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Title: Five Tales
Author: Galsworthy, John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Tales" ***

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FIVE TALES


By John Galsworthy


     “Life calls the tune, we dance.”



CONTENTS:

THE FIRST AND LAST THE FIRST AND LAST

A STOIC A STOIC

THE APPLE TREE THE APPLE TREE

THE JURYMAN THE JURYMAN

INDIAN SUMMER OF A FORSYTE [Also posted as Etext #2594]

   [In this 1919 edition of “Five Tales” the fifth tale was “Indian
   Summer of a Forsyte;” in later collections, “Indian Summer...” became
   the first section of the second volume of The Forsyte Saga]



THE FIRST AND LAST

     “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”--HOLY WRIT.


It was a dark room at that hour of six in the evening, when just the
single oil reading-lamp under its green shade let fall a dapple of
light over the Turkey carpet; over the covers of books taken out of the
bookshelves, and the open pages of the one selected; over the deep blue
and gold of the coffee service on the little old stool with its Oriental
embroidery. Very dark in the winter, with drawn curtains, many rows of
leather-bound volumes, oak-panelled walls and ceiling. So large, too,
that the lighted spot before the fire where he sat was just an oasis.
But that was what Keith Darrant liked, after his day’s work--the hard
early morning study of his “cases,” the fret and strain of the day
in court; it was his rest, these two hours before dinner, with books,
coffee, a pipe, and sometimes a nap. In red Turkish slippers and his
old brown velvet coat, he was well suited to that framing of glow and
darkness. A painter would have seized avidly on his clear-cut, yellowish
face, with its black eyebrows twisting up over eyes--grey or brown, one
could hardly tell, and its dark grizzling hair still plentiful, in spite
of those daily hours of wig. He seldom thought of his work while he
sat there, throwing off with practised ease the strain of that long
attention to the multiple threads of argument and evidence to be
disentangled--work profoundly interesting, as a rule, to his clear
intellect, trained to almost instinctive rejection of all but the
essential, to selection of what was legally vital out of the mass
of confused tactical and human detail presented to his scrutiny; yet
sometimes tedious and wearing. As for instance to-day, when he had
suspected his client of perjury, and was almost convinced that he must
throw up his brief. He had disliked the weak-looking, white-faced fellow
from the first, and his nervous, shifty answers, his prominent startled
eyes--a type too common in these days of canting tolerations and weak
humanitarianism; no good, no good!

Of the three books he had taken down, a Volume of Voltaire--curious
fascination that Frenchman had, for all his destructive irony!--a
volume of Burton’s travels, and Stevenson’s “New Arabian Nights,” he
had pitched upon the last. He felt, that evening, the want of something
sedative, a desire to rest from thought of any kind. The court had
been crowded, stuffy; the air, as he walked home, soft, sou’-westerly,
charged with coming moisture, no quality of vigour in it; he felt
relaxed, tired, even nervy, and for once the loneliness of his house
seemed strange and comfortless.

Lowering the lamp, he turned his face towards the fire. Perhaps he would
get a sleep before that boring dinner at the Tellasson’s. He wished it
were vacation, and Maisie back from school. A widower for many years, he
had lost the habit of a woman about him; yet to-night he had a positive
yearning for the society of his young daughter, with her quick ways, and
bright, dark eyes. Curious what perpetual need of a woman some men had!
His brother Laurence--wasted--all through women--atrophy of willpower! A
man on the edge of things; living from hand to mouth; his gifts all down
at heel! One would have thought the Scottish strain might have saved
him; and yet, when a Scotsman did begin to go downhill, who could
go faster? Curious that their mother’s blood should have worked so
differently in her two sons. He himself had always felt he owed all his
success to it.

His thoughts went off at a tangent to a certain issue troubling
his legal conscience. He had not wavered in the usual assumption of
omniscience, but he was by no means sure that he had given right advice.
Well! Without that power to decide and hold to decision in spite of
misgiving, one would never have been fit for one’s position at the Bar,
never have been fit for anything. The longer he lived, the more certain
he became of the prime necessity of virile and decisive action in all
the affairs of life. A word and a blow--and the blow first! Doubts,
hesitations, sentiment the muling and puking of this twilight age--!
And there welled up on his handsome face a smile that was almost
devilish--the tricks of firelight are so many! It faded again in sheer
drowsiness; he slept....

He woke with a start, having a feeling of something out beyond the
light, and without turning his head said: “What’s that?” There came a
sound as if somebody had caught his breath. He turned up the lamp.

“Who’s there?”

A voice over by the door answered:

“Only I--Larry.”

Something in the tone, or perhaps just being startled out of sleep like
this, made him shiver. He said:

“I was asleep. Come in!”

It was noticeable that he did not get up, or even turn his head, now
that he knew who it was, but waited, his half-closed eyes fixed on the
fire, for his brother to come forward. A visit from Laurence was not an
unmixed blessing. He could hear him breathing, and became conscious of
a scent of whisky. Why could not the fellow at least abstain when he was
coming here! It was so childish, so lacking in any sense of proportion
or of decency! And he said sharply:

“Well, Larry, what is it?”

It was always something. He often wondered at the strength of that sense
of trusteeship, which kept him still tolerant of the troubles, amenable
to the petitions of this brother of his; or was it just “blood” feeling,
a Highland sense of loyalty to kith and kin; an old-time quality which
judgment and half his instincts told him was weakness but which, in
spite of all, bound him to the distressful fellow? Was he drunk now,
that he kept lurking out there by the door? And he said less sharply:

“Why don’t you come and sit down?”

He was coming now, avoiding the light, skirting along the walls just
beyond the radiance of the lamp, his feet and legs to the waist brightly
lighted, but his face disintegrated in shadow, like the face of a dark
ghost.

“Are you ill, man?”

Still no answer, save a shake of that head, and the passing up of a
hand, out of the light, to the ghostly forehead under the dishevelled
hair. The scent of whisky was stronger now; and Keith thought:

’.e really is drunk. Nice thing for the new butler to see! If he can’t
behave--’

The figure against the wall heaved a sigh--so truly from an overburdened
heart that Keith was conscious with a certain dismay of not having yet
fathomed the cause of this uncanny silence. He got up, and, back to the
fire, said with a brutality born of nerves rather than design:

“What is it, man? Have you committed a murder, that you stand there dumb
as a fish?”

For a second no answer at all, not even of breathing; then, just the
whisper:

“Yes.”

The sense of unreality which so helps one at moments of disaster enabled
Keith to say vigorously:

“By Jove! You have been drinking!”

But it passed at once into deadly apprehension.

“What do you mean? Come here, where I can see you. What’s the matter
with you, Larry?”

With a sudden lurch and dive, his brother left the shelter of the
shadow, and sank into a chair in the circle of light. And another long,
broken sigh escaped him.

“There’s nothing the matter with me, Keith! It’s true!”

Keith stepped quickly forward, and stared down into his brother’s face;
and instantly he saw that it was true. No one could have simulated the
look in those eyes--of horrified wonder, as if they would never again
get on terms with the face to which they belonged. To see them squeezed
the heart-only real misery could look like that. Then that sudden pity
became angry bewilderment.

“What in God’s name is this nonsense?”

But it was significant that he lowered his voice; went over to the
door, too, to see if it were shut. Laurence had drawn his chair forward,
huddling over the fire--a thin figure, a worn, high-cheekboned face with
deep-sunk blue eyes, and wavy hair all ruffled, a face that still had a
certain beauty. Putting a hand on that lean shoulder, Keith said:

“Come, Larry! Pull yourself together, and drop exaggeration.”

“It’s true; I tell you; I’ve killed a man.”

The noisy violence of that outburst acted like a douche. What was the
fellow about--shouting out such words! But suddenly Laurence lifted his
hands and wrung them. The gesture was so utterly painful that it drew a
quiver from Keith’s face.

“Why did you come here,” he said, “and tell me this?”

Larry’s face was really unearthly sometimes, such strange gleams passed
up on to it!

“Whom else should I tell? I came to know what I’m to do, Keith? Give
myself up, or what?”

At that sudden introduction of the practical Keith felt his heart
twitch. Was it then as real as all that? But he said, very quietly:

“Just tell me--How did it come about, this--affair?”

That question linked the dark, gruesome, fantastic nightmare on to
actuality.

“When did it happen?”

“Last night.”

In Larry’s face there was--there had always been--something childishly
truthful. He would never stand a chance in court! And Keith said:

“How? Where? You’d better tell me quietly from the beginning. Drink this
coffee; it’ll clear your head.”

Laurence took the little blue cup and drained it.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s like this, Keith. There’s a girl I’ve known for
some months now--”

Women! And Keith said between his teeth: “Well?”

“Her father was a Pole who died over here when she was sixteen, and left
her all alone. A man called Walenn, a mongrel American, living in the
same house, married her, or pretended to--she’s very pretty, Keith--he
left her with a baby six months old, and another coming. That one died,
and she did nearly. Then she starved till another fellow took her on.
She lived with him two years; then Walenn turned up again, and made
her go back to him. The brute used to beat her black and blue, all for
nothing. Then he left her again. When I met her she’d lost her elder
child, too, and was taking anybody who came along.”

He suddenly looked up into Keith’s face.

“But I’ve never met a sweeter woman, nor a truer, that I swear. Woman!
She’s only twenty now! When I went to her last night, that brute--that
Walenn--had found her out again; and when he came for me, swaggering and
bullying--Look!”--he touched a dark mark on his forehead--“I took his
throat in my hands, and when I let go--”

“Yes?”

“Dead. I never knew till afterwards that she was hanging on to him
behind.”

Again he made that gesture-wringing his hands.

In a hard voice Keith said:

“What did you do then?”

“We sat by it a long time. Then I carried it on my back down the street,
round a corner to an archway.”

“How far?”

“About fifty yards.”

“Was anyone--did anyone see?”

“No.”

“What time?”

“Three.”

“And then?”

“Went back to her.”

“Why--in Heaven’s name?”

“She was lonely and afraid; so was I, Keith.”

“Where is this place?”

“Forty-two, Borrow Street, Soho.”

“And the archway?”

“Corner of Glove Lane.”

“Good God! Why--I saw it in the paper!”

And seizing the journal that lay on his bureau, Keith read again that
paragraph: “The body of a man was found this morning under an archway in
Glove Lane, Soho. From marks about the throat grave suspicions of foul
play are entertained. The body had apparently been robbed, and nothing
was discovered leading to identification.”

It was real earnest, then. Murder! His own brother! He faced round and
said:

“You saw this in the paper, and dreamed it. Understand--you dreamed it!”

The wistful answer came:

“If only I had, Keith--if only I had!”

In his turn, Keith very nearly wrung his hands.

“Did you take anything from the--body?”

“This dropped while we were struggling.”

It was an empty envelope with a South American post-mark addressed:
“Patrick Walenn, Simon’s Hotel, Farrier Street, London.” Again with that
twitching in his heart, Keith said:

“Put it in the fire.”

Then suddenly he stooped to pluck it out. By that command--he
had--identified himself with this--this--But he did not pluck it out. It
blackened, writhed, and vanished. And once more he said:

“What in God’s name made you come here and tell me?”

“You know about these things. I didn’t mean to kill him. I love the
girl. What shall I do, Keith?

“Simple! How simple! To ask what he was to do! It was like Larry! And he
said:

“You were not seen, you think?” “It’s a dark street. There was no one
about.”

“When did you leave this girl the second time?”

“About seven o’clock.”

“Where did you go?”

“To my rooms.”

“In Fitzroy Street?”

“Yes.”

“Did anyone see you come in?”

“No.”

“What have you done since?”

“Sat there.”

“Not been out?”

“No.”

“Not seen the girl?”

“No.”

“You don’t know, then, what she’s done since?”

“No.”

“Would she give you away?”

“Never.”

“Would she give herself away--hysteria?”

“No.”

“Who knows of your relations with her?”

“No one.”

“No one?”

“I don’t know who should, Keith.”

“Did anyone see you going in last night, when you first went to her?”

“No. She lives on the ground floor. I’ve got keys.”

“Give them to me. What else have you that connects you with her?”

“Nothing.”

“In your rooms?”

“No.”

“No photographs. No letters?”

“No.”

“Be careful.”

“Nothing.”

“No one saw you going back to her the second time?”

“No.”

“No one saw you leave her in the morning?”

“No.”

“You were fortunate. Sit down again, man. I must think.”

Think! Think out this accursed thing--so beyond all thought, and all
belief. But he could not think. Not a coherent thought would come. And
he began again:

“Was it his first reappearance with her?”

“Yes.”

“She told you so?”

“Yes.”

“How did he find out where she was?”

“I don’t know.”

“How drunk were you?”

“I was not drunk.”

“How much had you drunk?”

“About two bottles of claret--nothing.”

“You say you didn’t mean to kill him?”

“No-God knows!”

“That’s something.”

“What made you choose the arch?”

“It was the first dark place.”

“Did his face look as if he had been strangled?”

“Don’t!”

“Did it?”

“Yes.”

“Very disfigured?”

“Yes.”

“Did you look to see if his clothes were marked?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why not? My God! If you had done it!”

“You say he was disfigured. Would he be recognisable?”

“I don’t know.”

“When she lived with him last--where was that?”

“I don’t know for certain. Pimlico, I think.”

“Not Soho?”

“No.”

“How long has she been at the Soho place?”

“Nearly a year.”

“Always the same rooms?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anyone living in that house or street who would be likely to
know her as his wife?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What was he?”

“I should think he was a professional ‘bully.’.

“I see. Spending most of his time abroad, then?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know if he was known to the police?”

“I haven’t heard of it.”

“Now, listen, Larry. When you leave here go straight home, and don’t go
out till I come to you, to-morrow morning. Promise that!”

“I promise.”

“I’ve got a dinner engagement. I’ll think this out. Don’t drink. Don’t
talk! Pull yourself together.”

“Don’t keep me longer than you can help, Keith!”

That white face, those eyes, that shaking hand! With a twinge of pity
in the midst of all the turbulence of his revolt, and fear, and disgust
Keith put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, and said:

“Courage!”

And suddenly he thought: ‘My God! Courage! I shall want it all myself!’



II

Laurence Darrant, leaving his brother’s house in the Adelphi, walked
northwards, rapidly, slowly, rapidly again. For, if there are men who by
force of will do one thing only at a time, there are men who from lack
of will do now one thing, now another; with equal intensity. To
such natures, to be gripped by the Nemesis which attends the lack of
self-control is no reason for being more self-controlled. Rather does it
foster their pet feeling: “What matter? To-morrow we die!” The effort
of will required to go to Keith had relieved, exhausted and exasperated
him. In accordance with those three feelings was the progress of his
walk. He started from the door with the fixed resolve to go home and
stay there quietly till Keith came. He was in Keith’s hands, Keith would
know what was to be done. But he had not gone three hundred yards before
he felt so utterly weary, body and soul, that if he had but had a pistol
in his pocket he would have shot himself in the street. Not even the
thought of the girl--this young unfortunate with her strange devotion,
who had kept him straight these last five months, who had roused in him
a depth of feeling he had never known before--would have availed against
that sudden black defection. Why go on--a waif at the mercy of his own
nature, a straw blown here and there by every gust which rose in him?
Why not have done with it for ever, and take it out in sleep?

He was approaching the fatal street, where he and the girl, that early
morning, had spent the hours clutched together, trying in the refuge of
love to forget for a moment their horror and fear. Should he go in?
He had promised Keith not to. Why had he promised? He caught sight of
himself in a chemist’s lighted window. Miserable, shadowy brute! And he
remembered suddenly a dog he had picked up once in the streets of Pera,
a black-and-white creature--different from the other dogs, not one of
their breed, a pariah of pariahs, who had strayed there somehow. He had
taken it home to the house where he was staying, contrary to all custom
of the country; had got fond of it; had shot it himself, sooner than
leave it behind again to the mercies of its own kind in the streets.
Twelve years ago! And those sleevelinks made of little Turkish coins
he had brought back for the girl at the hairdresser’s in Chancery Lane
where he used to get shaved--pretty creature, like a wild rose. He had
asked of her a kiss for payment. What queer emotion when she put her
face forward to his lips--a sort of passionate tenderness and shame,
at the softness and warmth of that flushed cheek, at her beauty and
trustful gratitude. She would soon have given herself to him--that one!
He had never gone there again! And to this day he did not know why he
had abstained; to this day he did not know whether he were glad or sorry
not to have plucked that rose. He must surely have been very different
then! Queer business, life--queer, queer business!--to go through it
never knowing what you would do next. Ah! to be like Keith, steady,
buttoned-up in success; a brass pot, a pillar of society! Once, as a
boy, he had been within an ace of killing Keith, for sneering at
him. Once in Southern Italy he had been near killing a driver who was
flogging his horse. And now, that dark-faced, swinish bully who had
ruined the girl he had grown to love--he had done it! Killed him! Killed
a man!

He who did not want to hurt a fly. The chemist’s window comforted him
with the sudden thought that he had at home that which made him safe, in
case they should arrest him. He would never again go out without some
of those little white tablets sewn into the lining of his coat. Restful,
even exhilarating thought! They said a man should not take his own life.
Let them taste horror--those glib citizens! Let them live as that girl
had lived, as millions lived all the world over, under their canting
dogmas! A man might rather even take his life than watch their cursed
inhumanities.

He went into the chemist’s for a bromide; and, while the man was
mixing it, stood resting one foot like a tired horse. The “life” he had
squeezed out of that fellow! After all, a billion living creatures gave
up life each day, had it squeezed out of them, mostly. And perhaps
not one a day deserved death so much as that loathly fellow. Life! a
breath--aflame! Nothing! Why, then, this icy clutching at his heart?

The chemist brought the draught.

“Not sleeping, sir?”

“No.”

The man’s eyes seemed to say: ‘Yes! Burning the candle at both ends--I
know!’ Odd life, a chemist’s; pills and powders all day long, to hold
the machinery of men together! Devilish odd trade!

In going out he caught the reflection of his face in a mirror; it seemed
too good altogether for a man who had committed murder. There was a
sort of brightness underneath, an amiability lurking about its shadows;
how--how could it be the face of a man who had done what he had done?
His head felt lighter now, his feet lighter; he walked rapidly again.

Curious feeling of relief and oppression all at once! Frightful--to long
for company, for talk, for distraction; and--to be afraid of it! The
girl--the girl and Keith were now the only persons who would not give
him that feeling of dread. And, of those two--Keith was not...! Who
could consort with one who was never wrong, a successful, righteous
fellow; a chap built so that he knew nothing about himself, wanted to
know nothing, a chap all solid actions? To be a quicksand swallowing
up one’s own resolutions was bad enough! But to be like Keith--all
willpower, marching along, treading down his own feelings and
weaknesses! No! One could not make a comrade of a man like Keith, even
if he were one’s brother? The only creature in all the world was the
girl. She alone knew and felt what he was feeling; would put up with him
and love him whatever he did, or was done to him. He stopped and took
shelter in a doorway, to light a cigarette. He had suddenly a fearful
wish to pass the archway where he had placed the body; a fearful wish
that had no sense, no end in view, no anything; just an insensate
craving to see the dark place again. He crossed Borrow Street to the
little lane. There was only one person visible, a man on the far side
with his shoulders hunched against the wind; a short, dark figure which
crossed and came towards him in the flickering lamplight. What a face!
Yellow, ravaged, clothed almost to the eyes in a stubbly greyish growth
of beard, with blackish teeth, and haunting bloodshot eyes. And what
a figure of rags--one shoulder higher than the other, one leg a
little lame, and thin! A surge of feeling came up in Laurence for this
creature, more unfortunate than himself. There were lower depths than
his!

“Well, brother,” he said, “you don’t look too prosperous!”

The smile which gleamed out on the man’s face seemed as unlikely as a
smile on a scarecrow.

“Prosperity doesn’t come my way,” he said in a rusty voice. “I’m a
failure--always been a failure. And yet you wouldn’t think it, would
you?--I was a minister of religion once.”

Laurence held out a shilling. But the man shook his head.

“Keep your money,” he said. “I’ve got more than you to-day, I daresay.
But thank you for taking a little interest. That’s worth more than money
to a man that’s down.”

“You’re right.”

“Yes,” the rusty voice went on; “I’d as soon die as go on living as
I do. And now I’ve lost my self-respect. Often wondered how long a
starving man could go without losing his self-respect. Not so very long.
You take my word for that.” And without the slightest change in the
monotony of that creaking voice he added:

“Did you read of the murder? Just here. I’ve been looking at the place.”

The words: ‘So have I!’ leaped up to Laurence’s lips; he choked them
down with a sort of terror.

“I wish you better luck,” he said. “Goodnight!” and hurried away. A sort
of ghastly laughter was forcing its way up in his throat. Was everyone
talking of the murder he had committed? Even the very scarecrows?



III

There are some natures so constituted that, due to be hung at ten
o’clock, they will play chess at eight. Such men invariably rise.
They make especially good bishops, editors, judges, impresarios, Prime
ministers, money-lenders, and generals; in fact, fill with exceptional
credit any position of power over their fellow-men. They have spiritual
cold storage, in which are preserved their nervous systems. In such men
there is little or none of that fluid sense and continuity of feeling
known under those vague terms, speculation, poetry, philosophy. Men
of facts and of decision switching imagination on and off at will,
subordinating sentiment to reason... one does not think of them when
watching wind ripple over cornfields, or swallows flying.

Keith Darrant had need for being of that breed during his dinner at
the Tellassons. It was just eleven when he issued from the big house in
Portland Place and refrained from taking a cab. He wanted to walk that
he might better think. What crude and wanton irony there was in his
situation! To have been made father-confessor to a murderer, he--well
on towards a judgeship! With his contempt for the kind of weakness which
landed men in such abysses, he felt it all so sordid, so “impossible,”
 that he could hardly bring his mind to bear on it at all. And yet
he must, because of two powerful instincts--self-preservation and
blood-loyalty.

The wind had still the sapping softness of the afternoon, but rain had
held off so far. It was warm, and he unbuttoned his fur overcoat. The
nature of his thoughts deepened the dark austerity of his face, whose
thin, well-cut lips were always pressing together, as if, by meeting,
to dispose of each thought as it came up. He moved along the crowded
pavements glumly. That air of festive conspiracy which drops with the
darkness on to lighted streets, galled him. He turned off on a darker
route.

This ghastly business! Convinced of its reality, he yet could not see
it. The thing existed in his mind, not as a picture, but as a piece of
irrefutable evidence. Larry had not meant to do it, of course. But it
was murder, all the same. Men like Larry--weak, impulsive, sentimental,
introspective creatures--did they ever mean what they did? This man,
this Walenn, was, by all accounts, better dead than alive; no need to
waste a thought on him! But, crime--the ugliness--Justice unsatisfied!
Crime concealed--and his own share in the concealment! And yet--brother
to brother! Surely no one could demand action from him! It was only a
question of what he was going to advise Larry to do. To keep silent, and
disappear? Had that a chance of success? Perhaps if the answers to
his questions had been correct. But this girl! Suppose the dead man’s
relationship to her were ferreted out, could she be relied on not
to endanger Larry? These women were all the same, unstable as water,
emotional, shiftless pests of society. Then, too, a crime untracked,
dogging all his brother’s after life; a secret following him wherever he
might vanish to; hanging over him, watching for some drunken moment, to
slip out of his lips. It was bad to think of. A clean breast of it?
But his heart twitched within him. “Brother of Mr. Keith Darrant, the
well-known King’s Counsel”--visiting a woman of the town, strangling
with his bare hands the woman’s husband! No intention to murder,
but--a dead man! A dead man carried out of the house, laid under a dark
archway! Provocation! Recommended to mercy--penal servitude for life!
Was that the advice he was going to give Larry to-morrow morning?

And he had a sudden vision of shaven men with clay-coloured features,
run, as it were, to seed, as he had seen them once in Pentonville, when
he had gone there to visit a prisoner. Larry! Whom, as a baby creature,
he had watched straddling; whom, as a little fellow, he had fagged; whom
he had seen through scrapes at college; to whom he had lent money time
and again, and time and again admonished in his courses. Larry! Five
years younger than himself; and committed to his charge by their mother
when she died. To become for life one of those men with faces like
diseased plants; with no hair but a bushy stubble; with arrows marked on
their yellow clothes! Larry! One of those men herded like sheep; at the
beck and call of common men! A gentleman, his own brother, to live that
slave’s life, to be ordered here and there, year after year, day in,
day out. Something snapped within him. He could not give that advice.
Impossible! But if not, he must make sure of his ground, must verify,
must know. This Glove Lane--this arch way? It would not be far from
where he was that very moment. He looked for someone of whom to make
enquiry. A policeman was standing at the corner, his stolid face
illumined by a lamp; capable and watchful--an excellent officer, no
doubt; but, turning his head away, Keith passed him without a word.
Strange to feel that cold, uneasy feeling in presence of the law! A grim
little driving home of what it all meant! Then, suddenly, he saw that
the turning to his left was Borrow Street itself. He walked up one side,
crossed over, and returned. He passed Number Forty-two, a small house
with business names printed on the lifeless windows of the first and
second floors; with dark curtained windows on the ground floor, or was
there just a slink of light in one corner? Which way had Larry turned?
Which way under that grisly burden? Fifty paces of this squalid
street-narrow, and dark, and empty, thank heaven! Glove Lane! Here it
was! A tiny runlet of a street. And here--! He had run right on to the
arch, a brick bridge connecting two portions of a warehouse, and dark
indeed.

“That’s right, gov’nor! That’s the place!” He needed all his
self-control to turn leisurely to the speaker. “‘Ere’s where they found
the body--very spot leanin’ up ‘ere. They ain’t got ‘im yet. Lytest--me
lord!”

It was a ragged boy holding out a tattered yellowish journal. His lynx
eyes peered up from under lanky wisps of hair, and his voice had the
proprietary note of one making “a corner” in his news. Keith took the
paper and gave him twopence. He even found a sort of comfort in the
young ghoul’s hanging about there; it meant that others besides himself
had come morbidly to look. By the dim lamplight he read: “Glove Lane
garrotting mystery. Nothing has yet been discovered of the murdered
man’s identity; from the cut of his clothes he is supposed to be
a foreigner.” The boy had vanished, and Keith saw the figure of a
policeman coming slowly down this gutter of a street. A second’s
hesitation, and he stood firm. Nothing obviously could have brought him
here save this “mystery,” and he stayed quietly staring at the arch. The
policeman moved up abreast. Keith saw that he was the one whom he had
passed just now. He noted the cold offensive question die out of the
man’s eyes when they caught the gleam of white shirt-front under the
opened fur collar. And holding up the paper, he said:

“Is this where the man was found?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Still a mystery, I see?”

“Well, we can’t always go by the papers. But I don’t fancy they do know
much about it, yet.”

“Dark spot. Do fellows sleep under here?”

The policeman nodded. “There’s not an arch in London where we don’t get
’.m sometimes.”

“Nothing found on him--I think I read?”

“Not a copper. Pockets inside out. There’s some funny characters about
this quarter. Greeks, Hitalians--all sorts.”

Queer sensation this, of being glad of a policeman’s confidential tone!

“Well, good-night!”

“Good-night, sir. Good-night!”

He looked back from Borrow Street. The policeman was still standing
there holding up his lantern, so that its light fell into the archway,
as if trying to read its secret.

Now that he had seen this dark, deserted spot, the chances seemed to him
much better. “Pockets inside out!” Either Larry had had presence of mind
to do a very clever thing, or someone had been at the body before the
police found it. That was the more likely. A dead backwater of a place.
At three o’clock--loneliest of all hours--Larry’s five minutes’ grim
excursion to and fro might well have passed unseen! Now, it all depended
on the girl; on whether Laurence had been seen coming to her or going
away; on whether, if the man’s relationship to her were discovered, she
could be relied on to say nothing. There was not a soul in Borrow Street
now; hardly even a lighted window; and he took one of those rather
desperate decisions only possible to men daily accustomed to the instant
taking of responsibility. He would go to her, and see for himself. He
came to the door of Forty-two, obviously one of those which are only
shut at night, and tried the larger key. It fitted, and he was in a
gas-lighted passage, with an oil-clothed floor, and a single door to his
left. He stood there undecided. She must be made to understand that he
knew everything. She must not be told more than that he was a friend of
Larry’s. She must not be frightened, yet must be forced to give her very
soul away. A hostile witness--not to be treated as hostile--a matter for
delicate handling! But his knock was not answered.

Should he give up this nerve-racking, bizarre effort to come at a basis
of judgment; go away, and just tell Laurence that he could not advise
him? And then--what? Something must be done. He knocked again. Still no
answer. And with that impatience of being thwarted, natural to him, and
fostered to the full by the conditions of his life, he tried the other
key. It worked, and he opened the door. Inside all was dark, but a
voice from some way off, with a sort of breathless relief in its foreign
tones, said:

“Oh! then it’s you, Larry! Why did you knock? I was so frightened. Turn
up the light, dear. Come in!”

Feeling by the door for a switch in the pitch blackness he was conscious
of arms round his neck, a warm thinly clad body pressed to his own; then
withdrawn as quickly, with a gasp, and the most awful terror-stricken
whisper:

“Oh! Who is it?”

With a glacial shiver down his own spine, Keith answered

“A friend of Laurence. Don’t be frightened!”

There was such silence that he could hear a clock ticking, and the sound
of his own hand passing over the surface of the wall, trying to find the
switch. He found it, and in the light which leaped up he saw, stiffened
against a dark curtain evidently screening off a bedroom, a girl
standing, holding a long black coat together at her throat, so that
her face with its pale brown hair, short and square-cut and curling up
underneath, had an uncanny look of being detached from any body. Her
face was so alabaster pale that the staring, startled eyes, dark blue or
brown, and the faint rose of the parted lips, were like colour stainings
on a white mask; and it had a strange delicacy, truth, and pathos, such
as only suffering brings. Though not susceptible to aesthetic emotion,
Keith was curiously affected. He said gently:

“You needn’t be afraid. I haven’t come to do you harm--quite the
contrary. May I sit down and talk?” And, holding up the keys, he added:
“Laurence wouldn’t have given me these, would he, if he hadn’t trusted
me?”

Still she did not move, and he had the impression that he was looking at
a spirit--a spirit startled out of its flesh. Nor at the moment did it
seem in the least strange that he should conceive such an odd thought.
He stared round the room--clean and tawdry, with its tarnished gilt
mirror, marble-topped side-table, and plush-covered sofa. Twenty years
and more since he had been in such a place. And he said:

“Won’t you sit down? I’m sorry to have startled you.”

But still she did not move, whispering:

“Who are you, please?”

And, moved suddenly beyond the realm of caution by the terror in that
whisper, he answered:

“Larry’s brother.”

She uttered a little sigh of relief which went to Keith’s heart, and,
still holding the dark coat together at her throat, came forward and sat
down on the sofa. He could see that her feet, thrust into slippers, were
bare; with her short hair, and those candid startled eyes, she looked
like a tall child. He drew up a chair and said:

“You must forgive me coming at such an hour; he’s told me, you see.” He
expected her to flinch and gasp; but she only clasped her hands together
on her knees, and said:

“Yes?”

Then horror and discomfort rose up in him, afresh.

“An awful business!”

Her whisper echoed him:

“Yes, oh! yes! Awful--it is awful!”

And suddenly realising that the man must have fallen dead just where he
was sitting, Keith became stock silent, staring at the floor.

“Yes,” she whispered; “Just there. I see him now always falling!”

How she said that! With what a strange gentle despair! In this girl of
evil life, who had brought on them this tragedy, what was it which moved
him to a sort of unwilling compassion?

“You look very young,” he said.

“I am twenty.”

“And you are fond of--my brother?”

“I would die for him.”

Impossible to mistake the tone of her voice, or the look in her eyes,
true deep Slav eyes; dark brown, not blue as he had thought at first.
It was a very pretty face--either her life had not eaten into it yet,
or the suffering of these last hours had purged away those marks;
or perhaps this devotion of hers to Larry. He felt strangely at sea,
sitting there with this child of twenty; he, over forty, a man of the
world, professionally used to every side of human nature. But he said,
stammering a little:

“I--I have come to see how far you can save him. Listen, and just answer
the questions I put to you.”

She raised her hands, squeezed them together, and murmured:

“Oh! I will answer anything.”

“This man, then--your--your husband--was he a bad man?”

“A dreadful man.”

“Before he came here last night, how long since you saw him?”

“Eighteen months.”

“Where did you live when you saw him last?”

“In Pimlico.”

“Does anybody about here know you as Mrs. Walenn?”

“No. When I came here, after my little girl died, I came to live a bad
life. Nobody knows me at all. I am quite alone.”

“If they discover who he was, they will look for his wife?”

“I do not know. He did not let people think I was married to him. I was
very young; he treated many, I think, like me.”

“Do you think he was known to the police?”

She shook her head. “He was very clever.”

“What is your name now?”

“Wanda Livinska.”

“Were you known by that name before you were married?”

“Wanda is my Christian name. Livinska--I just call myself.”

“I see; since you came here.”

“Yes.”

“Did my brother ever see this man before last night?”

“Never.”

“You had told him about his treatment of you?”

“Yes. And that man first went for him.”

“I saw the mark. Do you think anyone saw my brother come to you?”

“I do not know. He says not.”

“Can you tell if anyone saw him carrying the--the thing away?”

“No one in this street--I was looking.”

“Nor coming back?”

“No one.”

“Nor going out in the morning?”

“I do not think it.”

“Have you a servant?”

“Only a woman who comes at nine in the morning for an hour.”

“Does she know Larry?”

“No.”

“Friends, acquaintances?”

“No; I am very quiet. And since I knew your brother, I see no one.
Nobody comes here but him for a long time now.”

“How long?”

“Five months.”

“Have you been out to-day?”

“No.”

“What have you been doing?”

“Crying.”

It was said with a certain dreadful simplicity, and pressing her hands
together, she went on:

“He is in danger, because of me. I am so afraid for him.” Holding up his
hand to check that emotion, he said:

“Look at me!”

She fixed those dark eyes on him, and in her bare throat, from which the
coat had fallen back, he could see her resolutely swallowing down her
agitation.

“If the worst comes to the worst, and this man is traced to you, can you
trust yourself not to give my brother away?”

Her eyes shone. She got up and went to the fireplace:

“Look! I have burned all the things he has given me--even his picture.
Now I have nothing from him.”

Keith, too, got up.

“Good! One more question: Do the police know you, because--because of
your life?”

She shook her head, looking at him intently, with those mournfully true
eyes. And he felt a sort of shame.

“I was obliged to ask. Do you know where he lives?”

“Yes.”

“You must not go there. And he must not come to you, here.”

Her lips quivered; but she bowed her head. Suddenly he found her quite
close to him, speaking almost in a whisper:

“Please do not take him from me altogether. I will be so careful. I will
not do anything to hurt him; but if I cannot see him sometimes, I shall
die. Please do not take him from me.” And catching his hand between her
own, she pressed it desperately. It was several seconds before Keith
said:

“Leave that to me. I will see him. I shall arrange. You must leave that
to me.”

“But you will be kind?”

He felt her lips kissing his hand. And the soft moist touch sent a queer
feeling through him, protective, yet just a little brutal, having in it
a shiver of sensuality. He withdrew his hand. And as if warned that she
had been too pressing, she recoiled humbly. But suddenly she turned,
and stood absolutely rigid; then almost inaudibly whispered: “Listen!
Someone out--out there!” And darting past him she turned out the light.

Almost at once came a knock on the door. He could feel--actually feel
the terror of this girl beside him in the dark. And he, too, felt
terror. Who could it be? No one came but Larry, she had said. Who else
then could it be? Again came the knock, louder! He felt the breath of
her whisper on his cheek: “If it is Larry! I must open.” He shrank back
against the wall; heard her open the door and say faintly: “Yes. Please!
Who?”

Light painted a thin moving line on the wall opposite, and a voice which
Keith recognised answered:

“All right, miss. Your outer door’s open here. You ought to keep it shut
after dark.”

God! That policeman! And it had been his own doing, not shutting the
outer door behind him when he came in. He heard her say timidly in her
foreign voice: “Thank you, sir!” the policeman’s retreating steps, the
outer door being shut, and felt her close to him again. That something
in her youth and strange prettiness which had touched and kept him
gentle, no longer blunted the edge of his exasperation, now that he
could not see her. They were all the same, these women; could not speak
the truth! And he said brusquely:

“You told me they didn’t know you!”

Her voice answered like a sigh:

“I did not think they did, sir. It is so long I was not out in the town,
not since I had Larry.”

The repulsion which all the time seethed deep in Keith welled up at
those words. His brother--son of his mother, a gentleman--the property
of this girl, bound to her, body and soul, by this unspeakable event!
But she had turned up the light. Had she some intuition that darkness
was against her? Yes, she was pretty with that soft face, colourless
save for its lips and dark eyes, with that face somehow so touchingly,
so unaccountably good, and like a child’s.

“I am going now,” he said. “Remember! He mustn’t come here; you mustn’t
go to him. I shall see him to-morrow. If you are as fond of him as you
say--take care, take care!”

She sighed out, “Yes! oh, yes!” and Keith went to the door. She was
standing with her back to the wall, and to follow him she only moved her
head--that dove-like face with all its life in eyes which seemed saying:
’.ook into us; nothing we hide; all--all is there!’

And he went out.

In the passage he paused before opening the outer door. He did not want
to meet that policeman again; the fellow’s round should have taken him
well out of the street by now, and turning the handle cautiously, he
looked out. No one in sight. He stood a moment, wondering if he should
turn to right or left, then briskly crossed the street. A voice to his
right hand said:

“Good-night, sir.”

There in the shadow of a doorway the policeman was standing. The fellow
must have seen him coming out! Utterly unable to restrain a start, and
muttering “Goodnight!” Keith walked on rapidly:

He went full quarter of a mile before he lost that startled and uneasy
feeling in sardonic exasperation that he, Keith Darrant, had been taken
for a frequenter of a lady of the town. The whole thing--the whole
thing!--a vile and disgusting business! His very mind felt dirty and
breathless; his spirit, drawn out of sheath, had slowly to slide
back before he could at all focus and readjust his reasoning faculty.
Certainly, he had got the knowledge he wanted. There was less danger
than he thought. That girl’s eyes! No mistaking her devotion. She would
not give Larry away. Yes! Larry must clear out--South America--the
East--it did not matter. But he felt no relief. The cheap, tawdry room
had wrapped itself round his fancy with its atmosphere of murky love,
with the feeling it inspired, of emotion caged within those yellowish
walls and the red stuff of its furniture. That girl’s face! Devotion;
truth, too, and beauty, rare and moving, in its setting of darkness and
horror, in that nest of vice and of disorder!... The dark archway; the
street arab, with his gleeful: “They ‘ain’t got ‘im yet!”; the feel of
those bare arms round his neck; that whisper of horror in the darkness;
above all, again, her child face looking into his, so truthful! And
suddenly he stood quite still in the street. What in God’s name was he
about? What grotesque juggling amongst shadows, what strange and ghastly
eccentricity was all this? The forces of order and routine, all the
actualities of his daily life, marched on him at that moment, and swept
everything before them. It was a dream, a nightmare not real! It was
ridiculous! That he--he should thus be bound up with things so black and
bizarre!

He had come by now to the Strand, that street down which every day he
moved to the Law Courts, to his daily work; his work so dignified and
regular, so irreproachable, and solid. No! The thing was all a monstrous
nightmare! It would go, if he fixed his mind on the familiar objects
around, read the names on the shops, looked at the faces passing. Far
down the thoroughfare he caught the outline of the old church, and
beyond, the loom of the Law Courts themselves. The bell of a fire-engine
sounded, and the horses came galloping by, with the shining metal,
rattle of hoofs and hoarse shouting. Here was a sensation, real and
harmless, dignified and customary! A woman flaunting round the corner
looked up at him, and leered out: “Good-night!” Even that was customary,
tolerable. Two policemen passed, supporting between them a man the worse
for liquor, full of fight and expletives; the sight was soothing, an
ordinary thing which brought passing annoyance, interest, disgust.
It had begun to rain; he felt it on his face with pleasure--an actual
thing, not eccentric, a thing which happened every day!

He began to cross the street. Cabs were going at furious speed now
that the last omnibus had ceased to run; it distracted him to take this
actual, ordinary risk run so often every day. During that crossing of
the Strand, with the rain in his face and the cabs shooting past, he
regained for the first time his assurance, shook off this unreal sense
of being in the grip of something, and walked resolutely to the corner
of his home turning. But passing into that darker stretch, he again
stood still. A policeman had also turned into that street on the other
side. Not--surely not! Absurd! They were all alike to look at--those
fellows! Absurd! He walked on sharply, and let himself into his house.
But on his way upstairs he could not for the life of him help raising a
corner of a curtain and looking from the staircase window. The policeman
was marching solemnly, about twenty-five yards away, paying apparently
no attention to anything whatever.



IV

Keith woke at five o’clock, his usual hour, without remembrance. But
the grisly shadow started up when he entered his study, where the lamp
burned, and the fire shone, and the coffee was set ready, just as when
yesterday afternoon Larry had stood out there against the wall. For a
moment he fought against realisation; then, drinking off his coffee, sat
down sullenly at the bureau to his customary three hours’ study of the
day’s cases.

Not one word of his brief could he take in. It was all jumbled with
murky images and apprehensions, and for full half an hour he suffered
mental paralysis. Then the sheer necessity of knowing something of the
case which he had to open at half-past ten that morning forced him to a
concentration which never quite subdued the malaise at the bottom of his
heart. Nevertheless, when he rose at half-past eight and went into
the bathroom, he had earned his grim satisfaction in this victory of
will-power. By half-past nine he must be at Larry’s. A boat left London
for the Argentine to-morrow. If Larry was to get away at once, money
must be arranged for. And then at breakfast he came on this paragraph in
the paper:

           “SOHO MURDER.

“Enquiry late last night established the fact that the Police have
discovered the identity of the man found strangled yesterday morning
under an archway in Glove Lane. An arrest has been made.”

By good fortune he had finished eating, for the words made him feel
physically sick. At this very minute Larry might be locked up, waiting
to be charged-might even have been arrested before his own visit to the
girl last night. If Larry were arrested, she must be implicated. What,
then, would be his own position? Idiot to go and look at that archway,
to go and see the girl! Had that policeman really followed him home?
Accessory after the fact! Keith Darrant, King’s Counsel, man of mark! He
forced himself by an effort, which had something of the heroic, to drop
this panicky feeling. Panic never did good. He must face it, and see. He
refused even to hurry, calmly collected the papers wanted for the day,
and attended to a letter or two, before he set out in a taxi-cab to
Fitzroy Street.

Waiting outside there in the grey morning for his ring to be answered,
he looked the very picture of a man who knew his mind, a man of
resolution. But it needed all his will-power to ask without tremor: “Mr.
Darrant in?” to hear without sign of any kind the answer: “He’s not up
yet, sir.”

“Never mind; I’ll go in and see him. Mr. Keith Darrant.”

On his way to Laurence’s bedroom, in the midst of utter relief, he had
the self-possession to think: ‘This arrest is the best thing that could
have happened. It’ll keep their noses on a wrong scent till Larry’s got
away. The girl must be sent off too, but not with him.’ Panic had ended
in quite hardening his resolution. He entered the bedroom with a feeling
of disgust. The fellow was lying there, his bare arms crossed behind his
tousled head, staring at the ceiling, and smoking one of many cigarettes
whose ends littered a chair beside him, whose sickly reek tainted the
air. That pale face, with its jutting cheek-bones and chin, its hollow
cheeks and blue eyes far sunk back--what a wreck of goodness!

He looked up at Keith through the haze of smoke and said quietly: “Well,
brother, what’s the sentence? ‘Transportation for life, and then to be
fined forty pounds?’.

The flippancy revolted Keith. It was Larry all over! Last night
horrified and humble, this morning, “Don’t care” and feather-headed. He
said sourly:

“Oh! You can joke about it now?”

Laurence turned his face to the wall.

“Must.”

Fatalism! How detestable were natures like that!

“I’ve been to see her,” he said.

“You?”

“Last night. She can be trusted.”

Laurence laughed.

“That I told you.”

“I had to see for myself. You must clear out at once, Larry. She can
come out to you by the next boat; but you can’t go together. Have you
any money?”

“No.”

“I can foot your expenses, and lend you a year’s income in advance. But
it must be a clean cut; after you get out there your whereabouts must
only be known to me.”

A long sigh answered him.

“You’re very good to me, Keith; you’ve always been very good. I don’t
know why.”

Keith answered drily

“Nor I. There’s a boat to the Argentine tomorrow. You’re in luck;
they’ve made an arrest. It’s in the paper.”

“What?”

The cigarette end dropped, the thin pyjama’d figure writhed up and stood
clutching at the bedrail.

“What?”

The disturbing thought flitted through Keith’s brain: ‘I was a fool. He
takes it queerly; what now?’

Laurence passed his hand over his forehead, and sat down on the bed.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said; “It does me!”

Keith stared. In his relief that the arrested man was not Laurence, this
had not occurred to him. What folly!

“Why?” he said quickly; “an innocent man’s in no danger. They always
get the wrong man first. It’s a piece of luck, that’s all. It gives us
time.”

How often had he not seen that expression on Larry’s face, wistful,
questioning, as if trying to see the thing with his--Keith’s-eyes,
trying to submit to better judgment? And he said, almost gently--

“Now, look here, Larry; this is too serious to trifle with. Don’t worry
about that. Leave it to me. Just get ready to be off’. I’ll take your
berth and make arrangements. Here’s some money for kit. I can come round
between five and six, and let you know. Pull yourself together, man.
As soon as the girl’s joined you out there, you’d better get across to
Chile, the further the better. You must simply lose yourself: I must
go now, if I’m to get to the Bank before I go down to the courts.” And
looking very steadily at his brother, he added:

“Come! You’ve got to think of me in this matter as well as of yourself.
No playing fast and loose with the arrangements. Understand?”

But still Larry gazed up at him with that wistful questioning, and not
till he had repeated, “Understand?” did he receive “Yes” for answer.

Driving away, he thought: ‘Queer fellow! I don’t know him, shall
never know him!’ and at once began to concentrate on the practical
arrangements. At his bank he drew out L400; but waiting for the notes
to be counted he suffered qualms. A clumsy way of doing things! If
there had been more time! The thought: ‘Accessory after the fact!’ now
infected everything. Notes were traceable. No other way of getting him
away at once, though. One must take lesser risks to avoid greater. From
the bank he drove to the office of the steamship line. He had told
Larry he would book his passage. But that would not do! He must only ask
anonymously if there were accommodation. Having discovered that there
were vacant berths, he drove on to the Law Courts. If he could have
taken a morning off, he would have gone down to the police court and
seen them charge this man. But even that was not too safe, with a face
so well known as his. What would come of this arrest? Nothing, surely!
The police always took somebody up, to keep the public quiet. Then,
suddenly, he had again the feeling that it was all a nightmare; Larry
had never done it; the police had got the right man! But instantly the
memory of the girl’s awe-stricken face, her figure huddling on the sofa,
her words “I see him always falling!” came back. God! What a business!

He felt he had never been more clear-headed and forcible than that
morning in court. When he came out for lunch he bought the most
sensational of the evening papers. But it was yet too early for news,
and he had to go back into court no whit wiser concerning the arrest.
When at last he threw off wig and gown, and had got through a conference
and other necessary work, he went out to Chancery Lane, buying a paper
on the way. Then he hailed a cab, and drove once more to Fitzroy Street.



V

Laurence had remained sitting on his bed for many minutes. An innocent
man in no danger! Keith had said it--the celebrated lawyer! Could
he rely on that? Go out 8,000 miles, he and the girl, and leave a
fellow-creature perhaps in mortal peril for an act committed by himself?

In the past night he had touched bottom, as he thought: become ready to
face anything. When Keith came in he would without murmur have accepted
the advice: “Give yourself up!” He was prepared to pitch away the end of
his life as he pitched from him the fag-ends of his cigarettes. And the
long sigh he had heaved, hearing of reprieve, had been only half relief.
Then, with incredible swiftness there had rushed through him a feeling
of unutterable joy and hope. Clean away--into a new country, a new life!
The girl and he! Out there he wouldn’t care, would rejoice even to have
squashed the life out of such a noisome beetle of a man. Out there!
Under a new sun, where blood ran quicker than in this foggy land, and
people took justice into their own hands. For it had been justice on
that brute even though he had not meant to kill him. And then to hear of
this arrest! They would be charging the man to-day. He could go and see
the poor creature accused of the murder he himself had committed! And he
laughed. Go and see how likely it was that they might hang a fellow-man
in place of himself? He dressed, but too shaky to shave himself, went
out to a barber’s shop. While there he read the news which Keith had
seen. In this paper the name of the arrested man was given: “John Evan,
no address.” To be brought up on the charge at Bow Street. Yes! He must
go. Once, twice, three times he walked past the entrance of the court
before at last he entered and screwed himself away among the tag and
bobtail.

The court was crowded; and from the murmurs round he could tell that it
was his particular case which had brought so many there. In a dazed way
he watched charge after charge disposed of with lightning quickness. But
were they never going to reach his business? And then suddenly he saw
the little scarecrow man of last night advancing to the dock between
two policemen, more ragged and miserable than ever by light of day, like
some shaggy, wan, grey animal, surrounded by sleek hounds.

A sort of satisfied purr was rising all round; and with horror Laurence
perceived that this--this was the man accused of what he himself had
done--this queer, battered unfortunate to whom he had shown a passing
friendliness. Then all feeling merged in the appalling interest of
listening. The evidence was very short. Testimony of the hotel-keeper
where Walenn had been staying, the identification of his body, and of a
snake-shaped ring he had been wearing at dinner that evening. Testimony
of a pawnbroker, that this same ring was pawned with him the first thing
yesterday morning by the prisoner. Testimony of a policeman that he had
noticed the man Evan several times in Glove Lane, and twice moved him on
from sleeping under that arch. Testimony of another policeman that,
when arrested at midnight, Evan had said: “Yes; I took the ring off
his finger. I found him there dead .... I know I oughtn’t to have done
it.... I’m an educated man; it was stupid to pawn the ring. I found him
with his pockets turned inside out.”

Fascinating and terrible to sit staring at the man in whose place he
should have been; to wonder when those small bright-grey bloodshot eyes
would spy him out, and how he would meet that glance. Like a baited
raccoon the little man stood, screwed back into a corner, mournful,
cynical, fierce, with his ridged, obtuse yellow face, and his stubbly
grey beard and hair, and his eyes wandering now and again amongst the
crowd. But with all his might Laurence kept his face unmoved. Then came
the word “Remanded”; and, more like a baited beast than ever, the man
was led away.

Laurence sat on, a cold perspiration thick on his forehead. Someone
else, then, had come on the body and turned the pockets inside out
before John Evan took the ring. A man such as Walenn would not be out
at night without money. Besides, if Evan had found money on the body he
would never have run the risk of taking that ring. Yes, someone else had
come on the body first. It was for that one to come forward, and prove
that the ring was still on the dead man’s finger when he left him, and
thus clear Evan. He clung to that thought; it seemed to make him less
responsible for the little man’s position; to remove him and his own
deed one step further back. If they found the person who had taken the
money, it would prove Evan’s innocence. He came out of the court in a
sort of trance. And a craving to get drunk attacked him. One could not
go on like this without the relief of some oblivion. If he could only
get drunk, keep drunk till this business was decided and he knew whether
he must give himself up or no. He had now no fear at all of people
suspecting him; only fear of himself--fear that he might go and give
himself up. Now he could see the girl; the danger from that was as
nothing compared with the danger from his own conscience. He had
promised Keith not to see her. Keith had been decent and loyal to
him--good old Keith! But he would never understand that this girl was
now all he cared about in life; that he would rather be cut off from
life itself than be cut off from her. Instead of becoming less and less,
she was becoming more and more to him--experience strange and thrilling!
Out of deep misery she had grown happy--through him; out of a sordid,
shifting life recovered coherence and bloom, through devotion to him
him, of all people in the world! It was a miracle. She demanded nothing
of him, adored him, as no other woman ever had--it was this which had
anchored his drifting barque; this--and her truthful mild intelligence,
and that burning warmth of a woman, who, long treated by men as but a
sack of sex, now loves at last.

And suddenly, mastering his craving to get drunk, he made towards Soho.
He had been a fool to give those keys to Keith. She must have been
frightened by his visit; and, perhaps, doubly miserable since, knowing
nothing, imagining everything! Keith was sure to have terrified her.
Poor little thing!

Down the street where he had stolen in the dark with the dead body on
his back, he almost ran for the cover of her house. The door was opened
to him before he knocked, her arms were round his neck, her lips pressed
to his. The fire was out, as if she had been unable to remember to keep
warm. A stool had been drawn to the window, and there she had evidently
been sitting, like a bird in a cage, looking out into the grey street.
Though she had been told that he was not to come, instinct had kept her
there; or the pathetic, aching hope against hope which lovers never part
with.

Now that he was there, her first thoughts were for his comfort. The fire
was lighted. He must eat, drink, smoke. There was never in her doings
any of the “I am doing this for you, but you ought to be doing that for
me” which belongs to so many marriages, and liaisons. She was like a
devoted slave, so in love with the chains that she never knew she wore
them. And to Laurence, who had so little sense of property, this
only served to deepen tenderness, and the hold she had on him. He
had resolved not to tell her of the new danger he ran from his own
conscience. But resolutions with him were but the opposites of what was
sure to come; and at last the words:

“They’ve arrested someone,” escaped him.

From her face he knew she had grasped the danger at once; had divined
it, perhaps, before he spoke. But she only twined her arms round him and
kissed his lips. And he knew that she was begging him to put his love
for her above his conscience. Who would ever have thought that he
could feel as he did to this girl who had been in the arms of many! The
stained and suffering past of a loved woman awakens in some men only
chivalry; in others, more respectable, it rouses a tigerish itch, a
rancorous jealousy of what in the past was given to others. Sometimes it
will do both. When he had her in his arms he felt no remorse for killing
the coarse, handsome brute who had ruined her. He savagely rejoiced in
it. But when she laid her head in the hollow of his shoulder, turning
to him her white face with the faint colour-staining on the parted lips,
the cheeks, the eyelids; when her dark, wide-apart, brown eyes gazed
up in the happiness of her abandonment--he felt only tenderness and
protection.

He left her at five o’clock, and had not gone two streets’ length before
the memory of the little grey vagabond, screwed back in the far corner
of the dock like a baited raccoon, of his dreary, creaking voice, took
possession of him again; and a kind of savagery mounted in his brain
against a world where one could be so tortured without having meant harm
to anyone.

At the door of his lodgings Keith was getting out of a cab. They went in
together, but neither of them sat down; Keith standing with his back to
the carefully shut door, Laurence with his back to the table, as if they
knew there was a tug coming. And Keith said: “There’s room on that boat.
Go down and book your berth before they shut. Here’s the money!”

“I’m going to stick it, Keith.”

Keith stepped forward, and put a roll of notes on the table.

“Now look here, Larry. I’ve read the police court proceedings. There’s
nothing in that. Out of prison, or in prison for a few weeks, it’s
all the same to a night-bird of that sort. Dismiss it from your
mind--there’s not nearly enough evidence to convict. This gives you your
chance. Take it like a man, and make a new life for yourself.”

Laurence smiled; but the smile had a touch of madness and a touch of
malice. He took up the notes.

“Clear out, and save the honour of brother Keith. Put them back in your
pocket, Keith, or I’ll put them in the fire. Come, take them!” And,
crossing to the fire, he held them to the bars. “Take them, or in they
go!”

Keith took back the notes.

“I’ve still got some kind of honour, Keith; if I clear out I shall have
none, not the rag of any, left. It may be worth more to me than that--I
can’t tell yet--I can’t tell.” There was a long silence before Keith
answered. “I tell you you’re mistaken; no jury will convict. If they
did, a judge would never hang on it. A ghoul who can rob a dead body
ought to be in prison. What he did is worse than what you did, if you
come to that!” Laurence lifted his face. “Judge not, brother,” he said;
“the heart is a dark well.” Keith’s yellowish face grew red and swollen,
as though he were mastering the tickle of a bronchial cough. “What
are you going to do, then? I suppose I may ask you not to be entirely
oblivious of our name; or is such a consideration unworthy of your
honour?” Laurence bent his head. The gesture said more clearly than
words: ‘Don’t kick a man when he’s down!’

“I don’t know what I’m going to do--nothing at present. I’m awfully
sorry, Keith; awfully sorry.”

Keith looked at him, and without another word went out.



VI

To any, save philosophers, reputation may be threatened almost as much
by disgrace to name and family as by the disgrace of self. Keith’s
instinct was always to deal actively with danger. But this blow, whether
it fell on him by discovery or by confession, could not be countered. As
blight falls on a rose from who knows where, the scandalous murk would
light on him. No repulse possible! Not even a wriggling from under!
Brother of a murderer hung or sent to penal servitude! His daughter
niece to a murderer! His dead mother-a murderer’s mother! And to wait
day after day, week after week, not knowing whether the blow would fall,
was an extraordinarily atrocious penance, the injustice of which, to a
man of rectitude, seemed daily the more monstrous.

The remand had produced evidence that the murdered man had been drinking
heavily on the night of his death, and further evidence of the accused’s
professional vagabondage and destitution; it was shown, too, that for
some time the archway in Glove Lane had been his favourite night
haunt. He had been committed for trial in January. This time, despite
misgivings, Keith had attended the police court. To his great relief
Larry was not there. But the policeman who had come up while he was
looking at the archway, and given him afterwards that scare in the
girl’s rooms, was chief witness to the way the accused man haunted
Glove Lane. Though Keith held his silk hat high, he still had the
uncomfortable feeling that the man had recognised him.

His conscience suffered few, if any, twinges for letting this man rest
under the shadow of the murder. He genuinely believed that there was not
evidence enough to convict; nor was it in him to appreciate the tortures
of a vagabond shut up. The scamp deserved what he had got, for robbing
a dead body; and in any case such a scarecrow was better off in prison
than sleeping out under archways in December. Sentiment was foreign to
Keith’s character, and his justice that of those who subordinate the
fates of the weak and shiftless to the needful paramountcy of the strong
and well established.

His daughter came back from school for the Christmas holidays. It was
hard to look up from her bright eyes and rosy cheeks and see this shadow
hanging above his calm and ordered life, as in a glowing room one’s
eye may catch an impending patch of darkness drawn like a spider’s web
across a corner of the ceiling.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve they went, by her desire, to a church
in Soho, where the Christmas Oratorio was being given; and coming away
passed, by chance of a wrong turning, down Borrow Street. Ugh! How that
startled moment, when the girl had pressed herself against him in the
dark, and her terror-stricken whisper: “Oh! Who is it?” leaped out
before him! Always that business--that ghastly business! After the trial
he would have another try to get them both away. And he thrust his arm
within his young daughter’s, hurrying her on, out of this street where
shadows filled all the winter air.

But that evening when she had gone to bed he felt uncontrollably
restless. He had not seen Larry for weeks. What was he about? What
desperations were hatching in his disorderly brain? Was he very
miserable; had he perhaps sunk into a stupor of debauchery? And the
old feeling of protectiveness rose up in him; a warmth born of long ago
Christmas Eves, when they had stockings hung out in the night stuffed by
a Santa Claus, whose hand never failed to tuck them up, whose kiss was
their nightly waft into sleep.

Stars were sparkling out there over the river; the sky frosty-clear, and
black. Bells had not begun to ring as yet. And obeying an obscure, deep
impulse, Keith wrapped himself once more into his fur coat, pulled a
motoring cap over his eyes, and sallied forth. In the Strand he took a
cab to Fitzroy Street. There was no light in Larry’s windows, and on a
card he saw the words “To Let.” Gone! Had he after all cleared out for
good? But how-without money? And the girl? Bells were ringing now in
the silent frostiness. Christmas Eve! And Keith thought: ‘If only this
wretched business were off my mind! Monstrous that one should suffer for
the faults of others!’ He took a route which led him past Borrow Street.
Solitude brooded there, and he walked resolutely down on the far side,
looking hard at the girl’s window. There was a light. The curtains just
failed to meet, so that a thin gleam shone through. He crossed; and
after glancing swiftly up and down, deliberately peered in.

He only stood there perhaps twenty seconds, but visual records gleaned
in a moment sometimes outlast the visions of hours and days. The
electric light was not burning; but, in the centre of the room the girl
was kneeling in her nightgown before a little table on which were four
lighted candles. Her arms were crossed on her breast; the candle-light
shone on her fair cropped hair, on the profile of cheek and chin, on her
bowed white neck. For a moment he thought her alone; then behind her
saw his brother in a sleeping suit, leaning against the wall, with arms
crossed, watching. It was the expression on his face which burned the
whole thing in, so that always afterwards he was able to see that little
scene--such an expression as could never have been on the face of one
even faintly conscious that he was watched by any living thing on earth.
The whole of Larry’s heart and feeling seemed to have come up out of
him. Yearning, mockery, love, despair! The depth of his feeling for this
girl, his stress of mind, fears, hopes; the flotsam good and evil of
his soul, all transfigured there, exposed and unforgettable. The
candle-light shone upward on to his face, twisted by the strangest
smile; his eyes, darker and more wistful than mortal eyes should be,
seemed to beseech and mock the white-clad girl, who, all unconscious,
knelt without movement, like a carved figure of devotion. The words
seemed coming from his lips: “Pray for us! Bravo! Yes! Pray for us!” And
suddenly Keith saw her stretch out her arms, and lift her face with a
look of ecstasy, and Laurence starting forward. What had she seen beyond
the candle flames? It is the unexpected which invests visions with
poignancy. Nothing more strange could Keith have seen in this nest of
the murky and illicit. But in sheer panic lest he might be caught thus
spying he drew back and hurried on. So Larry was living there with her!
When the moment came he could still find him.

Before going in, he stood full five minutes leaning on the terrace
parapet before his house, gazing at the star-frosted sky, and the
river cut by the trees into black pools, oiled over by gleams from
the Embankment lamps. And, deep down, behind his mere thoughts, he
ached-somehow, somewhere ached. Beyond the cage of all that he saw and
heard and thought, he had perceived something he could not reach. But
the night was cold, the bells silent, for it had struck twelve. Entering
his house, he stole upstairs.



VII

If for Keith those six weeks before the Glove Lane murder trial came on
were fraught with uneasiness and gloom, they were for Laurence almost
the happiest since his youth. From the moment when he left his rooms
and went to the girl’s to live, a kind of peace and exaltation took
possession of him. Not by any effort of will did he throw off the
nightmare hanging over him. Nor was he drugged by love. He was in a sort
of spiritual catalepsy. In face of fate too powerful for his will, his
turmoil, anxiety, and even restlessness had ceased; his life floated in
the ether of “what must come, will.” Out of this catalepsy, his spirit
sometimes fell headlong into black waters. In one such whirlpool he was
struggling on the night of Christmas Eve. When the girl rose from her
knees he asked her:

“What did you see?”

Pressing close to him, she drew him down on to the floor before the
fire; and they sat, knees drawn up, hands clasped, like two children
trying to see over the edge of the world.

“It was the Virgin I saw. She stood against the wall and smiled. We
shall be happy soon.”

“When we die, Wanda,” he said, suddenly, “let it be together. We shall
keep each other warm, out there.”

Huddling to him she whispered: “Yes, oh, yes! If you die, I could not go
on living.”

It was this utter dependence on him, the feeling that he had rescued
something, which gave him sense of anchorage. That, and his buried life
in the retreat of these two rooms. Just for an hour in the morning, from
nine to ten, the charwoman would come, but not another soul all day.
They never went out together. He would stay in bed late, while Wanda
bought what they needed for the day’s meals; lying on his back, hands
clasped behind his head, recalling her face, the movements of her slim,
rounded, supple figure, robing itself before his gaze; feeling again the
kiss she had left on his lips, the gleam of her soft eyes, so strangely
dark in so fair a face. In a sort of trance he would lie till she came
back. Then get up to breakfast about noon off things which she had
cooked, drinking coffee. In the afternoon he would go out alone and
walk for hours, any where, so long as it was East. To the East there
was always suffering to be seen, always that which soothed him with the
feeling that he and his troubles were only a tiny part of trouble; that
while so many other sorrowing and shadowy creatures lived he was not
cut off. To go West was to encourage dejection. In the West all was like
Keith, successful, immaculate, ordered, resolute. He would come back
tired out, and sit watching her cook their little dinner. The evenings
were given up to love. Queer trance of an existence, which both were
afraid to break. No sign from her of wanting those excitements which
girls who have lived her life, even for a few months, are supposed to
need. She never asked him to take her anywhere; never, in word, deed,
look, seemed anything but almost rapturously content. And yet he knew,
and she knew, that they were only waiting to see whether Fate would
turn her thumb down on them. In these days he did not drink. Out of his
quarter’s money, when it came in, he had paid his debts--their expenses
were very small. He never went to see Keith, never wrote to him, hardly
thought of him. And from those dread apparitions--Walenn lying with
the breath choked out of him, and the little grey, driven animal in the
dock--he hid, as only a man can who must hide or be destroyed. But daily
he bought a newspaper, and feverishly, furtively scanned its columns.



VIII

Coming out of the Law Courts on the afternoon of January 28th, at the
triumphant end of a desperately fought will case, Keith saw on a poster
the words: “Glove Lane Murder: Trial and Verdict”; and with a rush of
dismay he thought: ‘Good God! I never looked at the paper this morning!’
The elation which had filled him a second before, the absorption he had
felt for two days now in the case so hardly won, seemed suddenly quite
sickeningly trivial. What on earth had he been doing to forget that
horrible business even for an instant? He stood quite still on the
crowded pavement, unable, really unable, to buy a paper. But his face
was like a piece of iron when he did step forward and hold his penny
out. There it was in the Stop Press! “Glove Lane Murder. The jury
returned a verdict of Guilty. Sentence of death was passed.”

His first sensation was simple irritation. How had they come to commit
such an imbecility? Monstrous! The evidence--! Then the futility of even
reading the report, of even considering how they had come to record such
a verdict struck him with savage suddenness. There it was, and nothing
he could do or say would alter it; no condemnation of this idiotic
verdict would help reverse it. The situation was desperate, indeed! That
five minutes’ walk from the Law Courts to his chambers was the longest
he had ever taken.

Men of decided character little know beforehand what they will do in
certain contingencies. For the imaginations of decided people do not
endow mere contingencies with sufficient actuality. Keith had never
really settled what he was going to do if this man were condemned. Often
in those past weeks he had said to himself: “Of course, if they bring
him in guilty, that’s another thing!” But, now that they had, he was
beset by exactly the same old arguments and feelings, the same instincts
of loyalty and protection towards Laurence and himself, intensified by
the fearful imminence of the danger. And yet, here was this man about
to be hung for a thing he had not done! Nothing could get over that!
But then he was such a worthless vagabond, a ghoul who had robbed a
dead body. If Larry were condemned in his stead, would there be any less
miscarriage of justice? To strangle a brute who had struck you, by the
accident of keeping your hands on his throat a few seconds too long, was
there any more guilt in that--was there even as much, as in deliberate
theft from a dead man? Reverence for order, for justice, and established
fact, will, often march shoulder to shoulder with Jesuitry in natures to
whom success is vital.

In the narrow stone passage leading to his staircase, a friend had
called out: “Bravo, Darrant! That was a squeak! Congratulations!” And
with a bitter little smile Keith thought: ‘Congratulations! I!’

At the first possible moment the hurried back to the Strand, and hailing
a cab, he told the man to put him down at a turning near to Borrow
Street.

It was the girl who opened to his knock. Startled, clasping her hands,
she looked strange to Keith in her black skirt and blouse of some soft
velvety stuff the colour of faded roses. Her round, rather long throat
was bare; and Keith noticed fretfully that she wore gold earrings. Her
eyes, so pitch dark against her white face, and the short fair hair,
which curled into her neck, seemed both to search and to plead.

“My brother?”

“He is not in, sir, yet.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“No.”

“He is living with you here now?”

“Yes.”

“Are you still as fond of him as ever, then?”

With a movement, as though she despaired of words, she clasped her hands
over her heart. And he said:

“I see.”

He had the same strange feeling as on his first visit to her, and when
through the chink in the curtains he had watched her kneeling--of pity
mingled with some faint sexual emotion. And crossing to the fire he
asked:

“May I wait for him?”

“Oh! Please! Will you sit down?”

But Keith shook his head. And with a catch in her breath, she said:

“You will not take him from me. I should die.”

He turned round on her sharply.

“I don’t want him taken from you. I want to help you keep him. Are you
ready to go away, at any time?”

“Yes. Oh, yes!”

“And he?”

She answered almost in a whisper:

“Yes; but there is that poor man.”

“That poor man is a graveyard thief; a hyena; a ghoul--not worth
consideration.” And the rasp in his own voice surprised him.

“Ah!” she sighed. “But I am sorry for him. Perhaps he was hungry. I have
been hungry--you do things then that you would not. And perhaps he has
no one to love; if you have no one to love you can be very bad. I think
of him often--in prison.”

Between his teeth Keith muttered: “And Laurence?”

“We do never speak of it, we are afraid.”

“He’s not told you, then, about the trial?”

Her eyes dilated.

“The trial! Oh! He was strange last night. This morning, too, he got up
early. Is it-is it over?”

“Yes.”

“What has come?”

“Guilty.”

For a moment Keith thought she was going to faint. She had closed her
eyes, and swayed so that he took a step, and put his hands on her arms.

“Listen!” he said. “Help me; don’t let Laurence out of your sight. We
must have time. I must see what they intend to do. They can’t be going
to hang this man. I must have time, I tell you. You must prevent his
giving himself up.”

She stood, staring in his face, while he still held her arms, gripping
into her soft flesh through the velvety sleeves.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes-but if he has already!”

Keith felt the shiver which ran through her. And the thought rushed into
his mind: ‘My God! Suppose the police come round while I’m here!’ If
Larry had indeed gone to them! If that Policeman who had seen him here
the night after the murder should find him here again just after the
verdict! He said almost fiercely:

“Can I trust you not to let Larry out of your sight? Quick! Answer!”

Clasping her hands to her breast, she answered humbly:

“I will try.”

“If he hasn’t already done this, watch him like a lynx! Don’t let him go
out without you. I’ll come to-morrow morning early. You’re a Catholic,
aren’t you? Swear to me that you won’t let him do anything till he’s
seen me again.”

She did not answer, looking past him at the door; and Keith heard a key
in the latch. There was Laurence himself, holding in his hand a great
bunch of pink lilies and white narcissi. His face was pale and haggard.
He said quietly:

“Hallo, Keith!”

The girl’s eyes were fastened on Larry’s face; and Keith, looking from
one to the other, knew that he had never had more need for wariness.

“Have you seen?” he said.

Laurence nodded. His expression, as a rule so tell-tale of his emotions,
baffled Keith utterly.

“Well?”

“I’ve been expecting it.”

“The thing can’t stand--that’s certain. But I must have time to look
into the report. I must have time to see what I can do. D’you understand
me, Larry--I must have time.” He knew he was talking at random. The only
thing was to get them away at once out of reach of confession; but he
dared not say so.

“Promise me that you’ll do nothing, that you won’t go out even till I’ve
seen you to-morrow morning.”

Again Laurence nodded. And Keith looked at the girl. Would she see that
he did not break that promise? Her eyes were still fixed immovably on
Larry’s face. And with the feeling that he could get no further, Keith
turned to go.

“Promise me,” he said.

Laurence answered: “I promise.”

He was smiling. Keith could make nothing of that smile, nor of the
expression in the girl’s eyes. And saying: “I have your promise, I rely
on it!” he went.



IX

To keep from any woman who loves, knowledge of her lover’s mood, is as
hard as to keep music from moving the heart. But when that woman has
lived in suffering, and for the first time knows the comfort of love,
then let the lover try as he may to disguise his heart--no use! Yet by
virtue of subtler abnegation she will often succeed in keeping it from
him that she knows.

When Keith was gone the girl made no outcry, asked no questions, managed
that Larry should not suspect her intuition; all that evening she acted
as if she knew of nothing preparing within him, and through him, within
herself.

His words, caresses, the very zest with which he helped her to prepare
the feast, the flowers he had brought, the wine he made her drink, the
avoidance of any word which could spoil their happiness, all--all told
her. He was too inexorably gay and loving. Not for her--to whom every
word and every kiss had uncannily the desperate value of a last word
and kiss--not for her to deprive herself of these by any sign or gesture
which might betray her prescience. Poor soul--she took all, and would
have taken more, a hundredfold. She did not want to drink the wine he
kept tilting into her glass, but, with the acceptance learned by women
who have lived her life, she did not refuse. She had never refused
him anything. So much had been required of her by the detestable, that
anything required by a loved one was but an honour.

Laurence drank deeply; but he had never felt clearer, never seen things
more clearly. The wine gave him what he wanted, an edge to these few
hours of pleasure, an exaltation of energy. It dulled his sense of pity,
too. It was pity he was afraid of--for himself, and for this girl.
To make even this tawdry room look beautiful, with firelight and
candlelight, dark amber wine in the glasses, tall pink lilies spilling
their saffron, exuding their hot perfume he and even himself must look
their best. And with a weight as of lead on her heart, she managed that
for him, letting him strew her with flowers and crush them together with
herself. Not even music was lacking to their feast. Someone was playing
a pianola across the street, and the sound, very faint, came stealing
when they were silent--swelling, sinking, festive, mournful; having a
far-off life of its own, like the flickering fire-flames before which
they lay embraced, or the lilies delicate between the candles. Listening
to that music, tracing with his finger the tiny veins on her breast, he
lay like one recovering from a swoon. No parting. None! But sleep, as
the firelight sleeps when flames die; as music sleeps on its deserted
strings.

And the girl watched him.

It was nearly ten when he bade her go to bed. And after she had gone
obedient into the bedroom, he brought ink and paper down by the fire.
The drifter, the unstable, the good-for-nothing--did not falter. He had
thought, when it came to the point, he would fail himself; but a sort
of rage bore him forward. If he lived on, and confessed, they would shut
him up, take from him the one thing he loved, cut him off from her; sand
up his only well in the desert. Curse them! And he wrote by firelight
which mellowed the white sheets of paper; while, against the dark
curtain, the girl, in her nightgown, unconscious of the cold, stood
watching.

Men, when they drown, remember their pasts. Like the lost poet he had
“gone with the wind.” Now it was for him to be true in his fashion. A
man may falter for weeks and weeks, consciously, subconsciously, even in
his dreams, till there comes that moment when the only thing impossible
is to go on faltering. The black cap, the little driven grey man looking
up at it with a sort of wonder--faltering had ceased!

He had finished now, and was but staring into the fire.

         “No more, no more, the moon is dead,
          And all the people in it;
          The poppy maidens strew the bed,
          We’ll come in half a minute.”

Why did doggerel start up in the mind like that? Wanda! The weed-flower
become so rare he would not be parted from her! The fire, the candles,
and the fire--no more the flame and flicker!

And, by the dark curtain, the girl watched.



X

Keith went, not home, but to his club; and in the room devoted to the
reception of guests, empty at this hour, he sat down and read the report
of the trial. The fools had made out a case that looked black enough.
And for a long time, on the thick soft carpet which let out no sound
of footfall, he paced up and down, thinking. He might see the defending
counsel, might surely do that as an expert who thought there had been
miscarriage of justice. They must appeal; a petition too might be
started in the last event. The thing could--must be put right yet, if
only Larry and that girl did nothing!

He had no appetite, but the custom of dining is too strong. And while he
ate, he glanced with irritation at his fellow-members. They looked so at
their ease. Unjust--that this black cloud should hang over one blameless
as any of them! Friends, connoisseurs of such things--a judge among
them--came specially to his table to express their admiration of his
conduct of that will case. Tonight he had real excuse for pride, but he
felt none. Yet, in this well-warmed quietly glowing room, filled with
decorously eating, decorously talking men, he gained insensibly some
comfort. This surely was reality; that shadowy business out there only
the drear sound of a wind one must and did keep out--like the poverty
and grime which had no real existence for the secure and prosperous. He
drank champagne. It helped to fortify reality, to make shadows seem more
shadowy. And down in the smoking-room he sat before the fire, in one of
those chairs which embalm after-dinner dreams. He grew sleepy there, and
at eleven o’clock rose to go home. But when he had once passed down the
shallow marble steps, out through the revolving door which let in no
draughts, he was visited by fear, as if he had drawn it in with the
breath of the January wind. Larry’s face; and the girl watching it! Why
had she watched like that? Larry’s smile; and the flowers in his hand?
Buying flowers at such a moment! The girl was his slave-whatever he told
her, she would do. But she would never be able to stop him. At this very
moment he might be rushing to give himself up!

His hand, thrust deep into the pocket of his fur coat, came in contact
suddenly with something cold. The keys Larry had given him all that time
ago. There they had lain forgotten ever since. The chance touch decided
him. He turned off towards Borrow Street, walking at full speed. He
could but go again and see. He would sleep better if he knew that he had
left no stone unturned. At the corner of that dismal street he had to
wait for solitude before he made for the house which he now loathed with
a deadly loathing. He opened the outer door and shut it to behind him.
He knocked, but no one came. Perhaps they had gone to bed. Again and
again he knocked, then opened the door, stepped in, and closed it
carefully. Candles lighted, the fire burning; cushions thrown on the
floor in front of it and strewn with flowers! The table, too, covered
with flowers and with the remnants of a meal. Through the half-drawn
curtain he could see that the inner room was also lighted. Had they gone
out, leaving everything like this? Gone out! His heart beat. Bottles!
Larry had been drinking!

Had it really come? Must he go back home with this murk on him; knowing
that his brother was a confessed and branded murderer? He went quickly,
to the half-drawn curtains and looked in. Against the wall he saw a bed,
and those two in it. He recoiled in sheer amazement and relief. Asleep
with curtains undrawn, lights left on? Asleep through all his knocking!
They must both be drunk. The blood rushed up in his neck. Asleep! And
rushing forward again, he called out: “Larry!” Then, with a gasp he went
towards the bed. “Larry!” No answer! No movement! Seizing his brother’s
shoulder, he shook it violently. It felt cold. They were lying in each
other’s arms, breast to breast, lips to lips, their faces white in the
light shining above the dressing-table. And such a shudder shook Keith
that he had to grasp the brass rail above their heads. Then he bent
down, and wetting his finger, placed it close to their joined lips. No
two could ever swoon so utterly as that; not even a drunken sleep could
be so fast. His wet finger felt not the faintest stir of air, nor was
there any movement in the pulses of their hands. No breath! No life! The
eyes of the girl were closed. How strangely innocent she looked! Larry’s
open eyes seemed to be gazing at her shut eyes; but Keith saw that they
were sightless. With a sort of sob he drew down the lids. Then, by
an impulse that he could never have explained, he laid a hand on his
brother’s head, and a hand on the girl’s fair hair. The clothes had
fallen down a little from her bare shoulder; he pulled them up, as if
to keep her warm, and caught the glint of metal; a tiny gilt crucifix
no longer than a thumbnail, on a thread of steel chain, had slipped down
from her breast into the hollow of the arm which lay round Larry’s neck.
Keith buried it beneath the clothes and noticed an envelope pinned to
the coverlet; bending down, he read: “Please give this at once to the
police.--LAURENCE DARRANT.” He thrust it into his pocket. Like
elastic stretched beyond its uttermost, his reason, will, faculties
of calculation and resolve snapped to within him. He thought with
incredible swiftness: ‘I must know nothing of this. I must go!’ And,
almost before he knew that he had moved, he was out again in the street.

He could never have told of what he thought while he was walking home.
He did not really come to himself till he was in his study. There, with
a trembling hand, he poured himself out whisky and drank it off. If he
had not chanced to go there, the charwoman would have found them when
she came in the morning, and given that envelope to the police! He took
it out. He had a right--a right to know what was in it! He broke it
open.


“I, Laurence Darrant, about to die by my own hand, declare that this
is a solemn and true confession. I committed what is known as the Glove
Lane Murder on the night of November the 27th last in the following
way”--on and on to the last words--“We didn’t want to die; but we could
not bear separation, and I couldn’t face letting an innocent man be
hung for me. I do not see any other way. I beg that there may be no
postmortem on our bodies. The stuff we have taken is some of that which
will be found on the dressing-table. Please bury us together.

“LAURENCE DARRANT.

“January the 28th, about ten o’clock p.m.”


Full five minutes Keith stood with those sheets of paper in his hand,
while the clock ticked, the wind moaned a little in the trees outside,
the flames licked the logs with the quiet click and ruffle of their
intense far-away life down there on the hearth. Then he roused himself,
and sat down to read the whole again.

There it was, just as Larry had told it to him-nothing left out, very
clear; even to the addresses of people who could identify the girl as
having once been Walenn’s wife or mistress. It would convince. Yes! It
would convince.

The sheets dropped from his hand. Very slowly he was grasping the
appalling fact that on the floor beside his chair lay the life or death
of yet another man; that by taking this confession he had taken into his
own hands the fate of the vagabond lying under sentence of death; that
he could not give him back his life without incurring the smirch of this
disgrace, without even endangering himself. If he let this confession
reach the authorities, he could never escape the gravest suspicion that
he had known of the whole affair during these two months. He would have
to attend the inquest, be recognised by that policeman as having come to
the archway to see where the body had lain, as having visited the
girl the very evening after the murder. Who would believe in the mere
coincidence of such visits on the part of the murderer’s brother. But
apart from that suspicion, the fearful scandal which so sensational an
affair must make would mar his career, his life, his young daughter’s
life! Larry’s suicide with this girl would make sensation enough as it
was; but nothing to that other. Such a death had its romance; involved
him in no way save as a mourner, could perhaps even be hushed up! The
other--nothing could hush that up, nothing prevent its ringing to the
house-tops. He got up from his chair, and for many minutes roamed the
room unable to get his mind to bear on the issue. Images kept starting
up before him. The face of the man who handed him wig and gown each
morning, puffy and curious, with a leer on it he had never noticed
before; his young daughter’s lifted eyebrows, mouth drooping, eyes
troubled; the tiny gilt crucifix glinting in the hollow of the dead
girl’s arm; the sightless look in Larry’s unclosed eyes; even his own
thumb and finger pulling the lids down. And then he saw a street and
endless people passing, turning to stare at him. And, stopping in his
tramp, he said aloud: “Let them go to hell! Seven days’ wonder!” Was he
not trustee to that confession! Trustee! After all he had done nothing
to be ashamed of, even if he had kept knowledge dark. A brother! Who
could blame him? And he picked up those sheets of paper. But, like
a great murky hand, the scandal spread itself about him; its coarse
malignant voice seemed shouting: “Paiper!... Paiper!... Glove Lane
Murder!... Suicide and confession of brother of well-known K.C.....
Well-known K.C.’. brother.... Murder and suicide.... Paiper!” Was he
to let loose that flood of foulness? Was he, who had done nothing, to
smirch his own little daughter’s life; to smirch his dead brother, their
dead mother--himself, his own valuable, important future? And all for
a sewer rat! Let him hang, let the fellow hang if he must! And that was
not certain. Appeal! Petition! He might--he should be saved! To have got
thus far, and then, by his own action, topple himself down!

With a sudden darting movement he thrust the confession in among the
burning coals. And a smile licked at the folds in his dark face,
like those flames licking the sheets of paper, till they writhed and
blackened. With the toe of his boot he dispersed their scorched and
crumbling wafer. Stamp them in! Stamp in that man’s life! Burnt! No more
doubts, no more of this gnawing fear! Burnt? A man--an innocent-sewer
rat! Recoiling from the fire he grasped his forehead. It was burning hot
and seemed to be going round.

Well, it was done! Only fools without will or purpose regretted. And
suddenly he laughed. So Larry had died for nothing! He had no will,
no purpose, and was dead! He and that girl might now have been living,
loving each other in the warm night, away at the other end of the
world, instead of lying dead in the cold night here! Fools and weaklings
regretted, suffered from conscience and remorse. A man trod firmly, held
to his purpose, no matter what!

He went to the window and drew back the curtain. What was that? A gibbet
in the air, a body hanging? Ah! Only the trees--the dark trees--the
winter skeleton trees! Recoiling, he returned to his armchair and sat
down before the fire. It had been shining like that, the lamp turned
low, his chair drawn up, when Larry came in that afternoon two months
ago. Bah! He had never come at all! It was a nightmare. He had been
asleep. How his head burned! And leaping up, he looked at the calendar
on his bureau. “January the 28th!” No dream! His face hardened and
darkened. On! Not like Larry! On! 1914.



A STOIC

I

1

         “Aequam memento rebus in arduis
          Servare mentem:”--Horace.

In the City of Liverpool, on a January day of 1905, the Board-room of
“The Island Navigation Company” rested, as it were, after the labours
of the afternoon. The long table was still littered with the ink, pens,
blotting-paper, and abandoned documents of six persons--a deserted
battlefield of the brain. And, lonely, in his chairman’s seat at the top
end old Sylvanus Heythorp sat, with closed eyes, still and heavy as an
image. One puffy, feeble hand, whose fingers quivered, rested on the arm
of his chair; the thick white hair on his massive head glistened in the
light from a green-shaded lamp. He was not asleep, for every now and
then his sanguine cheeks filled, and a sound, half sigh, half grunt,
escaped his thick lips between a white moustache and the tiny tuft of
white hairs above his cleft chin. Sunk in the chair, that square thick
trunk of a body in short black-braided coat seemed divested of all neck.

Young Gilbert Farney, secretary of “The Island Navigation Company,”
 entering his hushed Board-room, stepped briskly to the table,
gathered some papers, and stood looking at his chairman. Not more than
thirty-five, with the bright hues of the optimist in his hair, beard,
cheeks, and eyes, he had a nose and lips which curled ironically. For,
in his view, he was the Company; and its Board did but exist to chequer
his importance. Five days in the week for seven hours a day he wrote,
and thought, and wove the threads of its business, and this lot came
down once a week for two or three hours, and taught their grandmother
to suck eggs. But watching that red-cheeked, white-haired, somnolent
figure, his smile was not so contemptuous as might have been expected.
For after all, the chairman was a wonderful old boy. A man of go and
insight could not but respect him. Eighty! Half paralysed, over head and
ears in debt, having gone the pace all his life--or so they said!--till
at last that mine in Ecuador had done for him--before the secretary’s
day, of course, but he had heard of it. The old chap had bought it up
on spec’--“de l’audace, toujours de l’audace,” as he was so fond of
saying--paid for it half in cash and half in promises, and then--the
thing had turned out empty, and left him with L20,000 worth of the old
shares unredeemed. The old boy had weathered it out without a bankruptcy
so far. Indomitable old buffer; and never fussy like the rest of them!
Young Farney, though a secretary, was capable of attachment; and his
eyes expressed a pitying affection. The Board meeting had been long and
“snadgy”--a final settling of that Pillin business. Rum go the chairman
forcing it on them like this! And with quiet satisfaction the secretary
thought ‘And he never would have got it through if I hadn’t made up my
mind that it really is good business!’ For to expand the company was
to expand himself. Still, to buy four ships with the freight market
so depressed was a bit startling, and there would be opposition at
the general meeting. Never mind! He and the chairman could put it
through--put it through. And suddenly he saw the old man looking at him.

Only from those eyes could one appreciate the strength of life yet
flowing underground in that well-nigh helpless carcase--deep-coloured
little blue wells, tiny, jovial, round windows.

A sigh travelled up through layers of flesh, and he said almost
inaudibly:

“Have they come, Mr. Farney?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve put them in the transfer office; said you’d be with them
in a minute; but I wasn’t going to wake you.”

“Haven’t been asleep. Help me up.”

Grasping the edge of the table with his trembling hands, the old man
pulled, and, with Farney heaving him behind, attained his feet. He stood
about five feet ten, and weighed fully fourteen stone; not corpulent,
but very thick all through; his round and massive head alone would have
outweighed a baby. With eyes shut, he seemed to be trying to get the
better of his own weight, then he moved with the slowness of a barnacle
towards the door. The secretary, watching him, thought: ‘Marvellous old
chap! How he gets about by himself is a miracle! And he can’t retire,
they say-lives on his fees!’

But the chairman was through the green baize door. At his tortoise gait
he traversed the inner office, where the youthful clerks suspended their
figuring--to grin behind his back--and entered the transfer office,
where eight gentlemen were sitting. Seven rose, and one did not. Old
Heythorp raised a saluting hand to the level of his chest and moving to
an arm-chair, lowered himself into it.

“Well, gentlemen?”

One of the eight gentlemen got up again.

“Mr. Heythorp, we’ve appointed Mr. Brownbee to voice our views. Mr.
Brownbee!” And down he sat.

Mr. Brownbee rose a stoutish man some seventy years of age, with little
grey side whiskers, and one of those utterly steady faces only to be
seen in England, faces which convey the sense of business from father
to son for generations; faces which make wars, and passion, and free
thought seem equally incredible; faces which inspire confidence, and
awaken in one a desire to get up and leave the room. Mr. Brownbee rose,
and said in a suave voice:

“Mr. Heythorp, we here represent about L14,000. When we had the pleasure
of meeting you last July, you will recollect that you held out a
prospect of some more satisfactory arrangement by Christmas. We are now
in January, and I am bound to say we none of us get younger.”

From the depths of old Heythorp a preliminary rumble came travelling,
reached the surface, and materialised--

“Don’t know about you--feel a boy, myself.”

The eight gentlemen looked at him. Was he going to try and put them off
again? Mr. Brownbee said with unruffled calm:

“I’m sure we’re very glad to hear it. But to come to the point. We
have felt, Mr. Heythorp, and I’m sure you won’t think it unreasonable,
that--er--bankruptcy would be the most satisfactory solution. We have
waited a long time, and we want to know definitely where we stand; for,
to be quite frank, we don’t see any prospect of improvement; indeed, we
fear the opposite.”

“You think I’m going to join the majority.”

This plumping out of what was at the back of their minds produced in
Mr. Brownbee and his colleagues a sort of chemical disturbance. They
coughed, moved their feet, and turned away their eyes, till the one who
had not risen, a solicitor named Ventnor, said bluffly:

“Well, put it that way if you like.”

Old Heythorp’s little deep eyes twinkled.

“My grandfather lived to be a hundred; my father ninety-six--both of
them rips. I’m only eighty, gentlemen; blameless life compared with
theirs.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Brownbee said, “we hope you have many years of this life
before you.”

“More of this than of another.” And a silence fell, till old Heythorp
added: “You’re getting a thousand a year out of my fees. Mistake to kill
the goose that lays the golden eggs. I’ll make it twelve hundred. If you
force me to resign my directorships by bankruptcy, you won’t get a rap,
you know.”

Mr. Brownbee cleared his throat:

“We think, Mr. Heythorp, you should make it at least fifteen hundred. In
that case we might perhaps consider--”

Old Heythorp shook his head.

“We can hardly accept your assertion that we should get nothing in the
event of bankruptcy. We fancy you greatly underrate the possibilities.
Fifteen hundred a year is the least you can do for us.”

“See you d---d first.”

Another silence followed, then Ventnor, the solicitor, said irascibly:

“We know where we are, then.”

Brownbee added almost nervously:

“Are we to understand that twelve hundred a year is your--your last
word?”

Old Heythorp nodded. “Come again this day month, and I’ll see what I can
do for you;” and he shut his eyes.

Round Mr. Brownbee six of the gentlemen gathered, speaking in low
voices; Mr. Ventnor nursed a leg and glowered at old Heythorp, who sat
with his eyes closed. Mr. Brownbee went over and conferred with Mr.
Ventnor, then clearing his throat, he said:

“Well, sir, we have considered your proposal; we agree to accept it for
the moment. We will come again, as you suggest, in a month’s time.

“We hope that you will by then have seen your way to something more
substantial, with a view to avoiding what we should all regret, but
which I fear will otherwise become inevitable.”

Old Heythorp nodded. The eight gentlemen took their hats, and went out
one by one, Mr. Brownbee courteously bringing up the rear.

The old man, who could not get up without assistance, stayed musing in
his chair. He had diddled ‘em for the moment into giving him another
month, and when that month was up-he would diddle ‘em again! A month
ought to make the Pillin business safe, with all that hung on it. That
poor funkey chap Joe Pillin! A gurgling chuckle escaped his red lips.
What a shadow the fellow had looked, trotting in that evening just a
month ago, behind his valet’s announcement: “Mr. Pillin, sir.”

What a parchmenty, precise, thread-paper of a chap, with his bird’s claw
of a hand, and his muffled-up throat, and his quavery:

“How do you do, Sylvanus? I’m afraid you’re not--”

“First rate. Sit down. Have some port.”

“Port! I never drink it. Poison to me! Poison!”

“Do you good!”

“Oh! I know, that’s what you always say.”

“You’ve a monstrous constitution, Sylvanus. If I drank port and smoked
cigars and sat up till one o’clock, I should be in my grave to-morrow.
I’m not the man I was. The fact is, I’ve come to see if you can help me.
I’m getting old; I’m growing nervous....”

“You always were as chickeny as an old hen, Joe.”

“Well, my nature’s not like yours. To come to the point, I want to sell
my ships and retire. I need rest. Freights are very depressed. I’ve got
my family to think of.”

“Crack on, and go broke; buck you up like anything!”

“I’m quite serious, Sylvanus.”

“Never knew you anything else, Joe.”

A quavering cough, and out it had come:

“Now--in a word--won’t your ‘Island Navigation Company’ buy my ships?”

A pause, a twinkle, a puff of smoke. “Make it worth my while!” He
had said it in jest; and then, in a flash, the idea had come to him.
Rosamund and her youngsters! What a chance to put something between them
and destitution when he had joined the majority! And so he said: “We
don’t want your silly ships.”

That claw of a hand waved in deprecation. “They’re very good
ships--doing quite well. It’s only my wretched health. If I were a
strong man I shouldn’t dream....”

“What d’you want for ‘em?” Good Lord! how he jumped if you asked him a
plain question. The chap was as nervous as a guinea-fowl!

“Here are the figures--for the last four years. I think you’ll agree
that I couldn’t ask less than seventy thousand.”

Through the smoke of his cigar old Heythorp had digested those figures
slowly, Joe Pillin feeling his teeth and sucking lozenges the while;
then he said:

“Sixty thousand! And out of that you pay me ten per cent., if I get it
through for you. Take it or leave it.”

“My dear Sylvanus, that’s almost-cynical.”

“Too good a price--you’ll never get it without me.”

“But a--but a commission! You could never disclose it!”

“Arrange that all right. Think it over. Freights’ll go lower yet. Have
some port.”

“No, no! Thank you. No! So you think freights will go lower?”

“Sure of it.”

“Well, I’ll be going. I’m sure I don’t know. It’s--it’s--I must think.”

“Think your hardest.”

“Yes, yes. Good-bye. I can’t imagine how you still go on smoking those
things and drinking port.

“See you in your grave yet, Joe.” What a feeble smile the poor fellow
had! Laugh-he couldn’t! And, alone again, he had browsed, developing the
idea which had come to him.

Though, to dwell in the heart of shipping, Sylvanus Heythorp had lived
at Liverpool twenty years, he was from the Eastern Counties, of a
family so old that it professed to despise the Conquest. Each of its
generations occupied nearly twice as long as those of less tenacious
men. Traditionally of Danish origin, its men folk had as a rule bright
reddish-brown hair, red cheeks, large round heads, excellent teeth and
poor morals. They had done their best for the population of any county
in which they had settled; their offshoots swarmed. Born in the
early twenties of the nineteenth century, Sylvanus Heythorp, after an
education broken by escapades both at school and college, had fetched
up in that simple London of the late forties, where claret, opera, and
eight per cent. for your money ruled a cheery roost. Made partner in his
shipping firm well before he was thirty, he had sailed with a wet sheet
and a flowing tide; dancers, claret, Cliquot, and piquet; a cab with a
tiger; some travel--all that delicious early-Victorian consciousness of
nothing save a golden time. It was all so full and mellow that he was
forty before he had his only love affair of any depth--with the daughter
of one of his own clerks, a liaison so awkward as to necessitate a
sedulous concealment. The death of that girl, after three years, leaving
him a natural son, had been the chief, perhaps the only real, sorrow
of his life. Five years later he married. What for? God only knew! as
he was in the habit of remarking. His wife had been a hard, worldly,
well-connected woman, who presented him with two unnatural children,
a girl and a boy, and grew harder, more worldly, less handsome, in the
process. The migration to Liverpool, which took place when he was sixty
and she forty-two, broke what she still had of heart, but she lingered
on twelve years, finding solace in bridge, and being haughty towards
Liverpool. Old Heythorp saw her to her rest without regret. He had
felt no love for her whatever, and practically none for her two
children--they were in his view colourless, pragmatical, very unexpected
characters. His son Ernest--in the Admiralty--he thought a poor, careful
stick. His daughter Adela, an excellent manager, delighting in spiritual
conversation and the society of tame men, rarely failed to show him that
she considered him a hopeless heathen. They saw as little as need be of
each other. She was provided for under that settlement he had made on
her mother fifteen years ago, well before the not altogether unexpected
crisis in his affairs. Very different was the feeling he had bestowed
on that son of his “under the rose.” The boy, who had always gone by his
mother’s name of Larne, had on her death been sent to some relations of
hers in Ireland, and there brought up. He had been called to the Dublin
bar, and married, young, a girl half Cornish and half Irish; presently,
having cost old Heythorp in all a pretty penny, he had died impecunious,
leaving his fair Rosamund at thirty with a girl of eight and a boy of
five. She had not spent six months of widowhood before coming over from
Dublin to claim the old man’s guardianship. A remarkably pretty woman,
like a full-blown rose, with greenish hazel eyes, she had turned up one
morning at the offices of “The Island Navigation Company,” accompanied
by her two children--for he had never divulged to them his private
address. And since then they had always been more or less on his hands,
occupying a small house in a suburb of Liverpool. He visited them there,
but never asked them to the house in Sefton Park, which was in fact his
daughter’s; so that his proper family and friends were unaware of their
existence.

Rosamund Larne was one of those precarious ladies who make uncertain
incomes by writing full-bodied storyettes. In the most dismal
circumstances she enjoyed a buoyancy bordering on the indecent; which
always amused old Heythorp’s cynicism. But of his grandchildren Phyllis
and Jock (wild as colts) he had become fond. And this chance of getting
six thousand pounds settled on them at a stroke had seemed to him
nothing but heaven-sent. As things were, if he “went off”--and, of
course, he might at any moment, there wouldn’t be a penny for them; for
he would “cut up” a good fifteen thousand to the bad. He was now giving
them some three hundred a year out of his fees; and dead directors
unfortunately earned no fees! Six thousand pounds at four and a half per
cent., settled so that their mother couldn’t “blue it,” would give them
a certain two hundred and fifty pounds a year-better than beggary. And
the more he thought the better he liked it, if only that shaky chap, Joe
Pillin, didn’t shy off when he’d bitten his nails short over it!

Four evenings later, the “shaky chap” had again appeared at his house in
Sefton Park.

“I’ve thought it over, Sylvanus. I don’t like it.

“No; but you’ll do it.”

“It’s a sacrifice. Fifty-four thousand for four ships--it means a
considerable reduction in my income.”

“It means security, my boy.”

“Well, there is that; but you know, I really can’t be party to a secret
commission. If it came out, think of my name and goodness knows what.”

“It won’t come out.”

“Yes, yes, so you say, but--”

“All you’ve got to do’s to execute a settlement on some third parties
that I’ll name. I’m not going to take a penny of it myself. Get your
own lawyer to draw it up and make him trustee. You can sign it when the
purchase has gone through. I’ll trust you, Joe. What stock have you got
that gives four and a half per cent.?”

“Midland”

“That’ll do. You needn’t sell.”

“Yes, but who are these people?”

“Woman and her children I want to do a good turn to.” What a face the
fellow had made! “Afraid of being connected with a woman, Joe?”

“Yes, you may laugh--I am afraid of being connected with someone else’s
woman. I don’t like it--I don’t like it at all. I’ve not led your life,
Sylvanus.”

“Lucky for you; you’d have been dead long ago. Tell your lawyer it’s an
old flame of yours--you old dog!”

“Yes, there it is at once, you see. I might be subject to blackmail.”

“Tell him to keep it dark, and just pay over the income, quarterly.”

“I don’t like it, Sylvanus--I don’t like it.”

“Then leave it, and be hanged to you. Have a cigar?”

“You know I never smoke. Is there no other way?”

“Yes. Sell stock in London, bank the proceeds there, and bring me six
thousand pounds in notes. I’ll hold ‘em till after the general meeting.
If the thing doesn’t go through, I’ll hand ‘em back to you.”

“No; I like that even less.”

“Rather I trusted you, eh!”

“No, not at all, Sylvanus, not at all. But it’s all playing round the
law.”

“There’s no law to prevent you doing what you like with your money. What
I do’s nothing to you. And mind you, I’m taking nothing from it--not a
mag. You assist the widowed and the fatherless--just your line, Joe!”

“What a fellow you are, Sylvanus; you don’t seem capable of taking
anything seriously.”

“Care killed the cat!”

Left alone after this second interview he had thought: ‘The beggar’ll
jump.’

And the beggar had. That settlement was drawn and only awaited
signature. The Board to-day had decided on the purchase; and all that
remained was to get it ratified at the general meeting. Let him but get
that over, and this provision for his grandchildren made, and he would
snap his fingers at Brownbee and his crew-the canting humbugs! “Hope you
have many years of this life before you!” As if they cared for anything
but his money--their money rather! And becoming conscious of the length
of his reverie, he grasped the arms of his chair, heaved at his own
bulk, in an effort to rise, growing redder and redder in face and neck.
It was one of the hundred things his doctor had told him not to do for
fear of apoplexy, the humbug! Why didn’t Farney or one of those young
fellows come and help him up? To call out was undignified. But was he to
sit there all night? Three times he failed, and after each failure sat
motionless again, crimson and exhausted; the fourth time he succeeded,
and slowly made for the office. Passing through, he stopped and said in
his extinct voice:

“You young gentlemen had forgotten me.”

“Mr. Farney said you didn’t wish to be disturbed, sir.”

“Very good of him. Give me my hat and coat.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you. What time is it?”

“Six o’clock, sir.”

“Tell Mr. Farney to come and see me tomorrow at noon, about my speech
for the general meeting.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good-night to you.”

“Good-night, Sir.”

At his tortoise gait he passed between the office stools to the door,
opened it feebly, and slowly vanished.

Shutting the door behind him, a clerk said:

“Poor old chairman! He’s on his last!”

Another answered:

“Gosh! He’s a tough old hulk. He’ll go down fightin’.”



2

Issuing from the offices of “The Island Navigation Company,” Sylvanus
Heythorp moved towards the corner whence he always took tram to Sefton
Park. The crowded street had all that prosperous air of catching or
missing something which characterises the town where London and New
York and Dublin meet. Old Heythorp had to cross to the far side, and he
sallied forth without regard to traffic. That snail-like passage had in
it a touch of the sublime; the old man seemed saying: “Knock me down and
be d---d to you--I’m not going to hurry.” His life was saved perhaps ten
times a day by the British character at large, compounded of phlegm and
a liking to take something under its protection. The tram conductors on
that line were especially used to him, never failing to catch him under
the arms and heave him like a sack of coals, while with trembling hands
he pulled hard at the rail and strap.

“All right, sir?”

“Thank you.”

He moved into the body of the tram, where somebody would always get up
from kindness and the fear that he might sit down on them; and there he
stayed motionless, his little eyes tight closed. With his red face, tuft
of white hairs above his square cleft block of shaven chin, and his big
high-crowned bowler hat, which yet seemed too petty for his head with
its thick hair--he looked like some kind of an idol dug up and decked
out in gear a size too small.

One of those voices of young men from public schools and exchanges where
things are bought and sold, said:

“How de do, Mr. Heythorp?”

Old Heythorp opened his eyes. That sleek cub, Joe Pillin’s son! What
a young pup-with his round eyes, and his round cheeks, and his little
moustache, his fur coat, his spats, his diamond pin!

“How’s your father?” he said.

“Thanks, rather below par, worryin’ about his ships. Suppose you haven’t
any news for him, sir?”

Old Heythorp nodded. The young man was one of his pet abominations,
embodying all the complacent, little-headed mediocrity of this new
generation; natty fellows all turned out of the same mould, sippers and
tasters, chaps without drive or capacity, without even vices; and he did
not intend to gratify the cub’s curiosity.

“Come to my house,” he said; “I’ll give you a note for him.”

“Tha-anks; I’d like to cheer the old man up.”

The old man! Cheeky brat! And closing his eyes he relapsed into
immobility. The tram wound and ground its upward way, and he mused. When
he was that cub’s age--twenty-eight or whatever it might be--he had done
most things; been up Vesuvius, driven four-in-hand, lost his last penny
on the Derby and won it back on the Oaks, known all the dancers and
operatic stars of the day, fought a duel with a Yankee at Dieppe and
winged him for saying through his confounded nose that Old England was
played out; been a controlling voice already in his shipping firm; drunk
five other of the best men in London under the table; broken his neck
steeple-chasing; shot a burglar in the legs; been nearly drowned, for a
bet; killed snipe in Chelsea; been to Court for his sins; stared a ghost
out of countenance; and travelled with a lady of Spain. If this young
pup had done the last, it would be all he had; and yet, no doubt, he
would call himself a “spark.”

The conductor touched his arm.

“‘Ere you are, sir.”

“Thank you.”

He lowered himself to the ground, and moved in the bluish darkness
towards the gate of his daughter’s house. Bob Pillin walked beside him,
thinking: ‘Poor old josser, he is gettin’ a back number!’ And he said:
“I should have thought you ought to drive, sir. My old guv’nor would
knock up at once if he went about at night like this.”

The answer rumbled out into the misty air:

“Your father’s got no chest; never had.”

Bob Pillin gave vent to one of those fat cackles which come so readily
from a certain type of man; and old Heythorp thought:

’.aughing at his father! Parrot!’

They had reached the porch.

A woman with dark hair and a thin, straight face and figure was
arranging some flowers in the hall. She turned and said:

“You really ought not to be so late, Father! It’s wicked at this time of
year. Who is it--oh! Mr. Pillin, how do you do? Have you had tea? Won’t
you come to the drawing-room; or do you want to see my father?”

“Tha-anks! I believe your father--” And he thought: ‘By Jove! the old
chap is a caution!’ For old Heythorp was crossing the hall without
having paid the faintest attention to his daughter. Murmuring again:

“Tha-anks awfully; he wants to give me something,” he followed. Miss
Heythorp was not his style at all; he had a kind of dread of that thin
woman who looked as if she could never be unbuttoned. They said she was
a great churchgoer and all that sort of thing.

In his sanctum old Heythorp had moved to his writing-table, and was
evidently anxious to sit down.

“Shall I give you a hand, sir?”

Receiving a shake of the head, Bob Pillin stood by the fire and watched.
The old “sport” liked to paddle his own canoe. Fancy having to lower
yourself into a chair like that! When an old Johnny got to such a state
it was really a mercy when he snuffed out, and made way for younger men.
How his Companies could go on putting up with such a fossil for chairman
was a marvel! The fossil rumbled and said in that almost inaudible
voice:

“I suppose you’re beginning to look forward to your father’s shoes?”

Bob Pillin’s mouth opened. The voice went on:

“Dibs and no responsibility. Tell him from me to drink port--add five
years to his life.”

To this unwarranted attack Bob Pillin made no answer save a laugh; he
perceived that a manservant had entered the room.

“A Mrs. Larne, sir. Will you see her?”

At this announcement the old man seemed to try and start; then he
nodded, and held out the note he had written. Bob Pillin received it
together with the impression of a murmur which sounded like: “Scratch a
poll, Poll!” and passing the fine figure of a woman in a fur coat, who
seemed to warm the air as she went by, he was in the hall again before
he perceived that he had left his hat.

A young and pretty girl was standing on the bearskin before the fire,
looking at him with round-eyed innocence. He thought: ‘This is better; I
mustn’t disturb them for my hat’. and approaching the fire, said:

“Jolly cold, isn’t it?”

The girl smiled: “Yes-jolly.”

He noticed that she had a large bunch of violets at her breast, a lot
of fair hair, a short straight nose, and round blue-grey eyes very frank
and open. “Er” he said, “I’ve left my hat in there.”

“What larks!” And at her little clear laugh something moved within Bob
Pillin.

“You know this house well?”

She shook her head. “But it’s rather scrummy, isn’t it?”

Bob Pillin, who had never yet thought so answered:

“Quite O.K.”

The girl threw up her head to laugh again. “O.K.? What’s that?”

Bob Pillin saw her white round throat, and thought: ‘She is a ripper!’
And he said with a certain desperation:

“My name’s Pillin. Yours is Larne, isn’t it? Are you a relation here?”

“He’s our Guardy. Isn’t he a chook?”

That rumbling whisper like “Scratch a Poll, Poll!” recurring to Bob
Pillin, he said with reservation:

“You know him better than I do.” “Oh! Aren’t you his grandson, or
something?”

Bob Pillin did not cross himself.

“Lord! No! My dad’s an old friend of his; that’s all.”

“Is your dad like him?”

“Not much.”

“What a pity! It would have been lovely if they’d been Tweedles.”

Bob Pillin thought: ‘This bit is something new. I wonder what her
Christian name is.’ And he said:

“What did your godfather and godmothers in your baptism---?”

The girl laughed; she seemed to laugh at everything.

“Phyllis.”

Could he say: “Is my only joy”? Better keep it! But-for what? He
wouldn’t see her again if he didn’t look out! And he said:

“I live at the last house in the park-the red one. D’you know it? Where
do you?”

“Oh! a long way--23, Millicent Villas. It’s a poky little house. I hate
it. We have awful larks, though.”

“Who are we?”

“Mother, and myself, and Jock--he’s an awful boy. You can’t conceive
what an awful boy he is. He’s got nearly red hair; I think he’ll be just
like Guardy when he gets old. He’s awful!”

Bob Pillin murmured:

“I should like to see him.”

“Would you? I’ll ask mother if you can. You won’t want to again; he goes
off all the time like a squib.” She threw back her head, and again Bob
Pillin felt a little giddy. He collected himself, and drawled:

“Are you going in to see your Guardy?”

“No. Mother’s got something special to say. We’ve never been here
before, you see. Isn’t he fun, though?”

“Fun!”

“I think he’s the greatest lark; but he’s awfully nice to me. Jock calls
him the last of the Stoic’uns.”

A voice called from old Heythorp’s den:

“Phyllis!” It had a particular ring, that voice, as if coming from
beautifully formed red lips, of which the lower one must curve the least
bit over; it had, too, a caressing vitality, and a kind of warm falsity.

The girl threw a laughing look back over her shoulder, and vanished
through the door into the room.

Bob Pillin remained with his back to the fire and his puppy round eyes
fixed on the air that her figure had last occupied. He was experiencing
a sensation never felt before. Those travels with a lady of Spain,
charitably conceded him by old Heythorp, had so far satisfied the
emotional side of this young man; they had stopped short at Brighton
and Scarborough, and been preserved from even the slightest intrusion of
love. A calculated and hygienic career had caused no anxiety either
to himself or his father; and this sudden swoop of something more than
admiration gave him an uncomfortable choky feeling just above his high
round collar, and in the temples a sort of buzzing--those first symptoms
of chivalry. A man of the world does not, however, succumb without a
struggle; and if his hat had not been out of reach, who knows whether he
would not have left the house hurriedly, saying to himself: “No, no,
my boy; Millicent Villas is hardly your form, when your intentions are
honourable”? For somehow that round and laughing face, bob of glistening
hair, those wide-opened grey eyes refused to awaken the beginnings of
other intentions--such is the effect of youth and innocence on even the
steadiest young men. With a kind of moral stammer, he was thinking: ‘Can
I--dare I offer to see them to their tram? Couldn’t I even nip out
and get the car round and send them home in it? No, I might miss
them--better stick it out here! What a jolly laugh! What a tipping
face--strawberries and cream, hay, and all that! Millicent Villas!’ And
he wrote it on his cuff.

The door was opening; he heard that warm vibrating voice: “Come along,
Phyllis!”--the girl’s laugh so high and fresh: “Right-o! Coming!” And
with, perhaps, the first real tremor he had ever known, he crossed
to the front door. All the more chivalrous to escort them to the tram
without a hat! And suddenly he heard: “I’ve got your hat, young man!”
 And her mother’s voice, warm, and simulating shock: “Phyllis, you awful
gairl! Did you ever see such an awful gairl; Mr.---”

“Pillin, Mother.”

And then--he did not quite know how--insulated from the January air by
laughter and the scent of fur and violets, he was between them walking
to their tram. It was like an experience out of the “Arabian Nights,” or
something of that sort, an intoxication which made one say one was going
their way, though one would have to come all the way back in the same
beastly tram. Nothing so warming had ever happened to him as sitting
between them on that drive, so that he forgot the note in his pocket,
and his desire to relieve the anxiety of the “old man,” his father. At
the tram’s terminus they all got out. There issued a purr of invitation
to come and see them some time; a clear: “Jock’ll love to see you!” A
low laugh: “You awful gairl!” And a flash of cunning zigzagged across
his brain. Taking off his hat, he said:

“Thanks awfully; rather!” and put his foot back on the step of the tram.
Thus did he delicately expose the depths of his chivalry!

“Oh! you said you were going our way! What one-ers you do tell! Oh!” The
words were as music; the sight of those eyes growing rounder, the most
perfect he had ever seen; and Mrs. Larne’s low laugh, so warm yet so
preoccupied, and the tips of the girl’s fingers waving back above her
head. He heaved a sigh, and knew no more till he was seated at his
club before a bottle of champagne. Home! Not he! He wished to drink and
dream. “The old man” would get his news all right to-morrow!



3

The words: “A Mrs. Larne to see you, sir,” had been of a nature to
astonish weaker nerves. What had brought her here? She knew she mustn’t
come! Old Heythorp had watched her entrance with cynical amusement. The
way she whiffed herself at that young pup in passing, the way her eyes
slid round! He had a very just appreciation of his son’s widow; and a
smile settled deep between his chin tuft and his moustache. She lifted
his hand, kissed it, pressed it to her splendid bust, and said:

“So here I am at last, you see. Aren’t you surprised?”

Old Heythorp, shook his head.

“I really had to come and see you, Guardy; we haven’t had a sight of
you for such an age. And in this awful weather! How are you, dear old
Guardy?”

“Never better.” And, watching her green-grey eyes, he added:

“Haven’t a penny for you!”

Her face did not fall; she gave her feather-laugh.

“How dreadful of you to think I came for that! But I am in an awful fix,
Guardy.”

“Never knew you not to be.”

“Just let me tell you, dear; it’ll be some relief. I’m having the most
terrible time.”

She sank into a low chair, disengaging an overpowering scent of violets,
while melancholy struggled to subdue her face and body.

“The most awful fix. I expect to be sold up any moment. We may be on the
streets to-morrow. I daren’t tell the children; they’re so happy, poor
darlings. I shall be obliged to take Jock away from school. And Phyllis
will have to stop her piano and dancing; it’s an absolute crisis. And
all due to those Midland Syndicate people. I’ve been counting on at
least two hundred for my new story, and the wretches have refused it.”

With a tiny handkerchief she removed one tear from the corner of one
eye. “It is hard, Guardy; I worked my brain silly over that story.”

From old Heythorp came a mutter which sounded suspiciously like:

“Rats!”

Heaving a sigh, which conveyed nothing but the generosity of her
breathing apparatus, Mrs. Larne went on:

“You couldn’t, I suppose, let me have just one hundred?”

“Not a bob.”

She sighed again, her eyes slid round the room; then in her warm voice
she murmured:

“Guardy, you were my dear Philip’s father, weren’t you? I’ve never said
anything; but of course you were. He was so like you, and so is Jock.”

Nothing moved in old Heythorp’s face. No pagan image consulted with
flowers and song and sacrifice could have returned less answer. Her dear
Philip! She had led him the devil of a life, or he was a Dutchman! And
what the deuce made her suddenly trot out the skeleton like this? But
Mrs. Larne’s eyes were still wandering.

“What a lovely house! You know, I think you ought to help me, Guardy.
Just imagine if your grandchildren were thrown out into the street!”

The old man grinned. He was not going to deny his relationship--it was
her look-out, not his. But neither was he going to let her rush him.

“And they will be; you couldn’t look on and see it. Do come to my rescue
this once. You really might do something for them.”

With a rumbling sigh he answered:

“Wait. Can’t give you a penny now. Poor as a church mouse.”

“Oh! Guardy

“Fact.”

Mrs. Larne heaved one of her most buoyant sighs. She certainly did not
believe him.

“Well!” she said; “you’ll be sorry when we come round one night and sing
for pennies under your window. Wouldn’t you like to see Phyllis? I left
her in the hall. She’s growing such a sweet gairl. Guardy just fifty!”

“Not a rap.”

Mrs. Larne threw up her hands. “Well! You’ll repent it. I’m at my last
gasp.” She sighed profoundly, and the perfume of violets escaped in a
cloud; Then, getting up, she went to the door and called: “Phyllis!”

When the girl entered old Heythorp felt the nearest approach to a
flutter of the heart for many years. She had put her hair up! She was
like a spring day in January; such a relief from that scented humbug,
her mother. Pleasant the touch of her lips on his forehead, the sound of
her clear voice, the sight of her slim movements, the feeling that she
did him credit--clean-run stock, she and that young scamp Jock--better
than the holy woman, his daughter Adela, would produce if anyone were
ever fool enough to marry her, or that pragmatical fellow, his son
Ernest.

And when they were gone he reflected with added zest on the six thousand
pounds he was getting for them out of Joe Pillin and his ships. He
would have to pitch it strong in his speech at the general meeting. With
freights so low, there was bound to be opposition. No dash nowadays;
nothing but gabby caution! They were a scrim-shanking lot on the
Board--he had had to pull them round one by one--the deuce of a tug
getting this thing through! And yet, the business was sound enough.
Those ships would earn money, properly handled-good money.

His valet, coming in to prepare him for dinner, found him asleep. He had
for the old man as much admiration as may be felt for one who cannot put
his own trousers on. He would say to the housemaid Molly: “He’s a game
old blighter--must have been a rare one in his day. Cocks his hat at
you, even now, I see!” To which the girl, Irish and pretty, would reply:
“Well, an’ sure I don’t mind, if it gives um a pleasure. ‘Tis better
anyway than the sad eye I get from herself.”

At dinner, old Heythorp always sat at one end of the rosewood table and
his daughter at the other. It was the eminent moment of the day. With
napkin tucked high into his waistcoat, he gave himself to the meal with
passion. His palate was undimmed, his digestion unimpaired. He could
still eat as much as two men, and drink more than one. And while he
savoured each mouthful he never spoke if he could help it. The holy
woman had nothing to say that he cared to hear, and he nothing to say
that she cared to listen to. She had a horror, too, of what she called
“the pleasures of the table”--those lusts of the flesh! She was always
longing to dock his grub, he knew. Would see her further first! What
other pleasures were there at his age? Let her wait till she was eighty.
But she never would be; too thin and holy!

This evening, however, with the advent of the partridge she did speak.

“Who were your visitors, Father?”

Trust her for nosing anything out! Fixing his little blue eyes on her,
he mumbled with a very full mouth: “Ladies.”

“So I saw; what ladies?”

He had a longing to say: ‘Part of one of my families under the rose.’
As a fact it was the best part of the only one, but the temptation
to multiply exceedingly was almost overpowering. He checked himself,
however, and went on eating partridge, his secret irritation crimsoning
his cheeks; and he watched her eyes, those cold precise and round grey
eyes, noting it, and knew she was thinking: ‘He eats too much.’

She said: “Sorry I’m not considered fit to be told. You ought not to be
drinking hock.”

Old Heythorp took up the long green glass, drained it, and repressing
fumes and emotion went on with his partridge. His daughter pursed her
lips, took a sip of water, and said:

“I know their name is Larne, but it conveyed nothing to me; perhaps it’s
just as well.”

The old man, mastering a spasm, said with a grin:

“My daughter-in-law and my granddaughter.”

“What! Ernest married--Oh! nonsense!”

He chuckled, and shook his head.

“Then do you mean to say, Father, that you were married before you
married my mother?”

“No.”

The expression on her face was as good as a play!

She said with a sort of disgust: “Not married! I see. I suppose those
people are hanging round your neck, then; no wonder you’re always in
difficulties. Are there any more of them?”

Again the old man suppressed that spasm, and the veins in his neck and
forehead swelled alarmingly. If he had spoken he would infallibly have
choked. He ceased eating, and putting his hands on the table tried to
raise himself. He could not and subsiding in his chair sat glaring at
the stiff, quiet figure of his daughter.

“Don’t be silly, Father, and make a scene before Meller. Finish your
dinner.”

He did not answer. He was not going to sit there to be dragooned and
insulted! His helplessness had never so weighed on him before. It was
like a revelation. A log--that had to put up with anything! A log! And,
waiting for his valet to return, he cunningly took up his fork.

In that saintly voice of hers she said:

“I suppose you don’t realise that it’s a shock to me. I don’t know what
Ernest will think--”

“Ernest be d---d.”

“I do wish, Father, you wouldn’t swear.”

Old Heythorp’s rage found vent in a sort of rumble. How the devil had he
gone on all these years in the same house with that woman, dining with
her day after day! But the servant had come back now, and putting down
his fork he said:

“Help me up!”

The man paused, thunderstruck, with the souffle balanced. To leave
dinner unfinished--it was a portent!

“Help me up!”

“Mr. Heythorp’s not very well, Meller; take his other arm.”

The old man shook off her hand.

“I’m very well. Help me up. Dine in my own room in future.”

Raised to his feet, he walked slowly out; but in his sanctum he did
not sit down, obsessed by this first overwhelming realisation of his
helplessness. He stood swaying a little, holding on to the table, till
the servant, having finished serving dinner, brought in his port.

“Are you waiting to sit down, sir?”

He shook his head. Hang it, he could do that for himself, anyway. He
must think of something to fortify his position against that woman. And
he said:

“Send me Molly!”

“Yes, sir.” The man put down the port and went.

Old Heythorp filled his glass, drank, and filled again. He took a cigar
from the box and lighted it. The girl came in, a grey-eyed, dark-haired
damsel, and stood with her hands folded, her head a little to one side,
her lips a little parted. The old man said:

“You’re a human being.”

“I would hope so, sirr.”

“I’m going to ask you something as a human being--not a servant--see?”

“No, sirr; but I will be glad to do anything you like.”

“Then put your nose in here every now and then, to see if I want
anything. Meller goes out sometimes. Don’t say anything; Just put your
nose in.”

“Oh! an’ I will; ‘tis a pleasure ‘twill be to do ut.”

He nodded, and when she had gone lowered himself into his chair with a
sense of appeasement. Pretty girl! Comfort to see a pretty face--not a
pale, peeky thing like Adela’s. His anger burned up anew. So she counted
on his helplessness, had begun to count on that, had she? She should see
that there was life in the old dog yet! And his sacrifice of the uneaten
souffle, the still less eaten mushrooms, the peppermint sweet with which
he usually concluded dinner, seemed to consecrate that purpose. They all
thought he was a hulk, without a shot left in the locker! He had seen a
couple of them at the Board that afternoon shrugging at each other,
as though saying: ‘Look at him!’ And young Farney pitying him. Pity,
forsooth! And that coarse-grained solicitor chap at the creditors’
meeting curling his lip as much as to say: ‘One foot in the grave!’ He
had seen the clerks dowsing the glim of their grins; and that young pup
Bob Pillin screwing up his supercilious mug over his dog-collar. He
knew that scented humbug Rosamund was getting scared that he’d drop off
before she’d squeezed him dry. And his valet was always looking him up
and down queerly. As to that holy woman--! Not quite so fast! Not quite
so fast! And filling his glass for the fourth time, he slowly sucked
down the dark red fluid, with the “old boots” flavour which his soul
loved, and, drawing deep at his cigar, closed his eyes.



II

1

The room in the hotel where the general meetings of “The Island
Navigation Company” were held was nearly full when the secretary came
through the door which as yet divided the shareholders from their
directors. Having surveyed their empty chairs, their ink and papers, and
nodded to a shareholder or two, he stood, watch in hand, contemplating
the congregation. A thicker attendance than he had ever seen! Due, no
doubt, to the lower dividend, and this Pillin business. And his tongue
curled. For if he had a natural contempt for his Board, with the
exception of the chairman, he had a still more natural contempt for his
shareholders. Amusing spectacle when you came to think of it, a general
meeting! Unique! Eighty or a hundred men, and five women, assembled
through sheer devotion to their money. Was any other function in the
world so single-hearted. Church was nothing to it--so many motives
were mingled there with devotion to one’s soul. A well-educated young
man--reader of Anatole France, and other writers--he enjoyed ironic
speculation. What earthly good did they think they got by coming here?
Half-past two! He put his watch back into his pocket, and passed into
the Board-room.

There, the fumes of lunch and of a short preliminary meeting made cosy
the February atmosphere. By the fire four directors were conversing
rather restlessly; the fifth was combing his beard; the chairman sat
with eyes closed and red lips moving rhythmically in the sucking of a
lozenge, the slips of his speech ready in his hand. The secretary said
in his cheerful voice: “Time, sir.”

Old Heythorp swallowed, lifted his arms, rose with help, and walked
through to his place at the centre of the table. The five directors
followed. And, standing at the chairman’s right, the secretary read
the minutes, forming the words precisely with his curling tongue. Then,
assisting the chairman to his feet, he watched those rows of faces, and
thought: ‘Mistake to let them see he can’t get up without help. He ought
to have let me read his speech--I wrote it.’

The chairman began to speak:

“It is my duty and my pleasure,’ ladies and gentlemen, for the
nineteenth consecutive year to present to you the directors’ report and
the accounts for the past twelve months. You will all have had special
notice of a measure of policy on which your Board has decided, and to
which you will be asked to-day to give your adherence--to that I shall
come at the end of my remarks....”

“Excuse me, sir; we can’t hear a word down here.”

’.h!’ thought the secretary, ‘I was expecting that.’

The chairman went on, undisturbed. But several shareholders now rose,
and the same speaker said testily: “We might as well go home. If the
chairman’s got no voice, can’t somebody read for him?”

The chairman took a sip of water, and resumed. Almost all in the last
six rows were now on their feet, and amid a hubbub of murmurs the
chairman held out to the secretary the slips of his speech, and fell
heavily back into his chair.

The secretary re-read from the beginning; and as each sentence fell from
his tongue, he thought: ‘How good that is!’ ‘That’s very clear!’ ‘A neat
touch!’ ‘This is getting them.’ It seemed to him a pity they could not
know it was all his composition. When at last he came to the Pillin sale
he paused for a second.

“I come now to the measure of policy to which I made allusion at the
beginning of my speech. Your Board has decided to expand your enterprise
by purchasing the entire fleet of Pillin & Co., Ltd. By this transaction
we become the owners of the four steamships Smyrna, Damascus, Tyre, and
Sidon, vessels in prime condition with a total freight-carrying capacity
of fifteen thousand tons, at the low inclusive price of sixty thousand
pounds. Gentlemen, de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!”--it was the
chairman’s phrase, his bit of the speech, and the secretary did it more
than justice. “Times are bad, but your Board is emphatically of the
opinion that they are touching bottom; and this, in their view, is the
psychological moment for a forward stroke. They confidently recommend
your adoption of their policy and the ratification of this purchase,
which they believe will, in the not far distant future, substantially
increase the profits of the Company.” The secretary sat down with
reluctance. The speech should have continued with a number of appealing
sentences which he had carefully prepared, but the chairman had cut them
out with the simple comment: “They ought to be glad of the chance.” It
was, in his view, an error.

The director who had combed his beard now rose--a man of presence, who
might be trusted to say nothing long and suavely. While he was speaking
the secretary was busy noting whence opposition was likely to come. The
majority were sitting owl-like-a good sign; but some dozen were
studying their copies of the report, and three at least were making
notes--Westgate, for, instance, who wanted to get on the Board, and was
sure to make himself unpleasant--the time-honoured method of vinegar;
and Batterson, who also desired to come on, and might be trusted to
support the Board--the time-honoured method of oil; while, if one knew
anything of human nature, the fellow who had complained that he might
as well go home would have something uncomfortable to say. The director
finished his remarks, combed his beard with his fingers, and sat down.

A momentary pause ensued. Then Messieurs Westgate and Batterson rose
together. Seeing the chairman nod towards the latter, the secretary
thought: ‘Mistake! He should have humoured Westgate by giving him
precedence.’ But that was the worst of the old man, he had no notion of
the suaviter in modo! Mr. Batterson thus unchained--would like, if he
might be so allowed, to congratulate the Board on having piloted their
ship so smoothly through the troublous waters of the past year. With
their worthy chairman still at the helm, he had no doubt that in
spite of the still low--he would not say falling--barometer, and
the-er-unseasonable climacteric, they might rely on weathering
the--er--he would not say storm. He would confess that the present
dividend of four per cent. was not one which satisfied every aspiration
(Hear, hear!), but speaking for himself, and he hoped for others--and
here Mr. Batterson looked round--he recognised that in all the
circumstances it was as much as they had the right--er--to expect. But
following the bold but to his mind prudent development which the
Board proposed to make, he thought that they might reasonably, if not
sanguinely, anticipate a more golden future. (“No, no!”) A shareholder
said, ‘No, no!’ That might seem to indicate a certain lack of confidence
in the special proposal before the meeting. (“Yes!”) From that lack of
confidence he would like at once to dissociate himself. Their chairman,
a man of foresight and acumen, and valour proved on many a field
and--er--sea, would not have committed himself to this policy without
good reason. In his opinion they were in safe hands, and he was glad to
register his support of the measure proposed. The chairman had well said
in his speech: ‘de l’audace, toujours de l’audace!’ Shareholders would
agree with him that there could be no better motto for Englishmen. Ahem!

Mr. Batterson sat down. And Mr. Westgate rose: He wanted--he said--to
know more, much more, about this proposition, which to his mind was of a
very dubious wisdom.... ‘Ah!’ thought the secretary, ‘I told the old
boy he must tell them more’.... To whom, for instance, had the proposal
first been made? To him!--the chairman said. Good! But why were Pillins
selling, if freights were to go up, as they were told?

“Matter of opinion.”

“Quite so; and in my opinion they are going lower, and Pillins were
right to sell. It follows that we are wrong to buy.” (“Hear, hear!” “No,
no!”) “Pillins are shrewd people. What does the chairman say? Nerves!
Does he mean to tell us that this sale was the result of nerves?”

The chairman nodded.

“That appears to me a somewhat fantastic theory; but I will leave that
and confine myself to asking the grounds on which the chairman bases his
confidence; in fact, what it is which is actuating the Board in pressing
on us at such a time what I have no hesitation in stigmatising as a rash
proposal. In a word, I want light as well as leading in this matter.”

Mr. Westgate sat down.

What would the chairman do now? The situation was distinctly
awkward--seeing his helplessness and the lukewarmness of the Board
behind him. And the secretary felt more strongly than ever the absurdity
of his being an underling, he who in a few well-chosen words could so
easily have twisted the meeting round his thumb. Suddenly he heard the
long, rumbling sigh which preluded the chairman’s speeches.

“Has any other gentleman anything to say before I move the adoption of
the report?”

Phew! That would put their backs up. Yes, sure enough it had brought
that fellow, who had said he might as well go home, to his feet! Now for
something nasty!

“Mr. Westgate requires answering. I don’t like this business. I
don’t impute anything to anybody; but it looks to me as if there were
something behind it which the shareholders ought to be told. Not
only that; but, to speak frankly, I’m not satisfied to be ridden over
roughshod in this fashion by one who, whatever he may have been in the
past, is obviously not now in the prime of his faculties.”

With a gasp the secretary thought: ‘I knew that was a plain-spoken man!’

He heard again the rumbling beside him. The chairman had gone crimson,
his mouth was pursed, his little eyes were very blue.

“Help me up,” he said.

The secretary helped him, and waited, rather breathless.

The chairman took a sip of water, and his voice, unexpectedly loud,
broke an ominous hush:

“Never been so insulted in my life. My best services have been at your
disposal for nineteen years; you know what measure of success this
Company has attained. I am the oldest man here, and my experience of
shipping is, I hope, a little greater than that of the two gentlemen who
spoke last. I have done my best for you, ladies and gentlemen, and we
shall see whether you are going to endorse an indictment of my judgment
and of my honour, if I am to take the last speaker seriously. This
purchase is for your good. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men’--and
I for one am not content, never have been, to stagnate. If that is what
you want, however, by all means give your support to these gentlemen and
have done with it. I tell you freights will go up before the end of
the year; the purchase is a sound one, more than a sound one--I, at any
rate, stand or fall by it. Refuse to ratify it, if you like; if you do,
I shall resign.”

He sank back into his seat. The secretary, stealing a glance, thought
with a sort of enthusiasm: ‘Bravo! Who’d have thought he could rally
his voice like that? A good touch, too, that about his honour! I believe
he’s knocked them.

It’s still dicky, though, if that fellow at the back gets up again;
the old chap can’t work that stop a second time. ‘Ah! here was ‘old
Apple-pie’ on his hind legs. That was all right!

“I do not hesitate to say that I am an old friend of the chairman; we
are, many of us, old friends of the chairman, and it has been painful to
me, and I doubt not to others, to hear an attack made on him. If he is
old in body, he is young in mental vigour and courage. I wish we were
all as young. We ought to stand by him; I say, we ought to stand by
him.” (“Hear, hear! Hear, hear!”) And the secretary thought: ‘That’s
done it!’ And he felt a sudden odd emotion, watching the chairman
bobbing his body, like a wooden toy, at old Appleby; and old Appleby
bobbing back. Then, seeing a shareholder close to the door get
up, thought: ‘Who’s that? I know his face--Ah! yes; Ventnor, the
solicitor--he’s one of the chairman’s creditors that are coming again
this afternoon. What now?’

“I can’t agree that we ought to let sentiment interfere with our
judgment in this matter. The question is simply: How are our pockets
going to be affected? I came here with some misgivings, but the attitude
of the chairman has been such as to remove them; and I shall support the
proposition.” The secretary thought: ‘That’s all right--only, he said it
rather queerly--rather queerly.’

Then, after a long silence, the chairman, without rising, said:

“I move the adoption of the report and accounts.”

“I second that.”

“Those in favour signify the same in the usual way. Contrary? Carried.”
 The secretary noted the dissentients, six in number, and that Mr.
Westgate did not vote.

A quarter of an hour later he stood in the body of the emptying room
supplying names to one of the gentlemen of the Press. The passionless
fellow said: “Haythorp, with an ‘a’. oh! an ‘e’. he seems an old man.
Thank you. I may have the slips? Would you like to see a proof? With an
’.’ you said--oh! an ‘e.’ Good afternoon!” And the secretary thought:
’.hose fellows, what does go on inside them? Fancy not knowing the old
chairman by now!’...



2

Back in the proper office of “The Island Navigation Company” old
Heythorp sat smoking a cigar and smiling like a purring cat. He was
dreaming a little of his triumph, sifting with his old brain, still
subtle, the wheat from the chaff of the demurrers: Westgate--nothing in
that--professional discontent till they silenced him with a place on
the board--but not while he held the reins! That chap at the back--an
ill-conditioned fellow! “Something behind!” Suspicious brute! There was
something--but--hang it! they might think themselves lucky to get four
ships at that price, and all due to him! It was on the last speaker
that his mind dwelt with a doubt. That fellow Ventnor, to whom he owed
money--there had been something just a little queer about his tone--as
much as to say, “I smell a rat.” Well! one would see that at the
creditors’ meeting in half an hour.

“Mr. Pillin, sir.”

“Show him in!”

In a fur coat which seemed to extinguish his thin form, Joe Pillin
entered. It was snowing, and the cold had nipped and yellowed his meagre
face between its slight grey whiskering. He said thinly:

“How are you, Sylvanus? Aren’t you perished in this cold?”

“Warm as a toast. Sit down. Take off your coat.”

“Oh! I should be lost without it. You must have a fire inside you. So-so
it’s gone through?”

Old Heythorp nodded; and Joe Pillin, wandering like a spirit,
scrutinised the shut door. He came back to the table, and said in a low
voice:

“It’s a great sacrifice.”

Old Heythorp smiled.

“Have you signed the deed poll?”

Producing a parchment from his pocket Joe Pillin unfolded it with
caution to disclose his signature, and said:

“I don’t like it--it’s irrevocable.”

A chuckle escaped old Heythorp.

“As death.”

Joe Pillin’s voice passed up into the treble clef.

“I can’t bear irrevocable things. I consider you stampeded me, playing
on my nerves.”

Examining the signatures old Heythorp murmured:

“Tell your lawyer to lock it up. He must think you a sad dog, Joe.”

“Ah! Suppose on my death it comes to the knowledge of my wife!”

“She won’t be able to make it hotter for you than you’ll be already.”

Joe Pillin replaced the deed within his coat, emitting a queer thin
noise. He simply could not bear joking on such subjects.

“Well,” he said, “you’ve got your way; you always do. Who is this Mrs.
Larne? You oughtn’t to keep me in the dark. It seems my boy met her at
your house. You told me she didn’t come there.”

Old Heythorp said with relish:

“Her husband was my son by a woman I was fond of before I married; her
children are my grandchildren. You’ve provided for them. Best thing you
ever did.”

“I don’t know--I don’t know. I’m sorry you told me. It makes it all
the more doubtful. As soon as the transfer’s complete, I shall get away
abroad. This cold’s killing me. I wish you’d give me your recipe for
keeping warm.”

“Get a new inside.”

Joe Pillin regarded his old friend with a sort of yearning. “And yet,”
 he said, “I suppose, with your full-blooded habit, your life hangs by a
thread, doesn’t it?”

“A stout one, my boy”

“Well, good-bye, Sylvanus. You’re a Job’s comforter; I must be getting
home.” He put on his hat, and, lost in his fur coat, passed out into the
corridor. On the stairs he met a man who said:

“How do you do, Mr. Pillin? I know your son. Been’ seeing the chairman?
I see your sale’s gone through all right. I hope that’ll do us some
good, but I suppose you think the other way?”

Peering at him from under his hat, Joe Pillin said:

“Mr. Ventnor, I think? Thank you! It’s very cold, isn’t it?” And, with
that cautious remark, he passed on down.

Alone again, old Heythorp thought: ‘By George! What a wavering,
quavering, thread paper of a fellow! What misery life must be to a
chap like that! He walks in fear--he wallows in it. Poor devil!’ And a
curious feeling swelled his heart, of elation, of lightness such as
he had not known for years. Those two young things were safe now from
penury-safe! After dealing with those infernal creditors of his he would
go round and have a look at the children. With a hundred and twenty a
year the boy could go into the Army--best place for a young scamp like
that. The girl would go off like hot cakes, of course, but she needn’t
take the first calf that came along. As for their mother, she must look
after herself; nothing under two thousand a year would keep her out
of debt. But trust her for wheedling and bluffing her way out of any
scrape! Watching his cigar-smoke curl and disperse he was conscious of
the strain he had been under these last six weeks, aware suddenly of how
greatly he had baulked at thought of to-day’s general meeting. Yes!
It might have turned out nasty. He knew well enough the forces on the
Board, and off, who would be only too glad to shelve him. If he were
shelved here his other two Companies would be sure to follow suit, and
bang would go every penny of his income--he would be a pauper dependant
on that holy woman. Well! Safe now for another year if he could stave
off these sharks once more. It might be a harder job this time, but he
was in luck--in luck, and it must hold. And taking a luxurious pull at
his cigar, he rang the handbell.

“Bring ‘em in here, Mr. Farney. And let me have a cup of China tea as
strong as you can make it.”

“Yes, sir. Will you see the proof of the press report, or will you leave
it to me?”

“To you.”

“Yes, sir. It was a good meeting, wasn’t it?”

Old Heythorp nodded.

“Wonderful how your voice came back just at the right moment. I was
afraid things were going to be difficult. The insult did it, I think. It
was a monstrous thing to say. I could have punched his head.”

Again old Heythorp nodded; and, looking into the secretary’s fine blue
eyes, he repeated: “Bring ‘em in.”

The lonely minute before the entrance of his creditors passed in the
thought: ‘So that’s how it struck him! Short shrift I should get if it
came out.’

The gentlemen, who numbered ten this time, bowed to their debtor,
evidently wondering why the deuce they troubled to be polite to an old
man who kept them out of their money. Then, the secretary reappearing
with a cup of China tea, they watched while their debtor drank it. The
feat was tremulous. Would he get through without spilling it all down
his front, or choking? To those unaccustomed to his private life it was
slightly miraculous. He put the cup down empty, tremblingly removed some
yellow drops from the little white tuft below his lip, refit his cigar,
and said:

“No use beating about the bush, gentlemen; I can offer you fourteen
hundred a year so long as I live and hold my directorships, and not a
penny more. If you can’t accept that, you must make me bankrupt and get
about sixpence in the pound. My qualifying shares will fetch a couple of
thousand at market price. I own nothing else. The house I live in, and
everything in it, barring my clothes, my wine, and my cigars, belong
to my daughter under a settlement fifteen years old. My solicitors
and bankers will give you every information. That’s the position in a
nutshell.”

In spite of business habits the surprise of the ten gentlemen was only
partially concealed. A man who owed them so much would naturally say
he owned nothing, but would he refer them to his solicitors and bankers
unless he were telling the truth? Then Mr. Ventnor said:

“Will you submit your pass books?”

“No, but I’ll authorise my bankers to give you a full statement of my
receipts for the last five years--longer, if you like.”

The strategic stroke of placing the ten gentlemen round the Board
table had made it impossible for them to consult freely without being
overheard, but the low-voiced transference of thought travelling round
was summed up at last by Mr. Brownbee.

“We think, Mr. Heythorp, that your fees and dividends should enable you
to set aside for us a larger sum. Sixteen hundred, in fact, is what
we think you should give us yearly. Representing, as we do, sixteen
thousand pounds, the prospect is not cheering, but we hope you have some
good years before you yet. We understand your income to be two thousand
pounds.”

Old Heythorp shook his head. “Nineteen hundred and thirty pounds in a
good year. Must eat and drink; must have a man to look after me not as
active as I was. Can’t do on less than five hundred pounds. Fourteen
hundred’s all I can give you, gentlemen; it’s an advance of two hundred
pounds. That’s my last word.”

The silence was broken by Mr. Ventnor.

“And it’s my last word that I’m not satisfied. If these other gentlemen
accept your proposition I shall be forced to consider what I can do on
my own account.”

The old man stared at him, and answered:

“Oh! you will, sir; we shall see.”

The others had risen and were gathered in a knot at the end of the
table; old Heythorp and Mr. Ventnor alone remained seated. The old man’s
lower lip projected till the white hairs below stood out like bristles.
’.ou ugly dog,’ he was thinking, ‘you think you’ve got something up your
sleeve. Well, do your worst!’ The “ugly dog” rose abruptly and joined
the others. And old Heythorp closed his eyes, sitting perfectly still,
with his cigar, which had gone out, sticking up between his teeth. Mr.
Brownbee turning to voice the decision come to, cleared his throat.

“Mr. Heythorp,” he said, “if your bankers and solicitors bear out your
statements, we shall accept your offer faute de mieux, in consideration
of your--” but meeting the old man’s eyes, which said so very plainly:
“Blow your consideration!” he ended with a stammer: “Perhaps you will
kindly furnish us with the authorisation you spoke of?”

Old Heythorp nodded, and Mr. Brownbee, with a little bow, clasped
his hat to his breast and moved towards the door. The nine gentlemen
followed. Mr. Ventnor, bringing up the rear, turned and looked back. But
the old man’s eyes were already closed again.

The moment his creditors were gone, old Heythorp sounded the hand-bell.

“Help me up, Mr. Farney. That Ventnor--what’s his holding?”

“Quite small. Only ten shares, I think.”

“Ah! What time is it?”

“Quarter to four, sir.”

“Get me a taxi.”

After visiting his bank and his solicitors he struggled once more into
his cab and caused it to be driven towards Millicent Villas. A kind of
sleepy triumph permeated his whole being, bumped and shaken by the cab’s
rapid progress. So! He was free of those sharks now so long as he could
hold on to his Companies; and he would still have a hundred a year or
more to spare for Rosamund and her youngsters. He could live on four
hundred, or even three-fifty, without losing his independence, for there
would be no standing life in that holy woman’s house unless he could pay
his own scot! A good day’s work! The best for many a long month!

The cab stopped before the villa.



3

There are rooms which refuse to give away their owners, and rooms
which seem to say: ‘They really are like this.’ Of such was Rosamund
Larne’s--a sort of permanent confession, seeming to remark to anyone
who entered: ‘Her taste? Well, you can see--cheerful and exuberant; her
habits--yes, she sits here all the morning in a dressing-gown, smoking
cigarettes and dropping ink; kindly observe my carpet. Notice the
piano--it has a look of coming and going, according to the exchequer.
This very deep-cushioned sofa is permanent, however; the water-colours
on the walls are safe, too--they’re by herself. Mark the scent of
mimosa--she likes flowers, and likes them strong. No clock, of course.
Examine the bureau--she is obviously always ringing for “the drumstick,”
 and saying: “Where’s this, Ellen, and where’s that? You naughty gairl,
you’ve been tidying.” Cast an eye on that pile of manuscript--she
has evidently a genius for composition; it flows off her pen--like
Shakespeare, she never blots a line. See how she’s had the electric
light put in, instead of that horrid gas; but try and turn either of
them on--you can’t; last quarter isn’t paid, of course; and she uses an
oil lamp, you can tell that by the ceiling: The dog over there, who will
not answer to the name of ‘Carmen,’ a Pekinese spaniel like a little
Djin, all prominent eyes rolling their blacks, and no nose between--yes,
Carmen looks as if she didn’t know what was coming next; she’s
right--it’s a pet-and-slap-again life! Consider, too, the fittings of
the tea-tray, rather soiled, though not quite tin, but I say unto you
that no millionaire’s in all its glory ever had a liqueur bottle on it.’

When old Heythorp entered this room, which extended from back to front
of the little house, preceded by the announcement “Mr. Aesop,” it was
resonant with a very clatter-bodandigo of noises, from Phyllis playing
the Machiche; from the boy Jock on the hearthrug, emitting at short
intervals the most piercing notes from an ocarina; from Mrs. Larne on
the sofa, talking with her trailing volubility to Bob Pillin; from Bob
Pillin muttering: “Ye-es! Qui-ite! Ye-es!” and gazing at Phyllis over
his collar. And, on the window-sill, as far as she could get from all
this noise, the little dog Carmen was rolling her eyes. At sight of
their visitor Jock blew one rending screech, and bolting behind the
sofa, placed his chin on its top, so that nothing but his round pink
unmoving face was visible; and the dog Carmen tried to climb the blind
cord.

Encircled from behind by the arms of Phyllis, and preceded by the
gracious perfumed bulk of Mrs. Larne, old Heythorp was escorted to the
sofa. It was low, and when he had plumped down into it, the boy Jock
emitted a hollow groan. Bob Pillin was the first to break the silence.

“How are you, sir? I hope it’s gone through.”

Old Heythorp nodded. His eyes were fixed on the liqueur, and Mrs. Larne
murmured:

“Guardy, you must try our new liqueur. Jock, you awful boy, get up and
bring Guardy a glass.”

The boy Jock approached the tea-table, took up a glass, put it to his
eye and filled it rapidly.

“You horrible boy, you could see that glass has been used.”

In a high round voice rather like an angel’s, Jock answered:

“All right, Mother; I’ll get rid of it,” and rapidly swallowing the
yellow liquor, took up another glass.

Mrs. Larne laughed.

“What am I to do with him?”

A loud shriek prevented a response. Phyllis, who had taken her brother
by the ear to lead him to the door, let him go to clasp her injured
self.

Bob Pillin went hastening towards her; and following the young man with
her chin, Mrs. Larne said, smiling:

“Aren’t those children awful? He’s such a nice fellow. We like him so
much, Guardy.”

The old man grinned. So she was making up to that young pup! Rosamund
Larne, watching him, murmured:

“Oh! Guardy, you’re as bad as Jock. He takes after you terribly. Look
at the shape of his head. Jock, come here!” The innocent boy approached;
with his girlish complexion, his flowery blue eyes, his perfect mouth,
he stood before his mother like a large cherub. And suddenly he blew his
ocarina in a dreadful manner. Mrs. Larne launched a box at his ears, and
receiving the wind of it he fell prone.

“That’s the way he behaves. Be off with you, you awful boy. I want to
talk to Guardy.”

The boy withdrew on his stomach, and sat against the wall cross-legged,
fixing his innocent round eyes on old Heythorp. Mrs. Larne sighed.

“Things are worse and worse, Guardy. I’m at my wits’ end to tide over
this quarter. You wouldn’t advance me a hundred on my new story? I’m
sure to get two for it in the end.”

The old man shook his head.

“I’ve done something for you and the children,” he said. “You’ll get
notice of it in a day or two; ask no questions.”

“Oh! Guardy! Oh! you dear!” And her gaze rested on Bob Pillin, leaning
over the piano, where Phyllis again sat.

Old Heythorp snorted. “What are you cultivating that young gaby for? She
mustn’t be grabbed up by any fool who comes along.”

Mrs. Larne murmured at once:

“Of course, the dear gairl is much too young. Phyllis, come and talk to
Guardy!”

When the girl was installed beside him on the sofa, and he had felt that
little thrill of warmth the proximity of youth can bring, he said:

“Been a good girl?”

She shook her head.

“Can’t, when Jock’s not at school. Mother can’t pay for him this term.”

Hearing his name, the boy Jock blew his ocarina till Mrs. Larne drove
him from the room, and Phyllis went on:

“He’s more awful than anything you can think of. Was my dad at all like
him, Guardy? Mother’s always so mysterious about him. I suppose you knew
him well.”

Old Heythorp, incapable of confusion, answered stolidly:

“Not very.”

“Who was his father? I don’t believe even mother knows.”

“Man about town in my day.”

“Oh! your day must have been jolly. Did you wear peg-top trousers, and
dundreary’s?”

Old Heythorp nodded.

“What larks! And I suppose you had lots of adventures with opera dancers
and gambling. The young men are all so good now.” Her eyes rested on Bob
Pillin. “That young man’s a perfect stick of goodness.”

Old Heythorp grunted.

“You wouldn’t know how good he was,” Phyllis went on musingly, “unless
you’d sat next him in a tunnel. The other day he had his waist squeezed
and he simply sat still and did nothing. And then when the tunnel ended,
it was Jock after all, not me. His face was--Oh! ah! ha! ha! Ah! ha!”
 She threw back her head, displaying all her white, round throat. Then
edging near, she whispered:

“He likes to pretend, of course, that he’s fearfully lively. He’s
promised to take mother and me to the theatre and supper afterwards.
Won’t it be scrummy! Only, I haven’t anything to go in.”

Old Heythorp said: “What do you want? Irish poplin?”

Her mouth opened wide: “Oh! Guardy! Soft white satin!”

“How many yards’ll go round you?”

“I should think about twelve. We could make it ourselves. You are a
chook!”

A scent of hair, like hay, enveloped him, her lips bobbed against his
nose,--and there came a feeling in his heart as when he rolled the
first sip of a special wine against his palate. This little house was
a rumty-too affair, her mother was a humbug, the boy a cheeky young
rascal, but there was a warmth here he never felt in that big house
which had been his wife’s and was now his holy daughter’s. And once more
he rejoiced at his day’s work, and the success of his breach of trust,
which put some little ground beneath these young feet, in a hard and
unscrupulous world. Phyllis whispered in his ear:

“Guardy, do look; he will stare at me like that. Isn’t it awful--like a
boiled rabbit?”

Bob Pillin, attentive to Mrs. Larne, was gazing with all his might over
her shoulder at the girl. The young man was moonstruck, that was clear!
There was something almost touching in the stare of those puppy dog’s
eyes. And he thought ‘Young beggar--wish I were his age!’ The utter
injustice of having an old and helpless body, when your desire for
enjoyment was as great as ever! They said a man was as old as he felt!
Fools! A man was as old as his legs and arms, and not a day younger. He
heard the girl beside him utter a discomfortable sound, and saw her
face cloud as if tears were not far off; she jumped up, and going to the
window, lifted the little dog and buried her face in its brown and white
fur. Old Heythorp thought: ‘She sees that her humbugging mother is using
her as a decoy.’ But she had come back, and the little dog, rolling its
eyes horribly at the strange figure on the sofa, in a desperate effort
to escape succeeded in reaching her shoulder, where it stayed perched
like a cat, held by one paw and trying to back away into space. Old
Heythorp said abruptly:

“Are you very fond of your mother?”

“Of course I am, Guardy. I adore her.”

“H’m! Listen to me. When you come of age or marry, you’ll have a hundred
and twenty a year of your own that you can’t get rid of. Don’t ever be
persuaded into doing what you don’t want. And remember: Your mother’s a
sieve, no good giving her money; keep what you’ll get for yourself--it’s
only a pittance, and you’ll want it all--every penny.”

Phyllis’s eyes had opened very wide; so that he wondered if she had
taken in his words.

“Oh! Isn’t money horrible, Guardy?”

“The want of it.”

“No, it’s beastly altogether. If only we were like birds. Or if one
could put out a plate overnight, and have just enough in the morning to
use during the day.”

Old Heythorp sighed.

“There’s only one thing in life that matters--independence. Lose that,
and you lose everything. That’s the value of money. Help me up.”

Phyllis stretched out her hands, and the little dog, running down her
back, resumed its perch on the window-sill, close to the blind cord.

Once on his feet, old Heythorp said:

“Give me a kiss. You’ll have your satin tomorrow.”

Then looking at Bob Pillin, he remarked:

“Going my way? I’ll give you a lift.”

The young man, giving Phyllis one appealing look, answered dully:
“Tha-anks!” and they went out together to the taxi. In that draughtless
vehicle they sat, full of who knows what contempt of age for youth; and
youth for age; the old man resenting this young pup’s aspiration to his
granddaughter; the young man annoyed that this old image had dragged him
away before he wished to go. Old Heythorp said at last:

“Well?”

Thus expected to say something, Bob Pillin muttered

“Glad your meetin’ went off well, sir. You scored a triumph I should
think.”

“Why?”

“Oh! I don’t know. I thought you had a good bit of opposition to contend
with.”

Old Heythorp looked at him.

“Your grandmother!” he said; then, with his habitual instinct of attack,
added: “You make the most of your opportunities, I see.”

At this rude assault Bob Pillin’s red-cheeked face assumed a certain
dignity. “I don’t know what you mean, sir. Mrs. Larne is very kind to
me.”

“No doubt. But don’t try to pick the flowers.”

Thoroughly upset, Bob Pillin preserved a dogged silence. This fortnight,
since he had first met Phyllis in old Heythorp’s hall, had been the most
singular of his existence up to now. He would never have believed that a
fellow could be so quickly and completely bowled, could succumb without
a kick, without even wanting to kick. To one with his philosophy of
having a good time and never committing himself too far, it was in the
nature of “a fair knock-out,” and yet so pleasurable, except for the
wear and tear about one’s chances. If only he knew how far the old
boy really counted in the matter! To say: “My intentions are strictly
honourable” would be old-fashioned; besides--the old fellow might have
no right to hear it. They called him Guardy, but without knowing more he
did not want to admit the old curmudgeon’s right to interfere.

“Are you a relation of theirs, sir?”

Old Heythorp nodded.

Bob Pillin went on with desperation:

“I should like to know what your objection to me is.”

The old man turned his head so far as he was able; a grim smile bristled
the hairs about his lips, and twinkled in his eyes. What did he object
to? Why--everything! Object to! That sleek head, those puppy-dog eyes,
fattish red cheeks, high collars, pearl pin, spats, and drawl-pah! the
imbecility, the smugness of his mug; no go, no devil in any of his
sort, in any of these fish-veined, coddled-up young bloods, nothing but
playing for safety! And he wheezed out:

“Milk and water masquerading as port wine.”

Bob Pillin frowned.

It was almost too much for the composure even of a man of the world.
That this paralytic old fellow should express contempt for his virility
was really the last thing in jests. Luckily he could not take it
seriously. But suddenly he thought: ‘What if he really has the power to
stop my going there, and means to turn them against me!’ And his heart
quailed.

“Awfully sorry, sir,” he said, “if you don’t think I’m wild enough.
Anything I can do for you in that line--”

The old man grunted; and realising that he had been quite witty, Bob
Pillin went on:

“I know I’m not in debt, no entanglements, got a decent income, pretty
good expectations and all that; but I can soon put that all right if I’m
not fit without.”

It was perhaps his first attempt at irony, and he could not help
thinking how good it was.

But old Heythorp preserved a deadly silence. He looked like a stuffed
man, a regular Aunt Sally sitting there, with the fixed red in his
cheeks, his stivered hair, square block of a body, and no neck that
you could see-only wanting the pipe in his mouth! Could there really be
danger from such an old idol? The idol spoke:

“I’ll give you a word of advice. Don’t hang round there, or you’ll burn
your fingers. Remember me to your father. Good-night!”

The taxi had stopped before the house in Sefton Park. An insensate
impulse to remain seated and argue the point fought in Bob Pillin with
an impulse to leap out, shake his fist in at the window, and walk off.
He merely said, however:

“Thanks for the lift. Good-night!” And, getting out deliberately, he
walked off.

Old Heythorp, waiting for the driver to help him up, thought ‘Fatter,
but no more guts than his father!’

In his sanctum he sank at once into his chair. It was wonderfully still
there every day at this hour; just the click of the coals, just the
faintest ruffle from the wind in the trees of the park. And it was
cosily warm, only the fire lightening the darkness. A drowsy beatitude
pervaded the old man. A good day’s work! A triumph--that young pup had
said. Yes! Something of a triumph! He had held on, and won. And dinner
to look forward to, yet. A nap--a nap! And soon, rhythmic, soft,
sonorous, his breathing rose, with now and then that pathetic twitching
of the old who dream.



III

1

When Bob Pillin emerged from the little front garden of 23, Millicent
Villas ten days later, his sentiments were ravelled, and he could not
get hold of an end to pull straight the stuff of his mind.

He had found Mrs. Larne and Phyllis in the sitting-room, and Phyllis
had been crying; he was sure she had been crying; and that memory still
infected the sentiments evoked by later happenings. Old Heythorp had
said: “You’ll burn your fingers.” The process had begun. Having sent
her daughter away on a pretext really a bit too thin, Mrs. Larne had
installed him beside her scented bulk on the sofa, and poured into his
ear such a tale of monetary woe and entanglement, such a mass of present
difficulties and rosy prospects, that his brain still whirled, and only
one thing emerged clearly-that she wanted fifty pounds, which she would
repay him on quarter-day; for their Guardy had made a settlement by
which, until the dear children came of age, she would have sixty pounds
every quarter. It was only a question of a few weeks; he might ask
Messrs. Scriven and Coles; they would tell him the security was quite
safe. He certainly might ask Messrs. Scriven and Coles--they happened to
be his father’s solicitors; but it hardly seemed to touch the point. Bob
Pillin had a certain shrewd caution, and the point was whether he was
going to begin to lend money to a woman who, he could see, might borrow
up to seventy times seven on the strength of his infatuation for her
daughter. That was rather too strong! Yet, if he didn’t she might take a
sudden dislike to him, and where would he be then? Besides, would not
a loan make his position stronger? And then--such is the effect of love
even on the younger generation--that thought seemed to him unworthy. If
he lent at all, it should be from chivalry--ulterior motives might go
hang! And the memory of the tear-marks on Phyllis’s pretty pale-pink
cheeks; and her petulantly mournful: “Oh! young man, isn’t money
beastly!” scraped his heart, and ravished his judgment. All the same,
fifty pounds was fifty pounds, and goodness knew how much more; and what
did he know of Mrs. Larne, after all, except that she was a relative of
old Heythorp’s and wrote stories--told them too, if he was not mistaken?
Perhaps it would be better to see Scrivens’. But again that absurd
nobility assaulted him. Phyllis! Phyllis! Besides, were not settlements
always drawn so that they refused to form security for anything? Thus,
hampered and troubled, he hailed a cab. He was dining with the Ventnors
on the Cheshire side, and would be late if he didn’t get home sharp to
dress.

Driving, white-tied--and waist-coated, in his father’s car, he thought
with a certain contumely of the younger Ventnor girl, whom he had been
wont to consider pretty before he knew Phyllis. And seated next her at
dinner, he quite enjoyed his new sense of superiority to her charms, and
the ease with which he could chaff and be agreeable. And all the time he
suffered from the suppressed longing which scarcely ever left him now,
to think and talk of Phyllis. Ventnor’s fizz was good and plentiful,
his old Madeira absolutely first chop, and the only other man present a
teetotal curate, who withdrew with the ladies to talk his parish shop.
Favoured by these circumstances, and the perception that Ventnor was an
agreeable fellow, Bob Pillin yielded to his secret itch to get near the
subject of his affections.

“Do you happen,” he said airily, “to know a Mrs. Larne--relative of old
Heythorp’s--rather a handsome woman-she writes stories.”

Mr. Ventnor shook his head. A closer scrutiny than Bob Pillin’s would
have seen that he also moved his ears.

“Of old Heythorp’s? Didn’t know he had any, except his daughter, and
that son of his in the Admiralty.”

Bob Pillin felt the glow of his secret hobby spreading within him.

“She is, though--lives rather out of town; got a son and daughter. I
thought you might know her stories--clever woman.”

Mr. Ventnor smiled. “Ah!” he said enigmatically, “these lady novelists!
Does she make any money by them?”

Bob Pillin knew that to make money by writing meant success, but that
not to make money by writing was artistic, and implied that you had
private means, which perhaps was even more distinguished. And he said:

“Oh! she has private means, I know.”

Mr. Ventnor reached for the Madeira.

“So she’s a relative of old Heythorp’s,” he said. “He’s a very old
friend of your father’s. He ought to go bankrupt, you know.”

To Bob Pillin, glowing with passion and Madeira, the idea of bankruptcy
seemed discreditable in connection with a relative of Phyllis. Besides,
the old boy was far from that! Had he not just made this settlement on
Mrs. Larne? And he said:

“I think you’re mistaken. That’s of the past.”

Mr. Ventnor smiled.

“Will you bet?” he said.

Bob Pillin also smiled. “I should be bettin’ on a certainty.”

Mr. Ventnor passed his hand over his whiskered face. “Don’t you believe
it; he hasn’t a mag to his name. Fill your glass.”

Bob Pillin said, with a certain resentment:

“Well, I happen to know he’s just made a settlement of five or six
thousand pounds. Don’t know if you call that being bankrupt.”

“What! On this Mrs. Larne?”

Confused, uncertain whether he had said something derogatory or
indiscreet, or something which added distinction to Phyllis, Bob Pillin
hesitated, then gave a nod.

Mr. Ventnor rose and extended his short legs before the fire.

“No, my boy,” he said. “No!”

Unaccustomed to flat contradiction, Bob Pillin reddened.

“I’ll bet you a tenner. Ask Scrivens.”

Mr. Ventnor ejaculated:

“Scrivens---but they’re not--” then, staring rather hard, he added: “I
won’t bet. You may be right. Scrivens are your father’s solicitors too,
aren’t they? Always been sorry he didn’t come to me. Shall we join the
ladies?” And to the drawing-room he preceded a young man more uncertain
in his mind than on his feet....

Charles Ventnor was not one to let you see that more was going on within
than met the eye. But there was a good deal going on that evening, and
after his conversation with young Bob he had occasion more than once to
turn away and rub his hands together. When, after that second creditors’
meeting, he had walked down the stairway which led to the offices of
“The Island Navigation Company,” he had been deep in thought. Short,
squarely built, rather stout, with moustache and large mutton-chop
whiskers of a red brown, and a faint floridity in face and dress, he
impressed at first sight only by a certain truly British vulgarity.
One felt that here was a hail-fellow--well-met man who liked lunch and
dinner, went to Scarborough for his summer holidays, sat on his wife,
took his daughters out in a boat and was never sick. One felt that he
went to church every Sunday morning, looked upwards as he moved through
life, disliked the unsuccessful, and expanded with his second glass of
wine. But then a clear look into his well-clothed face and red-brown
eyes would give the feeling: ‘There’s something fulvous here; he might
be a bit too foxy.’ A third look brought the thought: ‘He’s certainly
a bully.’ He was not a large creditor of old Heythorp. With interest
on the original, he calculated his claim at three hundred
pounds--unredeemed shares in that old Ecuador mine. But he had waited
for his money eight years, and could never imagine how it came about
that he had been induced to wait so long. There had been, of course, for
one who liked “big pots,” a certain glamour about the personality of old
Heythorp, still a bit of a swell in shipping circles, and a bit of an
aristocrat in Liverpool. But during the last year Charles Ventnor had
realised that the old chap’s star had definitely set--when that happens,
of course, there is no more glamour, and the time has come to get your
money. Weakness in oneself and others is despicable! Besides, he had
food for thought, and descending the stairs he chewed it: He smelt a
rat--creatures for which both by nature and profession he had a nose.
Through Bob Pillin, on whom he sometimes dwelt in connection with his
younger daughter, he knew that old Pillin and old Heythorp had been
friends for thirty years and more. That, to an astute mind, suggested
something behind this sale. The thought had already occurred to him when
he read his copy of the report. A commission would be a breach of
trust, of course, but there were ways of doing things; the old chap was
devilish hard pressed, and human nature was human nature! His
lawyerish mind habitually put two and two together. The old fellow
had deliberately appointed to meet his creditors again just after the
general meeting which would decide the purchase--had said he might do
something for them then. Had that no significance?

In these circumstances Charles Ventnor had come to the meeting with eyes
wide open and mouth tight closed. And he had watched. It was certainly
remarkable that such an old and feeble man, with no neck at all, who
looked indeed as if he might go off with apoplexy any moment, should
actually say that he “stood or fell” by this purchase, knowing that
if he fell he would be a beggar. Why should the old chap be so keen on
getting it through? It would do him personally no good, unless--Exactly!
He had left the meeting, therefore, secretly confident that old Heythorp
had got something out of this transaction which would enable him to make
a substantial proposal to his creditors. So that when the old man had
declared that he was going to make none, something had turned sour in
his heart, and he had said to himself: “All right, you old rascal! You
don’t know C. V.” The cavalier manner of that beggarly old rip, the
defiant look of his deep little eyes, had put a polish on the rancour of
one who prided himself on letting no man get the better of him. All that
evening, seated on one side of the fire, while Mrs. Ventnor sat on
the other, and the younger daughter played Gounod’s Serenade on the
violin--he cogitated. And now and again he smiled, but not too much.
He did not see his way as yet, but had little doubt that before long
he would. It would not be hard to knock that chipped old idol off his
perch. There was already a healthy feeling among the shareholders that
he was past work and should be scrapped. The old chap should find that
Charles V. was not to be defied; that when he got his teeth into a
thing, he did not let it go. By hook or crook he would have the old
man off his Boards, or his debt out of him as the price of leaving him
alone. His life or his money--and the old fellow should determine which.
With the memory of that defiance fresh within him, he almost hoped
it might come to be the first, and turning to Mrs. Ventnor, he said
abruptly:

“Have a little dinner Friday week, and ask young Pillin and the curate.”
 He specified the curate, a tee-totaller, because he had two daughters,
and males and females must be paired, but he intended to pack him off
after dinner to the drawing-room to discuss parish matters while he and
Bob Pillin sat over their wine. What he expected to get out of the young
man he did not as yet know.

On the day of the dinner, before departing for the office, he had gone
to his cellar. Would three bottles of Perrier Jouet do the trick, or
must he add one of the old Madeira? He decided to be on the safe side. A
bottle or so of champagne went very little way with him personally, and
young Pillin might be another.

The Madeira having done its work by turning the conversation into such
an admirable channel, he had cut it short for fear young Pillin might
drink the lot or get wind of the rat. And when his guests were gone, and
his family had retired, he stood staring into the fire, putting together
the pieces of the puzzle. Five or six thousand pounds--six would be ten
per cent. on sixty! Exactly! Scrivens--young Pillin had said! But Crow &
Donkin, not Scriven & Coles, were old Heythorp’s solicitors. What could
that mean, save that the old man wanted to cover the tracks of a secret
commission, and had handled the matter through solicitors who did not
know the state of his affairs! But why Pillin’s solicitors? With this
sale just going through, it must look deuced fishy to them too. Was it
all a mare’s nest, after all? In such circumstances he himself would
have taken the matter to a London firm who knew nothing of anybody.
Puzzled, therefore, and rather disheartened, feeling too that touch of
liver which was wont to follow his old Madeira, he went up to bed and
woke his wife to ask her why the dickens they couldn’t always have soup
like that!

Next day he continued to brood over his puzzle, and no fresh light came;
but having a matter on which his firm and Scrivens’ were in touch, he
decided to go over in person, and see if he could surprise something out
of them. Feeling, from experience, that any really delicate matter would
only be entrusted to the most responsible member of the firm, he had
asked to see Scriven himself, and just as he had taken his hat to go, he
said casually:

“By the way, you do some business for old Mr. Heythorp, don’t you?”

Scriven, raising his eyebrows a little, murmured: “Er--no,” in exactly
the tone Mr. Ventnor himself used when he wished to imply that though he
didn’t as a fact do business, he probably soon would. He knew therefore
that the answer was a true one. And non-plussed, he hazarded:

“Oh! I thought you did, in regard to a Mrs. Larne.”

This time he had certainly drawn blood of sorts, for down came Scriven’s
eyebrows, and he said:

“Mrs. Larne--we know a Mrs. Larne, but not in that connection. Why?”

“Oh! Young Pillin told me--”

“Young Pillin? Why, it’s his---!” A little pause, and then: “Old Mr.
Heythorp’s solicitors are Crow & Donkin, I believe.”

Mr. Ventnor held out his hand. “Yes, yes,” he said; “goodbye. Glad to
have got that matter settled up,” and out he went, and down the street,
important, smiling. By George! He had got it! “It’s his father”--Scriven
had been going to say. What a plant! Exactly! Oh! neat! Old Pillin had
made the settlement direct; and the solicitors were in the dark; that
disposed of his difficulty about them. No money had passed between old
Pillin and old Heythorp not a penny. Oh! neat! But not neat enough for
Charles Ventnor, who had that nose for rats. Then his smile died,
and with a little chill he perceived that it was all based on
supposition--not quite good enough to go on! What then? Somehow he
must see this Mrs. Larne, or better--old Pillin himself. The point to
ascertain was whether she had any connection of her own with Pillin.
Clearly young Pillin didn’t know of it; for, according to him, old
Heythorp had made the settlement. By Jove! That old rascal was deep--all
the more satisfaction in proving that he was not as deep as C. V. To
unmask the old cheat was already beginning to seem in the nature of
a public service. But on what pretext could he visit Pillin? A
subscription to the Windeatt almshouses! That would make him talk in
self-defence and he would take care not to press the request to the
actual point of getting a subscription. He caused himself to be driven
to the Pillin residence in Sefton Park. Ushered into a room on the
ground floor, heated in American fashion, Mr. Ventnor unbuttoned his
coat. A man of sanguine constitution, he found this hot-house atmosphere
a little trying. And having sympathetically obtained Joe Pillin’s
reluctant refusal--Quite so! One could not indefinitely extend one’s
subscriptions even for the best of causes!--he said gently:

“By the way, you know Mrs. Larne, don’t you?”

The effect of that simple shot surpassed his highest hopes. Joe Pillin’s
face, never highly coloured, turned a sort of grey; he opened his thin
lips, shut them quickly, as birds do, and something seemed to pass with
difficulty down his scraggy throat. The hollows, which nerve exhaustion
delves in the cheeks of men whose cheekbones are not high, increased
alarmingly. For a moment he looked deathly; then, moistening his lips,
he said:

“Larne--Larne? No, I don’t seem---”

Mr. Ventnor, who had taken care to be drawing on his gloves, murmured:

“Oh! I thought--your son knows her; a relation of old Heythorp’s,” and
he looked up.

Joe Pillin had his handkerchief to his mouth; he coughed feebly, then
with more and more vigour:

“I’m in very poor health,” he said, at last. “I’m getting abroad at
once. This cold’s killing me. What name did you say?” And he remained
with his handkerchief against his teeth.

Mr. Ventnor repeated:

“Larne. Writes stories.”

Joe Pillin muttered into his handkerchief

“Ali! H’m! No--I--no! My son knows all sorts of people. I shall have to
try Mentone. Are you going? Good-bye! Good-bye! I’m sorry; ah! ha! My
cough--ah! ha h’h’.! Very distressing. Ye-hes! My cough-ah! ha h’h’.!
Most distressing. Ye-hes!”

Out in the drive Mr. Ventnor took a deep breath of the frosty air. Not
much doubt now! The two names had worked like charms. This weakly
old fellow would make a pretty witness, would simply crumple under
cross-examination. What a contrast to that hoary old sinner Heythorp,
whose brazenness nothing could affect. The rat was as large as life!
And the only point was how to make the best use of it. Then--for his
experience was wide--the possibility dawned on him, that after all, this
Mrs. Larne might only have been old Pillin’s mistress--or be his
natural daughter, or have some other blackmailing hold on him. Any such
connection would account for his agitation, for his denying her, for his
son’s ignorance. Only it wouldn’t account for young Pillin’s saying that
old Heythorp had made the settlement. He could only have got that from
the woman herself. Still, to make absolutely sure, he had better try
and see her. But how? It would never do to ask Bob Pillin for an
introduction, after this interview with his father. He would have to
go on his own and chance it. Wrote stories did she? Perhaps a newspaper
would know her address; or the Directory would give it--not a common
name! And, hot on the scent, he drove to a post office. Yes, there it
was, right enough! “Larne, Mrs. R., 23, Millicent Villas.” And thinking
to himself: ‘No time like the present,’ he turned in that direction.
The job was delicate. He must be careful not to do anything which
might compromise his power of making public use of his knowledge.
Yes-ticklish! What he did now must have a proper legal bottom. Still,
anyway you looked at it, he had a right to investigate a fraud on
himself as a shareholder of “The Island Navigation Company,” and a fraud
on himself as a creditor of old Heythorp. Quite! But suppose this Mrs.
Larne was really entangled with old Pillin, and the settlement a mere
reward of virtue, easy or otherwise. Well! in that case there’d be no
secret commission to make public, and he needn’t go further. So that, in
either event, he would be all right. Only--how to introduce himself? He
might pretend he was a newspaper man wanting a story. No, that wouldn’t
do! He must not represent that he was what he was not, in case he had
afterwards to justify his actions publicly, always a difficult thing, if
you were not careful! At that moment there came into his mind a question
Bob Pillin had asked the other night. “By the way, you can’t borrow on a
settlement, can you? Isn’t there generally some clause against it?” Had
this woman been trying to borrow from him on that settlement? But at
this moment he reached the house, and got out of his cab still undecided
as to how he was going to work the oracle. Impudence, constitutional and
professional, sustained him in saying to the little maid:

“Mrs. Larne at home? Say Mr. Charles Ventnor, will you?”

His quick brown eyes took in the apparel of the passage which served for
hall--the deep blue paper on the walls, lilac-patterned curtains over
the doors, the well-known print of a nude young woman looking over her
shoulder, and he thought: ‘H’m! Distinctly tasty!’ They noted, too,
a small brown-and-white dog cowering in terror at the very end of the
passage, and he murmured affably: “Fluffy! Come here, Fluffy!” till
Carmen’s teeth chattered in her head.

“Will you come in, sir?”

Mr. Ventnor ran his hand over his whiskers, and, entering a room, was
impressed at once by its air of domesticity. On a sofa a handsome woman
and a pretty young girl were surrounded by sewing apparatus and some
white material. The girl looked up, but the elder lady rose.

Mr. Ventnor said easily

“You know my young friend, Mr. Robert Pillin, I think.”

The lady, whose bulk and bloom struck him to the point of admiration,
murmured in a full, sweet drawl:

“Oh! Ye-es. Are you from Messrs. Scrivens?”

With the swift reflection: ‘As I thought!’ Mr. Ventnor answered:

“Er--not exactly. I am a solicitor though; came just to ask about a
certain settlement that Mr. Pillin tells me you’re entitled under.”

“Phyllis dear!”

Seeing the girl about to rise from underneath the white stuff, Mr.
Ventnor said quickly:

“Pray don’t disturb yourself--just a formality!” It had struck him at
once that the lady would have to speak the truth in the presence of this
third party, and he went on: “Quite recent, I think. This’ll be your
first interest-on six thousand pounds? Is that right?” And at the limpid
assent of that rich, sweet voice, he thought: ‘Fine woman; what eyes!’

“Thank you; that’s quite enough. I can go to Scrivens for any detail.
Nice young fellow, Bob Pillin, isn’t he?” He saw the girl’s chin tilt,
and Mrs. Larne’s full mouth curling in a smile.

“Delightful young man; we’re very fond of him.”

And he proceeded:

“I’m quite an old friend of his; have you known him long?”

“Oh! no. How long, Phyllis, since we met him at Guardy’s? About a month.
But he’s so unaffected--quite at home with us. A nice fellow.”

Mr. Ventnor murmured:

“Very different from his father, isn’t he?”

“Is he? We don’t know his father; he’s a shipowner, I think.”

Mr. Ventnor rubbed his hands: “Ye-es,” he said, “just giving up--a warm
man. Young Pillin’s a lucky fellow--only son. So you met him at old Mr.
Heythorp’s. I know him too--relation of yours, I believe.”

“Our dear Guardy such a wonderful man.”

Mr. Ventnor echoed: “Wonderful--regular old Roman.”

“Oh! but he’s so kind!” Mrs. Larne lifted the white stuff: “Look what
he’s given this naughty gairl!”

Mr. Ventnor murmured: “Charming! Charming! Bob Pillin said, I think,
that Mr. Heythorp was your settlor.”

One of those little clouds which visit the brows of women who have owed
money in their time passed swiftly athwart Mrs. Larne’s eyes. For a
moment they seemed saying: ‘Don’t you want to know too much?’ Then they
slid from under it.

“Won’t you sit down?” she said. “You must forgive our being at work.”

Mr. Ventnor, who had need of sorting his impressions, shook his head.

“Thank you; I must be getting on. Then Messrs. Scriven can--a mere
formality! Goodbye! Good-bye, Miss Larne. I’m sure the dress will be
most becoming.”

And with memories of a too clear look from the girl’s eyes, of a warm
firm pressure from the woman’s hand, Mr. Ventnor backed towards the door
and passed away just in time to avoid hearing in two voices:

“What a nice lawyer!”

“What a horrid man!”

Back in his cab, he continued to rub his hands. No, she didn’t know old
Pillin! That was certain; not from her words, but from her face. She
wanted to know him, or about him, anyway. She was trying to hook
young Bob for that sprig of a girl--it was clear as mud. H’m! it would
astonish his young friend to hear that he had called. Well, let it! And
a curious mixture of emotions beset Mr. Ventnor. He saw the whole thing
now so plainly, and really could not refrain from a certain admiration.
The law had been properly diddled! There was nothing to prevent a man
from settling money on a woman he had never seen; and so old Pillin’s
settlement could probably not be upset. But old Heythorp could. It was
neat, though, oh! neat! And that was a fine woman--remarkably! He had a
sort of feeling that if only the settlement had been in danger, it might
have been worth while to have made a bargain--a woman like that
could have made it worth while! And he believed her quite capable of
entertaining the proposition! Her eye! Pity--quite a pity! Mrs. Ventnor
was not a wife who satisfied every aspiration. But alas! the settlement
was safe. This baulking of the sentiment of love, whipped up, if
anything, the longing for justice in Mr. Ventnor. That old chap should
feel his teeth now. As a piece of investigation it was not so bad--not
so bad at all! He had had a bit of luck, of course,--no, not luck--just
that knack of doing the right thing at the right moment which marks a
real genius for affairs.

But getting into his train to return to Mrs. Ventnor, he thought: ‘A
woman like that would have been--!’ And he sighed.



2

With a neatly written cheque for fifty pounds in his pocket Bob Pillin
turned in at 23, Millicent Villas on the afternoon after Mr. Ventnor’s
visit. Chivalry had won the day. And he rang the bell with an elation
which astonished him, for he knew he was doing a soft thing.

“Mrs. Larne is out, sir; Miss Phyllis is at home.”

His heart leaped.

“Oh-h! I’m sorry. I wonder if she’d see me?”

The little maid answered

“I think she’s been washin’ ‘er’air, sir, but it may be dry be now. I’ll
see.”

Bob Pillin stood stock still beneath the young woman on the wall. He
could scarcely breathe. If her hair were not dry--how awful! Suddenly
he heard floating down a clear but smothered “Oh! Gefoozleme!” and other
words which he could not catch. The little maid came running down.

“Miss Phyllis says, sir, she’ll be with you in a jiffy. And I was to
tell you that Master Jock is loose, sir.”

Bob Pillin answered “Tha-anks,” and passed into the drawing-room.
He went to the bureau, took an envelope, enclosed the cheque, and
addressing it: “Mrs. Larne,” replaced it in his pocket. Then he crossed
over to the mirror. Never till this last month had he really doubted his
own face; but now he wanted for it things he had never wanted. It had
too much flesh and colour. It did not reflect his passion. This was a
handicap. With a narrow white piping round his waistcoat opening, and a
buttonhole of tuberoses, he had tried to repair its deficiencies. But
do what he would, he was never easy about himself nowadays, never up
to that pitch which could make him confident in her presence. And until
this month to lack confidence had never been his wont. A clear, high,
mocking voice said:

“Oh-h! Conceited young man!”

And spinning round he saw Phyllis in the doorway. Her light brown
hair was fluffed out on her shoulders, so that he felt a kind of
fainting-sweet sensation, and murmured inarticulately:

“Oh! I say--how jolly!”

“Lawks! It’s awful! Have you come to see mother?”

Balanced between fear and daring, conscious of a scent of hay and
verbena and camomile, Bob Pillin stammered:

“Ye-es. I--I’m glad she’s not in, though.”

Her laugh seemed to him terribly unfeeling.

“Oh! oh! Don’t be foolish. Sit down. Isn’t washing one’s head awful?”

Bob Pillin answered feebly:

“Of course, I haven’t much experience.”

Her mouth opened.

“Oh! You are--aren’t you?”

And he thought desperately: ‘Dare I--oughtn’t I--couldn’t I somehow take
her hand or put my arm round her, or something?’ Instead, he sat very
rigid at his end of the sofa, while she sat lax and lissom at the other,
and one of those crises of paralysis which beset would-be lovers fixed
him to the soul.

Sometimes during this last month memories of a past existence, when
chaff and even kisses came readily to the lips, and girls were fair
game, would make him think: ‘Is she really such an innocent? Doesn’t she
really want me to kiss her?’ Alas! such intrusions lasted but a moment
before a blast of awe and chivalry withered them, and a strange and
tragic delicacy--like nothing he had ever known--resumed its sway. And
suddenly he heard her say:

“Why do you know such awful men?”

“What? I don’t know any awful men.”

“Oh yes, you do; one came here yesterday; he had whiskers, and he was
awful.”

“Whiskers?” His soul revolted in disclaimer. “I believe I only know one
man with whiskers--a lawyer.”

“Yes--that was him; a perfectly horrid man. Mother didn’t mind him, but
I thought he was a beast.”

“Ventnor! Came here? How d’you mean?”

“He did; about some business of yours, too.” Her face had clouded over.
Bob Pillin had of late been harassed by the still-born beginning of a
poem:

         “I rode upon my way and saw
          A maid who watched me from the door.”

It never grew longer, and was prompted by the feeling that her face
was like an April day. The cloud which came on it now was like an April
cloud, as if a bright shower of rain must follow. Brushing aside the two
distressful lines, he said:

“Look here, Miss Larne--Phyllis--look here!”

“All right, I’m looking!”

“What does it mean--how did he come? What did he say?”

She shook her head, and her hair quivered; the scent of camomile,
verbena, hay was wafted; then looking at her lap, she muttered:

“I wish you wouldn’t--I wish mother wouldn’t--I hate it. Oh! Money!
Beastly--beastly!” and a tearful sigh shivered itself into Bob Pillin’s
reddening ears.

“I say--don’t! And do tell me, because--”

“Oh! you know.”

“I don’t--I don’t know anything at all. I never---”

Phyllis looked up at him. “Don’t tell fibs; you know mother’s borrowing
money from you, and it’s hateful!”

A desire to lie roundly, a sense of the cheque in his pocket, a feeling
of injustice, the emotion of pity, and a confused and black astonishment
about Ventnor, caused Bob Pillin to stammer:

“Well, I’m d---d!” and to miss the look which Phyllis gave him through
her lashes--a look saying:

“Ah! that’s better!”

“I am d---d! Look here! D’you mean to say that Ventnor came here about
my lending money? I never said a word to him---”

“There you see--you are lending!”

He clutched his hair.

“We’ve got to have this out,” he added.

“Not by the roots! Oh! you do look funny. I’ve never seen you with your
hair untidy. Oh! oh!”

Bob Pillin rose and paced the room. In the midst of his emotion he
could not help seeing himself sidelong in the mirror; and on pretext of
holding his head in both his hands, tried earnestly to restore his hair.
Then coming to a halt he said:

“Suppose I am lending money to your mother, what does it matter? It’s
only till quarter-day. Anybody might want money.”

Phyllis did not raise her face.

“Why are you lending it?”

“Because--because--why shouldn’t I?” and diving suddenly, he seized her
hands.

She wrenched them free; and with the emotion of despair, Bob Pillin took
out the envelope.

“If you like,” he said, “I’ll tear this up. I don’t want to lend it, if
you don’t want me to; but I thought--I thought--” It was for her alone
he had been going to lend this money!

Phyllis murmured through her hair:

“Yes! You thought that I--that’s what’s so hateful!”

Apprehension pierced his mind.

“Oh! I never--I swear I never--”

“Yes, you did; you thought I wanted you to lend it.”

She jumped up, and brushed past him into the window.

So she thought she was being used as a decoy! That was awful--especially
since it was true. He knew well enough that Mrs. Larne was working his
admiration for her daughter for all that it was worth. And he said with
simple fervour:

“What rot!” It produced no effect, and at his wits’ end, he almost
shouted: “Look, Phyllis! If you don’t want me to--here goes!” Phyllis
turned. Tearing the envelope across he threw the bits into the fire.
“There it is,” he said.

Her eyes grew round; she said in an awed voice: “Oh!”

In a sort of agony of honesty he said:

“It was only a cheque. Now you’ve got your way.”

Staring at the fire she answered slowly:

“I expect you’d better go before mother comes.”

Bob Pillin’s mouth fell afar; he secretly agreed, but the idea of
sacrificing a moment alone with her was intolerable, and he said
hardily:

“No, I shall stick it!”

Phyllis sneezed.

“My hair isn’t a bit dry,” and she sat down on the fender with her back
to the fire.

A certain spirituality had come into Bob Pillin’s face. If only he could
get that wheeze off: “Phyllis is my only joy!” or even: “Phyllis--do
you--won’t you--mayn’t I?” But nothing came--nothing.

And suddenly she said:

“Oh! don’t breathe so loud; it’s awful!”

“Breathe? I wasn’t!”

“You were; just like Carmen when she’s dreaming.”

He had walked three steps towards the door, before he thought: ‘What
does it matter? I can stand anything from her; and walked the three
steps back again.

She said softly:

“Poor young man!”

He answered gloomily:

“I suppose you realise that this may be the last time you’ll see me?”

“Why? I thought you were going to take us to the theatre.”

“I don’t know whether your mother will--after---”

Phyllis gave a little clear laugh.

“You don’t know mother. Nothing makes any difference to her.”

And Bob Pillin muttered:

“I see.” He did not, but it was of no consequence. Then the thought of
Ventnor again ousted all others. What on earth-how on earth! He searched
his mind for what he could possibly have said the other night. Surely he
had not asked him to do anything; certainly not given him their address.
There was something very odd about it that had jolly well got to be
cleared up! And he said:

“Are you sure the name of that Johnny who came here yesterday was
Ventnor?”

Phyllis nodded.

“And he was short, and had whiskers?”

“Yes; red, and red eyes.”

He murmured reluctantly:

“It must be him. Jolly good cheek; I simply can’t understand. I shall go
and see him. How on earth did he know your address?”

“I expect you gave it him.”

“I did not. I won’t have you thinking me a squirt.”

Phyllis jumped up. “Oh! Lawks! Here’s mother!” Mrs. Larne was coming
up the garden. Bob Pillin made for the door. “Good-bye,” he said; “I’m
going.” But Mrs. Larne was already in the hall. Enveloping him in fur
and her rich personality, she drew him with her into the drawing-room,
where the back window was open and Phyllis gone.

“I hope,” she said, “those naughty children have been making you
comfortable. That nice lawyer of yours came yesterday. He seemed quite
satisfied.”

Very red above his collar, Bob Pillin stammered:

“I never told him to; he isn’t my lawyer. I don’t know what it means.”

Mrs. Larne smiled. “My dear boy, it’s all right. You needn’t be so
squeamish. I want it to be quite on a business footing.”

Restraining a fearful inclination to blurt out: “It’s not going to be on
any footing!” Bob Pillin mumbled: “I must go; I’m late.”

“And when will you be able---?”

“Oh! I’ll--I’ll send--I’ll write. Good-bye!” And suddenly he found that
Mrs. Larne had him by the lapel of his coat. The scent of violets and
fur was overpowering, and the thought flashed through him: ‘I believe
she only wanted to take money off old Joseph in the Bible. I can’t leave
my coat in her hands! What shall I do?’

Mrs. Larne was murmuring:

“It would be so sweet of you if you could manage it today”; and her hand
slid over his chest. “Oh! You have brought your cheque-book--what a nice
boy!”

Bob Pillin took it out in desperation, and, sitting down at the bureau,
wrote a cheque similar to that which he had torn and burned. A warm kiss
lighted on his eyebrow, his head was pressed for a moment to a furry
bosom; a hand took the cheque; a voice said: “How delightful!” and a
sigh immersed him in a bath of perfume. Backing to the door, he gasped:

“Don’t mention it; and--and don’t tell Phyllis, please. Good-bye!”

Once through the garden gate, he thought: ‘By gum! I’ve done it now.
That Phyllis should know about it at all! That beast Ventnor!’

His face grew almost grim. He would go and see what that meant anyway!



3

Mr. Ventnor had not left his office when his young friend’s card was
brought to him. Tempted for a moment to deny his own presence, he
thought: ‘No! What’s the good? Bound to see him some time!’ If he had
not exactly courage, he had that peculiar blend of self-confidence and
insensibility which must needs distinguish those who follow the law; nor
did he ever forget that he was in the right.

“Show him in!” he said.

He would be quite bland, but young Pillin might whistle for an
explanation; he was still tormented, too, by the memory of rich curves
and moving lips, and the possibilities of better acquaintanceship.

While shaking the young man’s hand his quick and fulvous eye detected
at once the discomposure behind that mask of cheek and collar, and
relapsing into one of those swivel chairs which give one an advantage
over men more statically seated, he said:

“You look pretty bobbish. Anything I can do for you?”

Bob Pillin, in the fixed chair of the consultor, nursed his bowler on
his knee.

“Well, yes, there is. I’ve just been to see Mrs. Larne.”

Mr. Ventnor did not flinch.

“Ah! Nice woman; pretty daughter, too!” And into those words he put
a certain meaning. He never waited to be bullied. Bob Pillin felt the
pressure of his blood increasing.

“Look here, Ventnor,” he said, “I want an explanation.”

“What of?”

“Why, of your going there, and using my name, and God knows what.”

Mr. Ventnor gave his chair two little twiddles before he said

“Well, you won’t get it.”

Bob Pillin remained for a moment taken aback; then he muttered
resolutely:

“It’s not the conduct of a gentleman.”

Every man has his illusions, and no man likes them disturbed. The
gingery tint underlying Mr. Ventnor’s colouring overlaid it; even the
whites of his eyes grew red.

“Oh!” he said; “indeed! You mind your own business, will you?”

“It is my business--very much so. You made use of my name, and I don’t
choose---”

“The devil you don’t! Now, I tell you what---”

Mr. Ventnor leaned forward--“you’d better hold your tongue, and
not exasperate me. I’m a good-tempered man, but I won’t stand your
impudence.”

Clenching his bowler hat, and only kept in his seat by that sense of
something behind, Bob Pillin ejaculated:

“Impudence! That’s good--after what you did! Look here, why did you?
It’s so extraordinary!”

Mr. Ventnor answered:

“Oh! is it? You wait a bit, my friend!”

Still more moved by the mystery of this affair, Bob Pillin could only
mutter:

“I never gave you their address; we were only talking about old
Heythorp.”

And at the smile which spread between Mr. Ventnor’s whiskers, he jumped
up, crying:

“It’s not the thing, and you’re not going to put me off. I insist on an
explanation.”

Mr. Ventnor leaned back, crossing his stout legs, joining the tips of
his thick fingers. In this attitude he was always self-possessed.

“You do--do you?”

“Yes. You must have had some reason.”

Mr. Ventnor gazed up at him.

“I’ll give you a piece of advice, young cock, and charge you nothing
for it, too: Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies. And here’s
another: Go away before you forget yourself again.”

The natural stolidity of Bob Pilings face was only just proof against
this speech. He said thickly:

“If you go there again and use my name, I’ll Well, it’s lucky for you
you’re not my age. Anyway I’ll relieve you of my acquaintanceship in
future. Good-evening!” and he went to the door. Mr. Ventnor had risen.

“Very well,” he said loudly. “Good riddance! You wait and see which boot
the leg is on!”

But Bob Pillin was gone, leaving the lawyer with a very red face, a very
angry heart, and a vague sense of disorder in his speech. Not only
Bob Pillin, but his tender aspirations had all left him; he no longer
dallied with the memory of Mrs. Larne, but like a man and a Briton
thought only of how to get his own back, and punish evildoers. The
atrocious words of his young friend, “It’s not the conduct of a
gentleman,” festered in the heart of one who was made gentle not merely
by nature but by Act of Parliament, and he registered a solemn vow to
wipe the insult out, if not with blood, with verjuice. It was his duty,
and they should d---d well see him do it!



IV

Sylvanus Heythorp seldom went to bed before one or rose before eleven.
The latter habit alone kept his valet from handing in the resignation
which the former habit prompted almost every night.

Propped on his pillows in a crimson dressing-gown, and freshly shaved,
he looked more Roman than he ever did, except in his bath. Having
disposed of coffee, he was wont to read his letters, and The Morning
Post, for he had always been a Tory, and could not stomach paying a
halfpenny for his news. Not that there were many letters--when a man has
reached the age of eighty, who should write to him, except to ask for
money?

It was Valentine’s Day. Through his bedroom window he could see the
trees of the park, where the birds were in song, though he could not
hear them. He had never been interested in Nature--full-blooded men with
short necks seldom are.

This morning indeed there were two letters, and he opened that which
smelt of something. Inside was a thing like a Christmas card, save that
the naked babe had in his hands a bow and arrow, and words coming out
of his mouth: “To be your Valentine.” There was also a little pink note
with one blue forget-me-not printed at the top. It ran:


“DEAREST GUARDY,--I’m sorry this is such a mangy little valentine; I
couldn’t go out to get it because I’ve got a beastly cold, so I asked
Jock, and the pig bought this. The satin is simply scrumptious. If you
don’t come and see me in it some time soon, I shall come and show it
to you. I wish I had a moustache, because my top lip feels just like a
matchbox, but it’s rather ripping having breakfast in bed. Mr. Pillin’s
taking us to the theatre the day after to-morrow evening. Isn’t it
nummy! I’m going to have rum and honey for my cold.

“Good-bye,

“Your PHYLLIS.”


So this that quivered in his thick fingers, too insensitive to feel it,
was a valentine for him!

Forty years ago that young thing’s grandmother had given him his last.
It made him out a very old chap! Forty years ago! Had that been
himself living then? And himself, who, as a youth came on the town
in ‘forty-five? Not a thought, not a feeling the same! They said you
changed your body every seven years. The mind with it, too, perhaps!
Well, he had come to the last of his bodies, now! And that holy woman
had been urging him to take it to Bath, with her face as long as
a tea-tray, and some gammon from that doctor of his. Too full a
habit--dock his port--no alcohol--might go off in a coma any night!
Knock off not he! Rather die any day than turn tee-totaller! When a man
had nothing left in life except his dinner, his bottle, his cigar, and
the dreams they gave him--these doctors forsooth must want to cut them
off! No, no! Carpe diem! while you lived, get something out of it. And
now that he had made all the provision he could for those youngsters,
his life was no good to any one but himself; and the sooner he went off
the better, if he ceased to enjoy what there was left, or lost the power
to say: “I’ll do this and that, and you be jiggered!” Keep a stiff lip
until you crashed, and then go clean! He sounded the bell beside him
twice-for Molly, not his man. And when the girl came in, and stood,
pretty in her print frock, her fluffy over-fine dark hair escaping from
under her cap, he gazed at her in silence.

“Yes, sirr?”

“Want to look at you, that’s all.”

“Oh I an’ I’m not tidy, sirr.”

“Never mind. Had your valentine?”

“No, sirr; who would send me one, then?”

“Haven’t you a young man?”

“Well, I might. But he’s over in my country.

“What d’you think of this?”

He held out the little boy.

The girl took the card and scrutinised it reverently; she said in a
detached voice:

“Indeed, an’ ut’s pretty, too.”

“Would you like it?”

“Oh I if ‘tis not taking ut from you.”

Old Heythorp shook his head, and pointed to the dressing-table.

“Over there--you’ll find a sovereign. Little present for a good girl.”

She uttered a deep sigh. “Oh! sirr, ‘tis too much; ‘tis kingly.”

“Take it.”

She took it, and came back, her hands clasping the sovereign and the
valentine, in an attitude as of prayer.

The old man’s gaze rested on her with satisfaction.

“I like pretty faces--can’t bear sour ones. Tell Meller to get my bath
ready.”

When she had gone he took up the other letter--some lawyer’s writing,
and opening it with the usual difficulty, read:


“February 13, 1905.

“SIR,--Certain facts having come to my knowledge, I deem it my duty to
call a special meeting of the shareholders of ‘The Island Navigation
Coy.,’ to consider circumstances in connection with the purchase of Mr.
Joseph Pillin’s fleet. And I give you notice that at this meeting your
conduct will be called in question.

“I am, Sir,

“Yours faithfully,

“CHARLES VENTNOR.
“SYLVANUS HEYTHORP,ESQ.”


Having read this missive, old Heythorp remained some minutes without
stirring. Ventnor! That solicitor chap who had made himself unpleasant
at the creditors’ meetings!

There are men whom a really bad bit of news at once stampedes out of all
power of coherent thought and action, and men who at first simply do not
take it in. Old Heythorp took it in fast enough; coming from a lawyer it
was about as nasty as it could be. But, at once, with stoic wariness
his old brain began casting round. What did this fellow really know?
And what exactly could he do? One thing was certain; even if he knew
everything, he couldn’t upset that settlement. The youngsters were all
right. The old man grasped the fact that only his own position was at
stake. But this was enough in all conscience; a name which had been
before the public fifty odd years--income, independence, more perhaps.
It would take little, seeing his age and feebleness, to make his
Companies throw him over. But what had the fellow got hold of? How
decide whether or no to take notice; to let him do his worst, or try and
get into touch with him? And what was the fellow’s motive? He held ten
shares! That would never make a man take all this trouble, and over a
purchase which was really first-rate business for the Company. Yes!
His conscience was quite clean. He had not betrayed his Company--on the
contrary, had done it a good turn, got them four sound ships at a low
price--against much opposition. That he might have done the Company a
better turn, and got the ships at fifty-four thousand, did not trouble
him--the six thousand was a deuced sight better employed; and he had not
pocketed a penny piece himself! But the fellow’s motive? Spite? Looked
like it. Spite, because he had been disappointed of his money, and
defied into the bargain! H’m! If that were so, he might still be got
to blow cold again. His eyes lighted on the pink note with the blue
forget-me-not. It marked as it were the high water mark of what was left
to him of life; and this other letter in his hand-by Jove! Low water
mark! And with a deep and rumbling sigh he thought: ‘No, I’m not going
to be beaten by this fellow.’

“Your bath is ready, sir.”

Crumpling the two letters into the pocket of his dressing-gown, he said:

“Help me up; and telephone to Mr. Farney to be good enough to come
round.” ....

An hour later, when the secretary entered, his chairman was sitting by
the fire perusing the articles of association. And, waiting for him to
look up, watching the articles shaking in that thick, feeble hand, the
secretary had one of those moments of philosophy not too frequent with
his kind. Some said the only happy time of life was when you had no
passions, nothing to hope and live for. But did you really ever reach
such a stage? The old chairman, for instance, still had his passion for
getting his own way, still had his prestige, and set a lot of store by
it! And he said:

“Good morning, sir; I hope you’re all right in this east wind. The
purchase is completed.”

“Best thing the company ever did. Have you heard from a shareholder
called Ventnor. You know the man I mean?”

“No, sir. I haven’t.”

“Well! You may get a letter that’ll make you open your eyes. An impudent
scoundrel! Just write at my dictation.”

“February 14th, 1905.

“CHARLES VENTNOR, Esq.

“SIR,--I have your letter of yesterday’s date, the contents of which I
am at a loss to understand. My solicitors will be instructed to take the
necessary measures.”

’.hew What’s all this about?’ the secretary thought.

“Yours truly....”

“I’ll sign.” And the shaky letters closed the page: “SYLVANUS HEYTHORP.”

“Post that as you go.”

“Anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Nothing, except to let me know if you hear from this fellow.”

When the secretary had gone the old man thought: ‘So! The ruffian hasn’t
called the meeting yet. That’ll bring him round here fast enough if it’s
his money he wants-blackmailing scoundrel!’

“Mr. Pillin, sir; and will you wait lunch, or will you have it in the
dining-room?”

“In the dining-room.”

At sight of that death’s-head of a fellow, old Heythorp felt a sort of
pity. He looked bad enough already--and this news would make him look
worse. Joe Pillin glanced round at the two closed doors.

“How are you, Sylvanus? I’m very poorly.” He came closer, and lowered
his voice: “Why did you get me to make that settlement? I must have been
mad. I’ve had a man called Ventnor--I didn’t like his manner. He asked
me if I knew a Mrs. Larne.”

“Ha! What did you say?”

“What could I say? I don’t know her. But why did he ask?”

“Smells a rat.”

Joe Pillin grasped the edge of the table with both hands.

“Oh!” he murmured. “Oh! don’t say that!”

Old Heythorp held out to him the crumpled letter.

When he had read it Joe Pillin sat down abruptly before the fire.

“Pull yourself together, Joe; they can’t touch you, and they can’t upset
either the purchase or the settlement. They can upset me, that’s all.”

Joe Pillin answered, with trembling lips:

“How you can sit there, and look the same as ever! Are you sure they
can’t touch me?”

Old Heyworth nodded grimly.

“They talk of an Act, but they haven’t passed it yet. They might prove
a breach of trust against me. But I’ll diddle them. Keep your pecker up,
and get off abroad.”

“Yes, yes. I must. I’m very bad. I was going to-morrow. But I don’t
know, I’m sure, with this hanging over me. My son knowing her makes it
worse. He picks up with everybody. He knows this man Ventnor too. And
I daren’t say anything to Bob. What are you thinking of, Sylvanus? You
look very funny!”

Old Heythorp seemed to rouse himself from a sort of coma.

“I want my lunch,” he said. “Will you stop and have some?”

Joe Pillin stammered out:

“Lunch! I don’t know when I shall eat again. What are you going to do,
Sylvanus?”

“Bluff the beggar out of it.”

“But suppose you can’t?”

“Buy him off. He’s one--of my creditors.”

Joe Pillin stared at him afresh. “You always had such nerve,” he
said yearningly. “Do you ever wake up between two and four? I do--and
everything’s black.”

“Put a good stiff nightcap on, my boy, before going to bed.”

“Yes; I sometimes wish I was less temperate. But I couldn’t stand it.
I’m told your doctor forbids you alcohol.”

“He does. That’s why I drink it.”

Joe Pillin, brooding over the fire, said: “This meeting--d’you think
they mean to have it? D’you think this man really knows? If my name gets
into the newspapers--” but encountering his old friend’s deep little
eyes, he stopped. “So you advise me to get off to-morrow, then?”

Old Heythorp nodded.

“Your lunch is served, sir.”

Joe Pillin started violently, and rose.

“Well, good-bye, Sylvanus-good-bye! I don’t suppose I shall be back till
the summer, if I ever come back!” He sank his voice: “I shall rely on
you. You won’t let them, will you?”

Old Heythorp lifted his hand, and Joe Pillin put into that swollen
shaking paw his pale and spindly fingers. “I wish I had your pluck,” he
said sadly. “Good-bye, Sylvanus,” and turning, he passed out.

Old Heythorp thought: ‘Poor shaky chap. All to pieces at the first
shot!’ And, going to his lunch, ate more heavily than usual.



2

Mr. Ventnor, on reaching his office and opening his letters, found, as
he had anticipated, one from “that old rascal.” Its contents excited in
him the need to know his own mind. Fortunately this was not complicated
by a sense of dignity--he only had to consider the position with an eye
on not being made to look a fool. The point was simply whether he set
more store by his money than by his desire for--er--Justice. If not, he
had merely to convene the special meeting, and lay before it the plain
fact that Mr. Joseph Pillin, selling his ships for sixty thousand
pounds, had just made a settlement of six thousand pounds on a lady
whom he did not know, a daughter, ward, or what-not--of the purchasing
company’s chairman, who had said, moreover, at the general meeting,
that he stood or fell by the transaction; he had merely to do this,
and demand that an explanation be required from the old man of such a
startling coincidence. Convinced that no explanation would hold water,
he felt sure that his action would be at once followed by the collapse,
if nothing more, of that old image, and the infliction of a nasty slur
on old Pillin and his hopeful son. On the other hand, three hundred
pounds was money; and, if old Heythorp were to say to him: “What do
you want to make this fuss for--here’s what I owe you!” could a man of
business and the world let his sense of justice--however he might itch
to have it satisfied--stand in the way of what was after all also his
sense of Justice?--for this money had been owing to him for the deuce of
along time. In this dilemma, the words:

“My solicitors will be instructed” were of notable service in
helping him to form a decision, for he had a certain dislike of other
solicitors, and an intimate knowledge of the law of libel and slander;
if by any remote chance there should be a slip between the cup and
the lip, Charles Ventnor might be in the soup--a position which he
deprecated both by nature and profession. High thinking, therefore,
decided him at last to answer thus:

“February 19th, 1905.

“SIR,--I have received your note. I think it may be fair, before taking
further steps in this matter, to ask you for a personal explanation
of the circumstances to which I alluded. I therefore propose with your
permission to call on you at your private residence at five o’clock
to-morrow afternoon.

“Yours faithfully, “CHARLES VENTNOR.

“SYLVANUS HEYTHORP, Esq.”

Having sent this missive, and arranged in his mind the damning, if
circumstantial, evidence he had accumulated, he awaited the hour with
confidence, for his nature was not lacking in the cock-surety of a
Briton. All the same, he dressed himself particularly well that
morning, putting on a blue and white striped waistcoat which, with a
cream-coloured tie, set off his fulvous whiskers and full blue eyes;
and he lunched, if anything, more fully than his wont, eating a stronger
cheese and taking a glass of special Club ale. He took care to be late,
too, to show the old fellow that his coming at all was in the nature of
an act of grace. A strong scent of hyacinths greeted him in the hall;
and Mr. Ventnor, who was an amateur of flowers, stopped to put his nose
into a fine bloom and think uncontrollably of Mrs. Larne. Pity! The
things one had to give up in life--fine women--one thing and another.
Pity! The thought inspired in him a timely anger; and he followed the
servant, intending to stand no nonsense from this paralytic old rascal.

The room he entered was lighted by a bright fire, and a single electric
lamp with an orange shade on a table covered by a black satin cloth.
There were heavily gleaming oil paintings on the walls, a heavy old
brass chandelier without candles, heavy dark red curtains, and an
indefinable scent of burnt acorns, coffee, cigars, and old man. He
became conscious of a candescent spot on the far side of the hearth,
where the light fell on old Heythorp’s thick white hair.

“Mr. Ventnor, sir.”

The candescent spot moved. A voice said: “Sit down.”

Mr. Ventnor sat in an armchair on the opposite side of the fire; and,
finding a kind of somnolence creeping over him, pinched himself. He
wanted all his wits about him.

The old man was speaking in that extinct voice of his, and Mr. Ventnor
said rather pettishly:

“Beg pardon, I don’t get you.”

Old Heythorp’s voice swelled with sudden force:

“Your letters are Greek to me.”

“Oh! indeed, I think we can soon make them into plain English!”

“Sooner the better.”

Mr. Ventnor passed through a moment of indecision. Should he lay
his cards on the table? It was not his habit, and the proceeding was
sometimes attended with risk. The knowledge, however, that he could
always take them up again, seeing there was no third person here to
testify that he had laid them down, decided him, and he said:

“Well, Mr. Heythorp, the long and short of the matter is this: Our
friend Mr. Pillin paid you a commission of ten per cent. on the sale
of his ships. Oh! yes. He settled the money, not on you, but on your
relative Mrs. Larne and her children. This, as you know, is a breach of
trust on your part.”

The old man’s voice: “Where did you get hold of that cock-and-bull
story?” brought him to his feet before the fire.

“It won’t do, Mr. Heythorp. My witnesses are Mr. Pillin, Mrs. Larne, and
Mr. Scriven.”

“What have you come here for, then--blackmail?”

Mr. Ventnor straightened his waistcoat; a rush of conscious virtue had
dyed his face.

“Oh! you take that tone,” he said, “do you? You think you can ride
roughshod over everything? Well, you’re very much mistaken. I advise you
to keep a civil tongue and consider your position, or I’ll make a beggar
of you. I’m not sure this isn’t a case for a prosecution!”

“Gammon!”

The choler in Charles Ventnor kept him silent for a moment; then he
burst out:

“Neither gammon nor spinach. You owe me three hundred pounds, you’ve
owed it me for years, and you have the impudence to take this attitude
with me, have you? Now, I never bluster; I say what I mean. You just
listen to me. Either you pay me what you owe me at once, or I call this
meeting and make what I know public. You’ll very soon find out where you
are. And a good thing, too, for a more unscrupulous--unscrupulous---” he
paused for breath.

Occupied with his own emotion, he had not observed the change in old
Heythorp’s face. The imperial on that lower lip was bristling, the
crimson of those cheeks had spread to the roots of his white hair.
He grasped the arms of his chair, trying to rise; his swollen hands
trembled; a little saliva escaped one corner of his lips. And the words
came out as if shaken by his teeth:

“So-so-you-you bully me!”

Conscious that the interview had suddenly passed from the phase of
negotiation, Mr. Ventnor looked hard at his opponent. He saw nothing
but a decrepit, passionate, crimson-faced old man at bay, and all the
instincts of one with everything on his side boiled up in him. The
miserable old turkey-cock--the apoplectic image! And he said:

“And you’ll do no good for yourself by getting into a passion. At your
age, and in your condition, I recommend a little prudence. Now just take
my terms quietly, or you know what’ll happen. I’m not to be intimidated
by any of your airs.” And seeing that the old man’s rage was such that
he simply could not speak, he took the opportunity of going on: “I don’t
care two straws which you do--I’m out to show you who’s master. If you
think in your dotage you can domineer any longer--well, you’ll find two
can play at that game. Come, now, which are you going to do?”

The old man had sunk back in his chair, and only his little deep-blue
eyes seemed living. Then he moved one hand, and Mr. Ventnor saw that
he was fumbling to reach the button of an electric bell at the end of a
cord. ‘I’ll show him,’ he thought, and stepping forward, he put it out
of reach.

Thus frustrated, the old man remained-motionless, staring up. The word
“blackmail” resumed its buzzing in Mr. Ventnor’s ears. The impudence
the consummate impudence of it from this fraudulent old ruffian with one
foot in bankruptcy and one foot in the grave, if not in the dock.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s never too late to learn; and for once you’ve come
up against someone a leetle bit too much for you. Haven’t you now? You’d
better cry ‘Peccavi.’.

Then, in the deathly silence of the room, the moral force of his
position, and the collapse as it seemed of his opponent, awakening a
faint compunction, he took a turn over the Turkey carpet to readjust his
mind.

“You’re an old man, and I don’t want to be too hard on you. I’m only
showing you that you can’t play fast and loose as if you were God
Almighty any longer. You’ve had your own way too many years. And now
you can’t have it, see!” Then, as the old man again moved forward in his
chair, he added: “Now, don’t get into a passion again; calm yourself,
because I warn you--this is your last chance. I’m a man of my word; and
what I say, I do.”

By a violent and unsuspected effort the old man jerked himself up and
reached the bell. Mr. Ventnor heard it ring, and said sharply:

“Mind you, it’s nothing to me which you do. I came for your own good.
Please yourself. Well?”

He was answered by the click of the door and the old man’s husky voice:

“Show this hound out! And then come back!”

Mr. Ventnor had presence of mind enough not to shake his fist.
Muttering: “Very well, Mr. Heythorp! Ah! Very well!” he moved with
dignity to the door. The careful shepherding of the servant renewed the
fire of his anger. Hound! He had been called a hound!



3

After seeing Mr. Ventnor off the premises the man Meller returned to his
master, whose face looked very odd--“all patchy-like,” as he put it in
the servants’ hall, as though the blood driven to his head had mottled
for good the snowy whiteness of the forehead. He received the unexpected
order:

“Get me a hot bath ready, and put some pine stuff in it.”

When the old man was seated there, the valet asked:

“How long shall I give you, sir?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“Very good, sir.”

Lying in that steaming brown fragrant liquid, old Heythorp heaved a
stertorous sigh. By losing his temper with that ill-conditioned cur he
had cooked his goose. It was done to a turn; and he was a ruined man.
If only--oh! if only he could have seized the fellow by the neck and
pitched him out of the room! To have lived to be so spoken to; to have
been unable to lift hand or foot, hardly even his voice--he would sooner
have been dead! Yes--sooner have been dead! A dumb and measureless
commotion was still at work in the recesses of that thick old body,
silver-brown in the dark water, whose steam he drew deep into his
wheezing lungs, as though for spiritual relief. To be beaten by a cur
like that! To have that common cad of a pettifogging lawyer drag him
down and kick him about; tumble a name which had stood high, in the
dust! The fellow had the power to make him a byword and a beggar! It
was incredible! But it was a fact. And to-morrow he would begin to do
it--perhaps had begun already. His tree had come down with a crash!
Eighty years-eighty good years! He regretted none of them-regretted
nothing; least of all this breach of trust which had provided for his
grandchildren--one of the best things he had ever done. The fellow was
a cowardly hound, too! The way he had snatched the bell-pull out of
his reach-despicable cur! And a chap like that was to put “paid” to the
account of Sylvanus Heythorp, to “scratch” him out of life--so near the
end of everything, the very end! His hand raised above the surface fell
back on his stomach through the dark water, and a bubble or two rose.
Not so fast--not so fast! He had but to slip down a foot, let the water
close over his head, and “Good-bye” to Master Ventnor’s triumph Dead men
could not be kicked off the Boards of Companies. Dead men could not be
beggared, deprived of their independence. He smiled and stirred a little
in the bath till the water reached the white hairs on his lower lip.
It smelt nice! And he took a long sniff: He had had a good life, a good
life! And with the thought that he had it in his power at any moment to
put Master Ventnor’s nose out of joint--to beat the beggar after all, a
sense of assuagement and well-being crept over him. His blood ran
more evenly again. He closed his eyes. They talked about an
after-life--people like that holy woman. Gammon! You went to sleep--a
long sleep; no dreams. A nap after dinner! Dinner! His tongue sought his
palate! Yes! he could eat a good dinner! That dog hadn’t put him off his
stroke! The best dinner he had ever eaten was the one he gave to Jack
Herring, Chichester, Thornworthy, Nick Treffry and Jolyon Forsyte at
Pole’s. Good Lord! In ‘sixty--yes--’sixty-five? Just before he fell in
love with Alice Larne--ten years before he came to Liverpool. That was
a dinner! Cost twenty-four pounds for the six of them--and Forsyte
an absurdly moderate fellow. Only Nick Treff’ry and himself had been
three-bottle men! Dead! Every jack man of them. And suddenly he thought:
’.y name’s a good one--I was never down before--never beaten!’

A voice above the steam said:

“The twenty minutes is up, sir.”

“All right; I’ll get out. Evening clothes.”

And Meller, taking out dress suit and shirt, thought: ‘Now, what does
the old bloomer want dressin’ up again for; why can’t he go to bed and
have his dinner there? When a man’s like a baby, the cradle’s the place
for him.’....

An hour later, at the scene of his encounter with Mr. Ventnor, where
the table was already laid for dinner, old Heythorp stood and gazed. The
curtains had been drawn back, the window thrown open to air the room,
and he could see out there the shapes of the dark trees and a sky
grape-coloured, in the mild, moist night. It smelt good. A sensuous
feeling stirred in him, warm from his bath, clothed from head to foot in
fresh garments. Deuce of a time since he had dined in full fig! He
would have liked a woman dining opposite--but not the holy woman; no,
by George!--would have liked to see light falling on a woman’s shoulders
once again, and a pair of bright eyes! He crossed, snail-like, towards
the fire. There that bullying fellow had stood with his back to
it--confound his impudence!--as if the place belonged to him. And
suddenly he had a vision of his three secretaries’ faces--especially
young Farney’s as they would look, when the pack got him by the throat
and pulled him down. His co-directors, too! Old Heythorp! How are the
mighty fallen! And that hound jubilant!

His valet passed across the room to shut the window and draw the
curtains. This chap too! The day he could no longer pay his wages, and
had lost the power to say “Shan’t want your services any more”--when he
could no longer even pay his doctor for doing his best to kill him off!
Power, interest, independence, all--gone! To be dressed and undressed,
given pap, like a baby in arms, served as they chose to serve him, and
wished out of the way--broken, dishonoured!

By money alone an old man had his being! Meat, drink, movement, breath!
When all his money was gone the holy woman would let him know it fast
enough. They would all let him know it; or if they didn’t, it would be
out of pity! He had never been pitied yet--thank God! And he said:

“Get me up a bottle of Perrier Jouet. What’s the menu?”

“Germane soup, sir; filly de sole; sweetbread; cutlet soubees, rum
souffly.”

“Tell her to give me a hors d’oeuvre, and put on a savoury.”

“Yes, sir.”

When the man had gone, he thought: ‘I should have liked an oyster--too
late now!’ and going over to his bureau, he fumblingly pulled out the
top drawer. There was little in it--Just a few papers, business papers
on his Companies, and a schedule of his debts; not even a copy of his
will--he had not made one, nothing to leave! Letters he had never kept.
Half a dozen bills, a few receipts, and the little pink note with the
blue forget-me-not. That was the lot! An old tree gives up bearing
leaves, and its roots dry up, before it comes down in a wind; an old
man’s world slowly falls away from him till he stands alone in the
night. Looking at the pink note, he thought: ‘Suppose I’d married
Alice--a man never had a better mistress!’ He fumbled the drawer to; but
still he strayed feebly about the room, with a curious shrinking from
sitting down, legacy from the quarter of an hour he had been compelled
to sit while that hound worried at his throat. He was opposite one of
the pictures now. It gleamed, dark and oily, limning a Scots Grey who
had mounted a wounded Russian on his horse, and was bringing him
back prisoner from the Balaclava charge. A very old friend--bought in
’.ifty-nine. It had hung in his chambers in the Albany--hung with him
ever since. With whom would it hang when he was gone? For that holy
woman would scrap it, to a certainty, and stick up some Crucifixion or
other, some new-fangled high art thing! She could even do that now if
she liked--for she owned it, owned every mortal stick in the room, to
the very glass he would drink his champagne from; all made over under
the settlement fifteen years ago, before his last big gamble went wrong.
“De l’audace, toujours de l’audace!” The gamble which had brought him
down till his throat at last was at the mercy of a bullying hound.
The pitcher and the well! At the mercy---! The sound of a popping cork
dragged him from reverie. He moved to his seat, back to the window, and
sat down to his dinner. By George! They had got him an oyster! And he
said:

“I’ve forgotten my teeth!”

While the man was gone for them, he swallowed the oysters, methodically
touching them one by one with cayenne, Chili vinegar, and lemon. Ummm!
Not quite what they used to be at Pimm’s in the best days, but not
bad--not bad! Then seeing the little blue bowl lying before him, he
looked up and said:

“My compliments to cook on the oysters. Give me the champagne.” And he
lifted his trembling teeth. Thank God, he could still put ‘em in for
himself! The creaming goldenish fluid from the napkined bottle slowly
reached the brim of his glass, which had a hollow stem; raising it to
his lips, very red between the white hairs above and below, he drank
with a gurgling noise, and put the glass down-empty. Nectar! And just
cold enough!

“I frapped it the least bit, sir.”

“Quite right. What’s that smell of flowers?”

“It’s from those ‘yacinths on the sideboard, sir. They come from Mrs.
Larne, this afternoon.”

“Put ‘em on the table. Where’s my daughter?”

“She’s had dinner, sir; goin’ to a ball, I think.”

“A ball!”

“Charity ball, I fancy, sir.”

“Ummm! Give me a touch of the old sherry with the soup.”

“Yes, sir. I shall have to open a bottle:”

“Very well, then, do!”

On his way to the cellar the man confided to Molly, who was carrying the
soup:

“The Gov’nor’s going it to-night! What he’ll be like tomorrow I dunno.”

The girl answered softly:

“Poor old man, let um have his pleasure.” And, in the hall, with the
soup tureen against her bosom, she hummed above the steam, and thought
of the ribbons on her new chemises, bought out of the sovereign he had
given her.

And old Heythorp, digesting his osyters, snuffed the scent of the
hyacinths, and thought of the St. Germain, his favourite soup. It
would n’t be first-rate, at this time of year--should be made with
little young home-grown peas. Paris was the place for it. Ah! The French
were the fellows for eating, and--looking things in the face! Not
hypocrites--not ashamed of their reason or their senses!

The soup came in. He sipped it, bending forward as far as he could, his
napkin tucked in over his shirt-front like a bib. He got the bouquet of
that sherry to a T--his sense of smell was very keen to-night; rare old
stuff it was--more than a year since he had tasted it--but no one drank
sherry nowadays, hadn’t the constitution for it! The fish came up,
and went down; and with the sweetbread he took his second glass of
champagne. Always the best, that second glass--the stomach well warmed,
and the palate not yet dulled. Umm! So that fellow thought he had him
beaten, did he? And he said suddenly:

“The fur coat in the wardrobe, I’ve no use for it. You can take it away
to-night.”

With tempered gratitude the valet answered:

“Thank you, sir; much obliged, I’m sure.” So the old buffer had found
out there was moth in it!

“Have I worried you much?”

“No, sir; not at all, sir--that is, no more than reason.”

“Afraid I have. Very sorry--can’t help it. You’ll find that, when you
get like me.”

“Yes, sir; I’ve always admired your pluck, sir.

“Um! Very good of you to say so.”

“Always think of you keepin’ the flag flying’, sir.”

Old Heythorp bent his body from the waist.

“Much obliged to you.”

“Not at all, sir. Cook’s done a little spinach in cream with the
soubees.”

“Ah! Tell her from me it’s a capital dinner, so far.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Alone again, old Heythorp sat unmoving, his brain just narcotically
touched. “The flag flyin’--the flag flyin’.” He raised his glass and
sucked. He had an appetite now, and finished the three cutlets, and all
the sauce and spinach. Pity! he could have managed a snipe fresh shot! A
desire to delay, to lengthen dinner, was strong upon him; there were
but the souffle’ and the savoury to come. He would have enjoyed, too,
someone to talk to. He had always been fond of good company--been good
company himself, or so they said--not that he had had a chance of late.
Even at the Boards they avoided talking to him, he had noticed for a
long time. Well! that wouldn’t trouble him again--he had sat through his
last Board, no doubt. They shouldn’t kick him off, though; he wouldn’t
give them that pleasure--had seen the beggars hankering after his
chairman’s shoes too long. The souffle was before him now, and lifting
his glass, he said:

“Fill up.”

“These are the special glasses, sir; only four to the bottle.”

“Fill up.”

The servant filled, screwing up his mouth.

Old Heythorp drank, and put the glass down empty with a sigh. He had
been faithful to his principles, finished the bottle before touching
the sweet--a good bottle--of a good brand! And now for the souffle!
Delicious, flipped down with the old sherry! So that holy woman was
going to a ball, was she! How deuced funny! Who would dance with a
dry stick like that, all eaten up with a piety which was just sexual
disappointment? Ah! yes, lots of women like that--had often noticed
’.m--pitied ‘em too, until you had to do with them and they made you as
unhappy as themselves, and were tyrants into the bargain. And he asked:

“What’s the savoury?”

“Cheese remmykin, sir.”

His favourite.

“I’ll have my port with it--the ‘sixty-eight.” The man stood gazing with
evident stupefaction. He had not expected this. The old man’s face was
very flushed, but that might be the bath. He said feebly:

“Are you sure you ought, sir?”

“No, but I’m going to.”

“Would you mind if I spoke to Miss Heythorp, Sir?”

“If you do, you can leave my service.”

“Well, Sir, I don’t accept the responsibility.”

“Who asked you to?”

“No, Sir....”

“Well, get it, then; and don’t be an ass.”

“Yes, Sir.” If the old man were not humoured he would have a fit,
perhaps!

And the old man sat quietly staring at the hyacinths. He felt happy, his
whole being lined and warmed and drowsed--and there was more to come!
What had the holy folk to give you compared with the comfort of a good
dinner? Could they make you dream, and see life rosy for a little? No,
they could only give you promissory notes which never would be cashed. A
man had nothing but his pluck--they only tried to undermine it, and make
him squeal for help. He could see his precious doctor throwing up his
hands: “Port after a bottle of champagne--you’ll die of it!” And a very
good death too--none better. A sound broke the silence of the closed-up
room. Music? His daughter playing the piano overhead. Singing too! What
a trickle of a voice! Jenny Lind! The Swedish nightingale--he had never
missed the nights when she was singing--Jenny Lind!

“It’s very hot, sir. Shall I take it out of the case?”

Ah! The ramequin!

“Touch of butter, and the cayenne!”

“Yes, sir.”

He ate it slowly, savouring each mouthful; had never tasted a better.
With cheese--port! He drank one glass, and said:

“Help me to my chair.”

And settled there before the fire with decanter and glass and hand-bell
on the little low table by his side, he murmured:

“Bring coffee, and my cigar, in twenty minutes.”

To-night he would do justice to his wine, not smoking till he had
finished. As old Horace said:

“Aequam memento rebus in arduis Servare mentem.”

And, raising his glass, he sipped slowly, spilling a drop or two,
shutting his eyes.

The faint silvery squealing of the holy woman in the room above, the
scent of hyacinths, the drowse of the fire, on which a cedar log had
just been laid, the feeling of the port soaking down into the crannies
of his being, made up a momentary Paradise. Then the music stopped; and
no sound rose but the tiny groans of the log trying to resist the fire.
Dreamily he thought: ‘Life wears you out--wears you out. Logs on a
fire!’ And he filled his glass again. That fellow had been careless;
there were dregs at the bottom of the decanter and he had got down to
them! Then, as the last drop from his tilted glass trickled into the
white hairs on his chin, he heard the coffee tray put down, and taking
his cigar he put it to his ear, rolling it in his thick fingers. In
prime condition! And drawing a first whiff, he said:

“Open that bottle of the old brandy in the sideboard.”

“Brandy, sir? I really daren’t, sir.”

“Are you my servant or not?”

“Yes, sir, but---”

A minute of silence, then the man went hastily to the sideboard, took
out the bottle, and drew the cork. The tide of crimson in the old man’s
face had frightened him.

“Leave it there.”

The unfortunate valet placed the bottle on the little table. ‘I’ll have
to tell her,’ he thought; ‘but if I take away the port decanter and the
glass, it won’t look so bad.’ And, carrying them, he left the room.

Slowly the old man drank his coffee, and the liqueur of brandy. The
whole gamut! And watching his cigar-smoke wreathing blue in the orange
glow, he smiled. The last night to call his soul his own, the last night
of his independence. Send in his resignations to-morrow--not wait to be
kicked off! Not give that fellow a chance!

A voice which seemed to come from far off, said:

“Father! You’re drinking brandy! How can you--you know it’s simple
poison to you!” A figure in white, scarcely actual, loomed up close. He
took the bottle to fill up his liqueur glass, in defiance; but a hand
in a long white glove, with another dangling from its wrist, pulled it
away, shook it at him, and replaced it in the sideboard. And, just as
when Mr. Ventnor stood there accusing him, a swelling and churning in
his throat prevented him from speech; his lips moved, but only a little
froth came forth.

His daughter had approached again. She stood quite close, in white
satin, thin-faced, sallow, with eyebrows raised, and her dark hair
frizzed--yes! frizzed--the holy woman! With all his might he tried to
say: ‘So you bully me, do you--you bully me to-night!’ but only the word
“so” and a sort of whispering came forth. He heard her speaking. “It’s
no good your getting angry, Father. After champagne--it’s wicked!” Then
her form receded in a sort of rustling white mist; she was gone; and he
heard the sputtering and growling of her taxi, bearing her to the ball.
So! She tyrannised and bullied, even before she had him at her mercy,
did she? She should see! Anger had brightened his eyes; the room came
clear again. And slowly raising himself he sounded the bell twice, for
the girl, not for that fellow Meller, who was in the plot. As soon as
her pretty black and white-aproned figure stood before him, he said:

“Help me up.”

Twice her soft pulling was not enough, and he sank back. The third time
he struggled to his feet.

“Thank you; that’ll do.” Then, waiting till she was gone, he crossed the
room, fumbled open the sideboard door, and took out the bottle. Reaching
over the polished oak, he grasped a sherry glass; and holding the bottle
with both hands, tipped the liquor into it, put it to his lips and
sucked. Drop by drop it passed over his palate mild, very old, old as
himself, coloured like sunlight, fragrant. To the last drop he drank it,
then hugging the bottle to his shirt-front, he moved snail-like to his
chair, and fell back into its depths. For some minutes he remained there
motionless, the bottle clasped to his chest, thinking: ‘This is not the
attitude of a gentleman. I must put it down on the table-on the table;’
but a thick cloud was between him and everything. It was with his hands
he would have to put the bottle on the table! But he could not find
his hands, could not feel them. His mind see-sawed in strophe and
antistrophe: “You can’t move!”--“I will move!” “You’re beaten”--“I’m not
beat.” “Give up”--“I won’t.” That struggle to find his hands seemed
to last for ever--he must find them! After that--go down--all
standing--after that! Everything round him was red. Then the red cloud
cleared just a little, and he could hear the clock--“tick-tick-tick”; a
faint sensation spread from his shoulders down to his wrists, down his
palms; and yes--he could feel the bottle! He redoubled his struggle to
get forward in his chair; to get forward and put the bottle down. It
was not dignified like this! One arm he could move now; but he could not
grip the bottle nearly tight enough to put it down. Working his whole
body forward, inch by inch, he shifted himself up in the chair till he
could lean sideways, and the bottle, slipping down his chest, dropped
slanting to the edge of the low stool-table. Then with all his might he
screwed his trunk and arms an inch further, and the bottle stood. He had
done it--done it! His lips twitched into a smile; his body sagged back
to its old position. He had done it! And he closed his eyes ....

At half-past eleven the girl Molly, opening the door, looked at him and
said softly: “Sirr! there’s some ladies, and a gentleman!” But he did
not answer. And, still holding the door, she whispered out into the
hall:

“He’s asleep, miss.”

A voice whispered back:

“Oh! Just let me go in, I won’t wake him unless he does. But I do want
to show him my dress.”

The girl moved aside; and on tiptoe Phyllis passed in. She walked to
where, between the lamp-glow and the fire-glow, she was lighted up.
White satin--her first low-cut dress--the flush of her first supper
party--a gardenia at her breast, another in her fingers! Oh! what a
pity he was asleep! How red he looked! How funnily old men breathed! And
mysteriously, as a child might, she whispered:

“Guardy!”

No answer! And pouting, she stood twiddling the gardenia. Then suddenly
she thought: ‘I’ll put it in his buttonhole! When he wakes up and sees
it, how he’ll jump!’

And stealing close, she bent and slipped it in. Two faces looked at
her from round the door; she heard Bob Pillin’s smothered chuckle; her
mother’s rich and feathery laugh. Oh! How red his forehead was! She
touched it with her lips; skipped back, twirled round, danced silently a
second, blew a kiss, and like quicksilver was gone.

And the whispering, the chuckling, and one little out-pealing laugh rose
in the hall.

But the old man slept. Nor until Meller came at his usual hour of
half-past twelve, was it known that he would never wake.



THE APPLE TREE

              “The Apple-tree, the singing and the gold.”
                MURRAY’S “HIPPOLYTUS of EURIPIDES.”

In their silver-wedding day Ashurst and his wife were motoring along the
outskirts of the moor, intending to crown the festival by stopping the
night at Torquay, where they had first met. This was the idea of Stella
Ashurst, whose character contained a streak of sentiment. If she had
long lost the blue-eyed, flower-like charm, the cool slim purity of face
and form, the apple-blossom colouring, which had so swiftly and so oddly
affected Ashurst twenty-six years ago, she was still at forty-three a
comely and faithful companion, whose cheeks were faintly mottled, and
whose grey-blue eyes had acquired a certain fullness.

It was she who had stopped the car where the common rose steeply to the
left, and a narrow strip of larch and beech, with here and there a pine,
stretched out towards the valley between the road and the first long
high hill of the full moor. She was looking for a place where they might
lunch, for Ashurst never looked for anything; and this, between the
golden furze and the feathery green larches smelling of lemons in the
last sun of April--this, with a view into the deep valley and up to
the long moor heights, seemed fitting to the decisive nature of one who
sketched in water-colours, and loved romantic spots. Grasping her paint
box, she got out.

“Won’t this do, Frank?”

Ashurst, rather like a bearded Schiller, grey in the wings, tall,
long-legged, with large remote grey eyes which sometimes filled with
meaning and became almost beautiful, with nose a little to one side, and
bearded lips just open--Ashurst, forty-eight, and silent, grasped the
luncheon basket, and got out too.

“Oh! Look, Frank! A grave!”

By the side of the road, where the track from the top of the common
crossed it at right angles and ran through a gate past the narrow wood,
was a thin mound of turf, six feet by one, with a moorstone to the
west, and on it someone had thrown a blackthorn spray and a handful of
bluebells. Ashurst looked, and the poet in him moved. At cross-roads--a
suicide’s grave! Poor mortals with their superstitions! Whoever lay
there, though, had the best of it, no clammy sepulchre among other
hideous graves carved with futilities--just a rough stone, the wide sky,
and wayside blessings! And, without comment, for he had learned not to
be a philosopher in the bosom of his family, he strode away up on to the
common, dropped the luncheon basket under a wall, spread a rug for
his wife to sit on--she would turn up from her sketching when she
was hungry--and took from his pocket Murray’s translation of the
“Hippolytus.” He had soon finished reading of “The Cyprian” and her
revenge, and looked at the sky instead. And watching the white clouds
so bright against the intense blue, Ashurst, on his silver-wedding day,
longed for--he knew not what. Maladjusted to life--man’s organism! One’s
mode of life might be high and scrupulous, but there was always an
undercurrent of greediness, a hankering, and sense of waste. Did
women have it too? Who could tell? And yet, men who gave vent to their
appetites for novelty, their riotous longings for new adventures, new
risks, new pleasures, these suffered, no doubt, from the reverse side
of starvation, from surfeit. No getting out of it--a maladjusted
animal, civilised man! There could be no garden of his choosing, of
“the Apple-tree, the singing, and the gold,” in the words of that
lovely Greek chorus, no achievable elysium in life, or lasting haven
of happiness for any man with a sense of beauty--nothing which could
compare with the captured loveliness in a work of art, set down for
ever, so that to look on it or read was always to have the same precious
sense of exaltation and restful inebriety. Life no doubt had moments
with that quality of beauty, of unbidden flying rapture, but the trouble
was, they lasted no longer than the span of a cloud’s flight over the
sun; impossible to keep them with you, as Art caught beauty and held it
fast. They were fleeting as one of the glimmering or golden visions one
had of the soul in nature, glimpses of its remote and brooding spirit.
Here, with the sun hot on his face, a cuckoo calling from a thorn tree,
and in the air the honey savour of gorse--here among the little fronds
of the young fern, the starry blackthorn, while the bright clouds
drifted by high above the hills and dreamy valleys here and now was
such a glimpse. But in a moment it would pass--as the face of Pan, which
looks round the corner of a rock, vanishes at your stare. And suddenly
he sat up. Surely there was something familiar about this view, this bit
of common, that ribbon of road, the old wall behind him. While they were
driving he had not been taking notice--never did; thinking of far things
or of nothing--but now he saw! Twenty-six years ago, just at this time
of year, from the farmhouse within half a mile of this very spot he had
started for that day in Torquay whence it might be said he had never
returned. And a sudden ache beset his heart; he had stumbled on just
one of those past moments in his life, whose beauty and rapture he had
failed to arrest, whose wings had fluttered away into the unknown; he
had stumbled on a buried memory, a wild sweet time, swiftly choked and
ended. And, turning on his face, he rested his chin on his hands, and
stared at the short grass where the little blue milkwort was growing....



I

And this is what he remembered.

On the first of May, after their last year together at college, Frank
Ashurst and his friend Robert Garton were on a tramp. They had walked
that day from Brent, intending to make Chagford, but Ashurst’s football
knee had given out, and according to their map they had still some seven
miles to go. They were sitting on a bank beside the-road, where a track
crossed alongside a wood, resting the knee and talking of the universe,
as young men will. Both were over six feet, and thin as rails; Ashurst
pale, idealistic, full of absence; Garton queer, round-the-corner,
knotted, curly, like some primeval beast. Both had a literary bent;
neither wore a hat.

Ashurst’s hair was smooth, pale, wavy, and had a way of rising on either
side of his brow, as if always being flung back; Carton’s was a kind of
dark unfathomed mop. They had not met a soul for miles.

“My dear fellow,” Garton was saying, “pity’s only an effect of
self-consciousness; it’s a disease of the last five thousand years. The
world was happier without.”

Ashurst, following the clouds with his eyes, answered:

“It’s the pearl in the oyster, anyway.”

“My dear chap, all our modern unhappiness comes from pity. Look at
animals, and Red Indians, limited to feeling their own occasional
misfortunes; then look at ourselves--never free from feeling the
toothaches of others. Let’s get back to feeling for nobody, and have a
better time.”

“You’ll never practise that.”

Garton pensively stirred the hotch-potch of his hair.

“To attain full growth, one mustn’t be squeamish. To starve oneself
emotionally’s a mistake. All emotion is to the good--enriches life.”

“Yes, and when it runs up against chivalry?”

“Ah! That’s so English! If you speak of emotion the English always think
you want something physical, and are shocked. They’re afraid of passion,
but not of lust--oh, no!--so long as they can keep it secret.”

Ashurst did not answer; he had plucked a blue floweret, and was
twiddling it against the sky. A cuckoo began calling from a thorn tree.
The sky, the flowers, the songs of birds! Robert was talking through his
hat! And he said:

“Well, let’s go on, and find some farm where we can put up.” In uttering
those words, he was conscious of a girl coming down from the common just
above them. She was outlined against the sky, carrying a basket, and you
could see that sky through the crook of her arm. And Ashurst, who saw
beauty without wondering how it could advantage him, thought: ‘How
pretty!’ The wind, blowing her dark frieze skirt against her legs,
lifted her battered peacock tam-o’-shanter; her greyish blouse was worn
and old, her shoes were split, her little hands rough and red, her neck
browned. Her dark hair waved untidy across her broad forehead, her face
was short, her upper lip short, showing a glint of teeth, her brows were
straight and dark, her lashes long and dark, her nose straight; but her
grey eyes were the wonder-dewy as if opened for the first time that day.
She looked at Ashurst--perhaps he struck her as strange, limping along
without a hat, with his large eyes on her, and his hair falling back.
He could not take off what was not on his head, but put up his hand in a
salute, and said:

“Can you tell us if there’s a farm near here where we could stay the
night? I’ve gone lame.”

“There’s only our farm near, sir.” She spoke without shyness, in a
pretty soft crisp voice.

“And where is that?”

“Down here, sir.”

“Would you put us up?”

“Oh! I think we would.”

“Will you show us the way?”

“Yes, Sir.”

He limped on, silent, and Garton took up the catechism.

“Are you a Devonshire girl?”

“No, Sir.”

“What then?”

“From Wales.”

“Ah! I thought you were a Celt; so it’s not your farm?”

“My aunt’s, sir.”

“And your uncle’s?”

“He is dead.”

“Who farms it, then?”

“My aunt, and my three cousins.”

“But your uncle was a Devonshire man?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Have you lived here long?”

“Seven years.”

“And how d’you like it after Wales?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I suppose you don’t remember?”

“Oh, yes! But it is different.”

“I believe you!”

Ashurst broke in suddenly: “How old are you?”

“Seventeen, Sir.”

“And what’s your name?”

“Megan David.”

“This is Robert Garton, and I am Frank Ashurst. We wanted to get on to
Chagford.”

“It is a pity your leg is hurting you.”

Ashurst smiled, and when he smiled his face was rather beautiful.

Descending past the narrow wood, they came on the farm suddenly-a long,
low, stone-built dwelling with casement windows, in a farmyard where
pigs and fowls and an old mare were straying. A short steep-up grass
hill behind was crowned with a few Scotch firs, and in front, an old
orchard of apple trees, just breaking into flower, stretched down to a
stream and a long wild meadow. A little boy with oblique dark eyes was
shepherding a pig, and by the house door stood a woman, who came towards
them. The girl said:

“It is Mrs. Narracombe, my aunt.”

“Mrs. Narracombe, my aunt,” had a quick, dark eye, like a mother
wild-duck’s, and something of the same snaky turn about her neck.

“We met your niece on the road,” said Ashurst; “she thought you might
perhaps put us up for the night.”

Mrs. Narracombe, taking them in from head to heel, answered:

“Well, I can, if you don’t mind one room. Megan, get the spare room
ready, and a bowl of cream. You’ll be wanting tea, I suppose.”

Passing through a sort of porch made by two yew trees and some
flowering-currant bushes, the girl disappeared into the house, her
peacock tam-o’-shanter bright athwart that rosy-pink and the dark green
of the yews.

“Will you come into the parlour and rest your leg? You’ll be from
college, perhaps?”

“We were, but we’ve gone down now.”

Mrs. Narracombe nodded sagely.

The parlour, brick-floored, with bare table and shiny chairs and sofa
stuffed with horsehair, seemed never to have been used, it was so
terribly clean. Ashurst sat down at once on the sofa, holding his lame
knee between his hands, and Mrs. Narracombe gazed at him. He was the
only son of a late professor of chemistry, but people found a certain
lordliness in one who was often so sublimely unconscious of them.

“Is there a stream where we could bathe?”

“There’s the strame at the bottom of the orchard, but sittin’ down
you’ll not be covered!”

“How deep?”

“Well, ‘tis about a foot and a half, maybe.”

“Oh! That’ll do fine. Which way?”

“Down the lane, through the second gate on the right, an’ the pool’s by
the big apple tree that stands by itself. There’s trout there, if you
can tickle them.”

“They’re more likely to tickle us!”

Mrs. Narracombe smiled. “There’ll be the tea ready when you come back.”

The pool, formed by the damming of a rock, had a sandy bottom; and the
big apple tree, lowest in the orchard, grew so close that its boughs
almost overhung the water; it was in leaf, and all but in flower-its
crimson buds just bursting. There was not room for more than one at a
time in that narrow bath, and Ashurst waited his turn, rubbing his
knee and gazing at the wild meadow, all rocks and thorn trees and feld
flowers, with a grove of beeches beyond, raised up on a flat mound.
Every bough was swinging in the wind, every spring bird calling, and a
slanting sunlight dappled the grass. He thought of Theocritus, and the
river Cherwell, of the moon, and the maiden with the dewy eyes; of so
many things that he seemed to think of nothing; and he felt absurdly
happy.



2

During a late and sumptuous tea with eggs to it, cream and jam, and
thin, fresh cakes touched with saffron, Garton descanted on the Celts.
It was about the period of the Celtic awakening, and the discovery that
there was Celtic blood about this family had excited one who believed
that he was a Celt himself. Sprawling on a horse hair chair, with a
hand-made cigarette dribbling from the corner of his curly lips, he had
been plunging his cold pin-points of eyes into Ashurst’s and praising
the refinement of the Welsh. To come out of Wales into England was like
the change from china to earthenware! Frank, as a d---d Englishman, had
not of course perceived the exquisite refinement and emotional capacity
of that Welsh girl! And, delicately stirring in the dark mat of his
still wet hair, he explained how exactly she illustrated the writings of
the Welsh bard Morgan-ap-Something in the twelfth century.

Ashurst, full length on the horsehair sofa, and jutting far beyond its
end, smoked a deeply-coloured pipe, and did not listen, thinking of the
girl’s face when she brought in a relay of cakes. It had been exactly
like looking at a flower, or some other pretty sight in Nature-till,
with a funny little shiver, she had lowered her glance and gone out,
quiet as a mouse.

“Let’s go to the kitchen,” said Garton, “and see some more of her.”

The kitchen was a white-washed room with rafters, to which were attached
smoked hams; there were flower-pots on the window-sill, and guns hanging
on nails, queer mugs, china and pewter, and portraits of Queen Victoria.
A long, narrow table of plain wood was set with bowls and spoons, under
a string of high-hung onions; two sheep-dogs and three cats lay here and
there. On one side of the recessed fireplace sat two small boys, idle,
and good as gold; on the other sat a stout, light-eyed, red-faced youth
with hair and lashes the colour of the tow he was running through the
barrel of a gun; between them Mrs. Narracombe dreamily stirred some
savoury-scented stew in a large pot. Two other youths, oblique-eyed,
dark-haired, rather sly-faced, like the two little boys, were
talking together and lolling against the wall; and a short, elderly,
clean-shaven man in corduroys, seated in the window, was conning a
battered journal. The girl Megan seemed the only active creature-drawing
cider and passing with the jugs from cask to table. Seeing them thus
about to eat, Garton said:

“Ah! If you’ll let us, we’ll come back when supper’s over,” and without
waiting for an answer they withdrew again to the parlour. But the colour
in the kitchen, the warmth, the scents, and all those faces, heightened
the bleakness of their shiny room, and they resumed their seats moodily.

“Regular gipsy type, those boys. There was only one Saxon--the fellow
cleaning the gun. That girl is a very subtle study psychologically.”

Ashurst’s lips twitched. Garton seemed to him an ass just then. Subtle
study! She was a wild flower. A creature it did you good to look at.
Study!

Garton went on:

“Emotionally she would be wonderful. She wants awakening.”

“Are you going to awaken her?”

Garton looked at him and smiled. ‘How coarse and English you are!’ that
curly smile seemed saying.

And Ashurst puffed his pipe. Awaken her! That fool had the best opinion
of himself! He threw up the window and leaned out. Dusk had gathered
thick. The farm buildings and the wheel-house were all dim and bluish,
the apple trees but a blurred wilderness; the air smelled of woodsmoke
from the kitchen fire. One bird going to bed later than the others was
uttering a half-hearted twitter, as though surprised at the darkness.
From the stable came the snuffle and stamp of a feeding horse. And away
over there was the loom of the moor, and away and away the shy stars
which had not as yet full light, pricking white through the deep blue
heavens. A quavering owl hooted. Ashurst drew a deep breath. What a
night to wander out in! A padding of unshod hoofs came up the lane, and
three dim, dark shapes passed--ponies on an evening march. Their heads,
black and fuzzy, showed above the gate. At the tap of his pipe, and
a shower of little sparks, they shied round and scampered. A bat went
fluttering past, uttering its almost inaudible “chip, chip.” Ashurst
held out his hand; on the upturned palm he could feel the dew. Suddenly
from overhead he heard little burring boys’ voices, little thumps of
boots thrown down, and another voice, crisp and soft--the girl’s putting
them to bed, no doubt; and nine clear words “No, Rick, you can’t have
the cat in bed”; then came a skirmish of giggles and gurgles, a soft
slap, a laugh so low and pretty that it made him shiver a little. A
blowing sound, and the glim of the candle which was fingering the dusk
above, went out; silence reigned. Ashurst withdrew into the room and sat
down; his knee pained him, and his soul felt gloomy.

“You go to the kitchen,” he said; “I’m going to bed.”



3

For Ashurst the wheel of slumber was wont to turn noiseless and slick
and swift, but though he seemed sunk in sleep when his companion came
up, he was really wide awake; and long after Carton, smothered in the
other bed of that low-roofed room, was worshipping darkness with his
upturned nose, he heard the owls. Barring the discomfort of his knee,
it was not unpleasant--the cares of life did not loom large in night
watches for this young man. In fact he had none; just enrolled a
barrister, with literary aspirations, the world before him, no father or
mother, and four hundred a year of his own. Did it matter where he
went, what he did, or when he did it? His bed, too, was hard, and this
preserved him from fever. He lay, sniffing the scent of the night which
drifted into the low room through the open casement close to his head.
Except for a definite irritation with his friend, natural when you have
tramped with a man for three days, Ashurst’s memories and visions
that sleepless night were kindly and wistful and exciting. One vision,
specially clear and unreasonable, for he had not even been conscious
of noting it, was the face of the youth cleaning the gun; its intent,
stolid, yet startled uplook at the kitchen doorway, quickly shifted
to the girl carrying the cider jug. This red, blue-eyed, light-lashed,
tow-haired face stuck as firmly in his memory as the girl’s own face,
so dewy and simple. But at last, in the square of darkness through the
uncurtained casement, he saw day coming, and heard one hoarse and sleepy
caw. Then followed silence, dead as ever, till the song of a blackbird,
not properly awake, adventured into the hush. And, from staring at the
framed brightening light, Ashurst fell asleep.

Next day his knee was badly swollen; the walking tour was obviously
over. Garton, due back in London on the morrow, departed at midday with
an ironical smile which left a scar of irritation--healed the moment
his loping figure vanished round the corner of the steep lane. All day
Ashurst rested his knee, in a green-painted wooden chair on the patch of
grass by the yew-tree porch, where the sunlight distilled the scent of
stocks and gillyflowers, and a ghost of scent from the flowering-currant
bushes. Beatifically he smoked, dreamed, watched.

A farm in spring is all birth-young things coming out of bud and shell,
and human beings watching over the process with faint excitement feeding
and tending what has been born. So still the young man sat, that
a mother-goose, with stately cross-footed waddle, brought her six
yellow-necked grey-backed goslings to strop their little beaks against
the grass blades at his feet. Now and again Mrs. Narracombe or the girl
Megan would come and ask if he wanted anything, and he would smile and
say: “Nothing, thanks. It’s splendid here.” Towards tea-time they came
out together, bearing a long poultice of some dark stuff in a bowl, and
after a long and solemn scrutiny of his swollen knee, bound it on. When
they were gone, he thought of the girl’s soft “Oh!”--of her pitying
eyes, and the little wrinkle in her brow. And again he felt that
unreasoning irritation against his departed friend, who had talked such
rot about her. When she brought out his tea, he said:

“How did you like my friend, Megan?”

She forced down her upper lip, as if afraid that to smile was not
polite. “He was a funny gentleman; he made us laugh. I think he is very
clever.”

“What did he say to make you laugh?”

“He said I was a daughter of the bards. What are they?”

“Welsh poets, who lived hundreds of years ago.”

“Why am I their daughter, please?”

“He meant that you were the sort of girl they sang about.”

She wrinkled her brows. “I think he likes to joke. Am I?”

“Would you believe me, if I told you?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well, I think he was right.”

She smiled.

And Ashurst thought: ‘You are a pretty thing!’

“He said, too, that Joe was a Saxon type. What would that be?”

“Which is Joe? With the blue eyes and red face?”

“Yes. My uncle’s nephew.”

“Not your cousin, then?”

“No.”

“Well, he meant that Joe was like the men who came over to England about
fourteen hundred years ago, and conquered it.”

“Oh! I know about them; but is he?”

“Garton’s crazy about that sort of thing; but I must say Joe does look a
bit Early Saxon.”

“Yes.”

That “Yes” tickled Ashurst. It was so crisp and graceful, so conclusive,
and politely acquiescent in what was evidently. Greek to her.

“He said that all the other boys were regular gipsies. He should not
have said that. My aunt laughed, but she didn’t like it, of course, and
my cousins were angry. Uncle was a farmer--farmers are not gipsies. It
is wrong to hurt people.”

Ashurst wanted to take her hand and give it a squeeze, but he only
answered:

“Quite right, Megan. By the way, I heard you putting the little ones to
bed last night.”

She flushed a little. “Please to drink your tea--it is getting cold.
Shall I get you some fresh?”

“Do you ever have time to do anything for yourself?”

“Oh! Yes.”

“I’ve been watching, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

She wrinkled her brows in a puzzled frown, and her colour deepened.

When she was gone, Ashurst thought: ‘Did she think I was chaffing her? I
wouldn’t for the world!’ He was at that age when to some men “Beauty’s
a flower,” as the poet says, and inspires in them the thoughts of
chivalry. Never very conscious of his surroundings, it was some time
before he was aware that the youth whom Garton had called “a Saxon type”
 was standing outside the stable door; and a fine bit of colour he
made in his soiled brown velvet-cords, muddy gaiters, and blue shirt;
red-armed, red-faced, the sun turning his hair from tow to flax;
immovably stolid, persistent, unsmiling he stood. Then, seeing Ashurst
looking at him, he crossed the yard at that gait of the young countryman
always ashamed not to be slow and heavy-dwelling on each leg, and
disappeared round the end of the house towards the kitchen entrance.
A chill came over Ashurst’s mood. Clods? With all the good will in the
world, how impossible to get on terms with them! And yet--see that girl!
Her shoes were split, her hands rough; but--what was it? Was it really
her Celtic blood, as Garton had said?--she was a lady born, a jewel,
though probably she could do no more than just read and write!

The elderly, clean-shaven man he had seen last night in the kitchen
had come into the yard with a dog, driving the cows to their milking.
Ashurst saw that he was lame.

“You’ve got some good ones there!”

The lame man’s face brightened. He had the upward look in his eyes which
prolonged suffering often brings.

“Yeas; they’m praaper buties; gude milkers tu.”

“I bet they are.”

“‘Ope as yure leg’s better, zurr.”

“Thank you, it’s getting on.”

The lame man touched his own: “I know what ‘tes, meself; ‘tes a main
worritin’ thing, the knee. I’ve a-’.d mine bad this ten year.”

Ashurst made the sound of sympathy which comes so readily from those who
have an independent income, and the lame man smiled again.

“Mustn’t complain, though--they mighty near ‘ad it off.”

“Ho!”

“Yeas; an’ compared with what ‘twas, ‘tes almost so gude as nu.”

“They’ve put a bandage of splendid stuff on mine.”

“The maid she picks et. She’m a gude maid wi’ the flowers. There’s folks
zeem to know the healin’ in things. My mother was a rare one for that.
’.pe as yu’ll zune be better, zurr. Goo ahn, therr!”

Ashurst smiled. “Wi’ the flowers!” A flower herself!

That evening, after his supper of cold duck, junket, and cider, the girl
came in.

“Please, auntie says--will you try a piece of our Mayday cake?”

“If I may come to the kitchen for it.”

“Oh, yes! You’ll be missing your friend.”

“Not I. But are you sure no one minds?”

“Who would mind? We shall be very pleased.”

Ashurst rose too suddenly for his stiff knee, staggered, and subsided.
The girl gave a little gasp, and held out her hands. Ashurst took them,
small, rough, brown; checked his impulse to put them to his lips, and
let her pull him up. She came close beside him, offering her shoulder.
And leaning on her he walked across the room. That shoulder seemed quite
the pleasantest thing he had ever touched. But, he had presence of mind
enough to catch his stick out of the rack, and withdraw his hand before
arriving at the kitchen.

That night he slept like a top, and woke with his knee of almost normal
size. He again spent the morning in his chair on the grass patch,
scribbling down verses; but in the afternoon he wandered about with the
two little boys Nick and Rick. It was Saturday, so they were early home
from school; quick, shy, dark little rascals of seven and six, soon
talkative, for Ashurst had a way with children. By four o’clock they had
shown him all their methods of destroying life, except the tickling of
trout; and with breeches tucked up, lay on their stomachs over the
trout stream, pretending they had this accomplishment also. They tickled
nothing, of course, for their giggling and shouting scared every spotted
thing away. Ashurst, on a rock at the edge of the beech clump, watched
them, and listened to the cuckoos, till Nick, the elder and less
persevering, came up and stood beside him.

“The gipsy bogle zets on that stone,” he said.

“What gipsy bogie?”

“Dunno; never zeen ‘e. Megan zays ‘e zets there; an’ old Jim zeed ‘e
once. ‘E was zettin’ there naight afore our pony kicked--in father’s
’.ad. ‘E plays the viddle.”

“What tune does he play?”

“Dunno.”

“What’s he like?”

“‘E’s black. Old Jim zays ‘e’s all over ‘air. ‘E’s a praaper bogle.
’. don’ come only at naight.” The little boy’s oblique dark eyes slid
round. “D’yu think ‘e might want to take me away? Megan’s feared of ‘e.”

“Has she seen him?”

“No. She’s not afeared o’ yu.”

“I should think not. Why should she be?”

“She zays a prayer for yu.”

“How do you know that, you little rascal?”

“When I was asleep, she said: ‘God bless us all, an’ Mr. Ashes.’ I yeard
’.r whisperin’.”

“You’re a little ruffian to tell what you hear when you’re not meant to
hear it!”

The little boy was silent. Then he said aggressively:

“I can skin rabbets. Megan, she can’t bear skinnin’ ‘em. I like blood.”

“Oh! you do; you little monster!”

“What’s that?”

“A creature that likes hurting others.”

The little boy scowled. “They’m only dead rabbets, what us eats.”

“Quite right, Nick. I beg your pardon.”

“I can skin frogs, tu.”

But Ashurst had become absent. “God bless us all, and Mr. Ashes!” And
puzzled by that sudden inaccessibility, Nick ran back to the stream
where the giggling and shouts again uprose at once.

When Megan brought his tea, he said:

“What’s the gipsy bogle, Megan?”

She looked up, startled.

“He brings bad things.”

“Surely you don’t believe in ghosts?”

“I hope I will never see him.”

“Of course you won’t. There aren’t such things. What old Jim saw was a
pony.”

“No! There are bogies in the rocks; they are the men who lived long
ago.”

“They aren’t gipsies, anyway; those old men were dead long before
gipsies came.”

She said simply: “They are all bad.”

“Why? If there are any, they’re only wild, like the rabbits. The flowers
aren’t bad for being wild; the thorn trees were never planted--and you
don’t mind them. I shall go down at night and look for your bogie, and
have a talk with him.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no!”

“Oh, yes! I shall go and sit on his rock.”

She clasped her hands together: “Oh, please!”

“Why! What ‘does it matter if anything happens to me?”

She did not answer; and in a sort of pet he added:

“Well, I daresay I shan’t see him, because I suppose I must be off
soon.”

“Soon?”

“Your aunt won’t want to keep me here.”

“Oh, yes! We always let lodgings in summer.”

Fixing his eyes on her face, he asked:

“Would you like me to stay?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to say a prayer for you to-night!”

She flushed crimson, frowned, and went out of the room. He sat, cursing
himself, till his tea was stewed. It was as if he had hacked with his
thick boots at a clump of bluebells. Why had he said such a silly
thing? Was he just a towny college ass like Robert Garton, as far from
understanding this girl?

Ashurst spent the next week confirming the restoration of his leg, by
exploration of the country within easy reach. Spring was a revelation to
him this year. In a kind of intoxication he would watch the pink-white
buds of some backward beech tree sprayed up in the sunlight against the
deep blue sky, or the trunks and limbs of the few Scotch firs, tawny in
violent light, or again, on the moor, the gale-bent larches which had
such a look of life when the wind streamed in their young green, above
the rusty black underboughs. Or he would lie on the banks, gazing at the
clusters of dog-violets, or up in the dead bracken, fingering the pink,
transparent buds of the dewberry, while the cuckoos called and yafes
laughed, or a lark, from very high, dripped its beads of song. It was
certainly different from any spring he had ever known, for spring was
within him, not without. In the daytime he hardly saw the family; and
when Megan brought in his meals she always seemed too busy in the house
or among the young things in the yard to stay talking long. But in the
evenings he installed himself in the window seat in the kitchen, smoking
and chatting with the lame man Jim, or Mrs. Narracombe, while the girl
sewed, or moved about, clearing the supper things away. And sometimes,
with the sensation a cat must feel when it purrs, he would become
conscious that Megan’s eyes--those dew-grey eyes--were fixed on him with
a sort of lingering soft look which was strangely flattering.

It was on Sunday week in the evening, when he was lying in the orchard
listening to a blackbird and composing a love poem, that he heard the
gate swing to, and saw the girl come running among the trees, with the
red-cheeked, stolid Joe in swift pursuit. About twenty yards away the
chase ended, and the two stood fronting each other, not noticing the
stranger in the grass--the boy pressing on, the girl fending him off.
Ashurst could see her face, angry, disturbed; and the youth’s--who
would have thought that red-faced yokel could look so distraught! And
painfully affected by that sight, he jumped up. They saw him then. Megan
dropped her hands, and shrank behind a tree trunk; the boy gave an angry
grunt, rushed at the bank, scrambled over and vanished. Ashurst went
slowly up to her. She was standing quite still, biting her lip-very
pretty, with her fine, dark hair blown loose about her face, and her
eyes cast down.

“I beg your pardon,” he said.

She gave him one upward look, from eyes much dilated; then, catching her
breath, turned away. Ashurst followed.

“Megan!”

But she went on; and taking hold of her arm, he turned her gently round
to him.

“Stop and speak to me.”

“Why do you beg my pardon? It is not to me you should do that.”

“Well, then, to Joe.”

“How dare he come after me?”

“In love with you, I suppose.”

She stamped her foot.

Ashurst uttered a short laugh. “Would you like me to punch his head?”

She cried with sudden passion:

“You laugh at me-you laugh at us!”

He caught hold of her hands, but she shrank back, till her passionate
little face and loose dark hair were caught among the pink clusters of
the apple blossom. Ashurst raised one of her imprisoned hands and put
his lips to it. He felt how chivalrous he was, and superior to that clod
Joe--just brushing that small, rough hand with his mouth I Her shrinking
ceased suddenly; she seemed to tremble towards him. A sweet warmth
overtook Ashurst from top to toe. This slim maiden, so simple and fine
and pretty, was pleased, then, at the touch of his lips! And, yielding
to a swift impulse, he put his arms round her, pressed her to him, and
kissed her forehead. Then he was frightened--she went so pale, closing
her eyes, so that the long, dark lashes lay on her pale cheeks; her
hands, too, lay inert at her sides. The touch of her breast sent a
shiver through him. “Megan!” he sighed out, and let her go. In the utter
silence a blackbird shouted. Then the girl seized his hand, put it to
her cheek, her heart, her lips, kissed it passionately, and fled away
among the mossy trunks of the apple trees, till they hid her from him.

Ashurst sat down on a twisted old tree growing almost along the ground,
and, all throbbing and bewildered, gazed vacantly at the blossom which
had crowned her hair--those pink buds with one white open apple
star. What had he done? How had he let himself be thus stampeded by
beauty--pity--or--just the spring! He felt curiously happy, all the
same; happy and triumphant, with shivers running through his limbs, and
a vague alarm. This was the beginning of--what? The midges bit him, the
dancing gnats tried to fly into his mouth, and all the spring around him
seemed to grow more lovely and alive; the songs of the cuckoos and the
blackbirds, the laughter of the yaflies, the level-slanting sunlight,
the apple blossom which had crowned her head! He got up from the old
trunk and strode out of the orchard, wanting space, an open sky, to get
on terms with these new sensations. He made for the moor, and from an
ash tree in the hedge a magpie flew out to herald him.

Of man--at any age from five years on--who can say he has never been
in love? Ashurst had loved his partners at his dancing class; loved his
nursery governess; girls in school-holidays; perhaps never been quite
out of love, cherishing always some more or less remote admiration. But
this was different, not remote at all. Quite a new sensation; terribly
delightful, bringing a sense of completed manhood. To be holding in his
fingers such a wild flower, to be able to put it to his lips, and
feel it tremble with delight against them! What intoxication,
and--embarrassment! What to do with it--how meet her next time? His
first caress had been cool, pitiful; but the next could not be, now
that, by her burning little kiss on his hand, by her pressure of it to
her heart, he knew that she loved him. Some natures are coarsened by
love bestowed on them; others, like Ashurst’s, are swayed and drawn,
warmed and softened, almost exalted, by what they feel to be a sort of
miracle.

And up there among the tors he was racked between the passionate desire
to revel in this new sensation of spring fulfilled within him, and
a vague but very real uneasiness. At one moment he gave himself up
completely to his pride at having captured this pretty, trustful,
dewy-eyed thing! At the next he thought with factitious solemnity: ‘Yes,
my boy! But look out what you’re doing! You know what comes of it!’

Dusk dropped down without his noticing--dusk on the carved,
Assyrian-looking masses of the rocks. And the voice of Nature said:
“This is a new world for you!” As when a man gets up at four o’clock and
goes out into a summer morning, and beasts, birds, trees stare at him
and he feels as if all had been made new.

He stayed up there for hours, till it grew cold, then groped his way
down the stones and heather roots to the road, back into the lane, and
came again past the wild meadow to the orchard. There he struck a match
and looked at his watch. Nearly twelve! It was black and unstirring in
there now, very different from the lingering, bird-befriended brightness
of six hours ago! And suddenly he saw this idyll of his with the eyes of
the outer world--had mental vision of Mrs. Narracombe’s snake-like
neck turned, her quick dark glance taking it all in, her shrewd face
hardening; saw the gipsy-like cousins coarsely mocking and distrustful;
Joe stolid and furious; only the lame man, Jim, with the suffering
eyes, seemed tolerable to his mind. And the village pub!--the gossiping
matrons he passed on his walks; and then--his own friends--Robert
Carton’s smile when he went off that morning ten days ago; so ironical
and knowing! Disgusting! For a minute he literally hated this earthy,
cynical world to which one belonged, willy-nilly. The gate where he was
leaning grew grey, a sort of shimmer passed be fore him and spread into
the bluish darkness. The moon! He could just see it over the bank be
hind; red, nearly round-a strange moon! And turning away, he went up
the lane which smelled of the night and cowdung and young leaves. In the
straw-yard he could see the dark shapes of cattle, broken by the pale
sickles of their horns, like so many thin moons, fallen ends-up. He
unlatched the farm gate stealthily. All was dark in the house. Muffling
his footsteps, he gained the porch, and, blotted against one of the yew
trees, looked up at Megan’s window. It was open. Was she sleeping, or
lying awake perhaps, disturbed--unhappy at his absence? An owl hooted
while he stood there peering up, and the sound seemed to fill the whole
night, so quiet was all else, save for the never-ending murmur of
the stream running below the orchard. The cuckoos by day, and now the
owls--how wonderfully they voiced this troubled ecstasy within him! And
suddenly he saw her at her window, looking out. He moved a little
from the yew tree, and whispered: “Megan!” She drew back, vanished,
reappeared, leaning far down. He stole forward on the grass patch, hit
his shin against the green-painted chair, and held his breath at the
sound. The pale blur of her stretched-down arm and face did not stir; he
moved the chair, and noiselessly mounted it. By stretching up his arm he
could just reach. Her hand held the huge key of the front door, and he
clasped that burning hand with the cold key in it. He could just see
her face, the glint of teeth between her lips, her tumbled hair. She was
still dressed--poor child, sitting up for him, no doubt! “Pretty Megan!”
 Her hot, roughened fingers clung to his; her face had a strange, lost
look. To have been able to reach it--even with his hand! The owl hooted,
a scent of sweetbriar crept into his nostrils. Then one of the farm dogs
barked; her grasp relaxed, she shrank back.

“Good-night, Megan!”

“Good-night, sir!” She was gone! With a sigh he dropped back to earth,
and sitting on that chair, took off his boots. Nothing for it but to
creep in and go to bed; yet for a long while he sat unmoving, his feet
chilly in the dew, drunk on the memory of her lost, half-smiling face,
and the clinging grip of her burning fingers, pressing the cold key into
his hand.



5

He awoke feeling as if he had eaten heavily overnight, instead of having
eaten nothing. And far off, unreal, seemed yesterday’s romance! Yet it
was a golden morning. Full spring had burst at last--in one night the
“goldie-cups,” as the little boys called them, seemed to have made
the field their own, and from his window he could see apple blossoms
covering the orchard as with a rose and white quilt. He went down almost
dreading to see Megan; and yet, when not she but Mrs. Narracombe brought
in his breakfast, he felt vexed and disappointed. The woman’s quick
eye and snaky neck seemed to have a new alacrity this morning. Had she
noticed?

“So you an’ the moon went walkin’ last night, Mr. Ashurst! Did ye have
your supper anywheres?”

Ashurst shook his head.

“We kept it for you, but I suppose you was too busy in your brain to
think o’ such a thing as that?”

Was she mocking him, in that voice of hers, which still kept some Welsh
crispness against the invading burr of the West Country? If she knew!
And at that moment he thought: ‘No, no; I’ll clear out. I won’t put
myself in such a beastly false position.’

But, after breakfast, the longing to see Megan began and increased with
every minute, together with fear lest something should have been said
to her which had spoiled everything. Sinister that she had not
appeared, not given him even a glimpse of her! And the love poem, whose
manufacture had been so important and absorbing yesterday afternoon
under the apple trees, now seemed so paltry that he tore it up and
rolled it into pipe spills. What had he known of love, till she seized
his hand and kissed it! And now--what did he not know? But to write of
it seemed mere insipidity! He went up to his bedroom to get a book, and
his heart began to beat violently, for she was in there making the bed.
He stood in the doorway watching; and suddenly, with turbulent joy, he
saw her stoop and kiss his pillow, just at the hollow made by his head
last night.

How let her know he had seen that pretty act of devotion? And yet, if
she heard him stealing away, it would be even worse. She took the pillow
up, holding it as if reluctant to shake out the impress of his cheek,
dropped it, and turned round.

“Megan!”

She put her hands up to her cheeks, but her eyes seemed to look right
into him. He had never before realised the depth and purity and touching
faithfulness in those dew-bright eyes, and he stammered:

“It was sweet of you to wait up for me last night.”

She still said nothing, and he stammered on:

“I was wandering about on the moor; it was such a jolly night. I--I’ve
just come up for a book.”

Then, the kiss he had seen her give the pillow afflicted him with sudden
headiness, and he went up to her. Touching her eyes with his lips,
he thought with queer excitement: ‘I’ve done it! Yesterday all was
sudden--anyhow; but now--I’ve done it!’ The girl let her forehead rest
against his lips, which moved downwards till they reached hers. That
first real lover’s kiss-strange, wonderful, still almost innocent--in
which heart did it make the most disturbance?

“Come to the big apple tree to-night, after they’ve gone to bed.
Megan-promise!”

She whispered back: “I promise.”

Then, scared at her white face, scared at everything, he let her go,
and went downstairs again. Yes! He had done it now! Accepted her love,
declared his own! He went out to the green chair as devoid of a book
as ever; and there he sat staring vacantly before him, triumphant and
remorseful, while under his nose and behind his back the work of the
farm went on. How long he had been sitting in that curious state of
vacancy he had no notion when he saw Joe standing a little behind him
to the right. The youth had evidently come from hard work in the fields,
and stood shifting his feet, breathing loudly, his face coloured like
a setting sun, and his arms, below the rolled-up sleeves of his blue
shirt, showing the hue and furry sheen of ripe peaches. His red lips
were open, his blue eyes with their flaxen lashes stared fixedly at
Ashurst, who said ironically:

“Well, Joe, anything I can do for you?”

“Yeas.”

“What, then?”

“Yu can goo away from yere. Us don’ want yu.”

Ashurst’s face, never too humble, assumed its most lordly look.

“Very good of you, but, do you know, I prefer the others should speak
for themselves.”

The youth moved a pace or two nearer, and the scent of his honest heat
afflicted Ashurst’s nostrils.

“What d’yu stay yere for?”

“Because it pleases me.”

“Twon’t please yu when I’ve bashed yure head in!”

“Indeed! When would you like to begin that?”

Joe answered only with the loudness of his breathing, but his eyes
looked like those of a young and angry bull. Then a sort of spasm seemed
to convulse his face.

“Megan don’ want yu.”

A rush of jealousy, of contempt, and anger with this thick,
loud-breathing rustic got the better of Ashurst’s self-possession; he
jumped up, and pushed back his chair.

“You can go to the devil!”

And as he said those simple words, he saw Megan in the doorway with a
tiny brown spaniel puppy in her arms. She came up to him quickly:

“Its eyes are blue!” she said.

Joe turned away; the back of his neck was literally crimson.

Ashurst put his finger to the mouth of the little brown bullfrog of a
creature in her arms. How cosy it looked against her!

“It’s fond of you already. Ah I Megan, everything is fond of you.”

“What was Joe saying to you, please?”

“Telling me to go away, because you didn’t want me here.”

She stamped her foot; then looked up at Ashurst. At that adoring look
he felt his nerves quiver, just as if he had seen a moth scorching its
wings.

“To-night!” he said. “Don’t forget!”

“No.” And smothering her face against the puppy’s little fat, brown
body, she slipped back into the house.

Ashurst wandered down the lane. At the gate of the wild meadow he came
on the lame man and his cows.

“Beautiful day, Jim!”

“Ah! ‘Tes brave weather for the grass. The ashes be later than th’ oaks
this year. ‘When th’ oak before th’ ash---’”

Ashurst said idly: “Where were you standing when you saw the gipsy
bogie, Jim?”

“It might be under that big apple tree, as you might say.”

“And you really do think it was there?”

The lame man answered cautiously:

“I shouldn’t like to say rightly that ‘t was there. ‘Twas in my mind as
’.was there.”

“What do you make of it?”

The lame man lowered his voice.

“They du zay old master, Mist’ Narracombe come o’ gipsy stock. But
that’s tellin’. They’m a wonderful people, yu know, for claimin’
their own. Maybe they knu ‘e was goin’, and sent this feller along for
company. That’s what I’ve a-thought about it.”

“What was he like?”

“‘E ‘ad ‘air all over ‘is face, an’ goin’ like this, he was, zame as
if ‘e ‘ad a viddle. They zay there’s no such thing as bogies, but I’ve
a-zeen the ‘air on this dog standin’ up of a dark naight, when I couldn’
zee nothin’, meself.”

“Was there a moon?”

“Yeas, very near full, but ‘twas on’y just risen, gold-like be’ind them
trees.”

“And you think a ghost means trouble, do you?”

The lame man pushed his hat up; his aspiring eyes looked at Ashurst more
earnestly than ever.

“‘Tes not for me to zay that but ‘tes they bein’ so unrestin’like.
There’s things us don’ understand, that’s zartin, for zure. There’s
people that zee things, tu, an’ others that don’t never zee nothin’.
Now, our Joe--yu might putt anything under’is eyes an e’d never zee it;
and them other boys, tu, they’m rattlin’ fellers. But yu take an’ putt
our Megan where there’s suthin’, she’ll zee it, an’ more tu, or I’m
mistaken.”

“She’s sensitive, that’s why.”

“What’s that?”

“I mean, she feels everything.”

“Ah! She’m very lovin’-’.arted.”

Ashurst, who felt colour coming into his cheeks, held out his tobacco
pouch.

“Have a fill, Jim?”

“Thank ‘ee, sir. She’m one in an ‘underd, I think.”

“I expect so,” said Ashurst shortly, and folding up his pouch, walked
on.

“Lovin’-hearted!” Yes! And what was he doing? What were his
intentions--as they say towards this loving-hearted girl? The thought
dogged him, wandering through fields bright with buttercups, where the
little red calves were feeding, and the swallows flying high. Yes, the
oaks were before the ashes, brown-gold already; every tree in different
stage and hue. The cuckoos and a thousand birds were singing; the little
streams were very bright. The ancients believed in a golden age, in the
garden of the Hesperides!... A queen wasp settled on his sleeve. Each
queen wasp killed meant two thousand fewer wasps to thieve the apples
which would grow from that blossom in the orchard; but who, with love
in his heart, could kill anything on a day like this? He entered a field
where a young red bull was feeding. It seemed to Ashurst that he looked
like Joe. But the young bull took no notice of this visitor, a little
drunk himself, perhaps, on the singing and the glamour of the golden
pasture, under his short legs. Ashurst crossed out unchallenged to the
hillside above the stream. From that slope a for mounted to its crown of
rocks. The ground there was covered with a mist of bluebells, and nearly
a score of crab-apple trees were in full bloom. He threw himself down on
the grass. The change from the buttercup glory and oak-goldened glamour
of the fields to this ethereal beauty under the grey for filled him with
a sort of wonder; nothing the same, save the sound of running water
and the songs of the cuckoos. He lay there a long time, watching the
sunlight wheel till the crab-trees threw shadows over the bluebells, his
only companions a few wild bees. He was not quite sane, thinking of that
morning’s kiss, and of to-night under the apple tree. In such a spot
as this, fauns and dryads surely lived; nymphs, white as the crab-apple
blossom, retired within those trees; fauns, brown as the dead bracken,
with pointed ears, lay in wait for them. The cuckoos were still calling
when he woke, there was the sound of running water; but the sun had
couched behind the tor, the hillside was cool, and some rabbits had
come out. ‘Tonight!’ he thought. Just as from the earth everything was
pushing up, unfolding under the soft insistent fingers of an unseen
hand, so were his heart and senses being pushed, unfolded. He got up
and broke off a spray from a crab-apple tree. The buds were like
Megan--shell-like, rose-pink, wild, and fresh; and so, too, the opening
flowers, white, and wild; and touching. He put the spray into his coat.
And all the rush of the spring within him escaped in a triumphant sigh.
But the rabbits scurried away.



6

It was nearly eleven that night when Ashurst put down the pocket
“Odyssey” which for half an hour he had held in his hands without
reading, and slipped through the yard down to the orchard. The moon had
just risen, very golden, over the hill, and like a bright, powerful,
watching spirit peered through the bars of an ash tree’s half-naked
boughs. In among the apple trees it was still dark, and he stood making
sure of his direction, feeling the rough grass with his feet. A black
mass close behind him stirred with a heavy grunting sound, and three
large pigs settled down again close to each other, under the wall.
He listened. There was no wind, but the stream’s burbling whispering
chuckle had gained twice its daytime strength. One bird, he could not
tell what, cried “Pippip,” “Pip-pip,” with perfect monotony; he could
hear a night-Jar spinning very far off; an owl hooting. Ashurst moved a
step or two, and again halted, aware of a dim living whiteness all round
his head. On the dark unstirring trees innumerable flowers and buds all
soft and blurred were being bewitched to life by the creeping moonlight.
He had the oddest feeling of actual companionship, as if a million white
moths or spirits had floated in and settled between dark sky and darker
ground, and were opening and shutting their wings on a level with his
eyes. In the bewildering, still, scentless beauty of that moment he
almost lost memory of why he had come to the orchard. The flying glamour
which had clothed the earth all day had not gone now that night had
fallen, but only changed into this new form. He moved on through the
thicket of stems and boughs covered with that live powdering whiteness,
till he reached the big apple tree. No mistaking that, even in the dark,
nearly twice the height and size of any other, and leaning out towards
the open meadows and the stream. Under the thick branches he stood still
again, to listen. The same sounds exactly, and a faint grunting from the
sleepy pigs. He put his hands on the dry, almost warm tree trunk, whose
rough mossy surface gave forth a peaty scent at his touch. Would she
come--would she? And among these quivering, haunted, moon-witched trees
he was seized with doubts of everything! All was unearthly here, fit for
no earthly lovers; fit only for god and goddess, faun and nymph not for
him and this little country girl. Would it not be almost a relief if she
did not come? But all the time he was listening. And still that unknown
bird went “Pip-pip,” “Pip-pip,” and there rose the busy chatter of the
little trout stream, whereon the moon was flinging glances through the
bars of her tree-prison. The blossom on a level with his eyes seemed to
grow more living every moment, seemed with its mysterious white beauty
more and more a part of his suspense. He plucked a fragment and held
it close--three blossoms. Sacrilege to pluck fruit-tree blossom--soft,
sacred, young blossom--and throw it away! Then suddenly he heard the
gate close, the pigs stirring again and grunting; and leaning against
the trunk, he pressed his hands to its mossy sides behind him, and held
his breath. She might have been a spirit threading the trees, for all
the noise she made! Then he saw her quite close--her dark form part of
a little tree, her white face part of its blossom; so still, and peering
towards him. He whispered: “Megan!” and held out his hands. She ran
forward, straight to his breast. When he felt her heart beating against
him, Ashurst knew to the full the sensations of chivalry and passion.
Because she was not of his world, because she was so simple and young
and headlong, adoring and defenceless, how could he be other than her
protector, in the dark! Because she was all simple Nature and beauty, as
much a part of this spring night as was the living blossom, how should
he not take all that she would give him how not fulfil the spring in her
heart and his! And torn between these two emotions he clasped her close,
and kissed her hair. How long they stood there without speaking he knew
not. The stream went on chattering, the owls hooting, the moon kept
stealing up and growing whiter; the blossom all round them and above
brightened in suspense of living beauty. Their lips had sought each
other’s, and they did not speak. The moment speech began all would
be unreal! Spring has no speech, nothing but rustling and whispering.
Spring has so much more than speech in its unfolding flowers and leaves,
and the coursing of its streams, and in its sweet restless seeking! And
sometimes spring will come alive, and, like a mysterious Presence
stand, encircling lovers with its arms, laying on them the fingers of
enchantment, so that, standing lips to lips, they forget everything but
just a kiss. While her heart beat against him, and her lips quivered on
his, Ashurst felt nothing but simple rapture--Destiny meant her for his
arms, Love could not be flouted! But when their lips parted for
breath, division began again at once. Only, passion now was so much the
stronger, and he sighed:

“Oh! Megan! Why did you come?” She looked up, hurt, amazed.

“Sir, you asked me to.”

“Don’t call me ‘sir,’ my pretty sweet.”

“What should I be callin’ you?”

“Frank.”

“I could not. Oh, no!”

“But you love me--don’t you?”

“I could not help lovin’ you. I want to be with you--that’s all.”

“All!”

So faint that he hardly heard, she whispered: “I shall die if I can’t be
with you.”

Ashurst took a mighty breath.

“Come and be with me, then!”

“Oh!”

Intoxicated by the awe and rapture in that “Oh!” he went on, whispering:

“We’ll go to London. I’ll show you the world.

“And I will take care of you, I promise, Megan. I’ll never be a brute to
you!”

“If I can be with you--that is all.”

He stroked her hair, and whispered on:

“To-morrow I’ll go to Torquay and get some money, and get you some
clothes that won’t be noticed, and then we’ll steal away. And when
we get to London, soon perhaps, if you love me well enough, we’ll be
married.”

He could feel her hair shiver with the shake of her head.

“Oh, no! I could not. I only want to be with you!”

Drunk on his own chivalry, Ashurst went on murmuring, “It’s I who am not
good enough for you. Oh! Megan, when did you begin to love me?”

“When I saw you in the road, and you looked at me. The first night I
loved you; but I never thought you would want me.”

She slipped down suddenly to her knees, trying to kiss his feet.

A shiver of horror went through Ashurst; he lifted her up bodily and
held her fast--too upset to speak.

She whispered: “Why won’t you let me?”

“It’s I who will kiss your feet!”

Her smile brought tears into his eyes. The whiteness of her moonlit
face so close to his, the faint pink of her opened lips, had the living
unearthly beauty of the apple blossom.

And then, suddenly, her eyes widened and stared past him painfully; she
writhed out of his arms, and whispered: “Look!”

Ashurst saw nothing but the brightened stream, the furze faintly gilded,
the beech trees glistening, and behind them all the wide loom of the
moonlit hill. Behind him came her frozen whisper: “The gipsy bogie!”

“Where?”

“There--by the stone--under the trees!”

Exasperated, he leaped the stream, and strode towards the beech clump.
Prank of the moonlight! Nothing! In and out of the boulders and thorn
trees, muttering and cursing, yet with a kind of terror, he rushed and
stumbled. Absurd! Silly! Then he went back to the apple tree. But she
was gone; he could hear a rustle, the grunting of the pigs, the sound of
a gate closing. Instead of her, only this old apple tree! He flung his
arms round the trunk. What a substitute for her soft body; the rough
moss against his face--what a substitute for her soft cheek; only the
scent, as of the woods, a little the same! And above him, and around,
the blossoms, more living, more moonlit than ever, seemed to glow and
breathe.



7

Descending from the train at Torquay station, Ashurst wandered
uncertainly along the front, for he did not know this particular queen
of English watering places. Having little sense of what he had on, he
was quite unconscious of being remarkable among its inhabitants, and
strode along in his rough Norfolk jacket, dusty boots, and battered
hat, without observing that people gazed at him rather blankly. He was
seeking a branch of his London bank, and having found one, found also
the first obstacle to his mood. Did he know anyone in Torquay? No. In
that case, if he would wire to his bank in London, they would be happy
to oblige him on receipt of the reply. That suspicious breath from the
matter-of-fact world somewhat tarnished the brightness of his visions.
But he sent the telegram.

Nearly opposite to the post office he saw a shop full of ladies’
garments, and examined the window with strange sensations. To have
to undertake the clothing of his rustic love was more than a little
disturbing. He went in. A young woman came forward; she had blue eyes
and a faintly puzzled forehead. Ashurst stared at her in silence.

“Yes, sir?”

“I want a dress for a young lady.”

The young woman smiled. Ashurst frowned the peculiarity of his request
struck him with sudden force.

The young woman added hastily:

“What style would you like--something modish?”

“No. Simple.”

“What figure would the young lady be?”

“I don’t know; about two inches shorter than you, I should say.”

“Could you give me her waist measurement?”

Megan’s waist!

“Oh! anything usual!”

“Quite!”

While she was gone he stood disconsolately eyeing the models in the
window, and suddenly it seemed to him incredible that Megan--his Megan
could ever be dressed save in the rough tweed skirt, coarse blouse, and
tam-o’-shanter cap he was wont to see her in. The young woman had come
back with several dresses in her arms, and Ashurst eyed her laying them
against her own modish figure. There was one whose colour he liked, a
dove-grey, but to imagine Megan clothed in it was beyond him. The young
woman went away, and brought some more. But on Ashurst there had now
come a feeling of paralysis. How choose? She would want a hat too,
and shoes, and gloves; and, suppose, when he had got them all, they
commonised her, as Sunday clothes always commonised village folk! Why
should she not travel as she was? Ah! But conspicuousness would matter;
this was a serious elopement. And, staring at the young woman, he
thought: ‘I wonder if she guesses, and thinks me a blackguard?’

“Do you mind putting aside that grey one for me?” he said desperately at
last. “I can’t decide now; I’ll come in again this afternoon.”

The young woman sighed.

“Oh! certainly. It’s a very tasteful costume. I don’t think you’ll get
anything that will suit your purpose better.”

“I expect not,” Ashurst murmured, and went out.

Freed again from the suspicious matter-of-factness of the world, he took
a long breath, and went back to visions. In fancy he saw the trustful,
pretty creature who was going to join her life to his; saw himself and
her stealing forth at night, walking over the moor under the moon, he
with his arm round her, and carrying her new garments, till, in some
far-off wood, when dawn was coming, she would slip off her old things
and put on these, and an early train at a distant station would bear
them away on their honeymoon journey, till London swallowed them up, and
the dreams of love came true.

“Frank Ashurst! Haven’t seen you since Rugby, old chap!”

Ashurst’s frown dissolved; the face, close to his own, was blue-eyed,
suffused with sun--one of those faces where sun from within and without
join in a sort of lustre. And he answered:

“Phil Halliday, by Jove!”

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh! nothing. Just looking round, and getting some money. I’m staying on
the moor.”

“Are you lunching anywhere? Come and lunch with us; I’m here with my
young sisters. They’ve had measles.”

Hooked in by that friendly arm Ashurst went along, up a hill, down a
hill, away out of the town, while the voice of Halliday, redolent of
optimism as his face was of sun, explained how “in this mouldy place
the only decent things were the bathing and boating,” and so on, till
presently they came to a crescent of houses a little above and back from
the sea, and into the centre one an hotel--made their way.

“Come up to my room and have a wash. Lunch’ll be ready in a jiffy.”

Ashurst contemplated his visage in a looking-glass. After his farmhouse
bedroom, the comb and one spare shirt regime of the last fortnight,
this room littered with clothes and brushes was a sort of Capua; and he
thought: ‘Queer--one doesn’t realise But what--he did not quite know.

When he followed Halliday into the sitting room for lunch, three faces,
very fair and blue-eyed, were turned suddenly at the words: “This is
Frank Ashurst my young sisters.”

Two were indeed young, about eleven and ten. The third was perhaps
seventeen, tall and fair-haired too, with pink-and-white cheeks just
touched by the sun, and eyebrows, rather darker than the hair, running
a little upwards from her nose to their outer points. The voices of all
three were like Halliday’s, high and cheerful; they stood up straight,
shook hands with a quick movement, looked at Ashurst critically, away
again at once, and began to talk of what they were going to do in the
afternoon. A regular Diana and attendant nymphs! After the farm this
crisp, slangy, eager talk, this cool, clean, off-hand refinement, was
queer at first, and then so natural that what he had come from became
suddenly remote. The names of the two little ones seemed to be Sabina
and Freda; of the eldest, Stella.

Presently the one called Sabina turned to him and said:

“I say, will you come shrimping with us?--it’s awful fun!”

Surprised by this unexpected friendliness, Ashurst murmured:

“I’m afraid I’ve got to get back this afternoon.”

“Oh!”

“Can’t you put it off?”

Ashurst turned to the new speaker, Stella, shook his head, and smiled.
She was very pretty! Sabina said regretfully: “You might!” Then the talk
switched off to caves and swimming.

“Can you swim far?”

“About two miles.”

“Oh!”

“I say!”

“How jolly!”

The three pairs of blue eyes, fixed on him, made him conscious of his
new importance--The sensation was agreeable. Halliday said:

“I say, you simply must stop and have a bathe. You’d better stay the
night.”

“Yes, do!”’

But again Ashurst smiled and shook his head. Then suddenly he found
himself being catechised about his physical achievements. He had
rowed--it seemed--in his college boat, played in his college football
team, won his college mile; and he rose from table a sort of hero. The
two little girls insisted that he must see “their” cave, and they set
forth chattering like magpies, Ashurst between them, Stella and her
brother a little behind. In the cave, damp and darkish like any other
cave, the great feature was a pool with possibility of creatures which
might be caught and put into bottles. Sabina and Freda, who wore no
stockings on their shapely brown legs, exhorted Ashurst to join them in
the middle of it, and help sieve the water. He too was soon bootless and
sockless. Time goes fast for one who has a sense of beauty, when there
are pretty children in a pool and a young Diana on the edge, to receive
with wonder anything you can catch! Ashurst never had much sense of
time. It was a shock when, pulling out his watch, he saw it was well
past three. No cashing his cheque to-day-the bank would be closed before
he could get there. Watching his expression, the little girls cried out
at once:

“Hurrah! Now you’ll have to stay!”

Ashurst did not answer. He was seeing again Megan’s face, when at
breakfast time he had whispered: “I’m going to Torquay, darling, to
get everything; I shall be back this evening. If it’s fine we can go
to-night. Be ready.” He was seeing again how she quivered and hung
on his words. What would she think? Then he pulled himself together,
conscious suddenly of the calm scrutiny of this other young girl, so
tall and fair and Diana-like, at the edge of the pool, of her wondering
blue eyes under those brows which slanted up a little. If they knew what
was in his mind--if they knew that this very night he had meant! Well,
there would be a little sound of disgust, and he would be alone in the
cave. And with a curious mixture of anger, chagrin, and shame, he put
his watch back into his pocket and said abruptly:

“Yes; I’m dished for to-day.”

“Hurrah! Now you can bathe with us.”

It was impossible not to succumb a little to the contentment of these
pretty children, to the smile on Stella’s lips, to Halliday’s “Ripping,
old chap! I can lend you things for the night!” But again a spasm of
longing and remorse throbbed through Ashurst, and he said moodily:

“I must send a wire!”

The attractions of the pool palling, they went back to the hotel.
Ashurst sent his wire, addressing it to Mrs. Narracombe: “Sorry,
detained for the night, back to-morrow.” Surely Megan would understand
that he had too much to do; and his heart grew lighter. It was a lovely
afternoon, warm, the sea calm and blue, and swimming his great passion;
the favour of these pretty children flattered him, the pleasure of
looking at them, at Stella, at Halliday’s sunny face; the slight
unreality, yet extreme naturalness of it all--as of a last peep at
normality before he took this plunge with Megan! He got his borrowed
bathing dress, and they all set forth. Halliday and he undressed behind
one rock, the three girls behind another. He was first into the sea,
and at once swam out with the bravado of justifying his self-given
reputation. When he turned he could see Halliday swimming along shore,
and the girls flopping and dipping, and riding the little waves, in the
way he was accustomed to despise, but now thought pretty and sensible,
since it gave him the distinction of the only deep-water fish. But
drawing near, he wondered if they would like him, a stranger, to come
into their splashing group; he felt shy, approaching that slim nymph.
Then Sabina summoned him to teach her to float, and between them the
little girls kept him so busy that he had no time even to notice whether
Stella was accustomed to his presence, till suddenly he heard a startled
sound from her: She was standing submerged to the waist, leaning a
little forward, her slim white arms stretched out and pointing, her wet
face puckered by the sun and an expression of fear.

“Look at Phil! Is he all right? Oh, look!”

Ashurst saw at once that Phil was not all right. He was splashing and
struggling out of his depth, perhaps a hundred yards away; suddenly
he gave a cry, threw up his arms, and went down. Ashurst saw the girl
launch herself towards him, and crying out: “Go back, Stella! Go back!”
 he dashed out. He had never swum so fast, and reached Halliday just as
he was coming up a second time. It was a case of cramp, but to get him
in was not difficult, for he did not struggle. The girl, who had stopped
where Ashurst told her to, helped as soon as he was in his depth, and
once on the beach they sat down one on each side of him to rub his
limbs, while the little ones stood by with scared faces. Halliday was
soon smiling. It was--he said--rotten of him, absolutely rotten! If
Frank would give him an arm, he could get to his clothes all right now.
Ashurst gave him the arm, and as he did so caught sight of Stella’s
face, wet and flushed and tearful, all broken up out of its calm; and he
thought: ‘I called her Stella! Wonder if she minded?’

While they were dressing, Halliday said quietly, “You saved my life, old
chap!”

“Rot!”

Clothed, but not quite in their right minds, they went up all together
to the hotel and sat down to tea, except Halliday, who was lying down in
his room. After some slices of bread and jam, Sabina said:

“I say, you know, you are a brick!” And Freda chimed in:

“Rather!”

Ashurst saw Stella looking down; he got up in confusion, and went to
the window. From there he heard Sabina mutter: “I say, let’s swear blood
bond. Where’s your knife, Freda?” and out of the corner of his eye could
see each of them solemnly prick herself, squeeze out a drop of blood and
dabble on a bit of paper. He turned and made for the door.

“Don’t be a stoat! Come back!” His arms were seized; imprisoned between
the little girls he was brought back to the table. On it lay a piece
of paper with an effigy drawn in blood, and the three names Stella
Halliday, Sabina Halliday, Freda Halliday--also in blood, running
towards it like the rays of a star. Sabina said:

“That’s you. We shall have to kiss you, you know.”

And Freda echoed:

“Oh! Blow--Yes!”

Before Ashurst could escape, some wettish hair dangled against his
face, something like a bite descended on his nose, he felt his left
arm pinched, and other teeth softly searching his cheek. Then he was
released, and Freda said:

“Now, Stella.”

Ashurst, red and rigid, looked across the table at a red and rigid
Stella. Sabina giggled; Freda cried:

“Buck up--it spoils everything!”

A queer, ashamed eagerness shot through Ashurst: then he said quietly:

“Shut up, you little demons!”

Again Sabina giggled.

“Well, then, she can kiss her hand, and you can put it against your
nose. It is on one side!”

To his amazement the girl did kiss her hand and stretch it out. Solemnly
he took that cool, slim hand and laid it to his cheek. The two little
girls broke into clapping, and Freda said:

“Now, then, we shall have to save your life at any time; that’s settled.
Can I have another cup, Stella, not so beastly weak?” Tea was resumed,
and Ashurst, folding up the paper, put it in his pocket. The talk turned
on the advantages of measles, tangerine oranges, honey in a spoon, no
lessons, and so forth. Ashurst listened, silent, exchanging friendly
looks with Stella, whose face was again of its normal sun-touched pink
and white. It was soothing to be so taken to the heart of this jolly
family, fascinating to watch their faces. And after tea, while the two
little girls pressed seaweed, he talked to Stella in the window seat
and looked at her water-colour sketches. The whole thing was like a
pleasurable dream; time and incident hung up, importance and reality
suspended. Tomorrow he would go back to Megan, with nothing of all this
left save the paper with the blood of these children, in his pocket.
Children! Stella was not quite that--as old as Megan! Her talk--quick,
rather hard and shy, yet friendly--seemed to flourish on his silences,
and about her there was something cool and virginal--a maiden in
a bower. At dinner, to which Halliday, who had swallowed too much
sea-water, did not come, Sabina said:

“I’m going to call you Frank.”

Freda echoed:

“Frank, Frank, Franky.”

Ashurst grinned and bowed.

“Every time Stella calls you Mr. Ashurst, she’s got to pay a forfeit.
It’s ridiculous.”

Ashurst looked at Stella, who grew slowly red. Sabina giggled; Freda
cried:

“She’s ‘smoking’--’smoking!’--Yah!”

Ashurst reached out to right and left, and grasped some fair hair in
each hand.

“Look here,” he said, “you two! Leave Stella alone, or I’ll tie you
together!”

Freda gurgled:

“Ouch! You are a beast!”

Sabina murmured cautiously:

“You call her Stella, you see!”

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s a jolly name!”

“All right; we give you leave to!”

Ashurst released the hair. Stella! What would she call him--after this?
But she called him nothing; till at bedtime he said, deliberately:

“Good-night, Stella!”

“Good-night, Mr.----Good-night, Frank! It was jolly of you, you know!”

“Oh-that! Bosh!”

Her quick, straight handshake tightened suddenly, and as suddenly became
slack.

Ashurst stood motionless in the empty sitting-room. Only last night,
under the apple tree and the living blossom, he had held Megan to
him, kissing her eyes and lips. And he gasped, swept by that rush of
remembrance. To-night it should have begun-his life with her who only
wanted to be with him! And now, twenty-four hours and more must pass,
because-of not looking at his watch! Why had he made friends with this
family of innocents just when he was saying good-bye to innocence, and
all the rest of it? ‘But I mean to marry her,’ he thought; ‘I told her
so!’

He took a candle, lighted it, and went to his bedroom, which was next to
Halliday’s. His friend’s voice called, as he was passing:

“Is that you, old chap? I say, come in.”

He was sitting up in bed, smoking a pipe and reading.

“Sit down a bit.”

Ashurst sat down by the open window.

“I’ve been thinking about this afternoon, you know,” said Halliday
rather suddenly. “They say you go through all your past. I didn’t. I
suppose I wasn’t far enough gone.”

“What did you think of?”

Halliday was silent for a little, then said quietly

“Well, I did think of one thing--rather odd--of a girl at Cambridge that
I might have--you know; I was glad I hadn’t got her on my mind. Anyhow,
old chap, I owe it to you that I’m here; I should have been in the big
dark by now. No more bed, or baccy; no more anything. I say, what d’you
suppose happens to us?”

Ashurst murmured:

“Go out like flames, I expect.”

“Phew!”

“We may flicker, and cling about a bit, perhaps.”

“H’m! I think that’s rather gloomy. I say, I hope my young sisters have
been decent to you?”

“Awfully decent.”

Halliday put his pipe down, crossed his hands behind his neck, and
turned his face towards the window.

“They’re not bad kids!” he said.

Watching his friend, lying there, with that smile, and the candle-light
on his face, Ashurst shuddered. Quite true! He might have been lying
there with no smile, with all that sunny look gone out for ever! He
might not have been lying there at all, but “sanded” at the bottom of
the sea, waiting for resurrection on the ninth day, was it? And that
smile of Halliday’s seemed to him suddenly something wonderful, as if in
it were all the difference between life and death--the little flame--the
all! He got up, and said softly:

“Well, you ought to sleep, I expect. Shall I blow out?”

Halliday caught his hand.

“I can’t say it, you know; but it must be rotten to be dead. Good-night,
old boy!”

Stirred and moved, Ashurst squeezed the hand, and went downstairs. The
hall door was still open, and he passed out on to the lawn before the
Crescent. The stars were bright in a very dark blue sky, and by their
light some lilacs had that mysterious colour of flowers by night which
no one can describe. Ashurst pressed his face against a spray; and
before his closed eyes Megan started up, with the tiny brown spaniel pup
against her breast. “I thought of a girl that I might have you know. I
was glad I hadn’t got her on my mind!” He jerked his head away from
the lilac, and began pacing up and down over the grass, a grey phantom
coming to substance for a moment in the light from the lamp at either
end. He was with her again under the living, breathing white ness of the
blossom, the stream chattering by, the moon glinting steel-blue on the
bathing-pool; back in the rapture of his kisses on her upturned face of
innocence and humble passion, back in the suspense and beauty of that
pagan night. He stood still once more in the shadow of the lilacs. Here
the sea, not the stream, was Night’s voice; the sea with its sigh and
rustle; no little bird, no owl, no night-Jar called or spun; but a piano
tinkled, and the white houses cut the sky with solid curve, and the
scent from the lilacs filled the air. A window of the hotel, high up,
was lighted; he saw a shadow move across the blind. And most queer
sensations stirred within him, a sort of churning, and twining, and
turning of a single emotion on itself, as though spring and love,
bewildered and confused, seeking the way, were baffled. This girl,
who had called him Frank, whose hand had given his that sudden little
clutch, this girl so cool and pure--what would she think of such wild,
unlawful loving? He sank down on the grass, sitting there cross-legged,
with his back to the house, motionless as some carved Buddha. Was he
really going to break through innocence, and steal? Sniff the scent out
of a wild flower, and--perhaps--throw it away? “Of a girl at Cambridge
that I might have--you know!” He put his hands to the grass, one on each
side, palms downwards, and pressed; it was just warm still--the grass,
barely moist, soft and firm and friendly. ‘What am I going to do?’ he
thought. Perhaps Megan was at her window, looking out at the blossom,
thinking of him! Poor little Megan! ‘Why not?’ he thought. ‘I love
her! But do I really love her? or do I only want her because she is so
pretty, and loves me? What am I going to do?’ The piano tinkled on, the
stars winked; and Ashurst gazed out before him at the dark sea, as if
spell-bound. He got up at last, cramped and rather chilly. There was no
longer light in any window. And he went in to bed.

Out of a deep and dreamless sleep he was awakened by the sound of
thumping on the door. A shrill voice called:

“Hi! Breakfast’s ready.”

He jumped up. Where was he--? Ah!

He found them already eating marmalade, and sat down in the empty place
between Stella and Sabina, who, after watching him a little, said:

“I say, do buck up; we’re going to start at half-past nine.”

“We’re going to Berry Head, old chap; you must come!”

Ashurst thought: ‘Come! Impossible. I shall be getting things and going
back.’ He looked at Stella. She said quickly:

“Do come!”

Sabina chimed in:

“It’ll be no fun without you.”

Freda got up and stood behind his chair.

“You’ve got to come, or else I’ll pull your hair!”

Ashurst thought: ‘Well--one day more--to think it over! One day more!’
And he said:

“All right! You needn’t tweak my mane!”

“Hurrah!”

At the station he wrote a second telegram to the farm, and then tore it
up; he could not have explained why. From Brixham they drove in a very
little wagonette. There, squeezed between Sabina and Freda, with his
knees touching Stella’s, they played “Up, Jenkins “; and the gloom he
was feeling gave way to frolic. In this one day more to think it over,
he did not want to think! They ran races, wrestled, paddled--for to-day
nobody wanted to bathe--they sang catches, played games, and ate all
they had brought. The little girls fell asleep against him on the way
back, and his knees still touched Stella’s in the narrow wagonette. It
seemed incredible that thirty hours ago he had never set eyes on any of
those three flaxen heads. In the train he talked to Stella of poetry,
discovering her favourites, and telling her his own with a pleasing
sense of superiority; till suddenly she said, rather low:

“Phil says you don’t believe in a future life, Frank. I think that’s
dreadful.”

Disconcerted, Ashurst muttered:

“I don’t either believe or not believe--I simply don’t know.”

She said quickly:

“I couldn’t bear that. What would be the use of living?”

Watching the frown of those pretty oblique brows, Ashurst answered:

“I don’t believe in believing things because a one wants to.”

“But why should one wish to live again, if one isn’t going to?”

And she looked full at him.

He did not want to hurt her, but an itch to dominate pushed him on to
say:

“While one’s alive one naturally wants to go on living for ever; that’s
part of being alive. But it probably isn’t anything more.”

“Don’t you believe in the Bible at all, then?”

Ashurst thought: ‘Now I shall really hurt her!’

“I believe in the Sermon on the Mount, because it’s beautiful and good
for all time.”

“But don’t you believe Christ was divine?”

He shook his head.

She turned her face quickly to the window, and there sprang into his
mind Megan’s prayer, repeated by little Nick: “God bless us all, and Mr.
Ashes!” Who else would ever say a prayer for him, like her who at this
moment must be waiting--waiting to see him come down the lane? And he
thought suddenly: ‘What a scoundrel I am!’

All that evening this thought kept coming back; but, as is not unusual,
each time with less poignancy, till it seemed almost a matter of course
to be a scoundrel. And--strange!--he did not know whether he was a
scoundrel if he meant to go back to Megan, or if he did not mean to go
back to her.

They played cards till the children were sent off to bed; then Stella
went to the piano. From over on the window seat, where it was nearly
dark, Ashurst watched her between the candles--that fair head on the
long, white neck bending to the movement of her hands. She played
fluently, without much expression; but what a Picture she made, the
faint golden radiance, a sort of angelic atmosphere hovering about her!
Who could have passionate thoughts or wild desires in the presence of
that swaying, white-clothed girl with the seraphic head? She played a
thing of Schumann’s called “Warum?” Then Halliday brought out a flute,
and the spell was broken. After this they made Ashurst sing, Stella
playing him accompaniments from a book of Schumann songs, till, in
the middle of “Ich grolle nicht,” two small figures clad in blue
dressing-gowns crept in and tried to conceal themselves beneath the
piano. The evening broke up in confusion, and what Sabina called “a
splendid rag.”

That night Ashurst hardly slept at all. He was thinking, tossing and
turning. The intense domestic intimacy of these last two days, the
strength of this Halliday atmosphere, seemed to ring him round, and make
the farm and Megan--even Megan--seem unreal. Had he really made love
to her--really promised to take her away to live with him? He must have
been bewitched by the spring, the night, the apple blossom! This May
madness could but destroy them both! The notion that he was going to
make her his mistress--that simple child not yet eighteen--now filled
him with a sort of horror, even while it still stung and whipped his
blood. He muttered to himself: “It’s awful, what I’ve done--awful!”
 And the sound of Schumann’s music throbbed and mingled with his fevered
thoughts, and he saw again Stella’s cool, white, fair-haired figure
and bending neck, the queer, angelic radiance about her. ‘I must have
been--I must be-mad!’ he thought. ‘What came into me? Poor little
Megan!’ “God bless us all, and Mr. Ashes! I want to be with you--only
to be with you!” And burying his face in his pillow, he smothered down a
fit of sobbing. Not to go back was awful! To go back--more awful still!

Emotion, when you are young, and give real vent to it, loses its
power of torture. And he fell asleep, thinking: ‘What was it--a few
kisses--all forgotten in a month!’

Next morning he got his cheque cashed, but avoided the shop of the
dove-grey dress like the plague; and, instead, bought himself some
necessaries. He spent the whole day in a queer mood, cherishing a kind
of sullenness against himself. Instead of the hankering of the last two
days, he felt nothing but a blank--all passionate longing gone, as if
quenched in that outburst of tears. After tea Stella put a book down
beside him, and said shyly:

“Have you read that, Frank?”

It was Farrar’s “Life of Christ.” Ashurst smiled. Her anxiety about his
beliefs seemed to him comic, but touching. Infectious too, perhaps, for
he began to have an itch to justify himself, if not to convert her.
And in the evening, when the children and Halliday were mending their
shrimping nets, he said:

“At the back of orthodox religion, so far as I can see, there’s always
the idea of reward--what you can get for being good; a kind of begging
for favours. I think it all starts in fear.”

She was sitting on the sofa making reefer knots with a bit of string.
She looked up quickly:

“I think it’s much deeper than that.”

Ashurst felt again that wish to dominate.

“You think so,” he said; “but wanting the ‘quid pro quo’ is about the
deepest thing in all of us! It’s jolly hard to get to the bottom of it!”

She wrinkled her brows in a puzzled frown.

“I don’t think I understand.”

He went on obstinately:

“Well, think, and see if the most religious people aren’t those who feel
that this life doesn’t give them all they want. I believe in being good
because to be good is good in itself.”

“Then you do believe in being good?”

How pretty she looked now--it was easy to be good with her! And he
nodded and said:

“I say, show me how to make that knot!”

With her fingers touching his, in manoeuvring the bit of string, he felt
soothed and happy. And when he went to bed he wilfully kept his thoughts
on her, wrapping himself in her fair, cool sisterly radiance, as in some
garment of protection.

Next day he found they had arranged to go by train to Totnes, and picnic
at Berry Pomeroy Castle. Still in that resolute oblivion of the past,
he took his place with them in the landau beside Halliday, back to the
horses. And, then, along the sea front, nearly at the turning to the
railway station, his heart almost leaped into his mouth. Megan--Megan
herself!--was walking on the far pathway, in her old skirt and jacket
and her tam-o’-shanter, looking up into the faces of the passers-by.
Instinctively he threw his hand up for cover, then made a feint of
clearing dust out of his eyes; but between his fingers he could see
her still, moving, not with her free country step, but wavering,
lost-looking, pitiful-like some little dog which has missed its master
and does not know whether to run on, to run back--where to run. How had
she come like this?--what excuse had she found to get away?--what did
she hope for? But with every turn of the wheels bearing him away from
her, his heart revolted and cried to him to stop them, to get out, and
go to her! When the landau turned the corner to the station he could
stand it no more, and opening the carriage door, muttered: “I’ve
forgotten something! Go on--don’t wait for me! I’ll join you at the
castle by the next train!” He jumped, stumbled, spun round, recovered
his balance, and walked forward, while the carriage with the astonished
Hallidays rolled on.

From the corner he could only just see Megan, a long way ahead now. He
ran a few steps, checked himself, and dropped into a walk. With each
step nearer to her, further from the Hallidays, he walked more and more
slowly. How did it alter anything--this sight of her? How make the going
to her, and that which must come of it, less ugly? For there was no
hiding it--since he had met the Hallidays he had become gradually sure
that he would not marry Megan. It would only be a wild love-time, a
troubled, remorseful, difficult time--and then--well, then he would
get tired, just because she gave him everything, was so simple, and so
trustful, so dewy. And dew--wears off! The little spot of faded colour,
her tam-o’-shanter cap, wavered on far in front of him; she was looking
up into every face, and at the house windows. Had any man ever such
a cruel moment to go through? Whatever he did, he felt he would be a
beast. And he uttered a groan which made a nursemaid turn and stare. He
saw Megan stop and lean against the sea-wall, looking at the sea; and he
too stopped. Quite likely she had never seen the sea before, and even in
her distress could not resist that sight. ‘Yes-she’s seen nothing,’ he
thought; ‘everything’s before her. And just for a few weeks’ passion,
I shall be cutting her life to ribbons. I’d better go and hang myself
rather than do it!’ And suddenly he seemed to see Stella’s calm eyes
looking into his, the wave of fluffy hair on her forehead stirred by
the wind. Ah! it would be madness, would mean giving up all that he
respected, and his own self-respect. He turned and walked quickly back
towards the station. But memory of that poor, bewildered little figure,
those anxious eyes searching the passers-by, smote him too hard again,
and once more he turned towards the sea.

The cap was no longer visible; that little spot of colour had vanished
in the stream of the noon promenaders. And impelled by the passion of
longing, the dearth which comes on one when life seems to be whirling
something out of reach, he hurried forward. She was nowhere to be seen;
for half an hour he looked for her; then on the beach flung himself face
downward in the sand. To find her again he knew he had only to go to the
station and wait till she returned from her fruitless quest, to take her
train home; or to take train himself and go back to the farm, so that
she found him there when she returned. But he lay inert in the sand,
among the indifferent groups of children with their spades and buckets.
Pity at her little figure wandering, seeking, was well-nigh merged in
the spring-running of his blood; for it was all wild feeling now--the
chivalrous part, what there had been of it, was gone. He wanted her
again, wanted her kisses, her soft, little body, her abandonment, all
her quick, warm, pagan emotion; wanted the wonderful feeling of that
night under the moonlit apple boughs; wanted it all with a horrible
intensity, as the faun wants the nymph. The quick chatter of the little
bright trout-stream, the dazzle of the buttercups, the rocks of the old
“wild men”; the calling of the cuckoos and yaffles, the hooting of the
owls; and the red moon peeping out of the velvet dark at the living
whiteness of the blossom; and her face just out of reach at the window,
lost in its love-look; and her heart against his, her lips answering
his, under the apple tree--all this besieged him. Yet he lay inert. What
was it which struggled against pity and this feverish longing, and kept
him there paralysed in the warm sand? Three flaxen heads--a fair face
with friendly blue--grey eyes, a slim hand pressing his, a quick voice
speaking his name--“So you do believe in being good?” Yes, and a sort
of atmosphere as of some old walled-in English garden, with pinks, and
cornflowers, and roses, and scents of lavender and lilaccool and fair,
untouched, almost holy--all that he had been brought up to feel was
clean and good. And suddenly he thought: ‘She might come along the front
again and see me!’ and he got up and made his way to the rock at the far
end of the beach. There, with the spray biting into his face, he could
think more coolly. To go back to the farm and love Megan out in the
woods, among the rocks, with everything around wild and fitting--that,
he knew, was impossible, utterly. To transplant her to a great town,
to keep, in some little flat or rooms, one who belonged so wholly to
Nature--the poet in him shrank from it. His passion would be a mere
sensuous revel, soon gone; in London, her very simplicity, her lack of
all intellectual quality, would make her his secret plaything--nothing
else. The longer he sat on the rock, with his feet dangling over a
greenish pool from which the sea was ebbing, the more clearly he saw
this; but it was as if her arms and all of her were slipping slowly,
slowly down from him, into the pool, to be carried away out to sea; and
her face looking up, her lost face with beseeching eyes, and dark, wet
hair-possessed, haunted, tortured him! He got up at last, scaled the low
rock-cliff, and made his way down into a sheltered cove. Perhaps in the
sea he could get back his control--lose this fever! And stripping off
his clothes, he swam out. He wanted to tire himself so that nothing
mattered and swam recklessly, fast and far; then suddenly, for no
reason, felt afraid. Suppose he could not reach shore again--suppose the
current set him out--or he got cramp, like Halliday! He turned to swim
in. The red cliffs looked a long way off. If he were drowned they
would find his clothes. The Hallidays would know; but Megan perhaps
never--they took no newspaper at the farm. And Phil Halliday’s words
came back to him again: “A girl at Cambridge I might have Glad I haven’t
got her on my mind!” And in that moment of unreasoning fear he vowed
he would not have her on his mind. Then his fear left him; he swam in
easily enough, dried himself in the sun, and put on his clothes. His
heart felt sore, but no longer ached; his body cool and refreshed.

When one is as young as Ashurst, pity is not a violent emotion. And,
back in the Hallidays’ sitting-room, eating a ravenous tea, he felt much
like a man recovered from fever. Everything seemed new and clear; the
tea, the buttered toast and jam tasted absurdly good; tobacco had never
smelt so nice. And walking up and down the empty room, he stopped here
and there to touch or look. He took up Stella’s work-basket, fingered
the cotton reels and a gaily-coloured plait of sewing silks, smelt at
the little bag filled with woodroffe she kept among them. He sat down
at the piano, playing tunes with one finger, thinking: ‘To-night she’ll
play; I shall watch her while she’s playing; it does me good to watch
her.’ He took up the book, which still lay where she had placed it
beside him, and tried to read. But Megan’s little, sad figure began to
come back at once, and he got up and leaned in the window, listening to
the thrushes in the Crescent gardens, gazing at the sea, dreamy and
blue below the trees. A servant came in and cleared the tea away, and he
still stood, inhaling the evening air, trying not to think. Then he saw
the Hallidays coming through the gate of the Crescent, Stella a little
in front of Phil and the children, with their baskets, and instinctively
he drew back. His heart, too sore and discomfited, shrank from this
encounter, yet wanted its friendly solace--bore a grudge against this
influence, yet craved its cool innocence, and the pleasure of watching
Stella’s face. From against the wall behind the piano he saw her come
in and stand looking a little blank as though disappointed; then she
saw him and smiled, a swift, brilliant smile which warmed yet irritated
Ashurst.

“You never came after us, Frank.”

“No; I found I couldn’t.”

“Look! We picked such lovely late violets!” She held out a bunch.
Ashurst put his nose to them, and there stirred within him vague
longings, chilled instantly by a vision of Megan’s anxious face lifted
to the faces of the passers-by.

He said shortly: “How jolly!” and turned away. He went up to his room,
and, avoiding the children, who were coming up the stairs, threw himself
on his bed, and lay there with his arms crossed over his face. Now that
he felt the die really cast, and Megan given up, he hated himself,
and almost hated the Hallidays and their atmosphere of healthy, happy
English homes.

Why should they have chanced here, to drive away first love--to show him
that he was going to be no better than a common seducer? What right had
Stella, with her fair, shy beauty, to make him know for certain that
he would never marry Megan; and, tarnishing it all, bring him such
bitterness of regretful longing and such pity? Megan would be back by
now, worn out by her miserable seeking--poor little thing!--expecting,
perhaps, to find him there when she reached home. Ashurst bit at his
sleeve, to stifle a groan of remorseful longing. He went to dinner glum
and silent, and his mood threw a dinge even over the children. It was
a melancholy, rather ill tempered evening, for they were all tired;
several times he caught Stella looking at him with a hurt, puzzled
expression, and this pleased his evil mood. He slept miserably; got up
quite early, and wandered out. He went down to the beach. Alone there
with the serene, the blue, the sunlit sea, his heart relaxed a little.
Conceited fool--to think that Megan would take it so hard! In a week
or two she would almost have forgotten! And he well, he would have the
reward of virtue! A good young man! If Stella knew, she would give him
her blessing for resisting that devil she believed in; and he uttered a
hard laugh. But slowly the peace and beauty of sea and sky, the flight
of the lonely seagulls, made him feel ashamed. He bathed, and turned
homewards.

In the Crescent gardens Stella herself was sitting on a camp stool,
sketching. He stole up close behind. How fair and pretty she was, bent
diligently, holding up her brush, measuring, wrinkling her brows.

He said gently:

“Sorry I was such a beast last night, Stella.”

She turned round, startled, flushed very pink, and said in her quick
way:

“It’s all right. I knew there was something. Between friends it doesn’t
matter, does it?”

Ashurst answered:

“Between friends--and we are, aren’t we?”

She looked up at him, nodded vehemently, and her upper teeth gleamed
again in that swift, brilliant smile.

Three days later he went back to London, travelling with the Hallidays.
He had not written to the farm. What was there he could say?

On the last day of April in the following year he and Stella were
married....

Such were Ashurst’s memories, sitting against the wall among the gorse,
on his silver-wedding day. At this very spot, where he had laid out the
lunch, Megan must have stood outlined against the sky when he had first
caught sight of her. Of all queer coincidences! And there moved in him
a longing to go down and see again the farm and the orchard, and the
meadow of the gipsy bogle. It would not take long; Stella would be an
hour yet, perhaps.

How well he remembered it all--the little crowning group of pine trees,
the steep-up grass hill behind! He paused at the farm gate. The low
stone house, the yew-tree porch, the flowering currants--not changed
a bit; even the old green chair was out there on the grass under the
window, where he had reached up to her that night to take the key. Then
he turned down the lane, and stood leaning on the orchard gate-grey
skeleton of a gate, as then. A black pig even was wandering in there
among the trees. Was it true that twenty-six years had passed, or had
he dreamed and awakened to find Megan waiting for him by the big apple
tree? Unconsciously he put up his hand to his grizzled beard and brought
himself back to reality. Opening the gate, he made his way down through
the docks and nettles till he came to the edge, and the old apple tree
itself. Unchanged! A little more of the greygreen lichen, a dead branch
or two, and for the rest it might have been only last night that he had
embraced that mossy trunk after Megan’s flight and inhaled its woody
savour, while above his head the moonlit blossom had seemed to breathe
and live. In that early spring a few buds were showing already; the
blackbirds shouting their songs, a cuckoo calling, the sunlight bright
and warm. Incredibly the same-the chattering trout-stream, the narrow
pool he had lain in every morning, splashing the water over his flanks
and chest; and out there in the wild meadow the beech clump and the
stone where the gipsy bogie was supposed to sit. And an ache for lost
youth, a hankering, a sense of wasted love and sweetness, gripped
Ashurst by the throat. Surely, on this earth of such wild beauty, one
was meant to hold rapture to one’s heart, as this earth and sky held it!
And yet, one could not!

He went to the edge of the stream, and looking down at the little pool,
thought: ‘Youth and spring! What has become of them all, I wonder?’

And then, in sudden fear of having this memory jarred by human
encounter, he went back to the lane, and pensively retraced his steps to
the crossroads.

Beside the car an old, grey-bearded labourer was leaning on a stick,
talking to the chauffeur. He broke off at once, as though guilty of
disrespect, and touching his hat, prepared to limp on down the lane.

Ashurst pointed to the narrow green mound. “Can you tell me what this
is?”

The old fellow stopped; on his face had come a look as though he were
thinking: ‘You’ve come to the right shop, mister!’

“‘Tes a grave,” he said.

“But why out here?”

The old man smiled. “That’s a tale, as yu may say. An’ not the first
time as I’ve a-told et--there’s plenty folks asks ‘bout that bit o’
turf. ‘Maid’s Grave’ us calls et, ‘ereabouts.”

Ashurst held out his pouch. “Have a fill?”

The old man touched his hat again, and slowly filled an old clay pipe.
His eyes, looking upward out of a mass of wrinkles and hair, were still
quite bright.

“If yu don’ mind, zurr, I’ll zet down my leg’s ‘urtin’ a bit today.” And
he sat down on the mound of turf.

“There’s always a flower on this grave. An’ ‘tain’t so very lonesome,
neither; brave lot o’ folks goes by now, in they new motor cars an’
things--not as ‘twas in th’ old days. She’ve a got company up ‘ere.
’.was a poor soul killed ‘erself.”

“I see!” said Ashurst. “Cross-roads burial. I didn’t know that custom
was kept up.”

“Ah! but ‘twas a main long time ago. Us ‘ad a parson as was very
God-fearin’ then. Let me see, I’ve a ‘ad my pension six year come
Michaelmas, an’ I were just on fifty when t’appened. There’s none livin’
knows more about et than what I du. She belonged close ‘ere; same farm
as where I used to work along o’ Mrs. Narracombe ‘tes Nick Narracombe’s
now; I dus a bit for ‘im still, odd times.”

Ashurst, who was leaning against the gate, lighting his pipe, left his
curved hands before his face for long after the flame of the match had
gone out.

“Yes?” he said, and to himself his voice sounded hoarse and queer.

“She was one in an ‘underd, poor maid! I putts a flower ‘ere every time
I passes. Pretty maid an’ gude maid she was, though they wouldn’t burry
’.r up to th’ church, nor where she wanted to be burried neither.” The
old labourer paused, and put his hairy, twisted hand flat down on the
turf beside the bluebells.

“Yes?” said Ashurst.

“In a manner of speakin’,” the old man went on, “I think as ‘twas a
love-story--though there’s no one never knu for zartin. Yu can’t tell
what’s in a maid’s ‘ead but that’s wot I think about it.” He drew his
hand along the turf. “I was fond o’ that maid--don’ know as there was
anyone as wasn’ fond of ‘er. But she was to lovin’-’.arted--that’s where
’.was, I think.” He looked up. And Ashurst, whose lips were trembling in
the cover of his beard, murmured again: “Yes?”

“‘Twas in the spring, ‘bout now as ‘t might be, or a little
later--blossom time--an’ we ‘ad one o’ they young college gentlemen
stayin’ at the farm-nice feller tu, with ‘is ‘ead in the air. I liked
’. very well, an’ I never see nothin’ between ‘em, but to my thinkin’
’. turned the maid’s fancy.” The old man took the pipe out of his mouth,
spat, and went on:

“Yu see, ‘e went away sudden one day, an’ never come back. They got ‘is
knapsack and bits o’ things down there still. That’s what stuck in my
mind--’is never sendin’ for ‘em. ‘Is name was Ashes, or somethen’ like
that.”

“Yes?” said Ashurst once more.

The old man licked his lips.

“‘Er never said nothin’, but from that day ‘er went kind of dazed
lukin’. didn’seem rightly therr at all. I never knu a’uman creature
so changed in me life--never. There was another young feller at the
farm--Joe Biddaford ‘is name wer’, that was praaperly sweet on ‘er, tu;
I guess ‘e used to plague ‘er wi ‘is attentions. She got to luke quite
wild. I’d zee her sometimes of an avenin’ when I was bringin’ up the
calves; ther’ she’d stand in th’ orchard, under the big apple tree,
lukin’ straight before ‘er. ‘Well,’ I used t’think, ‘I dunno what ‘tes
that’s the matter wi’ yu, but yu’m lukin’ pittiful, that yu be!’.

The old man refit his pipe, and sucked at it reflectively.

“Yes?” said Ashurst.

“I remembers one day I said to ‘er: ‘What’s the matter, Megan?’--’er
name was Megan David, she come from Wales same as ‘er aunt, ol’ Missis
Narracombe. ‘Yu’m frettin’ about somethin’. I says. ‘No, Jim,’ she says,
’.’m not frettin’.’ ‘Yes, yu be!’ I says. ‘No,’ she says, and to tears
cam’ rollin’ out. ‘Yu’m cryin’--what’s that, then?’ I says. She putts
’.r ‘and over ‘er ‘eart: ‘It ‘urts me,’ she says; ‘but ‘twill sune be
better,’ she says. ‘But if anything shude ‘appen to me, Jim, I wants
to be burried under this ‘ere apple tree.’ I laughed. ‘What’s goin’ to
’.ppen to yu?’ I says; ‘don’t ‘ee be fulish.’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘I won’t
be fulish.’ Well, I know what maids are, an’ I never thought no more
about et, till two days arter that, ‘bout six in the avenin’ I was
comin’ up wi’ the calves, when I see somethin’ dark lyin’ in the strame,
close to that big apple tree. I says to meself: ‘Is that a pig-funny
place for a pig to get to!’ an’ I goes up to et, an’ I see what ‘twas.”

The old man stopped; his eyes, turned upward, had a bright, suffering
look.

“‘Twas the maid, in a little narrer pool ther’ that’s made by the
stoppin’ of a rock--where I see the young gentleman bathin’ once or
twice. ‘Er was lyin’ on ‘er face in the watter. There was a plant o’
goldie-cups growin’ out o’ the stone just above ‘er’ead. An’ when I come
to luke at ‘er face, ‘twas luvly, butiful, so calm’s a baby’s--wonderful
butiful et was. When the doctor saw ‘er, ‘e said: ‘Er culdn’ never
a-done it in that little bit o’ watter ef’ er ‘adn’t a-been in an
extarsy.’ Ah! an’ judgin’ from ‘er face, that was just ‘ow she was. Et
made me cry praaper-butiful et was! ‘Twas June then, but she’d afound
a little bit of apple-blossom left over somewheres, and stuck et in ‘er
’.ir. That’s why I thinks ‘er must abeen in an extarsy, to go to et gay,
like that. Why! there wasn’t more than a fute and ‘arf o’ watter. But
I tell ‘ee one thing--that meadder’s ‘arnted; I knu et, an’ she knu et;
an’ no one’ll persuade me as ‘tesn’t. I told ‘em what she said to
me ‘bout bein’ burried under th’ apple tree. But I think that turned
’.m--made et luke to much ‘s ef she’d ‘ad it in ‘er mind deliberate; an’
so they burried ‘er up ‘ere. Parson we ‘ad then was very particular, ‘e
was.”

Again the old man drew his hand over the turf.

“‘Tes wonderful, et seems,” he added slowly, “what maids ‘ll du for
love. She ‘ad a lovin-’.art; I guess ‘twas broken. But us never knu
nothin’.”

He looked up as if for approval of his story, but Ashurst had walked
past him as if he were not there.

Up on the top of the hill, beyond where he had spread the lunch, over,
out of sight, he lay down on his face. So had his virtue been rewarded,
and “the Cyprian,” goddess of love, taken her revenge! And before his
eyes, dim with tears, came Megan’s face with the sprig of apple blossom
in her dark, wet hair. ‘What did I do that was wrong?’ he thought. ‘What
did I do?’ But he could not answer. Spring, with its rush of passion,
its flowers and song-the spring in his heart and Megan’s! Was it just
Love seeking a victim! The Greek was right, then--the words of the
“Hippolytus” as true to-day!

    “For mad is the heart of Love,
     And gold the gleam of his wing;
     And all to the spell thereof
     Bend when he makes his spring.
     All life that is wild and young
     In mountain and wave and stream
     All that of earth is sprung,
     Or breathes in the red sunbeam;
     Yea, and Mankind.  O’er all a royal throne,
     Cyprian, Cyprian, is thine alone!”

The Greek was right! Megan! Poor little Megan--coming over the hill!
Megan under the old apple tree waiting and looking! Megan dead, with
beauty printed on her!

A voice said:

“Oh, there you are! Look!”

Ashurst rose, took his wife’s sketch, and stared at it in silence.

“Is the foreground right, Frank?”

“Yes.”

“But there’s something wanting, isn’t there?”

Ashurst nodded. Wanting? The apple tree, the singing, and the gold!

And solemnly he put his lips to her forehead. It was his silver-wedding
day. 1916



THE JURYMAN

     “Don’t you see, brother, I was reading yesterday the Gospel
     about Christ, the little Father; how He suffered, how He walked
     on the earth.  I suppose you have heard about it?”

     “Indeed, I have,” replied Stepanuitch; “but we are people in
     darkness; we can’t read.”--TOLSTOI.

Mr. Henry Bosengate, of the London Stock Exchange, seated himself in his
car that morning during the great war with a sense of injury. Major in
a Volunteer Corps; member of all the local committees; lending this very
car to the neighbouring hospital, at times even driving it himself for
their benefit; subscribing to funds, so far as his diminished income
permitted--he was conscious of being an asset to the country, and one
whose time could not be wasted with impunity. To be summoned to sit on
a jury at the local assizes, and not even the grand jury at that! It was
in the nature of an outrage.

Strong and upright, with hazel eyes and dark eyebrows, pinkish-brown
cheeks, a forehead white, well-shaped, and getting high, with greyish
hair glossy and well-brushed, and a trim moustache, he might have been
taken for that colonel of Volunteers which indeed he was in a fair way
of becoming.

His wife had followed him out under the porch, and stood bracing her
supple body clothed in lilac linen. Red rambler roses formed a sort
of crown to her dark head; her ivory-coloured face had in it just a
suggestion of the Japanese.

Mr. Bosengate spoke through the whirr of the engine:

“I don’t expect to be late, dear. This business is ridiculous. There
oughtn’t to be any crime in these days.”

His wife--her name was Kathleen--smiled. She looked very pretty and
cool, Mr. Bosengate thought. To him bound on this dull and stuffy
business everything he owned seemed pleasant--the geranium beds beside
the gravel drive, his long, red-brick house mellowing decorously in its
creepers and ivy, the little clock-tower over stables now converted to
a garage, the dovecote, masking at the other end the conservatory
which adjoined the billiard-room. Close to the red-brick lodge his two
children, Kate and Harry, ran out from under the acacia trees, and waved
to him, scrambling bare-legged on to the low, red, ivy-covered wall
which guarded his domain of eleven acres. Mr. Bosengate waved back,
thinking: ‘Jolly couple--by Jove, they are!’ Above their heads, through
the trees, he could see right away to some Downs, faint in the July heat
haze. And he thought: ‘Pretty a spot as one could have got, so close to
Town!’

Despite the war he had enjoyed these last two years more than any of
the ten since he built “Charmleigh” and settled down to semi-rural
domesticity with his young wife. There had been a certain piquancy, a
savour added to existence, by the country’s peril, and all the public
service and sacrifice it demanded. His chauffeur was gone, and one
gardener did the work of three. He enjoyed-positively enjoyed, his
committee work; even the serious decline of business and increase of
taxation had not much worried one continually conscious of the national
crisis and his own part therein. The country had wanted waking up,
wanted a lesson in effort and economy; and the feeling that he had not
spared himself in these strenuous times, had given a zest to those quiet
pleasures of bed and board which, at his age, even the most patriotic
could retain with a good conscience. He had denied himself many
things--new clothes, presents for Kathleen and the children, travel, and
that pine-apple house which he had been on the point of building when
the war broke out; new wine, too, and cigars, and membership of the
two Clubs which he had never used in the old days. The hours had seemed
fuller and longer, sleep better earned--wonderful, the things one could
do without when put to it! He turned the car into the high road, driving
dreamily for he was in plenty of time. The war was going pretty well
now; he was no fool optimist, but now that conscription was in force,
one might reasonably hope for its end within a year. Then there would be
a boom, and one might let oneself go a little. Visions of theatres and
supper with his wife at the Savoy afterwards, and cosy night drives
back into the sweet-smelling country behind your own chauffeur once
more teased a fancy which even now did not soar beyond the confines of
domestic pleasures. He pictured his wife in new dresses by Jay--she
was fifteen years younger than himself, and “paid for dressing” as they
said. He had always delighted--as men older than their wives will--in
the admiration she excited from others not privileged to enjoy her
charms. Her rather queer and ironical beauty, her cool irreproachable
wifeliness, was a constant balm to him. They would give dinner parties
again, have their friends down from town, and he would once more enjoy
sitting at the foot of the dinner table while Kathleen sat at the head,
with the light soft on her ivory shoulders, behind flowers she had
arranged in that original way of hers, and fruit which he had grown in
his hot-houses; once more he would take legitimate interest in the wine
he offered to his guests--once more stock that Chinese cabinet wherein
he kept cigars. Yes--there was a certain satisfaction in these days of
privation, if only from the anticipation they created.

The sprinkling of villas had become continuous on either side of the
high road; and women going out to shop, tradesmen’s boys delivering
victuals, young men in khaki, began to abound. Now and then a limping or
bandaged form would pass--some bit of human wreckage; and Mr. Bosengate
would think mechanically: ‘Another of those poor devils! Wonder if we’ve
had his case before us!’

Running his car into the best hotel garage of the little town, he
made his way leisurely over to the court. It stood back from the
market-place, and was already lapped by a sea of persons having, as in
the outer ring at race meetings, an air of business at which one must
not be caught out, together with a soaked or flushed appearance. Mr.
Bosengate could not resist putting his handkerchief to his nose. He
had carefully drenched it with lavender water, and to this fact owed,
perhaps, his immunity from the post of foreman on the jury--for, say
what you will about the English, they have a deep instinct for affairs.

He found himself second in the front row of the jury box, and through
the odour of “Sanitas” gazed at the judge’s face expressionless up
there, for all the world like a bewigged bust. His fellows in the box
had that appearance of falling between two classes characteristic of
jurymen. Mr. Bosengate was not impressed. On one side of him the foreman
sat, a prominent upholsterer, known in the town as “Gentleman Fox.” His
dark and beautifully brushed and oiled hair and moustache, his radiant
linen, gold watch and chain, the white piping to his waistcoat, and a
habit of never saying “Sir” had long marked him out from commoner
men; he undertook to bury people too, to save them trouble; and was
altogether superior. On the other side Mr. Bosengate had one of those
men, who, except when they sit on juries, are never seen without a
little brown bag, and the appearance of having been interrupted in a
drink. Pale and shiny, with large loose eyes shifting from side to
side, he had an underdone voice and uneasy flabby hands. Mr. Bosengate
disliked sitting next to him. Beyond this commercial traveller sat a
dark pale young man with spectacles; beyond him again, a short old man
with grey moustache, mutton chops, and innumerable wrinkles; and the
front row was completed by a chemist. The three immediately behind, Mr.
Bosengate did not thoroughly master; but the three at the end of the
second row he learned in their order of an oldish man in a grey suit,
given to winking; an inanimate person with the mouth of a moustachioed
codfish, over whose long bald crown three wisps of damp hair were
carefully arranged; and a dried, dapperish, clean-shorn man, whose mouth
seemed terrified lest it should be surprised without a smile. Their
first and second verdicts were recorded without the necessity for
withdrawal, and Mr. Bosengate was already sleepy when the third case was
called. The sight of khaki revived his drooping attention. But what a
weedy-looking specimen! This prisoner had a truly nerveless pitiable
dejected air. If he had ever had a military bearing it had shrunk into
him during his confinement. His ill-shaped brown tunic, whose little
brass buttons seemed trying to keep smiling, struck Mr. Bosengate as
ridiculously short, used though he was to such things. ‘Absurd,’ he
thought--’Lumbago! Just where they ought to be covered!’ Then the
officer and gentleman stirred in him, and he added to himself: ‘Still,
there must be some distinction made!’ The little soldier’s visage had
once perhaps been tanned, but was now the colour of dark dough; his
large brown eyes with white showing below the iris, as so often in
the eyes of very nervous people--wandered from face to face, of judge,
counsel, jury, and public. There were hollows in his cheeks, his dark
hair looked damp; around his neck he wore a bandage. The commercial
traveller on Mr. Bosengate’s left turned, and whispered: “Felo de se! My
hat! what a guy!” Mr. Bosengate pretended not to hear--he could not bear
that fellow!--and slowly wrote on a bit of paper: “Owen Lewis.” Welsh!
Well, he looked it--not at all an English face. Attempted suicide--not
at all an English crime! Suicide implied surrender, a putting-up of
hands to Fate--to say nothing of the religious aspect of the matter. And
suicide in khaki seemed to Mr. Bosengate particularly abhorrent;
like turning tail in face of the enemy; almost meriting the fate of
a deserter. He looked at the prisoner, trying not to give way to this
prejudice. And the prisoner seemed to look at him, though this, perhaps,
was fancy.

The Counsel for the prosecution, a little, alert, grey, decided man,
above military age, began detailing the circumstances of the crime.
Mr. Bosengate, though not particularly sensitive to atmosphere, could
perceive a sort of current running through the Court. It was as if
jury and public were thinking rhythmically in obedience to the same
unexpressed prejudice of which he himself was conscious. Even the
Caesar-like pale face up there, presiding, seemed in its ironic serenity
responding to that current.

“Gentlemen of the jury, before I call my evidence, I direct your
attention to the bandage the accused is still wearing. He gave himself
this wound with his Army razor, adding, if I may say so, insult to
the injury he was inflicting on his country. He pleads not guilty; and
before the magistrates he said that absence from his wife was preying on
his mind”--the advocate’s close lips widened--“Well, gentlemen, if
such an excuse is to weigh with us in these days, I’m sure I don’t know
what’s to happen to the Empire.”

’.o, by George!’ thought Mr. Bosengate.

The evidence of the first witness, a room-mate who had caught the
prisoner’s hand, and of the sergeant, who had at once been summoned, was
conclusive and he began to cherish a hope that they would get through
without withdrawing, and he would be home before five. But then a hitch
occurred. The regimental doctor failed to respond when his name was
called; and the judge having for the first time that day showed himself
capable of human emotion, intimated that he would adjourn until the
morrow.

Mr. Bosengate received the announcement with equanimity. He would be
home even earlier! And gathering up the sheets of paper he had scribbled
on, he put them in his pocket and got up. The would-be suicide was being
taken out of the court--a shambling drab figure with shoulders hunched.
What good were men like that in these days! What good! The prisoner
looked up. Mr. Bosengate encountered in full the gaze of those large
brown eyes, with the white showing underneath. What a suffering,
wretched, pitiful face! A man had no business to give you a look
like that! The prisoner passed on down the stairs, and vanished. Mr.
Bosengate went out and across the market place to the garage of the
hotel where he had left his car. The sun shone fiercely and he thought:
’. must do some watering in the garden.’ He brought the car out, and
was about to start the engine, when someone passing said: “Good evenin’.
Seedy-lookin’ beggar that last prisoner, ain’t he? We don’t want men of
that stamp.” It was his neighbour on the jury, the commercial traveller,
in a straw hat, with a little brown bag already in his hand and the
froth of an interrupted drink on his moustache. Answering curtly: “Good
evening!” and thinking: ‘Nor of yours, my friend!’ Mr. Bosengate started
the car with unnecessary clamour. But as if brought back to life by the
commercial traveller’s remark, the prisoner’s figure seemed to speed
along too, turning up at Mr. Bosengate his pitifully unhappy eyes. Want
of his wife!--queer excuse that for trying to put it out of his power
ever to see her again! Why! Half a loaf, even a slice, was better than
no bread. Not many of that neurotic type in the Army--thank Heaven! The
lugubrious figure vanished, and Mr. Bosengate pictured instead the form
of his own wife bending over her “Gloire de Dijon roses” in the rosery,
where she generally worked a little before tea now that they were short
of gardeners. He saw her, as often he had seen her, raise herself and
stand, head to one side, a gloved hand on her slender hip, gazing as it
were ironically from under drooped lids at buds which did not come out
fast enough. And the word ‘Caline,’ for he was something of a French
scholar, shot through his mind: ‘Kathleen--Caline!’ If he found her
there when he got in, he would steal up on the grass and--ah! but with
great care not to crease her dress or disturb her hair! ‘If only she
weren’t quite so self-contained,’ he thought; ‘It’s like a cat you can’t
get near, not really near!’

The car, returning faster than it had come down that morning, had
already passed the outskirt villas, and was breasting the hill to where,
among fields and the old trees, Charmleigh lay apart from commoner life.
Turning into his drive, Mr. Bosengate thought with a certain surprise:
’. wonder what she does think of! I wonder!’ He put his gloves and hat
down in the outer hall and went into the lavatory, to dip his face in
cool water and wash it with sweet-smelling soap--delicious revenge on
the unclean atmosphere in which he had been stewing so many hours. He
came out again into the hall dazed by soap and the mellowed light, and
a voice from half-way up the stairs said: “Daddy! Look!” His little
daughter was standing up there with one hand on the banisters. She
scrambled on to them and came sliding down, her frock up to her eyes,
and her holland knickers to her middle. Mr. Bosengate said mildly:

“Well, that’s elegant!”

“Tea’s in the summer-house. Mummy’s waiting. Come on!”

With her hand in his, Mr. Bosengate went on, through the drawing-room,
long and cool, with sun-blinds down, through the billiard-room, high and
cool, through the conservatory, green and sweet-smelling, out on to the
terrace and the upper lawn. He had never felt such sheer exhilarated joy
in his home surroundings, so cool, glistening and green under the July
sun; and he said:

“Well, Kit, what have you all been doing?”

“I’ve fed my rabbits and Harry’s; and we’ve been in the attic; Harry got
his leg through the skylight.”

Mr. Bosengate drew in his breath with a hiss.

“It’s all right, Daddy; we got it out again, it’s only grazed the skin.
And we’ve been making swabs--I made seventeen, Mummy made thirty-three,
and then she went to the hospital. Did you put many men in prison?”

Mr. Bosengate cleared his throat. The question seemed to him untimely.

“Only two.”

“What’s it like in prison, Daddy?”

Mr. Bosengate, who had no more knowledge than his little daughter,
replied in an absent voice:

“Not very nice.”

They were passing under a young oak tree, where the path wound round
to the rosery and summer-house. Something shot down and clawed Mr.
Bosengate’s neck. His little daughter began to hop and suffocate with
laughter.

“Oh, Daddy! Aren’t you caught! I led you on purpose!”

Looking up, Mr. Bosengate saw his small son lying along a low branch
above him--like the leopard he was declaring himself to be (for fear of
error), and thought blithely: ‘What an active little chap it is!’ “Let
me drop on your shoulders, Daddy--like they do on the deer.”

“Oh, yes! Do be a deer, Daddy!”

Mr. Bosengate did not see being a deer; his hair had just been brushed.
But he entered the rosery buoyantly between his offspring. His wife was
standing precisely as he had imagined her, in a pale blue frock open at
the neck, with a narrow black band round the waist, and little accordion
pleats below. She looked her coolest. Her smile, when she turned her
head, hardly seemed to take Mr. Bosengate seriously enough. He placed
his lips below one of her half-drooped eyelids. She even smelled
of roses. His children began to dance round their mother, and Mr.
Bosengate,--firmly held between them, was also compelled to do this,
until she said:

“When you’ve quite done, let’s have tea!”

It was not the greeting he had imagined coming along in the car. Earwigs
were plentiful in the summer-house--used perhaps twice a year, but
indispensable to every country residence--and Mr. Bosengate was not
sorry for the excuse to get out again. Though all was so pleasant, he
felt oddly restless, rather suffocated; and lighting his pipe, began to
move about among the roses, blowing tobacco at the greenfly; in war-time
one was never quite idle! And suddenly he said:

“We’re trying a wretched Tommy at the assizes.”

His wife looked up from a rose.

“What for?”

“Attempted suicide.”

“Why did he?”

“Can’t stand the separation from his wife.”

She looked at him, gave a low laugh, and said:

“Oh dear!”

Mr. Bosengate was puzzled. Why did she laugh? He looked round, saw that
the children were gone, took his pipe from his mouth, and approached
her.

“You look very pretty,” he said. “Give me a kiss!”

His wife bent her body forward from the waist, and pushed her lips out
till they touched his moustache. Mr. Bosengate felt a sensation as if he
had arisen from breakfast, without having eaten marmalade. He mastered
it, and said:

“That jury are a rum lot.”

His wife’s eyelids flickered. “I wish women sat on juries.”

“Why?”

“It would be an experience.”

Not the first time she had used that curious expression! Yet her life
was far from dull, so far as he could see; with the new interests
created by the war, and the constant calls on her time made by the
perfection of their home life, she had a useful and busy existence.
Again the random thought passed through him: ‘But she never tells me
anything!’ And suddenly that lugubrious khaki-clad figure started up
among the rose bushes. “We’ve got a lot to be thankful for!” he said
abruptly. “I must go to work!” His wife, raising one eyebrow, smiled.
“And I to weep!” Mr. Bosengate laughed--she had a pretty wit! And
stroking his comely moustache where it had been kissed, he moved
out into the sunshine. All the evening, throughout his labours, not
inconsiderable, for this jury business had put him behind time, he was
afflicted by that restless pleasure in his surroundings; would break off
in mowing the lower lawn to look at the house through the trees; would
leave his study and committee papers, to cross into the drawing-room
and sniff its dainty fragrance; paid a special good-night visit to the
children having supper in the schoolroom; pottered in and out from his
dressing room to admire his wife while she was changing for dinner;
dined with his mind perpetually on the next course; talked volubly of
the war; and in the billiard room afterwards, smoking the pipe which had
taken the place of his cigar, could not keep still, but roamed about,
now in conservatory, now in the drawing-room, where his wife and the
governess were still making swabs. It seemed to him that he could not
have enough of anything. About eleven o’clock he strolled out beautiful
night, only just dark enough--under the new arrangement with Time--and
went down to the little round fountain below the terrace. His wife was
playing the piano. Mr. Bosengate looked at the water and the flat dark
water lily leaves which floated there; looked up at the house, where
only narrow chinks of light showed, because of the Lighting Order. The
dreamy music drifted out; there was a scent of heliotrope. He moved a
few steps back, and sat in the children’s swing under an old lime tree.
Jolly--blissful--in the warm, bloomy dark! Of all hours of the day, this
before going to bed was perhaps the pleasantest. He saw the light go up
in his wife’s bed room, unscreened for a full minute, and thought: ‘Aha!
If I did my duty as a special, I should “strafe” her for that.’ She came
to the window, her figure lighted, hands up to the back of her head, so
that her bare arms gleamed. Mr. Bosengate wafted her a kiss, knowing he
could not be seen. ‘Lucky chap!’ he mused; ‘she’s a great joy!’ Up went
her arm, down came the blind the house was dark again. He drew a long
breath. ‘Another ten minutes,’ he thought, ‘then I’ll go in and shut up.
By Jove! The limes are beginning to smell already!’ And, the better to
take in that acme of his well-being, he tilted the swing, lifted his
feet from the ground, and swung himself toward the scented blossoms. He
wanted to whelm his senses in their perfume, and closed his eyes. But
instead of the domestic vision he expected, the face of the little Welsh
soldier, hare-eyed, shadowy, pinched and dark and pitiful, started up
with such disturbing vividness that he opened his eyes again at once.
Curse! The fellow almost haunted one! Where would he be now poor little
devil!--lying in his cell, thinking--thinking of his wife! Feeling
suddenly morbid, Mr. Bosengate arrested the swing and stood up.
Absurd!--all his well-being and mood of warm anticipation had deserted
him! ‘A d---d world!’ he thought. ‘Such a lot of misery! Why should I
have to sit in judgment on that poor beggar, and condemn him?’ He
moved up on to the terrace and walked briskly, to rid himself of this
disturbance before going in. ‘That commercial traveller chap,’ he
thought, ‘the rest of those fellows--they see nothing!’ And, abruptly
turning up the three stone steps, he entered the conservatory, locked
it, passed into the billiard room, and drank his barley water. One of
the pictures was hanging crooked; he went up to put it straight. Still
life. Grapes and apples, and--lobsters! They struck him as odd for the
first time. Why lobsters? The whole picture seemed dead and oily. He
turned off the light, and went upstairs, passed his wife’s door, into
his own room, and undressed. Clothed in his pyjamas he opened the door
between the rooms. By the light coming from his own he could see her
dark head on the pillow. Was she asleep? No--not asleep, certainly. The
moment of fruition had come; the crowning of his pride and pleasure in
his home. But he continued to stand there. He had suddenly no pride,
no pleasure, no desire; nothing but a sort of dull resentment against
everything. He turned back; shut the door, and slipping between the
heavy curtains and his open window, stood looking out at the night.
’.ull of misery!’ he thought. ‘Full of d---d misery!’



II

Filing into the jury box next morning, Mr. Bosengate collided slightly
with a short juryman, whose square figure and square head of stiff
yellow-red hair he had only vaguely noticed the day before. The man
looked angry, and Mr. Bosengate thought: ‘An ill-bred dog, that!’

He sat down quickly, and, to avoid further recognition of his fellows,
gazed in front of him. His appearance on Saturdays was always military,
by reason of the route march of his Volunteer Corps in the afternoon.
Gentleman Fox, who belonged to the corps too, was also looking square;
but that commercial traveller on his other side seemed more louche,
and as if surprised in immorality, than ever; only the proximity of
Gentleman Fox on the other side kept Mr. Bosengate from shrinking.
Then he saw the prisoner being brought in, shadowy and dark behind the
brightness of his buttons, and he experienced a sort of shock, this
figure was so exactly that which had several times started up in his
mind. Somehow he had expected a fresh sight of the fellow to dispel and
disprove what had been haunting him, had expected to find him just an
outside phenomenon, not, as it were, a part of his own life. And he
gazed at the carven immobility of the judge’s face, trying to steady
himself, as a drunken man will, by looking at a light. The regimental
doctor, unabashed by the judge’s comment on his absence the day before,
gave his evidence like a man who had better things to do, and the case
for the prosecution was forthwith rounded in by a little speech from
counsel. The matter--he said--was clear as daylight. Those who wore
His Majesty’s uniform, charged with the responsibility and privilege of
defending their country, were no more entitled to desert their regiments
by taking their own lives than they were entitled to desert in any other
way. He asked for a conviction. Mr. Bosengate felt a sympathetic shuffle
passing through all feet; the judge was speaking:

“Prisoner, you can either go into the witness box and make your
statement on oath, in which case you may be cross-examined on it; or you
can make your statement there from the dock, in which case you will not
be cross-examined. Which do you elect to do?”

“From here, my lord.”

Seeing him now full face, and, as it might be, come to life in the
effort to convey his feelings, Mr. Bosengate had suddenly a quite
different impression of the fellow. It was as if his khaki had fallen
off, and he had stepped out of his own shadow, a live and quivering
creature. His pinched clean-shaven face seemed to have an irregular,
wilder, hairier look, his large nervous brown eyes darkened and glowed;
he jerked his shoulders, his arms, his whole body, like a man suddenly
freed from cramp or a suit of armour.

He spoke, too, in a quick, crisp, rather high voice, pinching his
consonants a little, sharpening his vowels, like a true Welshman.

“My lord and misters the jury,” he said: “I was a hairdresser when the
call came on me to join the army. I had a little home and a wife. I
never thought what it would be like to be away from them, I surely never
did; and I’m ashamed to be speaking it out like this--how it can squeeze
and squeeze a man, how it can prey on your mind, when you’re nervous
like I am. ‘Tis not everyone that cares for his home--there’s lots o’
them never wants to see their wives again. But for me ‘tis like being
shut up in a cage, it is!” Mr. Bosengate saw daylight between the skinny
fingers of the man’s hand thrown out with a jerk. “I cannot bear it shut
up away from wife and home like what you are in the army. So when I took
my razor that morning I was wild--an’ I wouldn’t be here now but for
that man catching my hand. There was no reason in it, I’m willing to
confess. It was foolish; but wait till you get feeling like what I
was, and see how it draws you. Misters the jury, don’t send me back to
prison; it is worse still there. If you have wives you will know what it
is like for lots of us; only some is more nervous than others. I swear
to you, sirs, I could not help it---?” Again the little man flung out
his hand, his whole thin body shook and Mr. Bosengate felt the same
sensation as when he drove his car over a dog--“Misters the jury, I hope
you may never in your lives feel as I’ve been feeling.”

The little man ceased, his eyes shrank back into their sockets, his
figure back into its mask of shadowy brown and gleaming buttons, and Mr.
Bosengate was conscious that the judge was making a series of remarks;
and, very soon, of being seated at a mahogany table in the jury’s
withdrawing room, hearing the voice of the man with hair like an
Irish terrier’s saying: “Didn’t he talk through his hat, that little
blighter!” Conscious, too, of the commercial traveller, still on his
left--always on his left!--mopping his brow, and muttering: “Phew! It’s
hot in there to-day!” while an effluvium, as of an inside accustomed
to whisky came from him. Then the man with the underlip and the three
plastered wisps of hair said:

“Don’t know why we withdrew, Mr. Foreman!”

Mr. Bosengate looked round to where, at the head of the table, Gentleman
Fox sat, in defensive gentility and the little white piping to his
waistcoat saying blandly:

“I shall be happy to take the sense of the jury.”

There was a short silence, then the chemist murmured:

“I should say he must have what they call claustrophobia.”

“Clauster fiddlesticks! The feller’s a shirker, that’s all. Missed his
wife--pretty excuse! Indecent, I call it!”

The speaker was the little wire-haired man; and emotion, deep and angry,
stirred in Mr. Bosengate. That ill-bred little cur! He gripped the edge
of the table with both hands.

“I think it’s d-----d natural!” he muttered. But almost before the words
had left his lips he felt dismay. What had he said--he, nearly a colonel
of volunteers--endorsing such a want of patriotism! And hearing the
commercial traveller murmuring: “‘Ear, ‘ear!” he reddened violently.

The wire-headed man said roughly:

“There’s too many of these blighted shirkers, and too much pampering of
them.”

The turmoil in Mr. Bosengate increased; he remarked in an icy voice:

“I agree to no verdict that’ll send the man back to prison.”

At this a real tremor seemed to go round the table, as if they all saw
themselves sitting there through lunch time. Then the large grey-haired
man given to winking, said:

“Oh! Come, sir--after what the judge said! Come, sir! What do you say,
Mr. Foreman?”

Gentleman Fox--as who should say ‘This is excellent value, but I don’t
wish to press it on you!’--answered:

“We are only concerned with the facts. Did he or did he not try to
shorten his life?”

“Of course he did--said so himself,” Mr. Bosengate heard the wire-haired
man snap out, and from the following murmur of assent he alone
abstained. Guilty! Well--yes! There was no way out of admitting that,
but his feelings revolted against handing “that poor little beggar” over
to the tender mercy of his country’s law. His whole soul rose in arms
against agreeing with that ill-bred little cur, and the rest of this
job-lot. He had an impulse to get up and walk out, saying: “Settle it
your own way. Good morning.”

“It seems, sir,” Gentleman Fox was saying, “that we’re all agreed to
guilty, except yourself. If you will allow me, I don’t see how you can
go behind what the prisoner himself admitted.”

Thus brought up to the very guns, Mr. Bosengate, red in the face, thrust
his hands deep into the side pockets of his tunic, and, staring straight
before him, said:

“Very well; on condition we recommend him to mercy.”

“What do you say, gentlemen; shall we recommend him to mercy?”

“‘Ear, ‘ear!” burst from the commercial traveller, and from the chemist
came the murmur:

“No harm in that.”

“Well, I think there is. They shoot deserters at the front, and we let
this fellow off. I’d hang the cur.”

Mr. Bosengate stared at that little wire-haired brute. “Haven’t you any
feeling for others?” he wanted to say. “Can’t you see that this poor
devil suffers tortures?” But the sheer impossibility of doing this
before ten other men brought a slight sweat out on his face and hands;
and in agitation he smote the table a blow with his fist. The effect was
instantaneous. Everybody looked at the wire-haired man, as if saying:
“Yes, you’ve gone a bit too far there!” The “little brute” stood it for
a moment, then muttered surlily:

“Well, commend ‘im to mercy if you like; I don’t care.”

“That’s right; they never pay any attention to it,” said the grey-haired
man, winking heartily. And Mr. Bosengate filed back with the others into
court.

But when from the jury box his eyes fell once more on the hare-eyed
figure in the dock, he had his worst moment yet. Why should this poor
wretch suffer so--for no fault, no fault; while he, and these others,
and that snapping counsel, and the Caesar-like judge up there, went
off to their women and their homes, blithe as bees, and probably never
thought of him again? And suddenly he was conscious of the judge’s
voice:

“You will go back to your regiment, and endeavour to serve your country
with better spirit. You may thank the jury that you are not sent to
prison, and your good fortune that you were not at the front when you
tried to commit this cowardly act. You are lucky to be alive.”

A policeman pulled the little soldier by the arm; his drab figure with
eyes fixed and lustreless, passed down and away. From his very soul
Mr. Bosengate wanted to lean out and say: “Cheer up, cheer up! I
understand.”

It was nearly ten o’clock that evening before he reached home, motoring
back from the route march. His physical tiredness was abated, for he had
partaken of a snack and a whisky and soda at the hotel; but mentally
he was in a curious mood. His body felt appeased, his spirit hungry.
Tonight he had a yearning, not for his wife’s kisses, but for her
understanding. He wanted to go to her and say: “I’ve learnt a lot
to-day-found out things I never thought of. Life’s a wonderful thing,
Kate, a thing one can’t live all to oneself; a thing one shares with
everybody, so that when another suffers, one suffers too. It’s come to
me that what one has doesn’t matter a bit--it’s what one does, and
how one sympathises with other people. It came to me in the most
extraordinary vivid way, when I was on that jury, watching that poor
little rat of a soldier in his trap; it’s the first time I’ve ever
felt--the--the spirit of Christ, you know. It’s a wonderful thing,
Kate--wonderful! We haven’t been close--really close, you and I, so
that we each understand what the other is feeling. It’s all in that,
you know; understanding--sympathy--it’s priceless. When I saw that
poor little devil taken down and sent back to his regiment to begin his
sorrows all over again--wanting his wife, thinking and thinking of her
just as you know I would be thinking and wanting you, I felt what an
awful outside sort of life we lead, never telling each other what we
really think and feel, never being really close. I daresay that little
chap and his wife keep nothing from each other--live each other’s
lives. That’s what we ought to do. Let’s get to feeling that what really
matters is--understanding and loving, and not only just saying it as
we all do, those fellows on the jury, and even that poor devil of a
judge--what an awful life judging one’s fellow-creatures.

“When I left that poor little Tommy this morning, and ever since, I’ve
longed to get back here quietly to you and tell you about it, and make
a beginning. There’s something wonderful in this, and I want you to feel
it as I do, because you mean such a lot to me.”

This was what he wanted to say to his wife, not touching, or kissing
her, just looking into her eyes, watching them soften and glow as they
surely must, catching the infection of his new ardour. And he felt
unsteady, fearfully unsteady with the desire to say it all as it should
be said: swiftly, quietly, with the truth and fervour of his feeling.

The hall was not lit up, for daylight still lingered under the new
arrangement. He went towards the drawing-room, but from the very door
shied off to his study and stood irresolute under the picture of a “Man
catching a flea” (Dutch school), which had come down to him from his
father. The governess would be in there with his wife! He must wait.
Essential to go straight to Kathleen and pour it all out, or he would
never do it. He felt as nervous as an undergraduate going up for his
viva’ voce. This thing was so big, so astoundingly and unexpectedly
important. He was suddenly afraid of his wife, afraid of her coolness
and her grace, and that something Japanese about her--of all those
attributes he had been accustomed to admire most; afraid, as it were,
of her attraction. He felt young to-night, almost boyish; would she see
that he was not really fifteen years older than herself, and she not
really a part of his collection, of all the admirable appointments of
his home; but a companion spirit to one who wanted a companion badly.
In this agitation of his soul he could keep still no more than he could
last night in the agitation of his senses; and he wandered into the
dining-room. A dainty supper was set out there, sandwiches, and cake,
whisky and the cigarettes--even an early peach. Mr. Bosengate looked at
this peach with sorrow rather than disgust. The perfection of it was of
a piece with all that had gone before this new and sudden feeling. Its
delicious bloom seemed to heighten his perception of the hedge around
him, that hedge of the things he so enjoyed, carefully planted and
tended these many years. He passed it by uneaten, and went to the
window. Out there all was darkening, the fountain, the lime tree, the
flower-beds, and the fields below, with the Jersey cows who would
come to your call; darkening slowly, losing form, blurring into soft
blackness, vanishing, but there none the less--all there--the hedge of
his possessions. He heard the door of the drawing-room open, the voices
of his wife and the governess in the hall, going up to bed. If only they
didn’t look in here! If only! The voices ceased. He was safe now--had
but to follow in a few minutes, to make sure of Kathleen alone. He
turned round and stared down the length of the dark dining-room, over
the rosewood table, to where in the mirror above the sideboard at the
far end, his figure bathed, a stain, a mere blurred shadow; he made his
way down to it along the table edge, and stood before himself as close
as he could get. His throat and the roof of his mouth felt dry with
nervousness; he put out his finger and touched his face in the glass.
’.ou’re an ass!’ he thought. ‘Pull yourself together, and get it over.
She will see; of course she will!’ He swallowed, smoothed his moustache,
and walked out. Going up the stairs, his heart beat painfully; but he
was in for it now, and marched straight into her room. Dressed only in a
loose blue wrapper, she was brushing her dark hair before the glass. Mr.
Bosengate went up to her and stood there silent, looking down. The words
he had thought of were like a swarm of bees buzzing in his head, yet not
one would fly from between his lips. His wife went on brushing her hair
under the light which shone on her polished elbows. She looked up at him
from beneath one lifted eyebrow.

“Well, dear--tired?”

With a sort of vehemence the single word “No” passed out. A faint, a
quizzical smile flitted over her face; she shrugged her shoulders ever
so gently. That gesture--he had seen it before! And in desperate desire
to make her understand, he put his hand on her lifted arm.

“Kathleen, stop--listen to me!” His fingers tightened in his agitation
and eagerness to make his great discovery known. But before he could get
out a word he became conscious of that cool round arm, conscious of her
eyes half-closed, sliding round at him, of her half-smiling lips, of her
neck under the wrapper. And he stammered:

“I want--I must--Kathleen, I---”

She lifted her shoulders again in that little shrug. “Yes--I know; all
right!”

A wave of heat and shame, and of God knows what came over Mr. Bosengate;
he fell on his knees and pressed his forehead to her arm; and he was
silent, more silent than the grave. Nothing--nothing came from him
but two long sighs. Suddenly he felt her hand stroke his
cheek--compassionately, it seemed to him. She made a little movement
towards him; her lips met his, and he remembered nothing but that....

In his own room Mr. Bosengate sat at his wide open window, smoking a
cigarette; there was no light. Moths went past, the moon was creeping
up. He sat very calm, puffing the smoke out in to the night air. Curious
thing-life! Curious world! Curious forces in it--making one do the
opposite of what one wished; always--always making one do the opposite,
it seemed! The furtive light from that creeping moon was getting hold of
things down there, stealing in among the boughs of the trees. ‘There’s
something ironical,’ he thought, ‘which walks about. Things don’t come
off as you think they will. I meant, I tried but one doesn’t change like
that all of a sudden, it seems. Fact is, life’s too big a thing for one!
All the same, I’m not the man I was yesterday--not quite!’ He closed his
eyes, and in one of those flashes of vision which come when the senses
are at rest, he saw himself as it were far down below--down on the floor
of a street narrow as a grave, high as a mountain, a deep dark slit of a
street walking down there, a black midget of a fellow, among other black
midgets--his wife, and the little soldier, the judge, and those jury
chaps--fantoches straight up on their tiny feet, wandering down there
in that dark, infinitely tall, and narrow street. ‘Too much for one!’
he thought; ‘Too high for one--no getting on top of it. We’ve got to be
kind, and help one another, and not expect too much, and not think too
much. That’s--all!’ And, squeezing out his cigarette, he took six deep
breaths of the night air, and got into bed.



INDIAN SUMMER OF A FORSYTE

      “And Summer’s lease hath all
                too short a date.”
                 --Shakespeare



I

In the last day of May in the early ‘nineties, about six o’clock of the
evening, old Jolyon Forsyte sat under the oak tree below the terrace
of his house at Robin Hill. He was waiting for the midges to bite him,
before abandoning the glory of the afternoon. His thin brown hand,
where blue veins stood out, held the end of a cigar in its tapering,
long-nailed fingers--a pointed polished nail had survived with him from
those earlier Victorian days when to touch nothing, even with the tips
of the fingers, had been so distinguished. His domed forehead, great
white moustache, lean cheeks, and long lean jaw were covered from the
westering sunshine by an old brown Panama hat. His legs were crossed; in
all his attitude was serenity and a kind of elegance, as of an old man
who every morning put eau de Cologne upon his silk handkerchief. At his
feet lay a woolly brown-and-white dog trying to be a Pomeranian--the dog
Balthasar between whom and old Jolyon primal aversion had changed into
attachment with the years. Close to his chair was a swing, and on the
swing was seated one of Holly’s dolls--called ‘Duffer Alice’--with
her body fallen over her legs and her doleful nose buried in a black
petticoat. She was never out of disgrace, so it did not matter to her
how she sat. Below the oak tree the lawn dipped down a bank, stretched
to the fernery, and, beyond that refinement, became fields, dropping to
the pond, the coppice, and the prospect--’Fine, remarkable’--at which
Swithin Forsyte, from under this very tree, had stared five years ago
when he drove down with Irene to look at the house. Old Jolyon had heard
of his brother’s exploit--that drive which had become quite celebrated
on Forsyte ‘Change. Swithin! And the fellow had gone and died, last
November, at the age of only seventy-nine, renewing the doubt whether
Forsytes could live for ever, which had first arisen when Aunt Ann
passed away. Died! and left only Jolyon and James, Roger and Nicholas
and Timothy, Julia, Hester, Susan! And old Jolyon thought: ‘Eighty-five!
I don’t feel it--except when I get that pain.’

His memory went searching. He had not felt his age since he had bought
his nephew Soames’ ill-starred house and settled into it here at Robin
Hill over three years ago. It was as if he had been getting
younger every spring, living in the country with his son and his
grandchildren--June, and the little ones of the second marriage, Jolly
and Holly; living down here out of the racket of London and the cackle
of Forsyte ‘Change,’ free of his boards, in a delicious atmosphere of
no work and all play, with plenty of occupation in the perfecting and
mellowing of the house and its twenty acres, and in ministering to
the whims of Holly and Jolly. All the knots and crankiness, which had
gathered in his heart during that long and tragic business of June,
Soames, Irene his wife, and poor young Bosinney, had been smoothed out.
Even June had thrown off her melancholy at last--witness this travel in
Spain she was taking now with her father and her stepmother. Curiously
perfect peace was left by their departure; blissful, yet blank, because
his son was not there. Jo was never anything but a comfort and a
pleasure to him nowadays--an amiable chap; but women, somehow--even the
best--got a little on one’s nerves, unless of course one admired them.

Far-off a cuckoo called; a wood-pigeon was cooing from the first
elm-tree in the field, and how the daisies and buttercups had sprung
up after the last mowing! The wind had got into the sou’ west, too--a
delicious air, sappy! He pushed his hat back and let the sun fall on his
chin and cheek. Somehow, to-day, he wanted company--wanted a pretty face
to look at. People treated the old as if they wanted nothing. And with
the un-Forsytean philosophy which ever intruded on his soul, he thought:
’.ne’s never had enough. With a foot in the grave one’ll want something,
I shouldn’t be surprised!’ Down here--away from the exigencies of
affairs--his grandchildren, and the flowers, trees, birds of his little
domain, to say nothing of sun and moon and stars above them, said,
’.pen, sesame,’ to him day and night. And sesame had opened--how much,
perhaps, he did not know. He had always been responsive to what they had
begun to call ‘Nature,’ genuinely, almost religiously responsive, though
he had never lost his habit of calling a sunset a sunset and a view a
view, however deeply they might move him. But nowadays Nature actually
made him ache, he appreciated it so. Every one of these calm, bright,
lengthening days, with Holly’s hand in his, and the dog Balthasar in
front looking studiously for what he never found, he would stroll,
watching the roses open, fruit budding on the walls, sunlight
brightening the oak leaves and saplings in the coppice, watching the
water-lily leaves unfold and glisten, and the silvery young corn of
the one wheat field; listening to the starlings and skylarks, and the
Alderney cows chewing the cud, flicking slow their tufted tails; and
every one of these fine days he ached a little from sheer love of it
all, feeling perhaps, deep down, that he had not very much longer
to enjoy it. The thought that some day--perhaps not ten years hence,
perhaps not five--all this world would be taken away from him, before he
had exhausted his powers of loving it, seemed to him in the nature of an
injustice brooding over his horizon. If anything came after this life,
it wouldn’t be what he wanted; not Robin Hill, and flowers and birds and
pretty faces--too few, even now, of those about him! With the years
his dislike of humbug had increased; the orthodoxy he had worn in the
’.ixties, as he had worn side-whiskers out of sheer exuberance, had long
dropped off, leaving him reverent before three things alone--beauty,
upright conduct, and the sense of property; and the greatest of these
now was beauty. He had always had wide interests, and, indeed could
still read The Times, but he was liable at any moment to put it down if
he heard a blackbird sing. Upright conduct, property--somehow, they were
tiring; the blackbirds and the sunsets never tired him, only gave him
an uneasy feeling that he could not get enough of them. Staring into the
stilly radiance of the early evening and at the little gold and white
flowers on the lawn, a thought came to him: This weather was like
the music of ‘Orfeo,’ which he had recently heard at Covent Garden. A
beautiful opera, not like Meyerbeer, nor even quite Mozart, but, in its
way, perhaps even more lovely; something classical and of the Golden Age
about it, chaste and mellow, and the Ravogli ‘almost worthy of the old
days’--highest praise he could bestow. The yearning of Orpheus for the
beauty he was losing, for his love going down to Hades, as in life love
and beauty did go--the yearning which sang and throbbed through the
golden music, stirred also in the lingering beauty of the world that
evening. And with the tip of his cork-soled, elastic-sided boot he
involuntarily stirred the ribs of the dog Balthasar, causing the animal
to wake and attack his fleas; for though he was supposed to have none,
nothing could persuade him of the fact. When he had finished he rubbed
the place he had been scratching against his master’s calf, and settled
down again with his chin over the instep of the disturbing boot. And
into old Jolyon’s mind came a sudden recollection--a face he had seen
at that opera three weeks ago--Irene, the wife of his precious nephew
Soames, that man of property! Though he had not met her since the day
of the ‘At Home’ in his old house at Stanhope Gate, which celebrated his
granddaughter June’s ill-starred engagement to young Bosinney, he had
remembered her at once, for he had always admired her--a very pretty
creature. After the death of young Bosinney, whose mistress she had so
reprehensibly become, he had heard that she had left Soames at once.
Goodness only knew what she had been doing since. That sight of her
face--a side view--in the row in front, had been literally the only
reminder these three years that she was still alive. No one ever spoke
of her. And yet Jo had told him something once--something which had
upset him completely. The boy had got it from George Forsyte,
he believed, who had seen Bosinney in the fog the day he was run
over--something which explained the young fellow’s distress--an act
of Soames towards his wife--a shocking act. Jo had seen her, too,
that afternoon, after the news was out, seen her for a moment, and his
description had always lingered in old Jolyon’s mind--’wild and lost’
he had called her. And next day June had gone there--bottled up her
feelings and gone there, and the maid had cried and told her how her
mistress had slipped out in the night and vanished. A tragic business
altogether! One thing was certain--Soames had never been able to lay
hands on her again. And he was living at Brighton, and journeying up
and down--a fitting fate, the man of property! For when he once took a
dislike to anyone--as he had to his nephew--old Jolyon never got over
it. He remembered still the sense of relief with which he had heard the
news of Irene’s disappearance. It had been shocking to think of her a
prisoner in that house to which she must have wandered back, when Jo saw
her, wandered back for a moment--like a wounded animal to its hole after
seeing that news, ‘Tragic death of an Architect,’ in the street. Her
face had struck him very much the other night--more beautiful than he
had remembered, but like a mask, with something going on beneath it. A
young woman still--twenty-eight perhaps. Ah, well! Very likely she had
another lover by now. But at this subversive thought--for married women
should never love: once, even, had been too much--his instep rose, and
with it the dog Balthasar’s head. The sagacious animal stood up and
looked into old Jolyon’s face. ‘Walk?’ he seemed to say; and old Jolyon
answered: “Come on, old chap!”

Slowly, as was their wont, they crossed among the constellations of
buttercups and daisies, and entered the fernery. This feature, where
very little grew as yet, had been judiciously dropped below the level of
the lawn so that it might come up again on the level of the other lawn
and give the impression of irregularity, so important in horticulture.
Its rocks and earth were beloved of the dog Balthasar, who sometimes
found a mole there. Old Jolyon made a point of passing through it
because, though it was not beautiful, he intended that it should be,
some day, and he would think: ‘I must get Varr to come down and look
at it; he’s better than Beech.’ For plants, like houses and human
complaints, required the best expert consideration. It was inhabited by
snails, and if accompanied by his grandchildren, he would point to one
and tell them the story of the little boy who said: ‘Have plummers
got leggers, Mother? ‘No, sonny.’ ‘Then darned if I haven’t been and
swallowed a snileybob.’ And when they skipped and clutched his hand,
thinking of the snileybob going down the little boy’s ‘red lane,’ his
eyes would twinkle. Emerging from the fernery, he opened the wicket
gate, which just there led into the first field, a large and park-like
area, out of which, within brick walls, the vegetable garden had been
carved. Old Jolyon avoided this, which did not suit his mood, and made
down the hill towards the pond. Balthasar, who knew a water-rat or two,
gambolled in front, at the gait which marks an oldish dog who takes
the same walk every day. Arrived at the edge, old Jolyon stood, noting
another water-lily opened since yesterday; he would show it to Holly
to-morrow, when ‘his little sweet’ had got over the upset which had
followed on her eating a tomato at lunch--her little arrangements were
very delicate. Now that Jolly had gone to school--his first term--Holly
was with him nearly all day long, and he missed her badly. He felt that
pain too, which often bothered him now, a little dragging at his left
side. He looked back up the hill. Really, poor young Bosinney had made
an uncommonly good job of the house; he would have done very well for
himself if he had lived! And where was he now? Perhaps, still haunting
this, the site of his last work, of his tragic love affair. Or was
Philip Bosinney’s spirit diffused in the general? Who could say? That
dog was getting his legs muddy! And he moved towards the coppice. There
had been the most delightful lot of bluebells, and he knew where some
still lingered like little patches of sky fallen in between the trees,
away out of the sun. He passed the cow-houses and the hen-houses there
installed, and pursued a path into the thick of the saplings, making for
one of the bluebell plots. Balthasar, preceding him once more, uttered
a low growl. Old Jolyon stirred him with his foot, but the dog remained
motionless, just where there was no room to pass, and the hair rose
slowly along the centre of his woolly back. Whether from the growl and
the look of the dog’s stivered hair, or from the sensation which a man
feels in a wood, old Jolyon also felt something move along his spine.
And then the path turned, and there was an old mossy log, and on it a
woman sitting. Her face was turned away, and he had just time to think:
’.he’s trespassing--I must have a board put up!’ before she turned.
Powers above! The face he had seen at the opera--the very woman he had
just been thinking of! In that confused moment he saw things blurred,
as if a spirit--queer effect--the slant of sunlight perhaps on her
violet-grey frock! And then she rose and stood smiling, her head a
little to one side. Old Jolyon thought: ‘How pretty she is!’ She did not
speak, neither did he; and he realized why with a certain admiration.
She was here no doubt because of some memory, and did not mean to try
and get out of it by vulgar explanation.

“Don’t let that dog touch your frock,” he said; “he’s got wet feet. Come
here, you!”

But the dog Balthasar went on towards the visitor, who put her hand down
and stroked his head. Old Jolyon said quickly:

“I saw you at the opera the other night; you didn’t notice me.”

“Oh, yes! I did.”

He felt a subtle flattery in that, as though she had added: ‘Do you
think one could miss seeing you?’

“They’re all in Spain,” he remarked abruptly. “I’m alone; I drove up for
the opera. The Ravogli’s good. Have you seen the cow-houses?”

In a situation so charged with mystery and something very like emotion
he moved instinctively towards that bit of property, and she moved
beside him. Her figure swayed faintly, like the best kind of French
figures; her dress, too, was a sort of French grey. He noticed two or
three silver threads in her amber-coloured hair, strange hair with those
dark eyes of hers, and that creamy-pale face. A sudden sidelong look
from the velvety brown eyes disturbed him. It seemed to come from deep
and far, from another world almost, or at all events from some one not
living very much in this. And he said mechanically:

“Where are you living now?”

“I have a little flat in Chelsea.”

He did not want to hear what she was doing, did not want to hear
anything; but the perverse word came out:

“Alone?”

She nodded. It was a relief to know that. And it came into his mind
that, but for a twist of fate, she would have been mistress of this
coppice, showing these cow-houses to him, a visitor.

“All Alderneys,” he muttered; “they give the best milk. This one’s a
pretty creature. Woa, Myrtle!”

The fawn-coloured cow, with eyes as soft and brown as Irene’s own, was
standing absolutely still, not having long been milked. She looked round
at them out of the corner of those lustrous, mild, cynical eyes, and
from her grey lips a little dribble of saliva threaded its way towards
the straw. The scent of hay and vanilla and ammonia rose in the dim
light of the cool cow-house; and old Jolyon said:

“You must come up and have some dinner with me. I’ll send you home in
the carriage.”

He perceived a struggle going on within her; natural, no doubt, with her
memories. But he wanted her company; a pretty face, a charming figure,
beauty! He had been alone all the afternoon. Perhaps his eyes were
wistful, for she answered: “Thank you, Uncle Jolyon. I should like to.”

He rubbed his hands, and said:

“Capital! Let’s go up, then!” And, preceded by the dog Balthasar, they
ascended through the field. The sun was almost level in their faces now,
and he could see, not only those silver threads, but little lines, just
deep enough to stamp her beauty with a coin-like fineness--the special
look of life unshared with others. “I’ll take her in by the terrace,” he
thought: “I won’t make a common visitor of her.”

“What do you do all day?” he said.

“Teach music; I have another interest, too.”

“Work!” said old Jolyon, picking up the doll from off the swing, and
smoothing its black petticoat. “Nothing like it, is there? I don’t do
any now. I’m getting on. What interest is that?”

“Trying to help women who’ve come to grief.” Old Jolyon did not quite
understand. “To grief?” he repeated; then realised with a shock that
she meant exactly what he would have meant himself if he had used
that expression. Assisting the Magdalenes of London! What a weird and
terrifying interest! And, curiosity overcoming his natural shrinking, he
asked:

“Why? What do you do for them?”

“Not much. I’ve no money to spare. I can only give sympathy and food
sometimes.”

Involuntarily old Jolyon’s hand sought his purse. He said hastily: “How
d’you get hold of them?”

“I go to a hospital.”

“A hospital! Phew!”

“What hurts me most is that once they nearly all had some sort of
beauty.”

Old Jolyon straightened the doll. “Beauty!” he ejaculated: “Ha! Yes! A
sad business!” and he moved towards the house. Through a French window,
under sun-blinds not yet drawn up, he preceded her into the room
where he was wont to study The Times and the sheets of an agricultural
magazine, with huge illustrations of mangold wurzels, and the like,
which provided Holly with material for her paint brush.

“Dinner’s in half an hour. You’d like to wash your hands! I’ll take you
to June’s room.”

He saw her looking round eagerly; what changes since she had last
visited this house with her husband, or her lover, or both perhaps--he
did not know, could not say! All that was dark, and he wished to leave
it so. But what changes! And in the hall he said:

“My boy Jo’s a painter, you know. He’s got a lot of taste. It isn’t
mine, of course, but I’ve let him have his way.”

She was standing very still, her eyes roaming through the hall and music
room, as it now was--all thrown into one, under the great skylight. Old
Jolyon had an odd impression of her. Was she trying to conjure somebody
from the shades of that space where the colouring was all pearl-grey and
silver? He would have had gold himself; more lively and solid. But Jo
had French tastes, and it had come out shadowy like that, with an effect
as of the fume of cigarettes the chap was always smoking, broken here
and there by a little blaze of blue or crimson colour. It was not
his dream! Mentally he had hung this space with those gold-framed
masterpieces of still and stiller life which he had bought in days when
quantity was precious. And now where were they? Sold for a song! That
something which made him, alone among Forsytes, move with the times
had warned him against the struggle to retain them. But in his study he
still had ‘Dutch Fishing Boats at Sunset.’

He began to mount the stairs with her, slowly, for he felt his side.

“These are the bathrooms,” he said, “and other arrangements. I’ve had
them tiled. The nurseries are along there. And this is Jo’s and his
wife’s. They all communicate. But you remember, I expect.”

Irene nodded. They passed on, up the gallery and entered a large room
with a small bed, and several windows.

“This is mine,” he said. The walls were covered with the photographs of
children and watercolour sketches, and he added doubtfully:

“These are Jo’s. The view’s first-rate. You can see the Grand Stand at
Epsom in clear weather.”

The sun was down now, behind the house, and over the ‘prospect’ a
luminous haze had settled, emanation of the long and prosperous day. Few
houses showed, but fields and trees faintly glistened, away to a loom of
downs.

“The country’s changing,” he said abruptly, “but there it’ll be when
we’re all gone. Look at those thrushes--the birds are sweet here in the
mornings. I’m glad to have washed my hands of London.”

Her face was close to the window pane, and he was struck by its mournful
look. ‘Wish I could make her look happy!’ he thought. ‘A pretty face,
but sad!’ And taking up his can of hot water he went out into the
gallery.

“This is June’s room,” he said, opening the next door and putting the
can down; “I think you’ll find everything.” And closing the door behind
her he went back to his own room. Brushing his hair with his great ebony
brushes, and dabbing his forehead with eau de Cologne, he mused. She had
come so strangely--a sort of visitation; mysterious, even romantic, as
if his desire for company, for beauty, had been fulfilled by whatever
it was which fulfilled that sort of thing. And before the mirror he
straightened his still upright figure, passed the brushes over his great
white moustache, touched up his eyebrows with eau de Cologne, and rang
the bell.

“I forgot to let them know that I have a lady to dinner with me. Let
cook do something extra, and tell Beacon to have the landau and pair at
half-past ten to drive her back to Town to-night. Is Miss Holly asleep?”

The maid thought not. And old Jolyon, passing down the gallery, stole
on tiptoe towards the nursery, and opened the door whose hinges he kept
specially oiled that he might slip in and out in the evenings without
being heard.

But Holly was asleep, and lay like a miniature Madonna, of that
type which the old painters could not tell from Venus, when they had
completed her. Her long dark lashes clung to her cheeks; on her face was
perfect peace--her little arrangements were evidently all right again.
And old Jolyon, in the twilight of the room, stood adoring her! It was
so charming, solemn, and loving--that little face. He had more than his
share of the blessed capacity of living again in the young. They were
to him his future life--all of a future life that his fundamental pagan
sanity perhaps admitted. There she was with everything before her, and
his blood--some of it--in her tiny veins. There she was, his little
companion, to be made as happy as ever he could make her, so that she
knew nothing but love. His heart swelled, and he went out, stilling the
sound of his patent-leather boots. In the corridor an eccentric notion
attacked him: To think that children should come to that which Irene had
told him she was helping! Women who were all, once, little things like
this one sleeping there! ‘I must give her a cheque!’ he mused; ‘Can’t
bear to think of them!’ They had never borne reflecting on, those poor
outcasts; wounding too deeply the core of true refinement hidden under
layers of conformity to the sense of property--wounding too grievously
the deepest thing in him--a love of beauty which could give him, even
now, a flutter of the heart, thinking of his evening in the society of a
pretty woman. And he went downstairs, through the swinging doors, to the
back regions. There, in the wine-cellar, was a hock worth at least two
pounds a bottle, a Steinberg Cabinet, better than any Johannisberg
that ever went down throat; a wine of perfect bouquet, sweet as a
nectarine--nectar indeed! He got a bottle out, handling it like a baby,
and holding it level to the light, to look. Enshrined in its coat
of dust, that mellow coloured, slender-necked bottle gave him deep
pleasure. Three years to settle down again since the move from
Town--ought to be in prime condition! Thirty-five years ago he had
bought it--thank God he had kept his palate, and earned the right to
drink it. She would appreciate this; not a spice of acidity in a dozen.
He wiped the bottle, drew the cork with his own hands, put his nose
down, inhaled its perfume, and went back to the music room.

Irene was standing by the piano; she had taken off her hat and a lace
scarf she had been wearing, so that her gold-coloured hair was visible,
and the pallor of her neck. In her grey frock she made a pretty picture
for old Jolyon, against the rosewood of the piano.

He gave her his arm, and solemnly they went. The room, which had been
designed to enable twenty-four people to dine in comfort, held now but
a little round table. In his present solitude the big dining-table
oppressed old Jolyon; he had caused it to be removed till his son came
back. Here in the company of two really good copies of Raphael Madonnas
he was wont to dine alone. It was the only disconsolate hour of his day,
this summer weather. He had never been a large eater, like that great
chap Swithin, or Sylvanus Heythorp, or Anthony Thornworthy, those
cronies of past times; and to dine alone, overlooked by the Madonnas,
was to him but a sorrowful occupation, which he got through quickly,
that he might come to the more spiritual enjoyment of his coffee and
cigar. But this evening was a different matter! His eyes twinkled at her
across the little table and he spoke of Italy and Switzerland, telling
her stories of his travels there, and other experiences which he could
no longer recount to his son and grand-daughter because they knew them.
This fresh audience was precious to him; he had never become one of
those old men who ramble round and round the fields of reminiscence.
Himself quickly fatigued by the insensitive, he instinctively avoided
fatiguing others, and his natural flirtatiousness towards beauty guarded
him specially in his relations with a woman. He would have liked to draw
her out, but though she murmured and smiled and seemed to be enjoying
what he told her, he remained conscious of that mysterious remoteness
which constituted half her fascination. He could not bear women
who threw their shoulders and eyes at you, and chattered away; or
hard-mouthed women who laid down the law and knew more than you did.
There was only one quality in a woman that appealed to him--charm;
and the quieter it was, the more he liked it. And this one had charm,
shadowy as afternoon sunlight on those Italian hills and valleys he had
loved. The feeling, too, that she was, as it were, apart, cloistered,
made her seem nearer to himself, a strangely desirable companion. When
a man is very old and quite out of the running, he loves to feel secure
from the rivalries of youth, for he would still be first in the heart
of beauty. And he drank his hock, and watched her lips, and felt nearly
young. But the dog Balthasar lay watching her lips too, and despising
in his heart the interruptions of their talk, and the tilting of those
greenish glasses full of a golden fluid which was distasteful to him.

The light was just failing when they went back into the music-room. And,
cigar in mouth, old Jolyon said:

“Play me some Chopin.”

By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know
the texture of men’s souls. Old Jolyon could not bear a strong cigar
or Wagner’s music. He loved Beethoven and Mozart, Handel and Gluck, and
Schumann, and, for some occult reason, the operas of Meyerbeer; but of
late years he had been seduced by Chopin, just as in painting he
had succumbed to Botticelli. In yielding to these tastes he had been
conscious of divergence from the standard of the Golden Age. Their
poetry was not that of Milton and Byron and Tennyson; of Raphael and
Titian; Mozart and Beethoven. It was, as it were, behind a veil; their
poetry hit no one in the face, but slipped its fingers under the ribs
and turned and twisted, and melted up the heart. And, never certain
that this was healthy, he did not care a rap so long as he could see the
pictures of the one or hear the music of the other.

Irene sat down at the piano under the electric lamp festooned with
pearl-grey, and old Jolyon, in an armchair, whence he could see her,
crossed his legs and drew slowly at his cigar. She sat a few moments
with her hands on the keys, evidently searching her mind for what to
give him. Then she began and within old Jolyon there arose a sorrowful
pleasure, not quite like anything else in the world. He fell slowly into
a trance, interrupted only by the movements of taking the cigar out of
his mouth at long intervals, and replacing it. She was there, and the
hock within him, and the scent of tobacco; but there, too, was a world
of sunshine lingering into moonlight, and pools with storks upon them,
and bluish trees above, glowing with blurs of wine-red roses, and fields
of lavender where milk-white cows were grazing, and a woman all shadowy,
with dark eyes and a white neck, smiled, holding out her arms; and
through air which was like music a star dropped and was caught on a
cow’s horn. He opened his eyes. Beautiful piece; she played well--the
touch of an angel! And he closed them again. He felt miraculously sad
and happy, as one does, standing under a lime-tree in full honey flower.
Not live one’s own life again, but just stand there and bask in the
smile of a woman’s eyes, and enjoy the bouquet! And he jerked his hand;
the dog Balthasar had reached up and licked it.

“Beautiful!” He said: “Go on--more Chopin!”

She began to play again. This time the resemblance between her and
’.hopin’ struck him. The swaying he had noticed in her walk was in her
playing too, and the Nocturne she had chosen and the soft darkness of
her eyes, the light on her hair, as of moonlight from a golden moon.
Seductive, yes; but nothing of Delilah in her or in that music. A long
blue spiral from his cigar ascended and dispersed. ‘So we go out!’ he
thought. ‘No more beauty! Nothing?’

Again Irene stopped.

“Would you like some Gluck? He used to write his music in a sunlit
garden, with a bottle of Rhine wine beside him.”

“Ah! yes. Let’s have ‘Orfeo.’. Round about him now were fields of gold
and silver flowers, white forms swaying in the sunlight, bright birds
flying to and fro. All was summer. Lingering waves of sweetness and
regret flooded his soul. Some cigar ash dropped, and taking out a silk
handkerchief to brush it off, he inhaled a mingled scent as of snuff and
eau de Cologne. ‘Ah!’ he thought, ‘Indian summer--that’s all!’ and he
said: “You haven’t played me ‘Che faro.’.

She did not answer; did not move. He was conscious of something--some
strange upset. Suddenly he saw her rise and turn away, and a pang of
remorse shot through him. What a clumsy chap! Like Orpheus, she of
course--she too was looking for her lost one in the hall of memory! And
disturbed to the heart, he got up from his chair. She had gone to the
great window at the far end. Gingerly he followed. Her hands were folded
over her breast; he could just see her cheek, very white. And, quite
emotionalized, he said:

“There, there, my love!” The words had escaped him mechanically, for
they were those he used to Holly when she had a pain, but their effect
was instantaneously distressing. She raised her arms, covered her face
with them, and wept.

Old Jolyon stood gazing at her with eyes very deep from age. The
passionate shame she seemed feeling at her abandonment, so unlike the
control and quietude of her whole presence was as if she had never
before broken down in the presence of another being.

“There, there--there, there!” he murmured, and putting his hand out
reverently, touched her. She turned, and leaned the arms which covered
her face against him. Old Jolyon stood very still, keeping one thin hand
on her shoulder. Let her cry her heart out--it would do her good.

And the dog Balthasar, puzzled, sat down on his stern to examine them.

The window was still open, the curtains had not been drawn, the last of
daylight from without mingled with faint intrusion from the lamp within;
there was a scent of new-mown grass. With the wisdom of a long life old
Jolyon did not speak. Even grief sobbed itself out in time; only Time
was good for sorrow--Time who saw the passing of each mood, each emotion
in turn; Time the layer-to-rest. There came into his mind the words: ‘As
panteth the hart after cooling streams’--but they were of no use to him.
Then, conscious of a scent of violets, he knew she was drying her eyes.
He put his chin forward, pressed his moustache against her forehead, and
felt her shake with a quivering of her whole body, as of a tree which
shakes itself free of raindrops. She put his hand to her lips, as if
saying: “All over now! Forgive me!”

The kiss filled him with a strange comfort; he led her back to where she
had been so upset. And the dog Balthasar, following, laid the bone of
one of the cutlets they had eaten at their feet.

Anxious to obliterate the memory of that emotion, he could think of
nothing better than china; and moving with her slowly from cabinet to
cabinet, he kept taking up bits of Dresden and Lowestoft and Chelsea,
turning them round and round with his thin, veined hands, whose skin,
faintly freckled, had such an aged look.

“I bought this at Jobson’s,” he would say; “cost me thirty pounds.
It’s very old. That dog leaves his bones all over the place. This old
’.hip-bowl’ I picked up at the sale when that precious rip, the Marquis,
came to grief. But you don’t remember. Here’s a nice piece of Chelsea.
Now, what would you say this was?” And he was comforted, feeling that,
with her taste, she was taking a real interest in these things; for,
after all, nothing better composes the nerves than a doubtful piece of
china.

When the crunch of the carriage wheels was heard at last, he said:

“You must come again; you must come to lunch, then I can show you these
by daylight, and my little sweet--she’s a dear little thing. This dog
seems to have taken a fancy to you.”

For Balthasar, feeling that she was about to leave, was rubbing his side
against her leg. Going out under the porch with her, he said:

“He’ll get you up in an hour and a quarter. Take this for your
protegees,” and he slipped a cheque for fifty pounds into her hand. He
saw her brightened eyes, and heard her murmur: “Oh! Uncle Jolyon!” and
a real throb of pleasure went through him. That meant one or two poor
creatures helped a little, and it meant that she would come again. He
put his hand in at the window and grasped hers once more. The carriage
rolled away. He stood looking at the moon and the shadows of the trees,
and thought: ‘A sweet night! She...!’



II

Two days of rain, and summer set in bland and sunny. Old Jolyon walked
and talked with Holly. At first he felt taller and full of a new vigour;
then he felt restless. Almost every afternoon they would enter the
coppice, and walk as far as the log. ‘Well, she’s not there!’ he would
think, ‘of course not!’ And he would feel a little shorter, and drag his
feet walking up the hill home, with his hand clapped to his left side.
Now and then the thought would move in him: ‘Did she come--or did I
dream it?’ and he would stare at space, while the dog Balthasar stared
at him. Of course she would not come again! He opened the letters from
Spain with less excitement. They were not returning till July; he felt,
oddly, that he could bear it. Every day at dinner he screwed up his eyes
and looked at where she had sat. She was not there, so he unscrewed his
eyes again.

On the seventh afternoon he thought: ‘I must go up and get some boots.’
He ordered Beacon, and set out. Passing from Putney towards Hyde Park
he reflected: ‘I might as well go to Chelsea and see her.’ And he called
out: “Just drive me to where you took that lady the other night.” The
coachman turned his broad red face, and his juicy lips answered: “The
lady in grey, sir?”

“Yes, the lady in grey.” What other ladies were there! Stodgy chap!

The carriage stopped before a small three-storied block of flats,
standing a little back from the river. With a practised eye old Jolyon
saw that they were cheap. ‘I should think about sixty pound a year,’ he
mused; and entering, he looked at the name-board. The name ‘Forsyte’ was
not on it, but against ‘First Floor, Flat C’ were the words: ‘Mrs.
Irene Heron.’ Ah! She had taken her maiden name again! And somehow this
pleased him. He went upstairs slowly, feeling his side a little.
He stood a moment, before ringing, to lose the feeling of drag and
fluttering there. She would not be in! And then--Boots! The thought was
black. What did he want with boots at his age? He could not wear out all
those he had.

“Your mistress at home?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Say Mr. Jolyon Forsyte.”

“Yes, sir, will you come this way?”

Old Jolyon followed a very little maid--not more than sixteen one would
say--into a very small drawing-room where the sun-blinds were drawn.
It held a cottage piano and little else save a vague fragrance and
good taste. He stood in the middle, with his top hat in his hand, and
thought: ‘I expect she’s very badly off!’ There was a mirror above the
fireplace, and he saw himself reflected. An old-looking chap! He heard
a rustle, and turned round. She was so close that his moustache almost
brushed her forehead, just under her hair.

“I was driving up,” he said. “Thought I’d look in on you, and ask you
how you got up the other night.”

And, seeing her smile, he felt suddenly relieved. She was really glad to
see him, perhaps.

“Would you like to put on your hat and come for a drive in the Park?”

But while she was gone to put her hat on, he frowned. The Park! James
and Emily! Mrs. Nicholas, or some other member of his precious family
would be there very likely, prancing up and down. And they would go and
wag their tongues about having seen him with her, afterwards. Better
not! He did not wish to revive the echoes of the past on
Forsyte ‘Change. He removed a white hair from the lapel of his
closely-buttoned-up frock coat, and passed his hand over his cheeks,
moustache, and square chin. It felt very hollow there under the
cheekbones. He had not been eating much lately--he had better get that
little whippersnapper who attended Holly to give him a tonic. But she
had come back and when they were in the carriage, he said:

“Suppose we go and sit in Kensington Gardens instead?” and added with
a twinkle: “No prancing up and down there,” as if she had been in the
secret of his thoughts.

Leaving the carriage, they entered those select precincts, and strolled
towards the water.

“You’ve gone back to your maiden name, I see,” he said: “I’m not sorry.”

She slipped her hand under his arm: “Has June forgiven me, Uncle
Jolyon?”

He answered gently: “Yes--yes; of course, why not?”

“And have you?”

“I? I forgave you as soon as I saw how the land really lay.” And perhaps
he had; his instinct had always been to forgive the beautiful.

She drew a deep breath. “I never regretted--I couldn’t. Did you ever
love very deeply, Uncle Jolyon?”

At that strange question old Jolyon stared before him. Had he? He did
not seem to remember that he ever had. But he did not like to say this
to the young woman whose hand was touching his arm, whose life was
suspended, as it were, by memory of a tragic love. And he thought: ‘If
I had met you when I was young I--I might have made a fool of myself,
perhaps.’ And a longing to escape in generalities beset him.

“Love’s a queer thing,” he said, “fatal thing often. It was the
Greeks--wasn’t it?--made love into a goddess; they were right, I dare
say, but then they lived in the Golden Age.”

“Phil adored them.”

Phil! The word jarred him, for suddenly--with his power to see all round
a thing, he perceived why she was putting up with him like this. She
wanted to talk about her lover! Well! If it was any pleasure to her! And
he said: “Ah! There was a bit of the sculptor in him, I fancy.”

“Yes. He loved balance and symmetry; he loved the whole-hearted way the
Greeks gave themselves to art.”

Balance! The chap had no balance at all, if he remembered; as for
symmetry--clean-built enough he was, no doubt; but those queer eyes of
his, and high cheek-bones--Symmetry?

“You’re of the Golden Age, too, Uncle Jolyon.”

Old Jolyon looked round at her. Was she chaffing him? No, her eyes
were soft as velvet. Was she flattering him? But if so, why? There was
nothing to be had out of an old chap like him.

“Phil thought so. He used to say: ‘But I can never tell him that I
admire him.’.

Ah! There it was again. Her dead lover; her desire to talk of him! And
he pressed her arm, half resentful of those memories, half grateful, as
if he recognised what a link they were between herself and him.

“He was a very talented young fellow,” he murmured. “It’s hot; I feel
the heat nowadays. Let’s sit down.”

They took two chairs beneath a chestnut tree whose broad leaves covered
them from the peaceful glory of the afternoon. A pleasure to sit there
and watch her, and feel that she liked to be with him. And the wish to
increase that liking, if he could, made him go on:

“I expect he showed you a side of him I never saw. He’d be at his best
with you. His ideas of art were a little new--to me “--he had stiffed
the word ‘fangled.’

“Yes: but he used to say you had a real sense of beauty.” Old Jolyon
thought: ‘The devil he did!’ but answered with a twinkle: “Well, I have,
or I shouldn’t be sitting here with you.” She was fascinating when she
smiled with her eyes, like that!

“He thought you had one of those hearts that never grow old. Phil had
real insight.”

He was not taken in by this flattery spoken out of the past, out of a
longing to talk of her dead lover--not a bit; and yet it was precious
to hear, because she pleased his eyes and heart which--quite true!--had
never grown old. Was that because--unlike her and her dead lover, he had
never loved to desperation, had always kept his balance, his sense of
symmetry. Well! It had left him power, at eighty-four, to admire beauty.
And he thought, ‘If I were a painter or a sculptor! But I’m an old chap.
Make hay while the sun shines.’

A couple with arms entwined crossed on the grass before them, at the
edge of the shadow from their tree. The sunlight fell cruelly on their
pale, squashed, unkempt young faces. “We’re an ugly lot!” said old
Jolyon suddenly. “It amazes me to see how--love triumphs over that.”

“Love triumphs over everything!”

“The young think so,” he muttered.

“Love has no age, no limit, and no death.”

With that glow in her pale face, her breast heaving, her eyes so
large and dark and soft, she looked like Venus come to life! But this
extravagance brought instant reaction, and, twinkling, he said: “Well,
if it had limits, we shouldn’t be born; for by George! it’s got a lot to
put up with.”

Then, removing his top hat, he brushed it round with a cuff. The great
clumsy thing heated his forehead; in these days he often got a rush of
blood to the head--his circulation was not what it had been.

She still sat gazing straight before her, and suddenly she murmured:

“It’s strange enough that I’m alive.”

Those words of Jo’s ‘Wild and lost’ came back to him.

“Ah!” he said: “my son saw you for a moment--that day.”

“Was it your son? I heard a voice in the hall; I thought for a second it
was--Phil.”

Old Jolyon saw her lips tremble. She put her hand over them, took it
away again, and went on calmly: “That night I went to the Embankment; a
woman caught me by the dress. She told me about herself. When one knows
that others suffer, one’s ashamed.”

“One of those?”

She nodded, and horror stirred within old Jolyon, the horror of one who
has never known a struggle with desperation. Almost against his will he
muttered: “Tell me, won’t you?”

“I didn’t care whether I lived or died. When you’re like that, Fate
ceases to want to kill you. She took care of me three days--she never
left me. I had no money. That’s why I do what I can for them, now.”

But old Jolyon was thinking: ‘No money!’ What fate could compare with
that? Every other was involved in it.

“I wish you had come to me,” he said. “Why didn’t you?” But Irene did
not answer.

“Because my name was Forsyte, I suppose? Or was it June who kept you
away? How are you getting on now?” His eyes involuntarily swept her
body. Perhaps even now she was--! And yet she wasn’t thin--not really!

“Oh! with my fifty pounds a year, I make just enough.” The answer did
not reassure him; he had lost confidence. And that fellow Soames! But
his sense of justice stifled condemnation. No, she would certainly have
died rather than take another penny from him. Soft as she looked, there
must be strength in her somewhere--strength and fidelity. But what
business had young Bosinney to have got run over and left her stranded
like this!

“Well, you must come to me now,” he said, “for anything you want, or I
shall be quite cut up.” And putting on his hat, he rose. “Let’s go and
get some tea. I told that lazy chap to put the horses up for an hour,
and come for me at your place. We’ll take a cab presently; I can’t walk
as I used to.”

He enjoyed that stroll to the Kensington end of the gardens--the sound
of her voice, the glancing of her eyes, the subtle beauty of a charming
form moving beside him. He enjoyed their tea at Ruffel’s in the High
Street, and came out thence with a great box of chocolates swung on his
little finger. He enjoyed the drive back to Chelsea in a hansom, smoking
his cigar. She had promised to come down next Sunday and play to him
again, and already in thought he was plucking carnations and early roses
for her to carry back to town. It was a pleasure to give her a little
pleasure, if it WERE pleasure from an old chap like him! The carriage
was already there when they arrived. Just like that fellow, who was
always late when he was wanted! Old Jolyon went in for a minute to
say good-bye. The little dark hall of the flat was impregnated with a
disagreeable odour of patchouli, and on a bench against the wall--its
only furniture--he saw a figure sitting. He heard Irene say softly:
“Just one minute.” In the little drawing-room when the door was shut, he
asked gravely: “One of your protegees?”

“Yes. Now thanks to you, I can do something for her.”

He stood, staring, and stroking that chin whose strength had frightened
so many in its time. The idea of her thus actually in contact with this
outcast grieved and frightened him. What could she do for them? Nothing.
Only soil and make trouble for herself, perhaps. And he said: “Take
care, my dear! The world puts the worst construction on everything.”

“I know that.”

He was abashed by her quiet smile. “Well then--Sunday,” he murmured:
“Good-bye.”

She put her cheek forward for him to kiss.

“Good-bye,” he said again; “take care of yourself.” And he went out,
not looking towards the figure on the bench. He drove home by way of
Hammersmith; that he might stop at a place he knew of and tell them to
send her in two dozen of their best Burgundy. She must want picking-up
sometimes! Only in Richmond Park did he remember that he had gone up to
order himself some boots, and was surprised that he could have had so
paltry an idea.



III

The little spirits of the past which throng an old man’s days had never
pushed their faces up to his so seldom as in the seventy hours elapsing
before Sunday came. The spirit of the future, with the charm of the
unknown, put up her lips instead. Old Jolyon was not restless now, and
paid no visits to the log, because she was coming to lunch. There is
wonderful finality about a meal; it removes a world of doubts, for no
one misses meals except for reasons beyond control. He played many games
with Holly on the lawn, pitching them up to her who was batting so as
to be ready to bowl to Jolly in the holidays. For she was not a Forsyte,
but Jolly was--and Forsytes always bat, until they have resigned and
reached the age of eighty-five. The dog Balthasar, in attendance, lay on
the ball as often as he could, and the page-boy fielded, till his face
was like the harvest moon. And because the time was getting shorter,
each day was longer and more golden than the last. On Friday night he
took a liver pill, his side hurt him rather, and though it was not the
liver side, there is no remedy like that. Anyone telling him that he had
found a new excitement in life and that excitement was not good for him,
would have been met by one of those steady and rather defiant looks
of his deep-set iron-grey eyes, which seemed to say: ‘I know my own
business best.’ He always had and always would.

On Sunday morning, when Holly had gone with her governess to church, he
visited the strawberry beds. There, accompanied by the dog Balthasar, he
examined the plants narrowly and succeeded in finding at least two dozen
berries which were really ripe. Stooping was not good for him, and
he became very dizzy and red in the forehead. Having placed the
strawberries in a dish on the dining-table, he washed his hands and
bathed his forehead with eau de Cologne. There, before the mirror, it
occurred to him that he was thinner. What a ‘threadpaper’ he had been
when he was young! It was nice to be slim--he could not bear a fat chap;
and yet perhaps his cheeks were too thin! She was to arrive by train at
half-past twelve and walk up, entering from the road past Drage’s farm
at the far end of the coppice. And, having looked into June’s room to
see that there was hot water ready, he set forth to meet her, leisurely,
for his heart was beating. The air smelled sweet, larks sang, and the
Grand Stand at Epsom was visible. A perfect day! On just such a one, no
doubt, six years ago, Soames had brought young Bosinney down with him
to look at the site before they began to build. It was Bosinney who had
pitched on the exact spot for the house--as June had often told him.
In these days he was thinking much about that young fellow, as if his
spirit were really haunting the field of his last work, on the chance of
seeing--her. Bosinney--the one man who had possessed her heart, to whom
she had given her whole self with rapture! At his age one could not,
of course, imagine such things, but there stirred in him a queer vague
aching--as it were the ghost of an impersonal jealousy; and a feeling,
too, more generous, of pity for that love so early lost. All over in a
few poor months! Well, well! He looked at his watch before entering the
coppice--only a quarter past, twenty-five minutes to wait! And then,
turning the corner of the path, he saw her exactly where he had seen her
the first time, on the log; and realised that she must have come by the
earlier train to sit there alone for a couple of hours at least. Two
hours of her society missed! What memory could make that log so dear to
her? His face showed what he was thinking, for she said at once:

“Forgive me, Uncle Jolyon; it was here that I first knew.”

“Yes, yes; there it is for you whenever you like. You’re looking a
little Londony; you’re giving too many lessons.”

That she should have to give lessons worried him. Lessons to a parcel of
young girls thumping out scales with their thick fingers.

“Where do you go to give them?” he asked.

“They’re mostly Jewish families, luckily.”

Old Jolyon stared; to all Forsytes Jews seem strange and doubtful.

“They love music, and they’re very kind.”

“They had better be, by George!” He took her arm--his side always hurt
him a little going uphill--and said:

“Did you ever see anything like those buttercups? They came like that in
a night.”

Her eyes seemed really to fly over the field, like bees after the
flowers and the honey. “I wanted you to see them--wouldn’t let them
turn the cows in yet.” Then, remembering that she had come to talk about
Bosinney, he pointed to the clock-tower over the stables:

“I expect he wouldn’t have let me put that there--had no notion of time,
if I remember.”

But, pressing his arm to her, she talked of flowers instead, and he knew
it was done that he might not feel she came because of her dead lover.

“The best flower I can show you,” he said, with a sort of triumph, “is
my little sweet. She’ll be back from Church directly. There’s something
about her which reminds me a little of you,” and it did not seem to him
peculiar that he had put it thus, instead of saying: “There’s something
about you which reminds me a little of her.” Ah! And here she was!

Holly, followed closely by her elderly French governess, whose digestion
had been ruined twenty-two years ago in the siege of Strasbourg, came
rushing towards them from under the oak tree. She stopped about a dozen
yards away, to pat Balthasar and pretend that this was all she had in
her mind. Old Jolyon, who knew better, said:

“Well, my darling, here’s the lady in grey I promised you.”

Holly raised herself and looked up. He watched the two of them with a
twinkle, Irene smiling, Holly beginning with grave inquiry, passing
into a shy smile too, and then to something deeper. She had a sense of
beauty, that child--knew what was what! He enjoyed the sight of the kiss
between them.

“Mrs. Heron, Mam’zelle Beauce. Well, Mam’zelle--good sermon?”

For, now that he had not much more time before him, the only part of
the service connected with this world absorbed what interest in church
remained to him. Mam’zelle Beauce stretched out a spidery hand clad in
a black kid glove--she had been in the best families--and the rather sad
eyes of her lean yellowish face seemed to ask: “Are you well-brrred?”
 Whenever Holly or Jolly did anything unpleasing to her--a not uncommon
occurrence--she would say to them: “The little Tayleurs never did
that--they were such well-brrred little children.” Jolly hated the
little Tayleurs; Holly wondered dreadfully how it was she fell so short
of them. ‘A thin rum little soul,’ old Jolyon thought her--Mam’zelle
Beauce.

Luncheon was a successful meal, the mushrooms which he himself had
picked in the mushroom house, his chosen strawberries, and another
bottle of the Steinberg cabinet filled him with a certain aromatic
spirituality, and a conviction that he would have a touch of eczema
to-morrow.

After lunch they sat under the oak tree drinking Turkish coffee. It was
no matter of grief to him when Mademoiselle Beauce withdrew to write
her Sunday letter to her sister, whose future had been endangered in
the past by swallowing a pin--an event held up daily in warning to the
children to eat slowly and digest what they had eaten. At the foot of
the bank, on a carriage rug, Holly and the dog Balthasar teased and
loved each other, and in the shade old Jolyon with his legs crossed and
his cigar luxuriously savoured, gazed at Irene sitting in the swing. A
light, vaguely swaying, grey figure with a fleck of sunlight here and
there upon it, lips just opened, eyes dark and soft under lids a little
drooped. She looked content; surely it did her good to come and see him!
The selfishness of age had not set its proper grip on him, for he could
still feel pleasure in the pleasure of others, realising that what he
wanted, though much, was not quite all that mattered.

“It’s quiet here,” he said; “you mustn’t come down if you find it dull.
But it’s a pleasure to see you. My little sweet is the only face which
gives me any pleasure, except yours.”

From her smile he knew that she was not beyond liking to be appreciated,
and this reassured him. “That’s not humbug,” he said. “I never told a
woman I admired her when I didn’t. In fact I don’t know when I’ve told
a woman I admired her, except my wife in the old days; and wives are
funny.” He was silent, but resumed abruptly:

“She used to expect me to say it more often than I felt it, and there
we were.” Her face looked mysteriously troubled, and, afraid that he had
said something painful, he hurried on: “When my little sweet marries, I
hope she’ll find someone who knows what women feel. I shan’t be here to
see it, but there’s too much topsy-turvydom in marriage; I don’t want
her to pitch up against that.” And, aware that he had made bad worse, he
added: “That dog will scratch.”

A silence followed. Of what was she thinking, this pretty creature whose
life was spoiled; who had done with love, and yet was made for love?
Some day when he was gone, perhaps, she would find another mate--not so
disorderly as that young fellow who had got himself run over. Ah! but
her husband?

“Does Soames never trouble you?” he asked.

She shook her head. Her face had closed up suddenly. For all her
softness there was something irreconcilable about her. And a glimpse of
light on the inexorable nature of sex antipathies strayed into a brain
which, belonging to early Victorian civilisation--so much older than
this of his old age--had never thought about such primitive things.

“That’s a comfort,” he said. “You can see the Grand Stand to-day. Shall
we take a turn round?”

Through the flower and fruit garden, against whose high outer walls
peach trees and nectarines were trained to the sun, through the stables,
the vinery, the mushroom house, the asparagus beds, the rosery, the
summer-house, he conducted her--even into the kitchen garden to see the
tiny green peas which Holly loved to scoop out of their pods with
her finger, and lick up from the palm of her little brown hand. Many
delightful things he showed her, while Holly and the dog Balthasar
danced ahead, or came to them at intervals for attention. It was one of
the happiest afternoons he had ever spent, but it tired him and he was
glad to sit down in the music room and let her give him tea. A special
little friend of Holly’s had come in--a fair child with short hair like
a boy’s. And the two sported in the distance, under the stairs, on the
stairs, and up in the gallery. Old Jolyon begged for Chopin. She played
studies, mazurkas, waltzes, till the two children, creeping near, stood
at the foot of the piano their dark and golden heads bent forward,
listening. Old Jolyon watched.

“Let’s see you dance, you two!”

Shyly, with a false start, they began. Bobbing and circling, earnest,
not very adroit, they went past and past his chair to the strains of
that waltz. He watched them and the face of her who was playing turned
smiling towards those little dancers thinking:

’.weetest picture I’ve seen for ages.’

A voice said:

“Hollee! Mais enfin--qu’est-ce que tu fais la--danser, le dimanche!
Viens, donc!”

But the children came close to old Jolyon, knowing that he would save
them, and gazed into a face which was decidedly ‘caught out.’

“Better the day, better the deed, Mam’zelle. It’s all my doing. Trot
along, chicks, and have your tea.”

And, when they were gone, followed by the dog Balthasar, who took every
meal, he looked at Irene with a twinkle and said:

“Well, there we are! Aren’t they sweet? Have you any little ones among
your pupils?”

“Yes, three--two of them darlings.”

“Pretty?”

“Lovely!”

Old Jolyon sighed; he had an insatiable appetite for the very young. “My
little sweet,” he said, “is devoted to music; she’ll be a musician some
day. You wouldn’t give me your opinion of her playing, I suppose?”

“Of course I will.”

“You wouldn’t like--” but he stifled the words “to give her lessons.”
 The idea that she gave lessons was unpleasant to him; yet it would mean
that he would see her regularly. She left the piano and came over to his
chair.

“I would like, very much; but there is--June. When are they coming
back?”

Old Jolyon frowned. “Not till the middle of next month. What does that
matter?”

“You said June had forgiven me; but she could never forget, Uncle
Jolyon.”

Forget! She must forget, if he wanted her to.

But as if answering, Irene shook her head. “You know she couldn’t; one
doesn’t forget.”

Always that wretched past! And he said with a sort of vexed finality:

“Well, we shall see.”

He talked to her an hour or more, of the children, and a hundred little
things, till the carriage came round to take her home. And when she had
gone he went back to his chair, and sat there smoothing his face and
chin, dreaming over the day.

That evening after dinner he went to his study and took a sheet of
paper. He stayed for some minutes without writing, then rose and stood
under the masterpiece ‘Dutch Fishing Boats at Sunset.’ He was not
thinking of that picture, but of his life. He was going to leave her
something in his Will; nothing could so have stirred the stilly deeps of
thought and memory. He was going to leave her a portion of his wealth,
of his aspirations, deeds, qualities, work--all that had made that
wealth; going to leave her, too, a part of all he had missed in life, by
his sane and steady pursuit of wealth. All! What had he missed? ‘Dutch
Fishing Boats’ responded blankly; he crossed to the French window, and
drawing the curtain aside, opened it. A wind had got up, and one of last
year’s oak leaves which had somehow survived the gardener’s brooms, was
dragging itself with a tiny clicking rustle along the stone terrace in
the twilight. Except for that it was very quiet out there, and he could
smell the heliotrope watered not long since. A bat went by. A bird
uttered its last ‘cheep.’ And right above the oak tree the first star
shone. Faust in the opera had bartered his soul for some fresh years
of youth. Morbid notion! No such bargain was possible, that was real
tragedy! No making oneself new again for love or life or anything.
Nothing left to do but enjoy beauty from afar off while you could, and
leave it something in your Will. But how much? And, as if he could not
make that calculation looking out into the mild freedom of the country
night, he turned back and went up to the chimney-piece. There were
his pet bronzes--a Cleopatra with the asp at her breast; a Socrates; a
greyhound playing with her puppy; a strong man reining in some horses.
’.hey last!’ he thought, and a pang went through his heart. They had a
thousand years of life before them!

’.ow much?’ Well! enough at all events to save her getting old before
her time, to keep the lines out of her face as long as possible, and
grey from soiling that bright hair. He might live another five years.
She would be well over thirty by then. ‘How much?’ She had none of his
blood in her! In loyalty to the tenor of his life for forty years and
more, ever since he married and founded that mysterious thing, a family,
came this warning thought--None of his blood, no right to anything! It
was a luxury then, this notion. An extravagance, a petting of an old
man’s whim, one of those things done in dotage. His real future was
vested in those who had his blood, in whom he would live on when he
was gone. He turned away from the bronzes and stood looking at the old
leather chair in which he had sat and smoked so many hundreds of cigars.
And suddenly he seemed to see her sitting there in her grey dress,
fragrant, soft, dark-eyed, graceful, looking up at him. Why! She cared
nothing for him, really; all she cared for was that lost lover of hers.
But she was there, whether she would or no, giving him pleasure with her
beauty and grace. One had no right to inflict an old man’s company, no
right to ask her down to play to him and let him look at her--for no
reward! Pleasure must be paid for in this world. ‘How much?’ After all,
there was plenty; his son and his three grandchildren would never miss
that little lump. He had made it himself, nearly every penny; he could
leave it where he liked, allow himself this little pleasure. He went
back to the bureau. ‘Well, I’m going to,’ he thought, ‘let them think
what they like. I’m going to!’ And he sat down.

’.ow much?’ Ten thousand, twenty thousand--how much? If only with his
money he could buy one year, one month of youth. And startled by that
thought, he wrote quickly:

’.EAR HERRING,--Draw me a codicil to this effect: “I leave to my niece
Irene Forsyte, born Irene Heron, by which name she now goes, fifteen
thousand pounds free of legacy duty.” ‘Yours faithfully, ‘JOLYON
FORSYTE.’

When he had sealed and stamped the envelope, he went back to the window
and drew in a long breath. It was dark, but many stars shone now.



IV

He woke at half-past two, an hour which long experience had taught him
brings panic intensity to all awkward thoughts. Experience had also
taught him that a further waking at the proper hour of eight showed
the folly of such panic. On this particular morning the thought which
gathered rapid momentum was that if he became ill, at his age not
improbable, he would not see her. From this it was but a step to
realisation that he would be cut off, too, when his son and June
returned from Spain. How could he justify desire for the company of one
who had stolen--early morning does not mince words--June’s lover? That
lover was dead; but June was a stubborn little thing; warm-hearted, but
stubborn as wood, and--quite true--not one who forgot! By the middle of
next month they would be back. He had barely five weeks left to enjoy
the new interest which had come into what remained of his life. Darkness
showed up to him absurdly clear the nature of his feeling. Admiration
for beauty--a craving to see that which delighted his eyes.

Preposterous, at his age! And yet--what other reason was there for
asking June to undergo such painful reminder, and how prevent his son
and his son’s wife from thinking him very queer? He would be reduced
to sneaking up to London, which tired him; and the least indisposition
would cut him off even from that. He lay with eyes open, setting his jaw
against the prospect, and calling himself an old fool, while his heart
beat loudly, and then seemed to stop beating altogether. He had seen the
dawn lighting the window chinks, heard the birds chirp and twitter, and
the cocks crow, before he fell asleep again, and awoke tired but sane.
Five weeks before he need bother, at his age an eternity! But that early
morning panic had left its mark, had slightly fevered the will of one
who had always had his own way. He would see her as often as he wished!
Why not go up to town and make that codicil at his solicitor’s instead
of writing about it; she might like to go to the opera! But, by train,
for he would not have that fat chap Beacon grinning behind his back.
Servants were such fools; and, as likely as not, they had known all the
past history of Irene and young Bosinney--servants knew everything, and
suspected the rest. He wrote to her that morning:

“MY DEAR IRENE,--I have to be up in town to-morrow. If you would like to
have a look in at the opera, come and dine with me quietly ....”

But where? It was decades since he had dined anywhere in London save
at his Club or at a private house. Ah! that new-fangled place close to
Covent Garden....


“Let me have a line to-morrow morning to the Piedmont Hotel whether to
expect you there at 7 o’clock.”

“Yours affectionately,

“JOLYON FORSYTE.”


She would understand that he just wanted to give her a little pleasure;
for the idea that she should guess he had this itch to see her was
instinctively unpleasant to him; it was not seemly that one so old
should go out of his way to see beauty, especially in a woman.

The journey next day, short though it was, and the visit to his
lawyer’s, tired him. It was hot too, and after dressing for dinner he
lay down on the sofa in his bedroom to rest a little. He must have had
a sort of fainting fit, for he came to himself feeling very queer; and
with some difficulty rose and rang the bell. Why! it was past seven! And
there he was and she would be waiting. But suddenly the dizziness came
on again, and he was obliged to relapse on the sofa. He heard the maid’s
voice say:

“Did you ring, sir?”

“Yes, come here”; he could not see her clearly, for the cloud in front
of his eyes. “I’m not well, I want some sal volatile.”

“Yes, sir.” Her voice sounded frightened.

Old Jolyon made an effort.

“Don’t go. Take this message to my niece--a lady waiting in the hall--a
lady in grey. Say Mr. Forsyte is not well--the heat. He is very sorry;
if he is not down directly, she is not to wait dinner.”

When she was gone, he thought feebly: ‘Why did I say a lady in grey--she
may be in anything. Sal volatile!’ He did not go off again, yet was not
conscious of how Irene came to be standing beside him, holding smelling
salts to his nose, and pushing a pillow up behind his head. He heard her
say anxiously: “Dear Uncle Jolyon, what is it?” was dimly conscious of
the soft pressure of her lips on his hand; then drew a long breath of
smelling salts, suddenly discovered strength in them, and sneezed.

“Ha!” he said, “it’s nothing. How did you get here? Go down and
dine--the tickets are on the dressing-table. I shall be all right in a
minute.”

He felt her cool hand on his forehead, smelled violets, and sat divided
between a sort of pleasure and a determination to be all right.

“Why! You are in grey!” he said. “Help me up.” Once on his feet he gave
himself a shake.

“What business had I to go off like that!” And he moved very slowly to
the glass. What a cadaverous chap! Her voice, behind him, murmured:

“You mustn’t come down, Uncle; you must rest.”

“Fiddlesticks! A glass of champagne’ll soon set me to rights. I can’t
have you missing the opera.”

But the journey down the corridor was troublesome. What carpets they
had in these newfangled places, so thick that you tripped up in them at
every step! In the lift he noticed how concerned she looked, and said
with the ghost of a twinkle:

“I’m a pretty host.”

When the lift stopped he had to hold firmly to the seat to prevent its
slipping under him; but after soup and a glass of champagne he felt
much better, and began to enjoy an infirmity which had brought such
solicitude into her manner towards him.

“I should have liked you for a daughter,” he said suddenly; and watching
the smile in her eyes, went on:

“You mustn’t get wrapped up in the past at your time of life; plenty of
that when you get to my age. That’s a nice dress--I like the style.”

“I made it myself.”

Ah! A woman who could make herself a pretty frock had not lost her
interest in life.

“Make hay while the sun shines,” he said; “and drink that up. I want to
see some colour in your cheeks. We mustn’t waste life; it doesn’t do.
There’s a new Marguerite to-night; let’s hope she won’t be fat. And
Mephisto--anything more dreadful than a fat chap playing the Devil I
can’t imagine.”

But they did not go to the opera after all, for in getting up from
dinner the dizziness came over him again, and she insisted on his
staying quiet and going to bed early. When he parted from her at the
door of the hotel, having paid the cabman to drive her to Chelsea, he
sat down again for a moment to enjoy the memory of her words: “You are
such a darling to me, Uncle Jolyon!” Why! Who wouldn’t be! He would
have liked to stay up another day and take her to the Zoo, but two
days running of him would bore her to death. No, he must wait till next
Sunday; she had promised to come then. They would settle those lessons
for Holly, if only for a month. It would be something. That little
Mam’zelle Beauce wouldn’t like it, but she would have to lump it. And
crushing his old opera hat against his chest he sought the lift.

He drove to Waterloo next morning, struggling with a desire to say:
’.rive me to Chelsea.’ But his sense of proportion was too strong.
Besides, he still felt shaky, and did not want to risk another
aberration like that of last night, away from home. Holly, too, was
expecting him, and what he had in his bag for her. Not that there was
any cupboard love in his little sweet--she was a bundle of affection.
Then, with the rather bitter cynicism of the old, he wondered for a
second whether it was not cupboard love which made Irene put up with
him. No, she was not that sort either. She had, if anything, too little
notion of how to butter her bread, no sense of property, poor thing!
Besides, he had not breathed a word about that codicil, nor should
he--sufficient unto the day was the good thereof.

In the victoria which met him at the station Holly was restraining the
dog Balthasar, and their caresses made ‘jubey’ his drive home. All
the rest of that fine hot day and most of the next he was content and
peaceful, reposing in the shade, while the long lingering sunshine
showered gold on the lawns and the flowers. But on Thursday evening at
his lonely dinner he began to count the hours; sixty-five till he would
go down to meet her again in the little coppice, and walk up through
the fields at her side. He had intended to consult the doctor about
his fainting fit, but the fellow would be sure to insist on quiet, no
excitement and all that; and he did not mean to be tied by the leg, did
not want to be told of an infirmity--if there were one, could not afford
to hear of it at his time of life, now that this new interest had come.
And he carefully avoided making any mention of it in a letter to his
son. It would only bring them back with a run! How far this silence was
due to consideration for their pleasure, how far to regard for his own,
he did not pause to consider.

That night in his study he had just finished his cigar and was dozing
off, when he heard the rustle of a gown, and was conscious of a scent of
violets. Opening his eyes he saw her, dressed in grey, standing by the
fireplace, holding out her arms. The odd thing was that, though those
arms seemed to hold nothing, they were curved as if round someone’s
neck, and her own neck was bent back, her lips open, her eyes closed.
She vanished at once, and there were the mantelpiece and his bronzes.
But those bronzes and the mantelpiece had not been there when she was,
only the fireplace and the wall! Shaken and troubled, he got up. ‘I must
take medicine,’ he thought; ‘I can’t be well.’ His heart beat too fast,
he had an asthmatic feeling in the chest; and going to the window, he
opened it to get some air. A dog was barking far away, one of the dogs
at Gage’s farm no doubt, beyond the coppice. A beautiful still night,
but dark. ‘I dropped off,’ he mused, ‘that’s it! And yet I’ll swear my
eyes were open!’ A sound like a sigh seemed to answer.

“What’s that?” he said sharply, “who’s there?”

Putting his hand to his side to still the beating of his heart, he
stepped out on the terrace. Something soft scurried by in the dark.
“Shoo!” It was that great grey cat. ‘Young Bosinney was like a great
cat!’ he thought. ‘It was him in there, that she--that she was--He’s got
her still!’ He walked to the edge of the terrace, and looked down into
the darkness; he could just see the powdering of the daisies on the
unmown lawn. Here to-day and gone to-morrow! And there came the moon,
who saw all, young and old, alive and dead, and didn’t care a dump! His
own turn soon. For a single day of youth he would give what was left!
And he turned again towards the house. He could see the windows of the
night nursery up there. His little sweet would be asleep. ‘Hope that
dog won’t wake her!’ he thought. ‘What is it makes us love, and makes us
die! I must go to bed.’

And across the terrace stones, growing grey in the moonlight, he passed
back within.

How should an old man live his days if not in dreaming of his well-spent
past? In that, at all events, there is no agitating warmth, only pale
winter sunshine. The shell can withstand the gentle beating of the
dynamos of memory. The present he should distrust; the future shun. From
beneath thick shade he should watch the sunlight creeping at his toes.
If there be sun of summer, let him not go out into it, mistaking it
for the Indian-summer sun! Thus peradventure he shall decline softly,
slowly, imperceptibly, until impatient Nature clutches his wind-pipe and
he gasps away to death some early morning before the world is aired,
and they put on his tombstone: ‘In the fulness of years!’ yea! If he
preserve his principles in perfect order, a Forsyte may live on long
after he is dead.

Old Jolyon was conscious of all this, and yet there was in him that
which transcended Forsyteism. For it is written that a Forsyte shall not
love beauty more than reason; nor his own way more than his own health.
And something beat within him in these days that with each throb fretted
at the thinning shell. His sagacity knew this, but it knew too that he
could not stop that beating, nor would if he could. And yet, if you had
told him he was living on his capital, he would have stared you
down. No, no; a man did not live on his capital; it was not done! The
shibboleths of the past are ever more real than the actualities of
the present. And he, to whom living on one’s capital had always been
anathema, could not have borne to have applied so gross a phrase to his
own case. Pleasure is healthful; beauty good to see; to live again in
the youth of the young--and what else on earth was he doing!

Methodically, as had been the way of his whole life, he now arranged his
time. On Tuesdays he journeyed up to town by train; Irene came and dined
with him. And they went to the opera. On Thursdays he drove to town,
and, putting that fat chap and his horses up, met her in Kensington
Gardens, picking up the carriage after he had left her, and driving home
again in time for dinner. He threw out the casual formula that he had
business in London on those two days. On Wednesdays and Saturdays she
came down to give Holly music lessons. The greater the pleasure he
took in her society, the more scrupulously fastidious he became, just a
matter-of-fact and friendly uncle. Not even in feeling, really, was he
more--for, after all, there was his age. And yet, if she were late he
fidgeted himself to death. If she missed coming, which happened twice,
his eyes grew sad as an old dog’s, and he failed to sleep.

And so a month went by--a month of summer in the fields, and in his
heart, with summer’s heat and the fatigue thereof. Who could have
believed a few weeks back that he would have looked forward to his son’s
and his grand-daughter’s return with something like dread! There was
such a delicious freedom, such recovery of that independence a man
enjoys before he founds a family, about these weeks of lovely weather,
and this new companionship with one who demanded nothing, and remained
always a little unknown, retaining the fascination of mystery. It was
like a draught of wine to him who has been drinking water for so long
that he has almost forgotten the stir wine brings to his blood, the
narcotic to his brain. The flowers were coloured brighter, scents and
music and the sunlight had a living value--were no longer mere reminders
of past enjoyment. There was something now to live for which stirred him
continually to anticipation. He lived in that, not in retrospection;
the difference is considerable to any so old as he. The pleasures of the
table, never of much consequence to one naturally abstemious, had lost
all value. He ate little, without knowing what he ate; and every day
grew thinner and more worn to look at. He was again a ‘threadpaper’. and
to this thinned form his massive forehead, with hollows at the temples,
gave more dignity than ever. He was very well aware that he ought to see
the doctor, but liberty was too sweet. He could not afford to pet his
frequent shortness of breath and the pain in his side at the expense
of liberty. Return to the vegetable existence he had led among the
agricultural journals with the life-size mangold wurzels, before this
new attraction came into his life--no! He exceeded his allowance of
cigars. Two a day had always been his rule. Now he smoked three and
sometimes four--a man will when he is filled with the creative spirit.
But very often he thought: ‘I must give up smoking, and coffee; I must
give up rattling up to town.’ But he did not; there was no one in any
sort of authority to notice him, and this was a priceless boon.

The servants perhaps wondered, but they were, naturally, dumb. Mam’zelle
Beauce was too concerned with her own digestion, and too ‘wellbrrred’
to make personal allusions. Holly had not as yet an eye for the relative
appearance of him who was her plaything and her god. It was left for
Irene herself to beg him to eat more, to rest in the hot part of the
day, to take a tonic, and so forth. But she did not tell him that she
was the a cause of his thinness--for one cannot see the havoc oneself
is working. A man of eighty-five has no passions, but the Beauty which
produces passion works on in the old way, till death closes the eyes
which crave the sight of Her.

On the first day of the second week in July he received a letter from
his son in Paris to say that they would all be back on Friday. This had
always been more sure than Fate; but, with the pathetic improvidence
given to the old, that they may endure to the end, he had never quite
admitted it. Now he did, and something would have to be done. He had
ceased to be able to imagine life without this new interest, but that
which is not imagined sometimes exists, as Forsytes are perpetually
finding to their cost. He sat in his old leather chair, doubling up the
letter, and mumbling with his lips the end of an unlighted cigar. After
to-morrow his Tuesday expeditions to town would have to be abandoned. He
could still drive up, perhaps, once a week, on the pretext of seeing his
man of business. But even that would be dependent on his health, for now
they would begin to fuss about him. The lessons! The lessons must go on!
She must swallow down her scruples, and June must put her feelings
in her pocket. She had done so once, on the day after the news of
Bosinney’s death; what she had done then, she could surely do again now.
Four years since that injury was inflicted on her--not Christian to
keep the memory of old sores alive. June’s will was strong, but his was
stronger, for his sands were running out. Irene was soft, surely she
would do this for him, subdue her natural shrinking, sooner than give
him pain! The lessons must continue; for if they did, he was secure. And
lighting his cigar at last, he began trying to shape out how to put it
to them all, and explain this strange intimacy; how to veil and wrap it
away from the naked truth--that he could not bear to be deprived of
the sight of beauty. Ah! Holly! Holly was fond of her, Holly liked
her lessons. She would save him--his little sweet! And with that happy
thought he became serene, and wondered what he had been worrying about
so fearfully. He must not worry, it left him always curiously weak, and
as if but half present in his own body.

That evening after dinner he had a return of the dizziness, though he
did not faint. He would not ring the bell, because he knew it would mean
a fuss, and make his going up on the morrow more conspicuous. When one
grew old, the whole world was in conspiracy to limit freedom, and for
what reason?--just to keep the breath in him a little longer. He did
not want it at such cost. Only the dog Balthasar saw his lonely recovery
from that weakness; anxiously watched his master go to the sideboard
and drink some brandy, instead of giving him a biscuit. When at last
old Jolyon felt able to tackle the stairs he went up to bed. And, though
still shaky next morning, the thought of the evening sustained and
strengthened him. It was always such a pleasure to give her a good
dinner--he suspected her of undereating when she was alone; and, at the
opera to watch her eyes glow and brighten, the unconscious smiling of
her lips. She hadn’t much pleasure, and this was the last time he would
be able to give her that treat. But when he was packing his bag he
caught himself wishing that he had not the fatigue of dressing for
dinner before him, and the exertion, too, of telling her about June’s
return.

The opera that evening was ‘Carmen,’ and he chose the last entr’acte to
break the news, instinctively putting it off till the latest moment.

She took it quietly, queerly; in fact, he did not know how she had
taken it before the wayward music lifted up again and silence became
necessary. The mask was down over her face, that mask behind which so
much went on that he could not see. She wanted time to think it over,
no doubt! He would not press her, for she would be coming to give her
lesson to-morrow afternoon, and he should see her then when she had got
used to the idea. In the cab he talked only of the Carmen; he had seen
better in the old days, but this one was not bad at all. When he took
her hand to say good-night, she bent quickly forward and kissed his
forehead.

“Good-bye, dear Uncle Jolyon, you have been so sweet to me.”

“To-morrow then,” he said. “Good-night. Sleep well.” She echoed softly:
“Sleep well” and from the cab window, already moving away, he saw her
face screwed round towards him, and her hand put out in a gesture which
seemed to linger.

He sought his room slowly. They never gave him the same, and he could
not get used to these ‘spick-and-spandy’ bedrooms with new furniture and
grey-green carpets sprinkled all over with pink roses. He was wakeful
and that wretched Habanera kept throbbing in his head.

His French had never been equal to its words, but its sense he knew, if
it had any sense, a gipsy thing--wild and unaccountable. Well, there was
in life something which upset all your care and plans--something which
made men and women dance to its pipes. And he lay staring from deep-sunk
eyes into the darkness where the unaccountable held sway. You thought
you had hold of life, but it slipped away behind you, took you by the
scruff of the neck, forced you here and forced you there, and then,
likely as not, squeezed life out of you! It took the very stars like
that, he shouldn’t wonder, rubbed their noses together and flung them
apart; it had never done playing its pranks. Five million people in
this great blunderbuss of a town, and all of them at the mercy of that
Life-Force, like a lot of little dried peas hopping about on a board
when you struck your fist on it. Ah, well! Himself would not hop much
longer--a good long sleep would do him good!

How hot it was up here!--how noisy! His forehead burned; she had kissed
it just where he always worried; just there--as if she had known the
very place and wanted to kiss it all away for him. But, instead, her
lips left a patch of grievous uneasiness. She had never spoken in quite
that voice, had never before made that lingering gesture or looked back
at him as she drove away.

He got out of bed and pulled the curtains aside; his room faced down
over the river. There was little air, but the sight of that breadth
of water flowing by, calm, eternal, soothed him. ‘The great thing,’
he thought ‘is not to make myself a nuisance. I’ll think of my little
sweet, and go to sleep.’ But it was long before the heat and throbbing
of the London night died out into the short slumber of the summer
morning. And old Jolyon had but forty winks.

When he reached home next day he went out to the flower garden, and with
the help of Holly, who was very delicate with flowers, gathered a great
bunch of carnations. They were, he told her, for ‘the lady in grey’--a
name still bandied between them; and he put them in a bowl in his study
where he meant to tackle Irene the moment she came, on the subject of
June and future lessons. Their fragrance and colour would help. After
lunch he lay down, for he felt very tired, and the carriage would not
bring her from the station till four o’clock. But as the hour approached
he grew restless, and sought the schoolroom, which overlooked the drive.
The sun-blinds were down, and Holly was there with Mademoiselle Beauce,
sheltered from the heat of a stifling July day, attending to their
silkworms. Old Jolyon had a natural antipathy to these methodical
creatures, whose heads and colour reminded him of elephants; who nibbled
such quantities of holes in nice green leaves; and smelled, as he
thought, horrid. He sat down on a chintz-covered windowseat whence he
could see the drive, and get what air there was; and the dog Balthasar
who appreciated chintz on hot days, jumped up beside him. Over the
cottage piano a violet dust-sheet, faded almost to grey, was spread, and
on it the first lavender, whose scent filled the room. In spite of
the coolness here, perhaps because of that coolness the beat of life
vehemently impressed his ebbed-down senses. Each sunbeam which came
through the chinks had annoying brilliance; that dog smelled very
strong; the lavender perfume was overpowering; those silkworms heaving
up their grey-green backs seemed horribly alive; and Holly’s dark head
bent over them had a wonderfully silky sheen. A marvellous cruelly
strong thing was life when you were old and weak; it seemed to mock you
with its multitude of forms and its beating vitality. He had never, till
those last few weeks, had this curious feeling of being with one half of
him eagerly borne along in the stream of life, and with the other half
left on the bank, watching that helpless progress. Only when Irene was
with him did he lose this double consciousness.

Holly turned her head, pointed with her little brown fist to the
piano--for to point with a finger was not ‘well-brrred’--and said slyly:

“Look at the ‘lady in grey,’ Gran; isn’t she pretty to-day?”

Old Jolyon’s heart gave a flutter, and for a second the room was
clouded; then it cleared, and he said with a twinkle:

“Who’s been dressing her up?”

“Mam’zelle.”

“Hollee! Don’t be foolish!”

That prim little Frenchwoman! She hadn’t yet got over the music lessons
being taken away from her. That wouldn’t help. His little sweet was
the only friend they had. Well, they were her lessons. And he shouldn’t
budge shouldn’t budge for anything. He stroked the warm wool on
Balthasar’s head, and heard Holly say: “When mother’s home, there won’t
be any changes, will there? She doesn’t like strangers, you know.”

The child’s words seemed to bring the chilly atmosphere of opposition
about old Jolyon, and disclose all the menace to his new-found freedom.
Ah! He would have to resign himself to being an old man at the mercy of
care and love, or fight to keep this new and prized companionship;
and to fight tired him to death. But his thin, worn face hardened into
resolution till it appeared all Jaw. This was his house, and his affair;
he should not budge! He looked at his watch, old and thin like himself;
he had owned it fifty years. Past four already! And kissing the top of
Holly’s head in passing, he went down to the hall. He wanted to get
hold of her before she went up to give her lesson. At the first sound of
wheels he stepped out into the porch, and saw at once that the victoria
was empty.

“The train’s in, sir; but the lady ‘asn’t come.”

Old Jolyon gave him a sharp upward look, his eyes seemed to push away
that fat chap’s curiosity, and defy him to see the bitter disappointment
he was feeling.

“Very well,” he said, and turned back into the house. He went to his
study and sat down, quivering like a leaf. What did this mean? She might
have lost her train, but he knew well enough she hadn’t. ‘Good-bye, dear
Uncle Jolyon.’ Why ‘Good-bye’ and not ‘Good-night’. And that hand of
hers lingering in the air. And her kiss. What did it mean? Vehement
alarm and irritation took possession of him. He got up and began to pace
the Turkey carpet, between window and wall. She was going to give him
up! He felt it for certain--and he defenceless. An old man wanting to
look on beauty! It was ridiculous! Age closed his mouth, paralysed his
power to fight. He had no right to what was warm and living, no right to
anything but memories and sorrow. He could not plead with her; even
an old man has his dignity. Defenceless! For an hour, lost to bodily
fatigue, he paced up and down, past the bowl of carnations he had
plucked, which mocked him with its scent. Of all things hard to bear,
the prostration of will-power is hardest, for one who has always had his
way. Nature had got him in its net, and like an unhappy fish he turned
and swam at the meshes, here and there, found no hole, no breaking
point. They brought him tea at five o’clock, and a letter. For a moment
hope beat up in him. He cut the envelope with the butter knife, and
read:

“DEAREST UNCLE JOLYON,--I can’t bear to write anything that may
disappoint you, but I was too cowardly to tell you last night. I feel I
can’t come down and give Holly any more lessons, now that June is coming
back. Some things go too deep to be forgotten. It has been such a joy to
see you and Holly. Perhaps I shall still see you sometimes when you
come up, though I’m sure it’s not good for you; I can see you are tiring
yourself too much. I believe you ought to rest quite quietly all this
hot weather, and now you have your son and June coming back you will be
so happy. Thank you a million times for all your sweetness to me.

“Lovingly your IRENE.”

So, there it was! Not good for him to have pleasure and what he chiefly
cared about; to try and put off feeling the inevitable end of all
things, the approach of death with its stealthy, rustling footsteps.
Not good for him! Not even she could see how she was his new lease of
interest in life, the incarnation of all the beauty he felt slipping
from him.

His tea grew cold, his cigar remained unlit; and up and down he paced,
torn between his dignity and his hold on life. Intolerable to be
squeezed out slowly, without a say of your own, to live on when your
will was in the hands of others bent on weighing you to the ground with
care and love. Intolerable! He would see what telling her the truth
would do--the truth that he wanted the sight of her more than just a
lingering on. He sat down at his old bureau and took a pen. But he could
not write. There was something revolting in having to plead like this;
plead that she should warm his eyes with her beauty. It was tantamount
to confessing dotage. He simply could not. And instead, he wrote:


“I had hoped that the memory of old sores would not be allowed to
stand in the way of what is a pleasure and a profit to me and my little
grand-daughter. But old men learn to forego their whims; they are
obliged to, even the whim to live must be foregone sooner or later; and
perhaps the sooner the better.

“My love to you,

“JOLYON FORSYTE.”


’.itter,’ he thought, ‘but I can’t help it. I’m tired.’ He sealed and
dropped it into the box for the evening post, and hearing it fall to the
bottom, thought: ‘There goes all I’ve looked forward to!’

That evening after dinner which he scarcely touched, after his cigar
which he left half-smoked for it made him feel faint, he went very
slowly upstairs and stole into the night-nursery. He sat down on the
window-seat. A night-light was burning, and he could just see Holly’s
face, with one hand underneath the cheek. An early cockchafer buzzed in
the Japanese paper with which they had filled the grate, and one of the
horses in the stable stamped restlessly. To sleep like that child! He
pressed apart two rungs of the venetian blind and looked out. The moon
was rising, blood-red. He had never seen so red a moon. The woods and
fields out there were dropping to sleep too, in the last glimmer of the
summer light. And beauty, like a spirit, walked. ‘I’ve had a long life,’
he thought, ‘the best of nearly everything. I’m an ungrateful chap; I’ve
seen a lot of beauty in my time. Poor young Bosinney said I had a sense
of beauty. There’s a man in the moon to-night!’ A moth went by, another,
another. ‘Ladies in grey!’ He closed his eyes. A feeling that he would
never open them again beset him; he let it grow, let himself sink; then,
with a shiver, dragged the lids up. There was something wrong with him,
no doubt, deeply wrong; he would have to have the doctor after all.
It didn’t much matter now! Into that coppice the moon-light would have
crept; there would be shadows, and those shadows would be the
only things awake. No birds, beasts, flowers, insects; Just the
shadows--moving; ‘Ladies in grey!’ Over that log they would climb; would
whisper together. She and Bosinney! Funny thought! And the frogs and
little things would whisper too! How the clock ticked, in here! It was
all eerie--out there in the light of that red moon; in here with
the little steady night-light and, the ticking clock and the nurse’s
dressing-gown hanging from the edge of the screen, tall, like a woman’s
figure. ‘Lady in grey!’ And a very odd thought beset him: Did she exist?
Had she ever come at all? Or was she but the emanation of all the beauty
he had loved and must leave so soon? The violet-grey spirit with the
dark eyes and the crown of amber hair, who walks the dawn and the
moonlight, and at blue-bell time? What was she, who was she, did she
exist? He rose and stood a moment clutching the window-sill, to give
him a sense of reality again; then began tiptoeing towards the door. He
stopped at the foot of the bed; and Holly, as if conscious of his eyes
fixed on her, stirred, sighed, and curled up closer in defence. He
tiptoed on and passed out into the dark passage; reached his room,
undressed at once, and stood before a mirror in his night-shirt. What a
scarecrow--with temples fallen in, and thin legs! His eyes resisted his
own image, and a look of pride came on his face. All was in league
to pull him down, even his reflection in the glass, but he was not
down--yet! He got into bed, and lay a long time without sleeping,
trying to reach resignation, only too well aware that fretting and
disappointment were very bad for him.

He woke in the morning so unrefreshed and strengthless that he sent for
the doctor. After sounding him, the fellow pulled a face as long as your
arm, and ordered him to stay in bed and give up smoking. That was no
hardship; there was nothing to get up for, and when he felt ill,
tobacco always lost its savour. He spent the morning languidly with the
sun-blinds down, turning and re-turning The Times, not reading much, the
dog Balthasar lying beside his bed. With his lunch they brought him a
telegram, running thus:

’.our letter received coming down this afternoon will be with you at
four-thirty. Irene.’

Coming down! After all! Then she did exist--and he was not deserted.
Coming down! A glow ran through his limbs; his cheeks and forehead felt
hot. He drank his soup, and pushed the tray-table away, lying very quiet
until they had removed lunch and left him alone; but every now and then
his eyes twinkled. Coming down! His heart beat fast, and then did
not seem to beat at all. At three o’clock he got up and dressed
deliberately, noiselessly. Holly and Mam’zelle would be in the
schoolroom, and the servants asleep after their dinner, he shouldn’t
wonder. He opened his door cautiously, and went downstairs. In the hall
the dog Balthasar lay solitary, and, followed by him, old Jolyon passed
into his study and out into the burning afternoon. He meant to go down
and meet her in the coppice, but felt at once he could not manage that
in this heat. He sat down instead under the oak tree by the swing, and
the dog Balthasar, who also felt the heat, lay down beside him. He sat
there smiling. What a revel of bright minutes! What a hum of insects,
and cooing of pigeons! It was the quintessence of a summer day. Lovely!
And he was happy--happy as a sand-boy, whatever that might be. She
was coming; she had not given him up! He had everything in life he
wanted--except a little more breath, and less weight--just here! He
would see her when she emerged from the fernery, come swaying just a
little, a violet-grey figure passing over the daisies and dandelions and
’.oldiers’ on the lawn--the soldiers with their flowery crowns. He would
not move, but she would come up to him and say: ‘Dear Uncle Jolyon, I am
sorry!’ and sit in the swing and let him look at her and tell her that
he had not been very well but was all right now; and that dog would lick
her hand. That dog knew his master was fond of her; that dog was a good
dog.

It was quite shady under the tree; the sun could not get at him, only
make the rest of the world bright so that he could see the Grand Stand
at Epsom away out there, very far, and the cows cropping the clover in
the field and swishing at the flies with their tails. He smelled the
scent of limes, and lavender. Ah! that was why there was such a racket
of bees. They were excited--busy, as his heart was busy and excited.
Drowsy, too, drowsy and drugged on honey and happiness; as his heart was
drugged and drowsy. Summer--summer--they seemed saying; great bees and
little bees, and the flies too!

The stable clock struck four; in half an hour she would be here. He
would have just one tiny nap, because he had had so little sleep of
late; and then he would be fresh for her, fresh for youth and beauty,
coming towards him across the sunlit lawn--lady in grey! And settling
back in his chair he closed his eyes. Some thistle-down came on what
little air there was, and pitched on his moustache more white than
itself. He did not know; but his breathing stirred it, caught there.
A ray of sunlight struck through and lodged on his boot. A bumble-bee
alighted and strolled on the crown of his Panama hat. And the delicious
surge of slumber reached the brain beneath that hat, and the head swayed
forward and rested on his breast. Summer--summer! So went the hum.

The stable clock struck the quarter past. The dog Balthasar stretched
and looked up at his master. The thistledown no longer moved. The dog
placed his chin over the sunlit foot. It did not stir. The dog withdrew
his chin quickly, rose, and leaped on old Jolyon’s lap, looked in his
face, whined; then, leaping down, sat on his haunches, gazing up. And
suddenly he uttered a long, long howl.

But the thistledown was still as death, and the face of his old master.

Summer--summer--summer! The soundless footsteps on the grass!

1917





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