In all the months of their
marriage Elizabeth's name had been mentioned only as the name of some
indifferent cousin might have been; never as one who held Edward's
heart in the hollow of her hands.

For herself, even as bees build up in walls of impenetrable gluelike
wax some intruder and enemy to their hive, Edith had walled away
from her life all thought of her cousin. She had built her up into a
separate chamber of her brain, so that her worker-bees, the conscious
denizens of her mind, should have no access to her. Her love for
Edward (that nipped and unexpanded bud, which had never blown), which
had claimed possession of him, instead of giving him his liberty and
seeking his happiness at the cost of the last drop of her heart's
blood, had starved on its comfortless food, and the leanness of her
desire had entered into her soul. For seven months she had been his
wife, sharer in name in all that nominally was his, recipient of
his unwearied kindness and affection, but never for a single moment
possessing his essential self. She had no word or thought of complaint
of him in his conduct or in his feelings towards her; he gave all that
was his to give. She had demanded of him the fulfilment of his bargain,
and to the full extent of his solvency, so to speak, he had paid it.
But now she knew that he was absolutely insolvent towards her with
regard to the coinage of the only true mint. She had thought that her
love with its hopeless limitations could make his reef of gold hers.
She had thought that they could settle down into a sham that would
cheat both himself and her, that the mask of his face would either be
withdrawn or would deceive her into the belief of its reality. Neither
had happened; he must always wear a mask for her, and that mask would
never grow so like the human face below it (so little way below, and
yet withdrawn into impenetrable depths) that it would deceive her
into believing in it. And now, before long, she would bear a child to
him, and it seemed to her, in the enlightenment that these smooth,
prosperous months of misery had brought her, that her baby would be no
better than a bastard.

It must not be supposed that this misery was acute or the degree of
enlightenment it brought clear and cloudless. Her perceptions were
not of the kind that admit great poignancy either of wretchedness or
of bliss. Once only perhaps in all her life had the engines of her
being worked up to their full power, and that was when she claimed the
fulfilment of Edward's promise. She had felt intensely and acutely
then the impossibility of giving him up, but since that flash of
deplorable intensity she had fallen back on to her normal levels,
where the ground, so to speak, was solid and rather clayey, where
there were neither peaks nor precipices. But it declined slowly and
unintermittently into a place of featureless gloom. Yet, except to any
one who was gifted with the divine intuition of love towards her, there
were no signs in her normal behaviour of this inward wretchedness, and
for poor Edith there was nobody thus inspired. She had always been
rather reserved and silent, and even Mr. Martin, that brilliant seeker
after the joys and sorrows of others, had neither missed in her the
steady placidity that he knew nor had detected any other change. As for
her mother, Edith's invariable punctuality, her quiet recognition of
objects of interest like the towers of Windsor Castle and the trains
on the Great Western Railway, were sufficient evidence of contentment,
especially since Edward always got home by the dinner train and she was
going to have a baby. Here were adequate causes for thankfulness, and
she was sure that Edith, who had so strong a sense of duty, appreciated
them.

Edith's enlightenment was of the same order, no noonday blaze, but
only a diffused luminance that came veiled through those clouds, not
dispersing them. But she no longer groped in darkness as she had
done when she decided that she could not voluntarily give Edward his
liberty. She could see more now. Not only could she see the utter
unreality at which she had grasped, but that there was in existence a
real light different altogether from the phantasmal will-o'-the-wisp
which she had blindly followed into the quagmire. She had sought her
own, thinking that it was love she followed. She would have sought her
own no longer, if it had been possible for her to make choice again.

Vaguely, as she sat this morning by the window, these things passed
before her mind, as the pictures of some well-known and familiar book
pass before the eye of one who listlessly turns the leaves. At the end
of the book, she knew, there were pictures she had not seen yet. It was
as if Edward's finger as well as hers was on the page, doubting whether
to turn on or not. Nearly an hour wore away thus, outwardly like many
other hours, but in reality an hour of poise and expectancy. Then on
the road outside the gate she saw pass, as she had so often seen, her
mother's motor. Mrs. Fanshawe was with her, and next door Elizabeth was
alone.

"Mother going out for her drive," she said mechanically.

She did not look round, but heard the paper flutter in Edward's fingers.

"Alone?" he asked. "Or with whom?"

"With Mrs. Fanshawe," said she. And again the silence fell.

Suddenly a desire and a doubt came to her. She did not know how they
came, for the impulse that prompted them seemed to have taken no part
in her thoughts. Apparently something behind that wall of gluelike wax
had stirred--stirred imperatively, giving her quickness and decision.
She rose.

"I shall go across and see Elizabeth," she said. "I know you have been
wanting to do that all morning, Edward. But you couldn't say it. I
understood."

He got up also.

"What do you mean?" he said. "What are you saying?"

"Something perfectly simple. Of course you want to see Elizabeth, and
of course you find a difficulty in telling me so. Do you know that we
haven't mentioned Elizabeth's name, except as a stranger might mention
it, ever since our marriage, ever since the night, in fact, that--that
I settled to marry you."

"No; and that was natural, wasn't it?"

Certainly something stirred behind the sealed-up partition. The bees
themselves, the thoughts and workers in Edith's mind, were tearing the
partition away.

"I suppose it was," she said. "But I want to see Elizabeth now. That
is natural, too, because I was always fond of Elizabeth, and I don't
blame her because you loved her. You see, she never loved you; she told
me that herself."

He came close to her.

"Why do you speak of Elizabeth now," he said, "after all these months
of silence?"

She shook her head.

"I don't know. Why does one do anything? It occurred to me, I suppose,
to speak of Elizabeth because she is here, and because I was going
across to see her. She never loved you, Edward."

"No. You told me that."

He spoke quietly and reassuringly, but it occurred to him that for some
reason Edith was beginning to doubt that, for she looked at him, so it
seemed, with a certain question and challenge in her eye. It was as if
she weighed his answer, or took it, like a doubtful coin, and rang it
to test its genuineness.

"I shall go now," she said, still lingering. "Or do you not wish me to
go?"

She paused a moment.

"Why do you not wish me to go, Edward?" she said.

"I want you to do just as you wish, dear," he said.

For the moment a certain cloud of trouble and restlessness, quite alien
to her normal reasoning, had seemed to disturb her. But it cleared, and
she spoke naturally again.

"We lunch there, do we not?" she said. "I dare say I shall not come
again before that. Till lunch-time, then."

She traversed the hall, hesitated as to whether she should take a
hat, decided against it, and went out into the cool spring sunshine.
The gate of communication between the two gardens (Mrs. Hancock had
eventually decided that since Edith and Edward used it so much more
than she did it was only reasonable that he should pay for half of
it) had been made, and she went through it, leaving it aswing, with
a tinkling latch. As she had said to Edward, she scarcely knew why
the idea of Elizabeth and the desire to see her had taken hold of her
mind. All these months she had deliberately and of set purpose put
the idea of Elizabeth from her, consciously segregating it, refusing
it admittance into the current of her thoughts. That had been natural
enough, for it was on the elimination of Elizabeth from their joint
lives that the success of their marriage, she had seen, must depend.
And to-day she had registered, had contemplated and admitted the fact
of its failure. Elizabeth had not been eliminated from their lives;
when just now Edith had alluded, casually almost, to the fact of
Edward's being in love with her, saying she did not blame Elizabeth
for that, he had let that pass without challenge. It had not occurred
to him, however lamely, to take exception to it. That had shown with a
convincingness that she had not known before how her cousin was knitted
into Edward's heart. It would have to be cut to bits before she could
be disentangled from it.

Quietly, insensibly, throughout those months that conviction had been
growing on her. It had been like some bulb buried in the earth; she
had known in her inner consciousness, though there was no outward
evidence of the fact, that it was growing. To-day the green, vigorous
horn of its sprouting showed above the ground. It was not a shock to
her any more than is a letter that confirms the bad news conveyed in a
telegram. But its authenticity now was quite beyond dispute. In those
seven months of their marriage Elizabeth's spell had lost none of its
potency, and Edith stood between them just as she had done on the day
when she had decided she could not give him up, holding them apart.

To-day, too, a definite doubt had come into her mind, and she knew
that her desire to see Elizabeth was connected with its possible
resolution. Months ago Elizabeth had told her that no idea of love for
Edward had ever been hers; that she had never thought of him in such a
light. To-day, for no definite reason, but by process probably of the
general enlightenment that her misery had brought her, she wondered
if that was true. At first when Elizabeth had told her that, she had
implicitly believed it. Now she wondered whether Elizabeth had not said
that for her sake; whether, seeing that she herself was determined
not to give Edward up, Elizabeth had not splendidly lied. Certainly
that statement, true or not, had had the effect of making Edith quite
comfortable, as her mother would say. A dozen and a hundred dozen times
she had told herself, relying on that, that Edward would have been no
nearer his happiness if she had given him up. But Edith did not so far
deceive herself as to say that it would have made any difference to her
decision, even if Elizabeth had loved him. She knew herself but poorly,
but she knew herself sufficiently well to be aware that nothing in the
world just then would have induced her voluntarily to give him his
freedom. It had been open to him to break his word, and not marry her,
but it had not seemed morally possible for her to let him go.

Elizabeth was just coming out of the long window of the drawing-room
when Edith passed through the gate, and the two cousins met on the
croquet-lawn. These warm days of May had made it possible to play
already, and Edward, at his wife's wish, had had several games in
preparation for the Heathmoor Tournament. Ellis this morning had moved
several seats out of the summer-house on to the grass, and the "Croquet
set No. 1, complete in tin-lined box" (the most expensive set of all
that could be bought at the stores), which had been Mrs. Hancock's
wedding-present to Edward, stood open in case anybody wished to play.
Just a year ago, as it now occurred to Edith, she had sat here when
Elizabeth on the morning after her arrival from India had come out. She
remembered how almost on the first mention of Edward's name, Elizabeth
had guessed their engagement.

Edith greeted her with her usual precise and restrained manner.

"I heard you and Mrs. Fanshawe arrived yesterday," she said. "Mother
was looking forward to your coming."

Elizabeth kissed her.

"I was glad to come," she said. "I was beginning to be afraid I should
never see Heathmoor again."

Edith looked at her a moment in silence.

"Did you want to?" she asked.

"Yes. I wanted to see you, too, Edith. I--I hope you are happy."

Edith laughed a wretched little jangle of a laugh.

"I am very comfortable, mother will tell you," she said. "Edward is
always very kind to me. He has made a great deal of money this year. He
comes back from town every evening by the dinner train. And I am going
to have a baby."

The semblance of ordinary conversation had to be kept up as long as
Edith chose. If the talk was going to get more intimate, the deepening
of it had to come from her. Quite suddenly it came.

"I am very unhappy, Elizabeth," she said. "I have not had a single
happy moment since I married. It has all turned out different to what I
expected. I wanted Edward so much that I could not give him up, and I
thought that by degrees he would turn to me, and--and love me. He never
loved me. He proposed to me and I accepted him because we both thought
that we should be very comfortable together. So we should have been if
he had not--had not fallen in love with you."

Elizabeth laid her hand on Edith's knee.

"My dear, is there any need to speak of that?" she said.

Edith turned quickly on her. All her secret self, suppressed through
those months which by rights should have been months of such wonderful
and magical expansion, fell on her, struggling to be allowed
utterance. When she came here, with no more than her vague desire to
see Elizabeth, she had not guessed how like highwaymen with cudgels
and bludgeons her secret walled-up life would attack her, fighting to
express itself.

"I think there is need to speak of it," she said, "and I have no one
whom I can speak to but you. If I told mother, she would--she would
recommend me to see Mr. Martin; if I told Edward, he would only try to
be kinder to me. Elizabeth, his kindness chokes me. I can't breathe
in it. It has all been an utter, utter failure. I thought that he
would get to love me, so that it would be enough for me to be with him
always; I thought I should be satisfied to be his wife. I thought, too,
that he would be happy as well as I, for I was not, so I thought then,
entirely selfish. I should not have refused to give him up, if I had
thought that it would turn out so hopelessly. Then there was this as
well; you did not love him, and so I was not standing in the way of his
happiness."

Elizabeth felt her face go suddenly white. Had she, too, made an awful,
a lifelong, mistake? She knew the integrity of her purpose, when she
had told Edith she did not love him, how she had said that simply and
solely for Edith's sake, so that having definitely and irrevocably
chosen not to give Edward up she might not be the prey of back-thoughts
and gnawings. But what if all this misery, all this hunger, this
unslaked thirst could have been avoided? What if she had rejected her
great renunciation, had avowed her love for Edward, had given rein
to the steeds of desire? Had her renunciation been no more than some
savage heathen rite, some mutilation of herself and him? For a moment
the very foundations of her world seemed to sway, and all its noble
superstructure to totter. But Edith did not notice the blanching of her
face, nor saw her quivering eyelids. She was looking fixedly at the
spot in the lawn in front of her with an intent and absent air, and
went on speaking in the same unemotional voice.

"I may as well be honest," she said, "because there does not seem to be
much else left. As a matter of fact, I should not have done differently
even if you had loved him. I did not care two straws for your
happiness, nor for his, but only for my own. And yet I did love him; I
was passionately fond of him. I thought I could make him love me, or
at any rate that he would forget you. I told myself anyhow that it was
but a sudden wild fancy he had for you, that he had fallen in love with
your music. I did not care what I told myself, so long as I got him.
And now at this present moment, I would give anything in the world if
it could be made possible that I should still love him. I don't love
him any more. I am not even jealous that he loves you. He may do as
he likes, if only he could cease being kind to me. If only I could go
right out of his life, and never see him again. But that's impossible.
Soon I shall be the mother of his child. And, besides, mother would
think it so odd. So would Mr. Martin. They would call me wicked, but I
think it is really much wickeder to go on living with him. Yes, all the
time that I was trying to get his love I was only poisoning my own. I
was poisoning that which was dearer to me than anything in the world. I
am sorry for it now. It lies before me quite dead, killed by me. Well,
I can say truthfully that I am sorry. When you have committed a crime
like that, the only possible palliation is that you are sorry. But I
did love him; even when I gave my love that first dose of poison in
refusing to let him go, I loved him."

She got up in agitation.

"Let no one say I did not love him!" she cried in a voice suddenly
strained and shrill.

Elizabeth got up also, forcing down her terror at this tragic figure
suddenly revealed to her, and full of growing pity.

"Edith, dear, you are talking wildly," she said. "You don't know what
you are saying."

Edith put up both hands to her head.

"It is not wild talk," she said, "it is sober truth. But I express it
badly; I get confused. And there was something I wanted to ask you. Was
it really true what you told me?"

Then her face changed. The hardness and restraint faded from it; it
became humanized again by suffering.

"Elizabeth, I feel so ill," she said. "I am in pain, in great pain!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Elizabeth was sitting in the window of Edward's smoking-room where two
mornings ago he and Edith had sat talking and reading before she came
over to the house next door. Late that night her baby, a seven-months
child, had been born, flickering faintly into life and out again, and
now in the room overhead Edith lay dying. An hour ago she had asked to
see Elizabeth, but had passed into a state of unconsciousness before
the girl could come to her. So now Elizabeth waited near at hand in
case her cousin rallied again and again wished to see her. Edward,
in the room upstairs, had promised to call her at once; Mrs. Hancock
watched with him.

The house was very still with that curious stillness that comes with
such a waiting. Outside the warm May wind blew in at the window laden
with the scent of the wallflowers that grew just outside, and the air
was full of the fragrance and chirrupings of spring. At the gate stood
Mrs. Hancock's motor, which had just brought down a doctor from London,
who at this moment was holding a consultation with Edith's doctor in
the dining-room. Elizabeth had propped open the door of the room where
she sat, so that she might hear him come out, and get a word with him,
but she had been told there was no hope that her cousin would live.
Above her head, from the room where Edith lay, came an occasional
footstep, sounding dim and muffled, and she could hear the slow tick
of the clock in the hall outside. She guessed, she believed with
certainty, what it was Edith wanted to say to her, namely, to repeat
the question that had been cut short by the coming of her pains two
days before. And Elizabeth knew how she would answer it.

She sat there long in silence, alert for any noise that should come
from the house. Then the dining-room door, where the physicians were
consulting, opened, and she went out to meet them in the hall. A couple
of sentences told her all, and the London specialist walked out to
the motor waiting for him, while the other went upstairs again to the
silent room. From outside came the whirr of the engines as Denton
started them again.

Elizabeth sat down on the bottom step of the stairs, her mind quite
still and inactive. Occasionally, like a cloud taking substance
suddenly in a serene sky, some remembered scene, some sentence, some
trivial happening connected with Edith, appeared there, forming itself
and vanishing again, and more than once Edith's voice sounded in her
ears as she said, "Let no one say that I did not love him." But for the
most part the imminence of the great silent event that they were all
waiting for kept her mind vacant. In that presence she could not think
of anything else; those little things that kept occurring to her seemed
to come from outside.

Then she heard a stir above her, the click of an opened door, and,
looking round and up, she saw Edward beckoning to her.

"She has asked for you," he said, as she entered.

Edith was lying on her bed, looking with wide-open eyes at the ceiling.
She did not seem to notice Elizabeth's entrance, but the doctor
beckoned to her, and she knelt down at the right of the bed. Then he
went back and stood some little distance off by the window. The breeze
streamed in through the open sash, making the blind tassel rattle and
tap against the wall, but otherwise there was dead silence.

Then suddenly Edith spoke.

"I want to see Elizabeth," she said. "Will not Elizabeth come?"

Elizabeth got up.

"I am here, Edith," she said.

"I want to speak to you alone," she said. "Nobody else must hear."

She had turned her eyes to the girl as she bent over her, and waited,
looking at her with a fixed, anxious expression, till the others had
gone into the dressing-room adjoining.

"We are alone?" she asked. "Then tell me. Did you love him?"

Elizabeth bent lower over her and kissed her.

"Yes, dear Edith," she said. "I always loved him."

"Then--then you must get him to forgive me. Perhaps he will forgive me?
Do you think he will?"

Elizabeth took hold of the white, wet hand that lay outside the
coverlet.

"Oh, my dear!" she said.

"Ask him to come, then," said Edith faintly. "Quickly, quickly!"

Next moment they stood together by the bed. Her lips moved once, but
no sound came from them. Only her eyes, over which lay the deepening
shadow, looked from one to the other and back again.





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