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Title: Wood and Stone - A Romance
Author: Powys, John Cowper
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            WOOD AND STONE



                               BOOKS BY
                           JOHN COWPER POWYS

                 THE WAR AND CULTURE, 1914        $ .60
                 VISIONS AND REVISIONS, 1915      $2.00

                      PUBLISHED BY G. ARNOLD SHAW
                   GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL, NEW YORK



                            WOOD AND STONE

                               A ROMANCE

                                  BY
                           JOHN COWPER POWYS

                 Licuit, semperque licebit
                 Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis.

                            [Illustration]

                                 1915
                            G. ARNOLD SHAW
                               NEW YORK

                            COPYRIGHT, 1915
                           BY G. ARNOLD SHAW

                      COPYRIGHT IN GREAT BRITAIN
                             AND COLONIES



                               DEDICATED

                        WITH DEVOTED ADMIRATION
                   TO THE GREATEST POET AND NOVELIST
                              OF OUR AGE

                             THOMAS HARDY



PREFACE


The following narrative gathers itself round what is, perhaps, one
of the most absorbing and difficult problems of our age; the problem
namely of getting to the bottom of that world-old struggle between the
“well-constituted” and the “ill-constituted,” which the writings of
Nietzsche have recently called so startlingly to our attention.

Is there such a thing at all as Nietzsche’s born and trained
aristocracy? In other words, is the secret of the universe to be
reached only along the lines of Power, Courage, and Pride? Or,--on
the contrary,--is the hidden and basic law of things, not Power but
Sacrifice, not Pride but Love?

Granting, for the moment, that this latter alternative is the true one,
what becomes of the drastic distinction between “well-constituted” and
“ill-constituted”?

In a universe whose secret is not self-assertion, but self-abandonment,
might not the “well-constituted” be regarded as the vanquished, and
the “ill-constituted” as the victors? In other words, who, in such a
universe, _are_ the “well-constituted”?

But the difficulty does not end here. Supposing we rule out of our
calculation both of these antipodal possibilities,--both the universe
whose inner fatality is the striving towards Power, and the universe
whose inner fatality is the striving towards Love,--will there not be
found to remain two other rational hypotheses, either, namely, that
there is no inner fatality about it at all, that the whole thing is a
blind, fantastic, chance-drifting chaos; or that the true secret lies
in some subtle and difficult reconciliation, between the will to Power
and the will to Love?

The present chronicle is an attempt to give an answer, inevitably a
very tentative one, to this formidable question; the writer, feeling
that, as in all these matters, where the elusiveness of human nature
plays so prominent a part, there is more hope of approaching the
truth, indirectly, and by means of the imaginative mirror of art, than
directly, and by means of rational theorizing.

The whole question is indeed so intimately associated with the actual
panorama of life and the evasive caprices of flesh and blood, that
every kind of drastic and clinching formula breaks down under its
pressure.

Art, alone,--that mysterious daughter of Life,--has the secret of
following the incalculable movements of the Force to which she is so
near akin. A story which grossly points its moral with fixed indicative
finger is a story which, in the very strain of that premature
articulation, has lost the magic of its probability. The secret of our
days flies from our attempts at making it fit such clumsy categories,
and the maddening flavour of the cosmic cup refuses to be imprisoned in
any laboratory.

At this particular moment in the history of our planet it is above
all important to protest against this prostituting of art to
pseudo-science. It must not be allowed to these hasty philosophical
conclusions and spasmodic ethical systems, to block up and close in, as
they are so ready to do, the large free horizons of humour and poetry.
The magic of the World, mocking both our gravity and our flippancy,
withdraws itself from our shrewd rationalizations, only to take refuge
all the deeper in our intrinsic and evasive hearts.

In this story the author has been led to interest himself in the
curious labyrinthine subtleties which mark the difference,--a
difference to be observed in actual life, quite apart from moral
values,--between the type of person who might be regarded as born
to rule, and the type of person who might be regarded as born to be
ruled over. The grand Nietzschean distinction is, in a sense, rejected
here upon its own ground, a ground often inconsequently deserted by
those who make it their business to condemn it. Such persons are apt
to forget that the whole assumption of this distinction lies in a
substitution of _æsthetic_ values, for the values more commonly applied.

The pivotal point of the ensuing narrative might be described as an
attempt to suggest, granting such an æsthetic test, that the hearts of
“ill-constituted” persons,--the hearts of slaves, Pariahs, cowards,
outcasts, and other victims of fate,--may be at least as _interesting_,
in their bizarre convolutions, as the hearts of the bravest and gayest
among us. And _interest_, after all, is the supreme exigency of the
æsthetic sense!

In order to thrust back from its free horizons these invasions of its
prerogatives by alien powers, Art must prove itself able to evoke the
very tang and salt and bitter-sweetness of the actual pell-mell of
life--its unfolding spaces, its shell-strewn depths. She must defend
herself from those insidious traitors in her own camp who would betray
her into the hands of the system-makers, by proving that she can
approach nearer to the magic of the world, without a system, than all
these are able to do, with all of theirs! She must keep the horizons
open--that must be her main concern. She must hold fast to poetry and
humour, and about her creations there must be a certain spirit of
_liberation_, and the presence of large tolerant after-thoughts.

The curious thing about so many modern writers is, that in their
earnest preoccupation with philosophical and social problems, they grow
strained and thin and sententious, losing the mass and volume, as well
as the elusive-blown airs, of the flowing tide. On the other hand there
is an irritating tendency, among some of the cleverest, to recover
their lost balance after these dogmatic speculations, by foolish
indulgence in sheer burlesque--burlesque which is the antithesis of all
true humour.

Heaven help us! It is easy enough to criticize the lath and plaster
which, in so many books, takes the place of flesh and blood. It is less
easy to catch, for oneself, the breath of the ineffable spirit!

Perhaps the deplorable thinness and sententiousness, to which reference
has been made, may be due to the fact that in the excitement of modern
controversy, our enterprising writers have no time to read. It is a
strange thing, but one really feels as though, among all modern English
authors, the only one who brings with him an atmosphere of the large
mellow leisurely humanists of the past,--of the true classics, in
fact,--is Mr. Thomas Hardy.

It is for this reason, for the reason that with this great genius, life
is approached in the old ample ironic way, that the narrator of the
following tale has taken the liberty of putting Mr. Hardy’s name upon
his title-page. In any case mere courtesy and decency called for such
a recognition. One could hardly have the audacity to plant one’s poor
standard in the heart of Wessex without obeisance being paid to the
literary over-lord of that suggestive region.

It must be understood, however, that the temerity of the author does
not carry him so far as to regard his eccentric story as in any sense
an attempted imitation of the Wessex novelist. Mr. Hardy cannot be
imitated. The mention of his admirable name at the beginning of this
book is no more than a humble salutation addressed to the monarch of
that particular country, by a wayward nomad, lighting a bivouac-fire,
for a brief moment, in the heart of a land that is not his.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                PAGE
         I. LEO’S HILL                        1
        II. NEVILTON                          9
       III. OLYMPIAN CONSPIRACY              21
        IV. REPRISALS FROM BELOW             33
         V. FRANCIS TAXATER                  53
        VI. THE PARIAHS                      80
       VII. IDYLLIC PLEASURES               109
      VIII. THE MYTHOLOGY OF SACRIFICE      134
        IX. THE MYTHOLOGY OF POWER          156
         X. THE ORCHARD                     184
        XI. ART AND NATURE                  212
       XII. AUBER LAKE                      247
      XIII. LACRIMA                         276
       XIV. UNDER-CURRENTS                  317
        XV. MORTIMER ROMER                  355
       XVI. HULLAWAY                        386
      XVII. SAGITTARIUS                     430
     XVIII. VOICES BY THE WAY               460
       XIX. PLANETARY INTERVENTION          489
        XX. VOX POPULI                      519
       XXI. CÆSAR’S QUARRY                  536
      XXII. A ROYAL WATERING-PLACE          572
     XXIII. AVE ATQUE VALE!                 595
      XXIV. THE GRANARY                     621
       XXV. METAMORPHOSIS                   650
      XXVI. VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS              667
     XXVII. VENNIE SELDOM                   679
    XXVIII. LODMOOR                         696
      XXIX. THE GOAT AND BOY                714



WOOD AND STONE



CHAPTER I

LEO’S HILL


Midway between Glastonbury and Bridport, at the point where the eastern
plains of Somersetshire merge into the western valleys of Dorsetshire,
stands a prominent and noticeable hill; a hill resembling the figure of
a crouching lion.

East of the hill, nestling at the base of a cone-shaped eminence
overgrown with trees and topped by a thin Thyrsus-like tower, lies the
village of Nevilton.

Were it not for the neighbourhood of the more massive promontory
this conical protuberance would itself have stood out as an emphatic
landmark; but Leo’s Hill detracts from its emphasis, as it detracts
from the emphasis of all other deviations from the sea-level, between
Yeoborough and the foot of the Quantocks.

It was on the apex of Nevilton Mount that the Holy Rood of Waltham
was first found; but with whatever spiritual influence this event may
have endowed the gentler summit, it is not to it, but to Leo’s Hill,
that the lives and destinies of the people of Nevilton have come to
gravitate. One might indeed without difficulty conceive of a strange
supernatural conflict going on between the consecrated repository of
Christian tradition guarding its little flock, and the impious heathen
fortress to which day by day that flock is driven, to seek their
material sustenance.

Even in Pre-Celtic times those formidably dug trenches and frowning
slopes must have looked down on the surrounding valley; and to this day
it is the same suggestion of tyrannical military dominance, which, in
spite of quarries and cranes and fragrant yellow gorse, gives the place
its prevailing character.

The rounded escarpments have for centuries been covered with pleasant
turf and browsed upon by sheep; but patient antiquarian research
constantly brings to light its coins, torques, urns, arrow-heads,
amulets; and rumour hints that yet more precious things lie concealed
under those grassy mounds.

The aboriginal tribes have been succeeded by the Celt; the Celt by
the Roman; the Roman by the Saxon; without any change in the place’s
inherent character, and without any lessening of its tyranny over the
surrounding country. For though Leo’s Hill dominates no longer by means
of its external strength, it dominates, quite as completely, by means
of its interior riches.

It is, in fact, a huge rock-island, washed by the leafy waves of the
encircling valleys, and containing, as its hid treasure, stone enough
to rebuild Babylon.

In that particular corner of the West Country, so distinct and
deep-rooted are the legendary survivals, it is hard not to feel as
though some vast spiritual conflict were still proceeding between the
two opposed Mythologies--the one drawing its strength from the impulse
to Power, and the other from the impulse to Sacrifice.

A village-dweller in Nevilton might, if he were philosophically
disposed, be just as much a percipient of this cosmic struggle, as if
he stood between the Palatine and St. Peter’s.

Let him linger among the cranes and pulleys of this heathen promontory,
and look westward to the shrine of the Holy Grail, or eastward to where
rested the Holy Rood, and it would be strange if he did not become
conscious of the presence of eternal spiritual antagonists, wrestling
for the mastery.

He would at any rate be made aware of the fatal force of Inanimate
Objects over human destiny.

There would seem to him something positively monstrous and sinister
about the manner in which this brute mass of inert sandstone had
possessed itself of the lives of the generations. It had come to this
at last; that those who owned the Hill owned the dwellers beneath the
Hill; and the Hill itself owned them that owned it.

The name by which the thing had come to be known indicated sufficiently
well its nature.

Like a couchant desert-lion it overlooked its prey; and would continue
to do so, as long as the planet lasted.

Out of its inexhaustible bowels the tawny monster fed the cities of
seven countries--cities whose halls, churches, theatres, and markets,
mocked the caprices of rain and sun as obdurately as their earth-bound
parent herself.

The sandstone of Leo’s Hill remains, so architects tell us, the only
rival of granite, as a means for the perpetuation of human monuments.
Even granite wears less well than this, in respect to the assaults of
rain and flood. The solitary mysterious monoliths of Stonehenge, with
their unknown, alien origin, alone seem to surpass it in their eternal
perdurance.

As far as Nevilton itself is concerned everything in the place owes its
persuasive texture to this resistant yet soft material. From the lordly
Elizabethan mansion to the humblest pig-stye, they all proceed from the
entrails of Leo’s Hill; and they all still wear--these motley whelps
of the great dumb beast--its tawny skin, its malleable sturdiness, its
enduring consistence.

Who can resist a momentary wonder at the strange mutability of the
fate that governs these things? The actual slabs, for example, out of
which the high shafts and slender pinnacles of the church-tower were
originally hewn, must once have lain in littered heaps for children
to scramble upon, and dogs to rub against. And now they are the windy
resting-places, and airy “coigns of vantage,” of all the feathered
tribes in their migrations!

What especially separates the Stone of Leo’s Hill from its various
local rivals, is its chameleon-like power of taking tone and colour
from every element it touches. While Purbeck marble, for instance,
must always remain the same dark, opaque, slippery thing it was when
it left its Dorset coast; while Portland stone can do nothing but grow
gloomier and gloomier, in its ashen-grey moroseness, under the weight
of the London fogs; the tawny progeny of this tyrant of the western
vales becomes amber-streaked when it restricts the play of fountains,
orange-tinted when it protects herbacious borders, and rich as a
petrified sunset when it drinks the evening light from the mellow front
of a Cathedral Tower.

Apart from any geological affinity, it might almost seem as though
this Leonian stone possessed some weird occult relation to those deep
alluvial deposits which render the lanes and fields about Nevilton so
thick with heavy earth.

Though closer in its texture to sand than to clay, it is with clay
that its local usage is more generally associated, and it is into a
clay-bed that it crumbles at last, when the earth retakes her own. Its
prevailing colour is rather the colour of clay than of sand, and no
material that could be found could lend itself more congruously to the
clinging consistence of a clay floor.

It would be impossible to conceive of a temple of marble or Portland
stone rising out of the embrace of the thick Nevilton soil. But Leonian
sandstone seems no more than a concentrated petrifaction of such
soil--its natural evocation, its organic expression. The soil calls
out upon it day and night with friendly recognition, and day and night
it answers the call. There is thus no escape for the human victims of
these two accomplices. In confederate reciprocity the stone receives
them from the clay, and the clay receives them from the stone. They
pass from homes built irretrievably of the one, into smaller and more
permanent houses, dug irretrievably out of the other.

The character of the soil in that corner of Somersetshire is marked,
beyond everything else, by the clinging tenacity of its soft, damp,
treacherous earth. It is a spot loved by the west-wind, and by the
rains brought by the west-wind. Overshadowed by the lavish fertility
of its abounding foliage, it never seems to experience enough sunshine
to draw out of it the eternal presence of this oppressive dampness.
The lush pastures may thicken, the rich gardens blossom, the ancient
orchards ripen; but an enduring sense of something depressing and deep
and treacherous lurks ever in the background of these pleasant things.
Not a field but has its overshadowing trees; and not a tree but has its
roots loosely buried in that special kind of soft, heavy earth, which
an hour’s rain can change into clinging mud.

It is in the Nevilton churchyard, when a new grave is being dug, that
this sinister peculiarity of the earth-floor is especially noticeable.
The sight of those raw, rough heaps of yellow clay, tossed out upon
grass and flowers, is enough to make the living shrink back in terror
from the oblong hole into which they have consigned their dead. All
human cemeteries smell, like the hands of the Shakespearean king,
of forlorn mortality; but such mortality seems more palpably, more
oppressively emphasized among the graves of Nevilton than in other
repositories of the dead. To be buried in many a burying-ground one
knows, would be no more than a negative terror; no more than to be
deprived, as Homer puts it, of the sweet privilege of the blessed
air. But to be buried in Nevilton clay has a positive element in its
dreadfulness. It is not so much to be buried, as to be sucked in,
drawn down, devoured, absorbed. Never in any place does the peculiar
congruity between the yellowness of the local clay and the yellowness
of the local stone show so luridly as among these patient hillocks.

The tombstones here do not relieve the pressure of fate by appealing,
in marble whiteness, away from the anthropophagous earth, to the
free clouds of heaven. They are of the earth, and they conspire with
the earth. They yearn to the soil, and the soil yearns to them. They
weigh down upon the poor relics consigned to their care, in a hideous
partnership with the clay that is working its will upon them.

And the rank vegetation of the place assists this treachery.
Orange-tinted lichen and rusty-red weather-stains alternate with the
encroachments of moss and weeds in reducing each separate protruding
slab into conformity with what is about it and beneath it. This
churchyard, whose stone and clay so cunningly intermingle, is in an
intimate sense the very navel and centre of the village. Above it rises
the tall perpendicular tower of St. Catharine’s church; and beyond
it, on the further side of a strip of pasture, a stagnant pond, and a
solitary sycamore, stands the farm that is locally named “the Priory.”
This house, the most imposing of all in the village except the Manor,
has as its immediate background the umbrageous conical eminence where
the Holy Rood was found. It is a place adapted to modern usage from a
noble fragment of monastic ruin. Here, in mediæval days, rose a rich
Cistercian abbey, to which, doubtless, the pyramidal mount, in the
background, offered a store of consecrated legends.

North of the churchyard, beyond the main village street with its
formal town-like compactness, the ground slopes imperceptibly up, past
a few enclosed cottage-orchards, to where, embosomed in gracious trees
and Italianated gardens, stands the pride and glory of Nevilton, its
stately Elizabethan house.

This house, founded in the reign of Henry VIII, synchronized in
its foundation with the overthrow of the Cistercian Order, and was
constructed entirely of Leonian stone, removed for the purpose of
building it from the scene of the Priory’s destruction. Twice over,
then, in their human history, since they left the entrails of that
brooding monster over which the Nevilton people see the sun set each
day, had these carved pieces of sandstone contributed to the pride of
the rulers of men.

Their first use had not been attended with an altogether propitious
destiny. How far their present use will prove of happier omen remains a
secret of the adamantine Fates. The imaginary weaving of events, upon
which we are just now engaged, may perhaps serve, as certain liturgical
formulæ of propitiation served in former days, as a means of averting
the wrath of the Eumenides. For though made use of again and again for
fair and pious purposes, something of the old heathen malignity of the
Druid hill still seems to hang about the stone it yields; and over the
substance of that stone’s destiny the two Mythologies still struggle;
Power and Sacrifice dividing the living and the dead.



CHAPTER II

NEVILTON


Until within some twenty years of the date with which we are now
concerned, the distinguished family who originally received the
monastic estates from the royal despot had held them intact and
unassailed. By an evil chance however, the property had extended
itself, during the eighteenth century, so as to include the larger
portion of Leo’s Hill; and since that day its possession had been
attended by misfortune. The ancient aboriginal fortress proved as fatal
to its modern invaders as it had proved in remoter times to Roman,
Saxon and Norman.

A fanciful imagination might indeed have amused itself with the
curious dream, that some weird Druidic curse had been laid upon that
grass-grown island of yellow rock, bringing disaster and eclipse to
all who meddled with it. Such an imagination would have been able to
fortify its fancy by recalling the suggestive fact that at the bottom
of the large woodland pond, indicated in this narrative under the name
of Auber Lake, was discovered, not many years before, an immense slab
of Leonian stone, inscribed with symbols baffling interpretation, but
suggesting, to one antiquarian mind at least, a hint of prehistoric
Devil-Worship. However this may be, it is certain that the family
of Seldom found themselves finally faced with the alternative of
selling the place they loved or of seeing it lapse under their hands
into confusion and neglect. Of these evil alternatives they chose the
former; and thus the estates, properties, royalties, and appurtenances,
of the historic Manor of Nevilton fell into the hands of a clever
financier from Lombard Street.

The family of Mr. Mortimer Romer had never at any time bowed its
knee in kings’ houses. Nor were its religious antecedents marked
by orthodox reputation. Mr. Romer was indeed in every sense of the
word a “self-made man.” But though neither Christian nor Jew,--for
his grandfather, the fish-monger of Soho, had been of the Unitarian
persuasion--it cannot be denied that he possessed the art of making
himself thoroughly respected by both the baptized and the circumcised.
He indeed pursued his main purpose, which was the acquiring of power,
with an unscrupulousness worthy of a Roman Emperor. Possibly it was
this Roman tenacity in him, combined with his heathen indifference
to current theology, which propitiated the avenging deities of Leo’s
Hill. So far at any rate he had been eminently successful in his
speculations. He had secured complete possession of every quarry on the
formidable eminence; and the company of which he was both director and
president was pursuing its activities in a hundred new directions. It
had, in the few last years, gone so far as to begin certain engineering
assaults upon those remote portions of the ancient escarpments that had
been left untouched since the legions of Claudius Cæsar encamped under
their protection.

The bulk of Mr. Romer’s stone-works were on the Hill itself; but
others, intended for the more delicate finishing touches, were situated
in a convenient spot close to Nevilton Station. Out of these sheds
and yards, built along the railway-track, arose, from morning to
night, the monotonous, not unpleasing, murmur of wheels and saws and
grindstones. The contrast between these sounds and the sylvan quietness
of the vicarage garden, which sloped down towards them, was one of
the most significant indications of the clash of the Two Mythologies
in this place. The priest meditating among his roses upon the vanity
of all but “heavenly habitations” might have been in danger of being
too obtrusively reminded of the pride of the houses that are very
definitely “made with hands.” Perhaps this was one of the reasons why
the present incumbent of Nevilton had preferred a more undisturbed
retreat.

The general manager of Mortimer Romer’s quarries was a certain Mr.
Lickwit, who served also as his confidential adviser in many other
spheres.

The works at Nevilton Station were left to the superintendence of two
brothers named Andersen, skilled stone-cutters, sons of the famous
Gideon Andersen known to architects all over the kingdom for his
designs in Leonian stone. Both Gideon and his wife Naomi were buried
in Nevilton churchyard, and the brothers were condemned in the village
as persons of an almost scandalous piety because of their innocent
habit of lingering on warm summer evenings over their parents’ grave.
They lived together, these two, as lodgers with the station-master, in
a newly built cottage close to their work. Their social position in
the place was a curious and anomalous one. Their father’s reputation
as a sculptor had brought him into touch with every grade of society;
and the woman who became his wife was by birth what is usually termed
a lady. Gideon himself had been a rough and gross fellow; and after
his wife’s death had hastened to take his sons away from school
and apprentice them to his own trade. They were in many respects
a noteworthy pair, though scarcely favourites, either with their
fellow-workmen or their manager.

James Andersen, the elder by some ten years, was of a morose, reserved
temper, and though a capable workman never seemed happy in the
work-shop. Luke, on the contrary, possessed a peculiarly sunny and
serene spirit.

They were both striking in appearance. The younger approximated to that
conventional type of beauty which is popularly known as being “like a
Greek god.” The elder, tall, swarthy, and sinister, suggested rather
the image of some gloomy idol carved on the wall of an Assyrian temple.
What, however, was much more remarkable than their appearance was their
devoted attachment to one another. They lived, worked, ate, drank,
walked and slept together. It was impossible to separate them. Had Mr.
Lickwit dismissed James, Luke would immediately have thrown down his
tools. Had Luke been the banished one, James would have followed him
into exile.

It had fallen to Mr. Romer, some seven years before our narrative
begins, to appoint a new vicar to Nevilton; and he had appointed one of
such fierce ascetic zeal and such pronounced socialistic sympathies,
that he had done nothing since but vehemently and bitterly repent his
choice.

The Promoter of Companies had been betrayed into this blunder by the
impulse of revengeful caprice, the only impulse in his otherwise
well-balanced nature that might be termed dangerous to himself.

He had quarrelled with the bishop over some matter connected with his
stone-works; and in order to cause this distinguished prelate grief and
annoyance he had looked about for someone to honour who was under the
episcopal ban. The bishop, however, was of so discreet a temper and so
popular in his diocese that the only rebel to his authority that could
be discovered was one of the curates of a church at Yeoborough who had
insisted upon preaching the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation.

The matter would probably have lapsed into quiescence, save for
the crafty interference in the local newspaper of a group of
aggressive Nonconformists, who took this opportunity of sowing
desirable dissension between the higher and lower orders of the hated
Establishment.

Mr. Romer, who, like Gallio, cared for none of these things, and was
at heart a good deal worse than a Nonconformist, seized upon the
chance offered by the death of Nevilton’s vicar; and installed as his
successor this rebel to ecclesiastical authority.

Once installed, however, the Rev. Hugh Clavering speedily came to an
understanding with his bishop; compromised on the matter of preaching
Transubstantiation; and apparently was allowed to go on believing in
it.

And it was then that the Promoter of Companies learned for the first
time how much easier it is to make a priest than to unmake him. For
situation after situation arose in which the master of the Leonian
quarries found himself confronted by an alien Power--a Power that
refused to worship Sandstone. Before this rupture, however, the
young Priest had persuaded Mr. Romer to let him live in the Old
Vicarage, a small but cheerful house just opposite the church door.
The orthodox vicarage, a rambling Early Victorian structure standing
in its own grounds at the end of the West Drive, was let--once more
at the Priest’s suggestion--to the last living representatives of the
dispossessed Seldoms.

It indicated a good deal of spirit on the part of Valentia Seldom and
her daughter thus to return to the home of their ancestors.

Mrs. Seldom was a cousin of the man who had sold the estate. Her
daughter Vennie, brought up in a school at Florence, had never seen
Nevilton, and it was with the idea of taking advantage for the girl’s
sake of their old prestige in that corner of England that Valentia
accepted Mr. Romer’s offer and became the vicarage tenant.

The quarry-owner himself was influenced in carrying through this
affair, by his anxiety, for the sake of _his_ daughter, to secure a
firmer footing with the aristocracy of the neighborhood. Here again,
however, he was destined to disappointment: for once in possession of
her twenty years’ lease the old lady showed not the least intention of
letting herself be used as a social stepping-stone.

She had, indeed, under her own roof, cause enough for preoccupation and
concern.

Her daughter--a little ghost-moth of a girl, of fragile
delicacy--seemed entirely devoid of that mysterious magnetic attraction
which lures to the side of most virgins the devotion of the opposite
sex. She appeared perfectly content to remain forever in her tender
maidenhood, and refused to exert the slightest effort to be “nice” to
the charming young people her mother threw in her way. She belonged to
that class of young girls who seem to be set apart by nature for other
purposes than those of the propagation of the race.

Her wistful spirit, shrinking into itself like the leaves of a
sensitive plant at the least approach of a rough hand, responded only
to one passionate impulse, the impulse of religion.

She grew indeed so estranged from the normal world, that it was not
only Valentia who concealed the thought that when she left the earth
the ancient race of Seldoms would leave it with her.

Nor was it only in regard to her child’s religious obsession that the
lady suffered. She had flatly refused to let her enter into anything
but the coldest relations with “those dreadful people at the House”;
and it was with a peculiar shock of dismay that she found that the
girl was not literally obeying her. It was not, however, to the Romers
themselves that Vennie made her shy overtures, but to a luckless little
relative of that family now domiciled with them as companion to Gladys
Romer.

This young dependent, reputed in the village to be of Italian origin,
struck the gentle heart of the last of the Seldoms with indescribable
pity. She could not altogether define the impression the girl produced
upon her, but it was a singularly oppressive one, and it vexed and
troubled her.

The situation was wretchedly complicated. It was extremely difficult
to get a word with the little companion without encountering Gladys;
and any approach to intimacy with “the Romer girl” would have meant
an impossible scene with Mrs. Seldom. Nor was it a light undertaking,
in such hurried interviews as she did manage to secure, to induce
the child to drop her reserve. She would fix her great brown foreign
eyes--her name was Lacrima Traffio--on Vennie’s face, and make curious
little helpless gestures with her hands when questions were asked her;
but speak of herself she would not.

It was clear she was absolutely dependent on her cousins. Vennie
gathered as much as that, as she once talked with her under the church
wall, when Gladys was chatting with the vicar. A reference to her own
people had nearly resulted in an outburst of tears. Vennie had had to
be content with a broken whisper: “We come from Rapallo--they are all
dead.” There was nothing, it appeared, that could be added to this.

It was perhaps a little inconsistent in the old lady to be so resolute
against her daughter’s overtures to Lacrima, as she herself had no
hesitation in making a sort of protégé of another of Mr. Romer’s tribe.

This was an eccentric middle-aged bachelor who had drifted into the
place soon after the new-comer’s arrival and had established himself
in a dilapidated cottage on the outskirts of the Auber woods.

Remotely related to Mrs. Romer, he had in some way become dependent on
her husband, whose financial advantage over him was not, it seemed, as
time went on, exerted in a very considerate manner.

Maurice Quincunx, for such was his unusual name, was an illegitimate
descendant of one of the most historic houses in the neighborhood,
but both his poverty and his opinions caused him to live what was
practically the life of a hermit, and made him shrink away, even more
nervously than little Vennie Seldom, from any intercourse with his
equals.

The present possessors of his queer ancient name were now the Lords
of Glastonbury, and had probably never so much as heard of Maurice’s
existence.

He would come by stealth to pay Valentia visits, preferring the evening
hours when in the summer she used to sit with her work, on a terrace
overlooking a sloping orchard, and watch Vennie water her roses.

The vicarage terrace was a place of extraordinary quiet and peace,
eminently adapted to the low-voiced, nervous ramblings of a recluse of
Maurice Quincunx’s timidity.

The old lady by degrees quite won this eccentric’s heart; and the
queerly assorted friends would pace up and down for hours in the cool
of the evening talking of things in no way connected either with Mr.
Romer or the Church--the two subjects about which Mr. Quincunx held
dangerously strong views.

Apart from this quaint outcast and the youthful parson, Mrs. Seldom’s
only other intimate in the place was a certain John Francis Taxater,
a gentleman of independent means, living by himself with an old
housekeeper in a cottage called The Gables, situated about half-way
between the vicarage and the village.

Mr. Taxater was a Catholic and also a philosopher; these two
peculiarities affording the solution to what otherwise would have been
an insoluble psychic riddle. Even as it was, Mr. Taxater’s mind was of
so subtle and complicated an order, that he was at once the attraction
and the despair of all the religious thinkers of that epoch. For it
must be understood that though quietly resident under the shadow of
Nevilton Mount, the least essay from Mr. Taxater’s pen was eagerly
perused by persons interested in religious controversy in all the
countries of Europe.

He wrote for philosophical journals in London, Paris, Rome and New
York; and there often appeared at The Gables most surprising visitors
from Germany and Italy and Spain.

He had a powerful following among the more subtle-minded of the
Catholics of England; and was highly respected by important personages
in the social, as well as the literary circles, of Catholic society.

The profundity of his mind may be gauged from the fact that he
was able to steer his way successfully through the perilous reefs
of “modernistic” discussion, without either committing himself to
heretical doctrine or being accused of reactionary ultramontanism.

Mr. Taxater’s written works were, however, but a trifling portion of
his personality. His intellectual interests were as rich and varied
as those of some great humanist of the Italian Renaissance, and his
personal habits were as involved and original as his thoughts were
complicated and deep.

He was perpetually engaged in converting the philosopher in him to
Catholicism, and the Catholic in him to philosophy--yet he never
permitted either of these obsessions to interfere with his enjoyment of
life.

Luke Andersen, who was perhaps of all the inhabitants of Nevilton most
conscious of the drama played around him, used to maintain that it was
impossible to tell in the last resort whether Mr. Taxater’s place was
with the adherents of Christ or with the adherents of Anti-Christ. Like
his prototype, the evasive Erasmus, he seemed able to be on both sides
at the same time.

Perhaps it was a secret consciousness of the singular position of
Nevilton, planted, as it were, between two streams of opposing legend,
that originally led Mr. Taxater to take up his abode in so secluded a
spot.

It is impossible to tell. In this as in all other transactions of
his life he combined an unworldly simplicity with a Machiavellian
astuteness. If the Day of Judgment revealed him as being on the side
of the angels, it might also reveal him as having exercised, in the
microcosmic Nevilton drama, as well as in his wider sphere, one of the
most subtle influences against the Powers of Darkness that those Powers
ever encountered in their invisible activity.

At the moment when the present narrative takes up the woven threads
of these various persons’ lives there seemed every prospect that
in external nature at least there was going to be an auspicious and
halcyon season. June had opened with abnormal pleasantness. Exquisite
odours were in the air, wafted from woods and fields and gardens. White
dust, alternating with tender spots of coolness where the shadows of
trees fell, lent the roads in the vicinity that leisured gala-day
expectancy which one notes in the roads of France and Spain, but which
is so rare in England.

It seemed almost as though the damp sub-soil of the place had relaxed
its malign influence; as though the yellow clay in the churchyard had
ceased its calling for victims; and as though the brooding monster in
the sunset, from which every day half the men of the village returned
with their spades and picks, had put aside, as irrelevant to a new and
kindlier epoch, its ancient hostility to the Christian dwellers in that
quiet valley.



CHAPTER III

OLYMPIAN CONSPIRACY


The depths of Mr. Romer’s mind, as he paced up and down the Leonian
pavement under the east front of his house on one of the early days of
this propitious June, were seething with predatory projects. The last
of the independent quarries on the Hill had just fallen into his hands
after a legal process of more than usual chicanery, conducted in person
by the invaluable Mr. Lickwit.

He was now occupied in pushing through Parliament a bill for the
reduction of railway freight charges, so that the expense of carrying
his stone to its various destinations might be materially reduced. But
it was not only of financial power that he thought as the smell of the
roses from the sun-baked walls floated in upon him across the garden.

The man’s commercial preoccupations had not by any means, as so often
happens, led to the atrophy of his more personal instincts.

His erotic appetite, for instance, remained as insatiable as ever.
Age did not dull, nor finance wither, that primordial craving. The
aphrodisiac instincts in Mortimer Romer were, however, much less simple
than might be supposed.

In this hyper-sensual region he had more claim to artistic subtlety
than his enemies realized. He rarely allowed himself the direct
expansion of frank and downright lasciviousness. His little pleasures
were indirect, elaborate, far-fetched.

He afforded really the interesting spectacle of one whose mind was
normal, energetic, dynamic; but whose senses were slow, complicated,
fastidious. He was a formidable forward-marching machine, with a heart
of elaborate perversity. He was a thick-skinned philistine with the
sensuality of a sybarite.

I do not mean to imply that there was any lack of rapacity in the
senses of Mr. Romer. His senses were indeed unfathomable in their
devouring depths. But they were liable to fantastic caprices. They
were not the simple animal senses of a Gothic barbarian. They assumed
imperial contortions.

The main eccentricity of the erotic tendencies of this remarkable man
lay in the elaborate pleasure he derived from his sense of power. The
actual lure of the flesh had little attraction for him. What pleased
him was a slow tightening of his grip upon people--upon their wills,
their freedom, their personality.

Any impression a person might make upon Mr. Romer’s senses was at once
transformed into a desire to have that person absolutely at his mercy.
The thought that he held such a one reduced to complete spiritual
helplessness alone satisfied him.

The first time he had encountered Lacrima Traffio he had been struck by
her appealing eyes, her fragile figure, her frightened gestures. Deep
in his perverted heart he had desired her; but his desire, under the
psychic law I have endeavoured to explain, quickly resolved itself into
a resolution to take possession of her, not as his mistress, but as his
slave.

Nor did the subtle elaboration of his perversity stop there. It were
easy and superficial to dominate in his own person so helpless a
dependent. What was less easy was to reduce her to submission to the
despotic caprices of his daughter, a girl only a few years older than
herself.

The enjoyment of a sense of vicarious power was a satisfaction
curiously provocative to his predatory craving. Nor did subtlety of the
situation stop at that point. It was not only necessary that the girl
who attracted him should be at his daughter’s mercy; it was necessary
that his daughter should not be unconscious of the rôle she herself
played. It was necessary that they should be in a sense confederates in
this game of cat-and-mouse.

As Mr. Romer paced the terrace of his imposing mansion a yet profounder
triumph presented itself in the recesses of his imperial nature.

He had lately introduced into his “entourage” a certain brother-in-law
of his, the widower of his sister, a man named John Goring. This
individual was of a much simpler, grosser type than the recondite
quarry-owner. He was, indeed, no more than a narrow-minded, insolent,
avaricious animal. He lacked even the superficial gentility of his
formidable relation. Nor had his concentrated but unintelligent
avarice brought him, so far, any great wealth. He still remained, in
spite of Romer’s help, what he had been born, an English farmer of
unpropitiating manners and supernal greed.

The Promoter of Companies was, however, not unaware, any more than
was Augustus Cæsar, of the advantage accruing to a despot from the
possession of devoted, if unattractive, tools; and contemptuously
risking the shock to his social prestige of such an apparition in the
neighborhood, he had secured Mr. Goring as a permanent tenant of the
largest farm on his estate. This was no other than the Priory Farm,
with its gentle monastic memories. What the last Prior of Nevilton
would have thought could he have left his grave under St. Catharine’s
altar and reappeared among his dove-cotes it is distressing to
surmise. He would doubtless have drawn from the sight of John Goring a
profoundly edifying moral as to the results of royal interference with
Christ’s Holy Church. Nor is it likely that an encounter with Mr. Romer
himself would have caused less astonishment to his mediæval spirit. He
would, indeed, have recognized that what is now called Progress is no
mere scientific phrase; but a most devastating reality. He would have
found that Nevilton had “progressed” very far. He would have believed
that the queer stone-devils that his monks had carved, half emerging
from the eaves of the church-roof, had got quite loose and gone abroad
among men. Had he probed, in the manner of clairvoyant saints, the
troubled recesses of Mr. Romer’s mind as that gentleman inhaled the
sweet noon air, he would have cried aloud his indignation and made the
sign of the cross as if over a mortuary of spiritual decomposition.

For as the mid-day sun of that hot June morning culminated, and the
clear hard shadows fell, sharp and thin, upon the orange-tinted
pavement, it entered Mr. Romer’s head that he might make a more
personal use of his farmer-brother than had until now been possible.

With this idea in his brain he entered the house and sought his wife in
her accustomed place at the corner of the large reception-hall. He sat
down forthright by the side of her mahogany table and lit a cigar. As
Mr. Romer was the species of male animal that might be written down in
the guidebook of some Martian visitor as “the cigar-smoking variety”
his wife would have taken her place among “the sedentary knitting ones.”

She was a large, fair, plump, woman, as smooth and pallid as her
husband was grizzled and ruddy. Her obsequious deference to her
lord’s views was only surpassed by her lethargic animal indolence.
She was like a great, tame, overgrown, white-skinned Puma. Her eyes
had the greenish tint of feline eyes, and something of their daylight
contraction. Her use of spectacles did not modify this tendency, but
rather increased it; for the effect of the round glass orbs pushed up
upon her forehead was to enhance the malicious gleam of the little
narrow-lidded slits that peered out beneath them.

It may be imagined with what weary and ironical detachment the solemn
historic portraits of the ancient Seldoms--for the pictures and
furniture had been sold with the house--looked out from their gilded
frames upon these ambiguous intruders. But neither husband nor wife
felt the least touch of “compunctuous visiting” as they made themselves
at ease under that immense contempt.

“I have been thinking,” said Mr. Romer, puffing a thick cloud of
defiant smoke into the air, so that it went sailing up to the very
feet of a delicate Reynolds portrait; “I have been thinking that I am
really quite unjustified in going on with that allowance to Quincunx.
He ought to realize that he has completely exhausted the money your
aunt left him. He ought to face the situation, instead of quietly
accepting our gift as if it were his right. And they tell me he does
not even keep a civil tongue in his head. Lickwit was only complaining
the other day about his tampering with our workmen. He has been going
about for some time with those damned Andersen fellows, and no doubt
encouraging them in their confounded impertinence.

“I don’t like the man, my dear;--that is the plain truth. I have never
liked him; and he has certainly never even attempted to conceal his
dislike of me.”

“He is very polite to your face, Mortimer,” murmured the lady.

“Exactly,” Mr. Romer rejoined, “to my face he is more than polite.
He is obsequious; he is cringing. But behind my back--damn him!--the
rascal is a rattlesnake.”

“Well, dear, no doubt it has all worked out for the best”; purred the
plump woman, softly counting the threads of her knitting. “You were in
need of Aunt’s money at the time--in great need of it.”

“I know I was,” replied the Promoter of Companies, “I know I was; and
he knows I was. That is why I have been giving him six per cent on what
he lent me. But the fellow has had more than that. He has had more by
this time than the whole original sum; and I tell you, Susan, it’s got
to end;--it’s got to end here, now, and forever!”

Mr. Romer’s cigar-smoke had now floated up above the feet of the
Reynolds Portrait and was invading its gentle and melancholy face. It
was a portrait of a young girl in the court-dress of the time, but with
such pathetic nun-like features that it was clear that little Vennie
was not the only one of her race to have grown weary of this rough
world.

“It is a providential thing, dear,” whispered the knitting female,
“that there were no horrid documents drawn up about that money. Maurice
cannot impose upon us in that way.”

“He is doing worse,” answered her husband. “He is imposing upon us on
the strength of a disgusting sort of sickly sentiment. He has had all
his money back and more; and he knows he has. But he wants to go on
living on my money while he abuses me on every occasion. Do you know,
he even preaches in that confounded social meeting? I shall have that
affair put a stop to, one of these days. It is only an excuse for
spreading dissatisfaction in the village. Lickwit has complained to me
about it more than once. He says that Socialistic scoundrel Wone is
simply using the meeting to canvass for his election. You know he is
going to stand, in place of Sir Herbert Ratcliffe? What the Liberal
Party is doing I cannot conceive--pandering to these slimy windbags!
And your blessed relation backs him up. The thing is monstrous,
outrageous! Here am I, allowing this fellow a hundred a year to live in
idleness; and he is plotting against me at my very doorstep.”

“Perhaps he does not know that the Conservative member is going to
retire in your favour,” insinuated the lady.

“Know? Of course he knows! All the village knows. All the country
knows. You can never hide things of that kind. He knows, and he is
deliberately working against me.”

“It would be nice if he could get a place as a clerk,” suggested Mr.
Quincunx’s relative, pensively. “It certainly does not seem fair that
you, who work so hard for the money you make, should support him in
complete idleness.”

Mr. Romer looked at her thoughtfully, knocking the ashes from his
cigar. “I believe you have hit it there, my dear,” he said. Then he
smiled in a manner peculiarly malignant. “Yes, it would be very nice
if he could get a place as a clerk--a place where he would have plenty
of simple office work--a place where he would be kept to his desk, and
not allowed to roam the country corrupting honest workmen. Yes, you are
quite right, Susan; a clerk’s place is what this Quincunx wants. And,
by Heaven, what he shall have! I’ll bring the affair to a head at once.
I’ll put it to him that your aunt’s money is at an end, and that I have
already paid him back in full all that he lent me. I’ll put it to him
that he is now in my debt. In fact, that he is now entirely dependent
on me to the tune of a hundred a year. And I’ll explain to him that he
must either go out into the world and shift for himself, as better men
than he have had to do, or enter Lickwit’s office, either in Yeoborough
or on the Hill.”

“He will enter the office, Mortimer,” murmured the lady; “he will enter
the office. Maurice is not the man to emigrate, or do anything of that
kind. Besides he has a reason”--here her voice became so extremely
mellifluous that it might almost be said to have liquefied--“to stay
in Nevilton.”

“What’s this?” cried Romer, getting up and throwing his cigar out of
the window. “You don’t mean to tell me--eh?--that this scarecrow is in
love with Gladys?”

The lady purred softly and replaced her spectacles. “Oh dear no! What
an idea! Oh certainly, certainly not! But Gladys, you know, is not the
only girl in Nevilton.”

“Who the devil is it then? Not Vennie Seldom, surely?”

“Look nearer, Mortimer, look nearer”; murmured the lady with sibilant
sweetness.

“Not Lacrima! You don’t mean to say--”

“Why, dear, you needn’t be so surprised. You look more angry than if
it had been Gladys herself. Yes, of course it is Lacrima. Hadn’t you
observed it? But you dear men are so stupid, aren’t you, in these
things?”

Mrs. Romer rubbed one white hand over the other; and beamed upon her
husband through her spectacles.

Mr. Romer frowned. “But the Traffio girl is so, so--you know what I
mean.”

“So quiet and unimpressionable. Ah! my dear, it is just these quiet
girls who are the very ones to be enjoying themselves on the sly.”

“How far has this thing gone, Susan?”

“Oh you needn’t get excited, Mortimer. It has not really ‘gone’
anywhere. It has hardly begun. In fact I have not the least authority
for saying that she cares for him at all. I think she does a little,
though. I _think_ she does. But one never can tell. I can, however,
give you my word that he cares for her. And that is what we were
talking about, weren’t we?”

“I shall pack him off to my office in London,” said Mr. Romer.

“He wouldn’t go, my dear. I tell you he wouldn’t go.”

“But he can’t live on nothing.”

“He can. He will. Sooner than leave Nevilton Maurice would eat grass.
He would become lay-reader or something. He would sponge on Mrs.
Seldom.”

“Well, then he shall walk to Yeoborough and back every day. That will
cool his blood for him.”

“That will do him a great deal of good, dear; a great deal of good.
Auntie always used to say that Maurice ought to take more exercise.”

“Lickwit will exercise him! Make no mistake about that.”

“How you do look round you, dear, in all these things! How impossible
it is for anyone to fool _you_, Mortimer!”

As Mrs. Romer uttered these words she glanced up at the Reynolds
portrait above their heads, as if half-suspecting that such fawning
flattery would bring down the mockery of the little Lady-in-Waiting.

“I can’t help thinking Lacrima would make a very good wife to some
hard-working sensible man,” Mr. Romer remarked.

His lady looked a little puzzled. “It would be difficult to find so
suitable a companion for Gladys,” she said.

“Oh, of course I don’t mean till Gladys is married,” said the
quarry-owner quickly. “By the way, when _is_ she going to accept that
young fool of an Ilminster?”

“All in good time, my dear, all in good time,” purred his wife. “He has
not proposed to her yet.”

“It’s very curious,” remarked Mr. Romer pensively, “that a young man of
such high connections should _wish_ to marry our daughter.”

“What things you say, Mortimer! Isn’t Gladys going to inherit all this
property? Don’t you suppose that a younger son of Lord Tintinhull would
jump at the idea of being master of this house?”

“He won’t be master of it while _I_ live,” said Mr. Romer grimly.

“In my opinion he never will be”; added the lady. “I don’t think Gladys
really intends to accept him.”

“She’ll marry somebody, I hope?” said the master sharply.

“O yes she’ll marry, soon enough. Only it’ll be a cleverer man, and a
richer man, than young Ilminster.”

“Have you any other pleasant little romance to fling at me?”

“O no. But I know what our dear Gladys is. I know what she is looking
out for.”

“When she does marry,” said Mr. Romer, “we shall have to think
seriously what is to become of Lacrima. Look here, my dear,”--it was
wonderful, the pleasant ejaculatory manner in which this flash of
inspiration was thrown out,--“why not marry her to John? She would be
just the person for a farmer’s wife.”

Mrs. Romer, to do her justice, showed signs of being a little shocked
at this proposal.

“But John,”--she stammered;--“John--is not--exactly--a marrying person,
is he?”

“He is--what I wish him to be”; was her husband’s haughty answer.

“Oh well, of course, dear, it’s as you think best. Certainly”--the good
woman could not resist this little thrust--“it’s John’s only chance of
marrying a lady. For Lacrima is _that_--with all her faults.”

“I shall talk to John about it”; said the Promoter of Companies. Feline
thing though she was, Susan Romer could not refrain from certain inward
qualms when she thought of the fragile hyper-sensitive Italian in the
embraces of John Goring. What on earth set her husband dreaming of
such a thing? But he was subject to strange caprices now and then; and
it was more dangerous to balk him in these things than in his most
elaborate financial plots. She had found that out already. So, on the
present occasion, she made no further remark, than a reiterated--“How
you do look all round you, Mortimer! It is not easy for anyone to fool
_you_.”

She rose from her seat and collected her knitting. “I must go and see
where Gladys is,” she said.

Mr. Romer followed her to the door, and went out again upon the
terrace. The little nun-like Lady-in-Waiting looked steadily out across
the room, her pinched attenuated features expressing nothing but
patient weariness of all the ways of this mortal world.



CHAPTER IV

REPRISALS FROM BELOW


It was approaching the moment consecrated to the close of the day’s
labour in the stone-works by Nevilton railway-station. The sky was
cloudless; the air windless. It was one of those magical arrests of the
gliding feet of time, which afternoons in June sometimes bring with
them, holding back, as it were, all living processes of life, in sweet
and lingering suspense. The steel tracks of the railway-line glittered
in the sun. In the fields, that sloped away beyond them, the browsing
cattle wore that unruffled air of abysmal indifference, which seems to
make one day in their sight to be as a thousand years. To these placid
earth-children, drawing the centuries together in solemn continuity,
the tribes of men and their turbulent drama were but as vapours that
came and went. The high elms in the hedges had already assumed that
dark monotonous foliage which gives to their patient stillness on such
a day an atmosphere of monumental expectancy. A flock of newly-sheared
sheep, clean and shining in the hot sun, drifted in crowded procession
down the narrow road, leaving a cloud of white dust behind them that
remained stationary in the air long after they had passed. In the
open stone-yard close to the road the brothers Andersen were working
together, chipping and hammering with bare arms at an enormous Leonian
slab, carving its edges into delicate mouldings. The younger of the two
wore no hat, and his closely clipped fair curls and loose shirt open at
the throat, lent him, as he moved about his work with easy gestures, a
grace and charm well adapted to that auspicious hour.

A more sombre form by his brother’s side, his broad brimmed hat low
down over his forehead, the elder Andersen went on with his carving, in
imperturbable morose absorption.

Watching them with languid interest, their arms linked together, stood
the figures of two girls. The yellow dust from the sandstone rose
intermittently into the air, mingling with the white dust from the road
and settling, as it sank earthward, upon the leaves of the yet unbudded
knapweed and scabious which grew in the thin dusty grass.

Between Gladys and her cousin--for the girls had wandered as far as
this in search of distraction after their lazy tea on the great lawn--a
curious contrast was now displayed.

Gladys, with slow provocative interest, was intent on every movement of
Luke’s graceful figure. Lacrima’s attention wandered wistfully away,
to the cattle and the orchards, and then to the sheep, which now were
being penned in a low line of spacious railway trucks.

Luke himself was by no means unaware of the condescending interest of
his master’s daughter. He paused in his work once or twice. He turned
up his shirt-sleeves still higher. He bent down, to blow away the dust
from the moulding he had made. Something very like a flash of amorous
admiration passed across his blue eyes as he permitted them slyly to
wander from Gladys’ head to her waist, and from her waist to her shoes.
She certainly was an alluring figure as she stood there in her thin
white dress. The hand which pulled her skirt away from the dust showed
as soft and warm as if it were pleading for a caress, and the rounded
contours of her bosom looked as if they had ripened with the early
peaches, under the walls of her stately garden. She presently unlinked
her arm from her companion’s, and sliding it softly round Lacrima’s
side drew the girl close against her. As she did this she permitted a
slow amorous glance of deliberate tantalization to play upon the young
carver. How well Luke Andersen knew that especial device of maidens
when they are together--that way they have of making their playful,
innocent caresses such a teasing incentive! And Luke knew well how to
answer all this. Nothing could have surpassed in subtle diplomacy the
manner in which he responded, without responding, to the amorous girl’s
overtures. He let her realize that he himself understood precisely the
limits of the situation; that she was perfectly at liberty to enter a
mock-flirtation with him, without the remotest risk of any “faux pas”
on his part spoiling the delicacy of their relations.

What was indeed obvious to her, without the necessity of any such
unspoken protestation, was the fact that he found her eminently
desirable. Nor did her pride as “the girl up at the house” quarrel
with her vanity as the simple object of Luke’s admiration. She wanted
him to desire her as a girl;--to desire her to madness. And then she
wanted to flout him, with her pretensions as a lady. This particular
occasion was by no means the first time she had drifted casually down
the vicarage hill and lingered beside the stone-cutters. It was,
however, an epoch in their curious relations. For the first time since
she had been attracted to him, she deliberately moved close up to the
stone he worked at, and entered into conversation. While this occurred,
Lacrima, released from her rôle as the accomplice of amorous teasing,
wandered away, picking listlessly the first red poppies of the year,
which though less flaunting in their bold splendour than those of her
childhood’s memories, were at least the same immortal classical flowers.

As she bent down in this assuaging pastime, letting her thoughts wander
so far from Nevilton and its tyrants, Lacrima became suddenly conscious
that James Andersen had laid down his tools, resumed his coat, and was
standing by her side.

“A beautiful evening, Miss”; he said respectfully, holding his hat in
his hand and regarding her with grave gentleness.

“Yes, isn’t it?” she answered at once; and then was silent; while a
sigh she could not suppress rose from the depths of her heart. For her
thoughts reverted to another fair evening, in the days when England was
no more than a name; and a sudden overpowering longing for kind voices,
and the shadows of olives on warm hill-sides, rushed, like a wave, over
her.

“This must be near the Angelus-hour,” she thought; and somehow the dark
grave eyes of the man beside her and his swarthy complexion made her
think of those familiar forms that used to pass driving their goats
before them up the rocky paths of the Apennine range.

“You are unhappy, Miss,” said James in a low voice; and these words,
the only ones of genuine personal tenderness, except for poor
Maurice’s, that had struck her sense for the last twelve months,
brought tears to her eyes. Vennie Seldom had spoken kindly to her;
but--God knows--there is a difference between the kindness even of the
gentlest saint and this direct spontaneous outflow of one heart to
another. She smiled; a little mournful smile.

“Yes; I was thinking of my own country,” she murmured.

“You are an Italian, Miss; I know it”; continued Andersen,
instinctively leading her further away from the two golden heads that
now were bending so close together over the Leonian stone.

“I often think of Italy,” he went on; “I think I should be at home in
Italy. I love everything I hear of it, everything I read of it. It
comes from my mother, this feeling. She was a lady, you know Miss, as
well born as any and with a passionate love of books. She used to read
Dante in that little ‘Temple’ Series, which perhaps you have seen, with
the Italian on one side and the English on the other. I never look at
that book without thinking of her.”

“You have many books yourself, I expect,--Mr.--Andersen. You see I know
your name.” And Lacrima smiled, the first perfectly happy smile she had
been betrayed into for many months.

“It is not a very nice name,” said James, a little plaintively. “I
wish I had a name like yours Miss--Traffio.”

“Why, I think yours is quite as nice,” she answered gravely. “It makes
me think of the man who wrote the fairy stories.”

James Andersen frowned, “I don’t like fairy stories,” he said almost
gruffly. “They tease and fret me. I like Thomas Hardy’s books. Do
you know Thomas Hardy?” Lacrima made a little involuntary gesture of
depreciation. As a matter of fact her reading, until very lately, had
been as conventual as that of a young nun. Vennie Seldom or the demure
Reynolds girl could not have been more innocent of the darker side of
literature. Hardy’s books she had seen in the hands of Gladys, and
the association repelled her. Pathetically anxious to brush away this
little cloud, she began hurriedly talking to her new friend of Italy;
of its cities, its sea-coasts, its monasteries, its churches. James
Andersen listened with reverential attention, every now and then asking
a question which showed how deeply his mother’s love of the classical
country had sunk into his nature.

By this time they had wandered along the road as far as a little stone
bridge with low parapets which crosses there a muddy Somersetshire
stream. From this point the road rises quite steeply to the beginning
of the vicarage garden. Leaning against the parapet of the little
bridge, and looking back, they saw to their surprise that Gladys and
Luke had not only not followed them but had completely disappeared.

The last of the unskilled workmen from the sheds, trailing up the
road together laughing and chatting, turned when they passed, and
gazed back, as our two companions were doing, at the work-shops they
had left, acknowledging Lacrima’s gentle “good-night” with a rather
shifty salutation.--This girl was after all only a dependent like
themselves.--They had hardly gone many steps before they burst into a
loud rough guffaw of rustic impertinence.

Lacrima struck the ground nervously with her parasol. “What has
happened?” she asked; “where has Gladys gone?”

James Andersen shrugged his shoulders, “I expect they have wandered
into the shed,” he rejoined, “to look at my brother’s work there.”

She glanced nervously up and down the road; gave a quaint little sigh
and made an expressive gesture with her hands as if disclaiming all
responsibility for her cousin’s doings. Then, quite suddenly, she
smiled at Andersen with a delicious childish smile that transfigured
her face.

“Well, I am glad I am not left alone at any rate,” she said.

“I have a presentiment,” the stone-cutter answered, “that this is not
the last time you will be thrown upon my poor company.”

The girl blushed, and smiled confidingly. Her manner was the manner of
a child, who has at last found a safe protector. Then all of a sudden
she became very grave. “I hope,” she said, “that you are one of the
people who are kind to Mr. Quincunx. He is a _great_ friend of mine.”

Never had the melancholy intimation, that one could not hope to hold
anything but the second place in a woman’s heart, been more tenderly or
more directly conveyed!

James Andersen bowed his head.

“Mr. Quincunx has always been very kind to _me_,” he said, “and
certainly, after what you say, I shall do all in my power to help him.
But I can do very little. I believe Mrs. Seldom understands him better
than anyone else.”

He had hardly finished speaking when the figures of two men made
themselves visible opposite the back entrance of the vicarage. They
were leisurely strolling down the road, and every now and then they
would pause, as if the interest of their conversation was more than the
interest of the way.

“Why! There _is_ Mr. Quincunx,” cried the Italian; and she made an
instinctive movement as if to put a little further space between
herself and her companion. “Who is that person with him?” she added.

“It looks like George Wone,” answered the stone-cutter. “Yes, it is
George; and he is talking as usual at the top of his voice. You’d
suppose he wanted to be heard by all Nevilton.”

Lacrima hesitated and looked very embarrassed. She evidently did not
know whether to advance in the direction of the new-comers or to remain
where she was. Andersen came to her rescue.

“Perhaps,” said he, “it would be better if I went back and told Miss
Romer you are waiting for her.” Lacrima gave him a quick glance of
responsive gratitude.

“O, that would be really kind of you, Mr. Andersen,” she said.

The moment he had gone, however, she felt annoyed that she had let
him go. It looked so odd, she thought, his leaving her so suddenly,
directly Maurice came on the scene. Besides, what would Gladys say at
this interruption of her pleasure? She would suppose she had done
it out of pure spitefulness! The moments seemed very long to her as
she waited at the little bridge, tracing indecipherable hieroglyphics
in the dust with the end of her parasol. She kept her eyes steadily
fixed on the tall retreating figure of the stone-cutter as he slouched
with his long shambling stride towards the work-shop. The two men
were not, however, really long in approaching. Maurice had seen her
from the beginning, and his replies to Mr. Wone’s oratory had grown
proportionally brief.

When they reached her, the girl shook hands with Maurice and bowed
rather coldly to Mr. Wone. That gentleman was not however in the least
quelled or suppressed. It was one of his most marked characteristics
to have absolutely no consciousness of season or situation. When less
clever people would have wished the earth to swallow them up, Mr. Wone
remained imperviously self-satisfied. Having exchanged greetings,
Lacrima hastened to explain that she was waiting at this spot till Miss
Romer should rejoin her. “Luke Andersen is showing her his work,” she
said, “and James has gone to tell her I am waiting.”

Mr. Wone became voluble at this. “It is a shame to keep a young lady
like yourself waiting in the middle of the road.” He turned to Mr.
Quincunx. “We must not say all we think, must we? But begging this
young lady’s pardon, it is just like the family. No consideration! No
consideration for anyone! It is the same with his treatment of the
poor. I am talking of Mr. Romer, you know, Miss. I would say the same
thing to his face. Why is it that hard-working clever fellows, like
these Andersens for instance, should do all the labour, and he get
all the profits? It isn’t fair. It’s unjust. It’s an insult to God’s
beautiful earth, which is free to all.” He paused to take breath, and
looked to Maurice for confirmation of his words.

“You are quite right, Wone; you are quite right,” muttered the recluse
in his beard, furtively glancing at Lacrima.

Mr. Wone continued his discourse, making large and eloquent allusion
to the general relations in England between employer and employed,
and implying plainly enough his full knowledge that at least one
of his hearers belonged to the latter class. His air, as he spoke,
betrayed a certain disordered fanaticism, quite genuine and deeply
felt, but queerly mingled with an indescribable element of complacent
self-conceit. Lacrima, in spite of considerable sympathy with much
that he said, felt that there was, in the man himself, something so
slipshod, so limp, so vague, and so patently vulgar, that both her
respect for his sincerity and her interest in his opinions were reduced
to nothing. Not only was he narrow-minded and ignorant; but there was
also about him, in spite of the aggressive violence of his expressions,
an odd sort of deprecatory, apologetic air, as though he were
perpetually endeavouring to cajole his audience, by tacit references
to his deferential respect for them. There was indeed more than a
little in him of the sleek unction of the nonconformist preacher;
and one could well understand how he might combine, precisely as Mr.
Lickwit suspected, the divergent functions of the politician and the
evangelist.

“I tell you,” he was saying, “the country will not long put up with
this sort of thing. There is a movement, a tendency, a volcanic
upheaval, a stirring of waters, which these plutocrats do not realize.
There is a surging up from the depths of--of--” He paused for a word.

“Of mud,” murmured Mr. Quincunx.

“--Of righteous revolt against these atrocious inequalities! The
working people are asleep no longer. They’re roused. The movement’s
begun. The thunder’s gathering on the horizon. The armies of the
exploited are feeling the impulse of their own strength, of that
noble, that splendid anger, which, when it is conceived, will bring
forth--will bring forth--”

“Damnation,” murmured Mr. Quincunx.

The three figures as they stood, thus consorted, on the little stone
bridge, made up a dramatic group. The sinking sun threw their shadows
in long wavering lines upon the white road, distorting them to so
grotesque a length that they nearly reached the open gates of the
station.

Human shadows! What a queer half-mocking commentary they make upon the
vanity of our passionate excitements, roused by anything, quieted by
nothing, as the world moves round!

Lacrima, in her shadow, was not beautiful at all. She was an elongated
wisp of darkness. The beard of Mr. Quincunx looked as if it belonged to
a mammoth goat, and the neck of Mr. Wone seemed to support, not a human
cranium at all, but a round, wagging mushroom.

The hushed fields on each side of the way began to assume that magical
softness which renders them, at such an hour, insubstantial, unreal,
remote, transformed. One felt as though the earth might indeed be
worthy of better destinies than those that traced their fantastic
trails up and down its peaceful surface. Something deeply withheld,
seemed as though it only needed the coming of one god-like spirit to
set it free forever, and, with it, all the troubled hearts of men.
It was one of those moments which, whether the participants in them
recognize them or not, at the actual time, are bound to recur, long
afterwards, to their memory.

Lacrima, half-listening to Mr. Wone, kept her head anxiously turned in
the direction of the sheds, into one of which she had observed James
Andersen enter.

Maurice Quincunx, his mood clogged and clotted by jealousy, watched
her with great melancholy grey eyes, while with his nervous fingers he
plucked at his beard.

“The time is coming--the time is coming”; cried Mr. Wone, striking
with the back of his fist, the parapet against which he leaned, “when
this exploitation of the poor by the rich will end once for all!” The
warmth of his feeling was so great, that large drops of sweat trickled
down his sallow cheeks, and hanging for a moment at the end of his
narrow chin, fell into the dust. The man was genuinely moved; though
in his watery blue eyes no trace of any fire was visible. He looked,
in his emotion, like an hypnotized sick person, talking in the stress
of a morbid fever. It was the revolt of one who carried the obsequious
slavery of generations in his blood, and could only rebel in galvanized
moribund spasms. The fellow was unpleasing, uninspiring: not the
savage leader of a race of stern revolutionary devotees fired by the
iron logic of their cause, but the inchoate inarticulate voice of
clumsy protest, apologizing and propitiating, even while it protested.
The vulgarity and meanness of the candidate’s tone made one wonder how
such a one as he could ever have been selected by the obscure working
of the Spirit of Sacrifice, to undertake this titanic struggle against
the Spirit of Power. One turned away instinctively from his febrile
rhetoric, to cast involuntary incense at the feet of the masterful
enemy he opposed. He had no reticence in his enthusiasm, no reserve, no
decency.

“You may perhaps not know,” he blundered on; “that the General Election
is much nearer than people think. Mr. Romer will find this out; he will
find it out; he will find it out! I have good authority for what I say.
I speak of what I know, young lady.” This was said rather severely, for
Lacrima’s attention was so obviously wandering.--“Of course you will
not breathe a word of this, up there,”--he nodded in the direction of
the House. “It would not do. But the truth is, he is making a great
mistake. I am prepared for this campaign, and he is not. He is even
thinking of reducing the men’s wages still further. The fool--the
fool--the fool! For he _is_ a fool, you know, though he thinks he is so
clever.”

Even Mr. Wone would scarcely have dared to utter these bold
asseverations in the ear of Gladys Romer’s cousin, if Maurice’s innate
indiscretion had not made it the gossip of the village that the Italian
was ill-treated “among those people.” To the pathetic man’s poor vulgar
turn of mind there was something soothing in this confidential abuse
of the lord of Nevilton Manor to his own relation. It had a squalid
piquancy. It was itself a sort of revenge.

Once more he began his spasmodic enunciation of those sad economic
platitudes that are the refuge of the oppressed; but Mr. Quincunx had
crossed the road, in the pursuit of a decrepit tiger-moth, and was
listening no more. Lacrima’s attention was completely withdrawn.

“Well, dear friends,” he concluded, “I must really be getting back to
my supper. Mrs. Wone will be unbearable if I am late.” He hesitated
a moment as if wondering whether the occasion called for any further
domestic jocosity, to let these high matters lightly down to earth; but
he contented himself with shaking hands with Mr. Quincunx and removing
his hat to Lacrima.

“Good night, dear friends,” he repeated, drifting off, up the road,
humming a hymn tune.

“Poor man!” whispered the girl, “he means well.”

“He ought to be shot!” was the unexpected response of the hermit of
Dead Man’s Cottage, as he let the tiger-moth flutter down into the edge
of the field. “He is no better than the rest. He is an idiot. He ought
to learn Latin.”

They moved together towards the station.

“I don’t like the way you agree with people to their face,” said
Lacrima, “and abuse them behind their backs.”

“I don’t like the way you hang about the roads with handsome
stone-cutters,” was Mr. Quincunx’s surly retort.

Meanwhile, a quite interesting little drama had been unfolding itself
in the neighbourhood of the half-carved block of sandstone. Instructed,
by a swift flash of perception, into what the situation implied, Luke’s
quick magnetic fingers soon drew from his companion’s an electric
responsive clasp, as they leant together over the mouldings. The warmth
and pliable softness of the girl’s body seemed to challenge the man
with intimations of how quickly it would yield. He pointed to the
shed-door, wide open behind them.

“I will show you my work, in there, in a moment,” he murmured, “as soon
as they have gone.”

Her breast rose and fell under the increased excitement of her
breathing. Violent quivers ran up and down her frame and communicated
themselves to him. Their hearts beat fiercely in reciprocal agitation.
Luke’s voice, as he continued his conventional summary of the quality
and destination of the stone, shook a little, and sounded queer and
detached.

“It is for Shaftesbury church,” he said, “for the base of the column
that supports the arch. This particular moulding is one which my father
designed. You must remember that upon it will rest a great deal of the
weight of the roof.”

His fellow workmen had now collected their tools and were shuffling
nervously past them. It required all Gladys’ sang-froid to give them
the casual nod due from the daughter of the House to those who laboured
in its service. As soon as they were well upon their way, with a quick
glance at the distant figures of Lacrima and James, Gladys turned
rapidly to her companion.

“Show me,” she said.

He went before her and stood in the entrance of the work-shop. When
she had passed him into its interior, he casually closed behind them
one of the rough folding doors. The contrast from the horizontal sun
outside, turning the sandstone blocks into ruddy gold, to the shadowy
twilight within, was strangely emphatic. He began to speak; saying he
hardly knew what--some kind of stammered nonsense about the bases and
capitals and carved mouldings that lay around them. But Gladys, true to
her feminine prerogative, swept all this aside. With a bold audacity
she began at once.

“How nice to be alone and free, for a little while!”

Then, moving still further into the shadow, and standing, as if
absorbed in interest, before the rough beginnings of a fluted pillar
which reached as high as the roof--

“What kind of top are you going to put on to that thing?”

As she spoke she leant against the pillar with a soft, weary relaxation
of her whole form.

“Come near and tell me about it,” she whispered, as if her breath
caught in her throat.

Luke recognized the tone--the tone that said, so much more distinctly
than words, “I am ready. Why are you so slow?” He came behind her,
and as gently and lightly as he could, though his arms trembled, let
his fingers slide caressingly round her flexible figure. Her breath
came in quick gasps, and one hot small hand met his own and pressed
it against her side. Encouraged by this response, he boldly drew her
towards him. She struggled a little; a shy girlish struggle, more than
half conventional--and then, sliding round in his arms with a quick
feline movement, she abandoned herself to her craving, and embraced
him shamelessly and passionately. When at last in sheer weariness her
arms relaxed and she sank down, with her hands pressed to her burning
cheeks, upon an unfinished font, Luke Andersen thought that never to
his dying day would he forget the serpentine clinging of that supple
form and the pressure of those insatiable lips. He turned, a little
foolishly, towards the door and kicked with his foot a fragment
of a carved reredos. Then he went back to her and half-playfully,
half-amorously, tried to remove her hands from her face.

“Don’t touch me! I hate you!” she said.

“Please,” he whispered, “please don’t be unkind now. I shall never,
never forget how sweet you’ve been.”

“Tell me more about this work of yours,” she suddenly remarked, in a
completely changed voice, rising to her feet. “I have always understood
that you were one of our best workmen. I shall tell my father how
highly I think of what you’re doing--you and your brother. I am sure he
will be glad to know what artists he has among his men.”

She gave her head a proud little toss and raised negligent deliberate
hands to her disarranged fair hair, smoothing it down and readjusting
her wide-brimmed hat. She had become the grand lady again and Luke
had become the ordinary young stone-mason. Superficially, and with
a charming grace, he adapted himself to this change, continuing his
conventional remarks about fonts, pillars, crosses, and capitals; and
calling her “Miss” or “Miss Gladys,” with scrupulous discretion. But
in his heart, all the while, he was registering a deep and vindictive
vow--a vow that, at whatever risk and at whatever cost, he would make
this fair young despot suffer for her caprice. Gladys had indeed, quite
unwittingly, entered into a struggle with a nature as remorseless and
unscrupulous as her own. She had dreamed, in her imperial way, of using
this boy for her amusement, and then throwing him aside. She did not
for a moment intend to get entangled in any sentimental relations with
him. A passing “amour,” leading to nothing, and in no way committing
her, was what she had instinctively counted on. For the rest, in
snatching fiercely at any pleasure her fervent senses craved, she was
as conscienceless and antinomian, as a young tiger out of the jungle.
Nor had she the remotest sense of danger in this exciting sport.
Corrupt and insensitive as any amorous courtezan of a pagan age, she
trusted to her freedom from innocence to assure her of freedom from
disaster. Vaguely enough in her own mind she had assumed, as these
masterful “blond beasts” are inclined to assume, that in pouncing on
this new prey she was only dealing once more with that malleable and
timorous humanity she had found so easy to mould to her purpose in
other quarters. She reckoned, with a pathetic simplicity, that Luke
would be clay in her hands. As a matter of fact this spoiled child of
the wealth produced by the Leonian stone had audaciously flung down
her challenge to one who had as much in him as herself of that stone’s
tenacity and imperviousness. The daughter of sandstone met the carver
of sandstone; and none, who knew the two, would have dared to predict
the issue of such an encounter.

The young man was still urbanely and discreetly discoursing to his
lady-visitor upon the contents of the work-shop, when the tall figure
of James Andersen darkened the door.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he said to Gladys, “but Miss Lacrima asked me to
tell you that she was waiting for you on the bridge.”

“Thank you, James,” answered the girl simply, “I will come. I am afraid
my interest in all the things your brother has been so kindly showing
me has made you both late. I am sorry.” Here she actually went so far
as to fumble in her skirt for her purse. After an awkward pause, during
which the two men waited at either side of the door, she found what she
sought, and tripping lightly by, turned as she passed Luke and placed
in his hand, the hand that so recently had been clasped about her
person, the insolent recompense of a piece of silver. Bidding them both
good-night, she hurried away to rejoin Lacrima, who, having by this
time got rid of Mr. Quincunx, moved down the road to meet her.

Luke closed and locked the door of the shed without a word. Then to
the astonishment of James Andersen he proceeded to dance a kind of
grotesque war-dance, ending it with a suppressed half-mocking howl, as
he leant exhausted against the wall of the building.

“I’ve got her, I’ve got her, I’ve got her!” he repeated. “James, my
darling Daddy James, I’ve got this girl in the palm of my hand!” He
humorously proceeded to toss the coin she had given him high in the
air. “Heads or tails?” he cried, as the thing fell among the weeds.
“Heads! It’s heads, my boy! That means that Miss Gladys Romer will be
sorry she ever stepped inside this work-shop of ours. Come, let’s wash
and eat, my brother; for the gods have been good to us today.”



CHAPTER V

FRANCIS TAXATER


The day following the one whose persuasive influence we have just
recorded was not less auspicious. The weather seemed to have effected
a transference of its accustomed quality, bringing to the banks of the
Yeo and the Parret the atmospheric conditions belonging to those of the
Loire or the Arno.

Having finished her tea Valentia Seldom was strolling meditatively up
and down the vicarage terrace, alternately stopping to pick off the
petals of a dead flower, or to gaze, with a little gloomy frown, upon
the grass of the orchard.

Her slender upright figure, in her black silk dress, made a fine
contrast to the rich green foliage about her, set on one side with
ruby-coloured roses and on the other with yellow buttercups. But the
old lady was in no peaceful frame of mind. Every now and then she
tapped the gravel impatiently with her ebony stick; and the hand that
toyed with the trinkets at her side mechanically closed and unclosed
its fingers under the wrist-band of Mechlin lace. It was with something
of an irritable start, that she turned round to greet Francis Taxater,
as led by the little servant he presented himself to her attention.
He moved to greet her with his usual imperturbable gravity, walking
sedately along the edge of the flowery border; with one shoulder a
little higher than the other and his eyes on the ground.

His formidable prelatical chin seemed more than ever firmly set that
afternoon, and his grey waistcoat, under his shabby black coat, was
tightly drawn across his emphatic stomach. His coal-black eyes,
darkened yet further by the shadow of his hat, glanced furtively to
right and left of him as he advanced. In the manner peculiar to persons
disciplined by Catholic self-control, his head never followed, by the
least movement, the shrewd explorations of these diplomatic eyes.

One would have taken him for a French bishop, of aristocratic race,
masquerading, for purposes of discretion, in the dress of a secular
scholar.

Everything about Francis Taxater, from the noble intellectual contours
of his forehead, down to his small satyr-like feet, smacked of the
courtier and the priest; of the learned student, and the urbane
frequenter of sacred conclaves. His small white hand, plump and
exquisitely shaped, rested heavily on his cane. He carried with him
in every movement and gesture that curious air of dramatic weight and
importance which men of diplomatic experience are alone able to use
without letting it degenerate into mannerism. It was obvious that he,
at any rate, according to Mr. Quincunx’s favourite discrimination,
“knew Latin.” He seemed to have slid, as it were, into this commercial
modern world, from among the contemporaries of Bossuet. One felt that
his authors were not Ibsen or Tolstoy, but Horace and Cicero.

One felt also, however, that in sheer psychological astuteness not even
Mr. Romer himself would be a match for him. Between those two, the
man of modern wisdom and the man of ancient wisdom, any struggle that
might chance to occur would be a singularly curious one. If Mr. Taxater
really was “on the side of the angels,” he was certainly there with
the full weight of organized hierarchies. If he did exert his strength
upon the side of “meekness,” it would be a strength of no feverish,
spasmodic eruption.

If Satan threw a Borgia in Mr. Taxater’s path, that Borgia, it
appeared, would find his Machiavel.

“Yes, it is a lovely day again,” said the old lady, leading her visitor
to a seat and placing herself by his side. “But what is our naughty
Monsignor doing, playing truant from his consistory? I thought you
would be in London this week--at the Eucharist Conference your people
are holding? Is it to the loveliness of the weather that we owe this
pleasant surprise?”

One almost expected--so formal and old-fashioned were the two
interlocutors--that Mr. Taxater would have replied, in the tone of
Ivanhoe or the Talisman, “A truce to such jesting, Madam!” No doubt
if he had, the lady would hardly have discerned any anachronism. As a
matter of fact he did not answer her question at all, but substituted
one of his own.

“I met Vennie in the village,” he said. “Do you think she is happier
now, in her new English circle?”

“Ah! my friend,” cried the old lady, in a nervous voice, “it is of
Vennie that I have been thinking all this afternoon. No, I cannot say I
think she is happier. I wonder if it is one thing; and then I wonder if
it is another. I cannot get to the bottom of it and it worries me.”

“I expect it is her nerves,” said the diplomatist. “Though the sun is
so warm, there has been a constant east wind lately; and, as you know,
I put down most of our agitations to the presence of east wind.”

“It will not do, Mr. Taxater; it will not do! It may be the east wind
with you and me. It is not the east wind with Vennie. Something is
troubling her. I wish I could discern what it is?”

“She isn’t by any chance being vexed by some theological dispute with
the Vicar, is she? I know how seriously she takes all his views.
And his views are, if I may say so, decidedly confusing. Don’t
misunderstand me, dear lady. I respect Mr. Clavering and admire him.
I like the shape of his head; especially when he wears his beretta.
But I cannot feel much confidence in his wisdom in dealing with a
sensitive child like your daughter. He is too impulsive. He is too
dogmatic. He lives too entirely in the world of doctrinal controversy.
It is dangerous”; here Mr. Taxater luxuriously stretched out his legs
and lit a cigarette; “it is dangerous to live only for theology. We
have to learn to live for Religion; and that is a much more elaborate
affair. _That_ extends very far, Mrs. Seldom.” The old lady let her
stick slide to the ground and clasped her hands together. “I want to
ask you one thing, Mr. Taxater. And I implore you to be quite direct
with me. You do not think, do you, that my girl is tending towards
_your_ church--towards Rome? I confess it would be a heavy blow to me,
one of the heaviest I have ever had, if anything of that kind happened.
I know you are tolerant enough to let me speak like this without
scruple. I like _you_, my dear friend--” Here a soft flush spread over
Valentia’s ivory-coloured cheeks and she made a little movement as if
to put her hand on her companion’s arm. “I like you yourself, and have
the utmost confidence in you. But Oh, it would be a terrible shock to
me if Vennie became a Roman Catholic. She would enter a convent; I
_know_ she would enter a convent and that would be more than I could
bear.” The accumulated distress of many years was in the old lady’s
voice and tears stood in her eyes. “I know it is silly,” she went on as
Mr. Taxater steadily regarded the landscape. “But I cannot help it. I
do so hope--Oh, I can’t tell you how much--that Vennie will marry and
have children. It is the secret burden of my life, the thought that,
with this frail little thing, our ancient race should disappear. I feel
it my deepest duty--my duty to the Past and my duty to the Future--to
arrange a happy marriage for her. If only that could be achieved, I
should be able to die content.”

“You have no evidence, no authority for thinking,” said Mr. Taxater
gravely, “that she is meditating any approach to _my_ church, as you
call it, have you?”

“Oh no!” cried the old lady, “quite the contrary. She seems absorbed
in the services here. She works with Mr. Clavering, she discusses
everything with Mr. Clavering, she helps Mr. Clavering with the poor. I
believe”--here Valentia lowered her voice; “I believe she confesses to
Mr. Clavering.”

Francis Taxater smiled--the smile of the heir of Christendom’s classic
faith at these pathetic fumblings of heresy--and carefully knocked the
ashes from his cigarette against the handle of his cane.

“You don’t think, dear lady,” he said, “that by any chance--girls are
curiously subtle in these little things--she is ‘in love,’ as they call
it, with our nice handsome Vicar?”

Valentia gave an involuntary little start. In her heart there rose up
the shadow of a shadow of questioning, whether in this last remark the
great secular diplomatist had not lapsed into something approaching a
“faux pas.”

“Certainly not,” she answered. “Vennie is not a girl to mix up her
religion with things of that sort.”

Francis Taxater permitted the flicker of a smile to cross his face. He
slightly protruded his lower lip which gave his countenance a rather
sinister expression. His look said, more clearly than words, that in
his opinion there was no woman on earth who did not “mix up these
things” with her religion.

“I have not yet made my request to you,” continued the old lady, with
a certain nervous hesitation. “I am so afraid lest you should think
it an evidence of a lack of confidence. It isn’t so! It really isn’t
so. I only do it to relieve my mind;--to make my food taste better, if
you understand?--and to stop this throbbing in my head.” She paused
for a moment, and picking up her stick, prodded the gravel with it,
with lowered face. The voices of not less than three wood-pigeons were
audible from the apple-orchard. And this soft accompaniment to her
words seemed to give her courage. Fate could not, surely, altogether
betray her prayers, in a place so brooded over by “the wings of the
dove.” In the exquisite hush of the afternoon the birds’ rich voices
seemed to take an almost liturgical tone--as though they were the
ministers of a great natural temple. To make a solemn request of
a dear friend under such conditions was almost as though one were
exacting a sacred vow under the very shadow of the altar.

So at least Valentia felt, as she uttered her serious petition; though
it may well be that Mr. Taxater, skilled in the mental discipline of
Saint Ignatius, knew better how to keep the distracting influences of
mere “Nature,” in their proper secondary place.

“I want you faithfully to promise me,” she said, “that you will in
no way--in no way at all--use your influence over Vennie to draw her
from her English faith.” The old lady’s voice became quite husky in
her emotion. “It would be dreadful to me to think,--I could not bear
to think”--she went on, “that you should in the smallest degree use
your great powers of mind to disturb the child’s present attitude. If
she is not happy, it is not--Oh, I assure you, it is not--in any sense
due to her being dissatisfied with her religion. It must be something
quite different. What it is, I cannot guess; but it must be something
quite different from _that_. Well, dear friend,” and she did now, quite
definitely, lay her hand on his arm, “will you promise this for me? You
will? I know you will.”

Francis Taxater rose from his seat and stood over her very gravely,
leaning upon his cane.

“You have done well to tell me this, Mrs. Seldom,” he said. “Most
certainly I shall make no attempt to influence Vennie. It would be
indeed contrary to all that I regard as wise and suitable in the
relations between us. I never convert people. I believe you will find
that very few of those who are born Catholics ever interfere in that
way. It is the impetuosity of new-comers into the church that gives
us this bad name. They often carry into their new faith the turbulent
theological zeal which distinguished them in their old one. I, at any
rate, am not like that. I leave people alone. I prefer to watch them
develop on their own lines. The last thing I should wish to do would
be to meddle with Vennie’s religious taste. It would be a blunder as
well as an impertinence. Vennie would be the first to resist any such
proceeding. It would destroy her respect for me. It might even destroy
her affection for me. It certainly would not move her. Indeed, dear
lady, if I wished to plant the child’s soul irrevocably in the soil
prepared by our good vicar I could not do anything more effective
than try to persuade her of its deficiencies. No, no! You may rely
upon me to stand completely aside in this matter. If Vennie _were_
led to join us--which for your sake, dear Mrs. Seldom, I hope will
never happen,--you may accept my word of honour it will be from her
own spontaneous impulse. I shall make not the least movement in the
direction you fear. _That_ I can devoutly promise.”

He turned away his head and regarded with calm, placid detachment the
rich, shadowy orchard and the golden buttercups.

The contours of his profile were so noble, and the pose of his head so
majestic, that the agitated mother was soothed and awed into complete
confidence.

“Thank God!” she exclaimed. “_That_ fear, at any rate, has passed. I
shall be grateful to you forever, dear friend, for what you have just
now said. It is a direct answer to my prayers.”

“May I, in my turn,” said Mr. Taxater, resuming his seat by her side,
“ask you a bold and uncalled for question? What would you do, if in
the changes and chances of this life, Vennie _did_ come to regard Mr.
Clavering with favour? Would you for a moment consider their union as a
possible one?”

Valentia looked not a little embarrassed. Once more, in her heart, she
accused the urbane scholar of a lack of delicacy and discretion. These
little questions are not the ones to put to a perturbed mother.

However, she answered him plainly enough. “I should not like it, I
confess. It would disappoint me. I am not ambitious, but sometimes I
catch myself desiring, for my beloved child, a marriage that would give
her the position she deserves, the position--pardon a woman’s weakness,
sir!--that her ancestors held in this place. But then, again, I am only
anxious for her happiness. No, Mr. Taxater. If such a thing did occur
I should not oppose it, Mr. Clavering is a gentleman, though a poor
one and, in a sense, an eccentric one. But I have no prejudice against
the marriage of our clergy. In fact I think they ought to marry. It
is so suitable, you know, to have a sensible woman endowed with such
opportunities for making her influence felt. I would not wish Vennie to
marry beneath her, but sooner than not see her married--well!--That is
the kind of feeling I have about it, Mr. Taxater.”

“Thank you--thank you. I fear my question was impertinent; but in
return for the solemn oath you exacted from me, I think I deserved some
reward, don’t you? But seriously, Mrs. Seldom, I do not think that any
of these less desirable fates will befall our dear child. I think she
will marry a pillar of the aristocracy, and remain herself a pillar of
the Anglican Church! I trust she will not, whatever happens, lose her
regard for her old Catholic friend.”

He rose as he spoke and held out his hand. Mrs. Seldom took it in her
own and held it for a moment with some emotion. Had he been a real
Monsignor, he could not have looked more calm, more tolerant, more
kind, than he looked at that moment. He wore the expression that high
ecclesiastics must come to wear, when devoted but somewhat troublesome
daughters of the church press close to kiss the amethystine ring.

A few minutes later he was passing out of the vicarage gate. The new
brood of warblers that flitted about the tall bushes at that spot
heard--with perfect unconcern--a mysterious Latin quotation issue
from that restrained mouth. They could hardly be blamed for not
understanding, even though they had migrated to these fields of heresy
from more classic places, that the plain English interpretation of the
dark saying was that all things are lawful to him whose motive is the
“Potestas Civitatis Dei!”

He crossed the dusty road and was proceeding towards his own house,
which was hardly more than a hundred yards away, when he saw through
a wide gap in the hedge a pleasant and familiar sight. It was a
hay-field, in the final stage of its “making,” surrendering to a great
loose stack, built up beneath enormous elm-trees, the last windrows of
its sweet-scented harvest.

Pausing for a moment to observe more closely this pleasant scene--for
hay-making in Dorsal Field amounted to a village ritual--Mr. Taxater
became aware that among the figures scattered in groups about the
meadow were the very two whose relation to one another he had just been
discussing. Vennie and the young clergyman were engaged in an animated
conversation with three of the farm-boys.

Mr. Taxater at once climbed through the gap, and crossing the field
approached the group unobserved. It was not till he was quite close
that Vennie caught sight of him. Her pale, pinched little face, under
its large hat, flushed slightly as she held out her hand; but her great
steady grey eyes were full of friendly welcome.

Mr. Clavering too was effusive and demonstrative in his greeting.
They chatted a little of indifferent matters, and the theologian was
introduced to the shy farm-boys, who stared at him in rustic wonder.

Then Hugh Clavering said, “If you’ll pardon me for a moment, I think
I ought to go across and speak to John Goring,” and he indicated the
farmer’s figure bending over a new gleaning-machine, at the opposite
end of the field. “Don’t go away, please, Mr. Taxater, till I come
back. You will keep him, won’t you, Miss Seldom?”

He strode off; and the boys drifted away after him, leaving Mr. Taxater
and the girl together, under the unfinished hay-stack. “I was so much
wanting to speak to you,” began Vennie at once. “I very nearly ran in
to the Gables; but I saw Mrs. Wotnot over the wall, and she told me you
were out. I am in serious need of advice upon a thing that is troubling
me, and you are the only person who can really help.”

The expression of Mr. Taxater’s face at that moment was so sympathetic,
and yet so grave, that one would hardly have been surprised to hear
him utter the conventional formula of a priest awaiting confession.
Though unuttered, the sacred formula must have been telepathically
communicated, for Vennie continued without a pause, holding her hands
behind her back, and looking on the ground. “Ever since our last
serious conversation--do you remember?--after Easter, I have been
thinking so much about that phrase of yours, referring to the Pope, as
the eternal living defender of the idea of Love as the secret of the
universe. Mr. Clavering talks to me about love--you know what I mean,”
she smiled and blushed prettily, with a quick lifting of her head, “but
he never gives me the feeling of something real and actual which we can
approach on earth--something personal, I mean. And I have been feeling
so much lately that this is what I want. Mr. Clavering is very gentle
with me when I try to explain my difficulties to him; but I don’t think
he really understands. The way he talks is beautiful and inspiring--but
it somehow sounds like poetry. It does not give me anything to lay
hands on.” And she looked into Mr. Taxater’s face with a pathetic
wide-eyed appeal, as if he were able to call down angels from heaven.

“Dear child,” said the diplomatist, “I know only too well what you
mean. Yes, that is the unfortunate and necessary limitation of a
heretical church. It can only offer mystic and poetic consolations. It
has lost touch with the one true Vine, and consequently the full stream
of life-giving sap cannot flow through its veins.”

“But I have felt so strengthened,” said Vennie mournfully, “by the
sacrament in our Church; so strengthened and inspired! It seems
dreadful that it should all be a sort of mockery.”

“Do not speak like that, dear child,” said Mr. Taxater. “God is good;
and in his knowledge of our weakness he permits us to taste of his
mystery even in forbidden cups. The motive in your heart, the faith
in your soul, have been pure; and God has given to them some measure,
though but an imperfect one, of what he will grant to your complete
obedience.”

Vennie bent down and picking up a swathe of sweet-scented hay twisted
it thoughtfully in her fingers. “God has indeed been working miracles
on your behalf,” continued Mr. Taxater. “It must have been your
guardian angel that led me to speak to you as I did at that time. For
in future, I regret to say, I shall be less free. But the good work has
been done. The seed has been sown. What follows must be at your own
initiative.”

Vennie looked at him, puzzled, and rather alarmed. “Why do you say you
will be less free? Are we going to have no more lovely conversations at
the bottom of our orchard? Are you going to be too busy to see me at
all?”

Mr. Taxater smiled. “Oh no, it isn’t as bad as that,” he said. “It is
only that I have just faithfully promised your mother not to convert
you to Catholicism.”

“Mother had no right to make you give any such promise,” cried the girl
indignantly.

“No,” responded the diplomatist, “she had no such right. No one has
a right to demand promises of that kind. It is one of the worst and
subtlest forms of persecution.”

“But you did not promise? You surely did not promise?”

“There was no escaping it,” replied Mr. Taxater. “If I had not done so
she would have given you no peace, and your future movements would have
been mercilessly watched. However,” he went on, smilingly, “a promise
exacted under that kind of compulsion must be interpreted in a very
large and liberal way. Relatively I must avoid discussing these things
with you. In a higher and more absolute sense we will combine our
thoughts about them, day and night, until we worship at the same altar.”

Vennie was silent. The noble and exalted sophistry of the subtle
scholar puzzled and bewildered her. “But I have no idea of what to do
next,” she protested. “I know no Catholics but you. I should feel very
nervous on going to the priest in Yeoborough. Besides, I don’t at all
like the look of him. And the people here say he is often drunk. You
wouldn’t send me to a man like that, would you? Oh, I feel so angry
with mother! She had no right to go to you behind my back.”

Francis Taxater laid his hand gently on the girl’s shoulder. “There is
no reason for haste,” he said. “There is no cause to agitate yourself.
Just remain quietly as you are. Say nothing to your mother. It would
only cause her unnecessary distress. I never promised not to lend you
books. All my shelves are at your service. Read, my dear Vennie, read
and think. My books will supply the place of my words. Indeed, they
will serve the purpose much better. In this way we shall at once be
obeying your earthly mother, and not disobeying your heavenly mother,
who is now--Ave Maria gratiæ plena!--drawing you so strongly towards
her.”

“Shall I say anything to Mr. Clavering?”

“Not a word! not a word! And enter as little as possible into argument
with him. If he fancies, from your silence, that he has quelled your
doubts, let him fancy so. The mistake will be due to his own pride and
not to any deception. It is wrong to lie--but we are not called upon to
dispel illusions arising from the self-conceit of others.”

“But you--will--think--of me?” pleaded little Vennie. “I may know that
you have not deserted me? That you are always ready--always there?”

Mr. Taxater smiled benignly. “Of course I shall be ready, dear child.
And you must be ready. That is why I only ask you to read and think.
God will answer your prayers if you show patience. He has taught his
church never to clamour for hurried conversions. But to wait, with all
her reservoirs of mysteries, till they come to her of their own accord.
You will come, Vennie, you will come! But it will be in God’s hour and
not in ours.”

Vennie Seldom thanked him with a timid glance of infinite gratitude and
confidence. A soft luminous happiness suffused her being, into which
the scents and sounds of that felicitous hour poured their offerings of
subtle contentment. In after years, in strange and remote places, she
never forgot the high thrilling exultation, calm, yet passionate as an
indrawn wave, of that unrecurring moment.

The security that filled her passed, indeed, only too quickly away.
Her face clouded and a little anxious frown puckered her narrow white
forehead.

“There is something else I wanted to ask you,” she said hurriedly,
“and I must say it quickly because I am afraid of Mr. Clavering coming
back. It has to do with Mr. Clavering. I do not think you realize what
influence you have over people, what powerful influence! Mr. Clavering
adores you. He would do anything for you. He respects you as a thinker.
He venerates you as a good man. Now, Mr. Taxater, please, please,
use your influence with him to save him--to save him--” She stopped
abruptly, and a flood of colour rushed to her cheeks.

“To save him from what, dear child? I am afraid there is no hope of Mr.
Clavering coming to our way of thinking.”

“It isn’t that, Mr. Taxater! It’s something else;--something to do with
his own happiness, with his own life. Oh, it is so hard for me to tell
you!” She clenched her hands tightly together and looked steadily away
from him as she spoke. “It is that that dreadful Gladys Romer has been
plaguing him so--tempting him to flirt with her, to be silly about
her, and all that sort of thing. He does not really like her at all.
That I _know_. But he is passionate and excitable, and easily led away
by a girl like that. Oh, it all sounds so absurd, as I say it,” cried
poor Vennie, with cheeks that were by this time flaming, “but it’s
much, much more serious than it sounds. You see, I know Mr. Clavering
very well. I know how simple and pure-minded he is. And I know how
desperately he prays against being led away--like this. Gladys does
not care for him really a bit. She only does it to amuse herself; to
satisfy her wicked, wicked nature! She would like to lead him as far as
she possibly could, and then to turn upon him and make him thoroughly
miserable. She is the kind of girl--Oh what am I saying to you, Mr.
Taxater?--that men always are attracted by. Some men I believe would
even call her beautiful. I don’t think she’s that at all. I think she
is gross, fleshly, and horrid! But I know what a danger she is to Mr.
Clavering. I know the dreadful struggle that goes on in his mind; and
the horrible temptation she is to him. I know that after seeing her
he always suffers the most cruel remorse. Now, Mr. Taxater, use your
influence to strengthen him against this girl’s treachery. She only
means him harm, I know she does! And if a person like you, whom he
loves and admires so much, talked to him seriously about it, it would
be such a help to him. He is so young. He is a mere boy, and absolutely
ignorant of the world. He does not even realize that the village has
already begun its horrid gossip about them. Do--do, do something, Mr.
Taxater. It is like that young Parsifal, in the play, being tempted by
the enchantress.”

“But how do they meet?” asked the diplomatist, with unchanged gravity.
“I do not see how they are ever alone together.”

“She has arranged it. She is so clever; the bad, bad girl! She goes
to him for confirmation lessons. He teaches her in his study twice a
week--separately from the others.”

“But her father is a Unitarian.”

“That does not interfere. She does what she likes with Mr. Romer. Her
game now is to want to be baptized into our church. She is going to be
baptized first, and then confirmed.”

“And the preparation for baptism is as dangerous as the preparation for
confirmation,” remarked the scholar; straightening the muscles of his
mouth, after the discipline of St. Ignatius.

“The whole thing is horrible--dreadful! It frets me every hour of the
day. He is so good and so innocent. He has no idea where she is leading
him.”

“But I cannot prevent her wanting to be baptized,” said Mr. Taxater.

“You can talk to him,” answered Vennie, with intense conviction. “You
can talk to him and he will listen to you. You can tell him the danger
he is in of being made miserable for life.” She drew her breath deeply.
“Oh the remorse he will feel; the horrible, horrible remorse!”

Mr. Taxater glanced across the hay-field. The sun, a red globe of fire,
was resting on the extreme edge of Leo’s Hill, and seemed like a great
blood-shot eye regarding them with lurid interest. Long cool shadows,
thrown across the field by the elms in the hedge and by the stack
beside them, melted magically into one another, and made the hillocks
of still ungathered grass soft and intangible as fairy graves.

“I will do my best,” said the scholar. “I will do my best.” And
indicating to Vennie, who was absorbed in her nervous gratitude, the
near approach of the object of their saintly conspiracy, he led her
forward to meet the young clergyman with an appropriate air of friendly
and casual nonchalance.

“I am sorry to have to say it,” was Mr. Clavering’s greeting, “but
that farmer-fellow is the only person in my parish for whom I have a
complete detestation. I wish to goodness Mr. Romer had never brought
him into the place!”

“I don’t like the look of his back, I must say,” answered the
theologian, following with his eyes the retreating figure of Mr. John
Goring.

“He is,” said the young priest, “without exception the most repulsive
human being I have ever met in my life. Our worthy Romer is an angel of
light compared with him.”

With Mr. Goring still as their topic, they strolled amicably together
towards the same gap in the hedge, through which the apologist of
the papacy had emerged an hour before. There they separated; Vennie
returning to the vicarage, and the young clergyman carrying off Mr.
Taxater to supper with him in his house by the church.

Clavering’s establishment consisted of a middle-aged woman of
inordinate volubility, and the woman’s daughter, a girl of twelve.

The supper offered by the priest to his guest was “light and
choice”--nor did it lack its mellow accompaniment of carefully
selected, if not “Attic,” wine. Of this wine Mr. Taxater did not
hesitate to partake freely, sitting, when the meal was over, opposite
his host at the open window, through which the pleasant murmurs of
the evening, and the voices of the village-street, soothingly and
harmoniously floated.

The famous theologian was in an excellent temper. Rich recondite jests
pursued one another from his smiling lips, and his white hands folded
themselves complacently above the cross on his watch-chain.

Lottie Fringe, the child of Clavering’s servant, tripped sportively
in and out of the room, encouraged in her girlish coquetries by the
amiable scholar. She was not yet too old to be the kittenish plaything
of the lighter moments of a wise and scholarly man, and it was pleasant
to watch the zest with which the vicar’s visitor entered into her
sportive audacities. Mr. Taxater made her fill and refill his glass,
and taking her playfully on his knee, kissed her and fondled her many
times. It was the vicar himself, who finally, a little embarrassed by
these levities, sent the girl off to the kitchen, apologizing to his
guest for the freedom she displayed.

“Do not apologize, dear Mr. Clavering,” said the theologian. “I love
all children, especially when they are girls. There is something
about the kisses of a young girl--at once amorous and innocent--which
reconciles one to the universe, and keeps death at a distance. Could
one for a moment think of death, when holding a young thing, so full of
life and beauty, on one’s knee?”

The young priest’s face clouded. “To be quite honest with you, Mr.
Taxater,” he murmured, in a troubled voice, “I cannot say that I
altogether agree. We are both unconventional people, so I may speak
freely. I do not think that one does a child any good by encouraging
her to be playful and forward, in that particular way. You live with
your books; but I live with my people, and I have known so many sad
cases of girls being completely ruined by getting a premature taste for
coquetry of that kind.”

“I am afraid, my friend,” answered Mr. Taxater, “that the worst of all
heresies is lodged deep in your heart.”

“Heresies? God knows,” sighed the priest, “I have enough evil in my
heart--but heresies? I am at a loss to catch your meaning.”

In the absence of his playful Clerica--to use the Pantagruelian
allusion--the great Homenas of Nevilton was compelled to fill his
“tall-boy of extravagant wine” with his own hand. He did so, and
continued his explanation.

“By the worst of all heresies I mean the dangerous Puritan idea that
pleasure itself is evil and a thing detestable to God. The Catholic
doctrine, as I understand it, is that all these things are entirely
relative to the persons concerned. Pleasure in itself is, in the
Aristotelian sense, a supreme good. Everyone has a right to it.
Everyone must have it. The whole thing is a matter of proportion and
expediency. If an innocent playful game, of the kind you have just
witnessed, was likely in this definite particular case to lead to harm,
then you would be justified in your anxiety. But there must be no
laying down of hard general rules. There must be no making a virtue of
the mere denying ourselves pleasure.”

Mr. Clavering could hardly wait for his guest to finish.

“Then, according to your theory,” he exclaimed, “it would be right for
you, or whoever you will,--pardon my making the thing so personal--to
indulge in casual levities with any pretty barmaid, as long as you
vaguely surmised that she was a sensible girl and would not be harmed?”

“Certainly it would be right,” replied the papal apologist, sipping his
wine and inhaling the perfume of the garden, “and not only right, but
a plain duty. It is our duty, Mr. Clavering, to make the world happier
while we live in it; and the way to make girls happier, especially when
their occupations are laborious, is to kiss them; to give them innocent
and admiring embraces.”

“I am afraid you are not quite serious, Mr. Taxater,” said the
clergyman. “I have an absurd way of being direct and literal in these
discussions.”

“Certainly, I am serious. Do you not know--young puritan--that some
of the noblest spirits in history have not hesitated to increase
the pleasure of girls’ lives by giving them frequent kisses? In the
Greek days he who could give the most charming kiss was awarded
a public prize. In the Elizabethan days all the great and heroic
souls, whose exquisite wit and passionate imagination put us still to
shame, held large and liberal views on this matter. In the eighteenth
century the courtly and moral Joseph Addison used never to leave a
coffee-house, however humble and poor, without bestowing a friendly
embrace upon every woman in it. The religious Doctor Johnson--a man of
your own faith--was notoriously in the habit of taking his prettier
visitors upon his knee, and tenderly kissing them. It is no doubt
due to this fact, that the great lexicographer was so frequently
visited;--especially by young Quakers. When we come to our own age, it
is well known that the late Archbishop Taraton, the refuter of Darwin,
was never so happy as when romping round the raspberry-canes in his
garden with a crowd of playful girls.

“These great and wise men have all recognized the fact that pleasure is
not an evil but a good. A good, however, that must be used discreetly
and according to the Christian self-control of which God has given his
Church the secret. The senses are not under a curse, Mr. Clavering.
They are not given us simply to tempt and perplex us. They are given
for our wise and moderate enjoyment.”

Francis Taxater once more lifted his glass to his lips.

“To the devil with this Protestant Puritanism of yours! It has darkened
the sun in heaven. It is the cause of all the squalid vice and gross
excesses of our forlorn England. It is the cause of the deplorable
perversities that one sees around one. It is the cause of that odious
hypocrisy that makes us the laughing-stock of the great civilized
nations of France, Italy and Spain.” The theologian drew a deep breath,
and continued. “I notice, Mr. Clavering, that you have by your side,
still unfinished, your second glass of wine. That is a mistake. That is
an insult to Providence. Whatever may be your attitude towards these
butterfly-wenches, it cannot, as a matter of poetic economy, be right
to leave a wine, as delicate, as delicious as this, to spoil in the
glass.

“I suppose it has never occurred to you, Mr. Clavering, to go and sit,
with the more interesting of your flock, at the Seldom Arms? It never
has? So I imagined from my knowledge of your uncivilized English ways.

“The European café, sir, is the universal school of refined and
intellectual pleasure. It was from his seat in a Roman café--a place
not unknown to me myself--that the great Gibbon was accustomed to
survey the summer moon, rising above the Pantheon.

“It is the same in the matter of wine as in the other matter. It is
your hypocritical and puritanical fear of pleasure that leads to the
gross imbibing of villainous spirits and the subterranean slavery of
prostitution. If you allowed yourselves, freely, naturally, and with
Christian moderation, to enjoy the admirable gifts of the supreme
giver, there would no longer be any need for this deplorable plunging
into insane vice. As it is--in this appalling country of yours--one can
understand every form of debauchery.”

At this point Mr. Clavering intervened with an eager and passionate
question. He had been listening intently to his visitor’s words, and
his clear-cut, mobile face had changed its expression more than once
during this long discourse.

“You do not, then, think,” said he, in a tone of something like
supplication, “that there is anything wrong in giving ourselves up to
the intense emotion which the presence of beauty and charm is able to
excite?”

“Wrong?” said Mr. Taxater. “It is wrong to suppress such feelings! It
is all a matter of proportion, my good sir, a matter of proportion and
common sense. A little psychological insight will soon make us aware
whether the emotion you speak of is likely to prove injurious to the
object of our admiration.”

“But oneself--what about oneself?” cried the young priest. “Is there
not a terrible danger, in all these things, lest one’s spiritual ideal
should become blurred and blighted?”

To this question Mr. Taxater returned an answer so formidable and
final, that the conversation was brought to an abrupt close.

“What,” he said, “has God given us the Blessed Sacraments for?”

Hugh Clavering escorted his visitor to the corner of the street and
bade him good-night there. As he re-entered his little garden, he
turned for a moment to look at the slender tower of St. Catharine’s
church, rising calm and still into the hot June sky. Between him and
it, flitted like the ghost of a dead Thaïs or Phryne, the pallid shadow
of an impassioned temptress holding out provocative arms. The form of
the figure seemed woven of all the vapours of unbridled poetic fantasy,
but the heavy yellow hair which most of all hid the tower from his view
was the hair of Gladys Romer.

The apologist of the papacy strolled slowly and meditatively back to
his own house with the easy step of one who was in complete harmony
both with gods and men. Above him the early stars began, one by one, to
shine down upon the earth, but as he glanced up towards them, removing
his hat and passing his hand across his forehead, the great diplomatist
appeared quite untroubled by the ineffable littleness of all earthly
considerations, under the remoteness of those austere watchers.

The barking of dogs, in distant unknown yards, the melancholy cry of
new-shorn lambs, somewhere far across the pastures, the soft, low,
intermittent breathing, full of whispers and odours, of the whole
mysterious night, seemed only to throw Mr. Taxater back more completely
and securely upon that firm ecclesiastical tradition which takes the
hearts of men in its hands and turns them away from the Outer Darkness.

He let himself quietly into the Gables garden, by the little gate in
the wall, and entered his house. He was surprised to find the door
unlocked and a light burning in the kitchen. The careful Mrs. Wotnot
was accustomed to retire to rest at a much earlier hour. He found the
good woman extended at full length upon three hard chairs, her head
supported by a bundle of shawls. She was suffering from one of her
chronic rheumatic attacks, and was in considerable distress.

To a less equable and humane spirit there might have been something
rather irritating than pathetic about this unexpected finale to a
harmonious day. But Mr. Taxater’s face expressed no sign of any feeling
but that of grave and gentle concern.

With some difficulty, for the muscles of her body were twisted by
nervous spasms, the theologian supported the old woman up the stairs,
to her room under the eaves. Here he laid her upon the bed, and for the
rest of the night refused to leave her room, rubbing with his white
plump hands her thin old legs, and applying brandy to her lips at the
moments when the nervous contractions that assailed her seemed most
extreme. The delicate light of dawn showed its soft bluish pallour at
the small casemented window before the old lady fell asleep; but it
was not till relieved by a woman who appeared, several hours later,
with their morning’s milk, that the defender of the Catholic Faith in
Nevilton retired to his well-earned repose.



CHAPTER VI

THE PARIAHS


Mr. Quincunx was digging in his garden. The wind, a little stronger
than on the previous days and still blowing from the east, buffeted his
attenuated figure and ruffled his pointed beard, tinged with premature
grey. He dug up all manner of weeds, some large, some small, and
shaking them carefully free of the adhesive earth, flung them into a
wheel-barrow by his side.

It was approaching noon, and in spite of the chilly gusts of wind,
the sun beat down hotly upon the exposed front of Dead Man’s Cottage.
Every now and then Mr. Quincunx would leave his work; and retiring
into his kitchen, proceed with elaborate nicety to stir a small pot of
broth which simmered over the fire. He was a queer mixture of epicurean
preciseness and ascetic indifference in these matters, but, on the
whole, the epicurean tendency predominated, owing to a subtle poetic
passion in the eccentric man, for the symbolic charm of all these
little necessities of life. The lighting of his fire in the morning,
the crackling of the burning sticks, and their fragrant smell, gave Mr.
Quincunx probably as much pleasure as anything else in the world.

Every bowl of that fresh milk and brown bread, which, prepared with
meticulous care, formed his staple diet, was enjoyed by him with more
ceremonious concentration than most gourmands devote to their daintiest
meat and wine.

The broiling of his chicken on Sunday was a function of solemn ritual.
Mr. Quincunx bent over the bird, basting it with butter, in the
absorbed manner of a priest preparing the sacrament.

The digging up of onions or lettuces in his garden, and the stripping
them of their outer leaves, was a ceremony to be performed in no light
or casual haste, but with a prepared and concentrated spirit.

No profane hand ever touched the little canister of tea from which Mr.
Quincunx, at the same precise hour every day, replenished his tea-pot.

In all these material things his scrupulous and punctilious nicety
never suffered the smallest diminution. His mind might be agitated to a
point bordering upon despair, but he still, with mechanical foresight,
sawed the fagots in his wood-shed and drew the water from his well.

As he pulled up weed after weed, on this particular morning, his mind
was in a state of extreme nervous agitation. Mr. Romer had called him
up the night before to the House, and had announced that his present
income--the sum regarded by the recluse as absolutely secure--was now
entirely to cease, and in the place of it he was destined to receive,
in return for horrible clerical work performed in Yeoborough, a
considerably smaller sum, as Mr. Romer’s paid dependent.

The idea of working in an office was more distasteful to Mr. Quincunx
than it is possible to indicate to any person not actually acquainted
with him. His exquisitely characteristic hand, admirably adapted to
the meticulous diary he had kept for years, was entirely unsuited to
competing with type-writing machines and machine-like type-writers. The
walk to Yeoborough too,--a matter of some four or five miles--loomed
upon him as a hideous purgatory. Walking tired him much more than
working in his garden; and he had a nervous dread of those casual
encounters and salutations on the way, which the habitual use of the
same road to one’s work necessarily must imply.

His mind anticipated with hideous minuteness every detail of his
future dreary life. He decided that even at the cost of the sacrifice
of the last of his little luxuries he would make a point of going one
way at least by train. That walk, twice a day, through the depressing
suburbs of Yeoborough was more than he could bear to contemplate. It
was characteristic of him that he never for a moment considered the
possibility of an appeal to law. Law and lawyers were for Mr. Quincunx,
with his instincts of an amiable anarchist, simply the engines through
which the rich and powerful worked their will upon the weak and
helpless.

It was equally characteristic of him that it never entered his head to
throw up his cottage, pack his scanty possessions and seek his fortune
in another place. It was not only Lacrima that held him from such a
resolution. It was as impossible for him to think of striking out in a
new soil as it would have been for an aged frog to leave the pond of
its nativity and sally forth across the fields in search of new waters.
It was this inability to “strike out” and grapple with the world on
equal terms, that had led, in the beginning, to his curious relation to
the Romers. He clung to Susan Romer for no other reason than that she
supplied a link between his past and his present.

His lips trembled with anger and his hand shook, as he recalled the
interview of the preceding night. The wife had annoyed him almost
more than the husband. His brutality had been gross and frank. The
lascivious joy of a strong nature, in deliberately outraging a weaker
one, had gleamed forth from his jeering eyes.

But there had been an unction, an hypocritical sentimentality, about
Mrs. Romer’s tone, that had made him hate her the more bitterly of
the two. The fact that she also--stupid lump of fawning obesity as
she was!--was a victim of this imperial tyrant, did not in the least
assuage him. The helot who is under the lash hates the helot who
crouches by the master’s chair, more deeply than he hates the master.
It is because of this unhappy law of nature that there are so few
successful revolts among our social Pariahs. The well-constituted ruler
of men divides his serfs into those who hold the whip and those who are
whipped. Yes, he hated her the most. But how he hated them both!

The heart of your true Pariah is a strange and dark place, concealing
depths of rancorous animosity, which those who over-ride and discount
such feelings rarely calculate upon. It is a mistake to assume that
this curious rôle--the rôle of being a Pariah upon our planet--is one
confined to the submerged, the outcast, the criminal.

There are Pariahs in every village. It might be said that there are
Pariahs in every family. The Pariah is one who is born with an innate
inability to deal vigorously and effectively with his fellow animals.
One sees these unfortunates every day--on the street, in the office, at
the domestic hearth. One knows them by the queer look in their eyes;
the look of animals who have been crushed rather than tamed.

It is not only that they are weaker than the rest and less effectual.
They are _different_. It is in their difference that the tragedy of
their fate lies. Commonplace weaklings, who are not born Pariahs,
have in their hearts the same standards, the same ambitions, the same
prejudices, as those who rule the world. Such weaklings venerate,
admire, and even _love_ the strong unscrupulous hands, the crafty
unscrupulous brains, who push them to and fro like pawns.

But the Pariah does not venerate the Power that oppresses him. He
despises it and hates it. Long-accumulated loathing rankles in his
heart. He is crushed but not won. He is penned, like a shorn sheep; but
his thoughts “wander through Eternity.”

And it is this difference, separating him from the rest, that excites
such fury in those who oppress him. The healthy-minded prosperous man
is irritated beyond endurance by this stranger within the gate--this
incorrigible, ineffectual critic, cumbering his road. The mob, too,
always ready, like spiteful, cawing rooks, to fall upon a wounded
comrade, howl remorselessly for his destruction. The Pariah is seldom
able to retain the sweetness of his natural affections.

Buffeted by the unconscious brutality of those about him, he retorts
with conscious and unfathomable hatred. His soul festers and gangrenes
within him, and the loneliness of his place among his fellows leads him
to turn upon them all--like a rat in a gin. The pure-minded capable
man, perceiving the rancorous misanthropy of this sick spirit, longs to
trample him into the mud, to obliterate him, to forget him. But the man
whose strength and cunning is associated with lascivious perversity,
wishes to have him by his side, to humiliate, to degrade, to outrage.
A taste to be surrounded by Pariahs is an interesting peculiarity of a
certain successful class. Such companionship is to them a perpetual and
pleasing reminder of their own power.

Mr. Quincunx was a true Pariah in his miserable combination of
inability to strike back at the people who injured him, and inability
to forget their injuries. He propitiated their tastes, bent to their
will, conciliated their pride, agreed with their opinions, and hated
them with demoniacal hatred.

As he pulled up his weeds in the hot sun, this particular morning,
Maurice Quincunx fantastically consoled himself by imagining all
manner of disasters to his enemies. Every time he touched with his
hands the soft-crumbling earth, he uttered a kind of half-conscious
prayer that, in precisely such a way, the foundations of Nevilton House
should crumble and yield. Under his hat--for he was hypochondriacally
apprehensive about sunstrokes--flapped and waved in the wind a large
cabbage leaf, placed carefully at the back of his head to protect his
neck as he bent down. The shadow of this cabbage leaf, as it was
thrown across the dusty path, assumed singular and sinister shapes,
giving the impression sometimes that the head of Mr. Quincunx was
gnome-like or goblin-like in its proportions.

Perhaps the most unfortunate characteristic of Pariahs is that though
they cling instinctively to one another they are irritated and provoked
by each other’s peculiarities.

This unhappy tendency was now to receive sad confirmation in our
weed-puller’s case, for he was suddenly interrupted by the appearance
at his gate of Lacrima Traffio.

He rose to meet her, and without inviting her to pass the entrance, for
he was extremely nervous of village gossip, and one never knew what a
casual passer-by might think, he leant over the low wall and talked
with her from that security.

She seemed in a very depressed and pitiable mood and the large dark
eyes that fixed themselves upon her friend’s face were full of an
inarticulate appeal.

“I cannot endure it much longer,” she said. “It gets worse and worse
every day.”

Maurice Quincunx knew perfectly well what she meant, but the curious
irritation to which I have just referred drove him to rejoin:

“What gets worse?”

“Their unkindness,” answered the girl with a quick reproachful look,
“their perpetual unkindness.”

“But they feed you well, don’t they?” said the hermit, removing his hat
and rearranging the cabbage-leaf so as to adapt it to the new angle of
the sun. “And they don’t beat you. You haven’t to scrub floors or mend
clothes. People, like you and I, must be thankful for being allowed to
eat and sleep at all on this badly-arranged earth.”

“I keep thinking of Italy,” murmured Lacrima. “I think it is your
English ways that trouble me. I don’t believe--I can’t believe--they
always mean to be unkind. But English people are so heartless!”

“You seemed to like that Andersen fellow well enough,” grumbled Mr.
Quincunx.

“How can you be so silly, Maurice?” cried the girl, slipping through
the gate in spite of its owner’s furtive glances down the road. “How
can you be so silly?”

She moved past him, up the path, and seated herself upon the edge of
the wheel-barrow.

“You can go on with your weeding,” she said, “I can talk to you while
you work.”

“Of course,” murmured Mr. Quincunx, making no effort to resume his
labour, “you naturally find a handsome fellow like that, a more
pleasant companion than me. I don’t blame you. I understand it very
well.”

Lacrima impatiently took up a handful of groundsel and spurge from the
dusty heap by her side and flung them into the path.

“You make me quite angry with you, Maurice,” she cried. “How can you
say such things after all that has happened between us?”

“That’s the way,” jeered the man bitterly, plucking at his beard.
“That’s the way! Go on abusing me because you are not living at your
full pleasure, like a stall-fed upper-class lady!”

“I shan’t stay with you another moment,” cried Lacrima, with tears in
her eyes, “if you are so unkind.”

As soon as he had reduced her to this point, Mr. Quincunx
instantaneously became gentle and tender. This is one of the
profoundest laws of a Pariah’s being. He resents it when his companion
in helplessness shows a spirit beyond his own, but directly such a one
has been driven into reciprocal wretchedness, his own equanimity is
automatically regained.

After only the briefest glance at the gate, he put his arms round the
girl and kissed her affectionately. She returned his embrace with
interest, disarranging as she did so the cabbage-leaf in his hat, and
causing it to flutter down upon the path. They leant together for a
while in silence, against the edge of the wheel-barrow, their hands
joined.

Thus associated they would have appeared, to the dreaded passer-by,
in the light of a pair of extremely sentimental lovers, whose passion
had passed into the stage of delicious melancholia. The wind whirled
the dust in little eddies around them and the sun beat down upon their
heads.

“You must be kind to me when I come to tell you how unhappy I am,” said
the Italian. “You are the only real friend I have in the world.”

It is sad to have to relate that these tender words brought a certain
thrill of alarm into the heart of Mr. Quincunx. He felt a sudden
apprehension lest she might indicate that it was his duty to run away
with her, and face the world in remote regions.

No one but a born Pariah could have endured the confiding clasp of that
little hand and the memory of so ardent a kiss without being roused to
an impetuosity of passion ready to dare anything to make her its own.

Instead of pursuing any further the question of his friend’s troubles,
Mr. Quincunx brought the conversation round to his own.

“The worst that could happen to me has happened,” he said, and he told
her of his interview with the Romers the day before. The girl flushed
with anger.

“But this is abominable!” she cried, “simply abominable! You’d better
go at once and talk it over with Mrs. Seldom. Surely, surely, something
can be done! It is clear they have robbed you of your money. It is a
disgraceful thing! Santa Maria--what a country this is!”

“It is no use,” sighed the man helplessly. “Mrs. Seldom can’t help me.
She is poor enough herself. And she will know as well as I do that in
the matter of law I am entirely in their hands. My aunt had absolute
confidence in Mr. Romer and no confidence in me. No doubt she arranged
it with them that they were to dole me out the money like a charity.
Mr. Romer did once talk about my _lending_ it to him, and his paying
interest on it, and so forth; but he managed all my aunt’s affairs, and
I don’t know what arrangement he made with her. My aunt never liked
me really. I think if she were alive now she would probably support
them in what they are doing. She would certainly say,--she always
used to say--that it would do me good to do a little honest work.” He
pronounced the words “honest work” with concentrated bitterness.

“Probably,” he went on, “Mrs. Seldom would say the same. I know I
should be extremely unwilling to try and make her see how horrible to
me the idea of work of this kind is. She would never understand. She
would think it was only that I wanted to remain a “gentleman” and not
to lose caste. She would probably tell me that a great many gentlemen
have worked in offices before now. I daresay they have, and I hope
they enjoyed it! I know what these gentlemen-workers are, and how easy
things are made for them. They won’t be made easy for me. I can tell
you that, Lacrima!”

The girl drew a deep sigh, and walked slowly a few paces down the path,
meditating, with her hands behind her. Presently she turned.

“Perhaps after all,” she said, “it won’t be as bad as you fancy. I know
the head-clerk in Mr. Romer’s Yeoborough office and he is quite a nice
man--altogether different from that Lickwit.”

Mr. Quincunx stroked his beard with a trembling hand. “Of course I knew
you’d say that, Lacrima. You are just like the rest. You women all
think, at the bottom of your hearts, that men are no good if they can’t
make money. I believe you have an idea that I ought to do what people
call ‘get on a bit in the world.’ If you think that, it only shows
how little you understand me. I have no intention of ‘getting on.’ I
_won’t_ ‘get on’! I would sooner walk into Auber Lake and end the whole
business!”

The suddenness and injustice of this attack really did rouse the
Italian to anger. “Good-bye,” she said with a dark flash in her eyes.
“I see it’s no use talking to you when you are in this mood. You have
never, _never_ spoken to me in that tone before. Good-bye! I can open
the gate for myself, thank you.”

She walked away from him and passed out into the lane. He stood
watching her with a queer haggard look on his face, his sorrowful grey
eyes staring in front of him, as if in the presence of an apparition.
Then, very slowly, he resumed his work, leaving however the fallen
cabbage-leaf unnoticed on the ground.

The weeds in the wheel-barrow, the straight banked-up lines of potatoes
and lettuces, wore, as he returned to them, that curious air of forlorn
desertion which is one of nature’s bitterest commentaries upon the
folly of such scenes.

A sickening sense of emptiness took possession of him, and in a moment
or two became unendurable. He flung a handful of weeds to the ground
and ran impetuously to the gate and out into the lane. It was too late.
A group of farm-labourers laughing and shouting, and driving before
them a herd of black pigs, blocked up the road. He could not bring
himself to pass them, thus hatless and in his shirt-sleeves. Besides,
they must have seen the girl, and they would know he was pursuing her.

He returned slowly up the path to his house, and--to avoid being seen
by the men--entered his kitchen, and sat gloomily down upon a chair.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked with contemptuous unconcern. The
room had that smell of mortuary dust which rooms in small houses often
acquire in the summer. He sat down once more on a chair, his hands
upon his knees, and stared vacantly in front of him. A thrush outside
the window was cracking a snail upon a stone. When the shouts of the
men died away, this was the only sound that came to him, except the
continual “tick--tick--tick--tick” of the clock, which seemed to be
occupied in driving nails into the heavy coffin-lid of every mortal joy
that time had ever brought forth.

That same night in Nevilton House was a night of wretched hours for
Lacrima, but of hours of a wretchedness more active than that which
made the hermit of Dead Man’s Cottage pull the clothes over his head
and turn his face to the wall, long ere the twilight had vanished from
his garden.

On leaving her friend thus abruptly, her heart full of angry revolt,
Lacrima had seen the crowd of men and animals approaching, and to
escape them had scrambled into a field on the border of the road.
Following a little path which led across it, and crossing two more
meadows, she flung herself down under the shadow of some great elms, in
a sort of grassy hollow beneath an overgrown hedge, and gave full vent
to her grief. The hollow in which she hid herself was a secluded and
lonely spot, and no sound reached her but the monotonous summer-murmur
of the flies and the rustle of the wind-troubled branches. Lying thus,
prone on her face, her broad-brimmed hat with its poppy-trimmings
thrown down at her side, and her limbs trembling with the violence of
her sobs, Lacrima seemed to insert into that alien landscape an element
of passionate feeling quite foreign to its sluggish fertility. Not
alien to the spot, however, was another human form, that at the same
hour had been led to wander among those lush meadows.

The field behind the high bank and thick-set hedge which overshadowed
the unhappy girl, was a large and spacious one, “put up,” as country
people say, “for hay,” but as yet untouched by the mowers’ machines.
Here, in the heat of the noon, walked the acquisitive Mr. John Goring,
calculating the value of this crop of grass, and deciding upon the
appropriate date of its cutting.

What curious irony is it, in the blind march of events, which so
frequently draws to the place of our exclusive sorrow the one
particular spectator that we would most avoid? One talks lightly
of coincidence and of chance; but who that has walked through life
observingly has not been driven to pause with sad questioning before
accidents and occurrences that seem as though some conscious malignity
in things had _arranged_ them? Are there, perhaps, actual telepathic
vibrations at work about us, drawing the hunter to his prey--the prey
to the hunter? Is the innocent object of persecution, hiding from its
persecutors, compelled by a fatal psychic law--the law of its own
terror--to call subconsciously upon the very power it is fleeing from;
to betray, against its will, the path of its own retreat? Lacrima in
any case, as she lay thus prostrate, her poppy-trimmed hat beside her,
and her brown curls flecked with spots of sun and shadow, brought into
that English landscape a strangely remote touch,--a touch of tragic
and passionate colour. A sweet bruised exile, she seemed, from another
region, flung down, among all this umbrageous rankness, to droop like
a transplanted flower. Certainly the sinister magic, whatever it
was, that had drawn Mr. Goring in that fatal direction, was a magic
compounded of the attraction of contrary elements.

If Mr. Romer represented the occult power of the sandstone hill, his
brother-in-law was the very epitome and culmination of the valley’s
inert clay. The man breathed clay, looked clay, smelt clay, understood
clay, exploited clay, and in a literal sense _was_ clay.

If there is any truth in the scientific formula about the “survival”
of those most “adapted” to their “environment,” Mr. Goring was sure
of a prolonged and triumphant sojourn on this mortal globe. For his
“environment” was certainly one of clay--and to clay he certainly was
most prosperously “adapted.”

It was not long before the tragic sobs of the unhappy Lacrima, borne
across the field on the east-wind, arrested the farmer’s attention. He
stood still, and listened, snuffing the air, like a great jungle-boar.
Then with rapid but furtive steps he crossed over to where the sound
proceeded, and slipping down cautiously through a gap in the hedge,
made his way towards the secluded hollow, breathing heavily like an
animal on a trail.

Her fit of crying having subsided, Lacrima turned round on her back,
and remained motionless, gazing up at the blue sky. Extended thus on
the ruffled grass, her little fingers nervously plucking at its roots
and her breast still heaving, the young girl offered a pitiful enough
picture to any casual intruder. Slight and fragile though she was, the
softness and charm of her figure witnessed to her Latin origin. With
her dusky curls and olive complexion, she might, but for her English
dress, have been taken for a strayed gipsy, recovering from some
passionate quarrel with her Romany lover.

“What’s the matter, Miss Lacrima?” was the farmer’s greeting as his
gross form obtruded itself against the sky-line.

The girl started violently, and scrambled rapidly to her feet. Mr.
Goring stepped awkwardly down the grassy slope and held out his hand.

“Good morning,” he said without removing his hat. “I should have
thought ’twas time for you to be up at the House. ’Tis past a quarter
of one.”

“I was just resting,” stammered the girl. “I hope I have not hurt your
grass.” She looked apprehensively down at the pathetic imprint on the
ground.

“No, no! Missie,” said the man. “That’s nothing. ’Tis hard to cut, in a
place like this. May-be they’ll let it alone. Besides, this field ain’t
for hay. The cows will be in here tomorrow.”

Lacrima looked at the watch on her wrist.

“Yes, you are right,” she said. “I am late. I must be running back.
Your brother does not like our being out when he comes in to lunch.”
She picked up her hat and made as if she would pass him. But he barred
her way.

“Not so quick, lassie, not so quick,” he said. “Those that come into
farmers’ fields must not be too proud to pass the time of day with the
farmer.”

As he spoke he permitted his little voracious pig’s eyes to devour her
with an amorous leer. All manner of curious thoughts passed through his
head. It was only yesterday that his brother-in-law had been talking
to him of this girl. Certainly it would be extremely satisfactory to
be the complete master of that supple, shrinking figure, and of that
frightened little bosom, that rose and fell now, like the heart of a
panting hare.

After all, she was only a sort of superior servant, and with servants
of every kind the manner of the rapacious Mr. Goring was alternately
brutal and endearing. Encouraged by the isolation of the spot and the
shrinking alarm of the girl, he advanced still nearer and laid a heavy
hand upon her shoulder.

“Come, little wench,” he said, “I will answer for it if you’re late, up
at the House. Sit down a bit with me, and let’s make ourselves nice and
comfortable.”

Lacrima trembled with terror. She was afraid to push him away, and try
to scramble out of the hollow, lest in doing so she should put herself
still further at his mercy. She wondered if anyone in the road would
hear if she screamed aloud. Her quick Latin brain resorted mechanically
to a diplomatic subterfuge. “What kind of field have you got over that
hedge?” she asked, with a quiver in her voice.

“A very nice field for hay, my dear,” replied the farmer, removing his
hand from her shoulder and thinking in his heart that these foreign
girls were wonderfully easy to manage.

“I’ll show it to you if you like. There’s a pretty little place for
people like you and me to have a chat in, up along over there.” He
pointed through the hedge to a small copse of larches that grew green
and thick at the corner of the hay-field.

She let him give her his hand and pull her out of the hollow. Quite
passively, too, she followed him, as he sought the easiest spot through
which he might help her to surmount the difficulties of the intervening
hedge.

When he had at last decided upon the place, “Go first, please, Mr.
Goring,” she murmured, “and then you can pull me up.”

He turned his back upon her and began laboriously ascending the bank,
dragging himself forward by the aid of roots and ferns. It had been
easy enough to slide down this declivity. It was much less easy to
climb up. At length, however, stung by nettles and pricked by thorns,
and with earth in his mouth, he swung himself round at the top, ready
to help her to follow him.

A vigorous oath escaped his lips. She was already a third of the way
across the field, running madly and desperately, towards the gate into
the lane.

Mr. Goring shook his fist after her retreating figure. “All right,
Missie,” he muttered aloud, “all right! If you had been kind to the
poor farmer, he might have let you off. But now”--and he dug his stick
viciously into the earth--“There’ll be no dilly-dallying or nonsense
about this business. I’ll tell Romer I’m ready for this marriage-affair
as soon as he likes. I’ll teach you--my pretty darling!”

That night the massive Leonian masonry of Nevilton House seemed
especially heavy and antipathetic to the child of the Apennines, as it
rose, somnolent and oppressive about her, in the hot midsummer air.

In their spacious rooms, looking out upon the east court with its
dove-cotes and herbacious borders, the two girls were awake and
together.

The wind had fallen, and the silence about the place was as oppressive
to Lacrima’s mind as the shadow of some colossal raven’s wing.

The door which separated their chambers was ajar, and Gladys, her
yellow hair loose upon her shoulders, had flung herself negligently
down in a deep wicker-chair at the side of her companion’s bed.

The luckless Pariah, her brown curls tied back from her pale forehead
by a dark ribbon, was lying supine upon her pillows with a look of
troubled terror in her wide-open eyes. One long thin arm lay upon the
coverlet, the fingers tightened upon an open book.

At the beginning of her “visit” to Nevilton House she had clung
desperately to these precious night-hours, when the great establishment
was asleep; and she had even been so audacious as to draw the bolt of
the door which separated her from her cousin. But that wilful young
tyrant had pretended to her mother that she often “got frightened” in
the night, so orders had gone out that the offending bolt should be
removed.

After this, Gladys had her associate quite at her mercy, and the
occasions were rare when the pleasure of being allowed to read herself
to sleep was permitted to the younger girl.

It was curiously irritating to the yellow-haired despot to observe the
pleasure which Lacrima derived from these solitary readings. Gladys got
into the habit of chattering on, far into the night, so as to make sure
that, when she did retire, her cousin would be too weary to do anything
but fall asleep.

As the two girls lay thus side by side, the one in her chair, and the
other in her bed, under the weight of the night’s sombre expectancy,
the contrast between them was emphasized to a fine dramatic point. The
large-winged bat that fluttered every now and then across the window
might have caught, if for a brief moment it could have been endowed
with human vision, a strange sense of the tragic power of one human
being over another, when the restriction of a common roof compels their
propinquity.

One sometimes seeks to delude oneself in the fond belief that our
European domestic hearths are places of peace and freedom, compared
with the dark haunts of savagery in remoter lands. It is not true! The
long-evolved system that, with us, groups together, under one common
authority, beings as widely sundered as the poles, is a system that,
for all its external charm, conceals, more often than anyone could
suppose, subtle and gloomy secrets, as dark and heathen as any in those
less favoured spots.

The nervous organization of many frail human animals is such that the
mere fact of being compelled, out of custom and usage and economic
helplessness, to live in close relation with others, is itself a tragic
purgatory.

It is often airily assumed that the obstinate and terrible struggles
of life are encountered abroad--far from home--in desolate contention
with the elements or with enemies. It is not so! The most obstinate
and desperate struggles of all--struggles for the preservation of
one’s most sacred identity, of one’s inmost liberty of action and
feeling--take place, and have their advances and retreats, their
treacheries and their betrayals, under the hypocritical calm of the
domestic roof. Those who passionately resent any agitation, any
free thought, any legislative interference, which might cause these
fortresses of seclusion to enlarge their boundaries, forget, in their
poetic idealization of the Gods of the Hearth, that tragedies are often
enacted under that fair consecration which would dim the sinister
repute of Argos or of Thebes. The Platonic speculations which, all
through human history, have erected their fanciful protests against
these perils, may often be unscientific and ill-considered. But there
is a smouldering passion of heroic revolt behind such dreams, which it
is not always wise to overlook.

As these two girls, the fair-haired and the dark-haired, let the
solemn burden of the night thus press unheeded upon them, they would
have needed no fantastic imagination, in an invisible observer, to be
aware of the tense vibration between them of some formidable spiritual
encounter.

High up above the mass of Leonian stone which we have named Nevilton
House, the Milky Way trailed its mystery of far-off brightness across
the incredible gulfs. What to it was the fact that one human heart
should tremble like a captured bird in the remorseless power of another?

It was not to this indifferent sky, stretched equally over all, that
hands could be lifted. And yet the scene between the girls must have
appeared, to such an invisible watcher, as linked to a dramatic contest
above and beyond their immediate human personalities.

In this quiet room the “Two Mythologies” were grappling; each drawing
its strength from forces of an origin as baffling to reason as the very
immensity of those spaces above, so indifferent to both!

The hatred that Gladys bore to Lacrima’s enjoyment of her midnight
readings was a characteristic indication of the relations between the
girls. It is always infuriating to a well-constituted nature to observe
these little pathetic devices of pleasure in a person who has no firm
grip upon life. It excites the same healthy annoyance as when one sees
some absurd animal that ought, properly speaking, not to be alive at
all, deriving ridiculous satisfaction from some fantastic movement
incredible to sound senses.

The Pariah had, as a matter of fact, defeated her healthy-minded cousin
by using one of those sly tricks which Pariahs alone indulge in; and
had craftily acquired the habit of slipping away earlier to her room,
and snatching little oases of solitary happiness before the imperious
young woman came upstairs. It was in revenge for these evasions that
Gladys was even now announcing to her companion a new and calculated
outrage upon her slave’s peace of mind.

Every Pariah has some especial and peculiar dread,--some nervous
mania. Lacrima had several innate terrors. The strongest of all was
a shuddering dread of the supernatural. Next to this, what she most
feared was the idea of deep cold water. Lakes, rivers, and chilly
inland streams, always rather alarmed than inspired her. The thought
of mill-ponds, as they eddied and gurgled in the darkness, often came
to her as a supreme fear, and the image of indrawn dark waters, sucked
down beneath weirs and dams, was a thing she could not contemplate
without trembling. It was no doubt the Genoese blood in her, crying
aloud for the warm blue waves of the Mediterranean and shrinking from
the chill of our English ditches, that accounted for this peculiarity.
The poor child had done her best to conceal her feeling, but Gladys,
alert as all healthy minded people are, to seize upon the silly terrors
of the ill-constituted, had not let it pass unobserved, and was now
serenely prepared to make good use of it, as a heaven-sent opportunity
for revenge.

It must be noted, that in the centre of the north garden of Nevilton
House, surrounded by cypress-bordered lawns and encircled by a low
hedge of carefully clipped rosemary, was a deep round pond.

This pond, built entirely of Leonian stone, lent itself to the playing
of a splendid fountain--a fountain which projected from an ornamental
island, covered with overhanging ferns.

The fountain only played on state occasions, and the coolness and depth
of the water, combined with the fact that the pond had a stone bottom,
gave the place admirable possibilities for bathing. Gladys herself,
full of animal courage and buoyant energy, had made a custom during the
recent hot weather of rising from her bed early in the morning, before
the servants were up, and enjoying a matutinal plunge.

She was a practised swimmer and had been lately learning to dive;
and the sensation of slipping out of the silent house, garbed in a
bathing-dress, with sandals on her feet, and an opera-cloak over her
shoulders, was thrilling to every nerve of her healthy young body.
Impervious animal as she was, she would hardly have been human if
those dew-drenched lawns and exquisite morning odours had not at
least crossed the margin of her consciousness. She had hitherto been
satisfied with a proud sense of superiority over her timid companion,
and Lacrima so far, had been undisturbed by these excursions, except
in the welcoming of her cousin on her return, dripping and laughing,
and full of whimsical stories of how she had peeped down over the
terrace-wall, and seen the milk-men, in the field below, driving in
their cattle.

Looking about, however, in her deliberate feline way, for some method
of pleasant revenge, she had suddenly hit upon this bathing adventure
as a heaven-inspired opportunity. The thought of it when it first came
to her as she languidly sunned herself, like a great cat, on the hot
parapet of the pond, had made her positively laugh for joy. She would
compel her cousin to accompany her on these occasions!

Lacrima was not only terrified of water, but was abnormally reluctant
and shy with regard to any risk of being observed in strange or unusual
garments.

Gladys had stretched herself out on the Leonian margin of the pond with
a thrilling sense of delight at the prospect thus offered. She would be
able to gratify, at one and the same time, her profound need to excel
in the presence of an inferior, and her insatiable craving to outrage
that inferior’s reserve.

The sun-warmed slabs of Leonian stone, upon which she had so often
basked in voluptuous contentment seemed dumbly to encourage and
stimulate her in this heathen design. How entirely they were the
accomplices of all that was dominant in her destiny--these yellow
blocks of stone that had so enriched her house! They answered to her
own blond beauty, to her own sluggish remorselessness. She loved their
tawny colour, their sandy texture, their enduring strength. She loved
to see them around and about her, built into walls, courts, terraces
and roofs. They gave support and weight to all her pretensions.

Thus it had been with an almost mystical thrill of exultation that she
had felt the warmth of the Leonian slabs caress her limbs, as this new
and exciting scheme passed through her mind.

And now, luxuriously seated in her low chair by her friend’s side she
was beginning to taste the reward of her inspiration.

“Yes,” she said, crossing her hands negligently over her knees, “it is
so dull bathing alone. I really think you’ll have to do it with me,
dear! You’ll like it all right when once you begin. It is only the
effort of starting. The water isn’t so very cold, and where the sun
warms the parapet it is lovely.”

“I can’t, Gladys,” pleaded the other, from her bed, “I can’t--I can’t!”

“Nonsense, child. Don’t be so silly! I tell you, you’ll enjoy it.
Besides, there’s nothing like bathing to keep one healthy. Mother was
only saying last night to father how much she wished you would begin
it.”

Lacrima’s fingers let her book slip through them. It slid down
unnoticed upon the floor and lay open there.

She sat up and faced her cousin.

“Gladys,” she said, with grave intensity, “if you make your mother
insist on my doing this, you are more wicked than I ever dreamed you
would be.”

Gladys regarded her with indolent interest.

“It’s only at first the water feels cold,” she said. “You get used to
it, after the first dip. I always race round the lawn afterwards, to
get warm. What’s the matter now, baby?”

These final words were due to the fact that the Pariah had suddenly put
up her hands to her face and was shaking with sobs. Gladys rose and
bent over her. “Silly child,” she said, “must I kiss its tears away?
Must I pet it and cosset it?”

She pulled impatiently at the resisting fingers, and loosening them,
after a struggle, did actually go so far as to touch the girl’s cheek
with her lips. Then sinking back into her chair she resumed her
interrupted discourse.

The taste of salt tears had not, it seemed, softened her into any
weak compliance. Really strong and healthy natures learn the art,
by degrees, of proving adamant, to the insidious cunning of these
persuasions.

“Girls of our class,” she announced sententiously, “must set the lower
orders in England an example of hardiness. Father says it is dreadful
how effeminate the labouring people are becoming. They are afraid of
work, afraid of fresh air, afraid of cold water, afraid of discipline.
They only think of getting more to eat and drink.”

The Pariah turned her face to the wall and lay motionless,
contemplating the cracks and crevices in the oak panelling.

Under the same indifferent stars the other Pariah of Nevilton was also
staring hopelessly at the wall. What secrets these impassive surfaces,
near the pillows of sleepers, could reveal, if they could only speak!

“Father says that what we all want is more physical training,” Gladys
went on. “This next winter you and I must do some practising in the
Yeoborough Gymnasium. It is our superior physical training, father
says, which enables us to hold the mob in check. Just look at these
workmen and peasants, how clumsily they slouch about!”

Lacrima turned round at this. “Your father and his friends are
shamefully hard on their workmen. I wish they would strike again!”

Gladys smiled complacently. The scene was really beginning to surpass
even what she had hoped.

“Why are you such a baby, Lacrima?” she said. “Stop a moment. I will
show you the things you shall wear.”

She glided off into her own room, and presently returned with a child’s
bathing dress.

“Look, dear! Isn’t it lucky? I’ve had these in my wardrobe ever since
we were at Eastbourne, years and years ago. They will not be a bit too
small for you. Or if they are--it doesn’t matter. No one will see us.
And I’ll lend you my mackintosh to go out in.”

Lacrima’s head sank back upon her pillows and she stared at her cousin
with a look of helpless terror.

“You needn’t look so horrified, you silly little thing. There’s
nothing to be afraid of. Besides, people oughtn’t to give way to their
feelings. They ought to be brave and show spirit. It’s lucky for you
you did come to us. There’s no knowing what a cowardly little thing
you’d have grown into, if you hadn’t. Mother is quite right. It will do
you ever so much good to bathe with me. You can’t be drowned, you know.
The water isn’t out of your depth anywhere. Father says every girl in
England ought to learn to swim, so as to be able to rescue people. He
says that this is the great new idea of the Empire--that we should all
join in making the race braver and stronger. You are English now, you
know--not Italian any more. I am going to take fencing lessons soon.
Father says you never can tell what may happen, and we ought all to be
prepared.”

Lacrima did not speak. A vision of a fierce aggressive crowd of hard,
hostile, healthy young persons, drilling, riding, shooting, fencing,
and dragging such renegades as herself remorselessly along with them,
blocked every vista of her mind.

“I hate the Empire!” she cried at last. Gladys had subsided once
more into her chair--the little bathing-suit, symbol of our natural
supremacy, clasped fondly in her lap.

“I know,” she said, “where you get your socialistic nonsense from. Yes,
I do! You needn’t shake your head. You get it from Maurice Quincunx.”

“I don’t get it from anybody,” protested the Pariah; and then, in a
weak murmur, “it grows up naturally, in my heart.”

“What is that you’re saying?” cried Gladys. “Sometimes I think you are
really not right in your mind. You mutter so. You mutter, and talk to
yourself. It irritates me more than I can say. It would irritate a
saint.”

“I am sorry if I annoy you, cousin.”

“Annoy me? It would take more than a little coward like you to annoy
me! But I am not going to argue about it. Father says arguing is only
fit for feeble people. He says we Romers never argue. We think, and
then we _do_. I’m going to bed. So there’s your book! I hope you’ll
enjoy it Miss Socialism!”

She picked up the volume from the floor and flung it into her cousin’s
lap. The gesture of contempt with which she did this would admirably
have suited some Roman Drusilla tossing aside the culture of slaves.

An hour later the door between the two rooms was hesitatingly opened,
and a white figure stole to the head of Gladys’ couch. “You’re not
asleep, dear, are you? Oh Gladys, darling! Please, please, please,
don’t make me bathe with you! You don’t know how I dread it.”

But the daughter of the Romers vouchsafed no reply to this appeal,
beyond a drowsy “Nonsense--nonsense--let’s only pray tomorrow will be
fine.”

The night-owls, that swept, on heavy, flapping wings, over the village,
from the tower of St. Catharine’s Church to the pinnacles of the manor,
brought no miraculous intervention from the resting-place of the
Holy-Rood. What was St. Catharine doing that she had thus deserted the
sanctuary of her name? Perhaps the Alexandrian saint found the magic
of the heathen hill too strong for her; or perhaps because of its rank
heresy, she had blotted her former shrine altogether from her tender
memory.



CHAPTER VII

IDYLLIC PLEASURES


Mortimer Romer could not be called a many-sided man. His dominant lust
for power filled his life so completely that he had little room for
excursions into the worlds of art or literature. He was, however, by no
means narrow or stupid in these matters. He had at least the shrewdness
to recognize the depth of their influence over other people. Indeed,
as he was so constantly occupied with this very question of influence,
with the problem of what precise motives and impulses did actually stir
and drive the average mass of humanity, it was natural that he should,
sooner or later, have to assume some kind of definite attitude towards
these things. The attitude he finally hit upon, as most harmonious
with his temperament, was that of active and genial patronage combined
with a modest denial of the possession of any personal knowledge or
taste. He recognized that an occasion might easily arise, when some
association with the æsthetic world, even of this modest and external
kind, might prove extremely useful to him. He might find it advisable
to make use of these alien forces, just as Napoleon found it necessary
to make use of religion. The fact that he himself was devoid of ideal
emotions, whether religious or æsthetic, mattered nothing. Only fools
confined their psychological interest within the narrow limits of
their subjective tastes. Humanity was influenced by these things,
and Romer was concerned with influencing humanity. Not that these
deviations into artistic by-paths carried him very far. He would invite
“cultivated” people to stay with him in his noble House--at least they
would appreciate that!--and then hand them over to the care of his
charming daughter, a method of hospitality which, it must be confessed,
seemed to meet with complete approval on the part of those concerned.
Thus the name of the owner of Leo’s Hill came to be associated, in
many artistic and literary circles, with the names of such admirable
and friendly patrons of these pursuits, as could be counted upon for
practical and efficient, if not for intellectual aid, in the contest
with an unsympathetic and materialistic world. It was not perhaps
the more struggling and less prosperous artists who found him their
friend. To most of these his attitude, though kind and attentive, was
hardly cordial. He knew too little of the questions at issue, to risk
giving his support to the Pariahs and Anarchists of Art. It was among
the well-known and the successful that Mr. Romer’s patronage was most
evident. Success was a quality he admired in every field; and while, as
has been hinted, his personal taste remained quite untouched, he was
clever enough to pick up the more fashionable catch-words of current
criticism, and to use them, when occasion served, with effective
naturalness and apparent conviction.

Among other celebrities or semi-celebrities, across whose track he
came, while on his periodic visits to London, was a certain Ralph
Dangelis, an American artist, whose masterly and audacious work
was just then coming into vogue. True to his imperial instinct of
surrounding himself with brilliant and prosperous clients, if such they
could be called, he promptly invited the famous Westerner to come down
and stay with him in Nevilton.

The American, who knew nothing of English country life, and was an
impassioned and desperate pursuer of all new experiences, accepted
this invitation, and appeared, among the quiet Somersetshire orchards,
like a bolt from the blue; falling into the very centre of the small
quaintly involved drama, whose acts and scenes we are now recording.
Thus plunged into a completely new circle the distinguished adventurer
very soon made himself most felicitously at home. He was of a frank and
friendly disposition; at heart an obdurate and impenetrable egoist,
but on the surface affable and kind to a quite exceptional degree. He
had spent several years in both Paris and Rome, and hence it was in
his power to adapt himself easily and naturally to European, if not to
English ways. One result of his protracted visits to foreign cities was
the faculty of casting off at pleasure his native accent--the accent
of a citizen of Toledo, Ohio. He did not always do this. Sometimes it
was his humour, especially in intercourse with ladies, to revert to
most free and fearless provincialisms, and a certain boyish gaiety in
him made him mischievously addicted to use such expressions when they
seemed least of all acceptable, but under normal conditions it would
have been difficult to gather from the tone of his language that he
was anything but an extremely well-travelled gentleman of Anglo-Saxon
birth. He speedily made a fast friend of Gladys, who found his airy
persiflage and elaborate courtesy eminently to her liking; and as the
long summer days succeeded one another and brought the visitor into
more and more familiar relation with Nevilton ways and customs, it
seemed as though his sojourn in that peaceful retreat was likely to
be indefinitely prolonged. It may be well believed that their guest’s
attraction to Gladys did not escape the notice of the girl’s parents.
Mr. Romer took the trouble to make sundry investigations as to the
status of Mr. Dangelis in his native Ohio; and it was with unmixed
satisfaction that both he and his wife received the intelligence that
he was the son and the only son of one of Toledo’s most “prominent”
citizens, a gentleman actively and effectively engaged in furthering
the progress of civilization by the manufacturing of automobiles.
Dangelis was, indeed, a prospective, if not an actual, millionaire,
and, from all that could be learned, it appeared that the prominent
citizen of Toledo handed over to his son an annual allowance equal to
the income of many crowned heads.

The Pariah of Nevilton House--the luckless child of the
Apennines--found little to admire in this energetic wanderer. His
oratorical manner, his abrupt, aggressive courtesies, his exuberant
high spirits, the sweep and swing of his vigorous personality, the
extraordinary mixture in him of pedantry and gaiety, jarred upon her
sensitive over-strung nerves. In his boyish desire to please her,
hearing that she came from Italy, the good-natured artist would
frequently turn the conversation round to the beauty and romance of
that “garden of the world,” as he was pleased to style her home; but
the tone of these discourses increased rather than diminished Lacrima’s
obstinate reserve. He had a habit of referring to her country as if
it were a place whose inhabitants only existed, by a considerate
dispensation of Providence, to furnish a charming background for
certain invaluable relics of antiquity. These precious fragments,
according to this easy view of things, appeared to survive, together
with their appropriate guardians, solely with the object of enlarging
and inspiring the voracious “mentality” of wayfarers from London and
New York. Grateful as Lacrima was for the respite the artist brought
her from the despotism of her cousin, she could not bring herself to
regard him, so far as she herself was concerned, with anything but
extreme reserve and caution.

One peculiarity he displayed, filled her with shy dismay. Dangelis
had a trick of staring at the people with whom he associated, as if
with a kind of quizzical analysis. He threw her into a turmoil of
wretched embarrassment by some of his glances. She was troubled and
frightened, without being able to get at the secret of her agitation.
Sometimes she fancied that he was wondering what he could make of her
as a model. The idea that anything of this kind should be expected of
her filled her with nervous dread. At other times the wild idea passed
through her brain that he was making covert overtures to her, of an
amorous character. She thought she intercepted once or twice a look
upon his face of the particular kind which always filled her with
shrinking apprehension. This illusion--if it were an illusion--was far
more alarming than any tendency he might display to pounce on her for
æsthetic purposes; for the Pariah’s association with the inhabitants
of Nevilton House had not given her a pleasing impression of human
amorousness.

Shortly after Dangelis’ arrival, Mr. Romer found it necessary to visit
London again for a few days; and the artist was rather relieved than
otherwise by his departure. He felt freer, and more at liberty to
express his ideas, when left alone with the three women. For himself,
however varied their attitude to him might be, he found them all, in
their different ways, full of stimulating interest. With Mrs. Romer
he soon became perfectly at home; and discovered a mischievous and
profane pleasure in the process of exciting and encouraging all her
least lady-like characteristics. He would follow her into the spacious
Nevilton kitchens, where the good lady was much more at home than in
her stately drawing room; and watch with unconventional interest her
rambling domestic colloquies with Mrs. Murphy the housekeeper, Jane the
cook, and Lily the house-maid.

The men-servants, of whom Mr. Romer kept two, always avoided, with
scrupulous refinement, these unusual gatherings. They discoursed, in
the pantry, upon their mistress’ dubious behavior, and came to the
conclusion that she was no more of a “real lady” than her visitor from
America was a “real gentleman.”

Dangelis made some new and amazing discovery in Susan Romer’s character
every day. In all his experiences from San Francisco to New York, and
from Paris to Vienna, he had never encountered anything in the least
resembling her.

He could never make out how deep her apparent simplicity went, nor how
ingrained and innate was her lethargic submission to circumstances.
Nothing in the woman shocked him; neither her vulgarity nor her
grossness. And as for her sly, sleepy, feline malice, he loved to
excite and provoke it, as he would have loved to have excited a
slumbering animal in a cage. He delighted in the way she wrinkled up
her eyes. He delighted in the way she smacked her lips over her food.
He loved watching her settling herself to sleep in her high-backed
Sheraton chair in the kitchen, or in her more modern lounge in the
great entrance hall. He never grew tired of asking her questions about
the various personages of Nevilton, their relation to Mr. Romer, and
Mr. Romer’s relation to them. He used to watch her sometimes, as in
drowsy sensual enjoyment she would bask in the hot sunshine on the
terrace, or drift in her slow stealthy manner about the garden-paths,
as if she were a great fascinating tame puma. He made endless sketches
of her, in his little note-books, some of them of the most fantastic,
and even Rabelaisean character. He had certainly never anticipated
just this, when he accepted the shrewd financier’s invitation to his
Elizabethan home. And if Susan Romer delighted him, Gladys Romer
absolutely bewitched him. He treated her as if she were no grown-up
young lady, but a romping and quite unscrupulous child; and the wily
Gladys, quickly perceiving how greatly he was pleased by any naive
display of youthful malice, or greed, or sensuality, or vanity,
took good care to put no rein upon herself in the expression of her
primitive emotions.

It was with Lacrima that Ralph Dangelis found himself on ground
that was less secure, but in the genial aplomb of his all-embracing
good-fellowships, it was only by degrees that he became conscious even
of this. He found the place not only extraordinarily harmonious to his
general temper, but extremely inspiring to his imaginative work. It
only needed the securing of a few mechanical contrivances, a studio,
for instance, with a north-light, to have made his sojourn at Nevilton
one of the most prolific summers, in regard to his art, that he had
experienced since his student days in Rome. He began vaguely to wish
in the depths of his mind that it were possible for these good Romers
to bestow upon him in perpetuity some pleasant airy chamber in their
great house, so that he might not have to lose, for many summers to
come, these agreeable and scandalous gossippings with the mother and
these still more agreeable flirtations with the delicious daughter.
This bold and fantastic idea was less a fabric of airy speculation
than might have been supposed; for if the American was enchanted with
his entertainers, his entertainers, at any rate the mother and the
daughter, were extremely well pleased with him. The free sweep of his
capacious sympathy, the absence in him of any punctilious gentility,
the large and benignant atmosphere he diffused round him, and the
mixture of cynical realism with considerate chivalry, were things so
different from anything they had been accustomed to, that they both of
them would willingly have offered him a suite of apartments in the
house, if he could have accepted such an offer.

Dangelis was particularly lucky in arriving at Nevilton at this
especial moment. An abnormally retarded spring had led to the most
delicious overlapping in the varied flora of the place. Though June had
begun, there were still many flowers lingering in the shadier spots of
the woods and ditches, which properly belonged not only to May, but to
very early May. Certain, even, of April’s progeny had not completely
faded from the late-flowering lanes.

The artist found himself surrounded by a riotous revel of leafy
exuberance. The year’s “primal burst” had occurred, not in reluctant
spasmodic fits and starts, as is usual in our intermittent fine
weather, but in a grand universal outpouring of the earth’s sap. His
imagination answered spontaneously to this appeal, and his note-books
were speedily filled with hurried passionate sketches, made at all
hours of the long bright days, and full of suggestive charm. One
particularly lovely afternoon the American found himself wandering
slowly up the hill from the little Nevilton station, after a brief
excursion to Yeoborough in search of pigments and canvas. He was hoping
to take advantage of this auspicious stirring of his imaginative
senses, by entering upon some more important and more continuous work.
The Nevilton ladies had assured him that it would be quite impossible
to find in the little town the kind of materials he needed; and he
was returning in high spirits to assure them that he had completely
falsified their prediction. He suspected Gladys of having invented
this difficulty with a view to confining his labours to such easily
shared sketching-trips as she might accompany him upon, but though the
fascination of the romping and toying girl still retained, and had
even increased, its power over him; he was, in this case, impelled
and driven by a force stronger and more dominant than any sensual
attraction. He was in a better mood for painting than he had ever been
in his life, and nothing could interfere with his resolution to exploit
this mood to its utmost limit. With the most precious of his newly
purchased materials under his arm and the more bulky ones promised him
that same evening, Dangelis, as he drifted slowly up the sunny road
chatting amicably with such rural marketers as overtook him, felt in a
peculiarly harmonious temper.

He had recently, in the western cities of the States, won a certain
fiercely contested notoriety in the art of portrait-painting, an art
which he had come more and more to practise according to the very
latest of those daring modern theories, which are summed up sometimes
under the not very illuminative title of Post-impressionism, and he
had, during the last few days, indulged in a natural and irresistible
wish to associate this new departure with his personal experiences at
Nevilton.

Gossiping nonchalantly with the village-wives, as he ascended the
dusty road, by the vicarage wall, his thoughts ran swiftly over the
motley-coloured map of his past life, and the deviating track across
the world which he had been led to follow. He congratulated himself in
his heart, as he indulged in easy persiflage with his fellow-wayfarers,
upon his consistent freedom from everything that might choke or
restrain the freedom of his will.

How fortunate, how incredibly fortunate, that he should, in weather
like this, and in so abounding a mood of creative energy, be completely
his own master, except for the need of propitiating two naive and
amusing women! He entertained himself by the thought of how little they
really knew him,--these friendly Romers--how little they sounded his
real purposes, his essential feelings! To them no doubt, he was no more
than he was to these excellent villagers,--a tall, fair, slouching,
bony figure, with a face,--if they went as far as his face,--massively
heavy and irregular, with dreamy humorous eyes and a mouth addicted to
nervous twitching.

A clump of dandelions, obtruding their golden indifference to human
drama, into the dust of the road at his feet, mixed oddly, at that
moment, in these obscure workings of his brain, with a sort of savage
caress of self-complacent congratulation which he suddenly bestowed
on his interior self; as, beneath his pleasant chatter with his
rural companions, he thought how imperturbable, how ferocious, his
secret egoism was, and how well he concealed it under his indolent
good-nature! He had passed now the entrance to the vicarage garden, and
in the adjoining field he observed with a curious thrill of psychic
sympathy the tenacious grip with which a viciously-knotted ash-tree
held to the earth with its sturdy roots. Out-walked at last by all
the other returned travellers, Dangelis glanced without pausing down
the long Italianated avenue, at the end of which shone red, in the
afternoon sun, the mullioned windows of the great house. He preferred
to prolong his stroll, by taking the circuitous way, round by the
village. He knew the expression of that famous west front too well now,
to linger in admiration over its picturesque repose in the afternoon
sunshine. As a matter of fact a slight chill of curious antipathy
crossed his consciousness as he quickened his steps.

Happily situated though he was, in his pleasant lodging beneath that
capacious roof, the famous edifice itself had not altogether won his
affection. The thing suggested to his wayward and prairie-nurtured
soul, a stately product rather of convention than of life. He felt
oddly conscious of it as something symbolic of what would be always
intrinsically opposed to him, of what would willingly, if it were able,
suppress him and render him helpless.

Dangelis belonged to quite a different type of trans-Atlantic visitor,
from the kind that hover with exuberant delight over everything that
is “old” or “English” or “European.” He was essentially rather an
artist than an antiquary, rather an energetic workman than an epicurean
sentimentalist. Once out of sight of the Elizabethan pile, the curious
chill passed from his mind, and as he approached the first cottages of
the village he looked round for more reassuring tokens. Such tokens
were not lacking. They crowded in upon him, indeed, from every side.
Stopping for a moment, ere the houses actually blocked his view, and
leaning over a gate which faced westward, Dangelis looked out across
the great Somersetshire plain, to which Leo’s Hill and Nevilton
Mount serve the office of watchful sentinels. Tall, closely-clipped
elm-trees, bordering every field, gave the country on this side of
the horizon, a queer artificial look, as if it had been one huge
landscape-garden, arranged according to the arbitrary pleasure of
some fantastic artist, whose perversion it was to reduce every natural
extravagance to the meticulous rhythm of his own formal taste.

This impression, the impression of something willed and intentional in
the very formation of Nature, gave our eccentric onlooker a caressing
and delicate pleasure, a sense as of a thing peculiarly harmonious to
his own spirit. The formality of Nevilton House depressed and chilled
him, but the formality of age-trimmed trees and hedges liberated his
imagination, as some perverse work of a Picasso or a Matisse might
have done. He wondered vaguely to himself what was the precise cause
of the psychic antipathy which rendered him so cold to the grandeur
of Elizabethan architecture, while the other features of his present
dwelling remained so attractive, and he came to the temporary solution,
as he took his arms from the top of the gate, that it was because
that particular kind of magnificence expressed the pride of a class,
rather than of an individual, whereas he himself was all for individual
self-assertion in everything--in everything! The problem was still
teasing him, when, a few minutes later, he passed the graceful tower of
St. Catharine’s church.

This strangely organic, this curiously anonymous Gothic art--was not
this also, the suppression of the individual, in the presence of
something larger and deeper, of something that demanded the sacrifice
of mere transient personality, as the very condition of its appearance?
At all events it was less humiliating, less of an insult, to the claims
of the individual will, when the thing was done in the interest of
religion, than when it was done in the interests of a class. The
impersonality of the former, resembled the impersonality of rocks and
flowers; that of the latter, the impersonality of fashions in dress.

“But away with them both!” muttered Dangelis to himself, as he strode
viciously down the central street of Nevilton. The American was in very
truth, and he felt he was, for all his artistic receptivity, an alien
and a foreigner in the midst of these time-worn traditions. In spite of
their beauty he knew himself profoundly opposed to them. They excited
fibres of opposition and rebellion in him, that went down to the very
depths of his nature. If, allowing full scope to our speculative
fancy--and who knows upon what occult truths these wandering thoughts
sometimes stumble?--we image the opposing “streams of tendency,”
in Nevilton village, as focussed and summed up, in the form of the
Gothic church, guarded by the consecrated Mount, and the form of the
Elizabethan house, owned by the owner of Leo’s Hill, it is clear
that this wanderer, from the shores of the Great Lakes, was equally
antagonistic to both of them. He brought into the place a certain
large and elemental indifference. To the child of the winds and storms
of the Great Lakes, as, so one might think, to the high fixed stars
themselves, this local strife of opposed mythologies must needs appear
a matter of but trifling importance.

The American was not permitted, on this occasion, to pursue his
meditations uninterrupted to the end of his walk. Half-way down the
south drive he was overtaken by Gladys, returning from the village
post-office. “Hullo! How have you got on?” she cried. “I suppose
you’ll believe me another time? You know now, I expect, how impossible
the Yeoborough shops are!”

“On the contrary,” said the artist smiling, “I have found them
extremely good. Perhaps I am less exacting,” he added, “than some
artists.”

“I am exacting in everything,” said Gladys, “especially in people. That
is why I get on so well with you. You are a new experience to me.”

Dangelis made no reply to this and they paced in silence under the tall
exotic cedars until they reached the house.

“There’s mother!” cried the girl, pushing open the door that led into
the kitchen premises, and pulling the American unceremoniously in
after her. They found Mrs. Romer before a large oak table, set in the
mullioned window of the housekeeper’s little room. She was arranging
flowers for the evening’s dinner-table. The plump lady welcomed
Dangelis effusively and made him sit down upon a Queen Anne settle of
polished mahogany which stood in the corner of the fire-place. Gladys
remained standing, a tall softly-moulded figure, appealingly girlish in
her light muslin frock. She swayed slightly, backwards and forwards,
pouting capriciously at her mother’s naive discourse, and loosening her
belt with both her hands.

“Why should you ever go back to America?” Mrs. Romer was saying.
“Don’t go, dear Mr. Dangelis. Stay with us here till the end of the
summer. The Red room in the south passage was getting quite damp before
you came. Please, don’t go! Gladys and I are getting so fond of you, so
used to your ways and all that. Aren’t we Gladys? Why should you go?
There are plenty of lovely bits of scenery about here. And you can have
a studio built! Yes! Why not? Couldn’t he, Gladys? The lumber-room in
the south passage--opposite where Lily sleeps--would make a splendid
place for painting in hot weather. I suppose a north light, though,
would be impossible. But some kind of glass arrangement might be made.
I must talk to Mortimer about it. I suppose you rich Americans think
nothing of calling in builders and putting up studios. I suppose you
do it everywhere. America must be full of north light. But perhaps
something of the kind could be done. I really don’t understand
architecture, but Mortimer does. Mortimer understands everything. I
daresay it wouldn’t be very expensive. It would only mean buying the
glass.”

The admirable woman, whose large fair face and double chin had grown
quite creased and shiny with excitement, turned at last to her daughter
who had been coquettishly and dreamily staring at the smiling artist.

“Why don’t you say something, Gladys? You don’t want Mr. Dangelis to
go, any more than I do, do you?”

The girl moved to the table and picking up a large peony stuck it
wantonly and capriciously into her dress. “I have my confirmation
lesson tonight,” she said. “I must be at Mr. Clavering’s by six. What’s
the time now?” She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Why, it’s
nearly half-past four! I wonder where Lacrima is. Never mind! We must
have tea without her. I’m sure Mr. Dangelis is dying for tea. Let’s
have it out on the terrace.”

“At six?” repeated Mrs. Romer. “I thought the class was always at
seven. It was given out to be seven. I heard the notice on Sunday.”

Gladys looked smilingly at the American as she answered her mother.
“Don’t be silly, dear. You know Mr. Clavering takes me separately from
the others. The others are all village people.”

Mrs. Romer rose from her seat with something between a sigh and a
chuckle. “I hadn’t the least idea,” she said, “that he took you
separately. You’ve been going to these classes for three weeks and
you’ve never mentioned such a thing until this moment. Well--never
mind! I expect Mr. Dangelis will not object to strolling down the drive
with you. You’d better both get ready for tea now. I’ll go and tell
somebody we want it.”

She had no sooner departed than Gladys began flicking the American,
in playful childish sport, with a spray of early roses. He entered
willingly into the game, and a pleasant tussle ensued between them as
he sought to snatch the flowers out of her hands. She resisted but he
pushed her backwards, and held her imprisoned against the edge of the
table, teasing her as if she were a romping child of twelve.

“So you are going to these classes alone, are you?” he said. “I see
that your English clergymen are allowed extraordinary privileges. I
expect you cause him a good deal of agitation, poor dear man, if you
flirt with him as shamelessly as you do with me. Well, go ahead! I’m
not responsible for you. In fact I’m all for spurring you on. It’ll
amuse me to see what happens. But no doubt all sorts of things have
happened already! I suppose you’ve made Mr. Clavering desperately in
love with you. I expect you persecute him unmercifully. I know you. I
know your ways.” He playfully pinched her arm. “But go on. It’ll be an
amusement to me to watch the result of all this. I like being a sort of
sympathetic onlooker, in these things. I like the idea of hiding behind
the scenes, and watching the tricks of a naughty little flirt like you,
set upon troubling the mind of a poor harmless minister.”

The reply made by the daughter of the House to this challenge was a
simple but effective one. Like a mischievous infant caught in some
unpardonable act, she flagrantly and shamelessly put out her tongue at
him. Long afterwards, with curious feelings, Dangelis recalled this
gesture. He associated it to the end of his life with the indefinable
smell of cut flowers, with their stalks in water, and the pungency of
peony-petals.

Tea, when it reached our friends upon the stately east terrace, proved
a gay and festive meal. The absence of the reserved and nervous
Italian, and also of the master of Nevilton, rendered all three persons
more completely and freely at their ease, than they had ever been since
the American’s first appearance. The grass was being cut at that corner
of the park, and the fresh delicious smell, full of the very sap of the
earth, poured in upon them across the sunny flower beds. The chattering
of young starlings, the cawing of young rooks, blended pleasantly with
the swish of the scythes and the laughter of the hay-makers; and from
the distant village floated softly to their ears all those vague and
characteristic sounds which accompany the close of a hot day, and the
release from labour of men and beasts. As they devoured their bread
and butter with that naive greediness which is part of the natural
atmosphere of this privileged hour in an English home, the three
friends indicated by their playful temper and gay discourse that they
each had secret reasons for self-congratulation.

Dangelis felt an exquisite sense of new possibilities in his art, drawn
from the seduction of these surroundings and the frank animalism of
his cheerful companions. He sat between them, watching their looks and
ways, very much as Rubens or Franz Hals might have watched the rounded
bosoms and spacious gestures of two admirable burgess-women in some
country house of Holland.

Mrs. Romer, below her garrulous chatter, nourished fantastic and
rose-colored dreams, in which inestimable piles of dollars, and
limitless rows of golden haired grand-children, played the predominant
part. Gladys, flushed and excited, gave herself up to the imagined
exercise of every sort of wanton and wilful power, with the desire for
which the flowing sap of the year’s exuberance filled her responsive
veins.

Tea over, Dangelis suggested that he should accompany the girl to Mr.
Clavering’s door.

“You needn’t be there for three quarters of an hour,” he said, “let’s
go across to the mill copse first, and see if there are any blue-bells
left.”

Gladys willingly consented, and Susan Romer, remaining pensive in her
low cane chair, watched their youthful figures retreating across the
sunlit park with a sigh of profound thankfulness addressed vaguely and
obscurely to Omnipotence. This was indeed the sort of son-in-law she
craved. How much more desirable than that reserved and haughty young
Ilminster! Gladys would be, three times over, a fool if she let him
escape.

A few minutes later the artist and his girl-friend reached the mill
spinney. He helped her over the stream and the black thorn hedge
without too much damage to her frock and he was rewarded for his
efforts by the thrill of vibrating pleasure with which she plunged her
hands among the oozy stalks of those ineffable blue flowers.

“No wonder young Hyacinth was too beautiful to live,” he remarked.

“Shut up,” was the young woman’s reply, as she breathlessly stretched
herself along the length of a fallen branch, and endeavoured to reach
the damp moist stalks and cool leaves with her forehead and lips.

“How silly it is, having one’s hair done up,” she cried presently,
raising herself on her hands from her prone position, and kicking the
branch viciously with her foot.

“You’d have liked me with my hair down, Mr. Dangelis,” she continued.
“Lying like this,” and she once more embraced the fallen bough, “it
would have got mixed up with all those blue-bells and then you _would_
have had something to paint!”

“Bad girl!” cried the artist playfully, switching her lightly with a
willow wand from which he had been stripping the bark. “I would have
made you do your hair up, tight round your head, years and years ago.”

He offered her his hand and lifted her up. Once in possession of those
ardent youthful fingers, he seemed to consider himself justified in
retaining them and, as the girl made no sign of dissent, they advanced
hand in hand through the thick undergrowth.

The place was indeed a little epitome of the season’s prolific growth.
Above and about them, elder-bushes and hazels met in entangled
profusion; while at their feet the marshy soil was covered with a mass
of moss and cool-rooted leafy plants. Golden-green burdocks grew there,
and dark dog-mercury; while mixed with aromatic water-mint and ground
ivy, crowds of sturdy red campions lifted up their rose-coloured heads.
The undergrowth was so thick, and the roots of the willows and alders
so betraying, that over and over again he had to make a path for her,
and hold back with his hand some threatening withy-switch or prickly
thorn branch, that appeared likely to invade her face or body.

The indescribable charm of the hour, as the broken sunlight, almost
horizontal now, threw red patches, like the blood of wounded satyrs,
upon tree-trunks and mossy stumps, and made the little marsh-pools
gleam as if filled with fairy wine, found its completest expression
in the long-drawn flute-music, at the same time frivolously gay and
exquisitely sad, of the blackbird’s song. An angry cuckoo, crying its
familiar cry as it flew, flapped away from some hidden perch, just
above their heads.

Not many more blackbird’s notes and not many more cuckoo’s cries
would that diminutive jungle hear, before the great midsummer silence
descended upon it, to be broken only by the less magical sounds of
the later season. Nothing but the auspicious accident of the extreme
lateness of the spring had given to the visitor from Ohio these
revelations of enchantment. It was one of those unequalled moments when
the earth seems to breathe out from its most secret heart perfumes and
scents that seem to belong to a more felicitous planet than our planet,
murmurs and voices adapted to more responsive ears than our ears.

It was doubtless, so Dangelis thought, on such an evening as this, that
the first notion of the presence in such places of beings of a finer
and yet a grosser texture than man’s, first entered the imagination of
humanity. In such a spot were the earth-gods born.

Many feathered things, besides blackbirds and cuckoos abounded in the
mill spinney.

They had scarcely reached the opposite end of the little wood, when
with a sudden cry of excitement and a quick sinking on her knees, the
girl turned to him with a young thrush in her hand. It was big enough
to be capable of flying and, as she held it in her soft white fingers,
it struggled desperately and uttered little cries. She held it tightly
in one hand, and with the other caressed its ruffled feathers, looking
sideways at her companion, as she did so, with dreamy, half-shut,
voluptuous eyes.

“Little darling,” she whispered. And then, with a breathless gasp
in her voice,--“Kiss its head, Mr. Dangelis. It can’t get away.” He
stooped over her as she held the bird up to him, and if in obeying her
he brushed with his lips fingers as well as feathers, the accident was
not one he could bring himself to regret.

“It can’t get away,” she repeated, in a low soft murmur.

The bird did, however, get away, a moment afterwards, and went
fluttering off through the brushwood, with that delicious, awkward
violence, which young thrushes share with so many other youthful things.

In the deep ditch which they now had to cross, the artist caught sight
of a solitary half-faded primrose, the very last, perhaps, of its
delicate tribe. He showed it to Gladys, gently smoothing away, as he
did so, the heavy leaves which seemed to be overshadowing its last days
of life.

The girl pushed him aside impetuously, and plucking the faded flower
deliberately thrust it into her mouth.

“I love eating them,” she cried, “I used to do it when I was ever so
little and I do it still when I am alone. You’ve no idea how nice they
taste!”

At that moment they heard the sound of the church clock striking six.

“Quick!” cried Gladys. “Mr. Clavering will be waiting. He’ll be cross
if I’m too dreadfully late.”

They emerged from the wood and followed the grass-grown lane, round
by the small mill-pond. Crossing the park once more, they entered the
village by the Yeoborough road.

“What a girl!” said Dangelis to himself, in a voice of unmitigated
admiration, as he held open for her, at last, the little gate of the
old vicarage garden, and waved his good-bye.

“What a girl! Heaven help that unfortunate Mr. Clavering! If he’s as
susceptible as most of these young Englishmen, she’ll make havoc of his
poor heart. Will he read the ‘Imitation’ with her, I wonder?”

He strolled slowly back, the way they had come, the personality of
the insidious Gladys pressing less and less heavily upon him as his
thought reverted to his painting. He resolved that he would throw all
these recent impressions together in some large and sumptuous picture,
that should give to these modern human figures something of the ample
suggestion and noble aplomb, the secret of which seemed to have been
lost to the world with the old Flemish and Venetian masters.

What in his soul he vaguely imaged as his task, was an attempt to
eliminate all mystic and symbolic attitudes from his works, and to
catch, in their place, if the inspiration came to him, something of the
lavish prodigality, superbly material, and yet possessed of ineffable
vistas, of the large careless evocations of nature herself.

His imaginative purpose, as it defined itself more and more clearly
in his mind, during his solitary return through the evening light,
seemed to imply an attempted reproduction of those aspects of the human
drama, in such a place as this, which carried upon their surface the
air of things that could not happen otherwise, and which, in their
large inevitableness, over-brimmed and over-flowed all traditional
distinctions. He would have liked to have given, in this way, to the
figures of Gladys and her mother, something of the superb non-moral
“insouciance,” springing, like the movements of animals and the
fragrance of plants, out of the bosom of an earth innocent of both
introspection and renunciation, which one observes in the forms of
Attic sculpture, or in the creations of Venetian colourists. Below the
high ornamental wall of Nevilton garden he paused a moment before
entering the little postern-gate, to admire the indescribable greenness
and luxuriousness of the heavy grass devoted in this place, not to
hay-makers but to cattle. There was a sort of poetry, he humorously
told himself, even about the great black heaps of cow-dung which
alternated here with the golden clumps of drowsy buttercups. They
also,--why not?--might be brought into the kind of picture he visioned,
just as Veronese brought his mongrels and curs to the very feet of the
Saviour!

Dangelis lifted his eyes, to where, through a gap in the leafy uplands,
the more distant hills were visible. He could make out clearly, in
the rich purple light, the long curving lines of the Corton downs, as
they melted, little by little, in a floating lake of aerial blue-grey
vapour, the exhalation of the great valley’s day-long breathing.

He could even mark, at the end of the Corton range--and the sight of
it gave him a thrilling sense of the invincible continuity of life in
these regions--the famous tree-crested circle of Cadbury Camp, the
authentic site of the Arthurian Camelot.

What a lodging this Nevilton was, to pass one’s days in, to work in,
and to love and dream! What enchantments were all around him! What
memories! What dumb voices!



CHAPTER VIII

THE MYTHOLOGY OF SACRIFICE


June, in Nevilton, that summer, seemed debarred by some strange
interdiction from regaining its normal dampness and rainy discomfort.

It continued unnaturally hot and dry--so dry, that though the
hay-harvest was still in full session, the farmers were growing
seriously anxious and impatient for the long-delayed showers. It had
been, as we have already noted, an unusual season. Not only were there
so many blue-bells lingering in the shadowy places in the woods, but
among the later flowers there were curious over-lappings.

The little milk-wort blossoms, for instance, on Leo’s Hill, were
overtaken, before they perished, by premature out-croppings of yellow
trefoil and purple thyme.

The walnut-trees had still something left of their spring freshness,
while in the hedges along the roads, covered, all of them, with a soft
coating of thin white dust, the wild-roses and the feathery grasses
suggested the heart of the year’s prime.

It was about eight o’clock, in the evening of a day towards the end of
the second week in this unusual month, that Mr. Hugh Clavering emerged
from the entrance of the Old Vicarage with a concentrated and brooding
expression. His heart was indeed rent and torn within him by opposite
and contrary emotions. With one portion of his sensitive nature he
was craving desperately for the next day’s interview with Gladys;
with the other portion he was making firm and drastic resolutions to
avoid it and escape from it. She was due to come to his house in the
afternoon--less than twenty-four hours’ time from this actual moment!
But the more rigorous half of his being had formed the austere plan of
sending her a note in the morning begging her to appear, along with
the other candidates, at a later hour. He had written the note and it
still remained, propped up against the little Arundel print of the
Transfiguration, on the mantelpiece of his room.

He went up the street with bowed, absorbed head, hardly noticing
the salutations of the easy loiterers gathered outside the door of
the Goat and Boy,--the one of Nevilton’s two taverns which just at
present attracted the most custom. Passing between the tavern and
the churchyard wall, he pushed open the gate leading into the priory
farm-yard, and striding hurriedly through it began the ascent of the
grassy slope at the base of Nevilton Mount.

The wind had sunk with the sinking of the sun, and an immense quietness
lay like a catafalque of sacred interposition on the fields and roofs
and orchards of the valley. A delicious smell of new-mown grass blent
itself with the heavy perfume of the great white blossoms of the elder
bushes--held out, like so many consecrated chalices to catch the last
drops of soft-lingering light, before it faded away.

Hugh Clavering went over the impending situation again and again;
first from one point of view, then from another. The devil whispered
to him--if it were the devil--that he had no right to sacrifice his
spiritual influence over this disconcerting pupil, out of a mere
personal embarrassment. If he gave her her lesson along with the rest,
all that special effort he had bestowed upon her thought, her reading,
her understanding, might so easily be thrown away! She was different,
obviously different, from the simple village maids, and to put her
now, at this late hour, with the confirmation only a few weeks off,
into the common class, would be to undo the work of several months.
He could not alter his method with the others for her sake, and she
would be forced to listen to teaching which to her would be elementary
and platitudinous. He would be throwing her back in her spiritual
development. He would be forcing her to return to the mere alphabet of
theology at the moment when she had just begun to grow interested in
its subtle and beautiful literature. She would no doubt be both bored
and teased. Her nerves would be ruffled, her interest diminished, her
curiosity dulled. She would be angry, too, at being treated exactly as
were these rustic maidens--and anger was not a desirable attribute in a
gentle catechumen.

Besides, her case was different from theirs on quite technical grounds.
She was preparing for baptism as well as confirmation, and he, as her
priest, was bound to make this, the most essential of all Christian
sacraments, the head and front of his instruction. It was hardly to
the point to say that the other girls knew quite as little of the
importance of this sacred rite as she did. His explanations of it to
them, his emphasis upon the blessing it had already been to them,
would be necessarily too simple and childish for her quicker, maturer
understanding.

As he reached the actual beginning of the woody eminence and turned
for a moment to inhale the magical softness of the invading twilight,
it occurred to him that from a logically ecclesiastical standpoint
it was a monstrous thing that he should be serenely and coldly
debating the cutting off of his spiritual assistance from this poor
thirsty flower of the heathen desert. She was unbaptized--and to be
unbaptized, according to true doctrine, meant, with all our Christian
opportunities, a definite peril, a grave and assured peril, to her
immortal soul. Who was he that he should play with such a formidable
risk--such a risk to such a lamb of the Great Shepherd? It was quite
probable--he knew it was probable--that, angry with him for deserting
her so causelessly and unreasonably, she would refuse to go further
in the sacred business. She would say, and say justly, that since the
affair seemed of so little importance to him she would make it of
little importance to herself. Suppose he were to call in some colleague
from Yeoborough, and make over this too exciting neophyte to some other
pastor of souls--would she agree to such a casual transference? He knew
well enough that she would not.

How unfortunate it was that the peculiar constitution of his English
Church made these things so difficult! The individual personality of
the priest mattered so much in Anglican circles! The nobler self in
him envied bitterly at that moment the stricter and yet more malleable
organization of the Mother Church. How easy it would be were he a Roman
priest. A word to his superior in office, and all would arrange itself!
It was impossible to imagine himself speaking such a word to the Right
Reverend the Bishop of Glastonbury. The mere idea of such a thing, in
our England of discreet propriety, made him smile in the midst of his
distress.

The thought of the Roman Church brought into his mind the plausible
figure of Mr. Taxater. How that profound and subtle humanist would
chuckle over his present dilemma! He would probably regard it as a
proper and ironical punishment upon him for his heretical assumption of
this traditional office.

Tradition! That was the thing. Tradition and organization. After all,
it was only to Hugh Clavering, as a nameless impersonal priest of God,
that this lovely outcast lamb came begging to be enfolded. He had no
right to dally with the question at all. There _was_ no question. As
the priest of Nevilton it was his clear pastoral duty to give every
possible spiritual assistance to every person in his flock. What if the
pursuit of this duty did throw temptation--intolerable temptation--in
his way? His business was not to try and escape from such a struggle;
but to face it, to wrestle with it, to overcome it! He was like a
sentinel at his post in a great war. Was he to leave his post and
retreat to the rear because the shells were bursting so thickly round
him?

He sat down on the grass with his back to an ancient thorn-tree and
gazed upon the tower of his beloved church. Would he not be false to
that Church--false to his vows of ordination--if he were now to draw
back from the firing-line of the battle and give up the struggle by
a cowardly retreat? Even supposing the temptation were more than he
could endure--even supposing that he fell--would not God prefer his
suffering such a fall with his face to the foe, sword in hand, rather
than that he should be saved, his consecrated weapon dropped from his
fingers, in squalid ignoble flight?

So much for the arguments whispered in his ear by the angel of
darkness! But he had lately been visited by another angel--surely not
of darkness--and he recalled the plausible reasonings of the great
champion of the papacy, as he sat in that pleasant window sipping his
wine. Why should he agitate himself so furiously over this little
matter? After all, why not enjoy the pleasure of this exquisite being’s
society? He was in no danger of doing her any harm--he knew Gladys at
least well enough by now to know that!--and what harm could she do
him? There was no harm in being attracted irresistibly to something so
surpassingly attractive! Suppose he fell really in love with her? Well!
There was no religious rule--certainly none in the church he belonged
to--against falling in love with a lovable and desirable girl. But it
was not a matter of falling in love. He knew that well enough. There
was very little of the romantic or the sentimental about the feelings
she aroused in him. It was just a simple, sensuous, amorous attraction
to a provocative and alluring daughter of Eve. Just a simple sensuous
attraction--so simple, so natural, as to be almost “innocent,” as Mr.
Taxater would put it.

So he argued with himself; but the Tower of the Church opposite seemed
to invade the mists of these subtle reasonings with a stern emphasis of
clear-cut protest. He knew well enough that his peculiar nature was
not of the kind that might be called “sensuous” or “amorous,” but of
quite a different sort. The feelings that had lately been excited in
him were as concentrated and passionate as his feelings for the altar
he served. They were indeed a sort of temporal inversion of this sacred
ardour; or, as the cynical Mr. Quincunx in his blunt manner would have
expressed it, this sacred fire itself was only a form taken by the more
earthly flame. But a “flame” it was,--not any gentle toying with soft
sensation,--a flame, a madness, a vice, an obsession.

In no ideal sense could he be said to be “in love” with Gladys. He
was intoxicated with her. His senses craved for her as they might
have craved for some sort of maddening drug. In his heart of hearts
he knew well that the emotion he felt was closely allied to a curious
kind of antagonism. He thought of her with little tenderness, with no
gentle, responsible consideration. Her warm insidious charm maddened
and perturbed him. It did not diffuse itself through his senses like
a tender fragrance. It provoked, disturbed, and tantalized. She
was no Rose of Sharon, to be worshipped forever. She was a Rose of
Shiraz, to be seized, pressed against his face, and flung aside! The
appeal she made to him was an appeal to what was perverse, vicious,
dangerous devastating, in his nature. To call his attraction to her
beauty “innocent”--in Mr. Taxater’s phrase--was a mere hypercritical
white-washing of the brutal fact.

His mind, in its whirling agitation, conjured up the image of himself
as married to her, as legally and absolutely possessed of her. The
image was like fuel to his flame, but it brought no solution of the
problem. Marriage, though permitted by his church, was as directly
contrary to his own interpretation of his duty as a priest, as any
mortal sin might be. To him it would have been a mortal sin--the
betrayal of his profoundest ideal. In the perversity--if you will--of
his ecclesiastical conscience, he felt towards such a solution the
feeling a man might have if the selling of his soul were to be a thing
transacted in cold blood, rather than in the tempest of the moment. To
marry Gladys would be to summon the very sacraments of his church to
bless with a blasphemous consecration his treachery to their appeal.

Rent and torn by all these conflicting thoughts, the poor clergyman
scrambled once more to his feet, pushed his way recklessly through
the intervening fence, and began ascending the steep side of the
pyramidal hill. As he struggled upward, through burdocks, nettles, tall
grasses, red-campion, and newly planted firs, his soul felt within
him as if it were something fleeing from an invincible pursuer. The
rank aromatic smell of torn elder-boughs and the pungent odour of
trodden ground-ivy filled his nostrils. His clothes were sprinkled with
feathery seed-dust. Closely-sticking burs clung to his legs and arms.
Outstretched branches switched his face with their leaves. His feet
stumbled over young fern-fronds, bent earthwards in their elaborate
unsheathing.

He vaguely associated with his thoughts, as he struggled on,
certain queer purple markings which he noticed on the stalks of the
thickly-grown hemlocks, and the bind-weed, which entwined itself round
many of the slenderer tree-stems, became a symbol of the power that
assailed him. To escape--to be free! This was the burden of his soul’s
crying as he plunged forward through all these dim leafy obstructions.

Gradually, as he drew nearer the hill’s summit, there formed in his
mind the only real sanctuary of refuge, the only genuine deliverance.
He must obey his innate conscience; and let the result be as God
willed. At all costs he must shake himself clear of this hot, sweet,
luscious bind-weed, that was choking the growth of his soul. His own
soul--that, after all, was his first care, his predominant concern.
To keep _that_, pure and undefiled, and let all else go! Confused by
the subtle arguments of the serpent, he would cling only the more
passionately to the actual figure of the God-Man, and obey his profound
command in its literal simplicity. Ecclesiastical casuistry might
say what it pleased about the danger he plunged Gladys into, in thus
neglecting her. The matter had gone deeper than casuistry, deeper,
far deeper, than points of doctrine. It had become a direct personal
struggle between his own soul and Satan; a struggle in which, as he
well knew, the only victory lay in flight. On other fields he might be
commanded by his celestial Captain to hold his post to the last; but
in the arena of this temptation, to hold the field was to desert the
field; to escape from it, to win it.

He paused breathlessly under a clump of larches, and stretching out
his arms, seized--like Samson in the temple of Dagon--two of the
slender-growing trunks. “Let all this insidious growth of Nature,” he
thought, “all this teeming and prolific exuberance of godless life,
be thrust into oblivion, as long as the great translunar Secret be
kept inviolable!” Exhausted by the struggle within him he sank down in
the green twilight of that leafy security, and crossed his hands over
his knees. Through a gap in the foliage he could perceive the valley
below; he could even perceive the outline of the roof of Nevilton
House. But against the magic of those carved pinnacles he had found a
counter-charm. In the hushed stillness about him, he seemed conscious
of the power of all these entangled growing things as a sinister
heathen influence pulling him earthward.

Men differ curiously from one another in this respect. To some among
them the influences of what we call Nature are in harmony with all
that is good in them, and have a soothing and mystical effect. Others
seem to disentangle themselves from every natural surrounding, and to
stand out, against the background of their own spiritual horizons,
clear-edged, opaque, and resistant.

Clavering was entirely of this latter type. Nature to him was always
full of hidden dangers and secret perils. He found her power a
magical, not a mystical, one. He resented the spell she cast over
him. It seemed to lend itself, all too willingly, to the vicious
demons that delighted to waylay his unguarded hours. His instinctive
attitude to these enchanting natural forces was that of a mediæval
monk. Their bewitching shapes, their lovely colours, their penetrating
odours, were all permeated for him by a subtle diffusion of something
evil there; something capable of leading one’s spirit desperately,
miserably far--if one allowed it the smallest welcome. Against all
these siren-voices rumouring and whispering so treacherously around
us, against all this shifting and flitting wizardry, one defence alone
availed;--the clear-cut, absolute authority, of Him who makes the
clouds his chariot and the earth his footstool.

As Clavering sat crouching there under his tent of larches, the spirit
of the Christ he served seemed to pass surging through him like a
passionate flood. He drew deep breaths of exquisite relief and comfort.
The problem was solved,--was indeed no problem at all; for he had
nothing to do but to obey the absolute authority, the soul-piercing
word. Who was he to question results? The same God who commanded him
to flee from temptation was able--beyond the mystery of his own divine
method--to save her who tempted him, whether baptized or unbaptized!

He leapt to his feet, and no more like one pursued, but rather like one
pursuing, pushed his way to the summit of the Mount. The space at the
top was flat and circular; not unlike, in its smooth level surface, the
top of the mountain in that very Transfiguration picture which was now
overshadowing his letter to his enchantress. In the centre of this open
space rose the thin Thyrsus-shaped tower. He advanced to the eastern
edge of the hill and looked down over the wide-spread landscape.

The flat elm-fringed meadows of the great mid-Somerset plain stretched
softly away, till they lost themselves in a purple mist. Never had the
formidable outline of the Leonian promontory looked more emphatic and
sinister than it looked in this deepening twilight. The sky above it
was of a pale green tint, flecked here and there by feathery streaks
of carmine. The whole sky-dome was still lit by the pallid reflection
of the dead sunset; and on the far northern horizon, where the Mendip
hills rise above the plain, a livid whitish glimmer touched the rim of
an enormous range of sombre clouds.

The priest stood, hushed, and motionless as a statue, contemplating
this suggestive panorama. But little of its transparent beauty passed
the surface of his consciousness. He was absorbed, rapt, intent. But
the cause of his abstraction was not the diaphanous air-spaces above
him or the dark earth beneath him; it was the pouring of the waves of
divine love through his inmost being; it was his fusion with that great
Spirit of the Beyond which renders its votaries independent of space
and time.

After long exquisite moments of this high exultation, his mind
gradually resumed its normal functioning. A cynical interpreter of this
sublime experience would doubtless have attributed the whole phenomenon
to a natural reaction of the priest, back to his habitual moral temper,
from the turbulent perturbations of the recent days. Would such a one
have found it a mere coincidence that at the moment of regaining his
natural vision the clergyman’s attention was arrested by the slow
passage of a huge white cloud towards the Leonian promontory, a cloud
that assumed, as it moved, gigantic and almost human lineaments?

Coincidence or not, Clavering’s attention was not allowed to remain
fixed upon this interesting spectacle. It seemed as though his return
to ordinary human consciousness was destined to be attended by the
reappearance of ordinary humanity. He perceived in the great sloping
field on the eastern side of the mount the white figure of a woman,
walking alone. For the moment his heart stood still; but a second
glance reassured him. He knew that figure, even in the dying light. It
was little Vennie Seldom. Simultaneously with this discovery he was
suddenly aware that he was no longer the only frequenter of the woody
solitudes of Nevilton Hill. On a sort of terrace, about a hundred
yards below him, there suddenly moved into sight a boy and a girl,
walking closely interlinked and whispering softly. Acting mechanically,
and as if impelled by an impulse from an external power, he sank
down upon his knees and spied upon them. They too slipped into a
semi-recumbent posture, apparently upon the branches of a fallen tree,
and proceeded, in blissful unconsciousness of any spectator, to indulge
in a long and passionate embrace. From where he crouched Clavering
could actually discern these innocents’ kisses, and catch the little
pathetic murmurings of their amorous happiness. His heart beat wildly
and strangely. In his fingers he clutched great handfuls of earth. His
thoughts played him satyrish and fantastic tricks. Suddenly he leapt to
his feet and stumbled away, like an animal that has been wounded. He
encountered the Thyrsus-shaped tower--that queer fancy of eighteenth
century leisure--and beat with his hands upon its hard smooth surface.
After a second or two, however, he recovered his self-control; and to
afford some excuse to his own mind for his mad behaviour, he walked
deliberately round the edifice, looking for its entrance. This he
presently found, and stood observing it, with scowling interest, in
the growing darkness. He had recognized the lovers down there. They
were both youngsters of his parish. He made a detached mental resolve
to talk tomorrow to the girl’s mother. These flirtations during the
hay-harvest often led to trouble.

There was just enough light left for him to remark some obscure
lettering above the little locked door of this fanciful erection.
It annoyed him that he could not read it. With trembling hand he
fumbled in his pocket--produced a match-box and lit a match. There
was no difficulty now in reading what it had been the humour of some
eighteenth century Seldom to have carved on this site of the discovery
of the Holy Rood. “Carpe Diem” he spelt out, before the flutterings
of an agitated moth extinguished the light he held. This then was the
oracle he had climbed the sacred Mount to hear!

With quick steps, steps over which his mind seemed no longer to have
control, he returned to his point of observation. The boy and girl
had disappeared, but Vennie Seldom was still visible in her white
dress, pacing up and down the meadow. What was she doing there?--he
wondered. Did she often slip away, after the little formal dinner
with her mother, and wander at large through the evening shadows? An
unaccountable rage against her besieged his heart. He felt he should
soon begin to hate her if he watched her much longer; so, with a more
collected and calm step and a sigh that rose from the depths of his
soul he moved away to where the path descended.

As it happened, however, the path he had to follow now, for it was too
dark to return as he had come, emerged, after many windings round the
circle of the hill, precisely into the very field, in which Vennie was
walking. He moved straight towards her. She gave a little start when
she saw him, but waited passively, in that patient drooping pose so
natural to her, till he was by her side.

“You too,” she said, touching his hand, “feel the necessity of being
alone a little while before the day ends. I always do. Mother sometimes
protests. But it is no good. There are certain little pleasures that we
have a right to enjoy--haven’t we?”

They moved together along the base of the hill following its circuit
in the northerly direction. Clavering felt as though, after a backward
plunge into the Inferno, he had encountered a reproachful angel of
light. He half expected her to say to him, in the crushing austerity
of Beatrice, “Lift up your chin and answer me face to face.” The
gentle power of her pure spirit over him was so persuasive that in the
after-ebb of this second turbulent reaction he could not refrain from
striking the confessional note.

“I wish I were as good as you, Miss Seldom,” he said. “I fear the power
of evil in me goes beyond anything you could possibly conceive.”

“There are few things I cannot conceive, Mr. Clavering,” the girl
answered, with that helpless droop of her little head that had so
winning a pathos. “We people who live such secluded lives are not as
ignorant of the great storms as you may imagine.”

Clavering’s voice shook as he responded to this.

“I wish I could talk quite freely to you. This convention that forbids
friends such as we are from being frank with one another, seems to me
sometimes an invention of the devil.”

The girl lifted her head. He could not see in the darkness that had now
fallen upon them, how her mouth quivered and her cheeks grew scarlet.

“I think I can guess at what is worrying you, my friend,” she murmured
gently.

He trembled from head to foot with a curious shame. “You think it is
about Gladys Romer,” he burst out. “Well it is! I find her one of the
greatest difficulties I have ever had in my life.”

“I am afraid,” said Vennie timidly, “she intends to be a difficulty to
you. It is wrong to say so, but I have always been suspicious of her
motives in this desire to enter our church.”

“God knows what her motives are!” sighed the priest, “I only know she
makes it as hard for me as she can.”

As soon as he had uttered these words a queer observing sense of having
been treacherous to Gladys rose in his heart. Once more he had to
suppress an emotion of hatred for the little saint by his side.

“I know,” murmured Vennie, “I know. She tries to play upon your
good-nature. She tries to make you over-fond of her. I suppose”--she
paused for a moment--“I suppose she is like that. It is not her fault.
It is her--her character. She has a mad craving for admiration and is
ready to play it off on anybody.”

“It makes it very difficult to help her,” said the priest evasively.

Vennie peered anxiously at his face. “It is not as though she really
was fond of _you_,” she boldly added. “I doubt whether she is fond of
anyone. She loves troubling people’s minds and making them unhappy.”

“Don’t mistake me, Miss Seldom,” cried Clavering. “I am not in the
least sentimental about her--it is only--only”--Vennie smoothed his
path for him.

“It is only that she makes it impossible for you to teach her,” she
hazarded, following his lead. “I know something of that difficulty
myself. These wayward pleasure-loving people make it very hard for us
all sometimes.”

Mr. Clavering shook his stick defiantly into the darkness, whether as
a movement directed against the powers of evil or against the powers
of good, he would himself have found it hard to say. Queer thoughts
of a humourous frivolity passed through his mind. Something in the
girl’s grave tone had an irritating effect upon him. It is always a
little annoying, even to the best of men, to feel themselves being
guided and directed by women, unless they are in love with them.
Clavering was certainly not in love with Vennie; and though in his
emotional agitation he had gone so far in confiding in her, he was by
no means unconscious of something incongruous and even ridiculous in
the situation. This queer new frivolity in him, which now peered forth
from some twisted corner of his nature, like a rat out of a hole,
found this whole interview intolerably absurd. He suddenly experienced
the sensation of being led along at Vennie’s side like a convicted
school-boy. He found himself rebelling against all women in his heart,
both good and bad, and recalling, humorously and sadly, the old sweet
scandalous attitude of contempt for the whole sex, of his irresponsible
Cambridge days. Perhaps, dimly and unconsciously, he was reacting
now, after all this interval, to the subtle influence of Mr. Taxater.
He knew perfectly well that the very idea of a man--not to speak of a
priest--confiding his amorous weaknesses to a woman, would have excited
that epicurean sage to voluble fury. Everything that was mediæval and
monkish in him rose up too, in support of this interior outburst of
Rabelaisean spleen.

It would be interesting to know if Vennie had any inkling, as she
walked in the darkness by his side, of this new and unexpected veering
of his mood. Certainly she refrained from pressing him for any further
confessions. Perhaps with the genuine clairvoyance of a saint she
was conscious of her danger. At any rate she began speaking to him
of herself, of her difficulties with her mother and her mother’s
friends, of her desire to be of more use to Lacrima Traffio, and of the
obstacles in the way of that.

Conversing with friendly familiarity on these less poignant topics they
arrived at last at the gates of the Priory farm and the entrance to
the church. Mr. Clavering was proceeding to escort her home, when she
suddenly stopped in the road, and said in a quick hurried whisper, “I
should dearly love to walk once round the churchyard before I go back.”

The cheerful light from the windows of the Goat and Boy showed, as
it shone upon his face, his surprise as well as his disinclination.
The truth is, that by a subtle reversion of logic he had now reached
the idea that it was at once absurd and unkind to send that letter to
Gladys. He was trembling to tear it in pieces, and burn the pieces in
his kitchen-fire! Vennie however, did not look at his face. She looked
at the solemn tower of St. Catharine’s church.

“Please get the key,” she said, “and let us walk once round.”

He was compelled to obey her, and knocking at the door of the clerk’s
cottage aroused that astonished and scandalized official into throwing
the object required out of his bedroom window. Once inside the
churchyard however, the strange and mystical power of the spot brought
his mood into nearer conformity with his companion’s.

They stopped, as everyone who visits Nevilton churchyard is induced to
stop, before the extraordinary tomb of Gideon and Naomi Andersen. The
thing had been constructed from the eccentric old carver’s own design,
and had proved one of the keenest pleasures of his last hours.

Like the whimsical poet Donne, he had derived a sardonic and not
altogether holy delight in contemplating before his end the actual
slab of earthly consistence that was to make his bodily resurrection
so emphatically miraculous. Clavering and Vennie stood for several
minutes in mute contemplation before this strange monument. It was
composed of a huge, solid block of Leonian stone, carved at the top
into the likeness of an enormous human skull, and ornamented, below the
skull, by a deeply cut cross surrounded by a circle. This last addition
gave to the sacred symbol within it a certain heathen and ungodly
look, making it seem as though it were no cross at all, but a pagan
hieroglyph from some remote unconsecrated antiquity. The girl laid her
fragile hand on the monstrous image of death, which the gloom around
them made all the more threatening.

“It is wonderful,” she said, “how the power of Christ can change even
the darkest objects into beauty. I like to think of Him striking His
hand straight through the clumsy half-laws of Man and Nature, and
holding out to us the promise of things far beyond all this morbid
dissolution.”

“You are right, my friend,” answered the priest.

“I think the world is really a dark and dreadful place,” she went
on. “I cannot help saying so. I know there are people who only see
its beauty and joy. I cannot feel like that. If it wasn’t for Him I
should be utterly miserable. I think I should go mad. There is too much
unhappiness--too much to be borne! But this strong hand of His, struck
clean down to us from outside the whole wretched confusion,--I cling
to that; and it saves me. I know there are lots of happy people, but I
cannot forget the others! I think of them in the night. I think of them
always. They are so many--so many!”

“Dear child!” murmured the priest, his interlude of casual frivolity
melting away like mist under the flame of her conviction.

“Do you think,” she continued, “that if we were able to hear the
weeping of all those who suffer and have suffered since the beginning
of the world, we could endure the idea of going on living? It would be
too much! The burden of those tears would darken the sun and hide the
moon. It is only His presence in the midst of us,--His presence, coming
in from outside, that makes it possible for us to endure and have
patience.”

“Yes, He must come in from _outside_,” murmured the priest, “or He
cannot help us. He must be able to break every law and custom and rule
of nature and man. He must strike at the whole miserable entanglement
from outside it--from outside it!”

Clavering’s voice rose almost to a shout as he uttered these last
words. He felt as though he were refuting in one tremendous cry of
passionate certainty all those “modernistic” theories with which he
loved sometimes to play. He was completely under Vennie’s influence now.

“And we must help Him,” said the girl, “by entering into His Sacrifice.
Only by sacrifice--by the sacrifice of everything--can we enable Him to
work the miracle which He would accomplish!”

Clavering could do nothing but echo her words.

“The sacrifice of everything,” he whispered, and abstractedly laid
_his_ hand upon the image of death carved by the old artist. Moved
apparently by an unexpected impulse, Vennie seized, with her own, the
hand thus extended.

“I have thought,” she cried, “of a way out of your difficulty. Give her
her lessons in the church! That will not hurt her feelings, and it will
save you. It will prevent her from distracting your mind, and it will
concentrate her attention upon your teaching. It will save you both!”

Clavering held the little hand, thus innocently given him, tenderly and
solemnly in both of his.

“You are right, my friend,” he said, and then, gravely and emphatically
as if repeating a vow,--“I will take her in the church. That will
settle everything.”

Vennie seemed thrilled with spiritual joy at his acquiescence in
her happy inspiration. She walked so rapidly as they recrossed the
churchyard that he could hardly keep pace with her. She seemed to
long to escape, to the solitude of her own home, of her own room, in
order to give full vent to her feelings. He locked the gate of the
porch behind them, and put the key in his pocket. Very quickly and in
complete silence they made their way up the road to the entrance of the
Vicarage garden.

Here they separated, with one more significant and solemn hand-clasp.
It was as if the spirit of St. Catharine herself was in the girl, so
ethereal did she look, so transported by unearthly emotion, as the gate
swung behind her.

As for the vicar of Nevilton, he strode back impetuously to his
own house, and there, from its place beneath the print of the
transfiguration, he took the letter, and tore it into many pieces; but
he tore it with a different intention from that which, an hour before,
had ruled his brain; and the sleep which awaited him, as soon as his
head touched his pillow, was the soundest and sweetest he had known
since first he came to the village.



CHAPTER IX

THE MYTHOLOGY OF POWER


It was late in the afternoon of the day following the events just
described. Mrs. Fringe was passing in and out of Clavering’s
sitting-room making the removal of his tea an opportunity for
interminable discourse.

“They say Eliza Wotnot’s had a bad week of it with one thing and
another. They say she be as yellow as a lemon-pip in her body, as you
might call it, and grey as ash-heaps in her old face. I never cared for
the woman myself, and I don’t gather as she was desperate liked in the
village, but a Christian’s a Christian when they be laid low in the
Lord’s pleasure, though they be as surly-tongued as Satan.”

“I know, I know,” said the clergyman impatiently.

“They say Mr. Taxater sits up with her night after night as if he was
a trained nurse. Why he don’t have a nurse I can’t think, ’cept it be
some papist practice. The poor gentleman will be getting woeful thin,
if this goes on. He’s not one for losing his sleep and his regular
meals.”

“Sally Birch is doing all that for him, Mrs. Fringe,” said Clavering.
“I have seen to it myself.”

“Sally Birch knows as much about cooking a gentleman’s meals as my
Lottie, and that’s not saying a great deal.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Fringe, thank you,” said Clavering. “You need not move
the table.”

“Oh, of course, ’tis Miss Gladys’ lesson-day. They say she’s given
young Mr. Ilminster the go-by, sir. ’Tis strange and wonderful how some
people be made by the holy Lord to have their whole blessed pleasure in
this world. Providence do love the ones as loves themselves, and those
that seeks what they want shall find it! I expect, between ourselves,
sir, the young lady have got someone else in her eye. They tell me some
great thundering swell from London is staying in the House.”

“That’ll do, Mrs. Fringe, that’ll do. You can leave those flowers a
little longer.”

“I ought to let you know, sir, that old Jimmy Pringle has gone off
wandering again. I saw Witch-Bessie at his door when I went to the shop
this morning and she told me he was talking and talking, as badly as
ever he did. Far gone, poor old sinner, Witch-Bessie said he was.”

“He is a religious minded man, I believe, at bottom,” said the
clergyman.

“He be stark mad, sir, if that’s what you mean! As to the rest, they
say his carryings on with that harlotry down in Yeoborough was a
disgrace to a Christian country.”

“I know,” said Clavering, “I know, but we all have our temptations,
Mrs. Fringe.”

“Temptations, sir?” and the sandy complexioned female snorted with
contempt. “And is those as takes no drop of liquor, and looks at no
man edge-ways, though their own lawful partner be a stiff corpse of
seven years’ burying, to be put in the same class with them as goes
rampaging with harlotries?”

“He has repented, Mrs. Fringe, he has repented. He told me so himself
when I met him last week.”

“Repented!” groaned the indignant woman; “he repents well who repents
when he can’t sin no more. His talk, if you ask me, sir, is more
scandalous than religious. Witch-Bessie told me she heard him say that
he had seen the Lord Himself. I am not a learned scholar like you, sir,
but I know this, that when the Lord does go about the earth he doesn’t
visit hoary old villains like Jimmy Pringle--except to tell them they
be damned.”

“Did he really say that?” asked the clergyman, feeling a growing
interest in Mr. Pringle’s revelations.

“Yes, sir, he did, sir! Said he met God,--those were his very words,
and indecent enough words I call them!--out along by Captain Whiffley’s
drive-gate. You should have heard Witch-Bessie tell me. He frightened
her, he did, the wicked old man! God, he said, came to him, as I might
come to you, sir, quite ordinary and familiar-like. ‘Jimmy,’ said God,
all sudden, as if he were a person passing the time of day, ‘I have
come to see you, Jimmy.’

“‘And who may you be, Mister?’ said the wicked old man, just as though
the Lord above were a casual decent-dressed gentleman.

“‘I am God, Jimmy,’ said the Vision. ‘And I be come to tell ’ee how
dearly I loves ’ee, spite of Satan and all his works.’ Witch-Bessie
told me,” Mrs. Fringe continued, “how as the old man said things to
her as she never thought to hear from human lips, so dreadful they
were.”

“And what happened then?” asked Clavering eagerly.

“What happened then? Why God went away, he said, in a great cloud of
roaring fire, and he was left alone, all dazed-like. Did you ever hear
such a scimble-scamble story in your life, sir? And all by Captain
Whiffley’s drive-gate!”

“Well, Mrs. Fringe,” said the clergyman, “I think we must postpone the
rest of this interesting conversation till supper-time. I have several
things I want to do.”

“I know you have, sir, I know you have. It isn’t easy to find out from
all them books ways and means of keeping young ladies like Miss Gladys
in the path of salvation. How does she get on, sir, if I might be so
bold? I fear she don’t learn her catechism as quiet and patient as I
used to learn mine, under old Mr. Ravelin, God forgive him!”

“Oh, I think Miss Romer is quite as good a pupil as you used to be,
Mrs. Fringe,” said Clavering, rising and gently ushering her out of the
door.

“She’s as good as some of these new-fangled village hussies, anyway,”
retorted the irrepressible lady, turning on the threshold. “They tell
me that Lucy Vare was off again last night with that rascally Tom
Mooring. She’ll be in trouble, that young girl, before she wants to be.”

“I know, I know,” sighed the clergyman sadly, fumbling with the door
handle.

“You don’t know all you _ought_ to know, sir, if you’ll pardon my
boldness,” returned the woman, making a step backwards.

“I know, because I saw them!” shouted Clavering, closing the door with
irritable violence.

“Goodness me!” muttered Mrs. Fringe, returning to her kitchen, “if the
poor young man knew what this parish was really like, he wouldn’t talk
so freely about ‘seeing’ people!”

Left to himself, Clavering moved uneasily round his room, taking down
first one book and then another, and looking anxiously at his shelves
as if seeking something from them more efficient than eloquent words.

“As soon as she comes,” he said to himself, “I shall take her across to
the church.”

He had not long to wait. The door at the end of the garden-path
clicked. Light-tripping steps followed, and Gladys Romer’s well-known
figure made itself visible through the open window. He hastened out
to meet her, hoping to forestall the hospitable Mrs. Fringe. In this,
however, he was unsuccessful. His housekeeper was already in the porch,
taking from the girl her parasol and gloves. How these little things,
these chance-thrown little things, always intervene between our good
resolutions and their accomplishment! He ought to have been ready in
his garden, on the watch for her. Surely he had not intentionally
remained in his room? No, it was the fault of Mrs. Fringe; of Mrs.
Fringe and her stories about Jimmy Pringle and God. He wished that
“a roaring cloud of fire” would rise between him and this voluptuous
temptress. But probably, priest though he was, he lacked the faith of
that ancient reprobate. He stood aside to let her enter. The words
“I think it would be better if we went over to the church,” stuck,
unuttered, to the roof of his mouth. She held out her white ungloved
hand, and then, as soon as the door was closed, began very deliberately
removing her hat.

He stood before her smiling, that rather inept smile, which indicates
the complete paralysis of every faculty, except the faculty of
admiration. He could hardly now suggest a move to the church. He could
not trouble her to re-assume that charming hat. Besides, what reason
could he give? He did, however, give a somewhat ambiguous reason for
following out Vennie’s heroic plan on another--a different--occasion.
In the tone we use when allaying the pricks of conscience by tacitly
treating that sacred monitor as if its intelligence were of an inferior
order: “One of these days,” he said, “we must have our lesson in the
church. It would be so nice and cool there, wouldn’t it?”

There was a scent of burning weeds in the front-room of the old
Vicarage, when master and neophyte sat down together, at the round oak
table, before the extended works of Pusey and Newman. Sombre were the
bindings of these repositories of orthodoxy, but the pleasant afternoon
sun streamed wantonly over them and illumined their gloom.

Gladys had seated herself so that the light fell caressingly upon her
yellow hair and deepened into exquisite attractiveness the soft shadows
of her throat and neck. Her arms were sleeveless; and as she leaned
them against the table, their whiteness and roundness were enhanced by
the warm glow.

The priest spoke in a low monotonous voice, explaining doctrines,
elucidating mysteries, and emphasizing moral lessons. He spoke of
baptism. He described the manner in which the Church had appropriated
to her own purpose so many ancient pagan customs. He showed how the
immemorial heathen usages of “immersion” and “ablution” had become,
in her hands, wonderful and suggestive symbols of the purifying power
of the nobler elements. He used words that he had come, by frequent
repetition, to know by heart. In order that he might point out to
her passages in his authors which lent themselves to the subject, he
brought his chair round to her side.

The sound of her gentle breathing, and the terrible attraction of her
whole figure, as she leant forward, in sweet girlish attention to what
he was saying, maddened the poor priest.

In her secret heart Gladys hardly understood a single word. The phrase
“immersion,” whenever it occurred, gave her an irresistible desire to
laugh. She could not help thinking of her favourite round pond. The
pond set her thinking of Lacrima and how amusing it was to frighten
her. But this lesson with the young clergyman was even more amusing.
She felt instinctively that it was upon herself his attention rested,
whatever mysterious words might pass his lips.

Once, as they were leaning together over the “Development of Christian
Doctrine,” and he was enlarging upon the gradual evolution of one
sacred implication after another, she let her arm slide lightly over
the back of his hand; and a savage thrill of triumph rose in her heart,
as she felt an answering magnetic shiver run through his whole frame.

“The worship of the Body of our Saviour,” he said--using his own words
as a shield against her--“allows no subterfuges, no reserves. It
gathers to itself, as it sweeps down the ages, every emotion, every
ardour, every passion of man. It appropriates all that is noble in
these things to its own high purpose, and it makes even of the evil in
them a means to yet more subtle good.”

As he spoke, with an imperceptible gesture of liberation he rose from
his seat by her side and set himself to pace the room. The struggle he
was making caused his fingers to clench and re-clench themselves in
the palms of his hands, as though he were squeezing the perfume from
handfuls of scented leaves.

The high-spirited girl knew by instinct the suffering she was causing,
but she did not yield to any ridiculous pity. She only felt the
necessity of holding him yet more firmly. So she too rose from her
chair, and, slipping softly to the window, seated herself sideways upon
its ledge. Balanced charmingly here--like some wood-nymph stolen from
the forest to tease the solitude of some luckless hermit--she stretched
one arm out of the window, and pulling towards her a delicate branch of
yellow roses, pressed it against her breast.

The pose of her figure, as she balanced herself thus, was one of
provoking attractiveness, and with a furtive look of feline patience in
her half-shut eyes she waited while it threw its spell over him.

The scent of burning weeds floated into the room. Clavering’s thoughts
whirled to and fro in his head like whipped chaff. “I must go on
speaking,” he thought; “and I must not look at her. If I look at her
I am lost.” He paced the room like a caged animal. His soul cried out
within him to be liberated from the body of this death. He thought of
the strange tombstone of Gideon Andersen, and wished he too were buried
under it, and free forever!

“Yet is it not my duty to look at her?” the devil in his heart
whispered. “How can I teach her, how can I influence her for good, if
I do not see the effect of my words? Is it not an insult to the Master
Himself, and His Divine power, to be thus cowardly and afraid?”

His steps faltered and he leant against the table.

“Christ,” he found his lips repeating, “is the explanation of all
mysteries. He is the secret root of all natural impulses in us. All
emerge from Him and all return to Him. He is to us what their ancient
god Pan was to the Greeks. He is in a true sense our _All_--for in
him is all we are, all we have, and all we hope. All our passions
are His. Touched by Him, their true originator, they lose their
dross, are purged of their evil, and give forth sweet-smelling,
sweet-breathing--yellow roses!”

He had not intended to say “yellow roses.” The sentence had rounded
itself off so, apart from his conscious will.

The girl gravely indicated that she heard him; and then smiled
dreamily, acquiescingly--the sort of smile that yields to a spiritual
idea, as if it were a physical caress.

The scent of burning weeds continued to float in through the window.
“Oh, it has gone!” she cried suddenly, as, released from her fingers,
the branch swung back to its place against the sandstone wall.

“I must have it again,” she added, bending her supple body backwards.
She made one or two ineffectual efforts and then gave up, panting. “I
can’t reach it,” she said. “But go on, Mr. Clavering. I can listen to
you like this. It is so nice out here.”

Strange unfathomable thoughts surged up in the depths of Clavering’s
soul. He found himself wishing that he had authority over her, that
he might tame her wilful spirit, and lay her under the yoke of some
austere penance. Why was she free to provoke him thus, with her
merciless fragility? The madness she was arousing grew steadily upon
him. He stumbled awkwardly round the edge of the table and approached
her. The scent of burning weeds became yet more emphatic. To make his
nearness to her less obvious, and out of a queer mechanical instinct to
allay his own conscience, he continued his spiritual admonitions, even
when he was quite close--even when he could have touched her with his
hand. And it would be so easy to touch her! The playful perilousness of
her position in the window made such a movement natural, justifiable,
almost conventional.

“The true doctrine of the Incarnation,” his lips repeated, “is not that
something contrary to nature has happened; it is that the innermost
secret of Nature has been revealed. And this secret,”--here his fingers
closed feverishly on the casement-latch--“is identical with the force
that swings the furthest star, and drives the sap through the veins of
all living things.”

It would have been of considerable interest to a student of religious
psychology--like Mr. Taxater for example--to observe how the phrases
that mechanically passed Clavering’s lips at this juncture were all
phrases drawn from the works of rationalistic modernists. He had
recently been reading the charming and subtle essays of Father Mervyn;
and the soft and melodious harmonies of that clever theologian’s
thought had accumulated in some hidden corner of his brain. The
authentic religious emotion in him being superseded by a more powerful
impulse, his mind mechanically reverted to the large, dim regions of
mystical speculation. A certain instinct in him--the instinct of his
clamorous senses--made him careful to blur, confuse, and keep far
back, that lovely and terrible “Power from Outside,” the hem of Whose
garments he had clung to, the night before. “Christ,” he went on, “is,
as it were, the centre and pivot of the whole universe, and every
revelation granted to us of His nature is a revelation from the system
of things itself. I want you to understand that our true attitude
towards this great mystery, ought to be the attitude of scientific
explorers, who in searching for hidden causes have come upon the one,
the unique Cause.”

The girl’s only indication that she embraced the significance of these
solemn words was to make a sudden gliding serpentine movement which
brought her into a position more easy to be retained, and yet one that
made it still more unnatural that he should refuse her some kind of
playful and affectionate support.

The poor priest’s heart beat tumultuously. He began to lose all
consciousness of everything except his propinquity to his provoker.
He was aware with appalling distinctness of the precise texture of
the light frock that she wore. It was of a soft fawn colour, crossed
by wavy lines of a darker tint. He watched the way these wavy lines
followed the curves of her figure. They began at her side, and ended
where her skirt hung loose over her little swinging ankles. He
wished these lines had sloped upwards, instead of downwards; then it
would have been so much easier for him to follow the argument of the
“Development of Christian Doctrine.”

Still that scent of burning weeds! Why must his neighbours set fire to
their rubbish, on this particular afternoon?

With a fierce mental effort he tried to suppress the thought that
those voluptuous lips only waited for him to overcome his ridiculous
scruples. Why must she wait like this so pitilessly passive, laying all
the burden of the struggle upon him? If she would only make a little--a
very little--movement, his conscience would be able to recover its
equilibrium, whatever happened. He tried to unmagnetize her attraction,
by visualizing the fact that under this desirable form--so near his
touch--lurked nothing but that bleak, bare, last outline of mortality,
to which all flesh must come. He tried to see her forehead, her closed
eyes, her parted lips, as they would look if resting in a coffin. Like
his monkish predecessors in the world-old struggle against Satan, he
sought to save himself by clutching fast to the grinning skull.

All this while his lips went on repeating their liturgical formula.
“We must learn to look upon the Redemption, as a natural, not a
supernatural fact. We must learn to see in it the motive-force of the
whole stream of evolution. We must remember that things _are_ what
they have it in them to _become_. It is the purpose, the end, which is
the true truth--not the process or the method. Christ is the end of
all things. He is therefore the beginning of all things. All things
find their meaning, their place, their explanation, only in relation
to Him. He is the reality of the illusion which we call Nature, and
of the illusion which we call Life. In Him the universe becomes real
and living--which else were a mere engine of destruction.” How much
longer he would have continued in this strain--conquered yet still
resisting--it were impossible to say. All these noble words, into the
rhythm of which so much passionate modern thought had been poured, fell
from his lips like sand out of a sieve.

The girl herself interrupted him. With a quick movement she suddenly
jerked herself from her recumbent position; jumped, without his help,
lightly down upon the floor, and resumed her former place at the table.
The explanation of this virtuous retreat soon made itself known in
the person of a visitor advancing up the garden. Clavering, who had
stumbled foolishly aside as she changed her place, now opened the door
and went to meet the new-comer.

It was Romer’s manager, Mr. Thomas Lickwit, discreet, obsequious,
fawning, as ever,--but with a covert malignity in his hurried words.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir. I see it is Miss Gladys’ lesson. I hope the
young lady is getting on nicely, sir. I won’t detain you for more than
a moment. I have just a little matter that couldn’t wait. Business is
business, you know.”

Clavering felt as though he had heard this last observation repeated
“ad nauseam” by all the disgusting sycophants in all the sensational
novels he had ever read. It occurred to him how closely Mr. Lickwit
really did resemble all these monotonously unpleasant people.

“Yes,” went on the amiable man, “business is business--even with
reverend gentlemen like yourself who have better things to attend to.”
Clavering forced himself to smile in genial appreciation of this airy
wit, and beckoned the manager into his study. He then returned to the
front room. “I am afraid our lesson must end for tonight, Miss Romer,”
he said. “You know enough of this lieutenant of your father’s to guess
that he will not be easy to get rid of. The worst of a parson’s life
are these interruptions.”

There was no smile upon his face as he said this, but the girl laughed
merrily. She adjusted her hat with a deliciously coquettish glance at
him through the permissible medium of the gilt-framed mirror. Then she
turned and held out her hand. “Till next week, then, Mr. Clavering.
And I will read all those books you sent up for me--even the great big
black one!”

He gravely opened the door for her, and with a sigh from a heart
“sorely charged,” returned to face Mr. Lickwit.

He found that gentleman comfortably ensconced in the only arm-chair.
“It is like this, sir,” said the man, when Clavering had taken a seat
opposite him. “Mr. Romer thinks it would be a good thing if this
Social Meeting were put a stop to. There has been talk, sir. I will
not conceal it from you. There has been talk. The people say that you
have allied yourself with that troublesome agitator. You know the man I
refer to, sir, that wretched Wone.

“Mr. Romer doesn’t approve of what he hears of these meetings. He
doesn’t see as how they serve any good purpose. He thinks they promote
discord in the place, and set one class against another. He does not
like the way, neither, that Mr. Quincunx has been going on down there;
nor to say the truth, sir, do _I_ like that gentleman’s doings very
well. He speaks too free, does Mr. Quincunx, much too free, considering
how he is situated as you might say.”

Clavering leapt to his feet, trembling with anger. “I cannot understand
this,” he said, “Someone has been misleading Mr. Romer. The Social
Meeting is an old institution of this village; and though it is not
exactly a church affair, I believe it is almost entirely frequented by
church-goers. I have always felt that it served an invaluable purpose
in this place. It is indeed the only occasion when priest and people
can meet on equal terms and discuss these great questions man to man.
No--no, Lickwit, I cannot for a moment consent to the closing of the
Social Meeting. It would undo the work of years. It would be utterly
unwise. In fact it would be wrong. I cannot think how you can come to
me with such a proposal.”

Mr. Lickwit made no movement beyond causing his hat to twirl round on
the top of the stick he held between his knees.

“You will think better of it, sir. You will think better of it,” he
said. “The election is coming on, and Mr. Romer expects all supporters
of Church and State to help him in his campaign. You have heard he is
standing, sir, I suppose?”

Mr. Lickwit uttered the word “standing” in a tone which suggested to
Clavering’s mind a grotesque image of the British Constitution resting
like an enormous cornucopia on the head of the owner of Leo’s Hill. He
nodded and resumed his seat. The manager continued. “That old Methodist
chapel where those meetings are held, belongs, as you know, to Mr.
Romer. He is thinking of having it pulled down--not only because of
Wone’s and Quincunx’s goings on there, but because he wants the ground.
He’s thinking of building an estate-office on that corner. We are
pressed for room, up at the Hill, sir.”

Once more Clavering rose to his feet. “This is too much!” he cried. “I
wonder you have the impertinence to come here and tell me such things.
I am not to be bullied, Lickwit. Understand that! I am not to be
bullied.”

“Then I may tell the master,” said the man sneeringly, rising in his
turn and making for the door, “that Mr. Parson won’t have nothing to do
with our little plan?”

“You may tell him what you please, Lickwit. I shall go over myself at
once to the House and see Mr. Romer.” He glanced at his watch. “It is
not seven yet, and I know he does not dine till eight.”

“By all means, sir, by all means! He’ll be extremely glad to see you.
You couldn’t do better, sir. You’ll excuse me if I don’t walk up with
you. I have to run across and speak to Mr. Goring.”

He bowed himself out and hurried off. Clavering seized his hat and
followed him, turning, however, when once in the street, in the
direction of the south drive. It took him scarcely a couple of minutes
to reach the village square where the drive emerged. In the centre
of the square stood a solid erection of Leonian stone adapted to the
double purpose of a horse-trough and a drinking fountain. Here the
girls came to draw water, and here the lads came to chat and flirt
with the girls. Mr. Clavering could not help pausing in his determined
march to watch a group of young people engaged in animated and laughing
frivolity at this spot. It was a man and two girls. He recognized the
man at once by his slight figure and lively gestures. It was Luke
Andersen. “That fellow has a bad influence in this place,” he said to
himself. “He takes advantage of his superior education to unsettle
these children’s minds. I must stop this.” He moved slowly towards
the fountain. Luke Andersen looked indeed as reckless and engaging
as a young faun out of a heathen story. He was making a cup of his
two hands and whimsically holding up the water to the lips of the
younger of his companions, while the other one giggled and fluttered
round them. Had the priest been in a poetic humour at that moment,
he might have been reminded of those queer mediæval legends of the
wanderings of the old dispossessed divinities. The young stone-carver,
with his classic profile and fair curly hair, might have passed for
a disguised Dionysus seducing to his perilous service the women of
some rustic Thessalian hamlet. No pleasing image of this kind crossed
Hugh Clavering’s vision. All he saw, as he approached the fountain,
was another youthful incarnation of the dangerous Power he had been
wrestling with all the afternoon. He advanced towards the engaging
Luke, much as Christian might have advanced towards Apollyon. “Good
evening, Andersen,” he said, with a certain professional severity.
“Using the fountain, I see? We must be careful, though, not to waste
the water this hot summer.”

The girl who was drinking rose up with a little start, and stood
blushing and embarrassed. Luke appeared entirely at his ease. He leant
negligently against the edge of the stone trough, and pushed his hat
to the back of his head. In this particular pose he resembled to an
extraordinary degree the famous Capitolian statue.

“It is hardly wasting the water, Mr. Clavering,” he said with a smile,
“offering it to a beautiful mouth. Why don’t you curtsey to Mr.
Clavering, Annie? I thought all you girls curtsied when clergymen spoke
to you.”

The priest frowned. The audacious aplomb of the young man unnerved and
disconcerted him.

“Water in a stone fountain like this,” went on the shameless youth,
“has a peculiar charm these hot evenings. It makes you almost fancy you
are in Seville. Seville is a place in Spain, Annie. Mr. Clavering will
tell you all about it.”

“I think Annie had better run in to her mother now,” said the priest
severely.

“Oh, that’s all right,” replied the youth with unruffled urbanity. “Her
mother has gone shopping in Yeoborough and I have to see that Annie
behaves properly till she comes back.”

Clavering looked reproachfully at the girl. Something about him--his
very inability perhaps to cope with this seductive Dionysus--struck
her simple intelligence as pathetic. She made a movement as if to join
her companion, who remained roguishly giggling a few paces off. But
Luke boldly restrained her. Putting his hand on her shoulder he said
laughingly to the priest, “She will be a heart-breaker one of these
days, Mr. Clavering, will our Annie here! You wouldn’t think she was
eighteen, would you, sir?”

Under other circumstances the young clergyman would have unhesitatingly
commanded the girl to go home. But his recent experiences had loosened
the fibre of his moral courage. Besides, what was there to prevent this
incorrigible young man from walking off after her? One could hardly--at
least in Protestant England--make one’s flock moral by sheer force.

“Well--good-night to you all,” he said, and moved away, thinking to
himself that at any rate there was safety in publicity. “But what a
dangerous person that Andersen is! One never knows how to deal with
these half-and-half people. If he were a village-boy it would be
different. And it would be different if he were a gentleman. But he is
neither one thing or the other. Seville! Who would have thought to have
heard Seville referred to, in the middle of Nevilton Square?”

He reached the carved entrance of the House with its deeply-cut
armorial bearings--the Seldom falcon with the arrow in its beak. “No
more will _that_ bird fly,” he thought, as he waited for the door to
open.

He was ushered into the spacious entrance hall, the usual place of
reception for Mr. Romer’s less favoured guests. The quarry-owner was
alone. He shook hands affably with his visitor and motioned him to a
seat.

“I have come about that question of the Social Meeting--” he began.

Mr. Romer cut him short. “It is no longer a question,” he said. “It is
a ‘fait accompli.’ I have given orders to have the place pulled down
next week. I want the space for building purposes.”

Clavering turned white with anger. “We shall have to find another room
then,” he said. “I cannot have those meetings dropping out from our
village life. They keep the thoughtful people together as nothing else
can.”

Mr. Romer smiled grimly. “You will find it difficult to discover
another place,” he remarked.

“Then I shall have them in my own house,” said the vicar of Nevilton.

Mr. Romer crossed his hands and threw back his head; looking, with the
air of one who watches the development of precisely foreseen events,
straight into the sad eyes of the little Royal Servant on the wall.

“Pardon such a question, my friend,” said he, “but may I ask you what
your personal income is, at this moment?”

“You know that well enough,” returned the other. “I have nothing beyond
the hundred and fifty pounds I receive as vicar of this place.”

“And what,” pursued the Quarry-owner, “may your expenditure amount to?”

“That, also, you know well,” replied Clavering. “I give away about
eighty pounds, every year, to the poor of this village.”

“And where does this eighty pounds come from?” went on the Squire. The
priest was silent.

“I will tell you where it comes from,” pronounced the other. “It comes
from me. It is my contribution, out of the tithes which I receive as
lay-rector. And it is the larger part of them.”

The priest was still silent.

“When I first came here,” his interlocutor continued, “I gave up these
tithes as an offering to our village necessities; and I have not yet
withdrawn them. If this Social Meeting, Mr. Clavering, is not brought
to an end, I shall withdraw them. And no one will be able to blame me.”

Hugh jumped up on his feet with a gesture of fury. “I call this,” he
shouted, “nothing short of sacrilege! Yes, sacrilege and tyranny! I
shall proclaim it abroad. I shall write to the papers. I shall appeal
to the bishop--to the country!”

“As you please,” said Mr. Romer quietly, “as you please. I should
only like to point out that any action of this kind will tie up my
purse-strings forever. You will not be popular with your flock, my
friend. I know something of our dear Nevilton people; and I shall have
only to make it plain to them that it is their vicar who has reduced
this charity; and you will not find yourself greatly loved!”

Clavering fell back into his chair with a groan. He knew too well the
truth of the man’s words. He knew also the straits into which this lack
of money would plunge half his benevolent activities in the parish. He
hung his head gloomily and stared at the floor. What would he not have
given, at that moment, to have been able to meet this despot, man to
man, unencumbered by his duty to his people!

“Let me assure you, my dear sir,” said Mr. Romer quietly, “that you
are not by any means fighting the cause of your church, in supporting
this wretched Meeting. If I were bidding you interrupt your services or
your sacraments, it would be another matter. This Social Meeting has
strong anti-clerical prejudices. You know that, as well as I. It is
conducted entirely on nonconformist lines. I happen to be aware,” he
added, “since you talk of appealing to the bishop, that the good man
has already, on more than one occasion, protested vigorously against
the association of his clergy with this kind of organization. I do not
know whether you ever glance at that excellent paper the Guardian; but
if so you will find, in this last week’s issue, a very interesting
case, quite parallel to ours, in which the bishop’s sympathies were by
no means on the side you are advocating.”

The young priest rose and bowed. “There is, at any rate, no necessity
for me to trouble you any further,” he said. “So I will bid you
good-night.”

He left the hall hastily, picked up his hat, and let himself out,
before his host had time to reply. All the way down the drive his
thoughts reverted to the seductive wiles of this despot’s daughter.
“The saints are deserting me,” he thought, “by reason of my sin.”

He was not, even then, destined to escape his temptress. Gladys, who
doubtless had been expecting this sudden retreat, emerged from the
shadow of the trees and intercepted him. “I will walk to the gate
with you,” she said. The power of feminine attraction is never more
insidious than at the moment of bitter remorse. The mind reverts so
easily, so willingly, then, back to the dangerous way. The mere fact of
its having lost its pride of resistance, its vanity of virtue, makes it
yield to a new assault with terrible facility. She drew him into the
dusky twilight of the scented exotic cedars which bordered the way, on
the excuse of inhaling their fragrance more closely.

She made him pull down a great perfumed cypress-bough, of some unusual
species, so that they might press their faces against it. They stood
so closely together that she could feel through her thin evening-gown
the furious trembling that seized him. She knew that he had completely
lost his self-control, and was quite at her mercy. But Gladys had not
the least intention of yielding herself to the emotion she had excited.
What she intended was that he should desire her to desperation, not
that, by the least touch, his desire should be gratified. In another
half-second, as she well knew, the poor priest would have seized her in
his arms. In place of permitting this, what she did was to imprint a
fleeting kiss with her warm lips upon the back of his hand, and then to
leap out of danger with a ringing laugh. “Good-bye!” she called back
at him, as she ran off. “I’ll come in good time next week.”

It may be imagined in what a turbulence of miserable feelings Hugh
Clavering repassed the village square. He glanced quickly at the
fountain. Yes! Luke Andersen was still loitering in the same place, and
the little bursts of suppressed screams and laughter, and the little
fluttering struggles, of the group around him, indicated that he was
still, in his manner, corrupting the maidens of Nevilton. The priest
longed to put his hands to his ears and run down the street, even as
Christian ran from the city of Destruction. What was this power--this
invincible, all-pervasive power--against which he had committed himself
to contend? He felt as though he were trying, with his poor human
strength, to hold back the sea-tide, so that it should not cover the
sands.

Could it be that, after all, the whole theory of the church was wrong,
and that the great Life-Force was against her, and punishing her, for
seeking, with her vain superstitions, to alter the stars in their
courses?

Could it be that this fierce pleasure-lust, which he felt so fatally
in Gladys, and saw in Luke, and was seduced by in his own veins, was
after all the true secret of Nature, and, to contend against it,
madness and impossible folly? Was he, and not they, the really morbid
and infatuated one--morbid with the arbitrary pride of a desperate
tradition of perverted heroic souls? He moved along the pavement under
the church wall and looked up at its grand immovable tower. “Are you,
too,” he thought, “but the symbol of an insane caprice in the mad
human race, seeking, in fond recklessness, to alter the basic laws of
the great World?”

The casuistical philosophy of Mr. Taxater returned to his mind. What
would the papal apologist say to him now, thus torn and tugged at by
all the forces of hell? He felt a curious doubt in his heart as to
the side on which, in this mad struggle, the astute theologian really
stood. Perhaps, for all his learning, the man was no more Christian in
his true soul, than had been many of those historic popes whose office
he defended. In his desperate mood Clavering longed to get as near as
possible to the altar of this God of his, who thus bade him confront
the whole power of nature and all the wisdom of the world. He looked up
and down the street. Two men were talking outside The Goat and Boy, but
their backs were turned. With a quick sudden movement he put his hands
on the top of the wall and scrambled hastily over, scraping his shins
as he did so on a sharp stone at the top. He moved rapidly to the place
where rose the strange tombstone designed by the atheist carver. It was
here that Vennie and he had entered into their heroic covenant only
twenty-four hours before. He looked at the enormous skull so powerfully
carved and at the encircled cross beneath it. He laid his hand upon the
skull, precisely as he had done the night before; only this time there
were no little cold fingers to instil pure devotion into him. Instead
of the touch of such fingers he felt the burning contact of Gladys’
soft lips.

No! it was an impossible task that his God had laid upon him. Why not
give up the struggle? Why not throw over this mad idol of purity he
had raised for his worship, and yield himself to the great stream? The
blood rushed to his head with the alluring images that this thought
evoked. Perhaps, after all, Gladys would marry him, and then--why,
then, he could revert to the humourous wisdom of Mr. Taxater, and
cultivate the sweet mystical speculations of modernism; reconciling,
pleasantly and easily, the natural pleasures of the senses, with the
natural exigencies of the soul!

He left Gideon’s grave and walked back to the church-porch. It was now
nearly dark and without fear of being observed by any one through the
iron bars of the outer gate, he entered the porch and stood before the
closed door. He wished he had brought the key with him. How he longed,
at that moment, to fling himself down before the altar and cry aloud to
his God!

By his side stood the wheeled parish bier, ornamented by a gilt
inscription, informing the casual intruder that it had been presented
to the place in honour of the accession of King George the Fifth. There
was not light enough to read these touching words, but the gilt plate
containing them gave forth a faint scintillating glimmer.

Worn out by the day-long struggle in his heart, Clavering sat down
upon this grim “memento mori”; and then, after a minute or two,
finding that position uncomfortable, deliberately stretched himself
out at full length upon the thing’s bare surface. Lying here, with
the bats flitting in and out above his head, the struggle in his mind
continued. Supposing he did yield,--not altogether, of course; his
whole nature was against that, and his public position stood in the
way,--but just a little, just a hair’s breadth, could he not enjoy a
light playful flirtation with Gladys, such as she was so obviously
prepared for, even if it were impossible to marry her? The worst of
it was that his imagination so enlarged upon the pleasures of this
“playful flirtation,” that it very quickly became an obsessing desire.
He propped himself up upon his strange couch and looked forth into the
night. The stars were just beginning to appear, and he could see one
or two constellations whose names he knew. How indifferent they were,
those far-off lights! What did it matter to them whether he yielded or
did not yield? He had the curious sensation that the whole conflict
in which he was entangled belonged to a terrestrial sphere infinitely
below those heavenly luminaries. Not only the Power against which he
contended, but the Power on whose side he fought, seemed out-distanced
and derided by those calm watchers.

He sank back again and gazed up at the carved stone roof above him. A
dull inert weariness stole over his brain; a sick disgust of the whole
mad business of a man’s life upon earth. Why was he born into the
world with passions that he must not satisfy and ideals that he could
not hold? Better not to have been born at all; or, being born, better
to lie quiet and untroubled, with all these placid churchyard people,
under the heavy clay! The mental weariness that assailed him gradually
changed into sheer physical drowsiness. His head sought instinctively
a more easy position and soon found what it sought. His eyes
closed; and there, upon the parish bier, worn out with his struggle
against Apollyon, the vicar of Nevilton slept. When he returned to
consciousness he found himself cramped, cold and miserable. Hurriedly
he scrambled to his feet, stretched his stiff limbs and listened. The
clock in the Tower above him began to strike. It struck one--two--and
then stopped. He had slept for nearly five hours.



CHAPTER X

THE ORCHARD


Every natural locality has its hour of special self-assertion; its
hour, when the peculiar qualities and characteristics which belong
to it emphasize themselves, and attain a sort of temporary apogee or
culmination. It is then that such localities--be they forests or moors,
hill-sides or valleys--seem to gather themselves together and bring
themselves into focus, waiting expectantly, it might almost seem, for
some answering dramatic crisis in human affairs which should find in
them an inevitable background.

One of the chief features of our English climate is that no two
successive days, even in a spell of the warmest weather, are exactly
alike. What one might call the culminant day of that summer, for the
orchards of Nevilton, arrived shortly after Mr. Clavering’s unfortunate
defeat. Every hour of this day seemed to add something more and more
expressive to their hushed and expectant solitudes.

Though the hay had been cut, or was being cut, in the open fields, in
these shadowy recesses the grass was permitted to grow lush and long,
at its own unimpeded will.

Between the ancient trunks of the moss-grown apple-trees hung a soft
blue vapour; and the flickering sunlight that pierced the denser
foliage, threw shadows upon the heavy grass that were as deeply purple
as the waves of the mid-atlantic. There was indeed something so remote
from the ordinary movements of the day about this underworld of dim,
rich seclusion, that the image of a sleepy wave-lulled land, long
sunken out of reach of human invasion, under the ebbing and flowing
tide, seemed borne in naturally upon the imagination.

It was towards the close of the afternoon of this particular segment
of time that the drowsy languor of these orchards reached its richest
and most luxurious moment. Grass, moss, lichen, mistletoe, gnarled
trunks, and knotted roots, all seemed to cry aloud, at this privileged
hour, for some human recognition of their unique quality; some human
event which should give that quality its dramatic value, its planetary
proportion. Not since the Hesperidean Dragon guarded its sacred charge,
in the classic story, has a more responsive background offered itself
to what Catullus calls the “furtive loves” of mortal men.

About six o’clock, on this day of the apogee of the orchards, Mr.
Romer, seated on the north terrace of his house, caught sight of his
daughter and her companion crossing the near corner of the park. He
got up at once, and walked across the garden to intercept them. The
sight of the Italian’s slender drooping figure, as she lingered a
little behind her cousin, roused into vivid consciousness all manner
of subterranean emotions in the quarry-owner’s mind. He felt as an
oriental pasha might feel, when under the stress of some political
or monetary transaction, he is compelled to hand over his favorite
girl-slave to an obsequious dependent. The worst of it was that he
could not be absolutely sure of Mr. Goring’s continued adherence.
It was within the bounds of possibility that once in possession of
Lacrima, the farmer might breathe against him gross Thersites-like
defiance, and carry off his captive to another county. He experienced,
at that moment, a sharp pang of inverted remorse at the thought of
having to relinquish his prey.

As he strode along by the edge of the herbaceous borders, where the
blue spikes of the delphiniums were already in bud, his mind swung
rapidly from point to point in the confused arena of his various
contests and struggles.

Mixed strangely enough with his direct Napoleonic pursuit of wealth
and power, there was latent in Mr. Romer, as we have already hinted, a
certain dark and perverse sensuality, which was capable of betraying
and distorting, in very curious ways, the massive force of his
intelligence.

At this particular moment, as he emerged into the park, he found
himself beginning to regret his conversation with his brother-in-law.
But, after all, he thought, when Gladys married, it would be difficult
to find any reason for keeping Lacrima at his side. His feelings
towards the girl were a curious mixture of attraction and hatred. And
what could better gratify this mixed emotion than a plan which would
keep her within his reach and at the same time humiliate and degrade
her? To do the master of Nevilton justice, he was not, at that moment,
as he passed under a group of Spanish chestnuts and observed the
object of his conspiracy rendered gentler and more fragile than ever
by the loveliness of her surroundings, altogether devoid of a certain
remote feeling of compunction. He crushed it down, however, by his
usual thought of the brevity and futility of all these things, and the
folly of yielding to weak commiseration, when, in so short a time,
nothing, one way or the other, would matter in the least! He had long
ago trained himself to make use of these materialistic reasonings to
suppress any irrelevant prickings of conscience which might interfere
with the bias of his will. The whole world, looked at with the bold
cynical eye of one who was not afraid to face the truth, was, after
all, a mad, wild, unmeaning struggle; and, in the confused arena of
this struggle, one could be sure of nothing but the pleasure one
derived from the sensation of one’s own power. He tried, as he walked
towards the girls, to imagine to himself what his feelings would be,
supposing he yielded to these remote scruples, and let Lacrima go,
giving her money, for instance, to enable her to live independently in
her own country, or to marry whom she pleased. She would no doubt marry
that damned fool Quincunx! Lack of money was, assuredly, all that stood
in the way. And how could he contemplate an idea of that kind with
any pleasure? He wondered, in a grim humourous manner, what sort of
compensation these self-sacrificing ones really got? What satisfaction
would _he_ get, for instance, in the consciousness that he had thrown a
girl who attracted him, into the arms of an idiot who excited his hate?

He looked long at Lacrima, as she stood with Gladys, under a sycamore,
waiting his approach. It was curious, he said to himself,--very
curious,--the sort of feelings she excited in him. It was not that
he wished to possess her. He was scornfully cynical of that sort
of gratification. He wished to do more than possess her. He wished
to humiliate her, to degrade her, to put her to shame in her inmost
spirit. He wished her to know that he knew that she was suffering this
shame, and that he was the cause of it. He wished her to feel herself
absolutely in his power, not bodily--that was nothing!--but morally,
and spiritually.

The owner of Leo’s Hill had the faculty of detaching himself from
his own darkest thoughts, and of observing them with a humourous and
cynical eye. It struck him as not a little grotesque, that he, the
manipulater of far-flung financial intrigues, the ambitious politician,
the formidable captain of industry, should be thus scheming and
plotting to satisfy the caprice of a mere whim, upon the destiny of
a penniless dependent. It _was_ grotesque--grotesque and ridiculous.
Let it be! The whole business of living was grotesque and ridiculous.
One snatched fiercely at this thing or the other, as the world moved
round; and one was not bound always to present oneself in a dignified
mask before one’s own tribunal. It was enough that this or that fantasy
of the dominant power-instinct demanded a certain course of action.
Let it be as grotesque as it might! He, and none other, was the judge
of his pleasure, of what he pleased to do, or to refrain from doing.
It was his humour;--and that ended it! He lived to fulfil his humour.
There was nothing else to live for, in this fantastic chaotic world!
Meditating in this manner he approached the girls.

“It occurred to me,” he said, breathing a little hard, and addressing
his daughter, “that you might be seeing Mr. Clavering again tonight.
If so, perhaps you would give him a message from me, or rather,--how
shall I put it?--a suggestion, a gentle hint.”

“What are you driving at, father?” asked Gladys, pouting her lips and
swinging her parasol.

“It is a message best delivered by mouth,” Mr. Romer went on, “and by
your mouth.”

Then as if to turn this last remark into a delicate compliment, he
playfully lifted up the girl’s chin with his finger and made as if to
kiss her. Gladys, however, lightly evaded him, and tossing her head
mischievously, burst out laughing. “I know you, father, I know you,”
she cried. “You want me to do some intriguing for you. You never kiss
me like that, unless you do!”

Lacrima glanced apprehensively at the two of them. Standing there,
in the midst of that charming English scene, they represented to her
mind all that was remorseless, pitiless and implacable in this island
of her enforced adoption. Swiftly, from those ruddy pinnacles of the
great house behind them, her mind reverted to the little white huts
in a certain Apennine valley and the tinkling bells of the goats led
back from pasture. Oh how she hated all this heavy foliage and these
eternally murmuring doves!

“Well,” said Mr. Romer, as Gladys waited mockingly, “I do want you
to do something. I want you to hint to our dear clergyman that this
ceremony of your reception into his church is dependent upon his good
behaviour. Not _your_ good behavior,” he repeated smiling, “but _his_.
The truth is, dear child, if I may speak quite plainly, I know the
persuasive power of your pretty face over all these young men; and I
want you to make it plain to this worthy priest that if you are to
continue being nice to him, he must be very nice to _me_. Do you catch
my meaning, my plump little bird?” As he spoke he encircled her waist
with his arm. Lacrima, watching them, thought how singularly alike
father and daughter were, and was conscious of an instinctive desire to
run and warn this new victim of conspiracy.

“Why, what has he been doing, father?” asked the fair girl, shaking
herself free, and opening her parasol.

“He has been supporting that fellow Wone. And he has been talking
nonsense about Quincunx,--yes, about your friend Quincunx,” he added,
nodding ironically towards Lacrima.

“And I am to punish him, am I?” laughed Gladys. “That is lovely! I love
punishing people, especially people like Mr. Clavering who think they
are so wonderfully good!”

Mr. Romer smiled. “Not exactly punish him, dear, but lead him gently
into the right path. Lead him, in fact, to see that the party to belong
to in this village is the party of capacity--not the party of chatter.”

Gladys looked at her father seriously. “You don’t mean that you are
actually afraid of losing this election?” she said. Mr. Romer stretched
out his arm and rested himself against the umbrageous sycamore,
pressing his large firm hand upon its trunk.

“Losing it, child? No, I shan’t lose it. But these idiots do really
annoy me. They are all such cowards and such sentimental babies. It is
people like these who have to be ruled with a firm hand. They cringe
and whimper when you talk to them; and then the moment your back is
turned they grow voluble and impertinent. My workmen are no better.
They owe everything to me. If it wasn’t for me, half those quarries
would be shut down tomorrow and they’d be out of a job. But do you
think they are grateful? Not a bit of it!” His tone grew more angry.
He felt a need of venting the suppressed rage of many months. “Yes,
you needn’t put on that unconscious look, Lacrima. I know well enough
where _your_ sympathies lie. The fact is, in these rotten days, it
is the incapable and miserable who give the tone to everyone! No one
thinks for himself. No one goes to the bottom of things. It is all
talk--talk--talk; talk about equality, about liberty, about kindness to
the weak. I hate the weak; and I refuse to let them interfere with me!
Look at the faces of these people. Well,--you know, Gladys, what they
are like. They are all feeble, bloodless, sneaking, fawning idiots! I
hate the faces of these Nevilton fools. They are always making me think
of slugs and worms. This Wone is typical. His disgusting complexion
and flabby mouth is characteristic of them all. No one of them has
the spirit to hit one properly back, face to face. And their odious,
sentimental religion!--This Clavering of yours ought to know better.
He is not quite devoid of intelligence. He showed some spirit when I
talked with him. But he is besotted, too, with this silly nonsense
about humouring the people, and considering the people, and treating
the people in a Christian spirit! As though you could treat worms and
slugs in any other spirit than the spirit of trampling upon them.
They are born to be trampled upon--born for it--I tell you! You have
only to look at them!” He glared forth over the soft rich fields; and
continued, still more bitterly:

“It’s no good your pretending not to hear me, Lacrima! I can read
your thoughts like an open book. You are quoting to yourself, no
doubt, at this very moment, some of the pretty speeches of your friend
Quincunx. A nice fellow, he is, for a girl’s teacher! A fellow with no
idea of his own in his head! A fellow afraid to raise his eyes above
one’s boot-laces! Why the other day, when I was out shooting and met
him in the lane, he turned straight round, and walked back on his
tracks--simply from fear of passing me. I hate these sneaking cowards!
I hate their cunning, miserable, little ways! I should like to trample
them all out of existence! That is the worst of being strong in this
world. One is worried to death by a lot of fools who are not worth the
effort spent on them.”

Lacrima uttered no word, but looked sadly away, over the fair
landscape. In her heart, in spite of her detestation of the man, she
felt a strange fantastic sympathy with a good deal of what he said.
Women, especially women of Latin races, have no great respect for
democratic sentiments when they do not issue in definite deeds. Her
private idea of a revolutionary leader was something very far removed
from the voluble local candidate, and she had suffered too much herself
from the frail petulance of Maurice Quincunx not to feel a secret
longing that somewhere, somehow, this aggressive tyrant should be faced
by a strength as firm, as capable, as fearless, as his own.

Mr. Romer, with his swarthy imperial face and powerful figure, seemed
to her, as he leant against the tree, so to impress himself upon
that yielding landscape, that there appeared reason enough for his
complaint that he could find no antagonist worthy of his steel. In the
true manner of a Pariah, who turns, with swift contempt, upon her own
class, the girl was conscious of a rising tide of revolt in her heart
against the incompetent weakness of her friend. What would she not give
to be able, even once, to see this man outfaced and outwitted! She
was impressed too, poor girl, as she shrank silently aside from his
sarcasm, by the horrible indifference of these charming sunlit fields
to the brutality of the man’s challenge. They cared nothing--nothing!
It was impossible to make them care. Hundreds of years ago they had
slumbered, just as dreamily, just as indifferently, as they did now.
If even at this moment she were to plunge a knife into the man’s
heart, so that he fell a mass of senseless clay at her feet, that
impervious wood-pigeon would go on murmuring its monotonous ditty,
just as peacefully, just as serenely! There was something really
terrifying to her in this callous indifference of Nature. It was
like living perpetually in close contact with a person who was deaf
and dumb and blind; and who, while the most tragic events were being
transacted, went on cheerfully and imperturbably humming some merry
tune. It would be almost better, thought the girl, if that tree-trunk
against which the quarry-owner pressed his heavy hand were really in
league with him. Anything were better than this smiling indifference
which seemed to keep on repeating in a voice as monotonous as the
pigeon’s--“Everything is permitted. Nothing is forbidden. Nothing is
forbidden. Everything is permitted.” like the silly reiterated whirring
of some monstrous placid shuttle. It was strange, the rebellious
inconsistent thoughts, which passed through her mind! She wondered
why Hugh Clavering was thus to be waylaid and persuaded. Had he dared
to rise in genuine opposition? No, she did not believe it. He had
probably talked religion, just as Maurice talked anarchy and Wone
talked socialism. It was all talk! Romer was quite right. They had
no spirit in them, these English people. She thought of the fierce
atheistic rebels of her own country. _They_, at any rate, understood
that evil had to be resisted by action, and not by vague protestations
of unctuous sentiment!

When Mr. Romer left them and returned to his seat on the terrace, the
girls did not at once proceed on their way, but waited, hesitating;
and amused themselves by pulling down the lower branches of a lime and
trying to anticipate the sweetness of its yet unbudded fragrance.

“Let’s stroll down the drive first,” said Gladys presently, “till we
are out of sight, and then we can cross the mill mead and get into the
orchard that way.” They followed this design with elaborate caution,
and only when quite concealed from the windows of the house, turned
quickly northward and left the park for the orchards. Between the wall,
of the north garden and the railway, lay some of the oldest and least
frequented of these shadowy places, completely out of the ordinary
paths of traffic, and only accessible by field-ways. Into the smallest
and most secluded of all these the girls wandered, gliding noiselessly
between the thick hedges and heavy grass, like two frail phantoms of
the upper world visiting some Elysian solitude.

Gladys laid her hand on her companion’s arm. “We had better wait here,”
she said, “where we can see the whole orchard. They ought to know, by
now, where to come.”

They seated themselves on the bowed trunk of an ancient apple-tree
that by long decline had at last reached a horizontal position. The
flowering season was practically over, though here and there a late
cider-tree, growing more in shadow than the rest, still carried its
delicate burden of clustered blossoms.

“How many times is it that we have met them here?” whispered the fair
girl, snatching off her hat and tossing it on the grass. “This is the
fifth time, isn’t it? What dear things they are! I think it’s much more
exciting, this sort of thing,--don’t you?--than dull tennis parties
with silly idiots like young Ilminster.”

The Italian nodded. “It is a good thing that James and I get on so
well,” she said. “It would be awkward if we were as afraid of one
another as when we first met.”

Gladys put her hand caressingly on her companion’s knee and looked into
her face with a slow seductive smile.

“You are forgetting your Mr. Quincunx a little, just a little, these
days, aren’t you, darling? Don’t be shy, now--or look cross. You know
you are! You can’t deny it. Your boy is almost as nice as mine. He
doesn’t like me, though. I can see that! But I like _him_. I like him
awfully! You’d better take care, child. If ever I get tired of my
Luke--”

“James isn’t a boy,” protested Lacrima.

“Silly!” cried Gladys. “Of course he is. Who cares about age? They are
all the same. I always call them boys when they attract me. I like the
word. I like to say it. It makes me feel as if I were one of those
girls in London. You know what I mean!”

Lacrima looked at her gravely. “I always feel as if James Andersen were
much older than I,” she said.

“But your Mr. Quincunx,” repeated the fair creature, slipping her soft
fingers into her friend’s hand, “your Mr. Quincunx is not quite what he
was to you, before we began these adventures?”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that, Gladys!” rejoined the Italian, freeing
her hands and clasping them passionately together. “It is wicked of you
to say that! You know I only talk to James so that you can do what you
like. I shall always be Maurice’s friend. I shall be his friend to the
last!”

Gladys laughed merrily. “That is what I wanted,” she retorted. “I
wanted to make you burst out. When people burst out, they are always
doubtful in their hearts. Ah, little puritan! so we are already in the
position of having two sweethearts, are we?--and not knowing which of
the two we really like best? That is a very pretty situation to be in.
It is where we all are! I hope you enjoy it!”

Lacrima let her hands fall helplessly to her side, against the grey
bark of the apple-tree. “Why do you hate Mr. Quincunx so?” she asked,
looking gravely into her friend’s face.

“Why do I hate him?” said Gladys. “Oh, I really don’t know! I didn’t
know I did. If I do, it’s because he’s such a weak wretched creature.
He has no more spirit than a sick dog. He talks such nonsense too! I
am glad he has to walk to Yeoborough every day and do a little work.
You ought to be glad too! He could never marry if he didn’t make some
money.”

“He doesn’t want to marry,” murmured Lacrima. “He only wants to be left
alone.”

“A nice friend he seems to be,” cried the other, “for a girl like you!
I suppose he kisses you and that sort of thing, doesn’t he? I shouldn’t
like to be kissed by a silly old man like that, with a great stupid
beard.”

“You mustn’t say these things to me, Gladys, you mustn’t! I won’t hear
them. Mr. Quincunx isn’t an old man! He is younger than James Andersen.
He is not forty yet.”

“He looks fifty, if he looks a day,” said Gladys, “and the colour of
his beard is disgusting! It’s like dirty water. Fancy having a horrid
thing like that pressed against your face! And I suppose he cries and
slobbers over you, doesn’t he? I have seen him cry. I hate a man who
cries. He cried the other night,--father told me so--when he found he
had spent all his money.”

Lacrima got up and walked a few paces away. She loathed this placid
golden-haired creature, at that moment, so intensely, that it was all
she could do to refrain from leaping upon her and burying her teeth
in her soft neck. She leant against one of the trees and pressed her
head upon its grey lichen. Gladys slipped down into a more luxurious
position. She looked complacently around her. No spot could have been
better adapted for a romantic encounter.

The gnarled and time-worn trunks of the old apple-trees, each looking
as if it had lingered there, full of remote memories, from an age
coeval with the age of those very druids whose sacred mistletoe still
clung in patches to their boughs, formed a strange fantastic array of
twisted and distorted natural pillars, upon which the foliage, meeting
everywhere above their heads, leaned in shadowy security, like the roof
of a heathen temple. The buttercups and cuckoo-flowers, which, here
and there, sprinkled the heavy grass, were different from those in the
open meadows. The golden hue of the one, and the lavender tint of the
other, took on, in this diurnal gloom, a chilly and tender pallour,
both colours approximating to white. The grey lichen hung down in loose
festoons from the higher portions of the knotted trunks, and crept,
thick and close, round the moss at their roots. There could hardly be
conceived a spot more suggestive of absolute and eternal security than
this Hesperidean enclosure.

The very fact of the remote but constant presence of humanity there, as
a vague dreamy background of immemorial tending, increased this sense.
One felt that the easy invasions of grafting-time and gathering-time,
returning perennially in their seasons, only intensified the long
delicious solitudes of the intervals between, when, in rich, hushed
languor, the blossoms bud and bloom and fall; and the fruit ripens and
sweetens; and the leaves flutter down. That exquisite seductive charm,
the charm of places full of quietness, yet bordering on the edge of
the days’ labour, hung like a heavy atmosphere of contentment over
the shadowy aisles of this temple of peace. The wood-pigeons keep up
a perpetual murmur, all the summer long, in these untrodden spots. No
eyes see them. It is as though they never saw one another. But their
drowsy liturgical repetitions answer and answer again, as if from the
unfathomable depths of some dim green underworld, worshipping the gods
of silence with sounds that give silence itself a richer, a fuller
weight.

“There they are!” cried Gladys suddenly, as the figures of the Andersen
brothers made themselves visible on the further side of the orchard.

The girls advanced to meet them through the thick grass, swinging their
summer-hats in their hands and bending their heads, now and then, to
avoid the overhanging boughs. The meeting between these four persons
would have made a pleasant and appropriate subject for one of those
richly-coloured old-fashioned prints which one sometimes observes in
early Victorian parlours. Gladys grew quite pale with excitement, and
her voice assumed a vibrant tenderness when she accosted Luke, which
made Lacrima give a little start of surprise, as she shook hands with
the elder brother. Had her persecutor then, got, after all, some living
tissue in the place where the heart beat?

Luke’s manner had materially altered since he had submitted so
urbanely to the fair girl’s insulting airs at the close of their
first encounter. His way of treating her now was casual, flippant,
abrupt--almost indifferent. Instead of following the pathetic pressure
of her arm and hand, which at once bade him hasten the separation of
the group, he deliberately lingered, chatting amicably with Lacrima
and asking her questions about Italy. It seemed that the plausible
Luke knew quite as much about Genoa and Florence and Venice as his
more taciturn brother, and all he knew he was well able to turn
into effective use. He was indeed a most engaging and irresistible
conversationalist; and Gladys grew paler and paler, as she watched the
animation of his face and listened to his pleasant and modulated voice.

It caused sheer suffering to her fiercely impetuous nature, this
long-drawn out delay. Every moment that passed diminished the time they
would have together. Her nerves ached for the touch of his arms about
her, and a savage desire to press her mouth to his, and satiate herself
with kisses, throbbed in her every vein. Why would he not stop this
irrelevant stream of talk? What did she care about the narrow streets
of Genoa,--or the encrusted façade of San Marco? It had been their
custom to separate immediately on meeting, and for Luke to carry her
off to a charming hiding-place they had discovered. With the fierce
pantherish craving of a love-scorched animal her soul cried out to be
clasped close to her friend in this secluded spot, having her will of
those maddening youthful lips with their proud Grecian curve! Still he
must go on talking!

James and Lacrima, lending themselves, naturally and easily, to the
mood of the moment, were already seated at the foot of a twisted and
ancestral apple-tree. Soon Luke, still absorbed in his conversation
with the Italian, shook off Gladys’ arm and settled himself beside
them, plucking a handful of grass, as he did so, and inhaling its
fragrance with sybarite pleasure.

“St. Mark’s is the only church in the world for me,” Luke was saying.
“I have pictures of it from every conceivable angle. It is quite a
mania with me collecting such things. I have dozens of them; haven’t I,
James?”

“Do you mean those post-cards father sent home when he went over
there to work?” answered the elder brother, one of whose special
peculiarities was a curious pleasure in emphasizing, in the presence of
the “upper classes,” the humility of his origin.

Luke laughed. “Well--yes--those--and others,” he said. “_You_ haven’t
the least idea what I keep in my drawer of secret treasures; you know
you haven’t! I’ve got some lovely letters there among other things.
Letters that I wouldn’t let anyone see for the world!” He glanced
smilingly at Gladys, who was pacing up and down in front of them, like
a beautiful tigress.

“Look here, my friends,” she said. “The time is slipping away
frightfully. We are not going to sit here all the while, are we,
talking nonsense, like people at a garden party?”

“It’s so lovely here,” said Luke with a slow smile. “I really don’t
think that your favourite corner is so much nicer. I am in no hurry to
move. Are you, Miss Traffio?”

Lacrima saw a look upon her cousin’s face that boded ill for their
future relations if she did not make some kind of effort. She rose to
her feet.

“Come, Mr. Andersen,” she said, giving James a wistful look. “Let us
take a little stroll, and then return again to these young people.”

James rose obediently, and they walked off together. They passed
from the orchards belonging to Mr. Romer’s tenant, and entered those
immediately at the foot of the vicarage garden. Here, through a gap
in the hedge they were attracted by the sight of a queer bed of weeds
growing at the edge of a potato-patch. They were very curious weeds,
rather resembling sea-plants than land-plants; in colour of a dull
glaucous green, and in shape grotesquely elongated.

“What are those things?” said Lacrima. “I think I have never seen such
evil-looking plants. Why do they let them grow there?”

James surveyed the objects. “They certainly have a queer look,” he
said, “but you know, in old days, there was a grave-yard here, of a
peculiar kind. It is only in the last fifty years that they have dug it
up and included it in this garden.”

Lacrima shuddered. “I would not eat those potatoes for anything! You
know I think I come to dislike more and more the look of your English
vegetable gardens, with their horrid, heavy leaves, so damp and oozy
and disgusting!”

“I agree with you there,” returned the wood-carver. “I have always
hated Nevilton, and every aspect of it; but I think I hate these
overgrown gardens most of all.”

“They look as if they were fed from churchyards, don’t they?” went on
the girl. “Look at those heavy laurel bushes over there, and those
dreadful fir-trees! I should cut them all down if this place belonged
to me. Oh, how I long for olives and vine-yards! These orchards are all
very well, but they seem to me as if they were made to keep out the sun
and the wholesome air.”

James Andersen smiled grimly. “Orchards and potato gardens!” he
muttered. “Yes, these are typical of this country of clay. And these
Vicarage shrubberies! I think a shrubbery is the last limit of
depression and desolation. I am sure all the murders committed in
this country are planned in shrubberies, and under the shade of damp
laurel-bushes.”

“In our country we grow corn between the fruit-trees,” said Lacrima.

“Yes, corn--” returned Andersen, “corn and wine and oil! Those are the
natural, the beautiful, products of the earth. Things that are fed upon
sun and air--not upon the bones of the dead! All these Nevilton places,
however luxuriant, seem to me to smell of death.”

“But was this corner really a churchyard?” asked the Italian. “I hope
Mrs. Seldom won’t stroll down this way and see us!”

“Mrs. Seldom is well suited to the place she lives in,” returned the
other. “She lives upon the Past, just as her garden does--just as her
potatoes do! These English vicarages are dreadful places. They have all
the melancholy of age without its historic glamour. And how morbid they
are! Any of your cheerful Latin curés would die in them, simply of damp
and despair.”

“But do tell me about this spot,” repeated Lacrima, with a little
shiver. “Why did you say it was a peculiar churchyard?”

“It was the place where they buried unbaptized children,” answered
Andersen, and added, in a lower tone, “how cold it is getting! It must
be the shadow we are in.”

“But you haven’t yet,” murmured Lacrima, “you haven’t yet told me, what
those weeds are.”

“Well--we call them ‘mares’-tails’ about here,” answered the
stone-carver, “I don’t know their proper name.”

“But why don’t they dig them up? Look! They are growing all among the
potatoes.”

“They can’t dig them up,” returned the man. “They can’t get at their
roots. They are the worst and most obstinate weed there is. They grow
in all the Nevilton gardens. They are the typical Nevilton flora. They
must have grown here in the days of the druids.”

“But how absurd!” cried Lacrima. “I feel as if I could pull them up
with my hands. The earth looks so soft.”

“The earth is soft enough,” replied Andersen, “but the roots of these
weeds adhere fast to the rock underneath. The rock, you know, the
sandstone rock, lies only a short distance beneath our feet.”

“The same stone as Nevilton house is built of?”

“Certainly the same. Our stone, Mr. Romer’s stone, the stone upon which
we all live here--except those who till the fields.”

“I hate the thing!” cried Lacrima, in curious agitation.

“You do? Well--to tell you the honest truth, so do I. I associate it
with my father.”

“I associate it with Gladys,” whispered Lacrima.

“I can believe it. We both associate it with houses of tyranny, of
wretched persecution. Perhaps I have never told you that my father was
directly the cause of my mother’s death?”

“You have hinted it,” murmured the girl. “I suspected it. But Luke
loves the stone, doesn’t he? He always speaks as if the mere handling
of it, in his work-shop, gave him exquisite pleasure.”

“A great many things give Luke exquisite pleasure,” returned the other
grimly. “Luke lives for exquisite pleasure.”

A quick step on the grass behind them made them swing suddenly round.
It was Vennie Seldom, who, unobserved, had been watching them from the
vicarage terrace. A few paces behind her came Mr. Taxater, walking
cautiously and deliberately, with the air of a Lord Chesterfield
returning from an audience at St. James’. Mr. Taxater had already met
the Italian on one or two occasions. He had sat next to her once, when
dining at Nevilton House, and he was considerably interested in her.

“What a lovely evening, Miss Traffio,” said Vennie shyly, but without
embarrassment. Vennie was always shy, but nothing ever interfered with
her self-possession.

“I am glad you are showing Mr. Andersen these orchards of ours. I
always think they are the most secluded place in the whole village.”

“Ha!” said Mr. Taxater, when he had greeted them with elaborate and
friendly courtesy, “I thought you two were bound to make friends
sooner or later! I call you my two companions in exile, among our dear
Anglo-Saxons. Miss Traffio I know is Latin, and you, sir, must have
some kind of foreign blood. I am right, am I not, Mr. Andersen?”

James looked at him humorously, though a little grimly. He was always
pleased to be addressed by Mr. Taxater, as indeed was everybody who
knew him. The great scholar’s detached intellectualism gave him an air
of complete aloofness from all social distinctions.

“Perhaps I may have,” he answered. “My mother used to hint at something
of the kind. She was always very fond of foreign books. I rather fancy
that I once heard her say something about a strain of Spanish blood.”

“I thought so! I thought so!” cried Mr. Taxater, pulling his hat over
his eyes and protruding his chin and under-lip, in the manner peculiar
to him when especially pleased.

“I thought there was something Spanish in you. How extraordinarily
interesting! Spain,--there is no country like it in the world! You must
go to Spain, Mr. Andersen. You would go there in a different spirit
from these wretched sight-seers who carry their own vulgarity with
them. You would go with that feeling of reverence for the great things
of civilization, which is inseparable from the least drop of Latin
blood.”

“Would _you_ like to see Spain, Miss Traffio?” enquired Vennie. “Mr.
Taxater, I notice, always leaves out us women, when he makes his
attractive proposals. I think he thinks that we have no capacity for
understanding this civilization he talks of.”

“I think you understand everything, better than any man could,”
murmured Lacrima, conscious of an extraordinary depth of sympathy
emanating from this frail figure.

“Miss Seldom has been trying to make me appreciate the beauty of these
orchards,” went on Mr. Taxater, addressing James. “But I am afraid I
am not very easily converted. I have a prejudice against orchards. For
some reason or other, I associate them with dragons and serpents.”

“Miss Seldom has every reason to love the beautiful aspects of our
Nevilton scenery,” said the stone-carver. “Her ancestors possessed all
these fields and orchards so long, that it would be strange if their
descendant did not have an instinctive passion for them.” He uttered
these words with that curious undertone of bitterness which marked all
his references to aristocratic pretension.

Little Vennie brushed the sarcasm gently aside, as if it had been a
fluttering moth.

“Yes, I do love them in a sense,” she said, “but you must remember
that I, too, was educated in a Latin country. So, you see, we four are
all outsiders and heretics! I fancy your brother, Mr. Andersen, is an
ingrained Neviltonian.”

James smiled in a kindly, almost paternal manner, at the little
descendant of the Tudor courtiers. Her sweetness and artless goodness
made him feel ashamed of his furtive truculence.

“I wish you would come in and see my mother and me, one of these
evenings,” said Vennie, looking rather wistfully at Lacrima and putting
a more tender solicitation into her tone than the mere words implied.

Lacrima hesitated. “I am afraid I cannot promise,” she said nervously.
“My cousin generally wants me in the evening.”

“Perhaps,” put in Mr. Taxater, with his most Talleyrand-like air, “a
similar occasion to the present one may arise again, when with Mr.
Andersen’s permission, we may all adjourn to the vicarage garden.”

Lacrima, rather uncomfortably, looked down at the grass.

“We four, being, as we have admitted, all outsiders here,” went on the
diplomatist, “ought to have no secrets from one another. I think”--he
looked at Vennie--“we may just as well confess to our friends that we
quite realize the little--charming--‘friendship,’ shall I say?--that
has sprung up between this gentleman’s brother and Miss Romer.”

“I think,” said James Andersen hurriedly, in order to relieve Lacrima’s
embarrassment, “I think the real bond between Luke and Miss Gladys is
their mutual pleasure in all this luxuriant scenery. Somehow I feel as
if you, Sir, and Miss Seldom, were quite separate from it and outside
it.”

“Yes,” cried Vennie eagerly, “and Lacrima is outside it, because she is
half-Italian, and you are outside it because you are half-Spanish.”

“It is clear, then,” said Mr. Taxater, “that we four must form a
sort of secret alliance, an alliance based upon the fact that even
Miss Seldom’s lovely orchards do not altogether make us forget what
civilization means!”

Neither of the two girls seemed quite to understand what the theologian
implied, but Andersen shot at him a gleam of appreciative gratitude.

“I was telling Miss Traffio,” he said, “that under this grass, not very
many feet down, a remarkable layer of sandstone obtrudes itself.”

“An orchard based on rock,” murmured Mr. Taxater, “that, I think, is
an admirable symbol of what this place represents. Clay at the top
and sandstone at the bottom! I wonder whether it is better, in this
world, to be clay or stone? We four poor foreigners have, I suspect,
a preference for a material very different from both of these. Our
element would be marble. Eh, Andersen? Marble that can resist all these
corrupting natural forces and throw them back, and hold them down. I
always think that marble is the appropriate medium of civilization’s
retort to instinct and savagery. The Latin races have always built in
marble. It was certainly of marble that our Lord was thinking when he
used his celebrated metaphor about the founding of the Church.”

The stone-carver made no answer. He had noticed a quick supplicating
glance from Lacrima’s dark eyes.

“Well,”--he said, “I think I must be looking for my brother, and I
expect our young lady is waiting for Miss Traffio.”

They bade their friends good-night and moved off.

“I am always at your service,” were Mr. Taxater’s last words, “if ever
either of you care to appeal to the free-masonry of the children of
marble against the children of clay.”

As they retraced their steps Andersen remarked to his companion how
curious it was, that neither Vennie nor Mr. Taxater seemed in the least
aware of anything extraordinary or unconventional in this surreptitious
friendship between the girls from the House and their father’s workmen.

“Yes, I wonder what Mrs. Seldom would think of us,” rejoined Lacrima,
“but she probably thinks Gladys is capable of anything and that I am
as bad as she is. But I do like that little Vennie! I believe she is a
real saint. She gives me such a queer feeling of being different from
everyone.”

“Mr. Taxater no doubt is making a convert of her,” said the
stone-carver. “And I have a suspicion that he hopes to convert Gladys
too, probably through your influence.”

“I don’t like to think that of him,” replied the girl. “He seems to
me to admire Vennie for herself and to be kind to us for ourselves. I
think he is a thoroughly good man.”

“Possibly--possibly,” muttered James, “but I don’t trust him. I never
have trusted him.”

They said no more, and threaded their way slowly through the orchard
to the place where they had left the others. The wind had dropped and
there was a dull, obstinate expectancy in the atmosphere. Every leaf
and grass blade seemed to be intently alert and listening.

In her heart Lacrima was conscious of an unusual sense of foreboding
and apprehension. Surely there could be nothing worse in store for her
than what she already suffered. She wondered what Maurice Quincunx was
doing at that moment. Was he thinking of her, and were his thoughts the
cause of this strange oppression in the air? Poor Maurice! She longed
to be free to devote herself to him, to smooth his path, to distract
his mind. Would fate ever make such a thing possible? How unfair Gladys
was in her suspicions!

She liked James Andersen and was very grateful to him, but he did not
need her as Maurice needed her!

“I see them!” she cried suddenly. “But how odd they look! They’re not
speaking a word. Have they quarrelled, I wonder?”

The two fair-haired amorists appeared indeed extremely gloomy and
melancholy, as they sat, with a little space between them, on the
fallen tree. They rose with an air of relief at the others’ approach.

“I thought you were never coming,” said Gladys. “How long you have
been! We have been waiting for hours. Come along. We must go straight
back and dress or we shall be late for dinner. No time for good-byes!
Au revoir, you two! Come along, girl, quick! We’d better run.”

She seized her cousin’s hand and dragged her off and they were quickly
out of sight.

The two brothers watched them disappear and then turned and walked
away together. “Don’t let’s go home yet,” said Luke. “Let’s go to the
churchyard first. The sun will have set, but it won’t be dark for a
long time. And I love the churchyard in the twilight.”

James nodded. “It is our garden, isn’t it,--and our orchard? It is the
only spot in Nevilton where no one can interfere with us.”

“That, and the Seldom Arms,” added the younger brother.

They paced side by side in silence till they reached the road. The
orchards, left to themselves, relapsed into their accustomed reserve.
Whatever secrets they concealed of the confused struggles of ephemeral
mortals, they concealed in inviolable discretion.



CHAPTER XI

ART AND NATURE


The early days of June, all of them of the same quality of golden
weather, were hardly over, before our wanderer from Ohio found himself
on terms of quite pleasant familiarity with the celibate vicar
of Nevilton, whose relations with his friend Gladys so immensely
interested him.

The conscientious vicar had sought him out, on the very day after his
visit to the mill copse and the artist had found the priest more to his
fancy than he had imagined possible.

The American’s painting had begun in serious earnest. A studio had been
constructed for him in one of the sheds near the conservatory, a place
much more full of light and air and pleasant garden smells, than would
have been the lumber-room referred to by Mrs. Romer, adjoining the
chaste slumbers of the laborious Lily. Here for several long mornings
he had worked at high pressure and in a vein of imaginative expansion.

Something of the seething sap of these incomparable days seemed to
pass into his blood. He plunged into a bold and original series of
Dionysic “impressions,” seeking to represent, in accordance with his
new vision, those legendary episodes in the life of the divine Wanderer
which seemed most capable of lending themselves to a half-realistic,
half-fantastic transmutation, of the people and places immediately
around him. He sought to introduce into these pictures the very impetus
and pressure of the exuberant earth-force, as he felt it stirring and
fermenting in his own veins, and in those of the persons and animals
about him. He strove to clothe the shadowy poetic outline of the
classical story with fragments and morsels of actual experience as one
by one his imaginative intellect absorbed them.

Here, too, under the sycamores and elms of Nevilton, the old
world-madness followed the alternations of sun and moon, with the same
tragic swiftness and the same ambiguous beauty, as when, with tossing
arms and bared throats, the virgins of Thessaly flung themselves into
the dew-starred thickets.

Dangelis began by making cautious and tentative use of such village
children as he found it possible to lay hands upon, as models in his
work, but this method did not prove very satisfactory.

The children, when their alarm and inquisitiveness wore off, grew tired
and turbulent; and on more than one occasion the artist had to submit
to astonishing visits from confused and angry parents who called him
a “foreigner” and a “Yankee,” and qualified these appellations with
epithets so astoundingly gross, that Dangelis was driven to wonder from
what simple city-bred fancy the illusion of rural innocence had first
proceeded.

At length, as the days went on, the bold idea came into his head of
persuading Gladys herself to act as his model.

His relations with her had firmly established themselves now on the
secure ground of playful camaraderie, and he knew enough of her to feel
tolerably certain that he had only to broach such a scheme, to have it
welcomed with enthusiastic ardour.

He made the suggestion one evening as they walked home together after
her spiritual lesson. “I find that last picture of mine extremely
difficult to manage,” he said.

“Why! I think it’s the best of them all!” cried Gladys. “You’ve got a
lovely look of longing in the eyes of your queer god; and the sail of
Theseus’ ship, as you see it against the blue sea, is wonderful. The
little bushes and things, too, you’ve put in; I like them particularly.
They remind me of that wood down by the mill, where I caught the
thrush. I suppose you’ve forgotten all about that day,” she added,
giving him a quick sidelong glance.

The artist seized his opportunity. “They would remind you still more
of our wood,” he said eagerly, “if you let me put you in as Ariadne!
Do, Gladys,”--he had called her Gladys for some days--“you will make
a simply adorable Ariadne. As she is now, she is wooden, grotesque,
archaic--nothing but drapery and white ankles!”

The girl had flushed with pleasure as soon as she caught the drift of
his request. Now she glanced mischievously and mockingly at him.

“_My_ ankles,” she murmured laughing, “are not so very, very beautiful!”

“Please be serious, Gladys,” he said, “I am really quite in earnest. It
will just make the difference between a masterpiece and a fiasco.”

“You are very conceited,” she retorted teasingly, “but I suppose I
oughtn’t to say that, ought I, as my precious ankles are to be a part
of this masterpiece?”

She ran in front of him down the drive, and, as if to give him an
exhibition of her goddess-like agility, caught at an overhanging bough
and swung herself backwards and forwards.

“What fun!” she cried, as he approached. “Of course I’ll do it, Mr.
Dangelis.” Then, with a sudden change of tone and a very malign
expression, as she let the branch swing back and resumed her place
at his side, “Mr. Clavering must see me posing for you. He must say
whether he thinks I’m good enough for Ariadne.”

The artist looked a shade disconcerted by this unexpected turn to the
project, but he was too anxious to make sure of his model to raise any
premature objections. “But you must please understand,” was all he
said, “that I am very much in earnest about this picture. If anybody
but myself _does_ see you, there must be no teasing and fooling.”

“Oh, I long for him to see me!” cried the girl. “I can just imagine his
face, I can just imagine it!”

The artist frowned. “This is not a joke, Gladys. Mind you, if I do let
Clavering into our secret, it’ll be only on condition that you promise
not to flirt with him. I shall want you to stay very still,--just as I
put you.”

Dangelis had never indicated before quite so plainly his blunt and
unvarnished view of her relations with her spiritual adviser, and
he now looked rather nervously at her to see how she received this
intimation.

“I _love_ teasing Mr. Clavering!” she cried savagely, “I should like
to tease him so much, that he never, never, would forget it!”

This extreme expression of feeling was a surprise, and by no means a
pleasant one, to Ralph Dangelis.

“Why do you want so much to upset our friend?” he enquired.

“I suppose,” she answered, still instinctively playing up to his idea
of her naiveté and childishness, “it is because he thinks himself so
good and so perfectly safe from falling in love with anyone--and that
annoys me.”

“Ha!” chuckled Dangelis, “so that’s it, is it?” and he paced in
thoughtful silence by her side until they reached the house.

The morning that followed this conversation was as warm as the
preceding ones, but a strong southern wind had risen, with a remote
touch of the sea in its gusty violence. The trees in the park, as the
artist and his girl-friend watched them from the terrace, while Mr.
Romer, who had now returned from town worked in his study, and Lacrima
helped Mrs. Romer to “do the flowers,” swayed and rustled ominously in
the eddying gusts.

Clouds of dust kept blowing across the gates from the surface of the
drive and the delphiniums bent low on their long stalks. The wind was
of that peculiar character which, though hot and full of balmy scents,
conveys a feeling of uneasiness and troubled expectation. It suggested
thunder and with and beyond that, something threatening, calamitous and
fatal.

Gladys was preoccupied and gloomy that morning. She was growing a
little, just a little, tired of the American’s conversation. Even the
excitement of arranging about the purchase in Yeoborough of suitable
materials for her Ariadne costume did not serve to lift the shadow from
her brow.

She was getting tired of her rôle as the naive, impetuous and childish
innocent; and though mentally still quite resolved upon following her
mother’s frequent and unblushing hints, and doing her best to “catch”
this æsthetic master of a million dollars, the burden of the task was
proving considerably irksome.

Ralph’s growing tendency to take her into his confidence in the matter
of the philosophy of his art, she found peculiarly annoying.

Philosophy of any kind was detestable to Gladys, and this particular
sort of philosophy especially depressed her, by reducing the attraction
of physical beauty to a kind of dispassionate analysis, against the
chilling virtue of which all her amorous wiles hopelessly collapsed.
It was becoming increasingly difficult, too, to secure her furtive
interviews with Luke--interviews in which her cynical sensuality,
suppressed in the society of the American, was allowed full swing.

Her thoughts, at this very moment, turned passionately and vehemently
towards the young stone-carver, who had achieved, at last, the enviable
triumph of seriously ruffling and disturbing her egoistic self-reliance.

Unused to suffering the least thwarting in what she desired, it fretted
and chafed her intolerably to be forced to go on playing her coquettish
part with this good-natured but inaccessible admirer, while all the
time her soul yearned so desperately for the shameless kisses that
made her forget everything in the world but the ecstacy of passion.

It was all very well to plan this posing as Ariadne and to listen to
Dangelis discoursing on the beauty of pagan myths. The artist might
talk endlessly about dryads and fauns. The faun she longed to be
pursued by, this wind-swept morning, was now engaged in hammering
Leonian stone, in her father’s dusty work-shops.

She knew, she told herself, far better than the cleverest citizen
of Ohio, what a real Greek god was like, both in his kindness and
his unkindness; and her nerves quivered with irritation, as the hot
southern wind blew upon her, to think that she would only be able,
and even then for a miserably few minutes, to steal off to her true
Dionysus, after submitting for a whole long day to this æsthetic
foolery.

“It must have been a wind like this,” remarked Dangelis, quite
unobservant of his companion’s moroseness, “which rocked the doomed
palace of the blaspheming Pentheus and drove him forth to his fate.” He
paused a moment, pondering, and then added, “I shall paint a picture of
this, Gladys. I shall bring in Tiresias and the other old men, feeling
the madness coming upon them.”

“I know all about that,” the girl felt compelled to answer. “They
danced, didn’t they? They couldn’t help dancing, though they were so
old and weak?”

Dangelis hardly required this encouragement, to launch into a long
discourse upon the subject of Dionysian madness, its true symbolic
meaning, its religious significance, its survival in modern times.

He quite forgot, as he gave himself up to this interesting topic, his
recent resolution to exclude drastically from his work all these more
definitely intellectualized symbols.

His companion’s answers to this harangue became, by degrees, so
obviously forced and perfunctory, that even the good-tempered westerner
found himself a little relieved when the appearance of Lacrima upon the
scene gave him a different audience.

When Lacrima appeared, Gladys slipped away and Dangelis was left to do
what he could to overcome the Italian’s habitual shyness.

“One of these days,” he said, looking with a kindly smile into the
girl’s frightened eyes, “I’m going to ask you, Miss Traffio, to take me
to see your friend Mr. Quincunx.”

Lacrima started violently. This was the last name she expected to hear
mentioned on the Nevilton terrace.

“I--I--” she stammered, “I should be very glad to take you. I didn’t
know they had told you about him.”

“Oh, they only told me--you can guess the kind of thing!--that he’s a
queer fellow who lives by himself in a cottage in Dead Man’s Lane, and
does nothing but dig in his garden and talk to old women over the wall.
He’s evidently one of these odd out-of-the-way characters, that your
English--Oh, I beg your pardon!--your European villages produce. Mr.
Clavering told me he is the only man in the place he never goes to see.
Apparently he once insulted the good vicar.”

“He didn’t insult him!” cried Lacrima with flashing eyes. “He only
asked him not to walk on his potatoes. Mr. Clavering is too touchy.”

“Well--anyway, do take me, sometime, to see this interesting person.
Why shouldn’t we go this afternoon? This wind seems to have driven
all the ideas out of my head, as well as made your cousin extremely
bad-tempered! So do take me to see your friend, Miss Traffio! We might
go now--this moment--why not?”

Lacrima shook her head, but she looked grateful and not displeased. As
a matter of fact she was particularly anxious to introduce the American
to Mr. Quincunx. In that vague subtle way which is a peculiarity,
not only of the Pariah-type, but of human nature in general, she was
anxious that Dangelis should be given at least a passing glimpse of
another view of the Romer family from that which he seemed to have
imbibed.

It was not that she was definitely plotting against her cousin or
trying to undermine her position with her artist-friend, but she felt a
natural human desire that this sympathetic and good-tempered man should
be put, to some extent at least, upon his guard.

She was, at any rate, not at all unwilling to initiate him into the
mysteries of Mr. Quincunx’ mind, hoping, perhaps, in an obscure sort
of way, that such an initiation would throw her own position, in this
strange household, into a light more evocative of considerate interest.

She had been so often made conscious of late that in his absorption
in Gladys he had swept her brusquely aside as a dull and tiresome
spoil-sport, that it was not without a certain feminine eagerness that
she embraced the thought of his being compelled to listen to what she
well knew Mr. Quincunx would have to say upon the matter.

It was also an agreeable thought that in doing justice to the
originality and depth of the recluse’s intelligence, the American
would be driven to recognize the essentially unintellectual tone of
conversation at Nevilton House.

She instinctively felt sure that the same generous and comprehensive
sympathy that led him to condone the vulgar lapses of these “new
people,” would lead him to embrace with more than toleration the
eccentricities and aberration of the forlorn relative of the Lords of
Glastonbury.

With these thoughts passing rapidly through her brain, Lacrima found
herself, after a little further hesitation, agreeing demurely to the
American’s proposal to visit the tenant of Dead Man’s Lane before
the end of the day. She left it uncertain at what precise hour they
should go--probably between tea and dinner--because she was anxious,
for her own sake, dreading her cousin’s anger, to make the adventure
synchronize, if possible, with the latter’s assignation with Luke,
trusting that the good turn she thus did her, by removing her artistic
admirer at a critical juncture, would propitiate the fair-haired
tyrant’s wrath.

This matter having been satisfactorily settled, the Italian began
to feel, as she observed the artist’s bold and challenging glance
embracing her from head to foot, while he continued to this new and
more attentive listener his interrupted monologue, that species of shy
and nervous restraint which invariably embarrassed her when left alone
in his society.

Inexperienced at detecting the difference between æsthetic interest and
emotional interest, and associating the latter with nothing but what
was brutal and gross, Lacrima experienced a disconcerting sort of shame
when under the scrutiny of his eyes.

Her timid comments upon his observations showed, however, so much more
subtle insight into his meaning than Gladys had ever displayed, that
it was with a genuine sense of regret that he accepted at last some
trifling excuse she offered and let her wander away. Feeling restless
and in need of distraction he returned to the house and sought the
society of Mrs. Romer.

He discovered this good lady seated in the housekeeper’s room, perusing
an illustrated paper and commenting upon its contents to the portly
Mrs. Murphy. The latter discreetly withdrew on the appearance of the
guest of the house, and Dangelis entered into conversation with his
hostess.

“Maurice Quincunx!” she cried, as soon as her visitor mentioned the
recluse’s queer name, “you don’t mean to say that Lacrima’s going to
take you to see _him_? Well--of all the nonsensical ideas I ever heard!
You’d better not tell Mortimer where you’re going. He’s just now very
angry with Maurice. It won’t please him at all, her taking you there.
Maurice is related to me, you know, not to Mr. Romer. Mr. Romer has
never liked him, and lately--but there! I needn’t go into all that.
We used to see quite a lot of him in the old days, when we first came
to Nevilton. I like to have someone about, you know, and Maurice was
somebody to talk to, when Mr. Romer was away; but lately things have
been quite different. It is all very sad and very tiresome, you know,
but what can a person do?”

This was the nearest approach to a hint of divergence between the
master and mistress of Nevilton that Dangelis had ever been witness to,
and even this may have been misleading, for the shrewd little eyes,
out of which the lady peered at him, over her spectacles, were more
expressive of mild malignity than of moral indignation.

“But what kind of person is this Mr. Quincunx?” enquired the American.
“I confess I can’t, so far, get any clear vision of his personality.
Won’t you tell me something more definite about him, something that
will ‘give me a line on him,’ as we say in the States?”

Mrs. Romer looked a trifle bewildered. It seemed that the personality
of Mr. Quincunx was not a topic that excited her conversational powers.

“I never really cared for him,” she finally remarked. “He used to talk
so unnaturally. He’d come over here, you know, almost every day--when
Gladys was a little girl,--and talk and talk and talk. I used to
think sometimes he wasn’t quite right here,”--the good lady tapped
her forehead with her fore-finger,--“but in some things he was very
sensible. I don’t mean that he spoke loud or shouted or was noisy.
Sometimes he didn’t say very much; but even when he didn’t speak, his
listening was like talking. Gladys used to be quite fond of him when
she was a little girl. He used to play hide-and-seek with her in the
garden. I think he helped me to keep her out of mischief more than
any of her governesses did. Once, you know, he beat Tom Raggles--the
miller’s son--because he followed her across the park--beat him over
the head, they say, with an iron pick. The lying wretch of a lad swore
that she had encouraged him, and we were driven to hush the matter up,
but I believe Mr. Quincunx had to see the inspector in Yeoborough.”

Beyond this somewhat obscure incident, Dangelis found it impossible
to draw from Mrs. Romer any intelligible answer to his questions. The
figure of the evasive tenant of the cottage in Dead Man’s Lane remained
as misty as ever.

A little irritated by the ill success of his psychological
investigations, the artist, conscious that he was wasting the morning,
began, out of sheer capricious wilfulness, to expound his æsthetic
ideas to this third interlocutor.

His nerves were in a morbid and unbalanced state, due partly to a lapse
in his creative energy, and partly to the fact that in the depths of
his mind he was engaged in a half-conscious struggle to suppress and
keep in its proper place the insidious physical attraction which Gladys
had already begun to exert upon him.

But the destiny of poor Dangelis, this inauspicious morning, was, it
seemed, to become a bore and a pedant to everyone he encountered; for
the lady had hardly listened for two minutes to his discourse when she
also left him, with some suitable apology, and went off to perform more
practical household duties. “What did this worthy Quincunx talk about,
that you used to find so tiresome?” the artist flung after her, as she
left the room.

Mrs. Romer turned on the threshold. “He talked of nothing but the
bible,” she said. “The bible and our blessed Lord. You can’t blame me,
Mr. Dangelis, for objecting to that sort of thing, can you? I call it
blasphemy, nothing short of blasphemy!”

Dangelis wondered, as he strolled out again into the air, intending to
seek solace for his irritable nerves in a solitary walk, whether, if it
were blasphemy in Nevilton House to refer to the Redeemer of men, and a
nuisance and a bore to refer to heathen idolatries, what kind of topic
it might be that the place’s mental atmosphere demanded.

He came to the conclusion, as he proceeded down the west drive, that
the Romer family was more stimulating to watch, than edifying to
converse with.

After tea that evening, as Lacrima had hoped, Gladys announced her
intention of going down to the mill to sketch. This--to Lacrima’s
initiated ears--meant an assignation with Luke, and she glanced quickly
at Dangelis, with a shy smile, to indicate that their projected visit
was possible. As soon as her cousin had departed they set out. Their
expedition seemed likely to prove a complete success. They found
Mr. Quincunx in one of his gayest moods. Had he been expecting the
appearance of the American he would probably have worked himself up
into a miserable state of nervous apprehension; but the introduction
thus suddenly thrust upon him, the genial simplicity of the Westerner’s
manners and his honest openness of speech disarmed him completely. In a
mood of this kind the recluse became a charming companion.

Dangelis was immensely delighted with him. His original remarks, and
the quaint chuckling bursts of sardonic laughter which accompanied
his irresistible sallies, struck the artist as something completely
different from what he had expected. He had looked to see a listless
preoccupied mystic, ready to flood him with dreamy and wearisome
monologues upon “the simple life,” and in place of this he found
an entertaining and gracious gentleman, full of delicious malice,
and uttering quip after quip of sly, half-innocent, half-subtle,
Rabelaisean humour, in the most natural manner in the world.

Not quite able to bring his affability to the point of inviting them
into his kitchen, Mr. Quincunx carried out, into a sheltered corner,
three rickety chairs and a small deal table. Here, protected from the
gusty wind, he offered them cups of exquisitely prepared cocoa and
little oatmeal biscuits. He asked the American question after question
about his life in the remote continent, putting into his enquiries such
naive and childlike eagerness, that Dangelis congratulated himself upon
having at last discovered an Englishman who was not superior to the
charming vice of curiosity. Had the artist possessed less of that large
and careless aplomb which makes the utmost of every situation and never
teases itself with criticism, he might have regarded the recluse’s
effusiveness as too deprecatory and propitiatory in its tone. This,
however, never occurred to him and he swallowed the solitary’s flattery
with joy and gratitude, especially as it followed so quickly upon the
conversational deficiencies of Nevilton House.

“I live in the mud here,” said Mr. Quincunx, “and that makes it so
excellent of you two people from the upper world to slip down into the
mud with me.”

“I think you live very happily and very sensibly, Maurice!” cried
Lacrima, looking with tender affection upon her friend. “I wish we
could all live as you do.”

The recluse waved his hand. “There must be lions and antelopes in the
world,” he said, “as well as frogs and toads. I expect this friend of
yours, who has seen the great cities, is at this moment wishing he were
in a café in New York or Paris, rather than sitting on a shaky chair
drinking my bad cocoa.”

“That’s not very complimentary to me, is it, Mr. Dangelis?” said
Lacrima.

“Mr. Quincunx is much to be envied,” remarked the American. “He is
living the sort of life that every man of sense would wish to live.
It’s outrageous, the way we let ourselves become slave to objects and
circumstances and people.”

Lacrima, anxious in the depths of her heart to give the American
the benefit of Mr. Quincunx’s insight into character, turned the
conversation in the direction of the rumored political contest between
Romer and Wone. She was not quite pleased with the result of this
manœuvre, however, as it at once diminished the solitary’s high spirits
and led to his adoption of the familiar querulous tone of peevish
carping.

Mr. Quincunx spoke of his remoteness from the life around him. He
referred with bitter sarcasm to the obsequious worship of power from
which every inhabitant of the village of Nevilton suffered.

“I laugh,” he said, “when our good socialist Wone gives vent to his
eloquent protestations. Really, in his heart, he is liable to just the
same cringing to power as all the rest. Let Romer make overtures to
him,--only he despises him too much to do that,--and you’d soon see how
quickly he’d swing round! Give him a position of power, Dangelis--I
expect you know from your experience in your own country how this works
out,--and you would soon find him just as tyrannical, just as obdurate.”

“I think you’re quite wrong, Maurice,” cried Lacrima impetuously. “Mr.
Wone is not an educated man as you are, but he’s entirely sincere.
You’ve only to listen to him to understand his sincerity.”

A grievous shadow of irritation and pique crossed the recluse’s face.
Nothing annoyed him more than this kind of direct opposition. He waved
the objection aside. Lacrima’s outburst of honest feeling had already
undone the subtle purpose with which she had brought the American. Her
evasive Balaam was, it appeared, inclined, out of pure wilfulness, to
bless rather than curse their grand enemy.

“It’s all injured vanity,” Mr. Quincunx went on, throwing at his
luckless girl-friend a look of quite disproportioned anger. “It’s all
his outraged power-instinct that drives him to take up this pose. I
know what I’m talking about, for I often argue with him. Whenever
I dispute the smallest point of his theories, he bursts out like a
demon and despises me as a downright fool. He’d have got me turned
out of the Social Meetings, because I contradicted him there, if our
worthy clergyman hadn’t intervened. You’ve no idea how deep this
power-instinct goes. You must remember, Mr. Dangelis, you see a village
like ours entirely from the outside and you think it beautiful, and the
people charming and gentle. I tell you it’s a nest of rattlesnakes!
It’s a narrow, poisonous cage, full of deadly vindictiveness and
concentrated malice. Of course we know what human nature is, wherever
you find it, but if you want to find it at its very worst, come to
Nevilton!”

“But you yourself,” protested the artist, “are you not one of these
same people? I understand that you--”

Mr. Quincunx rose to his feet, his expressive nostrils quivering with
anger. “I don’t allow anyone to say that of me!” he cried “I may have
my faults, but I’m as different from all these rats, as a guillemot is
different from a cormorant!”

He sat down again and his voice took almost a pleading tone. “You know
I’m different. You must know I’m different! How could I see all these
things as clearly as I do if it wasn’t so? I’ve undergone what that
German calls ‘the Great Renunciation.’ I’ve escaped the will to live.
I neither care to acquire myself this accursed power--or to revolt, in
jealous envy, against those who possess it.”

He relapsed into silence and contemplated his garden and its enclosing
hedge, with a look of profound melancholy. Dangelis had been
considerably distracted during the latter part of this discourse by his
artistic interest in the delicate lines of Lacrima’s figure and the
wistful sadness of her expression. It was borne in upon him that he
had somewhat neglected this shy cousin of his exuberant young friend.
He promised himself to see more of the Italian, as occasion served.
Perhaps--if only Gladys would agree to it--he might make use of her,
also, in his Dionysian impressions.

“Surely,” he remarked, speaking with the surface of his intelligence,
and pondering all the while upon the secret of Lacrima’s charm,
“whatever this man may be, he’s not a hypocrite,--is he? From all I
hear he’s pathetically in earnest.”

“Of course we know he’s in earnest,” answered Maurice. “What I maintain
is, that it is his personal vindictiveness that creates his opinions.
I believe he would derive genuine pleasure from seeing Nevilton House
burnt to the ground, and every one of the people in it reduced to
ashes!”

“That proves his sincerity,” answered the American, keeping his gaze
fixed so intently upon Lacrima that the girl began to be embarrassed.

“He takes the view-point, no doubt, that if the present oligarchy in
England were entirely destroyed, a new and happier epoch would begin at
once.”

“I’m sure Mr. Wone is opposed to every kind of violence,” threw in
Lacrima.

“Nonsense!” cried Mr. Quincunx abruptly. “He may not like violence
because he’s afraid of it reacting on himself. But what he wants to do
is to humiliate everyone above him, to disturb them, to prod them, to
harass and distress them, and if possible to bring them down to his own
level. He’s got his thumb on Lacrima’s friends over there,”--he waved
his hand in the direction of Nevilton House,--“because they happen
to be at the top of the tree at this moment. But if you or I were
there, it would be just the same. It’s all jealousy. That’s what it
is,--jealousy and envy! He wants to make every one who’s prosperous and
eats meat, and drinks champagne, know what it is to live a dog’s life,
as he has known it himself! I understand his feelings very well. We
poor toads, who live in the mud, get extraordinary pleasure when any of
you grand gentlemen slip by accident into our dirty pond. He sees such
people enjoying themselves and being happy and he wants to stick a few
pins into them!”

“But why not, my good sir?” answered the American. “Why shouldn’t Wone
use all his energy to crush Romer, just as Romer uses all his energy to
crush Wone?”

Lacrima sighed. “I don’t think either of you make this world seem a
very nice place,” she observed.

“A nice place?” cried Mr. Quincunx. “It’s a place poisoned at the
root--a place full of gall and wormwood!”

“In my humble opinion,” said the American, “it’s a splendid world. I
love to see these little struggles and contests going on. I love to see
the delicious inconsistencies and self-deceptions that we’re all guilty
of. I play the game myself, and I love to see others play it. It’s the
only thing I do love, except--” he added after a pause--“except my
pictures.”

“I loathe the game,” retorted the recluse, “and I find it impossible to
live with people who do not loathe it too.”

“Well--all I can say, my friend,” observed Dangelis, “is that this
business of ‘renouncing,’ of which you talk, doesn’t appeal to me. It
strikes me as a backing down and scurrying away, from the splendid
adventure of being alive at all. What are you alive for,” he added,
“if you are going to condemn the natural combative instinct of men and
women as evil and horrible? They are the instincts by which we live.
They are the motives that propel the whole universe.”

“Mr. Wone would say,” interposed Lacrima, “and I’m not sure that I
don’t agree with him, that the real secret of the universe is deeper
than all these unhappy struggles. I don’t like the unctuous way he puts
these things, but he may be right all the same.”

“There’s no secret of the universe, Miss Traffio,” the American
threw in. “There are many things we don’t understand. But no one
principle,--not even the principle of love itself, can be allowed to
monopolize the whole field. Life, I always feel, is better interpreted
by Art than by anything else, and Art is equally interested in every
kind of energy.”

Lacrima’s face clouded, and her hands fell wearily upon her lap.

“Some sorts of energy,” she observed, in a low voice, “are brutal and
dreadful. If Art expresses that kind, I’m afraid I don’t care for Art.”

The American gave her a quick, puzzled glance. There was a sorrowful
intensity about her tone which he found difficult to understand.

“What I meant was,” he said, “that logically we can only do one of two
things,--either join in the game and fight fiercely and craftily for
our own hand, or take a convenient drop of poison and end the whole
affair.”

The melancholy eyes of Mr. Quincunx opened very wide at this, and a
fluttering smile twitched the corners of his mouth.

“We poor dogs,” he said, “who are not wanted in this world, and don’t
believe in any other, are just the people who are most unwilling to
finish ourselves off in the way you suggest. We can’t help a sort of
sneaking hope, that somehow or another, through no effort of our own,
things will become better for us. The same cowardice that makes us draw
back from life, makes us draw back from the thought of death. Can’t you
understand that,--you American citizen?”

Dangelis looked from one to another of his companions. He could not
help thinking in his heart of the gay animated crowds, who, at that
very moment, in the streets of Toledo, Ohio, were pouring along the
side-walks and flooding the picture shows. These quaint Europeans, for
all their historic surroundings, were certainly lacking in the joy of
life.

“I can’t conceive,” remarked Mr. Quincunx suddenly, and with that
amazing candour which distinguished him, “how a person as artistic and
sensitive as you are, can stay with those people over there. Anyone can
see that you’re as different from them as light from darkness.”

“My dear sir,” replied the American, interrupting a feeble little
protest which Lacrima was beginning to make at the indiscretion of her
friend, “I may or may not understand your wonder. The point is, that
my whole principle of life is to deal boldly and freely with every kind
of person. Can’t you see that I like to look on at the spectacle of Mr.
Romer’s energy and prosperity, just as I like to look on at the revolt
against these things in the mind of our friend Wone. I tell you it
tickles my fancy to touch this human pantomime on every possible side.
The more unjust Romer is towards Wone, the more I am amused. And the
more unjust Wone is towards Romer, the more I am amused. It is out of
the clash of these opposite injustices that nature,--how shall I put
it?--that nature expands and grows.”

Mr. Quincunx gazed at the utterer of these antinomian sentiments, with
humorous interest. Dangelis gathered, from the twitching of his heavy
moustache, that he was chuckling like a goblin. The queer fellow had
a way of emerging out of his melancholy, at certain moments, like a
badger out of his hole; and at such times he would bring the most ideal
or speculative conversation down with a jerk to the very bed-rock of
reality.

“What’s amusing you so?” enquired the citizen of Ohio.

“I was only thinking,” chuckled Mr. Quincunx, stroking his beard,
and glancing sardonically at Lacrima, “that the real reason of your
enjoying yourself at Nevilton House, is quite a different one from any
you have mentioned.”

Dangelis was for the moment quite confused. “Confound the fellow!” he
muttered to himself, “I’m curst if I’m sorry he’s under the thumb of
our friend Romer!”

His equanimity was soon restored, however, and he covered his confusion
by assuming a light and flippant air.

“Ha! ha!” he exclaimed, “so you’re thinking I’ve been caught by
this young lady’s cousin? Well! I don’t mind confessing that we get
on beautifully together. But as for anything else, I think Miss
Traffio will bear witness that I am quite as devoted to the mother
as the daughter. But Gladys Romer must be admitted a very attractive
girl,--mustn’t she Miss Traffio? I suppose our friend here is not
so stern an ascetic as to refuse an artist like me the pleasure of
admiring such adorable suppleness as your cousin possesses; such
a--such a--” he waved his hand vaguely in the air, “such a free and
flexible sort of grace?”

Mr. Quincunx picked up a rough ash stick which lay on the ground and
prodded the earth. His face showed signs of growing once more convulsed
with indecent merriment.

“Why do you use all those long words?” he said. “We country dogs go
more straight to the point in these matters. Flexible grace! Can’t you
confess that you’re bitten by the old Satan, which we all have in us?
Adorable suppleness! Why can’t you say a buxom wench, a roguish wench,
a playful wanton wench? We country fellows don’t understand your subtle
artistic expressions. But we know what it is when an honest foreigner
like yourself goes walking and talking with a person like Madame
Gladys!”

Glancing apprehensively at the American’s face Lacrima saw that her
friend’s rudeness had made him, this time, seriously angry.

She rose from her chair. “We must be getting back,” she said, “or
we shall be late. I hope you and Mr. Dangelis will know more of one
another, before he has to leave Nevilton. I’m sure you’ll find that
you’ve quite a lot in common, when you really begin to understand each
other.”

The gravity and earnestness with which she uttered these words made
both her companions feel a little ashamed.

“After all,” thought the artist, “he is a typical Englishman.”

“After all,” thought Mr. Quincunx, “I’ve always been told that
Americans treat women as if they were made of tissue-paper.”

Their parting from the recluse at his garden gate was friendly and
natural. Mr. Quincunx reverted to his politest manner, and the artist’s
good temper seemed quite restored.

In retrospect, after the passing of a couple of days, spent by Dangelis
in preparing the accessories of his Ariadne picture, and by Gladys in
unpacking certain mysterious parcels telegraphed for to London, the
American found himself recalling his visit to Dead Man’s Cottage with
none but amiable feelings. The third morning which followed this visit,
dawned upon Nevilton with peculiar propitiousness. The air was windless
and full of delicious fragrance. The bright clear sunshine seemed to
penetrate every portion of the spacious Elizabethan mansion and to turn
its corridors and halls, filled with freshly plucked flowers, into a
sort of colossal garden house.

Dangelis rose that morning with a more than normal desire to plunge
into his work. He was considerably annoyed, however, to find that
Gladys had actually arranged to have Mr. Clavering invited to lunch and
had gone so far as to add a pencilled scrawl of her own--she herself
laughingly confessed as much--to her mother’s formal note, begging him
to appear in the middle of the forenoon, as she had a “surprise” in
store for him.

The American’s anxiety to begin work as soon as possible with his
attractive model, made him suffer miseries of impatience, while Gladys
amused herself with her Ariadne draperies, making Lacrima dress and
undress her twenty times, behind the screens of the studio.

She appeared at last, however, and the artist, looking up at her from
his canvas, was for the moment staggered by her beauty. The instinctive
taste of her cousin’s Latin fingers was shown in the exquisite skill
with which the classical folds of the dress she wore accentuated the
natural charm of her young form.

The stuff of which her chief garment was made was of a deep gentian
blue and the contrast between this color and the dazzling whiteness of
her neck and arms was enough to ravish not only the æsthetic soul in
the man but his more human senses also. Her bare feet were encased in
white sandals, bound by slender leathern straps, which were twisted
round her legs almost as high as the knee. A thin metal band, of
burnished bronze, was clasped about her head and over and under this,
her magnificent sun-coloured hair flowed, in easy and natural waves,
to where it was caught up, in a Grecian knot, above the nape of her
neck. Save for this band round her head she wore no clasps or jewelry
of any kind, and the softness of her flesh was made more emphatic by
the somewhat rough and coarse texture of her loosely folded drapery.
Dangelis was so lost in admiration of this delicious apparition, that
he hardly noticed Lacrima’s timid farewell, as the Italian slipped away
into the garden and left them together. It was indeed not till Gladys
had descended from the little wooden platform and coyly approached the
side of his easel, that the artist recovered himself.

“Upon my soul, but you look perfectly wonderful!” he cried
enthusiastically. “Quick! Let’s to business. I want to get well
started, before we have any interruption.”

He led her back to the platform, and made her lean in a semi-recumbent
position upon a cushioned bench which he had prepared for the purpose.
He took a long time to satisfy himself as to her precise pose, but at
last, with a lucky flash of inspiration, and not without assistance
from Gladys herself, whose want of æsthetic feeling was compensated for
in this case by the profoundest of all feminine instincts, he found for
her the inevitable, the supremely effective, position. It was with a
thrill of exquisite sweetness, pervading both soul and senses, that he
began painting her. He felt as though this were one of the few flawless
and unalloyed moments of his life. Everything in him and about him
seemed to vibrate and quiver in response to the breath of beauty and
youth. Penetrated by the delicate glow of a passion which was free, at
present, from the sting of sensual craving, he felt as though all the
accumulative impressions, of a long procession of harmonious days, were
summed up and focussed in this fortunate hour. The loveliness of the
young girl, as he transferred it, curve by curve, shadow by shadow, to
his canvas, seemed expressive of a reserved secret of enchantment,
until this moment withheld and concealed from him. The ravishing
contours of her lithe figure seemed to open up, to his magnetized
imagination, vistas and corridors of emotion, such as he had never
even dreamed of experiencing. She was more than a supremely lovely
girl. She was the very epitome and incarnation of all those sunward
striving forces and impulses, which, rising from the creative heart
of the universe, struggle upwards through the resisting darkness. She
was a Sun-child, a creature of air and earth and fire, a daughter of
Circe and Dionysus; and as he drained the so frankly offered philtre of
her intoxicating beauty, and flung his whole soul’s response to it in
glowing color upon the canvas, he felt that he would never again thus
catch the fates asleep, or thus plunge his hands into the nectar of the
supreme gods.

The world presented itself to him at that moment, while he swept his
brush with fierce passionate energy across the canvas, as bathed in
translucent and unclouded ether. Everything it contained, of weakness
and decadence, of gloom and misgiving, seemed to be transfigured,
illuminated, swallowed up. He felt as though, in thus touching the very
secret of divine joy, held in the lap of the abysmal mothers, nothing
but energy and beauty and creative force would ever concern or occupy
him again. All else,--all scruples, all questions, all problems, all
renunciations--seemed but irrelevant and negligible vapour, compared
with this glorious and sunlit stream of life. He worked on feverishly
at his task. By degrees, and in so incredibly a short time that
Gladys herself was astonished when he told her she could rest and
stretch herself a little, the figure of the Ariadne he had seen in his
imagination limned itself against the expectant background. He was
preparing to resume his labour, and Gladys, after a boyish scramble
into the neighbouring conservatory, and an eager return to the artist’s
side with a handful of early strawberries, was just re-mounting the
platform, when the door of the studio opened and Hugh Clavering entered.

He had been almost inclined,--in so morbid a condition were
his nerves--to knock at the door before coming in, but a lucky
after-thought had reminded him that such an action would have been
scandalously inappropriate.

Assuming an air of boyish familiarity, which harmonized better perhaps
with her leather-bound ankles than with her girlish figure, Gladys
jumped down at once from the little stage and ran gaily to welcome him.
She held out her hand, and then, raising both her arms to her head
and smoothing back her bright hair beneath its circlet of bronze, she
inquired of him, in a soft low murmur, whether he thought she looked
“nice.”

Clavering was struck dumb. He had all those shivering sensations of
trembling agitation which are described with such realistic emphasis
in the fragmentary poem of Sappho. The playful girl, her fair cheeks
flushed with excitement and a treacherous light in her blue eyes,
swung herself upon the rough oak table that stood in the middle of
the room, and sat there, smiling coyly at him, dangling her sandalled
feet. She still held in her hand the strawberries she had picked; and
as, with childish gusto, she put one after another of these between
her lips, she looked at him with an indescribable air of mischievous,
challenging defiance.

“So this is the pagan thing,” thought the poor priest, “that it is my
duty to initiate into the religion of sacrifice!”

He could not prevent the passing through his brain of a grotesque and
fantastic vision in which he saw himself, like a second hermit of the
Thebaid, leading this equivocal modern Thaïs to the waters of Jordan.
Certainly the association of such a mocking white-armed darling of
errant gods with the ceremony of confirmation was an image somewhat
difficult to embrace! The impatient artist, apologizing profusely to
the embarrassed visitor, soon dragged off his model to her couch on the
platform, and it fell to the lot of the infatuated priest to subside in
paralyzed helplessness, on a modest seat at the back of the room. What
thoughts, what wild unpermitted thoughts, chased one another in strange
procession through his soul, as he stared at the beautiful heathen
figure thus presented to his gaze!

The movements of the artist, the heavy stream of sunlight falling
aslant the room, the sweet exotic smells borne in from the window
opening on the conservatory, seemed all to float and waver about him,
as though they were things felt by a deep-sea diver beneath a weight
of humming waters. He gave himself up completely to what that moment
brought.

Faith, piety, sacrifice, devotion, became for him mere words and
phrases--broken, fragmentary, unmeaning--sounds heard in the
shadow-land of sleep, vague and indistinct like the murmur of drowned
bells under a brimming tide.

It may well be believed that the langourously reclining model was not
in the least oblivious to the effect she produced. This was, indeed,
one of Gladys’ supreme moments, and she let no single drop of its
honeyed distillation pass undrained. She permitted her heavy-lidded
blue eyes, suffused with a soft dreamy mist, to rest tenderly on her
impassioned lover; and as if in response to the desperate longing in
his look, a light-fluttering, half-wistful smile crossed her parted
lips, like a ripple upon a shadowy stream.

The girl’s vivid consciousness of the ecstasy of power was indeed,
in spite of her apparent lethargic passivity, never more insanely
aroused. Lurking beneath the dreamy sweetness of the look with which
she responded to Clavering’s magnetized gaze, were furtive depths of
Circean remorselessness. Under her gentian-blue robe her youthful
breast trembled with exultant pleasure, and she felt as though, with
every delicious breath she drew, she were drinking to the dregs the
very wine of the immortals.

“I must give Mr. Clavering some strawberries!” she suddenly cried,
jumping to her feet, and breaking both the emotional and the æsthetic
spell as if they were gossamer-threads. “He looks bored and tired.”

In vain the disconcerted artist uttered an imploring groan of dismay,
as thus, at the critical moment, his model betrayed him. In vain the
bewildered priest professed his complete innocence of any wish for
strawberries.

The wayward girl clambered once more through the conservatory window,
at the risk of spoiling her Olympian attire, and returning with a
handful of fruit, tripped coquettishly up to both of them in turn and
insisted on their dividing the spoil.

Had either of the two men been in a mood for classical reminiscences,
the famous image of Circe feeding her transformed lovers might have
been irresistibly evoked. They were all three thus occupied,--the
girl in the highest spirits, and both men feeling a little sulky and
embarrassed, when, to the general consternation, the door began slowly
to open, and a withered female figure, clad in a ragged shawl and a
still more dilapidated skirt made its entry into the room.

“Why, it’s Witch-Bessie!” cried Gladys, involuntarily clutching at
Clavering’s arm. “Wicked old thing! She gave me quite a start. Well,
Bessie, what do you want here? Don’t you know the way to the back door?
You mustn’t come round to the front like this. What do you want?”

Each of the model’s companions made a characteristic movement. Dangelis
began feeling in his pocket for some suitable coin, and Clavering
raised his hand with an half-reproachful, half-conciliatory, and
altogether pastoral gesture, as if at the same time threatening and
welcoming a lost sheep of his flock.

But Witch-Bessie had only eyes for Gladys. She stared in petrified
amazement at the gentian-blue robe and the boyish sandals.

“Send her away!” whispered the girl to Mr. Clavering. “Tell her to go
to the back door. They’ll give her food and things there.”

The cadaverous stare of the old woman relaxed at last. Fixing her
colourless eyes on the two men, and pointing at Gladys with her skinny
hand, she cried, in a shrill, querulous voice, that rang unpleasantly
through the studio, “What be she then, touzled up in like of this?
What be she then, with her Jezebel face and her shameless looks? Round
to back door, is it, ’ee ’d have me sent? I do know who you be, well
enough, Master Clavering, and I do guess this gentleman be him as they
say does bide here; but what be she, tricketed up in them outlandish
clothes, like a Gypoo from Roger-town Fair? Be she Miss Gladys Romer,
or baint she?”

“Come, Bessie,” said Clavering in propitiatory tone. “Do as the young
lady says and go round to the back. I’ll go with you if you like. I
expect they’ll have plenty of scraps for you in that big kitchen.”

He laid his hand on the old woman’s shoulder and tried to usher her
out. But she turned on him angrily. “Scraps!” she cried. “Scraps thee
own self! What does the like of a pair of gentlemen such as ye be,
flitter-mousing and flandering round, with a hussy like she?”

She turned furiously upon Gladys, waving aside with a snort of contempt
the silver coin which Dangelis, with a vague notion that “typical
English beggars” should be cajoled with gifts, sought to press into her
hand.

“’Twas to speak a bit of my mind to ’ee, not to beg at your blarsted
back door that I did come this fine morning! Us that do travel by
night and by day hears precious strange things sometimes. What for, my
fine lady, did ye go and swear to policeman Frank, down in Nevilton,
that ’twas I took your God-darned pigeons? Your dad may be a swinking
magistrate, what can send poor folks to gaol for snaring rabbities,
or putting a partridge in the pot to make the cabbage tasty, but what
right does that give a hussy like thee to send policeman Frank swearing
he’ll lock up old Bessie? It don’t suit wi’ I, this kind of flummery;
so I do tell ’ee plain and straight. It don’t suit wi’ I!”

“Come, clear out of this, my good woman!” cried the indignant
clergyman, seizing the trembling old creature by the arm.

“Don’t hurt her! Don’t hurt her!” exclaimed Gladys. “She’ll put the
evil eye on me. She did it to Nance Purvis and she’s been mad ever
since.”

“It’s a lie!” whimpered the old woman, struggling feebly as Clavering
pulled her towards the door.

“It’s your own dad and Nance’s dad with their ugly ways what have
driven that poor lass moon-crazy. Mark Purvis do whip her with withy
sticks--all the country knows it. Darn ’ee, for a black devil’s spawn,
and no blessed minister, pulling and harrying an old woman!”

This last ejaculation was addressed to the furious Mr. Clavering, who
was now thrusting her by bodily force through the open door. With
one final effort Witch-Bessie broke loose from him and turned on the
threshold. “Ye _shall_ have the evil eye, since ye’ve called for it,”
she shrieked, making a wild gesture in the air, in the direction of
the shrinking Ariadne. “And what if I let these two gentlemen know
with whom it was ye were out walking the other night? I did see ’ee,
and I do know what I did see! I’m a pigeon-stealer am I, ye flaunting
flandering Gypoo? Let me tell these dear gentlemen how as--” Her voice
died suddenly away in an incoherent splutter, as the vicar of Nevilton,
with his hand upon her mouth, swung her out of the door.

Gladys sank down upon a chair pale and trembling.

As soon, however, as the old woman’s departure seemed final, she began
to recover her equanimity. She gave vent to a rather forced and uneasy
laugh. “Silly old thing!” she exclaimed. “This comes of mother’s
getting rid of the dogs. She never used to come here when we had the
dogs. They scented her out in a minute. I wish we had them now to let
loose at her! They’d make her skip.”

“I do hope, my dear child,” said Dangelis anxiously, “that she has not
really frightened you? What a terrible old creature! I’ve always longed
to see a typical English witch, but bless my heart if I want to see
another!”

“She’s gone now,” announced Mr. Clavering, returning hot and
breathless. “I saw her half-way down the drive. She’ll be out of sight
directly. I expect you don’t want to see any more of her, else, if you
come out here a step or two, you can see her slinking away.”

Gladys thanked him warmly for his energetic defence of her, but denied
having the least wish to witness her enemy’s retreat.

“It must be getting near lunch time,” she said. “If you don’t mind
waiting a moment, I’ll change my dress.” And she tripped off behind the
screens.



CHAPTER XII

AUBER LAKE


The presence of Ralph Dangelis in Nevilton House had altered, in more
than one respect, the relations between Gladys and her cousin.

The girls saw much less of each other, and Lacrima was left
comparatively at liberty to follow her own devices.

On several occasions, however, when they were all three together,
it chanced that the American had made himself extremely agreeable
to the younger girl, even going so far as to take her part, quite
energetically, in certain lively discussions. These occasions were
not forgotten by Gladys, and she hated the Italian with a hatred more
deep-rooted than ever.

As soon as her first interest in the American’s society began to pall
a little, she cast about in her mind for some further way of causing
discomfort and agitation to the object of her hatred.

Only those who have taken the trouble to watch carefully what might be
called the “magnetic antagonism,” between feminine animals condemned
to live in close relations with one another, will understand the full
intensity of what this young person felt. It was not necessarily a sign
of any abnormal morbidity in our fair-haired friend.

For a man in whom one is interested, even though such interest be
mild and casual, to show a definite tendency to take sides against
one, on behalf of one’s friend, is a sufficient justification,--at
least so nature seems to indicate--for the awakening in one’s heart
of an intense desire for revenge. Such desire is often aroused in
the most well-constituted temperaments among us, and in this case it
might be said that the sound physical nerves of the daughter of the
Romers craved the satisfaction of such an impulse with the same stolid
persistence as her flesh and blood craved for air and sun. But how
to achieve it? What new and elaborate humiliation to devise for this
irritating partner of her days?

The bathing episode was beginning to lose its piquancy. Custom, with
its kindly obliviousness, had already considerably modified Lacrima’s
fears, and there had ceased to be for Gladys any further pleasure in
displaying her aquarian agility before a companion so occupied with the
beauty of lawn and garden at that magical hour.

Fate, however, partial, as it often is, to such patient tenacity of
emotion, let fall at last, at her very feet, the opportunity she craved.

She had just begun to experience that miserable sensation, so
sickeningly oppressive to a happy disposition, of hating where she
could not hurt, when, one evening, news was brought to the house by
Mark Purvis the game-keeper that a wandering flock of wild-geese had
taken up its temporary abode amid the reeds of Auber Lake. Mr. Romer
himself soon brought confirmation of this fact.

The birds appeared to leave the place during the day and fly far
westward, possibly as far as the marshes of Sedgemoor, but they always
returned at night-fall to this new tarrying ground.

The very evening of this exciting discovery, Gladys’ active mind
formulated a thrilling and absorbing project, which she positively
trembled with longing to communicate to Lacrima. She found the long
dinner that night, and the subsequent chatter with Dangelis on the
terrace, almost too tedious to be endured; and it was at an unusually
early hour that she surprised her cousin by joining her in her room.

The Pariah was seated at her mirror, wearily reducing to order her
entangled curls, when Gladys entered. She looked very fragile in her
white bodice and the little uplifted arms, that the mirror reflected,
showed unnaturally long and thin. When one hates a person with the sort
of massive hatred such as, at that time, beat sullenly under Gladys’
rounded bosom, every little physical characteristic in the object of
our emotion is an added incentive to our revengeful purpose.

This Saturnian planetary law is unfortunately not confined to
antipathies between persons of the same sex. Sometimes the most
unhappy results have been known to spring from the manner in which
one or another, even of two lovers, has lifted chin or head, or moved
characteristically across a room.

Thus it were almost impossible to exaggerate the loathing with which
this high-spirited girl contemplated the pale oval face and slender
swaying arms of her friend, as full of her new project she flung
herself into her favourite arm chair and met Lacrima’s frightened eyes
in the gilded Georgian mirror. She began her attack with elaborate
feline obliquity.

“They say Mark Purvis’ crazy daughter has been giving trouble again. He
was up this morning, talking to father about it.”

“Why don’t you send her away?” said the Italian, without turning round.

“Send her away? She has to do all the house-work down there! Mark has
no one else, you know, and the poor man does not want the expense of
hiring a woman.”

“Isn’t it rather a lonely place for a child like that?”

“Lonely? I should think it is lonely! But what would you have? Somebody
must keep that cottage clean; and it’s just as well a wretched mad girl,
of no use to anyone, should do it, as that a sound person should lose
her wits in such a god-forsaken spot!”

“What does she do at--at these times? Is she violent?”

“Oh, she gets out in the night and roams about the woods. She was once
found up to her knees in the water. No, she isn’t exactly violent. But
she is a great nuisance.”

“It must be terrible for her father!”

“Well--in a way it does bother him. But he is not the man to stand much
nonsense.”

“I hope he is kind to her.”

Gladys laughed. “What a soft-hearted darling you are! I expect he
finds sometimes that you can’t manage mad people, any more than you can
manage children, without using the stick. But I fancy, on the whole, he
doesn’t treat her badly. He’s a fairly good-natured man.”

The Pariah sighed. “I think Mr. Romer ought to send her away at once to
some kind of home, and pay someone to take her place.”

“I daresay you do! If you had your way, father wouldn’t have a penny
left in the bank.”

The Pariah rose from her seat, crossed over to the window, and looked
out into the sultry night. What a world this was! All the gentle and
troubled beings in it seemed over-ridden by gigantic merciless wheels!

A little awed, in spite of herself, by the solemnity of her companion,
Gladys sought to bring her back out of this translunar mood by
capricious playfulness. She stretched herself out at full length in
her low chair, and calling the girl to her side, began caressing her,
pulling her down at last upon her lap.

“Guess what has happened!” she murmured softly, as the quick beating of
the Pariah’s heart communicated itself to her, and made her own still
harder.

“Oh, I know it’s something I shan’t like, something that I shall dread!”
cried the younger girl, making a feeble effort to escape.

“Shall I tell you what it is?” Gladys went on, easily overcoming
this slight movement. “You know, don’t you, that there’s a flock of
wild-geese settled on the island in the middle of Auber Lake? Well!
I have got a lovely plan. I’ve never yet seen those birds, because
they don’t come back till the evening. What you and I are going to do,
darling, is to slip away out of the house, next time Mr. Dangelis goes
to see that friend of yours, and make straight to Auber Lake! I’ve
never been into those woods by night, and it’ll be extraordinarily
thrilling to see what Auber Lake looks like with the moon gleaming on
it. And then we may be able to make the wild-geese rise, by throwing
sticks or something, into the water. Oh, it’ll be simply lovely! Don’t
you think so, darling? Aren’t you quite thrilled by the idea?”

The Pariah liberated herself by a sudden effort and stood erect on the
floor.

“I think you are the wickedest girl that God ever made!” she said
solemnly. And then, as the full implication of the proposed adventure
grew upon her, she clasped her hands convulsively. “You cannot mean
it!” she cried. “You cannot mean it! You are teasing me, Gladys. You
are only saying it to tease me.”

“Why, you’re not such a coward as all that!” her cousin replied.
“Think what it must be for Nance Purvis, who always lives down there!
I shouldn’t like to be more cowardly than a poor crazy labouring girl.
We really _ought_ to visit the place, once in a way, to see if these
stories are true about her escaping out of the house. One can never
tell from what Mark says. He may have been drinking and imagining it
all.”

Lacrima turned away and began rapidly undressing. Without a word she
arranged the books on her table, moving about like a person in a
trance, and without a word she slipped into bed and turned her face to
the wall.

Gladys smiled, stretched herself luxuriously, and continued speaking.

“Auber Lake by moonlight would well be worth a night walk. You know
it’s supposed to be the most romantic spot in Somersetshire? They say
it’s incredibly old. Some people think it was used in prehistoric times
by the druids as a place of worship. The villagers never dare to go
near it after dark. They say that very curious noises are heard there.
But of course that may only be the mad--”

She was not allowed to go on. The silent figure in the bed suddenly sat
straight up, with wide-staring eyes fixed upon her, and said slowly
and solemnly, “If I come with you to this place, will you faithfully
promise me that your father will send that girl into a home?”

Gladys was so surprised by this unexpected utterance that she made an
inarticulate gasping noise in her throat.

“Yes,” she answered, mesmerized by the Pariah’s fixed glance.
“Yes--most certainly. If you come with me to see those wild-geese, I’ll
make any promise you like about that girl!”

Lacrima continued for a moment fixing her with wide-dilated pupils.

Then, with a shiver that passed from head to foot, she slowly sank back
on her pillows and closed her eyes.

Gladys rose a little uneasily from her chair. “But of course,” she
said, “you understand she may not _want_ to go away. She is quite
crazy, you know. And she may prefer wandering about freely among dark
woods to being locked up in a nice white-washed asylum, under the care
of fat motherly nurses!”

With this parting shot she went off into her own room feeling in
a curious vague manner that somehow or another the edge of her
delectation had been taken off. In this unexpected resolution of the
Italian, the Mythology of Sacrifice had suddenly struck a staggering
blow at the Mythology of Power. Like the point of a bright silver
sword, this unforseen vein of heroism in the Pariah cleared the
sultry air of that hot night with a magical freshness and coolness. A
planetary onlooker might have been conscious at that moment of strange
spiritual vibrations passing to and fro over the sleeping roofs of
Nevilton. But perhaps such a one would also have been conscious of the
abysmal indifference to either stream of opposing influence, of the
high, cold galaxy of the Milky Way, stretched contemptuously above them
all!

All we are able to be certain of is, that as the fair-haired daughter
of the house prepared for bed she muttered sullenly to herself. “I’ll
make her go anyway. It will be lovely to feel her shiver, when we pass
under those thick laurels! That mad girl won’t leave the place, unless
they drag her by force.”

Left alone, Lacrima remained, for nearly two hours, motionless and
with closed eyes. She was not asleep, however. Strange and desperate
thoughts pursued one another through her brain. She wondered if she,
too, like the girl of Auber Lake, were destined to find relief from
this merciless world in the unhinging of her reason. She reverted again
and again in her mind to her cousin’s final malicious suggestion. That
would be indeed, she thought, a bitter example of life’s irony, if
after going through all this to save the poor wretch, such sacrifice
only meant worse misery for her. But no! God could not be as unkind as
that.

She stretched out her arm for a book with which to still the
troublesome palpitation of her heart.

The book she seized by chance turned out to be Andersen’s Fairy
Stories, and she read herself to sleep with the tale of the little
princess who wove coats of nettles for her enchanted brothers, and all
night long she dreamed of mad unhappy girls struggling amid entwining
branches, of bottomless lakes full of terrible drowned faces, and of
flocks of wild-geese that were all of them kings’ sons!

The Saturday following this eventful colloquy between the cousins was
a day of concentrated gloom. There was thunder in the vicinity and,
although no rain had actually fallen in Nevilton, there was a brooding
presence of it in the heavy atmosphere.

The night seemed to descend that evening more quickly than usual. By
eight o’clock a strange unnatural twilight spread itself over the
landscape. The trees in the park submitted forlornly to a burden of
sultry indistinction and seemed, in their pregnant stillness, to be
trying in vain to make mysterious signals to one another.

Dinner in the gracious Elizabethan dining-room was an oppressive and
discomfortable meal to all concerned. Mrs. Romer was full of tremors
and apprehensions over the idea of a possible thunder-storm.

The quarry-owner was silent and preoccupied, his mind reviewing all the
complicated issues of a new financial scheme. Dangelis kept looking at
his watch. He had promised to be at Dead Man’s Lane by nine o’clock,
and the meal seemed to drag itself out longer than he had anticipated.

He was a little apprehensive, too, as to what reception he would
receive when he did arrive at Mr. Quincunx’s threshold.

Their last encounter had been so extremely controversial, that he
feared lest the sensitive recluse might be harbouring one of his
obstinate psychic reactions at his expense.

He was very unwilling to risk the loss of Mr. Quincunx’s society. There
was no one in Nevilton to whom he could discourse quite as freely
and philosophically as he could to the conscripted office-clerk, and
his American interest in a “representative type” found inexhaustible
satisfaction in listening to the cynical murmurings of this eccentric
being.

Lacrima was calm and self-contained, but she ate hardly anything; and
the hand with which she raised her glass to her lips trembled in spite
of all her efforts.

Gladys herself was exuberant with suppressed excitement. Every now and
then she glanced furtively at the window, and at other times, when
there was no reason for such an outburst, she gave vent to a low feline
laugh. She was of the type of animal that the approach of thunder, and
the presence of electricity in the air, fills with magnetic nervous
exaltation.

The meal was over at last, and the various persons of the group
hastened to separate, each of them weighed upon, as if by an
atmospheric hand, with the burden of their own purposes and
apprehensions.

The two girls retired to their rooms. Mrs. Romer retreated to her
favourite corner in the entrance hall, and then, uneasy even here, took
refuge in the assuaging society of her friend the housekeeper.

Romer himself marched away gloomily to his study; and Dangelis,
snatching up his coat and hat, made off across the south garden.

It did not take the American long to reach the low hedge which
separated Mr. Quincunx’s garden from the lane. The recluse was awaiting
him, and joined him at once at the gate, giving him no invitation to
enter, and taking for granted that their conversation was to be a
pedestrian one.

Mr. Quincunx experienced a curious reluctance to allow any of his
friends to cross his threshold. The only one completely privileged
in this matter was young Luke Andersen, whose gay urbanity was so
insidious that it would have overcome the resistance of a Trappist monk.

“Well, where are you proposing to take me tonight?” enquired Dangelis,
when they had advanced in silence some distance up the hill.

“To a place that will interest you, if your damned artistic tastes
haven’t quite spoiled your pleasure in little things!”

“Not to the Seven Ashes again?” protested the American. “I know this
lane leads up there.”

“You wait a little. We shall turn off presently,” muttered his
companion. “The truth is I am taking you on a sort of scouting
expedition tonight.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Well--if you must know, you shall know! I saw Miss Traffio yesterday
and she asked me to keep an eye on Auber Lake tonight.”

“What? That place they were talking of? Where the wild-geese are?”

Mr. Quincunx nodded. “It may, for all I know, be a wild-goose
chase. But I find your friend Gladys is up to her little tricks
again--frightening people and upsetting their minds. And I promised
Lacrima that you and I would stroll round that way--just to see that
the girls don’t come to any harm. Only we mustn’t let them know we’re
there. Lacrima would never forgive me if Gladys saw us.”

“Do you mean to say that those two children are going to wander about
these confounded damp woods of yours alone?” cried the American.

“Look here, Mr. Dangelis, please understand this quite clearly. If you
ever say a word to your precious Miss Gladys about this little scouting
expedition, that’s an end of our talks, forever and a day!”

The citizen of Ohio bowed with a mock heroic gesture, removing his hat
as he did so.

“I submit to your conditions, Don Quixote. I am entirely at your
service. Is it the idea that we should track our friends on hands and
knees? I am quite ready even for that, but I know what these woods of
yours are like.”

Mr. Quincunx vouchsafed no reply to this ill-timed jocosity. He was
anxiously surveying the tall hedge upon their right hand. “Here’s the
way,” he suddenly exclaimed. “Here’s the path. We can hit a short-cut
here that brings us straight through Camel’s Cover, up to Wild Pine.
Then we can slip down into Badger’s Bottom and so into the Auber
Woods.”

“But I thought the Auber Woods were much nearer than that. You told me
the other day that you could get into the heart of them, in a quarter
of an hour from your own garden!”

“And so I can, my friend,” replied Mr. Quincunx, scrambling up the bank
into the field, and turning to offer his hand to his companion. “But it
happens that this is the way those girls are coming. At any rate that
is what she said. They were going to avoid my lane but they were going
to enter the woods from the Seven Ashes side, just because it is so
much nearer.”

“I submit, I submit,” muttered the artist blandly. “I only hope
this scouting business needn’t commence till we have got well
through Camel’s Cover and Badger’s Bottom! I must confess I am not
altogether in love with the sound of those places, though no doubt
they are harmless enough. But you people do certainly select the most
extraordinary names for your localities. Our own little lapses in these
things are classical compared with your Badgers and Camels and Ashes
and Dead Men!”

Mr. Quincunx did not condescend to reply to this. He continued to
plough his way across the field, every now and then glancing nervously
at the sky, which grew more and more threatening. Walking behind him
and a little on one side, the American was singularly impressed by
the appearance he presented, especially when the faint light of the
pallid and cloud-flecked moon fell on his uplifted profile. With his
corrugated brow and his pointed beard, Mr. Quincunx was a noticeable
figure at any time, but under the present atmospheric conditions his
lean form and striking head made a picture of forlorn desolation worthy
of the sombre genius of a Bewick.

Dangelis conceived the idea of a picture, which he himself might
be capable of evoking, with this melancholy, solitary figure as its
protagonist.

He wondered vaguely what background he would select as worthy of the
resolute hopelessness in Mr. Quincunx’s forlorn mien.

It was only after they had traversed the sloping recesses of Camel’s
Cover, and had arrived at the crest of the Wild Pine ridge, that he was
able to answer this question. Then he knew at once. The true pictorial
background for his eccentric companion could be nothing less than that
line of wind-shaken, rain-washed Scotch firs, which, visible from all
portions of Nevilton, had gathered to themselves the very essence of
its historic tragedy.

These trees, like Mr. Quincunx, seemed to derive a grim satisfaction
from their submission to destiny. Like him, they submitted with a
definite volition of resolution. They took, as he took, the line of
least resistance with a sort of stark voluptuousness. They did not
simply bow to the winds and rains that oppressed them. They positively
welcomed them. And yet all the while, just as he did, they emitted a
low melancholy murmur of protest, a murmur as completely different from
the howling eloquence of the ashes and elms, as it was different from
the low querulous sob of the larches and elders. The rusty-red stain,
too, in the rough bark of their trunks, was also singularly congruous
with a certain reddish tinge, which often darkened the countenance of
the recluse, especially when his fits of goblin-humour shook him into
convulsive merriment.

As they paused for a moment on this melancholy ridge, looking back
at the flickering lights of the village, and down into the darkness
in front of them, the painter made a mental vow that before he left
Nevilton he would sublimate his vision of Mr. Quincunx into a genuine
masterpiece. Plunging once more into the shadows, they followed a dark
lane which finally emerged into a wide-sloping valley. In the depths
of this was the secluded hollow, full of long grass and tufted reeds,
which was the place known as Badger’s Bottom.

The entrance to Auber Wood was now at hand; and as they reached its
sinister outskirts, they both instinctively paused to take stock of
their surroundings. The night was more sultry than ever. The leaves and
grasses swayed with an almost imperceptible movement, as if stirred,
not by the wind, but by the actual heavy breathing of the Earth
herself, troubled and agitated in her planetary sleep.

Sombre banks of clouds moved intermittently over the face of a blurred
moon, and, out of the soil at their feet, rose up damp exotic odours,
giving the whole valley the atmosphere of an enormous hot-house.

It was one of those hushed, steamy nights, pregnant and listening,
which the peculiar conditions of our English climate do not often
produce, and which are for that very reason often quite startling in
their emotional appeal. The path which the two men took, after once
they had entered the wood, was one that led them through a gloomy
tunnel of gigantic, overhanging laurel-bushes.

All the chief entrances to Auber Wood were edged with these exotics.
Some capricious eighteenth-century Seldom,--perhaps the one who raised
the Tower of Pleasure on the site of the resting-place of the Holy
Rood--had planted them there, and for more than a hundred years they
had grown and multiplied.

Auber Lake itself was the centre of a circumference of thick
jungle-like brushwood which itself was overshadowed by high sloping
hills. These hills, also heavily wooded, formed a sort of gigantic cup
or basin, and the level expanse of undergrowth they enclosed was itself
the margin of a yet deeper concavity, in the middle of which was the
lake-bed.

Mingling curiously with the more indigenous trees in this place were
several unusual and alien importations. Some of these, like the huge
laurels they were now passing under, belonged more properly to gardens
than to woods. Others were of a still stranger and more foreign nature,
and produced a very bizarre effect where they grew, as though one had
suddenly come upon the circle of some heathen grove, in the midst
of an English forest. Auber Lake was certainly a spot of an unusual
character. Once it had been drained, and a large monolith, of the same
stone as that produced by Leo’s Hill, had been discovered embedded in
the mud. Traces were said to have been discerned upon this of ancient
human carving, but local antiquarianism had contradicted this rumour.
At least it may be said that nowhere else on the Romer estate, except
perhaps in Nevilton churchyard, was the tawny-colored clay which bore
so close a symbolic, if not a geological, relation to the famous
yellow sandstone, more heavily and malignantly clinging, in its oozy
consistence.

Dangelis and Mr. Quincunx advanced slowly, and in profound silence,
along their overshadowed path.

An occasional wood-pigeon, disturbed in its roosting, flapped awkwardly
through the branches; and far away, in another part of the wood,
sounded at intervals the melancholy cry of a screech-owl.

Great leather-winged bats flitted over their heads with queer unearthly
little cries; and every now and then some agitated moth, from the
under-bushes, fluttered heavily across their faces. Sometimes in the
darkness their feet stumbled upon a dead branch, but more often they
slipped uneasily in the deep ruts left in the mud by the woodmen’s
carts.

All the various intermittent noises they heard only threw the palpable
stillness of the place into heavier relief.

The artist from the wind-swept plains of Ohio felt as though he had
never plunged so deeply into the indrawn recesses of the earth-powers
as he was doing now. It seemed to him as though they were approaching
the guarded precincts of some dark and crouching idol. It was as if, by
some ill-omened mistake, they had stumbled unawares upon a spot that
through interminable ages had been forbidden to human tread.

And yet the place seemed to expect them, to await them; to have in
reserve for them some laboured pregnancy of woeful significance.

Once more, as he walked behind Mr. Quincunx, Dangelis was startled by
the extraordinary congruity of that forlorn figure with the occasion
and the scene. The form of the recluse seemed to exhale a reciprocity
of fearful brooding. Auber Wood seemed aware of him, and ready to
welcome him, in consentaneous sympathy. He might have been the
long-expected priest of some immemorial rites transacted there, the
priest of some old heathen worship, perhaps the worship of generations
of dead people, buried under those damp leaves.

It seemed a long while to Ralph Dangelis, in spite of the breathless
quickening of his imagination, before the laurel-tunnel thinned away,
and the two men were able to walk side by side between the trunks of
the larger trees. Here again they encountered Scotch firs.

What strange dream, of what fantastic possessor of this solitude, had
shaped itself into the planting of these moorland giants, among the
native-born oaks and beeches of this weird place?

The open spaces at the foot of the tree-trunks were filled with an
obscure mass of oozy stalks and heavily drooping leaves. The obscurity
of the spot made it difficult to discern the differences between these
rank growths; but the ghostly flowers of enormous hemlocks stood forth
from among the rest. Fungoid excrescences, of some sort or another,
were certainly prolific here. Their charnel-house odour set Dangelis
thinking of a morgue he had once visited.

At last--and with quite startling suddenness--the path they followed
emerged into a wide open expanse; and there,--under the diffused light
of the cloud-darkened moon--they saw stretched at their feet the dim
surface of Auber Lake.

Mr. Quincunx stood for a moment motionless and silent, leaning upon his
stick. Then he turned to his companion; and the American noticed how
vague and shadowy his face looked, as if it were a face seen through
some more opaque medium than that of air.

They sat down together upon a fallen log; and out of an instinctive
desire to break the tension of the spell that lay on him Dangelis lit a
cigarette.

He had smoked in silence for some moments, when Mr. Quincunx, who had
been listening attentively, raised his hand. “Hark!” he said, “do you
hear anything?”

Across the stillness of the water came a low blood-curdling wail. It
was hardly a human sound, and yet it was not like the voice of any bird
or beast. It seemed to unsettle the drowsy natives of the spot; for
a harsh twittering of sedge-birds answered it, and a great water-rat
splashed down into the lake.

“God! they were right then,” whispered the American. “They spoke of
some mad girl living down here, but I did not believe them. It seemed
incredible that such a thing should be allowed. Quick, my friend!--we
ought to warn those girls at once and get them away. This is not the
sort of thing for them to hear.”

They both rose and listened intently, but the sound was not repeated;
only a hot gust of wind coming, as it were, out of the lake itself,
went quivering through the reeds.

“I don’t imagine,” said Mr. Quincunx calmly, “that _your_ young lady
will be much alarmed. I fancy she has less fear of this kind of thing
than that water-rat we heard just now. It’ll terrify Lacrima, though.
But I understand that your charming sweetheart gets a good deal of
amusement from causing people to feel terror!”

Dangelis was so accustomed to the plain-spoken utterances of the hermit
of Dead Man’s Lane that he received this indictment of his enchantress
with complete equanimity.

“All the same,” he remarked, “I think we’d better go and meet them,
if you know the direction they’re coming. It’s not a very pleasant
proposition, any way, to face escaped lunatics in a place like this.”

“I tell you,” muttered Mr. Quincunx crossly, “your darling Gladys is
coming here for no other reason than to hear that girl’s cries. The
more they terrify Lacrima, the better she’ll be pleased.”

“I don’t know about Lacrima,” answered Dangelis. “I know that devil of
a noise will scare _me_ if I hear it again.”

Mr. Quincunx did not reply. With his hand on his companion’s arm he was
once more listening intently. At the back of his mind was gradually
forming a grim remote wish that some overt act and palpable revelation
of Gladys Romer’s interesting character might effect a change of heart
in the citizen of Ohio.

Such a wish had been obscurely present in his brain ever since they
started on this expedition; and now that the situation was developing,
it took a more vivid shape.

“I believe,” he remarked at last, “I hear them coming down the path.
Listen! It’s on the other side of the pond,--over there.” He pointed
across the water to the left-hand corner of the lake. It was from the
right-hand corner, where the keeper’s cottage stood, that the poor mad
girl’s voice had proceeded.

“Yes; I am sure!” he whispered after a moment’s pause. “Come! quick!
get in here; then they won’t see us even if they walk round this way.”

He pulled Dangelis beneath the overhanging boughs of a large
weeping willow. The droop of this tree’s delicate foliage made, in
the semi-darkness in which they were, a complete and impenetrable
hiding-place; and yet from between the trailing branches, when they
held them apart with their hands, they had a free and unimpeded view of
the whole surface of the lake.

The sound of distant voices struck clearly now upon their ears; and
a moment after, nudging his companion, Mr. Quincunx pointed to two
cloaked figures advancing across the open space towards the water’s
edge.

“Hush!” whispered the recluse. “They are bound to come this way now.”

The two girls were, however, for the moment, apparently occupied
with another intention. The taller of the two stopped and picked up
something from the ground, and then approaching close to the lake’s
edge raised her arm and flung it far into the water.

The object she threw must have been a stick or a stone of considerable
size, for the splash it produced was startling.

The result was also startling. From a little island in the middle of
the lake, rose suddenly, with a tremendous flapping, several large and
broad-winged birds. They flew in heavy circles, at first, over the
island; and then, descending to the water’s level, went splashing and
flapping across its surface, uttering strange cries.

The noise made by these birds had hardly subsided, as they settled down
in a thick bed of reeds, when, once more, that terrible inhuman wail
rang out upon the night. Both men peered forth anxiously from their
hiding-place, to see the effect of this sound upon their two friends.

They could see that they both stood stone-still for a moment as if
petrified by terror.

Then they noticed that the taller of the two drew her companion still
nearer to the water’s edge.

“If that yell begins again,” whispered the American, “I shall go out
and speak to them.”

Mr. Quincunx made no answer. He prayed in his heart that something
would occur to initiate this innocent Westerner a little more closely
into the workings of his inamorata’s mind. It seemed indeed quite
within the bounds of possibility that the recluse might be gratified in
this wish, for the girls began rapidly advancing towards them, skirting
the edge of the lake.

The two men watched their approach in silence, the artist savouring
with a deep imaginative excitement the mystical glamour of the scene.

He felt it would be indelibly and forever imprinted on his mind,
this hot heavily scented night, this pallid-glimmering lake, those
uneasy stirrings of the wild-geese in their obscure reed-bed, and
the frightful hush of the listening woods, as they seemed to await a
repetition of that unearthly cry.

The girls had actually paused at the verge of the lake, just in front
of their hiding-place; so near, in fact, that by stretching out his
arm, from behind his willowy screen, Dangelis could have touched Gladys
on the shoulder, when the fearfully expected voice broke forth again
upon the night.

The men could see the visible tremor of panic-fear quiver through
Lacrima’s slight frame.

“Oh, let us go!--let us go!” she pleaded, pulling with feverish fingers
at her companion’s cloak.

But Gladys folded her arms and flung back her head.

“Little coward!” she murmured in a low unshaken voice. “I am not afraid
of a mad girl’s yelling. Look! there’s one of those birds going back to
the island!”

Once more the inhuman wail trembled across the water.

“Gladys! Gladys dear!” cried the panic-stricken girl, “I cannot endure
it! I shall go mad myself if we do not go! I’ll do anything you ask me!
I’ll go anywhere with you! Only--please--let us go away now!”

The sound was repeated again, and this time it proceeded from a quarter
much nearer them. All four listeners held their breath. Presently the
Italian made a terrified gesture and pointed frantically to the right
bank of the lake.

“I see her!” she cried, “I see her! She is coming towards us!”

The frightened girl made a movement as if she would break away from her
companion and flee into the darkness of the trees.

Gladys clasped her firmly in her arms.

“No--no!” she said, “no running off! Remember our agreement! There’s
nothing really to be afraid of. I’m not afraid.”

A slight quiver in her voice a little belied the calmness of this
statement. She was indeed torn at that moment between a very natural
desire to escape herself and an insatiable craving to prolong her
companion’s agitation.

In her convulsive terror the Italian, unable to free herself from the
elder girl’s enfolding arms, buried her head in the other’s cloak.

Thus linked, the two might have posed for a picture of heroic sisterly
solicitude, in the presence of extreme danger.

Once more that ghastly cry resounded through the silence; and several
nocturnal birds, from distant portions of the wood, replied to it with
their melancholy hootings.

The white-garbed figure of the mad girl, her arms tossed tragically
above her head, came swaying towards them. She moved unevenly, and
staggered in her advance, as if her volition had not complete power
over her movements. Gladys was evidently considerably alarmed herself
now. She clutched at a chance of combining escape with triumph.

“Say you let me off that promise!” she whispered hoarsely, “and we’ll
run together! We’re quite close to the way out.”

Who can read the obscure recesses of the human mind, or gauge the
supernatural strength that lurks amid the frailest nerves?

This reference to her sublime contract was the one thing needed to
rouse the abandoned soul of the Pariah. For one brief second more the
powers of darkness struggled over her bowed head with the powers of
light.

Then with a desperate movement the Italian rose erect, flung aside her
cousin’s arms, turned boldly towards the approaching maniac, and ran
straight to meet her. Her unexpected appearance produced an immediate
effect upon the unhappy girl. Her wildly-tossing arms fell to her side.
Her wailing died away in pathetic sobs, and these also quickly ceased.

Lacrima seemed to act like one possessed of some invincible magic. One
might have dreamed that now for the first time for uncounted ages this
unholy shrine of heathen tradition was invaded by an emissary of the
true Faith.

Gladys, who had reeled bewildered against the wood-work of an
ancient weir, that formed the outlet to the lake, leaned in complete
prostration of astonishment upon this support, and gazed helplessly
and dumbly at the two figures. She was too petrified with amazement
to notice the appearance of Ralph and Maurice, who, also absorbed
in watching this strange encounter, had half-emerged from their
concealment.

The three onlookers saw the Italian lay her hands upon the girl’s
forehead, smooth back her hair, kiss her gently on the brow, and fling
her own cloak over her bare shoulders. They heard her murmuring again
and again some soft repetition of soothing words. Dangelis caught the
liquid syllables of the Tuscan tongue. Evidently in her excitement the
child of Genoa the Superb had reverted to the language of her fathers.

The next thing they saw was the slow retreat of the two together,
towards the keeper’s cottage; the arm of the Italian clinging tenderly
round the maniac’s waist.

At this point Dangelis stepped forward and made himself known to Gladys.

The expression on the face of Mr. Romer’s daughter, when she recognized
the American, was a palimpsest of conflicting emotions. Her surprise
was still more intense when Mr. Quincunx stepped out from the shadow of
the drooping tree and raised his hat to her. Her eyes for the moment
looked positively scared; and her mouth opened, like the mouth of a
bewildered infant. The tone with which the citizen of Ohio addressed
the confused young lady made the heart of Mr. Quincunx leap for joy.

“I am astonished at you,” he said. “I should not have believed such a
thing possible! Your only excuse is that this infernal jest of yours
has turned out so well for the people concerned, and so shamefully for
yourself. How could you treat that brave foreign child so brutally?
Why--I saw her trembling and trembling, and trying to get away; and
you were holding--actually holding her--while that poor mad thing came
nearer! It’s a good thing for you that the Catholic spirit in her burst
out at last. Do you know what spell she used to bring that girl to her
senses? A spell that you will never understand, my friend, for all this
baptism and confirmation business! Why--she quoted passages out of the
Litany of Our Lady! I heard her clearly, and I recognized the words. I
am a damned atheist myself, but if ever I felt religion to be justified
it was when your cousin stopped that girl’s crying. It was like real
magic. You ought to be thoroughly proud of her! I shall tell her when I
see her what I feel about her.”

Gladys rose from her seat on the weir and faced them haughtily. Her
surprise once over, and the rebuke having fallen, she became mistress
of herself again.

“I suppose,” she said, completely ignoring Mr. Quincunx, “we’d better
follow those two, and see if Lacrima gets her safely into the house. I
fancy she’ll have no difficulty about it. Of course if she had not done
this I should have had to do it myself. But not knowing Italian”--she
added this with a sneer--“I am not so suitable a mad-house nurse.”

“It was her good heart, Gladys,” responded the American; “not her
Italian, nor her Litany, that soothed that girl’s mind. I wish your
heart, my friend, were half as good.”

“Well,” returned the fair girl quite cheerfully, “we’ll leave my heart
for the present, and see how Lacrima has got on.”

She took the arm which Dangelis had not offered, but which his chivalry
forbade him to refuse, and together they proceeded to follow the heroic
Genoese.

Mr. Quincunx shuffled unregarded behind them.

They had hardly reached the keeper’s cottage, a desolate and ancient
erection, of the usual stone material, darkened with damp and
overshadowed by a moss-grown oak, when Lacrima herself came towards
them.

She started with surprise at seeing, in the shadowy obscurity, the
figures of the two men.

Her surprise changed to pleasure when she recognized their identity.

“Ah!” she said. “You come too late. Gladys and I have had quite an
adventure, haven’t we, cousin?”

Mr. Quincunx glanced at the American to see if he embraced the full
generosity of the turn she gave to the situation.

Gladys took advantage of it in a moment. “You see I was right after
all,” she remarked. “I knew you would lose your alarm directly you
saw that girl! When it came to the point you were braver than I. You
dear thing!” She kissed the Italian ostentatiously, and then retook
possession of her admirer’s arm.

“I got her up to her room without waking her father,” said Lacrima.
“She had left the door wide open. Gladys is going to ask Mr. Romer to
have her sent away to some sort of home. I believe they’ll be able to
cure her. She talked quite sensibly to me. I am sure she only wants to
be treated gently. I’m afraid her father’s unkind to her. You are going
to arrange for her being sent away, aren’t you, Gladys?”

The elder girl turned. “Of course, my dear, of course. I don’t go back
on my word.”

The four friends proceeded to take the nearest path through the wood.
One by one the frightened wild-geese returned to their roosting-place
on the island. The water-rats resumed uninterrupted their night-prowls
along the reedy edge of the lake, and the wood-pigeons settled down in
peace upon their high branches.

Long before Dead Man’s Lane was reached the two couples had drifted
conveniently apart in their lingering return.

Mr. Quincunx had seldom been more tender towards his little friend than
he was that night; and Lacrima, still strangely happy in the after-ebb
of her supernatural exultation, nestled closely to his side as they
drifted leisurely across the fields.

In what precise manner the deeply-betrayed Gladys regained the
confidence of her lover need not be related. The artist from Ohio would
have been adamantine indeed, could he have resisted the appeal which
the amorous telepathy of this magnetic young person gave her the power
of expressing.

Meanwhile, in her low-pitched room, with the shadow of the oak-tree
coming and going across her face, as the moonlight shone out or faded,
Nance Purvis lay placidly asleep, dreaming no more of strange phantoms
or of stinging whips, but of gentle spirits from some translunar
region, who caressed her forehead with hands softer than moth’s wings
and spoke to her in a tongue that was like the moonlight itself made
audible.



CHAPTER XIII

LACRIMA


Mr. John Goring was feeding his rabbits. In the gross texture of his
clayish nature there were one or two curious layers of a pleasanter
material. One of these, for instance, was now shown in the friendly
equanimity with which he permitted a round-headed awkward youth, more
than half idiotic, to assist him at this innocent task.

Between Mr. Goring and Bert Leerd there existed one of those
inexplicable friendships, which so often, to the bewilderment of moral
philosophers, bring a twilight of humanity into the most sinister
mental caves. The farmer had saved this youth from a conspiracy of
Poor-Law officials who were on the point of consigning him to an
asylum. He had assumed responsibility for his good-behaviour and had
given him a lodging--his parents being both dead--in the Priory itself.

Not a few young servant-girls, selected by Mr. Goring rather for
their appearance than their disposition, had been dismissed from his
service, after violent and wrathful scenes, for being caught teasing
this unfortunate; and even the cook, a female of the most taciturn
and sombre temper, was compelled to treat him with comparative
consideration. The gossips of Nevilton swore, as one may believe, that
the farmer, in being kind to this boy, was only obeying the mandate of
nature; but no one who had ever beheld Bert’s mother, gave the least
credence to such a story.

Another of Mr. Goring’s softer aspects was his mania for tame rabbits.
These he kept in commodious and spacious hutches at the back of his
house, and every year wonderful and interesting additions were added to
their number.

On this particular morning both the farmer and his idiot were absorbed
and rapt in contemplation before the gambols of two large new
pets--great silky lop-eared things--who had arrived the night before.
Mr. Goring was feeding them with fresh lettuces, carefully handed to
him by his assistant, who divested these plants of their rough outer
leaves and dried them on the palms of his hands.

“The little ’un do lap ’em up fastest, master,” remarked the boy. “I
mind how those others, with them girt ears, did love a fresh lettuce.”

Mr. Goring watched with mute satisfaction the quivering nostrils and
nibbling mouth of the dainty voracious creature.

“Mustn’t let them have more than three at a time, Bert,” he remarked.
“But they do love them, as you say.”

“What be going to call this little ’un, master?” asked the boy.

Mr. Goring straightened his back and drew a deep breath.

“What do you think, Bert, my boy?” he cried, in a husky excited tone,
prodding his assistant jocosely with the handle of his riding-whip;
“What do you think? What would you call her?”

“Ah! I knew she were a she, master!” chuckled the idiot. “I knew that,
afore she were out of the packer-case! Call ’er?” and the boy leered an
indescribable leer. “By gum! I can tell ’ee that fast enough. Call ’er
Missy Lacrima, pretty little Missy Lacrima, wot lives up at the House,
and wot is going to be missus ’ere afore long.”

Mr. Goring surveyed his protégé for a moment with sublime contentment,
and then humorously flicked at his ears with his whip.

“Right! my imp of Satan. Right! my spawn of Belial. That is just what I
_was_ thinking.”

“She be silky and soft to handle,” went on the idiot, “and her, up at
the House, be no contrary, or I’m darned mistaken.”

Mr. Goring expressed his satisfaction at his friend’s intelligence by
giving him a push that nearly threw him backwards.

“And I’ll tell you this, my boy,” he remarked confidentially, surveying
the long line of well-filled hutches, “we’ve never yet bought such
a rabbit, as this foreign one will turn out, or you and I be damned
fools.”

“The young lady’ll get mighty fond of these ’ere long-ears, looks so
to me,” observed the youth. “Hope she won’t be a feeding ’em with wet
cabbage, same as maids most often do.”

The farmer grew even more confidential, drawing close to his assistant
and addressing him in the tone customary with him on market-days, when
feeling the ribs of fatted cattle.

“That same young lady is coming up here this morning, Bert,” he
remarked significantly. “The squire’s giving her a note to bring along.”

“And you be going to bring matters to a head, master,” rejoined the
boy. “That’s wise and thoughtful of ’ee, choosing time, like, and
season, as the Book says. Maids be wonderful sly when the sun’s down,
while of mornings they be meek as guinea-fowls.”

The appearance of the Priory servant--no very demure figure--put a
sudden stop to these touching confidences.

“Miss Lacrima, with a note, in the front Parlour!” the damsel shouted.

“You needn’t call so loud, girl,” grumbled the farmer. “And how often
must I tell you to say ‘Miss Traffio,’ not ‘Miss Lacrima’?”

The girl tossed her head and pouted her lips.

“A person isn’t used to waiting on foreigners,” she muttered.

Mr. Goring’s only reply to this remark was to pinch her arm
unmercifully. He then pushed her aside, and entering the kitchen,
walked rapidly through to the front of the house. The front parlour in
the Priory was nothing more or less than the old entrance-gate of the
Cistercian Monastery, preserved through four centuries, with hardly a
change.

The roof was high and vaulted. In the centre of the vault a great
many-petalled rose, carved in Leonian stone, seemed to gather all the
curves and lines of the masonry together, and hold them in religious
concentration.

The fire-place--a thing of more recent, but still sufficiently ancient
date--displayed the delicate and gracious fantasy of some local
Jacobean artist, who had lavished upon its ornate mouldings a more
personal feeling than one is usually aware of in these things. In
place of a fire the wide grate was, at this moment, full of new-grown
bracken fronds, evidently recently picked, for they were still fresh
and green.

In front of the fire-place stood Lacrima with the letter in her hand.
Had Mr. Goring been a little less persuaded of the “meekness” of
this young person, he would have recognized something not altogether
friendly to himself and his plans in the strained white face she raised
to him and the stiff gloved hand she extended.

He begged her to be seated. She waved aside the chair he offered, and
handed him the letter. He tore this open and glanced carelessly at its
contents.

The letter was indeed brief enough, containing nothing but the
following gnomic words: “Refusal or no refusal,” signed with an
imperial flourish.

He flung it down on the table, and came to business at once.

“You mustn’t let that little mistake of Auber Great Meadow mean
anything, missie,” he said. “You were too hasty with a fellow that
time--too hasty and coy-like. Those be queer maids’ tricks, that crying
and running! But, bless my heart! I don’t bear you any grudge for it.
You needn’t think it.”

He advanced a step--while she retreated, very pale and very calm, her
little fingers clasped nervously together. She managed to keep the
table between them, so that, barring a grotesque and obvious pursuit of
her, she was well out of his reach.

“I have a plain and simple offer to make to you, my dear,” he
continued, “and it is one that can do you no hurt or shame. I am
not one of those who waste words in courting a girl, least of all a
young lady of education like yourself. The fact is, I am a lonely
man--without wife or child--and as far as I know no relations on
earth, except brother Mortimer. And I have a pretty tidy sum laid up
in Yeoborough Bank, and the farm is a good farm. I do not say that the
house is all that could be wished; but ’tis a pretty house, too, and
one that could stand improvement. In plain words, dearie, what I want
you to say now is ‘yes,’ and no nonsense,--for what I am doing,” his
voice became quite husky at this point, as if her propinquity really
did cause him some emotion, “is asking you, point-blank, and no beating
about the bush, whether you will marry me!”

Lacrima’s face during this long harangue would have formed a strange
picture for any old Cistercian monk shadowing that ancient room. At
first she had kept unmoved her strained and tensely-strung impassivity.
But by degrees, as the astounding character of the man’s communication
began to dawn upon her, her look changed into one of sheer blind
terror. When the final fatal word crossed the farmer’s lips, she put
her hand to her throat as though to suppress an actual cry. She had
never looked for this;--not in her wildest dreams of what destiny, in
this curst place, could inflict upon her. This surpassed the worst of
possible imagination! It was a deep below the deep. She found herself
at first completely unable to utter a word. She could only make a vague
helpless gesture with her hand as though dumbly waving the whole world
away.

Then at last with a terrible effort she broke the silence.

“What you say is utterly--utterly impossible! It is--it is too--”

She could not go on. But she had said enough to carry, even to a brain
composed of pure clay, the conviction that the acquiescence he demanded
was not a thing to be easily won. He thought of his brother-in-law’s
enigmatic note. Possibly the owner of Leo’s Hill had ways of persuading
recalcitrant foreign girls that were quite hidden from him. The
psychological irony of the thing lay in the fact that in proportion
as her terror increased, his desire for her increased proportionally.
Had she been willing,--had she been even passive and indifferent,--the
curious temperament of Mr. Goring would have been scarcely stirred. He
might have gone on pursuing her, out of spite or out of obstinacy; but
the pursuit would have been no more than an interlude, a distraction,
among his other affairs.

But that look of absolute terror on her face--the look of a
hunted animal under the hot breath of the hounds--appealed to
something profoundly deep in his nature. Oddly enough--such are the
eccentricities of the human mind--the very craving to possess her which
her terror excited, was accompanied by a rush of extraordinary pity for
himself as the object of her distaste.

He let her pass--making no movement to interrupt her escape. He let her
hurry out of the garden and into the road--without a word; but as soon
as she was gone, he sat down on the wooden seat under the front of the
house and resting his head upon his chin began blubbering like a great
baby. Big salt tears fell from his small pig’s eyes, rolled down his
tanned cheeks, and falling upon the dust caked it into little curious
globules.

Two wandering ants of a yellowish species, dragging prisoner after
them one of a black kind, encountered these minute globes of sand and
sorrow, and explored them with interrogatory feelers.

Mingled with this feeling of pity for himself under the girl’s disdain
was a remarkable wave of immense tenderness and consideration for her.
Short of letting her escape him, how delicately he would cherish, how
tenderly he would pet and fondle her, how assiduously he would care
for her! The consciousness of this emotion of soft tenderness towards
the girl increased his pity for himself under the weight of the girl’s
contempt. How ungrateful she was! And yet that very look of terror,
that stifled cry of the hunted hare, which made him so resolved to win
her, produced in him an exquisite feeling of melting regard for her
youth, her softness, her fragility. When she did belong to him, oh
how tenderly he would treat her! How he would humour her and give her
everything she could want!

The shadowy Cistercian monks would no doubt, from their clairvoyant
catholic knowledge of the subtleties of the human soul, have quite
understood the cause of those absurd tears caking the dust under that
wooden seat. But the yellowish ants continued to be very perplexed and
confused by their presence. Thunder-drops tasting of salt were no doubt
as strange to them as hail-stones tasting of wine would have been to
Mr. Goring. But the ants were not the only creatures amazed at this
new development in the psychology of the man of clay. From one corner
of the house peeped the servant-girl, full of tremulous curiosity, and
from another the idiot Bert shuffled and spied, full of most anxious
and perturbed concern.

Meanwhile the innocent cause of this little drama was making her way
with drooping head and dragging steps down the south drive. When she
reached the house she was immediately informed by one of the servants
that Mr. Romer wished to see her in the study.

She was so dazed and broken, so forlorn and indifferent, that she made
her way straight to this room without pause or question.

She found Mr. Romer in a most lively and affable mood. He made her
sit down opposite him, and handed her chocolates out of a decorative
Parisian box which lay on the table.

“Well, young lady,” he said, “I know, without your telling me, that an
important event has occurred! Indeed, to confess the truth, I have,
for a long time, foreseen its occurrence. And what did you answer to
my worthy brother’s flattering proposal? It isn’t every girl, in your
peculiar position, who is as lucky as this. Come--don’t be shy! There
is no need for shyness with me. What did you say to him?”

Lacrima looked straight in front of her out of the window. She saw the
waving branches of a great dark yew-tree and above it the white clouds.
She felt like one whose guardian-angel has deserted her, leaving her
the prey of blind elemental forces. She thought vaguely in her mind
that she would make a desperate appeal to Vennie Seldom. Something in
Vennie gave her a consciousness of strength. To this strength, at the
worst, she would cling for help. She was thus in a measure fortified in
advance against any outburst in which her employer might indulge. But
Mr. Romer indulged in no outburst.

“I suppose,” he said calmly, “that I may take for granted that you have
refused my good brother’s offer?”

Lacrima nodded, without speaking.

“That is quite what I expected. You would not be yourself if you
had not done so. And since you have done so it is of course quite
impossible for me to put any pressure upon you.”

He paused and carefully selecting the special kind of chocolate that
appealed to him put it deliberately in his mouth.

Lacrima was so amazed at the mild tone he used and at the drift of his
words, that she turned full upon him her large liquid eyes with an
expression in them of something almost like gratitude. The corners of
her mouth twitched. The reaction was too great. She felt she could not
keep back her tears.

Mr. Romer quietly continued.

“In all these things, my dear young lady, the world presents itself
as a series of bargains and compromises. My brother has made you his
offer--a flattering and suitable one. In the girlish excitement of the
first shock you have totally refused to listen to him. But the world
moves round. Such natural moods do not last forever. They often do not
last beyond the next day! In order to help you--to make it easier for
you--to bring such a mood to an end, I also, in my turn, have a little
proposal to make.”

Lacrima’s expression changed with terrible rapidity; she stared at him
panic-stricken.

“My proposal is this,” said Mr. Romer, quietly handing her the box
of chocolates, and smiling as she waved it away. “As I said just
now, the world is a place of bargains and compromises. Nothing ever
occurs between human beings which is not the result of some unuttered
transaction of occult diplomacy. Led by your instincts you reject
my brother’s offer. Led by my instincts I offer you the following
persuasion to overcome your refusal.”

He placed another chocolate in his mouth.

“I know well,” he went on, “your regard and fondness--I might use even
stronger words--for our friend Maurice Quincunx. Now what I propose
is this. I will settle upon Maurice,--you shall see the draft itself
and my signature upon it,--an income sufficient to enable him to live
comfortably and happily, wherever he pleases, without doing a stroke
of work, and without the least anxiety. I will arrange it so that he
cannot touch the capital of the sum I make over to him, and has nothing
to do but to sign receipts for each quarter’s dividend, as the bank
makes them over to him.

“The sum I will give him will be so considerable, that the income
from it will amount to not less than three hundred pounds a year.
With this at his disposal he will be able to live wherever he likes,
either here or elsewhere. And what is more,”--here Mr. Romer looked
intently and significantly at the trembling girl--“what is more, he
will be in a position to _marry_ whenever he may desire to do so. I
believe”--he could not refrain from a tone of sardonic irony as he
added this--“that you have found him not particularly well able to look
after himself. I shall sign this document, rendering your friend free
from financial anxiety for the rest of his life, on the day when you
are married to Mr. Goring.”

When he had finished speaking Lacrima continued to stare at him with a
wide horror-struck gaze.

Mechanically she noticed the peculiar way in which his eyebrows met
one another across a scar on his forehead. This scar and the little
grey bristles that crossed it remained in her mind long afterwards,
indelibly associated with the thoughts that then passed through her
brain. Chief among these thoughts was a deep-lurking, heart-clutching
dread of her own conscience, and a terrible shapeless fear that this
subterranean conscience might debar her from the _right_ to make her
appeal to Vennie. From Mr. Romer’s persecution she could appeal; but
how could she appeal against his benevolence to her friend, even though
the path of that benevolence lay over her own body?

She rose from her seat, too troubled and confused even to hate the man
who thus played the part of an ironic Providence.

“Let me go,” she said, waving aside once more the bright-coloured box
of chocolates which he had the diabolical effrontery to offer her
again. “Let me go. I want to be alone. I want to think.”

He opened the door for her, and she passed out. Once out of his
presence she rushed madly upstairs to her own room, flung herself on
the bed, and remained, for what seemed to her like centuries of horror,
without movement and without tears, staring up at the ceiling.

The luncheon bell sounded, but she did not heed it. From the open
window floated in the smell of the white cluster-roses, scented like
old wine, which encircled the terrace pillars. Blending with this
fragrance came the interminable voice of the wood-pigeons, and every
now and then a sharp wild cry, from the peacocks on the east lawn.
Two--three hours passed thus, and still she did not move. A certain
queer-shaped crack above the door occupied her superficial attention,
very much in the same way as the scar on Mr. Romer’s forehead. Any very
precise formulation of her thoughts during this long period would be
difficult to state.

Her mind had fallen into that confused and feverish bewilderment
that comes to us in hours between sleeping and waking. The clearest
image that shaped itself to her consciousness during these hours was
the image of herself as dead, and, by means of her death, of Maurice
Quincunx being freed from his hated office-work, and enabled to live
according to his pleasure. She saw him walking to and fro among
rows of evening primroses--his favourite flowers--and in place of a
cabbage-leaf--so fantastic were her dreams--she saw his heavy head
ornamented with a broad, new Panama-hat, purchased with the price of
her death.

Her mind gave no definite shape or form to this image of herself
dying. The thought of it followed so naturally from the idea of a
union with the Priory-tenant, that there seemed no need to separate
the two things. To marry Mr. John Goring was just a simple sentence of
death. The only thing to make sure of, was that before she actually
died, this precious document, liberating her friend forever, should
be signed and sealed. Oddly enough she never for a moment doubted Mr.
Romer’s intention of carrying out his part of the contract if she
carried out hers. As he had said, the world was designed and arranged
for bargains between men and women; and if her great bargain meant the
putting of life itself into the scale--well! she was ready.

Strangely enough, the final issue of her feverish self-communings was a
sense of deep and indescribable peace. It was more of a relief to her
than anyone not acquainted with the peculiar texture of a Pariah’s mind
could realize, to be spared that desperate appeal to Vennie Seldom. In
a dumb inarticulate way she felt that, without making such an appeal,
the spirit of the Nevilton nun was supporting and strengthening her.
Did Vennie know of her dilemma, she would be compelled to resort to
some drastic step to stop the sacrifice, just as one would be compelled
to hold out a hand of rescue to some determined suicide. But she felt
in the depths of her heart that if Vennie were in her position she
would make the same choice.

The long afternoon was still only half over, when--comforted and at
peace with herself, as a devoted patriot might be at peace, when the
throw of the dice has appointed him as his country’s liberator--she
rose from her recumbent position, and sitting on the edge of her bed
turned over the pages of her tiny edition of St. Thomas à Kempis.

It had been long since she had opened this volume. Indeed, isolated
from contact with any Catholic influence except that of the
philosophical Mr. Taxater, Lacrima had been recently drifting rather
far away from the church of her fathers. This complete upheaval of her
whole life threw her back upon her old faith.

Like so many other women of suppressed romantic emotions, when the
moment came for some heroic sacrifice for the sake of her friend, she
at once threw into the troubled waters the consecrated oil that had
anointed the half-forgotten piety of her childhood.

One curious and interesting psychological fact in connection with this
new trend of feeling in her, was the fact that the actual realistic
horror of being, in a literal and material sense, at the mercy of
Mr. John Goring never presented itself to her mind at all. Its very
dreadfulness, being a thing that amounted to sheer death, blurred and
softened its tangible and palpable image.

Yet it must not be supposed that she meditated definitely upon any
special line of action. She formulated no plan of self-destruction. For
some strange reason, it was much less the bodily terror of the idea
that rose up awful and threatening before her, than its spiritual and
moral counterpart.

Had Lacrima been compelled, like poor Sonia in the Russian novel, to
become a harlot for the sake of those she loved, it would have been the
mental rather than the physical outrage that would have weighed upon
her.

She was of that curious human type which separates the body from
the soul, in all these things. She had always approached life
rather through her mind than through her senses, and it was in the
imagination that she found both her catastrophes and recoveries. In
this particular case, the obsessing image of death had for the moment
quite obliterated the more purely realistic aspect of what she was
contemplating. Her feeling may perhaps be best described by saying that
whenever she imaged the farmer’s possession of her, it was always as
if what he possessed was no more than a dead inert corpse, about whose
fate none, least of all herself, could have any further care.

She had just counted the strokes of the church clock striking four,
when she heard Gladys’ steps in the adjoining room. She hurriedly
concealed the little purple-covered volume, and lay back once more
upon her pillows. She fervently prayed in her heart that Gladys might
be ignorant of what had occurred, but her knowledge of the relations
between father and daughter made this a very forlorn hope.

Such as it was, it was entirely dispelled as soon as the fair-haired
creature glided in and sat down at the foot of her bed.

Gladys looked at her cousin with intent and luxurious interest; her
expression being very much what one might suppose the countenance of a
young pagan priestess to have worn, as she gazed, dreamily and sweetly,
in a pause of the sacrificial procession, at some doomed heifer “lowing
at the skies, and all her silken flanks with garlands dressed.”

“So I hear that you are going to be married,” she began at once,
speaking in a slow, liquid voice, and toying indolently with her
friend’s shoe-strings.

“Please--please don’t talk about it,” murmured the Italian. “Nothing
is settled yet. I would so much rather not think of it now.”

“But, how silly!” cried the other, with a melodious little laugh. “Of
course we must talk about it. It is so extremely exciting! I shall
be seeing uncle John today and I must congratulate him. I am sure he
doesn’t half know how lucky he is.”

Lacrima jumped up from where she lay and stepping to the window looked
out over the sunlit park.

Gladys rose too, and standing behind her cousin, put her arms round her
waist.

“No, I am sure he doesn’t realize how sweet you are,” she whispered.
“You darling little thing,--you little, shy, frightened thing--you
must tell me all about it! I’ll try not to tease you--I really will!
What a clever, naughty little girl, it has been, peeping and glancing
at a poor elderly farmer and inflaming his simple heart! But all your
friends are rather well advanced in age, aren’t they, dear? I expect
uncle John is really no older than Mr. Quincunx or James Andersen. What
tricks do you use, darling, to attract all these people?

“I’ll tell you what it is! It’s the way you clasp your fingers, and
keep groping with your hands in the air in front of you, as if you
were blind. I’ve noticed that trick of yours for a long time. I expect
it attracts them awfully! I expect they all long to take those little
wrists and hold them tight! And the drooping, dragging way you walk,
too; that no doubt they find quite enthralling. It has often irritated
_me_, but I can quite see now why you do it. It must make them long to
support you in their strong arms! What a crafty little puss she is! And
I have sometimes taken her for no better than a little simpleton! I see
I shall not for long be the only person allowed to kiss our charming
Lacrima! So I must make the best of my opportunities, mustn’t I?”

Suiting her action to her words she turned the girl towards her with a
vigorous movement, and overcoming her reluctance, embraced her softly,
whispering, as she kissed her averted mouth,--

“Uncle John won’t do this half so prettily as I do, will he? But oh,
how you must have played your tricks upon him--cunning, cunning little
thing!”

Lacrima had by this time reached the end of her endurance. With a
sudden flash of genuine Italian anger she flung her cousin back, with
such unexpected violence, that the elder girl would actually have
fallen to the floor, if she had not encountered in her collapse the arm
of the wicker chair which stood behind her.

She rose silent and malignant.

“So that’s what we gentle, wily ones do, is it, when we lose our little
tempers! All right, my friend, all right! I shall remember.”

She walked haughtily to the door that divided their rooms.

“The sooner I am married,” she cried, as a final hit, “the sooner _you_
will be--and I shall be married soon--soon--soon; perhaps before this
summer is out!”

Lacrima stood for some moments rigid and unmoving. Then there came over
her an irresistible longing to escape from this house, and flee far
off, anywhere, anyhow, so long as she could be alone with her misery,
alone with her tragic resolution.

The invasion of Gladys had made this resolution a very different
thing from what it had seemed an hour ago. But she must recover
herself! She must see things again in the clearer, larger light of
sublime sacrifice. She must purge the baseness of her cousin’s sensual
magnetism out of her brain and her heart!

She hurriedly fastened on her hat, took her faded parasol, slipped the
tiny St. Thomas into her dress, and ran down the great oak staircase.
She hurried past the entrance without turning aside to greet the
impassive Mrs. Romer, seated as usual in her accustomed place, and
skirting the east lawns emerged from the little postern-gate into the
park. Crossing a half-cut hay-field and responding gravely and gently
to the friendly greetings of the hay-makers, she entered the Yeoborough
road just below the steep ascent, between high overshadowing hedges, of
Dead Man’s Lane.

Whether from her first exit from the house, she had intended to follow
this path, she could hardly herself have told. It was the instinct of
a woman at bay, seeking out, not the strong that could help her, but
the weak that she herself could help. It was also perhaps the true
Pariah impulse, which drives these victims of the powerful and the
well-constituted, to find rehabilitation in the society of one another.

As she ascended the shadowy lane with its crumbling banks of sandy soil
and its overhanging trees, she felt once again how persistently this
heavy luxuriant landscape dragged her earthwards and clogged the wings
of her spirit. The tall grasses growing thick by the way-side enlaced
themselves with the elder-bushes and dog-wood, which in their turn
blended indissolubly with the lower branches of the elms. The lane
itself was but a deep shadowy path dividing a flowing sea of foliage,
which seemed to pour, in a tidal wave of suffocating fertility, over
the whole valley.

The Italian struggled in vain against the depressing influence of all
these rank and umbrageous growths, spreading out leafy arms to catch
her and groping towards her with moist adhesive tendrils. The lane was
full of a warm steamy vapour, like that of a hot-house, to the heavy
odour of which, every sort of verdurous growing thing offered its
contribution.

There was a vague smell of funguses in the air, though none were
visible; and the idea of them may only have been due to the presence
of decaying wood or the moist drooping stalks of the dead flowers
of the earlier season. Now and again the girl caught, wafted upon a
sudden stir of wind, the indescribably sweet scent of honey-suckle--a
sweetness almost overpowering in its penetrating voluptuous approach.
Once, high up above her head, she saw a spray of this fragrant
parasite; not golden yellow, as it is where the sun shines full upon
it, but pallid and ivory-white. In a curious way it seemed as if this
Nevilton scenery offered her no escape from the insidious sensuality
she fled.

The indolent luxuriousness of Gladys seemed to breathe from every mossy
spore and to over-hang every unclosing frond. And if Gladys was in the
leaves and grass, the remoter terror of Mr. Goring was in the earth and
clay. Between the two they monopolized this whole corner of the planet,
and made everything between zenith and nadir their privileged pasture.

As she drew nearer to where Mr. Quincunx lived, her burdened mind
sought relief in focussing itself upon him. She would be sure to find
him in his garden. That she knew, because the day was Saturday. Should
she tell him what had happened to her?

Ah! that was indeed the crucial question! Was it necessary that she
should sacrifice herself for him without his even knowing what she did?

But he would have to know, sooner or later, of this marriage. Everyone
would be talking of it. It would be bound to come to his ears.

And what would he think of her if she said nothing? What would he think
of her, in any case, having accepted such a degradation?

Not to tell him at all, would throw a completely false light upon
the whole transaction. It would make her appear treacherous, fickle,
worldly-minded, shameless--wickedly false to her unwritten covenant
with himself.

To tell him, without giving him the true motive of her sacrifice, would
be, she felt sure, to bring down his bitterest reproaches on her head.

For a passing second she felt a wave of indignation against him surge
up in her heart. This, however, she passionately suppressed, with the
instinctive desire of a woman who is sacrificing herself to feel the
object of such sacrifice worthy of what is offered.

It was not long before she reached the gate of Mr. Quincunx’s garden.
Yes,--there he was--with his wheel-barrow and his hoe--bending over his
potatoes. She opened the gate and walked quite close up to him before
he observed her. He greeted her in his usual manner, with a smile of
half-cynical, half-affectionate welcome, and taking her by the hand as
he might have taken a child, he led her to the one shady spot in his
garden, where, under a weeping ash, he had constructed a rough bench.

“I didn’t expect you,” he said, when they were seated. “I never do
expect you. People like me who have only Saturday afternoons to enjoy
themselves in don’t expect visitors. They count the hours which are
left to them before the night comes.”

“But you have Sunday, my friend,” she said, laying her hand upon his.

“Sunday!” Mr. Quincunx muttered. “Do you call Sunday a day? I regard
Sunday as a sort of prison-exercise, when all the convicts go walking
up and down and showing off their best clothes. I can neither work nor
read nor think on Sunday. I have to put on my best clothes like the
rest, and stand at my gate, staring at the weather and wondering what
the hay-crop will be. The only interesting moments I have on Sunday are
when that silly-faced Wone, or one of the Andersens, drifts this way,
and we lean over my wall and abuse the gentry.”

“Poor dear!” said the girl pityingly. “I expect the real truth is that
you are so tired with your work all the week, that you are glad enough
to rest and do nothing.”

Mr. Quincunx’s nostrils dilated, and his drooping moustache quivered. A
smile of delicious and sardonic humour wavered over the lower portion
of his face, while his grey eyes lost their sadness and gleamed with a
goblin-like merriment.

“I am getting quite popular at the office,” he said. “I have learnt
the secret of it now.”

“And what is the secret?” asked Lacrima, suppressing a queer little
gasp in her throat.

“Sucking up,” Mr. Quincunx answered, his face flickering with
subterranean amusement, “sucking up to everyone in the place, from the
manager to the office boy.”

Lacrima returned to him a very wan little smile.

“I suppose you mean ingratiating yourself,” she said; “you English have
such funny expressions.”

“Yes, ingratiating myself, pandering to them, flattering them, agreeing
with them, anticipating their wishes, doing their work for them,
telling lies for them, abusing God to make them laugh, introducing them
to Guy de Maupassant, and even making a few light references, now and
again, to what Shakespeare calls ‘country-matters.’”

“I don’t believe a word you say,” protested Lacrima in rather a
quavering voice. “I believe you hate them all and that they are all
unkind to you. But I can quite imagine you have to do more work than
your own.”

Mr. Quincunx’s countenance lost its merriment instantaneously.

“I believe you are as annoyed as Mr. Romer,” he said, “that I should
get on in the office. But I am past being affected by that. I know what
human nature is! We are all really pleased when other people get on
badly, and are sorry when they do well.”

Lacrima felt as though the trees in the field opposite had suddenly
reversed themselves and were waving their roots in the air.

She gave a little shiver and pressed her hand to her side.

Mr. Quincunx continued.

“Of course you don’t like it when I tell you the truth. Nobody likes
to hear the truth. Human beings lap up lies as pigs lap up milk. And
women are worst of all in that! No woman really can love a person--not,
at any rate, for long--who tells her the truth! That is why women love
clergymen, because clergymen are brought up to lie. I saw you laughing
and amusing yourself the other evening with Mr. Clavering--you and your
friend Gladys. I went the other way, so as not to interrupt such a
merry conversation.”

Lacrima turned upon him at this.

“I cannot understand how you can say such things of me!” she cried. “It
is too much. I won’t--I won’t listen to it!”

Her over-strained nerves broke down at last, and covering her face with
her hands, she burst into a fit of convulsive sobs.

Mr. Quincunx rose and stood gazing at her, gloomily plucking at his
beard.

“And such are women!” he thought to himself. “One can never tell them
the least truth but they burst into tears.”

He waited thus in silence for one or two moments, and then an
expression of exquisite tenderness and sympathy came into his face. His
patient grey eyes looked at her bowed head with the look of a sorrowful
god. Gently he sat down beside her and laid his hand on her shoulder.

“Lacrima--dear--I am sorry--I oughtn’t to have said that. I didn’t mean
it. On my solemn oath I didn’t mean it! Lacrima, please don’t cry. I
can’t bear it when you cry. It was all absolute nonsense what I said
just now. It is the devil that gets into me and makes me say those
things! Lacrima--darling Lacrima--we won’t tease one another any more.”

Her sobs diminished under the obvious sincerity of his words. She
lifted up a tear-stained face and threw her arms passionately round his
neck.

“I’ve no one but you,” she cried, “no one, no one!”

For several minutes they embraced each other in silence--the girl’s
breast quivering with the after-sighs of her emotion and their tears
mingling together and falling on Mr. Quincunx’s beard. Had Gladys Romer
beheld them at that moment she would certainly have been strengthened
in her healthy-minded mocking contempt for sentimental “slobbering.”

When they had resumed a more normal mood their conversation continued
gently and quietly.

“Of course you are right,” said Mr. Quincunx. “I am not really happy
at the office. Who _could_ be happy in a place of that kind? But it
is my life--and one has to do what one can with one’s life! I have to
pretend to myself that they like me there, and that I am making myself
useful--otherwise I simply could not go on. I have to pretend. That’s
what it is! It is my pet illusion, my little fairy-story. It was that
that made me get angry with you--that and the devil. One doesn’t like
to have one’s fairy-stories broken into by the brutal truth.”

“Poor dear!” said Lacrima softly, stroking his hand with a gesture of
maternal tenderness.

“If there was any hope of this wretched business coming to an end,”
Maurice went on, “it would be different. Then I would curse all these
people to hell and have done with it. But what can I do? I am already
past middle age. I shouldn’t be able to get anything else if I gave it
up. And I don’t want to leave Nevilton while you are here.”

The girl looked intently at him. Then she folded her hands on her lap
and began gravely.

“I have something to tell you, Maurice dear. Something very important.
What would you say if I told you that it was in my power to set you
free from all this and make you happy and comfortable for the rest of
your life?”

An invisible watcher from some more clairvoyant planet than ours would
have been interested at that moment in reading the double weakness of
two poor Pariah hearts. Lacrima, brought back from the half-insane
attitudes of her heroic resolution by the intermission of natural human
emotion, found herself on the brink of half-hoping that her friend
would completely and indignantly refuse this shameful sacrifice.

“Surely,” her heart whispered, “some other path of escape must offer
itself for them both. Perhaps, after all, Vennie Seldom might discover
some way.”

Mr. Quincunx, on the other hand, was most thoroughly alarmed by her
opening words. He feared that she was going to propose some desperate
scheme by which, fleeing from Nevilton together, she was to help him
earn money enough for their mutual support.

“What should I say?” he answered aloud, to the girl’s question.
“It would depend upon the manner in which you worked this wonderful
miracle. But I warn you I am not hopeful. Things might be worse. After
all I have a house to return to. I have food. I have my books. I have
you to come and pay me visits. I have my garden. In this world, when
a person has a roof over his head, and someone to talk to every other
day, he had better remain still and not attract the attention of the
gods.”

Silence followed his words. Instead of speaking, Lacrima took off her
hat, and smoothed her hair away from her forehead, keeping her eyes
fixed upon the ground. An immense temptation seized her to let the
moment pass without revealing her secret. She could easily substitute
any imaginary suggestion in place of the terrible reality. Her friend’s
morbid nerves would help her deception. The matter would be glossed
over and be as if it had never been: be, in fact, no more than it was,
a hideous nightmare of her own insane and diseased conscience.

But could the thing be so suppressed? Would it be like Nevilton to let
even the possible image of such a drama pass unsnatched at by voluble
tongues, unenlarged upon by malicious gossip?

He would be bound to hear of Mr. Goring’s offer. That, at least, could
not be concealed. And what assurance had she that Mr. Romer would not
himself communicate to him the full nature of the hideous bargain? The
quarry-owner might think it diplomatic to trade upon Maurice’s weakness.

No--there was no help for it. She must tell him;--only praying now, in
the profound depths of her poor heart, that he would not consider such
an infamy even for a second. So she told him the whole story, in a low
monotonous voice, keeping her head lowered and watching the progress of
a minute snail laboriously ascending a stalk of grass.

Maurice Quincunx had never twiddled the point of his Elizabethan beard
with more detached absorption than while listening to this astounding
narration. When she had quite finished, he regarded her from head to
foot with a very curious expression.

The girl breathed hard. What was he thinking? He did not at once, in a
burst of righteous indignation, fling the monstrous suggestion to the
winds. What was he thinking? As a matter of fact the thoughts of Mr.
Quincunx had taken an extraordinary turn.

Being in his personal relation to feminine charm, of a somewhat cold
temper, he had never, for all his imaginative sentiment towards his
little friend, been at all swayed by any violent sensuous attraction.
But the idea of such attraction having seized so strongly upon another
person reacted upon him, and he looked at her, perhaps for the first
time since they had met, with eyes of something more than purely
sentimental regard.

This new element in his attitude towards her did not, however, issue
in any excess of physical jealousy. What it did lead to, unluckily
for Lacrima, was a certain queer diminution of his ideal respect for
her personality. In place of focussing his attention upon the sublime
sacrifice she contemplated for his sake, the events she narrated
concentrated his mind upon the mere brutal and accidental fact that
Mr. Goring had so desperately desired her. The mere fact of her having
been so desired by such a man, changed her in his eyes. His cynical
distrust of all women led him to conceive the monstrous and grotesque
idea that she must in her heart be gratified by having aroused this
passion in the farmer. It did not carry him quite so far as to make him
believe that she had consciously excited such emotion; but it led him
to the very brink of that outrageous fantasy. Had Lacrima come to him
with a shame-faced confession that she had let herself be seduced by
the Priory-tenant he could hardly have gazed at her with more changed
and troubled eyes. He felt the same curious mixture of sorrowful pity
and remote unlawful attraction to the object of his pity, that he
would have felt in a casual conversation with some luckless child of
the streets. By being the occasion of Mr. Goring’s passion, she became
for him no less than such an unfortunate; the purer sentiment he had
hitherto cherished changing into quite a different mood.

He lifted her up by the wrists and pressed her closely to him, kissing
her again and again. The girl’s heart went on anxiously beating. She
could hardly restrain her impatience for him to speak. Why did he not
speak?

Disentangling herself from his embrace with a quick feminine instinct
that something was wrong, she pulled him down upon the bench by her
side and taking his hand in hers looked with pitiful bewilderment into
his face.

“So when this thing happens,” she said, “all your troubles will be
over. You will be free forever from that horrid office.”

“And you,” said Mr. Quincunx--his mood changing again, and his
goblin-like smile twitching his nostrils,--“You will be the mistress
of the Priory. Well! I suppose you will not desert me altogether when
that happens!”

So that was the tone he adopted! He could afford to turn the thing into
a jest--into God knows what! She let his hand drop and stared into
empty space, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, understanding nothing.

This time Maurice realized that he had disappointed her; that his
cynicism had carried him too far. Unfortunately the same instinct that
told him he had made a fool of himself pushed him on to seek an issue
from the situation by wading still further into it.

“Come--come,” he said. “You and I must face this matter like people who
are really free spirits, and not slaves to any ridiculous superstition.
It is noble, it is sweet of you to think of marrying that brute so
as to set me free. Of course if I _was_ free, and you were up at the
Priory, we should see a great deal more of each other than we do now. I
could take one of those vacant cottages close to the church.

“Don’t think--Lacrima dear,” he went on, possessing himself of one of
her cold hands and trying to recall her attention, “don’t think that I
don’t realize what it is to you to have to submit to such a frightful
thing. Of course we know how outrageous it is that such a marriage
should be forced on you. But, after all, you and I are above these
absurd popular superstitions about all these things. Every girl sooner
or later hates the man she marries. It is human nature to hate the
people we have to live with; and when it comes down to actual reality,
all human beings are much the same. If you were forced to marry me, you
would probably hate me just as much as you’ll hate this poor devil.
After all, what is this business of being married to people and bearing
them children? It doesn’t touch your mind. It doesn’t affect your
soul. As old Marcus Aurelius says, our bodies are nothing! They are
wretched corpses, anyway, dragged hither and thither by our imprisoned
souls. It is these damned clergymen, with their lies about ‘sin’ and
so forth, that upset women’s minds. For you to be married to a man you
hate, would only be like my having to go to this Yeoborough office with
people I hate. You will always have, as that honest fellow Epictetus
says, your own soul to retire into, whatever happens. Heavens! it
strikes me as a bit of humorous revenge,”--here his nostrils twitched
again and the hobgoblin look reappeared--“this thought of you and
me living peacefully at our ease, so near one another, and at these
confounded rascals’ expense!”

Lacrima staggered to her feet. “Let me go,” she said. “I want to go
back--away--anywhere.”

Her look, her gesture, her broken words gave Mr. Quincunx a poignant
shock. In one sudden illuminating flash he saw himself as he was,
and his recent remarks in their true light. We all have sometimes
these psychic search-light flashes of introspection; but the more
healthy-minded and well-balanced among us know how to keep them in
their place and how to expel them promptly and effectively.

Mr. Quincunx was not healthy-minded. He had the morbid sensitive mind
of a neurotic Pariah. Hence, in place of suppressing this spiritual
illumination, he allowed it to irradiate the gloomiest caverns of his
being. He rose with a look of abject and miserable concern.

“Stop,” he cried huskily.

She looked at him wondering, the blood returning a little to her cheeks.

“It is the Devil!” he exclaimed. “I must have the Devil in me, to say
such things and to treat you like this. You are the bravest, sweetest
girl in the world, and I am a brutal idiot--worse than Mr. Romer!”

He struck himself several blows upon the forehead, knocking off his
hat. Lacrima could not help noticing that in place of the usual
protection, some small rhubarb-leaves ornamented the interior of this
appendage.

She smiled at him, through a rain of happy tears,--the first smile that
day had seen upon her face.

“We are both of us absurd people, I suppose,” she said, laying her
hands upon his shoulders. “We ought to have some friend with a clear
solid head to keep us straight.”

Mr. Quincunx kissed her on the forehead and stooped down for his hat.

“Yes,” he said. “We are a queer pair. I suppose we are really both a
little mad. I wish there was someone we could go to.”

“Couldn’t you--perhaps--” said Lacrima, “say something to Mrs. Seldom?
And yet I would much rather she didn’t know. I would much rather no one
knew!”

“I might,” murmured Maurice thoughtfully; “I might tell her. But the
unlucky thing is, she is so narrow-minded that she can’t separate you
in her thoughts from those frightful people.”

“Shall I try Vennie?” whispered the girl, “or shall we--” here she
looked him boldly in the face with eager, brightening eyes--“shall we
run away to London, and be married, and risk the future?”

Poor little Italian! She had never made a greater tactical blunder than
when she uttered these words. Maurice Quincunx’s mystic illumination
had made it possible for him to exorcise his evil spirit. It could
not put into his nature an energy he had not been born with. His
countenance clouded.

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he remarked. “You don’t know what
a sour-tempered devil I am, and how I am sure to make any girl who
lives with me miserable. You would hate me in a month more than you
hate Mr. Romer, and in a year I should have either worried you into
your grave or you would have run away from me. No--no--no! I should be
a criminal fool to let you subject yourself to such a risk as that.”

“But,” pleaded the girl, with flushed cheeks, “we should be sure to
find something! I could teach Italian,--and you could--oh, I am sure
there are endless things you could do! Please, please, Maurice dear,
let us go. Anything is better than this misery. I have got quite enough
money for the journey. Look!”

She pulled out from beneath her dress a little chain purse, that
hung, by a small silver chain, round her slender neck. She opened it
and shook three sovereigns into the palm of her hand. “Enough for
the journey,” she said, “and enough to keep us for a week if we are
economical. We should be sure to find something by that time.”

Mr. Quincunx shook his head. It was an ironical piece of psychic
malice that the very illumination which had made him remorseful
and sympathetic should have also reduced to the old level of tender
sentiment the momentary passion he had felt. It was the absence in him
of this sensual impulse which made the scheme she proposed seem so
impossible. Had he been of a more animal nature, or had she possessed
the power of arousing his senses to a more violent craving, instead
of brooding, as he did, upon the mere material difficulties of such a
plan, he would have plunged desperately into it and carried her off
without further argument. The very purity of his temperament was her
worst enemy.

Poor Lacrima! Her hands dropped once more helplessly to her side,
and the old hopeless depression began to invade her heart. It seemed
impossible to make her friend realize that if she refused the farmer
and things went on as before, her position in Mr. Romer’s establishment
would become more impossible than ever. What--for instance--would
become of her when this long-discussed marriage of Gladys with young
Ilminster took place? Could she conceive herself going on living
under that roof, with Mr. Romer continually harassing her, and his
brother-in-law haunting every field she wandered into?

“It was noble of you,” began her bearded friend again, resuming his
work at the weeds, while she, as on a former occasion, leant against
his wheel-barrow, “to think of enduring this wretched marriage for
my sake. But I cannot let you do it. I should not be happy in letting
you do it. I have some conscience--though you may not think so--and
it would worry me to feel you were putting up with that fool’s
companionship just to make me comfortable. It would spoil my enjoyment
of my freedom, to know that you were not equally free. Of course it
would be paradise to me to have the money you speak of. I should be
able to live exactly as I like, and these damned villagers would treat
me with proper respect then. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take
my pleasure at the expense of such a strain on you. It would spoil
everything!

“I don’t deny, however,” he went on, evidently deriving more and
more virtuous satisfaction from his somewhat indecisive rejection of
her sacrifice, “that it is a temptation to me. I hate that office so
profoundly! You were quite right there, Lacrima. All I said about
getting on with those people was damned bluff. I loathe them and they
loathe me. It is simply like a kind of death, my life in that place.
Yes, what you suggest is a temptation to me. I can’t help feeling
rather like that poor brother of the girl in ‘Measure for Measure’
when she comes to say that she could save his life by the loss of her
virtue, and he talks about his feelings on the subject of death. She
put him down fiercely enough, poor dog! She evidently thought her
virtue was much more important than his life. I am glad you are just
the opposite of that puritanical young woman. I shouldn’t like you very
much if you took her line!

“But just because you don’t do that, my dear,” Mr. Quincunx went on,
tugging at the obstinate roots of a great dock, “I couldn’t think
of letting you sacrifice yourself. If you _were_ like that woman in
the play, and made all that damned silly fuss about your confounded
virtue, I should be inclined to wish that Mr. Goring had got his hands
upon you. Women who think as much of themselves as that, _ought_ to
be given over to honest fellows like Mr. Goring. It’s the sort of
punishment they deserve for their superstitious selfishness. For it’s
all selfishness, of course. We know that well enough!”

He flung the defeated weed so vindictively upon his barrow that some
of the earth from its roots was sprinkled into Lacrima’s lap. He
came to help her brush it away, and took the opportunity to kiss her
again,--this time a shade more amorously.

“All this business of ‘love,’” he went on, returning to his potatoes,
“is nothing but the old eternal wickedness of man’s nature. The only
kind of love which is worth anything is the love that gets rid of sex
altogether, and becomes calm and quiet and distant--like the love of a
planetary spirit. Apart from this love, which is not like human love at
all, everything in us is selfish. Even a mother’s care for its child is
selfish.”

“I shall never have a child,” said Lacrima in a low voice.

“I wonder what your friend James Andersen would say to all this,”
continued Mr. Quincunx. “Why, by the way, don’t you get _him_ to marry
you? He would do it, no doubt, like a shot, if you gave him a little
encouragement; and then make you work all day in his kitchen, as his
father made his mother, so they say.”

Lacrima made a hopeless gesture, and looked at the watch upon her
wrist. She began to feel dizzy and sick for want of food. She had had
nothing since breakfast, and the shadows were beginning to grow long.

“I know what Luke Andersen would say if we asked him,” added Mr.
Quincunx. “He would advise you to marry this damned farmer, wheedle his
money out of him, and then sheer off with some fine youth and never see
Nevilton again! Luke Andersen’s the fellow for giving a person advice
in these little matters. He has a head upon his shoulders, that boy!
I tell you what it is, my dear, your precious Miss Gladys had better
be careful! She’ll be getting herself into trouble with that honest
youth if she doesn’t look out. I know him. He cares for no mortal soul
in the world, or above the world. He’s a master in the art of life! We
are all infants compared with him. If you do need anyone to help you,
or to help me either, I tell you Luke Andersen’s the one to go to. He
has more influence in this village than any living person except Romer
himself, and I should be sorry for Romer if his selfishness clashed
with the selfishness of that young Machiavel!”

“Do you mind,” said Lacrima suddenly, “if I go into your kitchen and
make myself a cup of tea? I feel rather exhausted. I expect it is the
heat.”

Mr. Quincunx looked intently at her, leaning upon his hoe. He had only
once before--on an exceptionally cold winter’s day--allowed the girl to
enter the cottage.

He had a vague feeling that if he did so he would in some way commit
himself, and be betrayed into a false position. He almost felt as
though, if she were once comfortably established there, he would never
be able to get her out again! He was nervous, too, about her seeing
all his little household peculiarities. If she saw, for instance, how
cheaply, how very cheaply, he managed to live, eating no meat and
economizing in sugar and butter, she might be encouraged still further
in her attempts to persuade him to run away.

He was also strangely reluctant that she should get upon the track of
his queer little lonely epicurean pleasures, such as his carefully
guarded bottle of Scotch whiskey; his favourite shelf of mystical and
Rabelaisian books; his jar of tobacco, with a piece of bread under its
lid, to keep the contents moist and cool; his elaborate arrangements
for holding draughts out; his polished pewter; his dainty writing-desk
with its piled-up, vellum-bound journals, all labelled and laid in
order; his queer-coloured oriental slippers; his array of scrupulously
scrubbed pots and pans. Mr. Quincunx was extremely unwilling that his
lady-love should poke her pretty fingers into all these mysteries.

What he liked, was to live in two distinct worlds: his world of
sentiment with Lacrima as its solitary centre, and his world of
sacramental epicurism with his kitchen-fire as its solitary centre.
He was extremely unwilling that the several circumferences of these
centres should intersect one another. Both were equally necessary
to him. When days passed without a visit from his friend he became
miserably depressed. But he saw no reason for any inartistic attempt
to unite these two spheres of interest. A psychologist who defined Mr.
Quincunx’s temper as the temper of a hermit would have been far astray.
He was profoundly dependent on human sympathy. But he liked human
sympathy that kept its place. He did not like human _society_. Perhaps
of all well-known psychological types, the type of the philosopher
Rousseau was the one to which he most nearly approximated. And yet,
had he possessed children, Mr. Quincunx would certainly never have
been persuaded to leave them at the foundling hospital. He would have
lived apart from them, but he would never have parted with them. He was
really a domestic sentimentalist, who loved the exquisite sensation of
being alone with his own thoughts.

With all this in mind, one need feel no particular surprise that the
response he gave to Lacrima’s sudden request was a somewhat reluctant
one. However, he did respond; and opening the cottage-doors for her,
ushered her into the kitchen and put the kettle on the fire.

It puzzled him a little that she should feel no embarrassment at being
alone with him in this secluded place! In the depths of his heart--like
many philosophers--Mr. Quincunx, in spite of his anarchistic theories,
possessed no slight vein of conventional timidity. He did not realize
this in the least. Women, according to his cynical code, were the
sole props of conventionality. Without women, there would be no such
thing in the world. But now, brought face to face with the reckless
detachment of a woman fighting for her living soul, he felt confused,
uncomfortable, and disconcerted.

Lacrima waited in patient passivity, too exhausted to make any further
mental or moral effort, while her friend made the tea and cut the
bread-and-butter.

As soon as she had partaken of these things, her exhaustion gave place
to a delicious sense--the first she had known for many weeks--of
peaceful and happy security. She put far away, into the remote
background of her mind, all melancholy and tragic thoughts, and
gave herself up to the peacefulness of the moment. The hands of Mr.
Quincunx’s clock pointed to half-past six. She had therefore a clear
thirty minutes left, before she need set out on her return walk, in
order to have time to dress for dinner.

“I wonder if your Miss Gladys,” remarked Lacrima’s host, lighting
a cigarette as he sipped his tea, “will marry the Honourable Mr.
Ilminster after all, or whistle him down the wind, and make up to
our American friend? I notice that Dangelis is already considerably
absorbed in her.”

“Please, dear, don’t let us talk any more about these people,” begged
Lacrima softly. “Let me be happy for a little while.”

Mr. Quincunx stroked his beard. “You are a queer little girl,” he said.
“But what I should do if the gods took you away from me I have not the
least idea. I should not care then whether I worked in an office or in
a factory. I should not care what I did.”

The girl jumped up impulsively from her seat and went over to him. Mr.
Quincunx took her upon his knees as he might have taken a child and
fondled her gravely and gently. The smoke of his cigarette ascended in
a thin blue column above their two heads.

At that moment there was a mocking laugh at the window. Lacrima slid
out of his arms and they both rose to their feet and turned indignantly.

The laughing face of Gladys Romer peered in upon them, her eyes
shining with delighted malevolence. “I saw you,” she cried. “But
you needn’t look so cross! I like to see these things. I have been
watching you for quite a long time! It has been such fun! I only hoped
I could keep quiet for longer still, till one of you began to cry, or
something. But you looked so funny that I couldn’t help laughing. And
that spoilt it all. Mr. Dangelis is at the gate. Shall I call him up?
He came with me across the park. He tried to stop me from pouncing on
you, but I wouldn’t listen to him. He said it was a ‘low-down stunt.’
You know the way he talks, Lacrima!”

The two friends stood staring at the intruder in petrified horror. Then
without a word they quickly issued from the cottage and crossed the
garden. Neither of them spoke to Gladys; and Mr. Quincunx immediately
returned to his house as soon as he saw the American advance to greet
Lacrima with his usual friendly nonchalance.

The three went off down the lane together; and the poor philosopher,
staring disconsolately at the empty tea-cups of his profaned sanctuary,
cursed himself, his friend, his fate, and the Powers that had appointed
that fate from the beginning of the world.



CHAPTER XIV

UNDER-CURRENTS


June was drawing to an end, and the days, though still free from rain,
grew less and less bright. A thin veil of greyish vapour, which never
became thick enough or sank low enough to resolve itself into definite
clouds, offered a perpetual hindrance to the shining of the sun. The
sun was present. Its influence was felt in the warmth of the air; but
when it became visible, it was only in the form of a large misty disc,
at which the weakest eyes might gaze without distress or discomfort.

On a certain evening when this vaporous obscurity made it impossible to
ascertain the exact moment of the sun’s descent and when it might be
said that afternoon became twilight before men or cattle realized that
the day was over, Mr. Wone was assisting his son Philip in planting
geraniums in his back garden.

The Wone house was neither a cottage nor a villa. It was one of those
nondescript and modest residences, which, erected in the mid-epoch
of Victoria’s reign, when money was circulating freely among the
middle-classes, win a kind of gentle secondary mellowness in the
twentieth century by reason of something solid and liberal in their
original construction. It stood at the corner of the upper end of
Nevilton, where, beyond the fountain-square, the road from Yeoborough
takes a certain angular turn to the north. The garden at the back of
it, as with many of the cottages of the place, was larger than might
have been expected, and over the low hedge which separated it from the
meadows behind, the long ridge of wooded upland, with its emphatic
lines of tall Scotch firs that made the southern boundary of the
valley, was pleasantly and reassuringly visible.

Philip Wone worked in Yeoborough. He was a kind of junior partner in
a small local firm of tombstone makers--the very firm, in fact, which
under the direction of the famous Gideon, had constructed the most
remarkable monument in Nevilton churchyard. It was doubtful whether he
would ever attain the position of full partner in this concern, for his
manner of life was eccentric, and neither his ways nor his appearance
were those of a youth who succeeds in business. He was a tall pallid
creature. His dark coarse hair fell in a heavy wave over his white
forehead, and his hands were thin and delicate as the hands of an
invalid.

He was an omnivorous reader and made incessant use of every
subscription library that Yeoborough offered. His reading was of
two kinds. He read romantic novels of every sort--good, bad, and
indifferent--and he read the history of revolutions. There can hardly
have been, in any portion of the earth’s surface, a revolution with
whose characters and incidents Philip was unacquainted. His chief
passion was for the great French Revolution, the personalities of which
were more real to him than the majority of his own friends.

Philip was by temperament and conviction an ardent anarchist; not an
anarchist of Mr. Quincunx’s mild and speculative type, but of a much
more formidable brand. He had also long ago consigned the idea of any
Providential interference with the sequence of events upon earth, into
the limbo of outworn superstitions.

It was Philip’s notion, this, of planting geraniums in the back-garden.
Dressed nearly always in black, and wearing a crimson tie, it was his
one luxurious sensuality to place in his button-hole, as long as they
were possibly available, some specimen or other of the geranium tribe,
with a preference for the most flaming varieties.

The Christian Candidate regarded his son with a mixture of contempt
and apprehension. He despised his lack of business ability, and he
viewed his intellectual opinions as the wilful caprices of a sulky and
disagreeable temper.

It was as a sort of pitying concession to the whim of a lunatic that
Mr. Wone was now assisting Philip in planting these absurd geraniums.
His own idea was that flower-gardens ought to be abolished altogether.
He associated them with gentility and toryism and private property in
land. Under the régime he would have liked to have established, all
decent householders would have had liberal small holdings, where they
would grow nothing but vegetables. Mr. Wone liked vegetables and ate of
them very freely in their season. Flowers he regarded as the invention
of the upper classes, so that their privately owned world might be
decorated with exclusive festoons.

“I shall go round presently,” he said to his son, “and visit all these
people. I see no reason why Taxater and Clavering, as well as the two
Andersens, should not make themselves of considerable use to me. I am
tired of talking to these Leo’s Hill labourers. One day they _will_
strike, and the next they _won’t_. All they think of is their own
quarrel with Lickwit. They have no thought of the general interest of
the country.”

“No thought of your interests, you mean,” put in the son.

“With these others it is different,” went on Mr. Wone, oblivious of
the interruption. “It would be a real help to me if the more educated
people of the place came out definitely on my side. They ought to do
it. They know what this Romer is. They are thinking men. They must see
that what the country wants is a real representative of the people.”

“What the country wants is a little more honesty and a little less
hypocrisy,” remarked the son.

“It is abominable, this suppression of our Social Meeting. You have
heard about that, I suppose?” pursued the candidate.

“Putting an end to your appeals to Providence, eh?” said Philip,
pressing the earth down round the roots of a brilliant flower.

“I forbid you to talk like that,” cried his father. “I might at least
expect that _you_ would do something for me. You have done nothing,
since my campaign opened, but make these silly remarks.”

“Why don’t you pray about it?” jeered the irrepressible young man.
“Mr Romer has not suppressed prayer, has he, as well as Political
Prayer-Meetings?”

“They were not political!” protested the aggrieved parent. “They were
profoundly religious. What you young people do not seem to realize
nowadays is that the soul of this country is still God-fearing and
religious-minded. I should myself have no hope at all for the success
of this election, if I were not sure that God was intending to make His
hand felt.”

“Why don’t you canvass God, then?” muttered the profane boy.

“I cannot allow you to talk to me in this way, Philip!” cried Mr. Wone,
flinging down his trowel. “You know perfectly well that you believe as
firmly as I do, in your heart. It is only that you think it impressive
and original to make these silly jokes.”

“Thank you, father,” replied Philip. “You certainly remove my doubts
with an invincible argument! But I assure you I am quite serious.
Nobody with any brain believes in God in these days. God died about the
same time as Mr. Gladstone.”

The Christian Candidate lost his temper. “I must beg you,” he said, “to
keep your infidel nonsense to yourself. Your mother and I are sick of
it! You had better stay in Yeoborough, and not come home at all, if you
can’t behave like an ordinary person and keep a civil tongue.”

Philip made no answer to this ultimatum, but smiled sardonically and
went on planting geraniums.

But his father was loath to let the matter drop.

“What would the state of the country be like, I wonder,” he continued,
“if people lost their faith in the love of a merciful Father? It is
only because we feel, in spite of all appearances, the love of God
must triumph in the end, that we can go on with our great movement.
The love of God, young man, whatever you foolish infidels may say, is
at the bottom of all attempts to raise the people to better things.
Do you think I would labour as I do in this excellent cause if I did
not feel that I had the loving power of a great Heavenly Father behind
me? Why do I trouble myself with politics? Because His love constrains
me. Why have I brought you up so carefully--though to little profit it
seems!--and have been so considerate to your mother--who, as you know,
isn’t always very cheerful? Because His love constrains me. Without the
knowledge that His love is at the bottom of everything that happens, do
you think I could endure to live at all?”

Philip Wone lifted up his head from the flower-border.

“Let me just tell you this, father, it is not the love of God, or
of anyone else, that’s at the bottom of our grotesque world. There
is nothing at the bottom! The world goes back--without limit or
boundary--upwards and downwards, and everywhere. It has no bottom, and
no top either! It is all quite mad and we are all quite mad. Love? Who
knows anything of love, except lovers and madmen? If these Romers and
Lickwits are to be crushed, they must be crushed by force. By force,
I tell you! This love of an imaginary Heavenly Father has never done
anything for the revolution and never will!”

Mr. Wone, catching at a verbal triumph, regained his placable
equanimity.

“Because, dear boy,” he remarked, “it is not revolution that we want,
but reconstruction. Force may destroy. It is only love that can
rebuild.”

No words can describe the self-satisfied unction with which the
Christian Candidate pronounced this oracular saying.

“Well, boy,” he added, “I must be off. I want to see Taxater and
Clavering and both the Andersens tonight. I might see Quincunx too. Not
that I think _he_ can do very much.”

“There’s only one way you’ll get James Andersen to help you,” remarked
Philip, “and I doubt whether you’ll bring yourself to use that.”

“I suppose you mean,” returned his father, “that Traffio girl, up
at the House. I have heard that they have been seen together. But I
thought she was going to marry John Goring.”

“No, I don’t mean her,” said the son. “She’s all right. She’s a fine
girl, and I am sorry for her, whether she marries Goring or not. The
person I mean is little Ninsy Lintot, up at Wild Pine. She’s the only
one in this place who can get a civil word out of Jim Andersen.”

“Ninsy?” echoed his father, “but I thought Ninsy was dead and buried.
There was some one died up at Wild Pine last spring, and I made sure
’twas her.”

“That was her sister Glory,” affirmed Philip. “But Ninsy is delicate,
too. A bad heart, they say--too bad for any thoughts of marrying. But
she and Jim Andersen have been what you might call sweethearts ever
since she was in short frocks.”

“I have never heard of this,” said Mr. Wone.

“Nor have many other people here,” returned Philip, “but ’tis true,
none the less. And anyone who wants to get at friend James must go to
him through Ninsy Lintot.”

“I am extremely surprised at what you tell me,” said Mr. Wone. “Do you
really mean that if I got this sick child to promise me Andersen’s
help, he really would give it?”

“Certainly I do,” replied Philip. “And what is more, he would bring his
brother with him.”

“But his brother is thick with Miss Romer. All the village is talking
about them.”

“Never mind the village--father! You think too much of the village and
its talk. I tell you--Miss Romer or no Miss Romer--if you get James to
help you, you get Luke. I know something of the ways of those two.”

A look of foxy cunning crossed the countenance of the Christian
Candidate.

“Do _you_ happen to have any influence with this poor Ninsy?” he asked
abruptly, peering into his son’s face.

Philip’s pale cheeks betrayed no embarrassment.

“I know her,” he said. “I like her. I lend her books. She will die
before Christmas.”

“I wish you would go up and see her for me then,” said Mr. Wone
eagerly. “It would be an excellent thing if we _could_ secure the
Andersens. They must have a lot of influence with the men they work
with.”

Philip glanced across the rich sloping meadows which led up to the base
of the wooded ridge. From where they stood he could see the gloomy
clump of firs and beeches which surrounded the little group of cottages
known as Wild Pine.

“Very well,” he said. “I don’t mind. But no more of this nonsense about
my not coming home! I prefer for the present”--and he gave vent to
rather an ominous laugh--“to live with my dear parents. But, mind--I
can’t promise anything. These Andersens are queer fellows. One never
knows how things will strike them. However, we shall see. If anyone
could persuade our friend James, it would be Ninsy.”

The affair being thus settled, the geraniums were abandoned; and while
the father proceeded down the village towards the Gables, the son
mounted the slope of the hill in the direction of Wild Pine.

The path Philip followed soon became a narrow lane running between two
high sandy banks, overtopped by enormous beeches. At all hours, and on
every kind of day, this miniature gorge between the wooded fields was a
dark and forlorn spot. On an evening of a day like the present one, it
was nothing less than sinister. The sky being doubly dark above, dark
with the coming on of night, and dark with the persistent cloud-veil,
the accumulated shadows of this sombre road intensified the gloom to a
pitch of darkness capable of exciting, in agitated nerves, an emotion
bordering upon terror. Though the sun had barely sunk over Leo’s Hill,
between these ivy-hung banks it was as obscure as if night had already
fallen.

But the obscurity of Root-Thatch Lane was nothing to the sombreness
that awaited him when, arrived at the hill-top, he entered Nevil’s
Gully. This was a hollow basin of close-growing beech-trees,
surrounded on both sides by impenetrable thickets of bramble and
elder, and crossed by the path that led to Wild Pine cottages. Every
geographical district has its typical and representative centre,--some
characteristic spot which sums up, as it were, and focuses, in
limited bounds, qualities and attributes that are diffused in diverse
proportions through the larger area. Such a centre of the Nevilton
district was the place through which Philip Wone now hurried.

Nevil’s Gully, however dry the weather, was never free from an
overpowering sense of dampness. The soil under foot was now no longer
sand but clay, and clay of a particularly adhesive kind. The beech
roots, according to their habit, had created an empty space about
them--a sort of blackened floor, spotted with green moss and pallid
fungi. Out of this, their cold, smooth trunks emerged, like silent
pillars in the crypt of a mausoleum.

The most characteristic thing, as we have noted, in the scenery of
Nevilton, is its prevalent weight of heavy oppressive moisture.
For some climatic or geographical reason the foliage of the place
seems chillier, damper, and more filled with oozy sap, than in other
localities of the West of England. Though there may have been no rain
for weeks--as there had been none this particular June--the woods in
this district always give one the impression of retaining an inordinate
reserve of atmospheric moisture. It is this moisture, this ubiquitous
dampness, that to a certain type of sun-loving nature makes the region
so antipathetic, so disintegrating. Such persons have constantly the
feeling of being dragged earthward by some steady centripedal pull,
against which they struggle in vain. Earthward they are pulled, and the
earth, that seems waiting to receive them, breathes heavy damp breaths
of in-drawing voracity, like the mouth of some monster of the slime.

And if this is true of the general conditions of Nevilton geography,
it is especially and accumulatively true of Nevil’s Gully, which, for
some reason or other, is a very epitome of such sinister gravitation.
If one’s latent mortality feels the drag of its clayish affinity in
all quarters of this district, in Nevil’s Gully it becomes conscious
of such oppression as a definite demonic presence. For above the Gully
and above the cottages to which the Gully leads, the umbrageous mass of
entangled leafiness hangs, fold upon fold, as if it had not known the
woodman’s axe since the foot of man first penetrated these recesses.
The beeches, to which reference has been made, are overtopped on the
higher ground by ashes and sycamores, and these, in their turn, are
surmounted, on the highest level of all, by colossal Scotch firs, whose
forlorn grandeur gives the cottages their name.

Philip hurried, in the growing darkness, across the sepulchral gully,
and pushed open the gate of the secluded cattle-yard which was the
original cause of this human hamlet. The houses of men in rural
districts follow the habitations of beasts. Where cattle and the stacks
that supply their food can conveniently be located, there must the
dwelling be of those whose business it is to tend them. The convenience
of Wild Pine as a site for a spacious and protected farm-yard was
sufficient reason for the erection of a human shelter for the hands by
whose labour such places are maintained.

He crossed the yard with quick steps. A light burned in one of the
sheds, throwing a fitful flicker upon the heaps of straw and the pools
of dung-coloured water. Some animal, there--a horse or a cow or a
pig--was probably giving birth to young.

From the farm-yard he emerged into the cottage-garden, and stumbling
across this, he knocked at the first door he reached. There was not the
least sound in answer. Dead unbroken stillness reigned, except for an
intermittent shuffling and stamping from the watcher or the watched in
the farm-yard behind.

He knocked again, and even the sounds in the yard ceased. Only, high up
among the trees above him, some large nocturnal bird fluttered heavily
from bough to bough.

For the third time he knocked and then the door of the next house
opened suddenly, emitting a long stream of light into which several
startled moths instantly flew. Following the light came a woman’s
figure.

“If thee wants Lintot,” said the voice of this figure, “thee can’t see
’im till along of most an hour. He be tending a terrible sick beast.”

“I want to see Ninsy,” shouted Philip, knocking again on the closed
door.

“Then thee must walk in and have done with it,” returned the woman.
“The maid be laid up with heart-spasms again and can open no doors this
night, not if the Lord his own self were hammering.”

Philip boldly followed her advice and entered the cottage, closing the
door behind him. A faint voice from a room at the back asked him what
he wanted and who he was.

“It is Philip,” he answered, “may I come in and see you, Ninsy? It is
Philip--Philip Wone.”

He gathered from the girl’s low-voiced murmur that he was welcome, and
crossing the kitchen he opened the door of the further room.

He found Ninsy dressed and smiling, but lying in complete prostration
upon a low horse-hair sofa. He closed the door, and moving a chair to
her side, sat down in silence, gazing upon her wistfully with his great
melancholy eyes.

“Don’t look so peaked and pining, Philip-boy,” she said, laying her
white hand upon his and smiling into his face. “’Tis only the old
trouble. ’Tis nothing more than what I expect. I shall be about again
tomorrow or the day after. But I be real glad to see ’ee here! Father’s
biding down in the yard, and ’tis a lonesome place to be laid-up in,
this poor old house.”

Ninsy looked exquisitely fragile and slender, lying back in this tender
helplessness, her chestnut-coloured hair all loose over her pillow.
Philip was filled with a flood of romantic emotion. The girl had always
attracted him but never so much as now. It was one of his ingrained
peculiarities to find hurt and unhappy people more engaging than
healthy and contented ones. He almost wished Ninsy would stop smiling
and chattering so pleasantly. It only needed that she should shed
tears, to turn the young man’s commiseration into passion.

But Ninsy did not shed tears. She continued chatting to him in the most
cheerful vein. It was only by the faintest shadow that crossed her face
at intervals, that one could have known that anything serious was the
matter with her. She spoke of the books he had lent her. She spoke of
the probable break-up of the weather. She talked of Lacrima Traffio.

“I think,” she said, speaking with extreme earnestness, “the young
foreign lady is lovely to look at. I hope she’ll be happy in this
marriage. They do say, poor dear, she is being driven to it. But with
the gentry you never know. They aren’t like us. Father says they have
all their marriages thought out for them, same as royalty. I wonder
who Miss Gladys will marry after all! Father has met her several times
lately, walking with that American gentleman.”

“Has Jim Andersen been up to see you, Ninsy,” put in Mr. Wone’s
emissary, “since this last attack of yours?”

The fact that this question left his lips simultaneously with a rising
current of emotion in his heart towards her is a proof of the fantastic
complication of feeling in the young anarchist.

He fretted and chafed under the stream of her gentle impersonal talk.
He longed to rouse in her some definite agitation, even though it meant
the introduction of his rival’s image. The fact that such agitation
was likely to be a shock to her did not weigh with him. Objective
consideration for people’s bodily health was not one of Philip’s
weaknesses. His experiment met with complete success. At the mention of
James Andersen’s name a scarlet flush came into the girl’s cheeks.

“No--yes--no!” she answered stammering. “That is--I mean--not since I
have been ill. But before--several times--lately. Why do you look at me
like that, Philip? You’re not angry with me, are you?”

Philip’s mind was a confused arena of contradictory emotions. Among
the rest, two stood out and asserted themselves--this unpardonable and
remorseless desire to trouble her, to embarrass her, to make her blush
yet more deeply--and a strange wild longing to be himself as ill as she
was, and of the same disease, so that they might die together!

“My father wanted me to ask you,” he blurted out, “whether you would
use your influence over Jim to get him to help in this election
business. I told my father Jim would do anything you asked him.”

The girl’s poor cheeks burned more deeply than ever at this.

“I wish you hadn’t told him that, Philip,” she said. “I wish you
hadn’t! You know very well I have no more influence over James than
anyone else has. It was unkind of you to tell him that! Now I am afraid
he’ll be disappointed. For I shall never dare to worry Jim about a
thing like that. _You_ don’t take any interest in this election,
Philip, do you?”

From the tone of this last remark the young anarchist gathered the
intimation that Andersen had been talking about the affair to his
little friend and had been expressing opinions derogatory to Mr. Wone’s
campaign. She would hardly have spoken of so lively a local event in
such a tone of weary disparagement, if some masculine philosopher had
not been “putting ideas into her head.”

“You ought to make him join in,” continued Philip. “He has such
influence down at the works. It would be a great help to father. We
labouring people ought to stand by one another, you know.”

“But I thought--I thought--,” stammered poor Ninsy, pushing back her
hair from her forehead, “that you had quite different opinions from Mr.
Wone.”

“Damn my opinions!” cried the excited youth. “What do my opinions
matter? We are talking of Jim Andersen. Why doesn’t he join in with the
other men and help father in getting up the strike?”

“He--he doesn’t believe in strikes,” murmured the girl feebly.

“Why doesn’t he!” cried the youth. “Does he think himself different,
then, from the rest of us, because old Gideon married the daughter of
a vicar? He ought to be told that he is a traitor to his class. Yes--a
traitor--a turn-coat--a black-leg! That’s what he is--if he won’t come
in. A black-leg!”

They were interrupted by a sharp knock at the outer door. The girl
raised herself on her elbow and became distressingly agitated.

“Oh, I believe that _is_ Jim,” she cried. “What shall I do? He won’t
like to find you here alone with me like this. What a dreadful
accident!”

Philip without a moment’s delay went to the door and opened it. Yes,
the visitor was James Andersen. The two men looked at one another in
silence. James was the first to speak.

“So _you_ are looking after our invalid?” he said. “I only heard this
afternoon that she was bad again.”

He did not wait for the other’s response, but pushing past him went
straight into Ninsy’s room.

“Poor child!” he said, “Poor dear little girl! Why didn’t you send a
message to me? I saw your father in the yard and he told me to come on
in. How are you? Why aren’t you in bed? I’m sure you ought to be in
bed, and not talking to such an exciting person as our friend Philip.”

“She won’t be talking to me much longer,” threw in that youth,
following his rival to the side of the girl’s sofa. “I only came to ask
her to do something for us in this election. She will tell you what I
mean. Ask her to tell you. Don’t forget! Good-bye Ninsy,” and he held
out his hand with a searching look into the girl’s face, a look at once
wistfully entreating and fiercely reproachful.

She took his hand. “Good night, Philip,” she said. “Think kindly of me,
and think--” this was said in a voice so low that only the young man
could hear--“think kindly of Jim. Good night!”

He nodded to Andersen and went off, a sombre dangerous expression
clouding the glance he threw upon the clock in the corner.

“You pay late visits, James Andersen,” he called back, as he let
himself out of the cottage-door.

Left alone with Ninsy, the stone-carver possessed himself of the seat
vacated by the angry youth. The girl remained quiet and motionless, her
hands crossed on her lap and her eyes closed.

“Poor child!” he murmured, in a voice of tender and affectionate pity.
“I cannot bear to see you like this. It almost gives me a sense of
shame--my being so strong and well--and you so delicate. But you will
be better soon, won’t you? And we will go for some of our old walks
together.”

Ninsy’s mouth twitched a little, and big tears forced their way through
her tightly shut eyelids.

“When your father comes in,” he went on, “you must let me help him
carry you upstairs. And I am sure you had better have the doctor
tomorrow if you are not better. Won’t you let me go to Yeoborough for
him tonight?”

Ninsy suddenly struck the side of her sofa with her clenched hand. “I
don’t want the doctor!” she burst out, “and I don’t want to get better.
I want to end it all--that’s what I want! I want to end it all.”

Andersen made a movement as if to caress her, but she turned her head
away.

“I am sick and tired of it all,” she moaned. “I wish I were dead. Oh, I
wish I were dead!”

The stone-carver knelt down by her side. “Ninsy,” he murmured, “Ninsy,
my child, my friend, what is it? Tell me what it is.”

But the girl only went on, in a low soft wail, “I knew it would come to
this. I knew it. I knew it. Oh, why was I ever born! Why wasn’t it me,
and not Glory, who died! I _shall_ die. I _want_ to die!”

Andersen rose to his feet. “Ninsy!” he said in a stern altered voice.
“Stop this at once--or I shall go straight away and call your father!”

He assumed an air and tone as if quieting a petulant infant. It had its
effect upon her. She swallowed down her rising fit of sobs and looked
up at him with great frightened tearful eyes.

“Now, child,” he said, once more seating himself, and this time
successfully taking possession of a submissive little hand, “tell me
what all this is about. Tell me everything.” He bent down and imprinted
a kiss upon her cold wet cheek.

“It is--” she stammered, “it is that I think you are fond of that
Italian girl.” She hid her face in a fold of her rich auburn hair and
went on. “They do tell me you walk with her when your brother goes with
Miss Gladys. Don’t be angry with me, Jim. I know I have no right to say
these things. I know I have no claim, no power over you. But we did
keep company once, Jim, didn’t us? And it do stab my heart,--to hear
them tell of you and she!”

James Andersen looked frowningly at the window.

The curtains were not drawn; and a dark ash-branch stretched itself
across the casement like an extended threatening arm. Its form was
made visible by a gap in the surrounding trees, through which a little
cluster of stars faintly twinkled. The cloud veil had melted.

“What a world this is!” the stone-carver thought to himself. His tone
when he spoke was irritable and aggrieved.

“How silly you are, Ninsy--with your fancies! A man can’t be civil to a
poor lonesome foreign wench, without your girding at him as if he had
done something wrong! Of course I speak to Miss Traffio and walk with
her too. What else do you expect when the poor thing is left lonesome
on my hands, with Luke and Miss Gladys amusing themselves? But you
needn’t worry,” he added, with a certain unrestrained bitterness. “It’s
only when Luke and his young lady are together that she and I ever
meet, and I don’t think they’ll often be together now.”

Ninsy looked at him with questioning eyes.

“He and she have quarrelled,” he said curtly.

“Over the American?” asked the girl.

“Over the American.”

“And you won’t be walking with that foreigner any more?”

“I shan’t be walking with her any more.”

Ninsy sank back on her pillow with a sigh of ineffable relief. Had she
been a Catholic she would have crossed herself devoutly. As it was she
turned her head smilingly towards him and extended her arms. “Kiss me,”
she pleaded. He bent down, and she embraced him with passionate warmth.

“Then we belong to each other again, just the same as before,” she said.

“Just the same as before.”

“Oh, I wish that cruel doctor hadn’t told me I mustn’t marry. He told
father it would kill me, and the other one who came said the same
thing. But wouldn’t it be lovely if you and I, Jim--”

She stopped suddenly, catching a glimpse of his face. Her happiness was
gone in a moment.

“You don’t love me. Oh, you don’t love me! I know it. I have known it
for many weeks! That girl has poisoned you against me--the wicked,
wicked thing! It’s no use denying it. I know it. I feel it,--oh, how
can I bear it! How can I bear it!”

She shut her eyes once more and lay miserable and silent. The
wood-carver looked gloomily out of the window. The cluster of stars now
assumed a shape well-known to him. It was Orion’s Belt. His thoughts
swept sadly over the field of destiny.

“What a world it is!” he said to himself. “There is that boy Philip
gone with a tragic heart because his girl loves me. And I--I have
to wait and wait in helplessness, and see the other--the one I care
for--driven into madness. And she cares not a straw for me, who could
help her, and only cares for that poor fool who cannot lift a finger.
And meanwhile, Orion’s Belt looks contemptuously down upon us all!
Ninsy is pretty well right. The lucky people are the people who are
safe out of it--the people that Orion’s Belt cannot vex any more!”

He rose to his feet. “Well, child,” he said, “I think I’ll be going.
It’s no use our plaguing one another any further tonight. Things will
right themselves, little one. Things will right themselves! It’s a
crazy world--but the story isn’t finished yet.

“Don’t you worry about it,” he added gently, bending over her and
pushing the hair back from her forehead. “Your old James hasn’t
deserted you yet. He loves you better than you think--better than he
knows himself perhaps!”

The girl seized the hand that caressed her and pressed it against her
lips. Her breast rose and fell in quick troubled breathing.

“Come again soon,” she said, and then, with a wan smile, “if you care
to.”

Their eyes met in a long perplexed clinging farewell. He was the first
to break the tension.

“Good-night, child,” he said, and turning away, left the room without
looking back.

While these events were occurring at Wild Pine, in the diplomatist’s
study at the Gables Mr. Wone was expounding to Mr. Taxater the objects
and purposes of his political campaign.

Mrs. Wotnot, leaner and more taciturn than ever, had just produced for
the refreshment of the visitor a bottle of moderately good burgundy.
Mr. Taxater had demanded “a little wine,” in the large general manner
which his housekeeper always interpreted as a request for something
short of the very best. It was clear that for the treasures of
innermost wine-cellars Mr. Wone was not among the privileged.

The defender of the papacy had placed his visitor so that the light of
the lamp fell upon his perspiring brow, upon his watery blue eyes, and
upon his drooping, sandy-coloured moustache. Mr. Taxater himself was
protected by a carefully arranged screen, out of the shadow of which
the Mephistophelian sanctity of his patient profile loomed forth, vague
and indistinct.

Mr. Wone’s mission was in his own mind tending rapidly to a
satisfactory conclusion. The theologian had heard him with so much
attention, had asked such searching and practical questions, had shown
such sympathetic interest in all the convolutions and entanglements of
the political situation, that Mr. Wone began to reproach himself for
not having made use of such a capable ally earlier in the day.

“It is,” he was saying, “on the general grounds of common Christian
duty that I ask your help. We who recognize the importance of religion
would be false to our belief if we did not join together to defeat so
ungodly and worldly a candidate as this Romer turns out to be.”

It must be confessed that in his heart of hearts Mr. Wone regarded
Roman Catholics as far more dangerous to the community than anarchists
or infidels, but he prided himself upon a discretion worthy of
apostolic inspiration in thus seeking to divide and set asunder the
enemies of evangelical truth. He found the papist so intelligent a
listener,--that hardly one secret of his political designs remained
unshared between them.

“The socialism,” he finally remarked, “which you and I are interested
in, is Christian Socialism. You may be sure that in nothing I do or
say there will be found the least tincture of this deplorable modern
materialism. My own feeling is that the closer our efforts for the
uplifting of the people are founded upon biblical doctrines the more
triumphant their success will be. It is the ethical aspect of this
great struggle for popular rights which I hold most near my heart.
I wish to take my place in Parliament as representing not merely
the intelligence of this constituency but its moral and spiritual
needs--its soul, in fact, Mr. Taxater. There is no animosity in my
campaign. I am scrupulous about that. I am ready, always ready, to
do our opponents justice. But when they appeal to the material needs
of the country, I appeal to its higher requirements--to its soul, in
other words. It is for this reason that I am so glad to welcome really
intelligent and highly educated men, like yourself. We who take this
loftier view must of course make use of many less admirable methods.
I do so myself. But it is for us to keep the higher, the more ethical
considerations, always in sight.

“As I was saying to my son, this very evening, the grand thing for us
all to remember is that it is only on the assumption of Divine Love
being at the bottom of every confusion that we can go to work at all.
The Tory party refuse to make this assumption. They refuse to recognize
the ethical substratum of the world. They treat politics as if they
were a matter of merely imperial or patriotic importance. In my view
politics and religion should go hand in hand. In the true democracy
which I aim at establishing, all these secular theories--evidently
due to the direct action of the Devil--such as Free Love and the
destruction of the family--will not be tolerated for a moment.

“Let no one think,”--and Mr. Wone swallowed a mouthful of wine with a
gurgling sound,--“that because we attack capitalism and large estates,
we have any wish to interfere with the sacredness of the home. There
are, I regret to say, among some of our artizans, wild and dangerous
theories of this kind, but I have always firmly discountenanced them
and I always will. That is why, if I may say so, I am so well adapted
to represent this district. I have the support of the large number
of Liberal-minded tradesmen who would deeply regret the introduction
of such immoral theories into our movement. They hold, as I hold,
that this unhappy tendency to atheistic speculation among our
working-classes is one of the gravest dangers to the country. They
hold, as I hold, that the cynical free thought of the Tory party is
best encountered, not by the equally deplorable cynicism of certain
labor-leaders, but by the high Christian standards of men like--like
ourselves, Mr. Taxater.”

He paused for a moment and drew his hand, which certainly resembled the
hand of an ethical-minded dispenser of sugar rather than that of an
immoral manual labourer, across his damp forehead. Then he began again.

“Another reason which seems to point to me, in quite a providential
manner, as the candidate for this district, is the fact that I was born
in Nevilton and that my father was born here before me.

“‘Wone’ is one of the oldest names in the church Register. There were
Wones in Nevilton in the days of the Norman Conquest. I love the
place--Mr. Taxater--and I believe I may say that the place loves me. I
am in harmony with it, you know. I understand its people. I understand
their little weaknesses. Some of these, though you may not believe it,
I even may say I share.

“I love this beautiful scenery, these luscious fields, these admirable
woods. I love to think of them as belonging to us--to the people who
live among them--I love the voice of the doves in our dear trees, Mr.
Taxater. I love the cattle in the meadows. I love the vegetables in the
gardens. And I love to think”--here Mr. Wone finished his glass, and
drew the back of his hand across his mouth--“I love to think of these
good gifts of the Heavenly Father as being the expression of His divine
bounty. Yes, if anywhere in our revered country atheism and immorality
are condemned by nature herself, it is in Nevilton. The fields of
Nevilton are like the fields of Canaan, they are full of the goodness
of the Lord!”

“Your emotions,” said the Papal Apologist at last, as his companion
paused breathless, “do you credit, my dear Sir. I certainly hold with
you that it is important to counteract the influence of Free-Thinkers.”

“But the love of God, Mr. Taxater!” cried the other, leaning forward
and crossing his hands over his knees. “We must not only refute, we
must construct.” Mr. Wone had never felt in higher feather. Here was a
man capable of really doing him justice. He wished his recalcitrant son
were present!

“Construct--that is what I always say,” he repeated. “We must be
creative and constructive in our movement, and fix it firmly upon the
Only Foundation.”

He surveyed through the window the expansive heavens; and his glance
encountered the same prominent constellation, which, at that very
moment, but with different emotions, the agitated stone-carver was
contemplating from the cottage at Wild Pine.

“You are undoubtedly correct, Mr. Wone,” said his host gravely, using a
tone he might have used if his interlocutor had been recommending him
to buy cheese. “You are undoubtedly correct in finding the basis of
the system of things in love. It is no more than what the Saints have
always taught. I am also profoundly at one with you in your objection
to Free Love. Love and Free Love are contradictory categories. They
might even be called antinomies. There is no synthesis which reconciles
them.”

Mr. Wone had not the remotest idea what any of these words meant, but
he felt flattered to the depths of his being. It was clear that he
had been led to utter some profound philosophical maxim. He once more
wished from his heart that his son could hear this conversation!

“Well, Mr. Taxater,” he said, “I must now leave you. I have other
distinguished gentlemen to call upon before I retire. But I thank you
for your promised support.

“It would be better, perhaps”--here he lowered his voice and looked
jocose and crafty--“not to refer to our little conversation.
It might be misunderstood. There is a certain prejudice, you
know--unjustifiable, of course, but unfortunately, very prevalent,
which makes it wiser--but I need say no more. Good-bye, Mr.
Taxater--good night, sir, good night!”

And he bowed himself off and proceeded up the street to find the next
victim of his evangelical discretion.

As soon as he had gone, Mr. Taxater summoned his housekeeper.

“The next time that person comes,” he said, “will you explain to
him, very politely, that I have been called to London? If this seems
improbable, or if he has caught a glimpse of me through the window,
will you please explain to him that I am engaged upon a very absorbing
literary work.”

Mrs. Wotnot nodded. “I kept my eyes open yesterday,” the old woman
remarked, in the manner of some veteran conspirator in the service of a
Privy Counsellor.

“As you happened to be looking for laurel-leaves, I suppose?” said
Mr. Taxater, drawing the red curtains across the window, with his
expressive episcopal hand. “For laurel-leaves, Mrs. Wotnot, to flavour
that excellent custard?”

The old woman nodded. “And you saw?” pursued her master.

“I saw Mr. Luke Andersen and Miss Gladys Romer.”

“Were they as happy as usual--these young people,” asked the theologian
mildly, “or were they--otherwise?”

“They were very much what you are pleased to call otherwise,” answered
the old lady.

“Quarrelling in fact?” suggested the diplomat, seating himself
deliberately in his arm-chair.

“Miss Gladys was crying and Mr. Luke was laughing.”

The Papal Apologist waved his hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Wotnot, thank
you. These things will happen, won’t they--even in Nevilton? Mr. Luke
laughing, and Miss Gladys crying? Your laurel-leaves were very well
chosen, my friend. Let me have the rest of that custard tonight! I hope
you have not brought back your rheumatism, Mrs. Wotnot, by going so
far?”

The housekeeper shook her head and retired to prepare supper.

Mr. Taxater took up the book by his side and opened it thoughtfully. It
was the final volume of the collected works of Joseph de Maistre.

Mr. Wone had not advanced far in the direction of the church, when he
overtook Vennie Seldom walking slowly, with down-cast head, in the same
direction.

Vennie had just passed an uncomfortable hour with her mother, who
had been growing, during the recent days, more and more fretful and
suspicious. It was partly to allay these suspicions and partly to
escape from the maternal atmosphere that she had decided to be present
that evening at the weekly choir-practice, a function that she had
found herself lately beginning to neglect. Mr. Wone had forgotten the
choir-practice. It would interfere, he was afraid, with his desired
interview with Mr. Clavering. Vennie assured him that the clergyman’s
presence was not essential at these times.

“He is not musical, you know. He only walks up and down the aisle and
confuses things. Everybody will be glad if you take him away.”

She was a little surprised at herself, even as she spoke. To depreciate
her best friend in this flippant way, and to such a person, showed that
her nerves were abnormally strained.

Mr. Wone did not miss the unusual tone. He had never been on anything
but very distant terms with Miss Seldom, and his vanity was hugely
delighted by this new manner.

“I am coming into my own,” he thought to himself. “My abilities are
being recognized at last, by all these exclusive people.”

“I hope,” he said, tentatively, “that you and your dear mother are on
our side in this great national struggle. I have just been to see Mr.
Taxater, and he has promised me his energetic support.”

“Has he?” said Vennie in rather a startled voice. “That surprises me--a
little. I know he does not admire Mr. Romer; but I thought----”

“O he is with us--heart and soul with us!” repeated the triumphant
Nonconformist. “I am glad I went to him. Many of us would have been too
narrow-minded to enter his house, seeing he is a papist. But I am free
from such bigotry.”

“And you hope to convert Mr. Clavering, too?”

“Certainly; that is what I intend. But I believe our excellent vicar
needs no conversion. I have often heard him speak--at the Social
Meeting, you know--and I assure you he is a true friend of the
working-classes. I only wish more of his kind were like him.”

“Mr. Clavering is too changeable,” remarked Vennie, hardly knowing what
she said. “His moods alter from day to day.”

“But you yourself, dear Miss Seldom,” the candidate went on. “You
yourself are, I think, entirely with us?”

“I really don’t know,” she answered. “My interests do not lie in these
directions. I sometimes doubt whether it greatly matters, one way or
the other.”

“Whether it matters?” cried Mr. Wone, inhaling the night-air with a
sigh of protestation. “Surely, you do not take that indifferent and
thoughtless attitude? A young lady of your education--of your religious
feeling! Surely, you must feel that it matters profoundly! As we walk
here together, through this embalmed air, full of so many agreeable
scents, surely you must feel that a good and great God is making his
power known at last, known and respected, through the poor means of
our consecrated efforts? Forgive my speaking so freely to one of your
position; but it seems to me that you must--you at least--be on our
side, simply because what we are aiming at is in such complete harmony
with this wonderful Love of God, diffused through all things.”

It is impossible to describe the shrinking aversion which these
words produced upon the agitated nerves of Vennie. Something about
the Christian candidate seemed to affect her with an actual sense of
physical nausea. She could have screamed, to feel the man so near
her--the dragging sound of his feet on the road, the way he breathed
and cleared his throat, the manner in which his hat was tilted, all
combined to irritate her unendurably. She found herself fantastically
thinking how much sooner she would have married even the egregious John
Goring--as Lacrima was going to do--than such a one as this. What a
pass Nevilton had brought itself to--when the choice lay between a Mr.
Romer and a Mr. Wone!

An overpowering wave of disgust with the whole human race swept over
her--what wretched creatures they all were--every one of them! She
mentally resolved that nothing--nothing on earth--should stop her
entering a convent. The man talked of agreeable odours on the air. The
air was poisoned, tainted, infected! It choked her to breathe it.

“I am so glad--so deeply glad,” Mr. Wone continued, “to have enjoyed
the privilege of this little quiet conversation. I shall never forget
it. I feel as though it had brought us wonderfully, beautifully,
near each other. It is on such occasions as this, that one feels how
closely, how entirely, in harmony, all earnest-minded people are! Here
are you, my dear young lady, the descendant of such a noble and ancient
house, expressing in mute and tender silence, your sympathy with one
who represents the aspirations of the poorest of the people! This is a
symbolic moment. I cannot help saying so. A symbolic and consecrated
moment!”

“We had better walk a little faster,” remarked Miss Seldom.

“We will. We will walk faster,” agreed Mr. Wone. “But you must let me
put on record what this conversation has meant to me! It has made me
more certain, more absolutely certain than ever, that without a deep
ethical basis our great movement is doomed to hopeless failure.”

The tone in which he used the word “ethical” was so irritating to
Vennie, that she felt an insane longing to utter some frightful
blasphemy, or even indecency, in his ears, and to rush away with a peal
of hysterical laughter.

They were now at the entrance to a narrow little alley or lane which,
passing a solitary cottage and an unfrequented spring, led by a short
approach directly into the village-square. Half way down this lane a
curious block of Leonian stone stood in the middle of the path. What
the original purpose of this stone had been it were not easy to tell.
The upper portion of it had apparently supported a chain, but this
had long ago disappeared. At the moment when Mr. Wone and Miss Seldom
reached the lane’s entrance, a soft little scream came from the spot
where the stone stood; and dimly, in the shadowy darkness, two forms
became visible, engaged in some obscure struggle. The scream was
repeated, followed by a series of little gasps and whisperings.

Mr. Wone glanced apprehensively in the direction of these sounds and
increased his pace. He was confounded with amazement when he found that
Vennie had stopped as if to investigate further. The truth is, he had
reduced the girl to such a pitch of unnatural revolt that, for one
moment in her life, she felt glad that there were flagrant and lawless
pleasures in the world.

Led by an unaccountable impulse she made several steps up the lane.
The figures separated as she approached, one of them boldly advancing
to meet her, while the other retreated into the shadows. The one who
advanced, finding himself alone, turned and called to his companion,
“Annie! Where are you? Come on, you silly girl! It’s all right.”

Vennie recognized the voice of Luke Andersen. She greeted him with
hysterical gratitude. “I thought it was you, Mr. Andersen; but you did
frighten me! I took you for a ghost. Who is that with you?”

The young stone-carver raised his hat politely. “Only our little friend
Annie,” he said. “I am escorting her home from Yeoborough. We have been
on an errand for her mother. She’s such a baby, you know, Miss Seldom,
our little Annie. I love teasing her.”

“I am afraid you love teasing a great many people, Mr. Andersen,” said
Vennie, recovering her equanimity and beginning to feel ashamed. “Here
is Mr. Wone. No doubt, he will be anxious to talk politics to you. Mr.
Wone!” She raised her voice as the astonished Methodist came towards
them. “It is only Mr. Andersen. You had better talk to _him_ of your
plans. I am afraid I shall be late if I don’t go on.” She slipped aside
as she spoke, leaving the two men together, and hurried off towards the
church.

Luke Andersen shook hands with the Christian Candidate. “How goes the
campaign, the great campaign?” he said. “I wonder you haven’t talked
to James about it. James is a hopeless idealist. James is an admirable
listener. You really ought to talk to James. I wish you _would_ talk to
him; and put a little of your shrewd common-sense into him! He takes
the populace seriously--a thing you and I would never be such fools as
to do, eh, Mr. Wone?”

“I am afraid we disturbed you,” remarked the Nonconformist, “Miss
Seldom and I--I think you had someone with you. Miss Seldom was quite
interested. We heard sounds, and she stopped.”

“Oh, only Annie”--returned the young man lightly, “only little Annie.
We are old friends you know. Don’t worry about Annie!”

“It is a beautiful night, is it not?” remarked the Methodist, peering
down the lane. Luke Andersen laughed.

“Are you by any chance, Mr. Wone, interested in astronomy? If so,
perhaps you can tell me the name of that star, over there, between
Perseus and Andromeda? No, no; that one--that greenish-coloured one! Do
you know what that is?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” confessed the representative of the People.
“But I am a great admirer of Nature. My admiration for Nature is one of
the chief motives of my life.”

“I believe you,” said Luke. “It is one of my own, too. I admire
everything in it, without any exception.”

“I hope,” said Mr. Wone, reverting to the purpose that, with Nature,
shared just now his dominant interest, “I hope you are also with us
in our struggle against oppression? Mr. Taxater and Miss Seldom are
certainly on our side. I sometimes feel as though Nature herself, were
on our side, especially on a lovely night like this, full of such balmy
odours.”

“I am delighted to see the struggle going on,” returned the young man,
emphatically. “And I am thoroughly glad to see a person like yourself
at the head of it.”

“Then you, too, will take a part,” cried the candidate, joyfully.
“This, indeed, has been a successful evening! I feel sure now that in
Nevilton, at any rate, the tide will flow strongly in my favour. Next
week, I have to begin a tour of the whole district. I may not be able
to return for quite a long time. How happy I shall be to know that I
leave the cause in such good hands! The strike is the important thing,
Andersen. You and your brother must work hard to bring about the
strike. It is coming. I know it is coming. But I want it soon. I want
it immediately.”

The stone-carver nodded and hummed a tune. He seemed to intimate with
the whole air of his elegant quiescence that the moment had arrived for
Mr. Wone’s departure.

The Nonconformist felt the telepathic pressure of this polite
dismissal. He waved his arm. “Good night, then; good night! I am afraid
I must postpone my talk with Mr. Clavering till another occasion.
Remember the strike, Andersen! That is what I leave in your hands.
Remember the strike!”

The noise of Mr. Wone’s retreating steps was still audible when Luke
returned to the stone in the middle of Splash Lane. The sky was clear
now and a faint whitish glimmer, shining on the worn surface of the
stone, revealed the two deep holes in it, where the fastenings of the
chain had hung. The young man tapped the stone with his stick and gave
a low whistle. An amorphous heap of clothes, huddled in the hedge,
stirred, and emitted a reproachful sound.

“Oh, you’re there, are you?” he said. “What silly nonsense is this? Get
up! Let’s see your face!” He stooped and pulled at the object. After a
moment’s struggle the flexible form of a young girl emerged into the
light. She held down her head and appeared sulky and angry.

“What’s the matter, Annie?” whispered the youth encircling her with his
arms.

The girl shook him away. “How could you tell Miss Seldom who I was!”
she murmured. “How could you do it, Luke? If it had been anybody
else--but for her to know----”

The stone-carver laughed. “Really, child, you are too ridiculous! Why,
on earth, shouldn’t she know, more than anyone else?”

The girl looked fiercely at him. “Because she is good,” she said.
“Because she is the only good person in this blasted place!”

The young man showed no astonishment at this outburst. “Come on,
darling,” he rejoined. “We must be getting you home. I daresay,
Miss Seldom is all you think. It seemed to me, though, that she was
different from usual tonight. But I expect that fool had upset her.”

He let the young girl lean for a moment against the shadowy stone while
he fumbled for his cigarettes and matches. He observed her make a
quick movement with her hands.

“What are you up to now?” he asked.

She gave a fierce little laugh. “There!” she cried. “I have done it!”

“What have you done?” he enquired, emitting a puff of smoke, and
throwing the lighted match into the hedge.

She pressed her hands against the stone and looked up at him
mischievously and triumphantly. “Look!” she said, holding out her
fingers in the darkness. He surveyed her closely. “What is it? Have you
scratched yourself?”

“Light a match and see!” she cried. He lit a match and examined the
hand she held towards him.

“You have thrown away that ring!”

“Not _thrown_ it away, Luke; not thrown it away! I have pressed it down
into this hole. You can’t get it out now! Nobody never can!”

He held the flickering match closely against the stone’s surface. In
the narrow darkness of the aperture she indicated, something bright
glittered.

“But this is really annoying of you, Annie,” said the stone-carver. “I
told you that ring was only lent to me. She’ll be asking for it back
tomorrow.”

“Well, you can tell her to come here and get it!”

“But this is really serious,” protested Luke, trying in vain to reach
the object with his outstretched fingers.

“And I have twisted my hair round it!” the girl went on, in exulting
excitement, “I have twisted it tight around. It will be hard to get it
off!”

Luke continued making ineffectual dives into the hole, while she
watched him gleefully. He went to the hedge and breaking off a dusty
sprig of woundwort prodded the ring with its stalk.

“You can’t do it” she cried, “you can’t do it! You’ll only push it
further in!”

“Damn you, Annie!” he muttered. “This is a horrible kind of joke. I
tell you, Gladys will want this confounded thing back tomorrow. She’s
already asked me twice for it. She only gave it to me for fun.”

The girl leaned across the stone towards him, propping herself on the
palms of her hands, and laughing mischievously. “No one in this village
can get that ring out of there!” she cried; “no one! And when they
does, they’ll find it all twisted up with my hair!” She tossed back her
black locks defiantly.

Luke Andersen’s thoughts ran upon scissors, pincers, willow-wands,
bramble-thorns, and children’s arms.

“Leave it then!” he said. “After all, I can swear I lost it. Come on,
you little demon!”

They moved away; and St. Catharine’s church was only striking the hour
of nine, when they separated at her mother’s door.



CHAPTER XV

MORTIMER ROMER


The incredibly halcyon June which had filled the lanes and meadows of
Nevilton that summer with such golden weather, gave place at last to
July; and with July came tokens of a change.

The more slow-growing hay-fields were still strewn with their little
lines of brown mown grass waiting its hour of “carrying,” but the
larger number of the pastures wore now that freshly verdant and
yet curiously sad look, which fields in summer wear when they have
been shorn of their first harvest. The corn in the arable-lands was
beginning to stand high; wheat and barley varying their alternate
ripening tints, from the rich gold of the one, to the diaphanous
glaucous green, so tender and pallid, of the other. In the hedges,
rag-wort, knapweed and scabious had completely replaced wild-rose
and elder-blossom; and in the ditches and by the margins of ponds,
loosestrife and willow-herb were beginning to bud. Even the
latest-sprouting among the trees carried now the full heavy burden,
dark and monotonous, of the summer’s prime; and the sharp, dry
intermittent chirping of warblers, finches and buntings, had long
since replaced, in the garden-bushes, the more flute-like cries of the
earlier-nesting birds.

The shadowy woods of the Nevilton valleys, with their thick entangled
undergrowth, were less pleasant to walk in than they had been. Tall
rank growths choked the wan remnants of the season’s first prime; and
beneath sombre, indistinguishable foliage, the dry, hard-trodden paths
lost their furtive enchantment. Dog-mercury, that delicate child of the
under-shadows, was no more now than a gross mass of tarnished leaves.
Enchanter’s night-shade took the place of pink-campion; only to yield,
in its turn, to viper’s bugloss and flea-bane.

As the shy gods of the year’s tender birth receded before these ranker
maturings, humanity became more prominent. Print-frocked maidens
assisted the sheep in treading the slopes of Leo’s Hill into earthy
grassless patches. Bits of dirty paper and the litter of careless
picnickers strewed the most shadowy recesses. Smart youths flicked
town-bought canes in places where, a few weeks before, the squirrel had
gambolled undisturbed, and the wood-pecker had deepened the magical
silence by his patent labour. Where recently, amid shadowy moss “soft
as sleep,” the delicate petals of the fragile wood-sorrel had breathed
untroubled in their enchanted aisles of leafy twilight, one found
oneself reading, upon torn card-board boxes, highly-coloured messages
to the Human Race from energetic Tradesmen. July had replaced June. The
gods of Humanity had replaced the gods of Nature; and the interlude
between hay-harvest and wheat-harvest had brought the dog-star Sirius
into his diurnal ascendance.

The project of Lacrima’s union with Mr. John Goring remained, so
to speak, “in the air.” The village assumed it as a certainty; Mr.
Quincunx regarded it as a probability; and Mr. Goring himself,
enjoying his yearly session of agreeable leisure, meditated upon it day
and night.

Lacrima had fallen into a curious lassitude with regard to the whole
matter. In these July days, especially now that the sky was overcast by
clouds and heavy rains seemed imminent, she appeared to lose all care
or interest in her own life. Her mood followed the mood of the weather.
If some desperate deluge of disaster was brooding in the distance, she
felt tempted to cry out, “Let it fall!”

Mr. Quincunx’s feelings on the subject remained a mystery to her. He
neither seemed definitely to accept her sacrifice, nor to reject it. He
did not really--so she could not help telling herself--visualize the
horror of the thing, as it affected her, in any substantial degree.
He often made a joke of it; and kept quoting cynical and worldly
suggestions, from the lips of Luke Andersen.

On the other hand, both from Mr. Romer and the farmer, she received
quiet, persistent and inexorable pressure; though to do the latter
justice, he made no further attempts to treat her roughly or familiarly.

She had gone so far once--in a mood of panic-stricken aversion,
following upon a conversation with Gladys--as actually to walk to the
vicarage gate, with the definite idea of appealing to Vennie; but it
chanced that in place of Vennie she had observed Mrs. Seldom moving
among her flower-beds, and the grave austerity of the aristocratic old
lady had taken all resolution from her and made her retrace her steps.

It must also be confessed that her dislike and fear of Gladys had
grown to dimensions bordering upon monomania. The elder girl at once
hypnotized and paralyzed her. Her sensuality, her feline caprices, her
elaborately cherished hatred, reduced the Italian to such helpless
misery, that any change--even the horror of this marriage--assumed the
likeness of a desirable relief.

It is also true that by gradual degrees,--for women, however little
prone to abstract thought, are quick to turn the theories of those they
love into living practice,--she had come to regard the mere physical
terror of this momentous plunge as a less insurmountable barrier than
she had felt at first. Without precisely intending it, Mr. Quincunx
had really, in a measure--particularly since he himself had come
to frequent the society of Luke Andersen--achieved what might have
conventionally been called the “corruption” of Lacrima’s mind. She
found herself on several occasions imagining what she would really
feel, if, escaped for an afternoon from her Priory duties, she were
slipping off to meet her friend in Camel’s Cover or Badger’s Bottom.

When the suggestion had been first made to her of this monstrous
marriage, it had seemed nothing short of a sentence of death, and
beyond the actual consummation of it, she had never dreamed of looking.
But all this had now imperceptibly changed. Many an evening as she sat
with her work by Mrs. Romer’s side, watching Gladys and her father
play cards, the thought came over her that she might just as well
enjoy the comparative independence of having her own house and her own
associations--even though the price of them _were_ the society of such
a lump of clay--as live this wretched half-life without hope or aim.

Other moods arrived when the thought of having children of her own
came to her with something more than a mere sense of escape; came
to her with the enlargement of an opening horizon. She recalled the
many meandering discourses which Mr. Quincunx had addressed to her
upon this subject. They had not affected her woman’s instincts; but
they had lodged in her mind. A girl’s children, so her friend had
often maintained, do not belong to the father at all. The father
is nothing--a mere irrelevant incident, a mere chance. The mother
alone--the mother always--has the rights and pleasures, as she has the
responsibilities and pains of the parental relation. She even recalled
one occasion of twilight philosophizing in the potato-bed, when Mr.
Quincunx had gone so far as to maintain the unscientific thesis that
children, born where there is no love, inherit character, appearance,
tastes, everything--from the mother.

Lacrima had a dim suspicion that some of these less pious theories were
due to the perverse Luke, who, as the cloudier July days overcast his
evening rambles, had acquired the habit of strolling at night-fall into
Mr. Quincunx’s kitchen. Once indeed she was certain she discerned the
trail of this plausible heathen in her friend’s words. Mr. Quincunx,
with one of his peculiarly goblin-like leers, had intimated--in jest
indeed, but with a searching look into her face that it would be no
very difficult task to deceive,--in shrewd Panurgian roguery, this
clumsy clown. His words at the time had hurt and shocked her; and her
reaction from them had led to the spoiling of a pleasant conversation;
but they invaded afterwards, more deeply than she would have cared to
confess, her hours of dreamy solitude.

Her southern imagination, free from both the grossness and the
hypocrisy of the Nevilton mind, was much readier to wander upon an
antinomian path--at least in its wayward fancies--than it would have
been, had circumstances not led her away from her inherited faith.

While the sensuality of Gladys left her absolutely untouched, the
anarchistic theories of her friend--especially now they had been
fortified and directed by the insidious Luke--gave her intelligence
many queer and lawless topics of solitary brooding. Her senses, her
instincts, were as pure and unsophisticated as ever; but her conscience
was besieged and threatened. It was indeed a queer rôle--this, which
fate laid upon Mr. Quincunx--the rôle of undermining the reluctance
of his own sweetheart to make a loveless marriage--but it was one for
which his curious lack of physical passion singularly fitted him.

Had Vennie Seldom or Hugh Clavering been aware of the condition of
affairs they would have condemned Mr. Quincunx in the most wholesale
manner. Clavering would probably have been tempted to apply to him some
of the most abusive language in the dictionary. But it is extremely
questionable whether this judgment of theirs would have been justified.

A more enlightened planetary observer, initiated into the labyrinthine
hearts of men, might well have pointed out that Mr. Quincunx’s theories
were largely a matter of pure speculation, humorously remote from any
contact with reality. He might also have reminded these indignant ones
that Mr. Quincunx quite genuinely laboured under the illusion--if it
were an illusion--that for his friend to be mistress of the Priory and
free of her dependence on the Romers was a thing eminently desirable,
and worth the price she paid for it. Such an invisible clairvoyant
might even have surmised, what no one in Nevilton who knew of Mr.
Romer’s offer would for one second have believed; namely, that he would
have given her the same advice had there been no such offer, simply on
the general ground of binding her permanently to the place.

The fact, however, remained, that by adopting this ambiguous and
evasive attitude Mr. Quincunx reduced the more heroic and romantic
aspect of the girl’s sacrifice to the lowest possible level, and flung
her into a mood of reckless and spiritless indifference. She was
brought to the point of losing all interest in her own fate and of
simply relapsing upon the tide of events.

It was precisely to this condition that Mr. Romer had desired to
bring her. When she had first attracted him, and had fallen into his
hands, there had been certain psychological contests between them,
in which the quarry-owner had by no means emerged victorious. It was
the rankling memory of these contests--contests spiritual rather than
material--which had issued in his gloomy hatred of her and his longing
to corrupt her mind and humiliate her soul. This corruption, this
humiliation had been long in coming. It had seemed out of his own power
and out of the power of his feline daughter to bring it about; but this
felicitous plan of using the girl’s own friend to assist her moral
disintegration appeared to have changed the issue very completely.

Mr. Romer, watching her from day to day, became more and more certain
that her integral soul, the inmost fortress of her self-respect, was
yielding inch by inch. She had flung the rudder down; and was drifting
upon the tide.

It might have been a matter of surprise to some ill-judging
psychologists that a Napoleonic intriguer, of the quarry-owner’s
type, should ever have entered upon a struggle apparently so unequal
and unimportant as that for the mere integrity of a solitary girl’s
spirit. Such a judgment would display little knowledge of the darker
possibilities of human character. Resistance is resistance, from
whatever quarter it comes; and the fragile soul of a helpless Pariah
may be just as capable of provoking the aggressive instincts of a born
master of men as the most obdurate of commercial rivals.

There are certain psychic oppositions to our will, which, when once
they have been encountered, remain indelibly in the memory as a
challenge and a defiance, until their provocation has been wiped out in
their defeat. It matters nothing that such oppositions should spring
from weak or trifling quarters. We have been baffled, thwarted, fooled;
and we cannot recover the feeling of identity with ourselves, until,
like a satisfied tidal wave, our will has drowned completely the
barricades that defied it. It matters nothing if at the beginning, what
we were thwarted by was a mere trifle, a straw upon the wind, a feather
in the breeze. The point is that our will, in flowing outwards, at its
capricious pleasure, met with opposition--met with resistance. We do
not really recover our self-esteem until every memory of such an event
has been obliterated by a complete revenge.

It is useless to object that a powerful ambitious man of the Romer
mould, contending Atlas-like under a weight of enormous schemes, was
not one to harbour such long-lingering rancour against a mere Pariah.
There was more in the thing than appears on the surface. The brains of
mortal men are queer crucibles, and the smouldering fires that heat
them are driven by capricious and wanton guests. Lacrima’s old defeat
of the owner of Leo’s Hill--a defeat into which there is no need to
descend now, for its “terrain” was remote from our present stage--had
been a defeat upon what might be called a subliminal or interior plane.

It was almost as if he had encountered her and she had encountered him,
not only in the past of this particular life, but a remoter past--in
a past of some pre-natal incarnation. There are--as is well-known,
many instances of this unfathomable conflict between certain human
types--types that seem to _find_ one another, that seem to be drawn to
one another, by some preordained necessity in the occult influences
of mortal fate. It matters nothing in regard to such a conflict, that
on one side should be strength, power and position, and on the other
weakness and helplessness. The soul is the soul, and has its own laws.

It is a case of what a true initiate into the secrets of our
terrestrial drama might entitle Planetary Opposition. By some hidden
law of planetary opposition, this frail child of the Apennine ridges
was destined to provoke, to an apparently quite unequal struggle, this
formidable schemer from the money-markets of London.

In these strange pre-natal attractions and repulsions between men and
women, the mere conventional differences of rank and social importance
are as nothing and less than nothing.

Vast unfathomable tides of cosmic conflict drive us all backwards and
forwards; and if under the ascendance of Sirius in the track of the
Sun, the master of Nevilton found himself devoting more energy to
the humiliation of his daughter’s companion than to his election to
the British Parliament, one can only remember that both of them--the
strong and the weak--were merely puppets and pawns of elemental forces,
compared with which he, as well as she, was as the chaff before the
wind.

It was one of the peculiarities of this Nevilton valley to draw to
itself, as we have already hinted, and focus strangely in itself, these
airy and elemental oppositions. To rise above the clash of the Two
Mythologies on this spot, with all their planetary “auxiliar gods,”
one would have had to ascend incredibly high into that star-sown space
above--perhaps so high, that the whole solar system, rushing madly
through the ether towards the constellation of Hercules, would have
shown itself as less than a cluster of wayward fireflies. From a
height as supreme as this, the difference between Mortimer Romer and
Lacrima Traffio would have been less than the difference between two
summer-midges transacting their affairs on the edge of a reed in Auber
Lake.

Important or unimportant, however, the struggle went on; and, as July
advanced, seemed to tend more and more to Mr. Romer’s advantage.
Precisely what he desired to happen was indeed happening--Lacrima’s
soul was disintegrating; her powers of resistance were diminishing; and
a reckless carelessness about her personal fate was taking the place of
her old sensitive apprehensions.

Another important matter went well at this time for Mr. Romer. His
daughter became formally engaged to the wealthy American. Dangelis had
been pressing her, for many weeks, to come to some definite decision,
between himself and Lord Tintinhull’s heir, and she had at last made up
her mind and given him her promise.

The Romers were enchanted at this new development. Mrs. Romer had
always disliked the thought of having to enter into closer relations
with the aristocracy--relations for which she was so obviously
unsuited; and Ralph Dangelis fitted in exactly with her idea of what
her son-in-law should be.

Mr. Romer, too, found in Dangelis just the sort of son he had always
longed for. He had quite recognized, by this time, that the “artistic”
tastes of the American and his unusual talent interfered in no way with
the possession of a very shrewd intellectual capacity. Dangelis had
indeed all the qualities that Mr. Romer most admired. He was strong.
He was clever. He was an entertaining companion. He was at once very
formidable and very good-tempered. And he was immensely rich.

It would have annoyed him to see Gladys dominate a man of this sort
with her capricious ways. But he had not the remotest fear that she
would dominate this citizen of Ohio. Dangelis would pet her and spoil
her and deluge her with money, but keep a firm and untroubled hand
over her; and that exactly suited Mr. Romer’s wishes. The man’s wealth
would also be an immense help to himself in his financial undertakings.
Together they would be able to engineer colossal and world-shaking
schemes.

It was a satisfaction, too, to think that, when he died, his loved
quarries on Leo’s Hill and his historic Leonian House should
fall into the hands, not of these Ilchesters and Ilminsters and
Evershots--families whose pretensions he hated and derided--but of an
honest descendant of plain business men of his own class.

It was Mrs. Romer, and not her husband, who uttered a lament that the
House after their death should no longer be the property of one of
their own name. She proposed that Gladys’ American should be induced
to change his name. But Mr. Romer would hear nothing of this. His
system was the old imperial Roman system, of succession by adoption.
The man who could deal with the Legions, the man who was strong
enough to suppress strikes on Leo’s Hill, and cope successfully with
such rascals as this voluble Wone, was the man to inherit Nevilton!
Be his patronymic what you please, such a man was Cæsar. Himself,
a new-comer, risen from nothing, and contemptuous of all tradition,
it had constantly been a matter of serious annoyance to him that
the wealth he had amassed should only go to swell the pride of
these fatuous landed gentry. It delighted him to think that Gladys’
children--the future inheritors of his labour--should be, on their
father’s side also, from new and untraditional stock. It gave him
immense satisfaction to think of disappointing Lord Tintinhull, who no
doubt had long ago told his friends how sad it was that his son had got
entangled with that girl at Nevilton; but how nice it was that Nevilton
House should in the future take its proper place in the county.

There was one cloud on Mr. Romer’s horizon at this moment, and that
cloud was composed of vapours spun from the brain of his parliamentary
rival, the eloquent Methodist.

Mr. Wone had long been at work among the Leo’s Hill quarry-men,
encouraging them to strike. Until the second week in July his efforts
had been fruitless; but with the change in the weather to which we have
referred, the strike came. It had already lasted some seven or eight
days, when a Saturday arrived which had been selected, several months
before, for a great political gathering on the summit of Leo’s Hill.
This was a meeting of radicals and socialists to further the cause of
Mr. Wone’s campaign.

Leo’s Hill had been, for many generations, the site of such local
gatherings. These gatherings were not confined to political
demonstrators. They were usually attended by circus-men and other
caterers to proletarian amusement; and were often quite as lively, in
their accompaniments of feasting and festivity, as any country fair.

The actual speaking took place at the extreme northern end of the hill,
where there was a singular and convenient feature, lending itself to
such assemblies, in the formation of the ground. This was the grassy
outline, still emphasizing quite distinctly its ancient form, of the
military Roman amphitheatre attached to the camp. Locally the place was
known as “the Frying-pan”, from its marked and grotesque resemblance to
that utensil; but no base culinary appellation, issue of Anglo-Saxon
unimaginativeness, could conceal the formidable classic moulding of its
well-known shape--the shape of the imperial colisseum.

Between the Frying-pan and the southern side of the hill, where the
bulk of the quarries were, rose a solitary stone building. One hardly
expected the presence of such a building in such a place, for it was
a considerable-sized inn; but the suitableness of the grassy expanses
of the ancient camp for all manner of tourist-jaunts accounted for its
erection; and doubtless it served a good purpose in softening with
interludes of refreshment the labours of the quarry-men.

It was the presence of this admirable tavern so near the voice of the
orator, that led Mr. Romer, himself, to stroll, on that Saturday,
in the direction of his rival’s demonstration. Though the more
considerable of his quarries were at the southern end of the hill,
certain new excavations, in the success of which he took exceptional
interest, had been latterly made in its very centre, and within a
stone’s throw of the tavern-door. The great cranes, used in this
new invasion, stood out against the sky from the highest part of the
hill, and assumed, especially at sunset, when their shape was rendered
most emphatic, the form of enormous compasses, planted there by some
gigantic architectural hand.

It was in relation to these new works that Mr. Romer, towards the close
of the afternoon, found himself advancing along the narrow path that
led, between clumps of bracken and furze-bushes, from the most westward
of his woods to the hill’s base. Mr. Lickwit had informed him that
there was talk, among some of the more intransigent of the Yeoborough
socialists, about destroying these cranes. Objections had been brought
against them, in recent newspaper articles, on purely æsthetic grounds.
It was said they disfigured the classic outline of the hill, and
interfered with a landmark which had been a delight to every eye for
unnumbered ages.

It was hardly to be supposed that the more official of the supporters
of Mr. Wone would condone any such outbreak. It was unlikely that
Wone himself would do so. The “Christian Candidate,” as his Methodist
friends called him, was in no way a man of violence. But the fact
that there had been this pseudo-public criticism of the works from an
unpolitical point of view might lend colour to any sort of scandal.
There were plenty of bold spirits among the by-streets of Yeoborough
who would have loved nothing better than to send Mr. Romer’s cranes
toppling over into a pit, and indeed it was the sort of adventure which
would draw all the more restless portion of the meeting’s audience.
The possibility was the more threatening because the presence of this
kind of general fair attracted to the hill all manner of heterogeneous
persons quite unconnected with the locality.

But what really influenced Mr. Romer in making his own approach to the
spot, was the neighbourhood of the Half Moon. Where there was drink, he
argued, people would get drunk; and where people got drunk, anything
might happen. He had instituted Mr. Lickwit to remain on guard at the
eastern works; and he had written to the superintendent of police
suggesting the advisability of special precautions. But he felt nervous
and ill at ease as he listened, from his Nevilton terrace, to the
distant shouts and clamour carried to him on the west wind; and true to
his Napoleonic instincts, he proceeded, without informing anyone of his
intention, straight to the zone of danger.

The afternoon was very hot, though there was no sun. The wind blew
in threatening gusts, and the quarry-owner noticed that the distant
Quantock Moors were overhung with a dark bank of lowering clouds.
It was one of those sinister days that have the power of taking all
colour and all interest out of the earth’s surface. The time of the
year lent itself gloomily to this sombre unmasking. The furze-bushes
looked like dead things. Many of them had actually been burnt in
some wanton conflagration; and their prickly branches carried warped
and blighted seeds. The bracken, near the path, had been dragged and
trodden. Here and there its stalks protruded like thin amputated arms.
The elder-bushes, caught in the wind, showed white and metallic, as
if all their leaves had been dipped in some brackish water. All the
trees seemed to have something of this dull, whitish glare, which did
not prevent them from remaining, in the recesses of their foliage, as
drearily dark as the dark dull soil beneath them. The grass of the
fields had a look congruous with the rest of the scene; a look as if it
had been one large velvety pall, drawn over the whole valley.

In the valley itself, along the edges of this grassy hall, the tall
clipped elm-trees stood like mourning sentinels bowing towards their
dead. Drifting butterflies, principally of the species known as the
“Lesser Heath” and the “Meadow-Brown,” whirled past his feet as
he walked, in troubled and tarnished helplessness. Here and there
a weak dilapidated currant-moth, the very epitome of surrender to
circumstance, tried in vain to arrest its enforced flight among the
swaying stalks of grey melancholy thistles, the only living things who
seemed to find the temper of the day congenial with their own.

When he reached the base of the hill, Mr. Romer was amazed at the crowd
of people which the festivity had attracted to the place. He had heard
them passing down the roads all day from the seclusion of his garden,
and to judge by such vehicles as he had secured a glimpse of from the
entrance to his drive, many of them must have come from miles away. But
he had never expected a crowd like this. It seemed to cover the whole
northern side of the hill, swaying to and fro, like some great stream
of voracious maggots, in the body of a dead animal.

Round the cranes, in the centre of the hill, the crowd seemed
especially thick. He made out the presence there of several large
caravans, and he heard the music of a merry-go-round from that
direction. This latter sound, in its metallic and ferocious gaiety,
seemed especially adapted to the character of the scene. It seemed
like the very voice of some savage Dionysian helot-feast, celebrated
in defiance of all constituted authority. It was such music as Caliban
would have loved.

Unwilling to arouse unnecessary anger by making his presence known,
while there was no cause, Mr. Romer left the Half Moon on his right,
and crossing the brow of the hill diagonally, by a winding path that
encircled the grassy hollows of innumerable ancient quarries, arrived
at the foot of an immense circular tumulus which dominated the whole
scene. This indeed was the highest point of Leo’s Hill, and from
its summit one looked far away towards the Bristol Channel in one
direction, and far away towards the English Channel in another. It was,
as it were, the very navel and pivot of that historic region. From this
spot one obtained a sort of birds-eye view of the whole surface of
Leo’s Hill.

Here Mr. Romer found himself quite alone, and from here, with hands
clasped behind him, he surveyed the scene with a grave satiric smile.
He could see his new works with the immense cranes reaching into the
sky above them. He could see the swaying crowd round the amphitheatre
at the extreme corner of the promontory; and he could see, embosomed in
trees to the left of Nevilton’s Mount, a portion of his own Elizabethan
dwelling.

Mr. Romer felt strong and confident as he looked down on all these
things. He always seemed to renew the forces of his being when he
visited this grass-covered repository of his wealth and influence.
Leo’s Hill suited his temper, and he felt as though he suited the
temper of Leo’s Hill. Between the man who exploited the stone, and the
great reservoir of the stone he exploited, there seemed an illimitable
affinity.

He looked down with grim and humorous contempt at the noisy crowd
thus invading his sacred domain. They might harangue their hearts
out,--those besotted sentimentalists,--he could well afford to let them
talk! They might howl and dance and feast and drink, till they were as
dazed as Comus’ rabble,--he could afford to let them shout! Probably
Mr. Wone, the “Christian Candidate,” was even at that moment, making
his great final appeal for election at the hands of the noble, the
free, the enlightened constituency of Mid-Wessex.

Romer felt an immense wave of contempt surge through his veins for this
stream of fatuous humanity as it swarmed before his eyes like an army
of disturbed ants. How little their anger or their affection mattered
to him--or mattered to the world at large! He would have liked to have
seized in his hands some vast celestial torch and suffocated them all
in its smoke, as one would choke out a wasp’s nest. Their miserable
little pains and pleasures were not worth the trouble Nature had taken
in giving them the gift of life. Dead or alive--happy or unhappy--they
were not deserving of any more consideration than a cloud of gnats that
one brushed away from one’s face.

The master of Leo’s Hill drew a deep breath and listened to the screams
of the merry-go-round. Something in the strident machine made him
think of hymn-singing and mob-religion. This Religion of Sentiment
and Self-Pity with which they cloak their weakness and their petty
rancour--what is it, he thought, but an excuse of escaping from the
necessity of being strong and fearless and hard and formidable? It is
easier--so much easier--to draw back, and go aside, and deal in paltry
subterfuges and sneaking jealousies, veneered over with hypocritical
unction, than to strike out and pursue one’s own way drastically and
boldly.

He folded his arms and frowned. What is it, he muttered to himself,
this hidden Force, this Power, this God, to which they raise their
vague appeals against the proud, clear, actual domination of natural
law and unscrupulous strength? Is there really some other element
in the world, some other fact, from which they can draw support and
encouragement? There cannot be! He looked at the lowering sky above
him, and at the grey thistles and little patches of thyme under his
feet. All was solid, real, unyielding. There was no gap, no open door,
in the stark surface of things, through which such a mystery might
enter.

He found himself vaguely wondering whose grave this had originally
been, this great flat tumulus, upon which he stood and hated the mob
of men. There was a burnt circle in the centre of it, with blackened
cinders. The place had been used for some recent national rejoicing,
and they had raised a bonfire here. He supposed that there must have
been a much more tremendous bonfire in the days when--perhaps before
the Romans--this mound was raised to celebrate some savage chieftain.
He wondered whether, in his life-time, this long-buried, long-forgotten
one had stood, even as he stood now, and cried aloud to the Earth and
the Sky in sick loathing of his wretched fellow-animals.

He humorously speculated whether this man also, this ancient challenger
of popular futility, had been driven to strange excesses by the
provocative resistance of some feeble girl, making her mute appeals to
the suppressed conscience in him, and calling in the help of tender
compassionate gods? Had they softened this buried chieftain’s heart,
these gods of slavish souls and weak wills, before he went down
into darkness? Or had he defied them to the last and died lonely,
implacable, contemptuous?

The quarry-owner’s ears began to grow irritated at last by these
raucous metallic sounds and by the laughter and the shouting. It was
so precisely as if this foolish crowd were celebrating, in drunken
ecstasy, a victory won over him, and over all that was clear-edged,
self-possessed, and effectual, in this confused world. He struck off
the heads of some of the grey thistles with his cane, and wished they
had been the heads of the Christian Candidate and his oratorical
associates.

Presently his attention was excited by a tremendous hubbub at the
northern extremity of the hill. The crowd seemed to have gone mad.
They cheered again and again, and seemed vociferating some popular air
or some marching-song. He could almost catch the words of this. The
curious thing was that he could not help in his heart dallying with
the strange wish that in place of being the man at the top, he had
been one of these men at the bottom. How differently he would have
conducted the affair. He knew, from his dealings with the country
families, how deep this revolutionary rage with established tradition
could sink. He sympathized with it himself. He would have loved to have
flung the whole sleek structure of society into disorder, and to have
shaken these feeble rulers out of their snug seats. But this Wone had
not the spirit of a wood-louse! Had he--Romer--been at this moment the
arch-revolutionary, in place of the arch-tyrant, what a difference in
method and result! Did they think, these idiots, that eloquent words
and appeals to Justice and Charity would change the orbits of the
planets?

He strode impatiently to the edge of the tumulus. Yes, there was
certainly something unusual going forward. The crowd was swaying
outwards, was scattering and wavering. Men were running to and fro,
tossing their hats in the air and shouting. At last there really was
a definite event. The whole mass of the crowd seemed to be seized
simultaneously with a single impulse. It began to move. It began to
move in the direction of his new quarries. The thrill of battle seized
the heart of the master of Nevilton with an exultant glow. So they were
really going to attempt something--the incapable sheep! This was the
sort of situation he had long cried out for. To have an excuse to meet
them, face to face, in a genuine insurrection, this was worthier of a
man’s energy than quarrelling with wretched Social Meetings.

He ran down the side of the tumulus and hastened to meet the
approaching mob. By leaving the path and skirting the edge of several
disused quarries he should, he thought, easily be able to reach his
new works long before they did. The tall cranes served as a guide. To
his astonishment he found, on approaching his objective, that the mob
had swerved, and were now streaming forward in a long wavering line,
between the Half Moon tavern and the lower slopes, towards the southern
end of the hill.

“Ah!” he muttered under his breath, “this is more serious! They are
going to attack the offices.”

By this time, the bulk of the crowd had got so far that it would have
been impossible for him to intercept or anticipate them.

Among the more cautious sight-seers who, mixed with women and children,
were trailing slowly in the rear, he was quite certain he made out
the figures of Wone and his fellow-politicians. “Just like him,” he
thought. “He has stirred them up with his speeches and now he is hiding
behind them! I expect he will be sneaking off home presently.” The
figure he supposed to be that of the Christian Candidate did, as a
matter of fact, shortly after this, detach himself from the rest of his
group and retire quietly and discreetly towards the path leading to
Nevilton.

Romer retraced his steps as rapidly as he could. He repassed the
tumulus, crossed a somewhat precipitous bank between two quarries, and
emerged upon the road that skirts the western brow of the hill. This
road he followed at an impetuous pace, listening, as he advanced, for
any sound of destruction and violence. When he arrived at the open
level between the two largest of his quarries he found himself at the
edge of a surging and howling mob. He could see over their heads the
low slate roofs of his works, and he could see that someone, mounted
on a large slab of stone, was haranguing the people near him, but more
than this it was impossible to make out and it was extremely difficult
to get any closer. The persons on the outskirts of the crowd were
evidently strangers, and with no interest in the affair at all beyond
excited curiosity, for he heard them asking one another the most vague
and confused questions.

Presently he observed the figure of a policeman rise behind the man
upon the stone and jerk him to the ground. This was followed by a
bewildering uproar. Clenched hands were raised in the air, and wild
cries were audible. He fancied he caught the sound of the syllable
“fire.”

Romer was seized with a mad lust of contest. He struggled desperately
to force his way through to the front, but the entangled mass of
agitated, perspiring people proved an impassable barrier.

He began hastily summing up in his mind what kind of destruction they
could achieve that would cause him any serious annoyance. He remembered
with relief that all the more delicate pieces of carved work were down
at Nevilton Station. They could do little damage to solid blocks of
stone, which were all they would find inside those wooden sheds. They
might injure the machinery and the more fragile of the tools, but they
could hardly do even that, unless they were aided by some of his own
men. He wondered if his own men--the men on strike--were among them,
or if the rioters were only roughs from Yeoborough. Let them burn
the sheds down! He did not value the sheds. They could be replaced
tomorrow. Their utmost worth was hardly the price of a dozen bottles of
champagne. It gave him a thrill of grim satisfaction to think of the
ineffectualness of this horde of gesticulating two-legged creatures,
making vain assaults upon slabs of impervious rock. Man against Stone!
It was a pleasant and symbolic struggle. And it could only have one
issue.

Finding it impossible to move forward, and not caring to be observed by
anyone who knew him hemmed in in this ridiculous manner among staring
females and jocose youths, Romer edged himself backwards, and, hot and
breathless, got clear of the crowd.

The physical exhaustion of this effort--for only a man of considerable
strength could have advanced an inch through such a dense mass--had
materially diminished his thirst for a personal encounter. He smiled
to himself to think how humorous it would be if he could, even now,
overtake the escaping Mr. Wone, and offer his rival restorative
refreshment, in the cool shades of his garden! For the prime originals
of this absurd riot to be drinking claret-cup upon a grassy lawn, while
the misled and deluded populace were battering their heads against the
stony heart of Leo’s Hill, struck Mr. Romer as a curiously suitable
climax to the days’ entertainment. Hardly thinking of what he did,
he clambered up the side of a steep bank, where a group of children
were playing, and looked across the valley. Surely that solitary black
figure retreating so furtively, so innocently, along the path towards
the wood, could be no one but the Christian Candidate!

Mr. Romer burst out laughing. The discreet fugitive looked so absurdly
characteristic in his shuffling retirement, that he felt for the moment
as if the whole incident were a colossal musical-comedy farce. A puff
of smoke above the heads of the crowd, and a smell of burning, made
him serious again. “Damn them!” he muttered. “They shall not get off
without anything being done.”

From his present position he was able to discern how he could get
round to the sheds. On their remoter side he saw that the crowd had
considerably thinned away. He made out the figures of some policemen
there, bending, it appeared, over something upon the ground.

It did not take him long to descend from his post, to skirt the
western side of the quarries, and to reach the spot. He found that the
object upon the ground was no other than his manager Lickwit, gasping
and pallid, with a streak of blood running down his face. From the
policemen he learnt that an entrance had been forced into the sheds,
and the more violent of the rioters--the ones who had laid Mr. Lickwit
low--were now regaling themselves in that shelter upon the contents of
a barrel of cider, whose hiding-place someone had unearthed. The fire
was already trampled upon and extinguished. He learnt further that a
messenger had been sent to summon more police to the spot, and that it
was to be hoped that the revellers within the shed would continue their
opportune tippling until their arrival. This, however, was not what
fate intended. Reeling and shouting, the half-a-dozen joyous Calibans
emerged from their retreat and proceeded to address the people, all
vociferating at the same time, and each interrupting the other. The
more official and respectable among the politicians had either retired
altogether from the scene or were cautiously watching it, from the
safe obscurity of the general crowd, and the situation around the
stone-works was completely in the hands of the rioters.

Mr. Romer, having done what he could for the comfort of his manager,
who was really more frightened than hurt, turned fiercely upon the
aggressors. He commanded the two remaining policemen--the third was
helping Lickwit from the scene--to arrest on the spot these turbulent
ruffians, who were now engaged in laying level with the ground a
tool-shed adjoining the one they had entered. They were striking at the
corner-beams of this erection with picks and crow-bars. Others among
the crowd, pushing their less courageous neighbours forward, began
throwing stones at the policemen, uttering, as they did so, yells and
threats and abusive insults.

The mass of the people behind, hearing these yells, and yielding to a
steady pressure from the rear, where more and more inquisitive persons
kept arriving, began to sway ominously onward, crowding more and more
thickly around the open space, where Mr. Romer stood, angrily regarding
them.

The policemen kept looking anxiously towards the Half Moon where
the road across the hill terminated. They were evidently very
nervous and extremely desirous of the arrival of re-enforcements.
No re-enforcements coming, however, and the destruction of property
continuing, they were forced to act; and drawing their staves, they
made a determined rush upon the men attacking the shed. Had these
persons not been already half-drunk, the emissaries of the law would
have come off badly. As it was, they only succeeded in flinging the
rioters back a few paces. The whole crowd moved forward and a volley of
stones and sticks compelled the officials to retreat. In their retreat
they endeavoured to carry Mr. Romer with them, assuring him, in hurried
gasps, that his life itself was in danger. “They’ll knock your head
off, sir--the scoundrels! Phil Wone has seen you.”

The pale son of Mr. Wone had indeed pushed his way to the front. He at
once began an impassioned oration.

“There he is--the devil himself!” he shouted, panting with excitement.
“Do for him, friends! Throw him into one of his own pits--the
bloodsucker, the assassin, the murderer of the people!”

Wild memories of historic passages rushed through the young anarchist’s
brain. He waved his arms savagely, goading on his companions. His face
was livid. Mr. Romer moved towards him, his head thrown back and a
contemptuous smile upon his face.

The drunken ring leaders, recognizing their hereditary terror--the
local magistrate--reeled backwards in sudden panic. Others in the front
line of the crowd, knowing Mr. Romer by sight, stood stock still and
gaped foolishly or tried to shuffle off unobserved. A few strangers who
were there, perceiving the presence of a formidable-looking gentleman,
assumed at once that he was Lord Tintinhull or the Earl of Glastonbury
and made frantic efforts to escape. The crowd at the back, conscious
that a reverse movement had begun, became alarmed. Cries were raised
that the “military” had come. “They are going to fire!” shouted one
voice, and several women screamed.

Philip Wone lifted up his voice again, pointing with outstretched arm
at his enemy, and calling upon the crowd to advance.

“The serpent!--the devil-fish!--the bread-stealer!--the money-eater!”
he yelled. “Cast him into his own pit, bury him in his own quarries!”

It was perhaps fortunate for Mr. Romer at that moment that his
adversary was this honest youth in place of a more hypocritical
leader. An English crowd, even though sprinkled with a leaven of angry
strikers, only grows puzzled and bewildered when it hears its enemy
referred to as “devil-fish” and “assassin.”

The enemy at this moment took full advantage of their bewilderment. He
deliberately drew out his cigarette-case and lighting a cigarette, made
a gesture as if driving back a flock of sheep. The crowd showed further
signs of panic. But the young anarchist was not to be silenced.

“Look round you, friends,” he shouted. “Here is this man defying you
on the very spot where you work for him day and night, where your
descendants will work for his descendants day and night! What are you
afraid of? This man did not make this hill bring forth stone, though it
is stone, instead of bread, that he would willingly give your children!”

Mr. Romer gave a sign to the policemen and approached a step nearer.
The cider-drinkers had already moved off. The crowd began to melt away.

“The very earth,” went on the young man, “cries aloud to you to put an
end to this tyranny! Do you realize that this is the actual place where
in one grand revolt the men of Mid Wessex rose against the--”

He was interrupted by a man behind him--a poacher from an outlying
hamlet. “Chuck it, Phil Wone! Us knows all about this ’ere job.”

Mr. Romer raised his hand. The policemen seized the young man by the
arms, one on either side. He seemed hardly to notice them, and went on
in a loud resonant voice that rang across the valley.

“It will end! It will end, this evil day! Already the new age is
beginning. These robbers of the people had better make haste with their
plundering, for the hour is approaching! Where is your priest?”--he
struggled violently with his captors, turning towards the rapidly
retreating crowd, “where is your vicar,--your curer of souls? He talks
to you of submission, and love, and obedience, and duty. What does this
man care for these things? It is under this talk of “love” that you are
betrayed! It is under this talk of “duty,” that your children have the
bread taken from their mouths! But the hour will come;--yes, you may
smile,” he addressed himself directly to Mr. Romer now, “but you will
not smile for long. _Your_ fate is already written down! It is as sure
as this rain,--as sure as this storm!”

He was silent, and making no further resistance, let himself be carried
off by the two officials.

The rain he spoke of was indeed beginning. Heavy drops, precursors
of what seemed likely to be a tropical deluge, fell upon the broken
wood-work, upon the half-burnt bracken, upon the slabs of Leonian
stone, and upon the trampled grass. They also fell upon Mr. Romer’s
silver match-box as he selected another cigarette of his favourite
brand, and walked slowly and smilingly away in the direction of
Nevilton.



CHAPTER XVI

HULLAWAY


“I see,” said Luke Andersen to his brother, as they sat at breakfast in
the station-master’s kitchen, about a fortnight after the riot on Leo’s
Hill, “I see that Romer has withdrawn his charge against young Wone.
It seems that the magistrates set him free yesterday, on Romer’s own
responsibility. So the case will not come up at all. What do you make
of that?”

“He is a wiser man than I imagined,” said James.

“And that’s not all!” cried his brother blowing the cigarette ashes
from the open paper in front of him. “It appears the strike is in a
good way of being settled by those damned delegates. We were idiots
to trust them. I knew it. I told the men so. But they are all such
hopeless fools. No doubt Romer has found some way of getting round
them! The talk is now of arbitration, and a commissioner from the
government. You mark my words, Daddy Jim, we shall be back working
again by Monday.”

“But we shall get the chief thing we wanted, after all--if Lickwit is
removed,” said James, rising from the table and going to the window, “I
know I shall be quite satisfied myself, if I don’t see that rascal’s
face any more.”

“The poor wretch has collapsed altogether, so they said down at the
inn last night,” Luke put in. “My belief is that Romer has now staked
everything on getting into Parliament and is ready to do anything to
propitiate the neighbourhood. If that’s his line, he’ll succeed. He’ll
out-manœuvre our friend Wone at every step. When a man of his type
once tries the conciliatory game be becomes irresistible. That is what
these stupid employers so rarely realize. No doubt that’s his policy
in stopping the process against Philip. He’s a shrewd fellow this
Romer--and I shouldn’t wonder if, when the strike is settled, he became
the most popular landlord in the country. Wone did for himself by
sneaking off home that day, when things looked threatening. They were
talking about that in Yeoborough. I shouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t
lose him the election.”

“I hope not,” said James Andersen gazing out of the window at the
gathering clouds. “I should be sorry to see that happen.”

“I should be damned glad!” cried his brother, pushing back his chair
and luxuriously sipping his final cup of tea. “My sympathies are all
with Romer in this business. He has acted magnanimously. He has acted
shrewdly. I would sooner, any day, be under the control of a man like
him, than see a sentimental charlatan like Wone get into Parliament.”

“You are unfair, my friend,” said the elder brother, opening the lower
sash of the window and letting in such a draught of rainy wind that he
was immediately compelled to re-close it, “you are thoroughly unfair.
Wone is not in the least a charlatan. He believes every word he says,
and he says a great many things that are profoundly true. I cannot
see,” he went on, turning round and confronting his equable relative
with a perturbed and troubled face, “why you have got your knife into
Wone in this extreme manner. Of course he is conceited and long-winded,
but the man is genuinely sincere. I call him rather a pathetic figure.”

“He looked pathetic enough when he sneaked off after that riot, leaving
Philip in the hands of the police.”

“It annoys me the way you speak,” returned the elder brother, in
growing irritation. “What right have you to call the one man’s
discretion cowardice, and the other’s wise diplomacy? I don’t see that
it was any more cowardice for Wone to protest against a riot, than for
Romer to back down before public opinion as he seems now to have done.
Besides, who can blame a fellow for wanting to avoid a scene like that?
I know _you_ wouldn’t have cared to encounter those Yeoborough roughs.”

“Old Romer encountered them,” retorted Luke. “They say he smoked a
cigarette in their faces, and just waved them away, as if they were a
cloud of gnats. I love a man who can do that sort of thing!”

“That’s right!” cried the elder brother growing thoroughly angry.
“That’s the true Yellow Press attitude! Here we have one of your
‘still, strong men,’ afraid of no mob on earth! I know them--these
strong men! It’s easy enough to be calm and strong when you have a
banking-account like Romer’s, and all the police in the county on your
side!”

“Brother Lickwit will not forget that afternoon,” remarked Luke, taking
a rose from a vase on the table and putting it into his button-hole.

“Yes, Lickwit is the scape-goat,” rejoined the other. “Lickwit will
have to leave the place, broken in his nerves, and ruined in his
reputation, while his master gets universal praise for magnanimity and
generosity! That is the ancient trick of these crafty oppressors.”

“Why do you use such grand words, Daddy Jim?” said Luke smiling and
stretching out his legs. “It’s all nonsense, this talk about oppressors
and oppressed. The world only contains two sorts of people--the capable
ones and the incapable ones. I am all on the side of the capable ones!”

“I suppose that is why you are treating little Annie Bristow so
abominably!” cried James, losing all command of his temper.

Luke made an indescribable grimace which converted his countenance in a
moment from that of a gentle faun to that of an ugly Satyr.

“Ho! ho!” he exclaimed, “so we are on that tack are we? And please tell
me, most virtuous moralist, why I am any worse in my attitude to Annie,
than you in your attitude to Ninsy? It seems to me we are in the same
box over these little jobs.”

“Damn you!” cried James Andersen, walking fiercely up to his brother
and trembling with rage.

But Luke sipped his tea with perfect equanimity.

“It’s no good damning me,” he said quietly. “That will not alter the
situation. The fact remains, that both of us have found our little
village-girls rather a nuisance. I don’t blame you. I don’t blame
myself. These things are inevitable. They are part of the system of the
universe. Little girls have to learn--as the world moves round--that
they can’t have everything they want. I don’t know whether you intend
to marry Ninsy? I haven’t the slightest intention of marrying Annie.”

“But you’ve been making love to her for the last two months! You told
me so yourself when we met her at Hullaway!”

“And you weren’t so very severe then, were you, Daddy Jim? It’s only
because I have annoyed you this morning that you bring all this up.
As a matter of fact, Annie is far less mad about me than Ninsy is
about you. She’s already flirting with Bob Granger. Anyone can see
she’s perfectly happy. She’s been happy ever since she made a fool
of me over Gladys’ ring. As long as a girl knows she’s put you in a
ridiculous position, she’ll very soon console herself. No doubt she’ll
make Granger marry her before the summer’s over. Ninsy is quite a
different person. Annie and I take our little affair in precisely the
same spirit. I am no more to blame than she is. But Ninsy’s case is
different. Ninsy is seriously and desperately in love with you. And her
invalid state makes the situation a much more embarrassing one. I think
my position is infinitely less complicated than yours, brother Jim!”

James Andersen’s face became convulsed with fury. He stretched out his
arm towards his brother, and extended a threatening fore-finger.

“Young man,” he cried, “I will _never_ forgive you for this!”

Having uttered these words he rushed incontinently out of the room,
and, bare-headed as he was, proceeded to stride across the fields, in a
direction opposite from that which led to Nevilton.

The younger brother shrugged his shoulders, drained his tea-cup, and
meditatively lit another cigarette. The stone-works being closed,
he had all the day before him in which to consider this unfortunate
rupture. At the present moment, however, all he did was to call their
landlady--the station-master’s buxom wife--and affably help her in the
removal and washing up of the breakfast things.

Luke was an adept in all household matters. His supple fingers and
light feminine movements were equal to almost any task, and while
occupied in such things his gay and humorous conversation made any
companion of his labour an enviable person. Mrs. Round, their landlady,
adored him. There was nothing she would not have done at his request;
and Lizzie, Betty, and Polly, her three little daughters, loved him
more than they loved their own father. Having concerned himself for
more than an hour with these agreeable people, Luke took his hat and
stick, and strolling lazily along the railroad-line railings, surveyed
with inquisitive interest the motley group of persons who were waiting,
on the further side, for the approach of a train.

A little apart from the rest, seated on a bench beside a large empty
basket, he observed the redoubtable Mrs. Fringe. Between this lady and
himself there had existed for the last two years a sort of conspiracy
of gossip. Like many other middle-aged women in Nevilton, Mrs. Fringe
had made a pet and confidant of this attractive young man, who played,
in spite of his mixed birth, a part almost analogous to that of an
affable and ingratiating cadet of some noble family.

He passed through the turn-stile, crossed the track, and advanced
slowly up the platform. His plump Gossip, observing him afar off,
rose and moved to meet him, her basket swinging in her hand and a
radiant smile upon her face. It was like an encounter between some
Pantagruelian courtier and some colossal Gargamelle. They stood
together, in the wind, at the extreme edge of the platform. Luke, who
was dressed so well that it would have been impossible to distinguish
him from any golden youth from Oxford or Cambridge, whispered
shameless scandal into the lady’s ears, from beneath the shadow of his
panama-hat. She on her side was equally confidential.

“There was a pretty scene down our way last night,” she said. “Miss
Seldom came in with some books for my young Reverend and, Lord! they
did have an ado. I heard ’un shouting at one another as though them
were rampin’ mad. My master ’ee were hollerin’ Holy Scripture like as
he were dazed, and the young lady she were answerin’ ’im with God knows
what. From all I could gather of it, that girl had got some devil’s
tale on Miss Gladys. ’Tweren’t as though she did actually name her by
name, as you might say, but she pulled her hair and scratched her like
any crazy cat, sideways-like and cross-wise. It seems she’d got hold
of some story about that foreign young woman and Miss Gladys having
her knife into ’er, but I saw well enough what was at the bottom of it
and I won’t conceal it from ’ee, my dear. She do want ’im for herself.
That’s the long and short. She do want ’im for herself!”

“What were they disputing about?” asked Luke eagerly. “Did you hear
their words?”

“’Tis no good arstin’ me about their words,” replied Mrs. Fringe.
“Those long-windy dilly-dallies do sound to me no more than the
burbering of blowflies. God save us from such words! I’m not a reading
woman and I don’t care who knows it. But I know when a wench is
moon-daft on a fellow. I knows that, my dear, and I knows when she’s
got a tale on another girl!”

“Did she talk about Catholicism to him?” enquired Luke.

“I won’t say as she didn’t bring something of that sort in,” replied
his friend. “But ’twas Miss Gladys wot worried ’er. Any fool could see
that. ’Tis my experience that when a girl and a fellow get hot on any
of these dilly-dally argimints, there’s always some other maid biding
round the corner.”

“I’ve just had a row with James,” remarked the stone-carver. “He’s gone
off in a fury over towards Hullaway.”

Mrs Fringe put down her basket and glanced up and down the platform.
Then she laid her hand on the young man’s arm.

“I wouldn’t say what I do now say, to anyone, but thee own self,
dearie. And I wouldn’t say it to thee if it hadn’t been worriting me
for some merciful long while. And what’s more I wouldn’t say it, if
I didn’t know what you and your Jim are to one another. ‘More than
brothers,’ is what the whole village do say of ye!”

“Go on--go on--Mrs. Fringe!” cried Luke. “That curst signal’s down, and
I can hear the train.”

“There be other trains than wot run on them irons,” pronounced Mrs.
Fringe sententiously, “and if you aren’t careful, one such God
Almighty’s train will run over that brother of yours, sooner or later.”

Luke looked apprehensively up the long converging steel track. The
gloom of the day and the ominous tone of his old gossip affected him
very unpleasantly. He began to wish that there was not a deep muddy
pond under the Hullaway elms.

“What on earth do you mean?” he cried, adding impatiently, “Oh damn
that train!” as a cloud of smoke made itself visible in the distance.

“Only this, dearie,” said the woman picking up her basket, “only this.
If you listen to me you’d sooner dig your own grave than have words
with brother. Brother be not one wot can stand these fimble-fambles
same as you and I. I know wot I do say, cos I was privileged, under
Almighty God, to see the end of your dear mother.”

“I know--I know--” cried the young man, “but what do you mean?”

Mrs. Fringe thrust her arm through the handle of her basket and turned
to meet the incoming train.

“’Twas when I lived with my dear husband down at Willow-Grove,” she
said. “’Twas a stone’s throw there from where you and Jim were born. I
always feared he would go, same as she went, sooner or later. He talks
like her. He looks like her. He treats a person in the way she treated
a person, poor moon-struck darling! ’Twas all along of your father. She
couldn’t bide him along-side of her in the last days. And he knew it as
well as you and I know it. But do ’ee think it made any difference to
him? Not a bit, dearie! Not one little bit!”

The train had now stopped, and with various humorous observations,
addressed to porters and passengers indiscriminately, Mrs. Fringe took
her place in a carriage.

Heedless of being overheard, Luke addressed her through the window of
the compartment. “But what about James? What were you saying about
James?”

“’Tis too long a tale to tell ’ee, dearie,” murmured the woman
breathlessly. “There be need now of all my blessed wits to do business
for the Reverend. There, look at that!” She waved at him a crumpled
piece of paper. “Beyond all thinking I’ve got to fetch him books from
Slitly’s. Books, by the Lord! As if he hadn’t too many of the darned
things for his poor brain already!”

The engine emitted a portentous puff of smoke, and the train began to
move. Luke walked by the side of his friend’s window, his hand on the
sash.

“You think it is inadvisable to thwart my brother, then,” he said,
“in any way at all. You think I must humour him. You are afraid if I
don’t--” His walk was of necessity quickened into a run.

“It’s a long story, dearie, a long story. But I had the privilege under
God Almighty of knowing your blessed mother when she was called, and I
tell you it makes my heart ache to see James going along the same road
as--”

Her voice was extinguished by the noise of wheels and steam. Luke,
exhausted, was compelled to relax his hold. The rest of the carriages
passed him with accumulated speed and he watched the train disappear.
In his excitement he had advanced far beyond the limits of the
platform. He found himself standing in a clump of yellow rag-wort,
just behind his own stone-cutter’s shed.

He gazed up the track, along which the tantalizing lady had been
so inexorably snatched away. The rails had a dull whitish glitter
but their look was bleak and grim. They suggested, in their narrow
merciless perspective, cutting the pastures in twain, the presence
of some remorseless mechanical Will carving its purpose, blindly and
pitilessly, out of the innocent waywardness of thoughtless living
things.

An immense and indefinable foreboding passed, like the insertion of
a cold, dead finger, through the heart of the young man. Fantastic
and terrible images pursued one another through his agitated brain.
He saw his brother lying submerged in Hullaway Pond, while a group
of frightened children stood, in white pinafores, stared at him with
gaping mouths. He saw himself arriving upon this scene. He even went
so far as to repeat to himself the sort of cry that such a sight might
naturally draw from his lips, his insatiable dramatic sense making
use, in this way, of his very panic, to project its irrepressible
puppet-show. His brother’s words, “Young man, I will never forgive
you for this,” rose luridly before him. He saw them written along
the edge of a certain dark cloud which hung threateningly over the
Hullaway horizon. He felt precisely what he would feel when he saw
them--luminously phosphorescent--in the indescribable mud and greenish
weeds that surrounded his brother’s dead face. A sickening sense of
loss and emptiness went shivering through him. He felt as though
nothing in the world was of the least importance except the life of
James Andersen.

With hurried steps he recrossed the line, repassed the turn-stile,
and began following the direction taken by his brother just two hours
before. Never had the road to Hullaway seemed so long!

Half-way there, where the road took a devious turn, he left it, and
entering the fields again, followed a vaguely outlined foot-path. This
also betraying him, or seeming to betray him, by its departure from the
straight route, he began crossing the meadows with feverish directness,
climbing over hedges and ditches with the desperate preoccupation of
one pursued by invisible pursuers. The expression upon his face, as he
hurried forward in this manner, was the expression of a man who has
everything he values at stake. A casual acquaintance would never have
supposed that the equable countenance of Luke Andersen had the power
to look so haggard, so drawn, so troubled. He struck the road again
less than half a mile from his destination. Why he was so certain that
Hullaway was the spot he sought, he could hardly have explained. It
was, however, one of his own favourite walks on rainless evenings and
Sunday afternoons, and quite recently he had several times persuaded
his brother to accompany him. He himself was wont to haunt the place
and its surroundings, because of the fact that, about a mile to the
west of it, there stood an isolated glove-factory to which certain
of the Nevilton girls were accustomed to make their way across the
field-paths.

Hullaway village was a very small place, considerably more remote from
the world than Nevilton, and attainable only by narrow lanes. The
centre of it was the great muddy stagnant pond which now so dominated
Luke’s alarmed imagination. Near the pond was a group of elms, of
immense antiquity,--many of them mere stumps of trees,--but all of them
possessed of wide-spreading prominent roots, and deeply indented hollow
trunks worn as smooth as ancient household furniture, by the constant
fumbling and scrambling of generations of Hullaway children.

The only other objects of interest in the place, were a small,
unobtrusive church, built, like everything else in the neighborhood, of
Leonian stone, and an ancient farm-house surrounded by a high manorial
wall. Beneath one of the Hullaway Elms stood an interesting relic of
a ruder age, in the shape of some well-worn stocks, now as pleasant a
seat for rural gossips as they were formerly an unpleasant pillory for
rural malefactors.

As Luke Andersen approached this familiar spot he observed with a
certain vague irritation the well-known figure of one of his most
recent Nevilton enchantresses. The girl was no other, in fact, than
that shy companion of Annie Bristow who had been amusing herself
with them in the Fountain Square on the occasion of Mr. Clavering’s
ill-timed intervention. At this moment she was sauntering negligently
along, on a high-raised path of narrow paved flag-stones, such paths
being a peculiarity of Hullaway, due to the prevalence of heavy autumn
floods.

The girl was evidently bound for the glove-factory, for she swung a
large bundle as she walked, resting it idly every now and then, on any
available wall or rail or close-cut hedge, along which she passed.
She was an attractive figure, tall, willowy, and lithe, and she walked
in that lingering, swaying voluptuous manner which gives to the
movements of maidens of her type a sort of provocative challenge. Luke,
advancing along the road behind her, caught himself admiring, in spite
of his intense preoccupation, the alluring swing of her walk and the
captivating lines of her graceful person.

The moment was approaching that he had so fantastically dreaded, the
moment of his first glance at Hullaway Great Pond. He was already
relieved to see no signs of anything unusual in the air of the
place,--but the imaged vision of his brother’s drowned body still
hovered before him, and that fatal “I’ll never forgive you for this!”
still rang in his ears.

His mind all this while was working with extraordinary rapidity and he
was fully conscious of the grotesque irrelevance of this lapse into the
ingrained habit of wanton admiration. Quickly, in a flash of lightning,
he reviewed all his amorous adventures and his frivolous philanderings.
How empty, how bleak, how impossible, all such pleasures seemed,
without the dark stooping figure of this companion of his soul as their
taciturn background! He looked at Phyllis Santon with a sudden savage
resolution, and made a quaint sort of vow in the depths of his heart.

“I’ll never speak to the wench again or look at her again,” he said to
himself, “if I find Daddy Jim safe and sound, and if he forgives me!”

He hurried past her, almost at a run, and arrived at the centre of
Hullaway. There was the Great Pond, with its low white-washed stone
parapet. There were the ancient elm-trees and the stocks. There also
were the white-pinafored infants playing in the hollow aperture of the
oldest among the trees. But the slimy surface of the water was utterly
undisturbed save by two or three assiduous ducks who at intervals
plunged beneath it.

He drew an immense sigh of relief and glanced casually round. Phyllis
had not failed to perceive him. With a shy little friendly smile she
advanced towards him. His vow was already in some danger. He waved her
a hasty greeting but did not take her hand.

“You’d better put yourself into the stocks,” he said, covering with a
smile the brutality of his neglect, “until I come back! I have to find
James.”

Leaving her standing in mute consternation, he rushed off to the
churchyard on the further side of the little common. There was a
certain spot here, under the shelter of the Manor wall, where Luke and
his brother had spent several delicious afternoons, moralizing upon the
quaint epitaphs around them, and smoking cigarettes. Luke felt as if he
were almost sure to find James stretched out at length before a certain
old tombstone whose queer appeal to the casual intruder had always
especially attracted him. Both brothers had a philosophical mania for
these sepulchral places, and the Hullaway grave-yard was even more
congenial to their spirit than the Nevilton one, perhaps because this
latter was so dominatingly possessed by their own dead.

Luke entered the enclosure through a wide-open wooden gate and glanced
quickly round him. There was the Manor wall, as mellow and sheltering
as ever, even on such a day of clouds. There was their favourite
tombstone, with its long inscription to the defunct seignorial house.
But of James Andersen there was not the remotest sign.

Where the devil had his angry brother gone? Luke’s passionate anxiety
began to give place to a certain indignant reaction. Why were people
so ridiculous? These volcanic outbursts of ungoverned emotion on
trifling occasions were just the things that spoiled the harmony and
serenity of life. Where, on earth, could James have slipped off to? He
remembered that they had more than once gone together to the King’s
Arms--the unpretentious Hullaway tavern. It was just within the bounds
of possibility that the wanderer, finding their other haunts chill and
unappealing, had taken refuge there.

He recrossed the common, waved his hand to Phyllis, who seemed to
have taken his speech quite seriously and was patiently seated on the
stocks, and made his way hurriedly to the little inn.

Yes--there, ensconced in a corner of the high settle, with a
half-finished tankard of ale by his side, was his errant brother.

James rose at once to greet him, showing complete friendliness, and
very small surprise. He seemed to have been drinking more than his
wont, however, for he immediately sank back again into his corner, and
regarded his brother with a queer absent-minded look.

Luke ordered a glass of cider and sat down close to him on the settle.

“I am sorry,” he whispered, laying his hand on his brother’s knee. “I
didn’t mean to annoy you. What you said was quite true. I treated Annie
very badly. And Ninsy is altogether different. You’ll forgive me, won’t
you, Daddy Jim?”

James Andersen pressed his hand. “It’s nothing,” he said in rather a
thick voice. “It’s like everything else, it’s nothing. I was a fool. I
am still a fool. But it’s better to be a fool than to be dead, isn’t
it? Or am I talking nonsense?”

“As long as you’re not angry with me any longer,” answered Luke
eagerly, “I don’t care how you talk!”

“I went to the churchyard--to our old place--you know,” went on his
brother. “I stayed nearly an hour there--or was it more? Perhaps it was
more. I stayed so long, anyway, that I nearly went to sleep. I think I
must have gone to sleep!” he added, after a moment’s pause.

“I expect you were tired,” remarked Luke rather weakly, feeling for
some reason or other, a strange sense of disquietude.

“Tired?” exclaimed the recumbent man, “why should I be tired?” He
raised himself up with a jerk, and finishing his glass, set it down
with meticulous care upon the ground beside him.

Luke noticed, with an uncomfortable sense of something not quite usual
in his manner, that every movement he made and every word he spoke
seemed the result of a laborious and conscious effort--like the effort
of one in incomplete control of his sensory nerves.

“What shall we do now?” said Luke with an air of ease and
indifference. “Do you feel like strolling back to Nevilton, or shall
we make a day of it and go on to Roger-Town Ferry and have dinner
there?”

James gave vent to a curiously unpleasant laugh. “You go, my dear,” he
said, “and leave me where I am.”

Luke began to feel thoroughly uncomfortable. He once more laid his hand
caressingly on his brother’s knee. “You have really forgiven me?” he
pleaded. “Really and truly?”

James Andersen had again sunk back into a semi-comatose state in
his corner. “Forgive?” he muttered, as though he found difficulty
in understanding the meaning of the word, “forgive? I tell you it’s
nothing.”

He was silent, and then, in a still more drowsy murmur, he uttered the
word “Nothing” three or four times. Soon after this he closed his eyes
and relapsed into a deep slumber.

“Better leave ’un as ’un be,” remarked the landlord to Luke. “I’ve had
my eye on ’un for this last ’arf hour. ’A do seem mazed-like, looks so.
Let ’un bide where ’un be, master. These be wonderful rumbly days for a
man’s head. ’Taint what ’ee’s ’ad, you understand; to my thinking, ’tis
these thunder-shocks wot ’ave worrited ’im.”

Luke nodded at the man, and standing up surveyed his brother gravely.
It certainly looked as if James was settled in his corner for the rest
of the morning. Luke wondered if it would be best to let him remain
where he was, and sleep off his coma, or to rouse him and try and
persuade him to return home. He decided to take the landlord’s advice.

“Very well,” he said. “I’ll just leave him for a while to recover
himself. You’ll keep an eye to him, won’t you, Mr. Titley? I’ll just
wander round a bit, and come back. May-be if he doesn’t want to go home
to dinner, we’ll have a bite of something here with you.”

Mr. Titley promised not to let his guest out of his sight. “I know what
these thunder-shocks be,” he said. “Don’t you worry, mister. You’ll
find ’un wonderful reasonable along of an hour or so. ’Tis the weather
wot ’ave him floored ’im. The liquor ’ee’s put down wouldn’t hurt a
cat.”

Luke threw an affectionate glance at his brother’s reclining figure and
went out. The reaction from his exaggerated anxiety left him listless
and unnerved. He walked slowly across the green, towards the group of
elms.

It was now past noon and the small children who had been loitering
under the trees had been carried off to their mid-day meal. The place
seemed entirely deserted, except for the voracious ducks in the mud of
the Great Pond. He fancied at first that Phyllis Santon had disappeared
with the children, and a queer feeling of disappointment descended
upon him. He would have liked at least to have had the opportunity of
_refusing_ himself the pleasure of talking to her! He approached the
enormous elm under which stood the stocks. Ah! She was still there
then, his little Nevilton acquaintance. He had not seen her sooner,
because she was seated on the lowest roots of the tree, her knees
against the stocks themselves.

“Hullo, child!” he found himself saying, while his inner consciousness
told itself that he would just say one word to her, so that her
feelings should not be hurt, and then stroll off to the churchyard.
“Why, you have fixed yourself in the very place where they used to make
people sit, when they put them in the stocks!”

“Have I?” said the girl looking up at him without moving. “’Tis curious
to think of them days! They do say folks never tasted meat nor butter
in them old times. I guess it’s better to be living as we be.”

Luke’s habitual tone of sentimental moralizing had evidently set the
fashion among the maids of Nevilton. Girls are incredibly quick at
acquiring the mental atmosphere of a philosopher who attracts them. The
simple flattery of her adoption of his colour of thought made it still
more difficult for Luke to keep his vow to the Spinners of Destiny.

“Yes,” he remarked pensively, seating himself on the stocks above
her. “It is extraordinary, isn’t it, to think how many generations of
people, like you and me, have talked to one another here, in fine days
and cloudy days, in winter and summer--and the same old pond and the
same old elms listening to all they say?”

“Don’t say that, Luke dear,” protested the girl, with a little
apprehensive movement of her shoulders, and a tightened clasp of her
hands round her knees. “I don’t like to think of that! ’Tis lonesome
enough in this place, mid-day, without thinking of them ghost-stories.”

“Why do you say ghost-stories?” inquired Luke. “There’s nothing
ghostly about that dirty old pond and there’s nothing ghostly about
these hollow trees--not now, any way.”

“’Tis what you said about their listening, that seems ghostly-like to
me,” replied the girl. “I am always like that, you know. Sometimes,
down home, I gets a grip of the terrors from staring at old Mr.
Pratty’s barn. ’Tis funny, isn’t it? I suppose I was born along of
Christmas. They say children born then are wonderful ones for fancying
things.”

Luke prodded the ground with his cane and looked at her in silence.
Conscious of a certain admiration in his look, for the awkwardness of
her pose only enhanced the magnetic charm of her person, she proceeded
to remove her hat and lean her head with a wistful abandonment against
the rough bark of the tree.

The clouds hung heavily over them, and it seemed that at any moment the
rain might descend in torrents; but so far not a drop had fallen. Queer
and mysterious emotions passed through Luke’s mind.

He felt in some odd way that he was at a turning-point in the tide of
his existence. It almost seemed to him as though, silent and unmoving,
under the roof of the little inn which he could see from where he
sat, his brother was lying in the crisis of some dangerous fever. A
movement, or gesture, or word, from himself might precipitate this
crisis, in one direction or the other.

The girl crouched at his feet became to him, as he gazed at her,
something more than a mere amorous acquaintance. She became a type,
a symbol--an incarnation of the formidable writing of that Moving
Finger, to which all flesh must bow. Her half-coquettish, half-serious
apprehensions, about the ghostliness of the things that are always
_listening_, as the human drama works itself out in their dumb
presence, affected him in spite of himself. The village of Hullaway
seemed at that moment to have disappeared into space, and he and his
companion to be isolated and suspended--remote from all terrestrial
activities, and yet aware of some confused struggle between invisible
antagonists.

From the splashing ducks in the pond who, every now and then, so
ridiculously turned up their squat tails to the cloudy heavens, his
eye wandered to the impenetrable expectancy of the stone path which
bordered the muddy edge of the water. With the quick sense of one whose
daily occupation was concerned with this particular stone, he began
calculating how long that time-worn pavement had remained there, and
how many generations of human feet, hurrying or loitering, had passed
along it since it was first laid down. What actual men, he wondered,
had brought it there, from its resting-place, æons-old in the distant
hill, and laid it where it now lay, slab by slab?

From where he sat he could just observe, between a gap in the trees of
the Manor-Farm garden, the extreme edge of that Leonian promontory. It
seemed to him as though the hill were at that moment being swept by a
storm of rain. He shivered a little at the idea of how such a sweeping
storm, borne on a northern wind, would invade those bare trenches and
unprotected escarpments. He felt glad that his brother had selected
Hullaway rather than that particular spot for his angry retreat.

With a sense of relief he turned his eyes once more to the girl
reclining below him in such a charming attitude.

How absurd it was, he thought, to let these vague superstitions
overmaster him! Surely it was really an indication of cowardice, in the
presence of a hypothetical Fate, to make such fantastic vows as that
which he had recently made. It was all part of the atavistic survival
in him of that unhappy “conscience,” which had done so much to darken
the history of the tribes of men. It was like “touching wood” in honour
of infernal deities! What was the use of being a philosopher--of being
so deeply conscious of the illusive and subjective nature of all
these scruples--if, at a crisis, one only fell back into such absurd
morbidity? The vow he had registered in his mind an hour before, seemed
to him now a piece of grotesque irrelevance--a lapse, a concession to
weakness, a reversion to primitive inhibition. If it had been cowardice
to make such a vow, it were a still greater cowardice to keep it.

He rose from his seat on the stocks, and began idly lifting up and
down the heavy wooden bar which surmounted this queer old pillory. He
finally left the thing open and gaping; its semi-circular cavities
ready for any offender. Moved by a sudden impulse, the girl leant back
still further against the tree, and whimsically raising one of her
little feet, inserted it into the aperture. Amused at her companion’s
interest in this levity, and actuated by a profound girlish instinct
to ruffle the situation by some startling caprice, she had no sooner
got one ankle into the cavity thus prepared for it, than with a sudden
effort she placed the other by its side, and coyly straightening her
skirts with her hands, looked up smiling into Luke’s face.

Thus challenged, as it were, by this wilful little would-be malefactor,
Luke was mechanically compelled to complete her imprisonment. With a
sudden vicious snap he let down the enclosing bar.

She was now completely powerless; for the most drastic laws of balance
made it quite impossible that she could release herself. It thus became
inevitable that he should slip down on the ground by her side, and
begin teasing her, indulging himself in sundry innocent caresses which
her helpless position made it difficult to resist.

It was not long, however, before Phyllis, fearful of the appearance
upon the scene of some of Hullaway’s inhabitants, implored him to
release her.

Luke rose and with his hand upon the bar contemplated smilingly his
fair prisoner.

“Please be quick!” the girl cried impatiently. “I’m getting so stiff.”

“Shall I, or shan’t I?” said Luke provokingly.

The corner of the girl’s mouth fell and her under-lip quivered. It only
needed a moment’s further delay to reduce her to tears.

At that moment two interruptions occurred simultaneously. From the door
of the King’s Arms emerged the landlord, and began making vehement
signals to Luke; while from the corner of the road to Nevilton appeared
the figures of two young ladies, walking briskly towards them, absorbed
in earnest conversation. These simultaneous events were observed
in varying ratio by the captive and her captor. Luke was vaguely
conscious of the two ladies and profoundly agitated by the appearance
of the landlord. Phyllis was vaguely conscious of the landlord and
was profoundly agitated by the appearance of the ladies. The young
stone-carver gave a quick thoughtless jerk to the bar; and without
waiting to see the result, rushed off towards the inn. The heavy block
of wood, impelled by the impetus he had given it, swung upwards, until
it almost reached the perpendicular. Then it descended with a crash.
The girl had just time to withdraw one of her ankles. The other was
imprisoned as hopeless as before.

Phyllis was overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment. She had in
a moment recognized Gladys, and she felt as those Apocalyptic
unfortunates in Holy Scripture are reported as feeling when they call
upon the hills to cover them.

It had happened that Ralph Dangelis had been compelled to pay a flying
visit to London on business connected with his proposed marriage. The
two cousins, preoccupied, each of them, with their separate anxieties,
had wandered thus far from home to escape the teasing fussiness of Mrs.
Romer, who with her preparations for the double wedding gave neither of
them any peace.

They approached quite near to the group of elms before either of them
observed the unfortunate Phyllis.

“Why!” cried Gladys suddenly to her companion. “There’s somebody in the
stocks!”

She went forward hastily, followed at a slower pace by the Italian.
Poor Phyllis, her bundle by her side, and her cheeks tear-stained,
presented a woeful enough appearance. Her first inclination was to
hide her face in her hands; but making a brave effort, she turned her
head towards the new-comers with a gasping little laugh.

“I put my foot in here for a joke,” she stammered, “and it got caught.
Please let me out, Miss Romer.”

Gladys came quite near and laid her gloved hand upon the wooden bar.

“It just lifts up, Miss,” pleaded Phyllis, with tears in her voice. “It
isn’t at all heavy.”

Gladys stared at her with a growing sense of interest. The girl’s
embarrassment under her scrutiny awoke her Romer malice.

“I really don’t know that I want to let you out in such a hurry,” she
said. “If it’s a game you are playing, it would be a pity to spoil
it. Who put you in? You must tell me that, before I set you free! You
couldn’t have done it yourself.”

By this time Lacrima had arrived on the scene.

The shame-faced Phyllis turned to her. “Please, Miss Traffio, please,
lift that thing up! It’s quite easy to move.”

The Italian at once laid her hands upon the block of wood and struggled
to raise it; but Gladys had no difficulty in keeping the bar immoveable.

“What are you doing?” cried the younger girl indignantly. “Take your
arm away!”

“She must tell us first who put her where she is,” reiterated Miss
Romer. “I won’t have her let out ’till she tells us that!”

Phyllis looked piteously from one to the other. Then she grew desperate.

“It was Luke Andersen,” she whispered.

“What!” cried Gladys. “Luke? Then he’s been out walking with you? Has
he? Has he? Has he?”

She repeated these words with such concentrated fury that Phyllis
began to cry. But the shock of this information gave Lacrima her
chance. Using all her strength she lifted the heavy bar and released
the prisoner. Phyllis staggered to her feet and picked up her bundle.
Lacrima handed the girl her hat and helped her to brush the dust from
her clothes.

“So _you_ are Luke’s latest fancy are you?” Gladys said scowling
fiercely at the glove-maker.

The pent-up feelings of the young woman broke forth at once. Moving a
step or two away from them and glancing at a group of farm-men who were
crossing the green, she gave full scope to her revenge.

“I’m only Annie Bristow’s friend,” she retorted. “Annie Bristow is
going to marry Luke. They are right down mad on one another.”

“It’s a lie!” cried Gladys, completely forgetting herself and looking
as if she could have struck the mocking villager.

“A lie, eh?” returned the other. “Tisn’t for me to tell the tale to
a young lady, the likes of you. But we be all guessing down in Mr.
North’s factory, who ’twas that gave Luke the pretty lady-like ring wot
he lent to Annie!”

Gladys became livid with anger. “What ring?” she cried. “Why are you
talking about a ring?”

“Annie, she stuck it, for devilry, into that hole in Splash-Lane stone.
She pushed it in, tight as ’twere a sham diamint. And there it do bide,
the lady’s pretty ring, all glittery and shiny, at bottom of that there
hole! We maids do go to see ’un glinsying and gleaming. It be the talk
of the place, that ring be! Scarce one of the childer but ’as ’ad its
try to hook ’un out. But ’tis no good. I guess Annie must have rammed
it down with her mother’s girt skewer. ’Tis fast in that stone anyway,
for all the world to see. Folks, may-be, ’ll be coming from Yeoborough,
long as a few days be over, to see the lady’s ring, wot Annie threw’d
away, ’afore she said ‘yes’ to her young man!”

These final words were positively shouted by the enraged Phyllis, as
she tripped away, swinging her bundle triumphantly.

It seemed for a moment as though Gladys meditated a desperate pursuit,
and the infliction of physical violence upon her enemy. But Lacrima
held her fast by the hand. “For heaven’s sake, cousin,” she whispered,
“let her go. Look at those men watching us!”

Gladys turned; but it was not at the farm-men she looked.

Across the green towards them came the two Andersens, Luke looking
nervous and worried, and his brother gesticulating strangely. The
girls remained motionless, neither advancing to meet them nor making
any attempt to evade them. Gladys seemed to lose her defiant air, and
waited their approach, rather with the look of one expecting to be
chidden than of one prepared to chide. On all recent occasions this had
been her manner, when in the presence of the young stone-carver.

The sight of Lacrima seemed to exercise a magical effect upon James
Andersen. He ceased at once his excited talk, and advancing towards
her, greeted her in his normal tone--a tone of almost paternal
gentleness.

“It is nearly a quarter to one,” said Gladys, addressing both the men.
“Lacrima and I’ll have all we can do to get back in time for lunch.
Let’s walk back together!”

Luke looked at his brother who gave him a friendly smile. He also
looked sharply at the Hullaway labourers, who were shuffling off
towards the barton of the Manor-Farm.

“I don’t mind,” he said; “though it is a dangerous time of day! But we
can go by the fields, and you can leave us at Roandyke Barn.”

They moved off along the edge of the pond together.

“It was Lacrima, not I, Luke,” said Gladys presently, “who let that
girl out.”

Luke flicked a clump of dock-weeds with his cane. “It was her own
fault,” he said carelessly. “I thought I’d opened the thing. I was
called away suddenly.”

Gladys bowed her head submissively. In the company of the young
stone-carver her whole nature seemed to change. A shrewd observer might
even have marked a subtle difference in her physical appearance. She
appeared to wilt and droop, like a tropical flower transplanted into a
northern zone.

They remained all together until they reached the fields. Then Gladys
and Luke dropped behind.

“I have something I want to tell you,” said the fair girl, as soon as
the others were out of hearing. “Something very important.”

“I have something to tell you too,” answered Luke, “and I think I will
tell it first. It is hardly likely that your piece of news can be as
serious as mine.”

They paused at a stile; and the girl made him take her in his arms and
kiss her, before she consented to hear what he had to say.

It would have been noticeable to any observer that in the caresses they
exchanged, Luke played the perfunctory, and she the passionate part.
She kissed him thirstily, insatiably, with clinging lips that seemed
avid of his very soul. When at last they moved on through grass that
was still wet with the rain of the night before, Luke drew his hand
away from hers, as if to emphasize the seriousness of his words.

“I am terribly anxious, dearest, about James,” he said. “We had an
absurd quarrel this morning, and he rushed off to Hullaway in a rage. I
found him in the inn. He had been drinking, but it was not that which
upset him. He had not taken enough to affect him in that way. I am
very, very anxious about him. I forget whether I’ve ever told you about
my mother? Her mind--poor darling--was horribly upset before she died.
She suffered from more than one distressing mania. And my fear is that
James may go the same way.”

Gladys hung her head. In a strange and subtle way she felt as though
the responsibility of this new catastrophe rested upon her. Her
desperate passion for Luke had so unnerved her, that she had become
liable to be victimized by any sort of superstitious apprehension.

“How dreadful!” she whispered, “but he seemed to me perfectly natural
just now.”

“That was Lacrima’s doing,” said Luke. “Lacrima is at the bottom of it
all. I wish, oh, I wish, she was going to marry James, instead of that
uncle of yours.”

“Father would never allow that,” said Gladys, raising her head. “He is
set upon making her take uncle John. It has become a kind of passion
with him. Father is funny in these things.”

“Still--it might be managed,” muttered Luke thoughtfully, “if we
carried it through with a high hand. We might arrange it; the world is
malleable, after all. If you and I, my dear, put our heads together,
Mr. John Goring might whistle for his bride.”

“I _hate_ Lacrima!” cried Gladys, with a sudden access of her normal
spirit.

“I don’t care two pence about Lacrima,” returned Luke. “It is of James
I am thinking.”

“But she would be happy with James, and I don’t want her to be happy.”

“What a little devil you are!” exclaimed the stone-carver, slipping his
arm round her waist.

“Yes, I know I am,” she answered shamelessly. “I suppose I inherit it
from father. He hates people just like that. But I am not a devil with
you, Luke, am I? I wish I were!” she added, after a little pause.

“We must think over this business from every point of view,” said
Luke solemnly. “I cannot help thinking that if you and I resolve to
do it, we can twist the fates round, somehow or another. I am sure
Lacrima could save James if she liked. If you could only have seen the
difference between what he was when I was called back to him just now,
and what he became as soon as he set eyes upon her, you would know what
I mean. He is mad about her, and if he doesn’t get her, he’ll go really
mad. He _was_ a madman just now. He nearly frightened that fool Titley
into a fit.”

“I don’t _want_ Lacrima to marry James,” burst out Gladys. Luke in a
moment drew his arm away, and quickened his pace.

“As you please,” he said. “But I can promise you this, my friend, that
if anything does happen to my brother, it’ll be the end of everything
between _us_.”

“Why--what--how can you say such dreadful things?” stammered the girl.

Luke airily swung his stick. “It all rests with you, child. Though
_we_ can’t marry, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go on seeing each
other, as we do now, forever and ever,--as long as you help me in
this affair. But if you’re going to sulk and talk this nonsense about
‘hating’--it is probable that it will be a case of good-bye!”

The fair girl’s face was distorted by a spasmodic convulsion of
conflicting emotions. She bit her lip and hung her head. Presently she
looked up again and flung her arms round his neck. “I’ll do anything
you ask me, Luke, anything, as long as you don’t turn against me.”

They walked along for some time in silence, hand in hand, taking care
not to lose sight of their two companions who seemed as engrossed
as themselves in one another’s society. James Andersen was showing
sufficient discretion in avoiding the more frequented foot-paths.

“Luke,” began the girl at last, “did you really give my ring to Annie
Santon?”

Luke’s brow clouded in a moment. “Damn your ring!” he cried harshly.
“I’ve got other things to think about now than your confounded rings.
When people give me presents of that kind,” he added “I take for
granted I can do what I like with them.”

Gladys trembled and looked pitifully into his face.

“But that girl said,” she murmured--“that factory girl, I mean--that it
had been lost in some way; hidden, she said, in some hole in a stone. I
can’t believe that you would let me be made a laughing-stock of, Luke
dear?”

“Oh, don’t worry me about that,” replied the stone-carver. “May-be it
is so, may-be it isn’t so; anyway it doesn’t matter a hang.”

“She said too,” pleaded Gladys in a hesitating voice, “that you and
Annie were going to be married.”

“Ho! ho!” laughed Luke, fumbling with some tightly tied hurdles that
barred their way; “so she said that, did she? She _must_ have had her
knife into you, our little Phyllis. Well, and what’s to stop me if I
did decide to marry Annie?”

Gladys gasped and looked at him with a drawn and haggard face. Her
beauty was of the kind that required the flush of buoyant spirits
to illuminate it. The more her heart ached, the less attractive she
became. She was anything but beautiful now; and, as he looked at
her, Luke noticed for the first time, how low her hair grew upon her
forehead.

“You wouldn’t think of doing that?” she whispered, in a tone of
supplication. He laughed lightly and lifting up her chin made as though
he were going to kiss her, but drew back without doing so.

“Are you going to be good,” he said, “and help me to get Lacrima for
James?”

She threw her arms round him. “I’ll do anything you like--anything,”
she repeated, “if you’ll only let me love you!”

While this conversation was proceeding between these two, a not less
interesting clash of divergent emotions was occurring between their
friends. The Italian may easily be pardoned if she never for one second
dreamed of the agitation in her companion’s mind that had so frightened
Luke. James’ manner was in no way different from usual, and though
he expressed his feelings in a more unreserved fashion than he had
ever done before, Lacrima had been for many weeks expecting some such
outbreak.

“Don’t be angry with me,” he was saying, as he strode by her side. “I
had meant never to have told you of this. I had meant to let it die
with me, without your ever knowing, but somehow--today--I could not
help it.”

He had confessed to her point blank, and in simple, unbroken words, the
secret of his heart, and Lacrima had for some moments walked along with
head averted making no response.

It would not be true to say that this revelation surprised her. It
would be completely untrue to say it offended her. It did not even
enter her mind that it might have been kinder to have been less
friendly, less responsive, than she had been, to this queer taciturn
admirer. But circumstances had really given her very little choice
in the matter. She had been, as it were, flung perforce upon his
society, and she had accepted, as a providential qualification of her
loneliness, the fact that he was attracted towards her rather than
repelled by her.

It is quite possible that had he remained untouched by the evasive
appeal of her timid grace; had he, for instance, remained a provocative
and impenetrable mystery at her side, she might have been led to share
his feelings. But, unluckily for poor Andersen, the very fact that his
feelings had been disclosed only too clearly, militated hopelessly
against such an event. He was no remote, shadowy, romantic possibility
to her--a closed casket of wonders, difficult and dangerous to open. He
was simply a passionate and assiduous lover. The fact that he _could_
love her, lowered him a little in Lacrima’s esteem. True to her Pariah
instincts she felt that such passion was a sign of weakness in him;
and if she did not actually despise him for it, it materially lessened
the interest she took in the workings of his mind. Maurice Quincunx
drew her to him for the very reason that he was so sexless, so cold,
so wayward, so full of whimsical caprices. Maurice, a Pariah himself,
excited at the same time her maternal tenderness and her imaginative
affection. If she did not feel the passion for him that she might have
felt for Andersen, had Andersen remained inaccessible; that was only
because there was something in Maurice’s peculiar egoism which chilled
such feelings at their root.

Another almost equally effective cause of her lack of response to the
stone-carver’s emotion was the cynical and world-deep weariness that
had fallen upon her, since this dreadful marriage with Goring had
become a settled event. Face to face with this, she felt as though
nothing mattered very much, and as though any feeling she herself might
excite in another person must needs be like the passing of a shadow
across a mirror--something vague, unreal, insubstantial--something
removed to a remote distance, like the voice of a person at the end
of a long tunnel, or as the dream of someone who is himself a figure
in a dream. If anyone, she felt, broke into the enchanted circle that
surrounded her, it was as if they sought to make overtures to a person
dead and buried.

It was almost with the coldness and detachment of the dead that she now
answered him, and her voice went sighing across the wet fields with a
desolation that would have struck a more normal mind than Andersen’s as
the incarnation of tragedy. He was himself, however, strung up to such
a tragic note, that the despair in her tone affected him less than it
would have affected another.

“I have come to feel,” said she, “that I have no heart, and I feel as
though this country of yours had no heart. It ought to be always cloudy
and dark in this place. Sunshine here is a kind of bitter mockery.”

“You do not know--you do not know what you say,” cried the poor
stone-carver, quickening his pace in his excitement so that it became
difficult for her to keep up with him. “I have loved you, since I
first saw you--that day--down at our works--when the hawthorn was out.
_My_ heart at any rate is deep enough, deep enough to be hurt more
than you would believe, Lacrima. Oh, if things were only different! If
you could only bring yourself to care for me a little--just a little!
Lacrima, listen to me.”

He stopped abruptly in the middle of a field and made her turn and face
him. He laid his hand solemnly and imploringly upon her wrist. “Why
need you put yourself under this frightful yoke? I know something of
what you have had to go through. I know something, though it may be
only a little, of what this horrible marriage means to you. Lacrima,
for your own sake--as well as mine--for the sake of everyone who has
ever cared for you--don’t let them drag you into this atrocious trap.

“Trust me, give yourself boldly into my care. Let’s go away together
and try our fortune in some new place! All places are not like
Nevilton. I am a strong man, I know my trade, I could earn money easily
to keep us both. Lacrima, don’t turn away, don’t look so helpless!
After all, things might be worse, you might be already married to that
man, and be buried alive forever! It is not yet too late. You are still
free. I beg and implore you, by everything you hold sacred, to stop and
escape before it is too late. It doesn’t matter that you don’t love me
now. As long as you don’t utterly hate me all can be put right. I don’t
ask you to return what I feel for you. I won’t ask it if you agree to
marry me. I’ll make any contract with you you please, and swear any
vow. I won’t come near you when we are together. We can live under one
roof as brother and sister. The wedding-ring will be nothing between
us. It will only protect you from the rest of the world. I won’t
interfere with your life at all, when once I have freed you from this
devil’s hole. It will only be a marriage in form, in name; everything
else will be just as you please. I will obey your least wish, your
least fancy. If you want to go back to your own country and to go
alone, I will save up money enough to make that possible. In fact, I
have now got money enough to pay your journey and I would send out more
to you. Lacrima, let me help you to break away from all this. You must,
Lacrima, you must and you shall! If you prefer it, we needn’t ever be
married. I don’t want to take advantage of you. I’ll give you every
penny I have and help you out of the country and then send you more as
I earn it. It is madness, this devilish marriage they are driving you
into. It is madness and folly to submit to it. It is monstrous. It is
ridiculous. You are free to go, they have no hold upon you. Lacrima,
Lacrima! why are you so cruel to yourself, to me, to everyone who cares
for you?”

He drew breath at last, but continued to clutch her wrist with a
trembling hand, glancing anxiously, as he waited, at the lessening
distance that separated them from the others.

Lacrima looked at him with a pale troubled face, but her large eyes
were full of tears and when she spoke her voice quivered.

“I was wrong, my friend, to say that none of you here had any heart.
Your heart is large and noble. I shall never--never forget what you
have now said to me. But James--but James, dear,” and her voice shook
still more, “I cannot, I cannot do it. There are more reasons than I
can explain to you, why this thing must happen. It _has_ to happen, and
we must bow our heads and submit. After all, life is not very long,
or very happy, at the best. Probably,”--and she smiled a sad little
smile,--“I should disappoint you frightfully if we did go together. I
am not such a nice person as you suppose. I have queer moods--oh, such
strange, strange moods!--and I know for certain that I should not make
you happy.

“Shall I tell you a horrible secret, James?” Here her voice sank into a
curious whisper and she laughed a low distressing laugh. “I have really
got the soul, the _soul_ I say, not the nerves or sense, of a girl who
has lost everything,--I wish I could make you understand--who has lost
self-respect and everything,--I have thought myself into this state. I
don’t care now--I really don’t--_what_ happens to me. James, dear--you
wouldn’t want to marry a person like that, a person who feels herself
already dead and buried? Yes, and worse than dead! A person who has
lost all pity, all feeling, even for herself. A person who is past even
caring for the difference between right and wrong! You wouldn’t want to
be kind to a person like that, James, would you?”

She stopped and gazed into his face, smiling a woeful little smile.
Andersen mechanically noticed that their companions had observed their
long pause, and had delayed to advance, resting beneath the shelter
of a wind-tossed ash-tree. The stone-carver began to realize the
extraordinary and terrible loneliness of every human soul. Here he was,
face to face with the one being of all beings whose least look or word
thrilled him with intolerable excitement, and yet he could not as much
as touch the outer margin of her real consciousness.

He had not the least idea, even at that fatal moment, what her inner
spirit was feeling; what thoughts, what sensations, were passing
through her soul. Nor could he ever have. They might stand together
thus, isolated from all the world, through an eternity of physical
contact, and he would never attain such knowledge. She would always
remain aloof, mysterious, evasive. He resolved that at all events as
far as he himself was concerned, there should be no barrier between
them. He would lay open to her the deepest recesses of his heart.

He began a hurried incoherent history of his passion, of its growth,
its subtleties, its intensity. He tried to make her realize what she
had become for him, how she filled every hour of every day with her
image. He explained to her how clearly and fully he understood the
difficulty, the impossibility, of his ever bringing her to care for him
as he cared for her.

He even went so far as to allude to Mr. Quincunx, and implored her
to believe that he would be well content if she would let him earn
money enough to support both her and Maurice, either in Nevilton or
elsewhere, if it would cut the tragic knot of her fate to join her
destiny to that of the forlorn recluse.

It almost seemed as though this final stroke of self-abnegation excited
more eloquence in him than all the rest. He begged and conjured her to
cut boldly loose from the Romer bonds, and marry her queer friend,
if he, rather than any other, were the choice she made. His language
became so vehement, his tone so impassioned and exalted, that the girl
began to look apprehensively at him. Even this apprehension, however,
was a thing strangely removed from reality. His reckless words rose and
fell upon the air and mixed with the rising wind as if they were words
remembered from some previous existence. The man’s whole figure, his
gaunt frame, his stooping shoulders, his long arms and lean fingers,
seemed to her like something only half-tangible, something felt and
seen through a dim medium of obscuring mist.

Lacrima felt vaguely as though all this were happening to someone
else, to someone she had read about in a book, or had known in remote
childhood. The overhanging clouds, the damp grass, the distant ash-tree
with the forms of their friends beneath it, all these things seemed to
group themselves in her mind, as if answering to some strange dramatic
story, which was not the story of her life at all, but of some other
harassed and troubled spirit.

In the depths of her mind she shrank away half-frightened and
half-indifferent from this man’s impassioned pleading and heroic
proposals. The humorously cynical image of the hermit of Dead Man’s
Lane crossed her mental vision as a sort of wavering Pharos light in
the dreamy twilight of her consciousness. How well she knew with what
goblin-like quiver of his nostrils, with what sardonic gleam of his
eyes, he would have listened to his rival’s exalted rhetoric.

In some strange way she felt almost angry with this bolder, less
cautious lover, for being what her poor nervous Maurice never could be.
She caught herself shuddering at the thought of the drastic effort, the
stern focussing of will-power which the acceptance of any one of his
daring suggestions would imply. Perhaps, who can say, there had come to
be a sort of voluptuous pleasure in thus lying back upon her destiny
and letting herself be carried forward, at the caprice of other wills
than her own.

Mingled with these other complex reactions, there was borne in upon
her, as she listened to him, a queer sense of the absolute unimportance
of the whole matter. The long strain upon her nerves, of her sojourn
in Nevilton House, had left her physically so weary that she lacked
the life-energy to supply the life-illusion. The ardour and passion
of Andersen’s suggestions seemed, for all their dramatic pathos, to
belong to a world she had left--a world from which she had risen or
sunk so completely, that all return was impossible. Her nature was so
hopelessly the true Pariah-nature, that the idea of the effort implied
in any struggle to escape her doom, seemed worse than the doom itself.

This inhibition of any movement of effective resistance in the
Pariah-type is the thing that normal temperaments find most difficult
of all to understand. It would seem almost incredible to a healthy
minded person that Lacrima should deliberately let herself be driven
into such a fate without some last desperate struggle. Those who find
it so, however, under-estimate that curious passion of submission from
which these victims of circumstance suffer, a passion of submission
which is itself, in a profoundly subtle way, a sort of narcotic or
drug to the wretchedness they pass through.

“I cannot do it,” she repeated in a low tired voice, “though I think
it’s generous, beyond description, what you want to do for me. But I
cannot do it. It’s difficult somehow to tell you why, James dear; there
are certain things that are hard to say, even to people that we love as
much as I love you. For I do love you, in spite of everything. I hope
you realize that. And I know that you have a deep noble heart.”

She looked at him with wistful and appealing tenderness, and let her
little fingers slip into his feverish hand.

When she said the words, “I do love you,” a shivering ecstasy shot
through the stone-carver’s veins, followed by a ghastly chilliness,
like the hand of death, as he grasped their complete meaning. The most
devastating tone, perhaps, of all, for an impassioned lover to hear,
is that particular tone of calm tender affection. It has the power of
closing up vistas of hope more effectively than the expression of the
most vigorous repulsion. There was a ring of weary finality in her
voice that echoed through his mind, like the tread of coffin-bearers
through a darkened passage. Things had reached their hopeless point,
and the two were standing mute and silent, in the attitude of persons
taking a final farewell of one another, when a noisy group of village
maids, on their dilatory road to the glove-factory, made their voices
audible from the further side of the nearest hedge.

They both turned instantaneously to see how this danger of discovery
affected their friends, and neither of them was surprised to note that
the younger Andersen had left his companion and was strolling casually
in the direction of the voices. As soon as he saw that they had
observed this manœuvre he began beckoning to James.

“We’d better separate, my friend,” whispered Lacrima hastily. “I’ll go
back to Gladys. She and I must take the lane way and you and Luke the
path by the barn. We’ll meet again before--before anything happens.”

They separated accordingly and as the two girls passed through the gate
that led into the Nevilton road, they could distinctly hear, across the
fields, the ringing laughter of the high-spirited glove-makers as they
chaffed and rallied the two stone-carvers through the thick bramble
hedge which intervened between them.



CHAPTER XVII

SAGITTARIUS


The summer of the year whose events, in so far as they affected a
certain little group of Nevilton people we are attempting to describe,
seemed, to all concerned, to pass more and more rapidly, as the days
began again to shorten. July gave place to August, and Mr. Goring’s men
were already at work upon the wheat-harvest. In the hedges appeared all
those peculiar signals of the culmination of the season’s glory, which
are, by one of nature’s most emphatic ironies, the signals also of its
imminent decline.

Old-man’s-beard, for instance, hung its feathery clusters on
every bush; and, in shadier places, white and black briony twined
their decorative leaves and delicate flowers. The blossom of the
blackberry bushes was already giving place to unripe fruit, and the
berries of traveller’s-joy were beginning to turn red. Hips and
haws still remained in that vague colourless state which renders
them indistinguishable to all eyes save those of the birds, but
the juicy clusters of the common night-shade--“green grapes of
Proserpine”--greeted the wanderer with their poisonous Circe-like
attraction, from their thrones of dog-wood and maple, and whispered of
the autumn’s approach. In dry deserted places the scarlet splendour of
poppies was rapidly yielding ground to all those queer herbal plants,
purplish or whitish in hue--the wild hyssop, or marjoram, being the
most noticeable of them--which more than anything else denote the
coming on of the equinox. From dusty heaps of rubbish the aromatic
daisy-like camomile gave forth its pungent fragrance, and in damper
spots the tall purple heads of hemp-agrimony flouted the dying valerian.

An appropriate date at the end of the month had been fixed for the
episcopal visit to Nevilton; and the candidates for confirmation were
already beginning, according to their various natures and temperaments,
to experience that excited anticipation, which, even in the dullest
intelligence, such an event arouses.

The interesting ceremony of Gladys Romer’s baptism had been fixed for
a week earlier than this, a fanciful sentiment in the agitated mind of
Mr. Clavering having led to the selection of this particular day on
the strange ground of its exact coincidence with the anniversary of a
certain famous saint.

The marriage of Gladys with Dangelis, and of Lacrima with John Goring,
was to take place early in September, Mrs. Romer having stipulated for
reasons of domestic economy that the two events should be simultaneous.

Another project of some importance to at least three persons in
Nevilton, was now, as one might say, in the air; though this was by no
means a matter of public knowledge. I refer to Vennie Seldom’s fixed
resolution to be received into the Catholic Church and to become a nun.

Ever since her encounter in the village street with the loquacious
Mr. Wone, Vennie had been oppressed by an invincible distaste for
the things and people that surrounded her. Her longing to give the
world the slip and devote herself completely to the religious life
had been incalculably deepened by her disgust at what she considered
the blasphemous introduction of the Holy Name into the Christian
Candidate’s political canvassing. The arguments of Mr. Taxater and
the conventional anglicanism of her mother, were, compared with this,
only mild incentives to the step she meditated. The whole fabric of
her piety and her taste had been shocked to their foundations by the
unctuous complacency of Mr. Romer’s evangelical rival.

Vennie felt, as she stood aside, in her retired routine, and watched
the political struggle sway to and fro in the village, as though the
champions of both causes were odiously and repulsively in the wrong.
The sly conservatism of the quarry-owner becoming, since the settlement
of the strike, almost fulsome in its flattery of the working classes,
struck her as the most unscrupulous bid for power that she had ever
encountered; and when, combined with his new pose as the ideal employer
and landlord, Mr. Romer introduced the imperial note, and talked
lavishly of the economic benefits of the Empire, Vennie felt as though
all that was beautiful and sacred in her feeling for the country of her
birth, was blighted and poisoned at the root.

But Mr. Wone’s attitude of mind struck her as even more revolting. The
quarry-owner was at least frankly and flagrantly cynical. He made no
attempt--unless Gladys’ confirmation was to be regarded as such--to
conciliate religious sentiment. He never went to church, and in
private conversation he expressed his atheistic opinions with humorous
and careless shamelessness. But Mr. Wone’s intermingling of Protestant
unction with political chicanery struck the passionate soul of the
young girl as something very nearly approaching the “unpardonable sin.”
Her incisive intelligence, fortified of late by conversations with
Mr. Taxater, revolted, too, against the vague ethical verbiage and
loose democratic sentiment with which Mr. Wone garnished his lightest
talk. Since Philip’s release from prison and his reappearance in the
village, she had taken the opportunity of having several interviews
with the Christian Candidate’s son, and these interviews, though they
saddened and perplexed her, increased her respect for the young man in
proportion as they diminished it for his father. With true feminine
instinct Vennie found the anarchist more attractive than the socialist,
and the atheist less repugnant than the missionary.

One afternoon, towards the end of the first week in August, Vennie
persuaded Mr. Taxater to accompany her on a long walk. They made their
way through the wood which separates the fields around Nevilton Mount
from the fields around Leo’s Hill. Issuing from this wood, along the
path followed by every visitor to the hill who wishes to avoid its
steeper slopes, they strolled leisurely between the patches of high
bracken-fern and looked down upon the little church of Athelston.

Athelston was a long, rambling village, encircling the northern end of
the Leonian promontory and offering shelter, in many small cottages all
heavily built of the same material, to those of the workmen in the
quarries who were not domiciled in Nevilton.

“It would be rather nice,” said Vennie to the theologian, “if it
wouldn’t spoil our walk, to go and look at that carving in the porch,
down there. They say it has been cleaned lately, and the figures show
up more clearly.”

The papal champion gravely surveyed the outline of the little cruciform
church, as it shimmered, warm and mellow, in the misty sunshine at
their feet.

“Yes, I know,” he remarked. “I met our friend Andersen there the other
day. He told me he had been doing the work quite alone. He said it was
one of the most interesting things he had ever done. By the way, I am
confident that that rumour we heard, of his getting unsettled in his
mind, is absolutely untrue. I have never found him more sensible--you
know how silent he is as a rule? When I met him he was quite eloquent
on the subject of mediæval carving.”

Vennie looked down and smiled--a sad little smile. “I’m afraid,” she
said; “that his talking so freely is not quite a good sign. But do
let’s go. I have never looked at those queer figures with anyone but my
mother; and you know the way she has of making everything seem as if it
were an ornament on her own mantelpiece.”

They began descending the hill, Mr. Taxater displaying more agility
than might have been expected of him, as they scrambled down between
furze-bushes, rabbit-holes, and beds of yellow trefoil.

“How dreadfully I shall miss you, dear child,” he said. “No one could
accuse me of selfishness in furthering your wish for the religious
life. Half the pleasant discoveries I’ve made in this charming country
have been due to you.”

The young girl turned and regarded him affectionately. “You have been
more than a father to me,” she murmured.

“Ah, Vennie, Vennie!” he protested, “you mustn’t talk like that. After
all, the greatest discovery we have made, is the discovery of your
calling for religion. I have much to be thankful for. It is not often
that I have been permitted such a privilege. If we had not been thrown
together, who knows but that the influence of our good Clavering----”

Vennie blushed scarlet at the mention of the priest’s name, and to hide
her confusion, buried her head in a great clump of rag-wort, pressing
its yellow clusters vehemently against her cheeks, with agitated
trembling hands.

When she lifted up her face, the fair hair under her hat was sprinkled
with dewy moisture. “The turn of the year has come,” she said. “There’s
mist on everything today.” She smiled, with a quick embarrassed glance
at her companion.

“The turn of the year has come,” repeated the champion of the papacy.

They descended the slope of yet another field, and then paused again,
leaning upon a gate.

“Have you ever thought how strange it is,” remarked the girl, as they
turned to survey the scene around them, “that those two hills should
still, in a way, represent the struggle between good and evil? I always
wish that my ancestors had built a chapel on Nevilton Mount instead of
that silly little tower.”

The theologian fixed his eyes on the two eminences which, from the
point where they stood, showed so emphatically against the smouldering
August sky.

“Why do you call Leo’s Hill evil?” he asked.

Vennie frowned. “I always have felt like that about it,” she answered.
“It’s an odd fancy I’ve got. I can’t quite explain it. Perhaps it’s
because I know something of the hard life of the quarry-men. Perhaps
it’s because of Mr. Romer. I really can’t tell you. But that’s the
feeling I have!”

“Our worthy Mr. Wone would thank you, if you lent him your idea for use
in his speeches,” remarked the theologian with a chuckle.

“That’s just it!” cried Vennie. “It teases me, more than I can say,
that the cause of the poor should be in his hands. I can’t associate
_him_ with anything good or sacred. His being the one to oppose Mr.
Romer makes me feel as though God had left us completely, left us at
the mercy of the false prophets!”

“Child, child!” expostulated Mr. Taxater--“_Custodit Dominus animas
sanctorum suorum; de manu peccatoris liberabit eos_.”

“But it is so strange,” continued Vennie. “It is one of the things I
cannot understand. Why should God have to use other means than those
His church offers to defeat the designs of wicked people? I wish
miracles happened more often! Sometimes I dream of them happening.
I dreamt the other night that an angel, with a great silver sword,
stood on the top of Nevilton Mount, and cried aloud to all the dead in
the churchyard. Why can’t God send real angels to fight His battles,
instead of using wolves in sheep’s clothing like that wretched Mr.
Wone?”

The champion of the papacy smiled. “You are too hard on our poor
Candidate, Vennie. There’s more of the sheep than the wolf about our
worthy Wone, after all. But you touch upon a large question, my dear;
a large question. That great circle, whose centre is everywhere and
its circumference nowhere, as St. Thomas says, must needs include many
ways to the fulfilment of His ends, which are mysterious to us. God is
sometimes pleased to use the machinations of the most evil men, even
their sensual passions, and their abominable vices, to bring about the
fulfilment of His will. And we, dear child,” he added after a pause,
“must follow God’s methods. That is why the church has always condemned
as a dangerous heresy that Tolstoyan doctrine of submission to evil.
We must never submit to evil! Our duty is to use against it every
weapon the world offers. Weapons that in themselves are unholy, become
holy--nay! even sacred--when used in the cause of God and His church.”

Vennie remained puzzled and silent. She felt a vague, remote
dissatisfaction with her friend’s argument; but she found it difficult
to answer. She glanced sadly up at the cone-shaped mount above them,
and wished that in place of that heathen-looking tower, she could see
her angel with the silver sword.

“It is all very confusing,” she murmured at last, “and I shall be glad
when I am out of it.”

The theologian laid his hand--the hand that ought to have belonged to a
prince of the church--upon his companion’s.

“You will be out of it soon, child,” he said, “and then you will help
us by your prayers. We who are the temporal monks of the great struggle
are bound to soil our hands in the dust of the arena. But your prayers,
and the prayers of many like you, cleanse them continually from such
unhappy stains.”

Even at the moment he was uttering these profound words, Mr. Taxater
was wondering in his heart how far his friend’s inclination to a
convent depended upon an impulse much more natural and feminine than
the desire to avoid the Mr. Romers and Mr. Wones of this poor world. He
made a second rather brutal experiment.

“We must renounce,” he said, “all these plausible poetic attempts to be
wiser than God’s Holy Church. That is one of the faults into which our
worthy Clavering falls.”

Once more the tell-tale scarlet rushed into the cheeks of Nevilton’s
little nun.

“Yes,” she answered, stooping to pluck a spray of wild basil, “I know.”

They opened the gate, and very soon found themselves at the entrance
to Athelston church. Late summer flowers, planted in rows on each
side of the path, met them with a ravishing fragrance. Stocks and
sweet-williams grew freely among the graves; and tall standard roses
held up the wealth of their second blossoming, like chalices full of
red and white wine. Heavy-winged brown butterflies fluttered over the
grass, like the earth-drawn spirits, Vennie thought, of such among
the dead as were loath to leave the scene of their earthly pleasures.
Mounted upon a step-ladder in the porch was the figure of James
Andersen, absorbed in removing the moss and lichen from the carving in
the central arch.

He came down at once when he perceived their approach. “Look!” he said,
with a wave of his hand, “you can see what it is now.”

Obedient to his words they both gazed curiously at the quaint early
Norman relief. It represented a centaur, with a drawn bow and arrow,
aiming at a retreating lion, which was sneaking off in humorously
depicted terror.

“That is King Stephen,” said the stone-carver, pointing to the
centaur. “And the beast he is aiming at is Queen Maud. Stephen’s
zodiacal sign was Sagittarius, and the woman’s was Leo. Hence the arrow
he is aiming.”

Vennie’s mind, reverting to her fanciful distinction between the
two eminences, and woman-like, associating everything she saw with
the persons of her own drama, at once began to discern, between the
retreating animal and the fair-haired daughter of the owner of Leo’s
Hill, a queer and grotesque resemblance.

She heaved a deep sigh. What would she not give to see her poor
priest-centaur aim such an arrow of triumph at the heart of his
insidious temptress!

“I think you have made them stand out wonderfully clear,” she said
gently. “Hasn’t he, Mr. Taxater?”

The stone-carver threw down the instrument he was using, and folded
his arms. His dark, foreign-looking countenance wore a very curious
expression.

“I wanted to finish this job,” he remarked, in a slow deep voice,
“before I turn into stone myself.”

“Come, come, my friend,” said Mr. Taxater, while Vennie stared in
speechless alarm at the carver’s face. “You mustn’t talk like that! You
people get a wrong perspective in things. Remember, this is no longer
the Stone Age. The power of stone was broken once for all, when certain
women of Palestine found that stone, which we’ve all heard of, lifted
out of its place! Since then it is to wood--the wood out of which His
cross was made--not to stone, that we must look.”

The carver raised his long arm and pointed in the direction of Leo’s
Hill. “Twenty years,” he said, “have I been working on this stone. I
used to despise such work. Then I grew to care for it. Then there came
a change. I loved the work! It was the only thing I loved. I loved to
feel the stone under my hands, and to watch it yielding to my tools.
I think the soul of it must have passed into my soul. It seemed to
know me; to respond to me. We became like lovers, the stone and I!” He
laughed an uneasy, disconcerting laugh; and went on.

“But that is not all. Another change came. _She_ came into my life. I
needn’t tell you, Miss Seldom, who I mean. You know well enough. These
things cannot be hidden. Nothing can be hidden that happens here! She
came and was kind to me. She is kind to me still. But they have got
hold of her. She can’t resist them. Why she can’t, I cannot say; but
it seems impossible. She talks to me like a person in a dream. They’re
going to marry her to that brute Goring. You’ve heard that I suppose?
But of course it’s nothing to you! Why should it be?”

He paused, and Vennie interrupted him sharply. “It is a great deal
to us, Mr. Andersen! Every cruel thing that is done in a place
affects everyone who lives in the place. If Mr. Taxater and--and
Mr. Clavering--thought that Miss Traffio was being driven into
this marriage, I’m sure they would not allow it! They would do
something--everything--to stop such an outrage. Wouldn’t you, Mr.
Taxater?”

“But surely, Vennie,” said the theologian, “you have heard something
of this? You can’t be quite so oblivious, as all that, to the village
scandal?”

He spoke with a certain annoyance as people are apt to do, when some
disagreeable abuse, which they have sought to forget, is brought
vividly before them.

Vennie, too, became irritable. The question of Lacrima’s marriage had
more than once given her conscience a sharp stab. “I think it is a
shame to us all,” she cried vehemently, “that this should be allowed.
It is only lately that I’ve heard rumours of it, and I took them for
mere gossip. It’s been on my mind.” She looked almost sternly at the
theologian. “I meant to talk to you about it. But other things came
between. I haven’t seen Lacrima for several weeks. Surely, if it is
as Mr. Andersen says, something ought to be done! It is a horrible,
perfectly horrible idea!” She covered her face with her hands as if to
shut out some unbearable vision.

James Andersen watched them both intently, leaning against the
wood-work of the church-door.

“I thought you all knew of this,” he said presently. “Perhaps you did;
but the devil prompted you to say nothing. There are a great many
things in this world which are done while people--good people--look
on--and nothing said. Do you wonder now that the end of this business
will be a curious one; I mean for me? For you know, of course, what
is going to happen? You know why I have been chosen to work at this
particular piece of carving? And why, ever since I quarrelled with Luke
and drank in Hullaway Inn, I have heard voices in my head? The reason
of that is, that Leo’s Hill is angry because I have deserted it. Every
stone I touch is angry, and keeps talking to me and upbraiding me. The
voices I hear are the voices of all the stones I have ever worked with
in my life. But they needn’t fret themselves. The end will surprise
even them. _They_ do not know,”--here his voice took a lower tone, and
he assumed that ghastly air of imparting a piece of surprising, but
quite natural, information, which is one of the most sinister tokens
of monomania,--“that I shall very soon be, even as they are! Isn’t it
funny they don’t know that, Miss Seldom? Isn’t it a curious thing, Mr.
Taxater? I thought of that, just now, as I chipped the dirt from King
Stephen. Even _he_ didn’t know, the foolish centaur! And yet he has
been up there, seeing this sort of thing done, for seven hundred years!
I expect he has seen so many girls dragged under this arch, with sick
terror in their hearts, that he has grown callous to it. A callous
king! A knavish-smiling king! It makes me laugh to think how little he
cares!”

The unfortunate man did indeed proceed to laugh; but the sound of it
was so ghastly, even to himself, that he quickly became grave.

“Luke will be here soon,” he said. “Luke has always come for me, these
last few days, when his work is over. It’ll be over soon now, I think.
He may be here any moment; so I’d better finish the job. Don’t you
worry about Lacrima, ladies and gentlemen! She’ll fly away with the
rooks. This centaur-king will never reach _her_ with his arrows. It’ll
be me, not her, he’ll turn into stone!”

He became silent and continued his labour upon the carving. The wonder
was that with his head full of such mad fancies he could manage so
delicate a piece of work. Mr. Taxater and Vennie watched him in
amazement.

“I think,” whispered the latter presently, “we’d better wait in the
churchyard till his brother comes. I don’t like leaving him in this
state.”

Mr. Taxater nodded, and retreating to the further end of the path, they
sat down together upon a flat tombstone.

“I am sorry,” said Mr. Taxater, after a minute or two’s silence,
“that I spoke rather crossly to you just now. The truth is, the man’s
reference to that Italian girl made me feel ashamed of myself. I
have not your excuse of being ignorant of what was going on. I have,
in fact, been meaning to talk to you about it for some weeks; but I
hesitated, wishing to be quite sure of my ground first.

“Even now, you must remember, we have no certain authority to go upon.
But I’m afraid--I’m very much afraid--what Andersen says is true. It is
evidently his own certain knowledge of it that has upset his brain.
And I’m inclined to take his word for it. I fear the girl must have
told him herself; and it was the shock of hearing it from her that had
this effect.

“There’s no doubt he’s seriously ill. But if I know anything of these
things, it’s rather a case of extreme nervous agitation than actual
insanity. In any event, it’s a relief to remember that this kind of
mania is, of all forms of brain-trouble, the easiest cured.”

Vennie made an imperious little gesture. “We _must_ cure him!” she
cried. “We must! We must! And the only way to do it, as far as I can
see, is to stop this abominable marriage. Lacrima can’t be doing it
willingly. No girl would marry a man like that, of her own accord.”

Mr. Taxater shook his head. “I’m afraid there are few people,” he
remarked, “that some girl or other wouldn’t marry if the motive were
strong enough! The question is, What is the motive in this instance?”

“What can Mr. Quincunx be thinking of?” said Vennie. “He hasn’t been up
to see mother lately. In fact, I don’t think he has been in our house
since he began working in Yeoborough. That’s another abominable shame!
It seems to me more and more clear that there’s an evil destiny hanging
over this place, driving people on to do wicked things!”

“I’m afraid we shall get small assistance from Mr. Quincunx,” said the
theologian. “The relations between him and Lacrima are altogether
beyond my power of unravelling. But I cannot imagine his taking any
sort of initiative in any kind of difficulty.”

“Then what are we to do?” pleaded Vennie, looking anxiously into the
diplomatist’s face.

Mr. Taxater rested his chin upon the handle of his cane and made no
reply.

At this moment the gate clicked behind them, and Luke Andersen
appeared. He glanced hastily towards the porch; but his brother was
absorbed in his work and apparently had heard nothing. Stepping softly
along the edge of the path he approached the two friends. He looked
very anxious and troubled.

Raising his hat to Vennie, he made a gesture with his hand in his
brother’s direction. “Have you seen him?” he enquired. “Has he talked
to you?”

The theologian nodded.

“Oh, I think all this is dreadful!” whispered Vennie. “I’m more
distressed than I can tell you. I’m afraid he’s very, very ill. And he
keeps talking about Miss Traffio. Surely something can be done, Mr.
Andersen, to stop that marriage before it’s too late?”

Luke turned upon her with an expression completely different from any
she had ever seen him wear before. He seemed to have suddenly grown
much older. His mouth was drawn, and a little open; and his cheeks were
pale and indented by deep lines.

“I would give my soul,” he said with intense emphasis, “to have this
thing otherwise. I have already been to Lacrima--to Miss Traffio, I
mean--but she will do nothing. She is mad, too, I think. I hoped to get
her to marry my brother, off-hand, anyhow; and leave the place with
him. But she won’t hear of it. I can’t understand her! It almost seems
as if she _wanted_ to marry that clown. But she can’t really; it’s
impossible. I’m afraid that fool Quincunx is at the bottom of it.”

“Something must be done! Something must be done!” wailed Vennie.

“_Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus!_” muttered Mr. Taxater. “_Speravit
anima mea in Domino._”

“I shouldn’t mind so much the state he’s in,” continued Luke, “if I
didn’t remember how my mother went. She got just like this before she
died. It’s true my father was a brute to her. But this different kind
of blow seems to have just the same effect upon James. Fool that I
am, I must needs start a miserable quarrel with him when he was most
worried. If anything happens, I tell you I shall feel I’m responsible
for the whole thing, and no one else!”

All this while Mr. Taxater had remained silent, his chin on the handle
of his cane. At last he lifted up his head.

“I think,” he began softly, “I should rather like a word alone with Mr.
Luke, Vennie. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind wandering down the lane a step
or two? Then I can follow you; and we’ll leave this young man to get
his brother home.”

The girl rose obediently and pressed the youth’s hand. “If anyone can
help you,” she said with a look of tender sympathy, “it is Mr. Taxater.
He has helped me in my trouble.”

As soon as Vennie was out of hearing the theologian looked straight
into Luke’s face.

“I have an idea,” he said, “that if any two people can find a way out
of this wretched business, it is you and I together.”

“Well, sir,” said Luke, seating himself by Mr. Taxater’s side and
glancing apprehensively towards the church-porch; “I have tried what I
can do with Miss Romer, but she maintains that nothing she can say will
make any difference to Miss Traffio.”

“I fancy there is one thing, however, that would make a difference to
Mr. Quincunx,” remarked the theologian significantly. “I am taking for
granted,” he added, “that it is this particular marriage which weighs
so heavily on your brother. He would not suffer if he saw her wedded to
a man she loved?”

“Ah!” exclaimed Luke, “your idea is to appeal to Quincunx. I’ve thought
of that, too. But I’m afraid it’s hopeless. He’s such an inconceivably
helpless person. Besides, he’s got no money.”

“Suppose we secured him the money?” said Mr. Taxater.

Luke’s countenance momentarily brightened; but the cloud soon settled
on it again.

“We couldn’t get enough,” he said with a sigh. “Unless,” he added, with
a glimmer of humour, “you or some other noble person have more cash to
dispose of than I fancy is at all likely! To persuade Quincunx into any
bold activity we should have to guarantee him a comfortable annuity for
the rest of his life, and an assurance of his absolute security from
Romer’s vengeance. It would have to be enough for Lacrima, too, you
understand!”

The theologian shook the dew-drops from a large crimson rose which hung
within his reach.

“What precise sum would you suggest,” he asked, “as likely to be a
sufficient inducement?”

The stone-carver meditated. “Those two could live quite happily,” he
remarked at last, “on two hundred a year.”

“It is a large amount to raise,” said Mr. Taxater. “I fear it is quite
beyond my power and the power of the Seldoms, even if we combined our
efforts. How right Napoleon was, when he said that in any campaign, the
first, second, and third requisite was money!

“It only shows how foolish those critics of the Catholic Church are,
who blame her for laying stress upon the temporal side of our great
struggle against evil. In this world, as things go, one always strikes
sooner or later against the barrier of money. The money-question lies
at the bottom of every subterranean abuse and every hidden iniquity
that we unmask. It’s a wretched thing that it should be so, but we
have to accept it; until one of Vennie’s angels”--he added in an
undertone--“descends to help us! Your poor brother began talking just
now about the power of stone. I referred him to the Cross of our
Lord--which is made of another material!

“But unfortunately in the stress of this actual struggle, you and I,
my dear Andersen, find ourselves, as you see, compelled to call in the
help, not of wood, but of gold. Gold, and gold alone, can furnish us
with the means of undermining these evil powers!”

The texture of Mr. Taxater’s mind was so nicely inter-threaded with the
opposite strands of metaphysical and Machiavellian wisdom, that this
discourse, fantastic as it may sound to us, fell from him as naturally
as rain from a heavy cloud. Luke Andersen’s face settled into an
expression of hopeless gloom.

“The thing is beyond us, then,” he said. “I certainly can’t provide an
enormous sum like that. James’ and my savings together only amount to a
few hundreds. And if no quixotic person can be discovered to help us,
we are bound hand and foot.

“Oh I should like,” he cried, “to make this place ring and ting with
our triumph over that damned Romer!”

“_Quis est iste Rex gloriæ?_” muttered the Theologian. “_Dominus fortis
et potens; Dominus potens in prœlio._”

“I shall never dare,” went on the stone-carver, “to get my brother
away into a home. The least thought of such a thing would drive him
absolutely out of his mind. He’ll have to be left to drift about like
this, talking madly to everyone he meets, till something terrible
happens to him. God! I could howl with rage, to think how it all might
be saved if only that ass Quincunx had a little gall!”

Mr. Taxater tapped the young man’s wrist with his white fingers. “I
think we can put gall into him between us,” he said. “I think so,
Andersen.”

“You’ve got some idea, sir!” cried Luke, looking at the theologian.
“For Heaven’s sake, let’s have it! I am completely at the end of my
tether.”

“This American who is engaged to Gladys is immensely rich, isn’t he?”
enquired Mr. Taxater.

“Rich?” answered Luke. “That’s not the word for it! The fellow could
buy the whole of Leo’s Hill and not know the difference.”

Mr. Taxater was silent, fingering the gold cross upon his watch-chain.

“It remains with yourself then,” he remarked at last.

“What!” cried the astonished Luke.

“I happen to be aware,” continued the diplomatist, calmly, “that there
is a certain fact which our friend from Ohio would give half his
fortune to know. He certainly would very willingly sign the little
document for it, that would put Mr. Quincunx and Miss Traffio into a
position of complete security. It is only a question of ‘the terrain of
negotiation,’ as we say in our ecclesiastical circles.”

Luke Andersen’s eyes opened very widely, and the amazement of his
surprise made him look more like an astounded faun than ever--a faun
that has come bolt upon some incredible triumph of civilization.

“I will be quite plain with you, young man,” said the theologian.
“It has come to my knowledge that you and Gladys Romer are more than
friends; have been more than friends, for a good while past.

“Do not wave your hand in that way! I am not speaking without evidence.
I happen to know as a positive fact that this girl is neither more nor
less than your mistress. I am also inclined to believe--though of this,
of course, I cannot be sure--that, as a result of this intrigue, she
is likely, before the autumn is over, to find herself in a position of
considerable embarrassment. It is no doubt, with a view to covering
such embarrassment--you understand what I mean, Mr. Andersen?--that she
is making preparations to have her marriage performed earlier than was
at first intended.”

“God!” cried the astounded youth, losing all self-possession, “how,
under the sun, did you get to know this?”

Mr. Taxater smiled. “We poor controversialists,” he said, “have to
learn, in self-defence, certain innocent arts of observation. I
don’t think that you and your mistress,” he added, “have been so
extraordinarily discreet, that it needed a miracle to discover your
secret.”

Luke Andersen recovered his equanimity with a vigorous effort. “Well?”
he said, rising from his seat and looking anxiously at his brother,
“what then?”

As he uttered these words the young stone-carver’s mind wrestled in
grim austerity with the ghastly hint thrown out by his companion. He
divined with an icy shock of horror the astounding proposal that this
amazing champion of the Faith was about to unfold. He mentally laid
hold of this proposal as a man might lay hold upon a red-hot bar of
iron. The interior fibres of his being hardened themselves to grasp
without shrinking its appalling treachery.

Luke had it in him, below his urbane exterior, to rend and tear away
every natural, every human scruple. He had it in him to be able
to envisage, with a shamelessness worthy of some lost soul of the
Florentine’s Inferno, the fire-scorched walls of such a stark dilemma.
The palpable suggestion which now hung, as it were, suspended in the
air between them, was a suggestion he was ready to grasp by the throat.

The sight of his brother’s gaunt figure, every line of which he knew
and loved so well, turned his conscience to adamant. Sinking into the
depths of his soul, as a diver might sink into an ice-cold sea, he felt
that there was literally _nothing_ he would not do, if his dear Daddy
James could be restored to sanity and happiness.

Gladys? He would walk over the bodies of a hundred Gladyses, if that
way, and that alone, led to his brother’s restoration!

“What then?” he repeated, turning a bleak but resolute face upon Mr.
Taxater.

The theologian continued: “Why, it remains for you, or for someone
deputed by you, to reveal to our unsuspecting American exactly how his
betrothed has betrayed him. I have no doubt that in the disturbance
this will cause him we shall have no difficulty in securing his aid in
this other matter. It would be a natural, an inevitable revenge for him
to take. Himself a victim of these Romers, what more appropriate, what
more suitable, than that he should help us in liberating their other
victims? If he is as wealthy as you say, it would be a mere bagatelle
for him to set our good Quincunx upon his feet forever, and Lacrima
with him! It is the kind of thing it would naturally occur to him to
do. It would be a revenge; but a noble revenge. He would leave Nevilton
then, feeling that he had left his mark; that he had made himself felt.
Americans like to make themselves felt.”

Luke’s countenance, in spite of his interior acquiescence, stiffened
into a haggard mask of dismay.

“But this is beyond anything one has ever heard of!” he protested,
trying in vain to assume an air of levity. “It is beyond everything.
Actually to convey, to the very man one’s girl is going to marry, the
news of her seduction! Actually to ‘coin her for drachmas,’ as it says
somewhere! It’s a monstrous thing, an incredible thing!”

“Not a bit more monstrous than your original sin in seducing the girl,”
said Mr. Taxater.

“That is the usual trick,” he went on sternly, “of you English people!
You snatch at your little pleasures, without any scruple, and feel
yourselves quite honourable. And then, directly it becomes a question
of paying for them, by any form of public confession, you become
fastidiously scrupulous.”

“But to give one’s girl away, to betray her in this shameless manner
oneself! It seems to me the ultimate limit of scurvy meanness!”

“It only seems to you so, because the illusion of chivalry enters into
it; in other words, because public opinion would condemn you! This
honourable shielding of the woman we have sinned with, at every kind
of cost to others, has been the cause of endless misery. Do you think
you are preparing a happy marriage for your Gladys in your ‘honourable’
reticence? By saving her from this union with Mr. Dangelis--whom,
by the way, she surely cannot love, if she loves you--you will be
doing her the best service possible. Even if she refuses to make
you her husband in his place--and I suppose her infatuation would
stop at that!--there are other ways, besides marriage, of hiding her
embarrassed condition. Let her travel for a year till her trouble is
well over!”

Luke Andersen reflected in silence, his drooping figure indicating a
striking collapse of his normal urbanity.

At last he spoke. “There may be something in what you suggest,” he
remarked slowly. “Obviously, _I_ can’t be the one,” he added, after a
further pause, “to strike this astounding bargain with the American.”

“I don’t see why not,” said the theologian, with a certain
maliciousness in his tone, “I don’t see why not. You have been the one
to commit the sin; you ought naturally to be the one to perform the
penance.”

The luckless youth distorted his countenance into such a wry grimace,
that he caused it to resemble the stone gargoyles which protruded their
lewd tongues from the church roof above them.

“It’s a scurvy thing to do, all the same,” he muttered.

“It is only relatively--‘scurvy,’ as you call it,” replied Mr. Taxater.
“In an absolute sense, the ‘scurviness’ would be to let your Gladys
deceive an honest man and make herself unhappy for life, simply to
save you two from any sort of exposure. But as a matter of fact, I am
_not_ inclined to place this very delicate piece of negotiation in your
hands. It would be so fatally easy for you--under the circumstances--to
make some precipitate blunder that would spoil it all.

“Don’t think,” he went on, observing the face of his interlocutor
relapsing into sudden cheerfulness, “that I let you off this penance
because of its unchivalrous character. You break the laws of chivalry
quite as completely by putting me into the possession of the facts.

“I shall, of course,” he added, “require from you some kind of written
statement. The thing must be put upon an unimpeachable ground.”

Luke Andersen’s relief was not materially modified by this demand. He
began to fumble in his pocket for his cigarette-case.

“The great point to be certain of,” continued Mr. Taxater, “is that
Quincunx and Lacrima will accept the situation, when it is thus
presented to them. But I don’t think we need anticipate any difficulty.
In case of Dangelis’ saying anything to Mr. Romer, though I do not for
a moment imagine he will, it would be well if you and your brother were
prepared to move, if need were, to some other scene of action. There is
plenty of demand for skilled workmen like yourselves, and you have no
ties here.”

The young man made a deprecatory movement with his hands.

“We neither of us should like that, very much, sir. James and I are
fonder of Nevilton than you might imagine.”

“Well, well,” responded the theologian, “we can discuss that another
time. Such a thing may not be necessary. I am glad to see, my friend,”
he added, “that whatever wrong you have done, you are willing to atone
for it. So I trust our little plan will work out successfully. Perhaps
you will look in, tomorrow night? I shall be at leisure then, and
we can make our arrangements. Well, Heaven protect you, ‘_a sagitta
volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris_.’”

He crossed himself devoutly as he spoke, and giving the young man a
friendly wave of the hand, and an encouraging smile, let himself out
through the gate and proceeded to follow the patient Vennie.

He overtook his little friend somewhere not far from the lodge of
that admirable captain, whose neatly-cut laurel hedge had witnessed,
according to the loquacious Mrs. Fringe, the strange encounter between
Jimmy Pringle and his Maker. Vennie was straying slowly along by the
hedge-side, trailing her hand through the tall dead grasses. Hearing
Mr. Taxater’s footsteps, she turned eagerly to meet him.

“Well,” she asked, “what does Luke say about his brother? Is it as bad
as we feared?”

“He doesn’t think,” responded the theologian, “any more than I do, that
the thing has gone further than common hallucination.”

“And Lacrima--poor little Lacrima!--have you decided what we must do to
intervene in her case?”

“I think it may be said,” responded the scholar gravely, “that we
have hit upon an effective way of stopping that marriage. But perhaps
it would be pleasanter and easier for you to remain at present in
ignorance of our precise plan. I know,” he added, smiling, “you do not
care for hidden conspiracies.”

Vennie frowned. “I don’t see why,” she said, “there should be anything
hidden about it! It seems to me, the thing is so abominable, that one
would only have to make it public, to put an end to it completely.

“I hope”--she clasped her hands--“I do hope, you are not fighting the
evil one with the weapons of the evil one? If you are, I am sure it
will end unhappily. I am sure and certain of it!”

She spoke with a fervour that seemed almost prophetic; and as she
did so, she unconsciously waved--with a pathetic little gesture of
protest--the bunch of dead grasses which she held in her hand.

Mr. Taxater walked gravely by her side; his profile, in its
imperturbable immobility, resembling the mask of some great mediæval
ecclesiastic. The only reply he made to her appeal was to quote the
famous Psalmodic invocation: “_Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum, in
vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam._”

It would have been clear to anyone who had overheard his recent
conversation with Luke, and now watched his reception of Vennie’s
instinctive protest, that whatever the actions of this remarkable man
were, they rested upon a massive foundation of unshakable philosophy.

There was little further conversation between them; and at the
vicarage gate, they separated with a certain air of estrangement. With
undeviating feminine clairvoyance, Vennie was persuaded in the depths
of her mind that whatever plan had been hit upon by the combined wits
of the theologian and Luke, it was one whose nature, had she known
it, would have aroused her most vehement condemnation. Nor in this
persuasion will the reader of our curious narrative regard her as far
astray from the truth.

Meanwhile the two brothers were also returning slowly along the
road to Nevilton. Had Mr. Clavering, whose opinion of the younger
stone-carver was probably lower than that of any of his other critics,
seen Luke during this time, he might have formed a kindlier judgment
of him. Nothing could have exceeded the tact and solicitude with which
he guided the conversation into safe channels. Nothing could have
surpassed, in affectionate tenderness, the quick, anxious glances he
every now and then cast upon his brother. There are certain human
expressions which flit suddenly across the faces of men and women,
which reveal, with the seal of absolute authenticity, the depth of
the emotion they betray. Such a flitting expression, of a love almost
maternal in its passionate depth, crossed the face of Luke Andersen at
more than one stage of their homeward walk.

James seemed, on the whole, rather better than earlier in the day. The
most ominous thing he did was to begin a long incoherent discourse
about the rooks which kept circling over their heads on their way to
the tall trees of Wild Pine. But this particular event of the rooks’
return to their Nevilton roosting-place was a phase of the local
life of that spot calculated to impress even perfectly sane minds
with romantic suggestion. It was always a sign of the breaking up of
the year’s pristine bloom when they came, a token of the not distant
approach of the shorter equinoctial days. They flew hither, these
funereal wayfarers, from far distant feeding-grounds. They did not
nest in the Nevilton woods. Nevilton was to them simply a habitation
of sleep. Many of them never even saw it, except in its morning
and evening twilight. The place drew them to it at night-fall, and
rejected them at sunrise. In the interval they remained passive and
unconscious--huddled groups of black obscure shapes, tossed to and
fro in their high branches, their glossy heads full of dreams beyond
the reach of the profoundest sage. Before settling down to rest,
however, it was their custom, even on the stormiest evenings, to
sweep round, above the roofs of the village, in wide airy circles of
restless flight, uttering their harsh familiar cries. Sailing quietly
on a peaceful air or roughly buffeted by rainy gusts of wind--those
westerly winds that are so wild and intermittent in this corner of
England--these black tribes of the twilight give a character to their
places of favourite resort which resembles nothing else in the world.
The cawing of rooks is like the crying of sea-gulls. It is a sound
that more than anything flings the minds of men back to “old unhappy
far-off things.”

The troubled soul of the luckless stone-carver went tossing forth on
this particular night of embalmed stillness, driven in the track of
those calmly circling birds, on the gust of a thought-tempest more
formidable than any that the fall of the leaves could bring. But the
devoted passion of the younger brother followed patiently every flight
it took; and by the time they had reached the vicarage-gate, and turned
down the station-hill towards their lodging, the wild thoughts had
fallen into rest, and like the birds in the dusk of their sheltering
branches, were soothed into blessed forgetfulness.

Luke had recourse, before they reached their dwelling, to the magic of
old memories; and the end of that unforgettable day was spent by the
two brothers in summoning up childish recollections, and in evoking the
images and associations of their earliest compacts of friendship.

When he left his brother asleep and stood for a while at the open
window, Luke prayed a vague heathen prayer to the planetary spaces
above his head. A falling star happened to sweep downward at that
moment behind the dark pyramid of Nevilton Mount, and this natural
phenomenon seemed to his excited nerves a sort of elemental answer to
his invocation; as if it had been the very bolt of Sagittarius, the
Archer, aimed at all the demons that darkened his brother’s soul!



CHAPTER XVIII

VOICES BY THE WAY


The morning which followed James Andersen’s completion of his work
in Athelston church-porch, was one of the loveliest of the season.
The sun rose into a perfectly cloudless sky. Every vestige of mist
had vanished, and the half-cut corn-fields lay golden and unshadowed
in the translucent air. Over the surface of every upland path, the
little waves of palpable ether vibrated and quivered. The white
roads gleamed between their tangled hedges as if they had been paved
with mother-of-pearl. The heat was neither oppressive nor sultry. It
penetrated without burdening, and seemed to flow forth upon the earth,
as much from the general expanse of the blue depths as from the limited
circle of the solar luminary.

James Andersen seemed more restored than his brother had dared to hope.
They went to their work as usual; and from the manner in which the
elder stone-carver spoke to his mates and handled his tools, none would
have guessed at the mad fancies which had so possessed him during the
previous days.

Luke was filled with profound happiness and relief. It is true that,
like a tiny cloud upon the surface of this clear horizon, the thought
of his projected betrayal of his mistress remained present with him.
But in the depths of his heart he knew that he would have betrayed
twenty mistresses, if by that means the brother of his soul could be
restored to sanity.

He had already grown completely weary of Gladys. The clinging and
submissive passion with which the proud girl had pursued him of late
had begun to irritate his nerves. More than once--especially when her
importunities interrupted his newer pleasures--he had found himself
on the point of hating her. He was absolutely cynical--and always
had been--with regard to the ideal of faithfulness in these matters.
Even the startling vision of the indignant Dangelis putting into her
hands--as he supposed the American might naturally do--the actual
written words with which he betrayed her, only ruffled his equanimity
in a remote and even half-humorous manner. He recalled her contemptuous
treatment of him on the occasion of their first amorous encounter
and it was not without a certain malicious thrill of triumph that he
realized how thoroughly he had been revenged.

He had divined without difficulty on the occasion of their return from
Hullaway that Gladys was on the point of revealing to him the fact that
she was likely to have a child; and since that day he had taken care to
give her little opportunity for such revelations. Absorbed in anxiety
for James, he had been anxious to postpone this particular crisis
between them till a later occasion.

The situation, nevertheless, whenever he had thought of it, had
given him, in spite of its complicated issues, an undeniable throb
of satisfaction. It was such a complete, such a triumphant victory,
over Mr. Romer. Luke in his heart had an unblushing admiration for
the quarry-owner, whose masterly attitude towards life was not so
very different from his own. But this latent respect for his employer
rather increased than diminished his complacency in thus striking him
down. The remote idea that, in the whirligig of time, an offspring of
his own should come to rule in Nevilton house--as seemed by no means
impossible, if matters were discreetly managed--was an idea that gave
him a most delicate pleasure.

As they strolled back to breakfast together, across the intervening
field, and admired the early dahlias in the station-master’s garden,
Luke took the risk of testing his brother on the matter of Mr.
Quincunx. He was anxious to be quite certain of his ground here, before
he had his interview with the tenant of the Gables.

“I wish,” he remarked casually, “that Maurice Quincunx would show a
little spirit and carry Lacrima off straight away.”

James looked closely at him. “If he would,” he said, “I’d give him
every penny I possess and I’d work day and night to help them! O
Luke--Luke!” he stretched out his arm towards Leo’s Hill and pronounced
what seemed like a vow before the Eumenides themselves; “if I could
make her happy, if I could only make her happy, I would be buried
tomorrow in the deepest of those pits.”

Luke registered his own little resolution in the presence of this
appeal to the gods. “Gladys? What is Gladys to me compared with James?
All girls are the same. They all get over these things.”

Meanwhile James Andersen was repeating in a low voice to himself the
quaint name of his rival.

“He is an ash-root, a tough ash-root,” he muttered. “And that’s the
reason he has been chosen. There’s nothing in the world but the roots
of trees that can undermine the power of Stone! The trees can do it.
The trees will do it. What did that Catholic say? He said it was Wood
against Stone. That’s the reason I can’t help her. I have worked too
long at Stone. I am too near Stone. That’s the reason Quincunx has been
chosen. She and I are under the power of Stone, and we can’t resist it,
any more than the earth can! But ash-tree roots can undermine anything.
If only she would take my money, if only she would.”

This last aspiration was uttered in a voice loud enough for Luke to
hear; and it may be well believed that it fortified him all the more
strongly in his dishonourable resolution.

During breakfast James continued to show signs of improvement. He
talked of his mother, and though his conversation was sprinkled with
somewhat fantastic imagery, on the whole it was rational enough.

While the meal was still in progress, the younger brother observed
through the window the figure of a woman, moving oddly backwards and
forwards along their garden-hedge, as if anxious at the same time to
attract and avoid attention. He recognized her in a moment as the
notorious waif of the neighborhood, the somewhat sinister Witch-Bessie.
He made an excuse to his brother and slipped out to speak to her.

Witch-Bessie had grown, if possible, still more dehumanized since
when two months ago she had cursed Gladys Romer. Her skin was pallid
and livid as parchment. The eyes which stared forth from her wrinkled
expressionless face were of a dull glaucous blue, like the inside of
certain sun-bleached sea-shells. She was dressed in a rough sack-cloth
petticoat, out of which protruded her stockingless feet, only half
concealed by heavy labourer’s boots, unlaced and in large holes. Over
her thin shoulders she wore a ragged woolen shawl which served the
office not only of a garment, but also of a wallet; for, in the folds
of it, were even now observable certain half-eaten pieces of bread,
and bits of ancient cheese, which she had begged in her wanderings. In
one of her withered hands she held a large bunch of magenta-coloured,
nettle-like flowers, of the particular species known to botanists as
marsh-wound-wort. As soon as Luke appeared she thrust these flowers
into his arms.

“Gathered ’un for ’ee,” she whispered, in a thin whistling voice,
like the soughing of wind in a bed of rushes. “They be capital weeds
for them as be moon-smitten. Gathered ’un, up by Seven Ashes, where
them girt main roads do cross. Take ’un, mister; take ’un and thank
an old woman wot loves both of ’ee, as heretofore she did love your
long-sufferin’ mother. I were bidin’ down by Minister’s back gate,
expectin’ me bit of oddments, when they did tell I, all sudden-like, as
how he’d been taken, same as _she_ was.”

“It’s most kind of you, Bessie,” said Luke graciously. “You and I have
always been good friends.”

The old woman nodded. “So we be, mister, and let none say the contrary!
I’ve a dangled ’ee, afore-now, in these very arms. Dost mind how ’ee
drove that ramping girt dog out of Long-Load Barton when the blarsted
thing were for laying hold of I?”

“But what must I do with these?” asked the stone-carver, holding the
bunch of pungent scented flowers to his face.

“That’s wot I was just a-going to tell ’ee,” whispered the old woman
solemnly. “I suppose _he’s_ in there now, eh? Let ’un be, poor man.
Let ’un be. May-be the Lord’s only waitin’ for these ’ere weeds to
mend ’is poor swimey wits. You do as I do tell ’ee, mister, and ’twill
be all smoothed out, as clean as church floor. You take these blessed
weeds,--‘viviny-lobs’ my old mother did call ’em--and hang ’em to dry
till they be dead and brown. Then doddy a sprinkle o’ good salt on ’em,
and dip ’em in clear water. Be you followin’ me, mister Luke?”

The young man nodded.

“Then wot you got to do, is for to strike ’em against door-post, and
as you strikes ’em, you says, same as I says now.” And Witch-Bessie
repeated the following archaic enchantment.

    Marshy hollow woundy-wort,
    Growing on the holy dirt,
    In the Mount of Calvary
    There was thou found.
    In the name of sweet Jesus
    I take thee from the ground.
    O Lord, effect the same,
    That I do now go about.

Luke listened devoutly to these mysterious words, and repeated them
twice, after the old woman. Their two figures, thus concerted in
magical tutelage, might, for all the youth’s modern attire, have
suggested to a scholarly observer some fantastic heathen scene out of
Apuleius. The spacious August sunshine lay splendid upon the fields
about them, and light-winged swallows skimmed the surface of the
glittering railway-line as though it had been a flowing river.

When she was made assured in her mind that her pupil fully understood
the healing incantation, Witch-Bessie shuffled off without further
words. Her face, as she resumed her march in the direction of Hullaway,
relapsed into such corpse-like rigidity, that, but for her mechanical
movement, one might have expected the shameless flocks of starlings who
hovered about her, to settle without apprehension upon her head.

The two brothers labored harmoniously side by side in their work-shop
all that forenoon. It was Saturday, and their companions were anxious
to throw down their tools and clear out of the place on the very stroke
of the one o’clock bell.

James and Luke were both engaged upon a new stone font, the former
meticulously chipping out its angle-mouldings, and the latter rounding,
with chisel and file, the capacious lip of its deep basin. It was a
cathedral font, intended for use in a large northern city.

Luke could not resist commenting to his brother, in his half-humorous
half-sentimental way, upon the queer fact that they two--their heads
full of their own anxieties and troubles--should be thus working
upon a sacred font which for countless generations, perhaps as long
as Christianity lasted, would be associated with so many strange and
mingled feelings of perturbation and hope.

“It’s a comical idea,” he found himself saying, though the allusion was
sufficiently unwise, “this idea of Gladys’ baptism.”

He regretted his words the moment they were out of his mouth; but James
received them calmly.

“I once heard,” he answered, “I think it was on the sands at Weymouth,
two old men discussing quite reverently and gravely whether an infant,
baptized before it was born, would be brought under the blessing of the
Church. I thought, as I listened to them, how vulgar and gross-minded
our age had become, that I should have to tremble with alarm lest any
flippant passer-by should hear their curious speculation. It seemed
to me a much more important matter to discuss, than the merits of the
black-faced Pierrots who were fooling and howling just beyond. This
sort of seriousness, in regard to the strange borderland of the Faith,
has always seemed to me a sign of pathetic piety, and the very reverse
of anything blasphemous.”

Luke had made an involuntary movement when his brother’s anecdote
commenced. The calmness and reasonableness with which James had
spoken was balm and honey to the anxious youth; but he could not help
speculating in his heart whether his brother was covertly girding at
him. Did he, he wondered, realize how far things had gone between him
and the fair-haired girl?

“It’s the sort of question, at any rate,” he remarked rather feebly,
“that would interest our friend Sir Thomas Browne. Do you remember how
we read together that amazing passage in the Urn Burial?”

“‘But the iniquity of oblivion,’” quoted James in answer, “‘blindly
scattereth her Poppy, and deals with the memory of men without
distinction to merit of perpetuity. Who can but pity the founder of
the Pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the temple of Diana; he is
almost lost that built it. Time has spared the epitaph of Hadrian’s
Horse, confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities
by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equal durations;
and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamemnon without the favour
of the everlasting register.… Darkness and light divide the course of
time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living
beings; we slightly remember our felicities and the smartest strokes
of affliction leave but short smart upon us. To weep into Stones are
fables.’”

He pronounced these last words with a slow and emphatic intonation.

“Fables?” he repeated, resting his hand upon the rim of the font, and
lowering his voice, so as not to be heard by the men outside. “He
calls them fables because he has never worked as we do--day in and day
out--among nothing else. The reason he says that to weep into Stones
are fables is that his own life, down at that pleasant Norwich, was
such a happy one. To weep into Stones! He means, of course, that when
you have endured more than you can bear, you become a Stone. But that
is no fable! Or if it was once, it isn’t so today. Mr. Taxater said
the Stone-Age was over. In my opinion, Luke, the Stone-Age is only now
beginning. The reason of that is, that whereas, in former times, Stone
was moulded by men; now, men are moulded by Stone. We have receded,
instead of advancing; and the iniquity of Time which turned animals
into men, is now turning men back into the elements!”

Luke cursed bitterly in his heart the rhythmic incantations of the old
Norwich doctor. He had been thinking of a very different passage from
that which his brother recalled. To change the conversation he asked
how James wished to spend their free afternoon.

Andersen’s tone changed in a moment, and he grew rational and direct.
“I am going for a walk,” he said, “and I think perhaps, if you don’t
mind, I’ll go alone. My brain feels clouded and oppressed. A long walk
ought to clear it. I think it will clear it; don’t you?” This final
question was added rather wistfully.

“I’m sure it will. Oh, it certainly will! I expect the sun has hit
you a bit; or perhaps, as Mr. Taxater would say, your headache is a
relative one, due to my dragging in such things as Urn Burial. But I
don’t quite like your going alone, Daddy James.”

The elder brother smiled affectionately at him, but went on quietly
with his work without replying.

When they had finished their mid-day meal they both loitered out into
the field together, smoking and chatting. The afternoon promised to be
as clear and beautiful as the morning, and Luke’s spirits rose high.
He hoped his brother, at the last moment, would not have the heart to
reject his company.

The fineness of the weather, combined with the Saturday half-holiday,
was attracting abroad all manner of Nevilton folk. Lads and maids, in
merry noisy groups, passed and repassed. The platform of the little
station was crowded with expectant passengers waiting for the train to
Yeoborough.

As the brothers stood together, carelessly turning over with their
sticks the fetid heads of a patch of meadow fungi, they observed two
separate couples issuing, one after another, from the little swing-gate
that opened on the level-crossing. They recognized both couples almost
simultaneously. The first pair consisted of Annie Bristow and Phyllis
Santon; the second of Vennie Seldom and Mr. Clavering.

The two girls proceeded, arm-in-arm, up the sloping path that led in
the direction of Hullaway. Vennie and Mr. Clavering advanced straight
towards the brothers. Luke had time to wonder vaguely whether this
conjunction of Vennie and her Anglican pastor had any connection with
last night’s happenings.

He was too closely associated with that Gargantuan gossip, Mrs. Fringe,
not to be aware that for many weeks past Miss Seldom and the young
clergyman had studiously avoided one another. That they should now
be walking together, indicated, to his astute mind, either a quarrel
between the young lady and Mr. Taxater, or an estrangement between
the vicar and Gladys. Luke was the sort of philosopher who takes for
granted that in all these situations it is love for love, or hate for
hate, which propels irresistibly the human mechanism and decides the
most trifling incidents.

James looked angry and embarrassed at the appearance of the pair; but
they were too close upon them for any escape to be possible.

“How are you today, Andersen?” began Mr. Clavering, with his usual
well-meaning but indiscreet impulsiveness. “Miss Seldom tells me she
was nervous about you last night. She was afraid you were working too
hard.”

Vennie gave him a quick reproachful glance, and made a deprecatory
movement with her hands. “Are all men,” she thought, “either without
scruple or without common-sense?”

“I’m glad to see that I was quite mistaken,” she hastened to add. “You
don’t look at all tired today, Mr. Andersen. And no wonder, with such a
perfectly lovely afternoon! And how are you, Mr. Luke? I haven’t been
down to see how that Liverpool font is getting on, for ever so long. I
believe you’ll end by being quite as famous as your father.”

Luke received this compliment in his most courtly manner. He was always
particularly anxious to impress persons who belonged to the “real”
upper classes with his social sang-froid.

He was at this precise moment, however, a little agitated by the
conduct of the two young people who had just passed up the meadow.
Instead of disappearing into the lane beyond, they continued to loiter
at the gate, and finally, after an interlude of audible laughter and
lively discussion, they proceeded to stretch themselves upon the grass.
The sight of two amiable young women, both so extremely well known to
him, and both in evident high spirits, thus enjoying the sunshine,
filled our faun-like friend’s mind with the familiar craving for
frivolity. He caught Mr. Clavering’s glance fixed gravely upon him. He
also, it appeared, was not oblivious of the loitering villagers.

“I think there are other members of your flock, sir,” said James
Andersen to the young vicar, “who are at the present moment more in
need of your help than I am. What I need at this moment is air--air.
I should like to be able to wander over the Quantocks this afternoon.
Or better still, by the edge of the sea! We all need more air than
we get here. It is too shut-in here--too shut-in and oppressive.
There’s too much stone about; and too much clay. Yes, and the trees
grow too close together. Do you know, Miss Seldom, what I should like
to do? I should like to pull down all the houses--I mean all the big
houses--and cut down all the trees, and then perhaps the wind would be
free to blow. It’s wind we want--all of us--wind and air to clear our
brains! Do you realize”--his voice once more took that alarming tone of
confidential secretiveness, which had struck them so disagreeably the
preceding evening;--“do you realize that there are evil spirits abroad
in Nevilton, and that they come from the Hill over there?” He pointed
towards the Leonian escarpments which could be plainly seen from where
they stood, slumbering in the splendid sunshine.

“It looks more like a sphinx than a lion today, doesn’t it, Miss
Seldom? Oh, I should like to tear it up, bodily, from where it lies,
and fling it into the sea! It blocks the horizon. It blocks the path of
the west-wind. I tell you it is the burden that weighs upon us all! But
I shall conquer it yet; I shall be master of it yet!” He was silent a
few seconds, while a look of supreme disappointment clouded the face
of his brother; and the two new-comers gazed at him in alarm.

“I must start at once,” he exclaimed abruptly. “I must get far,
far off. It is air I need, air and the west-wind! No,” he cried
imperiously, when Luke made a movement, as if to take leave of their
companions. “I must go alone. Alone! That is what I must be today:
alone--and on the hills!”

He turned impatiently as he spoke; and without another word strode off
towards the level-crossing.

“Surely you will not let him go like that, Mr. Andersen?” cried Vennie,
in great distress.

“It would do no good,” replied Luke, watching his brother pass through
the gate and cross the track. “I should only make him much worse if I
tried to follow him. Besides, he wouldn’t let me. I don’t think he’ll
come to any harm. I should have a different instinct about it if there
were real danger. Perhaps, as he says, a good long walk may really
clear his brain.”

“I do pray your instinct is to be relied on,” said Vennie, anxiously
watching the tall figure of the stone-carver, as he ascended the
vicarage hill.

“Well, if you’re not going to do your duty, Andersen, I’m going to do
mine!” exclaimed the vicar of Nevilton, setting off, without further
parley, in pursuit of the fugitive.

“Stop! Mr. Clavering, I’ll come with you,” cried Vennie. And she
followed her impulsive friend towards the gate.

As they ascended the hill together, keeping Andersen in sight,
Clavering remarked to his companion, “I believe that dissolute young
reprobate refused to look after his brother simply because he wanted to
talk to those two girls.”

“What two girls?” enquired Vennie.

“Didn’t you see them?” muttered the clergyman crossly. “The Bristow
girl and little Phyllis Santon. They were hanging about, waiting for
him.”

“I’m sure you are quite wrong,” replied Vennie. “Luke may have his
faults, but he is devoted--madly devoted--to his brother.”

“Not at all,” cried Clavering almost rudely. “I know the man better
than you do. He is entirely selfish. He is a selfish, sensual
pleasure-seeker! He may be fond of his brother in his fashion, just
because he _is_ his brother, and they have the same tastes; but his one
great aim is his own pleasure. He has been the worst influence I have
had to contend with, in this whole village, for some time back!”

His voice trembled with rage as he spoke. It was impossible, even for
the guileless Vennie, not to help wondering in her mind whether the
violence of her friend’s reprobation was not impelled by an emotion
more personal than public. Her unlucky knowledge of what the nature
of such an emotion might be did not induce her to yield meekly to his
argument.

“I don’t believe he saw the people you speak of any more than I did,”
she said.

“Saw them?” cried the priest wrathfully, quickening his pace, as
Andersen disappeared round the corner of the road, so that Vennie had
to trot by his side like a submissive child. “I saw the look he fixed
on them. I know that look of his! I tell you he is the kind of man that
does harm wherever he goes. He’s a lazy, sensual, young scoundrel. He
ought to be kicked out of the place.”

Vennie sighed deeply. Life in the world of men was indeed a complicated
and entangled matter. She had turned, in her agitation about the
stone-carver, and in her reaction from Mr. Taxater’s reserve, straight
to the person she loved best of all; and this was her reward,--a mere
crude outburst of masculine jealousy!

They rounded the corner by her own gate, where the road to Athelston
deviates at right angles. James Andersen was no longer in sight.

“Where the devil has the man got to?” cried the astonished clergyman,
raging at himself for his ill-temper, and raging at Vennie for having
been the witness of it.

The girl glanced up the Athelston road; and hastening forward a few
paces, scanned the stately slope of the Nevilton west drive. The
unfortunate man was nowhere to be seen.

From where they now stood, the whole length of the village street
was visible, almost as far as the Goat and Boy. It was full of
holiday-making young people, but there was no sign of Andersen’s tall
and unmistakable figure.

“Oh, this is dreadful!” cried Vennie. “What are we to do? Where can he
have gone?”

Hugh Clavering looked angrily round. He was experiencing that curious
sense, which comes to the best of men sometimes, of being the special
and selected object of providential mockery.

“There are only two ways,” he said. “Either he’s slipped down through
the orchards, along your wall, or he’s made off to Nevilton Mount! If
that’s what he’s done, he must be now behind that hedge, over there. We
should see him otherwise.”

Vennie gazed anxiously in the direction indicated. “He can’t have gone
into our garden?” she said. “No, he’d never do that! He talked about
air and hills. I expect he’s where you say. Shall we go on?”

They hurried down the road until they reached a gate, on the further
side of the hedge which ran to the base of Nevilton Mount. Here they
entered the field. There was no sign of the fugitive; but owing to
certain inequalities in the ground, and the intervention of some large
elm-trees, it was still quite possible that he was only a few hundred
yards in front of them. They followed the line of the hedge with all
the haste they could; trusting, at every turn it made, that they would
discover him. In this manner they very soon arrived at the base of the
hill.

“I feel sure he’s somewhere in front of us!” muttered Clavering. “How
annoying it is! It was outrageous of that young scoundrel to let him go
like this;--wandering about the country in that mad state! If he comes
to any harm, I shall see to it that that young man is held responsible.”

“Quick!” sighed Vennie breathlessly, “we’d better climb straight to the
top. We _must_ find him there!”

They scrambled over the bank and proceeded to make their way as
hurriedly as they could through the entangled undergrowth. Hot and
exhausted they emerged at last upon the level summit. Here, the
grotesque little tower mocked at them with its impassive grey surface.
There was no sign of the man they sought; but seated on the grass with
their backs to the edifice were the figures of the complacent Mr. Wone
and one of his younger children, engaged in the agreeable occupation of
devouring a water-melon. The mouth and chin of the Christian Candidate
were bespattered with the luscious juice of this delectable fruit,
and laid out carefully upon a magazine on his knees, was a pleasing
arrangement of rind-peelings and well-sucked pips.

Mr. Wone waved his hand in polite acknowledgment of Clavering’s salute.
He removed his hat to Vennie, but apologized for not rising. “Taking a
little holiday, you observe!” he remarked with a satisfied smile. “I
see you also are inclined to make the most of this lovely summer day.”

“You haven’t by any chance seen the elder Andersen, have you?” enquired
Clavering.

“Not a bit of it,” replied the recumbent man. “I suppose I cannot offer
you a piece of melon, Miss Seldom?”

The two baffled pursuers looked at one another in hopeless
disappointment.

“We’ve lost him,” muttered the priest. “He must have gone through your
orchard after all.”

Mr. Wone did not miss this remark. “You were looking for our good
James? No. We haven’t seen anything of him. No doubt he is with his
brother somewhere. I believe they usually spend their Saturdays out at
Hullaway.”

“When does the election come off, Mr. Wone?” enquired Vennie, hastily,
extremely unwilling that her tactless companion should disclose the
purpose of their search.

“In a week’s time from next Monday,” replied the Candidate. “This will
be my last free day till then. I have to make thirty speeches during
the next seven days. Our cause goes well. I believe, with God’s great
help, we are practically certain of victory. It will be a great event,
Miss Seldom, a great event.”

Mr. Clavering made a hopeless sign to Vennie, indicative of the
uselessness of any further steps to retake the runaway.

“I think your side will win in the country generally,” he remarked. “As
to this district, I cannot tell. Mr. Romer has strengthened himself
considerably by his action after the strike.”

The candidate placed a carefully selected piece of fruit in his mouth,
and called to his little boy, who was scratching his initials with a
knife upon the base of the tower.

“He will be beaten all the same,” he said. “He is bound to be beaten.
The stars in their courses must fight against a man like that. I feel
it in the air; in the earth; in these beautiful trees. I feel it
everywhere. He has challenged stronger powers than you or me. He has
challenged the majesty of God Himself. I’ll give you the right”--he
went on in a voice that mechanically assumed a preacher’s tone--“to
call me a liar and a false prophet, if by this time, in ten days, the
oppressor of the poor does not find himself crushed and beaten!”

“I am afraid right and wrong are more strangely mixed in this world
than all that, Mr. Wone,” Vennie found herself saying, with a little
weary glance over the wide sun-bathed valleys extended at their feet.

“Pardon me, pardon me, young lady,” cried the Candidate. “In this
great cause there can be no doubt, no question, no ambiguity. The
evolution of the human race has reached a point when the will of God
must reveal itself in the triumph of love and liberty. Nothing else
matters. All turns upon this. That is why I feel that my campaign is
more than a political struggle. It is a religious struggle, and on our
side are the great moral forces that uphold the world!”

Vennie’s exhausted nerves completely broke down upon this.

“Shall we go?” she said, touching her companion on the sleeve.

Clavering nodded, and bade the melon-eater “good afternoon,” with a
brusque gesture.

As they went off, he turned on his heel. “The will of God, Mr. Wone, is
only to be found in the obedient reception of His sacraments.”

The Christian candidate opened his mouth with amazement. “Those young
people,” he thought to himself, “are up to no good. They’ll end by
becoming papists, if they go on like this. It’s extraordinary that the
human mind should actually _prefer_ slavery to freedom!”

Meanwhile the man whose mysterious evasion of his pursuers had resulted
in this disconcerting encounter was already well-advanced on his way
towards the Wild Pine ridge. He had, as a matter of fact, crossed the
field between the West drive and the Vicarage-garden, and skirting the
orchards below Nevilton House, had plunged into the park.

A vague hope of meeting Lacrima--an instinctive rather than a conscious
feeling--had led him in this direction. Once in the park, the high
opposing ridge, crowned with its sentinel-line of tall Scotch-firs,
arrested his attention and drew him towards it. He crossed the
Yeoborough road and ascended the incline of Dead Man’s Lane.

As he passed the cottage of his rival, he observed Mr. Quincunx
energetically at work in his garden. On this occasion the recluse was
digging up, not weeds, but young potatoes. He was in his shirt-sleeves
and looked hot and tired.

Andersen leaned upon the little gate and observed him with curious
interest. “Why isn’t she here?” he muttered to himself. Then, after a
pause: “He is an ash-root. Let him drag that house down! Why doesn’t he
drag it down, with all its heavy stones? And the Priory too? And the
Church;--yes; and the Church too! He burrows like a root. He looks like
a root. I must tell him all these things. I must tell him why he has
been chosen, and I have been rejected!” He opened the gate forthwith
and advanced towards the potato-digger.

Mr. Quincunx might have struck the imagination of a much less troubled
spirit than that of the poor stone-carver as having a resemblance to
a root. His form was at once knotted and lean, fibrous and delicate.
His face, by reason of his stooping position, was suffused with a rich
reddish tint, and his beard was dusty and unkempt. He rose hastily, on
observing his visitor.

“People like you and me, James, are best by ourselves at these
holiday-times,” was his inhospitable greeting. “You can help me with
my potatoes if you like. Or you can tell me your news as I work. Or do
you want to ask me any question?”

He uttered these final words in such a tone as the Delphic oracle might
have used, when addressing some harassed refugee.

“Has _she_ been up here today?” said the stone-carver.

“I like the way you talk,” replied the other. “Why should we mention
their names? When I say people, I mean girls. When I say persons, I
mean girls. When I say young ladies, I mean girls. And when you say
‘she’ you mean our girl.”

“Yours!” cried the demented man; “she is yours--not ours. She is
weighed down by this evil Stone,--weighed down into the deep clay. What
has she to do with me, who have worked at the thing so long?”

Mr. Quincunx leant upon his hoe and surveyed the speaker. It occurred
to him at once that something was amiss. “Good Lord!” he thought to
himself, “the fellow has been drinking. I must get him out of this
garden as quickly as possible.”

“She loves you,” Andersen went on, “because you are like a root. You go
deep into the earth and no stone can resist you. You twine and twine
and twine, and pull them all down. They are all haunted places, these
houses and churches; all haunted and evil! They make a man’s head ache
to live in them. They put voices into a man’s ears. They are as full of
voices as the sea is full of waves.”

“You are right there, my friend,” replied Mr. Quincunx. “It’s only
what I’ve always said. Until people give up building great houses and
great churches, no one will ever be happy. We ought to live in bushes
and thickets, or in tents. My cottage is no better than a bush. I creep
into it at night, and out again in the morning. If its thatch fell on
my head I should hardly feel it.”

“You wouldn’t feel it, you wouldn’t!” cried the stone-carver. “And the
reason of that is, that you can burrow like a root. I shouldn’t feel it
either, but for a different reason.”

“I expect you’d better continue your walk,” remarked Mr. Quincunx. “I
never fuss myself about people who come to see me. If they come, they
come. And when they go, they go.”

The stone-carver sighed and looked round him. The sun gleamed
graciously upon the warm earth, danced and sparkled upon the windows of
the cottage, and made the beads of sweat on Mr. Quincunx’s brow shine
like diamonds.

“Do you think,” he said, while the potato-digger turned to his
occupation, “that happiness or unhappiness predominates in this world?”

“Unhappiness!” cried the bearded man, glaring at his acquaintance with
the scowl of a goblin. “Unhappiness! Unhappiness! Unhappiness! That
is why the only wise way to live is to avoid everything. That’s what
I always do. I avoid people, I avoid possessions, I avoid quarrels, I
avoid lust, and I avoid love! My life consists in the art of avoiding
things.”

“She doesn’t want happiness,” pleaded the obsessed stone-carver. “And
_her_ love is enough. She only wants to escape.”

“Why do you keep bringing Lacrima in?” cried the recluse. “She is going
to marry John Goring. She is going to be mistress of the Priory.”

A convulsive shock of fury flashed across the face of Andersen.
He made a movement that caused his interlocutor to step hurriedly
backwards. But the emotion passed as rapidly as it had come.

“You would avoid everything,” he said cunningly. “You would avoid
everything you hate, if someone--myself for instance--or Luke--made it
easy for you to save her from these houses and these churches! Luke
will arrange it. He is not like us. He is wise. He knows the world. And
you will only have to go on just as before, to burrow and twine! But
you’ll have done it. You’ll have saved her from them. And then it will
not matter how deep they bury me in the quarries of Leo’s Hill!”

“Is he drunk? Or is he not drunk?” Mr. Quincunx wondered. The news
of Andersen’s derangement, though it had already run like wild-fire
through the village, had not yet reached his ears. For the last few
days he had walked both to and from his office, and had talked to no
one.

A remarkable peculiarity in this curious potato-digger was, however,
his absolute and unvarying candour. Mr. Quincunx was prepared to
discuss his most private concerns with any mortal or immortal visitor
who stepped into his garden. He would have entered into a calm
philosophical debate upon his love-affairs with a tramp, with a sailor,
with the post-man, with the chimney-sweep, with the devil; or, as in
this case, with his very rival in his sweetheart’s affection! There
was really something touching and sublime about this tendency of his.
It indicated the presence, in Mr. Quincunx, of a certain mystical
reverence for simple humanity, which completely contradicted his
misanthropic cynicism.

“Certainly,” he remarked, on this occasion, forgetting, in his
interest in the subject, the recent strange outburst of his companion.
“Certainly, if Lacrima and I had sufficient money to live upon, I would
be inclined to risk marrying. You would advise me to, then; wouldn’t
you, Andersen? Anyone would advise me to, then. It would be absurd not
to do it. Though, all the same, there are always great risks in two
people living together, particularly nervous people,--such as we are.
But what do you think, Andersen? Suppose some fairy god-mother did give
us this money, would you advise us to risk it? Of course, we know,
girls like a large house and a lot of servants! She wouldn’t get that
with me, because I hate those things, and wouldn’t have them, even if
I could afford it. What would you advise, Andersen, if some mad chance
did make such a thing possible? Would it be worth the risk?”

An additional motive, in the queerly constituted mind of the recluse,
for making this extraordinary request, was the Pariah-like motive of
wishing to propitiate the stone-carver. Parallel with his humorous
love of shocking people, ran, through Mr. Quincunx’s nature, the
naive and innocent wish to win them over to his side; and his method
of realizing this wish was to put himself completely at their mercy,
laying his meanest thoughts bare, and abandoning his will to their
will, so that for very shame they could not find it in them to injure
him, but were softened, thrown off their guard, and disarmed. Mr.
Quincunx knew no restraint in these confessions by the way, in these
appeals to the voices and omens of casual encounter. He grew voluble,
and even shameless. In quiet reaction afterwards, in the loneliness of
his cottage, he was often led to regret with gloomy remorse the manner
in which he had betrayed himself. It was then that he found himself
hating, with the long-brooding hatred of a true solitary, the persons
to whom he had exposed the recesses of his soul. At the moment of
communicativeness, however, he was never able to draw rein or come to
a pause. If he grew conscious that he was making a fool of himself, a
curious demonic impulse in him only pressed him on to humiliate himself
further.

He derived a queer inverted pleasure from thus offering himself,
stripped and naked, to the smiter. It was only afterwards, in the long
hours of his loneliness, that the poison of his outraged pride festered
and fermented, and a deadly malice possessed him towards the recipients
of his confidences. There was something admirable about the manner in
which this quaint man made, out of his very lack of resistant power, a
sort of sanctity of dependence. But this triumph of weakness in him,
this dissolution of the very citadel of his being, in so beautiful and
mystical an abandonment to the sympathy of our common humanity, was
attended by lamentable issues in its resultant hatred and malice. Had
Mr. Quincunx been able to give himself up to this touching candour
without these melancholy and misanthropic reactions, his temper would
have been very nearly the temper of a saint; but the gall and wormwood
of the hours that followed, the corroding energy of the goblin of
malice that was born of such unnatural humiliations, put a grievous
gulf between him and the heavenly condition.

It must also be remembered, in qualification of the outrageousness, one
might almost say the indecency, of his appeal to Andersen, that he had
not in the remotest degree realized the extent of the stone-carver’s
infatuation with the Italian. Neither physical passion, nor ideal
passion, were things that entered into his view of the relations
between the sexes. Desire with him was of a strange and complicated
subtlety, generally diffused into a mild and brooding sentiment. He was
abnormally faithful, but at the same time abnormally cold; and though,
very often, jealousy bit him like a viper, it was a jealousy of the
mind, not a jealousy of the senses.

What in other people would have been gross and astounding cynicism,
was in Mr. Quincunx a perfectly simple and even childlike recognition
of elemental facts. He could sweep aside every conventional mask
and plunge into the very earth-mould of reality, but he was quite
unconscious of any shame, or any merit, in so doing. He simply
envisaged facts, and stated the facts he envisaged, without the
conventional unction of worldly discretion. This being so, it was in no
ironic extravagance that he appealed to Andersen, but quite innocently,
and without consciousness of anything unusual.

Of the two men, some might have supposed, considering the
circumstances, that it was Mr. Quincunx who was mad, and his
interlocutor who was sane. On the other hand, it might be said that
only a madman would have received the recluse’s appeal in the calm
and serious manner in which Andersen received it. The abysmal cunning
of those who have only one object in life, and are in sight of its
attainment, actuated the unfortunate stone-carver in his attitude to
his rival at this moment.

“If some fairy or some god,” he said, “did lift the stone from her
sepulchre and you from your sepulchre, my advice to you and to her
would be to go away, to escape, to be free. You would be happy--you
would both be happy! And the reason of your happiness would be that
you would know the Devil had been conquered. And you would know that,
because, by gathering all the stones in the world upon my own head, and
being buried beneath them, I should have made a rampart higher than
Leo’s Hill to protect you from the Evil One!”

Andersen’s words were eager and hurried, and when he had finished
speaking, he surveyed Mr. Quincunx with wild and feverish eyes. It was
now borne in for the first time upon that worthy philosopher, that he
was engaged in conversation with one whose wits were turned, and a
great terror took possession of him. If the cunning of madmen is deep
and subtle, it is sometimes surpassed by the cunning of those who are
afraid of madmen.

“The most evil heap of stones I know in Nevilton,” remarked Mr.
Quincunx, moving towards his gate, and making a slight dismissing
gesture with his hand, “is the heap in the Methodist cemetery. You
know the one I mean, Andersen? The one up by Seven Ashes, where the
four roads meet. It is just inside the entrance, on the left hand. They
throw upon it all the larger stones they find when they dig the graves.
I have often picked up bits of bones there, and pieces of skulls.
It is an interesting place, a very curious place, and quite easy to
find. There haven’t been many burials there lately, because most of
the Methodists nowadays prefer the churchyard. But there was one last
spring. That was the burial of Glory Lintot. I was there myself, and
saw her put in. It’s an extraordinary place. Anyone who likes to look
at what people can write on tombstones would be delighted with it.”

By this time, by means of a series of vague ushering movements, such as
he might have used to get rid of an admirable but dangerous dog, Mr.
Quincunx had got his visitor as far as the gate. This he opened, with
as easy and natural an air as he could assume, and stood ostentatiously
aside, to let the unfortunate man pass out.

James Andersen moved slowly into the road. “Remember!” he said. “You
will avoid everything you hate! There’s more in the west-wind than you
imagine, these strange days. That’s why the rooks are calling. Listen
to them!”

He waved his hand and strode rapidly up the lane.

Mr. Quincunx gazed after the retreating figure till it disappeared,
and then returned wearily to his work. He picked up his hoe and leaned
heavily upon it, buried in thought. Thus he remained for the space of
several minutes.

“He is right,” he muttered, raising his head at last. “The rooks are
beginning to gather. That means another summer is over,--and a good
thing, too! I suppose I ought to have taken him back to Nevilton. But
he is right about the rooks.”



CHAPTER XIX

PLANETARY INTERVENTION


The long summer afternoon was nearly over by the time James Andersen
reached the Seven Ashes. The declining sun had sunk so low that it was
invisible from the spot where he stood, but its last horizontal rays
cast a warm ruddy light over the tree-tops in the valley. The high
and exposed intersection of sandy lanes, which for time immemorial
had borne this title, was, at the epoch which concerns us, no longer
faithful to its name.

The ash-trees which Andersen now surveyed, with the feverish glance
of mental obsession, were not seven in number. They were indeed only
three; and, of these three, one was no more than a time-worn stump, and
the others but newly-planted saplings. Such as they were, however, they
served well enough to continue the tradition of the place, and their
presence enhanced with a note of added melancholy the gloomy character
of the scene.

Seven Ashes, with its cross-roads, formed indeed the extreme northern
angle of the high winding ridge which terminated at Wild Pine.
Approached from the road leading to this latter spot,--a road darkened
on either hand by wind-swept Scotch-firs--it was the sort of place
where, in less civilized times, one might have expected to encounter
a threatening highwayman, or at least to have stumbled upon some
sinister witch-figure stooping over an unholy task or groping among the
weeds. Even in modern times and in bright sunshine the spot was not
one where a traveller was induced to linger upon his way or to rest
himself. When overcast, as it was at the moment of Andersen’s approach,
by the coming on of twilight, it was a place from which a normal-minded
person would naturally be in haste to turn. There was something ominous
in its bleak exposure to the four quarters of the sky, and something
full of ghostly suggestiveness in the gaping mouths of the narrow lanes
that led away from it.

There was, however, another and a much more definite justification
for the quickening, at this point, of any wayfarer’s steps who knew
the locality. A stranger to the place, glancing across an empty
field, would have observed with no particular interest the presence
of a moderately high stone wall protecting a small square enclosure.
Were such a one acquainted with the survivals of old usage in English
villages, he might have supposed these walls to shut in the now unused
space of what was formerly the local “pound,” or repository for stray
animals. Such travellers as were familiar with Nevilton knew, however,
that sequestered within this citadel of desolation were no living
horses nor cattle, but very different and much quieter prisoners.
The Methodist cemetery there, dates back, it is said, to the days of
religious persecution, to the days of Whitfield and Wesley, if not even
further.

Our fugitive from the society of those who regard their minds as
normally constituted, cast an excited and recognizant eye upon
this forlorn enclosure. Plucking a handful of leaves from one
of the ash-trees and thrusting them into his pocket, some queer
legend--half-remembered in his agitated state--impelling him to this
quaint action, he left the roadway, crossed the field, and pushing open
the rusty iron gate of the little burying-ground, burst hurriedly in
among its weather-stained memorials of the dead.

Though not of any great height, the enclosing walls of the place were
sufficient to intensify by several degrees the gathering shadows.
Outside, in the open field, one would have anticipated a clear hour of
twilight before the darkness fell; but here, among the graves of these
humble recalcitrants against spiritual authority, it seemed as though
the plunge of the planet into its diurnal obscuring was likely to be
retarded for only a few brief moments.

James Andersen sat down upon a nameless mound, and fixed his gaze upon
the heap of stones referred to by Mr. Quincunx. The evening was warm
and still, and though the sky yet retained much of its lightness of
colour, the invading darkness--like a beast on padded feet--was felt as
a palpable presence moving slowly among the tombs.

The stone-carver began muttering in a low voice scattered and
incoherent repetitions of his conversation with the potato-digger. But
his voice suddenly died away under a startling interruption. He became
aware that the heavy cemetery gate was being pushed open from outside.

Such is the curious law regulating the action of human nerves, and
making them dependent upon the mood of the mind to which they are
attached, that an event which to a normal consciousness is fraught
with ghostly terror, to a consciousness already strained beyond the
breaking point, appears as something natural and ordinary. It is one of
the privileges of mania, that those thus afflicted should be freed from
the normal oppression of human terror. A madman would take a ghost into
his arms.

On this occasion, however, the most normal nerves would have suffered
no shock from the figure that presented itself in the entrance when
the door was fully opened. A young girl, pale and breathless, rushed
impulsively into the cemetery, and catching sight of Andersen at once,
hastened straight to him across the grave-mounds.

“I was coming back from the village,” she gasped, preventing him with a
trembling pressure of her hand from rising from his seat, and casting
herself down beside him, “and I met Mr. Clavering. He told me you had
gone off somewhere and I guessed at once it was to Dead Man’s Lane. I
said nothing to him, but as soon as he had left me, I ran nearly all
the way to the cottage. The gentleman there told me to follow you.
He said it was on his conscience that he had advised you to come up
here. He said he was just making up his mind to come on after you, but
he thought it was better for me to come. So here I am! James--dear
James--you are not really ill are you? They frightened me, those
two, by what they said. They seemed to be afraid that you would hurt
yourself if you went off alone. But you wouldn’t James dear, would you?
You would think of me a little?”

She knelt at his side and tenderly pushed back the hair from his brow.
“Oh I love you so!” she murmured, “I love you so! It would kill me if
anything dreadful happened to you.” She pressed his head passionately
against her breast, hardly conscious in her emotion of the burning heat
of his forehead as it touched her skin.

“You will think of me a little!” she pleaded, “you will take care of
yourself for my sake, Jim?”

She held him thus, pressed tightly against her, for several seconds,
while her bosom rose and fell in quick spasms of convulsive pity. She
had torn off her hat in her agitation, and flung it heedlessly down
at her feet, and a heavy tress of her thick auburn hair--colourless
now as the night itself--fell loosely upon her bowed neck. The fading
light from the sky above them seemed to concentrate itself upon the
ivory pallor of her clasped fingers and the dead-white glimmer of her
impassioned face. She might have risen out of one of the graves that
surrounded them, so ghostly in the gloom did her figure look.

The stone-carver freed himself at length, and took her hands in his
own. The shock of the girl’s emotion had quieted his own fever. From
the touch of her flesh he seemed to have derived a new and rational
calm.

“Little Ninsy!” he whispered. “Little Ninsy! It is not I, but you, who
are ill. Have you been up, and about, many days? I didn’t know it! I’ve
had troubles of my own.” He passed his hand across his forehead. “I’ve
had dreams, dreams and fancies! I’m afraid I’ve made a fool of myself,
and frightened all sorts of people. I think I must have been saying a
lot of silly things today. My head feels still queer. It’s hurt me so
much lately, my head! And I’ve heard voices, voices that wouldn’t stop.”

“Oh James, my darling, my darling!” cried the girl, in a great passion
of relief. “I knew what they said wasn’t true. I knew you would speak
gently to me, and be your old self. Love me, James! Love me as you used
to in the old days.”

She rose to her feet and pulled him up upon his. Then with a passionate
abandonment she flung her arms round him and pressed him to her,
clinging to him with all her force and trembling as she clung.

James yielded to her emotion more spontaneously than he had ever done
in his life. Their lips met in a long in-drawing kiss which seemed to
merge their separate identities, and blend them indissolubly together.
She clung to him as a bind-weed, with its frail white flowers, might
cling to a stalk of swaying corn, and not unlike such an entwined
stalk, he swayed to and fro under the clinging of her limbs. The
passion which possessed her communicated itself to him, and in a
strange ecstasy of oblivion he embraced her as desperately as her wild
love could wish.

From sheer exhaustion their lips parted at last, and they sank down,
side by side, upon the dew-drenched grass, making the grave-mount their
pillow. Obscurely, through the clouded chamber of his brain, passed the
image of her poppy-scarlet mouth burning against the whiteness of her
skin. All that he could now actually see of her face, in the darkness,
was its glimmering pallor, but the feeling of her kiss remained and
merged itself in this impression. He lay on his back with closed eyes,
and she bent over him as he lay, and began kissing him again, as if
her soul would never be satisfied. In the intervals of her kisses, she
pressed her fingers against his forehead, and uttered incoherent and
tender whispers. It seemed to her as though, by the very magnetism of
her devotion, she _must_ be able to restore his shattered wits.

Nor did her efforts seem in vain. After a while the stone-carver lifted
himself up and looked round him. He smiled affectionately at Ninsy and
patted her, almost playfully, upon the knee.

“You have done me good, child,” he said. “You have done me more good
than you know. I don’t think I shall say any more silly things tonight.”

He stood up on his feet, heaved a deep, natural sigh, and stretched
himself, as one roused from a long sleep.

“What have you managed to do to me, Ninsy?” he asked. “I feel
completely different. Those voices in my head have stopped.” He turned
tenderly towards her. “I believe you’ve driven the evil spirit out of
me, child,” he said.

She flung her arms round him with a gasping cry. “You do like me a
little, Jim? Oh my darling, I love you so much! I love you! I love
you!” She clung to him with frenzied passion, her breast convulsed with
sobs, and the salt tears mingling with her kisses.

Suddenly, as he held her body in his arms, he felt a shuddering tremor
run through her, from head to foot. Her head fell back, helpless and
heavy, and her whole frame hung limp and passive upon his arm. It
almost seemed as though, in exorcising, by the magnetic power of her
love, the demon that possessed him, she had broken her own heart.

Andersen was overwhelmed with alarm and remorse. He laid her gently
upon the ground, and chafed the palms of her hands whispering her
name and uttering savage appeals to Providence. His appeals, however,
remained unanswered, and she lay deadly still, her coils of dusky hair
spread loose over the wet grass.

He rose in mute dismay, and stared angrily round the cemetery, as if
demanding assistance from its silent population. Then with a glance at
her motionless form, he ran quickly to the open gate and shouted loudly
for help. His voice echoed hollowly through the walled enclosure, and
a startled flutter of wings rose from the distant fir-trees. Somewhere
down in the valley, a dog began to bark, but no other answer to his
repeated cry reached his ears. He returned to the girl’s side.

Frantically he rent open her dress at the throat and tore with
trembling fingers at the laces of her bodice. He pressed his hand
against her heart. A faint, scarcely discernible tremor under her soft
breast reassured him. She was not dead, then! He had not killed her
with his madness.

He bent down and made an effort to lift her in his arms, but his limbs
trembled beneath him and his muscles collapsed helplessly. The reaction
from the tempest in his brain had left him weak as an infant. In this
wretched inability to do anything to restore her he burst into a fit of
piteous tears, and struck his forehead with his clenched hand.

Once more he tried desperately to lift her, and once more, fragile as
she was, the effort proved hopelessly beyond his strength. Suddenly,
out of the darkness beyond the cemetery gate, he heard the sound of
voices.

He shouted as loudly as he could and then listened intently, with
beating heart. An answering shout responded, in Luke’s well-known
voice. A moment or two later, and Luke himself, followed by Mr.
Quincunx, hurried into the cemetery.

Immediately after Ninsy’s departure the recluse had been seized with
uncontrollable remorse. Mixed with his remorse was the disturbing
consciousness that since Ninsy knew he had advised Andersen to make
his way to Seven Ashes, the knowledge was ultimately sure to reach the
younger brother’s ears. Luke was one of the few intimates Mr. Quincunx
possessed in Nevilton. The recluse held him in curious respect as a
formidable and effective man of the world. He had an exaggerated notion
of his power. He had grown accustomed to his evening visits. He was
fond of him and a little afraid of him.

It was therefore an extremely disagreeable thought to his mind, to
conceive of Luke as turning upon him with contempt and indignation.
Thus impelled, the perturbed solitary had summoned up all his courage
and gone boldly down into the village to find the younger Andersen. He
had met him at the gate of Mr. Taxater’s house.

Left behind in the station field by James and his pursuers, Luke had
reverted for a while with the conscious purpose of distracting his
mind, to his old preoccupation, and had spent the afternoon in a manner
eminently congenial, making love to two damsels at the same time, and
parrying with evasive urbanity their combined recriminations.

At the close of the afternoon, having chatted for an hour with the
station-master’s wife, and shared their family tea, he had made his
way according to his promise, into Mr. Taxater’s book-lined study, and
there, closely closeted with the papal champion, had smoothed out the
final threads of the conspiracy that was to betray Gladys and liberate
Lacrima.

Luke had been informed by Mr. Quincunx of every detail of James’
movements and of Ninsy’s appearance on the scene. The recluse, as
the reader may believe, did not spare himself in any point. He even
exaggerated his fear of the agitated stone-carver, and as they hastened
together towards Seven Ashes, he narrated, down to the smallest
particular, the strange conversation they had had in his potato-garden.

“Why do you suppose,” he enquired of Luke, as they ascended the final
slope of the hill, “he talked so much of someone giving me money? Who,
on earth, is likely to give me money? People don’t as a rule throw
money about, like that, do they? And if they did, I am the last person
they would throw it to. I am the sort of person that kind and good
people naturally hate. It’s because they know I know the deep little
vanities and cunning selfishness in their blessed deeds.

“No one in this world really acts from pure motives. We are all
grasping after our own gain. We are all pleased when other people come
to grief, and sorry when things go well with them. It’s human nature,
that’s what it is! Human nature is always vicious. It was human nature
in me that made me send your brother up this hill, instead of taking
him back to the village. It was human nature in you that made you curse
me as you did, when I first told you.”

Luke did his best to draw Mr. Quincunx back from these general
considerations to his conversation with James.

“What did you say,” he enquired, “when he asked you about marrying
Lacrima, supposing this imaginary kind person were available? Did you
tell him you would do it?”

“You mean, was he really jealous?” replied the other, with one of his
goblin-like laughs.

“It was a strange question to ask,” pursued Luke. “I can’t imagine how
you answered it.”

“Of course,” said Mr. Quincunx, “we know very well what he was driving
at. He wanted to sound me. Whatever may be wrong with him he was clever
enough to want to sound me. We are all like that! We are all going
about the world trying to find out each other’s weakest points, with
the idea that it may be useful to us to know them, so as to be able to
stick knives into them when we want to.”

“It was certainly rather a strange question considering that he is a
bit attracted to Lacrima himself,” remarked Luke. “I should think you
were very cautious how you answered.”

“Cautious?” replied Mr. Quincunx. “I don’t believe in caution. Caution
is a thing for well-to-do people who have something to lose. I answered
him exactly as I would answer anyone. I said I should be a fool not to
agree. And so I should. Don’t you think so, Andersen? I should be a
fool not to marry, under such circumstances?”

“It depends what your feelings are towards Lacrima,” answered the wily
stone-carver.

“Why do you say that, in that tone?” said the recluse sharply. “You
know very well what I feel towards Lacrima. Everyone knows. She is the
one little streak of romance that the gods have allowed to cross my
path. She is my only girl-friend in Nevilton.”

At that moment the two men reached Seven Ashes and the sound of their
voices was carried to the cemetery, with the result already narrated.

It will be remarked as an interesting exception to the voluble candour
of Mr. Quincunx, that in his conversation with Luke he avoided all
mention of Lacrima’s fatal contract with Mr. Romer. He had indeed, on
an earlier occasion, approached the outskirts of this affair, in an
indirect manner and with much manœuvring. From what he had hinted then,
Luke had formed certain shrewd surmises, in the direction of the truth,
but of the precise facts he remained totally ignorant.

The shout for help which interrupted this discussion gave the two men
a shock of complete surprise. They were still more surprised, when on
entering the cemetery they found James standing over the apparently
lifeless form of Ninsy Lintot, her clothes torn and her hair loose and
dishevelled. Their astonishment reached its climax when they noticed
the sane and rational way in which the stone-carver addressed them. He
was in a state of pitiful agitation, but he was no longer mad.

By dint of their united efforts they carried the girl across the field,
and laid her down beneath the ash-trees. The fresher air of this more
exposed spot had an immediate effect upon her. She breathed heavily,
and her fingers, under the caress of James’ hands, lost their rigidity.
Across her shadowy white face a quiver passed, and her head moved a
little.

“Ninsy! Ninsy, dear!” murmured Andersen as he knelt by her side. By
the light of the clear stars, which now filled the sky with an almost
tropical splendour, the three men gazing anxiously at her face saw her
eyes slowly open and her lips part in a tender recognitory smile.

“Thank God!” cried James, “You are better now, Ninsy, aren’t you? Here
is Luke and Mr. Quincunx. They came to find us. They’ll help me to get
you safe home.”

The girl murmured some indistinct and broken phrase. She smiled again,
but a pathetic attempt she made to lift her hand to her throat proved
her helpless weakness. Tenderly, as a mother might, James anticipated
her movement, and restored to as natural order as he could her torn and
ruffled dress.

At that moment to the immense relief of the three watchers the sound
of cart-wheels became audible. The vehicle proved to be a large empty
wagon driven by one of Mr. Goring’s men on the way back from an
outlying hamlet. They all knew the driver, who pulled up at once at
their appeal.

On an extemporized couch at the bottom of the wagon, made of the men’s
coats,--Mr. Quincunx being the first to offer his,--they arranged the
girl’s passive form as comfortably as the rough vehicle allowed. And
then, keeping the horses at a walking-pace, they proceeded along the
lane towards Wild Pine.

For some while, as he walked by the cart’s side, his hand upon its
well-worn edge, James experienced extreme weariness and lassitude. His
legs shook under him and his heart palpitated. The demon which had
been driven out of him, had left him, it seemed, like his biblical
prototype, exhausted and half-dead. By the time, however, that they
reached the corner, where Root-Thatch Lane descends to the village,
and Nevil’s Gully commences, the cool air of the night and the slow
monotonous movement had restored a considerable portion of his strength.

None of the men, as they went along, had felt in a mood for
conversation. Luke had spent his time, naming to himself, with
his accustomed interest in such phenomena, the various familiar
constellations which shone down upon them between the dark boughs of
the Scotch-firs.

The thoughts of Mr. Quincunx were confused and strange. He had fallen
into one of his self-condemnatory moods, and like a solemn ghost moving
by his side, a grim projection of his inmost identity kept rebuking and
threatening him. As with most retired persons, whose lives are passed
in an uninterrupted routine, the shock of any unusual or unforseen
accident fell upon him with a double weight.

He had been much more impressed by the wild agitation of James, and by
the sight of Ninsy’s unconscious and prostrate figure, than anyone who
knew only the cynical side of him would have supposed possible. The
cynicism of Mr. Quincunx was indeed strictly confined to philosophical
conversation. In practical life he was wont to encounter any sudden or
tragic occurrence with the unsophisticated sensitiveness of a child.
As with many other sages, whose philosophical proclivities are rather
instinctive than rational, Mr. Quincunx was liable to curious lapses
into the most simple and superstitious misgivings.

The influence of their slow and mute advance, under the majestic
heavens, may have had something to do with this reaction, but it is
certain that this other Mr. Quincunx--this shadowy companion with
no cabbage-leaf under his hat--pointed a most accusing finger at
him. Before they reached Nevil’s Gully, the perturbed recluse had
made up his mind that, at all costs, he would intervene to prevent
this scandalous union of his friend with John Goring. Contract or no
contract, he must exert himself in some definite and overt manner to
stave off this outrage.

To his startled conscience the sinister figure of Mr. Romer seemed to
extend itself, Colossus-like, from the outstretched neck of Cygnus, the
heavenly Swan, to the low-hung brilliance of the “lord-star” Jupiter,
and accompanying this Satanic shadow across his vision, was a horrible
and most realistic image of the frail Italian, struggling in vain
against the brutal advances of Mr. Goring. He seemed to see Lacrima,
lying helpless, as Ninsy had been lying, but with no protecting forms
grouped reassuringly around her.

The sense of the pitiful helplessness of these girlish beings, thrust
by an indifferent fate into the midst of life’s brute forces, had
pierced his conscience with an indelible stab when first he had seen
her prostrate in the cemetery. For a vague transitory moment, he had
wondered then, whether his sending her in pursuit of a madman had
resulted in a most lamentable tragedy; and though Andersen’s manner
had quickly reassured him as it had simultaneously reassured Luke, the
original impression of the shock remained.

At that moment, as he helped to lift Ninsy out of the wagon, and carry
her through the farm-yard to her father’s cottage, the cynical recluse
felt an almost quixotic yearning to put himself to any inconvenience
and sacrifice any comfort, if only one such soft feminine creature as
he supported now in his arms, might be spared the contact of gross and
violating hands.

James Andersen, as well as Mr. Quincunx, remained silent during their
return towards the village. In vain Luke strove to lift off from them
this oppression of pensive and gentle melancholy. Neither his stray
bits of astronomical pedantry, nor his Rabelaisean jests at the expense
of a couple of rural amorists they stumbled upon in the overshadowed
descent, proved arresting enough to break his companion’s silence.

At the bottom of Root-Thatch Lane Mr. Quincunx separated from the
brothers. His way led directly through the upper portion of the village
to the Yeoborough road, while that of the Andersens passed between the
priory and the church.

The clock in St. Catharine’s tower was striking ten as the two brothers
moved along under the churchyard wall. With the departure of Mr.
Quincunx James seemed to recover his normal spirits. This recovery was
manifested in a way that rejoiced the heart of Luke, so congruous
was it with all their old habits and associations; but to a stranger
overhearing the words, it would have seemed the reverse of promising.

“Shall we take a glance at the grave?” the elder brother suggested,
leaning his elbows on the moss-grown wall. Luke assented with alacrity,
and the ancient stones of the wall lending themselves easily to such a
proceeding, they both clambered over into the place of tombs.

Thus within the space of forty-eight hours the brothers Andersen had
been together in no less than three sepulchral enclosures. One might
have supposed that the same destiny that made of their father a kind of
modern Old Mortality--less pious, it is true, than his prototype, but
not less addicted to invasions of the unprotesting dead--had made it
inevitable that the most critical moments of his sons’ lives should be
passed in the presence of these mute witnesses.

They crossed over to where the head-stone of their parents’ grave
rose, gigantic and imposing in the clear star light, as much larger
than the other monuments as the beaver, into which Pau-Puk-Keewis
changed himself, was larger than the other beavers. They sat down on
a neighbouring mound and contemplated in silence their father’s work.
The dark dome of the sky above them, strewn with innumerable points
of glittering light, attracted Luke once more to his old astronomical
speculations.

“I have an idea,” he said, “that there is more in the influence of
these constellations than even the astrologers have guessed. Their
method claims to be a scientific one, mathematical in the exactness
of its inferences. My feeling about the matter is, that there is
something much more arbitrary, much more living and wayward, in the
manner in which they work their will upon us. I said ‘constellations,’
but I don’t believe, as a matter of fact, that it is from them at all
that the influences come. The natural and obvious thing is that the
_planets_ should affect us, and affect us very much in the same way as
we affect one another. The ancient races recognized this difference.
The fixed stars are named after animals, or inanimate objects, or
after powerful, but not more than human, heroes. The planets are all
named from immortal gods, and it is as gods,--as wilful and arbitrary
gods--that they influence our destinies.”

James Andersen surveyed the large and brilliant star which at that
moment hung, like an enormous glow-worm, against the southern slope of
Nevilton Mount.

“Some extremely evil planet must have been very active during these
last weeks with Lacrima and with me,” he remarked. “Don’t get alarmed,
my dear,” he added, noticing the look of apprehension which his brother
turned upon him. “I shan’t worry you with any more silly talk. Those
voices in my head have quite ceased. But that does not help Lacrima.”
He laughed a sad little laugh.

“I suppose,” he added, “no one can help her in this devilish
situation,--except that queer fellow who’s just left us. I would let
him step over my dead body, if he would only carry her off and fool
them all!”

Luke’s mind plunged into a difficult problem. His brother’s wits were
certainly restored, and he seemed calm and clear-headed. But was
he clear-headed enough to learn the details of the curious little
conspiracy which Mr. Taxater’s diplomatic brain had evolved? How would
this somewhat ambiguous transaction strike so romantic a nature as his?

Luke hesitated and pondered, the tall dark tower of St. Catharine’s
Church affording him but scant inspiration, as it rose above them into
the starlit sky. Should he tell him or should he keep the matter to
himself, and enter into some new pretended scheme with his brother, to
occupy his mind and distract it, for the time being?

So long did he remain silent, pondering this question, that James,
observing his absorbed state and concluding that his subtle
intelligence was occupied in devising some way out of their imbroglio,
gave up all thought of receiving an answer, and moving to a less
dew-drenched resting-place, leaned his head against an upright monument
and closed his eyes. The feeling that his admired brother was taking
Lacrima’s plight so seriously in hand filled him with a reassuring
calm, and he had not long remained in his new position before his
exhausted senses found relief in sleep.

Left to himself, Luke weighed in his mind every conceivable aspect of
the question at stake. Less grave and assured than the metaphysical Mr.
Taxater in this matter of striking at evil persons with evil weapons,
Luke was not a whit less unscrupulous.

No Quincunx-like visitings of compunction had followed, with him,
their rescue of Ninsy. If the scene at Seven Ashes had printed any
impression at all upon his volatile mind, it was merely a vague and
agreeable sense of how beautiful the girl’s dead-white skin had looked,
contrasted with the disturbed masses of her dusky hair. Beyond this,
except for a pleasant memory of how lightly and softly she had lain
upon his arm, as he helped to carry her across the Wild Pine barton,
the occurrence had left him unaffected.

His conscience did not trouble him in the smallest degree with regard
to Gladys. According to Luke’s philosophy of life, things in this
world resolved themselves into a reckless hand-to-hand struggle
between opposing personalities, every one of them seeking, with all
the faculties at his disposal, to get the better of the others. It was
absurd to stop and consider such illusive impediments as sentiment or
honour, when the great, casual, indifferent universe which surrounds us
knows nothing of these things!

Out of the depths of this chaotic universe he, Luke Andersen, had been
flung. It must be his first concern to sweep aside, as irrelevant and
meaningless, any mere human fancies, ill-based and adventitious, upon
which his free foot might stumble. To strike craftily and boldly in
defence of the person he loved best in the world seemed to him not only
natural but commendable. How should he be content to indulge in vague
sentimental shilly-shallying, when the whole happiness of his beloved
Daddy James was at stake?

The difference between Luke’s attitude to their mutual conspiracy,
and that of Mr. Taxater, lay in the fact that to the latter the whole
event was merely part of an elaborate, deeply-involved campaign, whose
ramifications extended indefinitely on every side; while to the former
the affair was only one of those innumerable chaotic struggles that a
whimsical world delighted to evoke.

An inquisitive observer might have wondered what purpose Mr. Taxater
had in mixing himself up in the affair at all. This question of his
fellow-conspirator’s motive crossed, as a matter of fact, Luke’s own
mind, as his gaze wandered negligently from the Greater to the Lesser
Bear, and from Orion to the Pleiades. He came to the characteristic
conclusion that it was no quixotic impulse that had impelled this
excellent man, but a completely conscious and definite desire--the
desire to add yet one more wanderer to his list of converts to the
Faith.

Lacrima was an Italian and a Catholic. United to Mr. Quincunx, might
she not easily win over that dreamy infidel to the religion of her
fathers? Luke smiled to himself as he thought how little the papal
champion could have known the real character of the solitary of Dead
Man’s Lane. Sooner might the sea at Weymouth flow inland, and wash with
its waves the foot of Leo’s Hill, than this ingrained mystic bow his
head under the yoke of dogmatic truth!

After long cogitation with himself, Luke came to the conclusion that it
would be wiser, on the whole, to say nothing to his brother of his plan
to work out Lacrima’s release by means of her cousin’s betrayal. Having
arrived at this conclusion he rose and stretched himself, and glanced
at the sleeping James.

The night was warm and windless, but Luke began to feel anxious lest
the cold touch of the stone, upon which his brother rested, should
strike a chill into his blood. At the same time he was extremely loth
to disturb so placid and wholesome a slumber. He laid his hand upon
the portentous symbol of mortality which crowned so aggressively his
parents’ monument, and looked round him. His vigil had already been
interrupted more than once by the voices of late revellers leaving the
Goat and Boy. Such voices still recurred, at intermittent moments,
followed by stumbling drunken footsteps, but in the intervals the
silence only fell the deeper.

Suddenly he observed, or fancied he observed, the aspect of a figure
extremely familiar to him, standing patiently outside the inn door. He
hurried across the churchyard and looked over the wall. No, he had not
been mistaken. There, running her hands idly through the leaves of the
great wistaria which clung to the side of the house, stood his little
friend Phyllis. She had evidently been sent by her mother,--as younger
maids than she were often sent--to assist, upon their homeward journey,
the unsteady steps of Bill Santon the carter.

Luke turned and glanced at his brother. He could distinguish his
motionless form, lying as still as ever, beyond the dark shape of his
father’s formidable tombstone. There was no need to disturb him yet.
The morrow was Sunday, and they could therefore be as late as they
pleased.

He called softly to the patient watcher. She started violently at
hearing his voice, and turning round, peered into the darkness. By
degrees she made out his form, and waved her hand to him.

He beckoned her to approach. She shook her head, and indicated by a
gesture that she was expecting the appearance of her father. Once more
he called her, making what seemed to her, in the obscurity, a sign that
he had something important to communicate. Curiosity overcame piety in
the heart of the daughter of Bill Santon and she ran across the road.

“Why, you silly thing!” whispered the crafty Luke, “your father’s been
gone this half hour! He went a bit of the way home with Sam Lintot. Old
Sam will find a nice little surprise waiting for him when he gets back.
I reckon he’ll send your father home-along sharp enough.”

It was Luke’s habit, in conversation with the villagers, to drop
lightly into many of their provincial phrases, though both he and his
brother used, thanks to their mother’s training, as good English as any
of the gentlefolk of Nevilton.

The influence of association in the matter of language might have
afforded endless interesting matter to the student of words, supposing
such a one had been able to overhear the conversations of these
brothers with their various acquaintances. Poor Ninsy, for instance,
fell naturally into the local dialect when she talked to James in
her own house; and assumed, with equal facility, her loved one’s
more colourless manner of speech, when addressing him on ground less
familiar to her.

As a matter of fact the universal spread of board-school education
in that corner of the country had begun to sap the foundations of
the old local peculiarities. Where these survived, in the younger
generation, they survived side by side with the newer tricks of speech.
The Andersens’ girl-friends were, all of them, in reality, expert
bilinguists. They spoke the King’s English, and they spoke the Nevilton
English, with equal ease, if with unequal expressiveness.

The shrewd fillip to her curiosity, which Luke’s reference to Lintot’s
home-coming had given, allured Phyllis into accepting without protest
his audacious invention about her father. The probability of such an
occurrence seemed sealed with certainty, when turning, at a sign from
her friend, she saw, against the lighted window the burly form of the
landlord engaged in closing his shutters. It was not the custom, as
Phyllis well knew, of this methodical dispenser of Dionysian joys to
“shutter up house,” as he called it, until every guest had departed.
How could she guess--little deluded maid!--that, stretched upon the
floor in the front parlor, stared at by the landlord’s three small
sons, was the comatose body of her worthy parent breathing like one of
Mr. Goring’s pigs?

“Tain’t no good my waiting here then,” she whispered. “What do ’ee
mean by Sam Lintot’s being surprised-like? Be Ninsy taken with her
heart again?”

“Let me help you over here,” answered the stone-carver, “that Priory
wench was talking, just now, just across yon wall. She’ll be hearing
what we say if we don’t move on a bit.”

“Us don’t mind what a maid like her do hear, do us, Luke dear?”
whispered the girl in answer. “Give me a kiss, sonny, and let me be
getting home-along!”

She stood on tiptoe and raised her hands over the top of the wall. Luke
seized her wrists, and retained them in a vicious clutch.

“Put your foot into one of those holes,” he said, “and we’ll soon have
you across.”

Unwilling to risk a struggle in such a spot, and not really at all
disinclined for an adventure, the girl obeyed him, and after being
hoisted up upon the wall, was lifted quickly down on the other side,
and enclosed in Luke’s gratified arms. The amorous stone-carver
remembered long afterwards the peculiar thrill of almost chaste
pleasure which the first touch of her cold cheeks gave him, as she
yielded to his embrace.

“_Is_ Nin Lintot bad again?” she enquired, drawing herself away at last.

Luke nodded. “You won’t see her about, this week--or next week--or the
week after,” he said. “She’s pretty far gone, this time, I’m afraid.”

Phyllis rendered to her acquaintance’s misfortune the tribute of a
conventional murmur.

“Oh, let’s go and look at where they be burying Jimmy Pringle!” she
suddenly whispered, in an awe-struck, excited tone.

“What!” cried Luke, “you don’t mean to say he’s dead,--the old man?”

“Where’s ’t been to, then, these last days?” she enquired. “He died
yesterday morning and they be going to bury him on Monday. ’Twill be
a monstrous large funeral. Can’t be but you’ve heard tell of Jimmy’s
being done for.” She added, in an amazed and bewildered tone.

“I’ve been very busy this last week,” said Luke.

“You didn’t seem very busy this afternoon, when you were with Annie
and me up at station-field,” she exclaimed, with a mischievous little
laugh. Then in a changed voice, “Let’s go and see where they’re going
to put him. It’s somewhere over there, under South Wall.”

They moved cautiously hand in hand between the dark grassy mounds, the
heavy dew soaking their shoes.

Suddenly Phyllis stopped, her fingers tightening, and a delicious
thrill of excitement quivering through her. “There it is. Look!” she
whispered.

They advanced a step or two, and found themselves confronted by a
gloomy oblong hole, and an ugly heap of ejected earth.

“Oh, how awful it do look, doesn’t it, Luke darling?” she murmured,
clinging closely to him.

He put his arm round the girl’s waist, and together, under the vast
dome of the starlit sky, the two warm-blooded youthful creatures
contemplated the resting-place of the generations.

“It’s queer to think,” remarked Luke pensively, “that just as we stand
looking on this, so, when we’re dead, other people will stand over our
graves, and we know nothing and care nothing!”

“They dug this out this morning,” said Phyllis, more concerned with the
immediate drama than with general meditations of mortality. “Old Ben
Fursling’s son did it, and my father helped him in his dinner-hour.
They said another hot day like this would make the earth too hard.”

Luke moved forward, stepping cautiously over the dark upturned soil. He
paused at the extreme edge of the gaping recess.

“What’ll you give me,” he remarked turning to his companion, “if I
climb down into it?”

“Don’t talk like that, Luke,” protested the girl. “’Tisn’t lucky to say
them things. I wouldn’t give you nothing. I’d run straight away and
leave you.”

The young man knelt down at the edge of the hole, and with the elegant
cane he had carried in his hand all that afternoon, fumbled profanely
in its dusky depths. Suddenly, to the girl’s absolute horror, he
scrambled round, and deliberately let himself down into the pit. She
breathed a sigh of unutterable relief, when she observed his head and
shoulders still above the level of the ground.

“It’s all right,” he whispered, “they’ve left it half-finished. I
suppose they’ll do the rest on Monday.”

“Please get out of it, Luke,” the girl pleaded. “I don’t like to see
you there. It make me think you’re standing on Jimmy Pringle.”

Luke obeyed her and emerged from the earth almost as rapidly as he had
descended.

When he was once more by her side, Phyllis gave a little
half-deliberate shudder of exquisite terror. “Fancy,” she whispered,
clinging tightly to him, “if you was to drag me to that hole, and put
me down there! I think I should die of fright.”

This conscious playing with her own girlish fears was a very
interesting characteristic in Phyllis Santon. Luke had recognized
something of the sort in her before, and now he wondered vaguely, as
he glanced from the obscurity of Nevilton Churchyard to the brilliant
galaxy of luminous splendour surrounding the constellation Pegasus,
whether she really wanted him to take her at her word.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of voices at the inn-door.
They both held their breath, listening intently.

“There’s father!” murmured the girl. “He must have come back from
Lintot’s and be trying to get into the public again! Come and help me
over the wall, Luke darling. Only don’t let anybody see us.”

As they hurried across the enclosure, Phyllis whispered in his ears
a remark that seemed to him either curiously irrelevant, or inspired
in an occult manner by psychic telepathy. She had lately refrained
from any reference to Lacrima. The Italian’s friendliness to her under
the Hullaway elms had made her reticent upon this subject. On this
occasion, however, though quite ignorant of James’ presence in the
churchyard, she suddenly felt compelled to say to Luke, in an intensely
serious voice:

“If some of you clever ones don’t stop that marriage of Master Goring,
there’ll be some more holes dug in this place! There be some things
what them above never will allow.”

He helped her over the wall, and watched her overtake her staggering
parent, who had already reeled some distance down the road. Then he
returned to his brother and roused him from his sleep. James was sulky
and irritable at being so brusquely restored to consciousness, but the
temperature of his mind appeared as normal and natural as ever.

They quitted the place without further conversation, and strode off in
silence up the village street. The perpendicular slabs of the crowded
head stones, and the yet more numerous mounds that had neither name
nor memory, resumed their taciturn and lonely watch.

To no human eyes could be made visible the poor thin shade that was
once Jimmy Pringle, as it swept, bat-like, backwards and forwards,
across the dew-drenched grass. But the shade itself, endowed with more
perception than had been permitted to it while imprisoned in the “muddy
vesture” of our flesh and blood, became aware, in its troubled flight,
of a singular spiritual occurrence.

Rising from the base of that skull-crowned monument, two strange and
mournful phantoms flitted waveringly, like huge ghost-moths, along the
protruding edge of the church-roof. Two desolate and querulous voices,
like the voices of conflicting winds through the reeds of some forlorn
salt-marsh, quivered across the listening fields.

“It is strong and unconquered--the great heart of my Hill,” one voice
wailed out. “It draws them. It drives them. The earth is with it; the
planets are for it, and all their enchantments cannot prevail against
it!”

“The leaves may fall and the trees decay,” moaned the second voice,
“but where the sap has once flowed, Love must triumph.”

The fluttering shadow of Jimmy Pringle fled in terror from these
strange sounds, and took refuge among the owls in the great sycamore of
the Priory meadow. A falling meteorite swept downwards from the upper
spaces of the sky and lost itself behind the Wild Pine ridge.

“Strength and cunning,” the first voice wailed forth again, “alone
possess their heart’s desire. All else is vain and empty.”

“Love and Sacrifice,” retorted the other, “outlast all victories.
Beyond the circle of life they rule the darkness, and death is dust
beneath their feet.”

Crouched on a branch of his protecting sycamore, the thin wraith of
Jimmy Pringle trembled and shook like an aspen-leaf. A dumb surprise
possessed the poor transmuted thing to find itself even less assured of
palpable and familiar salvation, than when, after drinking cider at the
Boar’s Head in Athelston, he had dreamed dreams at Captain Whiffley’s
gate.

“The Sun is lord and god of the earth,” wailed the first voice once
more. “The Sun alone is master in the end. Lust and Power go forth with
him, and all flesh obeys his command.”

“The Moon draws more than the tides,” answered the second voice. “In
the places of silence where Love waits, only the Moon can pass; and
only the Moon can hear the voice of the watchers.”

From the red planet, high up against the church-tower, to the silver
planet low down among the shadowy trees, the starlit spaces listened
mutely to these antiphonal invocations. Only the distant expanse
of the Milky Way, too remote in its translunar gulfs to heed these
planetary conflicts, shimmered haughtily down upon the Wood and Stone
of Nevilton--impassive, indifferent, unconcerned.



CHAPTER XX

VOX POPULI


James Andersen’s mental state did not fall away from the restored
equilibrium into which the unexpected intervention of Ninsy Lintot
had magnetized and medicined him. He went about his work as usual,
gloomier and more taciturn, perhaps, than before, but otherwise with no
deviation from his normal condition.

Luke noticed that he avoided all mention of Lacrima, and, as far as the
younger brother knew, made no effort to see her. Luke himself received,
two days after the incident in the Methodist cemetery, a somewhat
enigmatic letter from Mr. Taxater. This letter bore a London post-mark
and informed the stone-carver that after a careful consideration of the
whole matter, and an interview with Lacrima, the writer had come to the
conclusion that no good purpose would be served by carrying their plan
into execution. Mr. Taxater had, accordingly, so the missive declared,
destroyed the incriminating document which he had induced Luke to sign,
and had relinquished all thought of an interview with Mr. Dangelis.

The letter concluded by congratulating Luke on his brother’s
recovery--of which, it appeared, the diplomatist had been informed by
the omniscient Mrs. Wotnot--and assuring him that if ever, in any way,
he, the writer, could be of service to either of the two brothers,
they could count on his unfailing regard. An obscure post-script,
added in pencil in a very minute and delicate hand, indicated that the
interview with Lacrima, referred to above, had confirmed the theologian
in a suspicion that hitherto he had scrupulously concealed, namely,
that their concern with regard to the Italian’s position was less
called for than appearances had led them to suppose.

After reading and weighing this last intimation, before he tore up the
letter into small fragments, the cynical Luke came to the conclusion
that the devoted champion of the papacy had found out that his
co-religionist had fallen from grace; in other words, that Lacrima
Traffio was no longer a Catholic. It could hardly be expected, the
astute youth argued, that Mr. Taxater should throw himself into a
difficult and troublesome intrigue in order that an apostate from the
inviolable Faith, once for all delivered to the Saints, should escape
what might reasonably be regarded as a punishment for her apostacy.

The theologian’s post-script appeared to hint that the girl was not,
after all, so very unwilling, in this matter of her approaching
marriage. Luke, in so far as he gave such an aspect of the affair any
particular thought, discounted this plausible suggestion as a mere
conscience-quieting salve, introduced by the writer to smooth over the
true cause of his reaction.

For his own part it had been always of James and not of Lacrima he had
thought, and since James had now been restored to his normal state, the
question of the Italian’s moods and feelings affected him very little.
He was still prepared to discuss with his brother any new chance of
intervention that might offer itself at the last moment. He desired
James’ peace of mind before everything else, but in his heart of hearts
he had considerable doubt whether the mood of self-effacing magnanimity
which had led his brother to contemplate Lacrima’s elopement with Mr.
Quincunx, would long survive the return of his more normal temper. Were
he in James’ position, he told himself grimly, he should have much
preferred that the girl should marry a man she hated rather than one
she loved, as in such a case the field would be left more open for any
future “rapprochement.”

Thus it came about that the luckless Pariah, by the simple accident of
her inability to hold fast to her religion, lost at the critical moment
in her life the support of the one friendly power, that seemed capable,
in that confusion of opposed forces, of bringing to her aid temporal as
well as spiritual, pressure. She was indeed a prisoner by the waters
of Babylon, but her forgetfulness of Sion had cut her off from the
assistance of the armies of the Lord.

The days passed on rapidly now, over the heads of the various persons
involved in our narrative. For James and Lacrima, and in a measure
for Mr. Quincunx, too,--since it must be confessed that the shock of
Ninsy’s collapse had not resulted in any permanent tightening of the
recluse’s moral fibre,--they passed with that treacherous and oblivious
smoothness which dangerous waters are only too apt to wear, when on the
very verge of the cataract.

In the stir and excitement of the great political struggle which
now swept furiously from one end of the country to the other, the
personal fortunes of a group of tragically involved individuals, in a
small Somersetshire village, seemed to lose, for all except those most
immediately concerned, every sort of emphasis and interest.

The polling day at last arrived, and a considerable proportion of the
inhabitants of Nevilton, both men and women, found themselves, as the
end of the fatal hours approached, wedged and hustled, in a state of
distressing and exhausted suspense, in the densely crowded High Street
in front of the Yeoborough Town Hall.

Mr. Clavering himself was there, and in no very amiable temper.
Perverse destiny had caused him to be helplessly surrounded by a noisy
high-spirited crew of Yeoborough factory-girls, to whom the event in
progress was chiefly interesting, in so far as it afforded them an
opportunity to indulge in uproarious chaff and to throw insulting or
amorous challenges to various dandified youths of their acquaintance,
whom they caught sight of in the confusion. Mr. Clavering’s ill-temper
reached its climax when he became aware that a good deal of the free
and indiscreet badinage of his companions was addressed to none other
than his troublesome parishioner, Luke Andersen, whose curly head,
surmounted by an aggressively new straw hat, made itself visible not
far off.

The mood of the vicar of Nevilton during the last few weeks had been
one of accumulative annoyance. Everything had gone wrong with him, and
it was only by an immense effort of his will that he had succeeded in
getting through his ordinary pastoral labour, without betraying the
unsettled state of his mind and soul.

He could not, do what he might, get Gladys out of his thoughts for one
single hour of the day. She had been especially soft and caressing, of
late, in her manner towards him. More submissive than of old to his
spiritual admonitions, she had dropped her light and teasing ways,
and had assumed, in her recent lessons with him, an air of pliable
wistfulness, composed of long, timidly interrupted glances from her
languid blue eyes, and little low-voiced murmurs of assent from her
sweetly-parted lips.

It was in vain that the poor priest struggled against this obsession.
The girl was as merciless as she was subtle in the devices she employed
to make sure of her hold upon him. She would lead him on, by hesitating
and innocent questions, to expound some difficult matter of faith; and
then, just as he was launched out upon a high, pure stream of mystical
interpretation, she would bring his thoughts back to herself and her
deadly beauty, by some irresistible feminine trick, which reduced all
his noble speculations to so much empty air.

Ever since that night when he had trembled so helplessly under the
touch of her soft fingers beneath the cedars of the South Drive, she
had sought opportunities for evoking similar situations. She would
prolong the clasp of her hand when they bade one another good night,
knowing well how this apparently natural and unconscious act would
recur in throbs of adder’s poison through the priest’s veins, long
after the sun had set behind St. Catharine’s tower.

She loved sometimes to tantalize and trouble him by relating incidents
which brought herself and her American fiancé into close association
in his mind. She would wistfully confide to him, for example, how
sometimes she grew weary of love-making, begging him to tell her
whether, after all, she were wise in risking the adventure of marriage.

By these arts, and others that it were tedious to enumerate, the girl
gradually reduced the unfortunate clergyman to a condition of abject
slavery. The worst of it was that, though his release from her constant
presence was rapidly approaching--with the near date of the ceremonies
for which he was preparing her--instead of being able to rejoice in
this, he found himself dreading it with every nerve of his harassed
senses.

Clavering had felt himself compelled, on more than one occasion, to
allude to the project of Lacrima’s marriage, but his knowledge of the
Italian’s character was so slight that Gladys had little difficulty in
making him believe, or at least persuade himself he believed, that no
undue pressure was being put upon her.

It was of Lacrima that he suddenly found himself thinking as, hustled
and squeezed between two obstreperous factory-girls, he watched the
serene and self-possessed Luke enjoying with detached amusement the
vivid confusion round him. The fantastic idea came into his head,
that in some sort of way Luke was responsible for those sinister
rumours regarding the Italian’s position in Nevilton, which had thrust
themselves upon his ears as he moved to and fro among the villagers.

He had learnt of the elder Andersen’s recovery from Mrs. Fringe, but
even that wise lady had not been able to associate this event with the
serious illness of Ninsy Lintot, to whose bed-side the young clergyman
had been summoned more than once during the last week.

Clavering felt an impulse of unmitigated hatred for the equable
stone-carver as he watched him bandying jests with this or the other
person in the crowd, and yet so obviously holding himself apart from
it all, and regarding the whole scene as if it only existed for his
amusement.

A sudden rush of some extreme partisans of the popular cause, making
a furious attempt to over-power the persistent taunts of a group of
young farmers who stood above them on a raised portion of the pavement,
drove a wedge of struggling humanity into the midst of the crowd who
surrounded the irritable priest. Clavering was pushed, in spite of his
efforts to extricate himself, nearer and nearer to his detested rival,
and at last, in the most grotesque and annoying manner possible, he
found himself driven point-blank into the stone-carver’s very arms.
Luke smiled, with what seemed to the heated and flustered priest the
last limit of deliberate impertinence.

But there was no help for it. Clavering was forced to accept his
proffered hand, and return, with a measure of courtesy, his nonchalant
greeting. Squeezed close together--for the crowd had concentrated
itself now into an immoveable mass--the fortunate and the unfortunate
lover of Gladys Romer listened, side by side, to the deafening shouts,
which, first from one party and then from the other, heralded the
appearance of the opposing candidates upon the balcony above.

“I really hardly know,” said Luke, in a loud whisper, “which side
you are on. I suppose on the Conservative? These radicals are all
Nonconformists, and only waiting for a chance of pulling the Church
down.”

“Thank you,” retorted the priest raising his voice so as to contend
against the hubbub about them. “I happen to be a radical myself. My own
hope is that the Church _will_ be pulled down. The Church I believe in
cannot be touched. Its foundations are too deep.”

“Three cheers for Romer and the Empire!” roared a voice behind them.

“Wone and the People! Wone and the working-man!” vociferated another.

“You’ll be holding your confirmation soon, I understand,” murmured Luke
in his companion’s ear, as a swaying movement in the crowd squeezed
them even more closely together.

Hugh Clavering realized for the first time in his life what murderers
feel the second before they strike their blow. He could have willingly
planted his heel at that moment upon the stone-carver’s face. Surely
the man was intentionally provoking him. He must know--he could not
help knowing--the agitation in his nerves.

“Romer and Order! Romer and Sound Finance!” roared one portion of the
mob.

“Wone and Liberty! Wone and Justice!” yelled the opposing section.

“I love a scene like this,” whispered Luke. “Doesn’t it make you
beautifully aware of the contemptible littleness of the human race?”

“I am not only a radical,” retorted Clavering, “but I happen also to be
a human being, and one who can’t take so airy a view of an occasion of
this kind. The enthusiasm of these people doesn’t at all amuse me. I
sympathize with it.”

The stone-carver was not abashed by this rebuke. “A matter of taste,”
he said, “a matter of taste.” Then, freeing his arm which had got
uncomfortably wedged against his side, and pushing back his hat, “I
love to associate these outbursts of popular feeling with the movements
of the planets. Tonight, you know, one ought to be able to see--”

Clavering could no longer contain himself. “Damn your planets!” he
cried, in a tone so loud, that an old lady in their neighbourhood
ejaculated, “Hush! hush!” and looked round indignantly.

“I beg your pardon,” muttered the priest, a little ashamed. “What I
mean is, I am most seriously concerned about this contest. I pray
devoutly Wone will win. It’ll be a genuine triumph for the working
classes if he does.”

“Romer and the Empire!” interpolated the thunderous voice behind them.

“I don’t care much for the man himself,” he went on, “but this thing
goes beyond personalities.”

“I’m all for Romer myself,” said Luke. “I have the best of reasons for
being grateful to him, though he is my employer.”

“What do you mean? What reasons?” cried Clavering sharply, once more
beginning to feel the most unchristian hatred for this urbane youth.

“Oh, I’m sure I needn’t tell you that, sir,” responded Luke; “I’m sure
you know well enough how much I admire our Nevilton beauty.”

Gladys’ unhappy lover choked with rage. He had never in his life
loathed anything so much as he loathed the way Luke’s yellow curls grew
on his forehead. His fingers clutched convulsively the palms of his
hands. He would like to have seized that crop of hair and beaten the
man’s head against the pavement.

“I think it’s abominable,” he cried, “this forcing of Miss Traffio to
marry Goring. For a very little, I’d write to the bishop about it and
refuse to marry them.”

The causes that led to this unexpected and irrelevant outburst
were of profound subtlety. Clavering forgot, in his desire to make
his rival responsible for every tragedy in the place, that he had
himself resolved to discount, as mere village gossip, all the dark
rumours he had heard. The blind anger which plunged him into this
particular outcry, sprang, in reality, from the bitterness of his own
conscience-stricken misgivings.

“I don’t think you will,” remarked Luke, lowering his voice to a
whisper, though the uproar about them rendered such a precaution quite
unnecessary. “It is not as a rule a good thing to interfere in these
matters. Miss Gladys has told me herself that the whole thing is an
invention of Romer’s enemies, probably of this fellow Wone.”

“She’s told me the same story,” burst out the priest, “but how am I to
believe her?”

A person unacquainted with the labyrinthine convolutions of the human
mind would have been staggered at hearing the infatuated slave thus
betray his suspicion of his enchantress, and to his own rival; but the
man’s long-troubled conscience, driven by blind anger, rendered him
almost beside himself.

“To tell you the truth,” said Luke, “I think neither you nor I have
anything to do with this affair. You might as well agitate yourself
about Miss Romer’s marriage with Dangelis! Girls must manage these
little problems for themselves. After all, it doesn’t really matter
much, one way or the other. What they want, is to be married. The
person they choose is quite a secondary thing. We have to learn to
regard all these little incidents as of but small importance, my good
sir, as our world sweeps round the sun!”

“The sun--the sun!” cried Clavering, with difficulty restraining
himself. “What has the sun to do with it? You are too fond of bringing
in your suns and your planets, Andersen. This trick of yours of
shelving the difficulties of life, by pretending you’re somehow
superior to them all, is a habit I advise you to give up! It’s cheap.
It’s vulgar. It grows tiresome after a time.”

Luke’s only reply to this was a sweet smile; and the two were wedged so
closely together that the priest was compelled to notice the abnormal
whiteness and regularity of the young man’s teeth.

“I confess to you,” continued Luke, with an air of unruffled
detachment, as if they had been discussing the tint of a flower or
the marks upon a butterfly’s wing, “I have often wondered what the
relations really are between Mr. Romer and Miss Traffio; but that is
the sort of question which, as Sir Thomas Browne would say, lends
itself to a wide solution.”

“Romer and Prosperity!” “Wone and Justice!” yelled the opposing
factions.

“Our pretty Gladys’ dear parent,” continued the incorrigible youth,
completely disregarding the fact that his companion, speechless with
indignation, was desperately endeavouring to extricate himself from
the press, “seems born under a particularly lucky star. I notice that
every attempt which people make to thwart him comes to nothing. That’s
what I admire about him: he seems to move forward to his end like an
inexorable fate.”

“Rubbish!” ejaculated the priest, turning his angry face once more
towards his provoking rival. “Fiddlesticks and rubbish! The man is a
man, like the rest of us. I only pray Heaven he’s going to lose this
election!”

“Under a lucky star,” reiterated the stone-carver. “I wish I knew,” he
added pensively, “what his star is. Probably Jupiter!”

“Wone and Liberty!” “Wone and the Rights of the People!” roared the
crowd.

“Wone and God’s Vengeance!” answered, in an indescribably bitter tone,
a new and different voice. Luke pressed his companion’s arm.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered eagerly. “That’s Philip. Who would
have thought he’d have been here? He’s an anarchist, you know.”

Clavering, who was taller than his companion, caught sight of the
candidate’s son. Philip’s countenance was livid with excitement, and
his arms were raised as if actually invoking the Heavens.

“Silly fool!” muttered Luke. “He talks of God as glibly as any of his
father’s idiotic friends. But perhaps he was mocking! I thought I
detected a tang of irony in his tone.”

“Most of you unbelievers cry upon God when the real crisis comes,”
remarked the priest. “But I like Philip Wone. I respect him. He, at
least, takes his convictions seriously.”

“I believe you fancy in your heart that some miracle is going to be
worked, to punish my worthy employer,” observed Luke. “But I assure
you, you’re mistaken. In this world the only way our Mr. Romers are
brought low is by being out-matched on their own ground. He has a lucky
star; but other people”--this was added in a low, significant tone--
“other people may possibly have stars still more lucky.”

At this moment the cheering and shouting became deafening. Some new and
important event had evidently occurred. Both men turned and glanced up
at the stucco-fronted edifice that served Yeoborough as a city-hall.
The balcony had become so crowded that it was difficult to distinguish
individual figures; but there was a general movement there, and people
were talking and gesticulating eagerly. Presently all these excited
persons fell simultaneously into silence, and an attitude of intense
expectation. The crowd below caught the thrill of their expectancy,
and with upturned faces and eager eyes, waited the event. There was a
most formidable hush over the whole sea of human heads; and even the
detached Luke felt his heart beating in tune to the general tension.

In the midst of this impressive silence the burly figure of the sheriff
of the parliamentary district made his way slowly to the front of the
balcony. With him came the two candidates, each accompanied by a lady,
and grouped themselves on either side of him. The sheriff standing
erect, with a sheet of paper in his hand, saluted the assembled people,
and proceeded to announce, in simple stentorian words, the result of
the poll.

Clavering had been stricken dumb with amazement to observe that the
lady by Mr. Romer’s side was not Mrs. Romer, as he had thoughtlessly
assumed it would be, but Gladys herself, exquisitely dressed, and
looking, in her high spirits and excitement, more lovely than he had
ever seen her.

Her fair hair, drawn back from her head beneath a shady Gainsborough
hat, shone like gold in the sunshine. Her cheeks were flushed, and
their delicate rose-bloom threw into beautiful relief the pallor of
her brow and neck. Her tall girlish figure looked soft and arresting
amid the black-coated politicians who surrounded her. Her eyes were
brilliant.

Contrasted with this splendid apparition at Mr. Romer’s side, the faded
primness of the good spouse of the Christian Candidate seemed pathetic
and grotesque. Mrs. Wone, in her stiff black dress and old-fashioned
hat, looked as though she were attending a funeral. Nor was the
appearance of her husband much more impressive or imposing.

Mr. Romer, with his beautiful daughter’s hand upon his arm, looked as
noble a specimen of sage authority and massive triumph, as any of that
assembled crowd were likely to see in a life-time. A spasmodic burst of
cheering was interrupted by vigorous hisses and cries of “Hush! hush!
Let the gentleman speak!”

Lifting his hand with an appropriate air of grave solemnity,
the sheriff proceeded to read: “Result of the Election in this
Parliamentary Division--Mr. George Wone, seven thousand one hundred
and fifty nine! Mr. Mortimer Romer, nine thousand eight hundred and
sixty-one! I therefore declare Mr. Mortimer Romer duly elected.”

A burst of incredible cheering followed this proclamation, in the midst
of which the groans and hisses of the defeated section were completely
drowned. The cheering was so tremendous and the noisy reaction after
the hours of expectancy so immense, that it was difficult to catch a
word of what either the successful or the unsuccessful candidate said,
as they made their accustomed valedictory speeches.

Clavering and Luke were swept far apart from one another in the mad
confusion; and it was well for them both, perhaps, that they were;
for before the speeches were over, or the persons on the balcony had
disappeared into the building, a very strange and disconcerting event
took place.

The unfortunate young Philip, who had received the announcement of
his father’s defeat as a man might receive a death-sentence, burst
into a piercing and resounding cry, which was clearly audible, not
only to those immediately about him, but to every one of the ladies
and gentlemen assembled on the balcony. There is no need to repeat in
this place the words which the unhappy young man hurled at Mr. Romer
and his daughter. Suffice it to say that they were astounding in their
brutality and grossness.

As soon as he had uttered them, Philip sank down upon the ground, in
the miserable convulsions of some species of epileptic fit. The tragic
anxiety of poor Mrs. Wone, who had not only heard his words, but seen
his collapse, broke up the balcony party in disorder.

Such is human nature, that though not one of the aristocratic
personages there assembled, believed for a moment that Philip was
anything but a madman; still, the mere weight of such ominous words,
though flung at random and by one out of his senses, had an appreciable
effect upon them. It was noticed that one after another they drew
away from the two persons thus challenged; and this, combined with
the movement about the agitated Mrs. Wone, soon left the father and
daughter, the girl clinging to her parent’s arm, completely isolated.

Before he led Gladys away, however, Mr. Romer turned a calm and
apparently unruffled face upon the scene below. Luke, who, it may
be well believed, had missed nothing of the subtler aspects of the
situation, was so moved by the man’s imperturbable serenity that he
caught himself on the point of raising an admiring and congratulatory
shout. He stopped himself in time, however; and in place of acclaiming
the father, did all he could to catch the eye of the daughter.

In this he was unsuccessful; for the attention of Gladys, during the
brief moment in which she followed Mr. Romer’s glance over the heads
of the people, was fixed upon the group of persons who surrounded
the prostrate Philip. Among these persons Luke now recognized, and
doubtless the girl had recognized too, the figure of the vicar of
Nevilton.

Luke apostrophized his rival with an ejaculation of mild contempt. “A
good man, that poor priest,” he muttered, “but a most unmitigated
fool! As to Romer, I commend him! But I think I’ve put a spoke in
the wheel of his good fortune, all the same, in spite of the planet
Jupiter!”



CHAPTER XXI

CAESAR’S QUARRY


Mr. Romer’s victory in the election was attended by a complete lull
in the political world of Nevilton. Nothing but an unavoidable and
drastic crisis, among the ruling circles of the country, could
have precipitated this formidable struggle in the middle of the
holiday-time; and as soon as the contest was over, the general
relaxation of the season made itself doubly felt.

This lull in the political arena seemed to extend itself into the
sphere of private and individual emotion, in so far as the persons of
our drama were concerned. The triumphant quarry-owner rested from his
labors under the pleasant warmth of the drowsy August skies; and as,
in the old Homeric Olympus, a relapse into lethargy of the wielder of
thunder-bolts was attended by a cessation of earthly strife, so in the
Nevilton world, the elements of discord and opposition fell, during
this siesta of the master of Leo’s Hill, into a state of quiescent
inertia.

But though the gods might sleep, and the people might relax and play,
the watchful unwearied fates spun on, steadily and in silence, their
ineluctable threads.

The long process of “carrying the corn” was over at last, and night by
night the magic-burdened moon grew larger and redder above the misty
stubble-fields.

The time drew near for the reception of the successful candidate’s
daughter into the historic church of the country over which he was now
one of the accredited rulers. A few more drowsy sunshine-drugged days
remained to pass, and the baptism of Gladys--followed, a week later, by
the formal imposition of episcopal hands--would be the signal for the
departure of August and the beginning of the fall of the leaves.

The end of the second week in September had been selected for the
double marriage, partly because it synchronized with the annual parish
feast-day, and partly because it supplied Ralph Dangelis with an excuse
for carrying off his bride incontinently to New York by one of his
favourite boats.

Under the quiet surface of this steadily flowing flood of destiny,
which seemed, just then, to be casting a drowning narcotic spell upon
all concerned, certain deep and terrible misgivings troubled not a few
hearts.

It may be frequently noticed by those whose interest it is to watch the
strange occult harmonies between the smallest human dramas and their
elemental accomplices, that at these peculiar seasons when Nature seems
to pause and draw in her breath, men and women find it hard to use or
assert their normal powers of resistance. The planetary influences
seem nearer earth than usual;--nearer, with the apparent nearness of
the full tide-drawing moon and the heavy scorching sun;--and for those
more sensitive souls, whose nerves are easily played upon, there is
produced a certain curious sense of lying back upon fate, with arms
helplessly outspread, and wills benumbed and passive.

But though some such condition as this had narcotized all overt
resistance to the destiny in store for her in the heart of Lacrima,
it cannot be said that the Italian’s mind was free from an appalling
shadow. Whether by reason of a remote spark of humanity in him, or
out of subtle fear lest by any false move he should lose his prey,
or because of some diplomatic and sagacious advice received from
his brother-in-law, Mr. John Goring had, so far, conducted himself
extremely wisely towards his prospective wife, leaving her entirely
untroubled by any molestations, and never even seeing her except in the
presence of other people. How far this unwonted restraint was agreeable
to the nature of the farmer, was a secret concealed from all, except
perhaps from his idiot protégé, the only human being in Nevilton to
whom the unattractive man ever confided his thoughts.

Lacrima had one small and incidental consolation in feeling that she
had been instrumental in sending to a home for the feeble-minded, the
unfortunate child of the game-keeper of Auber Lake. In this single
particular, Gladys had behaved exceptionally well, and the news that
came of the girl’s steady progress in the direction of sanity and
happiness afforded some fitful gleam of light in the obscurity that
surrounded the Pariah’s soul.

The nature of this intermittent gleam, its deep mysterious strength
drawn from spiritual sources, helped to throw a certain sad and
pallid twilight over her ordained sacrifice. This also she felt was
undertaken, like her visit to Auber Lake, for the sake of an imprisoned
and fettered spirit. If by means of such self-immolation her friend
of Dead Man’s Lane would be liberated from his servitude and set
permanently upon his feet, her submission would not be in vain.

She had come once more to feel as though the impending event were, as
far as she was concerned, a sort of final death-sentence. The passing
fantasy, that in a momentary distortion of her mind had swept over her
of the new life it might mean to have children of her own, even though
born of this unnatural union, had not approached again the troubled
margin of her spirit.

Even the idea of escaping the Romers was only vaguely present. She
would escape more than the Romers; she would escape the whole miserable
coil of this wretched existence, if the death she anticipated fell upon
her; for death, and nothing less than death, seemed the inevitable
circumference of the iron circle that was narrowing in upon her.

Had those two strange phantoms that we have seen hovering over Nevilton
churchyard, representing in their opposite ways the spiritual powers
of the place, been able to survey--as who could deny they might be
able?--the fatal stream which was now bearing the Pariah forward to the
precipice, they would have been, in their divers tempers, struck with
delight and consternation at the spectacle presented to them. There
was more in this spectacle, it must be admitted, to bring joy into the
heart of a goblin than into that of an angel. Coincidence, casualty,
destiny--all seemed working together to effect the unfortunate girl’s
destruction.

The fact that, by the recovery of his brother, the astute Luke
Andersen, the only one of all the Nevilton circle capable of striking
an effective blow in her defence, had been deprived of all but a
very shadowy interest in what befell, seemed an especially sinister
accident. Equally unfortunate was the luckless chance that at this
critical moment had led the diplomatic Mr. Taxater to see fit to
prolong his stay in London. Mr. Quincunx was characteristically
helpless. James Andersen seemed, since the recovery of his normal mind,
to have subsided like a person under some restraining vow. Lacrima was
a little surprised that he made no attempt to see her or to communicate
with her. She could only suppose she had indelibly hurt him, by her
rejection of his quixotic offers, on their way back from Hullaway.

Thus to any ordinary glance, cast upon the field of events as they were
now arranging themselves, it would have looked as though the Italian’s
escape from the fate hanging over her were as improbable as it would be
for a miracle to intervene to save her.

In spite of the wild threat flung out by Mr. Clavering in his sudden
anger as he waited with Luke in the Yeoborough street, the vicar of
Nevilton made no attempt to interfere. Whether he really managed to
persuade his conscience that all was well, or whether he came to the
conclusion that without some initiative from the Italian it would be
useless to meddle, not the most subtle psychologist could say. The
fact remained that the only step he took in the matter was to assure
himself that the girl’s nominal Catholicism had so far lapsed into
indifference, that she was likely to raise no objection to a ceremony
according to Anglican ritual.

The whole pitiful situation, indeed, offered only one more terrible
and branding indictment, against the supine passivity of average human
nature in the presence of unspeakable wrongs. The power and authority
of the domestic system, according to which the real battle-field of
wills takes place out of sight of the public eye, renders it possible
for this inertia of the ordinary human crowd to cloak itself under a
moral dread of scandal, and under the fear of any drastic breach of the
uniformity of social usage.

A visitor from Mars or Saturn might have supposed, that in
circumstances of this kind, every decent-thinking person in the village
would have rushed headlong to the episcopal throne, and called loudly
for spiritual mandates to stop the outrage. Where was the delegated
Power of God--so the forlorn shadows of the long-evicted Cistercians
might be imagined crying--whose absolute authority could be appealed
to in face of every worldly force? What was the tender-souled St.
Catharine doing, in her Paradisiac rest, that she could remain so
passively indifferent to such monstrous and sacrilegious use of her
sacred building? Was it that such transactions as this, should be
carried through, under its very shelter, that the gentle spirits
who guarded the Holy Rood had made of Nevilton Mount their sacred
resting-place? Must the whole fair tradition of the spot remain dull,
dormant, dumb, while the devotees of tyranny worked their arbitrary
will--“and nothing said”?

Such imaginary appeals, so fantastic in the utterance, were indeed, as
that large August-moon rose night by night upon the stubble-fields, far
too remote from Nevilton’s common routine to enter the heads of any of
that simple flock. The morning mists that diffused themselves, like
filmy dream-figures, over the watchful promontory of Leo’s Hill, were
as capable as any of these villagers of crying aloud that wrong was
being done.

The loneliness in the midst of which Lacrima moved on her way--groping,
as her enemy had taunted her with doing, so helplessly with her wistful
hands--was a loneliness so absolute that it sometimes seemed to her
as if she were already literally dead and buried. Now and then, with
a pallid phosphorescent glimmer like the gleam of a corpse-light, the
mortal dissolution of all the ties that bound her to earthly interests,
itself threw a fitful illumination over her consciousness.

But Mr. Romer had over-reached himself in his main purpose. The moral
disintegration which he looked for, and which the cynical apathy of Mr.
Quincunx encouraged, had, by extending itself to every nerve of her
spirit, rounded itself off, as it were, full circle, and left her in a
mental state rather beyond both good and evil, than delivered up to the
latter as opposed to the former. The infernal power might be said to
have triumphed; but it could scarcely be said to have triumphed over a
living soul. It had rather driven her soul far off, far away from all
these contests, into some mysterious translunar region, where all these
distinctions lapsed and merged.

Leo’s Hill itself had never crouched in more taciturn intentness than
it did under that sweltering August sunshine, which seemed to desire,
in the gradual scorching of the green slopes, to reduce even the
outward skin of the monster to an approximate conformity with its tawny
entrails.

Mr. Taxater’s departure from the scene at this juncture was not only,
little as she knew it, a loss of support to Lacrima, it was also a very
serious blow to Vennie Seldom.

The priest in Yeoborough, who at her repeated request had already
begun to give her surreptitious lessons in the Faith, was not in any
sense fitted to be a young neophyte’s spiritual adviser. He was fat.
He was gross. He was lethargic. He was indifferent. He also absolutely
refused to receive her into the Church without her mother’s sanction.
This refusal was especially troublesome to Vennie. She knew enough
of her mother to know that while it was her nature to resist blindly
and obstinately any deviation from her will, when once a revolt was
an established fact she would resign herself to it with a surprising
equanimity. To ask Valentia for permission to be received into the
Church would mean a most violent and distressing scene. To announce to
her that she had been so received, would mean nothing but melancholy
and weary acquiescence.

She felt deeply hurt at Mr. Taxater’s desertion of her at this moment
of all moments. It was incredible that it was really necessary for
him to be so long in town. As a rule he never left the Gables during
the month of August. His conduct puzzled and troubled her. Did he
care nothing whether she became a Catholic or not? Were his lessons
mere casual by-play, to fill up his spare hours in an interesting
and pleasant diversion? Was he really the faithful friend he called
himself? Not only had he absented himself, but he had done so without
sending her a single word.

As a matter of fact it was extremely rare for Mr. Taxater to write
a letter, even to his nearest friends, except under the stress of
theological controversy. But Vennie knew nothing of this. She simply
felt hurt and injured; as though the one human being, upon whom she
had reposed her trust, had deserted and betrayed her. He had spoken
so tenderly, so affectionately to her, too, during their last walk
together, before the unfortunate encounter with James Andersen in the
Athelston porch!

It is true that his attitude over that matter of Andersen’s insanity,
and also in the affair of Lacrima’s marriage, had a little shocked
and disconcerted her. He had bluntly refused to take her into his
confidence, and she felt instinctively that the conversation with Luke,
from which she had been so curtly dismissed, was of a kind that would
have hurt and surprised her.

It seemed unworthy of him to absent himself from Nevilton, just at the
moment when, as she felt certain in her heart, some grievous outrage
was being committed. She had learned quickly enough of Andersen’s
recovery; but nothing she could learn either lessened her terrible
apprehension about Lacrima, or gave her the least hint of a path she
could follow to do anything on the Italian’s behalf.

She made a struggle once to see the girl and to talk to her. But she
came away from the hurried interview as perplexed and troubled in her
mind as ever. Lacrima had maintained an obstinate and impenetrable
reserve. Vennie made up her mind that she would postpone for the
present her own religious revolt, and devote herself to keeping a close
and careful watch upon events in Nevilton.

Mr. Clavering’s present attitude rendered her profoundly unhappy. The
pathetic overtures she had made to him recently, with a desperate hope
of renewing their friendship on a basis that would be unaffected even
by her change of creed, had seemed entirely unremarked by the absorbed
clergyman. She could not help brooding sometimes, with a feeling
of wretched humiliation, over the brusqueness and rudeness which
characterized his manner towards her.

She recalled, more often than the priest would have cared to have
known, that pursuit of theirs, of the demented Andersen, and how in his
annoyance and confusion he had behaved to her in a fashion not only
rough but positively unkind.

It was clear that he was growing more and more slavishly infatuated
with Gladys; and Vennie could only pray that the days might pass
quickly and the grotesque blasphemy of the confirmation service be
carried through and done with, so that the evil spell of her presence
should be lifted and broken.

Prayer indeed--poor little forlorn saint!--was all that was left to
her, outside her mother’s exacting affection, and she made a constant
and desperate use of it. Only the little painted wooden image, in her
white-washed room, a pathetic reproduction of the famous Nuremburg
Madonna, could have betrayed how long were the hours in which she gave
herself up to these passionate appeals. She prayed for Clavering in
that shy heart-breaking manner--never whispering his name, even to the
ears of Our Lady, but always calling him “He” and “Him”--in which girls
are inclined to pray for the man to whom they have sacrificed their
peace. She prayed desperately for Lacrima, that at the last moment,
contrary to all hope, some intervention might arrive.

Thus it came about, that beneath the roofs of Nevilton--for neither
James Andersen nor Mr. Quincunx were “praying men”--only one voice was
lifted up, the voice of the last of the old race of the place’s rulers,
to protest against the flowing forward to its fatal end, of this evil
tide.

Nevertheless, things moved steadily and irresistibly on; and it seemed
as though it were as improbable that those shimmering mists which every
evening crept up the sides of Leo’s Hill should endure the heat of the
August noons, as that the prayers of this frail child should change the
course of ordained destiny.

If none but her little painted Madonna knew how passionate were
Vennie’s spiritual struggles; not even that other Vennie, of the
long-buried royal court, whose mournful nun’s eyes looked out upon
the great entrance-hall, knew what turbulent thoughts and anxieties
possessed the soul of Gladys Romer.

Was Mr. Taxater right in the formidable hint he had given the young
stone-carver, as to the result of his amour with his employer’s
daughter? Was Gladys not only the actual mistress of Luke, but the
prospective mother of a child of their strange love?

Whatever were the fair-haired girl’s thoughts and apprehensions, she
kept them rigidly to herself; and not even Lacrima, in her wildest
imagination, ever dreamed that things had gone as far as that. If it
had chanced to be, as Mr. Taxater supposed, and as Luke seemed willing
to admit, Gladys was apparently relying upon some vague accident in
the course of events, or upon some hidden scheme of her own, to escape
the exposure which the truth of such a supposition seemed to render
inevitable.

The fact remained that she let matters drift on, and continued to
prepare--in her own fashion--not only for her reception into the Church
of England, but for her marriage to the wealthy American.

Dangelis was continually engaged now in running backwards and forwards
to town on business connected with his marriage; and with a view to
making these trips more pleasantly and conveniently he had acquired a
smart touring-car of his own, which he soon found himself able to drive
without assistance. The pleasure of these excursions, leading him, in
delicious solitude, through so many unvisited country places and along
such historic roads, had for the moment distracted his attention from
his art.

He rarely took Gladys with him; partly because he regarded himself as
still but a learner in the science of driving, but more because he
felt, at this critical moment of his life, an extraordinary desire to
be alone with his own thoughts. Most of these thoughts, it is true,
were such as it would not have hurt the feelings of his fiancée to have
surprised in their passage through his mind; but not quite all of them.
Ever since the incident of Auber Lake, an incident which threw the
character of his betrothed into no very charming light, Dangelis had
had his moments of uneasiness and misgiving. He could not altogether
conceal from himself that his attraction to Gladys was rather of a
physical than of a spiritual, or even of a psychic nature.

Once or twice, while the noble expanses of Salisbury Plain or the New
Forest thrilled him with a pure dilation of soul, as he swept along
in the clear air, he was on the verge of turning his car straight to
the harbour of Southampton and taking the first boat that offered
itself, bound East, West, North or South--it mattered nothing the
direction!--so that an impassable gulf of free sea-water should
separate him forever from the hot fields and woods of Nevilton.

Once, when reaching a cross-road point, where the name of the famous
harbour stared at him from a sign-post, he had even gone so far as to
deviate to the extent of several miles from his normal road. But that
intolerable craving for the girl’s soft-clinging arms and supple body,
with which she had at last succeeded in poisoning the freedom of his
mind, drew him back with the force of a magnet.

The day at length approached, when, on the festival of his favorite
saint, Mr. Clavering was to perform the ceremony, to which he had
looked forward so long and with such varied feelings. It was Saturday,
and on the following morning, in a service especially arranged to take
place privately, between early celebration and ordinary matins, Gladys
was to be baptized.

Dangelis had suddenly declared his intention of making his escape from
a proceeding which to his American mind seemed entirely uncalled for,
and to his pagan humour seemed not a little grotesque. He had decided
to start, immediately after breakfast, and motor to London, this time
by way of Trowbridge and Westbury.

The confirmation ceremony, for reasons connected with the convenience
of the Lord Bishop, had been finally fixed for the ensuing Wednesday,
so that only two days were destined to elapse between the girl’s
reception into the Church, and her admission to its most sacred
rites. Dangelis was sufficiently a heathen to desire to be absent
from this event also, though he had promised Mr. Clavering to support
his betrothed on the occasion of her first Communion on the following
Sunday, which would be their last Sunday together as unwedded lovers.

On this occasion, Gladys persuaded him to let her ride by his side a
few miles along the Yeoborough road. They had just reached the bridge
across the railway-line, about a mile and a half from the village, when
they caught sight of Mr. John Goring, returning from an early visit to
the local market.

Gladys made the artist stop the car, and she got out to speak to her
uncle. After a minute or two’s conversation, she informed Dangelis that
she would return with Mr. Goring by the field-path, which left the road
at that point and followed the track of the railway. The American,
obedient to her wish, set his car in motion, and waving her a gay
good-bye, disappeared swiftly round an adjacent corner.

Gladys and her uncle proceeded to walk slowly homeward, across the
meadows; neither of them, however, paying much attention to the charm
of the way. In vain from the marshy hollows between their path and the
metal track, certain brilliant clumps of ragged robin and red rattle
signalled to them to pause and admire. Gladys and Mr. Goring strolled
forward, past these allurements, with a superb absorption in their own
interests.

“I can’t think, uncle,” Gladys was saying, “how it is that you can go
on in the way you’re doing; you, a properly engaged person, and not
seeing anything of your young lady?”

The farmer laughed. “Ah! my dear, but what matter? I shall see her soon
enough; all I want to, may-be.”

“But most engaged people like to see a little of one another before
they’re married, don’t they, uncle? I know Ralph would be quite mad if
he couldn’t see _me_.”

“But, my pretty, this is quite a different case. When Bert and I”--he
spoke of the idiot as if they had been comrades, instead of master and
servant--“have bought a new load of lop-ears, we never tease ’em or
fret ’em before we get ’em home.”

“But Lacrima isn’t a rabbit!” cried Gladys impatiently; “she’s a girl
like me, and wants what all girls want, to be petted and spoilt a
little before she’s plunged into marriage.”

“She didn’t strike me as wanting anything of that kind, when I made up
to her in our parlour,” replied Mr. Goring.

“Oh you dear old stupid!” cried his niece, “can’t you understand
that’s what we’re all like? We all put on airs, and have fancies, and
look cross; but we want to be petted all the same. We want it all the
more!”

“I reckon I’d better leave well alone all the same, just at present,”
observed the farmer. “If I was to go stroking her and making up to her,
while she’s on the road, may-be when we got her into the hutch she’d
bite like a weasel.”

“She’d never really bite!” retorted his companion. “You don’t know her
as well as I do. I tell you, uncle, she’s got no more spirit than a
tame pigeon.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said the farmer.

Gladys flicked the grass impatiently with the end of her parasol.

“You may take my word for it, uncle,” she continued. “The whole thing’s
put on. It’s all affectation and nonsense. Do you think she’d have
agreed to marry you if she wasn’t ready for a little fun? Of course
she’s ready! She’s only waiting for you to begin. It makes it more
exciting for her, when she cries out and looks injured. That’s the only
reason why she does it. Lots of girls are like that, you know!”

“Are they, my pretty, are they? ’Tis difficult to tell that kind,
may-be, from the other kind. But I’m not a man for too much of these
fancy ways.”

“You’re not drawing back, uncle, are you?” cried Gladys, in
considerable alarm.

“God darn me, no!” replied the farmer. “I’m going to carry this
business through. Don’t you fuss yourself. Only I like doing these
things in my own way--dost understand me, my dear?--in my own way; and
then, if so be they go wrong, I can’t put the blame on no one else.”

“I wonder you aren’t more keen, uncle,” began Gladys insinuatingly,
following another track, “to see more of a pretty girl you’re just
going to marry. I don’t believe you half know how pretty she is! I wish
you could see her doing her hair in the morning.”

“I shall see her, soon enough, my lass; don’t worry,” replied the
farmer.

“I should so love to see you give her one kiss,” murmured Gladys. “Of
course, she’d struggle and make a fuss, but she’d really be enjoying it
all the time.”

“May-be she would, my pretty, and may-be she wouldn’t. I’m not one that
likes hearing either rabbits or maidens start the squealing game. It
fair gives me the shivers. Bert, he can stand it, but I never could.
It’s nature, I suppose. A man can’t change his nature no more than a
cow nor a horse.”

“I can’t understand you, uncle,” observed Gladys. “If I were in your
place, I’m sure I shouldn’t be satisfied without at least kissing
the girl I was going to marry. I’d find some way of getting round
her, however sulky she was. Oh, I’m sure you don’t half know how nice
Lacrima is to kiss!”

“I suppose she isn’t so mighty different, come to that,” replied the
farmer, “than any other maid. I don’t mind if I give _you_ a kiss, my
beauty!” he added, encircling his niece with an affectionate embrace
and kissing her flushed cheek. “There--there! Best let well alone,
sweetheart, and leave your old uncle to manage his own little affairs
according to his own fashion!”

But Gladys was not so easily put off. She had recourse to her fertile
imagination.

“You should have heard what she said to me the other night, uncle. You
know the way girls talk? or you ought to, anyhow! She said she hoped
you’d go on being the same simple fool, after you were married. She
said she’d find it mighty easy to twist you round her finger. ‘Why,’
she said, ‘I can do what I like with him now. He treats me as if I
were a high-born lady and he were a mere common man. I believe he’s
downright afraid of me!’ That’s the sort of things she says about
you, uncle. She thinks in her heart that you’re just a fool, a simple
frightened fool!”

“Darn her! she does, does she?” cried Mr. Goring, touched at last by
the serpent’s tongue. “She thinks I’m a fool, does she? Well! Let her
have her laugh. Them laughs best as laughs last, in my thinking!”

“Yes, she thinks you’re a great big silly fool, uncle. Of course it’s
all pretence, her talk about wanting you to be like that; but that’s
what she thinks you are. What she’d really like--only she doesn’t say
so, even to me--would be for you to catch her suddenly round the waist
and kiss her on the mouth, and laugh at her pretendings. I expect she’s
waiting to give you a chance to do something of that sort; only you
don’t come near her. Oh, she must think you’re a monstrous fool! She
must chuckle to herself to think what a fool you are.”

“I’ll teach her what kind of a fool I am,” muttered Mr. Goring, “when
I’ve got her to myself, up at the farm. This business of dangling after
a maid’s apron strings, this kissing and cuddling, don’t suit somehow
with my nature. I’m not one of your fancy-courting ones and never was!”

“Listen, uncle!” said Gladys eagerly, laying her hand on his arm.
“Suppose I was to take her up to Cæsar’s Quarry this afternoon? That
would be a lovely chance! You could come strolling round about four
o’clock. I’d be on the watch; and before she knew you were there, I’d
scramble out, and you could climb down. She couldn’t get away from you,
and you’d have quite a nice little bit of love-making.”

Mr. Goring paused, and prodded the ground with the end of his stick.

“What a little devil you are!” he exclaimed. “Darn me if this here job
isn’t a queer business! Here are you, putting yourself out and fussing
around, only for a fellow to have what’s due to him. You leave us
alone, sweetheart, my young lady and me! I reckon we know what’s best
for ourselves, without you thrusting your hand in.”

“But you might just walk up that way, uncle; it isn’t far over the
hill. I’d give--oh, I don’t know what!--to see you two together. She
wants to be teased a little, you know! She’s getting too proud and
self-satisfied for anything. It would do her ever so much good to be
taught a lesson. It isn’t much to do, is it? Just to give the girl
you’re going to marry one little kiss?”

“But how do I know you two wenches aren’t fooling me, even now?”
protested the cautious farmer. “’Tis just the sort of maids’ trick ye
might set out to play upon a man. How do I know ye haven’t put your two
darned little heads together over this job?”

Gladys looked round. They were approaching the Mill Copse.

“Please, uncle,” she cried, “don’t say such things to me. You know I
wouldn’t join with anyone against you. Least of all with her! Just do
as I tell you, and stroll up to Cæsar’s Quarry about four o’clock. I
promise you faithfully I haven’t said a word to her about it. Please,
uncle, be nice and kind over this.”

She threw her arms round Mr. Goring’s neck. “You haven’t done anything
for me for a long time,” she murmured in her most persuasive tone.
“Do you remember how I used to give you butterfly-kisses when I was a
little girl, and you kept apples for me in the big loft?”

Mr. Goring’s nature may, or may not have been, as he described it; it
is certain that the caresses and cajoleries of his lovely niece had
an instantaneous effect upon him. His slow-witted suspicions melted
completely under the spell of her touch.

“Well, my pretty,” he said, as they moved on, under the shadowy trees
of the park, “may-be, if I’ve nothing else to do and things seem quiet,
I’ll take a bit of a walk this afternoon. But you mustn’t count on it.
If I do catch sight of ’ee, ’round Cæsar’s way, I’ll let ’ee
know. But ’tisn’t a downright promise, mind!”

Gladys clapped her hands. “You’re a perfect love, uncle!” she cried
jubilantly. “I wish I were Lacrima; I’d be ever, ever so nice to you!”

“Ye can be nice to me, as ’tis, sweetheart,” replied the farmer. “You
and me have always been kind of fond of each other, haven’t us? But I
reckon ye’d best be slipping off now, up to your house. I never care
greatly for meeting your father by accident-like. He’s one of these sly
ones that always makes a fellow feel squeamy and leery.”

That afternoon it happened that the adventurous Luke had planned a trip
down to Weymouth, with a new flame of his, a certain Polly Shadow,
whose parents kept a tobacco-shop in Yeoborough.

He had endeavoured to persuade his brother to accompany them on this
little excursion, in the hope that a breath of sea-air might distract
and refresh him; but James had expressed his intention of paying a
visit to his gentle restorer, up at Wild Pine, who was now sufficiently
recovered to enable her to sit out in the shade of the great trees.

The church clock had just struck three, when James Andersen approached
the entrance to Nevil’s Gully.

He had not advanced far into the shadow of the beeches, when he heard
the sound of voices. He paused, and listened. The clear tones of Ninsy
Lintot were unmistakable, and he thought he detected--though of this
he was not sure--the nervous high-pitched voice of Philip Wone. From
the direction of the sounds, he gathered that the two young people were
seated somewhere on the bracken-covered slope above the barton, where,
as he well knew, there were several shady terraces overlooking the
valley.

Unwilling to plunge suddenly into a conversation that appeared, as
far as he could catch its purport, to be of considerable emotional
tension, Andersen cautiously ascended the moss-grown bank on his left,
and continued his climb, until he had reached the crest of the hill. He
then followed, as silently as he could, the little grassy path between
the stubble-field and the thickets, until he came to the open space
immediately above these fern-covered terraces.

Yes, his conjecture had been right. Seated side by side beneath the
tall-waving bracken, the auburn-haired Ninsy and her anarchist friend
were engaged in an absorbing and passionate discussion. Both of them
were bare-headed, and the young man’s hand rested upon the motionless
fingers of his companion, which were clasped demurely upon her lap.
Philip’s voice was raised in intense and pitiful supplication.

“I’d care for you day and night,” Andersen heard him cry. “I’d nurse
you when you were ill, and keep you from every kind of annoyance.”

“But, Philip dear,” the girl’s voice answered, “you know what the
doctor said. He said I mustn’t marry on any account. So even if I had
nothing against it, it wouldn’t be possible for us to do this.”

“Ninsy, Ninsy!” cried the youth pathetically, “don’t you understand
what I mean? I can’t bear having to say these things, but you force me
to, when you talk like that. The doctor meant that it would be wrong
for you to have children, and he took it for granted that you’d never
find anyone ready to live with you as I’d live with you. It would only
be a marriage in name. I mean it would only be a marriage in name in
regard to children. It would be a real marriage to me, it would be
heaven to me, to live side by side with you, and no one able any more
to come between us! I can’t realize such happiness. It makes me feel
dizzy even to think of it!”

Ninsy unclasped her hands, and gently repulsing him, remained buried in
deep thought. Standing erect above them, like a sentry upon a palisade,
James Andersen stared gloomily down upon this little drama. In some
strange way,--perhaps because of some sudden recurrence of his mental
trouble,--he seemed quite unconscious of anything dishonourable or base
in thus withholding from these two people the knowledge that he was
overhearing them.

“I’ll take care of you to the end of my life!” the young man repeated.
“I’m doing quite well now with my work. You’ll be able to have all you
want. You’ll be better off than you are here, and you know perfectly
well that as soon as your father’s free he’ll marry that friend of his
in Yeoborough. I saw him with her last Sunday. I’m sure it’s only for
your sake that he stays single. She’s got three children, and that’s
what holds him back--that, and the thought that you two mightn’t get on
together. You’d be doing your father a kindness if you said yes to me,
Ninsy. Please, please, my darling, say it, and make me grateful to you
forever!”

“I can’t say it,--Philip, dear, I can’t, I can’t”; murmured the girl,
in a voice so low that the sentinel above them could only just catch
her words. “I do care for you, and I do value your goodness to me, but
I can’t say the words, Philip. Something seems to stop me, something in
my throat.”

It was not to her throat however, that the agitated Ninsy raised her
thin hands. As she pressed them against her breast a look of tragic
sorrow came into her face. Philip regarded her wistfully.

“You’re thinking you don’t love me, dear,--and never can love me. I
know that, well enough! I know you don’t love me as I love you. But
what does that matter? I’ve known that, all the time. The thing is, you
won’t find anyone who loves you as I do,--ready to live with you as
I’ve said I will, ready to nurse you and look after you. Other people’s
love will be always asking and demanding from you. Mine--oh, it’s true,
my darling, it’s true!--mine only wants to give up everything to make
you happy.”

Ninsy was evidently more than a little moved by the boy’s appeal. There
was a ring of passionate sincerity in his tone which went straight to
her heart. She bent down and covered her face with her hands. When at
length she lifted up her head and answered him, there were tears on her
cheeks, and the watchful listener above them did not miss the quiver in
her tone.

“I’m sorry, Philip boy, more sorry than I can say, that I can’t be
nicer to you, that I can’t show my gratitude to you, in the way
you wish. But though I do care for you, and--and value your dear
love--something stops me, something makes it impossible that this
should happen.”

“I believe it’s because you love that fellow Andersen!” cried the
excited youth, leaping to his feet in his agitation.

In making this movement, the figure of the stone-carver, silhouetted
with terrible distinctness against the sky-line, became visible to him.
Instinctively he uttered a cry of surprise and anger.

“What do you want here? You’ve been listening! You’ve been spying on
us! Get away, can’t you! Get back to your pretty young lady--her that’s
going to marry John Goring for the sake of his money! Clear out of
this, do you hear? Ninsy’s sick of you and your ways. Clear off! or
I’ll make you--eavesdropper!”

By this time Ninsy had also risen, and stood facing the figure above
them. Every vestige of colour had left her cheeks, and her hand was
pressed against her side. Andersen made a curious incoherent sound and
took a step towards them.

“Get away, can’t you!” reiterated the furious youth. “You’ve caused
enough trouble here already. Look at her,--can’t you see how ill she
is? Get back--damn you!--unless you want to kill her.”

Ninsy certainly looked as though in another moment she were going
to fall. She made a piteous little gesture, as if to ward off from
Andersen the boy’s savage words, but Philip caught her passionately
round the waist.

“Get away!” he cried once more. “She belongs to me now. You might have
had her, you coward--you turn-coat!--but you let her go for your newer
prey. Oh, you’re a fine gentleman, James Andersen, a fine faithful
gentleman! _You_ don’t hold with strikes. _You_ don’t hold with workmen
rising against masters. _You_ hold with keeping in with those that are
in power. Clear off--eavesdropper! Get back to Mistress John Goring and
your nice brother! He’s as pretty a gentleman as you are, with his dear
Miss Gladys!”

Ninsy’s feet staggered beneath her and she began to hang limp upon his
arm. She opened her mouth to speak, but could only gasp helplessly. Her
wide-open eyes--staring from her pallid face--never left Andersen for a
moment. Of Philip she seemed absolutely unconscious. The stone-carver
made another step down the hill. His eyes, too, were fixed intently on
the girl, and of his rival’s angry speeches he seemed utterly oblivious.

“Get away!” the boy reiterated, beside himself with fury, supporting
the drooping form of his companion as if its weight were nothing.
“We’ve had enough of your shilly-shallying and trickery! We’ve had
enough of your fine manners! A damned cowardly spy--that’s what I call
you, you well-behaved gentleman! Get back--can’t you!”

The drooping girl uttered some incoherent words and made a helpless
gesture with her hand. Andersen seemed to read her meaning in her eyes,
for he paused abruptly in his approach and stretched out his arms.

“Good-bye, Ninsy!” he murmured in a low voice. He said no more, and
turning on his heel, scrambled swiftly back over the crest of the ridge
and disappeared from view.

Philip flung a parting taunt after him, and then, lifting the girl
bodily off her feet, staggered down the slope to the cottage, holding
her in his arms.

Meanwhile James Andersen walked swiftly across the stubble-field in the
direction of Leo’s Hill. At the pace he moved it only took him some
brief minutes to reach the long stone wall that separates, in this
quarter, the quarried levels of the promontory from the high arable
lands which abut upon it.

He climbed over this barrier and strode blindly and recklessly forward
among the slippery grassy paths that crossed one another along the
edges of the deeper pits.

The stone-carver was approaching, though quite unconsciously, the scene
of a very remarkable drama. Some fifteen minutes before his approach,
the two girls from Nevilton House had reached the precipitous edge of
what was known in that locality as Cæsar’s Quarry. Cæsar’s Quarry was
a large disused pit, deeper and more extensive than most of the old
excavations on the Hill, and surrounded, on all but one side, by blank
precipitous walls of weather-stained sandstone. These walls of smooth
stone remained always dark and damp, whatever the temperature might be
of the air above them; and the floor of the Quarry was composed of a
soft verdant carpet of cool moist moss, interspersed by stray heaps of
discoloured rubble, on which flourished, at this particular season of
the year, masses of that sombre-foliaged weed known as wormwood.

On the northern side of Cæsar’s Quarry rose a high narrow ridge of
rock, divided, at uneven spaces, by deeply cut fissures or chasms,
some broad and some narrow, but all overgrown to the very edge by
short slippery grass. This ridge, known locally as Claudy’s Leap, was
a favourite venture-place of the more daring among the children of the
neighbourhood, who would challenge one another to feats of courage and
agility, along its perilous edge.

On the side of Claudy’s Leap, opposite from Cæsar’s Quarry, was a
second pit, of even deeper descent than the other, but of much smaller
expanse. This second quarry, also disused for several generations,
remained so far nameless, destiny having, it might seem, withheld the
baptismal honour, until the place had earned a right to it by becoming
the scene of some tragic, or otherwise noteworthy, event.

Gladys and Lacrima approached Cæsar’s Quarry from the western side,
from whose slope a little winding path--the only entrance or exit
attainable--led down into its shadowy depths. The Italian glanced with
a certain degree of apprehension into the gulf beneath her, but Gladys
seemed to take the thing so much for granted, and appeared so perfectly
at her ease, that she was ashamed to confess her tremors. The elder
girl, indeed, continued chatting cheerfully to her companion about
indifferent matters, and as she clambered down the little path in front
of her, she turned once or twice, in her fluent discourse, to make
sure that Lacrima was following. The two cousins stood for awhile in
silence, side by side, when they reached the bottom.

“How nice and cool it is!” cried Gladys, after a pause. “I was getting
scorched up there! Let’s sit down a little, shall we,--before we start
back? I love these old quarries.”

They sat down, accordingly, upon a heap of stones, and Gladys serenely
continued her chatter, glancing up, however, now and again, to the
frowning ridges of the precipices above them.

They had not waited long in this way, when the quarry-owner’s daughter
gave a perceptible start, and raised her hand quickly to her lips.

Her observant eye had caught sight of the figure of Mr. John Goring
peering down upon them from the opposite ridge. Had Lacrima observed
this movement and lifted her eyes too, she would have received a
most invaluable warning, but the Powers whoever they may have been,
who governed the sequence of events upon Leo’s Hill, impelled her
to keep her head lowered, and her interest concentrated upon a tuft
of curiously feathered moss. Gladys remained motionless for several
moments, while the figure on the opposite side vanished as suddenly as
it had appeared. Then she slowly rose.

“Oh, how silly I am,” she cried; “I’ve dropped that bunch of marjoram.
Stop a minute, dear. Don’t move! I’ll just run up and get it. It was in
the path. I know exactly where!”

“I’ll come with you if you like,” said Lacrima listlessly, “then you
won’t have to come back. Or why not leave it for a moment?”

“It’s on the path, I tell you!” cried her cousin, already some way up
the slope; “I’m scared of someone taking it. Marjoram isn’t common
about here. Oh no! Stay where you are. I’ll be back in a second.”

The Italian relapsed into her former dreamy unconcern. She listlessly
began stripping the leaves from a spray of wormwood which grew by her
side. The place where she sat was in deep shadow, though upon the
summit of the opposite ridge the sun lay hot. Her thoughts hovered
about her friend in Dead Man’s Lane. She had vaguely hoped to get
a glimpse of him this afternoon, but the absence of Dangelis had
interfered with this.

She began building fantastic castles in the air, trying to call up the
image of a rejuvenated Mr. Quincunx, freed from all cares and worries,
living the placid epicurean life his heart craved. Would he, she
wondered, recognize then, what her sacrifice meant? Or would he remain
still obsessed by this or the other cynical fantasy, as far from the
real truth of things as a madman’s dream? She smiled gently to herself
as she thought of her friend’s peculiarities. Her love for him, as she
felt it now, across a quivering gulf of misty space, was a thing as
humorously tolerant and tender as it might have been had they been man
and wife of many years’ standing. In these things Lacrima’s Latin blood
gave her a certain maturity of feeling, and emphasized the maternal
element in her attachment.

She contemplated dreamily the smooth bare walls of the cavernous arena
in which she sat. Their coolness and dampness was not unpleasant after
the heat of the upper air, but there was something sepulchral about
them, something that gave the girl the queer impression of a colossal
tomb--a tomb whose scattered bones might even now be lying, washed by
centuries of rain, under the rank weeds of these heaps of rubble.

She heard the sound of someone descending the path behind her but,
taking for granted that it was her cousin, she did not turn her head.
It was only when the steps were quite close that she recognized that
they were too heavy to be those of a girl.

Then she leapt to her feet, and swung round,--to find herself
confronted by the sturdy figure of Mr. John Goring. She gave a wild cry
of panic and fled blindly across the smooth floor of the great quarry.
Mr. Goring followed her at his leisure.

The girl’s terror was so great, that, hardly conscious of what she did,
she ran desperately towards the remotest corner of the excavation,
where some ancient blasting-process had torn a narrow crevice out of
the solid rock. This direction of her flight made the farmer’s pursuit
of her a fatally easy undertaking, for the great smooth walls closed
in, at a sharp angle, at that point, and the crevice, where the two
walls met, only sank a few feet into the rock.

Mr. Goring, observing the complete hopelessness of the girl’s mad
attempt to escape him, proceeded to advance towards her as calmly and
leisurely as if she had been some hare or rabbit he had just shot. The
fact that Lacrima had chosen this particular cul-de-sac, on the eastern
side of the quarry, was a most felicitous accident for Gladys, for it
enabled her to watch the event with as much ease as if she had been a
Drusilla or a Livia, seated in the Roman amphitheatre. The fair-haired
girl crept to the extreme brink of the steep descent and there, lying
prone on the thyme-scented grass, her chin propped upon her hands, she
followed with absorbed interest the farmer’s movements as he approached
his recalcitrant fiancée.

The terrified girl soon found out the treachery of the panic-instinct
which had led her into this trap. Had she remained in the open, it is
quite possible that by a little manœuvring she could have escaped; but
now her only exit was blocked by her advancing pursuer.

Turning to face him, and leaning back against the massive wall of
stone, she stretched out her arms on either side of her, seizing
convulsively in her fingers some tufts of knot-grass which grew on the
surface of the rock. Here, with panting bosom and pallid cheeks, she
awaited his approach. Her tense figure and terror-stricken gaze only
needed the imprisoning fetters to have made of her an exact modern
image of the unfortunate Andromeda. She neither moved nor uttered the
least cry, as Mr. Goring drew near her.

At that moment a wild and unearthly shout reverberated through the
quarry. The sound of it--caught up by repeated echoes--went rolling
away across Leo’s Hill, frightening the sheep and startling the
cider-drinkers in the lonely Inn. Gladys leapt to her feet, ran round
to where the path descended, and began hastily scrambling down. Mr.
Goring retreated hurriedly into the centre of the arena, and with his
hand shading his eyes gazed up at the intruder.

It was no light-footed Perseus, who on behalf of this forlorn child of
classic shores, appeared as if from the sky. It was, indeed, only the
excited figure of James Andersen that Mr. Goring’s gaze, and Lacrima’s
bewildered glance, encountered simultaneously. The stone-carver seemed
to be possessed by a legion of devils. His first thundering shout was
followed by several others, each more terrifying than the last, and
Gladys, rushing past the astonished farmer, seized Lacrima by the arm.

“Come!” she cried. “Uncle was a brute to frighten you. But, for
heaven’s sake, let’s get out of this, before that madman collects a
crowd! They’ll all be down here from the inn in another moment. Quick,
dear, quick! Our only chance is to get away now.”

Lacrima permitted her cousin to hurry her across the quarry and up the
path. As they neared the summit of the slope the Italian turned and
looked back. Mr. Goring was still standing where they had left him,
gazing with petrified interest at the wild gestures of the man above
him.

Andersen seemed beside himself. He kept frantically waving his arms,
and seemed engaged in some incoherent defiance of the invisible Powers
of the air. Lacrima, as she looked at him, became convinced that he was
out of his mind. She could not even be quite clear if he recognized
her. She was certain that it was not against her assailant that his
wild cries and defiances were hurled. It did not appear that he was
even aware of the presence of the farmer. Whether or not he had seen
her and known her when he uttered his first cry, she could not tell. It
was certainly against no earthly enemies that the man was struggling
now.

Vennie Seldom might have hazarded the superstitious suggestion that
his fit was not madness at all but a sudden illumination, vouchsafed
to his long silence, of the real conditions of the airy warfare that
is being constantly waged around us. At that moment, Vennie might have
said, James Andersen was the only perfectly sane person among them,
for to his eyes alone, the real nature of that heathen place and its
dark hosts was laid manifestly bare. The man, according to this strange
view, was wrestling to the death, in his supreme hour, against the
Forces that had not only darkened his own days and those of Lacrima,
but had made the end of his mother’s life so tragic and miserable.

Gladys dragged Lacrima away as soon as they reached the top of the
ascent but the Pariah had time to mark the last desperate gesture of
her deliverer before he vanished from her sight over the ridge.

Mr. Goring overtook them before they had gone far, and walked on with
them, talking to Gladys about Andersen’s evident insanity.

“It’s no good my trying to do anything,” he remarked. “But I’ll send
Bert round for Luke as soon as I get home. Luke’ll bring him to his
senses. They say he’s been taken like this before, and has come round.
He hears voices, you know, and fancies things.”

They walked in silence along the high upland road that leads from the
principal quarries of the Hill to the Wild Pine hamlet and Nevil’s
Gully. When they reached the latter place, the two girls went on, down
Root-Thatch Lane, and Mr. Goring took the field-path to the Priory.

Before they separated, the farmer turned to his future bride, who had
been careful to keep Gladys between herself and him, and addressed her
in the most gentle voice he knew how to assume.

“Don’t be angry with me, lass,” he said. “I was only teasing, just now.
’Twas a poor jest may-be, and ye’ve cause to look glowering. But when
we two be man and wife ye’ll find I’m a sight better to live with than
many a fair-spoken one. These be queer times, and like enough I seem a
queer fellow, but things’ll settle themselves. You take my word for it!”

Lacrima could only murmur a faint assent in reply to these words, but
as she entered with Gladys the shadow of the tunnel-like lane, she
could not help thinking that her repulsion to this man, dreadful though
it was, was nothing in comparison with the fear and loathing with which
she regarded Mr. Romer. Contrasted with his sinister relative, Mr.
John Goring was, after all, no more than a rough simpleton.

Meanwhile, on Leo’s Hill, an event of tragic significance had occurred.
It will be remembered that the last Lacrima had seen of James Andersen
was the wild final gesticulation he made,--a sort of mad appeal to the
Heavens against the assault of invisible enemies,--before he vanished
from sight on the further side of Claudy’s Leap. This vanishing, just
at that point, meant no more to Lacrima than that he had probably taken
a lower path, but had Gladys or Mr. Goring witnessed it,--or any other
person who knew the topography of the place,--a much more startling
conclusion would have been inevitable. Nor would such a conclusion have
been incorrect.

The unfortunate man, forgetting, in his excitement, the existence of
the other quarry, the nameless one; forgetting in fact that Claudy’s
Leap was a razor’s edge between two precipices, had stepped heedlessly
backwards, after his final appeal to Heaven, and fallen, without a cry,
straight into the gulf.

The height of his fall would, in any case, have probably killed him,
but as it was “he dashed his head,” in the language of the Bible,
“against a stone”; and in less than a second after his last cry, his
soul, to use the expression of a more pagan scripture, “was driven,
murmuring, into the Shades.”

It fell to the lot, therefore, not of Luke, who did not return from
Weymouth till late that evening, but of a motley band of holiday-makers
from the hill-top Inn, to discover the madman’s fate. Arriving
at the spot almost immediately after the girls’ departure, these
honest revellers--strangers to the locality--had quickly found the
explanation of the unearthly cries they had heard.

The eve of the baptism of Mr. Romer’s daughter was celebrated,
therefore, by the baptism of the nameless quarry. Henceforth, in the
neighbourhood of Nevilton, the place was never known by any other
appellation than that of “Jimmy’s Drop”; and by that name any future
visitors, curious to observe the site of so singular an occurrence,
will have to enquire for it, as they drink their pint of cider in the
Half-Moon Tavern.



CHAPTER XXII

A ROYAL WATERING-PLACE


Luke Andersen’s trip to Weymouth proved most charming and eventful. He
had scarcely emerged from the crowded station, with its row of antique
omnibuses and its lethargic phalanx of expectant out-porters and
bath-chair men,--each one of whom was a crusted epitome of ingrained
quaintness,--when he caught sight of Phyllis Santon and Annie Bristow
strolling laughingly towards the sea-front. They must have walked to
Yeoborough and entered the train there, for he had seen nothing of them
at Nevilton Station.

The vivacious Polly, a lively little curly-haired child, of some
seventeen summers, was far too happy and thrilled by the adventure of
the excursion and the holiday air of the sea-side, to indulge in any
jealous fits. She was the first of the two, indeed, to greet the elder
girls, both of them quite well known to her, running rapidly after
them, in her white stiffly-starched print frock, and hailing them with
a shout of joyous recognition.

The girls turned quickly and they all three awaited, in perfect good
temper, the stone-carver’s deliberate approach. Never had the spirits
of this latter been higher, or his surroundings more congenial to his
mood.

Anxious not to lose any single one of the exquisite sounds, sights,
smells, and intimations, which came pouring in upon him, as he
leisurely drifted out upon the sunny street, he let his little
companion run after his two friends as fast as she wished, and watched
with serene satisfaction the airy flight of her light figure, with the
deep blue patch of sea-line at the end of the street as its welcome
background.

The smell of sea-weed, the sound of the waves on the beach, the
cries of the fish-mongers, and the coming and going of the whole
heterogeneous crowd, filled Luke’s senses with the same familiar
thrill of indescribable pleasure as he had known, on such an occasion,
from his earliest childhood. The gayly piled fruit heaped up on the
open stalls, the little tobacco-shops with their windows full of
half-sentimental half-vulgar picture-cards, the weather-worn fronts of
the numerous public-houses, the wood-work of whose hospitable doors
always seemed to him endowed with a peculiar mellowness of their
own,--all these things, as they struck his attentive senses, revived
the most deeply-felt stirrings of old associations.

Especially did he love the sun-bathed atmosphere, so languid
with holiday ease, which seemed to float in and out of the open
lodging-house entrances, where hung those sun-dried sea-weeds and
wooden spades and buckets, which ever-fresh installments of bare-legged
children carried off and replaced. Luke always maintained that of all
mortal odours he loved best the indescribable smell of the hall-way
of a sea-side lodging-house, where the very oil-cloth on the floor,
and the dead bull-rushes in the corner, seemed impregnated with long
seasons of salt-burdened sun-filled air.

The fish-shops, the green-grocer’s shops, the second-hand book-shops,
and most of all, those delicious repositories of sea-treasures--foreign
importations all glittering with mother-of-pearl, dried sea-horses,
sea-sponges, sea-coral, and wonderful little boxes all pasted over with
shimmering shells--filled him with a delight as vivid and new as when
he had first encountered them in remote infancy.

This first drifting down to the sea’s edge, after emerging from the
train, always seemed to Luke the very supremacy of human happiness.
The bare legs of the children, little and big, who ran laughing or
crying past him and the tangled curls of the elder damsels, tossed so
coquettishly back from their sun-burnt faces, the general feeling of
irresponsibility in the air, the tang of adventure in it all, of the
unexpected, the chance-born, always wrapped him about in an epicurean
dream of pleasure.

That monotonous splash of the waves against the pebbles,--how he
associated it with endless exquisite flirtations,--flirtations
conducted with adorable shamelessness between the blue sky and the
blue sea! The memory of these, the vague memory of enchanting forms
prone or supine upon the glittering sands, with the passing and
re-passing of the same plump bathing-woman,--he had known her since
his childhood!--and the same donkeys with their laughing burdens, and
the same sweet-sellers with their trays, almost made him cry aloud
with delight, as emerging at length upon the Front, and overtaking his
friends at the Jubilee Clock-Tower, he saw the curved expanse of the
bay lying magically spread out before him. How well he knew it all, and
how inexpressibly he loved it!

The tide was on its outward ebb when the four happy companions jumped
down, hand in hand, from the esplanade to the shingle. The long dark
windrow of broken shells and sea-weed drew a pleasant dividing line
between the dry and the wet sand. Luke always associated the stranded
star-fish and jelly-fish and bits of scattered drift-wood which that
windrow offered, with those other casually tossed-up treasures with
which an apparently pagan-minded providence had bestrewn his way!

Once well out upon the sands, and while the girls, with little shrieks
and bursts of merriment, were pushing one another into the reach of
the tide, Luke turned to survey with a deep sigh of satisfaction, the
general appearance of the animated scene.

The incomparable watering-place,--with its charming “after-glow,” as
Mr. Hardy so beautifully puts it, “of Georgian gaiety,”--had never
looked so fascinating as it looked this August afternoon.

The queer old-fashioned bathing-machines, one of them still actually
carrying the Lion and Unicorn upon its pointed roof, glittered in the
sunshine with an air of welcoming encouragement. The noble sweep of the
houses behind the crescent-shaped esplanade, with the names of their
terraces--Brunswick, Regent, Gloucester, Adelaide--so suggestive of the
same historic epoch, gleamed with reciprocal hospitality; nor did the
tall spire of St. John’s Church, a landmark for miles round, detract
from the harmony of the picture.

On Luke’s left, as he turned once more and faced the sea, the vibrating
summer air, free at present from any trace of mist, permitted a wide
and lovely view of the distant cliffs enclosing the bay. The great
White Horse, traced upon the chalk hills, seemed within an hour’s walk
of where he stood, and the majestic promontory of the White Nore drew
the eye onward to where, at the end of the visible coast-line, St.
Alban’s Head sank into the sea.

On Luke’s right the immediate horizon was blocked by the grassy
eminence known to dwellers in Weymouth as “the Nothe”; but beyond this,
and beyond the break-water which formed an extension of it, the huge
bulk of Portland--Mr. Hardy’s Isle of the Slingers--rose massive and
shadowy against the west.

As he gazed with familiar pleasure at this unequalled view, Luke could
not help thinking to himself how strangely the pervading charm of
scenes of this kind is enhanced by personal and literary association.
He recalled the opening chapters of “The Well-Beloved,” that curiously
characteristic fantasy-sketch of the great Wessex novelist; and he also
recalled those amazing descriptions in Victor Hugo’s “L’Homme qui Rit,”
which deal with these same localities.

Shouts of girlish laughter distracted him at last from his exquisite
reverie, and flinging himself down on the hot sand he gave himself up
to enjoyment. Holding her tight by either hand, the two elder girls,
their skirts already drenched with salt-water, were dragging their
struggling companion across the foamy sea-verge. The white surf flowed
beneath their feet and their screams and laughter rang out across the
bay.

Luke called to them that he was going to paddle, and implored them to
do the same. He preferred to entice them thus into the deeper water,
rather than to anticipate for them a return home with ruined petticoats
and wet sand-filled shoes. Seeing him leisurely engaged in removing
his boots and socks and turning up his trousers, the three exuberant
young people hurried back to his side and proceeded with their own
preparations.

Soon, all four of them, laughing and splashing one another with water,
were blissfully wading along the shore, interspersing their playful
teasing with alternate complimentary and disparaging remarks, relative
to the various bathers whose isolation they invaded.

Luke’s spirits rose higher and higher. No youthful Triton, with his
attendant Nereids, could have expressed more vividly in his radiant
aplomb, the elemental energy of air and sea. His ecstatic delight
seemed to reach its culmination as a group of extraordinarily beautiful
children came wading towards them, their sunny hair and pearl-bright
limbs gleaming against the blue water.

At the supreme moment of this ecstasy, however, came a sudden pang of
contrary emotion,--of dark fear and gloomy foreboding. For a sudden
passing second, there rose before him,--it was now about half-past four
in the afternoon,--the image of his brother, melancholy and taciturn,
his heart broken by Lacrima’s trouble. And then, like a full dark tide
rolling in upon him, came that ominous reaction, spoken of by the old
pagan writers, and regarded by them as the shadow of the jealousy of
the Immortal Gods, envious of human pleasure--the reaction to the fare
of the Eumenides.

His companions remained as gay and charming as ever. Nothing could
have been prettier than to watch the mixture of audacity and coyness
with which they twisted their frocks round them, nothing more amusing
than to note the differences of character between the three, as they
betrayed their naive souls in their childish abandonment to the joy of
the hour.

Both Phyllis and Annie were tall and slender and dark. But there the
likeness between them ceased. Annie had red pouting lips, the lower
one of which protruded a little beyond its fellow, giving her face in
repose a quite deceptive look of sullenness and petulance. Her features
were irregular and a little heavy, the beauty of her countenance
residing in the shadowy coils of dusky hair which surmounted it, and
in the velvet softness of her large dark eyes. For all the heaviness
of her face, Annie’s expression was one of childlike innocence and
purity; and when she flirted or made love, she did so with a clinging
affectionateness and serious gravity which had much of the charm of
extreme youth.

Phyllis, on the contrary, had softly outlined features of the most
delicate regularity, while from her hazel eyes and laughing parted lips
perpetual defiant provocations of alluring mischief challenged everyone
she approached. Annie was the more loving of the two, Phyllis the more
lively and amorous. Both of them made constant fun of their little
curly-headed companion, whose direct boyish ways and whimsical speeches
kept them in continual peals of merriment.

Tired at last of paddling, they all waded to the shore, and crossing
the warm powdery sand, which is one of the chief attractions of the
place, they sat down on the edge of the shingle and dried their feet
in the sun.

Reassuming their shoes and stockings, and demurely shaking down their
skirts, the three girls followed the now rather silent Luke to the
little tea-house opposite the Clock-Tower, in an upper room of which,
looking out on the sea, were several pleasant window-seats furnished
with convenient tables.

The fragrant tea, the daintiness of its accessories, the fresh taste of
the bread and butter, not to speak of the inexhaustible spirits of his
companions, soon succeeded in dispelling the stone-carver’s momentary
depression.

When the meal was over, as their train was not due to leave till nearly
seven, and it was now hardly five, Luke decided to convey his little
party across the harbour-ferry. They strolled out of the shop into the
sunshine, not before the stone-carver had bestowed so lavish a tip upon
the little waitress that his companions exchanged glances of feminine
dismay.

They took the road through the old town to reach the ferry, following
the southern of the two parallel streets that debouch from the Front at
the point where stands the old-fashioned equestrian statue of George
the Third. Luke nourished in his heart a sentimental tenderness for
this simple monarch, vaguely and quite erroneously associating the
royal interest in the place with his own dreamy attachment to it.

When they reached the harbour they found it in a stir of excitement
owing to the arrival of the passenger-boat from the Channel Islands,
one of the red-funneled modern successors to those antique
paddle-steamers whose first excursions must have been witnessed from
his Guernsey refuge by the author of the “Toilers of the Deep.” Side by
side with the smartly painted ship, were numerous schooners and brigs,
hailing from more northern regions, whose cargoes were being unloaded
by a motley crowd of clamorous dock-hands.

Luke and his three companions turned to the left when they reached the
water’s edge and strolled along between the warehouses and the wharves
until they arrived at the massive bridge which crosses the harbour.
Leaning upon the parapet, whose whitish-grey fabric indicated that the
dominion of Leo’s Hill gave place here to the noble Portland Stone,
they surveyed with absorbed interest the busy scene beneath them.

The dark greenish-colored water swirled rapidly seaward in the
increasing ebb of the tide. White-winged sea-gulls kept swooping down
to its surface and rising again in swift air-cutting curves, balancing
their glittering bodies against the slanting sunlight. Every now
and then a boat-load of excursionists would shoot out from beneath
the shadow of the wharves and shipping, and cross obliquely the
swift-flowing tide to the landing steps on the further shore.

The four friends moved to the northern parapet of the bridge, and the
girls gave little cries of delight, to see, at no great distance, where
the broad expanse of the back-water began to widen, a group of stately
swans, rocking serenely on the shining waves. They remained for some
while, trying to attract these birds by flinging into the water bits
of broken cake, saved by the economic-minded Annie from the recent
repast. But these offerings only added new spoil to the plunder of the
greedy sea-gulls, from whose rapid movements the more aristocratic
inland creatures kept haughtily aloof.

Preferring to use the ferry for their crossing rather than the bridge,
Luke led his friends back, along the wharves, till they reached the
line of slippery steps about which loitered the lethargic owners of
the ferry-boats. With engaging alarm, and pretty gasps and murmurs of
half-simulated panic, the three young damsels were helped down into
one of these rough receptacles, and the bare-necked, affable oarsman
proceeded, with ponderous leisureliness, to row them across.

As the heavy oars rattled in their rowlocks, and the swirling tide
gurgled about the keels, Luke, seated in the stern, between Annie
and Phyllis, felt once more a thrilling sense of his former emotion.
With one hand round Phyllis’ waist, and the other caressing Annie’s
gloveless fingers, he permitted his gaze to wander first up, then down,
the flowing tide.

Far out to sea, he perceived a large war-ship, like a great drowsy
sea-monster, lying motionless between sky and wave; and sweeping in,
round the little pier’s point, came a light full-sailed skiff, with the
water foaming across its bows.

With the same engaging trepidation in his country-bred comrades, they
clambered up the landing-steps, the lower ones of which were covered
with green sea-weed, and the upper ones worn smooth as marble by long
use, and thence emerged upon the little narrow jetty, bordering upon
the harbour’s edge.

Here were a row of the most enchanting eighteenth century
lodging-houses, interspersed, at incredibly frequent spaces, by small
antique inns, bearing quaint names drawn from British naval history.

Skirting the grassy slopes of the Nothe, with its old-fashioned fort,
they rounded the small promontory and climbed down among the rocks and
rock-pools which lay at its feet. It was pretty to observe the various
flutterings and agitations, and to hear the shouts of laughter and
delight with which the young girls followed Luke over these perilous
and romantic obstacles, and finally paused at his side upon a great
sun-scorched shell-covered rock, surrounded by foamy water.

The wind was cool in this exposed spot, and holding their hats in their
hands the little party gave themselves up to the freedom and freshness
of air and sea.

But the wandering interest of high-spirited youth is as restless as the
waves. Very soon Phyllis and Polly had drifted away from the others,
and were climbing along the base of the cliff above, filling their
hands with sea-pinks and sea-lavender, which attracted them by their
glaucous foliage.

Left to themselves, Luke removed his shoes and stockings, and dangled
his feet over the rock’s edge, while Annie, prone upon her face, the
sunshine caressing her white neck and luxuriant hair, stretched her
long bare arms into the cool water.

Leaning across the prostrate form of his companion, and gazing down
into the deep recesses of the tidal pool which separated the rock
they reclined on from the one behind it, the stone-carver was able to
make out the ineffably coloured tendrils and soft translucent shapes
of several large sea-anemones, submerged beneath the greenish water.
He pointed these out to his companion, who moving round a little, and
tucking up her sleeves still higher, endeavoured to reach them with her
hand. In this she was defeated, for the deceptive water was much deeper
than either of them supposed.

“What are those darling little shells, down there at the bottom, Luke?”
she whispered. Luke, with his arm round her neck, and his head close to
hers, peered down into the shadowy depths.

“They’re some kind of cowries,” he said at last, “shells that in
Africa, I believe, they use as money.”

“I wish they were money here,” murmured the girl, “I’d buy mother one
of those silver brushes we saw in the shop.”

“Listen!” cried Luke, and taking a penny from his pocket he let it fall
into the water. They both fancied they heard a little metallic sound
when it struck the bottom.

Suddenly Annie gave a queer excited laugh, shook herself free from her
companion’s arm, and scrambled up on her knees. Luke lay back on the
rock and gazed in wonder at her flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.

“What’s the matter, child?” he enquired.

She fumbled at her bosom, and Luke noticed for the first time that
she was wearing round her neck a little thin metal chain. At last
with an impatient movement of her fingers she snapped the resisting
cord and flung it into the tide. Then she held out to Luke a small
golden object, which glittered in the palm of her hand. It was a
weather-stained ring, twisted and bent out of all shape.

“It’s _her_ ring!” she cried exultantly. “Crazy Bert got it out of that
hole, with a bit of bent wire, and Phyllis squirmed it away from him
by letting him give her a lift in the wagon. He squeezed her dreadful
hard, she do say, and tickled her awful with straws and things, but
before evening she had the ring away from him. You can bet I kissed her
and thanked her, when I got it! Us two be real friends, as you might
call it! Phyllis cried, in the night, dreaming the idiot was pinching
her, and she not able to slap ’im back. But I got the ring, and there’t
be, Luke, glittering-gold as ever, though ’tis sad bended and battered.”

Luke made a movement to take the object, but the girl closed her
fingers tightly upon it and held it high above his head. With her arm
thus raised and the glitter of sea and sun upon her form, she resembled
some sweetly-carved figure-head on the bows of a ship. The wind fanned
her hot cheeks and caressed, with cool touch, her splendid coils of
hair. Luke was quite overcome by her beauty, and could only stare at
her in dazed amazement, while she repeated, in clear ringing tones, the
words of the old country game.

    “My lady’s lost her golden ring;
      Her golden ring, her golden ring;
    My lady’s lost her golden ring;
      I pitch upon you to find it!”

The song’s refrain died away over the waves, and was answered by the
scream of an astonished cormorant, and by a mocking shout from a group
of idle soldiers on the grassy terrace above the cliff.

“Shall us throw her ring out to sea?” cried Annie. “They say a ring
lost so, means sorrow for her that owns it. Say ‘yes,’ and it’s gone,
Luke!”

While the girl’s arm swung backwards and forwards above him, the
stone-carver’s thoughts whirled even more rapidly through his brain. A
drastic and bold idea, that had often before crossed the threshold of
his consciousness, now assumed a most dominant shape. Why not ask Annie
to marry him?

He was growing a little weary of his bachelor-life. The wayward track
of his days had more than once, of late, seemed to have reached a sort
of climax. Why not, at one reckless stroke, end this epoch of his
history, and launch out upon another? His close association with James
had hitherto stood in the way of any such step, but his brother had
fallen recently into such fits of gloomy reticence, that he had found
himself wondering more than once whether such a drastic troubling of
the waters, as the introduction of a girl into their ménage, would not
ease the situation a little. It was not for a moment to be supposed
that he and James could separate. If Annie did marry him, she must do
so on the understanding of his brother’s living with them.

Luke began to review in his mind the various cottages in Nevilton which
might prove available for this adventure. It tickled his fancy a great
deal, the thought of having a house and garden of his own, and he was
shrewd enough to surmise that of all his feminine friends, Annie was
by far the best fitted to perform the functions of the good-tempered
companion of a philosophical sentimentalist. The gentle creature had
troubled him so little by jealous fits in her rôle of sweetheart, that
it did not present itself as probable that she would prove a shrewish
wife. Glancing across the blue water to the great Rock-Island opposite
them, Luke came rapidly to the conclusion that he would take the risk
and make the eventful plunge. He knew enough of himself to have full
confidence in his power of dealing with the delicate art of matrimony,
and the very difficulties of the situation, implied in the number
of his contemporary amours, only added a tang and piquancy to the
enterprise.

“Well,” cried Annie. “Shall us throw the pretty lady’s ring into the
deep sea? It’ll mean trouble for her, trouble and tears, Luke! Be ’ee
of a mind to do it, or be ’ee not? ’Tis your hand must fling it, and
with the flinging of it, her heart’ll drop, splash--splash--into deep
sorrow. She’ll cry her eyes out, for this ’ere job, and that’s the
truth of it, Luke darling. Be ’ee ready to fling it, or be ’ee not
ready? There’ll be no getting it back, once us have throwed it in.”

She held out her arm towards him as she spoke, and with her other
hand pushed back her hair from her forehead. For so soft and tender a
creature as the girl was, it was strange, the wild Maenad-like look,
which she wore at that moment. She might have been an incarnation of
the avenging deities of sea and air, threatening disaster to some
unwitting Olympian.

Luke scrambled to his feet, and seizing her wrist with both his hands,
forced her fingers apart, and possessed himself of the equivocal
trinket.

“If I throw it,” he cried, in an excited tone, “will you be my wife,
Annie?”

At this unexpected word a complete collapse overtook the girl. All
trace of colour left her cheeks and a sudden trembling passed through
her limbs. She staggered, and would have fallen, if Luke had not seized
her in his arms.

In the shock of saving her, the stone-carver’s hand involuntarily
unclosed, and the piece of gold, slipping from his fingers, fell down
upon the slope of the rock, and sliding over its edge, sank into the
deep water.

“Annie! Annie! What is it, dear?” murmured Luke, making the trembling
girl sit down by his side, and supporting her tenderly.

For her only answer she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him
passionately again and again. It was not only of kisses that Luke
became conscious, for, as she pressed him to her, her breast heaved
pitifully under her print frock, and when she let him go, the taste of
her tears was in his mouth. For the first time in his life the queer
wish entered the stone-carver’s mind that he had not, in his day, made
love quite so often.

There was something so pure, so confiding, and yet so passionately
tender, about little Annie’s abandonment, that it produced, in the
epicurean youth’s soul, a most quaint sense of shame and embarrassment.
It was deliciously sweet to him, all the same, to find how, beyond
expectation, he had made so shrewd a choice. But he wished some
humorous demon at the back of his mind wouldn’t call up before him at
that moment the memory of other clinging arms and lips.

With an inward grin of sardonic commentary upon his melting mood, the
cynical thought passed through his mind, how strange it was, in this
mortal world, that human kisses should all so lamentably resemble one
another, and that human tears should all leave behind them the same
salt taste! Life was indeed a matter of “eternal recurrence,” and
whether with Portland and its war-ships as the background, or with
Nevilton Mount and its shady woods, the same emotions and the same
reactions must needs come and go, with the same inexorable monotony!

He glanced down furtively into the foam-flecked water, but there was
no sign of the lost ring. The tide seemed to have turned now, and
the sea appeared less calm. Little flukes of white spray surged up
intermittently on the in-rolling waves, and a strong breath of wind,
rising with the sinking of the sun, blew cool and fresh upon their
foreheads.

“Her ring’s gone,” whispered Annie, pulling down her sleeves over her
soft arms, and holding out her wrists, for him to fasten the bands,
“and you do belong to none but I now, Luke. When shall us be married,
dear?” she added, pressing her cool cheek against his, and running her
fingers through his hair.

The words, as well as the gesture that accompanied them, jarred upon
Luke’s susceptibilities.

“Why is it,” he thought, “that girls are so extraordinarily stupid in
these things? Why do they always seem only waiting for an opportunity
to drop their piquancy and provocation, and become confident, assured,
possessive, complacent? Have I,” he said to himself, “made a horrible
blunder? Shall I regret this day forever, and be ready to give anything
for those fatal words not to have been uttered?”

He glanced down once more upon the brimming, in-rushing tide that
covered Gladys’ ring. Then with a jerk he pulled out his watch.

“Go and call the others,” he commanded, “I’m going to have a dip before
we start.”

Annie glanced quickly into his face, but reassured by his friendly
smile, proceeded to obey him, with only the least little sigh.

“Don’t drown yourself, dear,” she called back to him, as she made her
way cautiously across the rocks.

Luke hurriedly undressed, and standing for a moment, a slim golden
figure, in the horizontal sunlight, swung himself lightly down over the
rock’s edge and struck out boldly for the open sea.

With vigorous strokes he wrestled with the inflowing tide. Wave after
wave splashed against his face. Pieces of floating sea-weed and
wisps of surf clung to his arms and hair. But he held resolutely on,
breathing deep breaths of liberty and exultation, and drinking in, as
if from a vast wide-brimmed cup, the thrilling spaciousness of air and
sky.

Girls, love-making, marriage,--the whole complication of the cloying
erotic world,--fell away from him, like the too-soft petals of some
great stifling velvet-bosomed flower; and naked of desire, as he was
naked of human clothes, he gave himself up to the free, pure elements.
In later hours, when once more the old reiterated tune was beating time
in his brain, he recalled with regret the large emancipation of that
moment.

As he splashed and spluttered, and turned over deliciously in the
water, like some exultant human-limbed merman, returning, after a long
inland exile, to his natural home, he found his thoughts fantastically
reverting to those queer, mad ideas, about the evil power of the stone
they both worked upon, to which James Andersen had given expression
when his wits were astray. Here at any rate, in the solid earth’s
eternal antagonist, was a power capable of destroying every sinister
spell.

He remorsefully blamed himself that he had not compelled his brother to
come down with them to the sea. He recalled the half-hearted invitation
he had extended to James, not altogether sorry to have it refused,
and not repeating it. He had been a selfish fool, he thought. Were
James swimming now by his side, his pleasure in that violet-coloured
coast-line and that titanic rock-monster, would have been doubled by
the revival of indescribably appealing memories.

He made a vigorous resolution that never again--whatever mood his
brother might be in--would he allow the perilous lure of exquisite
femininity, to come between him and the nobler classic bond, of the
love that “passeth the love of women.”

Conscious that he must return without a moment’s further delay if they
were to catch their train, he swung round in the water and let the full
tide bear him shoreward.

On the way back he was momentarily assailed by a slight touch of
cramp in his legs. It quickly passed, but it was enough to give the
life-enamoured youth a shock of cold panic. Death? _That_, after all,
he thought, was the only intolerable thing. As long as one breathed
and moved, in this mad world, nothing that could happen greatly
mattered! One was conscious,--one could note the acts and scenes of
the incredible drama; and in this mere fact of consciousness, one
could endure anything. But to be dead,--to be deprived of the sweet
air,--that remained, that must always remain, the one absolute Terror!

Reaching his starting-place, Luke was amused to observe that the tide
was already splashing over their rock, and in another minute or two
would have drenched his clothes. He chuckled to himself as he noted
how this very practical possibility jerked his mind into a completely
different vein. Love, philosophy, friendship, all tend to recede to the
very depths of one’s invaluable consciousness, when there appears a
risk of returning to a railway station in a drenched shirt.

He collected his possessions with extreme rapidity, and holding them
in a bundle at arm’s length from his dripping body, clambered hastily
up the shore, and humorously waving back his modest companions, who
were now being chaffed by quite a considerable group of soldiers on the
cliff above, he settled himself down on a bank of sea-weed and began
hurriedly to dry, using his waistcoat as a towel.

He was soon completely dressed, and, all four of them a little
agitated, began a hasty rush for the train.

Phyllis and Polly scolded him all the way without mercy. Had he brought
them out here, to keep them in the place all night? What would their
mothers say, and their fathers, and their brothers, and their aunts?

Annie, alone of the party, remained silent, her full rich lips closed
like a sleepy peony, and her heavy-lidded velvety eyes casting little
timid affectionate glances at her so unexpectedly committed lover.

The crossness of the two younger girls grew in intensity when,
the ferry safely crossed, Luke dragged them at remorseless speed
through the crowded town. Pitiful longing eyes were cast back at the
glittering shops and the magical picture-shows. Why had he taken them
to those horrid rocks? Why hadn’t he given them time to look at the
shop-windows? They’d promised faithfully to bring back something for
Dad and Betty and Queenie and Dick.

Phyllis had ostentatiously flung into the harbour her elaborately
selected bunch of sea-flora, and the poor ill-used plants, hot from
the girl’s hand, were now tossing up and down amid the tarry keels and
swaying hawsers. The girl regretted this action now,--regretted it more
and more vividly as the station drew near. Mummy always loved a bunch
o’ flowers, and they were so pretty! She was sure it was Luke who had
made her lose them. He had pushed her so roughly up those nasty steps.

Tears were in Polly’s eyes as, bedraggled and panting, they emerged
on the open square where the gentle monarch looks down from his
stone horse. There were sailors now, mixed with the crowd on the
esplanade,--such handsome boys! It was cruel, it was wicked, that they
had to go, just when the real sport began.

The wretched Jubilee Clock--how they all hated its trim
appearance!--had a merciless finger pointing at the very minute their
train was due to start, as Luke hurried them round the street-corner.
Polly fairly began to cry, as they dragged her from the alluring
scene. She was certain that the Funny Men were just going to begin. She
was sure that that distant drum meant Punch and Judy!

Breathlessly they rushed upon the platform. Wildly, with anxious
eyes and gasping tones, they enquired of the first official they
encountered, whether the Yeoborough train had gone.

Observing the beauty of the three troubled girls, this placid authority
proceeded to tantalize them, asking “what the hurry was,” and whether
they wanted a “special,” and other maddening questions. It was only
when Luke, who had rushed furiously to the platform’s remote end,
was observed to be cheerfully and serenely returning, that Phyllis
recovered herself sufficiently to give their disconcerted insulter what
she afterwards referred to as “a bit of lip in return for his blarsted
sauce.”

No,--the train would not be starting for another ten minutes. Fortunate
indeed was this accident of a chance delay on the Great Western
Railroad,--the most punctual of all railroads in the world,--for it
landed Luke with three happy, completely recovered damsels, and in
a compartment all to themselves, when the train did move at last.
Abundantly fortified with ginger-pop and sponge-cake,--how closely Luke
associated the savour of both these refreshments with such an excursion
as this!--and further cheered by the secure possession of chocolates,
bananas, “Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday,” and the “Illustrated London
News,”--the girls romped, and sang, and teased each other and Luke, and
whispered endearing mockeries out of the window to sedately unconscious
gentlemen, at every station where they stopped until the aged guard’s
paternal benevolence changed to irritable crossness, and Luke himself
was not altogether sorry when the familiar landscape of Yeoborough,
dusky and shadowy in the twilight, hove in sight.

Little Polly left them at the second of the two Yeoborough stations,
and the others, crowding at the window to wave their good-byes, were
carried on in the same train to Nevilton.

During this final five minutes, Annie slipped softly down upon her
lover’s knees and seemed to wish to indicate to Phyllis, without the
use of words, that her relations with their common friend were now on a
new plane,--at once more innocent and less reserved.



CHAPTER XXIII

AVE ATQUE VALE!


James Andersen lay dead in the brothers’ little bedroom at the
station-master’s cottage. It could not be maintained that his face
wore the unruffled calm conventionally attributed to mortality’s last
repose. On the other hand, his expression was not that of one who has
gone down in hopeless despair.

What his look really conveyed to his grief-worn brother, as he hung
over him all that August night, was the feeling that he had been struck
in mid-contest, with equal chance of victory or defeat, and with the
indelible imprint upon his visage of the stress and strain of the
terrific struggle.

It was a long and strange vigil that Luke found himself thus bound
to keep, when the first paroxysm of his grief had subsided and his
sympathetic landlady had left him alone with his dead.

He laughed aloud,--a merciless little laugh,--at one point in the
night, to note how even this blow, rending as it did the very ground
beneath his feet, had yet left quite untouched and untamed his
irresistible instinct towards self-analysis. Not a single one of the
innumerable, and in many cases astounding, thoughts that passed through
his mind, but he watched it, and isolated it, and played with it,--just
in the old way.

Luke was not by any means struck dumb or paralyzed by this event. His
intelligence had never been more acute, or his senses more responsive,
than they remained through those long hours of watching.

It is true he could neither eat nor sleep. The influence of the
motionless figure beside him seemed to lie in a vivid and abnormal
stimulation of all his intellectual faculties.

Not a sound arose from the sleeping house, from the darkened fields,
from the distant village, but he noted it and made a mental record of
its cause. He kept two candles alight at his brother’s head, three
times refilling the candlesticks, as though the guttering and hissing
of the dwindling flames would tease and disturb the dead.

He had been careful to push the two windows of the room wide open;
but the night was so still that not a breath of wind entered to make
the candles flicker, or to lift the edge of the white sheet stretched
beneath his brother’s bandaged chin. This horrible bandage,--one of the
little incidents that Luke marked as unexpectedly ghastly,--seemed to
slip its knot at a certain moment, causing the dead man’s mouth to fall
open, in a manner that made the watcher shudder, so suggestive did it
seem of one about to utter a cry for help.

Luke noted, as another factor in the phenomena of death, the peculiar
nature of the coldness of his brother’s skin, as he bent down once
and again to touch his forehead. It was different from the coldness
of water or ice or marble. It was a clammy coldness; the coldness
of a substance that was neither--in the words of the children’s
game--“animal, vegetable, nor mineral.”

Luke remembered the story of that play of Webster’s, in which the
unhappy heroine, in the blank darkness of her dungeon, is presented
with a dead hand to caress. The abominably wicked wish crossed his
mind once, as he unclosed those stark fingers, that he could cause
the gentle Lacrima, whom he regarded,--not altogether fairly,--as
responsible for his brother’s death, to feel the touch of such a hand.

There came over him, at other times, as he inhaled the cool, hushed air
from the slumbering fields, and surveyed the great regal planet,--Mr.
Romer’s star, he thought grimly,--as it hung so formidably close to the
silvery pallid moon, a queer dreamy feeling that the whole thing were a
scene in a play or a story, absolutely unreal; and that he would only
have to rouse himself and shake off the unnatural spell, to have his
brother with him again, alive and in full consciousness.

The odd thing about it was that he found himself refusing to believe
that this was his brother at all,--this mask beneath the white
sheet,--and even fancying that at any moment the familiar voice might
call to him from the garden, and he have to descend to unlock the door.

That thought of his brother’s voice sent a pang through him of sick
misgiving. Surely it couldn’t be possible, that never, not through the
whole of eternity, would he hear that voice again?

He moved to the window and listened. Owls were hooting somewhere up at
Wild Pine, and from the pastures towards Hullaway came the harsh cry of
a night-jar.

He gazed up at the glittering heavens, sprinkled with those proud
constellations whose identity it was one of his pastimes to recognize.
How little they cared! How appallingly little they cared! What a farce,
what an obscene, unpardonable farce, the whole business was!

He caught the sound of an angry bark in some distant yard.

Luke cursed the irrelevant intrusive noise. “Ah! thou vile Larva!” he
muttered. “What! Shall a dog, a cat, a rat, have life; and thou no
breath at all?”

He leant far out of the window, breathing the perfumes of the night.
He noticed, as an interesting fact, that it was neither the phloxes
nor the late roses whose scent filled the air, but that new exotic
tobacco-plant,--a thing whose sticky, quickly-fading, trumpet-shaped
petals were one of his brother’s especial aversions.

The immense spaces of the night, as they carried his gaze onward from
one vast translunar sign to another, filled him with a strange feeling
of the utter unimportance of any earthly event. The Mythology of Power
and the Mythology of Sacrifice might wrestle in desperate contention
for the mastery; but what mattered, in view of this great dome which
overshadowed them, the victory or the defeat of either? Mythologies
were they both; both woven out of the stuff of dreams, and both
vanishing like dreams, in the presence of this stark image upon the bed!

He returned to his brother’s side, and rocked himself up and down on
his creaking bedroom chair. “Dead and gone!” he muttered, “dead and
gone!”

It was easy to deal in vague mystic speculation. But what relief could
he derive, he who wanted his brother back as he was, with his actual
tones, and ways and looks, from any problematic chance that some thin
“spiritual principle,” or ideal wraith, of the man were now wandering
through remote, unearthly regions? The darling of his soul--the heart
of his heart--had become forever this appalling waxen image, this thing
that weighed upon him with its presence!

Luke bent over the dead man. What a personality, what a dominant and
oppressive personality, a corpse has! It is not the personality of the
living man, but another--a quite different one--masquerading in his
place.

Luke felt almost sure that this husk, this shell, this mockery of the
real James, was possessed of some detestable consciousness of its own,
a consciousness as remote from that of the man he loved as that pallid
forehead with the deep purple gash across it, was remote from the dear
head whose form he knew so well. How crafty, how malignant, a corpse
was!

He returned to his uncomfortable chair and pondered upon what this loss
meant to him. It was like the burying alive of half his being. How
could he have thoughts, sensations, feelings, fancies; how could he
have loves and hates, without James to tell them to? A cold sick terror
of life passed through him, of life without this companion of his soul.
He felt like a child lost in some great forest.

“Daddy James! Daddy James!” he cried, “I want you;--I want you!”

He found himself repeating this infantile conjuration over and over
again. He battered with clenched hand upon the adamantine wall of
silence. But there was neither sign nor voice nor token nor “any that
regarded.” There was only the beating of his own heart and the ticking
of the watch upon the table. And all the while, with its malignant
cunning, the corpse regarded him, mute, derisive, contemptuous.

He thought, lightly and casually, as one who at the grave of all he
loves plucks a handful of flowers, of the girls he had just parted
from, and of Gladys and all his other infatuations. How impossible it
seemed to him that a woman--a girl--that any one of these charming,
distracting creatures--should strike a man down by their loss, as he
was now stricken down.

He tried to imagine what he would feel if it were Annie lying there,
under the sheet, in place of James. He would be sorry; he would be
bitterly sad; he would be angry with the callous heavens; but as long
as James were near, as long as James were by his side,--his life would
still be his life. He would suffer, and the piteous tragedy of the
thing would smite and sicken him; but it would not be the same. It
would not be like this!

What was there in the love of a man that made the loss of it--for him
at least--so different a thing? Was it that with women, however much
one loved them, there was something equivocal, evasive, intangible;
something made up of illusion and sorcery, of magic and moonbeams;
that since it could never be grasped as firmly as the other, could
never be as missed as the other, when the grasp had to relax? Or was
it that, for all their clear heads,--heads so much clearer than poor
James’!--and for all their spiritual purity,--there was lacking
in them a certain indescribable mellowness of sympathy, a certain
imaginative generosity and tolerance, which meant the true secret of
the life lived in common?

From the thought of his girls, Luke’s mind wandered back to the thought
of what the constant presence of his brother as a background to his
life had really meant. Even as he sat there, gazing so hopelessly at
the image on the bed, he found himself on the point of resolving to
explain all these matters to James and hear his opinion upon them.

By degrees, as the dawn approached, the two blank holes into cavernous
darkness which the windows of the chamber had become, changed their
character. A faint whitish-blue transparency grew visible within their
enclosing frames, and something ghostly and phantom-like, the stealthy
invasion of a new presence, glided into the room.

This palpable presence, the frail embryo of a new day, gave to the
yellow candle-flames a queer sickly pallor and intensified to a chalky
opacity the dead whiteness of the sheet, and of the folded hands
resting upon it. It was with the sound of the first twittering birds,
and the first cock-crow, that the ice-cold spear of desolation pierced
deepest of all into Luke’s heart. He shivered, and blew out the candles.

A curious feeling possessed him that, in a sudden ghastly withdrawal,
that other James, the James he had been turning to all night in tacit
familiar appeal, had receded far out of his reach. From indistinct
horizons his muffled voice moaned for a while, like the wind in the
willows of Lethe, and then died away in a thin long-drawn whisper.
Luke was alone; alone with his loss and alone with the image of death.

He moved to the window and looked out. Streaks of watery gold were
already visible above the eastern uplands, and a filmy sea of white
mist swayed and fluttered over the fields.

All these things together, the white mist, the white walls of the room,
the white light, the white covering on the body, seemed to fall upon
the worn-out watcher with a weight of irresistible finality. James was
dead--“gone to his death-bed;--he never would come again!”

Turning his back wearily upon those golden sky-streaks, that on any
other occasion would have thrilled him with their magical promise,
Luke observed the dead bodies of no less than five large moths grouped
around the extinct candles. Two of them were “currant-moths,” one a
“yellow under-wing,” and the others beyond his entomological knowledge.
This was the only holocaust, then, allowed to the dead man. Five moths!
And the Milky Way had looked down upon their destruction with the same
placidity as upon the cause of the vigil that slew them.

Luke felt a sudden desire to escape from this room, every object of
which bore now, in dimly obscure letters, the appalling handwriting of
the ministers of fate. He crept on tiptoe to the door and opened it
stealthily. Making a mute valedictory gesture towards the bed, he shut
the door behind him and slipped down the little creaking stairs.

He entered his landlady’s kitchen, and as silently as he could
collected a bundle of sticks and lit the fire. The crackling flames
produced an infinitesimal lifting of the cloud which weighed upon his
spirit. He warmed his hands before the blaze. From some remote depth
within him, there began to awake once more the old inexpugnable zest
for life.

Piling some pieces of coal upon the burning wood and drawing the kettle
to the edge of the hob, he left the kitchen; and crossing the little
hall, impregnated with a thin sickly odor of lamp-oil, he shot back the
bolts of the house-door, and let himself out into the morning air.

A flock of starlings fluttered away over the meadow, and from the
mist-wreathed recesses of Nevilton House gardens came the weird defiant
scream of a peacock.

He glanced furtively, as if such a glance were almost sacrilegious,
at the open windows of his brother’s room; and then pushing open the
garden-gate emerged into the dew-drenched field. He could not bring
himself to leave the neighbourhood of the house, but began pacing up
and down the length of the meadow, from the hedge adjacent to the
railway, to that elm-shadowed corner, where not so many weeks ago
he had distracted himself with Annie and Phyllis. He continued this
reiterated pacing,--his tired brain giving itself up to the monotony
of a heart-easing movement,--until the sun had risen quite high above
the horizon. The great fiery orb pleased him well, in its strong
indifference, as with its lavish beams it dissipated the mist and
touched the tree-trunks with ruddy colour.

“Ha!” he cried aloud, “the sun is the only God! To the sun must all
flesh turn, if it would live and not die!”

Half ashamed of this revival of his spirits he obeyed the beckoning
gestures of the station-master’s wife, who now appeared at the door.

The good woman’s sympathy, though not of the silent or tactful order,
was well adapted to prevent the immediate return of any hopeless grief.

“’Tis good it were a Saturday when the Lord took him,” she said,
pouring out for her lodger a steaming cup of excellent tea, and
buttering a slice of bread; “he’ll have Sunday to lie up in. It be best
of all luck for these poor stiff ones, to have church bells rung over
’em.”

“I pray Heaven I shan’t have any visitors today,” remarked Luke,
sipping his tea and stretching out his feet to the friendly blaze.

“That ye’ll be sure to have!” answered the woman; “and the sooner ye
puts on a decent black coat, and washes and brushes up a bit, the
better ’twill be for all concerned. I always tells my old man that when
he do fall stiff, like what your brother be, I shall put on my black
silk gown and sit in the front parlour with a bottle of elder wine,
ready for all sorts and conditions.”

Luke rose, with a piece of bread-and-butter in his hand, and surveyed
himself in the mirror.

“Yes, I do need a bit of tidying,” he said. “Perhaps you wouldn’t mind
my shaving down here?”

Even as he spoke the young stone-carver could not help recalling those
sinister stories of dead men whose beards have grown in their coffins.
The landlady nodded.

“I’ll make ’ee up a bed for these ’ere days,” she said, “in Betty’s
room. As for shaving and such like, please yourself, Master Luke. This
house be thy house with him lying up there.”

Between nine and ten o’clock Luke’s first visitor made his appearance.
This was Mr. Clavering, who showed himself neither surprised nor
greatly pleased to find the bereft brother romping with the children
under the station-master’s apple-trees.

“I cannot express to you the sympathy I feel,” said the clergyman,
“with your grief under this great blow. Words on these occasions are of
little avail. But I trust you know where to turn for true consolation.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Luke, who, though carefully shaved and
washed, still wore the light grey flannel suit of his Saturday’s
excursion.

“Give Mr. Clavering an apple, Lizzie!” he added.

“I wouldn’t for a moment,” continued the Reverend Hugh, “intrude upon
you with any impertinent questions. But I could not help wondering as I
walked through the village how this tragedy would affect you. I prayed
it might,”--here he laid a grave and pastoral hand on the young man’s
arm,--“I prayed it might give you a different attitude to those high
matters which we have at various times discussed together. Am I right
in my hope, Luke?”

Never had the superb tactlessness of Nevilton’s vicar betrayed him more
deplorably.

“Death is death, Mr. Clavering,” replied the stone-carver, lifting
up the youngest of the children and placing her astride on an
apple-branch. “It’s about the worst blow fate’s ever dealt me. But
when it comes to any change in my ideas,--no! I can’t say that I’ve
altered.”

“I understand you weren’t with him when this terrible thing happened,”
said the clergyman. “They tell me he was picked up by strangers.
There’ll be no need, I trust, for an inquest, or anything of that kind?”

Luke shook his head. “The doctor was up here last night. The thing’s
clear enough. His mind must have given way again. He’s had those curst
quarries on his nerves for a long while past. I wish to the devil--I
beg your pardon, sir!--I wish I’d taken him to Weymouth with me. I was
a fool not to insist on that.”

“Yes, I heard you were away,” remarked Hugh, with a certain caustic
significance in his tone. “One or two of our young friends were with
you, I believe?”

Luke did not fail to miss the implication, and he hit back vindictively.

“I understand you’ve had an interesting little service this morning,
sir, or perhaps it’s yet to come off? I can’t help being a bit amused
when I think of it!”

An electric shock of anger thrilled through Clavering’s frame.
Controlling himself with a heroic effort, he repelled the malignant
taunt.

“I didn’t know you concerned yourself with these observances,
Andersen,” he remarked. “But you’re quite right. I’ve just this minute
come from receiving Miss Romer into our church. Miss Traffio was
with her. Both young ladies were greatly agitated over this unhappy
occurrence. In fact it cast quite a gloom over what otherwise is one of
the most beautiful incidents of all, in our ancient ritual.”

Luke swung the little girl on the bough backwards and forwards. The
other children, retired to a discreet distance, stared at the colloquy
with wide-open eyes.

“This baptizing of adults,” continued Luke,--“you call ’em adults,
don’t you, on these occasions?--is really a little funny, isn’t it?”

“Funny!” roared the angry priest. “No, sir, it isn’t funny! The saving
of an immortal soul by God’s most sacred sacrament may not appeal to
you infidels as an essential ceremony,--but only a thoroughly vulgar
and philistine mind could call it funny!”

“I’m afraid we shall never agree on these topics, Mr. Clavering,”
replied Luke calmly. “But it was most kind of you to come up and see
me. I really appreciate it. Would it be possible,”--his voice took a
lower and graver tone,--“for my brother’s funeral to be performed on
Wednesday? I should be very grateful to you, sir, if that could be
arranged.”

The young vicar frowned and looked slightly disconcerted. “What time
would you wish it to be, Andersen?” he enquired. “I ask you this,
because Wednesday is--er--unfortunately--the date fixed for another of
these ceremonies that you scoff at. The Lord Bishop comes to Nevilton
then. It is his own wish. I should myself have preferred a later date.”

“Ha! the confirmation!” ejaculated Luke, with a bitter little laugh.
“You’re certainly bent on striking while the iron’s hot, Mr. Clavering.
May I ask what hour has been fixed for _this_ beautiful ceremony?”

“Eleven o’clock in the morning,” replied the priest, ignoring with a
dignified wave of his hand the stone-carver’s jeering taunt.

“Well then--if that suits you--and does not interfere with the Lord
Bishop--” said Luke, “I should be most grateful if you could make the
hour for James’ funeral, ten o’clock in the morning? _That_ service I
happen to be more familiar with than the others,--and I know it doesn’t
take very long.”

Mr. Clavering bent his head in assent.

“It shall certainly be as you wish,” he said. “If unforeseen
difficulties arise, I will let you know. But I have no doubt it can be
managed.

“I am right in assuming,” he added, a little uneasily, “that your
brother was a baptized member of our church?”

Luke lifted the child from the bough and made her run off to play with
the others. The glance he then turned upon the vicar of Nevilton was
not one of admiration.

“James was the noblest spirit I’ve ever known,” he said sternly.
“If there is such a thing as another world, he is certain to reach
it--church or no church. As a matter of fact, if it is at all important
to you, he was baptized in Nevilton. You’ll find his name in the
register--and mine too!” he added with a laugh.

Mr. Clavering kept silence, and moved towards the gate. Luke followed
him, and at the gate they shook hands. Perhaps the same thought passed
through the minds of both of them, as they went through this ceremony;
for a very queer look, almost identical in its expression on either
face, was exchanged between them.

Before the morning was over Luke had a second visit of condolence.
This was from Mr. Quincunx, and never had the quaint recluse been more
warmly received. Luke was conscious at once that here was a man who
could enter into every one of his feelings, and be neither horrified
nor scandalized by the most fantastic inconsistency.

The two friends walked up and down the sunny field in front of the
house, Luke pouring into the solitary’s attentive ears every one of his
recent impressions and sensations.

Mr. Quincunx was evidently profoundly moved by James’ death. He refused
Luke’s offer to let him visit the room upstairs, but his refusal
was expressed in such a natural and characteristic manner that the
stone-carver accepted it in perfect good part.

After a while they sat down together under the shady hedge at the
top of the meadow. Here they discoursed and philosophized at large,
listening to the sound of the church-bells and watching the slow-moving
cattle. It was one of those unruffled Sunday mornings, when, in such
places as this, the drowsiness of the sun-warmed leaves and grasses
seems endowed with a kind of consecrated calm, the movements of the
horses and oxen grow solemn and ritualistic, the languor of the
heavy-winged butterflies appears holy, and the stiff sabbatical dresses
of the men and women who shuffle so demurely to and fro, seem part of a
patient liturgical observance.

Luke loved Mr. Quincunx that morning. The recluse was indeed precisely
in his element. Living habitually himself in thoughts of death,
pleased--in that incomparable sunshine--to find himself still alive,
cynical and yet considerate, mystical and yet humorous, he exactly
supplied what the wounded heart of the pagan mourner required for its
comfort.

“Idiots! asses! fools!” the stone-carver ejaculated, apostrophizing in
his inmost spirit the various persons, clever or otherwise, to whom
this nervous and eccentric creature was a mere type of failure and
superannuation. None of these others,--not one of them,--not Romer nor
Dangelis nor Clavering nor Taxater--could for a moment have entered
into the peculiar feelings which oppressed him. As for Gladys or
Phyllis or Annie or Polly,--he would have as soon thought of relating
his emotions to a row of swallows upon a telegraph-wire as to any of
those dainty epitomes of life’s evasiveness!

A man’s brain, a man’s imagination, a man’s scepticism, was what he
wanted; but he wanted it touched with just that flavour of fanciful
sentiment of which the Nevilton hermit was a master. A hundred quaint
little episodes, the import of which none but Mr. Quincunx could
have appreciated, were evoked by the stone-carver. Nothing was too
blasphemous, nothing too outrageous, nothing too bizarre, for the
solitary’s taste. On the other hand, he entered with tender and perfect
clairvoyance into the sick misery of loss which remained the background
of all Luke’s sensations.

The younger man’s impetuous confidences ebbed and dwindled at last; and
with the silence of the church-bells and the receding to the opposite
corner of the field of the browsing cattle, a deep and melancholy hush
settled upon them both.

Then it was that Mr. Quincunx began speaking of himself and his own
anxieties. In the tension of the moment he even went so far as to
disclose to Luke, under a promise of absolute secrecy, the sinister
story of that contract into which Lacrima had entered with their
employer.

Luke was all attention at once. This was indeed a piece of astounding
news! He couldn’t have said whether he wondered more at the quixotic
devotion of Lacrima for this quaint person, or at the solitary’s
unprecedented candour in putting him “en rapport” with such an amazing
situation.

“Of course we know,” murmured Mr. Quincunx, in his deep subterranean
voice, “that she wouldn’t have promised such a thing, unless in her
heart she had been keen, at all costs, to escape from those people. It
isn’t human nature to give up everything for nothing. Probably, as a
matter of fact, she rather likes the idea of having a house of her own.
I expect she thinks she could twist that fool Goring round her finger;
and I daresay she could! But the thing is, what do you advise _me_ to
do? Of course I’m glad enough to agree to anything that saves me from
this damnable office. But what worries me about it is that devil Romer
put it into her head. I don’t trust him, Luke; I don’t trust him!”

“I should think you don’t!” exclaimed his companion, looking with
astonishment and wonder into the solemn grey eyes fixed sorrowfully and
intently upon his own. What a strange thing, he thought to himself,
that this subtle-minded intelligence should be so hopelessly devoid of
the least push of practical impetus.

“Of course,” Mr. Quincunx continued, “neither you nor I would fuss
ourselves much over the idea of a girl being married to a fool like
this, if there weren’t something different from the rest about her.
This nonsense about their having to ‘love,’ as the little simpletons
call it, the man they agree to live with, is of course all tommy-rot.
No one ‘loves’ the person they live with. She wouldn’t love me,--she’d
probably hate me like poison,--after the first week or so! The romantic
idiots who make so much of ‘love,’ and are so horrified when these
little creatures are married without it, don’t understand what this
planet is made of. They don’t understand the feelings of the girls
either.

“I tell you a girl _likes_ being made a victim of in this particular
kind of way. They’re much less fastidious, when it comes to the point,
than we are. As a matter of fact what does trouble them is being
married to a man they really have a passion for. Then, jealousy bites
through their soft flesh like Cleopatra’s serpent, and all sorts of
wild ideas get into their heads. It’s not natural, Luke, it’s not
natural, for girls to marry a person they love! That’s why we country
dogs treat the whole thing as a lewd jest.

“Do you think these honest couples who stand giggling and smirking
before our dear clergyman every quarter, don’t hate one another in
their hearts? Of course they do; it wouldn’t be nature if they didn’t!
But that doesn’t say they don’t get their pleasure out of it. And
Lacrima’ll get her pleasure, in some mad roundabout fashion, from
marrying Goring,--you may take my word for that!”

“It seems to me,” remarked Luke slowly, “that you’re trying all this
time to quiet your conscience. I believe you’ve really got far more
conscience, Maurice, than I have. It’s your conscience that makes you
speak so loud, at this very moment!”

Mr. Quincunx got up on his feet and stroked his beard. “I’m afraid I’ve
annoyed you somehow,” he remarked. “No person ever speaks of another
person’s conscience unless he’s in a rage with him.”

The stone-carver stretched out his legs and lit a cigarette. “Sit down
again, you old fool,” he said, “and let’s talk this business over
sensibly.”

The recluse sighed deeply, and, subsiding into his former position,
fixed a look of hopeless melancholy upon the sunlit landscape.

“The point is this, Maurice,” began the young man. “The first thing in
these complicated situations is to be absolutely certain what one wants
oneself. It seems to me that a good deal of your agitation comes from
the fact that you haven’t made up your mind what you want. You asked my
advice, you know, so you won’t be angry if I’m quite plain with you?”

“Go on,” said Mr. Quincunx, a remote flicker of his goblin-smile
twitching his nostrils, “I see I’m in for a few little hits.”

Luke waved his hand. “No hits, my friend, no hits. All I want to do,
is to find out from you what you really feel. One philosophizes,
naturally, about girls marrying, and so on; but the point is,--do you
want this particular young lady for yourself, or don’t you?”

Mr. Quincunx stroked his beard. “Well,”--he said meditatively, “if it
comes to that, I suppose I do want her. We’re all fools in some way or
other, I fancy. Yes, I do want her, Luke, and that’s the honest truth.
But I don’t want to have to work twice as hard as I’m doing now, and
under still more unpleasant conditions, to keep her!”

Luke emitted a puff of smoke and knocked the ashes from his cigarette
upon the purple head of a tall knapweed.

“Ah!” he ejaculated. “Now we’ve got something to go upon.”

Mr. Quincunx surveyed the faun-like profile of his friend with some
apprehension. He mentally resolved that nothing,--nothing in heaven nor
earth,--should put him to the agitation of making any drastic change in
his life.

“We get back then,” continued Luke, “to the point we reached on our
walk to Seven Ashes.”

As he said the words “Seven Ashes” the ice-cold finger of memory
pierced him with that sudden stab which is like a physical blow. What
did it matter, after all, he thought, what happened to any of these
people, now Daddy James was dead?

“You remember,” he went on, while the sorrowful grey eyes of his
companion regarded him with wistful anxiety, “you told me, in that
walk, that if some imaginary person were to leave you money enough to
live comfortably, you would marry Lacrima without any hesitation?”

Mr. Quincunx nodded.

“Well,”--Luke continued--“in return for your confession about that
contract, I’ll confess to you that Mr. Taxater and I formed a plan
together, when my brother first got ill, to secure you this money.”

Mr. Quincunx made a grimace of astonishment.

“The plan has lapsed now,” went on Luke, “owing to Mr. Taxater’s being
away; but I can’t help feeling that something of that kind might be
done. I feel in a queer sort of fashion,” he added, “though I can’t
quite tell you why, that, after all, things’ll so work themselves out,
that you _will_ get both the girl and the money!”

Mr. Quincunx burst into a fit of hilarious merriment, and rubbed his
hands together. But a moment later his face clouded.

“It’s impossible,” he murmured with a deep sigh; “it’s impossible,
Luke. Girls and gold go together like butterflies and sunshine. I’m as
far from either, as the sea-weed under the arch of Weymouth Bridge.”

Luke pondered for a moment in silence.

“It’s an absurd superstition,” he finally remarked, “but I can’t help a
sort of feeling that James’ spirit is actively exerting itself on your
side. He was a romantic old truepenny, and his last thoughts were all
fixed--of that I’m sure--upon Lacrima’s escaping this marriage with
Goring.”

Mr. Quincunx sighed. He had vaguely imagined the possibility of some
grand diplomatic stroke on his behalf, from the astute Luke; and this
relapse into mysticism, on the part of that sworn materialist, did not
strike him as reassuring.

The silence that fell between them was broken by the sudden appearance
of a figure familiar to them both, crossing the field towards them. It
was Witch-Bessie, who, in a bright new shawl, and with a mysterious
packet clutched in her hand, was beckoning to attract their attention.
The men rose and advanced to meet her.

“I’ll sit down a bit with ’ee,” cried the old woman, waving to them to
return to their former position.

When they were seated once more beneath the bank,--the old lady, like
some strange Peruvian idol, resting cross-legged at their feet,--she
began, without further delay, to explain the cause of her visit.

“I know’d how ’twould be with ’ee,” she said, addressing Luke, but
turning a not unfriendly eye upon his companion. “I did know well how
’twould be. I hear’d tell of brother’s being laid out, from Bert Leerd,
as I traipsed through Wild Pine this morning.

“Ninsy Lintot was a-cryin’ enough to break her poor heart. I hear’d ’un
as I doddered down yon lane. She were all lonesome-like, under them
girt trees, shakin’ and sobbin’ terrible. She took on so, when I arst
what ailed ’un, that I dursn’t lay finger on the lass.

“She did right down scare I, Master Luke, and that’s God’s holy truth!
‘Let me bide, Bessie,’ says she, ‘let me bide.’ I telled her ’twas a
sin to He she loved best, to carry on so hopeless; and with that she
up and says,--‘I be the cause of it all, Bessie,’ says she, ‘I be the
cause he throw’d ’isself away.’ And with that she set herself cryin’
again, like as ’twas pitiful to hear. ‘My darlin’, my darlin’,’ she
kept callin’ out. ‘I love no soul ’cept thee--no soul ’cept thee!’

“’Twas then I recollected wot my old Mother used to say, ’bout maids
who be cryin’ like pantin’ hares. ‘Listen to me, Ninsy Lintot,’ I says,
solemn and slow, like as us were in church. ‘One above’s been talking
wi’ I, this blessed morn, and He do say as Master James be in Abram’s
Bosom, with them shining ones, and it be shame and sin for mortals like
we to wish ’un back.’

“That quieted the lass a bit, and I did tell she then, wot be God’s
truth, that ’tweren’t her at all turned brother’s head, but the
pleasure of the Almighty. ‘’Tis for folks like us,’ I says to her, ‘to
take wot His will do send, and bide quiet and still, same as cows,
drove to barton.’

“’Twere a blessing of providence I’d met crazy Bert afore I seed the
lass, else I’d a been struck dazed-like by wot she did tell. But as
’twas, thanks be to recollectin’ mother’s trick wi’ such wendy maids, I
dried her poor eyes and got her back home along. And she gave I summat
to put in brother’s coffin afore they do nail ’un down.”

Before either Luke or Mr. Quincunx had time to utter any comment upon
this narration, Witch-Bessie unfastened the packet she was carrying,
and produced from a card-board box a large roughly-moulded bracelet, or
bangle, of heavy silver, such as may be bought in the bazaars of Tunis
or Algiers.

“There,” cried the old woman, holding the thing up, and flashing it
in the sun, “that’s wot she gave I, to bury long wi’ brother! Be
pretty enough, baint ’un? Though, may-be, not fittin’ for a quiet
home-keeping lass like she. She had ’un off some Gipoo, she said; and
to my thinkin’ it be a kind of heathen ornimint, same as folks do buy
at Roger-town Fair. But such as ’tis, that be wot ’tis bestowed for, to
put i’ the earth long wi’ brother. Seems somethin’ of a pity, may-be,
but maid’s whimsies be maids’ whimsies, and God Almighty’ll plague the
hard-hearted folk as won’t perform wot they do cry out for.”

Luke took the bangle from the old woman’s hand.

“Of course I’ll do what she wants, Bessie,” he said. “Poor little
Ninsy, I never knew how much she cared.”

He permitted Mr. Quincunx to handle the silver object, and then
carefully placed it in his pocket.

“Hullo!” he cried, “what else have you got, Bessie?” This exclamation
was caused by the fact that Witch-Bessie, after fumbling in her shawl
had produced a second mysterious packet, smaller than the first and
tightly tied round with the stalks of some sort of hedge-weed.

“Cards, by Heaven!” exclaimed Luke. “Oh Bessie, Bessie,” he added, “why
didn’t you bring these round here twenty-four hours ago? You might have
made me take him with me to Weymouth!”

Untying the packet, which contained as the stone-carver had
anticipated, a pack of incredibly dirty cards, the old woman without
a word to either of them, shuffled and sifted them, according to some
secret rule, and laid aside all but nine. These, almost, but not
entirely, consisting of court cards, she spread out in a carefully
concerted manner on the grass at her feet.

Muttering over them some extraordinary gibberish, out of which the two
men could only catch the following words,

    “Higgory, diggory, digg’d
        My sow has pigg’d.
    There’s a good card for thee.
    There’s a still better than he!
    There is the best of all three,
    And there is Niddy-noddee!”--

Witch-Bessie picked up these nine cards, and shuffled them long and
fast.

She then handed them to Luke, face-downward, and bade him draw seven
out of the nine. These she once more arranged, according to some occult
plan, upon the grass, and pondered over them with wrinkled brow.

“’Tis as ’twould be!” she muttered at last. “Cards be wonderful crafty,
though toads and efties, to my thinkin’, be better, and a viper’s
innards be God’s very truth.”

Making, to Luke’s great disappointment, no further allusion to the
result of her investigations, the old woman picked up the cards and
went through the whole process again, in honour of Mr. Quincunx.

This time, after bending for several minutes over the solitary’s
choice, she became more voluble.

“Thy heart’s wish be thine, dearie,” she said. “But there be thwartings
and blastings. Three tears--three kisses--and a terrible journey. Us
shan’t have ’ee long wi’ we, in these ’ere parts. Thee be marked and
signed, master, by fallin’ stars and flyin’ birds. There’s good sound
wood gone to ship’s keel wot’ll carry thee fast and far. Blastings and
thwartings! But thy heart’s wish be thine, dearie.”

The humourous nostrils of Mr. Quincunx and the expressive curves of his
bearded chin had twitched and quivered as this sorcery began, but the
old woman’s reference to a “terrible journey” clouded his countenance
with blank dismay.

Luke pressed the sybil to be equally communicative with regard to his
own fate, but the old woman gathered up her cards, twisted the same
faded stalks round the packet, and returned it to the folds of her
shawl. Then she struggled up upon her feet.

“Don’t leave us yet, Bessie,” said Luke. “I’ll bring you out something
to eat presently.”

Witch-Bessie’s only reply to this hospitable invitation was confounding
in its irrelevance. She picked up her draggled skirt with her two
hands, displaying her unlaced boots and rumpled stockings, and then,
throwing back her wizened head, with its rusty weather-bleached bonnet,
and emitting a pallid laugh from her toothless gums, she proceeded to
tread a sort of jerky measure, moving her old feet to the tune of a
shrill ditty.

    “Now we dance looby, looby, looby,
    Now we dance looby, looby, light;
    Shake your right hand a little,
    Shake your left hand a little,
    And turn you round about.”

“Ye’ll both see I again, present,” she panted, when this performance
was over, “but bide where ’ee be, bide where ’ee be now. Old Bessie’s
said her say, and she be due long of Hullaway Cross, come noon.”

As she hobbled off to the neighbouring stile, Luke saw her kiss the
tips of her fingers in the direction of the station-master’s house.

“She’s bidding Daddy James good-bye,” he thought. “What a world!
‘Looby, looby, looby!’ A proper Dance of Death for a son of my mother!”



CHAPTER XXIV

THE GRANARY


Luke persuaded Mr. Quincunx to stay with him for the station-master’s
Sunday dinner, and to stroll with him down to the churchyard in the
afternoon to decide, in consultation with the sexton, upon the most
suitable spot for his brother’s interment. The stone-carver was
resolved that this spot should be removed as far as possible from
the grave of their parents, and the impiety of this resolution was
justified by the fact that Gideon’s tomb was crowded on both sides by
less aggressive sleepers.

They finally selected a remote place under the southern wall, at the
point where the long shadow of the tower, in the late afternoon, flung
its clear-outlined battlements on the waving grass.

Luke continued to be entirely pleased with Mr. Quincunx’s tact and
sympathy. He felt he could not have secured a better companion for this
task of selecting the final resting-place of the brother of his soul.
“Curse these fools,” he thought, “who rail against this excellent man!”
What mattered it, after all, that the fellow hated what the world calls
“work,” and loved a peaceful life removed from distraction?

The noble attributes of humour, of imagination, of intelligence,--how
much more important they were, and conducive to the general human
happiness, than the mere power of making money! Compared with
the delicious twists and diverting convolutions in Mr. Quincunx’s
extraordinary brain, how dull, how insipid, seemed such worldly
cleverness!

The death of his brother had had the effect of throwing these things
into a new perspective. The Machiavellian astuteness, which, in
himself, in Romer, in Mr. Taxater, and in many others, he had, until
now, regarded as of supreme value in the conduct of life, seemed to
him, as he regretfully bade the recluse farewell and retraced his
steps, far less essential, far less important, than this imaginative
sensitiveness to the astounding spectacle of the world.

He fancied he discerned in front of him, as he left the churchyard,
the well-known figure of his newly affianced Annie, and he made
a detour through the lane, to avoid her. He felt at that moment
as though nothing in the universe were interesting or important
except the sympathetic conversation of the friends of one’s natural
choice--persons of that small, that fatally small circle, from which
just now the centre seemed to have dropped out!

Girls were a distraction, a pastime, a lure, an intoxication; but a
shock like this, casting one back upon life’s essential verities, threw
even lust itself into the limbo of irrelevant things. All his recent
preoccupation with the love of women seemed to him now, as though, in
place of dreaming over the mystery of the great tide of life, hand
in hand with initiated comrades, he were called upon to go launching
little paper-boats on its surface, full of fretful anxiety as to
whether they sank or floated.

Weighed down by the hopeless misery of his loss, he made his way
slowly back to the station-master’s house, too absorbed in his grief to
speak to anyone.

After tea he became so wretched and lonely, that he decided to
walk over to Hullaway on the chance of getting another glimpse of
Witch-Bessie. Even the sympathy of the station-master’s wife got on his
nerves and the romping of the children fretted and chafed him.

He walked fast, swinging his stick and keeping his eyes on the ground,
his heart empty and desolate. He followed the very path by which Gladys
and he, some few short weeks before, had returned in the track of their
two friends, from the Hullaway stocks.

Arriving at the village green, with its pond, its elms, its raised
pavement, and its groups of Sunday loiterers, he turned into the
churchyard. As we have noted many times ere now, the appealing silence
of these places of the dead had an invincible charm for him. It was
perhaps a morbid tendency inherited from his mother, or, on the other
hand, it may have been a pure æsthetic whim of his own, that led him,
with so magnetic an attraction, towards these oases of mute patience,
in the midst of the diurnal activities; but whatever the spell was,
Luke had never found more relief in obeying it than he did at this
present hour.

He sat down in their favourite corner and looked with interest at the
various newly-blown wild-flowers, which a few weeks’ lapse had brought
to light. How well he loved the pungent stringy stalks, the grey
leaves, the flat sturdy flowers of the “achillea” or “yarrow”! Perhaps,
above all the late summer blooms, he preferred these--finding, in
their very coarseness of texture and toughness of stem, something that
reassured and fortified. They were so bitter in their herbal fragrance,
so astringent in the tang of their pungent taste, that they suggested
to him the kind of tonic cynicism, the sort of humorous courage and gay
disdain, with which it was his constant hope to come at last to accept
life.

It pleased him, above all when he found these plants tinged with a
delicious pink, as though the juice of raspberries had been squeezed
over them, and it was precisely this tint he noticed now in a large
clump of them, growing on the sun-warmed grave of a certain Hugh and
Constance Foley, former occupants of the old Manor House behind him.

He wondered if this long-buried Hugh--a mysterious and shadowy figure,
about whom James and he had often woven fantastic histories--had
felt as forlorn as he felt now, when he lost his Constance. Could a
Constance, or an Annie, or a Phyllis, ever leave quite the void behind
them such as now ached and throbbed within him? Yes, he supposed so.
Men planted their heart’s loves in many various soils, and when the
hand of fate tugged them away, it mattered little whether it was chalk,
or sand, or loam, that clung about the roots!

He looked long and long at the sunlit mounds, over which the tombstones
leaned at every conceivable angle and upon which some had actually
fallen prostrate. These neglected monuments, and these tall uncut
grasses and flowers, had always seemed to him preferable to the trim
neatness of an enclosure like that of Athelston, which resembled the
lawn of a gentleman’s house.

James had often disputed with him on this point, arguing, in a
spirit of surly contradiction, in favour of the wondrous effect of
those red Athelston roses hanging over clear-mown turf. The diverse
suggestiveness of graveyards was one of the brothers’ best-loved
topics, and innumerable cigarettes had they both consumed, weighing
this subject, on this very spot.

Once more the hideous finality of the thing pierced the heart of Luke
with a devastating pang. On Wednesday next,--that is, after the lapse
of two brief days,--he would bid farewell, for ever and ever and ever,
to the human companion with whom he had shared all he cared for in life!

He remembered a little quarrel he once had with James, long ago, in
this very place, and how it had been the elder and not the younger
who had made the first overtures of reconciliation, and how James had
given him an old pair of silver links,--he was wearing them at that
moment!--as a kind of peace-offering. He recollected what a happy
evening they had spent together after that event, and how they had read
“Thus spake Zarathustra” in the old formidable English translation--the
mere largeness of the volume answering to the largeness of the
philosopher’s thought.

Never again would they two “take on them,” in the sweet Shakespearean
phrase, “the mystery of things, as though they were God’s spies.”

Luke set himself to recall, one by one, innumerable little incidents of
their life together. He remembered various occasions in which, partly
out of pure contrariness, but partly also out of a certain instinctive
bias in his blood, he had defended their father against his brother’s
attacks. He recalled one strange conversation they had had, under the
withy-stumps of Badger’s Bottom, as they returned through the dusk of
a November day, from a long walk over the southern hills. It had to
do with the appearance of a cloud-swept crescent moon above the Auber
woods.

James had maintained that were he a pagan of the extinct polytheistic
faith, he would have worshipped the moon, and willingly offered
her, night by night,--he used the pious syllables of the great
hedonist,--her glittering wax tapers upon the sacred wheaten cake.
Luke, on the contrary, had sworn that the sun, and no lesser power,
was the god of his idolatry, and he imagined himself in place of his
brother’s wax candles, pouring forth, morning by morning, a rich
libation of gold wine to that bright lord of life.

This instinctive division of taste between the two, had led, over and
over again, to all manner of friendly dissension.

Luke recalled how often he had rallied James upon his habit of drifting
into what the younger brother pertinently described as a “translunar
mood.” He was “translunar” enough now, at any rate; but now it was in
honour of that other “lady of the night,” of that dreadful “double” of
his moon-goddess--the dark pomegranate-bearer--that the candles must be
lit!

Luke revived in his mind, as he watched the slow-shifting shadows move
from grave to grave, all those indescribable “little things” of their
every-day life together, the loss of which seemed perhaps worst of all.
He recalled how on gusty December evenings they would plod homeward
from some Saturday afternoon’s excursion to Yeoborough, and how the
cheerful firelight from the station-master’s house would greet them as
they crossed the railway.

So closely had their thoughts and sensations grown together, that there
were many little poignant memories, out of the woven texture of which
he found himself quite unable to disentangle the imaginative threads
that were due to his brother, from such as were the evocation of his
own temperament.

One such concentrated moment, of exquisite memory, he associated with
an old farm-house on the edge of the road leading from Hullaway to
Rogerstown. This road,--a forlorn enough highway of Roman origin,
dividing a level plain of desolate rain-flooded meadows,--was one of
their favourite haunts. “Halfway House,” as the farm-dwelling was
called, especially appealed to them, because of its romantic and
melancholy isolation.

Luke remembered how he had paused with his brother one clear frosty
afternoon when the puddles by the road-side were criss-crossed by
little broken stars of fresh-formed ice, and had imagined how they
would feel if such a place belonged to them by hereditary birthright,
what they would feel were they even now returning there, between the
tall evergreens at the gate, to spend a long evening over a log fire,
with mulled claret on the hob, and cards and books on the table, and
a great white Persian cat,--this was James’ interpolation!--purring
softly, and rubbing its silky sides against Chinese vases full of
rose-leaves.

Strange journeys his mind took, that long unforgettable afternoon,--the
first of his life spent without his brother! He saw before him, at one
moment, a little desolate wooden pier, broken by waves and weather,
somewhere on the Weymouth coast. The indescribable pathos of things
outworn and done with, of things abandoned by man and ill-used by
nature, had given to this derelict pile of drift-wood a curious
prominence in his House of Memory. He remembered the look with which
James had regarded it, and how the wind had whistled through it and how
they had tried in vain to light their cigarettes under its shelter.

At another moment his mind swung back to the daily routine in their
pleasant lodging. He recalled certain spring mornings when they had
risen together at dawn and had crept stealthily out, for fear of waking
their landlady. He vividly remembered the peculiar smell of moss and
primroses with which the air seemed full on one of these occasions.

The place Luke had chosen for summoning up all these ghosts of the past
held him with such a spell that he permitted the church-bells to ring
and the little congregation to assemble for the evening service without
moving or stirring. “Hugh and Constance Foley” he kept repeating to
himself, as the priest’s voice, within the sacred building, intoned the
prayers. The sentiment of the plaintive hymn with which the service
closed,--he hardly moved or stirred for the brief hour of the liturgy’s
progress,--brought tears, the first he had shed since his brother’s
death, to this wanton faun’s eyes. What is there, he thought, in these
wistful tunes, and impossible, too-sweet words, that must needs hit the
most cynical of sceptics?

He let the people shuffle out and drift away, and the grey-haired
parson and his silk-gowned wife follow them and vanish, and still he
did not stir. For some half-an-hour longer he remained in the same
position, his chin upon his knees, staring gloomily in front of him.
He was still seated so, when, to the eyes of an observer posted on the
top of the tower, two persons, the first a woman and the second a man,
would have been observed approaching, by a rarely-traversed field-path,
the side of the enclosure most remote from Hullaway Green.

The path upon which these figures advanced was interrupted at certain
intervals by tall elm-trees, and it would have been clear to our
imaginary watcher upon the tower that the second of the two was glad
enough of the shelter of these trees, of which it was evident he
intended to make use, did the first figure turn and glance backward.

Had such a sentinel been possessed of local knowledge he would have had
no difficulty in recognizing the first of these persons as Gladys Romer
and the second as Mr. Clavering.

Gladys had, in fact, gone alone to the evening service, on the ground
of celebrating the close of her baptismal day. Immediately after the
service she had slipped off down the street leading to the railroad,
directing her steps towards Hullaway, whither a sure instinct told her
Luke had wandered.

She was still in sight, having got no further than the entrance
to Splash Lane, when Clavering, who had changed his surplice with
lightning rapidity, issued forth into the street. In a flash he
remarked the direction of her steps, and impelled by an impulse of mad
jealousy, began blindly following her.

Not a few heads were inquisitively turned, and not a few whispering
comments were exchanged, as first the squire’s daughter, and then the
young clergyman, made their way through the street.

As soon as Gladys had crossed the railroad and struck out at a sharp
pace up the slope of the meadow Clavering realized that wherever she
intended to go it was not to the house in which lay James Andersen.
Torn with intolerable jealousy, and anxious, at all risks, to satisfy
his mind, one way or the other, as to her relations with Luke,
he deliberately decided to follow the girl to whatever hoped-for
encounter, or carefully plotted assignation, she was now directing her
steps. How true, how exactly true, to his interpretation of Luke’s
character, was this astutely arranged meeting, on the very day after
his brother’s death!

At the top of the station-field Gladys paused for a moment, and,
turning round, contemplated the little dwelling which was now a house
of the dead.

Luckily for Mr. Clavering, this movement of hers coincided with his
arrival at the thick-set hedge separating the field from the metal
track. He waited at the turn-stile until, her abstraction over, she
passed into the lane.

All the way to Hullaway Mr. Clavering followed her, hurriedly
concealing himself when there seemed the least danger of discovery, and
at certain critical moments making slight deviations from the direct
pursuit.

As she drew near the churchyard the girl showed evident signs of
nervousness and apprehension, walking more slowly, and looking about
her, and sometimes even pausing as if to take breath and collect her
thoughts.

It was fortunate for her pursuer at this final moment of the chase that
the row of colossal elms, of which mention has been made, interposed
themselves between the two. Clavering was thus able to approach quite
close to the girl before she reached her destination, for, making use
of these rugged trunks, as an Indian scout might have done, he was
almost within touch of her by the time she clambered over the railings.

The savage bite of insane jealousy drove from the poor priest’s head
any thought of how grotesque he must have appeared,--could any eyes but
those of field-mice and starlings have observed him,--with his shiny
black frock-coat and broad-brimmed hat, peeping and spying in the track
of this fair young person.

With a countenance convulsed with helpless fury he watched the girl
walk slowly and timidly up to Luke’s side, and saw the stone-carver
recognize her and rise to greet her. He could not catch their words,
though he strained his ears to do so, but their gestures and attitudes
were quite distinguishable.

It was, indeed, little wonder that the agitated priest could not
overhear what Gladys said, for the extreme nervousness under which she
laboured made her first utterances so broken and low that even her
interlocutor could scarcely follow them.

She laid a pleading hand on Luke’s arm. “I was unhappy,” she murmured,
“I was unhappy, and I wanted to tell you. I’ve been thinking about you
all day. I heard of his death quite early in the morning. Luke,--you’re
not angry with me any more, are you? I’d have done anything that this
shouldn’t have happened!”

Luke looked at her searchingly, but made, at the same time, an
impatient movement of his arm, so that the hand she had placed upon his
sleeve fell to her side.

“Let’s get away from here, Luke,” she implored; “anywhere,--across the
fields,--I told them at home I might go for a walk after church. It’ll
be all right. No one will know.”

“Across the fields--eh?” replied the stone-carver. “Well--I don’t mind.
What do you say to a walk to Rogerstown? I haven’t been there since I
went with James, and there’ll be a moon to get home by.” He looked at
her intently, with a certain bitter humour lurking in the curve of his
lips.

Under ordinary circumstances it was with the utmost difficulty that
Gladys could be persuaded to walk anywhere. Her lethargic nature
detested that kind of exercise. He was amazed at the alacrity with
which she accepted the offer.

Her eyes quite lit up. “I’d love that, Luke, I’d simply love it!” she
cried eagerly. “Let’s start! I’ll walk as fast as you like--and I don’t
care how late we are!”

They moved out of the churchyard together, by the gate opening on the
green.

Luke was interested, but not in the least touched, by the girl’s
chastened and submissive manner. His suggestion about Rogerstown was
really more of a sort of test than anything else, to see just how far
this clinging passivity of hers would really go.

As they followed the lane leading out of one of the side-alleys of
the village towards the Roman Road, the stone-carver could not help
indulging in a certain amount of silent psychological analysis in
regard to this change of heart in his fair mistress. He seemed to get
a vision of the great world-passions, sweeping at random through the
universe, and bending the most obstinate wills to their caprice.

On the one hand, he thought, there is that absurd Mr.
Clavering,--simple, pure-minded, a veritable monk of God,--driven
almost insane with Desire, and on the other, here is Gladys,--naturally
as selfish and frivolous a young pagan as one could wish to amuse
oneself with,--driven almost insane with self-oblivious love! They were
like earthquakes and avalanches, like whirlpools and water-spouts,
he thought, these great world-passions! They could overwhelm all
the good in one person, and all the evil in another, with the same
sublime indifference, and in themselves--remain non-moral, superhuman,
elemental!

In the light of this vision, Luke could not resist a hurried mental
survey of the various figures in his personal drama. He wondered how
far his own love for James could be said to belong to this formidable
category. No! He supposed that both he and Mr. Quincunx were too
self-possessed, or too epicurean, ever to be thus swept out of their
path. His brother was clearly a victim of these erotic Valkyries, so
was Ninsy Lintot, and in a lesser degree, he shrewdly surmised, young
Philip Wone. He himself, he supposed, was, in these things, amorous and
vicious rather than passionate. So he had always imagined Gladys to
have been. But Gladys had been as completely swept out of the shallows
of her viciousness, by this overpowering obsession, as Mr. Clavering
had been swept out of the shallows of his puritanism, by the same
power. If that fantastic theory of Vennie Seldom’s about the age-long
struggle between the two Hills--between the stone of the one and the
wood of the other--had any germ of truth in it, it was clear that
these elemental passions belonged to a region of activity remote from
either, and as indifferent to both, as the great zodiacal signs were
indifferent to the solar planets.

Luke had just arrived at this philosophical, or, if the reader pleases,
mystical conclusion, when they emerged upon the Roman Road.

Ascending an abrupt hill, the last eminence between Hullaway and
far-distant ranges, they found themselves looking down over an
immense melancholy plain, in the centre of which, on the banks of a
muddy river, stood the ancient Roman stronghold of Rogerstown, the
birth-place, so Luke always loved to remind himself, of the famous
monkish scientist Roger Bacon.

The sun had already disappeared, and the dark line of the Mendip Hills
on the northern horizon were wrapped in a thick, purple haze.

The plain they looked down upon was cut into two equal segments by the
straight white road they were to follow,--if Luke was serious in his
intention,--and all along the edges of the road, and spreading in
transverse lines across the level fields, were deep, reedy ditches,
bordered in places by pollard willows.

The whole plain, subject, in autumn and winter, to devastating floods,
was really a sort of inlet or estuary of the great Somersetshire
marshes, lying further west, which are collectively known as Sedgemoor.

Gladys could not refrain from giving vent to a slight movement of
instinctive reluctance, when she saw how close the night was upon them,
and how long the road seemed, but she submissively suppressed any word
of protest, when, with a silent touch upon her arm, her companion led
her forward, down the shadowy incline.

Their figures were still visible--two dark isolated forms upon the
pale roadway--when, hot and panting, Mr. Clavering arrived at the same
hill-top. With a sigh of profound relief he recognized that he had not
lost his fugitives. The only question was, where were they going, and
for what purpose? He remained for several minutes gloomy and watchful
at his post of observation.

They were now nearly half a mile across the plain, and their receding
figures had already begun to grow indistinct in the twilight, when Mr.
Clavering saw them suddenly leave the road and debouch to the left.
“Ah!” he muttered to himself, “They’re going home by Hullaway Chase!”

This Hullaway Chase was a rough tract of pasturage a little to the east
of the level flats, and raised slightly above them. From its southern
extremity a long narrow lane, skirting the outlying cottages of the
village, led straight across the intervening uplands to Nevilton Park.
It was clearly towards this lane, by a not much frequented foot-path
over the ditches, that Gladys and Luke were proceeding.

To anyone as well acquainted as Clavering was with the general outline
of the country the route that the lovers--or whatever their curious
relation justifies us in calling them--must needs take, to return to
Nevilton, was now as clearly marked as if it were indicated on a map.

“Curse him!” muttered the priest, “I hope he’s not going to drown her
in those brooks!”

He let his gaze wander across the level expanse at his feet. How could
he get close to them, he wondered, so as to catch even a stray sentence
or two of what they were saying.

His passion had reached such a point of insanity that he longed to be
transformed into one of those dark-winged rooks that now in a thin
melancholy line were flying over their heads, so that he might swoop
down above them and follow them--follow them--every step of the way!
He was like a man drawn to the edge of a precipice and magnetized by
the very danger of the abyss. To be near them, to listen to what they
said,--the craving for that possessed him with a fixed and obstinate
hunger!

Suddenly he shook his cane in the air and almost leaped for joy. He
remembered the existence, at the spot where the lane they were seeking
began, of a large dilapidated barn, used, by the yeoman-farmer to whom
the Chase belonged, as a rough store-house for cattle-food. The spot
was so attractive a resting-place for persons tired with walking,
that it seemed as though it would be a strange chance indeed if the
two wanderers did not take advantage of it. The point was, could he
forestall them and arrive there first?

He surveyed the landscape around him with an anxious eye. It seemed
as though by following the ridge of the hill upon which he stood, and
crossing every obstacle that intervened, he ought to be able to do
so--and to do so without losing sight of the two companions, as they
unsuspiciously threaded their way over the flats.

Having made his resolution, he lost no time in putting it into
action. He clambered without difficulty into the meadow on his right,
and breaking, in his excitement, into a run, he forced his way
through three successive bramble-hedges, and as many dew-drenched
turnip-fields, without the least regard to the effect of this procedure
upon his Sunday attire.

Every now and then, as the contours of the ground served, he caught a
glimpse of the figures in the valley below, and the sight hastened the
impetuosity of his speed. Once he felt sure he observed them pause and
exchange an embrace, but this may have been an illusive mirage created
by the mad fumes of the tempestuous jealousy which kept mounting
higher and higher into his head. Recklessly and blindly he rushed on,
performing feats of agility and endurance, such as in normal hours
would have been utterly impossible.

From the moment he decided upon this desperate undertaking, to the
moment, when, hot, breathless, and dishevelled, he reached his
destination, only a brief quarter of an hour had elapsed.

He entered the barn leaving the door wide-open behind him. In its
interior tightly packed bundles of dark-coloured hay rose up almost to
the roof. The floor was littered with straw and newly-cut clover.

On one side of the barn, beneath the piled-up hay, was a large shelving
heap of threshed oats. Here, obviously, was the sort of place, if the
lovers paused at this spot at all, where they would be tempted to
recline.

Directly opposite these oats, in the portion of the shed that was most
in shadow, Clavering observed a narrow slit between the hay-bundles.
He approached this aperture and tried to wedge himself into it. The
protruding stalks of the hay pricked his hands and face, and the dust
choked him.

With angry coughs and splutters, and with sundry savage expletives by
no means suitable to a priest of the church, he at length succeeded
in firmly imbedding himself in this impenetrable retreat. He worked
himself so far into the shadow, that not the most cautious eye could
have discerned his presence. His sole danger lay in the fact that the
dust might very easily give him an irresistible fit of sneezing. With
the cessation of his violent struggles, however, this danger seemed to
diminish; for the dust subsided as quickly as it had been raised, and
otherwise, as he leant luxuriously back upon his warm-scented support,
his position was by no means uncomfortable.

Meanwhile Luke and Gladys were slowly and deliberately crossing the
darkening water-meadows.

Gladys, whose geographical knowledge of the district was limited to the
immediate vicinity of her home had not the remotest guess as to where
she was being led. For all she knew Luke might have gone crazy, like
his brother, and be now intending to plunge both himself and her into
the depths of some lonely pool or weir. Nevertheless, she continued
passively and meekly following him, walking, when the path along the
dyke’s edge narrowed, at some few paces behind him, with that peculiar
air of being a led animal, which one often observes in the partners of
tramps, as they plod the roads in the wake of their masters.

The expanse they traversed in this manner was possessed of a peculiar
character of its own, a character which that especial hour of twilight
seemed to draw forth and emphasize. It differed from similar tracts of
marsh-land, such as may be found by the sea’s edge, in being devoid of
any romantic horizon to afford a spiritual escape from the gloom it
diffused.

It was melancholy. It was repellant. It was sinister. It lacked the
element of poetic expansiveness. It gave the impression of holding
grimly to some dark obscene secret, which no visitation of sun or moon
would ever cajole it into divulging.

It depressed without overwhelming. It saddened without inspiring. With
its reeds, its mud, its willows, its livid phosphorescent ditches,
it produced uneasiness rather than awe, and disquietude rather than
solemnity.

Bounded by rolling hills on all sides save one, it gave the persons who
moved across it the sensation of being enclosed in some vast natural
arena.

Gladys wished she had brought her cloak with her, as the filmy white
mists rose like ghosts out of the stagnant ditches, and with clammy
persistence invaded her unprotected form.

It was one of those places that seem to suggest the transaction of
no stirring or heroic deeds, but of gloomy, wretched, chance-driven
occurrences. A betrayed army might have surrendered there.

Luke seemed to give himself up with grim reciprocity to the influences
of the spot. He appeared totally oblivious of his meek companion, and
except to offer her languid, absent-minded assistance across various
gates and dams, he remained as completely wrapped in reserve as were
the taciturn levels over which they passed.

It was with an incredible sense of relief that Gladys found herself
in the drier, more wholesome, atmosphere of Hullaway Chase. Here, as
they walked briskly side by side over the thyme-scented turf, it seemed
that the accumulated heat of the day, which, from the damp marsh-land
only drew forth miasmic vapours, flung into the fragrant air delicious
waftings of warm earth-breath. With still greater relief, and even with
a little cry of joy, she caught sight of the friendly open door of the
capacious barn, and the shadowy inviting heap of loose-flung oats lying
beneath its wall of hay.

“Oh, we must go in here!” she cried, “what an adorable place!”

They entered, and the girl threw upon Luke one of her slow, long,
amorous glances. “Kiss me!” she said, holding up her mouth to him
beseechingly.

The faint light of the dying day fell with a pale glimmer upon her soft
throat and rounded chin. Luke found himself disinclined to resist her.

There were tears on the girl’s cheek when, loosening her hold upon his
neck, she sank down on the idyllic couch offered them, and closed her
eyes in childish contentment.

Luke hung over her thoughtfully and sadly. There is always something
sad,--something that seems to bring with it a withering breath from
the ultimate futility of the universe,--about a lover’s recognition
that the form which formerly thrilled him with ecstasy, now leaves
him cold and unmoved. Such sadness, chilly and desolate as the hand
of death itself, crept over the stone-carver’s heart, as he looked at
the gently-stirring breast and softly-parted lips of his beautiful
mistress. He bent down and kissed her forehead, caressing her passively
yielded fingers.

She opened her eyes and smiled at him, the lingering smile of a soothed
and happy infant.

They remained thus, silent and at rest, for several moments. It was
not long, however, before the subtle instinct of an enamoured woman
made the girl aware that her friend’s responsiveness had been but a
momentary impulse. She started up, her eyes wide-open and her lips
trembling.

“Luke!” she murmured, “Luke, darling,--” Her voice broke, in a curious
little sob.

Luke gazed at her blankly, thankful that the weight of weary
foreknowledge upon his face was concealed from her by the growing
darkness.

“I want to say to you, my dear love,” the girl went on, her bosom
rising and falling in pitiful embarrassment, and her white fingers
nervously scooping up handful after handful of the shadowy grain.

“I want to say to you something that is--that is very serious--for us
both, Luke,--I want to tell you,----”

Her voice once more died away, in the same inarticulate and curious
gurgle, like the sob of water running under a weir.

Luke rose to his feet and stood in front of her. “It’s all right,” he
said calmly. “You needn’t agitate yourself. I understand.”

The girl covered her face with her hands. “But what shall I do? What
shall I do?” she sobbed. “I can’t marry Ralph like this. He’ll kill me
when he finds out. I’m so afraid of him, Luke--you don’t know,--you
don’t know,--”

“He’ll forgive you,” answered the stone-carver quietly. “He’s not a
person to burst out like that. Lots of people have to confess these
little things after they’re married. Some men aren’t half so particular
as you girls think.”

Gladys raised her head and gave her friend a long queer look, the full
import of which was concealed from him in the darkness. She made a
futile little groping movement with her hand.

“Luke,” she whispered, “I must just say this to you even if it makes
you angry. I shouldn’t be happy afterwards--whatever happens--if I
didn’t say it. I want you to know that I’m ready, if you wish, if--if
you love me enough for that, Luke,--to go away with you anywhere! I
feel it isn’t as it used to be. I feel everything’s different. But
I want you to know,--to know without any mistake--that I’d go at
once--willingly--wherever you took me!

“It’s not that I’m begging you to marry me,” she wailed, “it’s only
that I love you, love you and want you so frightfully, my darling!

“I wouldn’t worry you, Luke,” she added, in a low, pitiful little
voice, that seemed to emerge rather from the general shadowiness of the
place than from a human being’s lips, “I wouldn’t tease you, or scold
you when you enjoyed yourself! It’s only that I want to be with you,
that I want to be near you. I never thought it would come to this. I
thought--” Her voice died away again into the darkness.

Luke began pacing up and down the floor of the barn.

Once more she spoke. “I’d be faithful to you, Luke, married or
unmarried,--and I’d work, though I know you won’t believe that. But I
can do quite hard work, when I like!”

By some malignity of chance, or perhaps by a natural reaction from her
pleading words, Luke’s mind reverted to her tone and temper on that
June morning when she insulted him by a present of money.

“No, Gladys,” he said. “It won’t do. You and I weren’t made for each
other. There are certain things--many things--in me that you’ll never
understand, and I daresay there are things in you that I never shall.
We’re not made for one another, child, I tell you. We shouldn’t be
happy for a week. I know myself, and I know you, and I’m sure it
wouldn’t do.

“Don’t you fret yourself about Dangelis. If he finds out, he finds
out--and that’s the end of it. But I swear to you that I know _him_
well enough to know that you’ve nothing to be afraid of--even if he
does find out. He’s not the kind of man to make a fuss. I can see
exactly the way he’d take it. He’d be sorry for you and laugh at
himself, and plunge desperately into his painting.

“I like Dangelis, I tell you frankly. I think he’s a thoroughly
generous and large-minded fellow. Of course I’ve hardly seen him to
speak to, but you can’t be mistaken about a man like that. At least I
can’t! I seem to know him in and out, up hill and down dale.

“Make a fuss? Not he! He’ll make this country ring and ting with the
fame of his pictures. That’s what he’ll do! And as for being horrid to
you--not he! I know him better than that. He’ll be too much in love
with you, too,--you little demon! That’s another point to bear in mind.

“Oh, you’ll have the whip-hand of him, never fear,--and our son,--I
hope it _is_ a son my dear!--will be treated as if it were his own.

“I know him, I tell you! He’s a thoroughly decent fellow, though a bit
of a fool, no doubt. But we’re all that!

“Don’t you be a little goose, Gladys, and get fussed up and worried
over nothing. After all, what does it matter? Life’s such a mad affair
anyway! All we can do is to map things to the best of our ability, and
then chance it.

“We’re all on the verge of a precipice. Do you think I don’t realize
that? But that’s no reason why we should rush blindly up to the thing,
and throw ourselves over. And it would be nothing else than that,
nothing else than sheer madness, for you and I to go off together.

“Do you think your father would give us a penny? Not he! I detect in
your father, Gladys, an extraordinary vein of obstinacy. You haven’t
clashed up against it yet, but try and play any of these games on him,
and you’ll see!

“No; one thing you may be perfectly sure of, and that is, that whatever
he finds out, Dangelis will never breathe a word to your father. He’s
madly in love with you, girl, I tell you; and if I’m out of the way,
you’ll be able to do just what you like with him!”

It was completely dark now, and when Luke’s oration came to an end
there was no sound in the barn except a low sobbing.

“Come on, child; we must be getting home, or you’ll be frightfully
late. Here! give me your hand. Where are you?”

He groped about in the darkness until his sleeve brushed against her
shoulder. It was trembling under her efforts to suppress her sobs.

He got hold of her wrists and pulled her to her feet. “Come on, my
dear,” he repeated, “we must get out of this now. Give me one nice kiss
before we go.”

She permitted herself to be caressed--passive and unresisting in his
arms.

In the darkness they touched the outer edge of Mr. Clavering’s
hiding-place, and the girl, swaying a little backwards under Luke’s
endearments, felt the pressure of the hay-wall behind her. She did not,
however, feel the impassioned touch of the choking kiss which the poor
imprisoned priest desperately imprinted on a loose tress of her hair.

It was one of those pitiful and grotesque situations which seem
sometimes to arise,--as our fantastic planet turns on its orbit,--for
no other purpose than that of gratifying some malign vein of
goblin-like irony in the system of things.

That at the moment when Luke, under the spell of the shadowy fragrance
of the place, and the pliant submissiveness of the girl’s form, threw
something of his old ardour into his kiss, her other, more desperate
love should have dared such an approach, was a coincidence apparently
of the very kind to appeal to the perverse taste of this planetary
humour.

The actual result of such a strange consentaneousness of rival emotion
was that the three human heads remained for a brief dramatic moment
in close juxtaposition,--the two fair ones and the dark one so near
one another, that it might have seemed almost inevitable that their
thoughts should interact in that fatal proximity.

The pitiful pathos of the whole human comedy might well have been
brought home to any curious observer able to pierce that twilight! Such
an observer would have felt towards those three poor obsessed craniums
the same sort of tenderness that they themselves would have been
conscious of, had they suddenly come across a sleeping person or a dead
body.

Strange, that the ultimate pity in these things,--in this blind
antagonistic striving of human desires under such gracious flesh and
blood--should only arouse these tolerant emotions when they are no
longer of any avail! Had some impossible bolt from heaven stricken
these three impassioned ones in their tragic approximation, how,--long
afterwards,--the discoverer of the three skeletons would have
moralized upon their fate! As it was, there was nothing but the irony
of the gods to read what the irony of the gods was writing upon that
moment’s drowning sands.

When Luke and Gladys left the barn, and hurriedly, under the rising
moon, retook their way towards Nevilton, Clavering emerged from his
concealment dazed and stupefied. He threw himself down in the darkness
on the heap of oats and strove to give form and coherence to the wild
flood of thoughts which swept through him.

So this was what he had come out to learn! This was the knowledge that
his mad jealousy had driven him to snatch!

He thought of the exquisite sacredness--for him--of that morning’s
ritual in the church, and of how easily he had persuaded himself to
read into the girl’s preoccupied look something more than natural
sadness over Andersen’s death. He had indeed,--only those short hours
ago,--allowed himself the sweet illusion that this religious initiation
really meant, for his pagan love, some kind of Vita Nuova.

The fates had rattled their dice, however, to a different tune. The
unfortunate girl was indeed entering upon a Vita Nuova, but how
hideously different a one from that which had been his hope!

On Wednesday came the confirmation service. How could he,--with any
respect for his conscience as a guardian of these sacred rites,--permit
Gladys to be confirmed now? Yet what ought he to do? Drops of cold
sweat stood upon his forehead as he wondered whether it was incumbent
upon him to take the first train the following morning for the bishop’s
palace and to demand an interview.

No. Tomorrow the prelate would be starting on his episcopal tour.
Clavering would have to pursue him from one remote country village to
another, and what a pursuit that would be! He recoiled from the idea
with sick aversion.

Could he then suppress his fatal knowledge and let the event take place
without protest? To act in such a manner would be nothing less than to
play the part of an accomplice in the girl’s sin.

Perhaps when the bishop actually appeared he would be able to secure a
confidential interview with him and lay the whole matter before him. Or
should he act on his own responsibility, and write to Gladys himself,
telling her that under the circumstances it would be best for her to
stay away from the ceremony?

What reason could he give for such an extraordinary mandate? Could
he bluntly indicate to her, in black and white, the secret he had
discovered, and the manner of its discovery? To accuse her on the
ground of mere village gossip would be to lay himself open to shameful
humiliation. Was he, in any case, justified in putting the fatal
information, gathered in this way, to so drastic a use? It was only in
his madness as a jealous lover that he had possessed him