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

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                            THE CHALLONERS

                             THIRD EDITION



                          _Selected Fiction_


                          OLIVE LATHAM
                          _By E. L. Voynich_
                          $1.50

                          THE ISSUE
                          _By George Morgan_
                          Illustrated. $1.50

                          AN ANGEL BY BREVET
                          _By Helen Pitkin_
                          Frontispiece. $1.50

                          THE NEVER-NEVER LAND
                          _By Wilson Barrett_
                          $1.50

                          POKETOWN PEOPLE
                          _By Ella Middleton Tybout_
                          Illustrated in colors. $1.50

                          HEART OF LYNN
                          _By Mary Stewart Cutting_
                          Illustrated. $1.25

                          PIGS IN CLOVER
                          _By Frank Danby_
                          $1.50

                          A SEQUENCE IN HEARTS
                          _By Mary Moss_
                          $1.50

                          KITTY OF THE ROSES
                          _By Ralph Henry Barbour_
                          Illustrated in colors. $2.00

                          NEW SAMARIA
                          _By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D._
                          Illustrated. $1.25



                            THE CHALLONERS

                                 _by_

                             E. F. BENSON

                        AUTHOR OF “DODO,” ETC.

             “O world, as God has made it! all is beauty;
              And knowing this, is love, and love is duty.
              What further may be sought for or declared?”
                      _The Guardian Angel._--R. BROWNING

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                        PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON

                       J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

                                 1904

                    [Illustration: text decoration]

                            COPYRIGHT, 1904
                      BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

                         Published July, 1904

                     _Electrotyped and Printed by
           J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U. S. A._



                            THE CHALLONERS

                    [Illustration: text decoration]



CHAPTER I


The hot stress of a real midsummer day towards the end of June had given
place to the exquisite tempered warmth of evening, and a little breeze
born of the hour before sunset, and made fragrant among the glowing
flower-beds of the vicarage garden just ruffled the hair of Helen
Challoner as she half sat, half lay in a long deck-chair at the edge of
the croquet-lawn, reading a red-covered book with the absorbed
intentness which she devoted to any occupation that interested her. To
the west a line of tall box-hedge, of that smooth and compacted growth
which many years alone can give, screened her from the level rays of the
sun, which was but an hour above the horizon, and performed the almost
more desirable function of screening her from the windows of the house,
for a cigarette was between her fingers, and the juxtaposition of women
and tobacco was a combination that had probably never occurred to her
father as possible. The cigarette, however, was as a matter of fact
wasting its sweetness uninhaled and burning down with a long peninsula
of charred paper on the leeward side of it, for her book absorbed her
quite completely. Indeed, this seat here under cover of the box-hedge
was a manœuvre of double strategy, for the book was no less anathema in
this house than the cigarette, being, in fact, “The Mill on the Floss,”
by an author who, however celebrated, yet remained in the opinion both
of Helen’s father and aunt a person of unchristian belief and heathenish
conduct.

Helen wore no hat, and the dusky, smouldering gold of her hair burned
low over her forehead. Her eyelids, smooth with the unwrinkled firmness
of flesh of twenty-two years, drooped low over her book, but between the
lids there showed a thin line of matchless violet. There were but a few
pages more to read, and her underlip, full and sensitive in outline,
quivered from time to time with the emotion that so filled her, and her
breath came quickly through her thin nostrils. As she read on, her
half-smoked cigarette dropped from between the fingers of her left hand
and sent up little whorls of blue smoke as it lay unheeded on the grass,
and her eyes grew suddenly dim. Then the last page was turned, and with
a sudden sobbing intake of her breath she closed the book.

She sat quite still for a moment, the book lying in her lap, looking
with misty, unseeing eyes over the great stretch of open land and sky in
front of her. In the immediate foreground lay the croquet-lawn, with
disjected mallets and aimless balls scattered about, while slowly across
it, like some silent tide, the shadows grew and lengthened. Beyond, at
the top of a grassy bank still in sunlight, ran a terraced walk bordered
deeply with tall herbacious plants; farther out of sight behind the
border were a few fields, water meadows of the chalk-stream, and beyond
again and above rose the splendid and austere line of Hampshire downs,
tanned with this month of English summer to a russet mellowness. A sky
of untarnished blue held a slip of pale and crescent moon, and the
splendour and the unutterable sadness of evening, of a day gone, brooded
a sweet, regretful presence over everything.

Suddenly the girl sat up.

“Martin!” she cried, “Martin!”

“Well?” asked a very lazy voice from a hammock between two trees at the
end of the lawn.

“Come here. Oh, do come. I can’t shout.”

The hammock-ropes wheezed and creaked, and a tall, loose-limbed boy,
looking not much more than twenty, strolled over to where she sat.

“I’ve won my bet,” he said; “so pay up, Helen. I said the end would make
you cry. You are crying, you know. I count that crying.”

“I know. I’ll pay all right,” she said. “I almost wish it had been
more.”

“So do I,” said Martin. “That’s easily arranged then.”

Helen paid no attention to this.

“Oh, Martin, those two coming together like that at the end. And that
beast, that beast----“

“Stephen?”

“Yes, among others. But Tom particularly. They none of them knew, they
none of them guessed what she, what Maggie was. Oh, oh! How horribly
sad, and how horribly beautiful--like, like this evening.”

Martin took out his cigarette-case.

“For you?” he asked.

“No; you gave me one which I haven’t--I don’t know where it is. Oh, it’s
smoking itself on the grass. Oh, my goodness! Anyhow, Maggie lived; that
is the point. Dreadful people, dreadful circumstances, all that one
would think would make living impossible, surrounded her. But she
managed it. And what am I to do, please?”

Martin laughed.

“I wonder if you know how like you that is,” he said.

“What is?”

“Your instant application of Maggie to yourself. Really it is very odd
that you and I are twins. If only I had half your eye for the practical
way of getting through things, I should pass my examinations. And if you
had only half my eye for the theoretical beauty of leaving distasteful
things alone----“

Helen sat up with a quick, decisive movement, letting the book drop on
the grass.

“Martin, if we didn’t happen to have been brother and sister we should
have fallen desperately in love with each other and been accepted at
once. At least I should have proposed to you, and you would certainly
have said ‘Yes.’ And I should have made home happy for you on twopence
farthing a year, and always had your slippers warm when you came home in
the evening, and the kettle boiling on the hob. And you could have spent
the rest of our joint incomes on grand pianos and music paper.”

“You are too overwhelmingly generous, Helen,” said he. “I don’t think I
can accept it from you.”

Helen got up.

“Oh, how I hate, how I hate----“ she began.

“That’s no use,” said Martin.

“Use? Of course not. Oh, it’s all very well for you. You are away half
the year at Cambridge, and have no end of a time. But I am here. I and
the Room!”

“What’s the ‘Room’?” asked her brother.

Helen pushed back her hair again and sat down on the lawn by Martin.

“The Room is the latest of my many trials,” she said. “It is quite new.
Outside it is corrugated iron, inside it is distemper, covered by a
dreadful sort of moisture, which is Essence of Village Children. On the
walls there are maps of the Holy Land and Hampshire. I know the road
from Dan even unto Beersheba as well as I know the road from here to
Winchester. There is a library there of soiled books of travel and
missionary enterprise, and a complete set of “Good Words.” There is also
a wellspring there, only I can’t find it and stop it up, which
continually pours up an odour of stuffiness. It is the sort of place
where nothing nice could ever happen. And there on Tuesday evening I
teach arithmetic to dreadful little boys. On Wednesday I read to
mothers,--I am getting to hate the word,--who knit shapeless articles
while I read. I read them abominable little stories about the respective
powers of faith, hope, and love, and the virtue of being good, and the
vice of being wicked. I don’t suppose any of them could be wicked if
they tried.”

Helen paused a moment.

“Oh, Martin, it is heavenly to have you at home, and be able to say all
these things straight out just once. It makes me feel so much better.
May I go on?”

“Yes; take your time,” said Martin.

“Well, where had I got to? Oh, yes, Wednesday. On Thursday Mr.
Wilkins,--he’s the new curate, whom you haven’t seen yet: spectacles,
bicycle, and proposes to me every now and then,--Mr. Wilkins on Thursday
has something for men only; I don’t know what, but I’m sure it’s
dreadful. Friday--girls’ class. And on Saturday a choir practice.
A--Choir--Practice. Now, you have been to church here----“

“Rather,” said Martin.

“And heard the singing. It is to produce that marvellous result that we
practice. Even I know how awful it is. There was a man called the
Reverend P. Henley. I sing the alto of his horrid chant. Would you like
to hear me sing? And on Sunday I have the Sunday-school. They use heaps
of pomatum, you know. And they learn by heart their duty towards their
neighbours, and when I am not looking pull each other’s hair. Then it is
Monday again, and we begin all over again. Oh, think of it! You see, I
am not by nature a ministering angel, and I have to spend my whole life
in ministering to these people. They have no intelligence, nothing that
I can lay hold of or join hands with. It is not their fault, and it is
not my fault that I am not a ministering angel. But what is the use of
battering at their intelligences when they haven’t got any? Also they
are personally distasteful to me.”

Martin laughed at this tirade, and thoughtfully executed a gnat that had
designed to dine off his brown fingers.

“Why, I thought you were such a success,” he said. “Father held you up
to me as an example and a shining light.”

“Of course I’m a success,” cried Helen. “I’ve got to do this sort of
thing; and if one has to do something, it is simple imbecility not to do
it well. You’re an imbecile, you know, darling.”

“Oh, I know that,” said he. “At least I’ve been told it often enough.”

Helen was silent a moment, looking very affectionately at her brother’s
long, slim figure as he lay stretched on the grass by her side. His
straw hat was tilted over his eyes, and of his face there appeared only
his chin and his mouth a little open, shewing a very white line of
teeth. And the current of her thoughts hardly changed when she went on
to speak of him, not herself.

“Martin, how is it you can’t get through your examinations?” she asked.
“You do work, don’t you? And though I called you an imbecile just now,
you have more perception than most people. Or do you spend all your day
at the piano?”

“He has forbidden me to have a piano in my rooms next term,” said
Martin. “So I shall have to waste more time in walking to the pianos of
other people and interrupting their work as well as my own.”

“Ah, that’s too bad,” said Helen.

Martin only grunted in reply, and his sister went on:

“But it is foolish of you,” she said. “Indeed it is foolish. No doubt
what you have got to do, Greek, Latin, is all very dull to you and seems
very useless, but it is surely better to look at it as one of those
things that has got to be done. As you say, and as father says, and as I
say, I am a success at all these dreadful functions in the Room. Why?
Merely because it has got to be done, and therefore, although it is all
intensely stupid and bores me so much that I could cry, I attend
sufficiently to do it respectably. Now, can’t you adopt the same
attitude towards classics? Besides, you know what father feels about
it.”

“I am perfectly aware of what father feels about it,” said Martin,
dryly.

“Has he been at you again?”

“Yes, I think you might call it that without conveying a false
impression. He apparently wants to give me to understand that it is some
moral crime not to be able to do Greek iambics. Well, I am a criminal
then. I can’t. Also that it is impossible to be educated without. Then I
began arguing,--which is always stupid,--and said I supposed it depended
on what one meant by education. And he said he imagined he was the best
judge of that. So there we were.”

“And what do you mean by education?” asked Helen.

“Why, of course, the appreciation of beauty,” said Martin, quickly. “‘O
world as God has made it,’--you know the lines.”

“Ah, say them,” she said.

Martin sat up, tilting back his hat.

    “‘O world as God has made it, all is beauty,
     And knowing this is love, and love is duty,
     What further may be sought for or declared?’”

“Yes, that isn’t a bad creed,” said Helen.

“I hope not, for it is mine. And it seems to me that you may look for
beauty and find it in almost everything. Where you look for it should
depend entirely on your tastes. Father finds it in the works of
Demosthenes, but I in the works of Schumann and a few other people he
has never heard of.”

“But aren’t Greek plays beautiful?” asked Helen.

“Oh, I daresay. But, being what I am, music concerns me more. Don’t
let’s argue. It is so enfeebling. When I begin arguing I always feel
like Mr. Tulliver, when he said, ‘It’s puzzling work, is talking.’”

Helen laughed.

“Well, you and I ought to be pretty well puzzled by now,” she said. “I’m
sure we’ve talked enough. I’ll play you one-half game of croquet before
dinner. Oh, by the way, father is dining with Uncle Rupert. You and Aunt
Clara and I will be alone. You will have to read prayers.”

“And sing the hymn an octave below,” remarked Martin.

The Honorable and Reverend Sidney Challoner--or, as he preferred to be
addressed, the Reverend-Honorable--was a man of method and economy who
hated wasting anything from time down to the brown paper in which
parcels arrived, and at this moment he was employing the half-hour
before it was necessary to go to dress for dinner at Chartries, his
brother’s place, which stood pleasantly among woods about a mile
distant, in finishing his sermon for Trinity Sunday. His study, where he
worked, was singularly like himself, and seemed as integral a part of
him as the snail-shell is of the snail. There was nothing, for instance,
in the least drowsy or dusty about the room. Everything was in its
place, the place of each thing being in every case strictly determined
by the use to which it was to be put, and the frequency with which it
was to be used. A scrupulously orderly and energetic severity in fact,
was the keynote of the room.

Something of the same characteristic also ran through the sermon at
which he was working, which was an exposition, historically introduced,
of the less encouraging and comfortable verses of the Athanasian creed,
which his congregation would have recited during the service. He was
master of a style of English, in itself neat, correct, and lucid, which
served him, not as in the sermons of so many preachers, to clothe and
cover his lack of ideas, but to reveal the abundance of them and convey
without possibility or misunderstanding, but rather with the precision
of hitting a nail on the head, what he thought on any particular
subject. There survived in him, indeed, a full if not a double portion
of the Puritan spirit on religious matters; and though his mind, his
soul, his actions were all dictated and impelled by a fervent and
whole-hearted Christianity, yet his eloquence was wont to dwell, and did
so here, on the doctrine of eternal damnation with a very curious gusto.
It appeared to him that the truth of it was abundantly warranted in the
Bible, and that it was therefore his duty as minister of the Word to
bring this as well as other doctrines home to his flock. And something
of the same grim aspect of duty extended to affairs of ordinary life;
and where censure was clearly deserved, any offence was visited by him
with a force that his approbation sometimes lacked if there was nothing
to blame. The Puritan, too, survived in a certain mistrust he had of
mirth and gaiety: without being in the least sour, he was so intensely
serious that at any given moment it appeared to him that there was
probably something better to do than to laugh, and a moment’s thought
easily discovered what it was. Of work he was insatiable: if he was
unsparing to others, at any rate he never spared himself, and the day
of rest was to all in his house the most iron day of all. All pleasure,
except that which was to him the greatest pleasure in life, active
religious work and religious exercises, was put away; but since all
exercises, even religious ones, are fatiguing, it was a weary household
that went up to bed on Sunday evening.

Now, though to have a very strong vocation towards a particular work, to
be convinced that such work is the highest and best in the world, and to
do it is a disposition of affairs that makes for happiness, it is
probable that if you had taken Mr. Challoner unawares and asked him if
he was happy, he would have hesitated before he answered. For, in spite
of his firm and convinced attitude, both towards life in general and to
those most intimate with him, there rose deep down in the man a great
fountain of tenderness, a great longing for love. Herein lay the secret
tragedy of his life: he longed with the same intensity with which he
served God for the ordinary human affections and relationships, but
through the armour-crust of his nature--an armour, be it noted, of
welded and hammered work and duty--his human hand could not break its
way to clasp the hands of others. That still was the tragedy of his life
with regard to his two children, just as it had been even more bitterly
so with regard to his wife, a half-Italian by birth, whom he had adored
with that serious fervour which suffused his nature. It was just his
spiritual anxiety and care for her which had, by a refined irony of
fate, come like an impassible barrier between them. To her he seemed
always to be checking the innocent and sunny impulses of joy that were
as vitally hers as fervour was his. He put it that there was always
something better to be done with the precious passing hours than to sing
or laugh or gather flowers or embroider some dainty fragment of personal
embellishment. Or, rather, let her take these innocent tastes and raise
them, elevate them, dedicate them. Let her sing by all means, but let
her gift of music be devoted to the help of the parish choir; let her
gather flowers to send to the sick; let her embroider an altar-cloth.
But poor Mrs. Challoner, a girl still in years, whose motor-power in
life was joy, found that to fit her pleasures to useful ends meant that
they ceased to be pleasures. There are many natures, not necessarily
shallow or selfish, like that; and when her husband told her that the
flowers with which she loved to fill her rooms were beautiful to her so
that thereby her thoughts might be led heavenwards, she was minded to
throw them away.

From the first, indeed, the marriage had been strangely ill-assorted. It
may have been made in heaven, but in that case it would probably have
been far better if it had not come down to earth. Sidney Challoner had
had his reason and his senses taken captive for a time by this delicious
piece of dew and sunlight; on her side his imperiousness, his eager
over-mastering desire for her, his extreme good looks, and perhaps also
the fact that he stood next in succession to the earldom of Flintshire,
his elder brother, the present holder of that delightful position, being
unmarried, led her to accept his devotion. This disillusionment had soon
come to each. The exquisite child-like beauty of his wife, behind which
he had conjectured the child-like spirit, he found to be a mere mask;
while to her the fiery, dominating lover turned to a hard, unbending
master. A year after their marriage twins were born, and from that time
the girl-mother had drooped and dwindled. The fogs of this northern
climate--fogs, too, more intimate and distressing of mind and
spirit--and the absence of mirth and laughter chilled her to the bone,
and a year afterwards she was dead.

Her death left him inconsolable, in so far that he determined never to
marry again; but when his sister Clara came to keep house for him and
look after the early education of Martin and Helen, it cannot be denied
that the widower found himself more comfortable than he had been. For
Clara was one of those not uncommon English spinsters who had a perfect
passion for doing the things she ought to do and leaving completely
undone the things she ought not. As the feminine element in the house of
a parish priest it was her clear mission to be aunt, if not mother, to
the flock, and classes and instructions, so hated of her niece’s soul,
grew up under her care like seed sown in April. She had practically no
pleasures, and her only relaxation was Patience, which she played
regularly from the time dinner was finished till family prayers at a
quarter to ten. Precisely at twenty minutes to ten, if the cards were
going awkwardly, she began to cheat, and continued, if necessary, to
cheat until the parlourmaid began to set out a row of chairs for the
servants. Thus she was able by the time they filed in to sweep the cards
triumphantly up together in their due and proper order and be humbly
thankful for the temptations into which she had not fallen that day.

Mr. Challoner this evening found that the peroration with which he
concluded his sermon took rather less time than he had anticipated, and
there was still some ten minutes after he had arranged the sheets in
order and placed them under a paper-weight to be read through in the
morning before he need go to dress. As his custom was, he closed his
eyes for a moment after finishing his work, in silent prayer that it
might bear good fruit, and then, hearing the clash of croquet-balls from
the garden, he strolled out to see his children. He had had a very
unpleasant talk with Martin that morning on the subject of his late
failure at Cambridge, and though the occasion seemed to him then and
seemed still to have demanded stern speaking, he had wondered several
times since whether he had not been too severe. Yet how else except by
very earnest remonstrance could he awaken in the lad his sense of
responsibility with regard to the spending of the days that would never
come again. All his life he had faithfully and strenuously striven to
implant in his boy the duty of making the best and the most of his
youth. Prayer and work were the two great guides of life. These must be
constant and concentrated; and how gravely and mortally would he himself
be to blame if through any want of inculcation on his part his son grew
up tepid in the one and slack in the other. Still, and here his
essential tenderness groped about, Martin was young yet and more tender
perhaps in mind even than in years, and the clash of croquet-balls and a
sudden burst of boyish laughter from the lawn made him long to enter
into his children’s pleasures. So without putting on his hat, for the
evening breeze was not too cool to the head, he went out down the
box-hedge and round the corner on to the croquet-lawn.

Martin, standing with his back to him, had not heard his approach, and
was examining the position of his two balls, which were quite close
together, but with an uncompromising wire between them. On the bank
where they had been sitting lay “The Mill on the Floss,” and Helen was
standing close by her brother, in the proud, calm consciousness of
having wired him with complete success.

“Well, of all the devilish things to do, Helen,” said Martin at length,
and struck wildly in the hopes of an impossible cannon off the wire.

“My turn, I think,” she said.

She walked across to the ball in play and saw her father.

“Come and play, father,” she said.

“No, dear; thanks. I must go and dress in a few minutes. Martin, old
boy, come here a moment.”

Again his duty, the need for remonstrance, strove with his tenderness.

“Martin,” he said, gently, “that’s rather strong language to use to your
sister, isn’t it? Don’t get in that sort of habit, dear fellow; never
use words idly like that.”

At this all the genial instinctive pleasure faded out of Martin’s face
and his eyes fell.

“Yes, father, I’m sorry,” he said, in a perfectly dull, conventional
voice.

“I know it was only thoughtlessness, old boy,” said his father; “but try
to think. There then. How’s the game going?--is Helen playing with the
frightful precision we are getting accustomed to? Look there, she’s hit
your ball from right across the lawn. Don’t be too merciless, Helen,
with your poor brother.”

Helen smiled and made some laughing reply to her father. Then her eye
caught sight of the book lying on the bank, her smile faded, and as she
went after the ball she had hit she wondered what could be done. She
guessed, though she had not heard the words, that Martin had already
been rebuked for what he had said. She knew there had been one dreadful
hour already that morning, and another was certain if her father saw the
book. Mean time he was strolling down the lawn right in its direction,
where it was lying radiant and blatant in its crimson cover on the vivid
green of the grass. Martin also had seen what would happen, and as she
passed him whispered to her:

“He’ll see it. O Lord!” with a drearily comic expression.

Mr. Challoner strolled on, came to where the book lay, and picked it up
with the amiable intention of putting it on the chair to save its cover
from the damp. As he did this, he read the title on the back. Then there
was a dreadful pause.

“Is this yours, Martin?” he asked.

“Yes, father.”

Mr. Challoner said nothing more, but went on his way, taking the book
with him. At the corner of the box-hedge, however, he turned.

“If you are up when I come back, Martin,” he said, “will you come into
my study? But don’t wait up for me if I am late.”

He turned his back again to walk on, and Martin thought he had gone. But
next moment he paused again, and raised his voice slightly.

“You should answer when I speak to you,” he said.

“I thought you had gone, sir,” said Martin, with a little tremor of
irritation in his tone.

This time he passed out of sight, and Martin threw down his
croquet-mallet.

“Rather bad luck,” he said. “I’m not popular to-day. Helen, what a fool
you were to leave it on the grass.”

“Oh, I am so sorry Martin,” she said. “What can I do? Would it do any
good if I said I had been reading it?”

“No, not the slightest,” said he. “There would be enough to go round.”

“I will if you like,” said she. “You see, the worst of it is that only
three days ago, the day before you came home, he said that he would not
have a book of hers in the house. But you couldn’t be expected to know
that.”

“No, but I did,” said Martin, “because you told me.”

Helen threw down her mallet too.

“Oh, it’s dreary,” she said.

Lord Flintshire, Mr. Challoner’s elder brother, with whom he was dining
to-night, was a figure of some distinction. He had been at one time a
political factor of great weight in the country, a weight due chiefly to
the force of inertia, since he never professed the least personal
interest in politics and could not possibly be considered as having any
ambition or aim to gratify in spending so much time and labour in the
interests of the Conservative party. His wealth and position, in fact,
were like a large, heavy parcel strongly tied up and dropped into the
Tory scale. But at the age of fifty-five he and they considered that he
had done enough, resigned the Cabinet appointment he held, and for the
last seven years had devoted himself with far more zest than he had ever
brought into the political arena to the aristocratic pursuit of doing
nothing whatever. To the successful discharge of this he brought all his
acuteness and perception and practised it with such charming success as
to raise it to the level of a fine art. He was never in a hurry and
never either felt or exhibited the slightest sign of irritation or
annoyance at anything which the world or the powers of heaven or hell
chose to do. He had great appreciation of the fine arts and even a
higher appreciation of the inimitable comedy of life, so that to live in
a beautiful house, which he did, and fill it with congenial people
constituted for him a far more engrossing occupation than politics had
ever been. For his brother Sidney he had a very real affection, but also
a certain sympathetic pity. He could understand, as he had once told
him, what it must be to “feel like that.”

“You live perpetually in a bracing climate, my dear fellow,” he said,
“and find it positively necessary to do dumb-bells all day. Yes, I will
certainly give you a hundred pounds for your village Room. I shall be
charmed to do so, but I don’t want to hear about it. And, pray, let me
know if you want more.”

There was only a small party that night, and when the women went
upstairs and the men seceded to the smoking-room, Lord Flintshire
detained his brother for a moment as he was leaving.

“Will you not stop a quarter of an hour, my dear fellow,” he said, “and
have a chat? I have not seen you since Easter. How are you all? How are
Helen and Martin? That girl grows handsomer every time I see her. And
Martin?”

“Martin has just achieved one of his annual failures at Cambridge,” said
his father. “Yes, I will wait a quarter of an hour, Rupert. I should
like to talk to you about him. I am a good deal troubled.”

“Wild oats of some kind?” asked the other. “If so, I should, if I were
you, look very steadily in another direction. As one grows older, my
dear Sidney, one is apt to look on wild oats as something much more
poisonous than they really are--nightshade--deadly nightshade, for
instance. But they are only wild oats really.”

Sidney sat down.

“Ah, you don’t expect me to share that view,” he said. “Sin is sin
whether you are twenty or sixty. But Martin, as far as I know, has not
been----“

“Playing about,” said Lord Flintshire, with the amiable desire to find a
periphrasis. But it did not please his brother.

“I can’t discuss things with you in that spirit,” he said. “However,
that point is really alien. I have no reason to suspect Martin of such
things. But what I deplore is his general slackness. It is to the mind
like low physical health to the body: it predisposes to all diseases. I
had to speak to him severely about his failure at Cambridge this
morning,--too severely perhaps,--and this evening again he has
distressed me very much.”

“What has he done?” asked Rupert.

“Well, you will think it very insignificant, no doubt, but to me it
appears most significant of his general state. He was playing croquet
with Helen and I heard him say to her, ‘Well, of all the devilish
things to do.’ Now, when we were boys, Rupert, we didn’t say that sort
of thing at all, and we couldn’t have said it to our sisters.”

Lord Flintshire felt some kindly amusement at this. Sidney was such a
dear fellow.

“But it is some years since we were boys,” said he at length, “and
rightly or wrongly the world has begun to take things more--how shall I
say it--to ride life on the snaffle instead of the curb. What else has
Martin done?”

“He has brought into the house ‘The Mill on the Floss.’”

Rupert’s admirable courtesy enabled him not to smile.

“Have you read the book?” he asked.

“No; but I will not have a book of that author in the house. I said so
only the other day. Martin must have known it. For all I know, he has
given it to his sister to read.”

“I hope so,” said Lord Flintshire, quietly. “Because it is a very
beautiful book. Of course his disobedience to your wishes is a different
point, and to my mind a more serious one. But am I to understand that
you are consulting me as to what general line you should take with
Martin, what policy you should pursue?”

“Yes, I am very much puzzled, and I cannot seem to get any guidance
about it. It does no good, I am afraid, to pull the poor lad up first
here and then there thirty times a day. And it appears to do no good
either to talk to him on the general principles of earnestness and
industry. But I do so want him to grasp them. All the faults I see in
him spring from slackness. He will not think. He did not think what the
word he used to his sister means. He never thinks how just a little
carelessness about his work repeated and again repeated must lead to a
habit of idleness. I am most deeply thankful that our father was strict
with us, Rupert. He made industry a habit with one.”

Rupert laughed.

“A habit from which I have succeeded in freeing myself,” he said. “But
Martin is not slack about everything. He is not slack about music.”

“Ah, that is a distraction which is responsible for a great deal of his
idleness,” said his father. “But I have forbidden him to have a piano in
his room next term.”

Lord Flintshire did not pursue this. There was a plot already on foot
here, and his brother got up, and with his quick, neat touch put
straight a couple of books lying on the table.

“There is this, too,” he said. “Not only does my continual correction of
him seem to do no real good, but it certainly does harm to my relations
with the boy. He will get to look on me as a continual menace to his
pleasure, as a continual school-master. And I want to be kind to the
lad, to make him happy, to make a friend of him. But when that which I
consider my duty leads me to correct him, and again and again to correct
him, I am so afraid that his estimate of the love I bear him will be
lowered, eclipsed. And nothing in the world, Rupert, could be sadder to
me than that my children should not think of me as their friend.”

His strong, tender voice quivered for a moment as he spoke these words,
and he paused a moment to regain the complete control of himself.

“But nothing, not even that,” he said, “must or shall stand in my way or
count for anything in regard to the responsibility which God has laid
upon me to make my children worthy children of Him. I should be the
weakest and most culpable of fathers if for the sake of any human
affection, however sweet, I sacrificed one jot or tittle of that.”

Rupert was silent a moment. Though he had always felt great respect and
esteem and strong affection for his brother, he had never found him,
emotionally speaking, particularly interesting. He had the greatest
admiration for his industrious, strenuous life, his undoubted mental
gifts, his swift and keen intelligence, the absolute undeviating probity
of his character; but his admiration had been somewhat of the sort a
mechanician may feel for his bright engine with its rhythmical accuracy,
its precise strokes, its clean efficiency and strength. But suddenly the
engine had developed a human and a pathetic side: its throbs were not
steam-driven only, but they were the throbs of a human heart. True, he
had known the wild adoration of Sidney for his girl-wife, but that with
its speedy disillusionment had seemed to him the one concession Sidney
had made to the flesh. It was human, but it was not high humanity,
otherwise he would have made a better recovery, so to speak. His passion
had been awakened then, but not the man, and his religion and his
passion together had mixed no better than oil and water. The experience
had not humanized him.

Lord Flintshire’s strong appreciation of the inimitable comedy of life
did not help him here, as he sat silent for a moment before replying.
Elements of comedy were not wanting, his brother’s heart-felt distress
at the fact of Martin calling his sister devilish, for instance, was
ludicrous enough, but these things combined to form nothing to laugh at;
the result was tragedy, tragedy in no grand and great style, but a
pitiful little tragedy of misunderstanding and estrangement. And Rupert,
knowing his brother and knowing Martin, saw no possibility of comedy
entering with any unexpected “happy ending.” For Sidney was, so to
speak, an irreconcileable: he admitted no sort or shadow of compromise;
he would hold no parleying with the enemy, even if the enemy was
entrenched in one of his own household. He and Martin, in fact,
disagreed vitally and fundamentally; the lad was a good lad
accidentally, essentially he was an artist to his finger-tips. Those
were the influences which governed him. But to his father all the
artists and all the artistic achievements of man were no more than a
fringe on the visible garment of God.

“No one can really help you in this,” said Rupert at length, “except
yourself and Martin. But I can suggest to you a certain point of view.
Do, I beg you, allow for individualism in other people. You yourself,
dear Sidney, have a great deal of it. But there is no reason to suppose
that Martin has any less. And remember also that the younger generation
is always ahead of the elder, and though we can, by using extreme care,
influence them a little, yet the reins of government are in their hands,
not ours. That is partly why I retired from politics. And as a practical
suggestion I offer you this: I beg you to say nothing more about ‘The
Mill on the Floss’ to Martin. It is quite impossible that he should
agree with you, simply because he is of the next generation to you.
Indeed, if you do not take care, that which you are afraid of will
certainly happen, even if it has not happened already. He will get to
think of you as a man who is always finding fault, always correcting--a
thing fatal to friendship.”

“Is it irremediable if it has already happened?” asked Sidney, with a
rather pathetic humility.

“Of course it is not, just because boys are so extraordinarily generous,
so eager to like one. Martin is a delightful boy: he is upright, honest,
clean. Be thankful for that, and let him develop on his own lines. He
will do so, by the way, whether you like it or not; so it is just as
well to like it. Besides, you must not interfere with other people’s
individualities. I feel that rather strongly.”

Lord Flintshire got up and began walking softly up and down the room. In
face he was very like his brother, but, though older, he looked younger,
for there was a softness about his features extraordinarily youthful.

“As one gets old, my dear Sidney,” he said, “one stands in danger of
getting old-fashioned. That seems to me to be a very terrible thing.
One’s own convictions may become hard, fixed in outline, incapable of
growth or adaptation, and one may become incapable of imagining that one
can be wrong. You may draw your convictions from the highest source; you
may be able to say quite honestly, ‘I believe with my whole heart that
the will of God is so.’ But, as Oliver Cromwell once remarked, ‘It is
just possible that one may be mistaken.’”

He paused a moment.

“I seldom talk so much,” he said, “but I have not quite done even now.
The younger generation, take them all round, ride life, as I said, on
the snaffle. Now, if you choose, you may call that slackness, and as
slackness condemn it. But all your condemnation of it will do no good.
Martin will continue to be what you call slack; mean time you are in
danger of becoming what he would call tiresome. He will also, on
occasion, continue to call his sister ‘devilish.’ Nor is there the
slightest reason why he should not. If you or I had called our sisters
devilish when we were boys, it would have been undesirable. What you
forget is that ‘devilish’ does not mean now what it meant thirty years
ago, nor does Martin mean by it what you mean by it.”

Mr. Challoner got up too, his mouth drawn rather tight.

“I am much obliged to you for your advice, Rupert,” he said, “but I find
I disagree with you in principle so absolutely and fundamentally that
there is no use in my discussing with you. I too claim my individual
liberty, a very large part of which is concerned with my sense of
responsibility for my children.”

“My dear fellow, you make a great mistake,” said Lord Flintshire.

“I cannot alter my convictions.”

“And you will make a great mess of it,” said the other.



CHAPTER II


Lady Sunningdale had few habits, and was thus very adaptable, but one
was to make a punctual first appearance half an hour before luncheon.
Her appearance, though long-delayed, was brilliant when it came, and it
was as if a fresh and many-coloured sun had arisen to take the shine out
of the splendour of the noon-day. Years were the only things in which
she was no longer young, but the youthfulness of her mind, tastes,
character was perfectly spontaneous and natural, and she still retained
to the full all the eager curiosity of youth, all youth’s insatiable
appetite for pleasure. In person she was very tall and largely made, but
she moved with exquisite briskness and vigour, and, though stout, still
clung to her waist. Her hat generally contained a perfect aviary of
birds perched about on it, and her dresses to match her tastes were
rather youthful in cut and colour. She wore also white satin shoes with
extremely high heels, which had been known, when she walked in wet or
clayey places, to be drawn with a cloop, like the drawing of a cork,
completely off her feet, the heel being driven into the ground by her
weight in the manner of a nail. But, as a rule, she avoided clayey
places; indeed, she seldom walked at all, except at this stated time,
half an hour before luncheon. But she made up for her lack of walking by
talking; this she did on all occasions to as many people as possible,
and was extremely entertaining.

She was staying now (she spent the greater part of her life in staying)
for a rather extensive weekend, that is to say from Friday till Monday,
with Lord Flintshire, and the morning after her arrival came radiantly
downstairs at a quarter-past one. Two irrepressible dachshunds barked
excitedly round her, and as she stepped on to the terrace where her host
was sitting, she was trying, without the least success, to put up a
pale-blue sunshade with a handle of Saxe-china.

“Dear Flints,” she cried, “how sweet of you to wait for me! Where is
everybody? Yes. Isn’t it a divine morning? Everything looks as if it had
been washed during the night. Why is one such a fool as ever to leave
the country and go to London? If one had a single spark of originality
one would never go near it. Yes. Please put up my sunshade for me. I
know I look hideous this morning; but it doesn’t matter how one looks in
the country, which is another of its charms. But I didn’t sleep a
wink,--I never close my eyes in the country; really, London is the place
to live in. I have contradicted myself, have I not? Who cares? I’m sure
I don’t. Where are the dogs? Please whistle on your fingers, if you can.
So piercing, is it not? There they are! Ah, how naughty! Yes, who cares
whether one contradicts one’s self? It shews, in fact, that one’s powers
of sympathy and of seeing other points of view are defective, unless one
sees both sides of every question, and upholds both vehemently. Yes, do
let us walk down the terrace. I adore walking. Oh, Suez Canal, running
over the flower-beds like that! How naughty!”

“Suez Canal?” interpolated Lord Flintshire, who, walking by her side,
looked like a small rowing-boat towed by a brig in full sail.

“Yes, don’t you see how dreadfully long he is? Now tell me all about
your brother who dined here last night. I thought him too fascinating,
and we had a great talk about somebody called Kennet, I think he said.
Mr. Chancellor is very high-church, is he not? His mouth looked to me
high-church. There is something perfectly beautiful about high-church
mouths. Look at Lady Otterbourne’s: her mouth is exactly like your
brother’s. So is the Bishop of Tavistock’s, whom I adore. He plays the
flute divinely, looking funnier than anything I ever saw--so funny that
I never want to laugh. Somehow a bishop playing on a flute--or do I mean
low-church? I think I must mean low-church. And so your brother is
Martin’s father. I sent a message by him last night to tell Martin to
come and see me this afternoon. I completely lost my heart to Martin
last winter. It is terrible to lose one’s heart when one is fifty,
because one has already lost one’s looks, so that it leaves one really
denuded. Besides it seems so careless. That is a chestnut, I think. But
everything worth saying has been said years before even I was born.
Where is Suez? Naughty!”

Lady Sunningdale’s conversation flowed in the manner of a river in
flood; it flowed over everything, it foamed and spouted, and there was
always the sense--never left unjustified--that there was plenty more to
come. It flowed, in fact, over so many different subjects that her
interlocutor had a practically limitless range of topics from which to
select the matter of his reply; on the other hand, he could fly off on
any tangent of his own without initiating incongruity, or, again, he
could be silent, completely confident that Lady Sunningdale would go on.
But the last topic suited Lord Flintshire very well.

“Do tell me what you think of Martin,” he said.

“But too fascinating and a genius. That combination is so rare; geniuses
are usually quite unpresentable. He was staying with us at Easter, and I
used to borrow him, as one borrows a book and tries to forget to return
it. Where is Sahara? Will you whistle again, please. And his
playing--well, merely sublime. He can even play Wagner on the piano.
Orchestral music on the piano is generally detestable, but Martin--I
used to tell him I believed he had instruments concealed about his
person. He is quite clever enough to. My dear, you can _hear_ the
strings. Then he used to draw me caricatures of all the extremely
tiresome people who were in the house. And his mimicry! Sunningdale
finding fault with the soup, and me telling him he was a gross feeder.
My dear Flint, I could have sworn it was us. You know the charming way
we behave at dinner. Frank Yorkshire, too,--you would have thought that
nobody could have imitated Frank. But Martin--‘Beauty is probably evil
in its origin, which accounts for the extreme plainness of good people!’
Simply too killing. I suppose your low-church brother doesn’t approve of
him, or appreciate him. A slight frigidity occurred when I mentioned
Martin!”

“He certainly doesn’t appreciate all the excellencies you have
mentioned. I doubt if he really knows they exist.”

“That is always the way,” said Lady Sunningdale, with a florid gesture
of despair. “That very rare product, a natural artistic genius, always
makes its wayward appearance in utterly uncongenial places. I am bound
to say it usually leaves them before long; but what a waste of time!
Dear Flints, don’t walk quite so fast. I had no idea this terrace was so
interminable. We shall be miles from the house when we reach the end.
Where are my angels? But it really is a pity. And I suppose his father
will make a curate or a Greek scholar of him.”

“That is just what he is afraid he will not do. He was talking to me
about it last night.”

Lady Sunningdale’s attention suddenly and completely wandered.

“You should build a pergola here, Flints,” she said. “There is a pergola
at Frank Yorkshire’s villa in Capri, which is the most divine thing I
ever saw, covered with roses. We used to dine there, and earwigs dropped
into one’s hair, and from the dark one heard those extraordinary Italian
melodies from the piazza. That is where I should like to live, to leave
the world utterly and entirely and just exist. So unworldly. Yes. My
angels, they want their dinner, and so does their mamma.”

They had got to the end of the terrace, and Lady Sunningdale gazed about
her with roving, abstracted eyes. She never did anything, even gaze,
without her thoughts being occupied with something totally different,
and now as she looked over the great swelling lines of downs which
flowed and melted into each other like interlacing muscles away to the
horizon, across the hollow where the roofs and grey spires of Winchester
trembled in a haze of heat, her thoughts were further away than the
horizon itself.

“So affected of people to pretend not to like food,” she said, “or, if
it is genuine, it shows they are partly imbecile, lacking the sense of
taste. Yes, what Martin wants is to be chucked into an artistic milieu
to see what he is really worth. And the artistic milieu is exactly what
he hasn’t got. He is starving, he is living on himself. Now, no artist
except the very greatest artist can do that, and even then he dies very
quickly. He wants to be soaked and steeped in art. Paris, now! There is
the artistic milieu there; but the music is generally atrocious,--nearly
as bad as in London. He could lunch at the Café Champêtre then.”

“Why do you wish him to do that?” asked Lord Flintshire.

“Dear Flints, because the cooking is so good. The really artist is a
gourmet in everything, including food. Think of the story of Beethoven
and the soup. He threw it in the footman’s face because it was cold. He
could not bear that it should not be hot. Cold soup in one’s face--how
horrible!--and thrown by Beethoven! Even that would not make it
pleasant. Certainly Martin has the instincts of a great artist. He has a
sense of form in all he does, which, I expect, means nothing to your
brother. Certainly also he has the sense of form in himself. My dear, he
is an absolute Adonis, and as slim as asparagus, the English kind.”

Lord Flintshire laughed.

“And when do you expect this paragon?” he asked.

“After lunch. To let Martin go on learning Greek and curacies is like
looking on at somebody being slowly murdered. Pray do as I tell you and
get him away from that terrible parsonage. Why, the word is enough to
upset an artist. It sounds so like parsnips.”

“I feel sure his father would never consent to let him run free in
Paris,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because he has the insular distrust of Paris as a residence for the
young.”

“My dear Flints,” she said, with some impatience, “if a young man is
going to get into messes and make mudpies, he will make them anywhere.
Surely it is the least desirable thing in the world that he should make
them in the parsonage. Yes. You see your brother has so much character
himself that he doesn’t seriously think that anybody else has got any.”

“I wish you would say these things to him,” said Lord Flintshire.

“I will, if I get an opportunity. But if not Paris, London, Rome,
anywhere. Take poor Martin’s collar off, and let him roll in the grass.
Yes, let us turn. Surely it is lunch-time. But do put up a pergola here
all down the terrace and leave out the earwigs. My angels, we are going
to our dinners.”

She turned, her very high heels clicking on the hard gravel of the
terrace, and paused a moment.

“The mistake in principle which your fascinating brother is making,” she
said, “lies in thinking that every one is cast in the same mould, which
is his own, and has to be educated in the same manner. Whereas one of
the few things of which we can be absolutely certain is that everybody
is cast in different moulds. What fools people are really! Fancy trying
to make a scholar or a parson of poor Martin! Such a waste, too, as well
as an impossibility. Sunningdale might as well insist on my taking
lessons in juggling or mathematics. Don’t you hate conjuring-tricks?
What is the point of cutting open a loaf of bread and finding a globe of
gold-fish inside it? Nobody in their senses could call me stupid, but I
am morally incapable of adding up three figures correctly. Why? Simply
because the process bores me, and I therefore do it wrong.”

“That is a fascinating theory of education for the young.”

“It may or may not be fascinating, but it is certainly true. The point
of education is to develop any taste you may possess, not to bore you
with the acquisition of knowledge. Ah, there is Stella Plympton coming
to meet us. She has immense charm, and look at the way her head is set
on her shoulders. Really, to have a neck is the only thing that matters.
A girl with a neck has only to say ‘Good-morning’ for every one to
exclaim, ‘How brilliant!’ Whereas people like me, with no neck, have to
talk from morning till night at the tops of our voices, and wear
ridiculous hats, or else every one says, ‘Poor dear, how much she has
aged, and how very dull and heavy she is.’ Flints, I have immense
trials. I often wonder how I keep up as I do, and am so frequently the
life and soul of the party. Yes. Every one made in the same mould
indeed! Stella and me, for instance. Flints, your brother is an
imbecile. I don’t propose to learn Greek, because he can talk it in his
sleep. Helen, too! Is she to be kept in that dreadful parsonage all her
life, and see nobody but district visitors? I think we ought to take
your brother’s family in hand. He neglects them shamefully; he ought to
be prosecuted for criminal neglect. A man has a duty towards his
children.”

Lord Flintshire laughed.

“And only last night I was telling Sidney that his sense of duty towards
them was too strong.”

Again Lady Sunningdale’s attention rushed headlong away with the bit in
its teeth; it was so rapid that one could not say it wandered.

“The last act of the ‘Götterdämmerung’!” she exclaimed. “My dear, they
gave it superbly the other night; at Covent Garden, too, of all
places,--though the ravens did come in ten bars too soon, and Siegfried
had to throw them away. I never slept for a week afterwards.”

The performance in question, therefore, must have taken place at least a
week ago, for there was no manner of doubt that when Martin arrived, an
hour or so after lunch, Lady Sunningdale was snatching a brief interval
of much-needed repose after her sen’night vigil under the cedar on the
lawn. The rest of the party, with the exception of Stella Plympton, had
dispersed to spend the afternoon in what she considered the violent
English fashion; that is to say, Frank Yorkshire and her brother had
gone to play golf. Lord Flintshire had taken Lady Sunningdale’s daughter
for a ride, and Lord Sunningdale himself, who had an insatiable mania
for losing large sums of money in what he euphemistically called
farming, had gone to feel horses’ legs and poke pigs in the back with
the Scotch bailiff. Martin, in consequence, who had walked over the
fields from the terrible parsonage and approached his uncle’s house from
the garden side, found an idyll of placidity occupying the stage below
the cedar, for a young woman of about his own age was sitting with an
air of extreme content doing nothing whatever, and in a basket-chair
close by was Lady Sunningdale, recuperating after the “Götterdämmerung.”
Martin had formed a somewhat copious subject of conversation during
lunch, and it required no particular exercise of ingenuity on Stella’s
part to guess who the tall, straw-hatted figure was. From him again she
looked at Lady Sunningdale’s slumbers, and glancing back to Martin
raised her eyebrows, as if to ask what had better be done. Then she rose
noiselessly from her chair, and beckoning to him with a little amused,
friendly gesture, walked quietly away from the immediate neighbourhood.

“You must be Mr. Challoner,” she said, holding out her hand; “and Lady
Sunningdale, apparently exhausted by the prospect of your arrival, is
snatching a few moments of repose. What are we to do, then? Shall we
wake her and risk her immediate displeasure, or let her sleep and risk
her ultimate displeasure? We are quite certain to decide wrong.”

Much as Martin liked Lady Sunningdale, his instant and instinctive
decision was not to wake her, for an enforced tête-à-tête with Stella
had its obvious attractions. She was nearly as tall as he, and her
dark-grey eyes almost on a level with his. Her face was a short oval,
slightly and charmingly irregular in feature, the nose a little
tip-tilted, the mouth a little full. This, set on the neck, which,
according to Lady Sunningdale, could supply the place of intellectual
brilliance, made a very good reason for risking the ultimate, not the
immediate displeasure.

“My name is Stella Plympton, by the way,” the girl went on. “Pray excuse
my introducing so stupid a topic. A person’s name matters so very
little, does it not? But sometimes it is inconvenient not to know
uninteresting things, like names, and the hours at which trains leave
stations. Aren’t you thirsty after your walk? Will you not go and forage
for fluids? And what are we to do?”

Martin looked at her with his direct lucid gaze.

“No fluid for me, thanks,” he said. “What do you advise? One can’t go
and say ‘Hi, Lady Sunningdale.’”

Stella laughed.

“I couldn’t,” she said; “but I think you might, if you felt disposed.
She adores you, you know.”

Martin laughed also, flushing slightly.

“I adore her,” he said. “She makes me laugh all the time. And I love
laughing.”

“So do I,” she said. “So please go and say ‘Hi, Lady Sunningdale.’ I’m
sure it would make me laugh. You won’t? Then a false and conventional
code of politeness dictates that I should inflict my company on you,
though you would probably rather be left alone. Anyhow, do not let us
grill here in the sun like beefsteaks. There appears to be chairs in the
shade over there. From there, too, we shall occupy a strategic position
in which to observe Lady Sunningdale’s slumbers.”

There was a slightly sub-acid flavour about this of which Martin was
just conscious. Stella, it seemed, was conscious of it too, for she
explained:

“I feel rather a failure this afternoon,” she said, “for Lady
Sunningdale asked me to stop and amuse her till you came. The result of
my efforts to be entertaining, you can see!”

“Please amuse me instead,” said Martin.

“I daren’t try, for fear you should fall asleep too. How is your sister?
I remember meeting her once. But, though I have never seen you before, I
feel as if I knew you much better. Really at lunch we talked solidly and
exclusively about you. You can do everything, they said, except pass
examinations. That seemed to me very admirable, for it is notorious, as
Lady Sunningdale said, that any fool can pass examinations. She deduced
from that that you can’t be a fool.”

Martin laughed.

“I ought to apologize, then,” said he; “though really it isn’t my fault
that I monopolized the conversation at lunch or that I am left on your
hands now. I hope it wasn’t a long lunch.”

“Ah, but isn’t it the fault of your character that you get talked
about?”

“But not that Lady Sunningdale goes to sleep after lunch. At least I
don’t see how!”

Stella laughed too.

“You put it down to mere lunch?” she said. “But if one were disagreeable
one might suggest that it was the conversation at lunch, not lunch
itself, that led to the desire for repose. How rude of me!”

Martin looked across to the cedar; he was quite willing that Lady
Sunningdale’s need for repose should not yet be satisfied.

“But I thought you settled that it was your efforts to amuse her that
produced that result,” he said.

The sound of Stella’s laughter perhaps roused Lady Sunningdale, for she
moved in her chair and suddenly sat bolt upright.

“Ah, she is awake,” said Stella. “We can peashoot each other no longer.
What a pity!”

“But that at least is very polite of you,” said Martin, rising.

“And that is very modest,” she answered. “It might have been true.”

Shrill, staccato cries came from the cedar as the two walked back across
the hot velvet of the lawn.

“Stella dear, it is too bad of you,” shrieked Lady Sunningdale. “I send
for my own particular young man and you monopolize him all the
afternoon. Martin, you perfidious monster. What do you mean by flirting
with Stella under my very eyes? Did I close them a moment? I think I
must have. Is it not tea-time? Where is Sahara? There is a terrible
black dog of Flints’s. My dear, it is too hot for words, and have you
walked all the way from the terrible parsonage to see me? That is too
sweet of you. What have you and Stella been talking about? Stella
dearest, if you would whistle three or four times for Sahara. Martin,
Frank Yorkshire is here. So odd, two counties in the same house in
another county. Is not geography detestable? Yes. I sat next your father
last night. I don’t think I ever saw anybody so unlike as you two. I
don’t think that’s grammar. Stella, you went fast asleep, I thought, in
that chair, and when I woke up, I found it was me in the other. Where
_are_ the dogs? Martin, the ‘Götterdämmerung,’ was too exquisite!
Ternina! Floods, I assure you--I wept floods, and at the critical moment
I tugged at my necklace, and it broke, and a large pearl fell into the
trombone below. Why did you not come up to town, as I told you, for it?
Not the pearl,--do not be so foolish.”

Her slumber had slightly dishevelled Lady Sunningdale, and as she poured
forth this surprising nonsense she effected various small repairs and
generally made the crooked straight. Sahara, the delinquent dachshund,
recalled by shrill whistling from Stella, waddled pathetically up to
her, and a violent wagging of heliotrope in a flower-bed near probably
indicated the locality of Suez Canal.

“And we are going to send you to London or Paris or Rome, Martin,” she
continued. “And we don’t quite know which. Tell me, is your father
naturally solemn, or is his solemnity beautifully assumed. I don’t think
any one could really be as solemn as he appears to be. He sat next me at
dinner last night and was quite fascinating. I shall have seven
candlesticks on my dressing-table for the future, and he extremely
reserved. Dear me, I suppose it would have been better not to have said
that. But really his attitude about you is ridiculous. Do imitate him. I
am sure you can.”

The corners of Martin’s mouth quivered slightly.

“I think I won’t,” he said.

“You mean you can.”

“I think, perhaps, I could,” said Martin, guardedly.

“Ah, do. Imitate our conversation last night about matters of high-and
low-church. Wasn’t it dreadful? I mixed them up, and I don’t know which
is which now. Why will Suez Canal always leap about in garden-beds when
there is the whole lawn? Naughty! Martin, we have been talking a great
deal about you. I am rather bored with you. I stop here over Sunday, and
I shall go to church if your father preaches. I think that will give me
more influence with him. He said he would very likely come over to tea
to-day. I shall never forgive him if he does not, because I want to talk
to him about you. We are not going to let you blush unseen any more, and
waste your sweetness on the parsonage air. You’ve got to go and work.
Men must work, though I never saw the slightest need for women to weep.
I haven’t wept for years, except the other night at the
‘Götterdämmerung.’ What a charming picture of domestic life, Martin
reading Greek history at the table and Mrs. Martin sobbing violently in
the corner! Yes. How I run on! I suppose you really ought to go to
Germany and eat cherry jam with your chicken.”

“How horrible!” said Stella. “Must one take it?”

“If you want to enter into the essential Teutonic spirit you must. You
might as well hope to feel like an Anglo-Saxon without being always in a
rage or playing violent games as try to be German without jam. How I
hate women who play games! They are nearly as odious as men who don’t.
Let us go indoors, and Martin shall play to us till tea-time. Afterwards
he shall play till dinner-time.”

Lady Sunningdale surged slowly to her feet and looked helplessly about.

“Where are the dogs?” she said. “It is too tiresome. They are sure to
stray into the woods, and Flints’s horrid pheasants will peck them. My
darlings! Ah, there they are amid what was once begonias. It looks more
like a battlefield now. How naughty! Come at once, all of you!”

There was no doubt whatever that Martin’s piano-playing was of a very
remarkable order, and before he was half-way through Chopin’s first
_ballade_, Stella, who had been accustomed to consider the piano as an
instrument for the encouragement of conversation after dinner, or at the
most as the introduction to the vocal part of a concert, found herself
sitting bolt upright in her chair with a strange tingling excitement
spreading through her and a heightened and quickened beating of the
blood. She was essentially unmusical; but something in this was
extraordinarily arresting; her nerves, if not her sense of melody, were
at attention. As for Lady Sunningdale, she always gasped when Martin
played, and did so now.

“Too heavenly,” she said at the end. “Now make me miserable. Play the
rain on the roof. Tum, tum, tum, tum, don’t you know. Yes, how clever of
you to guess.”

It was rather clever, for Lady Sunningdale’s rendering did not really
resemble any one tune in the world more than any other.

Martin paused a moment. Then the slow, sullen drip of hot, steady rain
on the roof began, as it sounded to a man who was alone in an alien
land. It fell with hopeless regular iteration from grey skies, then
there was the gurgle of some choked gutter, and the collected water
overflowed and was spilt with a little chuckle. Very distantly on the
horizon remote lightning winked and flickered, but there was as yet no
sound of thunder in the dark sultriness of the afternoon, but only the
endless, monotonous rhythm of the dropping rain. Then, faintly at first
but with slow crescendo, there was heard the distant drums of thunder,
buffeting and rumbling among the hills. Then all at once the rain grew
heavier; larger drops, as if of lead, fell beating with a resonant
insistance on the roof, and the voice of the storm grew angry and
articulate. Suddenly with an appalling crash it burst immediately
overhead, drowning for a moment the beat of the rain, and by the blaze
of the simultaneous flash sea, sky, and the wave-beaten rocks of Majorca
leapt into light. Then, as thunder will, it drew away, and for a time
the rain was not so heavy, but again the storm swept up, and once more
the chariots of God crashed on their way above them, and the wild
lantern of the storm flared this way and that, and once more again after
that stupendous riot in the skies the hot darkness was punctuated by the
dreadful melancholy of the dripping rain. Then the storm growled itself
away into the distance; a little light came back into the weeping skies;
the pulse of the rain grew fainter, and again a choked gutter gurgled
and overflowed. Suddenly, through some unconjectured rift in the clouds,
one beam of the sun, divinely clear, shot down for a moment on them with
excellent brightness. Yet it was only for a moment; again the clouds
drifted up, and the rain, which for that minute had ceased, began again,
dripping with hopeless regular iteration on to the roof as evening
closed in, some evening far away in a land of exile beneath an alien
sky.

Effusive as she usually was, and accustomed to fill any interval of
silence that might conceivably occur with discursive volubility, even
Lady Sunningdale was silent except for an “Oh, Martin,” which she no
more than whispered. For there was that in the room which, in spite of
her superficial frivolity and the dragon-fly dartings of her mind, she
knew and recognized and adored, that the touch of art which makes even
of things that are common and unclean gems and jewels. Stella too said
nothing, but sat still, much more upright than her lolling wont, holding
the arms of her chair. From where she sat she could see Martin’s profile
cut with great clearness of outline against a brocaded screen of scarlet
and gold that stood beyond the piano, and between the music and the
musician she was dumb. Even in the desultory accidental conversation
which she had had with him during the slumbers of Lady Sunningdale there
had been something arresting to her in his brilliant boyish personality,
and now from his finger-tips there flowed out, so it seemed to her, a
personality just as brilliant, but either very mature or by the instinct
of genius still boyish, but clad, as it were, in the purple of the
artistic nature. There was nothing amateurish about it; and, unmusical
as she was, she could not help recognising the certainty of the
performance.

For a few moments after the last note had died into silence he sat
silent also, with head bent over the keys. Then he looked up.

“Is that enough, Lady Sunningdale?” he asked.

“No, you angel from heaven, it is never enough!” she cried; “but play
something different--something brilliant; I should expire with several
hollow church-yard groans if you played that again. It makes me
miserable. Play something _virtuoso_, and let me come closer, where I
can see your hands.”

She moved to a low chair to the right of the piano.

“Brahms’s ‘Paganini Variations,’” he suggested.

“Ah, yes, do. It makes me shriek with laughter.”

Then, with the same absolute facility and certainty, with the same
cleanness and perfection, suggesting, indeed, a slim poised figure, he
took a header into that ridiculous theme. But out of the foam and
bubble beneath his hands flowers grew, stars were scattered, and all
nature went mad with dancing. But when the riot of jubilance was at its
height, a tall, severe figure suddenly appeared at the French window of
the drawing-room, advanced very audibly on the bare boards, and spoke
sufficiently loud to be heard.

“Ah, Lady Sunningdale,” said Mr. Challoner, “how are you? And Martin
wasting his time at the piano, as usual. How kind of you to let him play
to you!”

Martin wasted no more time there; at the noise of interruption, before
his brain had conjectured who it was, his hands stopped, the eager,
active vitality died out of his face, as when a candle is blown out, and
he banged a random chord in sheer rage. Then, instantaneously, he
recognized the voice, and he rose quickly from the music-stool,
trembling.

“Yes, wasting my time, as usual,” he said, excitedly, the artist in him
suddenly struck dead, leaving just an angry, startled boy. “I must go
home, Lady Sunningdale. Thank you so much for letting me play to you,
and I hope I haven’t bored you. Good-bye. I have a lot of work to do.”

He closed the piano lid as he spoke, but it slipped from his fingers and
shut with a bang that set all the strings jarring.

“Ah, how could you interrupt like that?” cried Lady Sunningdale to his
father. “Yes, how are you, Mr. Challoner? Martin, pray begin it again.
We will all sit quite quiet without stirring a finger or breathing. You
are superb!”

His father sat down, distressed at Martin’s rudeness, but honestly
desirous of being sympathetic.

“Dear boy, I am so sorry,” he said. “Pray, play your piece.”

“I can’t,” said Martin. “I don’t know it.”

For a moment father and son looked at each other, the one with surprise
and indignation, the other in impetuous rebellion and anger.

“Lady Sunningdale asks you to play again what you were playing,” said
his father, the desire to be sympathetic vanishing, the sternness
deserved by this deplorable lack of manners in Martin increasing every
moment.

“It is quite impossible that I should play it,” said Martin. “I couldn’t
play a note of it.”

“You seemed to me to know it,” said Mr. Challoner. “Surely you have
played it a hundred times at home.”

Martin was really incapable in the shock of this transition from the
world which he loved and in which he was at home to this other world of
decent behaviour.

“More like a thousand times,” he said and simply, and directly left the
room.

There was a somewhat awkward pause. Mr. Challoner was seriously angry
with his ill-behaved son; Lady Sunningdale was disgusted at being
deprived of her music, and Stella, with a natural eye for drama, was
immensely interested. It seemed to her there might be a good deal of
drama behind this little incident. Then, luckily perhaps, Lady
Sunningdale remembered that she was, so to speak on a mission to the
dark ignorance of Mr. Challoner, that savage in matters of art, on
behalf of Martin, and she put her disgust in her pocket.

“It was charming of you to have come over to see me,” she said to him,
with her easy-natured charm. “Yes, I suppose Martin wastes a terrible
lot of time at the piano when he should be doing Greek history.
Demosthenes! How fascinating! Stella dearest, do see what Suez Canal is
doing, and slap him. And will you tell us when tea is ready? Do you
know, Mr. Challoner, Martin plays remarkably,--really remarkably?”

Stella, as she was wont to do, strolled out through the window by which
catastrophe had entered, leaving the two others alone.

“Yes, it is that incessant waste of time that distresses me,” said Mr.
Challoner. “But the piano at the parsonage is so old that he hardly
cares to play on it. But, first, I must apologise to you, Lady
Sunningdale, for the extremely rude way in which Martin behaved to you.
I promise you he shall make his apologies in person.”

For a moment her irritation mastered her.

“He apologise?” she cried. “It ought to be you. Dear Mr. Challoner, how
rude I am! Pray forgive me. But you don’t know, you can’t know, what
music is to Martin. You don’t know what divine, glorious mood in him you
shattered. It was like throwing a brick at an iridescent soap-bubble. I
suppose Brahms is a name to you like Smith or Jones.”

Then she recalled diplomacy again.

“So difficult to understand Brahms, is it not?” she said. “That is the
fascination of it. But I assure you it is worth thinking over. Martin is
wonderful. He has improved so enormously, too. He is not second-rate or
third-rate, but first-rate. What have you been doing to him?”

“You mean at playing the piano?” asked Mr. Challoner, as if he had said
“sweeping a crossing.”

Lady Sunningdale longed for Sahara to bite him.

“Yes, at playing the piano,” she said, swallowing her irritation again.
“He ought to study, you know. He is wasting his time, that is quite
true, but not at the piano. I am dreadfully impertinent, am I not? But
Flints is an old friend and Martin is his nephew, and music is music, so
I feel it very strongly. Of course it is only natural that you, Mr.
Challoner, with your earnest nature and your serious aims and all
that,--you were too interesting last night, I lay awake for hours
thinking over what you had said,--should consider poor Martin very
frivolous, but he is an artist to his finger-tips. It is his nature. Mon
Dieu! what finger-tips, too! You know he was playing, and playing, I
assure you, with consummate ease when you interrup--when you came in, a
thing that really great pianists require to practice for months!”

“You are too kind to take such an interest in my lazy son,” said Mr.
Challoner, still very stiffly,--so stiffly, in fact, that Lady
Sunningdale looked hastily at the fireplace, thinking he must have
swallowed the tongs.

“I assure you it is not kindness that prompts me at all,” she said. “It
is mere justice and mere economy. I am very economical. Ask Sunningdale.
The world cannot afford to lose a talent like that. If he is like that
when he is practically uneducated, to what may not he grow? Heaven
knows, the world is so very stupid that we should hoard and save every
grain of talent that exists. It is like what you so beautifully said to
me last night about the ten talents in a napkin.”

“Surely not,” said Mr. Challoner, a faint smile breaking his gravity.

“Well, the one talent, then. I have no head for numbers. And poor
Martin’s talent seems to me to be put in a very damp napkin, except now
and then when somebody like me lifts up a corner of it and lets the
sparkle of gold appear.”

It happened very rarely that Lady Sunningdale was stirred into such
coherence and earnestness. As a rule, her multifarious little interests
were like children playing “King of the Castle,” rapidly pulling each
other down from their momentary pre-eminence, first one and then another
perching precariously on the summit. But certainly the most long-lived
“King” there was music, and Martin’s future, with the rain-storm of
Chopin and the mad frolic of Brahms still in her ears, was very securely
throned.

“Think me impertinent, my dear Mr. Challoner,” she went on. “Think me
what you will, only do give your most serious attention to what I say.
Martin devoting his fingers, his brain, the power of his extraordinary
artistic nature to ancient history is a thing to make Julius Cæsar weep.
The pity of it when he might be starting us all on a new chapter in
music! Really I believe that to be possible. And really I am in earnest;
and when, as I hope, you know me better, and see how completely
scatter-brained I usually am, you will appreciate how deeply I feel
this.”

“You mean that my son should devote the most useful, the most active
years of his life to playing the piano?” he asked.

“Playing the piano?” she cried, feeling it was almost hopeless to try to
make him understand. “That is, of course, a thread in the golden garment
of music; but to take piano-playing as synonymous with music would be
the same as calling the baptism of those of riper years the same thing
as Christianity. Music--music, that must be his life. Flints told me
this morning that you found him slack, lazy. So would you be if you had
to learn scales, just as he may be--I am sure he is--at classical
studies.”

“What do you propose, then?” he asked, inwardly rather rebelling at the
consideration he felt somehow forced to give to her eagerness. For, in
spite of her discursiveness, it was clearly impossible not to recognise
the surprising quickness and intuition of her mental processes.

“Why, just what I have been telling you. First let him throw his
dictionaries and histories into the fire.”

“I have an immense, a vital belief in the educating power of the
classics,” said Mr. Challoner.

“For everybody? You cannot mean it! Can you tell from looking at a
picture if the artist knew Latin? Or pick me a piece of Greek out of
‘Tristan und Isolde.’ In any case, Martin has spent some ten years at
them, he tells me, and what is the result? He fails to pass his
examinations. Whether they are a criterion of education, or whether they
are an instrument, he or they have failed. He is second-rate at that,
third-rate,--it is all one. There is first-rate, and--the rest of the
world. What is the good of turning another second-rate person into the
sheepfold of the second-rate, particularly when on other lines that
person has all the appearance, anyhow, of being first-rate? Well, that
is what I think. How kind of you to let me talk so. Where are my angels?
Is it not tea-time?”

Lady Sunningdale’s unparalleled effort in concentration of thought here
broke completely down, and a whole tribe of clamouring competitors
invaded the castle of her mind, dethroning the “King.”

“Yes, Martin really was playing too divinely,” was the “King’s” expiring
cry. “So like a great artist, too, to bang down the piano lid when he
was interrupted. Beethoven did it too, you know, and shouted, ‘I play no
more to such swine.’ So delicious of him. And Helen, how is she? You
must bring her over. Frank Yorkshire is dying, if not dead, to see her.
He is one of those people, you know, who does nothing and appreciates so
much. So infinitely better than doing a great deal rather badly, and not
recognizing the first-rate when you see it. And are you going to preach
on Sunday? I should have been so happy if I had been a man, to have
lived in a country-place like this and just spend my days in doing a
little good among these simple people. How beautiful it must be! I abhor
London,--so shallow. Yes. You really must preach on Sunday, Mr.
Challoner; otherwise I shall stay at home and read improper novels. You
would not like to have that on your conscience, would you? People are
growing terribly slack about Sunday, are they not? Yes, shall we try to
find some tea? Talking makes one so hungry.”



CHAPTER III


Mr. Challoner was seated at the very orderly table in his study, on
which, neatly corrected, revised, and arranged, were the sheets of his
sermon for the next Sunday. In front of him, with his face towards the
window, stood Martin. Neither father nor son wore a very pleasant
expression: Martin looked like some timid wild animal, at bay in a
corner, frightened into a sort of desperation, while his father’s thick,
bushy eyebrows were contracted into a very heavy frown and his mouth was
tightly compressed, as if he were holding back with difficulty some
impulse of anger that nearly mastered him.

“I was ashamed of you,” he said; “I was ashamed that a son of mine could
behave with such abominable rudeness to Lady Sunningdale and me. A few
years ago, when such behaviour would have been more excusable, because
you were younger, I should have given you a whipping!”

“I am sure you would,” said Martin.

Mr. Challoner’s face grew a shade paler.

“Martin, I wish you to understand once and for all,” he said, “that I
will be treated by you both in public and in private with ordinary
respect and courtesy.”

“I have already told you I was sorry I was rude to you,” said Martin,
speaking very quickly and incisively, with an odd little tremor of angry
fright in his voice.

“You have often told me you were sorry lately,” said his father, “and
almost before the words were out of your mouth I have had occasion to
find fault with you for something else.”

Martin gave a short, mirthless laugh.

“That is quite true,” he said; “I can’t do right, it appears.”

Mr. Challoner paused a moment; Martin had never before come to open
words with him like this.

“What do you mean by speaking to me like that?” he asked, in a voice
scarcely audible.

There was no answer.

“I have asked you a question, Martin,” he said, his voice rising
suddenly.

Martin pushed back his hair with a hopeless gesture.

“What answer do you expect me to give?” he asked, impatiently. “There is
no answer to such a question. You get angry with me and you frighten me.
I think you do it on purpose. You have frightened me into silence all my
life, now you have frightened me at last into answering you. I hate
anger; it makes me sick. And you have been angry with me every day since
I came home for my holidays.”

He sat down on a chair behind him with a sort of dull, indifferent
acquiescence in whatever might happen, his face sullen, frightened,
joyless. It seemed as if it could scarcely be the same radiant boy who
had played Brahms an hour ago.

There was a pause, and all the imprisoned longing for love in the father
beat dismally at its bars, for he felt, and felt truly, that just now
Martin almost hated him. It seemed terribly hard that his own daily and
constant desire that Martin should grow up a useful God-fearing man,
industrious and earnest, should be the bar that separated them, yet so
he knew it to be. Had he been a weak, indulgent father, one who had not
implanted in him the unbending, ineradicable sense of his duty towards
the son whom God had given him, how sweet might have been the human
relations between them. His love for his son was the very reason why he
corrected him,--that and the duty attached to his own fatherhood; and
when he saw him slack, lazy, or as now wanting in courtesy and respect,
it was still from sheer duty that his anger sprang. And now for the
first time from Martin’s own lips he heard the effect. He frightened
him, on purpose, so it appeared. Was this, then, one of the hopeless,
incomprehensible puzzles that God seems sometimes to set his groping
children, this fight between duty and love, in which one must lose, and
be vanquished. It seemed to him cruelly hard if this was so.

Martin felt his mouth go suddenly dry as he spoke, but he was past
really caring what might happen. His father, he knew, was about as angry
with him as he could be, and he himself hated and feared his anger in
the instinctive unreasoning way in which a grown man will fear something
which can really hurt him no longer, but which he feared in childhood.
That vibrating note was in his father’s voice which he associated with
early failures of his own in Latin declensions, and the hint of what
would have happened to him if he had been younger also carried him back
to early, dreadful scenes. But finding his father did not reply, he
looked up at him, and saw that the anger in his face had been
extinguished like a wind-blown lamp. But all tenderness, all sense of
being intimate with him was so alien to Martin that he did not trouble
to guess what emotion had taken the place of anger. Anger, however, was
gone, taking his own fear with it, and with a certain mercilessness
characteristic of youth, he deliberately, so to speak, hit back.

“Whatever I do, you find fault with,” he said. “I try to please you, it
is no use. Would it not be better if I went away? There is no good in my
stopping here; I don’t suppose this sort of thing gives you any
pleasure. Uncle Rupert, I am sure, would let me go and stay with him in
London next week till the Long Term begins at Cambridge. That will be in
another fortnight. You told me you wished me to be up there all the
time. So would it not be much better if I went away?”

His father did not reply at once, but sat fingering his writing things
with rather tremulous hands.

“Are you not happy at home?” he asked at length.

“No,” said Martin, shortly.

The brevity and certainty of this struck more deeply yet. If Martin a
few months before had felt sick at his father’s anger, the latter was
certainly the more to be pitied now.

“Martin, what is the matter between us?” he said.

“I don’t know; but it’s the same as it has always been, only it’s rather
worse. I can’t please you, I suppose, and you are always down on me for
something. It is to be hoped it is doing some good, because otherwise it
seems,--well, rather unnecessarily unpleasant. First it was my work,
then what I said to Helen, then ‘The Mill on the Floss,’ and now this.
To-morrow it will be something else. There is sure to be something. I
daresay I don’t understand you, and I know you don’t understand me.
This afternoon, for instance. Oh, it’s no use trying to explain,” he
said.

“It may be the utmost use. It may make the greatest difference. I only
wish that you had said to me years ago what you are saying now. I have
tried to be a good father to you, but sometimes, often, I have been
puzzled as to what to do. You don’t confide in me, you don’t tell me
your joys and pleasures, and let me share them. I often hear you
laughing when I am not with you. But when I am, not so often.”

Martin half shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “There we are again.”

“That is quite true,” he said. “But what can I do when music, which to
me is the greatest joy and pleasure in life, seems to you just a waste
of time. You have often told me so. You don’t know one bit what it means
to me; and as it seems to you a waste of time, how can I confide in you
about a thing you don’t really approve of and of which, you will pardon
me, you are absolutely ignorant? In the middle of the Brahms, or
whatever it was, you come in and interrupt by saying that I am wasting
my time, as usual. I might as well come in in the middle of prayers and
say you were wasting--there I go again. I am sorry. That will show you
how hopeless it all is.”

Mr. Challoner was silent a moment, really too much pained to speak. But
he was wise enough to recognise that to say anything just then would be
to effectually stop the only confidence that Martin had reposed in him
for years.

“Well, Martin,” he said, after a moment.

“Ah, it’s no use,” he said. “Even at the very instant when I am
consciously trying to be careful, I say something like that, and you
are shocked at it. But I meant it: it exactly expressed what I meant.
Music is to me like that. You never thought that possible. All these
years you have been thinking that I was very fond of music--just
that--and wasted a great deal of time at the piano. Whereas it seems to
me that I am wasting time when I am reading ‘Thucydides.’”

“That is what Lady Sunningdale said. She talked to me about it after you
went away. You know her well, do you not?”

“Yes; she has been tremendously kind to me.”

His father rose.

“You must go now, dear lad,” he said. “I have got some work to do before
to-morrow. And let us try, both of us, to find more of a friend in each
other. I shall never have another son, and you will never have another
father. It would be very sad, would it not, if we did not, each of us,
make the best of that relation?”

There came into his beautiful brown eyes the shadow of tears, and Martin
wondered.

“I will try, father,” he said.

Mr. Challoner did not at once begin the work which he wished to finish
before bedtime when Martin left him, but sat with his head resting on
his hand, thinking very deeply. He was much troubled and perplexed, and
his future line of action, usually so clear to him, so precisely
indicated by his sense of duty, and, to do him justice, so undeviatingly
followed, was now very misty and ill defined. Hitherto he had never
entertained any serious doubts that he was not doing the best possible
for Martin, both in always correcting and admonishing when he seemed to
be idle, even in trifles where some small carelessness on his part
indicated the danger of his falling into slack or slovenly habits, and
in his convictions that school and college education in classical
subjects was the best possible method of training and developing his
mind. He did not in the least even now, with regard to the latter, think
it certain that he was mistaken, but it had been brought home to him
very clearly in the last twenty-four hours that other people thought he
was. For his brother’s opinion he always felt a considerable respect,
but for Lady Sunningdale’s, though he wondered at it, he could not help
feeling more. A dozen times yesterday at dinner, a dozen times more this
afternoon, he had asked himself how the observations of a woman who
really appeared to be scarcely capable of consecutive orderly thought
could be worth consideration, but as often some plump grain of solid
sense, showing acuteness and perception amid the husks and chaff,
answered the question. He himself was conscious of not being quite at
his ease with her, but he could not help admiring her intense vitality,
her speed, her busy, acute inquisitiveness. And it was she who hailed
Martin, poor, desultory, idle Martin, as a genius.

Suppose he took their advice and let his son go free into that world of
which he himself knew so little, of which, however, he had so abundant a
mistrust, how dangerous and hazardous an experiment! Martin, with his
slackness, his ineradicable tendency to what was easy and pleasant;
Martin, above all, with this apparently so great musical gift,
unsuspected by his father, but adored by others, was exactly the sort of
boy to be petted, spoiled, ruined by the careless, highly-coloured
butterflies which Mr. Challoner believed to dance there all day in the
sun. To them music, painting, drama, the visible arts, were ends in
themselves, the object being enjoyment, while to him such a doctrine
savoured almost of profanity. To him painting, sculpture, music, were
recreations which might at intervals be innocently allowed to the
earnest worker, but even in such times of refreshment the Christian
would look for something more, and find in beauty that which should lead
his thoughts to the Fountain and Creator of it. Such, however, was not
the view, as he was aware, of the world of Art into which he was invited
to let Martin plunge; to them music was sweet sound and led the soul
nowhere but to music; painting was line and colour; sculpture was form,
and the end and fulfilment and consummation of it was perfection of form
and the appreciation thereof. About this latter branch of art he had
never been able to come to a definite conclusion. Certainly studies in
the nude seemed to him to be things dangerous, if not inherently
sensual.

“All Art is perfectly useless.” He remembered having read that sentence
in some book of Martin’s which he had found lying about. A rapid glance
at it on that occasion had justified its confiscation and a few words to
Martin on the subject. But that sentence occurred to him again now, for
there in half a line was expressed tritely and unmistakeably the exact
opposite of what he held to be the truth. All Art, he would have said
himself, that does not--apart from the natural and innocent enjoyment of
it--raise and elevate the soul, is not art at all. As a corollary, the
highest form of painting in his eyes was religious painting, because it
led by a direct road to its goal, the highest form of music, religious
music. These two were wholly laudable; Raphael, so to speak, shook
hands with missionaries, and Handel took Luther’s arm. But at the other
end of the line of artists came those who, however consummate was their
art, treated of themes which in themselves were dangerous, or, worst of
all, who by clothing sin in melodious and beautiful garb rendered it,
even if not attractive, at any rate more venial. He himself, as has been
seen, was not musical; but when a few weeks ago he had found himself in
London with Martin, and with the eminently laudable desire of getting
more into sympathy with his son, had taken him to see “Tannhäuser” at
the opera, the evening had not been wholly a success, for the curtain
had not risen ten minutes on Venusberg before his incredulous horror had
deepened into certainty, and he had got swiftly up and peremptorily
ordered Martin to leave also. And Wagner was hustled by him into the
outer darkness to gnash teeth in company with Zola, George Eliot, and
Titian.

Here, then, is stated in brief, so that the real and soul-searching
difficulty in his course of action with regard to Martin’s future may be
better understood, the attitude of Mr. Challoner towards Art. With the
whole force of his strenuous, upright soul he believed that one thing in
the world alone mattered, and that art, science, knowledge were at the
best but by-paths that led on to the great high-road of the Gospel. In
that they contained many things of beauty the worker was allowed to
wander in their coolnesses at times for the refreshment of his
weariness, but all the beauty he found there was but the sign-post
pointing him back to the high-road. Other by-paths were there also,
beautiful as these, if one looked on the outward form only, but
instinct with danger, and of an evil glitter. Such led through tangled
gardens of vivid meretricious gaudiness, but if one stooped to pluck
those poisonous flowers, they were vitriol to the fingers, and the
unnameable beasts of darkness, coiled among the leaves, alert and ready
to spring, would fasten on the hand.

Martin had left his father’s presence that evening with an idea that was
really quite new to him. The truism, in fact, that a father loved his
son had suddenly emerged from those dull ranks and taken its place in
the far more notable array of truths. For the interview which had begun
in a manner so dismally familiar to him, except that in this case it was
set one or two octaves higher than usual, had ended in a manner
unexpected and unprecedented. Never before had he known, though he had
vaguely taken it for granted, that his father really cared for intimacy
and love in his relations with himself. At any rate he had never seen
the fact bare and exposed, for whenever it had shewn itself it had
always been wrapped up, so to speak, in the memory of some rebuke. But
to-night it had flashed on him; he had seen through these coverings, and
a heart of gold shone and beat within. And with the natural instinctive
generosity of youth he himself was quick to respond; and though his
habitual reserve and shyness with his father could not at once be
dispersed, so as to allow him any effusive rejoinder, his response had
been very genuine, and his resolve, as he left the study, to explore and
develop the reef which had suddenly gleamed in what, to be frank, he had
considered hard unyielding rock, very vivid. With this in his head,
ready to be matured by the unconscious processes of sleep, during which
the mind, though the senses lie dormant, goes on delving in its
difficulties and groping for light, he went up to bed.

As he undressed, his mind flashed quickly backward and forward through
the events of the day; for a moment a smile uncurled his lips as he
thought of some extravagance or incoherence of Lady Sunningdale’s, the
next his mouth was pursed again into a low whistle of some half-dozen
bars of a tune that ran in his head. That Brahms,--to which had come so
fruitful an interruption,--what a delicious piece of boisterous
irresponsibility! It had infected Stella Plympton, too; he had known
that from a glance at her wide eyes and half-opened mouth when he began.
Then suddenly, just before the interruption came, she had given one
heavenly ripple of unconscious laughter at some surprising piece of
_virtuosité_. Yes, she understood, understood probably better than Lady
Sunningdale, who always gasped. The gasp, it is true, was a great
compliment to his nimble fingers, but it should be as impossible to
think of fingers or nimbleness, when that was going on, as to think
about the chemical constituents of water when one is satisfying a noble
thirst. Then came that dreadful scene in the study, with its utterly
unexpected end. Well, he would try, anyhow.

The moon was shining outside against the blind with an amazing white
brilliance, and as he undressed he went across to the open window and
let the flood of cool light shine in. It made the yellow flame of his
bedroom candle look insufferably vulgar and tawdry, and blowing it out
he again crossed to the window and sat there while the stirring of some
fragrant breeze sent its soft ripples against his skin. As Lady
Sunningdale had said, he was a gourmet in sensations, and the
exquisiteness of the sleeping summer night, peopled with ivory lights
and ebony shadows, and the great velvet vault of the sky pricked by the
thin, remote fires of innumerable stars and lit by that glorious sexless
flame of the moon smote him with a sudden pang of pleasure. Somehow all
this must be translatable into music, the stars scattered over the sky
were likely staccato notes of strings across the great tune of the
moonshine; it was the first slow movement in the great symphony of night
and day. At sunrise the scherzo would laugh and dance down the breeze of
morning with a thousand quivering leaves and a million nodding flowers,
trees waving, birds among the branches. Noonday would combine all the
powers of light and air into a third movement of intolerable
splendour....

He got up from where he sat, and stretched his arms wide, as if to
embrace it all. Then half-laughing at himself, he dived into his
nightshirt, leaving the rest of his clothes in a heap on the floor, and,
as his custom always was, laid his face on his hand and fell asleep.

It was still early when he woke, but the sun was up, and even as he had
anticipated before he went to sleep, the slow movement of the moon had
given place to a dancing, rapturous scherzo. A breeze stirred with a
short sweeping rhythm among the trees, birds chirped in the leafy
temples, and the sparkle of the early sunlight gave an inimitable
briskness to the young day. Then with a sudden ebb in the full tide of
his joy of life came the thought that it was Sunday, a day in that house
neither of rest or gladness in his view, but one much taken up with
lengthy unmusical services, in which there was a great deal of singing,
with intervals in which no amusement could be indulged in.

He walked from his window back to his bed and looked at his watch. It
was still not yet seven, but the “land of counterpane” was no longer
desirable or even possible, and putting on coat and trousers he went
quietly downstairs and out across the lawn into the fields beyond, where
a bathing-place had been scooped out of the river-bed. Till breakfast,
at any rate,--still two hours away,--he need put no restraint on the
flood of vitality and joy that ran this morning in spate through him and
this beautiful world. There were two hours of it, with the cool shock of
the racing water, the caress of the warm wind, the sense of being alone,
and young, and out-of-doors. Pagan it might be, but irresistibly
delightful.

Then suddenly, while still thrilling with these joys, the mellow tones
of the church-bell struck across the staccato sounds of life, and all at
once the scene with his father the evening before and his own resolve to
try to please him flashed into his mind. The bell, he knew, must be for
the early celebration in the parish-church, and he had still twenty
minutes, enough, if he was quick, in which to dress in the prescribed
Sunday garb (though why black was suitable to Sunday he had long given
up trying to guess, leaving it to rot away among the unconjecturable
riddles of life), and, a thing which pleased his father so intensely,
play the hymn on the melancholy one-manualled organ, the curious
quavering tones of which formed so remarkable a contrast to the nasal
notes of village voices. So with something of a sigh for his
renunciation of the river-bank, he hurried back home, and before the
bell had ceased ringing passed through the church-yard where yew-trees
of noble growth looked down upon the horrors of the modern stone-mason
with his “chaste” designs and “handsome” crosses into the grey, cool
church.

To judge by the interior it is probable that the mouth which Lady
Sunningdale so much admired in the vicar and the Bishop of Tavistock was
a low-church mouth, for Mr. Challoner at any rate did not attempt to
make any appeal to the souls of his parishioners by means of the senses.
Two brass flower-vases, of that curiously feeble design that somehow
suggests at once low-church ecclesiasticism, stood on the altar, over
which a flood of mauve and magenta light poured in through misshapen
figures of apostles and prophets in the east window. In one transept
stood the organ to which Martin directed his steps, the pipes of which,
framed in a wooden border ornamented with fretsaw work, were painted
white with a scroll of red pattern in line embellishing their top ends.
Behind the organ-bench was a red plush curtain with golden fleurs-de-lys
stamped on it, to screen the person of the organist from the eyes of the
congregation. The seats for the people, who were thinly scattered over
the church, were faced eastwards, and were made of shiny, varnished
pitch-pine, while the floor of the aisles and accesses was tiled with a
cheerful ecclesiastical pattern in violent blue and Indian red, and
pierced here and there with gratings of cast-iron work through which, in
winter, came the hot, stale blasts from the warming apparatus. A black
iron stove stood near the font at the west end of the church, and rows
of somewhat dilapidated rush-bottomed chairs denoted the place allotted
to the school-children.

To Martin, who for the last two months had been accustomed to the grey
dimness and carved spaciousness of King’s Chapel, the first sight of
these staring crudenesses came with a shock of almost physical
repulsion. Why had it been done? What did it all mean? What emotions
were the ill-coloured, badly designed windows intended to arouse or what
was the affinity between pitch-pine and worship? Impressionable and
impatient as he always was, he nearly turned back after he had opened
the door and was confronted by this half-forgotten tawdry brilliance.
Then the motive which had made him forsake the cool riverside, the
desire to please his father, prevailed.

The organ was blown by a small boy with a highly polished face, who
stood directly by the player’s left-hand, and, since the bellows were
not powerful enough to supply the lungs of the organ, unless plied by an
energetic arm, was often blown too, and breathed heavily into the
organist’s ear. It was still a few minutes to eight when Martin came in,
and found the village school-master preparing to begin that series of
somewhat elementary harmonies to which is given the vague title of a
“voluntary.” But he slid quickly off the seat with a smile of welcome to
the other, and in a searching whisper told him what the hymns were going
to be, and what “Kyrie” would be sung between the commandments. This
later information was given with a self-depreciatory blush, for Mr.
Milton was not at all mute and inglorious, but composed chants and
hymn-tunes with so many accidentals that the choir quailed before them,
and garnished them with accidents.

Martin glanced at the organ-stops: there were “Bourdon” (which sounded
as if you were playing pedals when you were not, and was much in
request), “Open Diapason,” “Flute,” “Cor Anglais,” and a few others of
more doubtful import. He added “Tremolo” to certain other soft stops, in
curiosity as to what it meant, and began the first bar of the prelude to
“Lohengrin.” But as “Tremolo” seemed to convert other sounds into a
distant bleating of sheep, he hastily put it in. Five minutes later the
vestry-door in the transept opposite opened and the curate, followed by
his father, came out. Mr. Challoner looked up as he entered, saw
Martin’s head above the curtains of the organ, and a sudden warm tide of
thankfulness and love glowed in his heart. Surely the dear lad could not
go very far wrong, if he sought strength here.

The worshippers were but few, and it was not long before Martin was out
in the sunshine again, but with all the joy and exhilaration of the
earlier hour by the river driven out of him. Like most very emotional
people, religion was as essential to him as breathing, but in him it was
a natural, child-like religion that springs primarily from the huge
enjoyment of the beautiful things in this world, for which he had to
thank somebody. And though it would be impossible to say that it was not
real to him, yet a London fog, so to speak, would make a pagan of him
for the time being. And now, though he did believe in the truth and
reality of the service in which he had taken part, the deadly ugliness
of the church, the melancholy voices, Mr. Milton’s “Kyrie” ten times
repeated, the intolerable voices singing absurd tunes had risen like a
London fog between him and it. The service had passed over his head
like a flight of birds unseen in this dreadful atmosphere, he had heard
only the rustle of their wings. But what he had been conscious of with
every jarred fibre in his being was the gross material ugliness of the
sights and sounds of this last hour. Why should “throne” be allowed to
rhyme with “join” in sacred subjects, whereas it would be admissible in
no other class of poetry? Was it because anything was good enough in a
hymn, or because those who were responsible for the “form” of English
worship were entirely without any sense of “form” themselves? Or why in
church allow music that would be tolerated nowhere else? Or why have
windows in the house of God which for colouring and design could only be
paralleled in the worst type of suburban villa? Pitch-pine seats, tiles
again only to be found in the fireplaces of villas and the aisles of
churches! Often before, though never perhaps so vividly, had the
ugliness of Protestantism struck him; often before, though never perhaps
so insistently, had his nature, wishing to aspire, demanded beauty as
its ladder. Most of all here was beauty necessary, for the sublimest act
of all was here performed, the worship and praise of God, the
sacramental approach to him. Even as a little thing, a little rhythmical
noise, may utterly distract a man’s attention from a subject which
requires concentration, so this ambient ugliness utterly distracted
Martin. Only ugliness was no little thing to him.

He had not long to wait for his father, for he followed him almost
immediately out of the vestry, and his face lit up with extraordinary
pleasure when he saw that Martin had waited for him. Here was his
highest joy: to see his children with him in that divine act, and find
them caring, lingering for him, and the consciousness of that compact
the night before was as vividly present in his mind as it had been in
Martin’s when he left the delights of the river-bank at the sound of the
church-bell.

“Dear lad,” he said, “the first thing I saw when I came into church was
you, and I was so thankful.”

Then with the active desire to get into Martin’s sympathy he went on.

“And what was that beautiful, exquisite tune you played us before
service?”

Martin brightened.

“Ah, I am glad you liked it,” he said, cordially. “Is it not beautiful?
It was Wagner,--the beginning of the overture to ‘Lohengrin.’”

Mr. Challoner’s face grew suddenly grave. Wagner was identified with
“Tannhäuser” to him.

“Certainly it was most, beautiful,” he said; “but do you think it is
quite--quite suitable to play something from an opera in church, before
the Holy Communion, too? One wants everything, is it not so, to be of
the highest?”

Mr. Milton’s “Kyrie” occurred to Martin, but he dismissed it.

“I don’t see why one shouldn’t play an opera overture, father,” he said.
“Does not the fact that it is beautiful make it suitable?”

“But the associations of it?” said his father.

“I don’t suppose anybody knew what it was except me,” said Martin. “I am
sorry if you think I should not have played it. But really I had no time
to think. I was nearly late, and on the organ there was only a book of
dreadful extracts, chiefly by organists. But I will play something
definitely sacred at the eleven o’clock service. That is if you would
like me to play again.”

“Thank you, dear lad, thank you. Ah, what a lovely morning! Look at the
hills. ‘I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.’ How wonderful the
appreciation of natural beauty in the Psalms is,--‘Sweeter also than
honey,’--so many of David’s similes are drawn from ordinary, every-day
sensations, but lifted up, ennobled, dedicated. But how was it you were
nearly late? I looked into your room before I started for church and
found you had already gone!”

“I went down to bathe,” said Martin; “in fact, it was only the bell
beginning that reminded me there was service at eight.”

Mr. Challoner looked at him a moment with a sort of appeal.

“But, dear Martin,” he said, “you did not come without preparation?”

“I am afraid I did,” said Martin, and the joy of his waking hours
dropped utterly dead, while the hopelessness of the compact of the
evening before rose close in front of him.

They took a turn up and down the lawn before going in, and his father
very gently, but very firmly impressed on him the positive sin of his
omission. His voice trembled with the earnestness of his feeling, for to
him the danger of coming to the Communion unprepared was as vital as the
need for coming. He hated to say what he felt he must say; it was so
soon after their compact to try to understand one another, to get on
without perpetual correction and admonishment. But this could not be
left unsaid. Once it occurred to Martin to tell him the truth, to say,
“I came in order to please you; otherwise I should not,” but the impulse
passed. There was no need to give his father such pain as that; and he
merely assented dully where assent was needed, said, “Yes, I see,” at
intervals, and gave the promise required. But it was a dreary beginning
to the day.

The Chartries pew, the only family pew remaining in the church, was well
attended at the eleven o’clock service, Lady Sunningdale being, as
usual, the brightest object present; indeed, among the rest of the
congregation she resembled a bird of paradise which had by mistake found
its way into a colony of sparrows. But what this violation of her habits
in appearing so long before lunch had cost her none but her maid knew.
However, there she was, and the colours of the spectroscope blossomed
together in her hat, and in a fit of absence of mind, to which she was
prone, she as nearly as possible put up a pink sunshade, forgetting
where she was, to shield her from the sun which was shining through a
mauve-coloured saint on to the middle of her face in a manner which she
felt to be aggressive and probably unbecoming. So she moved to behind
the shadow of a neighbouring pillar, from where, looking at the organ,
she could see who sat there.

“Too heavenly,” she said in a shrill whisper to Stella Plympton. “Martin
is at the organ. I’m afraid he won’t play the Brahms, though. What a
pity it is not Good Friday; he would be sure to give us the Charfreitag
music.”

That, however, was not to be, and instead the familiar strains of “O
Rest in the Lord” were the prelude to which six choir-boys, four choir
men, including the carpenter, who in a fluty falsetto sang a steady
third below the trebles and believed it to be alto, advanced to their
places. But Martin, in Lady Sunningdale’s opinion, could do no wrong,
and again she whispered shrilly to Stella,--

“Is he not wonderful? That tune is exactly like the stained glass. It is
absolutely the ‘air’ of the place. Look, there is Helen Challoner
sitting with the choir. Is she not a dream? Tell Frank to look at her.”

But this was unnecessary, as Frank Yorkshire was already looking. He was
a rather stout, very pleasant-faced young man of about thirty, with
smooth flaxen hair, rather prominent blue eyes, and an expression of
extraordinary amiability, which his character fully endorsed. He was
remarkably adaptable, and while he would willingly talk flippancies with
Lady Sunningdale, his tenantry adored him for his friendliness and his
great common sense if the baby was ill or the pig would not put on
flesh. In other respects he was a Baron of the realm, immensely wealthy,
and unmarried, so that he was perpetually drenched by showers of
eligible girls, whom aspiring mothers hurled at his head. These he
returned with thanks, uninjured.

He had, in fact, many pleasant qualities and one notable one, which Lady
Sunningdale had already mentioned as being characteristic of him,
namely, his undeviating pursuit of the first-rate. It was this which
turned a character that would otherwise have been rather materialistic
into something of an idealist, and supplied a sort of religion to a mind
which otherwise, an extremely rare phenomenon, was completely atheistic,
not with an atheism into which he had drifted from carelessness or
_insouciance_, but with one that sprang from a reasoned and clear
conviction that there could not possibly be any God whatever. On all
other matters he had an open mind and was extremely willing to adopt any
opinion that seemed to him reasonable, but on this one point he was
hopelessly bigoted. This reasonableness and willingness to be convinced
had led people to suppose that he was weak. But this was not in the
least true, he was only fair. Another quality, and a fine one, was his
also: he was practically unacquainted with fear, either physical or
moral, and would, had he lived in those uncongenial times, have gone as
cheerfully to the stake for his entire absence of religious beliefs as
he would now blandly uphold his abhorrence of sport on the ground of
cruelty to animals in a roomful of hunting-men. His faculty of reverence
finally, of which he possessed a considerable measure, he exercised
entirely over the talents of other people, on whatever line they ran. He
knelt, for instance, at the shrine of Lady Sunningdale’s acute
perceptions, he hung up votive offerings to Martin’s music, he even, at
this moment, bowed the knee before the village carpenter, whose talent
for singing the wrong note was of that instinctive and unerring quality
which approaches genius.

He was a great friend of Martin’s. Helen he only knew slightly. And,
after service, desultory conversation in the church-yard ended in the
twins going back to lunch at Chartries. Though Mr. Challoner was opposed
on principle to anything, however remote, connected with festivity
taking place on Sunday, he raised no objection, merely reminded Helen
that her Sunday-school class met at three. Lord Yorkshire, strolling by
her, thought he heard a _nuance_ of impatience in her assent, and his
question had a touch of insincerity about it.

“Don’t you find that charming?” he asked. “I think there can be nothing
so interesting as helping to form a child’s mind. It is so plastic--like
modelling clay. You can mould it into any shape you choose!”

Helen glanced quickly at him.

“Do you really want to know if I find it charming?” she asked.

“Immensely.”

“I detest it. I don’t think they have any minds to mould. Why should one
think they have? But they have shiny faces, and they fidget. And I point
out Ur of the Chaldees on the map.”

He laughed.

“I suppose the chances are in favour of their not having minds, as you
say,” he remarked. “But I had to allow for your delighting in it, when I
started the subject. What do they think about then? Do they just chew
their way through life like cows? You know some people don’t chew
enough. I expect Martin doesn’t. But that is why he is so
extraordinary.” There was intention in this, and it succeeded. Any one
who admired Martin had found a short cut to his sister’s favour.

“Ah, Martin never chews,” she said. “I don’t think he ever thinks; he
just--just blazes. Now, do tell me, Lord Yorkshire, because you know him
well. He isn’t stupid, is he, because he can’t or doesn’t pass
examinations?”

“He couldn’t conceivably be stupid, any more than I could be a Red
Indian. But it is by a misguided ingenuity that he contrives not to
pass examinations. It is hardly worth while doing it.”

“Ah, do tell him that,” said Helen. “I think you have influence with
him.”

“What on earth makes you think that?”

“He quotes you.”

“Are you sure you do not mean he mimics me? He does it to my face, too,
so why not behind my back. It is quite admirable. Ah, I see he has shown
you a specimen. Don’t I talk wonderfully like him? But influence,--one
might as well sit down and think how to influence a flash of lightning.”

Helen considered this a moment.

“Well, there are such things as lightning-conductors,” she said.
“Besides, there are times when Martin isn’t the least like a flash of
lightning. He is often like a stagnant pool.”

“I don’t recognise that,” said Frank.

“No, you probably have never seen it.”

They had passed out of the narrow path from the church-yard during this,
and their way lying across the open fields, Lady Sunningdale, as her
habit was, annexed Frank as well as Martin.

“Dear Helen, it is too bad,” she said as she manœuvred. “You will have
to go back immediately after lunch. What is a Sunday-school? It sounds
so beautiful, like a hymn tune. Yes, I adore church-music; really there
is nothing like it. And it was so wonderful of you to play the
lucubrations of Mendelssohn, Martin.”

“Yes, I felt that, too,” said Frank, in his low, slow voice. “There was
a stained-glass window just opposite me which was exactly like the
tone-colour of Mendelssohn. A figure which I take to have been a
prophet, probably minor, in jewelled slippers was directing an enamoured
gaze towards a pink town,--which may or may not have been the New
Jerusalem. I always wonder where artists in stained-glass get their
botany from. Nameless herbs enveloped the feet of the minor prophet.”

Martin laughed.

“I know that window,” he said. “When I was little it used to come into
my nightmares. Now it has become a daymare. I don’t know which is
worst.”

Lady Sunningdale sighed.

“Church is very fatiguing,” she said. “I had quite forgotten how tiring
it was. I shall not go any more for a year or two. Dear me, these
tiresome shoes! And my darlings wanted to come with me. But that isn’t
allowed, is it? It is only in Scotland that dogs go to church, I think.
I went to Scotland once. I can’t bear the Scotch. They are so plain and
so extremely truthful. There is nothing in the least unexpected about
them. Dear me, there’s the other shoe. Yes, thank you, Martin. And they
use a silly slang instead of talking English. Martin, I had a talk to
your father yesterday about you. I really think I made an impression.”

“Telling the truth produces a very marked type of face,” said Frank,
“and in later life mutton-chop whiskers. That is why one always engages
butlers with mutton-chop whiskers. They are sure to be reliable.
Truth-telling is quite incurable, and so has a certain claim to
distinction.”

Martin listened to this with something of the air of a parrot “taking
notice,” and then turned to Lady Sunningdale.

“Do you really mean that?” he asked, eagerly.

“Yes, of course I do. It seemed news to him that playing the piano could
be taken seriously. And he took me seriously. There are my treasures
come to meet me. I am so hungry. Don’t jump up, Suez Canal. My
darlings!”



CHAPTER IV


Helen, as Lady Sunningdale had mentioned, had to start back again for
her Sunday-school soon after lunch. They had all moved out under the
cedar on the lawn, and when she arose, Lord Yorkshire also got up and
offered himself as an escort. This was perfectly agreeable to the girl,
though she wondered exactly how high Aunt Clara’s eyebrows would rise if
she knew that her niece might have been found walking on Sunday
afternoon with a young man who could not possibly be brought under the
elastic bonds of cousinship. But the eyebrows of Lady Sunningdale, who,
it must be supposed, was chaperone, remained low and level, and the two
started.

Frank had been admirably entertaining in his own way during lunch,
capping the extravagancies of Lady Sunningdale with incongruities that
rivalled her own, and giving wings of epigram and paradox to his speech;
but Helen had received a very distinct impression that under his
flippancy, which Martin imitated so faithfully, there lay something of
sterling and very human solidity. And this unknown factor interested her
quite apart from and much more than his conversational fireworks, which
were as obviously superficial to the essential “he” as his eyebrow or
moustache. Perhaps he also knew the unimportance of their leadings, for
certainly, as soon as they were alone, such coruscations died slowly
down, and it seemed to Helen that a very pleasant mellow light, restful
after fireworks, took its place.

“I think it is unkind of you not to admit me into the school itself,” he
was saying. “Why am I to be debarred from the knowledge of Ur of the
Chaldees? Geography has an enormous fascination for me. I can pore for
hours over maps of countries which I have never seen and almost
certainly shall never see, just reading the names of unheard of places
with gusto.”

“Ah, you feel that, too,” she said. “Martin always tells me I am a
gypsy. Certainly I want to wander, to go on just for the sake of going
on. The exploration, that is the point. And I think it is the playing at
exploration that is so fascinating in a map. Dictionaries, too,--new
words. And, best of all, new books with new ideas.”

“There is one thing better,” said he; “I cap your new books with new
people, new ideas.”

The personal note entered, however slightly, into this, and Helen was
silent a moment.

“Ah, but new books implies new people,” she said. “Nothing can be more
real than the people in some books.”

“Quite true; and nothing can be less real than some people in real life.
Do you know what I mean? One wonders with some people if there is
anybody there. My impression is that there often isn’t.”

“I have an aunt----“ Helen began, and stopped, feeling that it was not
quite kind to lay Aunt Clara on the dissecting-table.

Frank guessed this.

“Ah, I have three,” he said; “perhaps mine will do.”

Helen laughed, and, after a moment, he went on:

“I believe that curiosity which is a convenient expression to sum up
all this passion for the new,” he said, “is quite modern. I don’t think,
at least, that the generation to which our aunts belong had it, with
certain adorable exceptions, like Lady Sunningdale, anything like to the
extent we have it. What was good enough for our grandfathers was nearly
good enough for our fathers. But what was good enough for our fathers is
not nearly good enough for us.”

She turned a quick, luminous glance at him. He was talking about things
that very much concerned her.

“Ah, that is interesting,” she said, eagerly. “Give me more news of
that.”

“It has struck you, too?” he asked.

“Your saying it reminds me that I knew it all the time.”

“I know what you mean. Yes, I think it is the case. At any rate, take
yourself, Martin, and me,--all, I expect, quite normal people. Well, we
all want to wander, to experience everything. We are probably not really
afraid of any experience that could conceivably happen to us. And we
claim the right to all experience. We claim the right to our own
individuality, too. It seems to us quite certainly ours; the only
possession we have which is inalienable. We may lose everything else,
from our character to our teeth, but not our individuality. Do you
remember how Magda throws her arms wide, and cries, ‘Son Io!’--‘I am I’?
That somewhat important point had never struck her father or mother.
Poor things! They thought she was a sort of them. Is that bad grammar?”

Their way lay at this point through one of the game covers, and a sudden
piteous crying, dreadfully human, arose from the bushes near the path.
Helen stopped with fright and horror in her face.

“A child--is it a child?” she asked.

“No; nearly as bad though,--a hare,” said he, and pushed his way through
tangled bracken and brambles in the direction of the sound. In a moment
he called to her.

“Will you come here, Miss Challoner?” he said. “Come round to the right:
it is a clearer path.”

She followed his directions, and found him kneeling a few yards off,
holding in both hands a hare that was caught by the hind-leg in a
horrible jagged-toothed trap.

“Pull the two sides of the trap apart,” he said, “as quickly as you can.
Be quick. The poor brute is struggling so I can hardly hold it.”

His voice was so changed that she would hardly have recognised it. It
was no longer low and courteous, but sharp and angry. She knelt down by
him and, exerting her full strength, did as he bade her. The leg was
caught only by the skin, and holding the animal in one hand he gently
disimpaled it where the iron teeth had clutched. But just as it was free
a sudden tremor of nerves passed through Helen at this humane surgery;
the trap slipped from her hand, and caught Frank’s finger just at the
base of the nail. He took his breath quickly with the pain and let go of
the hare, which, none the worse, ran off up the winding path down which
they had come.

“I must trouble you to open the trap once more,” he said, the blood
streaming from his finger. But now his voice was quite normal again.

“Oh, I’m an absolute fool,” cried Helen. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and again
she wrenched the trap open.

Frank was rather pale, but he laughed quite naturally.

“Thank you so much,” he said, as she released his finger. “What strong
hands you have. But I should dearly like to clap that thing on the nose
of the brute who set it. What an infernal contrivance. How can men be
such butchers! I shall take it and show it to your uncle.”

He shook the blood off his finger and bound it tightly round with the
handkerchief.

“Oh, Lord Yorkshire, I’m so sorry,” said Helen again. “I am an absolute
born idiot. How could I be such a fool?”

He laughed again.

“My dear Miss Challoner,” he said, “nothing whatever has happened which
can justify your violent language. Besides, it would have been worth
while to set that poor, jolly beast free at the cost of real pain, and
not just a finger-scratch. Well, we’ve vindicated the liberty of one
individual anyhow. Did you see its eyes? They said ‘I am I,’ like
Magda.”

He held the bushes back for her to regain the path.

“But you’ll have your finger attended to?” she said.

“Yes, at once, please. I’ll ask you to tie it rather tighter, if you
don’t mind the sight of blood. I always think blood is such a beautiful
colour,” he chattered on, to prevent her apologising further. “One talks
of a blood-red sunset and admires it, and dragon’s-blood china; but when
it comes to the real article, so many people shrink from it. That’s
better, thanks; that’s excellent. I assure you it is nothing at all.”

His manner was so entirely natural that there was nothing left for her
except to be natural too; and they walked on out of the cool,
green-shadowed path, flecked here and there with the sunshine that
filtered through the trees that met above them, into the blaze and
brightness of the fields that bordered the church-yard.

“Yes, the cry of Magda for her right to her own individuality,” he said.
“At last this generation has said, ‘I will lead my own life, not the
life dictated to me by other people.’ I wonder what we shall make of
it.”

Helen looked at him again, eagerly.

“And do you mean that the assertion of one’s own individuality is a
duty?” she asked.

“Ah, that is a difficult question. Certainly, I think there are--are
indications that one is supposed to play one’s hand for all it’s worth.
But duty? Probably you and I mean different things by it.”

“I mean the will of God for me,” she said, simply.

They paused at the gate into the church-yard, and their eyes met. It
seemed to Frank that she waited for his answer with some eagerness. And
he shook his head.

“No, I don’t mean that,” he said.

She held out her hand to him.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“So am I, very sorry, indeed. But I can’t help it.”

Her eyes wandered over the woods behind him. Then came back to his face.

“No, I recognise that,” she said. “Good-bye, Lord Yorkshire. Thank you
so much for coming with me. And please have your finger attended to.”

She smiled at him and went up the church-yard path towards the shining
corrugated-iron Room. As she passed the walk leading to the vicarage,
she met her father.

“You are nearly ten minutes late, Helen,” he said.

“I know, dear. I am sorry. But you know you are late, too.”

He did not smile.

“I was detained by other parish work,” he said. “I was not amusing
myself. Pray do not delay any longer.”

The evening meal on Sunday at the vicarage was of a strictly Sabbatical
order, and consisted of cold things to eat and no waiting on the part of
servants. It took place late after evening church and had, to Martin’s
mind, a dreariness of its own, an individuality (to which Frank would
have said it undoubtedly had a right) which marked it off from all other
meals. Every one was fatigued with the exercises of the day, and though
they were religious exercises which had produced that fatigue, it
brought with it a tendency which made cheeriness difficult. However,
cheeriness was not a quality exactly encouraged by Mr. Challoner on
Sunday, so perhaps that was all for the good. But this evening, Martin,
who had spent the whole afternoon at his uncle’s, coming back only just
before supper, was conscious of a Sunday easily got through, and was
chattering on with a good deal of rather thoughtless enjoyment about
Lady Sunningdale, every now and then mimicking, with extreme fidelity,
some more than usually incoherent speech of hers in which Wagner, her
dogs, South Italy, her husband, egg-shell china, and scandal were about
equal ingredients, without noticing a somewhat ominous gravity that was
deepening on his father’s face.

At length Mr. Challoner spoke, interrupting him.

“There, dear Martin, is not that enough? It is Sunday evening, remember.
Cannot we find something rather more suitable to the day to talk about?
And you would scarcely like Lady Sunningdale, who is so good to you, to
know that you imitate her.”

“Oh, she is always insisting that I should do it to her face,” said
Martin. “I often do. She shrieks.”

“That is enough, I think, Martin,” said his father again, mindful of
their compact of the evening before, and determining to be gentle. “Have
you only just come back?”

“Half an hour ago,” said Martin, the gleam in his eye suddenly quenched,
for he knew what the next question must be.

“Then, you did not go to church this evening?” asked his father.

“No; I had been twice.”

Now, Mr. Challoner had been from church to Sunday-school and from
Sunday-school to church practically since eight that morning, and it not
in the least unreasonable that he should be tired with so many busy
hours in ill-ventilated places on so hot a day. The effect of this
tiredness on him, as on most of us, was shewn in a tendency to that
which, when it occurs in children, their elders label “crossness.” And
he answered in a tone in which that very common emotion was apparent.

“I was not asking you to justify your absence,” he said, and the meal
proceeded in rather dreary silence.

Then two small incidents happened. Martin dropped a plate with a
hideous clatter, and a moment afterwards upset a wineglass, which he had
just filled with claret, all over the table. He apologised and wiped it
up, but, unfortunately, looking up, he saw his father’s face wearing
such an extraordinary expression of true Christian patience that for the
life of him he could not help giving a sudden giggle of laughter. He
could not possibly have helped it; if he was going to be hung for it he
must have laughed.

Now, the laughter of other people when we ourselves do not see anything
whatever in the situation to provoke mirth is one of the authentic
trials of life, especially if one half suspects, as Mr. Challoner did
now, that one is in some manner inexplicable to one’s self the cause of
it. It was therefore highly to his credit that, remembering the
interview he had had with Martin the night before, he could manage to
keep inside his lips the words that tingled on his tongue. Of more than
that he was incapable; he could not just then be genial or start a
subject of conversation, he could only just be silent.

Martin could easily manage that; his last observation had not found
favour, and he held his tongue and ate large quantities of cold beef.
Helen sitting opposite her father, in the absence of Aunt Clara, who was
spending the Sunday away, had also nothing apparently which she
considered as suitable, and the meal proceeded in silence. Then, after a
long pause, she raised her eyes, which so happened to catch Martin’s,
who was still struggling with his unseemly mirth. At this moment also
her father looked up and saw a glance which he interpreted into a glance
of meaning pass between them, a thing irritating to the most placid
temperament. He saw, too, the corners of Martin’s mouth twitching. This
was too much.

“I will not have that sort of thing, children,” he said, his voice
rising sharply. “It is an extremely rude and vulgar thing to exchange
glances like that.”

Martin’s merriment was struck as dead as beech-leaves in frost.

“I was doing nothing of the kind,” he said, his temper flashing out.
“Helen looked up at the same moment as I looked up. We all three looked
up, in fact. It was purely accidental.”

Helen was vexed that Martin should speak so, but felt bound to endorse
him.

“Indeed, father, it is so,” she said.

Again the silence descended, and Martin, seeing that both his father and
sister had finished their meat, changed their plates and arranged the
second course. After a very long pause their father spoke again.

“I should have thought my children might have had something to say to me
in the evening when they have left me alone all day, enjoying themselves
elsewhere. Has nothing happened to you since breakfast which I am worthy
of hearing?”

Martin’s intolerance of this injustice again stung him into ill-advised
speech.

“I tried to tell you what I have been doing,” he said, “but you stopped
me. You said it was unsuitable,” and his handsome face flushed angrily.

Then a thing unprecedented happened.

“I beg your pardon, dear Martin,” said his father.

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen was engaged next morning in the fragrant labour of picking
sweet-peas, when a maid came out of the house to say that Lord
Yorkshire was there. Her father and Martin she knew were both out, and
she went in to see him, concealing from herself the quite perceptible
thrill of pleasure that the announcement had given her. She was, as
usual, hatless, and her hair was in golden disarray from the breeze, and
as she went towards the house she took off her gardening gloves, trying
by sundry pats and pokes to give it some semblance of order. She was not
very successful in this, nor need she have been, for she looked to him
like some beautiful wild flower when she entered.

“I ought to apologise for coming at this unearthly hour,” he said, “for
my only excuse is that Martin left a book of music at Chartries, and,
having an idle morning, I thought I would bring it over.”

Helen was delighted to see him, and since it would have been ungracious
to convey the impression that this morning visit was a bore, especially
since it was not, she took the straightforward line.

“How good of you,” she said. “And the finger?”

He held up a bandaged hand.

“I am only reminded of it by that,” he said.

“I am so glad. Isn’t it extraordinary that any one could be so awkward
as I was. I am always dropping and spilling things. Martin used to say,
‘It is a lovely day, let us go and spill something.’ But he is much
worse than I am, really. Do come and look at the garden. It is really
pretty.”

“And are you gardening?” he asked, glancing at the gloves.

“Mildly. I am really only picking sweet-peas. It is so nice of them--the
more you pick the more they flower.”

She picked up her basket as they walked out and held it up to him.

“How energetic of them,” he said. “Ah, what a delicious smell. That
reminds me of lots of nice things. It will now remind me of one nice
thing the more. Smell is the keenest of all the senses to remind one of
things. Sight and hearing are not nearly so intimate. And Martin is
out?”

“Yes; he went to try and get a fish. But there is too much sun.”

“I am delighted to hear it,” said Frank.

“I think I am, too, really,” she said. “But I do like the dear boy to be
pleased.”

“Well, I hope we are all going to please him,” said he. “For the
combined armies are going to advance and rescue him. Lord Flintshire,
Lady Sunningdale, and, in my own humble manner, myself, are all going to
try to get your father to allow him to study music in earnest. In fact,
I am a sort of skirmisher in advance of the heavy--of the main body. It
is my business to bring on the general engagement by asking him to stay
with me in London, and bringing some people, who really know, to hear
him play.”

Helen turned a radiant face on him.

“Ah, that is good of you,” she said; “and it is really angelic of me to
feel that, as I shall be left here all alone.”

“But the scheme includes you. Lady Sunningdale is writing to you to ask
you to come up with him and stay with her for a week or two. I hope you
will say ‘Yes.’”

Helen gave a long sigh, as Moses, perhaps, sighed on Pisgah.

“I don’t know if I could manage it,” she said, “though it would be
heavenly. Perhaps, as Aunt Clara comes back in a day or two, I could
leave father. But I don’t know. Oh, I should enjoy it,” she cried.

“I expect you have a very fine faculty for enjoyment,” said he.

Again the personal note entered, but this time it did not make her
pause.

“I? I should just think I had. And I love London in little raids like
this, it is so full of charming things to do. But Martin,--it is good of
you, Lord Yorkshire. And do be very good for him. Do use your influence
with him. Do make him, at any rate, work hard to pass his examination at
Cambridge first. It would make everything so much easier, so much
happier.”

“For him?” he asked, with a marked intonation.

“Yes, and for all of us.”

He looked at her gravely.

“That sounds worth while,” he said.

He let that string vibrate, as it were, for a moment or two, and then
passed on.

“But what becomes of the liberty of the individual which we talked of
yesterday?” he said. “To influence anybody always seems to me a slight
infringement of rights. One imposes one’s personality--such as it is--on
another.”

“Ah, but in a good cause, to show him the stupidity of not passing
examinations. Surely, that is a rule absolutely without exception, that
it is always wise not to be stupid.”

He laughed. Helen, with her direct vivid personality, seemed to him
unlike anybody else he had ever seen, with the exception, perhaps, of
her twin. The extraordinary and rather rare charm also of perfect
naturalness, not the assumption of it, was hers also.

“Well, it is certainly hard to think of any exception to that rule,” he
said, “though one always distrusts rules without exceptions. It seems so
very unlikely that they should exist, considering how utterly different
every one person is from every other. On the face of it, it seems
impossible.”

This had aroused another train of thought in the girl.

“Oh, nothing would be impossible, if one were wise,” she said. “Oh, I
hate fools. And I am one.”

And she snipped viciously among the sweet-peas.

He followed this with some success.

“Was the Sunday-school very stupid?” he asked, sympathetically.

“Hideously--quite hideously. How clever of you to guess. It was also
extremely ugly. I don’t know which I dislike most, ugliness or
stupidity. In fact, they are difficult to tell apart. Yet, after all,
beauty is only skin deep.”

“But what has that to do with the wonder of it?” he asked. “That
particular proverb seems to me about the silliest. Why, the most subtle
brain in the world is only a few inches deep, and, as far as measurement
goes, it is about the same depth as the most stupid. Or would you say
that the beauty of some wonderful evening moment of a Corot was only
skin deep, the depth of the paint on the canvas? Surely not. It has all
the depth of beauty of the summer night. No, that proverb is perfectly
meaningless, and was probably invented by somebody more than usually
plain.”

Helen’s basket of sweet-peas was full, and she emerged from the fragrant
tangle of the garden-beds and strolled with him up the lawn, her face on
flame with what he had called curiosity. That divine moment, when a girl
becomes a woman, when all she has drunk in all her life begins to make
products of its own had just come to her. And at this psychological
moment he had come, too.

“But surely one sees very beautiful people who are very dull, very
stupid, very wicked even,” she said. “Is not that what the proverb
means, perhaps, that as far as beauty itself goes it is only a very
superficial gift?”

He shook his head.

“Look at that splendid Gloire de Dijon,” he said. “It may be very
stupid, very dull, very wicked, as far as we know. But that does not
concern us. It is beautiful, and its beauty does not, anyhow, touch us
only superficially, but very deeply. Does not beauty stir in you some
chord of wider vibration than any purely intellectual quality? Some--how
shall I say it?--some longing for the infinite?”

Again their talk had taken the bit in its teeth, and as she gently
fingered the rose he had pointed to, her lips drew themselves into a
quivering curve of extraordinary tenderness.

“Ah, yes, yes,” she said. “I could kneel down and thank God for it.”

He looked at her gravely, remembering the conclusion of their walk the
afternoon before.

“You are very much to be envied,” he said. “With my whole heart I
congratulate you.”

She raised her head, dismissing the gravity of the last minute.

“Ah, but the Sunday-school,” she said.

“But I envy that, too,” said he. “It, as well as you, has its _beaux
jours_. You would not grudge it them?”

She laughed.

“Ah, you have committed an inanity,” she said. “I was so afraid you were
a person who never said anything stupid. But to pay compliments is
stupid. And now I have been rude. That is even more stupid.”

“I think it is,” said he, “because it is also unnecessary.”

There was a further challenge in this, but she did not take the glove he
had flung, and having reached the tree at the end of the lawn underneath
which, three days ago, the ill-fated “Mill on the Floss” had lain, they
turned back again towards the house, and she directed their talk, like
their steps, in another direction.

“It is good of you,--I mean about Martin,” she said. “That is just what
he wants, to go among people who will take him and his music seriously,
not gasp just because he plays extremely fast. No one here really knows
the difference between Rule Britannia and the Dead March. And
yesterday--oh dear! oh dear!” And she broke out laughing.

“There isn’t much,” observed Frank, parenthetically. “But please tell me
about yesterday.”

“I think I must, because, though you will laugh, you will laugh kindly.
It was at the early service, and the dear boy played the overture to
‘Lohengrin’ as a voluntary, and my father thought it wasn’t quite
suitable.”

He considered this a moment.

“Do you know, I don’t think I want to laugh at all?” he said. “I
understand perfectly.”

“But Martin didn’t. That was so funny.”

“No, he wouldn’t. That is one of the penalties of genius. In fact, it is
what genius means. It is having one point of view so vivid that all
others are dark, invisible beside it. And genius is always intolerant.”

Her eye brightened.

“I don’t know if you know or not,” she said, “but I expect you do. Is
Martin really all that,--dear, stupid, old Martin?”

“I believe so. We are going to get him to London to find out. You will
give him my message, won’t you? I go up to town to-day, and he may come
any day he likes; the sooner the better. Lady Sunningdale is writing to
you.”

“Oh, it would be heavenly!” said she.

He took his leave soon after, and went back to Chartries for an early
lunch, since Lady Sunningdale, who never started anywhere in the
morning, unless it was impossible to get there otherwise, had retained
his services in order to minimize the dangers and difficulties incident
to travel by rail with Suez Canal and Sahara. For Sahara had an
unreasoning dislike of locomotive engines, which had never, at present,
hurt her, and always tried to bite them, while Suez Canal, whenever it
was feasible, jumped down between the platform and the train and smelled
about for whatever there might be of interest among the wheels of the
carriages. In addition to these excitements, their mistress never moved
without a tea-basket, a collapsible card-table,--which usually
collapsed,--a small library of light literature, a jewel-case, so that
the tedium of a journey in her company was reduced to a minimum, since
when the train was in motion these recreations could be indulged in, and
when it stopped there was more than enough to be done in collecting
these priceless impedimenta to prevent any companion of hers from
feeling a moment’s boredom that arose from idleness.

She also could hardly ever produce either her own or the dogs’ railway
tickets when called upon to do so, thus giving use to games of
hide-and-seek all over the carriage.

And to-day, in addition, Frank had something very considerable of his
own to think about, something that made him very alert, yet very
inattentive, that brightened his eye, yet prevented him seeing anything.
And he could almost swear that the odour of sweet-peas pervaded the
railway carriage.

Martin, mean time, was spending the morning on the banks of the stream
which had given him those good moments early the day before. But to-day
the sun was very hot and bright, and after an hour’s fruitless, but
patient, attempts on the subaqueous lives, he abandoned the vain
activity of the arm, and with the vague intention of returning home and
getting through some Æschylus before fishing again towards evening, sat
down to smoke a cigarette in the fictitious coolness, bred by the sound
of running water, preparatory to trudging back across the baked fields.
Tall grasses mixed with meadow-sweet and ragged-robin moved gently in
the little breeze that stirred languidly in the air, but the sky was
utterly bare of clouds and stretched a translucent dome of sapphire from
the low-lying horizon of the water-meadows on the one hand up to the
high yellowing line of the downs on the other. At his feet flowed the
beautiful stream, twining ropes of shifting crystal as it hurried on its
stainless journey over beds of topaz-coloured gravel or chalk that
gleamed with the lustre of pears beneath the surface. Strands and
patches of weed waved in the suck of the water, struck by the sun into
tawny brightness, shot here and there with incredible emerald, and tall
brown-flowering rushes twitched and nodded in the stress of the current.
Suspended larks carolled invisible against the brightness of the sky,
swallows skimmed and swooped, and soon a moorhen, rendered bold by
Martin’s immobility, half splashed, half swam across the stream just in
front of him. And he thought no more of the fish he had not caught, but
sat with hands clasped round his knees, and, without knowing it, drank
deep of the ineffable beauty that was poured out around him on meadow
and stream and sky. Every detail, too, was as exquisite as the whole:
the yellow flags that stood ankle-deep in the edge of the river were
each a miracle of design; the blue butterflies that hovered and poised
on the meadow-sweet were more gorgeous with the azure of their wings and
white and black border than a casket of lapis-lazuli set with silver and
shod with ebony.

By degrees as he sat there, his cigarette smoked out, but with no
thought of moving or of Æschylus, the vague and fluid currents of his
mind that for years had coursed through his consciousness, though he
himself had scarcely been conscious of them, began for the first time to
crystallize into something illuminating and definite. Like some
supersaturated solution of chemical experiment, his mind, long crying
out for and demanding beauty, needed but one more grain of desire to
render its creed solid, and to himself now for the first time came the
revelation of himself, and like a spectator at some enthralling drama,
he watched himself, learning what he was, without comment either of
applause or disgust, but merely fascinated by the fact of this new
possession, his own individuality, and, even as Frank had said to Helen
only yesterday, his own inalienable right to it. It was none other’s but
his alone. There was nothing in the world the same as it, since every
human being is a unique specimen, and, bad or good, it was his own clay,
his own material, out of which his will, like some sculptor’s tool
should fashion a figure of some kind. And everything he saw, the yellow
iris, the blue butterfly, the water-weeds, were in their kind perfect.
Their natural growth, unstunted by restraint or attempt to control them
into something else, had brought them to that perfection; and was it
conceivable in any thinkable scheme of things that man, the highest and
infinitely most marvellous work of nature, should not be capable of
rising, individual by individual, to some corresponding perfection?
Soil, sun, environment were necessary; the flags would not grow in the
desert, the lark would not soar nor carol in captivity, but given the
freedom, the care, or the cultivation which each required, every living
and growing thing had within itself the perfection possible to itself.

Up to this point his thought had been as intangible as a rainbow, though
like a rainbow of definite shape and luminous colour, and showed itself
only in a brightened, unseeing eye, and in fingers that twitched and
clutched till the nails were white with pressure round his flannelled
knee. Then suddenly the crystallization came, ungrammatical, but
convincing.

“It is me,” he said aloud, as Magda had said it.

In a moment the whole solution was solid.

Beauty. That was the food for which every fibre of his nature hungered
and with which it would never be satiated. Long ago he had known it, but
known it second-hand, known it as in a dream, when he quoted Browning,
three days ago, to his sister. But that dream, that second-hand
information, had become real and authentic. No matter how trivial might
be the experience, that was what he demanded of all experience,--whether
he ate or drank, it was beauty he craved; whether he ran or sat down, he
knew now that, in so far as it was consciously done, it was the thrill
of speed, the content of rest that he demanded of the function. Then,
suddenly, he asked himself what he demanded in the exercise of the
highest function of all, that of worship--Was it the pitch-pine pew, the
magenta saint, the tuneless chant? Was it the fear of hell, the joy of
an uncomprehended heaven, even though the gate-stones of the New
Jerusalem were of jaspar and agate? Not so; for what did he worship?
Absolute beauty, that quality of which everything that is beautiful has
some grain of mirrored reflection. That was God, the supreme, the
omnipotent, present in all that was beautiful just as much as he was
present in the breaking of the Bread and the outpouring of the mystic
Wine, for all was part of Him.



CHAPTER V


The big drawing-room at Yorkshire House was full to overflowing, and for
the avoidance of asphyxiation the six long windows that looked on to the
Green Park were all open. Louis Seize candlesticks, converted to the
more modern use of electric light, were brilliant on the crimson satin
of the walls, and a couple of dozen rows of chairs, all occupied, were
directed towards the end of the room where the Steinway grand stood.
Behind the chairs there was a throng of standing folk, but, except for
the voice of the piano, no sound broke the stillness. A quarter of an
hour ago the smaller drawing-room opening out of this had been full of
chattering groups, but now it was completely empty, except for some
half-dozen people who had been unable to find a standing-place in the
larger room, and crowded as near as they could to the doorway. But the
last human voice had been that of Martin.

“I’ll play it if you like,” he said, “but it will take nearly half an
hour.”

Then he sat down and, since he had played before, a hush most abnormal
during the ordinary piano solo fell on the “party” which had been
invited in after dinner. Many, no doubt, were unmusical, but more, since
it was Frank’s house and it was he who had invited the guests, had some
instinct for perfection, that bond that joins together all artists. Lady
Sunningdale, of course, was there, and had early established herself in
a front row, and Helen, who was under her chaperonage, sat next her. At
the end of the fourth _étude_ of Chopin’s, she had said to Martin:

“Martin, play the Brahms Variations,” and the demand had led to his word
of warning. But warning was not needed. If the piece was going to take
an hour, no one would have complained.

Frank, knowing the acoustic properties of the room better than Lady
Sunningdale, had placed himself in the seat of the second window, with
Karl Rusoff beside him. He had himself not felt the slightest hesitation
in asking the great pianist to listen to the recital of this wonderful
débutant, and Karl’s absolute silence at the end of the Variations
convinced him that he had been right. And as the last glorious fantasy
vibrated and died on the air, while the crowd burst gloves in applause,
he turned to him.

“Well?” he said.

Karl Rusoff nodded his great grey head up and down once or twice.

“Ah, my dear friend,” he said, “I usually think it very clever to
unearth a genius. But with your genius it needed no cleverness. Shall I
tell you what will happen? We,--the pianists, I mean,--with our nimble
professional fingers will in a year’s time be fighting each other for
seats at his concerts, if he is kind enough to give any. Let him give
one, however, just to show us, to--yes, I mean it--to let us weep over
our own deficiencies. Fire, my God, what fire! But I hope he won’t give
many. He ought--I only say he ought--to be too busy with his own work.
As regards his piano-playing, of course you were right. Who has taught
him? Nobody, I tell you. How can you teach _that_? Will I teach him?
Certainly I will, as Molière’s housemaid taught her master. He does a
hundred things quite wrong. But--ah, a big but!”

Martin had risen and bowed his thanks to the storm of applause, but his
eye sought the corner where Karl Rusoff sat, with his great grey,
leonine head and his grey eyes gleaming through his spectacles. The
latter rose and came up the gangway between the chairs and the wall
towards him and shook hands with him.

“Mr. Challoner,” he said, “that was a great treat to me. Thank you. You
can play what is really difficult, magnificently. Now, my dear young
man, I want to ask you a great favour. Attempt something much more
difficult,--that is to say, something where the notes are quite easy,
but where the rest, which is everything, must be a poem. Play, if you
happen to know it--really know it, I mean--Chopin’s fifteenth prelude,
the rain on the roof.”

Martin looked round the room, but nobody had moved from his seat, except
Frank, who had followed Monsieur Rusoff.

“Yes, I know it,” he said. “But are you sure you really want me to play
again?” he asked, with the charming horror that a nice boy has of being
a bore. “Are you sure they aren’t sick of me?”

“No, do play again, Martin, if you will,” said Frank, who had followed
Karl. “We can really stand a little more.”

“I have asked him to play the fifteenth prelude,” said Rusoff.

“Ah, yes, do,” said Frank.

So the rain beat, the gutter choked, the chariots of God thundered
overhead, one ray of sunlight gleamed, and again the rain, pitiless and
slow, spoke of an alien land. And at the end, in the moment’s silence,
more appreciative than any applause, which followed, Martin’s glance
again sought the great pianist, and with a sudden spasm of joy, so keen
that for a moment he thought he must shout or laugh, he saw that Karl
Rusoff had taken off his spectacles and was wiping his eyes.

The party that Frank had brought together that evening was very typical
of his tastes and of the position which he held in the world. Though
only thirty, thanks partly to the great wealth which was always
completely at the service of any artistic cause, but chiefly to his own
exquisite and unerring artistic sense, he had now for some years been a
sort of accredited godfather to any new talent, and for any one to “come
out” at his house was a guarantee that the aspirant was to be taken
seriously. During the three months of London season he gave a succession
of evening parties, which all had some definite _raison d’être_, chiefly
musical. And to-night he had taken special pains to get all the right
people, with the result that there were not perhaps a dozen people in
London whose opinion was worth having who were not there. And the
opinion, for once, was practically unanimous; for, though Claud Petman,
plump and short-fingered, had something to say to Henry Runton about the
lack of finality in the determination of his key-colour, and Henry
Runton, over ortolans, agreed with the additional criticism that his
phrasing of the fourth variation was a little pulpy, yet the fact that
they were critics rendered it obligatory on them to criticise. But they
had but small opportunity to express these fine differences of opinion
to Martin himself, for Lady Sunningdale, on the conclusion of the
prelude, beckoned imperatively to her “monster,” and made a brilliant
group round him. She had taken it into her head that she had
“discovered” Martin, and told every one so.

“My dear, I assure you I gasped,” she said to Karl Rusoff. “There he was
in a poky little room, furnished entirely with prayer-books, in a
dreadful parsonage, playing on a cracked tin-kettle of a piano, and
playing as he played to-night. Then in the middle his father came in and
said, ‘Go and do your Hebrew-Greek, instead of wasting your time at the
Jew’s-harp.’ Such a strange man, Flints’s brother, you know, and lives,
I believe, entirely on locusts and wild-honey and wears broadcloth, or
is it sack-cloth? Something very thick and imperishable, anyhow. Such a
beautiful life, but ascetic, not artistic,--Mendelssohn and pitch-pine,
you know. Of course, I saw at once how priceless Martin was; but we had
the greatest difficulty in persuading his father to let him come up to
London. He thinks all artists will go to hell, if they have not already
gone there. Yes. I didn’t bring my darlings to-night, because they
always bark when anyone plays the piano, and Suez Canal is so shrill.
But, is not my monster too wonderful? And now I must go. I never get to
bed till it is time to get up, and I shan’t sleep one wink after the
music. I never do. Where is Helen? Yes, she is Martin’s twin. Why aren’t
we all twins like that? Supper? How nice! I am famishing. Music always
takes so much out of one. Yes, pray take me into supper, Monsieur
Rusoff, and let us put it back. Martin, don’t dare to leave my side for
a single moment.”

Frank, in the mean time, had found a chair next Helen. The girl looked
divinely happy. Her pride in Martin, her intense pleasure in the
wonderful reception he had been given, flushed her cheek with excitement
and sparkled in her eyes. Frank had not had an opportunity of speaking
to her the whole evening, and now, as he was making his way towards her
through the crowd, delayed every other moment by some acquaintance or
friend, he met her eye long before he was within speaking distance, and
as he smiled in response to her, something suddenly thumped softly and
largely on his heart, as if demanding admittance. At last he reached
her, and she looked at him with her direct, child-like gaze.

“Thank you,” she said, “thank you most awfully.”

He laughed, not pretending not to know what she meant.

“Ah, we are all thanking Martin,” he said, “and those who know best, I
think, thank him most. Karl Rusoff, for instance.”

“Then, you were right?” she asked. “There is no mistake? He is really of
the best?”

“Yes, that is Monsieur Rusoff’s opinion.”

“I should like to kiss him,” said Helen.

“Shall I fetch him?” asked Frank.

“Not this moment. Go on, Lord Yorkshire.”

“That is a good deal already. And he will take him as a pupil, he says.
He has not consented to take a pupil for years. Now we have to
consult---- How is that to be managed?”

Helen’s face fell for a moment.

“It must be managed,” she said. “I will write to father to-morrow,
telling him all that has happened. You must write, too; Lady Sunningdale
must write. Poor father! We must give him no peace till he lets Martin
study. What are we to do?”

“You must think it over, and tell me if I can be of any use,” said he.
“I am entirely at your disposition. Anyhow, there is a fortnight for him
in London. And you? You came up to-day, did you not? Ah, before I
forget. Lady Sunningdale is coming to my box at the opera to-morrow
night. Please come, too. She, Martin, you, I. Just we four.”

Those last three words gave him extraordinary pleasure.

“But are you sure you have room for me?” asked Helen. “Lady Sunningdale
is so kind: she is dumping me at all her friends’ houses, upsetting
their dinner-tables right and left, and there is no earthly reason to
suppose they want me.”

“I want you,” said Frank, simply, and again the words pleased him.

“Thank you, very much. Where is she, by the way? Will you take me to
her? She probably wants to go home. I see people are leaving.”

“It is conceivable she is having supper,” said Frank, gravely. “Let us
go and see.”

Karl Rusoff attended to Lady Sunningdale’s wants, which were rather
extensive, but lingered after she had left, and when the rooms were
growing empty he came up to Martin.

“My dear Mr. Challoner,” he said, “I am sure you have had enough
compliments paid you by this time. So allow a very rude old Russian, who
has no manners at all, to take you into a corner and talk to you for a
little.”

Martin turned a brilliant glance, vivid, and full of huge, youthful
enjoyment on him. He knew, he could not help knowing, how complete had
been his success, and coming straight from the country and from that
home where he was officially an idler, almost a black sheep, into this
cultured, critical world, the knowledge had somewhat intoxicated him. It
was like coming out of some dark, dripping tunnel into the light of a
noonday and flying along through a kingdom that was his. For he, he had
been the central figure; round him had crowds collected, for him ears
had been alert and applause had burst. Artist as he was by nature, and
caring, therefore, infinitely more for his art then for any adventitious
success that he might achieve by it, he would not have been human, and
certainly not young, if this evening had not been honey and wine to his
boyish heart. For, except to the sour, success is sweet, and it is only
the cynic and the unsuccessful who affect to find applause hollow. And
Martin was emphatically neither cynic nor sour: the world seemed to him
the most excellent habitation. But he detached himself at once from the
group which was round him; he was still sufficiently master of himself
to know that it was probably better worth his while to listen to Karl
Rusoff talking sense than to any one else who might have pleasant things
to say, and they passed out of the supper-room into the now deserted
room where he had played.

“Now, my dear Mr. Challoner, listen to me,” said Karl. “Probably a
hundred people this evening have told you that you are a very wonderful
young man. That cannot help being a pleasant hearing, but----“

He looked at Martin’s radiant face and paused.

“Ah, my dear boy,” he said, “I will talk another time, I think. Go and
listen to what everybody else has to say to you. Drink it all in; enjoy
yourself. I am too serious. I can wait.”

“But I would sooner listen to you,” said Martin.

“Are you sure? Are you really sure?”

“Quite. Absolutely.”

“Well, then, in the sacred name of Art, forget all the pleasant things
that have been said to you. So many of these delightful people do not
_know_. Our charming Lady Sunningdale even, she does not know. She
appreciates, I grant you, but that is all.”

Martin’s face had grown quite serious; the brightness in it seemed to
have ceased to be on the surface only; it glowed beneath like the core
of a prospering fire.

“Tell me what to do, then,” he said.

“Work, and live also. Do not forget that any experience in life, so long
only as it is not sensual,--for whatever is sensual blurs and deadens
the fineness of any gift,--gives richness and breath to your power in
music. Live, then; live to your utmost and your best. Do not be afraid
of anything. Neither the bitterest sorrow that the world holds nor its
most poignant joy can bring you anything but good, so long as you
embrace it willingly, passionately. But shun a sorrow or a joy, and you
are clipped, maimed, blinded.”

The old man spoke with extraordinary fire and emphasis, and the intense
eager gravity of Martin’s face deepened. Here was a coherent code which
summed up, strung together, his own musings by the river-brink.

“Am I then to--am I to take all that comes,” he asked, “and trust that
it will somehow make grist for my own little mill?”

“Ah, you understand,” said Karl. “I see you have thought of it before.
But never call your mill little. If it is little, you may be sure that
others will label it for you. And if it is not little--then down on your
knees and thank God. Ah, my dear boy, you are all that you are. Make the
most of you. Assume there is something.”

He paused a moment.

“And I will endorse it,” he said.

Again Martin looked at him with that lucid glance as transparent as
running water.

“Yes, I will endorse it,” he repeated. “And if any one dishonours your
cheque, I will pay it.”

Martin gave a long sigh.

“You believe in me?” he asked, almost in a whisper. The rest of the
triumph of the evening, the silence, the applause, were pale and dim to
him as compared with this. The sun was rising on a dream that he had
scarcely dreamed, and it was not a dream, but a reality.

“I believe in your possibilities,” said Karl. “I believe you can
be,--well, a musician. Now, as regards another point. I have been asked
whether I will take you as a pupil. On my part I ask you to come to me.
I have not taught for some years, but I rather suspect that one’s power
of teaching increases not by teaching, but by learning. So I may be
perhaps of some use. There are certain things I can tell you. Come and
learn them. On the whole, it is worth your while. Even for a poet the
alphabet is necessary.”

Martin could not speak for a moment.

“Some day I will try to thank you,” he said at length. “But not by
words. I don’t think you want that, and also it would be idle for me to
do it.”

He paused again.

“But at present, you know, I am not even certain that I shall be allowed
to study. I--I am very stupid, you know. I can’t pass examinations, and
my father is most awfully keen about them. In any case I expect I shall
have to finish my time at Cambridge.”

Rusoff rose. Absurd and almost criminal as this seemed to him, he had no
right whatever to express that to Martin.

“Ah, then, go back to Cambridge, like a good boy, and do whatever has to
be done. Forget also almost everything that has occurred to-night. You
have won a great deal of applause. Well, that is very easy to win, and
in itself it is worth absolutely nothing. In so far as it encourages you
to good work, whether it is now in the immediate future at Cambridge or
eventually in music, there is no harm in it; but the moment it breeds in
you any slackness, or the feeling ‘this will do for them,’ it is a
poison, an insidious narcotic poison.”

He laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“It is not by applause,” he said, “it is not by any help really that I
or any one else can give you that you may become great. It is in
yourself alone that the power lies, and it is by your life, by your
industry, and by the fulness and completeness of your experience and
your sympathy that you will be able to get hold of that power. For your
warning, I tell you that it is no easy task--that, mining in yourself,
you will have to think and struggle and despair before you can bring
your own gold to the surface. You will also have to find your choice by
patient, unremitting work. You cannot make others feel unless you feel
yourself, and you have to learn how to feel. It is not so easy. Again,
having learned that, you cannot convey what you feel until you have
learned speech. And, for your encouragement, I believe--or else I would
not accept you, much less ask you to be my pupil--I believe that you
will be able to do so. You have perception. You can interpret others, as
I have heard to-night. So that some day you may write that which will
give tears or laughter to those not yet born. Good-night.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The summer and the season were at their mid-most, but though the former
had been fine, the latter at present had been rather objectless. Balls,
concerts, parties, all the various devices by which the crowd believes
it amuses itself, and without which it would certainly be bored, had
occurred with their usual frequency, but up till now no bright
particular star had arisen to draw the eyes and the thoughts of all to
itself. There had, in fact, been no “rage,” and neither book, play,
violinist, or traveller, nor even a cowboy from the remote West, had
appeared to fill the invitation-cards and usurp the thoughts of emigrant
London. Why nobody had invented something by this time was not clear,
for absolutely anything in the world can become the rage of one season
to be dropped either like a hot potato or a soiled glove the next. The
year before there had been a cowboy,--this year he was a hot potato, for
he had become odiously familiar; a female palmist was also still in
existence, but she was a soiled glove, since the pleasant _frisson_ of
having a bewildering future told in all the horror of detail before your
friends is an experience not to be repeated if subsequent events have
shewn the prophecy to have been altogether erratic.

But from the night of Lord Yorkshire’s concert hope began to wake in
the season’s middle-aged breast, that it, too, like most of its
predecessors, would be known by an engrossing topic to mark it out from
others before it was numbered with the colourless dead. For the
picturesque--of a picturesqueness unequalled even by last season’s
cowboy--had at length arisen in the shape of twins from Hampshire,
Challoner twins, Flints’s nephew and niece. They sprang from a country
parsonage, where Flints’s brother, whom nobody had hitherto even heard
of, lived like a sort of mediæval ascetic prophet in a lugubrious
atmosphere of fasting and prayer and scourging and sack-cloth. He
preached the most curdling sermons on Sunday, quite like Savonarola, on
the comfortable doctrine of eternal damnation. About the twins, however,
there was nothing in the least ascetic or mediæval: they were both quite
young, hardly out of their teens, and were simply Diana and Apollo come
to earth again. The girl (Helen, too) had Titian hair, in golden,
glorious profusion, a face like the morning, and the inches of a
goddess. And her charm, her bubbling spirits, her extraordinary
enjoyment and vitality! She made everybody else look like a
kitchen-maid, which was so delightful. But Martin--Phœbus Apollo, drunk
with nectar! He played, too; Karl Rusoff said he had never heard
anything like it, and the dear old angel simply wept the other night at
Frank Yorkshire’s, when Phœbus Apollo first dawned, but wept floods. And
what could have been more romantic than the manner of their appearance?
People were asked--we were all asked--to Lord Yorkshire’s for “Music” in
the bottom left-hand corner, expecting, perhaps, a couple of songs from
Maltina and a nocturne of Rusoff’s. Instead, this divine boy walks up
to the piano and plays the “Pied Piper” to us all. Yorkshire brought him
up from the country, without a word to anybody, and just shot him at
London. He hit. Helen was with Lady Sunningdale,--she always scores
somehow,--who gives out openly that she is madly in love with Martin,
and makes him imitate her, which he does with such awful fidelity that
it is impossible not to believe, if one shuts one’s eyes, that it is not
she who is talking. The only question is whether she will poison
Sunningdale and insist on marrying Phœbus Apollo, or whether he will say
“Retro Sathanas.” It may be taken for granted that Yorkshire will marry
the girl. Then, the next night they were all four at the opera in
Yorkshire’s box, next the Royal box, and nobody looked at anything else.
The girl was dressed in grey, very simple, but quite good. There was
just a touch of blue somewhere; no jewels, but that radiant face and
that glorious hair! Poor Lady Sunningdale beside her looked like a
lobster salad in the highest spirits. But really the boy is the
handsomer; and when the opera was over people simply stood on the stairs
to see them go out. But the twins were completely unconscious that it
was they whom every one was looking at, and came downstairs together,
chatting, laughing, and chaffing Lady Sunningdale because she had gone
to sleep in the second act of “Siegfried.” My dear, they are simply
divine, and we must secure them at once for dinner or something,
otherwise it will be too late.

The last sentence, whatever in this brief _résumé_ of what London said
was false or exaggerated, was certainly borne out by subsequent facts.
For London, tired with its spinster ragelessness, rose at them as trout
rise in the days of May-fly, and besought their presence, finding them,
as is not always the case with its rages, improve on acquaintance. They
enjoyed themselves so enormously, and enjoyment is a most infectious
disease, of which every hostess prays that her guests may sicken. They
danced divinely, with the same childish pleasure, all night. Whatever
the entertainment was, they were delighted, and their delight diffused
itself through the crowds of which they were the centre. And it was
always interesting to have at one’s house the girl from nowhere, who was
going to make the match of the season, and the boy from nowhere, who was
going to send the world mad with music. The twins, in fact, blazed in
the blue; they were the latest discovery, the point at which all
telescopes were aimed. And they presumably, like the latest-discovered
star, were too busy to be either pleased or embarrassed that everybody
was looking at them; they just sang and shone together with all the
other lesser stars.

Ten days passed thus, Lady Sunningdale plying the bellows assiduously
and from time to time throwing on fresh faggots of interesting and
picturesque information to feed the blaze. Nobody, not even the twins
themselves, had been more astonished than she when they shot up into the
zenith of success, for she had not anticipated anything of the kind; but
that having happened, she was quick to assume the _rôle_ of godmother.
Nothing again, a week or two before, had been further from her thoughts
than the idea that Frank Yorkshire should marry Helen; but that having
been suggested to her, it was, of course, incumbent on her to say that
she had brought them together with that express purpose, and by dint of
repetition soon got to believe it.

The allied forces mean time had concerted their attack on that very
well-garrisoned fortress known as Martin’s father. Sheets of desultory
letters were rained upon him by Lady Sunningdale, which he answered with
punctilious politeness; while Frank, in far soberer strain, told Lord
Flintshire the opinion of those like Karl Rusoff, who were thoroughly
competent to judge, begging him use it in Martin’s behalf. In
consequence he wrote soon afterwards to his brother with some
earnestness:

     “You hardly ever come to town, I know, my dear Sidney,” his letter
     ran, “but I really wish you would come now. It would make you
     prouder than you have ever been of both your children, if you saw
     them here. London, I am speaking quite seriously, has gone off its
     head about them. And, indeed, I’m sure I don’t wonder. They are
     absolutely entrancing; their enjoyment of it all is the most
     infectious thing I ever saw, and we play ridiculous round games
     after dinner instead of grumbling at each other over Bridge. And
     their looks! Helen has taken the shine out of all the _débutantes_,
     and yet not one of them seems to hate her for it.

     “This, however, is frivolous; but I want to tell you very seriously
     what an extraordinary impression Martin’s musical abilities have
     made. He played the other night at Yorkshire’s house, and I assure
     you all the musical lights of London simply hung on his hands. I
     know nothing about it myself; but when you find a great pianist and
     a great musician like Karl Rusoff listening, absorbed, to a young
     man of twenty-three, whom nobody has hitherto ever heard of, one
     cannot help attaching some weight to it. Others, too, so Frank
     tells me, have been no less enthusiastic about him, but they are
     only names to you and me.

     “Well, this is not entirely unasked advice, for I remember at
     Chartries a fortnight ago you consulted me about Martin and his
     future. And now it seems to me there is really no choice. He must
     be a musician; you cannot take the responsibility of trying to
     render unfruitful a gift like his. Nor would it be any good; he is
     bound to be one.

     “Now, my dear Sidney, if there is any difficulty about expense, for
     I gather he must study exclusively for some time, pray do not give
     a thought to it. I will most gladly defray all expenses connected
     with him. Pray let me hear from you as soon as possible on the
     subject; and if you can run up to town for a day or two, you will
     see for yourself, and be a most welcome guest at the house of

                         “Your affectionate brother,

                                          “FLINTSHIRE.”



But, in spite of these appeals and assaults, Mr. Challoner shewed as yet
no definite signs of yielding. To Lady Sunningdale his punctilious
answers seemed mere frigid stupidity, and she had not the smallest or
vaguest comprehension of the struggle that was going on in his mind. She
could not understand that there was any choice to be made, still less
that the choice could be a hard one, in determining whether Martin
should once and for all close his dictionaries and open his piano, nor,
had Mr. Challoner troubled to explain to her the deep mortification that
Martin’s ill-success in classical fields had given him, would she have
been able to understand it. Karl Rusoff beckoned to him, and it passed
her comprehension that his father should not, so to speak, throw him
into the musician’s arms. She could not, in fact, with all her
acuteness, imagine in faintest outline any picture of the deep and real
perplexity which Mr. Challoner was going through, a perplexity which for
hours together tightened his mouth and ruled deep creases between the
thick, black lines of his eyebrows. The serious talks, too, which he
had with his sister evening after evening, between dinner and prayers,
and the temporary abolition of Patience, would have seemed to her, if
she had heard them, meaningless; they might as well have been conducted
in a foreign tongue of which she knew neither alphabet, grammar, or
vocabulary.

One such occurred on the evening when his brother’s letter arrived.

“I have heard from Rupert,” he said, “who wants me to run up to town.
That, I am afraid, is impossible. I have too much to do, with Mr.
Wilkins away for his holiday and the confirmation classes coming on. All
the same, I should be glad if I could. His letter has troubled me
rather.”

“What does he say?” asked his sister, folding her very dry, thin hands
in front of her.

“He says such extraordinary things. He says London has gone mad about
them. They are amusing themselves enormously, it appears,--at which, of
course, I am rejoiced; but I can’t help feeling a little anxious, a
little nervous. They are so young, so thoughtless. I don’t like the idea
of people putting all sorts of foolish notions into their heads, making
them think they are exceptional. I understand what people feel about
them well enough. Dear children, I don’t wonder at everybody liking
them. But I gravely doubt whether it is the best of them that people
find attractive, whether it is not their thoughtlessness, their
unthinking high spirits, their looks, which attract others. That is so
dangerous for them.”

Clara Challoner put the pack of cards, which had been laid out ready for
her Patience, back into their case. She did this without a sigh, because
it was her duty to talk to her brother if he wanted to talk, and duty
came before pleasure.

“That is exactly what I should be afraid of,” she said. “The qualities
that you and I, Sidney, were taught, and rightly, to consider weaknesses
and blemishes, such as irresponsible high spirits and careless gayety,
seem to me now to be regarded as virtues. The younger generation shun
earnestness and purpose in life as they would shun physical pain. Now,
look at Lady Sunningdale, with whom Helen is staying----“

“Ah, give her her due,” said Mr. Challoner; “she is a very clever
woman.”

“But to what does she devote her cleverness? To the mere pursuit of
frivolity. I wondered, as I told you before, whether you were wise to
let Helen go under her wing. She will be among people whose only aim in
life is amusement. That is the one thing they take any trouble to
secure.”

Mr. Challoner shook his head.

“I hope, I pray, I have not done wrong to let them go,” he said. “I did
it with a definite purpose, in order to let them see that sort of life.
Helen is not naturally frivolous. Look at her work here with her
classes. How admirable she is, how they adore her, how her heart is in
it. And to bring a girl up in ignorance of what the world is like does
no good. Sometimes I wonder whether I have not sheltered her too much,
kept her too much in this sweet place with all her duties and pleasures
round her. But it is not of her that I am most thinking. She will come
back unspoiled, with just the memory of a great deal of laughter and
innocent amusement. No; it is of Martin. Rupert speaks chiefly of him.”

He took from his pocket the letter he had just received and read it to
her.

“It is a great puzzle, a great difficulty to know what to do,” he said.
“Even at Cambridge, where he is surrounded by all those grave,
industrious influences, Martin does not seem to me to gain in depth or
in set purpose of life. And if I consent to this, he is plunged into
surroundings that so much more conduce to shallowness, to indulgence of
the senses. Thank God, I believe my son is pure. But he is so
impressionable, so easily stirred by enjoyment into thoughtlessness,
that I am very much afraid.”

He got up and moved over to the window, where he stood looking out. In
front the ground sloped sharply away down to the church-yard, where in
the last fading light of evening the grey tower stood like a shepherd
watching over its flock among the gravestones, below which rested the
bodies of those entrusted in sure and certain hope to its hallowed care.
Like all strong, hard-working men, Mr. Challoner was far too much
occupied in the duties of his strenuous life to give much thought to
death, except as to some dim, quiet friend whose hand some day he would
take without fear or regret. But how terrible death could be, and how
terrible it would be to him if through carelessness or biassed judgment
he had chosen wrongly for one so dear to him, so peculiarly entrusted to
his care. How terrible, again, would be that quiet friend if, through
want of wideness in sympathy, he had tried to nip, to starve, to stifle
a gift with which God had endowed his son.

Then suddenly with a wave of bitterness all that he had planned in long,
sweet day-dreams, years ago, for Martin filled his mind as the harsh
salt-water fills a creek. He had seen him a scholar, minute,
painstaking, absorbed, perfecting himself in accuracy and subtlety of
mind by the study of the great classical authors. He would be a fellow
of his college, and his father, so he pictured to himself, would live
over again his own college-days, which perhaps were the happiest in his
life, when he saw Martin seated at the high-table among the masters of
learning, or in professorial gown crossing the dear familiar grass of
the quadrangle to the grave grey chapel on summer afternoons when the
sun made jewels of the western panes, or in winter when the soft, mellow
glow of candles shone dimly by the dark oak stalls and scarcely reached
to the vaulted fans of the roof.

Then the picture took large lines. With the wealth and position that
would one day be his, there was no limit to the influence that Martin
might have in an England which even now seemed to him to be dozing in a
stupor of contented unreligious, unintellectual enjoyment. There was
need of a scholar, a man with a great position, a man of strong
Christian faith to arise who, with a life unselfish in its aims,
liberal, charitable, encouraging all sorts of godly learning and
scholarship, should give to the world a strenuous, intellectual ideal
again. How often in his prayers had that vision risen before him, that
future which he desired so eagerly for his son, and which, so he
believed, was humanly possible for him. Chartries should be again what
it had been four generations ago, the centre of the scholarly,
intellectual men of England. The accounts of those days in the history
of Chartries read to him like a wonderful true fairy-story. Three or
four times in the year the house was filled by his great-grandfather
with men of learning, and after breakfast and morning service in the
chapel they would meet and discuss till dinner-time some exquisite point
of scholarship or hear from some expert of the latest discoveries in the
Roman forum. At these discussions his great-grandmother, a woman of
culture and knowledge, had always been present. She had once even read a
paper on the Elgin marbles, then but lately come to England, in which
with a marvellous subtlety and accuracy of observation she had upheld
the view, in the face of strong attack, that they were Greek originals,
not Roman copies. This and all other papers read there were preserved
among the printed “Horæ aureæ Chartrienses,” which was the record of
these gatherings.

For Martin, then, he had dreamed a life like that,--the life of a
cultured, scholarly, Christian gentleman, not monkish, but with a brood
of growing children round him, busy at his books, busy in all matters of
education, instant in prayer, and a churchman staunch to uphold the
rights and the glory and the privileges of the Mother of his faith.
Instead, he was asked to give permission that Martin, after years of
expensive education, which had ended in utter failure, should devote
himself to music, or as Mr. Challoner put it to himself, to playing the
piano,--a profession which, to his mind, was akin to a sort of
mountebank’s. Nor was that all. If it was only in intellectual
attainment that Martin had shewn himself desultory and idle his father
would, it is true, have deeply regretted it; but it would have been as
nothing compared to the anxiety he felt with regard to that slackness
and indolence of character which he thought he saw in him. Left to
himself, he would lounge the day away, not only without acquiring
knowledge of any kind, but without a thought as to the strengthening and
building up of his own character. He would scribble amusing sketches by
the score, play on the piano by the hour, or, as like as not, lie on the
grass and smoke, in purposeless waste of these infinitely precious hours
of youth. Had he ever shewn interest in matters naval, military, or
political, his father would gladly have seen him a soldier or a member
of Parliament. But he was purposeless, desultory, without aims or
interests, and so utterly unlike himself in every point of character
that he could scarcely believe he was his son. And this estimate was no
new one; ever since Martin was a little boy, through his school life and
through his three years at the University, he had noticed the same
drifting weakness, the same tendency to take any amount of trouble to
save trouble. Nothing had made any impression on him,--not his
confirmation, nor his growing responsibilities as he rose in the school,
nor the duties attaching to the sixth form when he was dragged up into
it, nor the widened life at Cambridge. It was all one to him. He had the
pleasant smile when things went well, the yawn when effort was demanded
of him, the eternal drifting towards the piano.

All this passed through his mind with the rapidity of long and bitterly
familiar thought.

“They all urge me to do it, Clara,” he said; “yet they don’t know him as
I do, and they are in no position of responsibility with regard to him.
I can’t see my way at all. It is no use his continuing to waste his time
at Cambridge,--and yet London for my poor, rudderless Martin! What
influences may he not come under? Who is Rusoff, of whom Rupert speaks?
But I must settle. It is no use putting off a decision that has to be
made.”

He turned away with a sigh from the window.

“In any case, he had better come home for a day or two before he goes up
to Cambridge,” he said, “so that I can talk it all over with him. In
fact, they had both better come home. They have been in town a
fortnight,--a fortnight of pure amusement. Besides, the Parish library
wants looking after.”

“I can manage that, if you would like Helen to stop a little longer,”
said his sister.

“No, dear, your hands are full enough already. Besides, Rupert’s letter
has made me altogether a little uneasy. It is time they both came
home.”



CHAPTER VI


Helen was seated at a big plain deal table in the village Room with a
large array of volumes in hospital spread in front of her. Some wanted
covers,--the cover peculiar to the books in the library of the Room was
brown holland of a strangely discouraging hue, stitched over the back
and sides, and turned down inside; others wanted stamp-paper over torn
edges, and most wanted labels, bearing the title, gummed on to their
backs. True, the very magnitude of the repairs needed was evidence that
the library was at any rate appreciated by the parishioners, but the
thought that her nimble hands were employed on a useful work did not at
the present moment succeed in consoling her for the extremely
distasteful nature of the occupation. Dispiriting, too, were her
surroundings. On the walls hung the hateful maps of Hampshire and the
Holy Land, scientific diagrams of the construction of flowers, and
several charts of geological strata, shewing old sandstone, new
sandstone, blue lias in which diamonds occur, and yellow bands of
auriferous reef. A large, black, cast-iron stove stood in one corner, a
bagatelle-board with torn cloth and tipless cues--these, too, would have
to be mended after the library--occupied another table, and standing
against the wall were low deal bookcases. The floor was covered with an
affair of oil-cloth pattern and of corky texture, so indestructible as
to be practically eternal, and a harmonium, happily not at all eternal
but in advanced senile decay of cypher and dumb-notes and strange noises
like a death-rattle, stood near the door. In spite of the wide-open
windows, the characteristic smell of the Room hung heavy and stale on
the air in this oppressive heat of an August day.

Helen had been back from London some three weeks, but in spite of her
endeavours to settle down again into the village life, she had not been
very successful in doing so. Duties which before had seemed tolerable
enough had become frightfully tedious, while those which before had
seemed tedious had become intolerable. Only the evening before her
father had spoken to her about her general behaviour _à propos_ of what
he called the “falling-off” of the village choir. This meant that on the
previous Sunday the organist had played one tune and the choir had sung
another, which had displeased his unmusical ear, though Martin, who had
been home from Cambridge for the Sunday, had listened with rapt
attention, and said to Helen that he thought it extremely Wagnerian.
This opinion, it may be remarked, he had not expressed to his father.

“I am afraid your pleasure-trip to London has unsettled you, Helen,” her
father had said, “and you should really take yourself in hand, and make
up your mind to recapture your habits of industry again. One is often
disposed to be impatient with what one calls ‘little duties,’ but, dear
girl, there is no such thing as a little duty. There is no such scale
possible; duty is duty, and it is all great; and your eager and willing
performance of all those things which may seem to you small is just as
much a part of real life as to the emperor the discharge of the cares
of his empire. For instance, the hymn at the morning service on
Sunday----“

“But it isn’t my fault if Mr. Milton plays the wrong hymn,” said Helen.

“But it ought to be impossible that such accidents should occur,” said
her father. “You should think, dear Helen, in Whose Honour it is that we
stand up to sing in church, and that knowledge constantly with you, you
will find must elevate the smallest duty and raise the most
insignificant piece of work into an act of praise and worship.”

“I will try, father,” said she.

“I know you will. Your holiday, all the mirth and innocent pleasure you
have had in London, ought to help you to it. Those times of refreshment
are given us not to make us discontented with our work, but to enable us
to bring to it a rested and more active industry.”

But this morning it seemed to have brought to Helen nothing of the kind,
but only a rested and more active doubt as to whether any of the things
that filled her day could possibly, in the doing, be good for her, or
when done for others. The “Sunday Magazine,” for instance, of which at
this moment she was pasting the torn pages, seemed to her to be
singularly ill adapted to do anything for anybody. There was an essay on
the habits of mice, another on the temptations of engine-drivers;
answers to correspondents dealt with lotions for the hair and the best
treatment for burns; while in the forefront of each number was an
instalment of a serial story connected with incredible ranches and
mining in California. But, in spite of her conscientious doubts, her
fingers moved apace, and the stack of healed and mended volumes at her
right hand grew quickly tall.

She worked on till about twelve without pause, and then pushed back her
chair and began carrying the mended volumes to their shelves. If only
she could have entertained any hopes as to the utility of what she was
doing she would have accepted her occupation with cheerfulness, for her
nature was one of that practical kind which finds almost any pursuit, so
long as it has definite and profitable aim, congenial. This afternoon
again she would have to take choir-practice in the Room, and even with
the eager desire to find “good in everything” she could not see who
profited by the cacophonous result. And to add to her labours, the
ill-inspired ambitions of Mr. Milton had caused him to learn with
infinite pains and groanings of the organ in evening hours nothing less
than an anthem for the Harvest Festival, and it remained for her to
teach the choir. Hours would go to the repetition of it before that
unmelodious festival; and even if it had been possible that relentless
practice could make the choir tolerably secure of their notes (which it
could not), yet the result, even if it were faultlessly performed, would
be deplorable, since it was an anthem of that peculiarly depressing kind
produced by minor organists, contained a fugal passage which was not a
fugue, and, musically speaking, was of the most suburban and jerry-built
construction.

Helen pushed back her hair, and, slightly amused at the greyness of her
own thoughts, smiled to herself as she went backward and forward between
table and bookcase. If only she had some one, another sister, to share
in these farthing woes of a rector’s daughter, she could have laughed
at them; she and a friend, at any rate, could have read each other
striking extracts from the mended leaves of the “Sunday Magazine.” Then
suddenly she heard a step on the gravel outside, a step not her
father’s, but strangely familiar, and the door opened.

“Why, Lord Yorkshire,” she said. “How delightful! Do come in.”

Frank had the enviable faculty of keeping comparatively cool on very hot
days, just as on occasions heating and stirring to the spirit his nature
seldom boiled. But to-day he was much hotter spiritually than
physically, and Helen’s genuine pleasure to see him, which shone in her
eyes and her smile and vibrated in her voice, did not reduce this genial
heat.

“I have not done wrong,” he asked, “to come and interrupt you? They told
me at the vicarage that you were here.”

“No, indeed, you have not,” said she, shaking hands. “Really, I was
longing for an interruption. Look!” and she pointed to the titles of her
mended stack of books.

He glanced at them with a smile.

“Really, without undue conceit, I don’t wonder,” he said. “And so this
is the Room you told me about in London?”

His eyes wandered round, looking at the maps and the colored chart of
geological formation, at the harmonium, the bagatelle-board. Then
suddenly all the girl’s loyalty to her father rose in her.

“Ah, don’t laugh,” she said. “I can’t bear that you should laugh.”

He looked at her quite gravely.

“Heaven forbid,” he said. “Here, as in that map of geological strata,
there is an auriferous reef. There is to be found a little belt of gold
in everything which we may have to do, as long as it is not--not nasty.
The trouble sometimes is to find it. Haven’t you struck it this
morning?”

Helen sat down with a little sigh.

“No. Help me to dig a little,” she said. “Look at the soil! ‘Sunday
Magazine.’ A serial. Then ‘Round the tea-table,’ with a receipt for
muffins. ‘Muffins’ is torn. I must mend it. Missionary work among the
aborigines of Somaliland. Oh, dear! What has it all got to do with
me--this me?” she cried.

“Perhaps you have not yet mended enough to find out,” he suggested.

“That is possible. All the same I have mended a good deal. Now I am
going to talk ‘Lady Sunningdale’ for two minutes; at least there are
fifty distinct and separate things I want to say in one breath. First of
all, please smoke; the Room smells of Sunday-school. Yes, and give me
one,--if my father appears suddenly you must say it was you. Next, I
suppose you have come from Fareham. How is Lady Sunningdale? And you’ll
stop for lunch, of course. Next, Martin. He is going to leave Cambridge
at the end of the long. He is going to settle in London in the autumn
and study under Monsieur Rusoff. Oh, why wasn’t I born a boy? I suppose
you can’t tell me. So once again about Martin, thanks. What a good time
we had in London! I have never enjoyed a fortnight more. Is every one as
kind as that always?”

“I think they always will be to you,” said he. “You two took London by
storm. We all went into mourning and retirement into the country when
you left.”

Helen laughed.

“You don’t look as if any grief particularly weighed on you,” she said.

“Clearly not now,” said he.

This was a little clumsily obvious, and it made her for the moment
slightly embarrassed. She dabbed a label somewhat crooked on to the back
of a work about missionary enterprise.

“Can you write a legible hand, Lord Yorkshire?” she said. “If so, and if
you will be kind enough, please write ‘Sunday Magazine’ very clearly on
twelve labels, with ordinal numbers, one to twelve, below the title. And
when I’ve pasted them on, I shall have finished, and we’ll go out.
Martin isn’t here, I am afraid. He is up at Cambridge till the end of
the month.”

Frank obediently took a pen. He had suffered a slight repulse.

“A notable charm of life,” he remarked, “is its extreme unexpectedness.
If I had been told by a chiromantist that I should shortly be writing
the words ‘Sunday Magazine’--is that legible enough?--twelve times over
with numerals beneath I should have distrusted everything else he said.
Yet, here we go.”

Helen laughed. She was not quite certain whether she was pleased or not
at the success with which she had turned the conversation on to topics
so alien from herself as the “Sunday Magazine.”

“Quite so,” she said. “And if I had been told that I should be telling
you to do so, I should have considered it too wildly improbable to be
even funny. Yet, as you say, here we go. Oh!”

Her ear had caught the sound of a step outside, and with a quick sweep
of her arm she threw her cigarette out of the window.

“It’s you, remember,” she said, with whispered emphasis.

Frank’s cigarette, however, was still unlit, but he obligingly remedied
this, and hurriedly blew out a cloud of smoke and silent laughter. Next
moment the vicar entered. He paused for a second on the threshold, his
nostrils surprised by this unusual aroma in the Room, but Frank
instantly rose.

“How are you, Mr. Challoner?” he said. “I called at the vicarage, but
every one was out. But hopes were held out to me that I might find some
of you here, so I came. And behold me,” he added, rather felicitously,
“a lay helper,” and he pointed to his half-written labels.

The vicar’s somewhat grim face relaxed. There was a neatness about
Frank’s speech which his classical tastes approved.

“It is too kind of you, Lord Yorkshire,” he said. “Helen has impressed
you into the service, I suppose. But--I am sure you will excuse
me--would you mind finishing your cigarette outside? Our rules about
smoking in the Room are stringent. You will excuse me.”

His eye glanced rather sternly, as he spoke, at Helen. This was one of
the laxities he deplored in his children. She knew quite well that
smoking was not allowed in the Room. The most infinitesimal moral
courage on her part could have stopped it. And he himself knew how she
would excuse herself, saying that she did not think it mattered in the
morning when there was no one there. It was a rule of the place,
however. He had made it; she knew it.

Frank instantly threw his cigarette out of the window.

“I am so sorry,” he said, “and I am afraid I never asked leave.”

“You have no idea what difficulties we have with even quite the small
boys of the village,” continued Mr. Challoner. “Children of eight and
nine think it manly to pull at an inch of bad tobacco. So I am sure you
will not even mentally accuse me of faddiness. I gave up smoking myself
entirely for that reason. You are too kind to help my daughter. You will
lunch with us, of course.”

“Thanks, very much. I came over in the motor from Fareham, and Miss
Helen had already been so good as to suggest----“

“Of course Martin is away from home, I am sorry to say. Helen has no
doubt told you what has been decided.”

He glanced again at her as her quick, nimble fingers plied the work
which an hour ago had seemed so distasteful. Certainly now there was in
her no trace of that listlessness and want of application and vitality
that a few days before had occasioned his loving rebukes. She was all
vivid and alert; the fresh, bright colour shone like a sunlit banner in
her cheeks, and, as he looked, he realised for the first time this was
no longer “my little girl,” but a woman in her own right. Then like an
echo to this came the thought that he was not the proprietor of his
children. Adviser, corrector, pruner, cultivator he might be, but he
could not make nor stop growth if “my little girl” decided otherwise.

This was something of a shock, though only momentary, and there was no
perceptible pause before he spoke again.

“So you will bring Lord Yorkshire home to lunch, Helen,” he said. “I
must go on to the village. I only looked in on my way. Half-past one,
Lord Yorkshire. And afterwards you must try a cigar that I can give you.
A year ago they wanted keeping, and now they have got it.”

For a little while after he had left neither spoke. A label had been put
on crookedly and required readjustment; something else also had gone
crookedly, and Helen had to readjust that, too.

“I’m afraid I must tell him I had been smoking,” she said. “Oh, dear,
what a bore!”

“Is not that too transcendental honesty?” he said.

Her eyes flashed their wide light into his.

“Ah, no; there is neither less nor greater in honesty,” she said. “It is
a great bore to be honest. I wish I wasn’t. No, I don’t wish that. It is
one of the uncomfortable things which one can’t get on without.”

Suddenly he knew that a moment which for weeks had been approaching
slowly rushed into the immediate future. He sat upright in his chair and
quite unconsciously moved it nearer hers. His upper teeth closed on his
lower lip, dragging it upward till it was white. Some mad current of
blood sang in his ears, some sudden mistiness obscured his eyes, and she
was but a dim, wavering form close to him.

“Honesty! honesty!” he said. “Helen!”

A long-drawn breath rose in her bosom, filling it, filling her, filling
everything. A “Sunday Magazine” dropped from her hand, and she stood up.
He too stood, and they faced each other for a long moment, and the new
certainty became the only certainty there was.

“Oh, are you sure, are you sure?” she cried.

And there was no more need of words just then.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Since you took the hare out of the trap,” she said. “I think I loved
you for that.”

“Since you caught my finger in the trap----“

“And it bled,” said she.

“But you bound it up for me.”

She raised her face and held him by the shoulders, arms outstretched.

“And I remember saying to Martin that this was the sort of room in which
nothing nice could happen. Oh, Frank, how has it happened? How has it
happened?” she said.

“I don’t know how, my darling, but I know why.”

“Why, then?”

“Because it had to happen as far as I was concerned. Because it was you,
in fact. How could it have been otherwise?”

Her eyes dropped a moment, and then looked full at him again.

“Is it real?” she asked. “And if it hadn’t happened, what would have
become of us? Supposing you had not said ‘Helen’?”

“What else could I have said?”

“You might have said nothing.”

“Nothing? You and I here together, and nothing? I had been saying
nothing too long,” he cried.

“No, not too long. It has all been perfect. And--and the ‘Sunday
Magazine,’ and--and twelve labels, each with their numbers. Oh, I
surrender,” she said.

“When you have utterly conquered?”

“Yes, both. And both of us.”

“There is only one.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was no descent to return to the unfinished work; the business of
label-pasting rather was illuminated and made glorious, the putting of
the books back in the shelves was a procession of love. Then came the
return to the vicarage under the benediction of the sun and the
intrusion of the presence of others; but as some telegraph from lover to
lover throbs across hundreds of miles of arid and desert country that
does not know what secret and blissful tenderness has passed over it, so
from each to the other passed unnoticed glances that sent the electric
current to and fro, and the words of common life were to them a cypher
charged with intimate meaning.

It had been settled between the two that her father should be told at
once, and accordingly, after lunch, when he went into his study to get
Frank the promised cigar, with a view to coffee on the shady
croquet-lawn, the latter followed him, while the two ladies went out,
and told him.

“It is the happiest day of my life, Mr. Challoner,” he said, very
simply. “Your daughter has accepted my devotion and love.”

Mr. Challoner turned to him quickly.

“Helen?” he said. “You? Lord Yorkshire, this is most unexpected. But I
am charmed, delighted, at your news. And I risk the imputation of a
father’s partiality when I say that I congratulate you most heartily.”

He shook hands warmly with the young man, and an emotion, very deep and
heart-felt, vibrated in his voice.

“May the blessings of God be on you both,” he said.

For a single moment Frank felt as if the thermometer had dropped
suddenly, but the sensation was so instantaneous that before he could
analyze it it had passed, and Mr. Challoner still held his hand in his
strong, firm grasp.

“And I think, I believe, she is a very fortunate girl,” he added.
“When--when did you speak to her?”

“This morning only. We settled to tell you at once.”

“Thank you. That was right of you. How the years pass; why it seems only
yesterday---- Well, well,--let us join them outside. Ah, a cigar for
you. I declare I had forgotten.”

They crossed the lawn together, and as they approached the group of
chairs underneath the box-hedge, Mr. Challoner quickened his step a
little and advanced to Helen with hands outstretched.

“Helen, my dearest girl,” he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The glorified hours of the golden afternoon passed too quickly. Parish
work soon claimed the vicar, who, as he passed through the village, gave
notice in the school that the choir-practice was postponed till the
next day; Aunt Clara betook herself to district-visiting, and the two
were left alone again while the shadows began to grow tall on the grass.
Sweet words and sweeter silence sang duets together, and from talk and
silence they learned each other. For their falling in love had been an
instinctive inevitable thing, and now that the gracious deed was
accomplished, they explored each other’s nature in the excellent
brightness of the love-light.

“Lazy, frightfully lazy,” said he. “Will you take that in hand for me?
With the unaccountable delusion, by the way, that I am extremely
hard-worked. I lie in bed in the morning, and groan at the thought of
all that I shall have to do before I go to bed again. After a very long
time I get up--and don’t do it. Helen, how could you have been in the
world all these years and I not know it?”

“Oh, what does it matter now? For here we are, and for all the rest of
the years we shall both know it. Yes, you shall get up at seven every
morning. I will wake you myself.”

“That will be nice. And I needn’t get up at once? And what am I to do
when I do get up?”

“Why, all the things you lie groaning about,” she said.

“But there aren’t any, really. At least nothing to groan about.”

“Now you’re talking nonsense. I don’t mind, though. You talked a good
deal of nonsense on that Sunday, the hare-Sunday, you and Lady
Sunningdale. How is she?”

“I forget. I forget everything but--this!”

She bent towards him.

“Am I really all that to you?” she asked.

“Yes, all. More than all.”

After a while she spoke again.

“And you have no back-thought? There is no dark place at all, no shadow
of any kind?”

He looked up quickly.

“Yes, a possible shadow,” he said.

“Religion?”

“Yes; it had occurred to you, too, then. What do you expect?”

Helen sat with her chin resting on her hand a moment without replying.

“I don’t know,” she said, at length. “Don’t let us think about it just
now, Frank. Let this afternoon be perfect. But I can tell you this, that
though it may possibly be very painful, it will make no difference to
me. I shall be very sorry--very, very sorry, but---- That ‘but’ is you,
if you understand.”

“Thank you, my darling,” said he.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Challoner carried a very thankful heart with him as he went on his
various errands that afternoon. To see Helen happily married was a
constant desire and prayer of his, and though he would with willingness
and thankfulness have given her to the keeping of any good man who could
support her and a family, he did not attempt to disguise from himself
the satisfaction he felt at her having made what is vulgarly called “a
great match.” She had the gifts which should enable her to fill a great
position, and to play a great part worthily was a bigger and a finer
thing,--though he had said “duty was duty and there is neither less nor
greater” than to work on a smaller scale. More than that, he had, with
all his personal unworldliness, a good deal of pride of race, which
Frank with his undeniable birth and breeding gratified. For the man
himself, also, he felt a very decided liking and respect; he was an
admirable landlord, in spite of his avowed laziness; he was generally
considered to get through the day’s work with credit. In the House of
Lords, also, he had already achieved a certain reputation for eminent
common sense; and though to advocates of extremes his speeches might
appear commonplace, that was rather the fault of those who held an
extreme view. In other words, he lent his wealth and position to the
support of moderation, much as Lord Flintshire had done.

Another matter dearer to Mr. Challoner’s heart than the obscurities of
fiscal affairs was that Frank was, if not a pillar, at any rate a very
sound piece of the fabric in the twin-towered building called “Church
and State.” His patronage was always given to clergy of moderate views
who did not indulge in what Mr. Challoner called “idolatrous and Romish
practices,” while, on the other hand, he always voted dead against any
attempt to subtract from the power or position of the English Church as
by law established. “A staunch Churchman,” said Mr. Challoner to
himself, as he walked with his long, rapid strides through the pathway
hedged about with the yellowing corn.

For the time his disappointments about Martin were forgotten. There, it
is true, his dreams about his boy’s future had been dispelled by a rude
and bitter awakening, but here, at any rate, was something which he had
never dreamed being realised, and without overestimating the force and
value of education and the influences which spring from environment and
mode of life, he believed that Helen would assuredly live her mature and
wider life on the lines in which she had been brought up. So in this
marriage he saw a strong weapon forged of steel and wielded by a loyal
hand in defence of his mistress the Church. He knew well the immense
power which in England a territorial magnate is possessed of; how by the
mere fact of his wealth and position he can control the course of wide
issues. Hitherto Frank had done just that; he had always ranged himself
on the side of education and religion, or rather he had ranged the inert
weight of all he represented there, while he himself had keenly pursued
the artistic things of life. But now Helen, with all the influence of
her home and upbringing strong within her, would come to add life to
this solid weight, making it an active and potent instead of a passive
instrument of good. He almost envied the girl,--such opportunity was
given to few only, and on her would the responsibility and the glory
rest.

His district-visiting that afternoon had taken him into the farthest
limits of his parish, and a three-mile walk into the glories of the
sunset lay before him when he turned homewards. A flush of colour, vivid
and delicate as the cheek of youth, incarnadined the west, over which a
few light fleeces of crimson cloud hung like flames, and further up from
the horizon a belt of aqueous green melted into the transparent blue of
the sky overhead. The sun had already sunk behind the tawny line of
swelling down, and the water-meadows by the Itchen, where his path lay,
were full of dusky and deepening shadows. Right down the centre ran the
lucent stream, reflecting on its surface the blue and the green and the
flush of the sunset sky. Rooks cawed their way homeward to where the
elms of Chartries showed black against the luminous west, and to the
left of the long gabled façade of house-roof rose the grey gothic tower
of his church, the lodestar of his life, the mistress of his heart. That
was the realest thing in all the world to him; all that was beautiful at
this magic hour in earth and sky was but a path that conducted his soul
thither; all that he loved on earth was only the shadow and faint
similitude of the great love of his which centred there. Nothing had any
real existence except in its relation to that; everything else was but
an avenue to an anti-chamber in the house of many mansions. And as his
eye first caught sight of the grey, cross-surmounted tower, he stopped a
moment, uncovered his head, and with closed eyes stood still in a
Presence more poignantly there with him than any. Through his impatience
with ways and methods not his own, through his intolerance of that of
which he had no ability of comprehension, through his instinctive
dismissal of all that seemed to him unessential in life, whether it was
the benediction of the evening hour, the piano-playing of Martin, the
sweet eyes of Helen, through all, at moments like these, when his human
emotions were most aroused, his view pierced triumphant and saw only the
cross of Christ pointing heavenward. Towards that, and that alone, the
essential nature of the man was directed, even as the compass-needle,
though deflected and distracted by other neighbouring agencies, is
essentially undeviating and loyal in its allegiance to the north. His
disapprovals, his censorious judgments, his want of sympathy for what he
did not understand were only the husk of the man, and it was the very
strength of his central devotion that made him intolerant of any who
seemed to lapse in things great or small from his own measure of
fervour. Extreme cases, indeed, the case of the Jew, the Turk, the
infidel, he left with faith to the mercy of God, though his human
comprehension did not see how they could be capable of receiving it. He
did not know; he left them before the throne of Infinite Compassion, and
turned his thoughts elsewhere, to his own work of ministering to the
sick and needy, to the cultivation of the intellect, the usury of that
sterling talent given to man, and all that should make a man more
capable of worship, a fitter instrument in the hand of the great
Artificer.

The rose colour in the west faded to the nameless and indescribable hue
of the hour after sunset, a single spangle of a star flashed in the
vault of velvet sky, and dusk, like the slow closing of tired eyes, fell
layer after layer over field and copse and river. Lights began to
twinkle in the cottages of the village; day with its joys and its work
and its rewards was over, and rest was ordained for the world and its
myriads. Instinctively the mood of the tranquil hour gained on him, his
foot abated a little from the vigour of its stride, the active fervour
of his brain cooled a little, and a very human tenderness rose and
suffused his thoughts. Here in the church-yard, which he was now
crossing, stood the plain marble slab with its lettering, now
twenty-four years old, below which lay the remains of her who had been
the one passion, short and sweet and bitter, of his life. How often in
those years had he wondered, with aching longing for light, what was the
design of that interlude, what was the correct reading, so to speak, of
the passion that had for a year so absorbed and mastered and overwhelmed
him. His wife and he had no spiritual affinity; his love for her had not
raised and inspired him, and he, strong and loving as he had been, had
not helped her with any success towards the strenuous and active service
which he knew to be the bounden duty of every living soul. Had his
passion, then, been merely a casual, carnal longing, a frailty of the
flesh? Often and often he had been afraid to answer that question
honestly, but to-night, as he paused for a moment by the grave, that
doubt assailed him no longer, and instead a strange yearning and regret
for a missed opportunity took its place. Had he dealt wisely and gently
with that sun-lit child? Had he failed to realise what a child she was,
and been harsh and deficient in tenderness to a little one?

His head drooped for a moment as he stood there, and then, with all the
honesty of a nature as upright as a fir-tree, he answered it. He could
not justly condemn himself: he had done his best according to the light
that was given him. He had acted in a way he would have advised another
to act,--he would act so again now. It had not been easy. Often he had
longed to kiss her face into smiles again, and had been stern instead.

Then briskly again he left the grave, and in the gloaming stepped across
the lawn into the long window of his study. The lamp was already there,
trimmed and lit, his work was spread on the table in orderly array.
There were still ten minutes remaining to him before he need dress for
dinner, and from habit long-engrained he sat down at once to use them.
He found his place, composed his mind to the topic on hand, and dipped
his pen in the ink. But, contrary to habit, his attention wandered, and
strayed back to the church-yard and until the dressing-bell sounded he
sat there looking out of the window with unseeing eyes, questioning,
questioning.



CHAPTER VII


Three glasses of claret during dinner and one of port with his dessert
was Mr. Challoner’s usual allowance of alcoholic fluid, and, as a rule,
neither his sister nor Helen took any. But to-night, in honour of the
occasion, a half-bottle of champagne, to drink a toast in which two
names were coupled, made its unusual appearance, and the vicar proposed
the health in a voice which shook a little with feeling.

“God bless you both, my dearest girl,” he said, and drained his glass.

Afterwards, as if to endorse the felicity of the occasion, the
malignancy of the cards was abated, and Aunt Clara’s Patience “came out”
twice before prayers without a semblance of cheating on her part. Why
she cared to play at all, if she cheated, had long been to Helen an
unanswerable riddle, and was so still. But, in her dry and passionless
way, to get out without cheating was a satisfaction to Aunt Clara. She
was pleased also with the engagement of her niece, but her comparative
reticence on that, as on the subject of Patience (she had said only
“Fancy, Sidney, Miss Milligan came out twice!”), was due not, as in her
brother’s case, to excess of feeling, but to the inability to feel
anything at all acutely. The performance of her duties in the house and
in the parish had been for years a sufficient emotional diet; from other
influences, like a freshly-vaccinated person in respect of smallpox, she
was immune. She always said “Good-night” the moment prayers were over,
and did so on this occasion. But she kissed Helen twice. That
corresponded to her observation to her brother about the Patience.

To-night, however, contrary to custom, the vicar lingered in the
drawing-room instead of going back to his study, and, when her aunt was
gone, Helen took this opportunity of getting her little confession made.
He had beckoned her to the arm of the long, deep chair in which he was
sitting, when she would naturally have followed her aunt upstairs, and
took her hand in his, stroking it softly. Such a spontaneous caress was
rare with him, and in spite of the enormity of her confession, she
needed no large call on her courage to make it.

“There is one thing I want to tell you, father,” she said. “I hope you
will not be very angry with me.”

Mr. Challoner pressed her hand gently. Now, as always, the confidence of
his children was a thing immensely sweet to him, to get it unasked,
pathetically so.

“What is it, dear?” he said. “I don’t think you need be afraid of that.”

“Do you remember this morning requesting Lord Yorkshire--Frank--not to
smoke in the Room?” she asked.

“Yes, perfectly. And since I feel sure I know what you want to tell me,
it did occur to me that you might, with a little courage, have asked him
not to. You knew my feeling about it. But you have told me of your own
accord, dear. So that is finished, quite finished.”

The temptation to say no more was extraordinarily strong, and to end
this beautiful day quite happily with every one--Aunt Clara had kissed
her twice, which she usually only did on Christmas morning--was the
childish impulse dominant in her. To-morrow she would deal with other
things, one perfect pearl of a day would be hers,--an imperishable
treasure. But the necessity of honesty, consecrated, as it were, by what
had passed between her and Frank on the subject, conquered. For the last
year she had occasionally smoked, and had never in the least desired to
tell her father that she did. Yet now, somehow, perhaps because it was
connected with him, she must. So she spoke.

“No, it is not quite finished,” she said. “I had been smoking, too.”

For a moment he almost failed to grasp this simple statement, then a
school-master voice rapped out a question.

“You smoke?” he asked.

“Not often; not much,” she said, with the old childish awe of him
suddenly returning.

“And who---- Did Martin teach you?” he asked, with an ironic emphasis on
“teach,” at that fine word being put to such base uses.

“No; I asked him for a cigarette,” she said.

“And he gave it you?”

There was no reply necessary. He had dropped her hand, as if it had been
a cigarette-end, but now he took it again.

“My dearest girl,” he said, “I do not want you for a moment to think
that I make much out of a little; do not think that I regard it as
morally wrong in any way. But think, Helen,--a girl like you smoking. Is
it seemly? Is it not a horrid, a nasty habit? And in the Room, too!
There, there, don’t tremble, my dear. I am not angry.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“Let us dismiss it altogether, Helen,” he said. “You told me, anyhow,
and I know it was hard for you to do that. But”--and he was father,
responsible father, when he should have been friend--“but you knew my
feeling about it. It was disobedient.”

All the time his heart was warmed by the thought that she had told him,
yet his sense of duty, his responsibility towards his children, which
was one of the most constant motives of his acts, made him say more. He
did not want to preach, but he was incapable of not doing so.

“Yes, disobedient,” he said, “to what you knew I felt. And that Martin
should give you a cigarette is as bad.”

“Ah, do not bring him into it,” she said. “I am stronger than
Martin,--he had to give it me. Martin would always do what I asked him.
Please do not write to him or speak to him about it.”

Then, at the thought of Martin, and of the constant, continual
misunderstandings between him and her father, her own great happiness
urged her to try to help him.

“I am much worse than Martin is, dear father,” she said; “much more
disobedient, much,--‘The Mill on the Floss,’ for instance. I had been
reading it.”

“And he had lent it you?” asked Mr. Challoner, quietly.

“No. I found it in his bedroom and took it. Oh, father----“

The issues for each had deepened. The meaning of that exclamation was
understood by him: it pleaded with him for Martin.

“I have always tried to be a good father to you both,” he said.

Then all that Helen had suppressed and striven not to have thought for
years rose to the surface on this her first day of liberty. She had not
let herself know how heavy the yoke had been till now, when her
manumission was signed. But Martin still was in subjection. She stood
up.

“I know that,” she said. “If I had not always known that I should not
have cared. It is just that which makes it so sad. But we have both been
afraid of you. We have concealed things from you because we were afraid
of your displeasure. You know, Martin is awfully timid; he shrinks from
what hurts. And we do not tell you everything even now.”

The thrill of pleasure that her unasked confidence had given him had
pretty well died out. He felt also that there was something more coming.

“You or Martin?” he asked.

The tide was irresistible, sweeping her away. A thing which must be
horribly painful to him had to be told her father to-day, to-morrow, or
some time, and she suddenly knew that she must tell him now. Besides,
here was a burden she could voluntarily bear for her lover, a pain, a
difficult thing she could take on herself. And, woman all through, as
she would have saved him anything from a toothache to a heartache,
especially if the saving it from him meant the transference of it to
her, she felt, in spite of the pain, an inward thrill and warmth at the
thought that it would be spared to Frank. A few minutes before, when
Aunt Clara left the room, she would have gone too, if she had known that
the little confession would lead on to this, but now the burning of her
love, as when a furnace-door is thrown open, glowed with a whiteness
that consumed all else.

“I, anyhow,” she said. “I have something which you must be told. And I
choose to tell you instead of Frank.”

Her father got up also facing her. He was very grave, very still.

“Does it concern him?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Is it disgraceful?”

“No.”

He made one futile attempt to stop in the middle of the rapids into
which he or she, he did not know which, had steered.

“Then, tell me nothing, Helen,” he said. “You say it is not disgraceful.
That is quite sufficient for me when it comes from your mouth. I do not
wish to be told either by him or you. There is no past that can be raked
up--ah, I need not have asked you that. You would have turned from him
with loathing if there had been that. For the rest I am satisfied. He
has artistic tastes of which I have no knowledge, and with which no
sympathy. He is honourable and of a great name, he is liked, respected;
he is a man whom I would have chosen myself for you, and he has the
interests and welfare of the church close to his heart----“

He stopped suddenly, arrested by the sudden whiteness of her face.

“Or what?” he asked.

“He is not even a Christian,” said Helen, simply.

Mr. Challoner did not reply at once. The habit of tidiness in him,
unconsciously asserting itself, led him to put square the case of cards
which his sister had used for her Patience. Then he turned down with his
foot the corner of the hearth-rug which Helen’s dress, as she walked to
the fireplace, had disarranged. Indeed, it had distressed him for some
time; it was easy to trip on it. Then he spoke.

“And did you know that when you promised to be his wife?” he asked, with
a scrupulous desire to be absolutely fair.

“Yes,” said she.

“Then, what are his religious opinions?” asked he, still scrupulous.
“Does he believe in God?”

“No.”

“And you knew that all along?”

“I knew it on the day when, I think, I began to love him,” she said.

A sudden, superficial flow of bitterness, just as a light breeze will
ruffle the surface of some huge wave, passed over her father.

“For that reason?” he asked.

Helen looked at him in amazement.

“I did not know you could have asked me that,” she said.

“And I, too, have much to learn about my children,” said he.

Helen’s eye flashed back at him. She was afraid no longer. The talk she
had had with Frank on that memorable Sunday afternoon she had put away
like stored provisions; often since it had been food to her thoughts,
and it was now all eaten, digested, assimilated. The instinct of
individualism had no doubt often been present to her mind before, but
what he said then had made it blossom and fructify. He had said, in
fact, perhaps no more than she had known, though without knowing she
knew it; his words had been a taper to a gas-jet already turned on.
Without the taper it might have continued to escape; the taper made
flame of it. And in the light of it the figure “father” was shewn her as
a man only, capable of using one vote, in opposition it might be to her
own, but, however dear and intimate he was to her, and in spite of her
parentage, education, and upbringing, he was still only somebody, not
herself. And she, Helen, had to be herself.

“Yes; you are learning that they are people,” she said, in answer to his
bitterness. “Martin and I are people. I must think for myself and feel
for myself. Yes; I knew that Frank is what he is,--an atheist. And I
love him.”

Mr. Challoner looked at her a moment with terrible, alien eyes, meeting
her full gaze. Then he turned and went towards the door.

Instantly the daughter in her awoke.

“Father,” she cried, holding out her hands to him, “Father.”

But he passed out without turning, and she heard the door of his study
opposite close behind him, and the click of a lock.

The finality, the sharpness of that click of well-oiled wards, brought
home to the girl, even more than the bitter and burning words which had
been said, what had happened, the unbridgeable breach that had opened
between herself and her father. For, even now, distraught as she was
with the agitation of the scene, so that she felt almost physically
sick, she knew that she had acted in compulsory obedience to an instinct
which was irresistible; she could not call back into her own control the
love she had given. Whatever else beckoned, that to her was the
strongest call. And equally well-known to her was the instinct in
obedience to which her father had acted. Dear as his children were to
him, there was something infinitely dearer, that which from the tower of
the church had pointed upwards into the clear, sunset sky. No assertion
of individualism made its voice heard there; the one immutable love
claimed all allegiances.

Infinitely shocked and distressed as he was, Mr. Challoner did not
suffer during the next half-hour nearly as keenly as Helen, for the idea
that she would not eventually--after pain and struggle, no doubt--see as
he saw never entered his mind. Indeed, after a few minutes the emotion
predominant in him was pity for her at the necessity of the rejection of
the human love offered to and accepted by her. She would be led to the
light--not for a moment did he doubt that--and the suffering would
ennoble and not embitter her. Then, out of pity for her, compunction at
what he had done rose within him. Again he had been harsh and
peremptory; not even the sacred cause he championed could justify that
nor excuse his lack of gentleness. He had left her in anger, anger as he
now acknowledged to himself partly personal in its origin. So, before
half an hour was passed, he unlocked his door, and going upstairs to her
bedroom, tapped softly.

Helen had had no more thought of going to bed than he, and she let him
in at once.

“We did not say good-night, Helen,” he said. “We were both----“

She raised her eyes to him.

“Ah, don’t let us discuss it any more to-night,” she said.

“No, dear. I only wanted to say good-night to you, to--to say that I am
sorry for leaving in the manner I did. You look very tired. Will you not
go to bed.”

“Yes; soon perhaps.”

She kissed him, and stood silent a moment, fingering the lappel of his
coat.

“If we did not care for each other it would be easier,” she said. “Poor
father! Good-night, dear. Thank you for coming.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been arranged that Frank should bring the motor over again next
morning and drive Helen back to Fareham to lunch with Lady Sunningdale,
and he made his appearance rather sooner than expected, having driven,
as he acknowledged, a little over the regulation two miles an hour.
Helen had heard the approach of wheels, and met him at the door. One
glance at her face was enough to tell him that something, and what that
was he easily guessed, had happened.

“Father is in,” she said; “he waited in on purpose to see you. Yes; he
knows.”

“You told him? Well?”

“He said very little, but enough. Oh, Frank, it is very dreadful. He is
my father. But all I said to you holds. He, you; that is what hurts so.
It was awful telling him, too. But I had to.”

“My darling, why?” he asked. “You should have left it to me.”

Her eye brightened.

“Ah, that was one of the reasons why I didn’t,” she said.

“Oh, Helen! But you look tired, knocked up.”

“That doesn’t much matter,” she said. “Go to see him now, dear. You will
find me on the lawn when you have finished. And, remember, it all holds.
It was never shaken, not for a moment, even last night. And he came to
say good-night to me afterwards; poor, dear father! I have always envied
him for his strength till now; but now it is just that which will make
him suffer so horribly.”

Frank felt in his coat pocket, and took a note out of it.

“From Lady Sunningdale,” he said. “She is delighted, and is telling
everybody how she managed and contrived it all from the beginning.”

Helen took the note.

“Go now, Frank,” she said. “I can think of nothing till this is over.”

She strolled out on to the lawn again, and sat down in the warm shade of
the box-hedge to read Lady Sunningdale’s ecstatic and desultory
raptures. The scene the evening before, followed by a very restless
night, full of half-conscious sleep and wide-eyed awakenings, had so
tired her that weariness had brought a sort of healing of its own,
dulling the keenest edge of her capacity for suffering. Breakfast had
been a meal of ghastly silence, broken only by noises of knives and
forks, loud in the stillness. Her father had only addressed her directly
once, and that to say that he wished to see Lord Yorkshire when he
arrived. Breakfast over, she had written to Martin to tell him all that
had happened; then Frank had come.

All sorts of awful, impossible situations flapped like horrible bats
about her as she waited. She pictured her father insulting her lover;
she pictured Frank, stung by some intolerable taunt, striking him; she
pictured, with dreadful vividness, a hundred things that could not
possibly be. All round her hummed the myriad noises of the summer noon,
and the myriad scents of the flower-garden, where still the industrious
sweet-peas were prolific, mingled, and were wafted in web of fragrant
smell round her. It was a day of high festival in sound and smell and
light and colour, a day of a brilliance that had again and again been
sufficient to make her half crazy with the pure joy of living and sight
of joyous life so abundantly manifested. But this morning she was deaf
and blind to the myriad-voiced noon; for in these last twenty-four hours
there had come to her a happiness transcending all she had ever felt and
a bitterness of sorrow, marching side by side, and inextricably mingled
with it, that was as immeasurably more poignant than any she had ever
known as her joy transcended all the other joys of her very happy years.
Whatever might happen, life could never again be enjoyed by her with the
_insouciance_ of girlhood: some finger had touched her as she smiled and
dreamed in her twenty years of sleep and had awakened her. And a voice
had said, “Wake; you are a woman; you shall love and suffer.” Yet, even
now, while she shrank and winced under the pain, some secret fibre of
her being welcomed it. She--her essential self--was the richer for it;
life at last had touched her sad, bitter, imperfect, but admirable
life. Like a plant, she had been moved suddenly out of the warm shelter
of a green-house. Hereafter the sun might scorch her, the wind tear her,
the frost wither her, the rain lash her, but she was to know what it was
to be rooted in the great earth, to grow, with no shelter in between,
upward towards the heavens.

All this was certainly happening to her, but as yet she guessed but a
small part of it. All that her reverie, when she had read Lady
Sunningdale’s letter, told her was that she was acutely unhappy because
her father would suffer; and in some tremulous, aërial way happy beyond
all that she had ever guessed to be possible because she loved and was
loved. The two feelings were inextricably intertwined; neither, as she
knew them, could have existence without the other. And out of this
tangled thicket of rose and thorn there emerged this new self of hers,
in no selfish or egoistic mood, but very conscious, very vital, bleeding
from the thorns, but breathing the inimitable odour of the roses.

A maid-servant with a message from the vicar roused her. Would she
please to come into his study for a moment. She got up with a vague,
dreadful sense that this had all happened before, but she could not
remember the outcome, and as she walked across the lawn the terrible,
impossible pictures again flashed through her head, like scenes of a
magic-lantern staring out of blackness.

The aroma of tobacco as she opened the study door gave her a sudden,
shallow thrill of comfort. But this was scarcely endorsed by the next
impression. Mr. Challoner, always courteous, had no doubt suggested one
of his excellent cigars, and Frank had accepted it. But the
good-fellowship tacitly implied by the act was here omitted. The vicar
stood with his back to the fireplace, flinty-faced; Frank sat in a big
chair drawn close to the writing-table, the chair in which times without
number Helen and Martin had sat together looking at Bible pictures after
tea on Sunday. All the furniture of the study, the aromatic smell of
leather bindings that hung there, the uncompromising tidiness of it, its
orderly severity, the picture of the Roman forum, the glass paper-weight
on the table, brought a sudden rush of associations into the girl’s mind
now that she saw Frank there too; they were all so closely knit into the
fabric of her life, so intimately suggestive of that stern, tall figure
by the fireplace. And somewhere far away back in her brain her own
voice, in a little childish pipe, whispered to Martin, “Papa’s cross
about something. Is it you or me?”

She took a seat in silence, and the silence lengthened ominously. Frank
was looking at her with a quiet, level gaze, full of love and full of
pity, and she turned her eyes away, fearing that she would scream with
tears or laughter if she allowed herself to look at him. And the voice
that broke the silence was quiet and level also; the whole thing was
deplorably well-bred. Insults, violence, all that she had pictured to
herself, would have been a relief, a safety-valve for the bursting
pressure that she knew existed beneath. But as yet there was none.

“I have sent for you, Helen,” said her father, “to choose.” He paused a
moment. “Lord Yorkshire is on the one side,” he said, “I am on the
other. We have settled it so.”

“That is not quite fairly stated,” said Frank, in the tone a man might
use if he demurred to some argument in a discussion in which he was not
really interested.

Mr. Challoner’s face grew a shade paler.

“Did you say ‘fairly’?” he asked.

The deadly quietness of this suddenly frightened the girl. That was a
tone in his voice she knew and dreaded.

“Father,” she said, “father.”

They neither of them took any notice of her, and Frank answered in the
same gentle, objecting manner.

“You say ‘we settled it,’” he said. “I had nothing to do with it. You
merely told me what you were going to do. That is why I used the word
‘fairly.’”

Mr. Challoner considered this for a moment.

“I see your point,” he said. “That is so.”

Then he turned to Helen.

“So choose,” he said. “I settled it so.”

Helen looked at Frank a moment and stood up, love streaming round her in
triumphant flood, bearing her away.

“I have chosen,” she said. “You know it.”

Then, even in that moment, when she felt so strong, when her love was to
her like a draught of wine or meat to the hungry, her strength utterly
failed her, and she buried her head on the cushions of the sofa where
she had been sitting and burst into hopeless, hysterical sobbing. She
was not capable of more; all had given way, and she lay helpless,
sobbing, sobbing, as if to sob her heart out.

But four hands were busy about her, and as the stress of her seizure
began to leave her, she heard two voices, for the moment one. And one
said, “Helen darling,” and the other, “Helen dear;” and one said, “If
you would be so kind, Lord Yorkshire, there is some water on the table;”
and the other said, “Helen, would you like to drink a little water?”

For two men in nature, in sympathy, in religion poles apart were bound
together for a moment in the necessity divine and human of comforting
the weak, of giving help to a sufferer. She who suffered was loved by
them both, and though the distance of fifty poles could not span the
difference between their ways of love, that was sufficient.

For myriads are the ways of approaching the throne where all love
dwells. From east and west and north and south those myriad ways
converge and meet. But at present east and west, being human, and
thinking that they were going in opposite ways, could not foretell the
meeting. But the Centre knew.

By degrees she came to herself again, and one said, “Some other time,”
and the other, “Not again now, Helen.” So of the three she was the only
one who was resolved to go on, to have this ghastly spiritual surgery
finished. Though she had chosen, she knew there was more that had to be
said.

She cast one glance at her father, but her physical weakness over, his
pity, she saw, was over also. A gulf immeasurable by leagues had opened
between them, and though not even yet did he despair that they would be
forever disunited, it was she who must come to him. From the firm rock
on which he stood he knew, so he believed, that he would never stir a
step.

She pushed back her hair from her forehead.

“I don’t know why I did that,” she said. “It was stupid of me. Give me a
minute.”

She got up, still a little unsteadily, and played with the pens in the
tray on the writing-table, recovering herself. Then she turned suddenly
to her father.

“Father,” she said, “you can’t mean what you say. How can I choose
between you? What are you asking me to do? What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly what I say,” he answered, with the same dreadful
quietness. That which had not seemed possible to him last night, that
she would really choose as she had chosen, had become more than
possible. “You choose between us. Are there words in which I can make
that clearer? If you choose me, you say good-bye to Lord Yorkshire here
and now. If you choose him, you are to understand that you cease to be
my daughter. I will not be at your wedding; I will not see you
afterwards. You shall not be married from this house, nor, if I could
help it, should you be married in this church.”

Then suddenly the quietness of the scene was shattered. As if by a
sudden flash of lightning, all that Helen’s choice implied, her
rejection not of him alone, but her rejection of all in the world that
he held sacred, was made dazzlingly clear to him. At that his
self-control gave way, and as his voice rose louder and louder, he beat
with his clenched hand on the edge of the marble chimney-piece, so that
the knuckles bled.

“Understand what you are doing,” he said, “and let me tell you, so that
there can be no mistake. You will promise to love, honour, and obey an
atheist, an infidel, one who denies God and his Christ. You will have
to say you do this according to God’s holy ordinance. That from you, in
church, Helen, and a lie. It cannot be by His ordinance, for by your act
you turn your back on the faith that has been yours from childhood till
now, on all you have believed to be sacred. And what of the end? What of
the life to which this is but a prelude? What of him, your husband,
then? He that believeth not shall be damned. I would--I would sooner see
you in your coffin than standing by the altar with this man. I would
sooner see you his mistress----“

His passion, springing though it did from his own intense and fervent
Christianity, had suddenly shot out into a bitter and poisonous blossom,
and as that flared through the room, he paused a moment and looked at
her as she stood before him in the beautiful whiteness of her girlhood.
Her physical weakness had altogether passed, and except that she took
one step back from him in involuntary disgust and shrinking, you would
have said she was listening with quiet, incredulous wonder to some tale
that did not concern her. But as he paused, hardly yet knowing what he
had said, knowing, in fact, only that no words could be strong enough to
express the intensity of his conviction, she turned from him.

“Come, Frank,” she said; “let us go.”

Frank also had risen with a sudden flush on his face at those
intolerable words, an answer springing to his lips, and moved quickly
towards her with some instinct of protecting her. But her tone checked
him, and he followed her to the door. She had already opened it, without
further speech or looking back, when her father’s voice, scarcely
audible and broken and trembling, stopped her.

“Helen,” he said, “indeed I did not think or know what I said. But, my
dearest, what are you doing? What are you doing? For Christ’s sake,
Helen, who died for you.”

Frank had passed out. Whatever more took place between them was not for
him to hear. Then the door closed behind him, leaving father and
daughter alone.

“For Christ’s sake, Helen,” he said again.

She came back to the hearth-rug where he stood.

“Oh, father,” she said, and paused. That was all the reproach he was
ever to hear from her. “You are making it very hard for me.”

“Yes, I am making it as hard as I can. I am bound by my duty to God to
do that. If I knew how to make it harder, I would.”

“You cannot. You have said all that can be said. And I have nothing more
to say. Let me go now.”

She kissed him gently.

“Poor father!” she said, and left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Challoner stood long where he was when she had gone. Never before
perhaps in his whole life had another will come so actively and
stubbornly into collision with his, and never before certainly had he
felt so overwhelmingly a sense of spiritual desolation. Eager and
strenuous all through, it was in the truths of the Christian faith that
he found the incentive of his life, from it sprang all the earnestness
and deep sense of duty in the man, to it was every effort and deed of
his dedicated.

“But what have I done,” he half moaned to himself, “that this should
come to my house, and to one for whose faith and upbringing I have to
answer? Oh, Lord, if it is through any fault of mine, let me learn for
what deadly sin this punishment is sent!”

Indeed, he had spoken no more than the truth, bitter and brutal though
the truth was, when he told Helen that he would rather have seen her in
her coffin than by the altar with her lover. And now he took no account
of his personal sorrow; the yearning that she should accept her father’s
wish and guidance as such was non-existent in him, killed by the
stronger motive. All his personal relations with her of trust and
affection, which to the best of his power he had built up for years,
were voiceless now,--simply he strove for a soul--and that dear to
him--in danger imminent and awful. The rigid Puritan note was here, and
he would sooner have mated her with a thief or an adulterer, since such
might repent and be saved, than with a reasoned atheist.

Then in a horror of great darkness he questioned his own spirit. “How
had he failed?” and again, “How had he failed?” Never had precious plant
been more hedged about from frost or untimely blighting of March winds
than had his daughter been folded from all that could conceivably have
stunted or weakened the one true growth. From the time when her lips
were wet with a mother’s milk God counsels, verse by verse and line by
line, had been the guides and counsellors of her life. What had he left
undone that he could have done? Had any remissness of his own hindered
growth where it should have helped? He searched the years for his fault,
but among all his failures and weaknesses and harshnesses he could not
find that even for a day had he let anything else take precedence of the
greatest and the only thing in the world.

And now at the end she would mate with an infidel, a man, according to
his idea, whose intimacy was more to be shunned than that of a leper’s
or of one who was tainted with some deadly and contagious disease. That,
at any rate, could only kill the body; but Helen had chosen as the
friend and companion of her nights and days one whose soul was sick with
a more fatal disease, the end of which, ordained and appointed of God,
was eternal death. It was too hideous to be credible, it was too hideous
to be conceivably just. And the fact that he could think that gives the
measure of his soul’s anguish.

God sets a limit to human misery: for it happens that the tortured
brain, tired with suffering, lapses into a state of semi-sensibility; or
again, since one cannot feel pain on account of another unless the other
is dear,--the pain felt varying, indeed, in proportion to the affection
felt,--the joy of love is always mingled with it. It was so now with Mr.
Challoner. Had he not have been Helen’s father, had he not loved her, he
would have cared less. But she was his daughter, his own girl, whose
sweetness had all her life made sunshine in his home. He had said an
intolerable thing to her, and for reproach she had still given him
gentleness. In the keenness of his own suffering he had forgotten hers;
he had forgotten even, except for that moment when she had broken down,
that she must be suffering. So he went out after her.

She was standing at the door with her lover, and he went straight up to
them. Even the sight of Frank there gave him no pause.

“It has been a dreadful morning for us all,” he said, “and selfishly I
had forgotten that others beside myself were unhappy. God knows what is
in store for us all, but we can do no good by being bitter, as I have
been. Let us,--yes, you, too, Lord Yorkshire,--let us all join hands a
moment. We are His children, are we not? We----“

His mouth quivered, no more words would come, and they stood there a
moment, all three hands clasped. Then, feeling that his self-control was
utterly giving way, he left them, and went back to his empty room.



CHAPTER VIII


Helen was sitting on a pile of crimson cushions in the stern of a
Canadian canoe, while from the middle of the boat Martin, with
shirt-sleeves rolled up over his brown elbows, paddled her gently along
the reaches of the upper river at Cambridge. The dryness and heat of
this glorious summer had made the river very low in places, and his feet
also were bare, with flannel trousers rolled up to the knee, for again
and again he had to get out to pull the boat round snags or over shoals
where the depth did not allow it to pass with the draught of two
passengers. To the right, across a stretch of meadow stained brown with
length of summer suns, rose the tower of Grantchester church, embowered
in trees, and the booming of the mill sounded drowsily through the still
air. Close to the river, however, a vivider tone of colour prevailed,
tresses of water-side foliage dabbled in the stream, and tall, slender
trees made a shelter from the heat, where cows, a classical example (and
so not appealing to Martin, who splashed water at them) of unbustling
life, chewed the cud and looked with large incurious eyes at the gliding
constellation of the twins. Between them in the boat were packages
containing lunch, for Martin had taken a complete day off his studies in
recalcitrant languages and was devoting himself to Helen, who was
staying with an aunt, Lady Susan Arne. Dr. Arne, her husband, was tutor
at King’s, at which seat of learning Martin pursued his antipathetic
labours, and had the reputation of being the greatest authority living
on the metres of Greek choruses.

Helen had left Chartries a couple of days after the crisis in her
love-affair, at the suggestion of her uncle, to whom she had confided
it.

“I will walk back with you to the vicarage, Helen,” he had said, “and
persuade your father, in case he needs persuasion, to let you go away at
once. Your being with him just now only keeps the wound open. Go away;
it will heal better so. Just now, after that scene, you can only torture
each other by your remaining there. Poor, dear child!”

“Yes; but ‘poor father,’ too,” said Helen.

“Certainly. Come to Chartries, if you like.”

Helen took his arm.

“That is so good of you, Uncle Rupert,” she said; “but I think I should
like to go quite away, if father will let me. I think I should like to
go to Cambridge. Martin is there. And Martin is so good for one, if one
is, well, not very happy.”

“Yes; that is a good plan. You can stay with Susan. My dear, I’m more
sorry for you than I can tell you, and also I am as sorry for your
father. You and I both know him, and we both love him, and, though we
are made very differently, we know how--how splendid he is. And how
big.”

“I know,” said she. “I feel that if I could only persuade myself he was
narrow I should care less. But his huge, singlehearted devotion to--to
God cannot possibly be called narrow.”

They walked on in silence a little.

“But that is all I can do for you, Helen,” said he. “Nobody can really
help you except yourself; we can only alleviate things a bit. You have
made your choice, absolutely, I gather?”

“Am I being a selfish, egotistic little brute, Uncle Rupert?” she asked.

“Not according to my view, which is that when a thing concerns you so
intimately and vitally as this it is nobody else’s business. Not even
your father’s,” he added.

A good deal of persuasion, as Lord Flintshire found, was needed. At
first his brother would not hear of Helen’s going, for he said that her
departure was shirking the situation. What made him yield was the
suggestion that the situation, if not shirked, might make her really
ill. And a hurried interchange of telegrams led to her arrival at
Cambridge the next evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

The expedition to-day had started rather silently, and Martin decided
that, as Helen did not at present want to talk about her affairs, the
best thing to do was to be completely futile, foolish, and garrulous.
For years he and Helen had adopted this method of treating each other’s
depression, and it was sufficient for one to say “Hump. Play the fool,”
for the other to understand that until further notice he had to talk
rot. This was a device, by the way, which neither had ever employed when
Mr. Challoner was in a similar mood. He would probably not have
understood it.

Martin stood up in the boat, which had stuck, and peered into the water.

“The great thing,” he remarked, “as the White Knight said, is to guide
against the bites of sharks. He had steel anklets. Ow! why do they take
the sharpest stones in the world and place them where I want to step.
I’m bleeding like a pig.”

He stood precariously on the other foot and examined the injury.

“A pig,” he remarked, fatuously, “that has not yet had its throat cut.
Helen, how fat you must be getting. You weigh tons. We’ll have to throw
the lunch overboard. Or perhaps it would be simpler if you stepped
ashore for a moment. You can easily step on to the bank from there.”

He pulled the canoe over the shoal and took it where she could get in
again. She laid her hand on his shoulder as she stepped in.

“You darling,” she said. “You can stop now. I’m better.”

“That’s good work,” said Martin. “Because, really I was beginning to run
rather dry. You mightn’t have thought it.”

“I didn’t. I had no idea of it. I thought there was any amount more.”

“I can manage ten minutes more, if you like,” said Martin.

“No; I’m going to talk now. Martin, if you look suddenly grave like that
I shall begin to laugh.”

“Well, give me a couple of minutes,” said the outraged Martin. “We
always have an interval after the rot before we begin to talk.
Otherwise, you know, we always laugh. One always laughs at anything
abrupt. Don’t you know the story of the man who was suddenly told his
wife was dead? Just like that. He said, ‘Oh, how shocking!’ and burst
into shrieks of laughter. And he was really devoted to her, and never
smiled again for years.”

Helen gave up all attempts at gravity, and the two foolish twins laughed
till they were completely exhausted, while the Canadian canoe went
slowly circling round and round down the river.

So they landed and lunched, as Martin refused to drag the boat any more
till he had eaten and by degrees recovered themselves. Then, taking to
the canoe again, they paddled and talked.

“It has been dreadful at home, Martin,” said she. “Father hardly speaks
at all. He has been very gentle since that scene with Frank and me, yet
even that was hardly so bad as his silence and quietness now. He is
suffering horribly, too; I am sure of it. Sometimes I see him looking at
me with a sort of appeal in his eyes like a dumb animal. That is the
worst of all; I feel such a brute.”

“You suffer, too,” said Martin, quickly.

“I know; but though they all--Uncle Rupert, Lady Sunningdale--think I am
right, that doesn’t make me feel less of a brute. Besides, there is no
‘right’ about it. I can’t give him up, and father can’t bear it. And
every evening he uses the prayer for Jews, Turks, and infidels.”

Martin frowned.

“That is not good manners,” he said, “with you there.”

“Oh, Martin, manners don’t come into it. The truth of father’s beliefs
is so overwhelmingly real to him that he can’t think of anything else.
That light is so strong that he can see nothing but it. It is soberly
the whole world to him.”

“But it isn’t as if Frank was immoral,” said Martin.

“I believe he would mind that less,” said she.

Martin swung the canoe round a half-submerged tree-trunk, where the
water sucked and gurgled.

“But how unreasonable,” he cried. “Frank can’t help his want of belief.
But we can all, in some degree, help making brutes of ourselves.”

Helen sat up suddenly, causing the boat to rock.

“I can’t live my life on other people’s lines,” she said, “any more than
I expect others to live theirs on my lines. ‘I am I.’ I remember Frank
quoting that to me the Sunday he walked back with me from Chartries.
That has been like leaven; it has fermented and expanded within me. But,
after all, is it only another way of saying ‘I shall be as selfish as I
please’?”

“Of course not. That is what people think who haven’t got any
individuality of their own. Lots of people haven’t. They are like
mirrors slightly cracked, which reflect with certain dimnesses and
distortions what is put opposite them. They say individuality is
selfishness. What bosh!”

“Aunt Susan hasn’t got any,” remarked Helen, letting the conversation
drift away a little. “It is that which makes her so restful. Her mind is
like a cushion. It is quite soft, and if you lean on it you make great
dents in it.”

Martin remained quite serious, staring at the water with vacant black
eyes.

“Poor father!” he said at length. “Just think; you and me, Helen. He
must find us awfully trying.”

“I know; and he continues to love us so. It is that which makes it so
dreadful. Oh, Martin, do get through your stupid examination. Do turn
out satisfactory, as I’ve been so eminently the reverse.”

Martin transferred his gaze to his sister.

“I really don’t think there’s much chance of it,” he said.

“Of your getting through?”

“I might manage that. But there are other things. The career I propose,
for instance.”

“But he’s reconciled to that,” said Helen. “That’s nothing new.”

Martin paddled on without answering this, and Helen looked at him rather
closely.

“There is something more,” she said. “What is it? Is there not something
more?”

He brought the boat up to the bank in Byron’s pool, where they were to
disembark.

“Yes, there is,” he said. “At least, there may be. There is no use in my
telling you now. If it happens, if I am sure it is going to happen, I
will tell you beforehand. I promise you that. And now I think we won’t
talk any more about it.”

But a sudden uneasiness seized the girl.

“Promise me one thing,” she said. “Promise me it is nothing
disgraceful.”

Martin looked rather injured.

“No; I have not been stealing hens,” he said. “And it is compatible with
the highest character.”

Helen looked at him a moment in silence.

“Then I’m not afraid,” she said. “And I will try not to guess at it
until you tell me.”

The afternoon was intensely hot, and having arrived here, they settled
that a boat under trees was far more to the point than walking under the
blaze of the sun, and Helen merely reclined more recumbently on a pile
of cushions.

“I think we will go for a walk to-morrow, Martin,” she said, “instead of
to-day.”

“That may be. By the way, I met last week that nice girl who was down at
Chartries on the Sunday when I got into so many rows. What was her
name?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said Helen.

“Yes, you have. Oh, I know--Miss Pl---- Oh, yes,--Stella Plympton.”

Helen did not answer for a moment.

“Well, I shall go to sleep,” she said. “Martin!”

“Well?”

“You did that remarkably badly,” she said; “a cow could give you points
in dissimulation. You remembered her name perfectly.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Arne, at whose house on the Trumpington Road Helen was staying, was
probably as nearly happy as is possible to the sons of men, who have so
marked a genius for discontent. Whether his happiness was worth much and
what it all came to is another question; but happy he was,--an affair of
immense importance not only to himself, but to all on whom his
imperturbable serenity shone. For Providence had endowed him with an
apparently insatiable curiosity about the chorus-metres in Greek plays,
and also with an intuitive perception as regards this extremely
difficult and no doubt fascinating branch of knowledge, which had proved
itself capable of being trained into something approaching the
perfection of acumen. His intellectual ambitions were thus completely
satisfied, and being without any passion but this, which the fact that
he was tutor of his college enabled him to gratify without stint, there
was really no possible chink at which the bitter wind of discontent
could enter and make draughts. The same good fortune had attended his
marriage, for he had wooed and won a woman of good birth and breeding,
whose only desire, as far as he was aware, was to make her husband not
happy,--he was that already,--but comfortable. Extremely edible meals
were offered to his notice at hours of his choosing, no sacrilegious
hand ever disturbed the papers in his study, his wife walked with him
after lunch, and, unless they had people dining with them or were
themselves bidden to other feasts, played picquet with him after dinner.
His mode of progression along roads was naturally a little quicker than
hers, his play of the hand at cards a shade less mediocre, and in
consequence he lived in an atmosphere of slight domestic superiority.
The same atmosphere, though not domestic, surrounded him in his studies,
for, to make a rough statement of the matter, he knew rather more about
Greek chorus-metres than anybody else had ever done. His bodily health,
moreover, if not exuberant,--he would have found exuberance very
trying,--was excellent; he appeared, in fact, to be as immune to the
frailties and disorders of the flesh as he was to any unsatisfied
cravings of the spirit. He was also childless; and though he was not
consciously grateful for this, he was aware that he desired neither more
distractions, anxieties, or even joys than he possessed in such
completeness.

Lady Susan Arne had been compared by her niece to a cushion; and,
indeed, the superficial similarity--not, indeed, in point of looks, for
Lady Susan was remarkably well-favoured--in the nature of the two was
extremely striking when once it had been pointed out. It was true that
if one leaned on Lady Susan’s mind there was no firm resistance, only a
large dent seemed to have been made in hers. But Helen, with a certain
impatience in her survey, had overlooked the existence of a permanent
dent there, a thing entirely foreign to cushions. She, Helen, it is
true, might lean and make a dent, and that the next person who, so to
speak, shook Aunt Susan up, or leaned upon her in another place, would
(still in Helen’s view) efface the first dent; but in a corner of her,
where no one ever thought of leaning or looking, there was a permanent
and uneffaceable dent. This was made in the first place by the
ungratified yearning for a child of her own; it was now daily renewed by
the knowledge of its impossibility. There was in her, in fact, a
potential vitality which under other circumstances might have made of
her a woman, not a housekeeper, and have given her points more directly
in contact with life than were picquet and constitutionals. As it was,
she had experienced none of the divine unsatisfiedness which fulness of
life alone brings with it; she knew only the content of a rather empty
existence. And Helen, judging with the impatience of youth, which is
akin to the impatience of kittens or puppies with inanimate objects that
will not come and play with them, had overlooked this. For, in truth,
Aunt Susan was not inanimate; tucked away in a corner of the cushion was
a real, live thing that groped for life and light, and she, the
individual, was like a room made ready for the reception of
guests,--chairs and tables in order, games put out for their
entertainment, but until the guests began to arrive the room was in
darkness. Aunt Susan stood there, match-box in hand, so to speak,
waiting for the first ring at the bell to light up her tapers and shew
how orderly, how fragrant, how charming (a little old-fashioned, too)
her room was, how thoughtfully arranged for the pleasure of others. But
no ring had yet come at her door-bell, and she still stood there, very
patient and still smiling, but still waiting.

Lady Susan, on Helen’s arrival, knew only vaguely that something
uncomfortable had happened at the vicarage; but Helen, the first evening
she was there, had confided to her, rather as one may confide on cold
nights to one’s pillow or to bedclothes tucked round the neck, the
history of the last few days. But she neither knew nor would have
guessed it possible that the news had kept Aunt Susan awake half the
night, and that while she herself was up the river with Martin her aunt
had gone about her household businesses and taken her walk with her
husband in such a tremor of excitement that he had to hurry after her,
instead of hanging on his step to wait for her. In all these tranquil
years at Cambridge she had never been brought into contact with a thing
that moved her like this. The gentle ministrations in which her years
were passed had not touched her emotions, which, had not her yearnings
for a child kept them alive, would probably long ago have fossilised.
But those yearnings had nourished and rendered mature their sweet,
delicate sensitiveness, and now when they were aroused, though even in
this second-hand manner, they responded instantly, gently vibrating, not
with a crackle of dry autumn leaves, but like foliage of aspen in the
breath of spring.

Helen got back to this house of quiet towards five in the afternoon,
and found her aunt and Dr. Arne at tea on the lawn behind the house. The
latter, however, soon went indoors to enjoy--literally enjoy--his couple
of hours’ work before dinner, after forewarning them as to possible
dampness on the grass after sunset.

“And have you enjoyed yourself, dear?” asked Aunt Susan, pleasantly;
“and was the lunch I gave you really sufficient? Dear Martin has always
such a beautiful appetite. It is a pleasure to see him eat his dinner.”

“Yes, dear aunt, we had heaps. And it was all so good, and so
beautifully done up. Exactly like you.”

Aunt Susan, who always looked like a kind, little, animated Dresden
shepherdess, flushed a little.

“And so you had a nice day?” she said. “And no upsets? Martin is so
reckless on water. Dear Helen, is it quite wise to take off your hat? It
may turn suddenly chilly.”

Helen laughed, and threw it on the grass.

“No; no upsets, and quite wise, Aunt Susan. But a nice day? There was
everything to make it nice externally; but one’s nice days are made
inside one, I think. And just now my machine for making nice days creaks
and groans; it is out of order.”

Aunt Susan, though far too shy to take the initiative, was longing for
the least thing that could be considered an introduction of this topic.

“Do you know, dear, I lay awake half the night thinking of you and your
trouble,” she said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” cried Helen. “I ought not to have told you so late
last night. Selfish little pig I am!”

Aunt Susan patted her hand gently.

“Dear, it was delicious,” she said, “lying awake and thinking about you.
I am afraid I actually enjoyed it. Not that I am not very, very sorry
for you and your father and Lord Yorkshire; but when I said it was
delicious, I meant it was so real, so alive, so very interesting. I
don’t think I have lain awake more than a few minutes in the last couple
of years, and that was when your uncle had the influenza. And then it
was only his cough that kept me awake; I was not anxious, for he had it
very slightly. Now, if you do not mind talking about it, do tell me
more. You told me just the facts. Tell me what you feel. How does it
touch,--I am so stupid at saying things,--not what you will _do_ only,
your actions, but yourself?”

The question implied a perception with which Helen had not credited her
aunt.

“Ah, what a difference there is between them!” she said, quickly. “One’s
actions may so frightfully belie one. What one does is so often a parody
of one’s best. One’s worst part acts, while one’s best does nothing,
turns its face to the wall, like Hezekiah. Or, or”--she was still kindly
trying to explain to this dear little Dresden shepherdess--“one’s
actions are often like an unsympathetic repetition of something one has
really said, which gives quite a different meaning to it. Do you
understand?” she asked, eagerly.

“Yes, dear, quite,” said Lady Susan. “Surely everybody understands that.
All the same it is our business if we are kind and good at all not to be
harsh or hard in what we do.”

Suddenly Helen’s eyes were opened. In a flash she saw that she had been
doing what she deprecated, and hitherto had judged Aunt Susan merely by
her actions. With the impatience that was so very characteristic of her,
she had observed her ordering dinner, taking the walk, playing picquet,
and otherwise having a great deal of rather fragrant leisure with which
she did nothing. From this she had drawn the conclusion that there was,
so to speak, no one really there, only a punctual little domestic
automaton. She had been so taken up with the fact that others did not
understand her, did not allow for her individuality, that she had as yet
never taken the trouble to consider whether these others also had not
their own individuality equally to be respected. Aunt Susan, she would
have said offhand, had none, yet she was referring to as a mere
commonplace what was still to Helen a blinding discovery. And she went
on talking with a freedom and a certainty of being understood that she
associated only with the beloved twin.

“Well, it is just that,” she said. “Any one,--you, Uncle David,--any one
may say it is merely heartless, merely selfish of me to go my own way,
to pay no attention to the wish--ah, it is much stronger than that--of
my father. Or you may think that I don’t really know how strong his
objection to my marriage is. I do know, I fully know. And knowing that,
knowing also that he is my father, that I owe nearly everything to him,
that he loves me and I love him, I am going to do, you may say, _as I
choose_, throwing away all the love and the care he has spent on me,
repudiating my debts to him. But I don’t. Oh, Aunt Susan, I don’t throw
away his love or repudiate my debts. It is not fair to say that. Simply
I can’t help it--I must. Something has come which is stronger than
everything else. Ah, Aunt Susan, you know what it is.”

Lady Susan’s delicate little china-looking face flushed suddenly.

“Yes, dear, I know,” she said. “At least I know some of it. We women are
meant to be wives and mothers. I know half of what a woman longs to
know. And the half I know, dear Helen, is so very fine that it is worth
making some little sacrifice for it.”

“Sacrifice?” asked the girl.

“Yes. I cannot tell you in great language what I mean, because I am not
great in any way, so I will give you my advice in one short word. Wait.
Love is so good that it will not spoil by being kept; it will only get
more mature, more exquisite. And in the mean time you will have proved
yourself a good daughter, too.”

“But why--why?” asked the girl. “Nothing will ever change what father
feels about it, nor what I feel. It only means that for six months more,
or for a year more, or however long I wait, he and I will go through
dreadful days. It is awful at home, Aunt Susan; you have no idea how
awful. If it would get any better with waiting, I would do as you
suggest.”

The older woman was still smiling in the habitual way which Helen had so
often thought so meaningless, so objectless. But now, as she looked, she
saw there was a very cheerful patience about the smile which somehow she
had not noticed before.

“It is true it may not get better with waiting,” she said, “for it is
possible it may not. But you will have done your best, not only thought
your best. You will have made your action not, as you say, the parody
of yourself, but the faithful expression of your very best self. You
will have put your speech into no unsympathetic mouth, but into the
mouth of a fine actor.”

Another current seized the girl, sweeping her impetuously away. She laid
her hand on her aunt’s knee.

“Are you unhappy, Aunt Susan?” she asked. “Oh, I hope not. I always
thought you were so contented, so--so occupied with all the duties you
do so well.”

Lady Susan, with the only movement of impatience that she had made
perhaps for years, swept her hand away.

“Ah, that is because you are young,” she said, “and because you think
that any one who feels an impulse must act on it, if she wants to
realise her life. It is not so. You know what I have always called you
and Martin, the Volcanoes--dear Volcanoes. When you feel pressure you
burst, and scatter burning ashes anywhere and everywhere, and say with
great good-humour, ‘But I am I. If I want to burst, I must.’ And when
you see an old woman like me, just getting through the day’s work, day
after day, week after week, with a little dinner-party here, and a
little walk there, and a little ordering of the household all through,
you think ‘Is that all? Is that life?’ And I answer you, ‘Yes; that is
life.’”

Helen was silent a moment, suddenly aware that for the time it was
perhaps wiser to listen and attend than talk about her own
individuality.

“Tell me, tell me,” she said.

“My dear, there is very little to tell,” she said. “But you in your
heyday do not allow, it seems to me, for the fact of other quiet people
living and feeling perhaps just as much as you do. Because you feel a
thing you scream. You will learn to feel a thing, we hope, without
screaming. I think young people tend to scream rather more than we used.
They call it living their own lives. That possibly may be a mistaken,
or, anyhow, a misleading name for it.”

Again Helen had no reply. But this did not seem to her at all like want
of individuality. There was no screaming, it is true, and no assertion,
but just as certainly there was “something there.” And, to do her
justice, she respected that. But her aunt paused also, waiting for her
answer, and after a minute she spoke.

“Live your own life, then, in talk with me,” she said. “Let me
understand it. It is quite true, Aunt Susan, I have judged as if there
was no other view than mine, while the whole time my complaint--no, not
that exactly, but you understand--has been that other people behave as
if there was no other view than theirs! About you, for instance. I
didn’t know, I didn’t guess. I thought you were--you were what you
appeared.”

Lady Susan seemed to repent of her hasty movement, and recaptured
Helen’s soft, brown-skinned hand.

“Yes, dear, I am,” she said, quietly. “At least, I choose to let that be
my outward expression of myself, the expression by which you, Martin,
anybody, may judge me. That certainly is my affair, and nobody else’s.”

She ceased stroking Helen’s hand a moment and looked up at her.

“But, dear, would you like to come inside me a moment? There is only one
thing there, but it fills my house. Oh, Helen, if I had had a child!”

At that all the girl’s nature rose.

“Ah, dear aunt, dear aunt!” she said.

Lady Susan’s pretty patient smile did not leave her lips, nor did any
tear come to her eyes. The sorrow was too old and too eternally alive
for her to weep over it now. And she went on quite quietly:

“If only I had been given the chance even to be made as unhappy as you
are making your father, dear, I should have loved it so. But it was
denied me, and by no fault of mine. So I am learning, I hope, not to
grumble. Ah, but it is hard sometimes, and I think I miss the joys of
love as you would count joys, Helen, less than I miss what you would
count its sorrows. But those are its opportunities. Dear, its
possibilities in self-denial and self-abandonment. That is Love
triumphant, not crowned with roses, but crowned with sharp, beloved
thorns. And the tragedy of love is when there is none for whom it can
sacrifice itself.”

She stroked Helen’s hand again gently.

“Make yourself complete, dear,” she said; “there I am entirely at one
with you. But, remember, our souls are like rose-trees, I think. You cut
and prune them, if you are a wise gardener, for you know that by the
cutting, the renunciation, you do not check or hinder your development,
but you encourage it. You will be the more fragrant, the fuller of
blossom by that which you might hastily say was a piece of cruelty, a
stunting of your growth.”

Her kind eyes looked away from Helen, and out over the sun-baked lawn,
bordered with flower-beds, in which, clearly to comply with preconceived
notions of a garden on the part of a gardener, lobelias were set in a
formal row in front, and behind them terrible, speckled calceolarias and
hard, crude geraniums. That garden had often seemed to Helen very
typical of her aunt: it was orderly and completely conventional. Beyond
Dr. Arne’s study windows looked from the red-brick house across the
grass, and from where they sat she could see him at a table littered
with books and manuscripts, with head bent over his work, or rising now
and then to consult some book of reference which he took from the
volume-lined walls. That sight, also, had often seemed to her very
typical; the Cambridge professor was at his work (as, indeed, it was
most right and proper that he should be), but that to him was all. His
little life was bounded with books; on all sides stretched limitless
deserts of particles and chorus-metres. But now, for the first time,
Helen knew how erroneous all her judgments with regard to Aunt Susan had
been,--for a real heart beat there, and it was somebody, somebody very
distinct and individual, who ordered dinner and played picquet. Her life
was not negative, emotionless; it was only her own obtuseness of
perception that had so labelled it. Instead it was sad; in spite of all
its quiet cheerfulness it was as sad as the level rays of the sun
striking hazily across the lawn; as sad as the grey spires of Kings
which rose against the clear, hot blue of the sky.

And the pathos of it suddenly moved her. Was that all that the good
fairies had brought to her aunt’s cradle, just to grow quietly and
gently old, she, who might have been so fine, missing all the joy and
riot of life, missing, too, the crown of womanhood? “To live, to live!”
that demand was battering at her doors with buffets that made the panels
start. Yet here was the dear aunt, who had heard often the same
insistent visitor, old, but sweet and unembittered, though it had never
been given to her to let him in, knowing all she had missed, yet not
soured at having missed it.

“Oh, Aunt Susan,” she cried, forgetting herself, forgetting all else in
a young creature’s somewhat insolent pity for the old, “is it not too
sad? Is it not too terribly sad? Is that everybody’s fate, just to get
older and older----“

Then, with the strong, unconscious egotism of her years:

“And me?” she said. “Will that happen to me, too?”

“What? Sadness? Yes, dear Helen, I hope so. No woman is worth very much
until she has been through a good deal of sadness, a great deal of
wanting what she cannot get. I hope you will go through that. But, dear,
if you turn bitter under it, you had almost better not have lived; and
certainly you had better die, for death is better than bitterness. But
if you take the love and the sadness, which is inseparable, from life
without bitterness, it strengthens and cleanses you. And you will
certainly emerge from it a far finer creature than if you had never been
through it. Emerge? Ah, it may last to the day of your death; but what
then? What does that matter?”

There was a long silence, and the shadows grew and lengthened on the
grass as Helen sat unseeing, but absorbed, gazing wide-eyed in front of
her. She felt ashamed, humiliated at her own blindness; she had thought
of her aunt as some dweller in the valley, while she herself was
climbing the snowfields far above with eager, untiring foot. But now at
the summit, or near it, she saw sitting the quiet, patient figure, so
high up that she had not seen her before.

Then, in her gentle voice, Aunt Susan broke in on her reverie.

“There, dear,” she said, “the sun has set; let us go in. And do tell me,
Helen, before you go home, what you decide to do about this very
difficult choice that is before you. Of course, you will not give Lord
Yorkshire up. I think that would be very wrong. Do not be hasty; do not
judge quickly. But do confide in me again, if you can. It is a great
privilege, you know, for old people to be confided in by the young.
Come, it is time to dress; there are a few people to dinner. Ah, Martin
comes, too. I had quite forgotten. Dear me, how careless! I must go and
see if there is enough to eat.”

Helen rose and gave her a great, tempestuous hug.

“You dear, you dear,” she said.

And then Aunt Susan, after her excursion into realities, hurried to the
kitchen, the excellent housekeeper again.

       *       *       *       *       *

There must have been something in the conjunctivity of the
twins--except, indeed, at the vicarage at Chartries--which disposed the
beholder to indefensible levity. London had felt their spell, and even
Cambridge, it appeared, that home of sweet and sober seriousness, went a
little off its head about them. The spell, whatever it was, lay in their
combination. Helen alone, it is true, could rouse that impulse of social
gaiety which is evoked so easily by a girl’s beauty and high spirits,
and Martin could make other people enjoy themselves by the sight of his
own enormous power that way; but it was when they were together that
resistance was clearly hopeless, and it is worthy of record that
to-night, after dinner, Dr. Arne and a professor of poetry, with their
respective wives and the twins played “Ghosts” in the garden. Why these
elderly people did it they could not have told you; but Martin proposed
“Ghosts,” Helen explained it in three sentences, and the studious shades
were awakened and appalled by wild shrieks.

For the night was dark and moonless, and while five out of these six
foolish people hid in asparagus beds, behind tree-trunks, in the
wood-shed, and in other black and dreadful places, the professor of
poetry (selected by lot) was in honour bound to make the complete
circuit of the garden, conscious that at any moment a ghost with
curdling yells might spring out on him, or even worse, scuttle quickly
up behind him, or perhaps, worst of all, he might suddenly be conscious
of a small, crouching figure by his side which accompanied him in awful
silence, ready to break forth into who knew what hideous and babbling
speech? Thus one eye had to be kept on this dreadful object, while
simultaneously the whole attention had to be on the alert in case of
some new reverent from the bushes. The professor was a man on whom, as
far as was known, the imputation of cowardice had never yet been laid,
but at the first attempt to make the black circuit of the garden he
found he could not possibly face the corner by the wood-shed, his nerves
being already utterly unstrung by a vague form that groaned among the
gooseberry bushes. He paused while still a few yards distant from this
dreadful being, and then fled with flying coat-tails back to the house,
where in the safety of the lit drawing-room he wiped the dews of
strangling anguish from his forehead and called lamentably on his
courage.

“‘Not a glimmer from the worm, in the darkness thick and hot,’” he half
moaned to himself. “Oh, this will never do! I am aware it is probably
only Dr. Arne, and I am not really frightened of him. Come, come.”

And, with his heart in his mouth, he set out again on his fascinating
and abhorred errand, murmuring again, “‘In the darkness thick and hot.
In the darkness thick and hot. In the dark----’ Oh, dear me, what is
that?”

The poor professor suffered for his momentary panic, for Helen had, in
his hour of weakness in the drawing-room, changed her place to behind a
large flower-tub, which had concealed nobody before. Consequently, he
approached it inattentively, without caution or misgiving, to be
confronted, shuddering, by a flapping form which gasped and panted.

He made a fruitless appeal.

“Dear Miss Helen,” he said, “I can’t go on. I really do not think it
would be right. My work will suffer. But is it Dr. Arne among the
gooseberry bushes or is it Martin? I think I could run as fast as Dr.
Arne, but if----“

Hoots of unearthly laughter assailed him on the other side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Afterwards they played “Dumb Crambo.” Lady Susan, in a college cap and a
dust-coat of Martin’s, was Alfred letting the cakes burn. At another
time Dr. Arne found himself to be Cleopatra, with Helen as Mark Antony.
He chose his dresses from Helen’s wardrobe--they were much too large
for him--with immense care, and subsequently applied a paper-weight, in
the form of a snake, to his bosom. The professor of poetry became a
prize-fighter, his wife, a godly and virtuous woman hitherto,
unexpectedly turned out to be Peace the murderer, and did a deed of
blood with immense gusto and a paper-knife. Yet, all the time, nobody
asked himself why he did these silly things; the twins had said it was
to be so, and that was enough. At their order, too, it seemed as if the
golden gates of youth had swung open, and the tired and the patient and
the elderly and the wise were bidden to enter once more and be children
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen’s visit to Cambridge had been restricted by no statute of
limitations in regard to time, and the days passed on, the vague “few
nights” growing to a week, and the week to a magnified fortnight. For
these quiet, uneventful hours in which (except when the twin was with
her) even the ticking of clocks seemed muffled had an extraordinary and
growing charm for her, since she had learned that behind the outward
placidity in her aunt there lay a very real inward life in which she
longed without possibility of satisfaction and suffered without
bitterness. That somehow to the girl seemed to lift up and consecrate
Aunt Susan’s homely little employments, which, so sweetly and patiently
performed, became symbols and signs of a very beautiful character, and
that which Helen had thought dull, unperceptive, unemotional, was now
lit from within, as it were, by the uncomplaining cheerfulness which
gave such gentle, unquestioning welcome to the limitations set about
her. For Lady Susan, so her niece had now learned, had not from her own
defective eyesight set her horizons so close about her; circumstances,
childlessness had imposed them, and that being so, she had taken up her
place in the narrowed circle with resignation so cheerful that it could
scarcely be called by that rather depressing name. In fact, the gentle
old lady was put on a pedestal in the girl’s mind, and offerings of
incense were made her, a position which now and then she found slightly
embarrassing, for Helen, in her first moment of understanding and in the
reaction from her previous hasty and mistaken judgment, was one torrent
of warm-hearted sympathy, and was disposed to magnify into heroism the
performance of those common tasks, just because she had before labelled
them trivial.

But from home--she must begin taking up her own little burdens at
once--there came no word for her. She herself wrote regularly to her
father, but morning after morning passed, bringing its posts, and still
no answer came to her. Once she saw among the letters laid out for Aunt
Susan one addressed in the brisk, scholarly handwriting, and could not
help glancing at her aunt’s face as she read it. But she said nothing to
Helen, and replaced the letter in its envelope with a troubled little
sigh. Martin, also, she knew had heard from him, but there had been no
message for her, no mention even of her. This omission, this intentional
disregard of her, though it hurt her, made her sorry also, not for
herself, but for him. It was inhuman, but she knew that it was the depth
and earnestness of his feeling about her engagement that made him
inhuman. On the other hand, she heard constantly from Frank, who hinted
that if not a day, at any rate a season might be ever so vaguely
indicated to which he could look forward.

The term was drawing to its close, and Martin would go home in a few
days’ time. It was understood that Helen would go with him; and as the
day of departure got near, she knew that her decision must be made, so
far as it concerned herself, as to whether she should put off her
marriage for some definite time, and do the daughter’s part to her
father, living at home, obeying him, performing her parish duties as
before, making _amende_, as far as she could, for the great act of
disobedience which she was going to commit. Practically, she did not see
the use of it; no good, as far as she could judge, would come of it;
yet, in a way, Aunt Susan was right, the meaning of it, the sentiment of
it, was sound. It would not be easy; it would be full of sustained
effort, of sustained self-repression. Intercourse would be crammed with
misunderstanding, the atmosphere would be full of frictional
disturbances, but she saw there would be a certain moral gain to set
against this. Also, and this, too, had a very sensible weight with her,
there would be gain to her in the completeness of which her aunt had
spoken. Ever since she had consciously woke to her own individuality her
eagerness for her own improvement and enlargement had been of a very
vivid sort. And perhaps the most excellent way of all had been here set
before her to compass that, not by working for it, but by apparently
limiting, maiming, discouraging it. That was a very simple, very
elementary suggestion, yet it had never occurred to her in this
connection. And it was, well, less crude than the other method.

The evening before her departure she took the opportunity provided by
Dr. Arne’s going to his chorus-metres after tea to talk to her aunt
again. It had been a chilly day, touched with the autumnal sadness of
early-falling leaves, and early-falling dusk, and the window-panes
streamed. Though it was still August, a fire burned in the grate, and
she sat down on the floor by her aunt’s chair.

“Father has not written to me once since I came here,” she said. “He has
written to you and to Martin I know, but there has never been a message
to me. I don’t say this in any complaint, Aunt Susan; but what is one to
do when that happens?”

Lady Susan shut the book she was reading. She had been expecting Helen
to mention this, but was unwilling to open the subject herself.

“I know he has not, dear,” she said, “and I think it very wrong of him.
I have told him so. But don’t let it hurt you, Helen. If other people,
yes, misbehave, there is never anything to be done except to go on
‘behaving’ one’s self. And never let what other people do hurt you. For
nothing can really hurt us except what we do ourselves.”

“Ah, but in a way I have done it,” said the girl. “At least, it is in
consequence of what I have done.”

“No; your father is wrong, I think,” said Lady Susan, with gentle
decision. “And now, dear, as you are going away to-morrow, I want to ask
you something. You go home with Martin, do you not? And then? Have you
made up your mind?”

“Yes,” she said. “I will not give up Frank, but I will put it all off
till next May. Of course, if he wishes, he is absolutely free.”

“Ah,” said Aunt Susan, gently. “It is likely he would wish that, I
suppose.”

Helen laughed.

“Well, no; not very. But till then I shall live at home, if father will
let me, and try in every way to please him.”

Her voice trembled a little.

“And I hope he will accept that,” she said. “And I hope he will be good
to me and forgive me.”

Lady Susan stroked her hair in silence a moment.

“You have chosen right, dear,” she said.



CHAPTER IX


Helen was sitting again at the deal table in the “Room,” trying to
balance the accounts of the quarter. A money-box, cheap but not strong,
probably made in Germany, with a florid ornament of tin tacked on round
its maw, stood open by her left hand, and on the table was a heap of
money, consisting chiefly of pennies and small silver coins,--the
subscription to the “Room” being threepence a quarter,--while by her
right hand was a pile of equally mean bills, chiefly ending with a
halfpenny, for brown holland, cotton, slate-pencils, needles, and gum.
There was a discrepancy somewhere of ninepence, but add and subtract as
she would, that ninepence held its ground like the remnant of the Old
Guard. Had it been only deficit, the remedy from her own pocket would
have been easy, but, unfortunately, there was ninepence too much, and,
though her conscience would not have made any protest at her supplying
it, it did not permit her either to pocket it or to forge a non-existent
bill. And all the time her natural impatience, mixed luckily with a
certain sense of humour, said to her, “Is it possible to conceive a less
profitable way of wasting time than in trying to make ninepence vanish?”
Her father, however, with the attention to detail which was so marked a
characteristic of his, always looked over the accounts afterwards, and
whether there was a discrepancy of a thousand pounds or a penny it made
no difference, the principle of admitting discrepancy was equally
dangerous in either case.

The twins had been at home, in a state of total eclipse for two days of
ominous parental silence. Mr. Challoner, as usual, was busy; Helen was
busy also, for after her absence there was more than enough at present
to occupy her day. But she had not yet broached the subject that was at
the root of the silence: until the skies cleared a little she felt
absolutely unable to do so. Her father also had said nothing about it;
they ate, they drank, the weather was mentioned, and the danger of
trouble in the East. Mr. Challoner himself, except when he read prayers,
had hardly said half a dozen words in Helen’s presence: it was
“good-night” and “good-morning,” and both were bad. Martin also was, so
to speak, in prison, though not, like his sister, in the condemned cell.
He read Demosthenes in his father’s study while the latter was writing
his sermon, fell asleep and was detected, awoke, and wrote a futile
supererogatory set of Greek iambics containing several false quantities
and forms of aorists previously unknown and very interesting.

This morning Helen had received a letter from Frank that troubled her,
for he pressed, where he had only hinted before, for some definite sort
of date. Reasonably enough, he saw no cause for delay; he knew that in
spite of her father’s feelings she had accepted his devotion; that was
all her’s, waiting for her to reward it. The tone was not querulous. If
it had been, the letter she must write would have been less difficult.
It was simply and sincerely trustful. But before she wrote she must talk
to her father; that could be put off no longer.

For the moment, however, the “sad mechanic exercise” of the accounts
occupied her attention. But, though the superficial brain which was
employed on addition had its work before it, all that was round her--the
walls, the floor, the aspect of the room, the neat, new brown-holland
covers of the library--took that part of her brain that really felt and
lived back to the day when she sat there last. The map of geological
strata was there, too, with its auriferous belt, and she remembered very
well Frank’s words about that: “There is a gold-bearing vein in all we
are set to do. The trouble is to find it.” Yes, indeed, that was the
trouble. She did not rebel against the superfluous ninepence, except,
indeed, humorously; but what seemed to her such hard and barren rock was
the living in this hopeless silence. Her conscience, her whole sense of
moral obligation, had accepted the principle indicated to her by the
dear aunt--sofa-cushion no longer--of this wider self-completion to be
attained by behaving rightly in all relations of life. But at present
she had been throwing good money after bad. The dutiful daughter had
come home. No more notice was taken of her than of a mended window-pane.

Mr. Challoner always opened doors smartly. Thus, when the outer door of
the “Room,” which gave on to a small lobby where wet coats were hung,
gave a quick rattle of latch, she knew, with the same certainty as she
had known the crisp foot on the gravel, who came.

“Have you finished the accounts?” he said.

“I can’t get them quite right, father,” she said. “I think----“

“You have the bills and the receipts, have you not?” he said. “Where are
they?”

Helen resented this, but silently; no shadow of it appeared in her face
or voice.

“They are all here,” she said. “I have ninepence more than I should.”

Mr. Challoner sat down and counted up the silver and pence, arranging
them in neat shilling heaps with all the care he would have given to a
total of millions. Then rejecting her addition, he added up the
receipted bills, and her mistake, one of pure carelessness, was patent.

“That balances them,” he said. “Perhaps I had better do the accounts for
the future. If I have to do them in the long run, I may as well do them
at once, instead of wasting your time over them.”

Helen stood up, her resentment shewing itself a little.

“Certainly, if you prefer,” she said.

He did not answer, but ran a metal clip neatly through the receipted
bills, and swept the coins back into the money-box. Then he turned to
her quickly.

“What do you intend to do, Helen?” he asked. “As your father, I think I
have a right to ask you, since you have shewn no sign of wishing to tell
me.”

The gulf between them seemed to her at that moment immeasurably wide,
and his tone was harsh and cruel,--it cut her, but cut like a blunt
knife, with sawing and tearing.

“Father, don’t speak to me like that,” she said. “I can’t bear it, and
it does no good. I am trying, and I am going to continue trying, to do
my duty to you----“

For one moment the sternness vanished from his face.

“You are going to give him up?” he asked.

“No; but I am going to live quietly here if you will have me, for the
next six months,” she said, “doing my work in the parish just as usual.
During that time I will not see Frank. If you wish, I will not even
write to him, except just once.”

She sat down again opposite him.

“I want to do something for you, which is hard for me,” she said. “I
want to make you believe that I am trying to be a good daughter to you.
I know we disagree vitally and essentially. But is that any reason why
the dearness of our human relations should be diminished?”

Her voice sank, but looking at his face she could see that the momentary
brightness as he asked the last question had vanished again, and he sat
looking, not at her, but out of the window, without replying.

“Father,” she said, gently, “I have spoken to you.”

He shook his head, then looked at her.

“It is useless,” he said.

Then suddenly the chilling reserve and silence of the last days gave way
like ice before the South wind.

“My God!” he said, speaking more to himself than to her. “What have I
done? What have I done? Has this come for some dreadful fault of mine of
which I am ignorant? All your life, Helen, I have tried to train and
teach you in the knowledge and fear of God. As He sees me, I have done
my best, according to my lights. Never once to my knowledge have I not
prayed every day that His blessing should guide and illuminate every
step you take. And I cannot believe--that is my difficulty--that you
try to follow His will in this. It is impossible that----“

He broke off with a sudden helpless raising of his hands indescribably
pathetic.

“God help us both,” he said.

There was a long silence, and his fingers clenched and unclenched
themselves as he sat staring dismally out of the window. All her life,
as he had said with absolute honesty, he had tried to bring Helen up in
the knowledge and fear of God, and this decision of hers, from which he
now realised he was powerless to move her, was like some overwhelming
blow struck at him from the dark. He could not understand, he could not
even conjecture in the vaguest way, what it meant or how he was meant to
take it. In sorrow, renunciation, bereavement, it was, at any rate,
possible to acquiesce in there being a design. But that his child should
do this was inexplicable. It could not be the will of God. Something of
this Helen read in his face, and she saw, for the first time fully, how
the blow had staggered him. His strength had given way under it; all
vehemence and anger was dead; and dead, too, was the hope that she would
come round to him. He was helpless. And the strangeness of that in one
so certain, so accustomed to go without hinderance or obstacle along the
straight road of his God-fearing life touched her with a profound pity,
so that for a moment, had he but known it, her decision flickered and
wavered like a candle-flame blown about in a draught. She questioned
herself whether such suffering could be right, whether that which caused
it could be justifiable, whether at whatever cost to herself or another
she could permit it to be. It was like the suffering of some
animal,--blind, uncomprehending, a thing intolerable. And the animal
that suffered was a strong man and a wise, and her father.

She sat down on the edge of the table beside him.

“Oh, poor father, poor father!” she said.

He looked at her with a wretched semblance of a smile.

“Ah, that is not the point, Helen,” he said. “What I feel, all my pain,
is nothing, nothing. Why I feel it is everything, dear. Oh, you poor
girl, blind, blind.”

Then, at last, that tie between father and daughter or mother and son,
one of the immutable and indestructible things of the world, stirred,
vibrated, made music, and for a moment across the infinite gulf between
them their spirits and their hands met.

“Dear girl,” he said, “it will be delightful to have you at home. I was
afraid that those happy days of work, you and I, side by side in this
home, were over. I thank you for that, Helen; your father blesses you
for that. Stop with me as long as you can. How long you--and he must
settle. And, my dear, I am so selfish as to take your offer fully. Do
not see him or write to him. Perhaps----“

He paused a moment, stroking her hand.

“And try to make allowance for me,” he went on, “when I am hard or
gloomy or out of spirits. But I am so utterly at sea: my landmarks have
gone. I don’t understand. I can only pray that you and I may have light.
God bless you, my dear, now and always.”

Helen wrote the same day to Frank:

     “MY DEAREST,--I have just come home, and I have settled to do a
     thing which is very hard on both of us; but I cannot do otherwise.
     Frank, we cannot be married yet. We must put it off for six
     months, or seven, is it not,--till next May. And for six months I
     must live quietly at home here, and not see you. There, it is
     written. This, too: you are absolutely free. Ah, in spite of all
     these troubles, I can’t help smiling when I write that.

     “But I can’t act otherwise. My father is in a state of misery about
     it which I can’t describe to you. Somebody he loves is
     deliberately--this is how he sees it--going to do a wicked thing.
     This morning, when he talked to me about it, I wondered whether I
     could be right in continuing our engagement at all. But I can’t
     give you up. My love for you is the best part of me, and the most
     living part. You see I _am_ yours. Oh, my dear, if only things had
     been otherwise,--if you could believe! If you could only have not
     told me, have let me think you were a Christian. No, I don’t wish
     that really. It would not have been you.

     “He is my father. All my life he has watched over me, prayed for
     me, loved me. Even if he had been a bad father, I should still have
     owed him all I am, until the day I met you. And the only way in
     which I can repay him anything is by doing this. It is small
     change, I know, for all his gold, but it is all I have. At least,
     then, and at most I must do it. I must stop here with him,--he was
     such an old darling when I told him,--trying to be cheerful, trying
     in little, tiny human ways to be a good daughter to him. And it is
     all so infinitesimal. It is as if I gave him remedies for a cold in
     the head when he had cancer. I feel so mean in offering him so
     little. But there is only one other thing that I could offer him,
     and that I cannot. And, indeed, though this looks so little and
     makes little show, it costs me something. It does indeed.

     “And I must do something more. I think I must not even write to
     you. While I am here I must have no connection with you. It would
     be incomplete without that. One letter you must send me, when you
     have thought this over, to say that you agree with me, if you can.

     “And if you cannot? I must do it all the same.

     “Do you remember telling me of Magda’s cry? That, too, tells me to
     do it. I should be stunted, selfish, if I did not.

     “Ah, Frank, my darling, be good to me. I long for you every day,
     and it is going to be so awfully dreary without you.

                                                  “HELEN.

     “I walked through the wood to-day where you set the hare free. I
     shall walk there every day. And I looked at the geological map with
     the ‘auriferous reef in it. Martin is here.”

The letter was not difficult to write, though the final determination to
write it was so hard that when it came to the paper and ink she sat long
with pen undipped, unable to begin. But the memory of the bewildered
misery in her father’s face that morning as he sat looking out of the
window in the Room had given her a real sense of responsibility towards
him. It was her business to find some anodyne for that. Perhaps the
proof before his eyes, kept there day after day and week after week,
that she wanted to do her best, might serve. Anyhow, at the moment it
had awakened his humanity and his fatherhood; his hand had reached to
her across the gulf; two puzzled, blind folk had clasped hands in the
darkness.

Nor was the waiting for Frank’s answer difficult,--she knew him so well.
And she was not disappointed here; the very brevity of the reply was
honey to her.

     “DEAREST,--You must do as you must do. Magda says so, and so do I.
     But I am rather low, though she tells me not to be.

                                                  “FRANK.”



But it was then, when she had made the difficult determination, and
Frank had so ungrudgingly consented, that Helen’s difficulties began.
Each day was an endless series of infinitesimal knots, not to be cut,
but each to be patiently, cheerfully unravelled. Each singly she could
tackle, but she had to avert her eyes from the future, for the series of
knots stretched into dim distance. All day, too, there was with her the
desire to see Frank, just once to see him, and perhaps cry a little on
his shoulder; all day, too, there was the face of her father, always
sunless, always grave. He had never, it is true, been other than austere
in his domestic life, but then Helen had always known how deep was his
love for her. But now it seemed to her sometimes as if he was trying to
stifle and extinguish it; that knowing, as he did, there was soon to be
an irrevocable rupture between them, a rupture that would divide them
further than death divides, he was schooling himself to get used to it,
as a man may school himself, when he sees one he loves in the pangs of
mortal illness, to adjust himself beforehand to the loss that is coming.
The marks of his suffering, too, were pathetically plain, and again and
again she asked herself whether she had not only increased it by doing
that which cost herself so much. Was it only an impulse of barren
sentimentality that she had followed? Was she like a surgeon who gives
an ineffective anæsthetic which should not deaden or mitigate the wrench
and shock that was coming?

The encouragement she could find was but small. But it was this, that in
any case she had done what was most difficult and what seemed, not only
to her, but to Aunt Susan, to be right, and as such was fully accepted
by her lover. Yet what if, after all, this was a mere senseless
mutilation of herself, an objectless asceticism?

It was this doubt that day after day most troubled her. Had she seen the
least sign of bud on the barren stem she would have been much more than
content. But the days became weeks, and there was still none, not even
any return of the moment’s tenderness her father had shewn at their
first talk. She could not see that any practical good was coming of her
renunciation. Like a wrecked sailor on a raft, she watched, as for a
sail, for any horizon-distant sign that her father accepted her marriage
and gave her credit--though she did not want the credit herself, but
only longed for the evidence of it--for doing her best. But there was no
such sign. He continued to use the prayer for Turks, infidels, and
heretics.

What made things worse was that Martin, the beloved twin, with whom
disagreement was a thing unthinkable, radically disapproved of what she
was doing, and his disapproval, she was afraid, was terribly
practical,--namely, that it was quite certainly no use. Two things,
however, after some three weeks of what seemed fruitless endeavour, kept
her to it. One was a letter from Aunt Susan, to whom she had sent a
despairing sheet, containing a memorable sentence: “God does not always
pay on Saturday, Helen,” she had said. The other was an innate pride
that forbade her to accept defeat. Here she feared also to lose the
respect not only of her father, but of Frank.

“Yes, my darling, you tried it,” she imagined him saying, “and you found
it was doing no good.”

And that he should say that was somehow intolerable to her. Whatever she
might be, she would not be feeble. “The lame and the blind that are
hated of David’s soul” seemed to her a very legitimate object of
detestation. She would not give a thing up because she mistrusted her
power of doing it.

Thus her apparent failure consumed itself. With the divine confidence of
youth, the less successful she seemed to be the more she spurred herself
on to strive. All her sense of right had told her, when she made her
decision, that she would thus be doing her best; her judgment was
arrived at coolly and sanely, and the present practical ill-success of
it argued nothing against the principle.

Then came a crowning despondency and agitation in something Martin told
her after he returned from a visit to Lady Sunningdale. The short
history of that visit, however, claims an episodic precedence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Sunningdale had sent her motor over from Fareham to fetch Martin,
and when he arrived, about tea-time, he rushed straight out on to the
lawn to find her, but only encountered the chilling looks of several
total strangers who were talking about fiscal problems and seemed
surprised, if not pained, to see him. This was discouraging; and he was
wondering what place there was to flee unto, when a footman came out
after him to say that her ladyship was in her bedroom and wished to see
him there immediately. Martin could not help giving a little giggle of
amusement at this, and the footman, preceding him upstairs, threw open
the door and announced him.

The room was large and very rose-coloured, on the principle of Lady
Sunningdale’s famous maxim that bedrooms should be optimistic. She
herself was reclining on the optimistic silk coverlet of her bed, with
her shoes off and the blinds down.

“Is that you, monster?” she asked. “I am an absolute wreck. Yes, pull up
one blind and sit down at a respectful distance. Martin, you must
promise to play absolutely all the time you are here, like a barrel
organ, or I shall die. I shall send a footman to you after each time
with twopence on a tray and orders that you are not to move on. The
house is crammed with perfectly dreadful people. I cannot imagine why I
asked them. I hope you have not brought your gun, because I shan’t let
you go shooting. You will have to talk to me all day, except when you
are playing. Don’t tread on Suez Canal, or you’ll be drowned. Frank is
here, and Stella. Otherwise--my dear, why are politicians so impossible?
And why is Helen behaving like a mad-woman. Really, I thought she had
more brains.”

Martin had pulled up one blind during this and revealed the room. There
were pink-silk walls, on which were several pictures of Lady Sunningdale
of not very recent date, a pink carpet, white furniture, and a
particularly large and pink bed. Lady Sunningdale, fenced, like Egypt,
on the one side by Suez Canal and on the other by Sahara, was lying
propped up by a quantity of huge pillows and cushions. French books with
yellow covers bestrewed the bed, and fragments of chewed pages suggested
that the dogs had eaten one, like Jezebel, leaving only a few very
indigestible pieces. A French maid hovered uneasily about a
toilet-table, and appeared to be putting things in drawers. Considered
as a wreck, finally, Lady Sunningdale looked particularly large and
sea-worthy.

“Miss Plympton?” asked Martin, in an extremely disengaged voice, but
with his face suddenly infected by the prevailing optimism.

Lady Sunningdale drew conclusions before most people could have arrived
at data.

“Yes; ever since you played to us at Chartries she has been trying to
learn the ‘Merry Peasant,’” she said. “She is not getting on very well;
but art is long, is it not. So is life. Too long, I think, sometimes.
But, my dear, the rest of them! They talk about fiscal problems and what
they’ve shot. Even Frank appears to be vaguely interested in free trade
or free food or free drinks or something, which is deplorable of him. I
expect him here immediately. My bedroom is the only place where one can
be free from those intolerable bores. There are three, three cabinet
ministers in the house! Really, politics ought to be considered a
dangerous habit, like morphia. In fact, there is a very great
resemblance between them. They are both drugs that send me to sleep, and
the habit grows on one. You have to take more and more, and the result
is death of the intellect, which is quite as lamentable as death of the
body, and renders you far more tiresome to other people. For, after all,
when one’s body is dead one is put away. But people whose intellect is
dead are not put away at all; they pervade society. There is no one in
the world so lost as the intellectually lost. How big hell must be!
Talking of that, how is your father? What a bear!”

Martin had settled himself in a rose-coloured chair, and gave a great
shout of laughter, suddenly checked.

“Quite well,” he said. “He always is.”

“Yes, that is so like him,” said she. “But, really, have you any strain
of insanity in your very extraordinary family? My darlings, did I kick
you? Oh, Sahara, naughty! All that book, and I hadn’t read it.
_Commandez du thé, Hortense._ So convenient, she doesn’t know a word of
English. Did you ever see such a murderish-looking woman? But she can
make hats out of a tooth-brush and some waste-paper. Some day she will
kill me for my diamonds, and find out afterwards that they are paste.
Then she will be sorry, and so shall I. Do attend, monster. Can you tell
me why Helen, head over ears in love with him,--that was why I brought
them together,--should behave like that? Shutting herself up with the
bear and that dreadful aunt of yours who plays Patience. And Frank
thinks, in some confused way, that it is so beautiful. He looks so funny
when Helen’s name is mentioned, rather like a widower, who hears a
hymn-tune in four sharps on Sunday evening. So frightfully
old-fashioned, that sort of thing. Those two find a sort of spiritual
thrill in standing a hundred miles apart and shouting ‘Caro mio! O
Carissima!’ to each other at the tops of their voices. I can’t bear that
sort of Platonic love. Yes, you Challoners are all mad. If Becky Sharp
lived with Savonarola in a grand piano, you would find a little
Challoner crying on the drawing-room carpet one morning.”

“Why Becky Sharp?” he inquired, parenthetically.

“Only to add a little _joie-de-vivre_. No imputation on your morals.”

Lady Sunningdale struggled to a sitting attitude on the bed. Several
French books flopped to the ground, and were instantly worried by the
dogs: _Zó’hár_ and _A Rebours_ flew in gnawed fragments about the room.

Martin agreed with Lady Sunningdale in the view she took of Helen’s
conduct, but he felt bound to defend his sister against so wild an
attack.

“Anyhow, she’s doing a difficult thing because she thinks it right,” he
said. “Give her credit for the difficulty.”

“Difficult?” cried Lady Sunningdale. “There is no merit in doing a
difficult thing just because it’s difficult. I might just as well try to
stand on my head in the drawing-room and say to my wondering guests,
‘Admire me, please. Though foolish, this is difficult, and is only
accomplished by prayer and fasting.’ Is that profane? I think it must
be, because my father was a Nonconformist, and whenever I say anything
without thinking, it is nearly sure to be a reminiscence of my unhappy
childish days, and comes out of the Bible. But it doesn’t prove that a
thing is the least worth doing because it is difficult. She is standing
on her head, then? And in a parsonage, too!”

“Yes, it amounts to that,” said Martin. “But with a moral purpose.”

There was a discreet tap at the door and Hortense entered with tea.

“Ah, muffins,” said Lady Sunningdale, in a mollified tone. “The
under-piece, please, Martin. How delicious! But, though I am not
cynical, I always a little distrust moral purposes. If you do a thing
with a moral purpose, it usually means that you do it because if you
didn’t you would be uncomfortable inside. Good people are such
cowards,--they are afraid of a little pain in their consciences. To
avoid that they go and act in some foolish, antiquated manner, and every
one says, ‘What a saint!’”

Then, out of all this nebulousness, like the gathering clouds of a
thunder-storm, there leaped a sudden flash, like lightning, and rather
like genius.

“She is doing sacrifice to an ideal she doesn’t fully believe in,” she
said. “Helen doesn’t believe in certain things as your father does. Else
she would never marry Frank at all. She would have screamed loudly for
help when he asked her, instead of saying ‘Yes.’ Her sacrifice,
therefore, isn’t quite sincere.”

Then a sort of confusing roar of thunder followed, marring the sharp
conclusiveness of the lightning.

“I cannot bear seeing people making a mess of their lives,” she said,
“and it is such a pleasure to see them make a really clean job of them.
Yes. Why continue poking round in a parsonage, when you have made up
your mind to go away? It is like ordering the carriage to go to the
station, and then, for no reason, saying that you will go by the next
train. She has shattered the happy parsonage life, and is feebly trying
to pick up the bits, instead of ringing the bell and leaving the Room.
It is silly.”

“Ah, Helen is not silly,” said her brother.

“I did not say that. Yes, slap Sahara twice, hard. But I said she is
doing a silly thing. Now, I am silly, but I hardly ever do a silly
thing. Yes, come in. It must be Frank. Sunningdale never knocks, and
nobody else ever comes in.”

Frank appeared at the door.

“I was sent for,” he said, apologetically. “Ah, Martin.”

That rang true. “You are her brother,” was behind it, and the romantic
touch did not escape, though it rather irritated, Lady Sunningdale.
Personally, she disliked romance on the general grounds that in real
life it was old-fashioned. To her the two completely satisfactory
methods of expression were melodrama and farce. And Frank’s greeting to
Martin, the hand on the shoulder, the linked arm, was all romantic, and
just a little tiresome.

“Frank, what have you been doing with yourself all day?” she cried. “I
have not set eyes on you. But, of course, if you do prefer golf and
Chinese labour to my inspiring conversation---- Yes, help yourself to
some tea, and all the muffin there is.”

But Frank still lingered by Martin.

“How is she?” he said. “Is all well? Any message for me? No, of course
there can’t be. She meant that. But she is well?”

He sat down on the foot of the rose-coloured bed.

“Dear lady,” he said, “I have done both. I went out playing golf with a
colonial secretary, I think, and we talked about fiscal problems. Then I
drove off into the bushes and lost the ball. So I said, ‘Will the price
of golf balls go up?’ Then he drove into the bushes, too, and he said,
‘I expect so. So we will not look for them for a year. They will then be
more valuable than they are now, but will require painting.’ Lucky golf
balls! The longer most of us live the less valuable we become.”

Lady Sunningdale rather resented this.

“The older people become the more paint they want,” she said, “but the
other is absolutely untrue. Until people are of a certain age they are
of no value at all. I hate boys and girls. You only just escape, Martin;
and I don’t think you would unless you could play like an elderly
person. Young people want airing; they want to be out in the world for a
time to get ripe. Tact, now,--tact and good temper are quite the only
gifts worth having, and tact is entirely an acquired quality. Until all
your edges are rubbed down, you cannot have tact. People with edges are
always putting their elbows into others, instead of rolling along
comfortably. You have no tact, Martin, and Helen, it appears, has less.”

Frank held up an appealing hand.

“Ah, please, Lady Sunningdale,” he said.

“Dear Frank, it is no use saying ‘please,’” cried she; “Helen is
behaving idiotically. She ought to have smoothed the Bear down somehow;
deceived him for the sake of his comfort. Martin, I think, would deceive
his friends to make them comfortable. Considering how dreadfully
uncomfortable life is, the first duty towards our neighbour is to try to
make things pleasant. You, too, Frank, you have no tact. You ought to
have said the Ten Commandments, or whatever it is, very loud, in the
vulgar tongue, when you went to the Bear’s church, and then there
wouldn’t have been any question at all. I would be a Parsee or a
Plymouth sister to-morrow if it would make Sunningdale groan less. He
has taken to groaning. I suppose his mind hurts him, as he says he’s
quite well.”

“Did you say that I would deceive people to make them comfortable?”
asked Martin.

“Yes; at least I hope you would. But you Challoners are all slightly
cracked, I think. You owe your vividness to that. You, Helen, your
father, all see things out of their real proportion.”

“Have you ever seen Aunt Susan?” asked Martin.

“No; is she dreadful?”

“Not at all, but not vivid. It was she who really made Helen go home and
live there.”

“Then your Aunt Susan is a very stupid person,” said Lady Sunningdale.
“My dear, there are only two sorts of people in the world, the clever
and the stupid. Nobody is good, nobody is bad. At least, they may be for
all that it matters, but goodness and badness in themselves have no
result. There is nothing more colourless than moral qualities; it is
only brains that give colour to them. Do you choose your friends because
they are good? I am sorry for you. Of course, I don’t want you to choose
them because they are bad. The one is as idiotic as the other. But
brains! There is nothing else in the world, and very little of that. And
moral qualities are like corsets. If they are tight they hinder free
development, and if they are loose, you might as well not wear them at
all.”

Lady Sunningdale had taken her feet off the bed during this remarkable
speech and looked more closely at Martin.

“Your forehead is bulging, Martin,” she said, “and your hair is dipping
like a plume into your left eye. That happens, I notice, when you play,
and it means you are thinking. So you are thinking now. What is it?”

Martin did not deny the soft impeachment.

“Yes, I was thinking,” he said. “I don’t imagine that what I was
thinking about would interest you in the least.”

Lady Sunningdale made a gesture of despair.

“Haven’t you grasped the elementary fact,” she said, “that anything
anybody thinks about is deeply interesting? All the events of the
world--who said it--take place in the brain. Sahara, darling, I am not a
mutton bone, nor are my rings good to eat. Suez, how tiresome! And I
hadn’t read a page of it! Yes; what were you thinking about, Martin?”

Martin lit a cigarette from a smoked-down stump before he replied.

“I was thinking whether I was going to join the Roman Church,” he said.

Lady Sunningdale gave a deep, contented sigh.

“That’s the sort of thing I really like,” she remarked. “Poor Bear! Now,
why, why, why do you want to do that? Yes, turn Sahara out, Frank; she
is so restless. Suez Canal always follows her. And shut the door. Now
close your eyes and think, Martin, for a minute if you like, and then
tell me why?”

Frank said, under his breath, “I thought so,” and returned to his chair
almost on tiptoe. Martin did not close his eyes at all, but looked at
him.

“Frank knows why, I expect,” he said, “though I haven’t hinted it to him
till this moment. Why is it, Frank?”

“Well, in one word, ‘Beauty,’” said he.

Lady Sunningdale was completely bewildered.

“Incense? The Virgin Mary?” she suggested, vaguely.

Martin frowned. For a moment he looked exactly like his father.

“Ah, what is the use of my telling you, if you say that sort of thing?”
he asked.

“But I really haven’t an idea,” said she. “Did I say anything dreadful?”

“Frank, speak. You know,” said he. “I never know what I am talking about
when I begin to talk.”

“It is only a guess.”

“You have guessed right. I believe you are always right.”

“Well, get on somebody,” said Lady Sunningdale, with a show of
impatience.

“All is Beauty,” said Frank, “and knowing this is Love, and Love is
Duty.”

He smiled across to Martin.

“You quoted that, you know, to Helen,” he said, “on the day your father
found ‘The Mill on the Floss.’”

“What did he find the mill on?” asked Lady Sunningdale. “Oh, I see.
George Eliot, isn’t it? How dull! I read a book of hers once, ‘Scenes
from Something,’ and thought it so like your father’s house, Martin. But
all is Beauty, is it? I should have said almost everything was ugly.
Anyhow, what has it all got to do with the Pope?”

Lady Sunningdale’s discursiveness, the reader will have noticed, was
liable to put in an appearance at any time, even when she was really
interested. She herself explained this by the fact that she never
thought about less than three things at once. Consequently, when she
opened her mouth, any of the three was liable to make its escape.

“Yes, that is it,” said Martin, answering Frank’s last remark. “I am a
Christian, and I cannot any longer be of a church that leaves out beauty
from its worship. Why, if you love a thing, if you believe in a thing,
you must approach it through beauty, it seems to me.”

He paused a moment, and then the words came as they had never come
before. A sudden clearness of vision was his. He saw his own thought
with precision, and he could at that moment of self-revelation delineate
it very accurately.

“Why, when one’s friends come to see one,” he said, “one makes the room
tidy. If you came to see me at Cambridge, Lady Sunningdale, I should
take down my pipe-rack and put it in my bedroom, I should sweep my
hearth, I should give you a clean tablecloth for lunch, I should get
flowers for the table, I should practise something which I thought you
would like to hear me play. I should, in my small way, put all the
beauty at my disposal at yours, and put the ugliness away. But--but take
Chartries church. How beastly!”

Martin paused a moment. Frank was observing him quietly from underneath
his hand, for the afternoon sun was pouring its light from the window
where Martin had pulled up the blind full into his eyes. The boy seemed
to him at this moment suddenly to have grown up, become vivider, to have
thought for himself. Crude, elementary, unconvincing it all might be,
but it was original. And Martin’s next words endorsed his opinion.
Certainly he was not a child any longer.

“How dare they? How dare they?” he cried. “A wheezy organ; awful
wood-work; terrible windows. Is there anything more hideous in all
England than Chartries church,--unless it be a county jail for the
confinement of prisoners? Because it is for God, will anything do?”

There certainly was crudity here. Frank felt that, though Lady
Sunningdale did not, for her indifference on religious matters was
perhaps the profoundest thing about her. He had enquired and rejected,
she had never even looked in that direction. Martin had enquired, too,
and found an awful Presence. And he was ashamed to call in old clothes,
so to speak. What was at the service of God was his best. All that was
not best was an insult. And his face flushed suddenly.

“Why, if that church was my room, and you came to see me, I would cover
up the stained glass,” he said. “I would make it decent. I would, I
would----“

He paused for a moment, then found the word.

“I would have ‘form,’” he said. “I would give you politeness. I would
not say, ‘She knows me; she will understand,’ and sit with you in a back
bedroom, slops about, tooth-brushes, anything. But because God
understands, are we to say ‘Anything will do?’ Why, when the Queen came
to Chartries we had four courses for lunch and a red carpet.”

He broke off suddenly.

“Do you understand what I mean?” he demanded of Frank.

Frank understood perfectly, for he had known a long time what Martin had
only just learned,--that “form” governed his life. For he did and always
had done everything he believed in as well as he could do it, lavishing
thereon all the pains and trouble at his command, with the instinctive,
open-handed generosity of love. These pains he did not bestow
grudgingly, nor count the expenditure; whatever was worth doing was more
than worth all the pains he could possibly bestow on it. That impulse
lies at the root of every artistic temperament, endless trouble for ever
so minute a perfection, ever so infinitesimal a finish. But Frank, like
an equitable judge, had to state the other side of the case to Martin.

“What will your father say to it?” he asked, using the most commonplace
phrase.

Martin looked at him quickly.

“Same as he said about you and Helen,” he remarked.

Lady Sunningdale could not help a little spurt of laughter, the repartee
was so exquisitely simple. But she checked it at once.

“But it’s too awful for him,” she said. “First Helen and then you.
Martin, do you think you ought----“

“I don’t know, but I must,” said Martin.

“But it doesn’t hurt you to play a creaky organ. And the stained-glass
windows don’t hurt you.”

Frank had seen further than this.

“How necessary do you feel it?” he asked. “That is the whole point. Is
it as necessary as--as Chopin?”

The door opened and Hortense entered.

“_Sept heures et demi, madame_,” she said.

Lady Sunningdale started to her feet.

“Monsters, you must go at once,” she cried. “Yes, dear Martin, it is
_too_ interesting! You will play to us this evening, won’t you? So glad
you could come; and did you ever see such a mess as the dogs have made?
But those things don’t hurt you any more than brushing one’s teeth
hurts, though it cannot help being a terribly inartistic performance.
And you ought to consider Helen, as well. Not that it matters what
church one belongs to, as far as I can see. Sunningdale might become a
Parsee to-morrow if it would make him any happier, only there really is
no sun in England; so I don’t see what he would worship. How nice always
to sit in the sun and say one was worshipping! Yes. You extraordinary
boy, fancy your being religious in your little inside. I should never
have guessed it. But you got quite pink when you talked about Chartries
church. Most religious people are so dull. Is that a dreadful thing to
say, too? Dinner at eight. Take him and shew him his room, Frank.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Sunningdale certainly had the knack of bringing quite unique
combinations of people together and of making them behave quite
characteristically of their respective selves. She herself--this may
partly account for it--behaved with such child-like naturalness that it
was quite impossible for those with her to be self-conscious. As a
hostess she was quite incomparable, for rejecting all known conventions
which are supposed to be binding on that very responsible class, instead
of behaving to each of her guests as if he was a mere unit in the
colourless mass known as society, she talked direct and unmitigated
“shop” appropriate to each. To-night there was present among her guests
a traveller in Central Thibet, to whom she talked cannibal-shop, so much
encouraging him that his account of his adventures became scarcely
narratable; an astronomer who knew Mars better, it appeared, than the
majority of dwellers on this terrestrial globe know the county in which
they live; several cabinet ministers who received relays of telegrams
during dinner (always a charming incident), their wives, whose main
preoccupations were appendicitis, golf, and babies; a duchess of
American extraction, who shied violently when the words “pig” or
“Chicago” were mentioned; and a German princess who, when directly
questioned, seemed doubtful as to where her husband’s principality lay,
and was corrected on the subject by the astronomer. But owing perhaps to
the advent of the Twin (the name by which Lady Sunningdale referred to
Martin), though she had previously confessed that she found her guests
“dreadful,” to-night she went bravely ahead, steering a triumphant
course over shoals where she grounded heavily and dashing on to rocks
that should have made a wreck of her. The dinner-table was round; she
herself set an excellent example by screaming over smilax and
chrysanthemums to the person most distantly removed, and Babel, that god
so ardently worshipped by hostesses, shed his full effulgence over the
diners. Thibet and the Chaldæans easily led on to astronomy; astronomy
to the observatory at Chicago, which occasioned a sudden and thrilling
silence; and from the United States it was but a step to fiscal problems
in which all but the cabinet ministers laid down incontrovertible
opinions. Then golf let them into the circle again; and the story of a
golfer being carried off the first tee after a futile drive, and
expiring an hour later from an operation for appendicitis, while his
wife was being confined, was charmingly to the point. In fact, the
desultory rapidity of conversation left nothing to be desired, and all
was due to Lady Sunningdale’s inimitable plan of talking shop to the
shop-keepers.

Later, Martin played, there was Bridge, and Lord Sunningdale, as usual,
went to sleep, and, on awaking, revoked, subsequently explaining the
revoke to the satisfaction of everybody but his partner, who remained
dissatisfied to the last. Women took bed-candles, men gravitated to the
smoking-room, though, since every one had previously smoked in the
drawing-room, this seemed unnecessary. But, the fact is one without
exception, men left alone leave drawing-rooms.

Soon, again, after the long day’s shoot, the smoking-room yawned itself
to bed, and cabinet ministers, the traveller, and the astronomer being
gone, Frank was left alone with Martin. There was no design in the
matter,--both hated going to bed as much as both detested getting up,
but they were neither of them sorry to have the opportunity of more
talk. Frank had got up from his chair on the last exit, took a
whiskey-and-soda, and moved to the fireplace.

“Lady Sunningdale is extraordinarily clever,” he remarked, “but I can no
more discuss anything with her than I could with a dragon-fly. She is
always darting.”

Martin laughed.

“Go on, then,” he said.

Frank sat down.

“Are you determined, Martin?” he asked.

“I think so. I don’t see what else I can do.”

“I asked you a question before dinner, which you didn’t have time to
answer. Is it as much to you as Chopin?”

“Why do you repeat that?” asked Martin. “It does not seem to me apt. How
can I make such a comparison?”

“Easily, I should have thought.”

Again Martin’s likeness to his father started to his face.

“You say, ‘easily,’” he said. “Take this, then. What would you do if in
order to get Helen you had to tell a real, mortal, mean lie, the sort of
lie that would make you blush in the dark?”

“It’s like that, is it?”

“Yes; just like that. I must. I can’t tell you why. I don’t know
whether I know, except as regards what I said in Lady Sunningdale’s
room, that, if in anything, in worship above all is beauty necessary.
That is true, but it is only a sort of symbol of what I feel. Other
people feel differently; they are less materialistic than I, and
ugliness doesn’t get in their way. But if you happen to be gifted or
cursed with the artistic temperament--Lord, how priggish that sounds!--I
don’t see how you can help demanding beauty in the service of what is
sublime.”

“I never knew you thought about these things,” said Frank, rather
lamely.

Martin snapped his fingers impatiently.

“More fool you, old chap,” said he. “All the same, I don’t see why you
should have. So I’ll apologise. Probably you thought that because one
has high spirits, a really fine capacity for playing the fool, and also
a certain leaning towards the piano, that I never took anything
seriously. Nor did I till lately. In any case, this is really so much
more my concern than anybody’s. I’ve got to lead my own life, not to be
dragged about like a sheep. And I must.”

He paused a moment.

“I have only given you an external instance of what seems to me an
underlying principle,” he said. “The difference in ‘form’ between the
two churches is an illustration of the desire of the Roman Church to
enlist beauty in the service of God. That desire is the spirit of
Romanism. Now, English people, take them all round, are extremely
deficient in the sense of beauty, and utterly blind to its importance.
And in church I think it really seems to them slightly inappropriate.
The Roman Church is mystical, romantic, poetical. The English is
Puritan and ugly and literal. And, do you know, as soon as I began to
think, I found I could not stand Puritanism. Heavens, how I have jawed!”

Martin got up briskly from his chair, with the unmistakable air of
closing that particular topic. In his youthful, boyish manner there
lurked a great deal of masterfulness, which those who came in contact
with it might be disposed to call obstinacy. Though he never adopted any
attitude so ungraceful as that of a donkey with its legs planted
outwards towards the four quarters of the compass, the effect on such as
pulled was about the same. If he chose, he would smilingly refuse to go
in any direction whatever, certainly until all efforts to move him were
relaxed. But as he knew himself, and as Frank suspected, there was just
one person in the world with whom, hitherto, he had never adopted this
attitude, and that was his father. Never yet in his life had he set his
will calmly in opposition to Mr. Challoner’s. As he had once told his
father, he was frightened at him, he feared his anger, but there was
certainly no one else in the world whom he would radically disagree
with, and yet obey. And some cold intimate knowledge of this had
suddenly struck him when at this moment he stopped the conversation. All
that he had said he had honestly felt, but vivid as was his imagination,
when he flashed a light into his father’s study at home, he could not
picture himself there saying this to him. His own figure wavered, as if
blown by a draught.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are certain plants which apparently lie dormant, as far as outward
observation can go, for months, and even years, together, and then
suddenly grow with an incredible swiftness, putting forth leaf, bud,
and blossom with a rapidity that is almost uncanny. Some invisible
storage of force must certainly have been taking place during the
prolonged dormancy, the root-fibre has prospered and been accumulating
vitality out of the ken of human eye, transforming the fertile elements
into itself, and the visible result is the constellation of sudden
blossom. And a similar phenomenon is observable in that most obscure of
all growths, that of the human character. There are no clear causes to
be registered of this sudden activity, only the essence of the
conditions favourable to growth must have been stored within it, till
its reservoir has been filled to overflowing and discharges all at once
its potential energy. It struck Frank this evening that some such
inexplicable sprouting had just begun in Martin. He had quite suddenly
taken a distinct and defined line of his own, and was under the spell of
an irresistible, original impulse. He had never been, it is true, devoid
of vividness or vitality, but he had never yet taken a step. He had been
held by the scruff of his neck with his nose to the grindstone of
classical education without attempting to raise it, and his recent
emancipation had been entirely contrived by others, while he himself had
stirred not a finger in it, leaving Frank, his uncle, and Lady
Sunningdale to fight his battle for him, merely sitting in his tent and,
it is true, receiving the news of victory with engaging delight. But now
his character showed growth: he had thought for himself, come to a
conclusion consistent with himself, and was apparently prepared to act
on it.

And now that the growth had begun, it was not so hard to see the causes
which made it inevitable. For he was an artist through and through; in
all his tastes, in all his achievements the note of “form” sounded
trumpet-like. And if, which Frank had not known, the desire and the need
of God was in the woof of his nature, that, too, must be expressed with
the æsthetic beauty in which, necessarily to him, emotion had to be
clothed. He could be and was slovenly in execution where his artistic
sympathies were not aroused, as his more than mediocre performances in
classical languages could testify; but where his feelings were
concerned, any expression of them had to be made with all the excellence
obtainable. He was not able himself to do badly what appealed to him,
neither could he watch or take part in a thing that was badly done. And
the growth that he had made consisted in the fact that he recognised
this.



CHAPTER X


Karl Rusoff got up rather wearily from the piano, where he had been
practising for the last three hours, stretched himself, and for a few
seconds held his fingers against his eyes, as if to rest them. The
afternoon was a little chilly, and he walked over to the fireplace,
where he stood warming his hands. The cheerful, flickering blaze shining
through his thin, long hands made the fingers look transparent, as if
they were luminous and lit with a red light from within.

From the windows the dun-coloured gloom of a cloudy spring afternoon in
London left the room vague and full of shadows that huddled into the
corners, while the light of gas-lamps, already lit in the street
outside, cast patches of yellow illumination high on the walls and on
the mouldings of the ceiling. The room itself was large, lofty, and
well-proportioned, and furnished with a certain costly simplicity. A few
Persian rugs lay on the parquetted floor, a French writing-table stood
in the window, a tall bookcase glimmering with the gilt and morocco of
fine bindings occupied nearly half of the wall in which the fireplace
was set, two or three large chairs formed a group with a sofa in the
corner, and the Steinway grand occupied more than the area taken up by
all the rest of the furniture. There, perhaps, simplicity gained its
highest triumph,--the case was of rosewood designed by Marris, and the
formal perfection of its lines was a thing only to be perceived by an
artist. On the walls, finally, hung two or three prints, and on the
mantelpiece were a couple of reproductions of Greek bronzes found at
Herculaneum.

It was a room, in fact, that spoke very distinctly of an individual and
flawless taste. Wherever the eye fell it lighted on something which, in
its kind, was perfect; on the other hand, there was nothing the least
startling or arresting, and, above all, nothing fidgetty. It was a room
pre-eminently restful, where a tired mind might fall into reverie or an
active mind pursue its activities without challenge or annoyance from
visible objects. Pre-eminently also it was a room instinct with form;
nothing there should have been otherwise.

Karl stood in front of the fireplace for some minutes, opening and
shutting his hands, which were a little cramped, a little tired with the
long practise they had just finished. His mind, too, was a little tired
with the monotony of his work, for his three hours at the piano had been
no glorious excursion into the sun-lit lands of melody, but the
repetition of about twelve bars, all told, from a couple of passages out
of the Waldstein Sonata which he was to play next week at the last of
his four concerts in St. James’s Hall. And though perhaps not half a
dozen people in that crowded hall would be able to tell the difference
between the execution of those dozen bars as he played them yesterday
and as he could play them now, he would not have been the pianist he was
if it had been possible for him not to attempt to make them perfect,
whether that took a week or a month. The need of perfection which never
says “That will do” until the achievement cannot be bettered was a
ruling instinct to him.

Besides, to him just now the presence of one out of those possible six
auditors who might be able to tell the difference was more to him than
all the rest of the ringing hall. Sometimes he almost wished he had
never seen Martin,--never, at any rate, consented to give him
lessons,--for in some strange way this pupil was becoming his master,
and Rusoff was conscious that the lad’s personality, never so vivid as
when he was at his music, was beginning to cast a sort of spell over his
own. Brilliant, incisive, full of fire as his own style was, he was
conscious when Martin played certain things that his own rendering, far
more correct, far more finished though it might be, was elderly, even
frigid, compared to the other. The glorious quality of his exuberant
youth, a thing which in most artists is beginning to pale a little
before they have attained to that level of technical skill which is
necessary to a pianist of any claim to high excellence, was in Martin at
its height and its noonday, while it really seemed sometimes to his
master that he had been, perhaps in his cradle, perhaps as he bent his
unwilling head over the crabbed intricacies of Demosthenes, somehow
mysteriously initiated into the secrets of technique. Anyhow, that
facility, that art of first mastering and then concealing difficulties
which to most pianist only comes, as it had come to himself, through
months and years of unremitting toil, seemed to be natural to his pupil.
Martin had only got to be told what to do, and if he was in an obliging
humour he did it. The difficulties of execution simply did not seem to
exist for him. Immensely struck as Karl Rusoff had been with his
performance last summer at Lord Yorkshire’s, he felt now that he had not
then half fathomed the depth of his power, which lay pellucid like a
great ocean cave full of changing lights and shadows, suffused to its
depths with sunlight, and by its very clearness and brightness baffling
the eye that sought to estimate its depths.

And his temperament--that one thing that can never be taught. Karl
Rusoff knew he had never come across a temperament that, artistically
speaking, approached it. It was, indeed, not less than perfect from that
point of view, sensitive, impressionable, divinely susceptible to
beauty, hating (here largely was the personal charm of it to his
master), hating the second-rate, especially the skilful second-rate,
with glorious intensity. At the thought Karl’s rather grim face relaxed
into a smile as he remembered how Martin had sat down to the piano the
other day in a sudden burst of Handel-hatred and with his ten fingers,
which sounded like twenty, and a strangely unmelodious voice, which
sounded like a crow and ranged from high falsetto treble to the note of
kettledrums, had given a rendering of the “Hail-Stone Chorus,” so
ludicrous, yet catching so unerringly the cheap tumult of that toy-storm
in a teacup, that he himself had sat and laughed till his eyes were dim.

“And why,” asked Martin, dramatically, in conclusion, “did that German
spend his long and abandoned life in England? Because he knew, sir, he
knew that in any other country he would have been kindly but firmly put
over the border. Now shall I sing you the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?”

Besides this facility in technique, the power of perception of beauty,
which in many of the finest minds requires years of delicate cultivation
before it becomes at all mature or certain, was already present in
Martin in apparent fulness of growth; it was already an instinct
exerting and asserting itself, not through habit, but through intuition.
It was so much the dominating ingredient in the composition known as
Martin Challoner that almost everything else might be considered as a
mere by-product. His whole will, his whole energy, was at its service.
When once it called to him, as it had called to him in his adoption of
the Roman faith, it seemed he had to obey and could not question. It was
to him a law that he could not transgress.

But all this, the charm of which Karl Rusoff felt almost too keenly for
his peace of mind, he knew to be extremely dangerous, and to him this
exultant, beautiful mind was entrusted with all the responsibility that
it entailed, to fashion, to train, to prune. With a true and honest
modesty he recognised how menial, so to speak, his work in regard to
Martin was; but this did not lessen the responsibility. He was, to rate
himself at the highest, the gardener who had to bring this exquisite
plant into fulness of flower, to feed, to water, to cut, and, above all,
to let air and sun, the great natural influences, have their way with
it. He did not believe in forced growth or in sheltered cultivation; as
he had told Martin in the summer, every emotion, every pain and joy, so
long as it was not sensual, was his proper food. The richer his
experience was, the richer would his music be. Karl had already seen a
first clear endorsement of his view in the circumstances attending
Martin’s secession to the Roman Church. He himself did not know with any
exactitude of detail what had passed between him and his father, but
though the painfulness of that had knocked Martin completely up for a
time, what he himself had foreseen had come true, and he could hardly
help inwardly rejoicing at even the cruelty of Mr. Challoner’s attitude
to his son, so great had been the gain to Martin artistically. He had
suffered horribly, and was the better for it. Afterwards--the thing had
taken place now more than two months ago--the elastic fibre of his youth
had reasserted itself, and his exuberant health of body and mind had
returned to their former vigour. The pain had passed, the gain remained.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then to Karl’s reverie there came the interruption he had been
expecting. A quick step sounded outside, then a noise as of a large
quantity of books being dropped in the passage, a loud and hollow groan,
and, after a short pause, Martin, with half a dozen volumes of music,
entered, flushed, vivid in face, muddy in boots.

“I am late,” he said, “also I am sorry. But there was not a cab to be
found. So I ran. I ran quicker than cabs. Oh, how hot I am!”

Karl’s face lighted up as he saw him. He himself was unmarried and
rather lonely in the world till this child of his old age had come to
him, who should be, so he told himself, the crown of his life’s work,
and illuminate the dull world, long after he himself was dead, with the
melodious torch that he had helped to light.

“Are you late?” he said. “I have only just finished practising myself.
My dear child, how hot you are. Let us have tea first. And are you
dining out to-night? If not, have a chop with me here, and we can work a
little afterwards as well. You have not been to me for a week.”

“Yes, thanks, I should like that,” said Martin. “I have been down at
Chartries, as you know, for a couple of days.”

He paused a moment, frowning at the fire.

“No; it was no good,” he said. “My father would not see me. He even
opposed Helen’s coming to Uncle Rupert’s while I was there. But she
came.”

“How is she?” asked Karl.

“Very well, and, what is so odd, extraordinarily happy,--happy in some
steadily-shining way. Deep, broad, bright happiness, like sunlight. Now,
how do you account for that? Away from Frank,--she doesn’t even write to
him or hear from him,--continuing to do all that she found so
intolerable under hugely aggravated conditions,--he not there,--and yet
awfully happy. Not that father has changed to her at all,--he is very
silent, very sad, very--well, sometimes very cross. And she feels his
sadness, too,--feels it as if it were her own----“

“Ah, you have it,” said Karl; “that is why she is happy. It is what I
have always told you--the fact of sympathy, whether it is with joy or
pain, is what enriches and perfects; the fact of sympathy is what makes
her happy. You are as happy--with the broad sunshine of happiness, even
though a bitter wind whistles--when Isolde sinks lifeless by the body of
Tristran as when Siegfried hears the singing of the bird.”

He paused a moment looking at the fire, then turned to Martin.

“Ah, my dear lad,” he said, “pray that you drink to the dregs any cup of
sorrow or of joy that may be given you. Never shrink from pain--you will
not become your best self without it. But by it and through it, and in
no selfish or egoistic manner, you will fulfil yourself.”

He rose from his chair and turned on switch after switch of electric
light.

“It is like this,” he said, feeling in his sudden desire for light some
instinctive connection with what he was saying. “Open the doors, open
the windows of your soul,--let the sun in and the wind. And this is a
music-lesson,” he added, laughing. “Well I have given a good many in my
life, and should be pleased to know I never gave a worse one. Now, what
have you done since I saw you last?”

Martin walked quickly over to the piano with a laugh.

“Listen,” he said.

He played a few bars of very intricate phrase after the manner of the
opening of a fugue. Then in the bass half the phrase was repeated, but
it finished with something perfectly different, a third and a fourth or
a fifth joined in, and before the “whole kennel was a-yelp” the original
subject had passed through rapid gradations until it had become
something totally different to what it began with, though still an
incessant jabber of cognate phrases, never quite coherent, were somehow
strung together and worked against each other by a miracle of ingenuity.
Then the original subject was repeated with emphatic insistence, as if
to call renewed attention to itself, but it was answered this time by a
phrase that had nothing whatever to do with it; a third short melody
totally different from anything that had gone before or was to come
after ran its brief and ridiculous course, and then a perfect
hodge-podge of reminiscences of all that had previously occurred,
handled with extraordinary dexterity, made the brain positively reel and
swim. Finally a huge bravura passage, as much decked out with ribands
and lace as a fashionable woman at a party, brought this insane
composition, which taxed even Martin’s fingers, to a totally unexpected
close.

Karl Rusoff had listened at first with sheer uncomprehending
bewilderment, unable, since indeed there was neither head nor tail nor
body to it, to make anything whatever out of it, and for a moment he
wondered if Martin was merely playing the fool. But as he looked at his
face bent over the piano, and saw even his fingers nearly in
difficulties, a sudden light struck him, and he began to smile. And
before the end was reached he sat shaking in his chair with hopeless
laughter.

“Ah, you wicked boy,” he said, “why even our dear Lady Sunningdale would
recognise herself.”

Martin pushed his plume out of his left eye and laughed.

“That’s the joy of it,” he said. “She did recognise it. About half way
through she said, ‘Why, that’s me.’ You know you told me to do that,--to
take anything, the east wind, or a London fog, or a friend, and make
music of it.”

“Play it once more, if you will,” said Karl, “and then to work. Not that
that is no work. There is a great deal of work in that. Also I perceive
with secret satisfaction that you do not find it easy to play. But the
bravura is rather unkind. She is never quite like that.”

“Ah, the bravura is only her clothes,” said Martin, preparing to begin
again. “She even told me which hat she had on. It is the one she
describes as a covey of birds of paradise which have been out all night
in a thunderstorm, sitting on a tomato-salad.”

Again Karl sat and listened to the torrent of fragments and currents of
interrupted thoughts. Heard for the second time it seemed to him even a
more brilliantly constructed absence of construction than before, an
anomalous farrago which could only have been attained by a really
scholarly and studious disregard of all rules; no one who had not the
rules at his finger-tips could have broken them so accurately. It was a
gorgeous parody of musical grammar in exactly the mode in which Lady
Sunningdale’s conversation was a brilliant parody of speech, full of
disconnected wit, and lit from end to end with humour, but as jerky as
the antics of a monkey, as incapable of sustained flight in any one
direction as a broken-winged bird, a glorious extravagance.

Karl had left his seat and stood near the piano as the bravura passage
began. This time it seemed to present no difficulty to Martin, though
his unerring hands were hardly more than a brown mist over the keys. And
Karl felt a sudden spasm of jealousy of his pupil as a huge cascade of
tenths and octaves streamed out of Martin’s fingers.

“Yes, indeed, the bravura is not easy,” he remarked, when Martin had
finished, “and I think you played it without a mistake, did you not? Is
it _quite_ easy to play tenths like that?”

Martin laughed.

“I find I’ve got not to think of anything else,” he said. “Will that do
for my composition for the week?”

Karl laughed.

“Yes, very well, indeed,” he said. “It has lots of humour,--and humour
in music is rather rare. But don’t cultivate it, or some day you will
find yourself in the position of a man who can’t help making puns. A
dismal fate. Now, let us leave it--it is admirable--and get to work. I
think I told you to study the last of the Noveletten. Play it, please.”

This time, however, there was no laughter and no approbation. Karl
looked rather formidable.

“It won’t do,--it won’t do at all,” he said. “You have the notes, but
that is absolutely all. It is perfectly empty and dead. A pianola would
do as well. What’s the matter? Can’t you read anything into it?”

Martin shrugged his shoulders.

“I know it’s all wrong,” he said. “But I can’t make anything of it. It’s
stodgy.”

Karl’s eyes glared rather dangerously from behind his glasses.

“Oh, stodgy, is it?” he said, slowly. “Schumann is stodgy. That is news
to me. I must try to remember that.”

Martin looked sideways at his master, but Karl’s face did not relax.

“Stodgy!” he repeated. “I know where the stodginess comes in. Ah, you
are either idiotic or you have taken no trouble about it. Because you
have found that the mere execution was not difficult to you, you have
not troubled to get at the music. I gave you music to learn, and you
have brought me back notes. Do not bring a piece to me like that again.
If I give you a thing to learn, I do so for some reason. Get up,
please.”

Karl paused a moment, summoning to his aid all that he knew, all he had
ever learned to give cunning to his fingers and perception to his brain.
Never perhaps in his life had he played with more fire, with more
eagerness to put into the music all that was his to put there, and that
in order to charm no crowded hall packed from floor to ceiling, but to
show just one pupil the difference between playing the music and playing
the notes.

Martin had left the music-stool in what may be called dignified silence
and was standing by the fire; but before long Karl saw him out of the
corner of an eye (he could spare him neither thought nor look) steal
back towards the piano, and though he could not look directly at his
face, he knew what was there,--those wide-open, black eyes,
finely-chiselled nostrils, swelling and sinking with his quickened
breath, mouth a little open, and the whole vivid brain that informed the
face lost, absorbed.

He came to the end and sat silent.

“Is that there?” asked Martin, in a half-breathless whisper. “Is that
really all there?”

Karl looked up. Martin’s face was exactly as he had known it would be.
But the first mood of the artist was of humility.

“I played wrong notes,” he said. “Half a dozen at least.”

“Oh, more than that,” said Martin. “But what does that matter? You
played it. My God, what a fool I have been! There I sat, day after day,
and never saw the music.”

Karl Rusoff got up. It had been a very good music-lesson.

“It isn’t ‘stodgy,’” he said. “It isn’t, really. Do you now see one
thing out of a hundred perhaps that it means? You have got to be the
critic of the music you play,--you have to interpret it. But out of all
the ways of playing that, out of all that can be seen in it, you saw
nothing, your rendering was absolutely without meaning or colour. To
play needs all you are; you gave that fingers only. If I want you to
practise fingers only, I will tell you so, and give you a finger
exercise or Diabelli. Otherwise you may take it for granted that when
your fingers are perfect your work begins. But to play--ah--you have to
burn before you play.”

Martin still hung over the piano.

“And I thought it stodgy,” he repeated, looking shy and sideways at
Karl’s great grey head.

“Well, you won’t again,” said he. “Will you try it again now?”

“No; how can I?” said Martin. “I’ve got to begin it all over again.”

“Then there was a piece of Bach. Play that. And now read nothing into it
except the simplicity of a child. Just the notes,--the more simply the
better. Wait a moment, Martin. I want to enjoy it. Let me sit down.”

Martin waited, and then began one of the Suites Anglaises, and like a
breath of fresh air in a stuffy room, or like a cloudless dawn with the
singing of birds after a night of storm and thunder, the exquisite
melody flowed from his fingers, precise, youthful, and joyous. There was
no introspection here, no moods of a troubled soul, no doubts or
questioning; it sang as a thrush sings, changed and returned on itself,
danced in a gavotte, moved slowly in a minuet, and romped through a
Bourrée like a child.

At the end Martin laughed suddenly.

“Oh, how good!” he cried. “Did you know that Bach wrote that for me?” he
asked, turning to Karl.

“Yes, I thought he must have,” said Karl. “And with the command that you
were to play it to me. You played that very well; all your fingers were
of one weight. How did you learn that?”

Martin raised his eyebrows.

“Why, it would spoil it, would it not, to play it any other way?” he
asked.

“Certainly it would.”

Then he got up quickly.

“Oh, Martin, you child,” he said. “Did I speak to you roughly about the
Schumann?”

“You did rather,” he said. “But I deserved to have my ears boxed.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The two dined alone, and held heated arguments, not like master and
pupil, but like two students who worked side by side, Karl as often as
not deferring to the other, Martin as often as not blandly disagreeing
with Karl.

“How can you pronounce, for instance,” he asked, “that that Novelette is
to be played with those sweatings and groanings, the mere notes being of
no use, whereas Bach is to be played with notes only?”

Karl gazed at him in silence.

“You impertinent infant,” he said. “What else do you propose? To play
the Schumann as you played it? And the Bach as I played the Schumann?”

“That would sound extremely funny,” remarked Martin. “No, I don’t say
you are not right; but how do you know you are right?”

“Because Bach wrote for the spinet,” said Karl. “Have you ever tried to
play Schumann on a spinet? It sounds exactly as you made it sound just
now. A deplorable performance, my poor boy.”

“You have told me that. Don’t rub it in so. I shall play it very well
to-morrow.”

“Or next year,” said Karl, still grim, but inwardly full of laughter.
“By the way, there was no ‘dog’ motive in the Lady Sunningdale
composition.”

“You can’t have been attending,” said Martin. “Suez Canal came in twice,
and Sahara three times, with shrill barks. Yes, please, another cutlet.”

Karl watched him eat it. The process took about five seconds.

“You didn’t taste that,” he remarked.

“No; it was needed elsewhere,” said Martin. “But I’m sure it was very
good.”

Karl lingered over the bouquet of his Burgundy.

“It is a strange thing,” he said, “that mankind are so gross as to
confuse the sense of taste with greediness. No, my dear boy, I am not at
this moment attacking you. But there is no organ, even that of the ear,
in this wonderful body of ours so fine as that of taste. Yet to most
people the sight of a man deeply appreciating his dinner conveys a
feeling of greediness. But I always respect such a man. He has a sense
more than most people.”

“But isn’t it greedy?” asked Martin.

Karl became deeply impressive.

“It is no more greedy,” he said, “to catch the flavour of an olive or
an oyster than to catch the tone of a ’cello.”

“Ah, that would be like encoring a song in an opera--a most detestable
habit--and hearing it over and over again. No artist desires that. Fancy
hearing Wotan’s Abschied twice. That would be greedy. The art of dining,
like most arts, is frightfully neglected in England.”

Martin laughed.

“I have been here, I suppose, a dozen times,” he said, “and every time
you give me some surprise. I had no idea you gave two thoughts as to
what you ate.”

“That was hasty of you. True, of all the senses, I put the ear first.
That is personal predilection. But all the senses really are equal;
there is no shadow of reason for supposing that one is more elevated
than another. True, some can be more easily misused than others, taste
more particularly. But all are subtle gateways to the soul.”

They had finished dinner and Karl pushed back his chair.

“Take an instance,” he said. “Take incense. Does not that smell excite
and inspire the devotional sense? Does not the smell of frangipanni--an
unendurable odour--suggest a sort of hot-house sensualism? Does not the
smell of a frosty November morning bring the sense of cleanness into the
very marrow of your bones?”

Martin sniffed experimentally.

“Ah, I know that,” he said. “And the leaves on the beech-trees are red,
and the grass underfoot a little crisp with frost. Oh, how good! But
what then?”

Karl was watching him closely. It was his conscious object now and
always to make Martin think, to excite anything in him that could touch
his sense for beauty. He had found that this half-serious, half-flippant
method was the easiest means of approach,--for Martin was but a boy.
Discussions in an earnest, conscious German spirit both bored and
alarmed him. This fact, had his father grasped it, might in years past
have helped matters.

“Why, everything,” he replied. “Each sense can be expressed in terms of
another. Take magenta in colour,--it is frangipanni in smell; in sound
it is--what shall we say?--an Anglican chant of some sort; in taste it
is the vague brown sauce in which a bad cook hides his horrors.”

Martin laughed again, with the keen pleasure of youth in all things
experimental.

“Yes, that is true,” he said. “How do you go on? Take a fine
colour,--vermilion.”

“The blind man said it must be like the sound of a trumpet,” said Karl;
“and the blind man at that moment saw. Brandy also for taste is red. So
is ammonia,--a pistol to your nostrils.”

Martin dabbed his cigarette on to his dessert plate.

“Yes, yes,” he cried, “and C major is red. And F sharp is
blue,--electric blue, like the grotto at Capri----“

He stopped suddenly.

“Am I talking nonsense?” he asked. “If so, it is your fault. You
encourage me. You meant to. And what do you mean me to get from it?”

Karl turned directly towards him.

“I mean you to think,” he said. “To frame your life wholly for beauty
in whatever form you see it. It is everywhere, be assured of that; and
if your eye sees it, store it up like a honey-bee, and bring it home. If
your mouth feels it, bring it home. If you smell the autumn morning,
bring that home, too. It all makes music.”

He pushed his plate aside and leaned forward towards Martin.

“All is food for you,” he said. “It is only in that way, by harvesting
every grain of corn you see, that you can be great. A lot of harvesting
is done unconsciously. Supplement that by conscious harvesting. You may
learn perfectly all the harmony and counterpoint that can be learned,
you may learn to play things impossible, but all that is no good by
itself. You can already play,--I am not flattering you, but the
reverse,--if you practise a little, all the printed music ever written,
as far as notes go. That is no good either. But--if I had not seen this
when first I heard you play, I should never have wasted ten minutes of
my time on you--you can do more than that. You can, if you are very
alert, quite untiring, very critical, and always ready to catch beauty
in whatever form it may present itself, you can do more than this. At
least I believe so.”

He got up from his seat and leaned his hands on the boy’s shoulders as
he sat by the table.

“Ah, Martin, don’t disappoint me,” he said, “or, being old, I shall die
of it. Drink from every spring but one, and drink deep.”

Martin turned in his chair and faced him.

“Do I know what spring you mean?” he asked. “Love?”

Karl looked at him with a sort of wonder.

“No, I did not mean that,” he said.

He drew a long breath.

“My God, if that had been granted to me,” he said, “I too might have
been great. But I never fell in love. Oh, I am successful; I know I
understand; I am the only person, perhaps, who does know what is missing
in me. It is that. But missing that, I never, no, not once, parodied
what I did not know. Parody, parody!” he repeated.

Martin looked at him with that direct, lucid gaze Karl knew so well,
level beneath the straight line of his eyebrows. His smooth, brown
cheeks were a little flushed with some emotion he could not have put a
name to. Slight injury was there, that Karl could possibly have supposed
him bestial, the rest was clean modesty.

“I am not beastly,” he said, “if you mean that.”

“I did mean that,” he said. “And I beg your pardon.”

Martin stood up.

“I think you had no right to suppose that,” he said.

“No, I had none. I did not suppose it. I warned you, though.”

A tenderness such as he had never known rose like a blush into his old
bones, tenderness for this supreme talent that had been placed in his
hands.

“I only warned you,” he said. “I looked for burglars under your bed,
just because--because it is a boy like you that this stupid world tries
to spoil. Aye, and it will try to spoil you. Women will make love to
you. They will fall in love with you, too.”

Again he paused.

“Things will be made poisonously pleasant for you,” he said. “You can
without effort capture brilliant success. But remember all that you get
without effort is not, from the point of view of art, conceivably worth
anything. Remember also that nothing fine ever grew out of what is
horrible. More than that, what is horrible sterilizes the soil,--that
soil is you. You will never get any more if you spoil it or let it get
sour or rancid. Horror gets rooted there, it devours all that might have
been good, all that might have been of the best.”

There was a long silence. Then Karl stepped back and rang the bell. To
Martin the silvery tinkle sounded remote. He certainly was thinking now.

“Well, I have done,” said Karl. “Excuse the--the Nonconformist
conscience.”

Martin got up.

“I don’t see how one can care--really care--for music and live grossly,”
he said. “Yet people appear to manage it. And mawkishness makes me feel
sick,” he added with apparent irrelevance.

But Karl understood.

“Somebody has been trying to pet him,” he thought to himself.

They went upstairs to the music-room, and Martin stood before the fire a
few moments smoking in silence.

“I like this room,” he said. “It makes me feel clean, like the November
morning. I say, how is it that so many people, men and women alike, only
think about one subject? Surely it is extraordinarily stupid of them,
when there are so many jolly things in the world.”

“Ah, if the world was not full of extraordinarily stupid people,”
remarked Karl, “it would be an enchanting place.”

“Oh, it’s enchanting as it is,” cried Martin, throwing off his
preoccupation. “May I begin again at once? I want to get through a lot
of work to-night. Heavens, there’s a barrel-organ playing ‘Cavalleria.’
Frank is going to introduce a bill next session, he says, putting
‘Cavalleria’ in public on the same footing as obscene language in
public. He says it comes to the same thing.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Stella Plympton about this time was giving a certain amount of anxiety
to her parents. The amount, it is true, was not very great, because her
father was a happily constituted man who was really incapable of feeling
great anxiety except about large sums of money. Consequently, since the
extremely large sums of money, all of which he had made, were most
admirably invested, his life was fairly free from care. His wife also
was quite as fortunate, her complexion was the only thing capable of
moving her really deeply, and as she had lately found a new _masseuse_
who was quite wonderful and obliterated lines with the same soft
completeness with which bread-crumb removes the marks of lead-pencil,
she also, for the present, stood outside the zone of serious trouble.

Between them they occupied, just now, the apex of social as well as most
other successes in London, and were a very typically modern couple. Sir
Reginald Plympton had in early life invented an oil-cloth of so eminent
an excellence that in its manufacture and exploitation he had been too
busy to really master the English aspirate, which still bothered him.
But to make up for this he had carefully cultivated his aspirations,
and had (entirely owing to oil-cloth), while not yet sixty, amassed a
colossal fortune, married the daughter of an impecunious duke, won the
Derby, and now stood perched on the topmost rung of the ladder of
English society. He had a yacht, which never went for long cruises, but
always anchored for the night in some harbour. Being a bad sailor, he
left it, if there was a chance of bad weather, before it weighed anchor
in the morning, and joined it again on the ensuing evening. Similarly he
sat in his wife’s opera-box during intervals between the acts, and left
his place on the rising of the curtain. He was already a baronet and an
M.P., and his peer’s coronet, so to speak, was now being lined.

Yet care, though only like a little draught, just stirred the warm air
of Lady Monica’s drawing-room and made the palm-trees rattle. She had
often talked the matter over with her husband, who had no very practical
suggestion to make. He would stand before her, very square and squat,
with his hands in his pockets, rattling money in the one and keys in the
other, and say:

“Well, my lady, you give ’er a good talkin’ to. Tell ’er to be a good
girl, and be sensible. And now I must be off.”

For the fact was that Stella was now nearly twenty-three. She had
refused several very suitable offers, and her mother, extremely anxious,
as all good mothers should be, to get her married, had lately begun to
be afraid that she was “being silly.” This in her vocabulary meant that
Stella was in love with somebody (Lady Monica thought she knew with
whom) and was not clever enough to make him propose to her. What added
enormity to her “silliness” was the fact that he was extremely eligible.
Lady Monica had no sympathy with this sort of thing; she had never been
silly herself, and her own sentimental history had been that some
twenty-four years ago she had wooed, proposed to, and wedded her
Reginald without any fuss whatever or any delay. She was a woman with a
great deal of hard, useful common sense; she always knew exactly what
she wanted, and almost always got it. Her only weakness, in fact (with
the discovery of the new _masseuse_, her complexion had become a
positive source of strength), was for feeble flirtations with young men
of the age which she herself wished to look. These never came to
anything at all; and when the young man in question married somebody
perfectly different, she told all her friends that she had made him. She
had during the last week or two, since the session had brought them to
London, done a little vicarious love-making to Martin on Stella’s
account, and enjoyed it on her own. She was a perfectly honest woman,
and only played with fire as a child plays with matches, lighting them
and blowing them out, and she never really set fire to herself, and
quite certainly never even scorched anybody else.

But anxiety, like a draught, had reached her with regard to Stella’s
future, and the next evening, when Lady Sunningdale happened to be
giving a menagerie-party, she determined to have a few words with her,
for she was looked upon as a sort of book of reference with regard to
the twins. The menagerie-party was so called because for a week
beforehand Lady Sunningdale drove about London a good deal and screamed
an invitation to everybody she saw in the streets. The lions only were
fed; the meaner animals and those lions only observed too late to ask to
dinner came in afterwards.

Lady Monica and Stella belonged to this second category, and Lady
Sunningdale hailed them with effusion.

“Dearest Monica, so glad to see you,” she cried. “All sorts of people
are here, whom I’m sure I don’t know by sight, and I’ve just revoked at
Bridge (double no trumps, too; isn’t it too dreadful!), and Suez Canal
tried to bite the Prime Minister. Wasn’t it naughty? But, you see, Suez
is a Radical,--though he shouldn’t bring politics into private life.
Stella, I haven’t seen you for years. Yes; Martin’s going to play, of
course. Have you heard his tune which imitates me talking in a very
large hat? Simply heavenly; exactly like. Even Sunningdale awoke the
other evening when he played it, and asked me what I was saying. How are
you, Frank? No sign of relenting on the part of the obdurate father? How
dreadful! Yes. Dearest Monica, how well you are looking, and how young!
(“New _masseuse_,” she thought to herself. “I must worm it out.”) Do let
us go and sit down. I’m sure everybody has come. Oh, there is the
Spanish Ambassador. He killed his own father, you know,--shot him dead
on the staircase, thinking he was a burglar, and came into all that
immense property at the age of nineteen! How picturesque, was it not,
and such a very Spanish thing to do! Such a good shot, too. How are you,
señor? Yes; they are playing Bridge in the next room. And they say there
is sure to be a dissolution in the autumn.”

Lady Sunningdale poured out this spate of useful information in her
usual manner, addressing her remarks indiscriminately to any one who
happened to be near, and Lady Monica waited till the flood showed some
sign of abating. She had a vague contempt for Lady Sunningdale’s
“methods,” considering that she diffused herself too much. She never
caught hold of anything and held tight till everybody else who wanted it
let go from sheer fatigue, which was a favourite method of her own. On
the other hand, Lady Sunningdale certainly managed to pick up a great
many bright objects as she went along, even though she did drop them
again almost immediately.

“Do come away and talk to me, Violet,” said Lady Monica, when for a
moment there was silence. “I came here entirely to have a confabulation
with you.”

“Yes, dear, by all means. I have heard nothing interesting for weeks
except the things I’ve made up and told in confidence to somebody, which
have eventually come round to me again, also in confidence. What’s it
all about?”

As soon as they had found a corner, Lady Monica, as her custom was, went
quite straight to the point.

“It’s about Stella,” she said. “Violet, I am afraid Stella is being
silly.”

“How, dear? Stella always seems to me so sensible. Such a lovely neck,
too; quite like yours. Look, there is poor Harry Bentham. A lion bit his
arm off, or was it South Africa?”

Lady Sunningdale cast a roving eye in his direction, kissed the tips of
her fingers, and motioned him not to come to her. Lady Monica waited
without the least impatience till she had quite finished. Then she went
on, exactly where she had left off.

“Well, it’s your dreadfully fascinating Martin Challoner,” she said;
“and I’m sure I don’t wonder. My dear, really such terribly attractive
people ought to be shut up, not allowed to run about loose. They do too
much damage.”

“Well, dear, Stella is only like all the rest of us,” said Lady
Sunningdale. “You remember how we all ran after the twins last summer.”

“I know; we all got quite out of breath. But Stella is running still.
Now, do you think, you know him so well, that he gives two thoughts to
her? They are great friends, they are often together, but if it is all
to come to nothing, I shall stop it at once. Stella has no time to
waste.”

Lady Sunningdale considered this a moment. She knew all about Monica’s
little flirtations with Martin; so also did he, and had imitated her,
for Lady Sunningdale’s benefit, with deadly accuracy. But she was too
good-natured to spoil sport just because Stella’s mother had been a
shade too sprightly for her years. Besides, she meant to say a word or
two about that later on, a word that would rankle afterwards.

“My dear, I can’t really tell whether Martin ever thinks about her or
not,” she said. “He is so extraordinary; he is simply a boy yet in many
ways, and he plays at life as a boy plays at some absurd game, absorbed
in it, but still considering it a game. Then suddenly he goes and does
something deadly serious, like joining the Roman Church. Practically,
also, you must remember that he thinks almost entirely about one
thing,--his music. That child sits down and plays with the experience
and the feeling and the fingers which, as Karl Rusoff says, have never
yet been known to exist in a boy. He is like radium, something quite
new. We’ve got to learn about it before we can say what it will do in
given circumstances. It burns, and it is unconsumed. So like Martin! But
Karl says he is changing, growing up. I can’t help feeling it’s rather a
pity. Yes. Of course he can’t be a bachelor all his life; that is
impermissible. But Karl always says, ‘I implore you to leave him alone.
Don’t force him; don’t even suggest things to him. He will find his way
so long as nobody shews it him.’ Karl is devoted to him,--just like a
beautiful old hen in spectacles with one chicken.”

But Lady Monica had not the smallest intention of talking about Karl,
and led the conversation firmly back.

“Well, Violet, will you try to find out?” she asked.

Lady Sunningdale’s eye and attention wandered.

“Ah, there is Sunningdale,” she said. “Does he not look lost? He always
looks like that at a menagerie. Yes, I will try to sound Martin, if you
like. I must make him confide in me somehow, and be rather tender, and
he will probably tell me, though he will certainly imitate me and my
tendencies afterwards. He imitates people who take an interest in
him--that is his phrase--too beautifully. I roared,”--Lady Sunningdale
cast a quick, sideways glance at her friend,--“simply roared at some
imitation he gave the other day of a somewhat elderly woman who took an
interest in him. Yes. Poor Suez Canal! He loves parties; but one can’t
let him bite everybody indiscriminately. Let us come back, dear Monica,
and make the twin play. There he is sitting with Stella. He asked me
particularly if she was coming. They are probably talking about golf or
something dreadful. Stella is devoted to it, is she not? Yes. That’s the
game where you make runs, is it not? I shall have to sound Martin very
carefully. He is so quick. Sunningdale, please take Martin firmly by the
arm, and if he tries to bite, by the scruff of the neck, and put him
down at the piano. No, dear Monica, you can tell nothing by his face. He
always looks absorbed and excited like that. If he was talking to you he
would look just the same.”

That also was premeditated and vicious, just in case poor Monica’s
little love-making, which Martin had imitated so divinely, had not been
wholly vicarious. If it had, her remark would pass unnoticed, if it had
not--but there was no need to consider whether it had or not, for poor
Monica had turned quite red at the mention of Martin’s imitation of the
elderly woman who took an interest in him.



CHAPTER XI


Martin had been among the lions who were fed to-night at Lady
Sunningdale’s, and had eaten of rich and slightly indeterminate food,
for his hostess’s vagueness and volubility, like Karl’s love of form,
found expression in the dinner. Afterwards he had taken up a strategic
position near the head of the stairs when the meaner animals or belated
lions began to arrive, in order to watch and wait for Stella’s entrance.
Then as soon as her mother and Lady Sunningdale had retired into their
corner, he had annexed her--with her complete assent--and plunged into
discussions about affairs not in the least private. Had her mother
overheard, she would, with her strong, practical common sense, have
ordered the conversation to cease at once, so wanting in the right sort
of intimacy would she have found it. And in so doing she would have made
one of those mistakes which are so often and so inevitably committed by
people of great common sense but no imagination, who cannot allow for
the possible presence of romance in pursuits which they themselves
consider prosaic. Had Martin been talking to her daughter about music,
she would have considered that sufficiently promising to allow
developments, for that was a thing very real to him,--his heart spoke.
As it was, she would have considered that the conversation held not a
germ of that disease of which she longed that Martin should sicken.

Lady Sunningdale, far less superficial really than the other, not
knowing that almost everything under the sun was rich with childish
romance in Martin’s eyes, had hazarded the suggestion that they were
talking about golf. This was practically correct, because they were
talking about skating, and the two to her were indistinguishable,--she
supposed you got runs at each,--being objectless exercises for the body.
The moment you hunted or shot or played any game you entered that
bracket. All these things were of the same genre, and quite
unintelligible.

“But I can’t get my shoulders round,” said Stella. “It is no earthly use
telling me that I must. They won’t go. Can you understand the meaning of
those three simple words, or shall I try to express it differently? And
if I try to make them get round I fall down.”

Martin frowned.

“Stella, you are really stupid about it,” he said,--they had long ago
fallen into Christian names. “For the hundredth time you have to
consider your foot as fixed. Then pivot round, head first,--then----“

Stella nodded.

“Yes, I understand that,” she said. “It is always head first with
me,--on the ice.”

“You’re not being serious,” said Martin; “and if you can’t be serious
about a game you can’t be serious about anything. That is a universal
truth. I discovered it. What do you suppose matters to me most in my
life? Music? Not at all. Get along with you, you silly thing. But, oh,
if any one would teach me to do back brackets not rather clean, but
quite clean. I dreamed I did one once, and I awoke sobbing loudly from
sheer happiness. I would sign a pledge never to touch tobacco or a
piano again, if I could do that. That’s my real state of mind. Now, will
you skate to-morrow at Prince’s? I can be there at ten for an hour.”

“Considering I am always there at half-past nine,” remarked Stella, “I
don’t think you need ask. And yet you say I am not serious. Oh, Martin,
why is it that one really only wants to do the things one can’t do?”

“You can if you want enough,” said he. “The deuce is that one can’t
always want enough.”

“I don’t believe that,” said she promptly,--Lady Monica would have
stayed her devastating hand, if she had heard this,--“I want lots of
things as much as I possibly can.”

“But perhaps even that isn’t enough. What, for instance?”

Stella could not help a momentary lifting of her eyes to his.

“Why, to skate, silly,” she said. “Yes, I’ll be there by ten, and so be
punctual. I will consider my foot whatever you wish, and I’ll fall down
as often as you think necessary. But don’t be unkind at once when you
pick me up, and tell me I was too much on my heel, or anything of that
sort. Wait till the first agony is over. I attend best when the pain is
beginning to pass off.”

“Well, I only tell you to save trouble in the future,” said he.

“I know, but give me a moment. Do you care about the future much, by the
way? I don’t. Give me the immediate present. To think much about the
future is a sign of age. No one begins to care about the future until
he is too old to have any. Besides, it implies that the present has
ceased to be absorbing.”

Martin pondered this.

“Oh, no; I don’t think that is so at all.”

Stella laughed.

“You never, by any chance, agree with a word I say,” she remarked.

“Well, you haven’t agreed with me since August,” he said. “I made a note
of it. But that is why we have no stupid pauses. All conversation runs
dry in two minutes if one agrees with the other person. But what you say
about age really isn’t so. Look at Karl Rusoff or Lady Sunningdale. They
both live intensely in the present.”

“Ah, you are shallow,” she said. “Years have got nothing whatever to do
with age. That is the most superficial view. People of ninety die young,
people of twenty die of senile decay.”

Martin stretched his trouser over his crossed knee.

“I am a hundred and eleven,” he said, “and whiles--don’t you hate the
Scotch--and whiles I am about twelve in an Eton collar.”

“Yes, loathe them, laddie. Hoots! That is what is so maddening about
you. Half the time I think I am talking to my great-uncle, and the rest
of it to my little nephew up from the country.”

“Is he a nice boy?” asked Martin. “Or do you like your great-uncle
best?”

“I don’t like either at all, thank you. You are always being far too
wise or far too young. As a man of a hundred, how can you play silly
games with such enthusiasm? And as a boy of twelve, how can you play the
piano as you do?”

“It is because I am so extremely gifted,” said Martin, so gravely and
naturally that for an appreciable moment she stared.

“Ah! Don’t you find it an awful bore?” she asked.

“Dreadful. I can’t really take any pleasure in anything, owing to the
sense of responsibility which my talents bring to me.”

Stella broke down and laughed. At gravity he always beat her completely.
At which period in their conversation Lord Sunningdale did as he was
ordered, and, taking him firmly by the arm, led him to the piano.

       *       *       *       *       *

Karl was always most assiduous in his attendance at houses where Martin
played, and he was here to-night. His object was certainly not to
flatter or encourage his pupil, for often and often, when Martin had
played in his presence the night before, he found but a growling
reception waiting for him at his next lesson.

“You played well enough for them,” Karl would say; “I grant you that.
Any bungling would do for them. But to play ‘well enough for them’ is
damnation.”

“But it _did_,” Martin would argue. “I did not want to play at all; but
one can’t say no. At least I can’t. I was not playing for you.”

“Then you should not have played at all. If you play often enough in a
second-rate manner, you will soon become second-rate.”

But to-night Martin never suggested the second-rate even to his exacting
master. In a sort of boyish protestation at the strictures he had
undergone last night concerning the last of the Noveletten, he played
it again now. Certainly to-night there was no note of stodginess there;
the varied, crisp, masterful moods of the music rang extraordinarily
true. Half way through Karl turned to Lady Sunningdale, who was sitting
next him.

“How has he spent his day?” he asked, suddenly.

“Skating, I think. He skated all morning, and was late for lunch, and he
went back to Prince’s afterwards. He is terribly idle, is he not? Pray
don’t interrupt, Monsieur Rusoff. I never can feel as if I hear a note
at all unless I hear them all. Who said that? You, I think. So true. And
have you heard his piece on me? He must play it. Delicious this is,
isn’t it? I learned it when I was a child. Tum-tum. There is the tune
again.”

“But with whom did he skate, my dear lady?” asked Karl. There had been a
good many notes missed by now.

Lady Sunningdale gasped.

“Oh, Monsieur Rusoff, how clever of you!” she said. “You are really
clairvoyant. So is my maid,--the one like a murderess. Do you know her?
No; how should you. Martin was skating with Stella Plympton. And that is
important, is it? Don’t tell her mother. She is such a fool, and also
she has been trying to pump me. You see, it was I who brought them
together. So suitable. I feel dreadfully responsible----“

At this point the Novelette ended, and Lady Sunningdale clapped her
hands in a perfunctory manner.

“Too heavenly, monster,” she said. “Now play Tum-te-tum. Yes, that one.
And is he really going to marry her?” she continued to Karl. “I love
being pumped, if I know it. Dear Monica, she pumps like a fire-engine.
There is no possibility of mistake. Now, while he is playing this, do
tell me all you know.”

“My dear lady, you are building on no foundation,” said Karl. “All I
know is that he played that to me last night, and played it abominably.
To-night he has played it--well, you have heard. And, psychologically, I
should like to know what has occurred in the interval.”

“Was his playing of it just now very wonderful?” she asked.

“Yes; one might venture to say that. And as he has been skating all day,
presumably he has not thought much about it. His thinking perhaps has
been done for him. And who is Stella Plympton? Wife or maid?”

Lady Sunningdale gave a little shriek of laughter. Really people who
lived out of the world were much more amusing than those who lived in
it. Those who lived in it, it is true, always believed the worst in the
absence of definite knowledge; the others, however, made far more
startling suggestions.

“Next but two on your right,” she whispered. “Dear Monica will have a
fit if Stella turns out to be already married.”

Karl’s eyes wandered slowly to the right, looking pointedly at many
things first, at the cornice of the ceiling, at Martin’s profile, at the
slumber of Lord Sunningdale. Then they swept quickly by Stella.

She sat there absorbed and radiant, her face flushed with some secret,
delicate joy as she watched and listened, hardly knowing whether eyes or
ears demanded her attention most. Certainly the music and the musician
between them held her in a spell.

“She is looking quite her best,” whispered Lady Sunningdale. “How
interesting! They have millions, you know--oil-cake, or was it
oil-cloth? Oil-something, anyhow, which sounds so rich, and she is the
only child. The father is quite impossible, not an ‘h,’ though every one
crowds there. One always does if there are millions. So vulgar of one.
Dear Monica. We were almost brought up together.”

Karl turned round to her.

“Dear Lady Sunningdale,” he said, “you are really quite premature if you
build anything on what I have said. He played admirably to-night what he
played abominably last night. That is absolutely all I know. I should be
so sorry if I had suggested anything to you which proved to be without
any sort of foundation.”

       *       *       *       *       *

There certainly seemed to be some new power in Martin’s playing
to-night; but new power had constantly shewn itself there during the
last month or two, for, as Karl said, he had been growing. To-night,
however, he was conscious of it himself, and even as he played, he knew
that fresh light of some kind, some fresh spring of inspiration, was
his. His hand and his brain were too busy as he played to let him be
more than conscious of it. Where it came from, what it was, he could not
guess this moment; but as he struck the last chords the tension relaxed,
and he knew. Then, looking up, he saw Stella sitting near him, leaning
forward, her beautiful mouth a little open. That glorious white column
of her neck supported her head like the stem of a flower,--no garden
flower, but something wonderful and wild. There were rows of faces
behind her, to each side of her,--she was one in a crowd only; but as
his eyes caught her gaze, the crowd fell away, became misty to him,
vanished as a breath vanishes in a frosty air, and she only, that one
face bending a little towards him, remained.

For a long moment their eyes dwelt on each other; neither smiled, for
the occasion was too grave for that, and they two for all they knew,
were alone, in Paradise or in the desert, it was all one. The gay crowd,
the applause that merged into a crescendo of renewed conversation,
lights, glitter, men and women, were for that one moment obliterated,
for in his soul Love had leaped to birth,--no puny weakling, prematurely
warped and disfigured by evil practices and parodies of itself, but
clean and full-grown it sprang towards her, knowing, seeing that its
welcome was already assured. Then the real world, so strangely unreal in
comparison to that world in which for a moment their souls had mingled
and embraced, reeled into existence again, and Martin rose from the
piano, for she had risen, too, and had turned to some phantom on her
right that appeared to speak to her.

Lady Sunningdale beckoned and screamed to him.

“Martin,” she cried, “you are too deevey! Monsieur Rusoff is really
almost--didn’t you say almost--satisfied with the way you played that.
And you learned all that exquisite thing--I used to play it years
ago--while you were skating to-day, because he says you played it too
abominably last night. Really, if I thought I could play it like that
to-morrow evening I would go and skate all day. Now, don’t waste time,
but play something more instantly.”

“Oh, please, Lady Sunningdale, I would rather not,” said he. “I really
don’t think I could play any more to-night. I really am--I don’t know
what--tired.”

Lady Sunningdale looked at his brilliant, vigorous face.

“Martin, I don’t believe you will ever learn to tell a decent, passable
lie,” she said. “Why not tell me you had got cancer. Oh, there’s Suez
Canal come back. Naughty! Monsieur Rusoff, won’t you tell him that he
must. Just a scale or two. I adore scales, so satisfactory, are they
not--so expected--as if it was a music-lesson. No? How tiresome of you.”

Karl laid his hand on Martin’s arm.

“No, my dear lady,” he said. “He’s never to play except when he wants
to. But if you really want a little more music, and I----“

“Ah, but how enchanting of you. Monsieur Rusoff is going to play.
Surely, dear Monica, you will wait. You are not going yet?”

“Desolated, Violet, but Stella says she feels a little faint. The hot
room, I suppose. She is waiting for me outside. How deliciously you
play, Mr. Challoner. I suppose you practise a great deal. Won’t you come
some day and----“

She broke off, for Martin had simply turned his back on her, and was
firmly edging his way through the crowd to the door. Then Lady Monica’s
maternal instinct positively leaped to a conclusion, and Martin’s
rudeness was completely forgiven.

“But I can’t resist waiting to hear Monsieur Rusoff,” she said. “I
thought he never played at private houses. How clever of you, dear
Violet. I wonder if you could get him to play for me. Stella will sit
down and wait for me, no doubt.”

But before Karl struck the first chord, Martin had won (not to say
pushed) his way through the hushed crowd, and found Stella sitting
outside in the other drawing-room. Every one had flocked in to hear the
music, and they were alone.

His foot was noiseless on the thick carpet, and he was but a yard or two
from her when she raised her eyes and saw him. Then with a little
choking cry, only half articulate, he came close to her. All the
excitement and fire in which his life was passed was cold ashes compared
to this moment, and his heart thumped riotously against his chest. Twice
he tried to speak, but his trembling lips would not form the words, and
she waited, her eyes still fixed on his. Then suddenly he threw his arms
out.

“It is no good trying,” he said. “But I love you! I--I love you!”

Oh, the clumsy, bald statement! But Life and Death meant less than that
word.

“Oh, Martin,” she said, “I have waited--I--I don’t know what I am
saying.”

“Waited?” he asked, and his eyes glowed like hot coals.

Then he laughed.

“And you never told me,” he said. “If it was not you, I should never
forgive you. And if it was not you, I should not care.”

“Isn’t that nonsense?” she asked.

“Yes, probably. Who cares? Stella! Oh, my star!”

He flung his arms round her.

“My star, my star,” he cried again.

For one moment she could not but yield to him.

“Yes, yes,” she whispered; “but Martin, Martin,” and her mouth wreathed
into laughter, “it is an evening party. You must not; you must not.”

He paused like a man dying of drought from whose lips the cup of water
had been taken away.

“Party,” he cried; “what party? It is you and I, that is all.”

This was all unknown to her. She had loved him, the boy with the
extraordinary eyes, the boy who played so magnificently, who laughed so
much. But now there was roused something more than these. The
piano-player was gone, he did not laugh, his eyes had never quite glowed
like that, and there was in his face something she had never seen yet.
The woman had awakened the man; this was his first full moment of
consciousness. And, like all women for the first time face to face with
the lover and the beloved, she was afraid. She had not till now seen his
full fire.

“I am frightened,” she cried. “What have we done?”

But his answer came back like an echo to what she had not said, but what
was behind her words.

“Frightened?” he said. “Oh, Stella, not of me, not of the real me?”

She gave a little laugh, still mysteriously nervous.

“You were a stranger,” she said. “I never saw you before.”

Martin gave a great, happy sigh.

“You are quite right,” he said, and the authentic fire leaped to and fro
between their eyes. “I was never _this_ before. But you are not
frightened now?”

This time her eyes did not waver from his.

“No, Martin,” she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

But there was no more privacy possible here. Stella had been quite
right; there was a party going on, and at the moment a great burst of
applause signified the end of Karl Rusoff’s performance. Stella started.

“There. I told you so,” she said. “Now take me to my mother; she will be
waiting for me.”

Martin frowned.

“Cannot she wait?” he asked. “I too have never seen the real you
before.”

“No, dear, we must go. There is to-morrow, all the to-morrows.”

“And to think that it has only been yesterday until this evening,” he
said. “There is Lady Monica, looking for you.”

Lady Monica had a practised eye. She kept everything she had in
excellent practise; there was nothing rusty about her.

“Stella dear, I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “Are you better? Has
Mr. Challoner been taking care of you?”

That was sufficient.

“Stella says I may,” said he.

Lady Monica checked her exclamation of “Thank God!” as being a shade too
business-like.

“Ah, dear Mr. Martin,” she said. “How nice, how very, very nice! Stella,
my dearest. How secret you have been. Come, darling, we must go. I can’t
talk to either of you in this crowd. But how nice! We shall see you
to-morrow? Come to lunch, quite, quite quietly.”

Stella looked at him.

“Yes, do, Martin,” she said. “I will take you back after our skate.”

“Ah, I had forgotten,” he said.

She laughed divinely.

“But I had not. And you will be kind to me, as I asked you?” she added.

He dwelt on his answer.

“I kind--to you?” he said.



CHAPTER XII


It was a March day of glorious windy brightness, a day that atones and
amends with prodigal, open-handed generosity for all the fogs and chilly
darknesses of autumn and winter. Heavy rain had fallen during the night
before, cold, chilly rain, but an hour before morning it had ceased, and
a great warm, boisterous wind came humming up from the southwest. Like
some celestial house-clearer it swept the clouds from the face of the
sky, and an hour of ivory starlight and setting moon ushered in the day.

That same wind had awakened Helen with the sound of the tapping,
struggling blind drawn over her open window, and with eyes suffused with
sleep she had got out of bed to quiet the rattling calico by the simple
process of rolling it up. And having rolled it up, she stood for a
moment at the window, her hair stirred by the wind, drinking in the soft
cool breath of the huge night that blew her night-dress close to her
skin. The clean smell of rain was in the air, but the sky was all clear,
and to the east behind the tower of Chartries church the nameless
dove-coloured hue of coming dawn was beginning to make dim the stars.
Then she went back to bed with a vague but certain sense that some
change had come--winter was over; in her very bones she felt that.

Gloriously did the morning fulfil her expectations. White fleecy clouds,
high in the heavens, bowled along the blue, their shadows racing
beneath them across the brown grass of the downs; the wind, warm and
pregnant with spring, drove boisterously out of the west, and the sun
flooded all that lived in a bath of light. Round the elms in the
church-yard there had been wrought that yearly miracle, that mist of
green leaf hovering round the trees, and paler and more delicate it hung
round the slim purple-twigged birches in the woods that climbed up the
hillside beyond to Chartries. Here after breakfast her path lay, for she
had a parish errand to an outlying hamlet beyond, and with eye and ear
and nostril and open mouth she breathed and was bathed in the
revivification of spring. That morning, so it seemed to her, all the
birds in the world sang together,--thrushes bubbled with the noise of
chuckling water and delicious repeated phrases of melody, as if to show,
brave musicians, that the “first fine careless rapture” is perfectly
easy to recapture, if you happen to know the way of the thing;
blackbirds with liquid throat and tawny bill scudded through the bushes;
above swifts chided in swooping companies, and finches and sparrows
poured out staccato notes. One bird alone was silent, for the
nightingale waited till summer should come and love.

That filled the ear. For the eye there were blue distances, blue shadows
of racing clouds, the sun, and more near the budding trees, and in the
dingle below the woods of Chartries a million daffodils. Helen had
forgotten that they were there, waiting for her, and she came on them
suddenly, and stood quite still a moment with a long pause of pure and
complete delight. The place was carpeted with them; they all danced and
shone and sang together like the morning stars. And as she looked her
eyes grew dim with happy tears.

“Dear God,” she said, “thank you so much.”

Yes, indeed, it was spring; and as she walked on she repeated the word
over and over again to herself, finding a magic in it. It was
everywhere: the sky and the sun were full of it, it burst in those
myriad blossoms from the dark, wholesome soil; it was spring that set
this good wind blowing, it bubbled and chuckled in the chalk-stream,
with its waving weeds and bright glimmering beds of pebbles. Above all,
it was in her own heart on this glorious morning, till she thought it
must almost burst, too, so overflowing was it with sheer, unreasoning
happiness.

Indeed, Martin had been quite right when he had told Karl how happy she
was, and though she did not reason to herself about it, the cause was
abundantly clear. For the last six months she had lived at home, through
days and weeks of ever-recurring difficulties, and with each, as it
presented itself, she had dealt smilingly, patiently. She had made up
her mind on her visit to Cambridge that her duty was clear and obvious,
nothing striking nor picturesque was in the least required, she was
neither going to renounce her future happiness, nor, on the other hand,
to throw all else aside and grasp at it. No heroic knot-cutting measures
of any kind were indicated, except the quiet, unobtrusive heroism of
taking up again, quite simply, quietly, and naturally, all the
straightforward, familiar little duties of her home life which again and
again she had found so tedious. Nor had they been in themselves less
tedious. Only here was the difference,--she had ceased to look upon them
from any point of view except one, namely, that it was quite distinctly
her business to do them. That she had found to be sufficient; it was
enough day by day to get through with them without expenditure of
thought as to whether they were distasteful or not, and her work, her
daily bread, had somehow been sweet and wholesome and nourishing. Truly,
if, as Karl had said, Martin had been growing out of knowledge, his twin
also would be scarcely recognisable.

And bread, bread of the soul, had come to her; her table had been laid
in the wilderness, and happiness, royal inward happiness of a very fine
and unselfish sort, in the midst of a thousand things which made for
unhappiness, had blossomed in her. A thousand times she had been tempted
to say, “It is doing no good. Why should I put off what is waiting for
me when my renunciation does not help father in any way?” But a thousand
times she had just not said it; and now, at the end of these difficult
months, she could without egoism look back and see what infinite good
had been done. That her father should in any way alter his own
convictions about her marriage she had never expected; but what had been
gained was that he saw now, and consciously saw, that she was in the
very simplest language “being good.”

But it had been difficult enough for all concerned, except perhaps for
Aunt Clara, who was scarcely capable of emotion, and often Helen’s heart
had bled for her father. It had been most terrible of all when Martin
had joined the Roman Church. His letter to his father--Helen winced when
she thought of it now--had arrived on Sunday morning, and he had found
it on the breakfast-table when he had come back from the early
celebration. It was a manly, straightforward letter enough, stating that
he had not yet gone over, but had practically determined to. If his
father wished he would come down to Chartries, and talk it over with
him, and give to his advice and counsel the very fullest possible
consideration. And at the end he expressed very bluntly and sincerely,
as was his way, the sorrow and the pain that he knew the news would
cause his father.

The sheet fell from his hand, and Helen, who was making tea, looked up.
She saw the colour rise in her father’s face; the arteries in his neck
and temples swelled into cords, and his eyes with pupils contracted to
pin-pricks looked for the moment like the eyes of a madman. Then he
spoke, his voice vibrating with suppressed furious anger.

“Martin is going to join the Roman Church,” he said. “From the day he
does so, Helen, never speak to me of him again. He is dead to me,
remember.”

That was a week before Christmas, and for more than a month after that
Martin’s name had literally hardly crossed his father’s lips. The boy
had come down to stay with his uncle once, but Mr. Challoner had
absolutely refused to see him. He had even wished Helen not to; but on
this occasion, for the only time during all that long winter, she had
quietly but quite firmly disobeyed him. It was then first, too, as one
looking down from barren rocks of a mountain-range, that she saw, though
still far off, the harvest that was ripening in these long, patient
months of her living here with her father. Before going to Chartries she
had thought best to go into his study and tell him that she was doing
so.

“I am going to see Martin,” she said, wondering and very nervous as to
how her father would take it. “And I wanted to tell you, father, before
I went, that I was going.”

Mr. Challoner was writing his sermon, but on her words his pen paused;
then he looked up at her.

“Very well, dear,” he said. “You know my feeling about it; but it is a
thing in which you must do as you think right. And, Helen,” again he
paused, and his eyes wandered away from her and were bent on his paper,
“tell me, when you come back, how the lad looks, if he seems well.”

She came closer to him. This was the first sign he had shown that he
recognised Martin’s existence.

“Ah, father, come with me,” she said.

But he shook his head.

“No, dear; no, dear,” he said, and went on with his work.

But, on this March morning of windy brightness, what gave the _comble_
to her happiness was the talk--the first intimate one for all these
weeks--which she had had with her father the night before. She had gone
to her room as usual after prayers, but finding there some parish-work,
concerning outdoor relief, which she ought to have done and taken to him
the day before, she sat up for nearly a couple of hours, until she had
finished it. Then with the papers in her hand she went down to his
study.

“I am so sorry, father,” she said. “You told me you wanted these
yesterday, and I absolutely forgot to do them. They are finished now.”

He looked up in surprise.

“Why, Helen,” he said, “it is after twelve. You ought to have been in
bed long ago. Have you been sitting up to do them?”

She smiled at him.

“Why, yes,” she said.

He took them from her.

“You have been a very good daughter to me, dear,” he said.

He paused, but Helen said nothing, for his tone shewed an unfinished
sentence. And the pause was long; it was not at all easy for him to say
what followed.

“And I have been often and often very difficult and very hard all these
months,” he said. “But will you do your best to forget that? Will you
try to forgive me?”

She went close to him, very much moved, and laid her hand on his
shoulder.

“Ah, don’t cut me to the heart,” she said.

“But promise me, if you can,” he said.

Yes, it was true; he had often been difficult and hard. And she answered
him.

“Yes, dear father,” she said. “I promise you that with my whole heart.
And in turn, when May comes, will you try not to think too hardly of me.
I have tried to be good.”

She sat down by his side, looking rather wistfully at him.

“I have been wanting to talk to you often before about that,” he said,
“so let me say once and for all what is in my mind. I disagree with you,
as you know, vitally, essentially, and I believe that God tells me to
disagree. But now I believe also, dear,--and this your goodness and your
sweet patience all these months has taught me,--that God tells you to
do as you are going to. How that is I do not understand. Perhaps that
doesn’t matter so much as I used to think. But He fulfils Himself in
many ways. And there, too, I have very often thought that He had to
fulfil Himself in my way. It is you who have made me see that, I think.”

Helen raised shining eyes to his.

“You have made me very happy,” she said.

“And what have you done for me? There were certain days, dear, during
this winter which I do not see how I could have got through without
you.”

Here was an opportunity for which Helen had often sought.

“Martin?” she asked. “Oh, father, I wonder if you want Martin as much as
I do.”

The strength and the tenderness died out of his face, leaving it both
helpless and hard.

“I can’t see him,” he said, quickly; “I dare not. Some day, perhaps; but
if I saw him now I should say--I could not, I know, help saying--what I
feel. If that would do any good, I would say it; but it would do none. I
should only--I should only frighten him,” he said, with an accent
infinitely pathetic.

       *       *       *       *       *

She left him then without more words, for all this winter she had been
learning every day and all day long the divine and human gospel of
patience in dealing with people,--the patience that teaches us not to
pull buds open, however desirable it may be that the flower should
unfold, that is content to do its best with them, and wait for results
without the desire even that they should come quickly. Till this
evening, as has been said, Martin’s name had scarcely been mentioned by
his father, and it was something, after this bitterness of long silence,
that he should be able to say “Not yet, not now.” Pity also, pity with
hands of healing, had entered at last into that stern, upright,
God-fearing soul, filtering its way like water through dry and stony
soil; a very exiguous trickle it might be, but cool, liquid, refreshing.
How hardly it had won its way there Helen but guessed dimly, he alone
knew. For day had succeeded day, and week week, and all day and all week
he had wrestled blindly, hopelessly with the misery that Martin had
brought on him, unable for all his efforts to find any possible
justifying cause for what he had done, which seemed to him as wanton and
as wicked as violent crime. To his Puritan mind, Martin’s
reason,--namely, the craving for and the necessity of beauty and poetry
in religion was as unintelligible as a page in an unknown language; not
knowing at all what that craving meant, any more than he knew what
homicidal mania meant to a maniac, he could not in any degree whatever
feel or appreciate its force. And for the sake of this his son had left
the mother-church, and embraced the heresies, the abominations, the
idolatries of Rome. Such was his sober, literal view: the Roman Church
was idolatrous, and for idolaters was the doom appointed, revealed by
God, believed by him. And there stood Martin.

For weeks nothing had come to sweeten the bitterness of these dark
waters; his suffering was as unintelligible to him as is pain to a dumb
animal; he could not guess what it could possibly mean. That fierce
anguish, like a flame, had burned up for a time in its withering breath
all human affection; he had hated Martin for what he had done. Shocking
as that was, he knew it to be true, and his hate seemed somehow
justified. There were things, there were actions and passions which he
was bound to hate; and so filled was he with this conviction, that human
affection, human love could find at first no place in his mind; it was
turned out, evicted. But now, like a dog beaten and driven from the
house, it was beginning, so Helen thought, to creep noiselessly,
stealthily homeward again. So she was content; she did not even want to
hurry it.

And this morning spring was here, too, and the daffodils danced.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the dance of daffodils the slope rose steeply upward through the
hanging woods of Chartries, and her path lay by the bushes in which last
summer Frank had found the trapped hare. Here, as always, she went
slowly, telling over in her mind, like the beads of a rosary, the
history of those hours. Then raising her eyes, she saw him, Frank,
standing a little way up the path, looking at her.

Involuntarily her heart leaped to him, and, holding out both hands, she
quickened her step, as if running to him. That first movement she could
no more help than she could help the fresh blood springing to her
cheeks. But at once almost she recollected herself and paused.

“Ah, Frank,” she cried, “you shouldn’t have come here. You know you
shouldn’t.”

He came no nearer.

“No, my darling,” he said; “but I couldn’t help it. It is not your
fault; you have not broken your promise. I only had to see you, just
see you. I think it was the spring that made me do it. I am with your
uncle for just one night. See, there is this for you from Martin.”

He held out a note for her, standing a little aside, so that the path
was clear for her to pass on her way. But, as their fingers met, she
lingered and hung on her step, still not looking at him. She tried, she
tried her best to pass on, but she could not; her eyelids swept upward
and she looked at him. Then which of them moved first neither knew, but
next moment his arms were round her, and he kissed her. And, alas! her
struggle to get free was very faint; her tongue protested, but not very
earnestly.

“Ah, let me go, let me go,” it said.

“I can’t. Helen, it was here that----“

“I know,” she said. “I come here every day. I knew I should meet you
here some day. And this of all days, the first of spring. Oh, Frank, let
me go. I love you: is not that enough? And it is not for long now.”

“No, my darling, it is not long now.”

“And--and it has been so long. And I have wanted you so much.”

She disengaged herself quietly from his arms, but in a way that made it
impossible for him to hold her.

“Good-bye,” she said. “You ought never to have come. And--oh, my
darling--I thank you so for coming.”

For one infinitesimal moment she looked at him again, then with her
quick, light step she went on up the path with Martin’s letter in her
hand and never looked back. She did not pause till she reached the top
of the wood, but as she walked she listened for and longed for, and yet
dreaded, to hear footsteps behind. But none came, she had made her
meaning too clear for that (and how she wished she had been less
explicit), and having arrived at the top, she slackened her pace and
opened Martin’s letter. It was very short, a couple of lines only,
announcing his engagement to Stella and asking her to tell his father.
And with that spring was complete.

Upward again lay her path; no more among trees and sheltered places, but
high over the broad swell of the short-turfed downs, where shadows of
clouds ran glorious races. Something in the huge view and the large sky
chimed in wonderful harmony to the girl’s mood; all was so big, so
untainted, so full of light. Beneath her foot the dead autumn turf still
stretched in brown tufts and patches, but springing up in between were
the myriad shoots of the young grass, and even since yesterday, she
thought, the tone of the colour was changed. Till to-day all had been
grey and brown, all still pointed backward, winterwards; but this
morning it was different, and the million sprouting lives shouted, “Look
forward, look forward! For, lo, the winter is past and the time of the
singing-bird has come.” “Ah, song of songs,” she thought, “indeed it is
so.”

Martin! There were no words into which she could put what she felt, any
more than the pervading sunlight could be put into words. It was there,
a great, huge, exultant presence that flooded everything. Ah, the
beloved twin! Why, it was only a few years ago that he was in Eton
jackets and broad white collars and sang treble. And she? Well, yes, she
was in short frocks about the same time. Yet had not she, half an hour
ago, down in the wood below her, where the young leaves hung like a
green mist around the purple branches of the birch, felt a loving arm
round her and kisses on her face. Oh, it was very wrong of Frank. No,
not wrong of him,--he would have stood aside, he did stand aside to let
her pass. It was very wrong of her. But at that moment she could not
pass by,--it was as if her power of movement had been paralysed. Yet she
was not in the least degree ashamed of herself, and she looked forward
with a certain secret glee to telling her father,--for that had to be
done,--for so by speaking of it she would live it over again. “No, that
was not all,” she said to herself, rehearsing question and answer, “He
kissed me.”

Sunlight, and larks invisible, and the shadows of clouds that coursed
over the downs. And some distance off a tall figure, moving towards her
rapidly, a figure she easily recognised. They came nearer and met. Her
hat was in her hand, her hair tossed over her forehead, and there was
spring and the sure promise of summer in her face. And in her father’s,
too, there was something of that infused joy. His hand held a little
bunch of primroses, which he had plucked as he walked.

They met without words, but with smiles, the unconscious smile that the
morning had made.

“Well, Helen?” said he. “You look, indeed you look like the morning.”

He came close to her and with his neat precision put the primroses into
her hat.

“You ought to pin them,” he said. “They will fall out.”

She laughed.

“Ah, nothing can fall out to-day,” she said. “Don’t you feel it, father?
Spring, spring--and--oh, the daffodils. And I have news.”

Then her face sobered suddenly.

“Two pieces of news,” she said, smiling again, unable not to be gay.
“The first is of Martin: he is engaged to be married. He asked me to
tell you. Stella Plympton, whom you met here. He wrote me just a line,
asking me to tell you.”

Her instinct was right to repeat that. Sharp as a knife, a father’s
jealousy had pierced him. He should have been told first; whatever his
disagreements with Martin, he, his father, ought to have been told
first. But that passed in a moment.

“Martin?” he said, gently. “The boy?”

“Yes; I thought of it like that. But he is really--oh, ever so old. As
old as I am.”

Mr. Challoner’s face relaxed.

“I had forgotten,” he said; “an immense age. What next, Helen?”

She looked up at him.

“Is that all you have to say?” she asked, feeling suddenly chilly and
disappointed.

“You think I am hard, Helen,” he said. “I try to be. But what next?”

Yes, it was chilly on these upland downs. She put her hat on.

“Just this,” she said. “I met Frank half an hour ago. He gave me
Martin’s note. I did not expect to see him. As far as I am concerned it
was quite accidental. I had no idea he was here. I had promised you not
to see him. That I could not help.”

She stopped, drew a long breath, and went on.

“I suppose I could have helped the rest,” she said. “I suppose it was
that I did not choose to help it. He stood aside for me to pass.
But--but I did not pass. I went to him. I let him kiss me. He stood
there with me. I thought I could not help it. Indeed, I thought that.”

For a moment Mr. Challoner’s hardness, his involuntary condemnation of
weakness of any sort, of failure to keep a promise, returned to him,
mixed with a very ugly thing, suspicion.

“And is this the first time you have seen or spoken to him or had any
communication with him?” he asked.

Helen raised her eyes to him in quiet surprise. No trace of resentment
or sense of injustice was in her voice.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “I should have told you otherwise.”

He looked at the sweet, patient face, struggling for a moment with this
worse self of his, which yet was so upright, so devoted.

“I know you would,” he said at last. “I don’t know why I asked you
that.”

Helen laughed.

“Nor do I,” she said.

“You and he have been very patient, Helen,” he said.

“Yes, till this morning I think we have,” she said. “But to-day,
perhaps, the spring was too strong for us both. Is it not in your blood
this morning, father? It is in mine.”

He smiled at her gravely.

“And a very suitable thing,” he said. “And summer comes next for you.
For you and Martin.”

“Yes, Martin too,” she said, with an appeal in her eyes. “Oh, father,
can’t we be all happy together again? We used to be.”

Mr. Challoner stood silent a moment, a sort of aching longing for all he
had always missed in Martin and a dim, bitter regret for all his own
missed opportunities of making the most of the human relation between
himself and his son rising suddenly within him. And he spoke with a
terrible quiet sincerity.

“I don’t think Martin used ever to be happy with me,” he said. “Once he
told me he was not happy at home. I don’t think that he ever was. It was
perhaps the fault of both of us, but it was certainly mine. I should
have done somehow differently. I think we never understood each other.
Nor can I understand him now. It is sad. I cannot reconcile what he has
done----“

He broke off again.

“There, dear, you must be getting on your way,” he said, “and I must be
getting home.”

But she detained him a moment more.

“Won’t you give me a little hope?” she said. “I thought last night that
perhaps, perhaps soon--and this news this morning----“

But her father disengaged her hand.

“I shall, of course, write to him,” he said, “and congratulate him. She
is a very charming girl. I think Martin is most fortunate.”

“Martin is very charming, too, remember,” said she.

Mr. Challoner walked swiftly homewards after Helen had left him, feeling
strangely and deeply moved by the news. He felt somehow that his
children were his children no longer; all the responsibility for them
had passed into other hands, and they themselves, light-heartedly,
eagerly, were now taking on themselves the responsibility for others. He
had thought of them always as a boy and a girl, each bound to obedience
to his will, dependent on him, without any real, individual existence of
their own. But within the last year first one and now the other was
passing out of his reach. Helen first and then Martin had acted for
themselves in direct defiance not only of his wish, but of that which
was the mainspring and motive of his life. She, it is true, by these
months of quiet, normal life at home had made a great change in him; her
disobedience to him personally had vanished from his mind, and, as he
had told her last night, though he believed no less strongly than before
that his conviction with regard to her marriage was the will of God for
him, he believed also, though he could not understand how, that she,
too, was acting consonantly to that same will. But with regard to
Martin, however he looked at his conduct, or whatever possible
interpretation he tried to put on it, he could not see light. He was
trivial, superficial, not in earnest about religious matters, just as he
had been in the rest of his education. Nothing, except music, which Mr.
Challoner could not frankly bring himself to regard as anything but a
mere æsthetic fringe, a mere ornament of life, had ever touched him
deeply. He had no depth, no seriousness. And now that boy, that child,
was going to be married, to take upon himself with the same
light-hearted _insouciance_ all the responsibilities of a husband and a
father.

How strange that they were twins! Helen developing every day in
patience, dutifulness, love; and Martin, still thoughtless, bent only on
the personal gratification of his musical tastes, and willing, so Mr.
Challoner bitterly put it to himself, to leave the English Church, the
mother of his faith, for the sake of a hymn-tune! He would write to him,
as he had said, but even now he could not see him. For he knew himself
well, and recognised, though he scarcely wished to cure his own
impatience, his anger at one who seemed to him to be going wrong
wilfully. On a point like this he could make no concession, for any
concession implied a failure of loyalty on his own part to his creed.

He had by this time entered the woods round Chartries, where the path
was wet and a little slippery under the trees, causing him to abate the
briskness of his pace. How different, how utterly different Helen had
proved herself. If only she could see the question of her marriage as he
saw it, how would his whole heart rise up in thankfulness. For though he
admitted here that both he and she might be right, he was still full of
disquietude and anxiety about it. Then suddenly, turning a corner, he
found himself face to face with her lover.

For a moment neither spoke. To Frank it seemed that if words even of
commonplace greeting were to pass between them it must be for Mr.
Challoner to make the beginning, while to the elder man the sudden shock
of seeing him inevitably awakened again, for the moment, the horror and
bitterness of their last interview. Under that his mouth was compressed
and tightened, a gleam almost of elemental enmity shone in his eyes,
and it seemed to himself that he would pass by Frank with averted head.
But then over that, veiling and softening it, there rose all that he had
been learning this winter, all that Helen had been teaching him, and as
he came close to Frank he paused. Then, with an effort that cost the
proud man something, he put his lesson into practice, and held out his
hand. And the strength and the big loveableness of the man was offered
with it, whole-heartedly.

“We shook hands last time we met, Lord Yorkshire,” he said. “Will you
not let me shake hands with you again?”

That done, that effort made, the rest was easier, for all that was
generous and sympathetic in Frank responded.

“Thank you,” he said, simply. “And I am not exaggerating, Mr. Challoner,
when I tell you that I know nothing in the world that could have
happened to me which could give me so much pleasure as this.”

Mr. Challoner still retained his hand.

“Do you know, you are a very good fellow?” he said. “You are very
generous to me. So has Helen been. I cannot tell you what she has been
to me all this winter. And I thank you very much for letting her be with
me, for not urging her otherwise. You have made it all as easy for her
as you can. You have been very unselfish, both of you. And I have been
making it very difficult for her.”

Frank was a good deal moved. There was a very noble and a pathetic
sincerity about this.

“I think you wrong yourself,” he said. “I am sure you wrong yourself. We
have all tried to--well, to do our best. And we all three of us know
that.”

But Mr. Challoner had more to say.

“I ask your forgiveness,” he said, simply, and his voice trembled a
little.

“Ah, don’t do that,” said Frank.

They stood there together a moment longer, under the flecked sunlight
filtering through the trees, suddenly brought close again, just as they
had been in that dreadful hour when Helen’s weakness made them forget
all else. But now the reconciliation went far deeper than it had gone
before. Then they had joined hands in ministering to the physical
suffering of one they both loved, but now they joined hands over an
appreciation not of weakness but of strength. The bond between them was
no longer a thing that could easily break. Poles apart as they still
were, that golden thread could scarcely be snapped.

“I met Helen just now,” said Mr. Challoner at length. “She told me she
had seen you, dear girl. She told me also the news from my son. Are you
busy? Will you walk with me a little way?”

Frank turned at once, and they went on down the steep path towards the
rectory.

“Have you seen Martin lately?” asked his father.

“Yes; I see him constantly in London.”

“Then can you tell me about him? _What_ is he? That is the thing I
puzzle and pray over. He joined the Roman Church, as you know, at
Christmas. I don’t think anything ever pained me more. But I should be
very glad to know if he is in earnest about it. Or does he take it as he
takes everything else? Do you understand it?”

“Yes, I think I do,” said Frank, and paused a moment. “It is this.
Martin demands beauty in all that is real to him. That is the ruling
instinct in his nature. And, in matters of religion, the Roman Church
seemed to him to supply that more than the church he left.”

“And it was for that he threw it over?” said Mr. Challoner. “And without
regret or struggle even?”

“He regretted very sincerely the pain it would give you,” said Frank.

Mr. Challoner waved this aside.

“That does not matter,” he said. “But otherwise without a regret?”

Frank let his silence unmistakably answer that before he went on.

“I know you will excuse me,” he said, “but I don’t think you quite
realise what Martin is or how the artistic instincts dominate him. Till
he fell in love, I don’t think he ever had any very poignant emotion
apart from them.”

Mr. Challoner’s face got even more grave.

“Simply, then,” he said, “he puts them above the love of God. I do not
understand how a Christian can do that. And I do not want to understand
it,” he added.

They had reached the rectory, and Mr. Challoner paused on the terrace
walk.

“Is he a good boy?” he asked, suddenly.

“Morally? Yes, I am sure of it.”

“How do you know that?” asked his father.

“Because I know his opinion about immorality. He feels very strongly
that it must blunt the artistic sense.”

Mr. Challoner winced as if in sudden pain.

“Ah,” he cried, “is that all? Dear God, is that all?”

“The result in the way of conduct is identical,” said Frank, quietly.

“Yes, yes; but are we not taught that works without faith are dead? Ah,
I beg your pardon; indeed I do, my dear fellow. I spoke without
thinking. I was thinking only of my poor Martin. Pray, forgive me. And
is he happy, do you think?”

“Yes, quite extraordinarily happy. He has fallen in love, too, with the
same white ardour that he brings to everything which appeals to him.”

Mr. Challoner considered this a moment, and then faced Frank.

“I want your opinion, Lord Yorkshire,” he said. “Do you think that any
good purpose would be served by my seeing Martin? I ask you for your
candid opinion--whatever it is or implies.”

“I think it depends entirely on yourself,” said Frank.

“You mean,--ah, pray tell me quite straight out. I shall be very
grateful.”

Frank looked at him with real pity. What he was going to say seemed very
cruel, but it seemed true.

“I mean this, Mr. Challoner,” he said, “that if you are quite certain
that the sight of Martin, or the possible issues into which talk may
lead you, will not again embitter you against him, you had far better
see him. Why not? There is all to be gained. But if your reconciliation
cannot be complete, if there is a chance of your getting angry with him,
and--frightening him--you had better not. You asked me to tell you
straight.”

“You think he is afraid of me? Has he told you?”

“I cannot help knowing it. If he has told me, you must take my word for
it that he has not told me in any disloyal way. And if I have hurt you,
I am very sorry.”

“No, I thank you for telling me,” said Mr. Challoner. “I think you are
right. I am afraid it is better I should not see him yet.”

He smiled rather sadly.

“I am afraid I have a great deal to learn yet,” he said. “I must take
myself in hand. But I dream about him, Lord Yorkshire, so often. And
always almost in my dreams I say things to him that frighten him.
Sometimes, it is true, we are great friends. Those are beautiful nights,
and I thank God for them. I so long to see his dear face again.”

“Those beautiful nights must find fulfilment in many beautiful days,”
said Frank.

“Yes; I hope that it is still possible. He was such a bright little
fellow when he was small. Always quick, always laughing. I had many
plans for him. I think all my life I have been rather too ready to push
other people into places I think suitable.”

       *       *       *       *       *

They had come to the far end of the terrace again, when from inside the
vicarage the gong sounded for lunch. Frank’s back was towards the house,
but the vicar, looking up, saw Helen, still hatless, coming towards them
across the lawn. And all the happiness of the morning, when she saw
these two together, all the spirit of spring, quivered and concentrated
itself into one rose-coloured point of joy. That was the best moment to
her in all the days of spring that were yet to come.

“You will stay to lunch, Lord Yorkshire?” said he.

“Thanks, so much; but I am afraid I ought to get back to Chartries. I
said I would be back.”

Mr. Challoner waited till Helen was close to them.

“Perhaps if Helen adds her voice to mine,” he said.

He turned quickly and saw her. And there was no need of words, but once
more the three stood together, hands clasped. This time the vicar did
not go back alone to his empty room.



CHAPTER XIII


Martin was seated alone with Stella in the drawing-room of her mother’s
house, eating muffins, thoughtfully but rather rapidly, while she poured
out tea.

“Fancy,” he said, “it is only a week ago since--since the party at Lady
Sunningdale’s, since I knew.”

“Knew what?” asked Stella, quite unnecessarily.

“Ah, I only know one thing now. I think I have forgotten everything
else.”

“Say it then,” said she.

“That I love you? Are you not tired of hearing me say that yet?”

She smiled, brought him his tea, and sat on the arm of his chair.

“I can’t believe that a woman can ever be tired of hearing that, if the
right man says it. Oh, Martin, how lucky it was you, and that it was I!”

Martin put his teacup down, having drunk with amazing speed.

“Why, who else could it have been?” he said; “how could it have been
otherwise?”

“No, I suppose not. Yet you didn’t know, as you call it, for a long
time. Supposing you had gone on not knowing?”

He leaned back in his chair looking at her, his black eyes shining in
the firelight.

“And when I did know, I frightened you,” he said.

“Yes, a little. But I loved it. You see, I had never seen you really in
earnest before, except when you were playing. You always put everything
you had or were into that.”

“I know. That is what Karl Rusoff told me. He told me to experience all
I could, because it would all go to make me play. He calls it spiritual
alchemy, like when you put a plant in the earth and water it, the earth
and the water are somehow turned into the blossom of that plant while
another plant would turn them into a different flower. In fact, darling,
you are going to come out of the ends of my fingers, whereas if I were a
great Greek scholar you would become iambics.”

He looked at her and his smile deepened into gravity.

“Oh, Stella, Stella,” he said, “did the world ever hold anything like
you?”

She leaned back till her face was close to his and put her arm round his
neck.

“Yes, yes; do that with me!” she said, “absorb me, let me become part of
you. Indeed, I want no other existence at all. Do you know the Persian
legend, how the lover knocked at the door of his beloved, and the
beloved said, ‘Who is that?’ and he replied, ‘It is I.’ And the one
inside said, ‘There is not room for two.’ Then he went away again, and
came back after a year, and knocked again. And again from inside the
voice said, ‘Who is that?’ But this time he said, ‘It is thou.’ So the
door was opened and he went in.”

“That is beautiful,” said Martin. “But, my word, fancy being able to
become music. And suppose one happened to become a song by Gounod. Only
that isn’t music,” he added.

Stella felt somehow suddenly chilled.

“Promise me I shan’t become a song by Gounod,” she said.

Martin looked at her in silence a moment. She had risen rather abruptly
from her position and was again sitting upright on the arm of his chair.

“And what do I become?” he asked. “What do you make of me? It is thou,
remember.”

Something that for the last three days had hung mist-like in Stella’s
mind suddenly congealed, crystallised, became definite.

“I don’t want you to become anything,” she said. “But I want you to Be.
I want you to be entirely yourself. I want you to get below your own
surface, to dive into yourself, to find pearls. And then to let me wear
them.”

“You mean I am shallow?”

“No, dear, I mean nothing of the kind. But, oh, Martin, don’t
misunderstand me. All you have got from life, all you have gained, all
you are you treat as fuel--you have said it--to burn in the furnace of
your one passion--music.”

Martin admitted this with a reservation.

“That was true,” he said, “till just a week ago.”

Stella rose from her place; sitting close to him, like that, she could
not say what she meant to say. Personal magnetism, her love for that
beautiful face, prevented her. So she went to the hearth-rug, under
pretence of poking the fire, and stood there with her back to it, facing
him. Then she spoke more quickly, with a certain vibration in her voice.

“And this last week,” she said, “a new and wonderful piece of music was
discovered by you. Yes, I put myself as high as that. But am I more
than that? Am I really?”

Martin’s forehead wrinkled slightly. Had it not been Stella who asked
him this he would have said the question was unreasonable. But before he
could reply she went on.

“Ah, dearest,” she said. “I asked you just now to absorb me, to make me
you. But I will not flow out of your finger-tips. Oh, I know you only
said that in jest, but in jest sometimes one strikes very near to truth.
Have you thought what you are to me, and what, if I am anything, I must
be to you. Something absolutely indispensable, your life, no less. Now,
supposing chords and harmonies were dumb to you forever, what would be
left of you? Tell me that.”

Martin’s expression grew puzzled. It was as if she asked him some
preposterous riddle without answer. How could he compare the two?

“How can I tell?” he said. “I suppose I should somehow and sometime
adjust myself to it, though I haven’t the slightest idea how. I can’t
imagine life, consciousness, without them.”

“And if I went out of your life?” she asked, unwisely, but longing for
some convincing answer.

In reply Martin got up and went close to her.

“You have often called me a fool,” he said, “and you have often called
me a child. I am both when you ask me things like that. But this foolish
child speaks to you, so listen. He does not know what it all means, but
he loves you. He knows no other word except that. Is that not enough? If
not, what is?”

Then once again the mastery of man overcame her. She wanted him so much,
more than any answer to her questions. The subtleties into which she
had tried to draw him he brushed aside; her woman’s brain, her woman’s
desire to hear him say that she was all, had spun them deftly enough,
but he blundered through them somehow, like a bumblebee through a
spider’s web, and came booming out on the other side. Theoretically,
anyhow, if he had been a woman, they must have caught him, he must have
struggled with them, felt their entanglement. As it was, she had failed.
Probably he labelled her fine spinnings “silly” in his own mind. But he
proceeded through them--still frowning a little.

“You ask me impossible riddles,” he said. “You might as well ask me
whether you would sooner tie your mother to the stake and burn her or
me. My darling, there is no sense in such things. Surely one can be
simple about love, just because it is so big. I know I love you, that is
enough for me. I told you that I know nothing else. That is sober truth.
But I cannot weigh things in balances. And, what is more, I won’t. Now
kiss me; no, properly.”

It must therefore be inferred that he got his way in this matter, for
when, two minutes later, Lady Sunningdale made her untimely appearance,
the two were again seated, Stella this time in the chair and Martin on
the arm.

“But famishing,” she said. “Yes, tea, please, dear Stella. Martin, you
monster, I haven’t seen you for days. Why I haven’t taken to drink I
don’t know, over all the dreadful things that have been happening. Would
you believe it,--Sahara had two puppies; but she couldn’t bear them, so
she ate one and starved the other. Well, it’s all over, but nobody in
the house has had a wink of sleep for the last week. And so you are
going to give a concert at last, Martin. I shan’t come. I hate my
private property being made public.”

“But charity,” said Martin.

“My dear, I know perfectly well what charity and St. James’s Hall means.
It means guinea tickets. Charity should begin at home, not at St.
James’s Hall. However, I daresay you will appropriate all the proceeds.
So near the Circus, too. Really, Piccadilly Circus is too fascinating. I
should like to have a house in the very centre of it, with a glass
gallery all round, and really see life. Yes, one more piece of
muffin,--not for myself, but for Suez Canal. Suez Canal is so lonely,
poor darling, without Sahara; but there is muffin _quand même_. Naughty!
I’m sure the servants feed him. And so everybody is to be married in
May. Fancy the Bear coming round like that--even Bears will turn--about
Helen and Frank. Apparently, they are quite inseparable,--the Bear and
Frank I mean, and tie each other’s bootlaces, and are converting each
other to Christianity and Atheism respectively. Bears and buns! Frank is
a bun, and the Bear has decided it is worth climbing up a pole to get
him. I think it is a mistake to have said that. Besides, it is
absolutely untrue. The Bear wouldn’t climb a yard to marry Helen to the
Czar. How terrible Russia must be, with everything ending in ‘owsky’! I
tried to flirt with the Bear myself, and had no success of any kind
whatever. Dear Suez! No Sahara. The world is a desert without Sahara.
But mayn’t I tempt you with a small piece of bun with sugar on the top?
How depressing marriages are!”

Lady Sunningdale sighed heavily.

“What is the matter?” asked Stella, sympathetically.

“I don’t know. Dearest, that Louis XVI. clock is too beautiful. I wish I
were a millionaire. Yes. I think I am depressed because everything is
going exactly as I planned it. There is nothing so tiresome as success.
You two children sitting there, Frank and Helen, all my own ideas, and
all going precisely as I wished. You are my idea, too, Martin, a figment
of my brain. I invented you. And you are going precisely as I wished.
Every one says nobody ever played the least like you. But the Bear is
still in a rage with you, is he not? That is so English. English people
are always in a rage about something, the state of the weather, or
France, or their children. I never get in a rage. I have no time for
that sort of thing. Stella dearest, I think it will have to be you to go
down to Chartries next, and induce the Bear to be propitiated. Heavens,
how dreadful it must be to have a very strong sense of duty! It must be
like toast-crumbs in your bed, after you have breakfasted there, when
one can’t lie comfortable for five minutes together.”

“No, I am the next,” said Martin. “I shall be staying with my uncle at
Easter, and shall try to see my father then. I daresay it will do no
good.”

“Do you really care?” asked Lady Sunningdale. “I really don’t see why
you should. He is unreasonable. I shouldn’t worry.”

Stella turned to Martin with a certain air of expectancy.

“Yes, I do care,” he said; “I care horribly. I care every day. I hate
being on bad terms with any one. I hate anger and resentment,” he added,
with a little quiet air of dignity, for he had not wholly liked Lady
Sunningdale’s remarks.

“That was one of Nature’s most extraordinary conjuring tricks,” she
said. “People talk of heredity; but put all the fathers of England in a
row, and ask any one to pick out Martin’s. The better they know either
of you, by so much the more will they pick out Mr. Challoner last of
all!”

Martin got up.

“Ah, don’t let’s talk about it,” he said; “it is not agreeable. I wish I
could laugh about it like you, but I can’t.”

Then, with a quick intuition, he turned to Stella.

“One can’t do any good by talking about it, can one?” he asked.

Something still jarred on the girl, due partly to their talk before Lady
Sunningdale came in.

“You have admirable common sense,” she said.

Lady Sunningdale caught on to this with her usual quickness. She knew
for certain from Stella’s tone that something had gone just a shade
wrong between them.

“And you find it rather trying, do you not, dearest Stella?” she said.
“Of course, Martin is the most trying person in the world; and if it
wasn’t for his ten fingers he would be absolutely intolerable. He is a
boy of about twelve, with dreadful streaks of common sense worthy of a
man of fifty who has left all his illusions behind him. Yes, monster,
that is you!”

Martin raised his eyebrows, his excellent temper slightly ruffled for
the moment.

“Indeed, I didn’t recognise it,” he said.

“Dear Martin, don’t be pompous. You didn’t recognise it because it
wasn’t flattering. They say we women are vain, but compared to
men---- Some women are vain of their appearance, it is true, and usually
without sufficient cause, but all men are vain of every attribute that
God has or has not endowed them with. Remember that, Stella, and if you
want to lead a quiet life, lay on flattery with a spade. They are
insatiable. Personally I don’t flatter Sunningdale, because I don’t in
the least want a quiet life. Tranquility is so frightfully aging and
makes one like an oyster.”

Martin had recovered his serenity.

“When I am dead,” he remarked, “you will be sorry for what you have
said. But why this sudden attack on me?”

“When you are dead you will see how right I was. But the attack--well,
chiefly because you haven’t provoked it. That is so tiresome of you. You
could see I wanted to quarrel, and you wouldn’t say anything I could lay
hold of. If I want to sit down, politeness ordains that you should give
me a chair. If you see I want to quarrel, politeness ordains that you
should give me a pretext. It is the worst possible manners not to. My
nerves are all on edge. When that is the case, the only thing to do is
to quiet them by being rude to other people. Dearest Stella, you look
too lovely this afternoon. Why you want to throw yourself away on Martin
I can’t think!”

“But you said just now it was your idea,” said Stella.

“I know it was, and a very foolish one. I never imagined you would take
it seriously. Besides, you know perfectly well that whenever a thing
happens that pleases me, I always say it is my own idea. My darling, did
I tread on you. How foolish of you to lie there. And when you are all
happily settled for, what am I to do next?”

The clock struck and Martin looked up.

“Gracious, I am late,” he said. “Karl was to give me a lesson at six.
You must say good-bye to me next, Lady Sunningdale.”

Stella got up, too.

“I’ll see you safely out of the house,” she said, and left the room with
him. Then, having closed the door, she paused, taking hold of the lappel
of his coat.

“Martin, you’re not vexed with me?” she asked.

“No; why? I thought you were vexed with me.”

“No, dear. I was vexed with myself, I think, and so I was horrid to you.
But, my dearest, give me all you can of yourself. I want so much, just
because it is you!”

Martin’s eyes kindled and glowed.

“It is all yours,” he said. “You know that. I wish there was more of it.
And there is more since--since a week ago.”

“Then I am content,” she said, “and that means a great deal. I think I
was rather jealous of pianos generally. And you forgive me? Yes?”

Lady Sunningdale, though often irrelevant from sheer irrelevancy, was
also sometimes irrelevant on purpose, using preposterous conversation,
as Bismarck used truth, as a valuable instrument to secure definite
ends. Just now, for instance, her attack on Martin had purpose at its
back, for she had seen quite distinctly that something had gone wrong
between him and Stella, and had made the diversion in order to prevent
the topic of friction, whatever it was, being subjected to further
rubbing. Providence had lent aid to her benevolent scheme, sending
Martin off to his music-lesson and leaving Stella alone with her. In
fact, her request to be told what she should do next needed no answer at
all, for she knew quite well that what she would do next was to get
Stella to confide in her and tell her all that had happened. She was a
great believer in talking things out; the important point, however, was
not that the principals should talk things out, which was, indeed, worse
than useless, but that they should severally talk it out with somebody
else. She wondered, and indeed rather hoped, that Martin might
simultaneously talk it out with Karl, for, as she had had occasion to
observe before, Martin’s music-lesson consisted chiefly of discussion on
character.

Stella returned in a moment, and Lady Sunningdale was irrelevant no
longer. She only took a preliminary circuit or two in the manner of a
homing pigeon before it takes the straight, unswerving line.

“Martin is simply absorbed in the thought of his concert,” she said.
“And he is going to play just _all_ the things that make me laugh and
cry. Personally, I shall go with five handkerchiefs and a copy of some
English comic paper. The handkerchiefs are for the tears I shall shed,
and the comic paper is to check my laughter when he plays the Paganini
Variations. Dear Stella, how very wise of you to marry a genius. You
will never be dull. But it is rather bold, too. Oh, please take Suez
Canal out of the grate; he is trying to commit suicide, I think, because
Sahara is not here. Yes. Geniuses are so unexpected and violent. It must
be like marrying somebody who keeps several full-sized flashes of
lightning about him, and also a large lump of damp clay. You never know
which you will put your hand on, and they are both so dreadfully
disconcerting.”

Stella picked Suez Canal out of the grate. Apparently he was putting
ashes on his head as a sign of mourning, and she dusted him carefully
before replying.

“I am disconcerted,” she said.

Lady Sunningdale never pressed for a confidence. “To show that you want
a thing,” she once said, “usually means that you are grudgingly given
half of it. But if you firmly turn your back on it, it is hurled at
you.” She turned her back now, using irrelevance again.

“It is nearly three years since I was disconcerted,” she said, “and the
terrible thing is that I quite forget what disconcerted me. I think it
must have been Sunningdale. Do you know he spoke in the House of Lords
the other day on one side, and then voted on the other. His reason was
that he felt his own remarks to be so feeble that he was sure there was
more to be said on the other side. But I believe he merely forgot. Yes.
That marble fireplace is so good. Surely it must be Adams’s.”

This was completely efficacious.

“Shall I bore you, if I talk to you?” asked Stella.

“No, dearest Stella. I love being talked to. What is it?”

“It is Martin,” said she.

The back view had done its part. Lady Sunningdale turned completely
round again.

“Dearest Stella,” she said, “pray put out the electric light. It is
rather strong in my eyes. Yes, Martin now!”

Stella felt as she turned out the light that this was exactly what she
wished. In the dim flickering firelight her thoughts, drawn to the
surface, became articulate more easily.

“He is just what you say,” she said. “You touch him, and never know
whether it is going to be lightning or clay. The lightning does not
disconcert me. But, dear Lady Sunningdale, the clay does!”

Lady Sunningdale was really immensely interested. She had her own
methods of getting the girl to rummage in the dark corners of her mind
and bring out all that was there, and she pursued them now.

“Clay is not really disconcerting,” she said; “it is only the
possibility of clay when you expect lightning. My own darling
Sunningdale is entirely clay. Of course there is clay in Martin; there
is in everybody. How have you managed to come across it? Because he has
singularly little.”

“Music is his lightning,” said Stella.

“Do you mean that the rest is clay?” asked Lady Sunningdale.

There was a pause, and Stella turned out an extremely dark corner in her
mind, something really quite below the stairs.

“What if I am?” she asked.

“Then, dearest Stella, you have only yourself to thank. He did not think
you clay anyhow a week ago. Else, why should he have asked you to marry
him? Or do you mean that Martin has changed since then?”

Again Stella paused.

“I must say it more simply,” she said. “Look at it in this way. What if
Martin _is_ music? if everything else to him is secondary to that?”

“Then he would have asked the complete works of Chopin to marry him,”
remarked Lady Sunningdale. “But, as far as I know, he didn’t. It occurs
to me that he asked you. And I know, I can feel it, that he is devoted
to you, really in love with you. Only don’t, for Heaven’s sake, let your
mind dwell for a moment on the relative positions that you and music
hold to him.”

“I have done worse than that,” said Stella. “I have asked him what
relative positions we hold. I did so to-day.”

“My dear, how insane! What did he say?”

“He told me not to talk nonsense. But is it nonsense?”

Lady Sunningdale drew a little nearer to the fire. All her kindliness,
all her good nature, and what was perhaps even more important, all her
tact and finesse, was enlisted on behalf of these two. She recognised to
herself that there was here in all probability only one of those tiny
misunderstandings which must occur between a man and a woman who are now
for the first time really learning each other. At the same time it
seemed to her quite important, if possible, to thoroughly dust, clean
out, and disinfect this dark little mental corner in Stella, for it
might easily contain the germ of a misunderstanding that would be by no
means trivial.

“Yes, it is nonsense,” she said, decidedly. “It is poisonous, suicidal
nonsense. You are exactly like the Bear. You don’t seem to grasp any
more than the Bear does what music means to Martin. It means, in one
word, ‘God.’ It is his religion,--and, good gracious, supposing he was a
bishop and you were going to marry him, you would not, I hope, be
jealous of his religion. And in music Martin is a very big bishop,
indeed! But in other respects--you forget this too--he is simply a
child. I can’t imagine what Martin will be like when he is middle-aged.
It is impossible to think of him as middle-aged. Martin and middle age
are not compatible terms. True, Karl says he has been having a good many
birthdays lately. I, too, think he has, but he has, so to speak, made
saints’ days of them all, and dedicated them to his religion. All but
one, that is to say.”

“And that one?” asked Stella.

“He had a birthday when he fell in love with you. That is yours; he has
given you that. My dear, he adores you. When you come into the room his
face is lit. Only, for Heaven’s sake, don’t worry him and question him
about his soul and his depth and the exact way in which he loves you. If
you insist, he will try to answer you, and his answers will be
dreadfully disappointing to you, because he doesn’t know anything about
it. To question him is like--it is like looking at light through a prism
or a spectroscope, splitting it up into rays, when instead you might be
sitting in the sun. Dear me, how very precise and definite I am
becoming. I mean exactly that--I hope I am not going to be ill.”

Stella laughed.

“Dear Lady Sunningdale, I hope not,” she said. “In any case, tell me
some more first.”

“My dear, I can’t talk sense to order. You must collect the extremely
valuable grains of gold in my conversation for yourself out of the
extraordinary mass of quite valueless material.”

“But he is disconcerting,” began Stella again.

“Ah, yes, but so quite certainly are you to him. Heaven, how dull it
would be if other people never disconcerted one. But I don’t think
Martin, though I am sure he must often find you disconcerting, would
ever say so.”

Stella flushed slightly.

“Is that a reproof?” she asked, gently.

“It certainly is, if it occurs to you that it may be, so pray, pray,
don’t deserve it again. Where is Suez? Oh, there. And don’t allow
yourself, ever allow yourself to think ‘What a pity there is an
occasional lump of clay.’ For, indeed, there is so much lightning. If
there wasn’t a little clay, I really think Martin would explode, go off
in spontaneous combustion. My dear, hours and hours of every day pass
for Martin at a pressure of which stupid people like you and I have no
conception. He recuperates by restful intervals, by being a mere boy
with huge animal spirits. You may thank your stars he does not
recuperate by being vicious or sulky. Most geniuses are morose and very
few are quite sane. Martin is quite sane, and even the Bear, who takes
the gloomiest possible view of him, couldn’t call him morose. Go down on
your knees, my dear, and be thankful.”

Stella was silent a moment. Then another corner was turned out.

“And there is no doubt about his genius?” she asked, at length.

“But what is the matter with you?” asked Lady Sunningdale. “You will ask
me next if I am quite sure he hasn’t got false teeth. Dearest Stella, do
drop this exacting, questioning attitude once and for all. I know
almost everybody has an occasional attack of it, but I am sure you will
pardon me, it is just that which makes people odious. It turns them
sour. For Heaven’s sake, don’t turn sour. Suez Canal is in the grate
again. Oh, naughty! Thank you, dearest. Yes, sour. Take things on broad,
indulgent lines. He loves you. That, on the whole, you believe to be a
true statement of the case. Well, then, surely that is good enough.
Don’t say, ‘Does his love measure six feet in height, or is it only five
foot eleven and three quarters.’ In fact, open the windows.”

Stella took this very attentively and very gravely.

“Dear Lady Sunningdale,” she said, “I am very grateful. I think you have
done me good. I had a little attack of indigestion in my mind. Do you
know, I never thought that you----“

“You never thought that I could think,” said she, “and I’m sure I don’t
wonder. But I can think when I choose. Just now the object of my thought
is to stop you thinking. Leave psychological questions alone when you
are dealing with Martin. Just open your mouth, shut your eyes, and see
what Martin will give you, as we used to say when children. You are a
most fortunate girl. Heavens, fancy having Martin in love with one!”

There was the ring of absolute sincerity about this, so true and
distinct that Stella wondered. She wondered still more when, on looking
at the other’s face, she saw that Lady Sunningdale’s eyes were full of
tears, which she openly mopped up with a square two inches of lace.

“Yes, real tears,” she said; “tears of extreme middle age, my dear. What
are they made of? Water, I suppose, with just a little jealousy and a
little youth still left in them, and adoration for genius and love of
beauty. In fact, they are the most complicated tears I ever heard of;
one or two like that from each eye and then it is over. Dearest Stella,
you are such a fool. One is always a fool till one is middle-aged, and
then one is young no longer. That is the tragedy of growing old. It is
almost impossible to be mature and young simultaneously. You are a fool
because you don’t know what a priceless, perfect gift has been given
you,--Martin’s love. I envy you intolerably; I gnash my teeth with rage.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want him in the least to fall in love
with me; and, to reassure you, I may say that even to my amorous eye
there does not appear to be the very slightest chance of it. But I gnash
my teeth because I am not young like you, so that he might fall in love
with me, and at the same time wise like myself, so that I should know
what to do with him.”

“Ah, tell me that; do tell me how to manage, how to behave,” said
Stella.

“I can’t. That is just it. There is another tragedy in this mismanaged
world, that nobody can teach any one else anything that is worth
knowing. You can’t teach me how to look young; I can’t teach you how to
be wise, how to appreciate, how not to worry. But Martin’s mind is like
a cut diamond: it absorbs whatever light--blue, green, red--is thrown
into it, and turns it by its own magic into inapproachable colour. That
colour is seen in his music. Oh, I have watched you often this last
week. You worry him and puzzle him, and I’m sure I don’t wonder, if you
ask him the relative places of music and you in his mind. Do you not
see how stupid that is? Answer me.”

Stella smiled.

“Oh, don’t rub it in,” she said. “Yes, it is idiotic.”

“My dear, you are so gentle that I feel a brute!”

“Please be a brute, then, just five minutes more,” said Stella.

“Very good. Do not take up this absurd position and say, ‘I am your
goddess, what incense have you got to burn before me this morning? Ah,
that is the second-quality incense! I thought so. How _could_ you?’ Be
much bigger than that. Suez! Recollect who it is who has paid you this
incomparable compliment of saying he wishes to see your face opposite
him at breakfast for the rest of his life, every day, every day. Go to
Karl Rusoff and ask him where he places Martin, if you do not believe me
about his genius. And when he has told you, hire the Albert Hall, fill
it with people, and tell them what Karl says. Then wait a couple of
years, hire the Albert Hall again, and repeat again what Karl told you.
And every single person in the hall will say, ‘Why, of course. We knew
that.’”

Stella was silent a moment.

“Then, must I burn incense before him?” she asked. “The very best
incense. I should love to do that!”

Lady Sunningdale restrained a movement of impatience.

“My dear, you are the one person in the world who must not burn
incense,” she said. “An incense-burning wife is like dram-drinking to a
man. You are to be his wife. That means a good deal. But you are to be
his comrade. That means much more. He and Helen! Why he did not get
Helen to come and live with him, and--well, not marry at all, I don’t
know. Perhaps Frank would object. Men are all so selfish.”

“Do you mean he has chosen badly?” asked Stella.

“No, dear; and it is silly to say that. What I meant was that I wonder
why he wanted to marry at all, why a nature like that has need of
anybody else. If I was like Martin, I should never see a soul, but
contemplate my own wonderfulness. However, he did want somebody else.
And he chose you, you fortunate girl.”

“I ought to be very happy, then?” she asked.

“Ah, I don’t say that. Perhaps you will be divinely, ecstatically
discontented. Happiness is rather a bovine quality, I always think. It
implies not wanting. Any one with imagination must always want. Yes.
Dear me, I came here to say something, and I forget what--I have said a
good deal, but not it. Dearest Stella, do you forgive me? At least, for
my own creature comfort, I want you to forgive me; but essentially I
don’t care, as I know I am right.”

“No, I don’t forgive you,” said the girl, “but I thank you.”

Lady Sunningdale struggled to her feet out of her very low chair.

“That is sweet of you. Yes, Suez, my darling, we are going home to
din-din and Sahara. Ah, I remember. I want you and your mother to join
us at Cannes for a fortnight at Easter. Sunningdale’s villa is really
quite comfortable, and you can look at the Mediterranean and meditate.
Ask her to send me a line about it, but come yourself in any case. The
Southern sun always melts my brains, and liquid wisdom flows from my
lips in practically unlimited quantities. Why don’t we all live at
Cannes, among the palms and that sort of thing. If you can’t come, I
shall ask Martin; but I don’t mean to have you together. You will be
quite enough together afterwards. Dear me, how screaming Martin will be
as the master of a house! Good-bye, darling Stella. Yes, pray, turn up
the lights, otherwise I shall crash my way through priceless furniture
and tread on Suez Canal.”



CHAPTER XIV


Karl Rusoff had experienced a good deal of inward anxiety, which he was
very careful to keep entirely to himself, for several days before
Martin’s concert, for the thought of it, as the day got near, had
agitated and excited the latter to the point of making him lose his
sleep and his appetite. Though Karl knew quite well that an artist does
his best, as a rule, under the spell of excitement, more, that any
notable achievement can hardly be compassed without it, yet in the
present case Martin himself was naturally so highly strung and his
excitement had become acute so many hours before he was to make his
appearance that his master could not help silently wondering whether he
could stand the strain of it till the day came. At other times again
Karl, knowing Martin’s serene, splendid health, found consolation in
telling himself that the tighter and more tense his nerves got the more
wonderful would his playing be. Even during the last week or two he had
made such an enormous advance in his general grasp that Karl knew that
he himself would be bitterly disappointed if this extraordinary youth
did not on his very first appearance legitimately and justifiably take
musical London by storm. At the same time he knew that he himself would
give a very deep sigh of relief when Martin had got through, say, the
first three minutes of his recital. That safely past, he was sure that
the mere feel of the familiar notes would occupy him to the exclusion
of all agitation.

Only a quarter of an hour before he was to come on to the platform Karl
was with him in the artist’s room, trying to occupy his mind in talk,
but watching him with ever-increasing nervousness, as he walked up and
down like a caged animal between door and window. Once Martin took out a
cigarette, bit the end off as if it were a cigar, and threw it away.
Then he asked a question, paid not the slightest attention to the
answer, and finally sat down on the edge of the table. His face was
flushed, his eyes very bright; had not it been that Karl knew how
excited he was, he would have thought he was ill.

“I shall break down,” he said. “Look at my hands; look how they tremble.
I can’t keep them still. I could no more play a series of octaves than I
could fly. It would be like the ‘Tremolo’ stop on Chartries organ.”

“My dear boy, I have told you that that does not matter in the slightest
degree,” said Karl. “The moment you touch the notes that will cease
absolutely. Why, even now my hands always tremble before I begin!”

Martin apparently was not listening.

“And I have not the remotest notion how the ‘Études Symphoniques’
begin,” he said.

Karl tried to laugh, but he was not very successful. As a matter of fact
he was quite as nervous as Martin.

“That’s a great pity,” he said, “as you open with it. I don’t know
either.”

But Martin did not smile.

“What will you do if I break down?” he said; “if I can’t begin? It is
more than possible.”

“I shall hiss; I shall boo; I shall demand the return of my money,” said
he.

But Martin still remained perfectly grave.

“Ah, don’t,” he said; “the others may boo if they like, and I shan’t
mind--much. But I couldn’t stand it if you did.”

“Did you drink a good, stiff glass of whiskey-and-soda for lunch, as I
told you to?” demanded Karl.

“I tried to, but I should have been dead drunk if I had gone on. So what
will you do if I break down?” he asked again. “You told me, but I have
forgotten.”

Karl rose from his chair.

“I shall break my heart, Martin,” he said.

Then he spoke to him quickly, peremptorily, seeing he was really on the
verge of hysterics.

“We’ve had quite enough of this nonsense, my dear boy,” he said. “If you
give me any more of it, I shall lose my temper with you. You are not
going to break down, I forbid you, and you are to do as I tell you. You
are going to play your very best,--better than you have ever played
before. Now I must get to my place. Give them five minutes law before
you appear, and as soon as I see the top of your black head coming up
the stairs I shall have all the doors closed till the end of the Études.
We’ll have no interruptions; they are frightfully distracting. You know
where I shall be sitting, don’t you? Bow twice, right and left, walk
straight to the piano, and begin instantly, without playing any fluffy
arpeggios. It is going to be a great day for you. And for me.”

Martin looked despairingly round.

“Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,” he said. “Can’t you sit by me?”

“And hold your hand? Ah, this is altogether childish!”

For the first time the shadow of a smile crossed Martin’s face.

“I know it is,” he said. “I can just, just see that. I think I had
better try to be a little man for a change.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The hall was crammed to overflowing, as if some pianist of world-wide
fame was to make his appearance, and not a young man who had never
performed in public before. Several causes had contributed to this, the
first and most important being that Mr. Martin Challoner was actually a
pupil of Karl Rusoff’s, who for years had never consented to teach.
Furthermore, Karl Rusoff had the very highest opinion of
him,--exaggeratedly high perhaps, since he was his pupil,--and had not
only allowed, but wished him to give a concert. Surely, then, he would
run no risks; Martin Challoner must have some merit. In addition, no
English pianist of more than mediocre powers had appeared for years, and
patriotism called. Finally, for the last fortnight Lady Sunningdale had
worn her coachman to a shadow and her horses to skin and bones, so
incessantly and unintermittently had she driven about, first of all to
the houses of her intimates, then of her ordinary friends, and lastly of
the merest acquaintances, practically insisting that they should all
appear. Karl Rusoff had done what he could to discourage this, but his
efforts were totally void of effect, for Lady Sunningdale had told him
that it was her “duty” to do her best for Martin. She seldom used the
word “duty,” but when she did, it might be defined as anything she was
irrevocably determined to do, from which no argument could move her.

So for the first time Martin found himself in that unspeakable position
of being alone on the shore of a sea of faces, the owners of which had
paid money in anticipation of the pleasure he had undertaken to provide
for them. Opposite him, a few yards off only, but looking misty and
unreal, was the Steinway Grand, and he found himself wondering what on
earth it was for. When he remembered, he felt towards it as a condemned
man may feel when he sees the execution shed, at a few minutes before
eight. Then he bowed in answer to a very fair reception, and walked
straight to the piano. He glanced at his programme, and saw he had to
begin with Schumann’s “Études Symphoniques.” He sat down, waited a
moment for silence, and began.

He played one bar only and then stopped. He had not the very faintest
idea of how it went on, and in a sort of mild despair--he felt as if his
powers of feeling were packed in cotton wool--looked down to where Karl
was sitting in the third row. Those great grey eyes were fixed on him
with an expression of supreme appeal; he could see the master’s hands
clutching convulsively at the back of the seat in front of him. And at
that sight, at the sight of the agony Karl was in, Martin was able for
one moment to forget himself and all the bewildering crowd of faces. So,
fighting against the paralysis that was on him, no longer for his own
sake, but for Karl’s, he again turned to the piano.

But still he could think of nothing, nothing; he could not even
remember the first bar that he had played just now, and he bit his lip
with his teeth till the blood came, saying to himself, “It will break
his heart; it will break his heart.” The numb, dulled sense was gone, in
that half-minute he endured an agony of years.

Then, quite suddenly, like the passage of the sun from behind some black
cloud, all came back to him, and he sat still a moment longer, in sheer
happiness. At the concentrated thought of what Karl was suffering, his
nervousness, his paralysis of mind went entirely from him, and with
complete certainty, with the assured knowledge, too, that he was going
to play his very best, he began again.

At the end of the slow Thema he paused, looked up at Karl and smiled
nearly to laughing-point at him, pushed back the plume of hair that
drooped over his forehead, and--played. And at that smile and at the
gesture that was frequent with him, Karl gave one immense sigh of relief
that Martin could hear. But now it meant nothing to him: he was busy.

Martin’s face, during those few horrible moments, had grown absolutely
colourless, so that Karl had thought, and almost wished--for so the
public shame would be lessened and people would be compassionate--that
he was going to faint. For when for the second time Martin had turned to
the piano and still could not begin, he believed for that moment that
the boy could not pull himself together; that unless he fainted he would
simply have to walk off the platform again. But now the colour came
back, slowly at first, then, with sudden flushes, the dead apathy of his
face changed, and began to live again. Soon his mouth parted slightly,
as if wondering at the magic of the music which blossomed like roses
underneath his flying fingers. Once or twice between the variations he
brushed back his hair again; once he looked up at Karl, with the
brilliant glance his master knew and loved, asking with his eyes, “Will
that do? Will that do for _you_?” before he went on interpreting to the
breathless crowd the noble joy which must have filled the composer as he
wrote. Full of artistic triumph as Karl’s life had been, never before
had it mounted and soared so high as now, when not he, but his pupil,
held the hall enchained.

And in that moment his own ambitions, which he had so splendidly
realised for so long, dropped dead. He and Martin, he knew now, were
master and pupil no longer; it was the master’s turn--and with what
solemn joy he did it--to sit and learn, to hear--and he longed for a
myriad ears--what was possible, for even Martin had never played like
that before. Even admiration was dead; there was no room for anything
except listening. Admiration, wonder, delight, laughter of joy might
come when the last note had sounded, but at present to listen was
enough.

Martin held the last chord long. Then he took both hands off, as if the
keys were hot, and rose, facing the hall. For him, too, just then,
personal ambition was dead; he had played, as David played before Saul,
in order to drive from his master’s face the demon of agony that he had
seen there. And he looked not at Stella, not at Lady Sunningdale, not at
Frank and Helen, nor did his eyes wander over the crowded rows, but
straight at Karl, while the hall grew louder and louder, till the air
was thick with sound, still asking him, “Did I play it well?” And when
Karl nodded to him, he was content, and bowed in front of him and to
right and left, thinking “How kind they all are!” He caught Stella’s eye
and smiled, Frank’s, Helen’s, Lady Sunningdale’s. Then he sat down at
the piano again.

But it was quite impossible to begin, and for his own amusement (for
now, it must be confessed, he was enjoying himself quite enormously), he
struck an octave rather sharply and heard not the faintest vibration
from the strings above the uproar. So he rose again, bowed again, and
still bowed, and bowed still, till he felt like a Chinese mandarin, and
knew everybody must think so, too. Then he sat down and waited till the
phlegmatic English public had said “thank you” enough.

A ten minutes’ interval had been put down on the programme, and tea was
waiting for him in the room below. But he forgot all about it, and went
straight through. The recital was carefully chosen not to be too long,
and in the ordinary course of events the audience would have been
streaming out into the street again after an hour and a half. But they
refused to stream; Martin gave one _encore_, and after a pause a second,
but he was still wildly recalled. Once before in the summer he and Helen
had sent “London” mad about them; this afternoon he did it alone. And,
at last, in a despair that was wholly delightful, as the hush fell on
the house again, when he sat down for the fourth time, he played “God
save the King” solemnly through, and his audience laughed and departed.

Lady Sunningdale found that she had burst her left-hand glove and lost
her right-foot shoe when she came to take stock of what had happened, as
Martin finally retired after “God save the King.” Karl was sitting next
her.

“Don’t speak to me, anybody,” she said, “because there is nothing
whatever to say. That is Martin. I knew it all along. Yes, a shoe, so
tiresome, I don’t know how it happens. Thank you, Monsieur Rusoff.
Stella dear, we start from Victoria to-morrow morning, not Charing
Cross. What did I tell you when we talked last? Do you not see? That is
Martin. If any one speaks to me, I shall slap him in the face and burst
into floods of tears. I should like to see that darling for one moment,
just to tell him that he has not been altogether a failure. Which is the
way? I suppose he is drinking porter now, is he not? or is it only
singers who do that? Eight o’clock, Stella. Quarter to eight, Frank,
because you are always late. Dearest Helen, how is the Bear? Yet Martin
has only got eight fingers and two thumbs like the rest of us. And was
it not too thrilling at the beginning? I knew exactly how he felt. It
was pure toss-up for just one moment whether he would be able to play at
all or send us empty away like the “Magnificat.” Through this door,
isn’t it?”

Karl Rusoff showed her the way through the short passage into the room
where two hours ago he had sat with Martin on the verge of hysterics.
But now a great shout of boyish laughter hailed them, and Martin went up
to Karl, both hands outstretched.

“Ah, it was you who pulled me through,” he said. “I couldn’t have begun
otherwise. But it hurt you so dreadfully. I--I felt it hurt you. And
shall I ever play like that again? I never played like it before!”

Karl looked at him a moment without speaking. Then he raised the boy’s
hands to his lips and kissed them.

“I mean that,” he said. “Ah, Martin, how I mean that!”

Martin stood quite still. Had such a thing ever suggested itself as
possible to him he would have felt ready to sink into the earth with
sheer embarrassment. But now, when the unimagined, the impossible had
happened, he felt no embarrassment at all.

“You did it all,” he said, simply. “Thank you a hundred thousand times.”

Then the pendulum swung back again, and he was a boy himself, and
boyishly delighted with success.

“Oh, I enjoyed it all so,” he said. “After that first terrible minute, I
just revelled in it. Can’t I give another concert this evening?”

Here Lady Sunningdale broke in,--

“You not only can, but you must, after dinner,” she said. “Martin, you
played really nicely to-day. I am going to begin to practise to-morrow
morning. Scales. No, not to-morrow morning, because I shall be otherwise
engaged on the English Channel. Why can’t they run a large steam-roller
over the sea between Dover and Calais? Nobody can tell me. However, I’m
told it is rather healthy than otherwise. My dear, red velvet sofas, tin
basins, Stella, and I. Also Suez Canal. Sahara is not yet in a fit
state. It is too terrible. Eight o’clock to-night, Martin. And I shall
never forgive you for this afternoon. You gave me the worst five minutes
I ever had.”

“I tried to make up for it,” said he.

Lady Sunningdale turned quickly back in the doorway.

“I adored you,” she said. “And next time I shall wear large eights.
Perhaps they will not burst quite so soon.”

Martin turned a thirsty eye on Karl when she had gone.

“And can I have my whiskey-and-soda now?” he asked. “I want it
frightfully.”

Then quite suddenly his face changed, as if a lamp had been put out. He
looked tired, worn out.

“And I have such a headache,” he said. “I think I have had it two days,
but was too excited to think about it. It went away altogether when I
was playing. But it has come back in force!”

Karl rang the bell.

“Yes; you want a good rest,” he said; “you are tired without knowing it;
you have been living on your nerves the last day or two. But anything
worth doing is worth being tired over. Dear boy, I hope your headache is
not really bad. Anyhow, you have done the thing worth doing. Don’t go
out to-night. Go back home, and go to bed early.”

Martin shook his head, smiling.

“Ah, I won’t give up an hour of to-day for fifty headaches,” he said.
“Besides, Stella and Lady Sunningdale leave to-morrow. My father was not
at the concert, I suppose?”

“No; not that I know of.”

“I sent him a ticket, although I thought he would not come. He does not
even approve of my wasting my time at the piano,” he added, with an
irritability to which this horrible stabbing pain in his head
contributed.

He drank his whiskey-and-soda with feverish thirst.

“And I had better have left that unsaid,” he remarked. “Now I shall go
home, I think, and sleep off my headache before dinner. But I must just
look at the platform once more.”

He ran up the steps, and looked round the empty hall. The lights were
being extinguished, and gangway carpets being rolled up. The Steinway
Grand still stood there, and he felt somehow as if he were saying
good-bye to it.

“Well, that is done,” he said to himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Sunningdale and Stella left London for the Riviera next morning,
and later in the day Martin went down to his uncle’s at Chartries, and
Helen back home to the vicarage. The reaction from the excitement of the
last few days had left him, naturally enough, rather indolent and tired,
and also, naturally enough, rather irritable and disposed--not to put
too fine a point on it--to be cross. He found the railway carriage
insufferably hot, and pulled down a window; that, however, made it
draughty, and he changed his seat, and sat with his back to the engine.
This was no good, because for some unexplained reason it made him feel
ill, and changing back once more, he fell into a heavy sleep that lasted
till they got to their station. Even then the stopping of the train did
not arouse him, and Helen had to shake and poke him into consciousness,
for which kind office she got growled at.

But he had come to Chartries with the definite object of seeing his
father, and while Helen’s luggage was being put into the pony-cart from
the vicarage the two talked this over.

“It’s no use putting it off,” he said, “so will you tell father that
unless I hear from him to stop me, I will come over to-morrow afternoon
to see him. And I hope,” he added, with his usual candour, “that my
temper will be a little improved by then. Lord, how cross I feel! And
this time yesterday I was in the middle of it all.”

Helen looked at him a moment rather anxiously.

“You’re all right, aren’t you, Martin?” she said; “not ill?”

“Ill? No. But I’m all on edge and I’ve got two headaches. It’s rather
cold waiting here. I think I’ll walk on and let the carriage catch me
up. Good-bye, Helen; see you to-morrow.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Martin woke next morning, after long, heavy sleep, with the same sense
of lassitude and tiredness which had oppressed him all the day before
and the same headache lying like a hot metallic lump inside his head,
pressing the back of his eyes. The man who called him had brought him a
couple of letters and a note from his father, which had been sent over
from the vicarage. He opened this first.

     “MY DEAR MARTIN,--Helen has given me your message, that you wish to
     see me. I have thought about it very carefully, and I wish to tell
     you quite candidly the conclusion I have come to.

     “You know what I felt about your going over to the Roman Church; I
     feel that all still, and as strongly as ever. You have deliberately
     left your own church, and for reasons, as far as I can understand,
     which are frivolous and unessential. And I am afraid--I know in
     fact--that if I saw you I should, without being able to help
     myself, express to you what I feel. Now, I do not think this would
     do any good, it would only widen the gulf between us; and one of
     the great aims of my life now is to do the opposite. I do not
     suppose my opinion will ever change, it cannot, in fact, but in
     time I shall, I suppose, get more used to what has happened, and
     shall be able to see you without bitterness. At present I am
     unwilling to tear open a wound which may be beginning to heal. But
     all this is to me still so keen a daily and hourly pain that I feel
     sure we should be wiser not to meet yet. But Helen, of course, is
     quite free to come and see you, and you to come and see her.

     “It gives me great pain to write this. But I cannot separate you
     from what you have done.

     “I am rejoiced to hear from her of the great success of your
     concert. Personally, as you know, I have no educated taste in
     music, but I gather that your master is satisfied both with your
     progress and your industry, which is more important than success.

     “My dear boy, I wish I could see you; I wish I could trust myself!

                          “Your affectionate father,

                                             “SIDNEY CHALLONER.

     “P.S.--Your Aunt Clara, I am sorry to say, is in bed with a sharp
     attack of influenza.”

Martin read this through twice before he got up; then he dressed, his
cold bath making him shiver, and went downstairs. The sight of his own
face in the looking-glass, as he brushed his hair, was somehow rather a
shock to him; it did not look exactly ill, but it was unfamiliar, it
looked like the face of somebody else. His uncle was not yet down, and
he strolled out on to the terrace, waiting for him, into the warm, windy
sunshine of the April morning. But here again he had the same impression
of unfamiliarity: the sun did not feel to him the same, nor did the
sunshine look the same,--both light and colour had an odd dream-like
unreality about them. It was as if some curious, hard barrier had been
put up between his sense of perception and that which he perceived.
Then, with a feeling of relief, he remembered his father’s postscript.
Probably he had influenza, too.

That explanation, or the divine freshness of the morning, made him feel
rather better, and half-laughing at himself for his vague fear that
there was something really wrong with him, he went indoors again. People
were coming to stay at Chartries that afternoon, but this morning he and
his uncle were alone. Lord Flintshire was already seated at breakfast
when he came in.

He gave him his father’s letter to read, unconscious that his uncle
looked rather closely at him as he entered, being also struck by a
curious drawn look in his face, but he said nothing on the subject, and
read the letter through.

“I think your father is wrong about it,” he said, “and if you approve, I
will tell him so. There is surely no need to enter into theological
discussion. You want just to see him and shake hands with him.”

Martin had taken some fish, but gave it up as a bad job, and drank tea
instead.

“Yes, just that,” he said. “I hate being on bad terms with anybody,
especially him.”

Lord Flintshire looked at him again.

“The boy’s ill,” he said to himself. Then aloud,--“Well, let us walk
over after breakfast, if you feel inclined. You can see Helen while I go
in and talk to your father. You don’t look particularly fit this
morning, Martin. Anything wrong?”

“I feel beastly,” said Martin, with directness. “I shouldn’t wonder if I
had got influenza, too.”

“Are you sure you feel up to coming over? Yes, your father mentions that
Clara has got it. If the doctor is there, he might just have a look at
you. Or, if you don’t feel up to coming, I would send him back here.”

Martin pulled himself together. The tea had made him feel quite
distinctly better.

“Oh, no, I’m quite up to it,” he said. “Probably the doctor will tell me
to go for a long walk and eat a big dinner. And I should like to see my
father as soon as possible, and get it over. It will all be easier after
that.”

His uncle got up.

“Shall we start in half an hour, then? We shall be sure to catch him
before he goes out. Cigarette?”

“No, I think not, thanks,” said Martin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their way lay down through the woods where Helen and Frank had met a
month ago, and the gracious influence of springtime had gone steadily
forward with the great yearly miracle of the renewal of life. The green
that had then hung mist-like round the trees was now formed and definite
leaf, exquisitely tender and clear, and in this early morning hour
shining with the moisture and dews of night. Daffodils still lingered in
sheltered places and the delicate wood-anemone flushed faintly in the
thickets. Below the chalk-stream, where Martin last summer had spent
that hour of self-revelation, was brimful from bank to bank of hurrying
translucent water, which combed the subaqueous weeds and turned to
topazes the yellow pebbles and into heaps of pearl the beds of chalk
that flashed beneath the water. But this morning he was heavy-eyed and
clogged of brain; he felt that somebody else was seeing these things,
that somebody else was putting foot in front of foot, while he himself
had dwindled to a mere pin-point set in the centre of a great lump of
hot metal which filled his head. Sometimes this body that was once his
felt sudden flushes of heat, sometimes it shivered for no reason. Then,
after an interminable walk, so it seemed to him, they turned through the
church-yard and went up the gravel path that ran to join the carriage
sweep in front of the vicarage door. And, in spite of all, it was with a
wonderful sense of coming home that Martin saw the grey creeper-covered
walls again, the long box-hedge, and the croquet-lawn wet and shining
with dew in the sun.

“I’ll wait out here while you see my father,” said he. “Perhaps you
would tell Helen I am here.” And he sat down all of a heap on a garden
seat.

This tired, spiritless boy was so utterly unlike Martin that his uncle
felt suddenly anxious.

“Are you feeling bad, Martin?” he asked. “Do you feel faint? Hadn’t you
better come indoors?”

“Oh, no. I shall be better when I’ve rested a minute. But my head aches
so. Lord, it gets worse every minute.”

Lord Flintshire left him and went straight to Mr. Challoner’s study,
where he was at work.

“Good-morning, Sidney,” he said. “I have come over with Martin, who
wants to see you. I also want you to see him; but we can talk of that
afterwards. Now, is the doctor in the house? Martin is not at all well.
He looks to me very ill. He----“

But at that word there was no longer any thought of “talking of that
afterwards.” All that was human and tender, all that was loving, all
that there was of “father” in Mr. Challoner sprang to that call.

“Dear lad, where is he?” he said. “Yes; the doctor is with Clara now. He
will be out in a minute. But where is Martin? I must go to him.”

Lord Flintshire just laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“I knew you would, Sidney,” he said. “He is outside by the front door.”

Martin had dropped heavily on to the garden seat, and sat there with his
eyes closed. That lump of hot metal in his head had grown larger and
hotter; he felt as if something must burst. And he was so terribly
tired; his walk had not done him the least good. Then he heard quick
steps behind him on the gravel, but simply could not be troubled to look
round. And then came his father’s voice.

“My dearest lad,” he said, “come indoors at once.”

Martin sat up with a jerk, and some chord of old memory twanged on the
surface of his brain.

“You’re not angry with me, father?” he said, nervously.

Mr. Challoner bit his lip to stifle the exclamation of pain that rose
bitterly within him.

“Angry?” he said. “What put that into your dear old head? There, Martin,
take my arm, and lean on me. Come inside out of the wind. There, old
boy, steadily; there’s plenty of time. I hope we shan’t have you down
with influenza, too. But it’s the luckiest thing in the world. The
doctor is here now with your aunt, and he shall have a look at you.”

But it needed all Mr. Challoner’s courage to get through with this
cheerful chattering. Martin looked terribly ill to him. But he got him
into his study, arranged the cushions on the sofa he so seldom used
himself, and made him lie down.

“Ah, that’s better,” said Martin. “Thanks, thanks ever so much, father.”

He held out his hand to his father, who pressed it, and his voice
trembled a little as he answered.

“God bless you, my dear lad, for wanting to come and see me,” he said.
“Now, is there anything you want? I shall send Dr. Thaxter to you as
soon as he leaves your aunt.”

Dr. Thaxter was a merry, rosy-faced little man with a manner so
reassuring that one felt quite well directly, and in a few minutes he
came bustling into the room.

“Ah, Mr. Challoner,” he said, “your father tells me you are a bit
knocked up. Not uncommon in this spring weather. Quite right to lie
down. There, put that under your tongue, and don’t bite it.”

He adjusted the thermometer and went chattering on.

“And you’ve walked over from Chartries with your uncle, have you? Fine
place that, and a fine healthy situation. Of course, you only came down
yesterday. I saw the account of your concert in the paper. Ah, I wish I
had been there. Now, I think we’ve given the thermometer long enough.
Thank you. And you feel rather----“

The little doctor stopped suddenly in the middle of his sentence when he
saw what was recorded on it.

“You have a headache, I think your father said.”

“I have nothing else, I think,” said Martin.

Dr. Thaxter drew a chair close to the sofa, and sat down, looking at him
very closely.

“Ah, yes; that is to be expected with a little fever. You are rather
feverish. Now, when did you begin to feel ill? When did you first feel a
headache? Try to tell me all about it.”

“Oh, five days ago now. No, six, I think. I don’t think I felt anything
else, except that everything seemed rather queer all the time.”

He made a movement to sit up, but the doctor gently pressed him back
again.

“Better not sit up,” he said. “You’ll be far more comfortable lying
down. And you can tell me nothing else? Just a bad headache.”

“Am I ill?” asked Martin, suddenly. “Really ill, I mean? What’s the
matter with me?”

“My dear Mr. Challoner, I can’t possibly tell you, because I don’t know.
And when one doesn’t know, one takes precautions against anything that
it may conceivably be. Perhaps it is influenza. If it is, it’s a pretty
sharp attack. I wonder at your being able to walk over this morning.
Now, will you promise me to lie quite still while I just go and talk to
your father and settle with him what we shall do with you.”

The little doctor went quietly out of the room and across the hall to
the drawing-room. Helen, her father, and Lord Flintshire were all there.
He did not look quite so brisk and cheerful as he had done before he saw
Martin.

“He has a very high temperature,” he said; “much higher than I like. It
may, of course, be an attack of influenza. I have seen cases of it with
temperatures higher than that. But he must be nursed as if something
more serious was the matter. He has probably had a temperature for
nearly a week.”

Mr. Challoner turned to him almost fiercely.

“What is it?” he said.

“It may be several things. Perhaps I can tell you when I have seen him
again, when we have got him to bed. Now, there is a good spare-room in
this house?”

“Yes; his own,” said Helen.

“Very well; he must be moved there, just as he is, without getting up.
If you and Lord Flintshire will help me, we will do it at once. And is
there a room where a nurse can sleep?”

Helen took a step nearer him.

“Is it typhoid?” she asked.

“I am afraid it may be. It looks very like it.”



CHAPTER XV


It was very early, only a little after six, and the sun had risen on a
day exquisite, warm, and windless. In Martin’s room the big window had
been open all night, and all night the blind had not once rattled or
stirred, while the lamp on the table near it burned steady without a
flicker. But though it had been light for nearly an hour, the nurse had
only this moment put out the lamp, for she had been alert, quick, and
watchful, unable to leave his bedside for a moment for the last four
hours.

He had been very restless, attempting again and again to sit up in bed,
and it had needed not only all her care but all her strength to keep him
lying down. All night long, too, that terrible uncontrollable twitching
of the muscles of leg and arm had gone on incessantly, and again and
again, for ten minutes or more at a stretch, she had kept one arm with
steady pressure over those poor, jumping knees, while she held the other
ready to prevent his getting up. It had been all she could do, in fact,
to manage him alone, but she had been unwilling, except at the last
extremity, to rouse Nurse James from the next room, for she had had a
terribly tiring day yesterday with him. Yesterday, too, a second doctor
had come down from London. The case was extremely grave, but all that
could be done was being done.

Martin was lying rather more quiet just now, and Nurse Baker had moved
from the bed to put out the lamp and draw the blind up a little. His
eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling, and he was talking in a
high, meaningless drone.

“No, Karl, I can’t do it” he was saying. “I don’t see it like that. I
know I shall break down, because I haven’t the slightest idea of how it
begins, and I can’t leave out the beginning. And father is angry with
me, and when he is angry he frightens me. Hasn’t Stella come to see me?
I had such a headache, you know; like a great piece of hot iron, you
know, right inside my head. They took off the top of my head to put it
there. I’m frightened of him when he’s like that. Where’s Stella? No;
Lady Sunningdale was in the bird of para--para--parachute--I don’t know,
in that hat anyhow, you fool with Sahara. That’s what made it so hot,
and I can’t endure English chants. Oh, father, don’t, don’t. It isn’t my
fault.”

His voice rose to a scream, and the nurse came quickly back to the
bedside, just in time to prevent him rising.

The door opened gently, and Helen came in in her dressing-gown. And the
terrible drone began again.

“And when we’re married, Helen and Frank shall come and stay with us,
and I’ll play to them, if it gets cooler. But father mustn’t know; he
mustn’t come. Karl is the loud pedal you see, and the music-stool, and
I’m only the black notes. I hope they won’t play me much, as I’m all out
of tune with the iron. And all those faces are there, a sea of them, and
I’m all alone. If I break down father will be angry!”

He turned his head sideways on the pillow, closed his eyes, and was
silent for a little. Helen, with quivering lip, was looking at that dear
face, so thin and hollow, so untidy and unshaven, with unspeakable love
and longing. Then the nurse left the bed and came to her. Helen did not
ask if he was better.

“Can I help you in anything?” she said.

“No, dear Miss Helen, thank you. I think he will be quieter for a little
now. But I should like Dr. Thaxter to be sent for at once, please. Yes,
he is very ill. He is as ill as he can be. There, there, my dear!”

Helen clasped her hands together a moment, holding them out towards
Martin with a dumb, beseeching gesture, as if imploring him.

“And I am so strong,” she said. “Why can’t I give him some of my
strength! It is cruel.”

“Ah, if one only could do that,” said Nurse Baker. “But he is not
suffering; he is quite unconscious.”

“May my father come in to see him a moment?” asked the girl.

“No; much better not. He does not know what he is saying, but he keeps
on saying what you have heard. Now, will you send somebody for the
doctor? There are certain things I don’t like about his looks. And then
come back, dear, if you like. He never says a word his sister should not
hear.”

Helen advanced to the side of the bed a moment, and just touched
Martin’s hand, which lay outside the bedclothes. She could not speak,
but just nodded to the nurse and went away.

She sent word to the stables that the cart was to go at once to fetch
Dr. Thaxter, and then went to her father’s study, where he was waiting
for her.

He was kneeling by his table, as he had knelt for the last half-hour,
but rose when she entered, and they stood together, hands clasped, a
moment.

“No, dear father, he is no better,” she said. “He--he is very ill,
indeed. And Nurse Baker thinks you had better not go in.”

Mr. Challoner looked at her with that dreadful dry-eyed despair that she
had seen on his face so often during this last week.

“Does he still talk about me?” he asked.

Helen laid her hands on his shoulders.

“Yes, father,” she said; “but he does not know what he is saying.
Indeed, he does not. He talks all sorts of nonsense. He has no idea what
he says.”

“Ah, Helen, that is just it,” he moaned. “The poor lad speaks
instinctively; he says what has become a habit of thought. Oh, my God,
my God!”

Helen knew her impotence to help him.

“I have sent for Dr. Thaxter,” she said. “Nurse Baker wanted him to come
at once. And, father, there is another thing, which I have only just
thought of. If Dr. Thaxter thinks--if he thinks _that_, we ought to send
for a Roman priest.”

Mr. Challoner’s face changed suddenly.

“No,” he said, in a harsh whisper; “no Roman priest shall enter the
house.”

“Ah, but he must, he must,” said Helen. “Think a moment. If Martin was
conscious, you know he would wish it, and you would send for one.”

Mr. Challoner did not reply for a moment; then he lifted his hands with
a helpless gesture.

“And it is Easter morning,” he said.

Somehow that cut at the girl’s heart more than anything.

“Yes, dear father,” she said at length; “and is not that--whatever
happens--enough for us all? Whoever we are, Frank, Martin, you, I, that
is where we meet.”

Then for the first time since that day, now nearly a fortnight ago, when
Martin had sat down dead tired on the seat by the front door, the
blessed relief of tears came to his father, and he wept long, silently,
a man’s hard, painful tears. And with those tears the upright hardness
of him, the God-fearing, God-loving narrowness went from him. The bitter
frosts of his nature melted, they were dissolved.

“Oh, Helen, if he lives,” he said at length.

“Ah, yes, dear father, or if he dies. Even if he dies, dear.”

She took his hands, holding them tightly.

“Oh, help me to remember that,” she whispered; “I shall need all the
help you can give me. We shall want--we shall want all the help we can
get--both of us. We will give it each other. And Stella----“

“You telegraphed to her?”

“Yes; she cannot get here till to-morrow!”

Then the girl gave way.

“To-morrow,” she said; “and it is only just to-day. Father, father, I
can’t bear it. I can’t.”

But the strength she had given him so often during this last week was
ready again to help her.

“Yes, dear Helen,” he said, speaking quite calmly again. “We can both
bear whatever is to be. God does not send us anything that we are not
capable of bearing, and of bearing without bitterness and without
complaint. And whether it is life or death with our dear Martin, it is
all life. We believe that, do we not? Let us hold on to that, for it
sustains the sorrows of all the world. There is nothing so sure as that.
It is the Rock of Ages, Helen.”

There was the sound of wheels on the gravel outside.

“That will be the doctor, dear,” said he; “will you go and meet him,
and--and the cart must wait if he thinks a priest should be sent for.”

She got up at once.

“Yes, father,” she said.

Helen went out into the hall. Dr. Thaxter had just come in, and at the
same moment Nurse Baker hurried downstairs.

“Come up at once, please, doctor,” she said. “He--he came to himself a
few minutes ago, after being delirious all night. I took his
temperature. It is normal, just about normal.”

Helen’s face suddenly brightened.

“He is better, then?” she said.

Nurse Baker turned to her, as the doctor took off his coat, with
infinite compassion in her kind, brown eyes.

“No, dear Miss Helen,” she said. “He is--ah, I need not explain to you.
But it is very bad. It is--you must be very brave, my dear. Go to your
father.”

She gave her a quick little kiss, and followed the doctor upstairs.
Helen went back into the study.

“Something has happened,” she said. “I had no time to speak to Dr.
Thaxter. They will send for us, dear. I think--I think that is what
nurse meant.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now about seven of the morning, and the sun about an hour above
the horizon streamed gloriously into the room. It shone on the table,
the sofa, on the big chair where Helen and Martin as little children
used to sit together, looking at Bible pictures. And she sat down in
that chair now. The big things had been said between her father and her,
and as they waited now both turned to little memories of the past.

“Martin used to sit by me,” she said.

“Yes; and then you grew too big. After that you used each to have a
chair, one on each side of me.”

“And we did our lessons there,” said Helen. Then she stopped suddenly,
for there was a foot on the stairs.

Nurse Baker came in.

“You must both come,” she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The blind was drawn up in Martin’s room, and the same wonderful sun
flooded the room, and outside many thrushes were singing. There was but
little apparatus of medicine there,--it was just a boy’s clean room:
cricket bats and racquets stood in one corner, on the table there was a
heap of music, school-books were in the bookcase by the door. And on the
bed lay Martin. His eyes were still open, but they were blind and
unseeing no more, and he turned them wearily to the door when Helen and
his father entered. But when he saw them, they brightened a little. The
doctor had stood back from the bed, Nurse Baker was by him. Then Martin
spoke.

“It is nice to be in my own room again,” he said in a voice just
audible. “Oh, good-morning, Helen; good-morning, father. I have had
horrible dreams, father. I dreamed you were angry with me. How silly.
You are not angry?”

Mr. Challoner came up to the bed, and knelt there, his arm resting on
the blanket.

“No, dear lad,” he said. “I am not; indeed, I am not.”

Martin shifted his position a little.

“I’m glad,” he said, “because I’m so tired. Helen, I played well, really
well, did I?”

“Yes, Martin; Karl Rusoff said--he said nobody ever played better.”

And she was silent because she could not say any more just then.

“And what is to-day?” asked Martin at length.

“It is Easter Sunday, dear Martin,” said his father.

Martin half raised his head.

“I ought to be at Mass,” he said, “but I can’t. It doesn’t matter, does
it, if one can’t?”

His father came a little closer yet.

“No, dear boy,” he said. “It is Mass everywhere this morning. He was
crucified, and this morning He rose again. That is all the world holds,
and the heaven of heavens.”

“Yes, all,” said the boy. “And to-day----“

The whisper in which he had spoken died, and Dr. Thaxter took a step
towards the bed, looked at him a moment, and then went back again.

For a minute or two Martin lay there quite still; then he put out his
two hands on each side of the bed, one towards Helen, one to his father.

“I am awfully tired,” he said, “and I can’t talk. But I can listen
still. Is Stella here?”

“No, Martin,” said Helen; “but she is coming as quickly as she can.”

“Ah! Father, say something, something that you and I both know and
like.”

Mr. Challoner gently kissed the boy’s hand; then he raised his head and
spoke.

    “The King of Love my Shepherd is,
       Whose Goodness faileth never;
     I nothing lack if I am His,
       And He is mine for ever.”

Helen was on the other side of the bed, and as her father’s voice
faltered and stopped, she looked up.

“Shall father and I say it together, Martin?” she asked.

“Yes, together,” said he.

So sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both repeated the
beautiful words. But just before the last verse Martin raised his head a
little, looking straight in front of him. Then his father began:

    “And so through all the length of days
     Thy goodness faileth never----“

He paused, for he saw that look in dying eyes, those eyes that were so
dear to him, which means that the great event is there, that the great,
white presence has entered. Helen had seen, too.

Then Martin raised himself a little further and spoke no longer in a
whisper,--

    “Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise,
     Within Thy courts for ever.

Then he sank down again, withdrew his hand from his father’s, and put it
on the pillow. Then he laid his face on it, as was his custom, and fell
asleep.

                   *       *       *       *       *

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