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Title: One Woman - Being the Second Part of a Romance of Sussex
Author: Ollivant, Alfred
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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  ONE WOMAN:

  Being the Second Part
  of a Romance of Sussex

  BY

  ALFRED OLLIVANT



  Après a'voir souffert il faut souffrir encore



  LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD.
  RUSKIN HOUSE, 40, MUSEUM STREET, W.C.1



First published in 1921



  BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  DANNY
  OWD BOB
  BOY WOODBURN
  THE GENTLEMAN
  THE ROYAL ROAD
  THE BROWN MARE
  THE NEXT STEP
  THE TAMING OF JOHN BLUNT
  TWO MEN



  TO
  MY COUNTRY



  CONTENTS

  THE CARRIER'S CART

  PART I

  DEEPENING DUSK

  I THE HOSTEL
  II COW GAP
  III THE WATCHMAN ON THE HEAD
  IV ALF
  V THE CREEPING DEATH
  VI THE COLONEL LEARNS A SECRET
  VII THE MAN FROM THE NORTH
  VIII THE CHERUB
  IX THE SHADOW OF ROYAL
  X BOBS
  XI THE RUSSET-COATED CAPTAIN
  XII RUTH WAKES
  XIII NIGHTMARE
  XIV SHADOWS
  XV THE LANDLORD
  XVI THE GRANDMOTHER
  XVII THE CHALLENGE
  XVIII A SKIRMISH
  XIX PITCHED BATTLE
  XX THE VANQUISHED
  XXI THUNDER


  PART II

  TROUBLED DAWN

  XXII THE BETRAYAL
  XXIII THE COLONEL FACES DEFEAT
  XXIV THE PILGRIMS
  XXV RED IN THE MORNING
  XXVI THE AVALANCHE MOVES
  XXVII THE GROWING ROAR
  XXVIII OLD TOWN
  XXIX FOLLOW YOUR LEADER
  XXX THE END OF THE WORLD
  XXXI THE COLONEL
  XXXII THE DAY OF JUDGMENT
  XXXIII BEAU-NEZ
  XXXIV THE STATION
  XXXV IN THE EVENING
  XXXVI RUTH FACES THE STORM
  XXXVII MRS. LEWKNOR
  XXXVIII SUSPENSE
  XXXIX THE VALLEY OF DECISION
  XL VICTORY AND REVENGE


  THE COMFORTER



THE CARRIER'S CART

An old-fashioned carrier's cart, such as you may still meet on the
roads of Sussex, tilted, one-horsed, and moving at the leisurely pace
of a bye-gone age, turned East at the Turnpike, and made slowly along
the Lewes-Beachbourne road under the northern scarp of the Downs one
evening of autumn in 1908.  In it, at the back of the driver, were a
young man and a young woman, the only passengers, ensconced among
hen-coops, flitches of bacon, and baskets of greens.

They sat hand-in-hand.

The woman was a noble creature, about her the majestic tranquillity of
a great three-decker that comes to rest in sunset waters after its
Trafalgar.  The man, but for a certain wistfulness about his eyes which
betokened undue sensibility, was not remarkable.  Till he spoke you
would have said he was a gentleman--that is to say if your eyes
confined their scrutiny to his face and refused to see his hands, his
boots, his clothes.  When he spoke you would have recognised at once
that he was Sussex of the soil as, surely, was the woman beside him;
though the speech of both was faintly marred with the all-pervading
cockney accent of those who have passed beyond the village-green into
the larger world of the England of to-day.

Both ca-a-ad musically enough; but less by far than the little carrier,
whose round back blocked the view of the road, and the twitching ears
of old mare Jenny.  For nearly fifty years, man and boy, Isaac Woolgar
had travelled twice a day, six days a week, the road on which he was
travelling now.  He had seen the long-horns--those "black runts" so
familiar to old-world Sussex--give place to horses in the plough upon
the hill; the horses in their turn supplanted on the road by motors;
and men using the legs God had given them to trundle wheels instead of
walk.  Undisturbed, he plodded on his way, accompanied always by the
wires lifted on tall black poles, crowned with tiers of tiny porcelain
chimney-pots unknown in his youth, which had linked Lewes with
Beachbourne these forty years; and he would so plod until he died.  The
_Star_ on the hill in Old Town, Beachbourne, marked one end of his
day's journey; and the equally ancient _Lamb_, at Aldwoldston,
black-timbered and gabled too, marked the other.  He had never been
further "oop country," as he called it, than Heathfield.  Lewes was the
utmost term of his wanderings West, Beau-nez East; while the sea at
Newhaven had bounded him on the South.  Within this tiny quadrilateral,
which just about determined also the wanderings of an old dog-fox in
Abbot's Wood, he had passed his life; and nothing now would ever induce
him to pass the bounds he had allotted himself.

To the man and woman in the cart old Mus. Woolgar had been a familiar
figure from childhood.  The little girl skipping by the market-cross in
Aldwoldston would stop to watch him start; the little boy would wait at
Billing's Corner on the top of the hill to see him come along the New
Road past Motcombe at the end of his journey.  Long before either had
been aware of the other's existence the old carrier had served as an
invisible link between them.

Now the two were married.

Ruth Boam had become Mrs. Ernie Caspar that afternoon in the
cathedral-church of Aldwoldston, on the mound among the ash-trees above
Parsons' Tye and the long donkey-backed clergy-house that dates from
the fourteenth century.

It had been a very quiet wedding.  The father and mother of the bride
had stumped across from Frogs' Hall, at the foot of the village, Ruth
accompanying them, her little daughter in her arms.  For the rest, Dr.
and Mrs. Trupp had come over from Beachbourne with Mr. Pigott and his
wife in the chocolate-bodied car driven by the bridegroom's brother.

Alf had not entered the church to see Ernie married.  He had mouched
sullenly down to the river instead, and stood there during the service,
his back to the church, looking across the Brooks to old Wind-hover's
dun and shaven flank with eyes that did not see, and ears that refused
to hear.

After the ceremony the car-party returned to Beachbourne by way of the
sea--climbing High-'nd-over, to drop down into Sea-ford, and home by
Birling Gap and Beau-nez.  From the almost violent gesture with which
Alf had set his engines in motion and drawn out of the lane under the
pollarded willows of Parson's Tye, he at least had been glad to turn
his back on the scene.


Ruth and her husband had returned to Frogs' Hall with the old folk.

Later, as the sun began to lower behind Black Cap into the valley of
the Ouse, they went up River Lane and picked up the carrier's cart by
the market-cross.

For the moment they were leaving little Alice with her grandmother
while they settled into the Moot, Old Town, where Ernie had found a
cottage close to his work, not a quarter of a mile from the home of his
father and mother in Rectory Walk.

The carrier's cart moved slowly on under the telegraph wires on which
the martins were already gathering: for it was September.  Now and then
Ernie raised the flap that made a little window in the side of the
tilt, and looked out at the accompanying Downs, mysterious in the
evening.

"They're still there," he announced comfortably, "and like to be yet a
bit, I reckon."

"They move much same pace as us doos, seems to me," said Ruth.

"We should get there afoor them yet though," answered Ernie.

"Afoor the Day of Judgment we might, if so be we doosn't die o
breathlessness first," the woman replied.

"You'd like a car to yourself you would," chaffed Ernie.  "And Alf
drivin you."

Ruth turned in her lips.

They moved leisurely forward, leaving Folkington clustered about its
village-green upon the right, passing the tea-gardens at Wannock, and
up the long pull to Willingdon, standing among old gardens and pleasant
fig-trees.  Once through the village the woods of Hampden Park
green-bosomed upon the left, blocked out the marshes and the splendid
vision of Pevensey Bay.  Now the road emerged from the shelter of
hedges and elm-trees and flowed with a noble billowy motion between
seas of corn that washed the foot of the Downs and swept over Rodmill
to the outposts of Beachbourne.  Between the road and the Downs stood
Motcombe, islanded in the ruddy sea, amongst its elms and low
piggeries.  Behind the farm, at the very foot of the hill, was
Huntsman's Lodge where once, when both were boys, Alf had betrayed his
brother on the occasion of the looting of the walnut-tree.

Ern pointed out the spot to his bride and told the tale.  Ruth listened
with grim understanding.

"That's Alf," she said.

"Mr. Pigott lived there that time o day," Ern continued.  "One of the
five Manors of Beachbourne, used to be--I've heard dad say.  Belonged
to the Salwyns of Friston Place over the hill--the clergy-folk.  The
farm's where the Manor-house used to be; and the annual sheep-fair was
held in a field outside from William the Conqueror till a few years
back."

He pointed to one of a little row of villas on the left which looked
over the allotment gardens to the Downs.

"That's where Mr. Pigott lives now.  My school-master he were that time
o day."

"Who's Mr. Pigott?" Ruth asked.

Ernie rootled her with a friendly elbow.

"My guv'nor, stoopid!  Manager of the Southdown Transport Company.  Him
that was at the wedding--with the beard.  Settin along o Mrs. Trupp."

"Oh, Mr. _Pigott_!" answered Ruth.  Now that the strain of the last two
years was over at last, she brimmed over with a demure naughtiness.
"Well, why couldn't you say so, then?  You _are_ funny, men are."

The cart climbed the steep hill to Billing's Corner and Ernie looked
down the familiar road to the Rectory and even caught a peep of the
back of his old home.  Then they turned down Church Street with its
old-world fragrance of lavender and yesterday.

On the left the parish-church, long-backed and massive-towered upon the
Kneb, brooded over the centuries it had seen come and go.

"Dad says the whole history of Beachbourne's centred there," said Ernie
in awed voice.  "Steeped in it, he says."

Ernie, who had been leaning forward to peep at the Archdeacon posed in
the entrance of St. Michael's, now dropped back suddenly, nudging his
companion.

A lean woman with white hair and wrathful black eyebrows, her
complexion still delicate as a girl's, was coming up the hill.

"Mother," whispered Ernie.

It was Ruth's turn to raise the flap and peer forth stealthily at the
figure passing so close and so unconsciously on the pavement.

So that was the woman who had opposed her marriage with such malevolent
persistency!

Ruth observed her enemy with more curiosity than hostility, and
received a passing impression of a fierce unhappy face.

"She don't favour you no-ways," she said, as she relapsed into a
corner.  "Where's dad though?"

Ernie shook his head.

"He's never with her," he said.  "I ca-a-n't call to mind as ever I've
seen them out together, not the pair of them."

"I'd ha liked him to have been at the wedding," murmured Ruth a thought
discontentedly.

"And he'd ha liked it too, I'll lay," Ernie answered.  "Only she'd
never have let him."

The cart stopped; and the two passengers descended at the old _Star_
opposite the Manor-house, which bore the plate of Mr. William Trupp,
the famous surgeon.

On the Manor-house steps a tall somewhat cadaverous man was standing.
He was so simply dressed as almost to be shabby; and his straw hat,
tilted on the back of his head, disclosed a singularly fine forehead.
There was something arresting about the man and his attitude: a
delicious mixture of mischievous alertness and philosophical
detachment.  He might have been a mediæval scholar waiting at the door
of his master; or a penitent seeking absolution; or, not least, a youth
about to perpetrate a run-away knock.

Ernie across the road watched him with eyes in which affection and
amusement mingled.  Then the door opened, and the
scholar-penitent-youth was being greeted with glee by Bess Trupp.

Ernie turned to his wife.

"My old Colonel," he said confidentially.  "What I was in India with.
Best Colonel the Hammer-men ever had--and that's saying something."

"Colonel Lewknor, aren't it?" asked Ruth.

"That's him," said Ernie keenly.  "Do you knaw him?"

"He was over at Auston last summer," answered Ruth, "lecturin we got to
fight Germany or something.  I went, but I didn't pay no heed to him.
No account talk, I call that."

Together they dropped down Borough Lane and turned to the left along
the Moot where dwelt the workers of Old Town--a few in flint cottages
set in gardens, rank with currant bushes, a record of the days, not so
long ago, when corn flowed down both sides of Water Lane, making a lake
of gold between the village on the hill and the Sea-houses by the Wish;
and most in the new streets of little red houses that looked up,
pathetically aware of their commonness, to the calm dignity of the old
church upon the Kneb above.

At one of these latter Ernie stopped and made believe to fumble with a
key.  Ruth, who had not seen her new home, was thrilling quietly, as
she had been throughout the journey, though determined not to betray
her emotion to her mate.

The door opened and they entered.

A charming voice from the kitchen greeted them.

"Ah, there you are--punctual to the minute!"

A woman, silver-haired and gracious, turned from deft busy-ness at the
range.

"Oh, Mrs. Trupp!" cried Ruth, looking about her.

The table was laid already, and gay with flowers; the fire lit, the
kettle on the boil, the supper ready.

"It is kind," said Ruth.  "Was this you and Miss Bess?"

"Perhaps we had a hand in it," laughed the other.  "She couldn't be
here, as she's got a meeting of her Boy Scouts.  But she sent her best
wishes.  Now I hand over the key to the master; and my responsibilities
are over!"  And she was gone with the delicious ripple of laughter
Ernie had loved from babyhood.

Ruth was now thirsting to explore her new home, but Ernie insisted on
supping first.  This he did with malicious deliberation.  When at
length he was satisfied they went upstairs together, he leading the way.

"This is our room!" he said with ill-disguised complacency, stepping
aside.

The bridal chamber was swept and garnished.  In it were more flowers,
bowls of them; and the furniture simple, solid, and very good, was of a
character rarely found in houses of that class.

Ernie enjoyed the obvious pleasure of his bride as she touched and
glanced and dipped like some large bird flitting gracefully from piece
to piece.

Then she paused solemnly and looked about her.

"Reckon it must ha cost a tidy penny," she said.

"It did," Ernie answered.

She cocked a soft brown eye at him.

"Could you afford it, Ernie?"

"I could not," said Ernie, standing grimly and with folded arms.

At the moment her eyes fell on a card tied to the bed-post on which was
written: _From Mr., Mrs. and Miss Trupp_.  Ruth's eyes caressed the
bed, and her fingers stroked the smooth wood.

"It's like them," she said.  "None o your cheap trash."

"Ah," answered Ernie.  "Trust them.  They're just all right, they are."

Before the looking-glass on the chest of drawers Ruth now took off her
hat.

She was perhaps too simple, too natural, too near to earth to be shy at
this the supreme moment of a woman's life.  At least she was too wary
to show it.

"Rich folks they have two little beds laid alongside, these days," she
said, speaking from her experience as a maid.  "I wouldn't think it was
right myself.  Only you mustn't judge others."  She added in her slow
way, as she patted her hair--"I wouldn't feel prarperly married like
only in a prarper two-bed."

Ernie drew down the blind.

Then he marched upon his bride deliberately and with remorseless eyes.
Suddenly she turned and met him with a swift and lovely smile, dropping
her mask, and discovering herself to him in the surprising radiance of
a moon that reveals its beauty after long obscurity.  She laid her
hands upon his shoulders in utter surrender.  He gathered her gradually
in his arms; and closing his eyes, dwelt on her lips with the slow and
greedy passion of a bee, absorbed in absorption, and drinking deep in
the cloistered seclusion of a fox-glove bell,

"You're prarperly married all right," he said.  "And you ca-a-n't get
out of it--not no-ways."



PART I

DEEPENING DUSK



CHAPTER I

THE HOSTEL

Dr. Trupp of Beachbourne, as he was generally known--Mr. Trupp, to give
him his correct title--was a genuinely great man.

His father had been a book-seller in Torquay; and he himself never lost
the greater qualities of the class from which he sprang.  He was very
simple and very shrewd.  Science had not blunted the fine intuitions
which his brusque manner half concealed.  Moreover, he trusted those
intuitions perhaps unconsciously as do few men of his profession; and
they rarely played him false.  In early manhood his integrity, his
sound common sense, and practical idealism had won for him the love of
a singularly noble girl who might have married one of the best of her
inevitably artificial class.  Later in life indeed Evelyn Trupp often
would amuse her father and annoy her mother by affirming that she was
far prouder of being the wife of Mr. Trupp of Beachbourne than of
having been Miss Moray of Pole.  And she had good cause.  For her
husband was no longer the country doctor at whom the county families
had sniffed.  He was "Trupp of Beachbourne," whose fame had spread,
quietly it is true, from Sussex, through England to the outer world.
And if there was some difference of opinion as to whether Mr. Trupp had
made Beachbourne, or Beachbourne had made him, there was no question
that the growth of the town, and its deserved popularity as a
health-resort was coincident with his residence there.

At least the event justified the young surgeon's courage and
originality in the choice of a site for his life-long campaign.  Indeed
had he stayed in London it is certain that he would never have achieved
the work he was able to consummate in the town girdled by the southern
hills and washed by Northern Seas.  And that work was no mean
contribution to the welfare of the race.  Mr. Trupp was a pioneer in
the organized attack on perhaps the deadliest and most pertinacious
enemy that threatens the supremacy of Man--the tubercle bacillus.  And
his choice of a _point-d'appui_ from which to conduct his offensive was
no small factor in his success.

He was, moreover, one of the men who in the last years of the
nineteenth century and the earlier years of this set himself to stem
the tide of luxury which in his judgment was softening the spines of
the younger generation.  And the helpful buffets which gave him his
name, and were responsible at least for some of his triumphs, were not
the outcome of spasms of irritability but of a deliberate philosophy.

For Mr. Trupp, despite his kind heart, never forgot that Man with all
his aspirations after heaven had but yesterday ceased to be an animal
and still stood on the edge of the slough from which he had just
emerged, up to his hocks in mud, the slime yet trickling from his
shaggy sides.

"Don't give him sympathy," he would sometimes say to an astonished
father.  "What he wants is the Big Stick ... Stop his allowance.  He'll
soon get well.  Necessity's the best doctor....  Take her mother away
from her.  The mothers make half the invalids....  Let her get up early
in the morning and take the kitchen-maid tea in bed.  _She's_ a useful
citizen at all events."

He saw his country, so he believed, sinking into a dropsical coma
before his eyes, just for want of somebody to kick it awake; and the
sight made him sick and fearful.

Often riding with his daughter of evenings after the day's work he
would pause a moment beside the flag-staff on Beau-nez and look North
East across the waste of sea dull or shining at his feet.

"Can you hear him growling, Bess?" he asked his companion once.

"Who?"

"The Brute."

Bess knew her father's ogre, and the common talk.

"Is Germany the Brute?" she asked.

Her father shook his head.

"One of them," he answered.  "Wherever Man is there the Brute is--keep
that in mind when you're married, my dear.  And he's always sleeping
after a gorge or ravenous before one.  Our Brute's asleep now he's got
his belly full.  Theirs"--nodding across the water--"is prowling for
his prey."

To Mr. Pigott he confided his belief that there was only one thing that
could save England.

"What's that?" asked the old school-master.

"A bloody war," replied Mr. Trupp.

Many other men were saying the same thing, but few of his intellectual
calibre, and none of his radical views.

His own part in staying the rot that in his belief threatened to
corrupt the country he loved with such a deep if critical love, was
clear enough.  It was the business of him and his colleagues to give
the nation the health that made for character, just as it was that of
the school-master to give them the character that made for health.  And
he tackled his side of national education with a will: the Sun, the
Sea, the Air being the assistants in whom he trusted.

His old idea, cherished through a life-time, of an open-air hostel,
where he could have under his immediate supervision children without
their mothers, and wives without their husbands, sought always more
urgently for expression as the years slipped by.  It was not, however,
till the twentieth century was well upon its way, that all the
conditions necessary for the safe launching of his project were
fulfilled.

His chance came when Colonel Lewknor and his wife crossed his path on
retirement from the Sendee.


Rachel Lewknor took up the old surgeon's plan with the fierce yet wary
courage of her race.

Here was her chance, heaven-sent.  Thus and thus would she fulfil her
cherished dream and make the money to send her grandson, Toby, to Eton
like his father and grandfather before him.

Like most soldiers, she and the Colonel were poor.  All through their
working lives any money they might have saved against old age they had
invested in the education of their boy; stinting themselves in order to
send young Jock to his father's school and afterwards to start him in
his father's regiment.  On retirement therefore they had little but a
pittance of a pension on which to live.  The question of how to raise
the capital to buy the site and build the hostel was therefore the most
urgent of the earlier difficulties that beset Mrs. Lewknor.

Mr. Trupp said frankly that he could lend the money and would do so at
a pinch; but he made it clear that he would rather not.  He, too, was
starting his boy Joe in the Hammer-men, and like all civilians of those
days had an exaggerated idea of the expenses of an officer in the Army.
Moreover, he had determined that when the time and the man came Bess
should marry where she liked; and the question of money should not
stand in her way.

Happily Mrs. Lewknor's problem solved itself as by miracle.


Alf Caspar, who had his garage in the Goffs at the foot of Old Town
and, in spite of the continued protests of Mrs. Trupp and Bess, still
drove for Mr. Trupp (the old surgeon refusing steadfastly to keep a car
of his own), had from the start evinced an almost prurient interest in
the conception of the hostel.  In the very earliest days when Mr. Trupp
and Mrs. Lewknor talked it over as they drove through Paradise, the
beech-hangar between old Town and Meads, to visit the prospective site
in Cow Gap, he would sit at his wheel manipulating his engine to ensure
the maximum of silent running, his head screwed round and big left ear
reaching back to lick up what was passing between the two occupants of
the body of the car.

Later, when it had actually been decided to embark upon the scheme, he
said to Mr. Trupp one day in his brightest manner:

"Should be a paying proposition, sir, with you behind it."

The old surgeon eyed his chaffeur through his pince-nez shrewdly.

"If you like to put £3,000 or so into it, Alfred, you wouldn't do
yourself any harm," he said.

Alf sheathed his eyes in that swift bird-like way of his, and tittered.

"Three thousand pounds!" he said.  "Me!" ....

A few days later when Mr. Trupp called at the Colonel's tiny villa in
Meads.  Mrs. Lewknor ran out to him, eager as a girl.

She had received from Messrs. Morgan and Evans, the solicitors in
Terminus Road, an offer of the sum required on behalf of a client on
the security of a first mortgage.

"It's a miracle!" she cried, her eyes sparkling like jewels.

"Or a ramp!" said the Colonel from behind.  "D'you know anything about
the firm, Trupp?"

"I've known and employed em ever since I've been here," replied the old
surgeon.  "They're as old as Beachbourne and a bit older.  A Lewes firm
really, and they still have an office there.  But as the balance of
power shifted East they shifted with it."

"They don't say who their client is," commented the Colonel.

"I'll ask em," the other answered.

That afternoon he drove down to Terminus Road, and leaving Alf in the
car outside, entered the office.

He and Mr. Morgan were old friends who might truly be accounted among
the founders of modern Beachbourne.

"Who's your client?" asked Mr. Trupp, gruff and grinning.  "Out with
it!"

Mr. Morgan shook his smooth grey head, humour and mystery lurking about
his mouth and in his eyes.

"Wishes to remain anonymous," he said.  "We're empowered to act on his
behalf."

He strolled to the window and peeped out, tilting on his toes to
overlook the screen which obscured the lower half of it.

What he saw seemed to amuse him, and his amusement seemed to re-act in
its turn on Mr. Trupp.

"Is he a solid man?" asked the surgeon.

"As a rock," came the voice from the window.

The other seemed satisfied; the contract forthwith was signed; and Mrs.
Lewknor bought her site.


Cow Gap was an ideal spot for the hostel.

It is carved out of the flank of Beau-nez; the gorse-covered hill
encircling it in huge green rampart that shelters it from the
prevailing Sou-West gales.  Embedded in the majestic bluff that
terminates the long line of the South Downs and juts out into the sea
in the semblance of a lion asleep, head on his paws, it opens a broad
green face to the sea and rising sun.  The cliff here is very low, and
the chalk-strewn beach, easy of access from above, is seldom outraged
by skirmishers from the great army peopling the sands along the front
towards the Redoubt and the far Crumbles.  A spur of the hill shuts it
off from the aristocratic quarter of the town, known as Meads, which
covers with gardened villas the East-ward foot-hills of Beau-nez and
ceases abruptly at the bottom of the Duke's Drive that sweeps up the
Head in graceful curves.

In this secluded coombe, that welcomes the sun at dawn, at dusk holds
the lingering shadows, and is flecked all day with the wings of passing
sea-birds, after many months of delay and obstructions victoriously
overcome, Mrs. Lewknor began to build her house of bricks and mortar in
the spring of the year Ruth and Ernie Caspar set out together to
construct the future in a more enduring medium.

The house, long and low, with balconies broad as streets, and windows
everywhere to catch the light, rose layer by layer out of the turf on
the edge of the cliff.  All the summer and on into the autumn it was
a-building.  A white house with a red roof, plain yet picturesque, it
might have been a coastguard station and was not.  Partaking of the
character of the cliffs on which it stood and the green Downs in which
it was enclosed, it seemed a fitting tenant of the great coombe in
which, apart from a pair of goal-posts under the steep of the hill at
the back, it was the only evidence of the neighbourhood of Man.

Mr. Trupp watched the gradual realisation of the dream of a lifetime
with the absorbed content of a child who observes the erection of a
house of wooden bricks.  And he was not alone.

When at the end of the day's work Alf now drove his employer, as he
often did, to Cow Gap to study progress, he, too, would descend and
poke and pry amid skeleton walls and crude dank passages with sharp
eyes and sharper whispered questions to labourers, foreman, and even
the architect.  Never a Sunday passed but found him bustling across the
golf-links before church, to ascend ladders, walk along precarious
scaffoldings, and march with proprietory air and incredible swagger
along the terraces of the newly laid-out gardens that patched with
brown the green quilt of the coombe.

Once, on such a Sunday visit, he climbed the hill at the back to obtain
a bird's-eye view of the building.  Amid spurting whin-chats and
shining gossamers, he climbed in the brilliant autumn morning till he
had almost reached the crest.  He was lost to the world and the beauty
lavished all about him; his eyes shuttered to the whispered suggestions
of the infinite; his heart closed to the revealing loveliness of Earth,
round-limbed and bare, as he revolved in the dark prison-house of self
the treadmill of his insect projects.  The sidesman of St. Michael's,
spruce, scented, oiled, in fancy waistcoat, with boots of glace kid,
and waxed moustache, moving laboriously between sky and sea, was
civilised man at the height of his imperfection and vain-glorious in
his fatuous artificiality.

Suddenly a bare head and collarless stark neck blurted up out of a deep
gorse-clump before him.

"Who goes there?" came a challenge, deep and formidable, as the roar of
some jungle lord disturbed in his covert.

Alf collapsed as a soap-bubble, blown from a clay pipe and brilliant in
the sunshine, bursts at the impact of an elemental prickle.  He fled
down the hill incontinently.

The man who had barked, shoulder-deep in gorse, his eyes still
flashing, turned to the woman squandered beneath him in luxurious
splendour.  Native of the earth on which she lay, and kin to it as some
long-limbed hind of the forest, she regarded him with amused content.
The sudden battle-call of her male roused what there was of primitive
in her, soothed, and flattered her womanhood.  Comfortably she fell
back upon the sense of security it called up, delighting behind
half-drawn lids in the surprising ferocity of her man.  That roar of
his, startling the silence like a trumpet-note, had spoken to her
deeps.  Swiftly, and perhaps for the first time, she recognised what
the man above her stood for in her life, and why one with whom she did
not pretend to be in love so completely satisfied her most urgent
present need.  He was a break-water behind which she lay with furled
sails after a hazardous voyage over uncharted deeps.  Outside was still
the roar and batter of seas.  The sound of guns booming overhead as she
lay, stripped of her canvas, and rocking pleasantly in the inner
waters, did not alarm, rather indeed lulled, her to sleep: for they
spoke to her of protection at last.

"Who was it, Ernie?" she murmured, raising a lazy head from the hands
on which they were pillowed, the dark hair strewn about her like
wind-slashed rain.

The man turned, outraged still and bristling.

"Alf!" he snorted.  "Just bob me head over the hawth at him.  That was
enough--_quite_ enough!  I knaw the colour of Alf's liver."

He stood above her with his air of a fighting male.

She had never seen him like that before; and she regarded him
critically and with approval.

"Ern," she called quietly, with a chuckle, deep and secret as the
gurgle of water pouring from a long-throated jug; and with a faint
movement of her hips she made room for him in the sand beside her.



CHAPTER II

COW GAP

Honeymoons are not for the class that does the world's dirty work; but
joy can be seized by the simple of heart even in the conditions we
impose upon the poor.

Ernie Caspar after his marriage with Ruth Boam settled down with his
bride in Old Town to enjoy the fruits of victory.

The young couple had been lucky to find a cottage in the Moot; for even
in those days accommodation for the working-class was as hard to find
in Beachbourne as elsewhere.  The cottage, too, was appropriately
situated for them in every way.  It was close to the yard of the
Southdown Transport Company, where Ernie's work lay; and at the bottom
of Borough Lane, at the top of which was the Manor-house, where lived
Mr. and Mrs. Trupp, who had seen Ruth through her trouble, and had
befriended Ernie from his boyhood.

"D'you remember that first time ever we rode up to Old Town together
tarp o the bus?" asked Ernie of his bride, one evening as they passed
the great doctor's house on the way to Beau-nez.

"Hap I do," Ruth answered, amused at her lover's intense seriousness.

"And do _you_ remember what I said to you?" insistently.

"Ne'er a word," answered Ruth, casual and teasing--"only it was
no-account talk.  That's all I remember."

"I pointed you out Mr. Trupp's house," Ernie continued solemnly, "and I
says to you--_He brought me into the world_, I says.  _That's what he
done_."

The old roguish black-bird look, which after her winter of despair had
been creeping slowly back to Ruth's face in this new spring, gleamed
sedately now.

"I mind me now," she said.  "Leastwise I don't remember what you said,
but I remembers what I answered."

"What did you answer then?" asked Ernie, suspiciously.

"_He done well_, was what I says," answered the young woman gravely.

"He did," replied Ernie with exaggerated pomp.  "And he done better to
settle issalf at my door so I could be his friend if so be he ever
gotten into trouble."

"One thing I knaw," said Ruth, serious in her turn now.  "They're the
two best friends e'er a workin woman had."

"They are," Ernie agreed.  "And she's my god-mother."

It was the fact in his life of which on the whole he was most proud and
certainly the one for which he was least responsible.  "And she aren't
yours," he continued, puffed up and self-complacent.  "And never will
be."  He added finally to curb her arrogance.  "See she was dad's
friend afore ever they married, eether of them."

Ruth checked her husband's snobbishness with a tap.

"You _are_ grand," she said.

Close to the cottage of the young couple was the lovely old Motcombe
garden, public now, pierced by the bourne from which the town derives
its name.  The garden with its ancient dove-cot, ivy-crowned, its
splendid weeping ashes, its ruined walls, compact of native flint and
chalk, the skeletons of afore-time barns and byres, stands between the
old parsonage house and older parish-church that crowns the Kneb above
and, with its massive tower, its squat shingled spire peculiar to
Sussex, set four-square to the winds of time, seems lost in a mist of
memories.

Beyond the church, a few hundred yards further up the hill, at the back
of Billing's Corner in Rectory Walk, Ernie's parents still dwelt.

Anne Caspar did not visit Ruth.  Indeed, she ignored the presence of
her daughter-in-law; but those steel-blue eyes of hers sought out and
recognized in a hard flash the majestic peasant girl who now haunted
Church Street at shopping hours as the woman who had married her son.
Ernie's mother was in fact one of those who make it a point of duty, as
well as a pleasure, never to forgive.  She had neither pardoned Ruth
for daring to be her daughter-in-law, nor forgotten her sin.  And both
offences were immeasurably accentuated by Ruth's crime in establishing
herself in the Moot.

"Settlin on my door-step," she said.  "Brassy slut!"

"Just like her," her second son answered; and added with stealthy
malice, "Dad visits em.  I seen im."

Alf, for all his acuteness, had never learned the simple lesson that
his mother would not tolerate the slightest criticism of her old man.

"And why shouldn't he?" she asked sharply.  "Isn't Ern his own
flesh-and-blood?  _He's_ got a heart, dad has, if some as ought to ave
aven't."

"No reason at all," answered Alf, looking down his nose.  "Why
shouldn't he be thick in with her--and with her child for the matter of
that?  I see him walkin in the Moot the other day near the Quaker
meeting-house hand-in-hand with little Alice.  Pretty as a Bible
picture it struck me."

Anne Caspar stared stonily.

"Who's little Alice?" she asked.

"Her love-child," answered Alf.  "Like your grand-child as you might
say--only illegit o course."

His mother breathed heavily.

"Is Ern the father?" she asked at last in a sour flat voice.

"Not him!" jeered Alf.  "She's a rich man's cast-off, Ruth is.  Made it
worth Ern's while.  That's where it was.  See, cash is cash in this
world."

Anne laid back her ears as she rummaged among her memories,

"I thought you told me," she began slowly, "as Ern--"

"Never!" cried Alf.  "Ern had nothin to do with it, who-ever had."

"Who was the father?" asked Anne, not above a little feminine curiosity.

Alf shook his head cunningly.

"Ah," he said, "now you're askin!" and added after a moment's pause:--

"She was all-the-world's wench one time o day, your daughter was.
That's all I can tell you."

Anne stirred a saucepan thoughtfully.  She did not believe Alf: for she
knew that Ernie was far too much his father's son to be bought
disgracefully, and she remembered suddenly a suggestion that Mr. Pigott
had lately thrown out to the effect that Alf himself had not been
altogether proof against the seductions of this seductive young woman
his brother had won.  It struck her now that there might be something
in the story after all, unlikely as it seemed: for she remarked that
Alf always pursued his sister-in-law with the covert rancour and
vindictiveness of the mean spirit which has met defeat.

But however doubtful she might be in her own heart of Alf's tale, the
essential facts about Ruth were not in dispute: her daughter-in-law was
the mother of an illegitimate child and had settled down with that
child not a quarter of a mile away.  Everybody knew the story,
especially of course the neighbours she would least wish to know
it--the Archdeacon and Lady Augusta in the Rectory across the way.  For
over thirty years Anne had lived in her solid little blue-slated house,
the ampelopsis running over its good red face, the tobacco plants sweet
on summer evenings in the border round the neat and tidy lawn, holding
her nose high, too high her enemies averred, and priding herself above
all women on her respectability--and now!

No wonder Ernie, bringing home his bride and his disgrace, infuriated
her.

"Shamin me afore em all!" she muttered time and again with sullen wrath
to the pots and pans she banged about on the range.

She never saw the offender now except on Sundays when he came up to
visit his father, which he did as regularly as in the days before his
marriage.  The ritual of these visits was always the same.  Ernie would
come in at the front-door; she would give him a surly nod from the
kitchen; he would say quietly--"Hullo, mum!" and turn off into the
study where his dad was awaiting him.

The two, Anne remarked with acrimony, grew always nearer and--what
annoyed her most--talked always less.  Edward Caspar was an old man
now, in body if not in years; and on the occasion of Ernie's visits
father and son rarely strolled out to take the sun on the hill at the
back or lounge in the elusive shade of Paradise as in former days.
They were content instead to sit together in the austere little study
looking out on to the trees of the Rectory, Lely's famous _Cavalier_,
the first Lord Ravensrood, glancing down from the otherwise bare walls
with wistful yet ironic eyes on his two remote descendants enjoying
each other beneath in a suspicious communion of silence.

Thus Anne always found the pair when she brought them their tea; and
the mysterious intimacy between the two was all the more marked because
of her husband's almost comical unawareness of his second son.  The
genuine resentment Anne experienced in the matter of Edward's unvarying
attitude towards his two sons she visited, regardless of justice, upon
Alf.

"Might not be a son to your father the way you go on!" she said
censoriously.

"And what about him," cried Alf, not without reason.  "Might not be a
father to your son, seems to me."


It would, however, have taken more than Anne Caspar's passionate
indignation at the action of Ernie and his bride in establishing
themselves in the Moot to cloud the lives of the newly-married couple.
Ern was now twenty-eight, and Ruth four years younger.  They had the
present, which they enjoyed; they did not worry about the future; and
the past inevitably buries itself in time.

"We're young yet, as Mr. Trupp says," remarked Ernie.  "We've got it
all afore us.  Life's not so bad for all they say.  I got you: and you
got me; and the rest don't matter."

They were lying on Beau-nez in the dusk above Cow Gap, listening to the
long-drawn swish of the sea, going and coming with the tranquil rhythm
that soothes the spirit of man, restless in Time, with rumours of
forgotten Eternity.

"And we both got little Alice," murmured Ruth, eyes resting on his with
affectionate confidence, sure of his love for her and the child that
was not his.

"Keep me cosy, Ern," whispered the luxurious creature with a delicious
mixture of entreaty and authority snuggling up against him.  She was
lying, her face lifted flower-wise to the moon that hung above her
bubble-like and benignant, her eyes closed, her lips tilted to tempt
the pollen-bearing bee, while about them the lovely laughter brimmed
and dimpled.

"I'll keep you cosy, my beauty," replied Ernie, with the busy
seriousness of the male intent on love.  "I'll give you plenty beside
little Alice to think of afore I'm done with you.  I'll learn _you_.
Don't you worrit.  I know what _you_ want."

"What then?" asked Ruth, deep and satisfied.

"Why, basketfuls o babies--armfuls of em, like cowslips till you're
fairly smothered, and spill em over the field because you can't hold em
all."

Perhaps he was right.  Certainly after the battle and conflict of the
last two years Ruth felt spiritually lazy.  She browsed and drowsed,
content that Ernie for the time being should master her.  It was good
for him, too, she saw, so long as he would do it, correcting his
natural tendency to slackness; and she had little doubt that she could
assume authority at will in the future, should it prove necessary.
Meanwhile that spirit of adventure which lurked in her; distinguished
her from her class; and had already once led her into danger and
catastrophe, was lulled to sleep for the moment.

The hill at the back of Cow Gap is steep, and towards the crest the
gorse grows thick and very high.  In the heart of this covert, dense
enough to satisfy the most jealous lovers, Ernie had made a safe
retreat.  He had cut away the resisting gorse with a bill-hook, rooted
up the stumps, stripped the turf and made a sleeping-place of sand
brought up from the shore.  In a rabbit-hole hard by, he hid a
spirit-lamp and sundry stores of tea and biscuits; while Mrs. Trupp
routed out from her coach-house an immense old carriage umbrella dating
from Pole days which, when unfurled, served to turn a shower.

Ruth and Ernie called their hiding-place the Ambush; for in it they
could harbour, seeing all things, yet themselves unseen.  And there,
through that brilliant autumn, they would pass their week-ends,
watching Under-cliff, as the hostel was called, rising up out of the
saucer of the coombe beneath them.  They would leave little Alice with
a neighbour, and lock up the cottage in the Moot, which Ruth was
swiftly transfiguring into a home.  On Saturday evenings, after a hard
afternoon's work, stripping, papering, painting, making the old new and
the dull bright, the pair would walk up Church Street, turn to the left
at Billing's Corner, and dropping down Love Lane by the Rectory, cross
the golf links and mount the hill by the rabbit-walk that leads above
Paradise, past the dew-pond, on to the broad-strewn back of Beau-nez.
Up there, surrounded by the dimming waters and billowing land, they
would wait till the Head was deserted by all save a tethered goat and
watchful coastguard; till in the solitude and silence the stars
whispered, and the darkening turf, grateful for the falling dew,
responded sweetly to their pressing feet.  Then the young couple,
taking hands, would leave the crest and find their way with beating
hearts along the track that led through the covert to their
couching-place, where none would disturb them except maybe a hunting
stoat; and only the moon would peep at them under the shaggy eyebrow of
the gorse as they rejoiced in their youth, their love, their life.

And then at dawn when the sun glanced warily over the brim of the sea
and none was yet astir save the kestrel hovering in the wind; and the
pair of badgers--who with the amazing tenacity of their kind still
tenanted the burrows of their ancestors within a quarter of a mile of
the tents and tabernacles of man--rooted and sported clumsily on the
dewy hillside beneath; they would rise and slip bare-foot down the
hill, past the hostel, on to the deserted beach, there to become one
with the living waters, misty and lapping, as at night they had entered
into communion with earth and sky and the little creaking creatures of
the dark.

"This is life," Ernie said on one such Sabbath dawn, sinking into the
waters with deep content.  "Wouldn't old dad just love this?"

"If it were like this all the time!" Ruth answered a thought wistfully
as she floated with paddling hands, sea and sky, as it was in the
beginning, enveloping her.  "Like music in church.  Just the peace that
passeth understanding, as my Miss Caryll'd say."

"Ah," said Ernie, speaking with the profound sagacity that not seldom
marks the words of the foolish.  "Might be bad for us.  If there was
nothing to fight we'd all be like to go to sleep.  That's what Mr.
Trupp says."

"Some of us might," said Ruth, the girl slyly peeping forth from her
covering womanhood.

"Look at Germany!" continued the wise man, surging closer.  "Look at
what the Colonel said the other night at the Institute.  We're the
rabbits; and Germany's the python, the Colonel says."

"That for Germany!" answered Ruth, splashing the water with the flat of
her hand in the direction of the rising sun.

"And she's all the while a-creepin--a-creepin--closer acrarst the sea,"
said Ernie, edging nearer--"for to SWALLOW US UP!"  And with a rush he
engulfed her young body in his arms.



CHAPTER III

THE WATCHMAN ON THE HEAD

On one of the last days of that brilliant October, just before the grey
curtain of rains descended to blot out autumn fields and twinkling
waters, Colonel Lewknor and his wife moved into the hostel.

On that first evening Mrs. Lewknor came down the broad stair-case in
"review order," as she called it, to celebrate the consummation of the
first stage of her project, and found her husband standing at the
sea-ward window of the hall, a Mestophelian figure, holding back the
curtain and peeping out.  Quietly she came and stood beside him, about
her shoulders the scarlet cape a Rajput Princess had given her after
Lord Curzon's durbar.

The house, which was the solitary building in the great coombe, stood
back some hundred yards from the cliff along which the coast-guard's
path to Beau-nez showed up white-dotted in the darkness.  The Colonel
was staring out over the misty and muffled waters, mumbling to himself,
as was his way.

"We shall get a nice view from here, anyway," he said with his
satyr-like chuckle.

She laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"Of what?" she asked.

"The landing," he replied.

She rippled off into a delicious titter.  After thirty years of married
life her Jocko was still for Rachel Lewknor the most entertaining of
men.

"You and Mr. Trupp!" she said.  "A pair of you!"  For the two men had
drawn singularly close since the Colonel on retirement had established
himself in Meads.

The old soldier in truth came as something of a revelation to the great
surgeon, who delighted in the other's philosophical mind, his freedom
from the conventional limitations and prejudices of the officer-caste,
his wide reading and ironical humour.

On his evening ride one day about this time Mr. Trupp and Bess came
upon the Colonel halted at the flag-staff on the top of the Head, and
gazing out over the wide-spread waters with solemn eyes, as though
watching for a tidal wave to sweep up out of the East and overwhelm his
country.  Mr. Trupp knew that the old soldier was often at that spot in
that attitude at that hour, a sentinel on guard at the uttermost end of
the uttermost peninsula that jutted out into the Channel; and he knew
why.

"Well, is it coming?" the doctor growled, half serious, half chaffing.

The Colonel, standing with his hat off, his fine forehead and
cadaverous face thrusting up into the blue, answered with quiet
conviction.

"It's coming all right."

"It's been coming all my time," answered the other sardonically.  "If
it don't come soon I shall miss it.  In the seventies it was Russia.
Any fool, who wasn't a criminal or a traitor or both, could see that a
clash was inevitable.  Two great races expanding at incredible speed in
Asia, etc., etc.  Then in the nineties it was France.  Any man in his
right mind could see it.  It was mathematically demonstrable.  Two
great races expanding in Africa, etc., etc....  And now it's
Germany..."  He coughed and ended gruffly, "Well, you may be right this
time."

"We were right about William the Conqueror," said the Colonel urbanely.
"He came."

"But that was some time ago, my daughter tells me," replied Mr. Trupp.
"And you've been wrong every time since."

Bess giggled; and the Colonel adjusted his field-glasses with delicate
precision.

"If you say it's going to rain and keep on saying it long enough you'll
probably prove right in the end," he remarked.  "It's dogged as does it
in the realm of speculation as elsewhere in my experience."

The old surgeon and his daughter turned their backs on the flagstaff
and the solitary watchman beside it, and jogged towards the sunset
red-strewn behind the white bluff of the Seven Sisters Newhaven-way.

Two figures topped the brow of Warren Hill in front and came swiftly
over the short turf towards them.  It was Saturday: Ruth and Ernie were
on their way to their secret covert above Cow Gap as usual.

"About your last week-end up here before the weather breaks, I should
say," chaffed the old surgeon as he passed them.

Ernie laughed a little nervously.

"Yes, sir.  Just what I were a-sayin to Ruth," he answered.  He had
thought his secret known to none.

"Well, I hope the police won't catch you," remarked the other with a
grin as he rode on.

"Never!--not unless someone was to give us away, sir!" said Ruth
demurely, as she looked across the sea under lowered brows.

Bess called back reassuringly over her shoulder:

"You're all right, Ruth.  I'll square Mr. Trupp."

The riders struck Duke's Drive and dropped down into Meads.

"How happy Ernie looks now!" said Bess.  "It's delightful to see him."

"Yes," replied her father--"too happy.  He's going to sleep again--just
what I told you.  And when he's well away in the land of dreams _IT_'ll
pounce on him once more."

That evening over his coffee Mr. Trupp returned to the subject, which
was a favourite with him.

"I always knew how it would be," he said with gloomy complacency.

"Of course," answered Mrs. Trupp, glancing mischievously at Bess.

"Makes him too comfortable," the wise man continued.  "Fatal mistake.
What he wants is an occasional flick with the whip to keep him up to
the mark.  We all do."

It was not, indeed, in Ruth's nature to use the whip or inspire the
fear which few of us as yet are able to do without.  And at present she
did not bother much.  For at first her beauty and spiritual power were
quite enough to hold Ernie.  He found in her the comfort and the stay
the tree finds in the earth it is rooted in.  She was the element in
which he lived and moved and had his being.  She satisfied his body and
his spirit as the sea satisfies the fish which dwells in it.  She
steadied him and that was what he needed.

The marriage, indeed, proved as successful as are most.  That is to say
it was not a failure, in that both the contracting parties were on the
whole the happier for it.  Certainly Ern was: for there was no doubt
that he was in love with Ruth, nor that his love was real and enduring.

Ruth on her side was fond of Ern, and grateful to him, if only because
of little Alice; although her feeling was more that of the mother for
the child than of the woman for her mate.  She was full of pity for him
and occasionally unuttered resentment.  That was inevitable because Ern
was weak.  She had continually to prop him up, though she would rather
have let him do the propping.  And perhaps for her own growth it was
good that she must give support rather than receive it.

In a way she was not the ideal wife for Ern: her strength was her
weakness.  She appeared almost too big of soul and tranquil of spirit.
But there was another side of her, largely undeveloped, that had as yet
only revealed itself in gleams, or rather, to be exact, in one lurid
flash of lightning which had thrown her firmament into ghastly and
twittering relief.  Her quiet was the hushed and crouching quiet of the
young lilac in winter, lying secretly in wait for the touch of April
sun, to leap forth from its covert in an amazing ecstasy of colour,
fragrance, loveliness and power.

For the time being Ruth was glad to lie up, as a tigress in whelp,
after long hunting, is content to harbour in the green darkness,
drinking in draughts of refreshing through sleep, while her mate prowls
out at dusk to find meat.  But that would not last for ever.  Her life
must be full and brimming over or her insatiable vitality and that
all-devouring spirit of hers, reaching out like a creeper to embrace
the world, might find outlet in mischief, innocent enough in the
intention, and yet, as experience had already proved, catastrophic in
its consequences.

In her secret deeps, indeed, Ruth was one to whom danger was the breath
of life, although she was still unaware of it: an explorer and pioneer,
gay and gallant, sailing her skiff over virgin oceans, reckless of the
sunken reefs that might at any moment rip the bottom out of her frail
craft.  The outward sedateness of the Sussex peasant was liable at any
moment to sudden overthrow, as some chance spark caused the southern
blood in her veins to leap and frolic into flame; and that Castilian
hidalgo, her remote ancestor, who lurked behind the arras of the
centuries, called her away from the timid herd to some dear and
desperate enterprise of romance.

Mrs. Trupp alone was aware of this buccaneer quality hidden in the
young woman's heart and undiscovered of the world.  Ruth's Miss Caryll
had told her friend of it long ago when the girl was in her service at
the Dower-house, Aldwoldston.

"It's the Spaniard in her," Miss Caryll had said.

And when at the time of her distress Ruth had told her story to the
wife of the great surgeon who had succoured her, Mrs. Trupp, keen-eyed
for all her gentleness, had more than once detected the flash of a
sword in the murk of the tragedy.

The girl had dared--and been defeated.  She would dare again--until she
found her conqueror: thus Mrs. Trupp envisaged the position.

Was Ernie that man?



CHAPTER IV

ALF

Then a child lifted its tiny sail on the far horizon.  Its rippling
approach across the flood-tides absorbed Ruth and helped Ernie: for he
had in him much of his father's mysticism, and was one of those men who
go through life rubbing their eyes as the angels start up from the
dusty road, and they see miracles on every side where others only find
the prosaic permutations and combinations of mud.  And this particular
miracle, taking place so deliberately beneath his roof, a miracle of
which he was the unconscious agent, inspired and awed him.

"Makes you sweat to think of it," he said to a mate in the yard.

"By then you've had half-a-dozen and got to keep em, you'll sweat
less," retorted his friend, who had been married several years.

Mr. Trupp looked after Ruth.

Great man as he was now, he still attended faithfully those humble
families who had supported him when first he had established himself in
Old Town thirty years before, young, unknown, his presence fiercely
resented by the older practitioners.

When Ruth's time came, Ernie sat in the kitchen, shaken to the soul,
and listening to the feet in the room above.

It was a dirty night, howling, dark and slashed with rain.  Outside in
the little dim street that ran below the Kneb on which loomed the
shadowy bulk of the parish-church, solid against the cloud-drift, stood
the doctor's car.

Once Ernie went to the rain-sluiced window and saw Alf with his collar
turned up crouching behind the wheel.

Ernie went out into the flapping night.

"Ere, Alf!" he said hoarsely.  "We can't go on like this.  Tain't in
nature.  After all, we're brothers."

The two had not spoken since the one had possessed the woman the other
had desired.

Alf now showed himself curiously complacent.

"I am a Christian all right," he confided to his brother; and added
with the naïve self-satisfaction of the megalomaniac, as he shook
hands: "I wish there was more like me, I do reelly."

"Come in, then," said Ern, who was not listening.  "I can't abear to
see you out here such a night as this and all."

Alf came in.

The two brothers sat over the fire in the kitchen, Alf uplifted, his
gaitered legs crossed.  He looked about him brightly with that curious
proprietory air of his.

"You've a decent little crib here, Ern, I see," he said.

"None so bad," Ernie answered briefly.

"Done it up nice too," the other continued.  "Did your landlord do that
now?"

"No; me and Ruth atween us."

"Ah, he'll raise your rent against you."

"Like em," said Ern.  "They're all the same."

Somebody moved overhead.

Ern, stirred to his deeps, rose and stood, leaning his forehead on the
mantel-piece, his ears aloft.

"This is a bad job, Ern," said Alf--"a shockin bad job."

"It's killin me," Ern answered with the delicious egoism of the male at
such moments.

There was a lengthy silence.  Then Alf spoke again--casually this time.

"She never said nothin to you about no letter, did she?"

"It's burned," replied Ernie curtly.

Alf glanced at his brother sharply.  Then, satisfied that the other was
in fact telling the truth, he resumed his study of the fire.

"Not as there was anythink in it there shouldn't have been," he said
complacently.  "You can ask anyone."  He was silent for a time.  Then
he continued confidentially, leaning forward a little--"When you see
her tell her I'm safe.  May be that'll ease her a bit."

Ernie came to himself and glowered.

"What ye mean?" he asked.

Alf cocked his chin, knowing and mysteriously.

"Ah," he said.  "You just tell her what I tell you--_Alf won't let on;
Alf's safe_.  Just that.  You'll see."

There was a stir and a movement in the room above: then the howl of a
woman in travail.

Ern was panting.  Silence succeeded the storm.  Then a tiny miaowing
from the room above came down to them.

Alf started to his feet.

"What's that?" he cried.

"My child," answered Ernie deeply, lifting a blind face to the ceiling.

Alf was afraid of many things; but most of all he feared children, and
was brutal to them consequently, less from cruelty, as the
unimaginative conceived, than in self-defence.  And the younger the
child the more he feared it.  The presence in the house of this tiny
creature, emerging suddenly into the world from the darkness of the
Beyond with its mute and mysterious message, terrified him.

"Here!  I'm off!" he said.  "This ain't the place for me," and he left
the house precipitately.

Mrs. Trupp of course went to visit the young mother.  Ruth in bed,
nursing her babe, met her with a smile that was radiant yet wistful.

"It's that different to last time," she said, and nodded at little
Alice playing with her beads at the foot of the bed.  "See, she'd no
one--only her mother ... and you ... and Mr. Trupp.  They were all
against her--poor lamb!--as if it was fault of her'n."  She gasped,
choking back a sob.--"This'n's got em all on her side."

"That's all over now, Ruth," said Mrs. Trupp gently.

"I pray so, with all my heart I do," answered Ruth.  "You never knaw.
Seems to me some things are never over--not in this world anyways."

She blinked back tears, drew her hand across her eyes, and flashed up
bravely.

"Silly, ain't it?" she laughed.  "Only times it all come back so--what
we went through, she and me.  And not through any fault of mine--only
foolishness like."


Ruth was one of those women who are a standing vindication of our
civilisation and a challenge to all who indict it.  She was up and
about in an incredibly short time, the firmer in body and soul for her
adventure.

One morning Alf came round quietly to see her.  She was at the
wash-tub, busy and bare-armed; and met him with eyes that were neither
fearful nor defiant.

"I'm not a-goin to hurt you, Ruth," he began caressingly, with a
characteristic lift of his chin.  "I only come to say it's all right.
You got nothink against me now and I'll forget all I know about you.  A
bargain's a bargain.  And now you've done your bit I'll do mine."

The announcement, so generous in its intention, did not seem to make
the expected impression.

"I am a gentleman," continued Alf, leaning against the door-post.
"Always ave been.  It's in me blood, see?  Can't help meself like even
if I was to wish to."  He started off on a favourite theme of his.
"Lord Ravensrood--him that made that speech on the Territorials the
other night in the House of Lords, he's my second cousin.  I daresay if
enough was to die I'd be Lord Ravensrood meself.  Often whiles I
remember that.  I'm not like the rest of them.  I got blue blood
running through me veins, as Reverend Spink says.  You can tell that by
the look of me.  I'm not the one to take advantage."

Ruth, up to her elbows in soap-suds, lifted her face.

"I'm not afraid o you, Alf," she said quite simply.  "Now I got my Ern."

The announcement annoyed Alf.  He rolled his head resentfully.

"No one as does right has anythink to fear from me," he said harshly.
"It's only wrong-doers I'm a terror to.  Don't you believe what they
tell you.  So long as you keep yourself accordin and don't interfere
with nobody, nobody won't interfere with you, my gurl."

Ruth mocked him daintily.

"I'm not your girl," she said, soaping her beautifully moulded arms.
"I'm Ern's girl, and proud of it."  Her lovely eyes engaged his,
teasing and tempting.  "That's our room above--his and mine.  It's
cosy."

"Ah," said Alf, smouldering.  "I'd like to see it."

"You can't do that," answered Ruth gravely.  "Besides, there's nothing
to see only the double-bed Mrs. Trupp gave us and the curtains to close
it at night and that, so that no one shan't peep at what they
should'nt."

The touch of southern blood, wild and adventurous, which revealed
itself in her swarthy colouring and black hair, stung her on to darings
demure as they were provocative.  Alf, sour of eye, changed the subject.

"Yes, it's a nice little bit of a crib," he said, glancing round.
"What might be your rent?"

"More'n it ought to be," answered Ruth.

"That's a pity," said Alf.  "What's Ern's money now?"

"I shan't tell you."

Alf thrust his huge head forward with an evil grin.

"I'll tell you," he said.  "It's twenty-four, and that's the limit.
Pigott won't raise him no more.  I know Pigott."  He gloated over his
victim.  "Yes, old Ern makes in the week what I'd make in a day if I
was to do nothink only loll against the wall with me mouth open to
catch the interest on me money that'd roll into it.  And I'm makin all
the time: for God's give me brains and I'm usin em.  I'm not a-going to
drive for somebody else all my life.  I'm the comin man in this
town--you ask my bankers.  There's plenty doin _you_ don't know nothin
of, and more to come.  And I'm at the back of it!--I'm the man what
makes things move--that's what I am!"  He swelled like a little
bull-frog.  "I'm a gentleman--that's Alf."  He shot his face forward
and wagged a finger at her.  "And that's just the difference between
Ern and me.  I'm in the position to live on me own money and never do a
hand's turn for it: while Ern has to sweat for his handful of coppers.
And _then_ it ain't enough to keep his wife from the wash-tub.  I'd
like to see _my_ wife at that!--Now then!"  He folded his arms and
struck an attitude.

Ruth soused and wrung and rinsed quite unmoved.

"That aren't the only difference, Alf," she said soothingly.  "See,
Ern's got me.  That makes up to him a lot, he says.  He says he don't
care nothing so long as he's got me to issalf, he says....
Strawberries and cream and plenty of em, he calls me when he's got the
curtains draw'd up there, and me a-settin on his knee."

Alf retreated, burning and baffled.  She came to the door drying her
arms, and pursued her victim with eyes in which the lightning played
with laughter; as fastidious and dainty in her cruelty as a cat
sporting with a mouse.

A little way down the street he paused and turned.  Then he came back a
pace or two stealthily.  His face was mottled and he was tilting his
chin, mysterious and confidential.

"Never hear e'er a word from the Captain?" he asked, in a hushed voice.

Ruth flashed a terrible white and her bosom surged.

"I do times," continued the tormentor, and bustled on his way with a
malignant chuckle.



CHAPTER V

THE CREEPING DEATH

One evening at the club, Mr. Trupp asked the Colonel what had happened
to Captain Royal.

"He went through the Staff College, and now he's at the War Office, I
believe," the other answered curtly.

"Ever hear from him?" asked Mr. Trupp, warily.

"No," said the Colonel.  "He's not a friend of mine."  And to save
himself and an old brother-officer for whom he had neither liking nor
respect, he changed the conversation to the theme that haunted him.

Mr. Trupp might chaff the Colonel about his _idée fixe_, but he, too,
like most men of his class, had the fear of Germany constantly before
his eyes and liked nothing better than to discuss the familiar topic
with his friend over a cigar.

"Well, how are we getting on?" he asked encouragingly.

"Not so bad," the Colonel answered through the smoke.  "Haldane's sent
for Haig from India."

"Who's Haig?" puffed the other.

"Haig's a soldier who was at Oxford," the Colonel answered.  "You
didn't know there was such a variety, did you?"

"Never mind about Oxford," grunted the great surgeon.  "Oxford turns
out as many asses as any other institution so far as I can see.  Does
he know his job?  That's the point."

"As well as you can expect a soldier to know it," replied the other,
still in the ironic vein.  "Sound but slow's his reputation.  He and
Haldane are the strongest combination there's been at the War Office in
my time."  He added more seriously--"They ought to get a move on
between 'em, if anybody can."

"In time?" asked Mr. Trupp.

The Colonel, in spite of the recurrent waves of despair, which
inundated him, was at heart an unrepentant optimist.

"I don't see why not," he said.  "Bobs says Germany can't strike till
the Kiel Canal's open for battleships.  That won't be till 1912 or so."

The old doctor moved into the card-room with a cough.

"Gives you time to get on with your job, too, Colonel," he said.  "I
wish you well.  Good-night."

The Colonel was retired now; but his brain was as active as ever, his
heart as big, if his body was no longer so sure an instrument as it
once had been.  And Lord Roberts, when he asked his old comrade in arms
to undertake work which he did not hesitate to describe as vital to the
Empire, knew that the man to whom he was appealing possessed _in
excelsis_ the quality which has always made the British Army the
nursery of spirits who put the good of the Service before their own
advancement.  The little old hero, like all great soldiers, had his
favourite regiments, the result of association and experience; and it
was well known that the Hammer-men stood at the top of the list.  Fifty
years before the date of this story they had sweated with him on the
Ridge before Delhi; under his eyes had stormed the Kashmir Gate; with
him had watched Nicholson die.  Twenty years later they had gone up the
Kurrum with the young Major-General, and made with him the famous march
from Kabul to Kandahar.  Another twenty years and they were making the
pace for the old Field Marshal in the great trek from Paardeberg to
Bloemfontein.  He knew most of the officers, some of them intimately.
And on hearing that Jocko Lewknor had settled down at Beachbourne wrote
at once and asked him to become Secretary of the local branch of the
National Service League, which existed to establish in England
universal military training on the lines of Switzerland's Militia.

The Colonel made one of his rare trips to London and lunched at the Rag
with the leader who had been his hero ever since as a lad he had gone
up the Peiwar Khotal with the First Hammer-men at the order of Bahadur
Bobs.

The Field Marshal opened the Colonel's eyes to the danger threatening
the Empire.

"The one thing in our favour is this," he said, as they parted at the
hall-door.  "We've yet time."

The Colonel, inspired with new life, returned to Beachbourne and told
his wife.  She listened with vivid interest.

"You've got your work cut out, my Jocko," she said.  "And I shan't be
able to help you much."

"No," replied the Colonel.  "You must stick to the hostel.  I'll plough
my own furrow."

Forthwith he set to work with the quiet tenacity peculiar to him.  From
the start he made surprising headway, perhaps because he was so unlike
the orthodox product of the barrack-square; and like his leader he
eschewed the party politics he had always loathed.

When he took up the work of the League he found it one of the many
non-party organisations, run solely by the Conservatives quartered in
Meads and Old Town, because, to do them justice, nobody else would lend
a hand.  Liberalism, camped in mid-town about Terminus Road, was
sullenly suspicious; Labour, at the East-end, openly hostile.  The
opposition of Liberalism, the Colonel soon discovered, centred round
the leader of Nonconformity in the town, Mr. Geddes, the powerful
Presbyterian minister at St. Andrew's; the resistance of Labour,
inchoate as yet and ineffective as the Labour Party from which it
sprang, was far more difficult to tackle as being more vague and
imponderable.

In those days, always with the same end in view, the Colonel spent much
time in the East-end, winding his way into the heart of Industrial
Democracy.  He sloughed some old prejudices and learnt some new truths,
especially the one most difficult for a man of his age and tradition to
imbibe--that he knew almost nothing of modern England.  Often on
Sundays he would walk across from Meads to Sea-gate and spend his
afternoon wandering in the Recreation Ground, gathering impressions on
the day that Labour tries to become articulate.

On one such Sunday afternoon he came on a large old gentleman in gold
spectacles, fair linen, and roomy tailcoat, meandering on the edge of a
dirty and tattered crowd who were eddying about a platform.  The old
gentleman seemed strangely out of place and delightfully unconscious of
it; wandering about, large, benevolent and undisturbed, like a moon in
a stormy sky.

"Well, Mr. Caspar," said the Colonel quietly.  "What do you make of it
all?"

The large soft man turned his mild gaze of a cow in calf on the lean
tall one at his side.  It was clear he had no notion who the speaker
was; or that they had been at Trinity together forty years before.

"To me it's extraordinarily inspiring," he said with an earnestness
that was almost ridiculous.  "I feel the surge of the spirit beating
behind the bars down here as I do nowhere else....  It fills me with an
immense hope."

The Colonel, standing by the other like a stick beside a sack, sighed.

"They fill _me_ with a fathomless despair," he said gently.  "One wants
to help them, but they won't let you."

The other shook a slow head.

"I don't look at it like that," he replied.  "I go to them for help."

The Colonel made a little moue.

"D'you get it?" he asked

"I do," Mr. Caspar replied with startling conviction.

The Colonel moved sorrowfully upon his way.  He was becoming a man of
one idea--Germany....

A few nights later, after supper, he strolled up Beau-nez under a
harvest-moon spreading silvery wings moth-like over earth and sea.  He
was full of his own thoughts, and and for once heavy, almost
down-hearted, as he took up his familiar post of vigil beside the
flagstaff on the Head and looked out over the shining waters.  The
Liberals were moving at last, it seemed.  The great cry for
Dreadnoughts, more Dreadnoughts,

  _We want eight!
  We won't wait!_

had gone up to the ears of Government from millions of middle-class
homes; but the Working Man still slept.

Would nothing rouse him to the Terror that stalked by night across
those quiet waters? ... The Working Man, who would have to bear the
brunt of it when the trouble came....  The Working Man...?

The Head was deserted save for the familiar goat tethered outside the
coast-guard station.  The moon beamed down benignantly on the
silver-sabled land, broad-bosomed about him, and the waters stirring
far beneath him with a rustle like wind in corn.  Then he heard a
movement at his back, and turned to see behind him, shabby, collarless,
sheepish, the very Working Man of whom he had been thinking.

The Colonel regarded the mystic figure, gigantic in the moonlight, a
type rather than an individual, with an interest that was half
compassionate and half satirical.

_Yes.  That was the feller!  That was the chap who would take it in the
neck!  That man with the silly smile--God help him!_

"_Come to look for it?_" he said to the shadow, half to
himself--"_wiser than your kind?_"

"_Look for what, sir?_"

"_The Creeping Death that's stealing across the sea to swallow you and
yours._"

The shadow sidled towards him.

"Is that you, sir?" a voice said.  "I thought it were."

The Colonel emerged from his dream.

"What, Caspar!" he replied.  "What are you doing up here at this time
of night?"

"Just come up for a look round before turning in, me and my wife, sir,"
the other answered.  "Ruth," he called, "it's the Colonel."

A young woman with an orange scarf about her hair issued from the
shadow of the coast-guard station and came forward slowly.

"I've heard a lot about you from Ern, sir," she said in a deep voice
that hummed like a top in the silvery silence.  "When you commanded his
battalion in India and all."

The Colonel, standing in the dusk, listened with a deep content as to
familiar music, the player unseen; and was aware that his senses were
stirred by a beauty felt rather than seen......  Then he dropped down
the hill to the hostel twinkling solitary in the coombe beneath.

"Your friend Caspar's married," he told his wife on joining her in the
loggia.  The little lady scoffed.

"Married!" she cried.  "He's been married nearly a year.  They spent
their honeymoon on the hill at the back last autumn.  I could see them
from my room."

"Why ever didn't you tell me?" asked the Colonel.  "I'd have run em in
for vagrancy."

"No, you wouldn't," answered Mrs. Lewknor.

"Why not?"

"Because, my Jocko, she's a peasant Madonna.  You couldn't stand up
against her.  No man could."

"A powerful great creature from what I could see of her," the Colonel
admitted.  "A bit of a handful for Master Ernie, I should guess."

Mrs. Lewknor's fine face became firm.  She thought she scented a
challenge in the words and dropped her eyes to her work to hide the
flash in them.

"Ernie'll hold her," she said.  "He could hold any woman.  He's a
gentleman like his father before him."

He reached a long arm across to her as he sat and raised her fingers to
his lips.

Years ago a bird had flashed across the vision of his wife, coming and
going, in and out of the darkness, like the sparrow of the Saxon tale;
but this had been no sparrow, rather a bird of Paradise.  The Colonel
knew that; and he knew that the fowler who had loosed the jewel-like
bird was that baggy old gentleman who lived across the golf links in
the little house that overlooked the Rectory.  He knew and understood:
for years ago the same bird had flashed with radiant wings across the
chamber of his life too, swiftly coming, swiftly going.



CHAPTER VI

THE COLONEL LEARNS A SECRET

If the Colonel in his missionary efforts for the National Service
League made little impression on the masses in the East-end, he was
astonishingly successful with such labour as existed in Old Town; which
in political consciousness lagged fifty years behind its tumultuous
neighbour on the edge of the Levels, and retained far into this century
much of the atmosphere of a country village.  There the Church was
still a power politically, and the workers disorganised.  The Brewery
in the Moot and the Southdown Transport Company were the sole employers
of labour in the bulk; and Mr. Pigott the only stubborn opponent of the
programme of the League.

Archdeacon Willcocks backed the Colonel with whole-hearted ferocity,
and lent him the services of the Reverend Spink, who, flattered at
working with a Colonel D.S.O., showed himself keen and capable, and
proposed to run the Old Town branch of the League in conjunction with
the Church of England's Men's Society.

"I've got a first-rate secretary as a start," he told the Colonel
importantly.

"Who's that?"

"Caspar."

"Ernest Caspar!" cried the Colonel.  "The old Hammer-man!"

"No, his brother.  Twice the man.  Alfred--Mr. Trupp's chauffeur."

A few days later, when leaving the curate's lodgings, the Colonel ran
up against Ernie in Church Street.

"Your brother's joined us," he said.  "Are you going to?"

Ernie's charming face became sullen at once.

"I would, sir," he said.  "Only for that."

"Only for what?"

"Alf."

"You won't join because your brother has!" grinned the Colonel.

Ernie rolled a sheepish head.

"It's my wife, sir," he muttered.  "See, he persecutes her somethink
shameful."

Next afternoon the Colonel was crossing Saffrons Croft on his way to
the Manor-house for tea, when a majestic young woman, a baby in her
arms, sauntering under the elms watching the cricket, smiled at him
suddenly.

He stopped, uncertain of her identity.

"I'm Mrs. Caspar, sir," she explained.  "We met you the other night on
the Head--Ern and me."

"Oh, I know all about you!" replied the Colonel, glancing at the baby
who lifted to the sky a face like a sleeping rose.  "My word!--she's a
bonny un."

"She grows, sir," replied Ruth, cooing and contented.  "We gets her all
the air we can.  So we come here with the children for a blow of the
coolth most in general Saraday afternoons.  More air than in the Moot."

"Where's Caspar?" asked the Colonel.

"Yonder under the ellums, sir, along with a friend.  Come about the
classes or something I did hear."

"The class-war?" asked the Colonel grimly.

"No, sir," answered Ruth.  "Classes for learning you learning, I allow.
Man from the North, I yeard say.  Talks funny--foreign talk I call it."

Just then the Colonel's glance fell on a child, slim as a daisy stalk,
and with the healthy pallor of a wood-anemone, hiding behind Ruth's
skirt and peeping at the stranger with fearless blue eyes that seemed
somehow strangely familiar.

"And what's your name, little Miss Hide-away?" he asked, delighted.

"Little Alice," the child replied, bold and delicate as a robin.

The fact that the child was obviously some four years old while Ernie
had not been married half that time did not occur to the Colonel as
strange.  He glanced at the young mother, noble in outline, and in her
black and red beauty of the South so unlike the child.

"She doesn't take after her mother and father," he said, with the
reckless indiscretion of his sex.

Then he saw his mistake.  Ruth has run up signals of distress.  Ernie,
who had now joined them, as always at his best in an emergency, came
quickly to the rescue.

"Favours her grandmother, sir, I say," he remarked.

"Like my boy," commented the Colonel, recovering himself.  "I don't
think anybody'd have taken our Jock for his father's son when he joined
us at Pindi in 1904--eh, Caspar?"

The two old Hammer-men chatted over days in India.  Then the Colonel
went on up the hill, the eyes of the child still haunting him.

The Manor-house party were having tea on the lawn, under the laburnum,
looking over the sunk fence on to Saffrons Croft beyond, when the
Colonel joined them.  Mrs. Lewknor was already there; and young Stanley
Bessemere, the Conservative candidate for Beachbourne East.  He and
Bess were watching a little group of people gathered about a man who
was standing on a bench in Saffrons Croft haranguing.

"Lend me your bird-glasses, Miss Trupp," said her companion eagerly.

He stood up, a fine figure of a man, perfectly tailored,

"Yes," he said.  "I thought so.  It's my friend."

"Who's that?" asked the Colonel.

"Our bright particular local star of Socialism," the other answered.
"The very latest thing from Ruskin College.  I thought he confined
himself to the East-end, but I'm glad to find he gives you Old Towners
a turn now and then, Miss Trupp.  And I hope he won't forget you up at
Meads, Colonel."

"What's his name?" asked Bess, amused.

"Burt," replied the other.  "He comes from the North--and he's welcome
to go back there to-morrow so far as I'm concerned."

"You're from the North yourself, Mr. Bessemere," Mrs. Trupp reminded
him.

"I am," replied the young man, "and proud of it.  But for political
purposes, I prefer the South.  That's why I'm a candidate for
Beachbourne East."

A few minutes later he took his departure.  The Colonel watched him go
with a sardonic grin.  Philosopher though he might be, he was not above
certain of the prejudices common to his profession, and possessed in an
almost exaggerated degree the Army view of all politicians as the
enemies of Man at large and of the Services in particular.

Bess was still observing through her glasses the little group about the
man on the bench.

"There's Ruth!" she cried--"and Ernie!"

"Listening to the orator?" asked the Colonel, joining her.

"Not Ruth!" answered Bess with splendid scorn.  "No orators for her,
thank you!--She's listening to the baby.  Ernie can listen to him."

The Colonel took the glasses and saw Ruth and Ernie detach themselves
from the knot of people and come slowly up the hill making for Borough
Lane.

"That really is a magnificent young woman of Caspar's," he said to his
host.

"She's one in a million," replied the old surgeon.

"William's always been in love with her," said his wife.

"All the men are," added Mrs. Lewknor, with a provocative little nod at
her husband.

"Where did he pick up his pearl?" asked the Colonel.  "I love that
droning accent of hers.  It's like the music of a rookery."

"She can ca-a-a away with the best of them when she likes," chuckled
Bess.  "You should hear her over the baby!"

"An Aldwolston girl," said Mrs. Trupp.  "She's Sussex to the core--with
that Spanish strain so many of them have."  She added with extreme
deliberation,--"She was at the Hohenzollern for a bit one time o day,
as we say in these parts."

Mrs. Lewknor coloured faintly and looked at her feet.  Next to her
Jocko and his Jock the regiment was the most sacred object in her
world.  But the harm was done.  The secret she had guarded so long even
from her husband was out.  The word Hohenzollern had, she saw, unlocked
the door of the mystery for him.

Instantly the Colonel recalled Captain Royal's stay at the hotel on the
Crumbles a few years before ... Ernie Caspar's service there ... the
clash of the two men on the steps of the house where he was now having
tea ... Royal's sudden flight, and the rumours that had reached him of
the reasons for it.

The eyes which had looked at him a few minutes since in Saffrons Croft
from beneath the fair brow of little Alice were the eyes of his old
adjutant.

Then Mr. Trupp's voice broke in upon his reverie.

"Ah," said the old surgeon, "I see you know."

"And I'm glad you should," remarked Mrs. Trupp with the almost
vindictive emphasis that at times characterised this so gentle woman.

"Everybody does, mother," Bess interjected quietly...

As the Colonel and his wife walked home across the golf links he turned
to her.

"Did you know that, Rachel?" he inquired.

She looked straight in front of her as she walked.

"I did, my Jocko ... Mrs. Trupp told me."

The Colonel mused.

"What a change!--from Royal to Caspar!" he said.

She glanced up at him.

"You don't understand, Jocko," she said quietly.  "Ruth was never
Royal's mistress.  She was a maid on the Third Floor at the
Hohenzollern when he was there.  He simply raped her and bolted."

The Colonel shrugged.

"Like the cad," he said.

They walked on awhile.  Then the Colonel said more to himself than to
his companion,

"I wonder if she's satisfied?"

The little lady at his side made a grimace that suggested--"Is any
woman?"

But all she said was,

"She's a good woman."

"She's come a cropper once," replied the Colonel.

"She was tripped," retorted the other almost tartly.  "She didn't fall."



CHAPTER VII

THE MAN FROM THE NORTH

A few days later, on a Saturday afternoon, the Colonel was sitting in
the loggia of the hostel looking out over the sea when he saw two men
coming down the shoulder of Beau-nez along the coast-guard path.

The tall man in black with flying coat-tails he recognised at once.  It
was Mr. Geddes, the one outstanding minister of the Gospel in
Beachbourne: a scholar, yet in touch with his own times, eloquent and
broad, with a more than local reputation as a Liberal leader.  His
companion was a sturdy fellow in a cap, with curly black hair and a
merry eye.

The Colonel, who never missed a chance, went out to waylay the pair.
Mr. Geddes introduced his friend--Mr. Burt, who'd come down recently
from Mather and Platt's in the North to act as foreman fitter at Hewson
and Clarke's in the East-end.

The Colonel reached out a bony hand, which the other gripped fiercely.

"I know you're both conspirators," he said with a wary smile.  "What
troubles are you hatching for me now?"

Mr. Geddes laughed, and the engineer, surly a little from shyness and
self-conscious as a school-boy, grinned.

"Mr. Burt and I are both keen on education," said the minister.  "He's
been telling me of Tawney's tutorial class at Rochdale.  We're hatching
a branch of the W.E.A. down here.  That's our only conspiracy."

"What's the W.E.A.?" asked the Colonel, always keen.

"It's the Democratic wing of the National Service League," the engineer
answered in broad Lancashire--"Workers' Education Association."

The Colonel nodded.

"He's getting at me!" he said.  "I'm always being shot at.  Will you
both come in to tea and talk?--I should like you to meet my wife, Burt.
She'll take you on.  She's a red-hot Tory and a bonnie fighter."

But Mr. Geddes had a committee, and--"A must get on with the
Revolution," said Burt gravely.

"What Revolution's that?" asked the Colonel.

"The Revolution that begun in 1906--and that's been going on ever
since; and will go on till we're through!"  He said the last words with
a kind of ferocity; and then burst into a sudden jovial roar as he saw
the humour of his own ultra-seriousness.

Mrs. Lewknor, who had been watching the interview from the loggia,
called to her husband as he returned to the house.

"Who was that man with Mr. Geddes?" she asked.

"Stanley Bessemere's friend," the Colonel answered.  "A red
Revolutionary from Lancasheer--on the bubble; and a capital good fellow
too, I should say."

That evening the Colonel rang up Mr. Geddes to ask about the engineer.

"He's the new type of intellectual artizan," the minister informed him.
"The russet-coated captain who knows what he's fighting for and loves
what he knows.  Unless I'm mistaken he's going to play a considerable
part in our East-end politics down here."  He gave the other the
engineer's address, adding with characteristic breadth,

"It might be worth your while to follow him up perhaps, Colonel."

Joe Burt lodged in the East-end off Pevensey Road in the heart of the
new and ever-growing industrial quarter of Seagate, which was gradually
transforming a rather suburban little town of villas with a
fishing-station attached into a manufacturing city, oppressed with all
the thronging problems of our century.  There the Colonel visited his
new friend.  Burt was the first man of his type the old soldier, who
had done most of his service in India, had met.  The engineer himself,
and even more the room in which he lived, with its obvious air of
culture, was an eye-opener to the Colonel.

There was an old sideboard, beautifully kept, and on it a copper kettle
and spirit lamp; a good carpet, decent curtains.  On the walls were
Millais's _Knight Errant_, Greiffenhagen's _Man with a Scythe_, and
Clausen's _Girl at the Gate_.  But it was the books on a long deal
plank that most amazed the old soldier; not so much the number of them
but the quality.  He stood in front of them and read their titles with
grunts.

Alfred Marshall's _Principles of Economics_ lolled up against the
Webbs' _Industrial Democracy_; Bradley's lectures on the tragedies of
Shakespeare hobnobbed with Gilbert Murray's translations from
Euripides.  Few of the standard books on Economics and Industrial
History, English or American, were missing.  And the work of the modern
creators in imaginative literature, Wells, Shaw, Arnold Bennett were
mixed with _Alton Locke_, _Daniel Deronda_, _Sybil_, and the essays of
Samuel Butler and Edward Carpenter.

"You're not married then?" said the Colonel, throwing a glance round
the well-appointed room.

"Yes, A am though," the engineer answered, his black-brown eyes
twinkling.  "A'm married to Democracy.  She's ma first loov and like to
be ma last."

"What you doing down South?" asked the Colonel, tossing one leg over
the other as he sat down to smoke.

"Coom to make trouble," replied the other.

"Good for you!" said the Colonel.  "Hotting things up for our friend
Stan.  Well, he wants it.  All the politicians do."

His first visit to Seagate Lane was by no means his last: for the
engineer's courage, his integrity, his aggressive tactics, delighted
and amused the scholarly old soldier; but when he came to tackle his
man seriously on the business of the National Service League he found
he could not move him an inch from the position he invariably took up:
The Army would be used by the Government in the only war that
matters--the Industrial war; and therefore the Army must not be
strengthened.

"If the Army was used for the only purpose it ought to be used
for--defence--A'd be with you.  So'd the boolk of the workers.  But
it's not.  They use it to croosh strikes!"  And he brought his fist
down on the table with a characteristic thump.  "That's to croosh
us!--For the strike's our only weapon, Colonel."

The power, the earnestness, even the savagery he displayed, amazed the
other.  Here was a reality, an elemental force of which he had scarcely
been aware.  This was Democracy incarnate.  And whatever else he might
think he could not but admire the sincerity and strength of it.  But he
always brought his opponent back to what was for him the only issue.

"Germany!" he said.

"That's blooff!" replied the other.  "They'll get the machine-guns for
use against Germany, and when they've got em they'll use them against
us.  That's the capitalists' game.--Then there's the officers."

"What about em?" said the Colonel cheerfully.  "They're harmless
enough, poor devils."

"Tories to a man.  Coom from the capitalist class."

"What if they do?"

"The Army does what the capitalist officer tells it.  And he knows
where his interest lies aw reet."

"Well, of course you know the British officer better than I do, Burt,"
replied the Colonel, nettled for once.

His opponent was grimly pleased to have drawn blood.

"In the next few years if things go as they look like goin we shall
see," was his comment.  "Wait till we get a Labour Government in power!"

The Colonel knocked out his pipe.

"Well, Burt, I'll say this," he remarked.  "If we could get half the
passion into our cause you do into yours, we should do."

"We're fighting a reality, Colonel," the other answered.  "You're
fighting a shadow, that's the difference."

"I hope to God it may prove so!" said the Colonel, as they shook hands.

The two men thoroughly enjoyed their spars.  And the battle was well
matched: for the soldier of the Old Army and the soldier of the New
were both scholars, well-read, logical, and fair-minded.

On one of his visits the Colonel found Ernie Caspar in the engineer's
room standing before the book-shelf, handling the books.  Ernie showed
himself a little shame-faced in the presence of his old Commanding
Officer.

"How do they compare to your father's, Caspar?" asked the Colonel,
innocently unaware of the other's _mauvaise honte_ and the cause of it.

"Dad's got ne'er a book now, sir," Ernie answered gruffly.  "Only just
the Bible, and Wordsworth, and Troward's Lectures.  Not as he'd ever
anythink like this--only Carpenter.  See, dad's not an economist.  More
of a philosopher and poet like."

"I wish they were mine," said the Colonel, turning over Zimmeni's
_Greek Commonwealth_.

"They're all right if so be you can afford em," answered Ernie shortly,
almost sourly.

"Books are better'n beer, Ernie," said Joe Burt, a thought maliciously;
and added with the little touch of priggishness that is rarely absent
from those who have acquired knowledge comparatively late in
life--"They're the bread of life and source of power."

"Maybe," retorted Ernie with a snort; "but they aren't the equal of
wife and children, I'll lay."

He left the room surlily.

Burt grinned at the Colonel.

"Ern's one o the much-married uns," he said.

"D'you know his wife?" the Colonel asked.

Joe shook his bull-head.

"Nay," he said.  "And don't wish to."

"She's a fine woman all the same," replied the Colonel.

"Happen so," the other answered.  "All the more reason a should avoid
her.  They canna thole me, the women canna.  And A don't blame em."

"Why can't they thole you?" asked the Colonel curiously.

"Most Labour leaders rise to power at the expense of their wives," the
other explained.  "They go on; but the wives stay where they are--at
the wash-tub.  The women see that; and they don't like it.  And they're
right."

"What's the remedy?"

"There's nobbut one."  Joe now not seldom honoured the Colonel by
relapsing into dialect when addressing him.  "And that's for the Labour
leader to remain unmarried.  They're the priests of Democracy--or
should be."

"You'll never make a Labour leader out of Caspar," said the Colonel
genially.  "I've tried to make an N.C.O. of him before now and failed."

"A'm none so sure," Joe said, and added with genuine concern: "He's on
the wobble.  Might go up; might go down.  Anything might happen to yon
lad now.  He's just the age.  But he's one o ma best pupils--if he'll
nobbut work."

"Ah," said the Colonel with interest.  "So he's joined your class at
St. Andrew's Hall, has he?"

"Yes," replied the other.  "Mr. Chislehurst brought him along--the new
curate in Old Town.  D'ye know him?"

"He's my cousin," replied the Colonel.  "I got him here.  He'd been
overworking in Bermondsey--in connection with the Oxford Bermondsey
Mission."

"Oh, he's one of _them_!" cried the other.  "That accounts for it.  A
know _them_.  They were at Oxford when A was at Ruskin.  They're
jannock,--and so yoong with it.  They think they're going to convert
the Church to Christianity!"  He chuckled.

"In the course of history," remarked the Colonel, "many Churchmen have
thought that.  But the end of it's always been the same."

"What's that?" asked the engineer.

"That the Church has converted them."



CHAPTER VIII

THE CHERUB

The advent of Bobby Chislehurst to Old Town made a considerable
difference to Bessie Trupp.  She was not at all in love with him and he
only pleasantly so with her; but as she told her friend the Colonel,

"He's the first curate we've ever had in Old Town you can be like that
with."

"Like that is good," said the Colonel.  "Give me my tables.  Meet it is
I write it down.--It says nothing and expresses everything."

Now if the clergy in Old Town with the exception of Bess's pet
antipathy, the Reverend Spink, were honest men worthy of respect, as
everybody admitted, they were also old-fashioned; and Bobby Chislehurst
was a new and disturbing element in their midst.  Shy and unassuming
though he was, the views of the Cherub, as the Colonel called his
cousin, when they became known, created something of a mild sensation
in the citadel which had been held for Conservatism against all comers
by the Archdeacon and his lady for nearly forty years.

Even Mr. Pigott was shocked.

"He's a Socialist!" he confided to Mr. Trupp at the Bowling Green
Committee.

The old Nonconformist had passed the happiest hours of a militant life
in battle with the Church as represented by his neighbour, the
Archdeacon, but of late it had been borne in upon him with increasing
urgency that the time might come when Church and Chapel would have to
join forces and present a common front against the hosts of Socialism
which he feared more than ever he had done the Tory legions.

But if the Church was going Socialist! ...

And Mr. Chislehurst said it was...

The new curate and Bess Trupp had much in common, especially Boy
Scouts, their youth and the outstanding characteristic of their
generation--a passionate interest and sympathy for their poorer
neighbours.  Both spent laborious and happy hours in the Moot,
listening a great deal, learning much, even helping a little.  Bess,
who had known most of the dwellers in the hollow under the Kneb all her
life, had of course her favourites whom she commended to the special
care of Bobby on his arrival; and first of these were the young Caspars.

She told him of Edward Caspar, her mother's old friend, scholar,
dreamer, gentleman, with the blood of the Beauregards in his veins, who
had married the daughter of an Ealing tobacconist, and lived in Rectory
Walk; of Anne Caspar, the harsh and devoted tyrant; of the two sons of
this inharmonious couple, and the antagonism between them from
childhood; of Alf's victory and Ernie's enlistment in the Army; his
sojourn in India and return to Old Town some years since; and she gave
him a brief outline of Ruth's history, not mentioning Royal's name but
referring once or twice through set teeth to "that little beast."

"Who's that?" asked the Cherub.

"Ernie's brother," she answered.  "Alfred, who drives for dad."

"Not the sidesman?"

"Yes."

Bobby looked surprised.

"Mr. Spink," Bess explained darkly.  "He got him there."

Apart from Bess's recommendation, Mr. Chislehurst's contact with Ruth
was soon established through little Alice, who attended Sunday School.
Ruth, moreover, called herself a church-woman, and was sedately proud
of it, though the Church had no apparent influence upon her life, and
though she never attended services.

On the latter point, the Cherub, when he had rooted himself firmly in
her regard, remonstrated.

"See, I ca-a-n't, sir," said Ruth simply.

"Why not?" asked Bobby.

"_He's_ always there," Ruth answered enigmatically.

Bobby was puzzled and she saw it.

"Alf," she explained.  "See, he wanted me same as Ernie.  Only not to
marry me.  Just for his fun like and then throw you over.  That's Alf,
that is.  There's the difference atween the two brothers."  She
regarded the young man before her with the lovely solicitude of the
mother initiating a sensitive son into the cruelties of a world of
which she has already had tragic experience.  "Men are like that,
sir--some men."  She added with tender delicacy, "Only you wouldn't
know it, not yet."

The Cherub might be innocent, but no man has lived and worked in the
back-streets of Bermondsey without learning some strange and ugly
truths about life and human nature.

"He's not worrying you now?" he asked anxiously.

"Nothing to talk on," answered Ruth.  "He wants me still, I allow.
Only he won't get me--not yet a bit anyways."  She seemed quite casual
about the danger that threatened her, Bobby noticed; even, he thought,
quietly enjoying it.

That evening, when the Cherub touched on the point to his colleague,
Mr. Spink turned in his india-rubber lips.

"It's an honour to be abused by a woman like that," he said.  "She's a
bad character--bad."

"She's not that, I swear!" cried Bobby warmly.  "She may have
exaggerated, or made a mistake, but bad she's not."

"I believe I've been in the parish longer than you have, Chislehurst,"
retorted the other crisply.  "And presumably I know something about the
people in it."

"You've not been in as long as Miss Trupp," retorted Bobby.  "She's
been here all her life."

Mr. Spink puffed at his cigar with uplifted chin and smiled.

"How's it getting on?" he asked.

"Pah!" muttered Bobby--"Cad!" and went out, rather white.

That was not the end of the matter, however.

A few days later Joe Burt and Bobby had paused for a word at the _Star_
corner when Mr. Spink and Alf Caspar came down Church Street together.

"Birds of a feather," said Alf loudly, nudging his companion, just as
they passed the standing couple.

"That's not very courteous, Caspar," called Bobby quietly after him.

Mr. Spink walked on with a smirk; but Alf came back with hardly
dissimulated truculence.

"Sorry you've been spreading this about me, Mr. Chislehurst," he said,
his sour eyes blinking.

"What?" asked the Cherub, astonished.

"Dirt," Alf retorted.  "And I know where you got it from too."

"I haven't," cried Bobby with boyish indignation.  "What d'you mean?"

"I know you have though," retorted Alf.  "So it's no good denying it."
He was about to move on with a sneer when Joe Burt struck in.

"That's a foonny way to talk," he said.

"_Foonny_ it may be," mocked Alf.  "One thing I'll lay: it's not so
_foonny_ as your lingo."

The engineer shouldered a pace nearer.

"Throw a sneer, do you?"

"Ah," said Alf, secure in the presence of the clergyman.  "I know all
about _you_."

"Coom to that," retorted the Northerner, "I know a little about you.
One o Stan's pups, aren't you?"

Bobby moved on and Alf at once followed suit.

"You keep down in the East-end, my lad!" he called over his shoulder.
"We don't want none of it in Old Town.  Nor we won't have it, neether."

Joe stood four-square at the cross-roads, bristling like a dog.

"Called yourself a Socialist when yo were down, didn't you?" he
shouted.  "And then turned Church and State when yo began to make.  I
know your sort!"

He dropped down Borough Lane, hackles still up, on the way to meet
Ernie by appointment in the Moot.

At the corner he waited, one eye on Ern's cottage, which he did not
approach.  Then Ruth's face peeped round her door, amused and
malicious, to catch his dark head bobbing back into covert as he saw
her.  The two played _I spy_ thus most evenings to the amusement of one
of them at least.

"He's there," she told Ernie in the kitchen--"Waitin at the
corner.--Keeps a safe distance, don't he?--What's he feared on?"

"You," answered Ernie, and rose.

Ruth snorted.  The reluctance to meet her of this man with the growing
reputation as a fighter amused and provoked her.  Sometimes she chaffed
with Ernie about it; but a ripple of resentment ran always across her
laughter.

Ern now excused his friend.

"He's all for his politics," he said.  "No time for women."

"Hap, he'll learn yet," answered Ruth with a fierce little nod of her
head.



CHAPTER IX

THE SHADOW OF ROYAL

That evening Alf called at Bobby's lodgings and apologised frankly.

"I know I said what I shouldn't, sir," he admitted.  "But it fairly
tortured me to see you along of a chap like that Burt."

"He's all right," said Bobby coldly.

Alf smiled that sickly smile of his.

"Ah, you're innocent, Mr. Chislehurst," he said.  "Only wish I knew as
little as you do."

Alf in fact was moving on and up again in his career; walking warily in
consequence, and determined to do nothing that should endanger his
position with the powers that be.  This was the motive that inspired
his apology to Mr. Chislehurst and caused him likewise to make
approaches to his old schoolmaster, Mr. Pigott.

The old Nonconformist met the advances of his erstwhile pupil with
genial brutality.

"What's up now, Alf?" he asked.  "Spreading the treacle to catch the
flies.  Mind ye don't catch an hornet instead then!"

The remark may have been made in innocence, but Alf looked sharply at
the speaker and retired in some disorder.  His new stir of secret
busyness was in fact bringing him into contact with unusual company, as
Mrs. Trupp discovered by accident.  One evening she had occasion to
telephone on behalf of her husband to the garage.  A voice that seemed
familiar replied.

"Who's that?" she asked.

The answer came back, sharp as an echo,

"_Who's that?_"

"I'm Mrs. Trupp.  I want to speak to Alfred Caspar."

Then the voice muttered and Alfred took the receiver.

Later Mrs. Trupp told her husband of the incident.

"I'm _certain_ it was Captain Royal," she said with emphasis.

The old surgeon expressed no surprise.

"I daresay," he said.  "Alf's raising money for some business scheme.
He told me so."

Now if Alf's attempts on Ruth in the days between the birth of the
child and her marriage to Ernie were known to Mrs. Trupp, the
connection of the little motor-engineer and Royal was only suspected by
her.  A chance word of Ruth's had put her on guard; and that was all.
Now with the swift natural intuition for the ways of evil-doers, which
the innocent woman, once roused, so often reveals as by miracle, she
flashed to a conclusion.

"Alf's blackmailing him!" she said positively.

"I shouldn't be surprised," her husband answered calmly.

His wife put her hand upon his shoulder.

"How _can_ you employ a man like that, William?" she said, grave and
grieved.

It was an old point of dispute between them.  Now he took her hand and
stroked it.

"My dear," he said, "when a bacteriologist has had a unique specimen
under the microscope for years he's not going to abandon it for a
scruple."

A few days later Mrs. Trupp was walking down Borough Lane past the
_Star_ when she saw Alf and Ruth cross each other on the pavement fifty
yards in front.  Neither stopped, but Alf shot a sidelong word in the
woman's ear as he slid by serpent-wise.  Ruth marched on with a toss of
her head, and Mrs. Trupp noted the furtive look in the eyes of her
husband's chaffeur as he met her glance and passed, touching his cap.

Mindful of her conversation with her husband, she followed Ruth home
and boarded her instantly.

"Ruth," she asked, "I want to know something.  You must tell me for
your own good.  Alfred's got no hold over you?"

Ruth drew in her breath with the sound, almost a hiss, of a sword
snatched from its scabbard.  Then slowly she relaxed.

"He's not got the sway over me not now," she said in a still voice,
with lowered eyes.  "Only thing he's the only one outside who knaws
Captain Royal's the father of little Alice."

Mrs. Trupp eyed her under level brows.

"Oh, he does know that?" she said.

Ruth was pale.

"Yes, 'M," she said.  "See Alf used to drive him that summer at the
Hohenzollern."

Mrs. Trupp was not entirely satisfied.

"I don't see how Alfred can hold his knowledge over you," she remarked.

"Not over me," answered Ruth, raising her eyes.  "Over him."

"Over who?"

"Captain Royal," said Ruth; and added slowly--"And I'd be sorry for
anyone Alf got into his clutches--let alone her father."

Her dark eyes smouldered; her colour returned to her, swarthy and
glowing; a gleam of teeth revealed itself between faintly parted lips.

Mrs. Trupp not for the first time was aware of a secret love of battle
and danger in this young Englishwoman whose staid veins carried the
wild blood of some remote ancestress who had danced in the orange
groves of Seville, watched the Mediterranean blue flecked with the
sails of Barbary corsairs, and followed with passionate eyes the
darings and devilries of her matador in the ring among the bulls of
Andalusia.

Mrs. Trupp returned home, unquiet at heart, and with a sense that
somehow she had been baffled.  She knew Ruth well enough now to
understand how that young woman had fallen a prey to Royal.  It was not
the element of class that had been her undoing, certainly not the
factor of money: it was the soldier in the man who had seized the
girl's imagination.  And Mrs. Trupp, daughter herself of a line of
famous soldiers, recognised that Royal with all his faults, was a
soldier, fine as a steel-blade, keen, thorough, searching.  It was the
hardness and sparkle and frost-like quality of this man with a soul
like a sword which had set dancing the girl's hot Spanish blood.  Royal
was a warrior; and to that fact Ruth owned her downfall.

Was Ernie a warrior too?

Not for the first time she asked herself the question as she turned out
of the Moot into Borough Lane.  And at the moment the man of whom she
was thinking emerged from the yard of the Transport Company, dusty,
draggled, negligent as always, and smiling at her with kind eyes--too
kind, she sometimes thought.

As she crossed the road to the Manor-house Joe Burt passed her and gave
his cap a surly hitch by way of salute.  Mrs. Trupp responded
pleasantly.  Her husband, she knew, respected the engineer.  She
herself had once heard him speak and had admired the fire and
fearlessness in him.  Moreover, genuine aristocrat that she was, she
followed with sympathy his lonely battle against the hosts of Toryism
in the East-end, none the less because she was herself a Conservative
by tradition and temperament.

_That_ man was a warrior to be sure....

That evening the old surgeon dropped his paper and looked over his
pince-nez at his wife and daughter.

"My dears," he said, "I've some good news for you."

"I know," replied Bess, scornfully.  "Your Lloyd George is coming down
in January to speak on his iniquitous Budget.  I knew that, thank you!"

"Better even than that," her father answered.  "Alfred Caspar's leaving
me of his own accord."

The girl tossed her skein of coloured silk to the ceiling with a
splendid gesture.

"Chuck-_her_-up!" she cried.  "Do you hear, mother?"

"I do," answered Mrs. Trupp severely.  "Better late than never."

"And I'm losing the best chauffeur in East Sussex," Mr. Trupp continued.

Alf, indeed, who had paddled his little canoe for so long and so
successfully on the Beachbourne mill-pond, was now about to launch a
larger vessel on the ocean of the world in obedience to the urge of
that ambition which, apart from a solitary lapse, had been the
consuming passion of his life.  Unlike most men, however, who, as they
become increasingly absorbed in their own affairs, tend to drop outside
interests, he persisted loyally in old-time activities.  Whether it was
that his insatiable desire for power forbade him to abandon any
position, however modest, which afforded him scope; or that he felt it
more necessary than ever now, in the interests of his expanding career,
to maintain and if possible improve his relations with the Church and
State which exercised so potent a control in the sphere in which he
proposed to operate; or that the genuinely honest workman in him
refused to abandon a job to which he had once put his hand, it is the
fact that he continued diligent in his office at St. Michael's, and
manifested even increased zeal in his labours for the National Service
League.

Alf, indeed, so distinguished himself by his services to the League
that at the annual meeting at the Town Hall, he received public
commendation both from the Archdeacon and the Colonel, who announced
that "the admirable and indefatigable secretary of our Old Town branch,
Mr. Alfred Caspar, has agreed to become District Convener."

That meeting was a red-letter day in the history of the Beachbourne
National Service League, for at it the Colonel disclosed that Lord
Roberts was coming down to speak.



CHAPTER X

BOBS

The old Field-Marshal, wise and anxious as a great doctor, was sitting
now at the bedside of the patient that was his country.  His finger was
on her pulse, his eye on the hourglass, the sands of which were running
out; and he was listening always for the padding feet of that Visitor
whose knock on the door he expected momentarily.

After South Africa he had sheathed at last the sword which had not
rested in its scabbard for fifty years; and from that moment his eyes
were everywhere, watching, guiding, cherishing the movement to which he
had given birth.

He followed the activities and successes of Colonel Lewknor on the
South Coast with a close attention of which the old Hammer-man knew
nothing; and to show his appreciation of the Colonel's labours, he
volunteered to come down to Beachbourne and address a meeting.

The offer was greedily accepted.

Mrs. Lewknor, who, now that the hostel was in full swing, was more free
to interest herself in her husband's concerns, flung herself into the
project with enthusiasm.  And the Colonel went to work with tact and
resolution.  On one point he was determined: this should not be a
Conservative demonstration, run by the Tories of Old Town and Meads.
Mr. Glynde, a local squire, the member for Beachbourne West, might be
trusted to behave himself.  But young Stanley Bessemere, who, as the
Colonel truly said, was for thrusting his toe into the crack of every
door, would need watching--he and his cohorts of lady-workers.

The Committee took the Town Hall for the occasion, and arranged for the
meeting to be at eight in the evening so that Labour might attend if it
would.

The Colonel journeyed down to the East-end to ask Joe Burt to take an
official part in the reception; but the engineer refused, to the
Colonel's chagrin.

"A shall coom though," said Joe.

"And bring your mates along," urged the Colonel.  "The old gentleman's
worth seeing at all events.  Mr. Geddes is coming."

"I was going to soop with Ernie Caspar and his missus," replied the
engineer, looking a little foolish.  "And we were coomin along together
afterwards."

"Ah," laughed the Colonel, as he went out.  "She's beat you!--I knew
she would.  Back the woman!"

Joe grinned in the door.

"Yes," he said.  "Best get it over.  That's my notion of it."


Bobs was still the most popular of Englishmen, if no longer the figure
of romance he had been in the eyes of the British public for a few
minutes during the South African war.  His name drew; and the Town Hall
was pleasantly full without being packed.  Many came to see the old
hero who cared little for his subject.  Amongst these was Ruth Caspar
who at Ernie's request for once had left her babes to the care of a
friend.  She stood at the back of the hall with her husband amongst her
kind.  Mrs. Trupp, passing, invited her to come forward; but Ruth had
spied Alf at the platform end, a steward with a pink rosette, very
smart, and deep in secret counsel with the Reverend Spink.  Joe Burt,
with critical bright eye everywhere, supported the wall next to her.
The Colonel, hurrying by, threw a friendly glance at him.

"Ah," he said, "so you've found each other."

"Yes, sir," replied Ruth mischievously.  "He's faced me at last, Mr.
Burt has."

"And none the worse for it, I hope," said the Colonel.

"That's not for me to say, sir," answered Ruth, who was in gay mood.

Joe changed the subject awkwardly.

"A see young Bessemere's takin a prominent part in the proceedings," he
said, nodding towards the platform.  "He's two oughts above nothing,
that young mon."

"Yes, young ass," replied the Colonel cheerfully.  "Now if you'd come
on the Committee as I asked you, you'd be there to keep him in his
place.  You play into the hands of your enemy!"

Then Bobby Chislehurst stopped for a word with Ruth and Ernie and their
friend.

"Coom, Mr. Chislehurst!" chaffed the engineer.  "A'm surprised to see
_you_ here.  A thought you was a Pacifist."

"So I am," replied the other cheerily.  "That's why I've come.  I want
to hear both sides."

Joe shook his bullet-head gravely.

"There's nobbut two sides in life," he said.  "Right and Wrong.  Which
side is the Church on?"

Then the little Field-Marshal came on to the platform with the swift
and resolute walk of the old Horse-gunner.  He was nearly eighty now,
but his figure was that of a youth, neat, slight, alert.  Ruth remarked
with interest that the hero was bow-legged, which she did not intend
her children to be.  For the rest, his kindly face of a Roman-nosed
thoroughbred in training, his deep wrinkles, and close-cropped white
hair, delighted her.

The great soldier proved no orator; but his earnestness more than
compensated for his lack of eloquence.

After the meeting he came down into the body of the hall and held an
informal reception.  The Colonel introduced Mr. Geddes, and left the
two together while he edged his way down to Joe Burt.

"Well, what d'you think of him?" he asked.

The engineer, his hands glued to the wall behind him, rocked to and fro.

"A like him better than his opinions," he grinned.

"You come along and have a word with him," urged the Colonel.

Joe shook a wary head.

"He's busy with Church and State," he said, nodding down the hall.  "He
don't need Labour."

Then Ruth chimed in almost shrilly for once.

"There's young Alf shook hands with him!"

"Always shovin of issalf!" muttered Ernie sourly.  "He and Reverend
Spink."

The old Field-Marshal was now coming slowly down the hall with a word
here and a handshake there.  Church and State, as Joe had truly said,
were pressing him.  Mrs. Trupp, indeed, and Mrs. Lewknor were fighting
a heavy rearguard action against the Archdeacon and Stanley Bessemere
and his cohorts, to cover the old soldier's retirement.

As the column drifted past Ernie and Ruth the Colonel stopped.

"An old Hammer-man, sir," he said.  "And the mother of future
Hammer-men."

Lord Roberts shook hands with Ruth, and turned to Ernie.

"What battalion?" he asked in his high-pitched voice.

"First, sir," answered Ernie, rigid at attention, in a voice Ruth had
never heard before.

"Ah," said the old Field-Marshal.  "They were with me in the march to
Kandahar.  Never shall I forget them!"  He ran his eye shrewdly over
the other.  "Are you keeping fit?"

"Pretty fair, considering, sir," answered Ernie, relaxing suddenly as
he had braced.

"Well, you'll be wanted soon," said Bobs, and passed on.  "How these
men run to seed, directly they leave the service, Lewknor!" he remarked
to the Colonel on the stairs.  "Now I daresay that fellow was a smart
upstanding man when he was with you."


Ernie, thrilled at his adventure, went out into the cool night with
Ruth, quietly amused at his excitement, beside him.

"Didn't 'alf look, Alf didn't, when he talked to you!" chuckled Ruth.

That was the main impression she had derived from the meeting, that and
Lord Roberts's ears and the way they were stuck on to his head; but
Ernie's mind was still in tumult.

"Where's Joe then?" he cried suddenly, and turned to see his pal still
standing somewhat forlorn on the steps of the Town Hall.

He whistled and beckoned furiously.

"Come on, Joe!" he called.  "Just down to the Wish and have a look at
the sea."

But the engineer shook his head and turned slowly away down Grove Road.

"Nay, A know when A'm not wanted," he called.  "Yoong lovers like to be
alone."

"Sauce!" said Ruth, marching on with a little smile.

Ernie rejoined her.

"What d'you think of him?" he asked keenly.

"O, I liked him," said Ruth, cool and a trifle mischievous.  "He's like
a little bird--so alife like.  And that tag of white beard to his chin
like a billy-goat!--I did just want to pluck it!"  She tittered and
then recollected herself.

"I didn't mean Lord Roberts, fat-ead," retorted Ernie.  "I meant Joe."

"O, that chap!" answered Ruth casually.  "I didn't pay much heed to
him.  There's a lot o nature to him, I should reckon.  Most in general
there is--them black chaps, bull-built, wi curly tops to em."

She drifted back to Lord Roberts and the meeting.

"Only all that about war!--I don't like that.  Don't seem right, not to
my mind.  There's a plenty enough troubles seems to me without them
a-shoving great wars on top o you all for love."

Ernie felt that the occasion demanded a lecture and that he was pointed
out as the man to give it.  The chance, moreover, might not recur; and
he must therefore make the most of it.  He had this feeling less often
perhaps than most men, and for that reason when he had it he had it
strong.  At the moment he was profoundly aware of the immense
superiority of his sex; the political sagacity of Man; his power of
taking statesmanlike views denied apparently to Woman.

"And what if Germany attacks us!" he asked censoriously.  "Take it
laying down, I suppose!--Spread yourself on the beach and let em tread
on you as they land, so they don't wet their feet!"

"Germany won't interfere with you if you don't interfere with her, I
reckon," Ruth answered calmly.  "It's just the same as neighbours in
the street.  You're friends or un-friends, accordin as you like."

"What about Mrs. Ticehurst?" cried Ernie, feeling victory was his for
once.  "You didn't interfere with her, did you?  Yet she tip the dust
bin a-top o little Alice over the back-wall--to show she loved you, I
suppose."

Ruth tilted a knowing chin.

"She aren't a neighbour, Mrs. Ticehurst aren't--not prarperly."

They were relapsing into broad Sussex as they always would when
chaffing.

"What are she then?"

"She's a cat, sure-ly."

The night air, the thronged and brilliant sky, the rare change, the
little bit of holiday, inspired and stimulated her.  The Martha of much
busyness had given place to the girl again.  Immersed in the splendid
darkness, she was in a delicious mood, cool, provocative, ironical; as
Ernie had known her in that brief April of her life before Captain
Royal had thrown a shadow across her path.

He threaded his arm through hers.  Together they climbed the little
Wish hill on the sea-front.  From the top, by the old martello tower,
they looked across the sea, white beneath the moon.  Ernie's mood of
high statesmanship had passed already.

"I don't see this Creeping Death they talk on," he said discontentedly.

"Ah," Ruth answered, sagacious in her turn.  "Hap it's there though."

Ernie turned on her.

"I thart you just said..."

"No, I didn't then," she answered with magnificent unconcern.  "All I
say is--War and that, what's it got to do wi' we?"

As they came off the hill they met Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor crossing
Madeira Walk on their way home.

"Where's your friend?" asked the Colonel.

"Gone back to his books and learning, sir, I reckon," replied Ruth.
"He don't want us."

"Ah, you scared him, Mrs. Caspar," chaffed the Colonel.

"Scared him back to his revolution," commented Mrs. Lewknor.

Ruth laughed that deep silvery bell-like laughter of hers that seemed
to make the night vibrate.

"He'd take some scaring, I reckon, that chap would," she said.



CHAPTER XI

THE RUSSET-COATED CAPTAIN

Joe Burt had been born at Rochdale of a mother whose favourite saying
was:

"With a rocking-chair and a piece o celery a Lancasheer lass is aw
reet."

At eight, she had entered the mill, doffing.  Joe had entered the same
mill at about the same age, doffing too.  He worked bare-footed in the
ring-room in the days when overlookers and jobbers carried straps and
used them.

When he was fifteen his mother died, and his father married again.

"Thoo can fend for self," his step-mother told him straightway, with
the fine directness of the North.

Joe packed his worldly possessions in a chequered handkerchief,
especially his greatest treasure--a sixpenny book bought off a
second-hand bookstall at infinite cost to the buyer and called _The
Hundred Best Thoughts_.  Then he crossed the common at night, falling
into a ditch on the way, to find the lodging-house woman who was to be
his mother for the next ten years drinking her Friday pint o beer.  He
was earning six shillings a week at the time in a bicycle-shop.  Later
he entered a big engineering firm and, picking up knowledge as he went
along, was a first-class fitter when he was through his time.

Those were the days when George Barnes was Secretary of the Amalgamated
Society of Engineers, and leading the great engineers' strike of the
early nineties.  Labour was still under the heel of Capital, but
squealing freely.  Socialism, apart from a few thinkers, was the gospel
of noisy and innocuous cranks; and advanced working-men still called
themselves Radicals.

Young Joe woke up sooner than most to the fact that he was the slave of
an environment that was slowly throttling him because it denied him
opportunity to be himself--which is to say to grow.  He discarded
chapel for ever on finding that his step-mother was a regular
worshipper at Little Bethel, and held in high esteem amongst the
congregation.  He read Robert Blatchford in the _Clarion_, went to hear
Keir Hardie, who with Joey Arch was dodging in and out of Parliament
during those years, heralds of the advancing storm, and took some part
in founding the local branch of the newly-formed Independent Labour
Party.  When his meditative spirit tired of the furious ragings of the
Labour Movement of those early days, he would retire to the Friends'
Meeting-house on the hill and ruminate there over the plain tablet set
in the turf which marks appropriately the resting place of the greatest
of modern Quakers.

The eyes of the intelligent young fitter were opening fast now; and the
death of the head of his firm completed the process and gave him sight.

"Started from nothing.  Left £200,000.  Bequeathed each of his servants
£2 for every year of service; but nothing for us as had made the money."

Joe was now a leading man in the local A.S.E.  His Society recognised
his work and sent him in the early years of our century to Ruskin
College, Oxford.  The enemies of that institution are in the habit of
saying that it spoils good mechanics to make bad Labour leaders.  The
original aim of the College was to take men from the pit, the mill, the
shop, pour into them light and learning in the rich atmosphere of the
most ancient of our Universities, and then return them whence they came
to act amongst their fellows as lamps in the darkness and living
witnesses of the redeeming power of education.  The ideal, noble in
itself, appealed to the public; but like many such ideals, it foundered
on the invincible rock of human nature.  The miners, weavers, and
engineers, who were the students, after their year amid the towers and
courts of Oxford, showed little desire to return whence they came.
Rather they made their newly-acquired power an instrument to enable
them to evade the suffocating conditions under which they were born;
and who shall blame them?  They became officials in Labour Bureaux,
Trade Union leaders, Secretaries of Clubs, and sometimes the hangers-on
of the wealthy supporters of the Movement.

Burt was a shining exception to the rule.  At the end of his academic
year he returned to the very bench in the very shop he had left a year
before, with enlarged vision, ordered mind, increased conviction;
determined from that position to act as Apostle to the Gentiles of the
Old Gospel in its new form.

He was the not uncommon type of intellectual artisan of that day who
held as the first article of his creed that no working-man ought to
marry under the economic conditions that then prevailed; and that if
Nature and circumstance forced him to take a wife that he was not
morally justified in having children.  This attitude involving as it
inevitably must a levy on the only capital that is of enduring value to
a country--its Youth--was thrust upon thoughtful workers, as Joe was
never tired of pointing out, by the patriotic class, who refused their
employees the leisure, the security, the material standards of life
necessary to modern man for his full development.

Joe practised what he preached, and was himself unmarried.  Apart,
indeed, from an occasional fugitive physical connection as a youth with
some passing girl, he had never fairly encountered a woman; never
sought a woman; never, certainly, heard the call that refuses to be
denied, spirit calling to spirit, flesh to flesh, was never even aware
of his own deep need.  Women for him were still a weakness to be
avoided.  They were the necessaries of the feeble, an encumbrance to
the strong.  That was his view, the view of the crude boy.  And he
believed himself lucky to be numbered among the uncalled for he was in
fact a sober fanatic, living as selflessly for his creed as ever did
those first preachers of unscientific Socialism, the Apostles and
Martyrs of the first centuries of our era.  Even in the shop he had his
little class of students, pouring the milk of the word into their ears
as he set their machines, and the missionary spirit drove him always on
to fresh enterprise.

The Movement, as he always called it, was well ablaze by the second
decade of the century in the Midlands and the North, but in the South
it still only smouldered.  And when Hewson and Clarke started their
aeroplane department at Beachbourne, and began to build machines for
the Government, Joe Burt, a first-rate mechanic, leapt at the chance
offered him by the firm and crossed the Thames with his books, his
brains, his big heart, to carry the Gospel of Redemption by Revolution
to the men of Sussex as centuries before, his spiritual ancestor, St.
Wilfrid, he too coming from the North, had done.  In that strange land
with its smooth-bosomed hills, its shining sea, its ca-a-ing speech, he
found everything politically as he had expected.  And yet it was in the
despised South that he discovered the woman who was to rouse in him the
fierce hunger of which till then he had been unaware except as an
occasional crude physical need.

As on Saturday or Sunday afternoons at the time the revelation was
coming to him he roamed alone, moody and unmated, the rogue-man, amid
the round-breasted hills he often paused to mark their resemblance to
the woman who was rousing in his deeps new and terrible forces of which
he had previously been unaware.  In her majestic strength, her laughing
tranquillity, even in her moods, grave or gay, the spirit mischievously
playing hide-and-seek behind the smooth appearance, she was very much
the daughter of the hills amid which she had been bred.

Ruth was as yet deliciously unaware of her danger.  She was, indeed,
unaware of any danger save that which haunts the down-sitting and
up-rising of every working woman throughout the world--the abiding
spectre of insecurity.

She liked this big man, surly and self-conscious, and encouraged his
visits.  Not seldom as she moved amid her cups and saucers in the
back-ground of the kitchen, she would turn eye or ear to the powerful
stranger with the rough eloquence sucking his pipe by the fire and
holding forth to Ernie on his favourite theme.  It flattered her that
he who notoriously disliked women should care to come and sit in her
kitchen, lifting an occasional wary eyelid as he talked to look at her.
And when she caught his glance he would scowl like a boy detected
playing truant.

"I shan't hurt you then, Mr. Burt," she assured him with the caressing
tenderness that is mockery.

His chin sunk on his chest.

"A'm none that sure," he growled.

Ernie winked at Ruth.

"Call him Joe," he suggested.  "Then hap he'll be less frit."

"Wilta?" asked Ruth, daintily mimicking the accent of her guest.

"Thoo's mockin a lad," muttered Joe, delighted and relapsing into
broader Lancashire.

"Nay, ma lad," retorted Ruth.  "A dursena.  A'm far ower scared."



CHAPTER XII

RUTH WAKES

Apart from such occasional sallies Ruth paid little attention to her
husband's friend or, indeed, to anything outside her home.  Now that
she had dropped her anchor in the quiet waters of love sheltered by
law, and had her recovered self-respect to buttress her against the
batterings of a wayward world, she was snug, even perhaps a little
selfish with the self-absorption of the woman who is wrapped up in that
extension of herself which is her home, her children, and the man who
has given them her.

After her stormy flight she had settled down in her nest, and seldom
peeped over at the cat prowling beneath or at anybody, indeed, but the
cock-bird bringing back a grub for supper; and him she peeped for
pretty often.  She was busy too with the unending busyness of the woman
who is her own cook, housekeeper, parlourmaid, nurse and laundress.
And happily for her she had the qualities that life demands of the
woman who bears the world's burden--a magnificent physique to endure
the wear and tear of it all, the invaluable capacity of getting on well
with her neighbours, method in her house, tact with her husband, a way
with her children.

And there was no doubt that on the whole she was happy.  The reaction
from the _sturm-und-drang_ period before her marriage was passing but
had not yet wholly passed.  Her spirit still slept after the hurricane.
Naturally a little indolent, and living freely and fully, if without
passion, her nature flowed pleasantly through rich pastures along the
channels grooved in earth by the age-long travail of the spirit.

Jenny and little Ned followed Susie, just a year between each child.
Ernie loved his children, especially always the last for the time
being; but the element of wonder had vanished and with it much of the
impetus that had kept him steady for so long.

"How is it now?" asked his mate, on hearing of the birth of the boy.

"O, it's all right," answered Ernie, wagging his head.  "Only it ain't
quite the same like.  You gets used to it, as the sayin is."

"And you'll get use-ter to it afore you're through, you'll see," his
friend answered, not without a touch of triumphant bitterness.  He
liked others to suffer what he had suffered himself.

As little by little the romance of wife and children began to lose its
glamour, and the economic pressure steadily increased, the old weakness
began at times to re-assert itself in Ernie.  He haunted the _Star_
over much.  Joe Burt chaffed him.

"Hitch your wagon to a star by all means, Ern," he said.  "But not that
one."

Mr. Pigott too cautioned him once or twice, alike as friend and
employer.

"Family man now, you know, Ernie," he said.

The sinner was always disarming in his obviously sincere penitence.

"I knaw I've unbuttoned a bit of late, sir," he admitted.  "I'll brace
up.  I will and I can."

And at the critical moment the fates, which seemed as fond of Ernie as
was everybody else, helped him.

Susie, his first-born, caught pneumonia.  The shock stimulated Ernie;
as shock always did.  The steel that was in him gleamed instantly
through the rust.

"Say, we shan't lose her!" he asked Mr. Trupp in staccato voice.

Mr. Trupp knew Ernie, knew his weakness, knew human nature.

"Can't say," he muttered.  "Might not."

Ern went to the window and looked out on the square tower of the old
church on the Kneb above him.  His eyes were bright and his uncollared
neck seemed strangely long and thin.

"She's got to live," he muttered defiantly.

The doctor nodded grimly.

The Brute had pounced on Ernie sleeping and was shaking him as a dog
shakes a rat.  Mr. Trupp, who had no intention of losing Susie, was by
no means sorry.

"If it's got to be, it's got to be," said Ruth, busy with poultices.
"Only it won't be if I can help it."

She was calm and strong as Ernie was fiercely resentful.  That angered
Ernie, who was seeking someone to punish in his pain.

When Mr. Trupp had left he turned on Ruth.

"You take it cool enough!" he said with a rare sneer.

She looked at him, surprised.

"Well, where's the sense in wearin yourself into a fret?" answered
Ruth.  "That doosn't help any as I can see."

"Ah, I knaw!" he said.  "You needn't tell me."

She put down the poultice and regarded him with eyes in which there was
a thought of challenge.

"What d'you knaw, Ern?"

There was something formidable about her very quiet.

"What I do, then," he said, and turned his back on her.  "If it was
somebody else, we should soon see."

She came to him, put her hand on his shoulder, and turned him so that
she could read his face.  He did not look at her.

She turned slowly away, drawing in her breath as one who rouses
reluctantly from sleep.

"That's it, is it?" she said wearily.  "I thart it'd come to that some
day."

Just then little Alice danced in from the street, delicate, pale
sprite, with anemone-like health and beauty.

"Daddy-paddy!" she said, smiling up at him, as she twined her fingers
into his.

He bent and kissed her with unusual tenderness.

"Pray for our little Sue, Lal," he muttered.

The child looked up at him with fearless eyes of forget-me-not blue.

"I be," she said.

He gave her a hand, and they went out together into Motcombe Garden:
for they were the best of friends.

Ruth was left.  In her heart she had always known that this would come:
he would turn on her some day.  And she did not blame him: she was too
magnanimous.  Men were like that, men were.  They couldn't help
theirsalves.  Any one of them but Ernie would have thrown her past up
at her long before.  She was more grateful for his past forbearance
than resentful at his present vindictiveness.  Now that the blow, so
long hovering above her in the dimness of sab-consciousness, had fallen
she felt the pain of it, dulled indeed by the fact that she was already
suffering profoundly on Susie's account.  But the impact braced her;
and it was better so.  There was no life without suffering and
struggle.  If you faced that fact with your eyes open, never
luxuriating in the selfishness of make-believe, compelling your teeth
to meet on the granite realities of life, then there would be no
dreadful shock as you fell out of your warm bed and rosy dreams into an
icy pool.

Ruth went back to her hum-drum toil.  She had been dreaming.  Now she
must awake.  It was Ernie who had roused her from that dangerous
lethargy with a brutal slash across the face; and she was not
ungrateful to him.

When he returned an hour later with little Alice she was unusually
tender to him, though her eyes were rainwashed.  He on his side was
clearly ashamed and stiff accordingly.  He said nothing; instead he was
surly in self-defence.

To make amends he sat up with the child that night and the next.

"Shall you save her, sir?" asked the scare-crow on the third morning.

"I shan't," replied the doctor.  "Her mother may."

Next day when Mr. Trupp came he grunted the grunt, so familiar to his
patients, that meant all was well.

When the corner was turned Ern did not apologise to Ruth, though he
longed to do so; nor did she ask it of him.  To save himself without
undergoing the humiliation of penance, and to satisfy that most easily
appeased of human faculties, his conscience, he resorted to a trick
ancient as Man: he went to chapel.

Mr. Pigott who had stood in that door at that hour in that frock-coat
for forty years past, to greet alike the sinner and the saved, welcomed
the lost sheep, who had not entered the fold for months.

"I know what this means," he said, shaking hands.  "You needn't tell
me.  I congratulate you.  Go in and give thanks."

Ern bustled in.

"I shall come regular now, sir," he said.  "I've had my lesson.  You
can count on me."

"Ah," said Mr. Pigott, and said no more.

Next Sunday indeed he waited grimly and in vain for the prodigal.

"Soon eased off," he muttered, as he closed the door at last.  "One
with a very sandy soil."

The Manager of the Southdown Transport Company went home that evening
to the little house on the Lewes Road in unaccomodating mood.

"_His_ trousers are coming down all right," he told his wife.  "I've
said it before, and I'll say it again.  Once you let go o God----"

"God lets go o you," interposed Mrs. Pigott.  "Tit for tat."



CHAPTER XIII

NIGHTMARE

A few days later on his way back to the Manor-house from visiting his
little patient in the Moot, the old surgeon met Mr. Pigott, who stopped
to make enquiries.

"She'll do now," said Mr. Trupp.

"And that fellow?"

"Who?"

"Her father."

Mr. Trupp looked at the windy sky, torn to shreds and tatters by the
Sou-west wind above the tower of the parish-church.

"He wanted the Big Stick and he got it," he said.  "If it came down on
his shoulders once a week regularly for a year he'd be a man.  Steady
pressure is what a fellow like that needs.  And steady pressure is just
what you don't get in a disorganised society such as ours."

The old Nonconformist held up a protesting hand.

"You'd better go to Germany straight off!" he cried.  "That's the only
place _you'd_ be happy in."

Mr. Trupp grinned.

"No need," he said, "Germany's coming here.  Ask the Colonel!"

"Ah!" scolded the other.  "You and your Colonels!  You go and hear
Norman Angell on the _Great Illusion_ at the Town Hall on Friday.  You
go and hear a sensible man talk sense.  That'll do you a bit of good.
Mr. Geddes is going to take the chair."

The old surgeon turned on his way, grinning still.

"The Colonel's squared Mr. Geddes," he said.  "He's all right now."

What Mr. Trupp told Mr. Pigott, more it is true in chaff than in
earnest, was partially true at least.  Liberalism was giving way
beneath the Colonel's calculated assault.  After Lord Roberts's visit
to Beachbourne the enemy dropped into the lines of the besiegers
sometimes in single spies and sometimes in battalions.  Only Mr. Pigott
held out stubbornly, and that less perhaps from conviction than from a
sense of personal grievance against the Colonel.  For three solid years
the pugnacious old Nonconformist had been trying to fix a quarrel on
the man he wished to make his enemy; but his adversary had eluded
battle with grace and agility.  That in itself happily afforded a good
and unforgiveable cause of offence.

"They won't fight, these soldiers!" he grumbled to his wife.

"They leave that to you pacifists," replied the lady, brightly.

"Pack o poltroons!" scolded the old warrior.  "One can respect the
Archdeacon at least because he has the courage of his opinions.  But
this chap!"

Yet if Liberalism as a whole was finding grace at last, Labour in the
East-end remained obdurate, as only a mollusc can; and Labour was
gaining power for all men to see.

In the general elections of 1910, indeed, the two Conservative
candidates, Stanley Bessemere, East, and Mr. Glynde, West, romped home.
The Colonel was neither surprised nor deceived by the results of the
elections.  He knew now that in modern England in the towns at all
events, among the rising generation, there were few Conservative
working men--though there were millions who might and in fact did vote
for Conservative candidates; and not many Radicals--apart from a leaven
of sturdy middle-aged survivors of the Gladstonian age.  The workers as
a whole, it was clear, as they grew in class-consciousness, were
swinging slow as a huge tide, and almost as unconscious, towards the
left.  But they were not articulate; they were not consistent; they
changed their labels as they changed their clothes, and as yet they
steadfastly refused to call themselves Socialists.  Indeed, in spite of
the local Conservative victory, the outstanding political feature of
the moment, apart from the always growing insurgency of Woman, was the
advance of Labour, as the Colonel and many other thoughtful observers
noted.  He began, moreover, to see that behind the froth, the foam, and
arrant nonsense of the extreme section of the movement, there was
gathering a solid body of political philosophy.  The masses were
becoming organised--an army, no longer a rabble; with staff, regimental
officers, plan of campaign, and an always growing discipline.  And,
whether you agreed with it or not, there was no denying that the
Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission was a political portent.

When Joe Burt came up to Undercliff, as he sometimes did, to smoke and
chat with the Colonel, Mrs. Lewknor, a whole-hearted Tory, would attack
him on the tyranny of Trade Unions with magnificent fury.

She made no impression on the engineer, stubborn as herself.

"War is war; and discipline is discipline.  And in war it's the best
disciplined Army that wins.  A should have thought a soldier'd have
realised that much.  And this isna one o your _little_ wars, mind ye!
This is the Greatest War that ever was or will be.  And we workers are
fighting for our lives."

"Discipline is one thing and tyranny is quite another!" cried Mrs.
Lewknor, with flashing eyes.

The Colonel, who delighted in these pitched battles, sat and sucked his
pipe on the fringe of the hub-bub; only now and then turning the
cooling hose of his irony on the combatants.

"It is," he said in his detached way.  "Discipline is pressure you
exert on somebody else.  And tyranny is pressure exerted by somebody
else upon you."

And it was well he was present to introduce the leaven of humour into
the dough of controversy, for Mrs. Lewknor found the engineer a
maddening opponent.  He was so cool, so logical, and above all so _dam_
provocative, as the little lady remarked with a snap of her still
perfect teeth.  He gave no quarter and asked none.

"I don't like him," she said with immense firmness to the Colonel after
one of these encounters, standing in characteristic attitude, her skirt
a little lifted, and one foot daintily poised on the fender-rail.  "I
don't trust him one inch."

"He is a bit mad-doggy," the other said, entwining his long legs.  "But
he is genuine."

Then two significant incidents cast the shadow of coming events on the
screen of Time.

In July, 1911, Germany sent the _Panther_ to Agadir.  There ensued a
sudden first-class political crisis; and a panic on every Stock
Exchange in Europe.

Even Ernie was moved.  This man who, in spite of Joe Burt's teaching,
took as yet little more account of political happenings than does the
field-mouse of the manoeuvres of the reaping machine that will shortly
destroy its home, crossed the golf links one evening and walked through
Meads to find out what the Colonel thought.

"What's it going to be, sir?" he asked.

The other refused to commit himself.

"Might be anything," he said.  "Looks a bit funny."

"Think the reservists will be called up?"

The old soldier evinced a curious restrained keenness as of a restive
horse desiring to charge a fence and yet uncertain of what it will find
on the far side.  The Colonel, appraising him with the shrewd eyes of
the man used to judging men, was satisfied.

"I shouldn't be surprised," was all he would say.

The old Hammer-man walked away along the cliff in the direction of
Meads, and dropped down on to the golf links to go home by the ha-ha
outside the Duke's Lodge.  Then he swung away under the elms of Compton
Place Road and turned into Saffrons Croft, where Ruth and the children
were to have met him.  He looked about for them in vain.  The
cricketers were there as always, the idlers strolling from group to
group, but no Ruth.  Ernie who had been looking forward to a quiet
half-hour's play with little Alice and Susie on the turf in the shade
of the elms before bed-time felt himself thwarted and resentful.  Ruth
as a rule was reliable; but of late, ever since his unkindness to her
at the time of Susie's illness, three weeks since, he had marked a
change in her, subtle perhaps but real.  True she denied him nothing;
but unlike herself, she gave without generosity, coldly and as a duty.

Nursing his grievance, he dropped down the steep hill under the
Manor-house wall, past the Greys, into Church Street.

At the _Star_ a little group was gossiping, heads together.  As he
crossed the road they turned and looked at him with curiosity and in
silence.  Then a mate of his in the Transport Company called across,

"Sorry to hear this, Ern."

Ernie, thinking the man referred to the probabilities that he would be
called back to the Army, and proud of his momentary fortuitous
importance, shouted back with an air of appropriate nonchalance,

"That's all right, Guy.  I wouldn't mind a spell with the old regiment
again--that I wouldn't."

At the foot of Borough Lane he met Alf bustling along.  His brother did
not pause, but gave Ernie a searching look as he passed and said,
"Watch it, Ern!"

Ern experienced a strange qualm as he approached his home.  The door
was open; nobody was about; there was not a sound in the house--neither
the accustomed chirp of the children, nor the voice and movements of
their mother.

The nightmare terrors that are wont to seize the sensitive at such
times, especially if their conscience is haunted, laid hold of him.
The emptiness, the silence appalled him.  Death, so it seemed to his
imaginative mind, reigned where the life and warmth and pleasant human
busyness the woman and her children create had formerly been.  Ever
since that dark moment when he had let loose those foul and treacherous
words, he had been uneasy in his mind; and yet, though usually the
humblest of men, some stubborn imp of pride had possessed him and
refused to allow him to express the contrition he genuinely felt.
Perhaps the very magnitude of his offence had prevented him from making
just amends.

Ruth on her side had said nothing; but she had felt profoundly the
wound he had inflicted on her heart.  So much her silence and unusual
reserve had told him.  Had he gone too far?  Had her resentment been
deeper than he had divined?  Had he by his stupid brutality in a moment
of animal panic and animal pain snapped the light chain that bound him
to this woman he loved so dearly and knew so little?  And none was more
conscious than he how fragile was that chain.  Ruth had never been
immersed in love for him: she had never pretended to be.  He knew that.
She had been an affectionate and most loyal friend; and that was all.

On the threshold of his home he paused and stared down with the
frightened snort of a horse suddenly aware of an abyss gaping at his
feet.

For the first time in his married life the instant sense of his
insecurity, always present in his subconsciousness, leapt into the
light of day.

He gathered himself and marched upstairs as a man marches up the steps
of the scaffold to pay the merited punishment for his crimes.

Then he heard a little noise.  The door of the back room where the
children, all but the baby, slept, was open.  He peeped in.  Susie was
there, and Jenny with her.  Hope returned to him.  They were sitting up
in bed still in outdoor clothes.  Then he noticed that the baby's cot
which stood of wont in the front room beside the big bed was here too.
His sudden relief changed to anguish.  He saw it all: _his_ children,
the three of them, packed away together like fledgelings in a nest--for
him to mother; and the mother-bird herself and _her_ child flown!

And he had brought his punishment on to his own head!

Susie waved a rag-doll at him and giggled.

"Neddy seeps with Susie!" she cried.  "Susie nurse him!  Mummy's gone
with man!"

Brutally Ernie burst into the bedroom.

Two people stood beside the bed--his wife and a man; one on either side
of it.

The man was Joe Burt; the woman Ruth.

On the bed between them lay little Alice, wan as a lily, her eyes
closed apparently in death.

As he entered Joe raised a hushing finger.

"It's all right, Ern.  She isna dead," said the engineer, comfortably.

Ruth, who was the colour of the child on the bed, had turned to him and
now wreathed her arms about him.

"O Ern!" she cried in choking voice.  "I _am_ that glad you've come."

For a moment she hung on him, dependent as he had never known her.

Then the child stirred, opened her eyes, saw Ernie at the foot of the
bed, and smiled.

"Daddy," came her sweet little voice.

Her eyes fell on Joe; her lovely brow crumpled and she wailed,

"Don't want man."

"That's me," said Joe gently, and stole towards the door on tip-toe.
Ern followed him out.

Mr. Trupp met them on the stairs.

At the outer door Joe gave a whispered account of what had happened.
He had been crossing Saffrons Croft on the way up to see Ernie, when he
had noticed Ruth and the children under the elms.  Little Alice had
seen him and come rushing through the players towards her friend.  A
cricket-ball had struck her on the forehead; and he had carried her
home like a dead thing.  Outside the cottage they had met Alf, and Ruth
had asked him to go for Mr. Trupp.

Ernie ran back upstairs.

The old surgeon, bending over the child, gave him a reassuring glance.

"The child's all right," he said.  "See to the mother!" and nodded to
Ruth, who was holding on to the mantel-piece.

She was swaying.  Ern gathered her to him.  The whole of her weight
seemed on him.  His eyes hung on her face, pale beneath its dark crown
as once, and only once, he had seen it before--that time she lay on the
bed in Royal's dressing-room on the dawn of her undoing.

"Ruth," he called quietly.

Slowly she returned to life, opening her eyes, and drawing her hand
across them.

"Is that you, Ern?" she sighed.  "O, that's right.  I come all over
funny like.  Silly!  I'm all right now."

Ernie lowered her into a chair.

She sat a moment, gathering herself.  Then she looked up at him--and
remembered.  She had been caught.  Fear came over her, and she began to
tremble.

He bent and kissed her.

"I'm sorry I said that, Ruth," he whispered in her ear.

A lovely light welled up into her eyes.  At that moment she was nearer
loving him than she had ever been.  Regardless of Mr. Trupp's presence,
she put a hand on either of his shoulders, and regarded him
steadfastly, a baffling look on her face.

"Dear Ern!" she said.  "Only I'd liefer you didn't say it again.  See,
it _do_ hurt from you."



CHAPTER XIV

SHADOWS

Ern was not called up after all.

The trap-door through which men had peered aghast into the fires of
hell, closed suddenly as it had opened.  Only the clang of the stokers
working in the darkness under the earth could still be heard day and
night at their infernal busyness by any who paused and laid ear to the
ground.

England and the world breathed again.

"Touch and go," said Mr. Trupp, who felt like a man coming to the
surface after a deep plunge.

"Dress rehearsal," said the Colonel.

"It'll never be so near again!" Mr. Pigott announced pontifically to
his wife.  "Never!"

"Thank you," replied that lady.  "May we take it from you?"

When it was over the Colonel found that the walls of Jericho had
fallen: the Liberal Citadel had been stormed.  Mr. Geddes took the
chair at a meeting at St. Andrew's Hall to discuss the programme of the
League.

"It looks as if you were right after all," the tall minister said to
the Colonel gravely.

"Pray heaven I'm not," the other answered in like tones.

The second significant incident of this time, which occurred during a
lull before the final flare-up of the long-drawn Agadir crisis, had
less happy results from the point of view of the old soldier.

In August, suddenly and without warning, the railway-men came out.  The
Colonel had been up to London for the night on the business of the
League, and next morning had walked into Victoria Street Station to
find it in possession of the soldiers: men in khaki in full marching
order, rifle, bayonet, and bandolier; sentries everywhere; and on the
platform a Union official in a blue badge urging the guard to come out.

The guard, a heavy-shouldered middle-aged fellow, was stubbornly
lumping along the platform on flat feet, swinging his lantern.

"I've got a heart," he kept on reiterating.  "I've got a wife and
children to think of."

"So've I," replied the official, dogging him.  "It's because I am
thinking of them that I'm out."

"Silly 'aound!" said a bystander

"No, he ain't then!" retorted a second.

"Yes, he is!" chipped in a third.  "Makin trouble for isself and
everybody else all round.  Calls isself the workers'
friend!--Hadgitator, I call him!"

All the way down to Beachbourne in the train the Colonel marked pickets
guarding bridges; a cavalry patrol with lances flashing from the green
covert of a country lane; a battery on the march; armies on the move.

Joe Burt's right, he reflected, it's war.

"I never thought to see the like of that in England," said a
fellow-traveller, eyes glued to the window.

"Makes you think," the Colonel admitted.

Arrived home he found there was a call for special constables.  That
evening he went to the police station to sign on, and found many of the
leading citizens of Beachbourne there on like errand.  Bobby
Chislehurst, his open young face clouded for once, and disturbed, was
pressing the point of view of the railway-men on Stanley Bessemere, who
was listening with the amused indifference of the man who knows.

"I'm afraid there is no doubt about it," the politician was saying,
shaking the sagacious head of the embryo statesmen.  "They're taking
advantage of the international situation to try to better themselves."

"But they say it's the Government and the directors who are taking
advantage of it to try and put them off--as they've been doing for
years!" cried Bobby, finely indignant.

"I believe I know what I am talking about," replied the other, unmoved
from the rock of his superiority.  "I don't mind telling you that the
European situation is still most precarious.  The men know that, and
they're trying to squeeze the Government.  I should like to think it
wasn't so."

Then the Archdeacon's voice loudly uplifted overwhelmed all others.

"O, for an hour of the Kaiser!--He'd deal with em.  The one man left in
Europe--now my poor Emperah's gone.  Lloyd George ... Bowing the knee
to Baal ... Traitors to their country ... Want a lesson ... What can
you expect?"  He mouthed away grandiloquently in detached sentences to
the air in general; and nobody paid any attention to him.

Near by, Mr. Pigott, red and ruffled, was asking what the Army had to
do with it?--who wanted the soldiers?--why not leave it to the
civilians?--with a provocative glance at the Colonel.

Then there was a noise of marching in the street, and a body of
working-men drew up outside the door.

"Who are those fellows?" asked the Archdeacon loudly.

"Workers from the East-end, old cock," shouted one of them as
offensively through the door.  "Come to sign on as Specials!  And just
as good a right here as you have...."

The leader of the men in the street broke away from them and shouldered
into the yard, battle in his eye.

It was Joe Burt, who, as the Colonel had once remarked, was sometimes a
wise statesman, and sometimes a foaming demagogue.  To-day he was the
latter at his worst.

"What did I tell yo?" he said to the Colonel roughly.  "Bringin oop the
Army against us.  Royal Engineers driving trains and all!  It's a
disgrace."

The Colonel reasoned with him.

"But, my dear fellow, you can't have one section of the community
holding up the country."

"Can't have it!" surly and savage.  "Yo've had five hundred dud
plutocrats in the House of Lords holding up the people for years past.
Did ye shout then?  If they use direct action in their own interests
why make a rout when 500,000 railway men come out for a living
wage?--And _then_ you coom to the workers and ask them to strengthen
the Army the Government'll use against them!--A wonder yo've the face!"
He turned away, shaking.

Just then happily there was a diversion.  The yard-door, which a
policeman had shut, burst open; and a baggy old gentleman lumbered
through it with the scared look of a bear lost in a busy thoroughfare
and much the motions of one.

Holding on to his coat-tails like a keeper came Ruth.  She was panting,
and a little dishevelled; in her arms was her baby, and her hat was
a-wry.

"He would come!" she said, almost in tears.  "There was no stoppin him.
So I had just to come along too."

Joe, aware that he had gone too far, and glad of the interruption,
stepped up to Ruth and took the baby from her arms.  The distressed
woman gave him a look of gratitude and began to pat and preen her hair.

At this moment Ernie burst into the yard.  He was more alert than
usual, and threw a swift, almost hostile, glance about him.  Then he
saw Ruth busy tidying herself, and relaxed.

"Caught him playing truant, didn't you, in Saffrons Croft?" he said.
"The park-keeper tell me."

Ruth was recovering rapidly.

"Yes," she laughed.  "I told him it was nothing to do with him--strikes
and riots and bloodshed!--Such an idea!"

A baby began to wail; and Ernie turned to see Joe with little Ned in
his arms.

"Hallo!  Joe!" he chaffed.  "_My_ baby, I think."

He took his own child amid laughter, Joe surrendering it reluctantly.

Just then Edward Caspar appeared in the door of the office.  He looked
at them over his spectacles and said quietly, as if to himself.

"It's Law as well.  We must never forget that."

The Colonel turned to Ernie.

"What's he mean?" he asked low.--"Law as well."

Ernie, dandling the baby, drew away into a corner where he would be out
of earshot of the Archdeacon.

"It's a line of poetry, sir," he explained in hushed voice--

  "_O, Love that art remorseless Law,
  So beautiful, so terrible._"


"Go on!" said the Colonel, keenly.  "Go on!--I like that."

But Ernie only wagged a sheepish head.

"That's all," he said reluctantly.  "It never got beyond them two
lines."  He added with a shy twinkle--"That's dad, that is."

A chocolate-bodied car stopped in the street opposite.

Out of it stepped Mr. Trupp.

In it the Colonel saw a lean woman with eyes the blue of steel, fierce
black brows, and snow-white hair.

She was peering hungrily out.

"It's mother come after dad," Ernie explained.  "In Mr. Trupp's car.
That's my brother driving."

The old surgeon, crossing the yard, now met the run-agate emerging from
the office and took him kindly by the arm.

"No, no, Mr. Caspar," he scolded soothingly.  "They don't want old
fellows like you and me to do the bludgeon business.  Our sons'll do
all that's necessary in that line."

He packed the elderly truant away in the car.

Mr. Caspar sat beside his wife, his hands folded on the handle of his
umbrella, looking as determined as he knew how.

Mrs. Caspar tucked a rug about his knees.

Ernie, who had followed his father out to the car, and exchanged a word
with his brother sitting stiff as an idol, behind his wheel, now
returned to the yard, grinning.

"Well!" said Joe.

Ernie rolled his head.

"Asked Alf if _he_ was goin to sign on?" he grinned.

"Is he?" asked the Colonel ingenuously.

Ernie laughed harshly.

"Not Alf!" he said.  "He's a true Christian, Alf is, when there's
scrapping on the tape..."

At the club a few days later, when the trouble had blown over, the
Colonel asked Mr. Trupp if Ernie was ill.

"He seemed so slack," he said, with a genuine concern.

"So he is," growled the old surgeon.  "He wants the Lash--that's all."

"Different from his brother," mused the Colonel--"that chauffeur feller
of yours.  He's keen enough from what I can see."

Mr. Trupp puffed at his cigar.

"Alf's ambitious," he said.  "That's his spur.  Starting in a big way
on his own now.  Sussex is going to blossom out into Caspar's Garages,
he tells me.  I'm going to put money in the company.  Some men draw
money.  Alf's one."



CHAPTER XV

THE LANDLORD

Alf's great scheme indeed was prospering.

Thwarted by the Woman, and driven back upon himself, he had taken up
the career of action at the point where he had left it to pursue an
adventure that had brought him no profit and incredible bitterness.

Fortune had favoured him.

Just at the moment Ruth had baffled him, another enemy of his, the Red
Cross Garage Syndicate, which in the early days of his career had
throttled him, came to grief.

Alf saw his chance, and flung himself into the new project with such
characteristic energy as to drown the bitterness of sex-defeat.  He had
no difficulty in raising the necessary capital for the little Syndicate
he proposed to start.  Some he possessed himself; his bank was quite
prepared to give him accommodation up to a point; and there was a third
source he tapped with glee.  That source was Captain Royal.  Alf was in
a position to squeeze the Captain; and he was not the man to forego an
advantage, however acquired.

Royal put a fifth of his patrimony into the venture, and was by no
means displeased to do so.  Thereby he became the principal shareholder
in the concern, with a predominant voice in its affairs.  That gave him
the leverage against Alf, which, with the instinct of a commander, he
had seen to be necessary for the security of his future directly that
young man showed a blackmailing tendency.  Moreover Royal was not blind
to the consideration that the new Syndicate, under able management, bid
fair to be a singularly profitable investment.

Backed then by Royal and his bank, Alf bought up certain of the garages
of the defaulting company at knockout prices.  Thereafter, if he still
coveted Ruth, he was far too occupied to worry her; while she on her
side, purged by the busyness and natural intercourse of married life of
all the disabling morbidities that had their roots in a sense of
outlawry and the forced restraint put upon a roused and powerful
temperament, had completely lost her fear of him.

Ruth, surely, was changing rapidly now.  At times in family life she
assumed the reins not because she wished to, but because she must; and
on occasion she even took the whip from the socket.

Ernie had, indeed, climbed a mountain peak and with unbelievable effort
and tenacity won to the summit, which was herself.  But then, instead
of marching on to the assault of the peak which always lies beyond, he
had sat down, stupidly content; with the inevitable consequence that he
tended to slither down the mountain-side and lose all he had gained in
growth and character by his hard achievement.

The pair had been married four years now; and Ruth knew that her house
was built on sand.  That comfortable sense of security which had
accompanied the first years of her married life, affording her
incalculable relief after the hazards which had preceded them, had long
passed.  Dangers, less desperate perhaps in the appearance than in the
days of her darkness, but none the less real, were careering up from
the horizon over a murky sea like breakers, roaring and with wrathful
manes, to overwhelm her.  In particular the threat that haunts through
life the working-woman of all lands and every race beset her
increasingly.  Her man was always skirting now the bottomless pit of
unemployment.  One slip and he might be over the edge, hurtling heavily
down into nothingness, and dragging with him her and the unconscious
babes.

The home, always poor, began to manifest the characteristics of its
tenants, as homes will.  When the young man came for the rent on Monday
mornings, Ruth would open just a crack so that he might not see inside,
herself peeping out of her door, wary as a woodland creature.  Apart
from Joe Burt, whom she did not count, there was indeed only one
visitor whom Ruth now received gladly; and that was Mr. Edward Caspar,
whose blindness she could depend upon.

There had grown up almost from the first a curious intimacy between the
dreamy old gentleman, fastidious, scholarly, refined, and the young
peasant woman whom destiny had made the mother of his grandchildren.
Nothing stood between them, not even the barrier of class.  They
understood each other as do the children of Truth, even though the
language they speak is not the same.

The old man was particularly devoted to little Alice.

"She's like a water-sprite," he said,--"so fine and delicate."

"She's different from Ernie's," answered Ruth simply.  "I reck'n it was
the suffering when I was carrying her."

"She's a Botticelli," mused the old man.  "The others are Michael
Angelos."

Ruth had no notion what he meant--that often happened; but she knew he
meant something kind.

"I'd ha said Sue was more the bottled cherry kind, myself," she
answered gently.

Her visitor came regularly every Tuesday morning on the way to the
Quaker meeting-house, shuffling down Borough Lane past the _Star_, his
coat-tails floating behind him, his gold spectacles on his nose, with
something of the absorbed and humming laziness of a great bee.  Ruth
would hear the familiar knock at the door and open.  The old man would
sit in the kitchen for an hour by the latest baby's cot, saying
nothing, the child playing with his little finger or listening to the
ticking of the gold watch held to its ear.

After he was gone Ruth would always find a new shilling on the dresser.
When she first told Ernie about the shilling, he was surly and ashamed.

"It's his tobacco money," he said gruffly.  "You mustn't keep it."

Next Tuesday she dutifully handed the coin back to the giver,

"I don't like to take it, sir," she said.

The old man was the grandfather of her children, but she gave him
always, and quite naturally, the title of respect.

He took it from her and laid it back on the dresser with the other he
had brought.  Then he put his hand on her arm, and looked at her
affectionately through dim spectacles.

"You go to the other extreme," he said.  "_You're_ too kind."

After that she kept the money and she was glad of it too, for she was
falling behind with her rent now.

Then one Monday morning, the rent-collector making his weekly call,
little brown book in hand, gave her a shock.

He was a sprightly youth, cocky and curly, known among his intimates as
Chirpy; and with a jealously cherished reputation for a way with the
ladies.

"Say, this is my last visit," he announced sentimentally, as he made
his entry in the book, and poised his pencil behind his ear.  "We can't
part like this, can we?--you and me, after all these years.  Too cold
like."  He drew the back of his hand significantly across his mouth.

Ruth brushed his impertinence aside with the friendly insouciance which
endeared her to young men.

"Got the sack for sauce, then?" she asked.

Chirpy shook his head ruefully.

"Mr. Goldmann's sold the house."

"Over our heads!" cried Ruth, aghast.

She hated change, for change spelt the unknown, which in its turn meant
danger.

"Seems so," the youth replied.  "No fault o mine, I do assure you."  He
returned to his point.  "Anythink for Albert?"

Ruth was thoroughly alarmed.  Even in those days cottages in Old Town
were hard to come by.

"Who's our new landlord?" she asked.

"Mr. Caspar, I heard say in the office."

Ruth felt instant relief.

"Mr. Edward Caspar?--O, _that's_ all right."

"No; Alf--of the Garridges.  Him they call All-for-isself Alfie!"

Ruth caught her breath.

"Thank you," she said, and closed the door swiftly.

The youth was left titupping on the door-step, his nose against the
panel like a seeking spaniel.

Within, Ruth put her hand to her heart to stay its tumult.  She was
thankful Ernie was not there to witness her emotion, for she felt like
a rabbit in the burrow, the stoat hard on its heels.  All her old
terrors revived....

The new landlord soon paid his first visit, and Ruth was ready for him.

"You want to see round?" she asked, with the almost aggressive
briskness of the woman who feels herself threatened.

"Yes, as your landlord I got the right of entry."  He made the
announcement portentously like an emperor dictating terms to a
conquered people.

Ruth showed him dutifully round.  He paid no attention to his property:
his eyes were all for her; she did not look at him.

Then they went upstairs where it was dark.

There was a closed door on the left.  Alf thrust it open without asking
leave; but Ruth barred his passage with an arm across the door.

"What's that?" he asked, prying.

"Our room.  You can't go in there.  That's where my children was born."

Alf tilted his chin at her knowingly.

"All but little Alice," he reminded her.  His eyes glittered in the
dark.  "Does _he_ stand you anything for her?" he continued
confidentially.  "Should do--a gentleman.  Now if you could get an
affiliation order against him that'd be worth five or six bob a week to
you.  And that's money to a woman in your position--pay me my rent and
all too.  Only pity is," he ended, thoughtfully, "can't be done.  You
and me know that if Ern don't."

Ruth broke fiercely away.

Leisurely he followed her down the stairs with loud feet.  He was
greatly at his ease.  His hat, which he had never taken off, was on the
back of his big head.  He was sucking a dirty pencil, and studying his
rent-book, as he entered the kitchen.

"You're a bit behind, I see," casually.

"Only two weeks," as coldly.

"As yet."

He swaggered to the door with a peculiar roll of his shoulders.

"If you was to wish to wipe it off at any time you've only got to say
the word.  I might oblige."

He stood with his back to her, looking out of the door, and humming.

She was over against the range.

"What's that?" she panted.

Standing on the threshold he turned and leered back at her out of
half-closed eyes.

She sneered magnificently.

"Ah, I knaw you," she said.

"What's it all about?" he answered, cleaning his nails.  "Only a little
bit of accommodation.  No thin out o the way."

"Thank you.  I knaw your accommodation," she answered deeply.

"Well," he retorted, picking his teeth.  "There's no harm in it.
What's the fuss about?"

"I'll tell Mr. Trupp," Ruth answered.  "That's all."

Alf turned full face to her, jeering.

"What's old Trupp to me, then?" he cried.  "I done with him.  I done
with em all.  I'm me own master, I am--Alfred Caspar, Hesquire, of
Caspar's Garridges, Company promoter.  Handlin me thousands as you
handle coppers."

He folded his arms, thrust out a leg, and looked the part majestically
without a snigger.  It was clear he was extraordinarily impressive to
himself.

Ruth relaxed slowly, deliciously, like an ice-pack touched by the
laughing kiss of spring.

She eyed her enemy with the amused indifference of some big-boned
thoroughbred mare courted by an amorous pony.

"You're mad," she said.  "That's the only why I don't slosh the
sauce-pan over you.  But I shall tell Ern all the same.  And he'll tell
em all."

"And who's goin to believe Ern?" jeered her tormentor.  "'Old Town
Toper,' they call him.  Fairly sodden."

"Not to say Archdeacon Willcocks and Mr. Chislehurst," continued Ruth,
calmly.

Alf shot his finger at her like a crook in a melodrama, looking along
it as it might have been a pistol and loving his pose.

"And would they believe _you_ against me?  Do you attend mass?  Are you
a sidesman?"

"I was confirmed Church afore ever you was," retorted Ruth with spirit.
"I've as good a right to the sacraments, as you have then.  And I'll
take to em again if I'm druv to it--that I will!"

Something about this declaration tickled Alf.  The emperor was
forgotten in the naughty urchin.

"So long, then!" he tittered.  "Appy au-revoir!  Thank-ye for a
pleasant chat.  This day week you can look forward to.  I'll collect me
rent meself because I know you'd like me to."

He turned, and as he was going out ran into a man who was entering.

"Now then!" said a surly voice.  "Who are you?  O, it's _you_, is
it?--I know all about you."

"What you know o me?" asked Alf, aggressively.

"Why, what a beauty you are."

The two men eyed each other truculently.  Then Joe barged through the
door.  The entrance cleared, Alf went out, but as he passed on the
pavement outside he beat a rat-tan on the window with insolent knuckles.

Joe leaped back to the door and scowled down the road at the back of
the little chauffeur retreating at the trot.  Alf excelled physically
in only one activity: he could run.

The engineer returned to the kitchen, savage and smouldering.  Ruth,
amused at the encounter, met him with kind eyes.  There was in this man
the quality of the ferocious male she loved.  He marched up to her, his
head low between his shoulders like a bull about to charge.

"Is yon lil snot after you?" he growled, almost menacing.

She regarded him with astonishment, amused and yet defensive.

"_You're_ not my husband, Mr. Burt," she cried.  "_You've_ no grievance
whoever has."

The engineer retreated heavily.

"Hapen not," he answered, surly and with averted eyes.  "A coom next
though."

She looked up, saw his face, and trembled faintly.

He prowled to the door without a word, without a look.

"Won't you stop for Ern?" she asked.

"Nay," he said, and went out.



CHAPTER XVI

THE GRANDMOTHER

Ruth and her mother-in-law frequently met in the steep and curling
streets of Old Town as they went about their business.  They knew and
tacitly ignored each other.  But Ernie's children were not to be
ignored.  They knocked eternally at their granny's heart.  When of
summer evenings their mother took her little brood to Saffrons Croft
and sat with them beneath the elms, her latest baby in her arms, the
others clouding her feet like giant daisies, Anne Caspar, limping by on
flat feet with her string bag, would be wrung to the soul.

She hungered for her grand-children, longed to feel their limbs, and
see their bodies, to hold them in her lap, to bathe them, win their
smiles, and hear their prattle.

Pride, which she mistook for principle, stood between her and happiness.

Ruth knew all that was passing in the elder woman's heart, and felt for
the other a profound and disturbing sympathy.  She had the best of it;
and she knew that Anne Caspar, for all her pharisaic air of
superiority, knew it too.  Ruth had learnt from Mrs. Trupp something of
the elder woman's story.  Anne Caspar too, it seemed, had loved out of
her sphere; but she, unlike Ruth, had achieved her man.  Had she been
happy?  That depended on whether she had brought happiness to her
husband--Ruth never doubted that.  And Ruth knew that she had not; and
knew that Anne Caspar knew that she had not.

Moreover, all that Ernie told her about his mother interested her
curiously: the elder woman's pride, her loneliness, her passion for her
old man.

"Alf's mother over again," Ern told Ruth, "with all her qualities only
one--but it's the one that matters.  He's a worker same as she is.  He
means to get on, same as she done.  There's just this difference atween
em: Alf can't love; Mother can--though it's only one." ...

A week after his first visit Alf appeared again on Ruth's door-step.

Ruth opened to him with so bright a smile that he was for once taken
completely by surprise.  He had expected resistance and come armed to
meet it.

"Come in, won't you?" she said.

Then he understood.  She had thought better of her foolishness.

"That's it, is it?" he said, licking his lips.  "That's a good gurl."

"Yes," said Ruth.  "Very pleased to see you, I'm sure."  She was
smarter than usual too, he noticed--to grace the occasion no doubt.
And the plain brown dress, the hue of autumn leaves, with the tiny
white frill at the collar, revealed the noble lines of her still
youthful figure.

The conqueror, breathing hard, entered the kitchen, to be greeted by a
cultivated voice from the corner.

"Well, Alfred," it said.

Alf, whose eyes had been on the floor, glanced up with a start.

His father was sitting beside the cradle, beaming mildly on him through
gold spectacles.

"Hullo, dad," said Alf, surlily.  This large ineffectual father of his
had from childhood awed him.  There was a mystery about even his
mildness, his inefficiency, which Alf had never understood and
therefore feared.  "I didn't expect to find you here."

It seemed to Alf that the bottle-imp was twinkling in the old man's
eyes.  Alf remembered well the advent of that imp to the blue haunts he
had never quitted since.  That was during the years of Ern's absence in
India.  Now it struck him suddenly that his father, so
seeming-innocent, so remote from the world, was in the joke against him.

A glance at Ruth, malicious and amused, confirmed his suspicion.

"I'm glad you come and visit your sister sometimes, Alfred," said the
old man gently.

"Yes," purred Ruth, "he comes reg'lar, Alf do now--once a week.  And
all in the way of friendship as the savin is.  See, he's our landlord
now."

"That's nice," continued the old man with the dewy innocence of a babe.
"Then he can let you off your rent if you get behind."

"So he could," commented Ruth, "if only he was to think of it.  Do you
hear your dad, Alf?"

She paid the week's rent into his hand, coin by coin, before his
father's eyes.  Then he turned and slouched out.

"Good-night, Alf," Ruth said, almost affectionately.  "It 'as been nice
seein you and all."

Determined to enjoy her triumph to the full, she followed him to the
door.  In the street he turned to meet her mocking glance, in which the
cruelty gleamed like a half-sheathed sword.  His own eyes were impudent
and familiar as they engaged hers.

"Say, Ruth, what's he after?" he asked, cautiously, in lowered voice.

"Who?"

"That feller I caught you with the other night--when Ern wasn't there.
Black-ugly.  What's he after?"

"Same as you, hap."

He sniggered feebly.

"What's that?"

"Me."

She stood before him; a peak armoured through the ages in eternal ice
and challenging splendidly in the sun.

He hoiked and spat and turned away.

"Brassy is it?" he said.  "One thing, my lass, you been in trouble
once, mind.  I saved you then.  But I mightn't be able to a second
time."

Behind Ruth's shoulder a dim face, bearded and spectacled, peered at
him with the mild remorselessness of the moon.

"Alfred," said a voice, dreadful in its gentle austerity.

When the old man said good-bye to Ruth ten minutes later he kissed her
for the first time.

She smiled up at him gallantly.

"It's all right, dad," she said, consolingly.  "I'm not afraid o _him_
whatever else."

It was the first time she had called him dad, and even now she did it
unconsciously.

Edward Caspar ambled home.

He did not attempt to conceal from his wife where he went on Tuesday
mornings.  Indeed, as he soared on mysterious wings, he seemed to have
lost all fear of the woman who had tyrannised over him for his own good
so long.  Time, the unfailing arbitrator, had adjusted the balance
between the two.  And sometimes it seemed to Mrs. Trupp, observing
quietly as she had done for thirty years, that in the continuous
unconscious struggle that persists inevitably between every pair from
the first mating till death, the victory in this case would be to the
man intangible as air.

That morning, as Edward entered the house, his wife was standing in the
kitchen before the range.

Anne Caspar was white-haired now.  Her limbs had lost much of their
comeliness, her motions their grace.  She was sharp-boned and gaunt of
body as she had always been of mind--not unlike a rusty sword.

As the front-door opened, and the well-trained man sedulously wiped his
boots upon the mat, she looked up over her spectacles, dropping her
chin, grim and sardonic.

"I know where you been, dad," she taunted.

He stayed at the study-door, like a great pawing bear.

Then he answered suddenly and with a smile.

"I've been in heaven."

She slammed the door of the range; smiling, cruel, the school-girl who
teases.

"I know where your tobacco money goes, old dad," she continued.

His mind was far too big and vague and mooning often to be able to
encounter successfully the darts his wife occasionally shot into his
large carcase.

"He's a beautiful boy," was all he now made answer, as he disappeared.

Whether the wound he dealt was deliberately given in self-defence, or
unconsciously because he had the power over her, his words stung Anne
Caspar to the quick.

She turned white, and sat down in the lonely kitchen her wrung old
hands twisted in her lap, hugging her wound.

Then she recovered enough to take reprisals.

"Alf's their landlord, now," she cried after him, the snakes in her
eyes darting dreadful laughter.

Edward Caspar turned in the door.

"Anne," he said, "I wish you to pay Ruth's rent in future out of the
money my father left you."

The voice was mild but there was a note of authority, firm if faint,
running through it.

Anne rose grimly to her feet, thin as a stiletto, and almost as
formidable.

"That woman!"

He nodded at her down the passage.

"My daughter."

Anne turned full face.

"D'you know she's had a love-child?" she shrilled, discordant as a
squeaking wheel.

The old gentleman, fumbling at the door of his study, dropped his
bearded chin, and beamed at the angry woman, moonwise over his
spectacles.

"Why shouldn't she?" he asked.

There was something crisp, almost curt, in the interrogation.

"But she's not respectable!"

Again he dropped his chin and seemed to gape blankly.

"Why should she be?" he asked.

She heard the key turn, and knew that she was locked out for the night.

Later she crept in list-slippers to the door and knocked with the slow
and solemn knuckles of fate, a calculated pause between each knock.

"Alf's going up, Ern's going down," she said, nodding with grim relish.
"_Good_-night, old dad."


Next evening Joe called at the cottage, to fetch Ernie for the class.
He arrived as he sometimes had done of late, a little before Ernie was
due home from the yard.  At this hour the little ones had already been
put to bed; and Ruth would be alone with Alice, between whom and the
engineer there had sprung up a singular intimacy ever since the evening
on which he had carried her home like a dead thing in his arms from
Saffrons Croft.

Ruth had not seen him since his clash with Alfred in the door; and he
had obviously avoided her.

Now she thrilled faintly.  Was he in love with her?--she was not sure.

He entered without speaking and took his seat as always before the
fire, broad-spread and slightly huddled in his overcoat, chin on chest,
staring into the fire.

Ruth, busy baking, her arms up to the elbow in dough, made her decision
swiftly.  She would meet him, face him, fight him.

"Well, Joe," she said, not looking at him.

It was the first time she had called him that.

He peeped up at her, only his eyes moving, small, black-brown, and
burning like a bear's.

"That's better," he muttered.

She flashed up at him.  Innocence and cunning, the schoolboy and the
brute, Pan and Silenus fought, leered, and frolicked in his face.

Ruth dropped her gaze and kneaded very deliberately.

Yes ... it was so ... Now she would help him; and she could hold him.
She would transmute his passion into friendship.  She would bridle her
bull, ride him, tame him.  It was dangerous, and she loved danger.  It
was sport; and she loved sport.  It was an adventure after the heart of
a daring woman.  He was a fine man, too, and fierce, warrior and
orator; worth conquering and subduing to her will.  His quality of a
fighting male called to her.  She felt the challenge and answered it
with singing blood.

That laughing hidalgo who in Elizabethan days had landed from his
galleon in the darks at the Haven to bring terror and romance to some
Sussex maid; that Spaniard who lurked obscurely in her blood, gave her
her swarthy colouring, her indolent magnificence and surprising
quality, was stirring uneasily within her once again.

She lifted her eyes from the froth of yeast and looked across at him,
accepting battle--if he meant battle.  And he did: there was no doubt
of that.  He sat there, hunched, silent, breathing heavily.  Then
little Alice slipped down from the kitchen table on which she had been
sitting at her mother's side, danced across to her friend, and climbed
up on his knee.  Ruth took her arms out of the bowl, white to the elbow
with flour, came across to the pair, firm-faced, and deliberately
removed the child.

Joe rose and went out.  In the outer door he stumbled on a man
half-hidden on the threshold.

"That you, Joe?" said Ernie quietly.  "There he is!  Alf--on the spy.
See his head bob--there!  At the bottom of Borough Lane--It's her he's
after."

Joe peeped over his friend's shoulder, his bullet head thrust out like
a dog who scents an enemy.

"That sort; is he?" he muttered.  "I'll after him!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE CHALLENGE

Joe Burt had that passion for saving souls which is the hall-mark of
the missionary in every age.  Had he been a child of the previous
generation he would have become a minister in some humble denomination
and done his fighting from the pulpit, Bible in hand, amid the
pot-banks of a Black Country township or the grimy streets of a
struggling mining village in the North.  As it was he appealed to the
mass from the platform, and, a true fisher of men, flung his net about
the individual in the class-room and at conferences.

Always seeking fresh fields to conquer, he had established a political
footing now even in Tory Old Town.  He had opened a discussion at the
Institute, and actually given an address to the local Church of
England's Men's Society on Robert Owen and early English Socialists;
and he owed his triumph in the main to Bobby Chislehurst.

It is not without a pang that we part from the most cherished of our
prejudices, and as Joe launched out into an always larger life it had
come to him as something of a shock to find amongst the younger clergy
some who preserved an attitude of firm and honest neutrality in the
great battle to which he had pledged his life, and even a few, here and
there, who took their stand on the side of the revolutionaries of the
Spirit.

And such a one was Bobby.

Because of that, the young curate, who was up and down all day amid the
humble dwellers in the Moot, innocent and happy as a child, was
forgiven his solitary sin.  For Bobby was a Scout-master, unashamed;
and Joe Burt, like most of his battle-fellows of that date looked
askance on the Boy-Scout Movement as one of the many props of
militarist Toryism none the less effective because it was unavowed.

The Cherub, bold, almost blatant in sin, passed his happiest hours in a
rakish sombrero, shorts, and a shirt bedizened with badges, tramping
the Downs at the head of the Old Town Troop of devoted Boy-Scouts,
lighting forbidden fires in the gorse, arguing with outraged farmers,
camping in secluded coombes above the sea.

Up there on the hill, between sky and sea, Joe Burt, he too with his
little flock of acolytes from the East-end, would sometimes meet the
young shepherd on Saturday afternoons, trudging along, in his hand a
pole in place of a crook.

"I forgive you Mr. Chislehurst, because I know you don't know what
you're doing," he once said, gravely.  "You're like the
Israelite--without guile."

"The greatest of men have their little failings," giggled the sinner.

The two men, besides their political sympathies, had another point in
common: they meant to save Ernie from himself.  But Joe was no longer
single-eyed.  He saw now in Ernie two men--a potential recruit of value
for the cause of Labour, and the man who possessed the woman he loved.

In the troubled heart of the engineer there began to be a confused
conflict between the fisher of men and the covetous rival.  Ernie was
entirely unconscious of the tumult in the bosom of his friend of which
he was the innocent cause.  Not so Ruth.

She was rousing slowly now like a hind from her lair in the bracken,
and sniffing the air at the approach of the antlered stranger.  As he
drew always nearer with stops and starts and dainty tread, and she
became increasingly aware of his savage presence, his fierce
intentions, she withdrew instinctively for protection towards her
rightful lord.  He grazed on the hill-side blind to his danger, blind
to hers, blind to the presence of his enemy.  Ernie's indeed was that
innocence, that simplicity, which rouses in the heart of primitive
woman not respect but pity; and in the rose-bud of pity, unless it be
virgin white, lurks always the canker of contempt and the worm of
cruelty.

Sometimes of evenings, as Ernie dozed before the fire in characteristic
negligé, collarless, tie-less, somnolent as the cat, she watched him
with growing resentment, comparing him to that Other, so much the
master of himself and his little world.

"You _are_ slack," she said once, more to herself than him.

"I got a right to be, I reck'n, a'ter my day's work," he answered
sleepily.

"Joe's not like that," she answered, wetting her thread.  "He's spry,
he is.  Doos a long day's work too--and earns big money, Joe do.
Brings home more'n twice as much what you do Saraday--and no wife nor
children neether."

Ernie looked up and blinked.  For a moment she hoped and feared she had
stung him to eruption.  Then he nodded off again.  That was what
annoyed Ruth.  He would not flare.  He was like his father.  But
qualities a woman admires in an old man she may despise in her lover.
As she retired upon him she felt him giving way behind her.  She was
seeking support and finding emptiness.

And as that Other, shaggy-maned and mighty, stole towards her with his
air of a conqueror, trampling the heather under-foot, the inadequacy of
her own mate forced itself upon her notice always more.

Ruth, now thirty, was in the full bloom of her passionate womanhood;
drawing with her far-flung fragrance the pollen-bearing bee and drawn
to him.  The girl who had been seized and overthrown by a passing
brigand was a woman now who looked life in the face with steadfast eyes
and meant to have her share of the fruits of it.  The old Christian
doctrines of patience, resignation, abnegation of the right to a full
life, made no appeal to her.  Richly dowered herself, she would not
brook a starved existence.  She who was empty yearned for fulness.
After her catastrophe, itself the consequence of daring, Ern had come
into her life and given her what she had needed most just then--rest,
security, above all children.  On that score she was satisfied now; and
perhaps for that very reason her spirit was all the more a-thirst for
adventure in other fields.  She was one of those women who demand
everything of life and are satisfied with nothing less.  Like many such
her heart was full of children but her arms were empty.  For her
fulfilment she needed children and mate.  Some women were content with
one, some with the other.  Great woman that she was, nothing less than
both could satisfy her demands; and her emptiness irked her
increasingly.

Ruth's in fact was the problem of the unconquered woman--a problem at
least as common among married women who have sought absorption and
found only dissatisfaction as amongst the unmarried.  Royal had seized
her imagination for a moment; to Ernie she had submitted.  But that
complete immersion in a man and his work which is for a full woman
love, she had never experienced, and longed to experience.  After five
years of marriage Ernie was still outside her, an accretion, a
circumstance, a part of her environment, necessary perhaps as her
clothes, but little more: for there was no purpose in his life.

And then just at the moment her lack was making itself most felt, the
Man had come--a real man too, with a work; a pioneer, marching a-head,
axe in hand, hewing a path-way through the Forest, and calling to her
with ever increasing insistency to come out to him and aid him in his
enterprise.

But always as she fingered in her dreams the bolts of the gate that,
once opened, would leave her face to face with the importunate
adventurer, there came swarming about her, unloosing her fingers as
they closed upon the bolts, the children.  And as one or other of them
stirred or called out in sleep in the room above her, she would start,
wake, and shake herself.  Yet even the pull of the children was not
entirely in one direction.  There were four of them now; and they were
growing, while Ernie's wages were standing still.  That was one of the
insistent factors of the situation.  Were they too to be starved?

Often in her dim kitchen she asked herself that question.  For if in
her dreams she was always the mate of a man, she was in fact, and
before all things, the mother of children.  Who then was to save them
and her?--Ernie? who was now little more than a shadow, an irritating
shadow, wavering in the background of her life?  If so, God help them
all....

One evening she was in the little back-yard taking down the washing,
when she heard a man enter the kitchen.  She paid no heed.  If it was
Joe he could wait; if it was Ernie she needn't bother.  Then she heard
a second man enter, and instantly a male voice, harsh with challenge.

She went in hastily.  There was nobody in the kitchen; but Ern was
standing at the outer door.  His back was to her, but she detected
instantly in the hunch of his shoulders a rare combativeness.

"You know me," he was growling to somebody outside.  "None of it now!"

He turned slowly, a dark look in his face which did not lighten when he
saw her.

"Who was it, Ern?" she asked.

"Alf," he answered curtly.

That night as he sat opposite her she observed him warily as she worked
and put to herself an astonishing question: Was there another
Ernie?--an Ernie asleep she had not succeeded in rousing?  Was the
instrument sound and the fault in her, the player?

A chance phrase of Mrs. Trupp's now recurred to her.

"There's so much in Ernie--if you can only get it out."

The man opposite rose slowly, came slowly to her, bent slowly and
kissed her.

"I ask your pardon if I was rough with you this evening, Ruth," he
said.  "But Alf!--he fairly maddens me.  I feel to him as you shouldn't
feel to any human being, let alone your own brother.  You know what
he's after?" he continued.

She stirred and coloured, as she lifted her eyes to his, dark with an
unusual tenderness.

"Reckon so, Ern," she said.

He stood before the fire, for once almost handsome in his vehemence.

"Layin his smutty hands on you!" he said.

That little scene, with its suggestion of passion suppressed, steadied
Ruth....  And it was time.  That Other was always drawing nearer.  And
as she felt his approach, the savage power of him, his fierce virility,
and was conscious of the reality of the danger, she resolved to meet it
and fend it off.  He should save Ernie instead of destroying her.  And
the way was clear.  If this new intellectual life, the seeds of which
the engineer had been sowing so patiently for so long in the unkempt
garden of Ernie's spirit became a reality for him, a part of himself,
growing in such strength as to strangle the weeds of carelessness, he
was saved--so much Ruth saw.

"Once he was set alight to, all his rubbish'd go up in a flare, and
he'd burn bright as aflame," she told the engineer once seizing her
chance; and ended on the soft note of the turtle-dove--"There's just
one could set him ablaze--and only one.  And that's you, Joe."

At the moment Joe was sitting before the fire in characteristic
attitude, hands deep in his pockets, legs stretched out, the toes of
his solid boots in the air.

For a moment he did not answer.  It was as though he had not heard.
Then he turned that slow, bull-like glare of his full on her.

"A'm to save him that he may enjoy you--that's it, is it?" he said.
"A'm to work ma own ruin."

It was the first time he had openly declared himself.  Now that it had
come she felt, like many another woman in such case, a sudden instant
revulsion.  Her dreams blew away like mist at the discharge of cannon.
She was left with a sense of shock as one who has fallen from a height.
At the moment of impact she was ironing, and glad of it.  Baring her
teeth unconsciously she pressed hard down on the iron with a little
hiss.

"You've no call to talk to me like that, Joe.  It's not right."

Deliberately he rose and turned his back.

"A don't know much," he growled in his chest, "but A do know that then."

Her heart thumped against her ribs.

"I thart you were straight, Joe," she said.

He warmed his hands at the blaze; and she knew he was grinning, and the
nature of the grin.

"A thought so maself till A found A wasn't," he answered.  "No man
knows what's in him till he's tried--that's ma notion of it.  Then
he'll have a good few surprises, same as A've done.  A man's a very
funny thing when he's along of a woman he loves--that's ma experience."

Ruth trembled, and her hand swept to and fro with the graceful motions
of a circling eagle over the child's frock she was ironing.

"You make me feel real mean," she said.

He kept a sturdy back to her.

"Then A make you feel just same gate as A feel maself."

There was a pause.

"You ought to marry, Joe--a man like you with all that nature in you."

"Never--only if so be A can get the woman A want."

She said with a gulp,

"And I thart you was Ern's friend!"

He looked up at the ceiling.

"So A am--trying to be."

There was another silence.  Then the woman spoke again, this time with
the hushed curiosity of a child.

"Are all men like that?"

"The main of em, A reck'n."

Her hand swooped rhythmically; and there was the gentle accompanying
thud of the iron taking the table and circling smoothly about its work.

"My Ern isn't."

"Your Ern's got what he wants--and what A want too."

Boots brushing themselves on the mat outside made themselves heard.
Then the door opened.

Joe did not turn.

"Coom in, Ern," he said.  "Just right.  Keep t' peace atween us.  She
and me gettin across each other as usual."



CHAPTER XVIII

A SKIRMISH

A few days later Ernie came home immediately after work instead of
repairing to the _Star_.  As he entered the room Ruth saw there was
something up.  He was sober--terribly so.

"I done it, Ruth, old lass," he said.

She knew at once.

"Got the sack?" she asked.

He nodded.

"I've no one to blame only meself," he said, disarming her, as he
disarmed everyone by his Christian quality.

Ruth did not reproach him: that was not her way.  Nor did she sit down
and cry: she had expected the catastrophe too long.  She took the boy
from the cradle and opened her bodice.

"You shan't suffer anyways," she said, half to herself, half to the
child, and stared out of the window, babe at breast, rocking gently and
with tapping foot.

Ern slouched out; and Ruth was left alone, to face as best she could
the spectre that haunts through life the path of the immense majority
of the human race.  She had watched its slinking approach for years.
Now with a patter of hushed feet, dreadful in the fury of its assault,
it was on her.  Remorseless in attack as in pursuit it was hounding her
and hers slowly down a dreary slope to a lingering death, of body and
spirit alike, in that hungry morass, the name of which is Unemployment.

Two days later when Joe entered the cottage he found Ruth for once
sitting, listless.  All the children were in bed, even little Alice.
He saw at once why.  There was no fire, though it was January.

"Where's Ern, then?" he asked.

"Lookin for work," Ruth answered.

Joe stared, aghast.

"Is he out?" he asked.

Ruth rose and turned her shoulder to him.

"Yes.  They've stood him off.  And I don't blame em."

"What for?" Joe was genuinely concerned.

"He didn't say.  Bad time, I reckon.  Only don't tell anyone, Joe, for
dear's sake, else they'll stop my credit at the shop--and I'll be done."

Her eyes filled and she bit her lip.

"Four of em," she said.  "And nothing a week to do it on--let alone the
rent" ...

She might hush it up; but the news spread.

Alf, with his ears of a lynx, was one of the first to hear.  For a
moment he hovered in a dreadful state of trepidation.  It was a year
and a half since he had stalked his white heifer, bent on a kill, only
to be scared away by the presence of that mysterious old man he had
found at her side in the heart of the covert.  But his lust was by no
means dead because it had been for the time suppressed.  Ruth had
baffled him; and Alf had not forgotten it.  Ern possessed a beautiful
woman he longed for; and Alf had not forgiven him.

Perhaps because he had beaten down his desire for so long, it now
rushed out ravening from its lair, and drove all else before it.
Throwing caution to the winds, he came stealing along like a stoat upon
the trail, licking his lips, wary yet swift.  First he made sure that
Ernie was out, looking for a job of work.  Then he came down the street.

Ruth met her enemy blithely and with taunting eyes.  In battle she
found a certain relief from the burthen of her distress.  And here she
knew was no question of pity or consideration.

"Monday's your morning, isn't it?" she said.  "Come along then, will
you, Alf?  And you'll see what I got for you."

Alf shook a sorrowful head, studying his rent-book.

"It can't go on," he said in the highly moral tone he loved to adopt.
"It ain't right."  He raised a pained face and looked away.  "Of course
if you was to wish to wipe it off and start clean----"

Ruth was cold and smiling.  She handled Alf always with the caressing
contempt with which a cat handles a mouse.

"Little bit of accommodation," she said.  "No thank you, Alf.  I
shouldn't feel that'd help me to start clean."

"See Ern's down and out," continued the tempter in his hushed and
confidential voice.  "Nobody won't give him a job."

Ruth trembled slightly, though she was smiling still and self-contained.

"You'll see to that now you're on high, won't you?" she said--"for my
children's sake."

"It'd be doin Ern a good turn, too," Alf went on in the same low
monotone.

"Brotherly," said Ruth.  "But he mightn't see it that way."

"He wouldn't mind," continued Alf gently.  "See he's all for Joe Burt
and the classes now.  Says you're keeping him back.  Nothin but a
burthen to him, he says.  _Her and her brats_, as he said last night at
the Institute.  _Don't give a chap a chance_."  Alf wagged his head.
"Course he shouldn't ha said it.  I know that.  Told him so at the time
afore them all.  _Tain't right_--I told him straight--_your own wife
and all_."

"My Ern didn't say that, Alf," Ruth answered simply.

His eyes came seeking hers furtively, and were gone instantly on
meeting them.

"Then you won't do him a good turn?"

Ruth's fine eyes flashed and danced, irony, laughter, scorn, all
crossing swords in their brown deeps.  There were aspects of Alf that
genuinely amused her.

"Would you like to talk it over with him?" she asked.

"And supposing I have?"

"He'll be back in a moment," she said, sweet and bright.  "I'll ask
him."

Alf was silent, fumbling with his watch-chain.  Then he began again in
the same hushed voice, and with the same averted face.

"And there's another thing between us."  His eyes were shut, and he was
weaving to and fro like a snake in the love-dance.  "Sorry you're
trying to make bad blood between me and my old dad," he said.  "Very
sorry, Ruth."

"I aren't," Ruth answered swiftly.  "You was always un-friends from the
cradle, you and dad.  See he don't think you're right."  She added a
little stab of her own--"No one does.  That's why they keep you on as
sidesman, Mr. Chislehurst says.  Charity-like.  They're sorry for you.
So'm I."

The words touched Alf's vital spot--the conceit that was the most
obvious symptom of his insanity.  His face changed, but his voice
remained as before, stealthy and insinuating.  He came a little closer,
and his eyes caressed her figure covetously.

"You see I wouldn't annoy me, not too far, not if I was you, Ruth.  You
can go too far even with a saint upon the cross."

Ruth put out the tip of her tongue daintily.

"Crook upon the cross, don't you mean, Alf?"

He brushed the irrelevancy aside, shooting his head across to hers.
His face was ugly now, and glistening.  With deliberate insolence he
flicked a thumb and finger under her nose.

"And I do know what I do know, and what nobody else don't know only you
and me and the Captin, my tuppenny tartlet."

She was still and white, formidable in her very dumbness.  He proceeded
with quiet stealth.

"See that letter I wrote you used to hold over against me before you
married--that's destroyed now.  And a good job, too, for it might have
meant trouble for Alfured.  But it's gone!  I _know_ that then.  Ern
told me.  He's a drunkard, old Ern is; but he's not a liar.  I will say
that for my brother; I will stick up for him if it was ever so; I will
fight old Ern's battles for him."

"As you're doin now," said Ruth.

Alf grinned.

"And the short of it all is just this, Ruthie," he continued, and
reaching forth a hand, tapped her upon the shoulder--"I got you, and
you ain't got me.  And I can squeeze the heart out of that great bosom
o yours"--he opened and clenched his hand in pantomine--"if I don't get
my way any time I like.  So just you think it over!  Think o your
children if you won't think of nothing else!"

Outside in the road he ran into Joe, who gripped him.

"What you come after?" asked the engineer ferociously.

"After my rent," answered Alf, shouting from fear.  Joe looked
dangerous, but loosed his hold.

"How much?" he asked, taking a bag from his pocket.

"Sixteen shilling.  You can see for yourself."

Obliging with the obligingness of the man who is scared to death, Alf
produced his book.  Joe, lowering still, examined it.  Then he paid the
money into the other's hand.  That done he escorted Alf policemanwise
to the bottom of Borough Lane.

"If A find you mouchin round here again A'll break your bloody little
back across ma knee," he told the other, shouldering over him.  "A mean
it, sitha!"

Alf withdrew up the hill towards the _Star_.  At a safe distance he
paused and called back confidentially, his face white and sneering,

"Quite the yard-dog, eh?  Bought her, ain't yer?"

Joe returned to the cottage and entered.

At the head of the stairs a lovely little figure in a white gown that
enfolded her hugely like a cloud, making billows about the woolly red
slippers which had been Bess Trupp's Christmas gift, smiled at him.

"Uncle Joe," little Alice chirped, "please tell Mum I are ready."

He ran up the stairs, gathered her in his arms, and bore her back to
bed in the room where Susie and Jenny already slept.

"Hush!" she whispered, laying a tiny finger on his lips--"The little
ones!"

He tucked her up and kissed her.

"You're the proper little mother, aren't you?" he whispered.

In the kitchen he found Ruth, a row of tin-tacks studding her lips,
soling Alice's boots.  The glint of steel between her lips, and the
inward curl of her lips, gave her a touch of unusual grimness.

"Always at it," he said.

"Yes," she answered between muffled lips.  "Got to be.  Snob this time.
Only the soles are rotten.  It's like puttin nails into wet brown
paper."

She was suffering terribly--he felt it; and suppressed accordingly.
But if her furnaces were damped down, he could hear the flames roaring
behind closed doors; and her passion, which typified for him the
sufferings of those innocent millions to the redemption of whom he had
consecrated his life, moved him profoundly.

He flung the bag on the table before her almost savagely.  It jingled
as it fell and squatted there, dowdy, and lackadaisical as a dumpling
in a swoon.

Ruth eyed it, her lips still steel-studded.

"How much?" she mumbled.

"Ten pound," he answered.

"That's not what I mean."

"What _do_ you mean, then?"

"What's the price?"

He glared at her; then thumped the table with a great fist.

"Nothin then!" he shouted.  "What doest' take me for?"

She munched her tin-tacks sardonically, regarding him.

How sturdy he was, with his close curly black hair, and on his face the
set and resolute look of the man approaching middle-age, who knows that
he wants and how to win it!

"A man, Joe."

He snorted sullenly.

"Better'n a no-man any road," he sneered.

The words stung her.  All the immense and tender motherliness of her
nature rose up like a wave that curls in roaring majesty to a fall.
She swept the tin-tacks from her mouth and met him, flashing and
glorious.

"See here, Joe!" she cried, deep-voiced as a bloodhound.  "Ne'er a word
against my Ern!  I won't have it."

"_Your_ Ern!"

She was white and heaving.

"Yes, my Ern!  He's down and out, and you take advantage to come up
here behind his back and insult him--and me.  You're the one to call
anudder man a no-man, aren't you?"  Taking the bag of money she tossed
it at him with a flinging scorn that was magnificent.

"Take your filth away--and yourself with it!"

He went, humbled and ashamed.

She watched him go--this sanguine, well-conditioned man, with his good
boots, his sensible clothes, his air of solid prosperity.

Then she sat down, spent.  Her savagery had been largely defensive.
Like the brave soldier she was she had attacked to hide the weakness of
her guard.  She was sick at heart; worn out.  These men ... first Alf,
then Joe ...  This champing boar, foam in the corner of his lips ...
that red-eyed weasel squealing on the trail....

An hour later Ern came home.

She knew at once from the wan look of him that he had been tramping all
day on an empty stomach.  That, with all his faults, was Ern.  So long
as there was a crumb in the cupboard she and the children should share
it: he would tighten his belt.  Even now he just sat down, an obviously
beaten man, and did not ask for a bite.  What she had she put before
him; and it was not much.

"Any luck, Ern?" she asked with a touch of tenderness.

Sullenly he shook his head.

"Walked my bloody legs off on an empty belly, and got a mouthful of
insults at the end of it," he muttered.  "That's all I got.  That's all
they give the working man in Old England.  Joe's right.  Sink the
country!  Blast the bloody Empire!  That's all it's good for!"

It was the first time he had ever used bad language in her presence.
That gradual demoralisation which unemployment, however caused, and its
consequences brings inevitably in its train was already showing its
corrupt fruits.  The tragedy of it moved her.

"Joe's been up," she said after a bit.

"I met him," he answered.  He was warmer after his meal, less sullen,
and drew up his chair from habit before the fireless range.  "He wants
me to go North--to his folk.  Says his brother-in-law can find me a
job.  Runs a motor-transport business in Oldham."

Her back was to him at the moment.

"Does he?" she asked quietly.  "What about me and my children?"

"That's what I says to him."

"What did he say?"

"Said he'd look after you and them."

Ruth was still as a mouse awaiting the cat's pounce.

"And what did you say to that?"

"Told him to go to hell."

Ruth stirred again and resumed her quiet busyness.

"Alf's been up again," she told him.  "Messin round."



CHAPTER XIX

PITCHED BATTLE

Mrs. Trubb happened on Ernie's mother next day in Church Street.  The
surgeon's wife, whenever she met Mrs. Edward Caspar, acted always
deliberately on the assumption, which she knew to be unfounded, that
relations between Ruth and her mother-in-law were normal.

"It's a nuisance this about Ernie," she now said.  "Such a worry for
Ruth."

The hard woman with the snow-white hair and fierce black eye-brows made
a little sardonic moue.

"She's all right," she answered.  "You needn't worry for her.  There's
a chap payin her rent."

Mrs. Trupp changed colour.

"I don't believe it," she said sharply.

"You mayn't believe it," retorted the other sourly.  "It's true all the
same.  Alf's her landlord.  He told me."

Mrs. Trupp, greatly perturbed, reported the matter to her husband.  He
tackled Alf, who at the moment was driving for his old employer again
in the absence of the regular chauffeur.

Alf admitted readily enough that the charge against his sister-in-law
was true.

"That's it, sir," he said.  "It's that chap Burt.  And he don't do what
he done for nothin, I'll lay; a chap like that don't."

He produced his book from his pocket, and held it out for the other to
see, half turning away with becoming modesty.

"I don't like it, sir--me own sister-in-law.  And I've said so to
Reverend Spink.  Makes talk, as they say.  Still it's no concern of
mine."

Mrs. Trupp, on hearing her husband's report, went down at once to see
Ruth and point out the extraordinary unwisdom of her action.

Ruth met her, fierce and formidable as Mrs. Trupp had never known her.

"It's a lie," she said, deep and savage as a tigress.

"It may be," Mrs. Trupp admitted.  "But Alfred did show Mr. Trupp his
book.  And the rent had been paid down to last Monday.  I think you
should ask Mr. Burt."

That evening when Joe came up Ruth straightway tackled him.

She was so cold, so terrible, that the engineer was frightened, and
lied.

"Not as I'd ha blamed you if you had," said Ruth relaxing ever so
little.  "It's not your fault I'm put to it and shamed afore em all."

The bitterness of the position in which Ern had placed her was eating
her heart away.  That noon for the first time she had taken the three
elder children to the public dinner for necessitous children at the
school.  Anne Caspar who had been there helping to serve had smirked.

When Joe saw that the weight of her anger was turned against Ernie and
not him, he admitted his fault.

"A may ha done wrong," he said.  "But A acted for the best.  Didn't
want to see you in young Alf's clutches."

"You bide here," Ruth said, "and keep house along o little Alice.  I'll
be back in a minute."

Hatless and just as she was, she marched up to the Manor-house.

"You were right, 'M," she told Mrs. Trupp.  "It were Joe.  He just tell
me.  Only I didn't knaw nothin of it."

"It'll never do for you to be in his debt, Ruth," said the lady.

"No," Ruth admitted sullenly.

Mrs. Trupp went to her escritoire and took out sixteen shillings.  Ruth
took it.

"Thank-you," was all she said, and she said that coldly.  Then she
returned home with the money and paid Joe.

An hour later Ernie came in.

Ruth was standing at the table waiting him, cold, tall, and inexorable.

"Anything?" she asked.

Surly in self-defence, he shook his head and sat down.

She gave him not so much as a crumb of sympathy.

"No good settin down," she told him.  "You ain't done yet.  You'll take
that clock down to Goldmann's after dark, and you'll get sixteen
shillings for it.  If he won't give you that for it, you'll pop your
own great coat."

Ernie stared at her.  He was uncertain whether to show fight or not.

"Dad's clock?--what he give me when I married?"

"Yes.  Dad's clock."

She regarded him with eyes in which resentment flamed sullenly.

"Can I feed six on the shilling a week he gives me--rent and all?"

Ernie went out and brought back the money.  She took it without a word,
and wrapping it up in a little bit of paper, left it at the Manor-house.

Mrs. Trupp, who was holding a council with Bess and Bobby Chislehurst,
unwrapped the packet and showed the money.

"She's put something up the spout," said the sage Bobby.

The three talked the situation over.  There was only one thing to be
done.  Somebody must go round to Mr. Pigott and intercede for Ernie.
Bobby was selected.

"You'll get him round if anybody can," Bess told her colleague
encouragingly.

Bobby, shaking a dubious head, went.  Mr. Pigott, like everybody else
in Old Town, was devoted to the young curate; but he presented a firm
face now to the other's entreaties.

"Every chance I've given him."  he said, and scolded and growled as he
paced to and fro in the little room looking across Victoria Drive on to
the allotments.  "He's a lost soul, is Ernie Caspar.  That's my view,
if you care for it."

Bobby retreated, not without hope, and bustled round to Ruth.

"You must go and see him!" he rapped out almost
imperiously--"yourself--this evening--after work--at 6.30--to the
minute."  He would be praying at that hour.

Ruth, who was fighting for her life now, went.

Mr. Pigott, at the window, saw her coming.

"Here she comes," he murmured.  "O dear me!  You women, you know,
you're the curse of my life.  I'd be a good and happy man only for you."

Mrs Pigott was giggling at his elbow.

"She'll get round you, all right, my son," she said.  "She'll roll you
up in two ticks till you're just a little round ball of nothing in
particular, and then gulp you down."

"She won't!" the other answered truculently.  "You don't know me!"  And
he swaggered masterfully away to meet the foe.

Mrs. Pigott proved, of course, right.

Ruth's simplicity and beauty were altogether too much for the
susceptible old man.  He put up no real fight at all; but after a
little bluff and bounce surrendered unconditionally with a good many
loud words to salve his conscience and cover his defeat.

"It's only postponing the evil day, I'm afraid," he said; but he agreed
to take the sinner back at a lower wage to do a more menial job--if
he'd come.

"He'll come, sir," said Ruth.  "He's humble.  I will say that for Ern."

"Send him to me," said the old schoolmaster threateningly.  "I'll dress
him down.  What he wants is to get religion."

"He's got religion, sir," answered simple Ruth.  "Only where it is it's
no good to him."

That evening, when Ern entered, heavy once again with defeat, she told
him the news.  At the moment she was standing at the sink washing up,
and did not even turn to face him.  He made as though to approach her
and then halted.  Something about her back forbade him.

"It shan't happen again, Ruth," he said.

She met him remorseless as a rock of granite.

"No, not till next time," she answered.

He stood a moment eyeing her back hungrily.  Then he went out.

He was hardly gone when his father lumbered into the kitchen.  The old
gentleman's eyes fell at once on the clock-deserted mantel-piece.

"Gone to be mended," he said to himself, and took out of his waistcoat
pocket the huge old gold watch with a coat of arms on the back, beloved
of the children, that had itself some fifteen years before made a
romantic pilgrimage to Mr. Goldmann's in Sea-gate.  Then he bustled to
the cupboard where was the box containing a hammer and a few tools.  He
put a nail in the wall, hammered his thumb, sucked it with a good deal
of slobber, but got the nail in at last.

"Without any help too," he said to himself, not without a touch of
complacency as he hung the watch on it.  Ruth watched him with wistful
affection.  Pleased with himself and his action, as is only the man who
rarely uses his hands, he stood back and admired his work.

"There!" he said.  "Didn't know I was a handy man, did you?  It'll keep
you going anyway till the clock comes back."

He left more hurriedly than usual, and when he was gone Ruth found two
shillings on the mantel-piece.

The old man's kindness and her own sense of humiliation were too much
for Ruth.  She went out into the back-yard; and there Joe found her,
standing like a school-girl, her hands behind her, looking up at the
church-tower.

Quietly he came to her and peeped round at her face, which was crumpled
and furrowed, the tears pouring down.

"I'd as lief give up all together for all the good it is," she gulped
between her sobs.

He put out his hand to gather her.  She turned on him, her eyes
smouldering and sullen beneath the water-floods.

"Ah, you, would you?" she snarled.

As she faced him he saw that the brooch she usually wore at her throat
was gone, and her neck, round and full, was exposed.

She saw the direction of his eyes.

"Yes," she said, "that's gone too.  I'll be lucky soon if I'm left the
clothes I stand up in."

He put out a sturdy finger and stroked her bare throat.  She struck it
aside with ferocity.

"What _do_ you want then?" he asked.

"You know what I want," she answered huskily.

"What's that?"

"A man--to make a home and keep the children."

"Well, here's one a-waitin."

She flung him off and moved heavily into the kitchen.

Just then there was a tap at the window.  It was little Alice calling
for her mother to come and tuck her up.



CHAPTER XX

THE VANQUISHED

When Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor called at the Manor-house a few days
later, Mrs. Trupp told them what had happened.

"Burt paid her rent?" queried the Colonel.

"Without her knowledge," said Mrs. Trupp.

The Colonel shrugged.

"I'm afraid our friend Ernie's a poor creature," he said.
"Wishy-washy!  That's about the long and short of it."

"And yet he's got it in him!" commented Mrs. Trupp.

"That's what I say," remarked Mrs. Lewknor with a touch of
aggressiveness.  The little lady, with the fine loyalty that was her
characteristic, never forgot whose son Ernie was, nor her first meeting
with him years before in hospital at Jubbulpur.  "He's got plenty in
him; but she don't dig it out."

"He got a good fright though, this time," said Bess.  "It may steady
him."

Mr. Trupp shot forth one of his short epigrams, solid and chunky as a
blow from a hammer.

"Men won't till they must," he said.  "It's Must has been the making of
Man.  He'll try when he's got to, and not a moment before."

Ten minutes later Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor were walking down Church
Street towards the station.  Just in front of them a woman and two men
were marching a-breast.  The woman was flanked by her comrades.

"What a contrast those two men make," remarked the Colonel.  "That
feller Burt's like a bull!"

"Too like," retorted Mrs. Lewknor sharply.  "Give me the fellow who's
like a gentleman."

The Colonel shook his head.

"Flame burns too feebly."

"But it burns pure," snapped the little lady.

Both parties had reached the foot of the hill at the Goffs when the
woman in front swerved.  It was the motion of the bird in flight
suddenly aware of a man with a gun.  She passed through the stile and
fled swiftly across Saffrons Croft.  The men with her, evidently taken
by surprise, followed.

Only the Colonel saw what had happened.

A tall man, coming from the station, had turned into Alf's garage.

"Royal," he said low to his companion.


Captain Royal had come down to Beachbourne to see Alf Caspar, who
wanted more capital for his Syndicate which was prospering amazingly.
Alf, indeed, now that he had established his garages in every important
centre in East Sussex, was starting a Road-touring Syndicate to exploit
for visitors the hidden treasures of a country-side amazingly rich in
historic memories for men of Anglo-Saxon blood.  The Syndicate was to
begin operations with a flourish on the Easter Bank Holiday, if the
necessary licence could be obtained from the Watch Committee; and Alf
anticipated little real trouble in that matter.

Mrs. Trupp and her daughter, who had never forgiven Alf for being Alf,
watched the growing prosperity of the Syndicate and its promoter with
undisguised annoyance.

"It beats me," said Bess, "why people back the little beast.  Everybody
knows all about him."

Next day as they rode down the valley towards Birling Gap, Mr. Trupp
expounded to his daughter the secret of Alf's success.

"When you're as old as I am, my dear, and have had as long an
experience as I have of this slip-shod world, you'll know that people
will forgive almost anything to a man who gets things done and is
reliable.  Alf drove me for nearly ten years tens of thousands of
miles; and I never knew him to have a break-down on the road.
Why?--because he took trouble."

Alf, indeed, with all his amazing deficiencies, mental and moral, was a
supremely honest workman.  He never scamped a job, and was never
satisfied with anything but the best.  He was gloriously work-proud.  A
hard master, he was hardest on himself, as all the men in his yard
knew.  One and all they disliked him; one and all they respected
him--because he could beat them at their own job.  His work was his
solitary passion, and he was an artist at it.  Here he was not even
petty.  Good work, and a good workman, found in him their most
wholehearted supporter.

"That's a job!" he'd say to a mechanic.  "I congratulate you."

"You should know, Mr. Caspar," the man would answer, pleased and
purring.  For Alf's reputation as the best motor-engineer in East
Sussex was well-established and well-earned.  And because he was
efficient and thorough the success of his Syndicate was never in doubt.

Alf was on the way now, in truth, to becoming a rich man.  Yet he lived
simply enough above his original garage in the Goffs at the foot of Old
Town.  And from that eyrie, busy though he was, he still made time to
watch with interest and pleasure his brother's trousers coming down and
indeed to lend a helping hand in the process: for he worked secretly on
his mother, who regarded Ernie when he came to Rectory Walk to take his
father out with eyes of increasing displeasure; for her eldest son was
shabby and seedy almost now as in the days when he had been out of work
after leaving the Hohenzollern.  The word failure was stamped upon him
in letters few could mis-read.  And Anne Caspar had for all those who
fail, with one exception, that profound sense of exasperation and
disgust which finds its outlet in the contemptuous pity that is for
modern man the camouflaged expression of the cruelty inherent in his
animal nature.  It seemed that all the love in her--and there was love
in her as surely there is in us all--was exhausted on her own old man.
For the rest her attitude towards the fallen in the arena was always
_Thumbs down_--with perhaps an added zest of rancour and resentment
because of the one she spared.

"She has brought you low," she commented one evening to Ernie in that
pseudo-mystical voice, as of one talking in her sleep, from the covert
of which some women hope to shoot their poisoned arrows with impunity.
This time, however, she was not to escape just punishment.

Ernie flared.

"Who says she has then?"

Anne Caspar had struck a spark of reality out of the moss-covered
flint; and now--as had happened at rare intervals throughout his
life--Ernie made his mother suddenly afraid.

"Everyone," she said, lamely, trying vainly to cover her retreat.

"Ah," said Ernie, nodding.  "I knaw who, and I'll let him knaw it too."

"Best be cautious," replied his mother with a smirk.  "He's your
landlord now.  And you're behind."

Ernie rose.

"He may be my landlord," he cried.  "But I'm the daddy o he yet."

Sullenly he returned to the house that was now for him no home: for the
woman who had made it home was punishing not without just cause the man
who had betrayed it.


Ruth was standing now like a rock in the tide-way, the passions of men
beating about her, her children clinging to her, the grey sky of
circumstance enfolding her.

She had sought adventure and had found it.  Battle now was hers; but it
was battle stripped of all romance.  Danger beset her; but it was
wholly sordid.  The battle was for bread--to feed her household; and
soap--to keep her home and children clean.  The danger was lest all the
creeping diseases and hideous disabilities contingent upon penury,
unknown even by name except in their grossest form to the millions
whose lot it is to face and fight them day in, day out, should sap the
powers of resistance of her and hers, and throw them on the scrap-heap
at the mercy of Man, the merciless.

Tragic was her dilemma.  To Ruth her home was everything because it
meant the environment in which she must grow the souls and bodies of
her children.  And her home was threatened.  That was the position,
stark and terrible, which stared her in the eyes by day and night.  The
man provided her by the law had proved a No-man, as Joe called it.  He
was a danger to the home of which he should have been the support.  And
while her own man had failed her, another, a true man as she believed,
was offering to take upon his strong and capable shoulders the burthen
Ernie was letting fall.

Ruth agonised and well she might.  For Joe was pressing in upon her,
overpowering her, hammering at her gate with always fiercer insistence.
Should she surrender?--should she open the gate of a citadel of which
the garrison was starved and the ammunition all but spent?--should she
fight on?

Through the muffled confusion and darkness of her mind, above the
tumult of cries old and new besetting her, came always the still small
voice, heard through the hubbub by reason of its very quiet, that
said--Fight.  Inherently spiritual as she was, Ruth gave ear to it,
putting forth the whole of her strength to meet the enemy, who was too
much her friend, and overthrow him.

Yet she could not forget that she owed her position to Ernie, since at
every hour of every day she was being pricked by the ubiquitous pin of
poverty.  Fighting now with her back to the wall, for her home and
children, and stern because of it, she did not spare him.  When Ernie
called her hard, as he was never tired of doing, she answered simply,

"I got to be."

"No need to bully a chap so then," Ernie complained.  "A'ter all I am a
human being though I may be your husband."

"You're not the only one I got to think of," replied Ruth
remorselessly.  "And it's no good talking.  I shan't forgive you till
you've won back the position you lost when he sack you.  Half a dollar
a week makes just the difference between can and can't to me.  See, I
can't goo to the wash-tub now as I could to make up one time o day when
I'd only the one.  So I must look to you.  And if I look in vain you
got to hear about it.  I mean it, Ernie," she continued.  "I'm fairly
up against it.  There's no gettin round me this time.  And if you won't
think o me, you might think o the children.  It's they who suffer."

She had touched the spot this time.

"Steady with it then!" cried Ernie angrily.  "Don't I think o you and
the children?"

"Not as you should," answered Ruth calmly.  "Not by no means.  We
should come first.  Four of them now--and twenty-two bob to keep em on.
Tain't in reason."

She faced him with calm and resolute eyes.

"And it mustn't happen again, Ern," she said.  "See, it's too much.
Nobody's fault but your own."

Ernie went out in sullen mood, and for the first time since the smash
turned into the _Star_.  He had not been there many minutes when a
navvy, clouded with liquor, leaned over and inquired friendly how his
barstards were.

Ern set down his mug.

"What's this then?" he asked, very still.

The fellow leaned forward, leering, a great hand plaistered on either
knee.

"Don't you know what a bloody barstard is?" he asked.  He was too drunk
to be afraid; too drunk to be accountable.  Ernie dealt with him as a
doctor deals with a refractory invalid--patiently.

"Who's been sayin it?" he asked.

"Your own blood-brother--Alf."

Ernie tossed off his half-pint, rose, and went out.

He walked fast down the hill to the Goffs.  People marked him as he
passed, and the look upon his face: he did not see them.

Alf was in his garage, talking to a man.  The man wore a burberry and a
jaeger hat, with a hackle stuck in the riband.  There was something
jaunty and sword-like about him.  Ern, as he drew rapidly closer,
recognised him.  It was Captain Royal.  The conjunction of the two men
at that moment turned his heart to steel.

He was walking; but he seemed to himself to be sliding over the earth
towards his enemies, swift and stealthy as a hunting panther.  As he
went he clutched his fists and knew that they were damp and very cold.

When Ernie was within a hundred yards of him Royal, all unconscious of
the presence of his enemy, swung out of the garage and walked off in
his rapid, resolute way.

Alf went slowly up the steps into his office.

He was grinning to himself.

"'Alf a mo then!" said Ernie quietly, hard on his heels.  "Just a word
with you, Alf."

Alf turned, saw his brother crossing the yard, marked the danger-flare
on his face, remembered it of old, and bolted incontinently, without
shame, locking the house door behind him.

Ern hammered on the door.

Alf peeped out of an upper window, upset a jug of water over his
brother, and in his panic fury flung the jug after it.  It broke on
Ernie's head and crashed to pieces on the step.

Ernie, gasping, and bleeding from the head, staggered back into the
road, half-stunned.  Then he began to tear off his sopping clothes and
throw them down into the dust at his feet.  His voice was quiet as his
face, smeared with blood, was moved.

"You've got to ave it!" he called up to his brother.  "May as well come
and ave it now as wait for it."

There had been a big football match on the Saffrons, and the crowd were
just flocking away, in mood for a lark.  The drenched and bleeding man
stripping in the road, the broken crockery on the door-step, the
white-faced fellow at the window, promised just the sensation they
sought.  Joyfully they gathered to see.  Here was just the right finale
pleasant Saturday afternoon.

"I'm your landlord!" screamed Alf.  "Remember that!  I'll make you pay
for this!"

"Will you?" answered Ernie, truculent and cool.  "Then I'll have my
money's worth first."

This heroic sentiment was loudly applauded by the crowd, who felt an
added sympathy for Ern now they knew he was attacking his landlord, one
of a class loathed by all good men.

Just then Joe Burt emerged from the crowd and took the tumultuous
figure of Ernie in his arms.

"Coom, then!" he said.  "This'll never do for a Labour Leader.  This
isna the Highway you should be trampin along."

The crowd protested.  It was an exhilarating scene--better than the
pictures, some opined.  And here was a blighter, who talked funny talk,
interfering.

"Just like these hem furriners," said an old man.  "Ca-a-n't let well
a-be."

Then, happily, or unhappily, the police, who exist to spoil the
people's fun, appeared on the scene.

They made a little blue knot round Ernie, who stood in the midst of
them, stripped and dripping, with something of the forlorn look of a
shorn ewe that has just been dipped.

Alf, secure now in the presence of the officers of the law, descended
from his window and came down the steps of his house towards the
growing crowd.  A tall man joined him.  The pair forced their way
through the press to the police.

"I'm Captain Royal," said the tall man, coldly.  "I saw what happened."

Joe turned on the new-comer.  His clothes, his class, a touch of
insolence about his tone and bearing, roused all the combative
instincts of the engineer.

"You wasn't standin by then!" he said ferociously.  "You only just come
up.  A saw you."

The other ignored him, drawing a card from an elegant case.

"Here's my card," he said to the police.  "If you want my evidence
you'll know where to find me."

Joe boiled over.

"That's the gentleman of England touch!" he sneered.  "Swear away a
workin man's life for the price of half a pint, they would!"

"Ah!  I know him!" muttered Ernie, white still, and trembling.

"Enough of it now," growled a big policeman, making notes in his
pocket-book.

Just then the crowd parted and a woman came through.  A shawl was
wrapped about her head and face.  Only her eyes were seen, dark under
dark hair.

A moment she stood surrounded by the four men who had desired or
possessed her.  Then she put her hand on the shirt-sleeve of her
husband.

"Ern," she said, and turned away.

He followed her submissively through the crowd, slipping his shirt over
his head.

Swiftly the woman walked away up the hill.  Her scarecrow, his trousers
sopping and sagging about his boots, trudged behind.

The crowd looked after them in silence.  Then Joe broke away and
followed at a distance.

Ruth looked back and saw him.

"Let us be, Joe," she called.

Joe turned away.  His eyes were full of tears.



CHAPTER XXI

THUNDER

The two brothers had to appear before the Bench on Monday.  As it
chanced Mr. Pigott, Colonel Lewknor and Mr. Trupp were the only
magistrates present.

Ernie, who appeared with his head bandaged, admitted his mistake.

"Went to pass the time o day with my brother," he said.  "And all he
done was to lean out of the window and crash the crockery down on the
roof o me head.  Did upset me a bit, I admit."

"He meant murder all right," was Alf's testimony, sullenly given.  "He
knows that."

Joe corroborated Ernie's statement.

He had been in the Saffrons on Saturday afternoon and had seen Ernie
coming down the hill from Old Town.  Having a message to give him he
had started to meet him.  Ernie had gone up the steps of his brother's
house; and as he did so, Alf had leaned out of the upper window and
thrown a jug down on his brother.

Alf's solicitor cross-examined the engineer at some length.

"What were you doing on the Saffrons?"

"Watching the football."

"You were watching the football; and yet you saw Caspar coming down
Church Street?"

"I did."

"I suggest that you did nothing of the sort; and that you only appeared
on the scene at the last moment."

"Well," retorted Joe, good-humouredly.  "A don't blame you for that.
It's what you're paid to suggest."

A witness who was to have given evidence for Alf did not appear; and
the Bench agreed without retiring.  Neither of the brothers had been up
before the magistrates before and both were let off with a caution,
Ernie having to pay costs.

"_Your_ tongue's altogether too long, Alfred Caspar," said Mr. Pigott,
the Chairman, and added--quite unjudicially--"always was.  And _you're_
altogether too free with your fists, Ernest Caspar."

Ernie left the court rejoicing; for he knew he had escaped lightly.
Outside he waited to thank his friend for his support.

"Comin up along?" he coaxed.

"Nay, ma lad," retorted the engineer with the touch of brutality which
not seldom now marked his intercourse with the other.  "You must face
the missus alone.  Reck'n A've done enough for one morning."

Ern went off down Saffrons Road in the direction of Old Town,
crest-fallen as is the man whose little cocoon of self-defensive humbug
has suddenly been cleft by a steel blade.

Joe marched away down Grove Road.  Alf caught him up.  The little
chauffeur was smiling that curds-and-whey smile of his.

"Say, Burt!--you aren't half a liar, are you?" he whispered.

Joe grinned genially.

"The Church can't have it all to herself," he said.  "Leave a few of
the lies to the laity."

Ern trudged back from the Town Hall, across Saffrons Croft, to the
Moot, in unenviable mood; for he was afraid, and he had cause.

Ruth was who standing in the door came stalking to meet him, holding
little Alice by the hand.

Ern slouched up with that admixture of bluff, lordly insouciance, and
aggrieved innocence that is the honoured defence of dog and man alike
on such occasions.

"You've done us," she said almost vengefully.

"What are I done then?" asked the accused, feigning abrupt indignation.

Ruth dismissed the child, and turned on Ernie.

"Got us turn into the street--me and my babies," she answered,
splendidly indignant.  "A chap's been round arter the house, while you
was up before the beaks settlin whether you were for Lewes Gaol or not.
Says Alf's let it him a week from Saraday, and we got to go.  I
wouldn't let him in."

"Ah," said Ernie stubbornly, "don't you worry.  Alf's got to give us
notice first.  And he daren't do that."

Ruth was not to be appeased.

"Why daren't he, then?" she asked.

"I'll tell you for why," answered Ernie.  "He's goin up before the
Watch Committee come Thursday to get his licence for his blessed
Touring Syndicate.  We've friends on that Committee, good friends--Mr.
Pigott, and the Colonel, not to say Mr. Geddes; and Alf knaws it.  He
ain't goin to do anythink to annoy them just now.  Knaws too much, Alf
do."

Ruth was not convinced.

"We got no friends," she said sullenly.  "We shall lose em all over
this.  O course we shall, and I don't blame em.  A fair disgrace on
both of you, I call it.  You're lucky not to have to do a stretch.  And
as to Alf, they've sack him from sidesman over it, and he'll never
forgive us."

They were walking slowly back to the cottage, the man hang-dog, the
woman cold.

Outside the door she paused.

"All I know is this," she said.  "If you're out again through your own
fault I'm done with it, and I'll tell you straight what I shall do,
Ern."

She was very quiet.

"What then?"

"I shall leave you with your children and go away with mine."  She
stood with heaving bosom, immensely moved.  "I ca-a'nt keep the lot.
But I can keep one.  And you know which one that'll be."

Ernie, the colour of dew, went indoors without a word.


The rumour that Alf had been dismissed from his position as sidesman at
St. Michael's, owing to the incident in the Goffs, was not entirely
true, but there was something in it.

The Archdeacon had his faults, but there was no more zealous guardian
of the fair fame of the Church and all things appertaining to her.

Alf's appearance before the magistrates was discussed at the weekly
conference of the staff at the Rectory.

Both Mr. Spink and Bobby Chislehurst were present.  The former stoutly
defended his protégé, and the Archdeacon heard him out.  Then he turned
to Bobby.

"What d'you say, Chislehurst?" he asked.

Bobby, in fact, could say little.

Ernie had no scruples whatever in suggesting what was untrue to the
magistrates, who when on the Bench at all events were officials, and to
be treated accordingly, but he would never lie to a man who had won his
heart.  He had, therefore, in answer to the Cherub's request given an
unvarnished account of what had occurred.  Bobby now repeated it
reluctantly, but without modification.

"Exactly," said Mr. Spink.  "There's not a tittle of evidence that
Alfred really did say what he's accused of saying.  And he denies it,
point-blank."

"I think I'd better see him," said the Archdeacon.

Alf came, sore and sulking.

Mottled and sour of eye, he stood before the Archdeacon who flicked the
lid of his snuff-box, and asked whether he had indeed made the remark
attributed to him.

"I never said nothing of the sort," answered Alf warmly, almost rudely.
"Is it likely?  me own sister-in-law and all!  See here!" He produced
his rent-book.  "I'm her landlord.  She's months behind.  See for
yourself!  Any other man only me'd have turned her out weeks ago.  But,
of course, she takes advantage.  She would.  She's that sort.  I never
said a word against her."

"And there is plenty you could say," chimed in Mr. Spink, who had
escorted his friend.

"Maybe there is," muttered Alf.

The Archdeacon made a grimace.  In the matter of sex indeed if in no
other, he was and always had been a genuine aristocrat--sensitive,
refined, fastidious.

"Two of them get soaking together in the _Star_," continued Alf.  "Then
they start telling each other dirty stories and quarrellin.  Ern
believes it all and comes and makes a fuss.  Mr. Pigott's chairman on
the Bench.  Course he lays it all on me--Mr. Pigott would.  Ern can't
do no wrong in his eyes--never could.  Won't listen to reason and
blames me along of him--because I'm a Churchman.  See, he's never
forgiven me leaving the Chapel, Mr. Pigott hasn't; and that's the whole
story."

It was a good card to play; and it did its work.

"It's a cleah case to my mind of more sinned against than sinning,"
said the Archdeacon with a genuinely kind smile.  "You had bad luck,
Caspar--but a good friend."  He shook hands with both young men.  "I
wish you well and offer you my sympathy.  I think you should go and
have a word of explanation with our friend, Mr. Pigott, though."

"Yes, sir," said Alf.  "I'm goin now.  I couldn't let it rest there."

Alf went straight on to interview the erring chairman in the little
villa in Victoria Drive.

The latter, summing up his old pupil with shrewd blue eye in which
there was a hint of battle, refused to discuss the case or his judgment.

"What's done is done," he said.  "The law's the law and there's no goin
back on it.  You were lucky to get off so light; that's my notion of
it."

Alf stood before him, hang-dog and resentful.

"He'll kill me one of these days," he muttered.  "Little better than a
bloody murderer."

There was a moment's pause, marked by a snort from Mr. Pigott.

Then the jolly, cosy man, with his trim white beard and neat little
paunch, rose and opened the window with some ostentation.

"First time that word's ever crossed my threshold," he said.  "And I've
lived in this house ten year come Michaelmas."  He turned with dignity
on the offender.  "Is that what they teach you in the Church of
England, then, Alfred Caspar?" he asked.  "It wasn't what we taught you
in the Wesleyan Chapel in which you was bred.  Never heard the like of
it for language in all me life--never!"  Before everything else in life
Mr. Pigott was a strong chapel-man; and in his judgment Ern's weakness
was as nothing to Alf's apostasy.

Alf looked foolish and deprecatory.

"I didn't mean in it the swearin way," he said--"not as Ernest would
have meant it.  I never been in the Army meself.  I only meant he'll be
the end o me one of these days.  Good as said he would in the _Star_
Saturday."

Mr. Pigott turned away to hide the twinkle in his eye.  He knew Alf
well, and his weakness.

"He don't like you, I do believe," he admitted.  "And he's a very funny
fellow, Ern, when his hackle's up."

Alf's eyes blinked as they held the floor.

"And now," he said, "I suppose the Watch Committee'll not grant my
licence for the Road-Touring Syndicate when it comes up afore em on
Thursday.  And I'll be a ruined man."

"I shouldn't be surprised," answered Mr. Pigott, who was an alderman
and a great man on the Town Council.

Alf was furious.  He was so furious, indeed, that he did a thing he had
not done for years: he took his trouble to his mother.

"It's a regular plot," he said, "that's what it is.  To get my licence
stopped and ruin me.  Raised the money; ordered the buses; engaged the
staff and all.  And then they spring this on me!--It ain't Ernie.  I
will say that for him.  I know who's at the bottom of it."

"Who then?" asked his mother, faintly interested.

"Her Ern keeps."

Mrs. Caspar roused instantly.

"Isn't she married to him then?" she cried, peering over her spectacles.

"Is she?" sneered Alf.  "That's all."

He leaned forward, his ugly face dreadful with a sneer.

"Do you know where she'd be if everyone had his rights?"

"Where then?"

"Lewes Gaol."

His message delivered, he sat back with a nod to watch its effect.

"And she would be there too," continued Alf, "only for me."

"What do you mean?" Mrs. Caspar asked.

"I mean," answered Alf, "as I keep her out of prison by keepin me mouth
shut."  He dropped his voice.  "And that ain't all.  She's at it again
... Her home's a knockin-shop....  All the young men....  The police
ought to interfere....  I shall tell the Archdeacon....  A kept
woman....  That chap Burt....  That's how Ern makes good....  She makes
the money he spends at the _Star_....  And your grand-children brought
up in that atmosphere!"  He struck the table.  "But I'm her landlord
all the same; and I'll make her know it yet."

Anne Caspar was genuinely disturbed not for the sake of Ruth, but for
that of the children.

"You could never turn her out!" she said--"not your own sister-in-law
and four children!  Look so bad and all--and you a sidesman too."

Alf snorted.

"Ah, couldn't I?" he said.  "You never know what a man can do till he
tries."


That evening the Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor walked over to the
Manor-house to discuss Ern's latest misadventure.  They found Mr.
Pigott there clearly on the same errand; but the old Nonconformist rose
to go with faintly exaggerated dignity on seeing his would-be enemy.

"There's only one thing'll save him now," he announced in his most
dogmatic style.

"What's that?" asked Mrs. Trupp.

"H'a h'earthquake," the other answered.

When the Colonel and his wife left the Manor-house half-an-hour later
there were three people walking abreast down the hill before them, just
as there had been on a previous occasion.  Now, as then, the centre of
the three was Ruth.  Now, as then, on her left was Joe.  But on her
right instead of Ern was little Alice.

The Colonel pointed to the three.

"I'll back Caspar all the way," said Mrs. Lewknor firmly.

"Myself," replied the Colonel shrewdly, "I'll back the winner."

Then he paused to read a placard which gave the latest news of the
Ulster campaign.



PART II

TROUBLED DAWN



CHAPTER XXII

THE BETRAYAL

The Ulster Campaign was moving forward now with something of the shabby
and theatrical pomp of a travelling circus parading the outskirts of a
sea-side town before a performance.  A dromedary with an elongated
upper lip, draped in the dirty trappings of a pseudo-Oriental satrap,
led the procession, savage and sulking.  Behind the dromedary came the
mouldy elephant, the mangy bear, the fat woman exposing herself in
tights on a gilt-edged Roman chariot, the sham cow-boys with gaudy
cummerbunds, and Cockney accents, on untamed bronchos hired from the
local livery stables, the horse that was alleged to have won the Derby
in a by-gone century, etc.  And the spectators gaped on the pavement,
uncertain whether to jeer or to applaud.

As the Campaign rolled on its way, the wiser Conservatives shook their
heads, openly maintaining that the whole business was a direct
abnegation of everything for which their party had stood in history,
while the Liberals became increasingly restive: Mr. Geddes, uneasy at
the inaction of the Government, Mr. Geddes truculent to meet the
truculence of the enemy.  The only man who openly rejoiced was Joe Burt.

"The Tory Reds have lit such a candle by God's grace in England as'll
never be put out," he said to Ernie.

The engineer had always now a newspaper cutting in his waistcoat
pocket, and a quotation pat upon his lips.

"They're all shots for the locker in the only war that matters," he
told the Colonel.  "And they'll all coom in handy one day.  A paste em
into a lil book nights: _Tips for Traitors; an ammunition magazine_, A
call it."

For him Sir Edward Carson's famous confession of faith, _I despise the
Will of the People_--words Joe had inscribed as motto on the cover of
his ammunition magazine--gave the key to the whole movement.  And he
never met the Colonel now but he discharged a broadside into the
helpless body of his victim.

It was not, however, till early in 1914, just when his pursuit of Ruth
was at the hottest, that he woke to the fact that the Tories were
tampering with the Army.  That maddened Joe.

"If this goes on A shall go back to ma first love," he told Ruth with a
characteristic touch of impudence.

"And a good job too," she answered tartly.  "I don't want you."

"And you can go back to your Ernie," continued the engineer, glad to
have got a rise.

"I shan't go back to him," retorted Ruth, "because I never left him."

The statement was not wholly true: for if Ruth had not left Ernie,
since the affair of the Goffs she had according to her promise turned
her back on him.  When on the first opportunity that offered she had
announced his fate to the offender, he had blinked, refused to
understand, argued, insisted, coaxed--to no purpose.

"You got to be a man afoor I marry you again," she told him coldly.
"I'm no'hun of a no-man's woman."

Ernie at first refused to accept defeat.  He became eloquent about his
rights.

"They're nothing to my wrongs," Ruth answered briefly; and turned a
deaf ear to all his pleas.

Thereafter Ernie found himself glad to escape the home haunted by the
woman he still loved, who tantalised and thwarted him.  That was why
when Joe girded on his armour afresh and went forth to fight the old
enemy in the new disguise, Ernie accompanied him.

The pair haunted Unionist meetings, Ernie quiescent, the other
aggressive to rowdiness.  Young Stanley Bessemere, who had returned
from Ireland (where he now spent all his leisure caracoling on a
war-horse at the distinguished tail of the caracoling Captain Smith) to
address a series of gatherings in his constituency in justification of
the Ulster movement, and his own share in it, was the favoured target
for his darts.  Joe followed him round from the East-end to Meads, and
from Meads to Old Town, and even pursued him into the country.  He
acquired a well-earned reputation as a heckler, and was starred as
dangerous by the Tory bloods.  Mark that man! the word went round.

Joe knew it, and was only provoked to increased aggressiveness.

"Go on, ma lad!" he would roar from the back of the hall.  "Yon's the
road to revolution aw reet!"

There came a climax at a meeting in the Institute, Old Town.  Joe at
question time had proved himself unusually bland and provocative.  The
stewards had tried to put him out; and there had been a rough and
tumble in the course of which somebody had hit the engineer a crack on
the head from behind with the handle of a motor-car.  Joe dropped; and
Ernie stood over him in the ensuing scuffle.  The news that there was
trouble drew a little crowd.  Ruth, on her evening marketings in Church
Street, looked in.  She found Joe sitting up against the wall, dazed;
and Ernie kneeling beside him and having words with Stanley Bessemere,
who was strolling towards the door.

"Brought his troubles on his own head," said the young member casually.

"Hit a man from behind!" retorted Ernie, quiet but rather white.
"English, ain't it?"

"It was your own brother, then!" volunteered an onlooker.

Joe rallied, rubbed his head, looked up, saw Ruth and reassured her.

"A'm maself," he said.

He rose unsteadily on Ernie's arm.

"He must come home along of us," said Ruth.

"Of course he must then," Ernie answered with the asperity of the
thwarted male.

The night-air revived the wounded man.  Arrived at the cottage he sat
in the kitchen, still a little stupid, but amused with his adventure.

"They'd ha kicked me in stoomach when A was down only for you, Ern," he
said.  "That's the Gentlemen of England's notion of politics, that is."

"You'd ha done the same by them, Joe, if you'd the chance," answered
Ern.

The other grinned.

"A would that, by Guy--and all for loov," he admitted.

Ruth brought him a hot drink.  He sipped it, one eye still on his
saviour.

"I owe this to you, Ern.  Here's to you!"

"Come to that, Joe, I owe you something," Ernie answered.

"What's that then?" Joe sat as a man with a stiff neck, screwing up his
eye at the other.

Ern nodded significantly at Ruth's back.

"Why that little bit o tiddley you done for me afore the beaks," he
whispered.

"That's nowt," answered Joe sturdily.  "What was it Saul said to
Jonathan--_If a feller can't tiddle it a liddel bit for his pal, what
the hell use is he?_--Book o Judges."

Ruth in the background watched the two men.  It was as though she were
weighing them in the balance.  There was a touch of masterful
tenderness about Ern's handling of his damaged friend that surprised
and pleased her.

Joe made an effort to get up.

"A'd best be shiftin," he said.

"Never!" cried Ern, authoritatively.  "You'll bide the night along o
us.  She'll make you a bed on the couch here."

"Nay," said Ruth.  "You'll sleep in the bed along o Ernie."

Joe eyed her.

"Where'll you sleep then?" he asked.

"In the spare room," Ruth answered, winking at Ernie.

There was no spare room; but she made up a shake-down for herself on
the settle in the kitchen.  Ernie, after packing away the visitor
upstairs, came down to help her.  It also gave him an opportunity to
ventilate his grievance.

"One thing.  It won't make much difference to me," he said.

"Your own fault," Ruth answered remorselessly.  "And you aren't the
only one, though I know you think you are.  Men do ... We'd be out in
the street now, the lot of us, only for Joe telling lies for you."

Next morning she took her visitor breakfast in bed and kept him there
till Mr. Trupp had come, who told Joe he must not return to work for a
week.

The engineer got up that afternoon and was sitting in the kitchen still
rather shaky, when Alf, who had not fulfilled his threat and given Ruth
notice, called for the rent.

Ruth greeted him with unusual friendliness.

"Come in, won't you?" she said--"while I get the money."

Alf, who in some respects was simple almost as Ernie, entered the trap
to find Joe, huddled in a chair and glowering murder at him.  He tried
to withdraw, but Ruth stood between him and the door, twice his size,
and with glittering eyes.

"There's a friend of yours," she said.  "Saw him last night, at the
meeting, didn't you?--I thart you'd be glad to meet him."

Alf quaked.

"Been in the wars then?" he said shakily.

"What d'you know about it?" rumbled Joe.

"I don't know nothin," answered Alf sharply, almost shrilly.

Just then little Alice entered.  Alf took advantage of her entrance to
establish his line of retreat.  Once set in the door with a clear run
for the open his courage returned to him.

"And what may be your name?" he asked the child with deliberate
insolence.

"Alice Caspar," she answered, staring wide-eyed.

Alf sneered.

"That it ain't--I know," he said, and went out without his rent, and
laughing horribly.

Little Alice ran out again.

"What's he mean?" asked Joe.

Ruth regarded him with wary curiosity.

"Didn't Ern never tell you then?" she asked.

"Never!" said Joe.

Ruth was thoughtful.  That was nice of Ern--like Ern--the gentleman in
him coming out.

That night she softened to him.  He noticed it in a flash and
approached her--only to be repulsed abruptly.

"No," she said.  "I don't care about you no more.  You've lost me.
That's where it is."

"O, I beg pardon," answered Ernie, quivering.  "I thart we was married."

"So we was one time o day, I believe," Ruth answered.  "And might be
again yet.  Who knaws?"

He stood over her as she composed herself for the night on the settle.

"How long's that Joe going to stop in my house?" he asked.

"Just as long as I like," she answered coolly.

Next day when Joe came in for tea he found Ruth sitting in the kitchen,
nursing little Alice, who was crying her heart out on her mother's
shoulder.

"They've been tormenting her at school," Ruth explained.  "It's Alf."

"I'll lay it is," muttered Joe.  "Ern and me, we'll just go round when
he comes back from work."

Ruth looked frightened.

"Don't tell Ern for all's sake, Joe!" she whispered.

"Why not then?"

"He'd kill Alf."

Joe's face betrayed his scepticism.

"Ah, you don't knaw Ern, when he's mad," Ruth warned him.

An hour later Ernie came home.  He was still, suppressed, as often now.
There was nobody in the kitchen but Ruth.

"Where's your Joe, then?" he asked.

"He's left," Ruth answered.

Ernie relaxed ever so little.

"He might ha stopped to say good-bye," he muttered.

Ruth rose.

"I got something to tell you, Ern," she said.

He turned on her abruptly.

"It's little Alice.  They've been getting at her at
school--_that!_--you knaw."

Ernie was breathing hard.

"Who split?"

"Alf.  He told Mrs. Ticehurst--I see him; and she told the lot."

Ern went out slowly, and slowly up the stairs in the dark to the
children's room.

A little voice called--"Daddy!"

"I'm comin, sweet-heart," he answered tenderly.

He felt his way to the child's bed, knelt beside it, and struck a
match.  A tear like a star twinkled on her cheek.  She put out her
little arms to him and clasped him round the neck.

"Daddy, you _are_ my daddy, aren't you?" she sobbed, her heart breaking
in her voice.

He laid his cheek against hers.  Both were wet.

"Of course I am," he answered, the water floods sounding in his throat.
"I'm your daddy; and you're my darling.  And if we got nobody else we
got each other, ain't we?"

Ruth, in the dark at the foot of the stairs, heard, gave a great gulp,
and crept back to the kitchen.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE COLONEL FACES DEFEAT

The Colonel, who throughout his life while making a great show of
radical opinions in the mess for the benefit of his brother-officers
had always voted quietly for the Conservative party on the ground that
they made upon the whole less of a hash of Imperial affairs than their
Liberal opponents was profoundly troubled by the proceedings in Ulster.

"The beggars are undermining the _morale_ of Ireland," he told Mr.
Trupp.  "And only those who've been quartered there know what that
means."

"If you said they were undermining the foundations of Society I'd
agree," the other answered.  "Geddes says they've poisoned the wells of
civilisation, and he's about right."

The Presbyterian minister, indeed, usually so sane and moderate, had
been roused to unusual vehemence by the general strike against the law
engineered by the Conservative leaders.

"It's a reckless gamble in anarchy with the country's destiny at
stake," he said.

"And financed by German Jews," added Joe Burt.

As the Campaign developed and the success of the Unionists in tampering
with the Army became always more apparent, the criticisms of the two
men intensified.  They hung like wolves upon the flank of the Colonel,
pertinacious in pursuit, remorseless in attack.

"You can't get away from the fact that the whole Campaign is built on
the power of the Unionists to corrupt the officers of the Army," said
the minister.  "Without that the whole thing collapses."

"And so far," chimed in Joe, "A must say it looks as if they were
building on a sure foundation."

The Colonel, outwardly gay, was inwardly miserable that his beloved
Service should be dragged in the mud.

"What can you say to them?" he groaned to Mr. Trupp.

"Why," said the old surgeon brusquely, "tell em to tell their own
rotten Government to govern or get out.  Let em hang half a dozen
politicians for treason, and shoot the same number of soldiers for
sedition--and the thing's done."

And the bitterness of it was that it looked increasingly as if the
critics were right.

The Colonel came home one night from a rare visit to London in black
despair.

"The British officer never grows up," he complained to his wife.  "He's
a perfect baby."  His long legs writhed themselves into knots, as he
sucked at his pipe.  "Do you remember that charming little feller
Cherry Dugdale, who commanded the Borderers at Umballa?"

"The shikari?--rather."

"He's joined the Ulster Volunteers as a private."

Mrs. Lewknor chuckled.  She was a Covenanter sans phrase, fierce almost
as the Archdeacon and delighting in the embarrassments of the
Government.

"Just like him," she said.  "Little duck!"

Then came the crash.

The Commander-in-Chief in Ireland sent for General Gough, commanding
the 3rd Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh, and asked him what his action
would be in the event of the Government giving him and his Brigade the
alternative of serving against Ulster or resigning.  Gough forthwith
called a conference of his officers, and seventy out of seventy-five
signified their intention to resign.

"We would rather not shoot Irishmen," they said.

On the evening after the news came through the Colonel was walking down
Terminus Road when he heard a provocative voice behind him.

"What about it, Colonel?"

He turned to find Joe Burt at his heels.

"What about what?" asked the Colonel.

"This mutiny of the officers at the Curragh."

The Colonel affected a gaiety he by no means felt.

"Well, what's your view?"

Joe was enthusiastic.

"Why, it's the finest example of Direct Action ever seen in this
coontry.  And it's been given by the Army officers!--That's what gets
me."

"What's Direct Action?" asked the Colonel.  The phrase in those days
was unknown outside industrial circles.

"A strike, and especially a strike for political purposes," answered
Joe.  "General Gough and his officers have struck to prevent Home Rule
being placed on the Statute Book.  What if a Trade Union had tried to
hold up the coontry same road?  It's what A've always said," the
engineer continued, joyously aggressive.  "The officers of the British
Army aren't to be trusted except when their own party's in power."

The Colonel walked on to the club.

There he found young Stanley Bessemere, just back from Ireland, sitting
in a halo of cigar-smoke, the hero of an amused and admiring circle,
recording his latest military exploits.

"We've got the swine beat," he was saying confidently between puffs.
"The Army won't fight.  And the Government can do nothing."

The Colonel turned a vengeful eye upon him.

"Young man," he said, "are you aware that Labour's watching you?
Labour's learning from you?"

"Labour be damned!" retorted the other with jovial brutality.  "We'll
deal with Labour all right when we've got this lot of traitors out of
office."

"Traitors!" called Mr. Trupp, harshly from his chair.  "You talk of
traitors!--you Tories!--I voted for you at the last General Election
for the first time in my life on the sole ground of national defence.
D'you think I or any self-respecting man would have done so if we'd
known the jackanape tricks you'd be up to?"

The two elderly men retired in dudgeon to the card-room.

"There's only one thing the matter with Ireland," grumbled the old
surgeon.  "And its always been the same thing."

"What's that?" asked the Colonel.

"The English politician," replied the other--"Ireland's curse."

Hard on the heels of the Curragh affair came the landing of arms from
Krupp's, with the connivance, if not with the secret co-operation of
the German Government, at Larne under the cover of the rebel Army,
mobilised for the purpose.  The Government wept a few patient tears
over the outrage and did nothing.

The Colonel was irritated; Mr. Trupp almost vituperative.

"Geddes may say what he likes," remarked the former.  "But I can't
acquit the Government.  They're encouraging the beggars to play it up."

"Acquit them!" fulminated the old surgeon.  "I'd impeach them on the
spot.  The law in abeyance!  British ports seized under the guns of the
British fleet!  Gangs of terrorists patrolling the roads and openly
boasting they'll assassinate any officer of the Crown who does his
duty; and the Episcopalian Church blessing the lot!  And the Government
does nothing.  It's a national disgrace!"

"It's all very well, Mr. Trupp," said Mr. Glynde, the senior member for
the Borough, who was present.  "But Ulster has a case, and we must
consider it."

"Of course Ulster has a case," the other answered sharply.  "Nobody but
a fool denies it.  I'm attacking the Government, not Ulster.  Let them
restore law and order in Ireland.  That's their first job.  When
they've done that it'll be time enough to consider Ulster's grievances.
Where's all this going to lead us?"

"Hell," said the Colonel gloomily.

He was, indeed, more miserable than he had ever been in his life.

Other old Service men he met, who loathed the Government, looked on
with amused or spiteful complacency at the part the Army was playing in
the huge conspiracy against the Crown.  The Colonel saw nothing but the
shame of it, its possible consequences, and effect on opinion,
domestic, imperial and European.

He walked about as one in a maze: he could not understand.

Then Mr. Geddes came to see him.

The tall minister was very grave; and there was no question what he
came about--the Army Conspiracy.

The Colonel looked out of the window and twisted his long legs as he
heard the other out.

"Dear little Gough-y!" he murmured at the end.  "The straightest thing
that walks the earth."

He felt curiously helpless, as he had felt throughout the Campaign;
unable to meet his adversaries except by the evasion and casuistical
tricks his spirit loathed.

Mr. Geddes rose.

"Well, Colonel," he said.  "I see no alternative but to resign my
membership of the League.  It's perfectly clear that if your scheme
goes through it must be run by officers at the War Office.  And I'm
afraid I must add that it seems equally clear now that it will be run
for political purposes by men who put their party before their country."

The Colonel turned slowly round.

"You've very kindly lent us St. Andrew's Hall for a meeting of the
League next Friday.  Do you cancel that?" he asked.

"Certainly not, Colonel," answered the minister.  "By all means hold
your meeting.  I shall be present, and I shall speak." ...

It was not a happy meeting at St. Andrew's Hall, but it was a crowded
one: for the vultures had sniffed the battle from afar.  The Liberals
came in force, headed by Mr. Pigott; while Joe Burt led his wolves from
the East-end.  Ernie was there, very quiet now as always, with Ruth;
and Bobby Chislehurst, seeing them, took his seat alongside.

Fighting with his back to the wall, and well aware of it, the Colonel
was at his very best: witty, persuasive, reasonable.  What the National
Service League advocated was not aggression in any shape, but insurance.

He sat down amid considerable and well-earned applause.

Then Mr. Geddes rose.

He had joined the League after Agadir, he said, after much perturbation
and questioning of spirit, because he had been reluctantly convinced at
last that the German menace was a reality.  Yet what was the position
to-day?  The Conservative Party, which had preached this menace for
years, had been devoting the whole of its energies now for some time
past to fomenting a civil war in Ireland.  They had gone so far as to
arm a huge force that was in open rebellion against the Crown with
rifles and machine-guns from the very country which they affirmed was
about to attack us.  And more remarkable still certain Generals at the
War Office--he wouldn't mention names--

"Why not?" shouted Mr. Pigott.

It was not expedient; but he had in his pocket a letter from Mr.
Redmond giving the name of the General who was primarily responsible
for the sedition among the officers of the Army--a very highly placed
officer indeed.

"Shame!" cried someone.

He thought so too.  And this General, who was in the somewhat anomalous
position of being both technical military adviser to the rebel army in
Ulster and the trusted servant of the Government at the War Office, was
a man who for years past, so he understood, had preached the doctrine
that war with Germany was inevitable, and had been for many years
largely responsible for the preparation of our forces against attack
from that quarter.  To suggest that this officer and his colleagues
were traitors was downright silly.  What, then, was the only deduction
a reasonable man could draw?  The minister paused: Why, that the German
peril was not a reality.

The conclusion was greeted with a howl of triumph from the wolves at
the back.

"Hear! hear!" roared Mr. Pigott.

Joe Burt had jumped up.

"A'll tell you the whole truth about the German Bogey!" he bawled.
"It's a put-up game by the militarists to force conscription on the
coontry for their own purposes.  Now you've got it straight!"

As he sat down amid tumultuous applause at one end of the hall a figure
on the platform bobbed up as it were automatically.  It was Alf.

"Am I not right in thinking that the gentleman at the back of the hall
is about to pay a visit to Germany?" he asked urbanely.

"Yes, you are!" shouted Joe.  "And A wish all the workin-men in England
were comin too.  That'd put the lid on the nonsense pretty sharp."

Then ensued something of a scene; the hub-bub pierced by Alf's shrill
scream,

"_Who's payin for your visit?_"

The Archdeacon, a most capable chairman, restored order; and Mr. Geddes
concluded his speech on a note of quiet strength.  When he finally sat
down man after man got up and announced his intention of resigning his
membership of the League.


Outside the hall the Colonel stood out of the moon in the shadow of one
of those trees which make the streets of Beachbourne singular and
lovely at all times of the year.  His work of the last six years had
been undone, and it was clear that he knew it.

Ruth, emerging from the hall, looked across at the forlorn old man
standing like a dilapidated pillar amid the drift of the dissipating
crowd.  She had herself no understanding of the rights and wrongs of
the controversy to which she had just listened; her sympathies were not
enlisted by either side.  Only the human element, and the clash of
personalities which had made itself apparent at the meeting, had
interested her.  But she realised that the tall figure across the road
was the vanquished in the conflict; and her heart went out to him.

"They aren't worth the worrit he takes over them," she said
discontentedly.  "Let them have their war if they want it, I says.  And
when they've got it let those join in as likes it, and those as don't
stay out.  That's what I say....  A nice man like that, too--so gentle
with it....  Ought to be ashamed of emselves; some of em."

Then she saw Mr. Chislehurst cross the road to his cousin, and she was
comforted.

"He'll walk home with him.--Come on, Ernie."

It was striking ten o'clock.  Ruth, who was in a hurry to get back to
her babes, left in the charge of a neighbour, walked a-head.  Ernie, on
the other hand, wished to saunter, enjoying the delicious freshness of
the spring night.

"Steady on then!" he said.  "That's the Archdeacon in front, and Mr.
Trupp and all."

"I knaw that then," replied Ruth with the asperity she kept for Ernie
alone.

"Well, you don't want to catch them up."

They entered Saffrons Croft, which lay black or silver-blanched before
them, peopled now only with tall trees.  The groups of elms, thickening
with blossoms, gathered the stars to their bosoms, and laid their
shadows like patterns along the smooth sward.  Beyond the threadbare
tapestry of trees rose the solid earth-work of the Downs, upholding the
brilliant night, encircling them as in a cup, and keeping off the
hostile world.  Ernie felt their strength, their friendship, the
immense and unfailing comfort of them.  A great quiet was everywhere,
brooding, blessed.  The earth lay still as the happy dead, caressed by
the moon.  But behind the stillness the thrust and stir and aspiration
of new life quickening in the darkness, seeking expression, made itself
manifest.  Ernie was deliciously aware of that secret urge.  He opened
his senses to the rumour of it, and filled his being with the breath of
this mysterious renaissance.

He stopped and sniffed.

"It's coming," he said.  "I can smell it."

"It's come more like," answered Ruth.  "The lilacs are out in the
Manor-garden, and the brown birds singing in the ellums fit to choke
theirsalves."

They walked on slowly across the turf.  The lights of the Manor-house
twinkled at them friendly across the ha-ha.  Ernie's heart, which had
been hardening of late to meet Ruth's hardness, thawed at the touch of
spring.  The doors of his being opened and his love leapt forth in
billows to surround her.  The woman in front paused as if responding to
that profound sub-conscious appeal.  Ern did not hurry his pace; but
she stayed for him in a pool of darkness made by the elms.  Quietly he
came up alongside.

"Ruth," he began, shy and stealthy as a boy-lover.

She did not answer him, but the moon lay on her face, firm-set.

"Anything for me to-night?"

He came in upon her with a quiet movement as of wings.  She elbowed him
off fiercely.

"A-done!" she said.  "You're not half-way through yet--nor near it."

He pleaded, coaxing.

"I am a man, Ruth."

She was adamant.

"It's just what you are not," she retorted.  He knew she was breathing
deep; he did not know how near to tears she was.  "You was one time o
day--and you might be yet.--You got to work your ticket, my lad."

He drew back.

She walked on swiftly now, passing out of Saffrons Croft into the road.
He followed at some distance down the hill past the Greys to the _Star_
corner.  A man standing there pointed.  He turned round to see Joe
pounding after him.

"The tickets and badges coom to-night," the engineer explained.  "A
meant to have given you yours, as A did Mr. Geddes, at the meeting.
But you got away.  Good night!  Friday!  Three o'clock sharp!  Don't
forget."

Ruth had turned and was coming swiftly back towards them.

"Ain't you coming along then, Joe?" she called after him.

"Not to-night, thank-you, Ruth.  A got to square up afore we go."

"I am disappointed," said Ruth disconsolately, and turned away down
Borough Lane.

Ernie came up beside her quietly.

"That night!" he said.  "Almost a pity you didn't stay where you was in
bed and let Joe take my place alongside you."

"Hap it's what I've thart myself times," Ruth answered sentimentally.

"Only thing," continued Ernie in that same strangely quiet voice, "Joe
wouldn't do it.  D'is no fault of his'n.  He is a man Joe is; even if
so be you're no'hun of a woman."

The two turned into the house that once had been their home.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE PILGRIMS

Spring comes to Beachbourne as it comes to no other city of earth,
however fair; say those of her children who after long sojourning in
other lands come home in the evenings of their days to sleep.

The many-treed town that lies between the swell of the hills and the
foam and sparkle of the sea sluicing deliciously the roan length of
Pevensey Bay unveils her rounded bosom in the dawn of the year to the
kind clear gaze of heaven and of those who to-day pass and repass along
its windy ways.  Birds thrill and twitter in her streets.  There
earlier than elsewhere the arabis calls the bee, and the hedge-sparrow
raises his thin sweet pipe to bid the hearts of men lift up: for winter
is passed.  Chestnut and laburnum unfold a myriad lovely bannerets on
slopes peopled with gardens and gay with crocuses and the laughter of
children.  The elms in Saffrons Croft, the beeches in Paradise, stir in
their sleep and wrap themselves about in dreamy raiment of mauve and
emerald.  The air is like white wine, the sky of diamonds; and the
sea-winds come blowing over banks of tamarisk to purge and exhilarate.

On the afternoon of such a day of such a spring in May, 1914, at
Beachbourne station a little group waited outside the barrier that led
to the departure platform.

The group consisted of Joe Burt, Ernie, and Ruth.

Ruth was peeping through the bars on to the platform, at the far end of
which was a solitary figure, waiting clearly, he too, for the Lewes
train, and very smart in a new blue coat with a velvet collar.

"It's Alf," she whispered, keen and mischievous to Joe, "Ain't arf
smart and all."

Joe peered with her.

"He's the proper little Fat," said the engineer.  "I'll get Will Dyson
draw a special cartoon of him for the _Leader_."

Ruth preened an imaginary moustache in mockery of her brother-in-law.

"I'm the Managing Director of Caspar's Touring Syndicate, I am, and
don't you forget it!" she said with a smirk.

"Where's he off to now?"

"Brighton, I believe, with the Colonel.  Some meeting of the League,"
replied Ernie dully.

Just then Mr. Geddes joined them, and the four moved on to the platform.

The train came in and Alf disappeared into it.

A few minutes later the Colonel passed the barrier.  He marked the
little group on the platform and at once approached them.

Something unusual about the men struck him at once.  All three had
about them the generally degagé air of those on holiday bent.  The
minister wore a cap instead of the habitual wide-awake; and carried a
rucksack on his back.  Joe swung a parcel by a string, and Ernie had an
old kit-bag slung across his shoulder.  Rucksack, parcel, and kit-bag
were all distinguished by a red label.  The Colonel stalked the party
from the rear and with manifold contortions of a giraffe-like neck
contrived to read on the labels printed in large black letters, ADULT
SCHOOL PEACE PARTY.  Then he speared the engineer under the fifth rib
with the point of his stick.

"Well, what y'up to now?" he asked sepulchrally.

"Just off to Berlin, Colonel," cried the other with aggressive
cheerfullness, "Mr. Geddes and I and this young gentleman"--thrusting
the reluctant Ernie forward--"one o your soldiers, who knows better
now."

The Colonel began to shake hands all round with elaborate solemnity.

"Returning to your spiritual home while there is yet time, Mr. Geddes,"
he said gravely.  "Very wise, I think.  You'll be happier there than in
our militarist land, you pacifist gentlemen."

The minister, who was in the best of spirits, laughed.  The two men had
not met since the affair of St. Andrew's Hall: and each was relieved at
the open and friendly attitude of the other.

"Cheer up, Colonel," he said.  "It's only a ten-days' trip."  They
moved towards the train and Ernie got in.

Mr. Geddes was telling the Colonel something of the origin and aims of
the Adult School Union in general and of the Peace Party in particular.

"How many of you are going?" asked the Colonel.

"Round about a hundred," his informant answered--"working men and women
mostly, from every county in England.  Most trades will be
represented."  They would be billeted in Hamburg and Berlin on people
of their own class and their own ideals.  And next year their visit
would be returned in strength by their hosts of this year.

"Interesting," said the Colonel.  "But may I ask one question?--What
good do you think you'll do?"

"We hope it will do ourselves some good anyhow," Joe answered in fine
fighting mood.  "Get to know each other.  Draw the two peoples together.

_Nation to nation, land to land._


"Stand oop on the seat, Ernie, and sing em your little Red-Flag
piece.--He sings that nice he do.--And I'll give you a bit of
chocolate."

Ernie did not respond and the Colonel came to his rescue.

"Well, I wish you luck," he sighed.  "I wish all well-meaning idealists
luck.  But the facts of life are hard; and the idealists usually break
their teeth on them.--Now I must join my colleague."

He moved on, catching up Ruth who had prowled along the platform to see
if Alf was tucked safely away.  The Colonel had not seen his companion
since her husband had been up before the Bench.

"Well, how's he getting on?" he asked; and turned shrewdly to Ruth.
"Have you been doing him down at home?"  Something suppressed about
Ernie had struck him.

Ruth dropped her eyelids suddenly.  For a moment she was silent.  Then
she flashed up at him swift brown eyes in which the lovely lights
danced mischievously.

"See I've hung him on the nail," she murmured warily; and nodded her
head with the fierce determination of a child.  "And I shan't take him
off yet a bit.  He's got to learn, Ern has."  She was in delicious
mood, sportive, sprightly, as a young hunter mare turned out into May
pastures after a hard season.

They had come to Alf's carriage.  He had taken his seat in a corner and
pretended not to see them.  Ruth tapped sharply at the window just
opposite his face.

"Hullo, Alf!" she called and fled.

The little chauffeur rose and followed her swift and retreating figure
down the platform.  Far down the train Joe who was leaning out of a
window exchanged words with her as she came up.

"I don't like it, sir," Alf said, low.  "Dirty business I call it.
Somebody ought to interfere if pore old Ern won't."

Joe now looked along the train at him with a scowl.

"Ah, you!" came the engineer's scolding voice, loud yet low.  "Dirty
tyke!  Drop it!"

"Well, between you she ought to be well looked after," muttered the
Colonel getting into the carriage.


A fortnight later the Colonel was being driven home by Alf from a
meeting of the League at Battle.  Mrs. Lewknor, whose hostel was
thriving now, had stood him the drive and accompanied him.  It was a
perfect evening as they slid along over Willingdon Levels and entered
the outskirts of the town.  Opposite the Recreation Ground Alf slowed
down and, slewing round, pointed.

On a platform a man, bareheaded beneath the sky, was addressing a
larger crowd than usually gathered at that spot on Saturday evenings.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Lewknor.

"The German party back," answered Alf.  "That's Burt speaking, and Mr.
Geddes alongside him."

The engineer's voice, brazen from much bawling, and yet sounding
strangely small and unreal under the immense arch of heaven, came to
them across the open.

"We've ate with em; we've lived with em; we've talked with em; and we
can speak for em.  I tell you _there can't be war and there won't be
war with such a people_.  It'd be the crime of Cain.  Brothers we are;
and brothers we remain.  And not all the politicians and profiteers and
soldiers can make us other."

The Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor got down and joined the crowd.  As they
did so the engineer, who had finished his harangue, was moving a
resolution: That this meeting believes in the Brotherhood of Man and
wishes well to Germany.

"I second that," said the Colonel from the rear of the crowd.

Just then Alf, who had left his car and followed the Colonel, put a
question.

"Did not Lord Roberts say in 1912 at Manchester that Germany would
strike when her hour struck?"

The man on the platform was so furious that he did not even rise from
his chair to reply.

"Yes he did!" he shouted.  "And he'd no business to!  Direct
provocation it was."

"Will not Germany's hour have struck when the Kiel Canal is open to
Dreadnoughts?" continued the inquisitor smoothly.  "And is it not the
fact that the Canal is to be opened for this purpose in the next few
days?"

These questions were greeted with booings mingled with cheers.

Mr. Geddes was rising to reply when Joe Burt leapt to his feet, roused
and roaring.

He said men had the choice between two masters--Fear or Faith?--Which
were we for?--Were we the heirs of Eternity, the children of the
Future, or the slaves and victims of the Past?

"For maself A've made ma choice.  A'm not a Christian in the ordinary
sense: A don't attend Church or Chapel, like soom folk.  But A believe
we're all members one of another, and that the one prayer which
matters--if said from the heart of men who believe in it and work for
it--is _Our Father_: the Father of Jew and Gentile, English and German.
And ma recent visit to Germany has confirmed me in ma faith in the
people, although A couldna say as much for their rulers.  Look about
you!  What do you see?--The sons and daughters of God rotting away from
tuberculosis in every slum in Christendom, and the money and labour
that should go to redeeming them spent on altar-cloths and armaments.
Altar-cloths and armaments!  Do your rulers never turn their thoughts
and eyes to Calvary?  There are plenty of em in your midst and plenty
to see on em if you want to."

The engineer sat down.

"Muck!" said Mrs. Lewknor in her husband's ear.

"I'm not sure," replied the Colonel who had listened attentively; but
he didn't wholely like it.  Joe had always been frothy; but of old
beneath the froth there had been sound liquor.  Now somehow the Colonel
saw the froth but missed the liquor.  To his subtle and critical mind
it seemed that the speaker's fury was neither entirely simulated nor
entirely real.  Habit was as much the motive of it as passion.  It
seemed to him the expression of an emotion once entirely genuine and
now only partly so.  An alloy had corrupted the once pure metal.  He
saw as clearly as a woman that Joe was no longer living simply for one
purpose.  _Turgid_ his wife had once called the engineer.  For the
first time the Colonel realised the aptness of the epithet.

Then he noticed Ruth on the fringe of the crowd.  He was surprised: for
it was a long march from Old Town, and neither Ernie nor the children
were with her.

"Come to be converted by the apostles of pacifism, Mrs. Caspar?" he
chaffed.

"No, sir," answered Ruth simply, her eyes on the platform.  "I just
come along to hear Joe.  That's why I come."  Her face lighted
suddenly, "There he is!" she cried.

The engineer had jumped down from the platform and was making straight
for her.  Ruth joined him; and the two went off together, rubbing
shoulders.

The Colonel strolled back towards the car: he was thoughtful, even
grave.

Mrs. Lewknor met him with a little smile.

"It's all right, Jocko," she told him.  "She's only playing with the
man."

The Colonel shook his head.

"She's put up the shutters, and said she's out--to her own husband.
It's a dangerous game."

"Trust Ruth," replied the other.  "She knows her man."

"Perhaps," retorted the Colonel.  "Does she know herself?"



CHAPTER XXV

RED IN THE MORNING

Joe Burt's rhetoric might not affect the Colonel greatly; but the
impressions of Mr. Geddes, conveyed to him quietly a few days later in
friendly conversation, were a different matter.

The Presbyterian minister was a scholar, broad-minded, open, honest.
He had moreover finished his education at Berlin University, and had,
as the Colonel knew, ever since his student days maintained touch with
his German friends.  Mr. Geddes had come home convinced that Germany
was not seeking a quarrel.

"Hamburg stands to lose by war," he told the Colonel, "And Hamburg
knows it."

"What about Berlin?" the other asked.

"Berlin's militarist," the other admitted.  "And Berlin's watching
Ulster as a cat watches a mouse--you find that everywhere; professors,
soldiers, men in the street, even my old host, Papa Schumacher, the
carpenter, was agog about it.--Was Ulster in Shetland?--Was the Ulster
Army black?--Would it attack England?--Well, our War Office must know
all about the stir there.  And that makes me increasingly confident
that something's happened to eliminate whatever German menace there may
ever have been."

"Exactly what Trupp was saying the other day," the Colonel commented.
"Something's happened.  You and I don't know what.  You and I never do.
Bonar Law and the rest of em wouldn't be working up a Civil War on this
scale unless they were certain Germany was muzzled; and what's more the
Government wouldn't let em.  The politicians may be fools, but they
aren't lunatics."

A few evenings after this talk as the Colonel sat after supper in the
loggia with his wife, overlooking the sea wandering white beneath the
moon, he ruminated between puffs upon the political situation, domestic
and international, with a growing sense of confidence at his heart.
Indeed there was much to confirm his hopes.

The year had started with Lloyd George's famous pronouncement that the
relations between Germany and England had never been brighter.  Then
again there was the point Trupp had made: the astonishing attitude of
the Unionist leaders, and the still more astonishing tolerance of the
Government.  Lastly, and far more significant from the old soldier's
point of view, there was the action of Mr. Geddes's mystery-man who was
no mystery-man at all.  Everybody on the outermost edge of affairs knew
the name of the General in question.  Every porter at the military
clubs could tell you who he was.  Asquith had never made any bones
about it.  Redmond and Dillon had named him to Mr. Geddes.  Yet if
anybody could gauge the military situation on the Continent it was
surely the man who, as Mr. Geddes had truly pointed out, had
specialized in co-ordinating our Expeditionary Force with the Armies of
France in the case of an attack by Germany.  There he was sitting at
the War Office, as he had sat for years past, in touch with the English
Cabinet, _lié_ with the French General Staff, his ear at the telephone
listening to every rumour in every camp in Europe, and primed by a
Secret Service so able that it had doped the public at home and every
chancellery abroad to believe that it was the last word in official
stupidity.  This was the man who had thrown in his lot with the gang of
speculating politicians who had embarked upon the campaign that had so
undermined discipline in the commissioned ranks of the Army that for
the first time in history a British Government could no longer trust
its officers to do their duty without question.

Now no one could say this man was hot-headed; nobody could say he was a
fool.  Moreover he was a distinguished soldier and to call his
patriotism in question was simply ridiculous, as even Geddes admitted.

The Colonel had throughout steadfastly refused to discuss with friend
or foe the ethics of this officer's attitude, and its effect on the
reputation of the Army.  But of one thing he was certain.  No man in
that officer's position of trust and responsibility would gamble with
the destinies of his country--a gamble that might involve hundreds and
thousands of innocent lives.  His action might be reprehensible--many
people did not hesitate to describe it in plainer terms; but he would
never have taken it in view of its inevitable reaction on military and
political opinion on the Continent unless he had been certain that the
German attack, which he of all men had preached for so long as
inevitable, would not mature or would not mature as yet.

What then was the only possible inference?

"Something had happened."

The words his mind had been repeating uttered themselves aloud.

"What's that, my Jocko?" asked Mrs. Lewknor.

The Colonel stretched his long legs, took his pipe out of his mouth,
and sighed.

"If nothing has happened by Christmas 1915 I shall resign the
secretaryship of the League and return with joy to the garden and the
history of the regiment."  He rose in the brilliant dusk like a
spectre.  "Come on, my lass!" he said.  "I would a plan unfold."

She took his arm and they strolled across the lawn past the hostel
towards the solid darkness of the Downs which enfolded them.

The long white house stood still and solitary in the great coombe that
brimmed with darkness and was crowned with multitudinous stars.  Washed
by the moon, and warm with a suggestion of human busyness, the hostel
seemed to be stirring in a happy sleep, as though conscious of the good
work it was doing.

Mrs. Lewknor paused to look at it, a sense of comfort at her heart.

The children's beds out on the balcony could be seen; and the nurses
moving in the rooms behind.  Groups of parents, down from London for
the week-end, strolled the lawn.  A few older patients still lounged in
deck-chairs on the terrace, while from within the house came the sound
of laughter and someone playing rag-time.  The little lady regarded the
work of her hands not without a just sense of satisfaction.  The hostel
was booming.  It was well-established now and had long justified
itself.  She was doing good work and earning honest money.  This year
she would not only pay for the grandson's schooling, but she hoped at
Christmas to make a start in reducing the mortgage.

"Well," she said, "what about it now, doubting Thomas?"

"Not so bad for a beginning," admitted the Colonel.

"Who's going to send Toby to Eton?" asked the lady, cruelly triumphant.
"And how?"

"Why, I am," replied the Colonel brightly--"out of my pension of five
bob a week minus income tax."

Hugging each other's arms, they climbed the bank to the vegetable
garden, which six years before had been turned up by the plough from
the turf which may have known the tread of Caesar's legionaries.  The
raw oblong which had then patched the green with a lovely mauve was
already peopled with trees and bushes, and rank with green stuff.  The
Colonel paused and sniffed.

"Mrs. Simpkins coming on ... I long to be back among my cabbages ... I
bet if I took these Orange Pippins in hand myself I'd win first prize
at the East Sussex Show....  That duffer, old Lingfield--He's no good."

They turned off into the yard where Mrs. Lewknor was erecting a garage,
now nearly finished.  The Colonel paused and stared up at it.

"My dear," he said, "I've got an idea.  We'll dig the Caspars out of
that hole in Old Town and put them in the rooms above the garage.  I'll
take him on as gardener and odd-job man.  He's a first-rate rough
gardener.  He was showing me and Bobby his allotment only the other
day.  And as you know, the solitary ambition of my old age has been to
have an old Hammer-man about me."

"And mine for you, my Jocko," mused Mrs. Lewknor, far more wary than
her impulsive husband.  "There are only three rooms though, and she's
got four children already and is still only thirty or so."

The Colonel rattled on, undismayed.

"He'll be half a mile from the nearest pub here," he said.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Lewknor--"and further from the clutches of that
Burt man, who's twice as bad as any pub."

"Ha, ha!" jeered the Colonel.  "So you're coming round to my way of
thinking at last, are you?"

Next evening, the Colonel, eager always as a youth to consummate his
purpose, bicycled with his wife through Paradise to Old Town.

At the corner opposite the Rectory they met Alf Caspar, who was clearly
in high feather.  The Colonel dismounted for a word with the convener
of the League.

"Well, Caspar," he said.  "So you've got your licence from the Watch
Committee, I hear."

Alf purred.

"Yes, sir.  All O.K.--down to the men that'll blow the horn to give em
a bit o music."

"When do you start?"

"Bank Holiday, sir.  I was just coming up to tell mother we were
through.  Last char-a-banc came this afternoon--smart as paint."

The Colonel and Mrs. Lewknor walked on towards Church Street.  At
Billing's Corner, waiting for the bus, was Edward Caspar.  He was
peering at a huge placard advertising expeditions by Caspar's
Road-touring Syndicate, to start on August 3rd.

The Colonel, mischievous as a child, must cross the road to his old
Trinity compeer.

"Your boy's getting on, Mr. Caspar," he observed quietly.

The old man made a clucking like a disturbed hen.

"Dreadful," he said.  "Dreadful."

Mrs. Lewknor laid two fingers on his arm.

"Mr. Caspar," she said.

He glanced down at her like a startled elephant.  Then he seemed to
thrill as though a wind of the spirit was blowing through him.  The
roses of a forgotten youth bloomed for a moment in his mottled cheeks.
An incredible delicacy and tenderness inspired the face of this flabby
old man.

"Miss Solomons!" he said, and lifting her little hand kissed it.

The Colonel withdrew discreetly; and in a moment his wife joined him,
the lights dancing in her eyes.

"Pretty stiff!" grinned the Colonel--"in the public street and all."

They turned down Borough Lane by the _Star_ and knocked Ruth up.

She was ironing and did not seem best pleased to see the visitors.
Neither did Joe Burt, who was sitting by the fire with little Alice on
his knees.

The little lady ignored the engineer.

"Where are the other children?" she asked Ruth pleasantly.

"Where they oughrer be," Joe answered--"in bed."

The Colonel came to the rescue.

"Is Caspar anywhere about?" he asked.

"He's on his allotment, I reck'n," Ruth answered coldly.  "Mr. Burt
joins him there most in general every evening."

"Yes," said Joe, "and was on the road now when A was interfered with."
He kissed little Alice, put her down, and rose.  "Good evening,
Colonel."  And he went out sullenly.

Mrs. Lewknor, aware that negotiations had not opened auspiciously, now
broached her project.  Ruth, steadily ironing, never lifted her eyes.
She was clearly on the defensive, suspicious in her questions, evasive
and noncommittal in her replies.  The Colonel became impatient.

"Mrs. Caspar might accept our offer--to oblige," he said at last.

Ruth deliberately laid down her iron, and challenged him: she said
nothing.

Mrs. Lewknor felt the tension.

"Well, think it over, will you?" she said to Ruth.  "There's no hurry."

She went out and the Colonel followed.

"That man's the biggest humbug unhung even for a Labour man," snapped
the little lady viciously.  "Preaching the Kingdom of Heaven on earth
and then this!"

"I'm not sure," replied the Colonel, "not sure.  I think he's much the
same as most of us--an honest man who's run off the rails."

They were bicycling slowly along Victoria Drive.  On the far side of
the allotments right under the wall of the Downs, blue in the evening,
a solitary figure was digging.

"The out-cast," said the Colonel.

Mrs. Lewknor dismounted from her bicycle and began wheeling it along
the unfenced earthen path between the gardens, towards the digger.
Ernie barely looked up, barely answered her salutation, wiping the
sweat off his brow with the back of his hand as he continued his
labour.  The lady retired along the way she had come.

"There's something Christ-like about the feller," said the Colonel
quietly as they reached the road.

"Yes," the little lady answered.  "Only he's brought his troubles on
his own head."

The Colonel drew up in haste.

"Hullo," he said, and began to read a newspaper placard, for which
class of literature he had a consuming passion.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE AVALANCHE MOVES

The placard, seen by the Colonel, announced the opening of a new scene
in the Irish tragedy.

The King had summoned a Conference at Buckingham Palace in order if
possible to find a solution of the difficulty.  When the Conference met
the King opened it in person and, speaking as a man weighed down by
anxiety, told the members that for weeks he had watched with deep
misgivings the trend of events in Ireland.  "To-day the cry of Civil
War is on the lips of the most responsible of my people," he said; and
had added, so Mr. Trupp told the Colonel, in words not reported in the
Press, that the European situation was so ominous as imperatively to
demand a solution of our domestic differences in order that the nation
might present a solid front to the world.

"And I bet he knows," ended the old surgeon, as he said good-bye on the
steps of the Manor-house.

"I bet he does," replied the Colonel.  "Thank God there's one man in
the country who's above party politics."  He climbed thoughtfully on to
the top of the bus outside the _Star_, and, as it chanced, found
himself sitting beside Ernie, who was deep in his paper and began to
talk.

"They ain't got it all their own way, then," he said, grimly.  "I see
the Irish Guards turned out and lined the rails and cheered Redmond as
he came down Birdcage Walk back from the Conference."

"I don't like it," replied the Colonel gloomily.  "Rotten discipline.
The Army has no politics."

"What about the officers at the Curragh?" asked Ernie almost
aggressively.  "They begun it.  Give the men a chance too."

"Two wrong things don't make a right," retorted the Colonel sharply.

Ernie got down at the station without a word.  Was it an accident the
Colonel, sensitive as a girl, asked himself? was it a deliberate
affront?  What was the world coming to?  That man an old Hammer-man!
One of Bobby Bermondsey yahoos wouldn't treat him so!

Indeed the avalanche was now sliding gradually down the mountain-side,
gathering way as it went, to overwhelm the smiling villages sleeping
peacefully in the valley.

Next day oppressed by imminent catastrophe, the Colonel, climbing
Beau-nez in the afternoon to take up his habitual post of vigil by the
flag-staff, found Joe Burt and Mr. Geddes already there.

Both men, he marked, greeted him almost sombrely.

"It looks to me very serious," he said.  "Austria means to go for
Serbia, that's clear; and if she does Russia isn't going to stand by
and see Serbia swallowed up.  What d'you think, Mr. Geddes?"

The other answered him on that note of suppressed indignation which
characterised increasingly his utterance when he touched on this often
discussed subject.

"I think Colonel, what I've thought all along," he answered: "that if
we're in the eve of a European eruption the attitude of the officers of
the British Army is perfectly _inexplicable_."

He was firm almost to ferocity.

"Hear! hear!" growed Joe.

"But they don't know, poor beggars!" cried the Colonel, exasperated yet
appealing.  He felt as he had felt throughout the controversy that he
was fighting with his hands tied behind his back.  "Do be just, Mr.
Geddes.  They are merely the playthings of the politicians.  O, if you
only knew the regimental officer as I know him!  He's like that St.
Bernard dog over there by the coast-guard station--the most foolish and
faithful creature on God's earth.  Smith pats him on the head and tells
him he's a good dorg, and he'll straightway beg for the privilege of
being allowed to die for Smith.  What's a poor ignorant devil of a
regimental officer quartered at Aldershot or the Curragh or Salisbury
Plain likely to know of the European situation?"

The tall minister was not to be appeased.

"Ignorance seems to me a poor justification for insubordination in an
Army officer," he said.  "And even if one is to accept that excuse for
the regimental officers, one can't for a man like the Director of
Military Strategics, who is said to have specialised in war with
Germany.  Yet that is the man who has co-operated, to put it at the
mildest, in arming a huge rebel force with guns from the very country
he has always affirmed _we're bound to fight_.  It's stabbing the
Empire in the back, neither more nor less."

He was pale, almost dogmatic.

Then Joe barged in, surly and brutal.

"The whole truth is," he said, "that the officers of the British Army
to-day don't know how to spell the word Duty.  Havelock did.  Gordon
did.  And all the world respected them accordingly.  These men don't.
They've put their party before their coontry as A've always said they
would when the pinch came."

The Colonel was trembling slightly.

"If the test comes," he said, "we shall see."

"The test _has_ come," retorted the other savagely, "And we _have_
seen."

The Colonel walked swiftly away.  In front of him half a mile from the
flag-staff, he marked a man standing waist-deep in a clump of gorse.
There was something so forlorn about the figure that the Colonel
approached, only to find that it was Ernie, who on his side, seeing the
other, quitted the ambush, and came slowly towards him.  To the Colonel
the action seemed a cry of distress.  All his resentment at the
incident on the bus melted away in a great compassion.

"She and me used to lay there week-ends when first we married," Ern
said dreamily, nodding towards the gorse he had just left.

"And she and you will live _there_ for many happy years, I hope,"
replied the Colonel warmly, pointing towards the garage in the coombe
beneath them.

Ernie regarded him inquiringly.

"What's that, sir?"

"Aren't you coming?"

"Where to?"

"My garage?"

Ernie did not understand and the Colonel explained.

"Didn't Mrs. Caspar tell you?"

"Ne'er a word," the other answered blankly.


The Colonel dropped down to Carlisle Road.  There Mr. Trupp picked him
up and drove him on to the club for tea.  Fresh news from Ulster was
just being ticked off on the tape.  An hour or two before, a rebel
unit, the East Belfast regiment of volunteers, some 5,000 strong, armed
with Mausers imported from Germany, and dragging machine-guns warm from
Krupp's, had marched through the streets of Belfast.  The police had
cleared the way for the insurgents; and soldiers of the King, officers
and men, had looked on with amusement.

The Colonel turned away.

"Roll up the map of Empire!" he said.  "We'd better send a deputation
to Lajput Rai and the Indian Home Rulers and beg them to spare us a few
baboos to govern us.  Its an abdication of Government."

He went into the ante-room.

There was Stanley Bessemere back from Ulster once more.  As usual he
sat behind a huge cigar, retailing amidst roars of laughter to a
sympathetic audience his exploits and those of his caracoling chief.
The European situation had not overclouded him.

"There's going to be a Civil War and Smith and I are going to be in it.
We shall walk through the Nationalists like so much paper.  They've got
no arms; and they've got no guts either."  He laughed cheerily.  "Bad
men.  Bad men."

The Colonel stood, an accusing figure in the door, and eyed the
fair-haired giant with cold resentment.

"You know Kuhlmann from the German Embassy is over with your people in
Belfast?" he asked.

The other waved an airy cigar.

"You can take it from me, my dear Colonel, that he's not," he answered.

"I'll take nothing of the sort from you," the Colonel answered acridly.
"He's there none the less because he's there incognito."

The young man winced; and the Colonel withdrew.

"Jove!" he said.  "I'd just like to know how far these beggars have
trafficked in treason with Germany."

"Not at all," replied Mr. Trupp.  "They've humbugged emselves into
believing they're 'running great risks in a great cause,' as they
say--or doing the dirty to make a party score, as you and I'd put it.
That's all."

The Colonel walked home, oppressed.  After supper, as he sat with his
wife in the loggia, he told her of Ruth's strange secretiveness in the
matter of the garage.

"There she is!" said Mrs. Lewknor quietly nodding over her work.  Ruth,
indeed, was strolling slowly along the cliff from the direction of the
Meads in the gorgeous evening.  Opposite the hostel a track runs down
to the beach beneath.  At that point she paused as though waiting for
somebody; and then disappeared from view.

Ten minutes later Mrs. Lewknor spoke again in the same hushed voice.

"Here's the other!"

The Colonel looked up.  Joe was coming rapidly along the cliff from the
direction of Beau-nez.  He too disappeared down the way Ruth had
already taken.

The Colonel removed his glasses.

"I shall give em a quarter of an hour to make emselves quite
comfortable," he muttered "and then--"

"Spy," said Mrs. Lewknor.

A moment later, Anne, the parlour-maid, showed Mr. Alfred Caspar on to
the loggia.

The face of the Manager of Caspar's Syndicate was very long.  Alf,
cherishing the simple faith that the Colonel because he had been a
soldier must be in the secrets certainly of the War Office and possibly
of the Government, had come to ask what he thought of the European
situation.

The Colonel was not reassuring, but he refused to commit himself.  Alf
turned away almost sullenly.

"See, it matters to me," he said.  "I start Bank Holiday.  Don't want
no wars interfering with my Syndicate."

"It matters to us all a bit," replied the Colonel.

Alf departed aggrieved, and obviously suggesting that the Colonel was
to blame.  He walked away with downward eyes.  Suddenly the Colonel saw
him pause, creep to the cliff-edge, and peep over.  Then he came back
to the hostel in a stealthy bustle.

"Go and look for yourself then, sir, if you don't believe me!" he cried
in the tone of one rebuffing an unjust accusation.  "You're a
Magistrate.  Police ought to stop it I say.  Public 'arlotry I call it."

The Colonel's face became cold and very lofty.  "No, Caspar.  I don't
do that sort of thing," he said.

Alf, muttering excuses, departed.  The Colonel watched him walk along
the dotted coast-guard track and disappear round the shoulder of the
coombe.  Then he rose and strolled out to meet Ernie who was
approaching.

As he did so he heard voices from the beach beneath him and peeped
over.  Ruth, on her hands and knees amid the chalk boulders at the foot
of the cliff, was smoothing the sand and spreading something on it.

A few yards away Joe was standing at the edge of the tide, which was
almost high, flinging pebbles idly into the water.  Some earth
dislodged from the Colonel's feet and made a tiny land-slide.  The
woman on her hands and knees in the growing dusk beneath looked up and
saw the man standing above her.  She made no motion, kneeling there;
facing him, fighting him, mocking him.

"Having a nice time together?" he asked genially.

"Just going to, thank-you kindly," Ruth replied and resumed her
occupation of sweeping with her hands.

The Colonel turned to find Ernie standing beside him and burning his
battle-flare.

"Lucky I see you coming, sir," he said, trembling still.  "Else I might
ha done him a mischief."

"Who?"

"Alf.  Insultin her and me.  Met him just along back there in Meads by
the _Ship_."

"Go easy, Caspar," said the Colonel quietly.  "I remember that
left-handed punch of yours of old.  It's a good punch too; but keep it
for the enemies of your country."

Ernie was hugging a big biscuit-box under his arm.

"What you got there?" asked the other.

Ernie grinned a thought sheepishly.

"It's Joe's birthday," he said.  "We are having a bit of a do under the
cliff."

He hovered a moment as though about to impart a confidence to the
other; and then disappeared down the little track to the beach beneath
at the trot, his shoulders back, and heels digging in, carrying a
slither of chalk with him.

"'Come into my parlour,' said the spider to the fly," muttered the
Colonel as he turned into Undercliff.  "Poor fly!"



CHAPTER XXVII

THE GROWING ROAR

The avalanche, once started, was moving fast now.  The Irish
Nationalists who had lost faith in the power of the Government and the
will of the Army to protect them, had decided at last to arm in view of
the default of the law that they might resist invasion from the
North-East.

On the very day after the parade of insurrectionaries in Belfast a
famous Irishman, soldier, sailor, statesman, man of letters, who in his
young manhood had served throughout the long-drawn South African War
the Empire which had refused liberty to his country alone of all her
Colonies, and in the days to come, though now in his graying years, was
to be the hero of one of the most desperate ventures of the Great War,
ran the little _Asgarde_, her womb heavy with strange fruit, into Howth
Harbour while the Sunday bells peeled across the quiet waters, calling
to church.

The arms were landed and marched under Nationalist escort towards
Dublin.  The police and a company of King's Own Scottish Borderers met
the party and blocked the way.  After a parley the Nationalists
dispersed and the soldiers marched back to Dublin through a hostile
demonstration.  Mobbed, pelted, provoked to the last degree, at
Bachelor's Walk, on the quay, where owing to the threatening attitude
of the crowd they had been halted, the men took the law into their own
hands and fired without the order of their officer.  Three people were
killed.

The incident led to the first quarrel that had taken place between
Ernie and Joe Burt in a friendship now of some years standing.

"Massacre by the military," said Joe.  "That's what it is."

The old soldier in Ernie leapt to the alert.

"Well, what would you have had em do?" he cried hotly.  "Lay down and
let emselves be kicked to death?"

"If the soldiers want to shoot at all let em shoot the armed rebels,"
retorted Joe.

"Let em shoot the lot, I says," answered Ernie.  "I'm sick of it.
Ireland!  Ireland!  Ireland all the time.  No one's no time to think of
poor old England.  Yet we've our troubles too, I reck'n."

Joe went out surlily without saying good-night.  When he was gone, Ruth
who had been listening, looked up at Ernie, a faint glow of amusement,
interest, surprise, in her eyes.

"First time ever I knaw'd you and Joe get acrarst each other," she said.

Ernie, biting home on his pipe, did not meet her gaze.

"First," he said.  "Not the last, may be."

She put down dish-cloth and dish, came to him, and put her hand on his
shoulder.

"Let me look at you, Ern!"

His jaw was set, almost formidable: he did not speak.

"Kiss me, Ern," she said.

For a moment his eyes hovered on her face.

"D'you mean anything?" he asked.

"Not that," she answered and dropped her hand.

"Then to hell with you!" he cried with a kind of desperate savagery and
thrust her brutally away.  "Sporting with a man!"

He put on his cap and went out.

In a few minutes he was back.  Paying no heed to her, he sat down at
the kitchen-table and wrote a note, which he put on the mantel-piece.

"You can give this to Alf next time he comes round for the rent," he
said.

"What is it?" asked Ruth.

"Notice," Ern answered.  "We're going to shift to the Colonel's garage."

Ruth gave battle instantly.

"Who are?" she cried, facing him.

He met her like a hedge of bayonets.

"I am," he answered.  "Me and my children."


The volley fired on Bachelor's Walk, as it echoed down the long valleys
of the world, seemed to serve the purpose of Joshua's trumpet.
Thereafter all the walls of civilisation began to crash down one after
another with the roar of ruined firmaments.

Forty-eight hours later Austria declared war.

On Thursday Mr. Asquith, speaking in a crowded and quiet house,
proposed the postponement of the Home Rule Bill.

Even the hotheads were sober now.

Stanley Bessemere discarded his uniform of an Ulster Volunteer in
haste, and turned up at the club in chastened mood.  He was blatant
still, a little furtive, notably less truculent.  The martial refrain
_Smith and I_ had given place to the dulcet coo _We must all pull
together_.

"Is he ashamed?" Mrs. Lewknor asked her husband, hushed herself, and
perhaps a little guilty.

"My dear," the Colonel replied.  "Shame is not a word known to your
politician.  He's thoroughly frightened.  All the politicians are.
There're bluffing for all they're worth."

On the Saturday morning the Colonel went to the club.  The junior
member for Beachbourne, who was there, and for once uncertain of
himself, showed himself childishly anxious to forget and forgive.

"Now look here, Colonel!" he said, charming and bright.  "If there's an
almighty bust-up now, shall you _really_ blame it all on Ulster?
Honest Injun!"

The Colonel met him with cold flippancy.

"Every little helps," he said.  "A whisper'll start an avalanche, as
any mountaineer could tell you."

He took up the _Nation_ of August 1st and began to read the editor's
impassioned appeal to the country to stand out.  The Colonel read the
article twice over.  There could be no question of the white-hot
sincerity of the writer, and none that he voiced the sentiments of an
immense and honest section of the country.

He put the paper down and walked home.

"If we don't go in," he said calmly to his wife at luncheon, "all I can
say is, that I shall turn my back on England for ever and go and hide
my head for the rest of my days on the borders of Thibet."

In those last days of peace good men and true agonised in their various
ways.  Few suffered more than the Colonel; none but his wife knew the
agony of his doubt.

Then Mr. Trupp telephoned to say that Germany had sent an ultimatum to
Russia, and that France was mobilising.  Mr. Cambon had interviewed the
King.  The Government was still wavering.

The Colonel's course was evident.  The little organisation for which he
was responsible must express itself, if only in the shrill sharp voice
of a mosquito.  A meeting of the League must be convened.  Tingling
with hope, doubt, fear, shame, he set off in the evening to interview
Alfred Caspar.  Swiftly he crossed the golf-links and turned into
Saffrons Croft.  There he paused.

It was one of those unforgettable evenings magnificently calm, which
marked with triumphant irony the end of the world.  The green park with
its cluster of elms presented its usual appearance on a Saturday
afternoon.  The honest thump of the ball upon the bat, so dear to
English hearts, resounded on every side: the following cry--Run it out!
the groups of youths sprawling about the scorers, the lounging
spectators.  Not a rumour of the coming storm had touched those serene
hearts.  Close to him a bevy of women and children were playing a kind
of rounders.  The batter was a big young woman whom he recognised at
once as Ruth.

One of the the fielders was little Alice scudding about the surface of
green on thin black legs like a water-beetle on a pond.  Then Ernie saw
him and came sauntering towards him, a child clinging solemnly to one
finger of each hand.  There was an air of strain about the old
Hammer-man, as of one waiting on the alert for a call, that
distinguished him, so the Colonel thought, from the gay throng.

"What about it, sir?" he asked gravely.

"It's coming, Caspar," the Colonel answered.  "That's my belief."

"And I shan't be sorry if it does," said Ernie with a quiet
vindictiveness.

"Shall you go?" asked the Colonel.  He knew the other's time as a
reservist was up.

"Sha'n't I?" Ernie answered with something like a snort.

The Colonel was not deceived.  It was not the patriot, not the old
soldier, who had uttered that cry of distress: it was the human being,
bruised and suffering, and anxious to vent his pain in violence on
something or somebody, no matter much who.

"Yes, sir, I shall go, if it's only as cook in the Army Service Corps."

The Colonel shook his head.

"If it comes," he said, "every fighting man'll be wanted in his right
place.  Would you like to rejoin the old battalion at Aldershot, if I
can work it for you?  Then you'd go out with the Expeditionary Force."

Ernie's eyes gleamed.

"Ah, just wouldn't I?" he said.

Just then there was a shout from the players.  Ruth was out and
retired.  She came towards them, glowing, laughing, her fingers
touching her hair to order.  She was thirty now, but at that moment she
did not look twenty-five.  Then she saw the Colonel and deliberately
turned away.  Susie and Jenny pursued their mother.

The Colonel walked off through the groups of white-clad players towards
Alf's garage in the Goffs.  A tall man was standing at the gate on to
Southfields Road, contemplating the English scene with austere gaze.

It was Royal--the man who would know.

"You think it's going to be all right?" asked the Colonel so keen as to
forget his antipathy.

"Heaven only knows with this Government," the other replied.  "I've
just been on the telephone.  Haldane's going back to the War Office,
they say."

"Thank God for it!" cried the Colonel.

His companion shrugged.

"Henry Wilson's in touch with Maxse and the Conservative press," he
said.  "He's getting at the Opposition.  There's to be a meeting at
Lansdowne House to-night.  H.W.'s going to ginger em."

The Colonel looked away.

"And what are you doing down here?" he asked.

"They sent me down to Newhaven last night--embarkation.  I'm off in two
minutes."  He jerked his head towards a racing car standing outside the
garage, white with dust.  "Got to catch the 7 o'clock at Lewes, and be
back at the War Office at 9 p.m.  An all-night sitting, I expect."
That austere gaze of his returned to the playing-fields.  "Little they
know what they're in for," he said, as though to himself.

For the first time the Colonel found something admirable, almost
comforting, in the hardness of his old adjutant.  He followed the
other's gaze and then said quietly, almost tenderly, as one breathing a
secret in the ear of a dying man.

"That's the child, Royal--that one in the white frock and black legs
running over by the elms.  And that's her mother in the brown
dress--the one waving.  And there's her husband under the trees--that
shabby feller."

Royal arched his fine eyebrows in faint surprise.

"Is she married?" he asked coolly.

"Yes," replied the Colonel.  "The feller who seduced her wouldn't do
the straight thing by her."

Again the eyebrows spoke, this time with an added touch of sarcasm,
almost of insolence.

"How d'you know?"

The Colonel was roused.

"Well, did you?" he asked, with rare brutality.

Royal shrugged.  Then he turned slow and sombre eyes on the other.
There was no anger in them, no hostility.

"Perhaps I shall make it up to them now, Colonel," he said....

The Colonel crossed the road to the garage.  There was a stir of
busyness about two of the new motor char-a-bancs of the Touring
Syndicate.  Alf was moving amid it all in his shirt-sleeves, without
collar or tie, his hands filthy.  His moustache still waxed, and his
hair parted down the middle and plastered, made an almost comic
contrast to the rest of his appearance.  But there was nothing comic
about his expression.  He looked like a dog sickening for rabies;
ominous, surly, on the snarl.  He did not seem to see the Colonel, who
tackled him at once, however, about the need for summoning a meeting of
the League.

"Summon it yourself then," said Alf.  "I got something better to do
than that.  Such an idea!  Coming botherin me just now.  Start on
Monday.  Ruin starin me in the face.  Who wants war?  Might ha done it
on purpose to do me down."

The Colonel climbed the hill to the Manor-house to sup with the Trupps.

Two hours later, as he left the house, Ernie Caspar turned the corner
of Borough Lane, and came towards him, lost in dreams.  The Colonel
waited for him.  There was about the old Hammer-man that quality of
forlornness which the Colonel had noted in him so often of late.  He
took his place by the other's side.  They walked down the hill together
silently until they were clear of the houses, and Saffrons Croft lay
broad-spread and fragrant upon their right.

In the growing dusk the spirits of the two men drew together.  Then
Ernie spoke.

"It's not Joe, sir," he said.  "He's all right, Joe is."

The Colonel did not fence.

"Are you sure?" he asked with quiet emphasis.

"Certain sure," the other answered with astonishing vehemence.  "It's
Ruth.  She won't give me ne'er a chance."

The Colonel touched him in the dusk.

"Bad luck," he muttered.  "She'll come round."

It was an hour later and quite dark when he rounded the shoulder of
Beau-nez and turned into the great coombe, lit only by the windows of
his own house shining out against Beau-nez.

Walking briskly along the cliff, turning over eternally the question
whether England would be true to herself, he was aware of somebody
stumbling towards him, talking to himself, probably drunk.  The Colonel
drew aside off the chalk-blazed path to let the other pass.

"A don't know justly what to make on't," came a broad familiar accent.

"Why, it's fight or run away," replied the Colonel, briskly.  "No two
twos about it."

A sturdy figure loomed up alongside him.

"Then it's best run away, A reckon," answered the other, "afore worse
comes on't.  What d'you say, Colonel?"

The darkness drew the two men together with invisible bonds just as an
hour before it had drawn the Colonel and Ernie.

"What is it, Burt?" asked the Colonel, gently.

He felt profoundly the need of this other human being standing over
against him in the darkness, lonely, suffering, riven with conflicting
desires.

Joe drew closer.  He was sighing, a sigh that was almost a sob.  Then
he spoke in the hushed and urgent mutter of a schoolboy making a
confession.

"It's this, Colonel--man to man.  Hast ever been in love with a woman
as you oughtn't to be?"

Not for the first time in these last months there was strong upon the
Colonel the sense that here before him was an honest man struggling in
the toils prepared for him by Nature--the Lion with no mouse to gnaw
him free.  Yet he was aware more strongly than ever before of that deep
barrier of class which in this fundamental matter of sex makes itself
more acutely felt than in any other.  A man of quite unusual breadth of
view, imagination, and sympathy, this was the one topic that some inner
spirit of delicacy had always forbidden him to discuss except with his
own kind.  He was torn in two; and grateful to the kindly darkness that
covered him.  On the one hand were all the inhibitions imposed upon him
by both natural delicacy and artificial yet real class-restraint; on
the other there was his desire to help a man he genuinely liked.
Should he take the line of least resistance, the line of the snob and
the coward?  Was it really the fact that because this man was not a
gentleman he could not lay bare before him an experience that might
save him?

"Yes," he said at last with the emphasis of the man who is forcing
himself.

There was a lengthy silence.

"Were you married?"

"No," abruptly.  "Of course not."

"Was she?"

"Yes."

"What happened?"

"She wired me to come--in India--years ago."

"Did you go?"

"No--thank God."  The honest man in him added: "I never got the wire."

Again there was a pause.

"Are you glad?"

"Yes."

"Had she children."

"No."

The engineer breathed deep.

"Ah," he said.  "I'd ha gone."

"Then you'd have done wrong."

"Happen so," stubbornly.  "I'd ha gone though--knowing what I know now."

"What's that?"

"What loov is."

The Colonel paused.

"She'd never have forgiven you," he said at last.

"What for?"

"For taking advantage of her hot fit."

The arrow shot in the dark had clearly gone home.  The Colonel followed
up his advantage.

"Is she in love with you?"

"She's never said so."

"But you think so?"

"Nay, A don't think so," the other answered with all the old violence.
"A know it.  A've nobbut to reach out ma hand to pluck the flower."

His egotism annoyed the Colonel.

"Seems to me," he said, "we shall all of us soon have something better
to do than running round after each other's wives.  Seen the evening
paper?"

"Nay, nor the morning for that matter."

"And you a politician!"

"A'm two men--same as most: politician and lover.  Now one's a-top; now
t'other.  It's a see-saw."

"And the lover's on top now?" said the Colonel.

"Yes," said the engineer, "and like to stay there too--blast him!"  And
he was gone in the darkness.



CHAPTER XXVIII

OLD TOWN

Next day was Sunday.

The Colonel waited on the cliff for his paper, which brought the
expected news.  The die was cast.  Germany had proclaimed martial law:
she was already at war with Russia; France had mobilised.

"She's in it by now," he said to himself, as he walked across the
golf-links towards Old Town.

The threat of danger was arousing in every individual a passionate need
for communication, for re-assurance, for the warmth and comfort of the
crowd.  The herd, about to be attacked, was drawing together.  Its
out-posts were coming back at the trot, heads high, ears alert,
snorting the alarm.  Even the rogue and outcast were seeking
re-admission and finding it amid acclamation.  The main body were
packing in a square, heads to the danger, nostrils quivering, antlers
ready.  An enemy was a-foot just beyond the sky-line.  He has not
declared himself as yet.  But the wind betrayed his presence; and the
secret stir of the disturbed and fearful wilderness was evidence enough
that the Flesh-eater was abroad.

The turf sprang deliciously beneath the Colonel's feet.  His youth
seemed to have returned to him.  He felt curiously braced and high of
heart.  Once he paused to look about him.  Beyond the huge smooth bowl
of the links with its neat greens and the little boxes of sand, its
pleasant club-house, its evidence of a smooth and leisurely
civilisation, Paradise rippled at the touch of a light-foot breeze.
The Downs shimmered radiantly, their blemishes hidden in the mists of
morning.  On his right, beyond the ha-ha, the Duke's Lodge stood back
in quiet dignity amid its beeches, typical of the England that was
about to fade away like a cinema picture at a touch.

A lark sang.  The Colonel lifted his face to the speck poised and
thrilling in the blue.

What a day to go to war on! was his thought.

At the deserted club-house he dropped down into Lovers' Lane and
climbed up towards Old Town between high flint walls, ivy-covered.

As he emerged into Rectory Walk the Archdeacon was coming out of his
gate.  He was in his glory.  His faded eyes glittered like those of an
old duellist about to engage, and confident of his victim.

"I've been waiting this day for forty-five yeahs," he announced.

The Colonel was aware of the legend that in 1870 the Archdeacon, then a
lad at Cambridge, had only been restrained from fighting for his hero,
the Emperor of the French, by a brutal father.

"It certainly looks as if you might get back a bit of your own," he
said wearily.  The other's dreadful exaltation served only to depress
him.  "Russia going at em one side and France the other."

"And England!" cried the Archdeacon.

"You think we shall go in?"

To the Colonel's horror, the Archdeacon took him by the arm.

"Can you doubt it?" he cried, rolling his eyes to see the impression he
was making on the grocer in the door of the little corner-shop.  "Are
we rotten to the heart?"

They were walking down Church Street now, arm-in-arm, in the middle of
the road.

"The pity of it is," he cried in his staccato voice, "we've no Emperah
to lead us to-day.  Ah! there was a man!"  He made a dramatic halt in
mid-street.  "_Thank Gahd for Carson--what!_" he whispered.

"And Smith," said the Colonel meekly.  "Let us give thanks for Smith
too--

  _Great in counsel, great in war,
  Foremost Captain of our time,
  Rich in saving common sense,
  And, as the greatest only are,
  In his simplicity sublime._"


They had reached the door of the parish-church.

The Archdeacon entered; and the Colonel turned with relief to greet
Bobby Chislehurst.  The lad's open face was unusually grave.

"There are sure to be pacifist demonstrations in London to-morrow," he
began, blurting out his confidences like a a school-boy.  "It's my day
off.  I shall go."

"Don't," said the Colonel.

"I must," the other replied.  "It's all I can do."

"Bobby," said the Colonel grimly.  "This is my advice.  If you go up to
London at all wire to Billy to come and meet you.  He may be able to
get an hour off, though I expect they're pretty busy at Aldershot."
Billy was Bobby's twin-brother and in the Service.

Bobby winced.

"Yes," he said, "if Billy goes, Billy won't come back.  I know Billy."

A few yards down the street the Colonel met Alf Caspar in the stream of
ascending church-goers.

The little sidesman was dapper as usual: he wore a fawn coloured
waist-coat, his moustache was waxed, his hair well-oiled; but his face
was almost comically a-wry.  He looked like the villain in a picture
play about to burst into tears.  Directly he saw the Colonel he roused
to new and hectic life, crossing to him, entirely forgetful of their
meeting on the previous evening.

"Is it war, sir?" he asked feverishly and with flickering eyes.

"If we are ever to hold up our heads and look the world in the face
again," the Colonel answered.

"But what's it got to do with us?" Alf almost screamed.  "Let em fight
it out among themselves if they want to, I says.  Stand aside--that's
our part.  That's the manly part.  And then when it's all over slip
in--"

"And collar the loot," suggested the Colonel.

"And arbitrate atween em.  If we don't there'll be nobody to do it,
only us.  I don't say it'll be easy to make the sacrifice o standing
aside when you want to help your friends, of course you do.  But I say
we ought to do it, and let em say what they like--if it's right and it
is right.  Take up the cross and face the shame--that's what I says.
Where's the good o being Christians else, if you're going to throw it
all overboard first time you're put to the test?  We won't be the
first, I says.  What about the martyrs and them?  Didn't they go
through it?  Not to talk o the expense!  Can we afford it?  Course we
can't.  Who could?  Income tax at a shilling in the pound, and my
petrol costing me another six-pence the can.  And then ask us to sit
down to a great war!"

He poured out his arguments as a volcano in eruption pours out lava.

The Colonel listened.

"You'd better give your views to your Rector, I think," he remarked.

Alf's face turned ugly.

"One thing," he said, with an ominously vicious nod, "if there is war I
resign my position in the League--that's straight."

"O dear!" said the Colonel, and he turned into the Manor-house.

Bess opened to him herself.

"Joe come?" he asked, knowing she was expecting her brother for the
week-end.

"No.  A post-card instead.  We don't quite know where he is."

The Colonel nodded.

"Leave stopped.  Sure to be."

Then Mrs. Trupp came down the stairs.  About her was the purged and
hallowed air of one who faces death without fear and yet without
self-deception as to the price that must be paid.  The Colonel felt he
was standing upon holy ground.

Mrs. Trupp handed him a post-card.  The postmark was Dover.  It ran:

_All well.  Very busy._

"I think it'll be all right, don't you?" said Mrs. Trupp, raising
wistful eyes to his.  The mother in her longed for him to say _No_: the
patriot _Yes_.

"It must be," replied Bess, ferociously.  "If it isn't Joe will chuck
the Service.  They all will.  The pacifists can defend their own rotten
country!"

The Colonel moved into the consulting-room, where Mr. Trupp was
burrowing short-sightedly into his Sunday paper.

The old surgeon at least had no doubts.

"We shall fight all right," he said comfortably.  "We must.  And Must's
the only man who matters in real life."

The Colonel felt immensely comforted.

"But what a position my poor old party'd have been in now if our
leaders hadn't queered the pitch!" he remarked.  "_We told you so_!
_We told you so_!   How we _could_ have rubbed it in."

"Thank God you can't," replied the other grimly.  "No party's got the
chuckle over another.  So there's some hope that we may act as a
country for once."

Outside the Manor-house the Colonel met Mr. Pigott in his frock-coat on
the way to chapel.  The two men had never spoken for years past except
to spar.  Now in the presence of the common fear they stopped, and then
shook hands.

Mr. Pigott was a brave man, but there was no doubt he was shaken to the
roots.

"My God, Colonel!" he muttered.  "It's _awful_."

"It don't look too pleasant," the old soldier admitted.

"But we can't go in!" cried the old Nonconformist.  "It's no affair of
ours.  Who _are_ the Serbs?"

"It's go in or go under, I'm afraid," the other answered.  "That's the
alternative."

He dropped down Borough Lane past the _Star_.

On the hill Edward Caspar ambling rapidly along with flying coat-tails
caught him up.

"Well, Mr. Caspar, what do _you_ think about it?" asked the Colonel.

The old man emerged from his brown study and looked up with scared eyes
through his gold spectacles.  He did not recognise the questioner: he
never did--but he answered eagerly, and with wonderful firmness.

"It's Love.  It can't be anything else."

"I don't know.  War seems to me a funny sort of Love," the Colonel
muttered.

"What's that?" asked the other.

"War," replied the Colonel.  "There's a great European war on."

The old man, blind, puzzled, seeking, stopped dead.

"War?" he said.  "What war's that?"

The Colonel explained.

"Austria's gone to war with Serbia.  Russia's chimed in.  Germany's
having a go at Russia.  And France is rushing to the rescue of her
ally.  Europe's ablaze from the Bay of Biscay to the Caucasus."

Edward Caspar blinked at the road as he absorbed the news.  Then he
gathered himself and went droning down the hill at increased speed with
the erratic purposefulness of a great bumble-bee.  There was something
lofty, almost majestic about his bearing.  In a moment he had increased
in spiritual stature; and he was trying to straighten his rounded
shoulders.

"It must work itself out," he said emphatically.  "It's only an
incident on the march.  We mustn't lose our sense of proportion.  We
shall get there all the quicker in the end because of it."

"We shall if we go this pace," muttered the Colonel, pretending to pant
as they turned into the Moot.

The Quaker meeting-house lay just in front of them, a group of staid
figures at the door.  On their left was a row of cottages at the foot
of the Church-crowned Kneb.  The door of one of them was open, and in
it stood Ernie in his shirt-sleeves, towel in hand, scrubbing his head.
A word passed between father and son; then the old man shuffled on his
way.

Ernie turned in a flash to the Colonel, who saw at once that here the
miracle of sudden conversion had been at work.  This man who for months
past had been growing always graver and more pre-occupied was suddenly
gay.  A spring had been released; and a spirit had been tossed into the
air.  He seemed on the bubble, like an eager horse tugging at its
bridle.

Now he held up a warning finger and moved down the road till he was out
of ear-shot of his own cottage.

"Have you worked it, sir?" he asked.  His question had reference to his
conversation with the Colonel in Saffrons Croft the evening before, and
in his keenness he was oblivious of the fact that nothing could have
been achieved in the few brief hours that had elapsed since their last
meeting.

"I've written," replied the Colonel.  "You'll be wanted.  Every man who
can stand on his hind-legs will.  That's what I came about: If you have
to join up it'll punish your feet much less if you've done a bit of
regular route-marching first.  Now I'm game to come along every evening
and march with you.  Begin to-night.  Five to ten miles steady'd soon
tell.  What about it?"

"I'm at it, sir!" cried Ernie.  "Thank you kindly all the same.
Started last night after we'd read the news.  There's a little bunch of
us in Old Town--old sweats.  Marched to Friston, we did.  One hour's
marching; ten minutes halt.  Auston to-night.  We'll soon work into it."

"That's the style," said the Colonel.  "Are the other men keen?"

Ernie grinned.

"Oh, they're for it, if it's got to be," he said.

"And Burt?--seen him?"

"No sir, not yet.  But he's all right at heart, Joe is.  I'm expectin
him round every minute."

At the moment a thick-set man came swishing round the corner of Borough
Lane on a bicycle.  His shoulders were hunched, and he was pedalling
furiously.  The sweat shone on his face, which was red and set.  It was
clear that he had come far and fast.  Seeing the two men in the road he
flung off his bicycle and drew up beside them at a little pattering run.

Out here under the beat of the sun the Colonel hardly recognised in
this solid fellow, dark with purpose, the wavering lover of the cliff
last night.  Was the change wrought in this man as by magic typical of
a like change in the heart of the country?  The thought flashed into
the Colonel's mind and brought him relief.

The engineer, who was heaving, came straight to his point without a
word, without a greeting.

"Philip Blackburn's coomin down on the rush to address a great
Stop-the-war meeting at the Salvation Army Citadel this afternoon," he
panted.  "We must counter it.  A'm racin round to warn the boys to roll
up.  You must be there, Colonel, and you, Ern, and all of you.  It's
all out this time, and no mistake."

The door behind the Colonel opened.  He turned to find Ruth standing in
the door, drying her hands.

Joe paid no heed, already sprawling over his bicycle as he pushed it
off.

"What time?" she called after him.

"Two-thirty," he answered back, and was gone round the corner.

"Right," she yodled.  "I'll be there."



CHAPTER XXIX

FOLLOW YOUR LEADER

Philip Blackburn's meeting had not been advertised, for it was only in
the small hours of the morning that a motor-bicyclist scaring the hares
and herons in the marshes, had brought the news from Labour
Headquarters that P.B. was bearing the Fiery Cross to Beachbourne in
the course of a whirlwind pilgrimage of the Southern Counties.  But the
hall was crammed.

Philip Blackburn was a sure draw at any time.  A Labour M.P. and
stalwart of the Independent Labour Party, it was often said that he was
destined to be the Robespierre of the new movement.  Certainly he was
an incorruptible.  A cripple from his youth, and a fanatic, with the
face of a Savonarola, in the House and on the platform he asked no
quarter and gave none.

Half an hour later the dusty Ford car which bore the fighting pacifist
was signalled panting down Stone Cross hill over the Levels: a
half-hour the audience passed singing _God save the People_ and _The
Red Flag_.

A few minutes later he came limping on to the platform: a little man,
of the black-coated proletariat obviously, with the face of a steel
blade, keen and fine, and far-removed from the burly labour agitator,
hoarse of voice, and raw of face, of a previous generation.  His
reception was impressively quiet.  The man's personality, his courage,
his errand, the occasion, awed even the most boisterous.

He looked dead-beat, admitted as much, and apologised for being late.

"You know where I come from (cheers) and where I'm bound for to-night.
And you know what I've come about--_Is it Peace or War?_"

And he launched straightway into that famous _Follow-your-leader_
speech, the ghost of which in one form or another was to haunt the
country, as the murdered albatross haunted the blood-guilty mariner,
all through the war, and will haunt England for generations still after
we are gone:--

The danger long-preached was on them at last.  It must be faced and
fought.  They must take a leaf out of Carson's book.  The Conservatives
had shown the way: they must follow their leaders of the ruling class.
They must dish the Government if it proposed to betray the country just
as the Unionists had done--by persuading the Army not to fight.  They
must undermine the _morale_ of the private soldiers--just as the Tories
had undermined that of the officers.  They must have their agents in
every barrack-room, their girls at every barrack-gate--just as the
Tories had done.  The men must apply the sternest "disciplinary
pressure" to scabs--just as the officers had done.  They must stop
recruiting--as Garvin and the Yellow Press had advocated.  The famous
doctrine of "optional obedience," newly introduced into the Army by
Tory casuists, must be carried to its logical conclusion.  And if the
worst came to the worst they must follow their leaders of the ruling
class, arm, and "fight the fighters.  _Follow your leaders_--that is
the word."

He spoke with cold and bitter passion in almost a complete hush--a
white-hot flame of a man burning straight and still on the altar of a
packed cathedral.  Then he sank back into his chair, spent, his eyes
closed, his face livid, his fine fingers twitching.  He had achieved
that rarest triumph of the orator: beaten his audience into silence.

The Colonel stood up against the wall at the back.  Peering over
intervening heads he saw Joe Burt sitting in front.

Then a voice at his ear, subdued and deep and vibrating, floated out on
the hush as it were on silver wings.

"Now, Joe!" it said, like a courser urging on a greyhound.

There was a faint stir in the stillness: the eyes of the orator on the
platform opened.  A chair scraped; the woman beside the Colonel sighed.
There was some sporadic cheering, and an undercurrent of groans.

Joe Burt rose to his feet slowly and with something of the solemn
dignity of one rising from the dead.  Everybody present knew him;
nobody challenged his right to speak.  A worker and a warrior, who had
lived in the East-end for some years now, he had his following, and he
had his enemies.  The moderate men were for him, the extremists had
long marked him down as suspect--in with the capitalists--too fond of
the classy class.  But they would hear him; for above all things he was
that which the Englishman loves best in friend or enemy--a fighter.

Standing there, thick-set and formidable as a bull, he began the speech
of his life.

"Two wrongs don't make a right.  Because the officers have sold the
pass, are the men to do the same?"

"Never!" came a shout from the back.  It was Ernie's voice.  The
Colonel recognised it and thrilled.

"We all know," continued the speaker, "that the gentry have put their
coontry after their party.  It's for the People to show them the true
road, and put Democracy before even their coontry."

"Hear! hear!" from Philip Blackburn.

The speaker was growing to his task, growing as it grew.

"This is a great spiritual issue.  Are we to save our lives to lose
them? or lose them to save them?  The People are in the Valley of
Decision.  God and the Devil are standing on a mountain-top on either
side the way crying--_Who is on my side?_"  His great voice went
billowing through the hall, borne, it seemed, on some huge wind of the
spirit.  He was holding the audience, carrying them.  The Colonel felt
it: the man with the closed eyelids in the chair on the platform felt
it too.

"Jaures, the beloved leader of our cause in France, has already made
his choice--the first man to fall for Democracy.  Shall he lie alone?"

It was a dramatic touch, and told.

"A have chosen ma part," the speaker went on more quietly.  "A loov ma
coontry; but there's something greater even than the fate of the
coontry hanging in the balance now.  Democracy's at stake!"

A roar of applause greeted the remark.

"It's the Emperors agin the People!"

This time the roar was pierced by a shrill scream,

"What about Russia?"

The booming voice over-rode the interruption as a hurricane over-rides
a blade of grass that stands in its track.

"Look at little Serbia!--a handful of peasants standing up against a
great militarist Empire.  Look at Belgium!--the most peaceful nation on
God's earth about to be over-run by the Kaiser's hordes.  Look at
France, the mother of Revolution, and the home of Democracy!--Could we
forsake them now?"

"Never!" in a growing thunder.

"If so we forsook our own ideals, betrayed our past, turned our back on
our future.  Yea.  The People must fight or perish."

"He's got em," sobbed Ruth, her handkerchief tight in her mouth.  The
Colonel could feel her trembling.

"The question to ma mind," continued the speaker, "is not whether we
_should_ fight, but whether the officers of the Army--who have failed
us once, mind!--_will_ fight."

The blow went home and hammered a few dissentients into silence.

"If not then we must find our own officers--roosset-coated captains who
know what they're fighting for, and love what they know."

The words were lost in a hurricane of cheering.

"And ma last word to you," ended the speaker, drawing the back of his
hand across his mouth, "is much that of the Great Apostle--_Stand and
Fight!_"  He flung the words at his audience with a power and a
conviction that were overwhelming.

A great bell was tolling in the Colonel's mind.

"That's a great man," he found himself murmuring.

"Aye, that's Joe," came the deep voice beside him.

The heat, the crush, the tumult of sound, his own intense emotion
proved almost too much for the Colonel.  He leaned against the wall
with closed eyes, but there was joy in his heart.

"Done it," he muttered.  "That was England speaking."  Then somebody
led him out into the fresh air.

"They're all right, sir," said a voice comfortably in his ear.  "Joe
done the trick.  Grand he was."

Some of the Labour extremists recognised him as he lolled against the
wall, hat over his eyes, recalled his work for the National Service
League, and gathered round for the worry.

"That's him.--Militarist!--Brought the trouble on us!  He won't
pay.--Leaves that for us to do!--Drunk as a lord!--On the blood of the
workers."

The Colonel heard the words, but paid no heed.  They fell on his mind
like rain-drops on a sea which absorbs them unconsciously as it sways
and drifts listlessly to and fro.

Then another voice, familiar this time, and strangely fierce, clashed
with those of his would-be persecutors.

"None of it now!  Want one for yourself, do you?  Stand back there!
Give him a chance to breathe!  Ought to be ashamed, some of you."

The Colonel opened his eyes to find Ernie standing over him.

"Ah, Caspar," he said faintly.

Then Ruth came swiftly out of the dissipating crowd towards them.  She
was flashing, glorious, with tumultuous bosom.  Swept by her emotion
she forgot for the moment the undeclared war that was raging between
this lean old man and herself: she did not even notice his distress.

"He's such a battler, Joe is!" she cried.

All that was combative in the Colonel rose desperately to grip and
fight the same qualities in her.

"He's not the only one," he said feebly, and musing with a vacuous
smile on the strange medley of vast world-tragedy and tiny domestic
drama sank slowly into unconsciousness, Ernie's arm about him, Ernie's
kind face anxious above him.  "Watch it, Caspar!" he whispered.
"Danger!"


He came round slowly to hear voices wrangling above him.

"I had to come to the meeting.  I promised Joe," the woman was saying.

"What about the children?"

There was silence: then the man went on with a cold sneer.

"Little Alice, I suppose.  Little Alice got to do it all these days."

"Little Alice is mine," the woman retorted.  "If you're not satisfied
with the way your--"

The Colonel sat up.

"For God's sake!" he cried.



CHAPTER XXX

THE END OF THE WORLD

The next day was Bank Holiday; and such a holiday as no living man had
known or would ever know again.  Half the world had already tumbled
into hell; and the other half was poised breathless on the brink,
awaiting the finger-push that should send it too roaring down to death.

On that brilliant summer day nations crouched in the stubble like
coveys of partridges beneath the shadow of some great hawk hovering far
away in the blue.

A silence like a cloud enveloped England.

The tocsin was about to sound that was to call millions of rosy lads
from their mothers, splendid youths from their girls, sober middle-aged
men away from their accustomed place in church and chapel, from the
office stool, from the warm companionable bed and the lovely music of
children's voices, to strange destinies in unknown seas, on remote
deserts, beside alien rivers; calling them in a voice that was not to
be denied to lay their bones far from the village church-yard and the
graves of innumerable ancestors, in rotting swamps, on sun-bleached
mountains, with none to attend their obsequies save the nosing jackal
and raw-necked vulture.

Early in the morning the Colonel walked across to Old Town to see Bobby
Chislehurst, and put the curb on him if possible; for the _Daily
Citizen_ had come out with a full-page appeal to lovers of peace to
attend an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar-square.

On his way the Colonel gleaned straws of news; and the gleaning was not
hard.  The most reserved were expansive; the most exclusive sociable.
For the moment all barriers of class were down.  By the time he had
reached the _Star_ he was _au courant_ with all the happenings, local
and general.

The Archdeacon who, when he put his snuff-box aside, and took the
gloves off, could be really moving, had from his hill thundered a
magnificent call to arms--"purely pagan, of course."  Mr. Trupp, whom
he met, told the Colonel, "but fine for all that."  Mr. Geddes in the
plain had answered back in an appeal which had moved many to tears on
behalf of Him, Whose sad face on the Cross looks down on This after the
passion of a thousand years.

The Fleet had gone to war-stations; the Territorials had been
mobilised.  Haldane had returned to the War Office.

As the Colonel dropped down the steep pitch to Church-street, under the
chesnuts of the Manor-house garden, he met a couple of toddlers
climbing the hill shepherded by an efficient little maiden of seven or
eight, who smiled at him with familiar eyes.

"Hullo, little Alice," he said.  "Where you off to so busily with your
little flock?"

"Saffrons Croft for the day--me and my little ones," she answered, not
without a touch of self-importance.  "I got the dinner here.  Dad and
Mother's taking baby a drive on the bus to see Granny at Auston."

She turned and waved to her mother, who was standing at the top of
Borough Lane with Ernie, amongst a little group opposite the _Star_,
where was one of the char-a-bancs of the Touring Syndicate picking up
passengers from the Moot.

The Colonel walked down the hill towards them.  Ruth, seeing him
approach, climbed to her place on the char-a-banc.  Ernie handed little
Ned to her, and then turned to meet the Colonel.

"Givin Alf the benefit," he said, with a grin.  "Backin the family and
baptizin the bus.  Goin the long drive over the hill to Friston and
Seaford; then up the valley to Auston.  Dinner there.  And home by
Hailsham and Langney in the evening.--I wanted her to ask Joe.  But she
wouldn't.  Fickle I call her."

The Colonel glanced up; but Ruth steadfastly refused to meet his eye.

"I suppose one wants the family to one-salf some-times, even a
workin-woman doos," she muttered.

And the Colonel saw that Ern had made his remark to show that the
tension between him and his wife, so marked yesterday, had eased.

"My wife's right," he thought.  "Caspar is a gentleman.  Blood _does_
tell."

Just then Alf came down the steps of the Manor-house opposite, looking
smug and surly.  He crossed the road to the char-a-banc and said a word
to the driver.

Ruth leaned over, glad of the diversion.

"Ain't you comin along then, Alf?" she asked quietly.

"Caspar's my name," the Managing Director answered, never lifting his
eyes to his tormentor.

The young woman bent down roguishly, disregarding Ern's warning glances.

"Not to your own sister, Alfie," she answered, demure and intimate.

They were mostly Old Town folk on the char-a-banc, many from the Moot;
and they all tittered, even the driver.

Alf stood back in the road and said deliberately, searching with his
eye the top of the bus.

"Where is he, then?"

Ern flashed round on him.

"Who?"

Alf sneered.

"You!--You're only her husband!" and decamped swiftly.

Ernie did not move.  He stood with folded arms, rather white, following
his retreating brother with his eyes.  Then he said to the Colonel
quietly,

"Yes, sir.  That's Alf.  Now you know."

"I'm beginning to," said the Colonel.

"And time too," came Ruth's voice cold and quivering.


In the cool of the evening the Colonel walked down Terminus Road.

Outside the office of Caspar's Road-Touring Syndicate Alf was standing,
awaiting the return of his argosies.  He was scanning the evening paper
and still wore the injured and offended air of one who has a personal
grievance against his Creator and means to get his own back some day.

"Any news, sir?" he asked.

The Colonel stopped.

"Germany sent Belgium an ultimatum last night demanding right of way.
And the King of Belgium took the field this morning."

"Then he ought to be shot," snarled Alf.  "Provoking of em on, I call
it."

The Colonel walked on to the East-end, his eyes about him, and heart
rising.

The country was facing the situation with dignity and composure.

The streets were thronged.  Everywhere men and women gathered in knots
and talked.  There was no drunken-ness, no rioting, no Jingo
manifestations--and that though it was August Bank Holiday.  The
gravity of the situation had sobered all men.

The Colonel passed on into Seagate to find the hero of Sunday
afternoon's battle.

Joe Burt stood in his shirt-sleeves in the door of his lodgings with
folded arms and cocked chin.  His pipe was in his mouth and he was
sucking at it fiercely with turned-in lips and inflated nostrils.

The engineer was clearly on the defensive; the Colonel saw it at once
and knew why.  On the main issue Joe had proved fatally, irretrievably
wrong.  But he had been "on the platform" now for twenty years.  In
other words he was a politician, and in the Colonel's view no
politician ever admitted that he was wrong.  To cover his retreat he
would almost certainly resort to the correct tactical principle of a
counter-offensive.

"That was a great speech of yours, Burt," the Colonel began.

The engineer sucked and puffed unmoved.

"We must fight," he said.  "There's no two ways about it.  The Emperors
have asked for it; and they shall have it.  No more crowned heads!
We've had enoof o yon truck!"

In his elemental mood accent had coarsened, phrase become colloquial.
He took his pipe from his mouth.

"Sitha!--this'll be a fight to a finish atween the Old Order and the
New--atween what you stand for and what A do."

"And what do I stand for?" asked the Colonel.

"Imperialism--Capitalism--call it what you will.  It's the domination
of the workers by brute force."

The Colonel turned a quiet eye upon him.

"Is that fair?" he asked.

The engineer stuffed his pipe back into his mouth.

"Happen not of you.  Of your class, yes."  He felt he had been on
dangerous ground and came off it.  "_We_ shall fight because we must,"
he said.  "What about you?"

He was making a direct offensive now, and turned full face to his
adversary.

"Us?" asked the Colonel puzzled.

"Yes," retorted the other.  "The officers of the Army?--shall you
fight?"

The Colonel looked away.

Joe eyed him shrewdly.

"Last time you were asked to, you refused," he remarked.  "Said you'd
resign rather.  One General said if there was war he'd fight against
England.  It was a piece in the _Daily Telegraph_.  A've got it pasted
in ma Ammunition Book.  Coom in and see!"

The Colonel did not move.

"I think the officers will be there or thereabouts all right if the're
wanted," he said.

Joe appeared slightly mollified.

"Well, you came out against the railway-men in 1911," he said.  "A will
say that for you.  A wasn't sure you'd feel same gate when it coom to
Emperors."

They strolled back together to Pevensey Road; and for the first time
the Colonel actively disliked the man at his side.  That wind of the
spirit which had blown through the engineer yesterday purging him of
his dross had passed on into the darkness.  To-day he was both
politically dishonest and sexually unclean.

In fact his life that had been rushing down the mountain like a spate
with extraordinary speed and power, confined between narrow banks, just
as it was emerging at the estuary into the sea had met suddenly the
immense weight of the returning ocean-tide, advancing irresistible--to
be swamped, diverted, turned back on itself.  This man once so strong,
of single purpose, and not to be deflected from it by any human power,
was now spiritually for all his bluff a tumbling mass of worry and
confusion and dirty yellow foam....

The pair had passed into the main thoroughfare.

"What about that woman?" asked the Colonel moodily.

Joe was chewing his pipe-stem.

"What woman'll that be?"

"Why the one you were talking about to me on Saturday night,--whether
you should bolt with her or not."

Joe halted on the kerb-stone and regarded the traffic imperturbably.

"A know nowt o no such woman," he said.

The Colonel glanced at him.  Just then he heard the sound of a horn and
looking back saw one of the new motor-char-a-bancs of the Touring
Syndicate returning crowded to the brim.  A man stood on the step with
a horn and tootled.  Ernie sat in front with Ruth, the boy in her lap
asleep against her breast.  The Colonel marked the strength and
tranquillity of her pose, her arms clasped around the sleeping child.
Father, mother, and child were profoundly at peace; one with each
other, so it seemed to him, one with life.  Joe took his pipe out of
his mouth and pointed with the stem.

"Yon's her," he said, with stunning impudence.

"I know that then," answered the Colonel.  "Your own friend's wife."

Ernie who had seen Joe waved and winked and nudged Ruth.  She could not
or would not see.  Joe waved back casually.  Then he turned to the
Colonel with a Silenus-like twinkle, his little black eyes of a bear
glittering.

"He'll have to go now," he said, gurgling like an amused baby.

The Colonel looked him in the eyes.  "Devil!" he said.

The engineer peeped up at him with something of the chuckle of the
young cuckoo.

"Ah, don't you talk, Colonel!  I'm not the only one."

"What you mean?" fiercely.

"What you told me Saturday night."

"I never betrayed my pal, whatever else."

"You would ha done," remorselessly.  "Only you lost your nerve at the
last moment.  That's nothing to boast on."

The man's brazen cynicism revolted the Colonel.

"Ah, you don't know me," he muttered.

"A know maself," the other answered.  "And that's the same."

The Colonel felt as feels a man who watches the casual immoralities of
a big and jolly dog.  Then he came to himself and broke away, firing a
last shot over his shoulder.

"I suppose you'll wait till he has gone," he sneered.

"A doubt," the other answered, cool and impudent to the last.

The Colonel tramped home, sore at heart.

Opposite the Wish he stumbled on Mr. Trupp, who brought him up with a
jerk.

"There's going to be a Coalition Government," the old surgeon told his
friend.  "Lloyd George and the pacifists are leaving the Cabinet; and
Smith and Carson and Bonar Law coming in."

Just then Stanley Bessemere rushed by in a powerful car.  He waved to
the two men, neither of whom would see him.

"You know what he's after?" said Mr. Trupp.

"What?" asked the Colonel.

"Spreading it round that Haldane's holding up the Expeditionary Force."

The Colonel struck the ground.

"My God!" he cried.  "Party politics even at this hour!"

The other shrugged.

"They've got to find a scape goat or take it in the neck themselves,"
he said.

The Colonel walked home in the twilight along the deserted brick-walk,
under the tamarisk bank stirring gracefully in the evening breeze.  At
the extreme end of the bricks where a path climbs up a chalk-pit to
Holywell he came on a tall dark solitary figure looking out over the
sea.

It was Mr. Geddes.

The old soldier approached him quietly and touched his arm.

"Well, Mr. Geddes," he said gently.  "What you thinking of?"

The tall man turned his fine face.

"I was thinking about a carpenter," he said.

"Of Nazareth?"

"No, of Berlin.  Of Papa Schumacher and that boy Joseph, who was trying
so hard to be an English sport--and black-eyed Joanna and the old
Mutter."

The Colonel swallowed.

"Let's shake hands, Geddes," he said.

"With all my heart, Colonel," the other answered.

Then the old soldier went up the slope laboriously, his hands upon his
knees.

His wife was waiting him on the cliff, a little figure, distinguished
even in the dusk, about her shoulders the scarlet cape that had been
the gift of a Rajput Princess.

"I pray it will be all right," he said.

"I pray so," the little lady answered.

War meant ruin for her and the destruction of all her hopes for
Toby.--And her own Jock!--but she never wavered.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE COLONEL

That night Sir Edward Grey made the historic speech, which swung the
nation into line like one man, and launched Great Britain on the
supreme adventure of her history.

_The one bright spot in the situation is Ireland._

Redmond had followed in a speech which filled the Colonel's eyes with
tears and his heart with gladness as he read it next morning, so
generous it was, so chivalrous.

_I say to the Government they may withdraw every one of their troops
from Ireland.  Ireland will be defended by her armed sons from
invasion, and for that purpose Catholics in the South will join the
Protestants in the North._

The Colonel paced to and fro on his lawns, the paper flapping in his
hand.

Not even the spectacle of Carson, sulking in his tent, and answering
never a word to his opponent's magnanimous appeal, could mar that
vision splendid.

All day long the Colonel never left his garden, hovering round the
telephone.  Anything might happen at any moment.

Then news came through.

The Government had sent Germany an ultimatum.  If she failed to give us
an assurance before 11 p.m. that she would not violate the neutrality
of Belgium, England would go to war.

The Colonel sighed his thankfulness.

All day he quarter-decked up and down the loggia, Zeiss glasses in
hand.  His telescope he arranged on the tripod on the lawn, and with it
swept earth and sky and sea.  Towards evening he marked a bevy of men
swing round the shoulder of the hill from Meads into the coombe.  They
were in mufti, and not in military formation; but they marched, he
noted, and kept some sort of order, moving rhythmically, restrained as
a pack of hounds on the way to the meet, and yet with riot in their
hearts.  He turned the telescope full on them, marked Ernie among them,
and knew them forthwith for the Reservists from Old Town training for
_IT_.  A wave of emotion surged through him.  He went down to the fence
and stood there with folded arms, and high head, his sparse locks grey
in the evening light, watching them go by.  Then he saluted.

They saw the old soldier standing bare-headed at the fence, recognised
him, and shouted a greeting.

"Good-evening, sir."

"That's the style!" he cried gruffly.  "Getting down to it."

Then Ernie broke away and came across the grass to him at the double,
grinning broadly, and gay as a boy.

"Yes, sir.  Old Town Troop we call ourselves.  Long march to-night.
Through Birling Gap to the Haven and home over Windhover about
midnight.  What I stepped across to say, sir, was I'm thinkin Ruth'd
better stay where she is for the time being--if it's all the same to
you, sir; and not move to the garage."

"As you like," replied the Colonel.  "Undercliff's the most exposed
house in Beachbourne--that's certain.  If there's trouble from the sea
we shall catch it; or if their Zeppelins bomb the signalling station on
the Head some of it may come our way."

Ernie looked shy.

"That little turn-up with Alf in the road yesterday, sir," he said
confidentially.  "I was glad you was there."  He came forward
stealthily.  "See, I know what you thought, sir.  It's not Joe after
her.  It's Alf--always has been; from before we married.  Joe's all
right."

The Colonel stared grimly over the sea.

"I think you're wrong," he said.

"Then I know I'm not, sir," Ernie flashed.


The Colonel returned to his watch.

That night he did not go to bed.  Instead he sat up in his pyjamas in
the corner-room that looked out over the sea, and on to Beau-nez.  If
we went in the news would be flashed at once to the coastguard on the
Head; and the petty officer on duty up there had promised to signal it
down to the house in the coombe beneath.

The Colonel watched and waited.

The window was open.  It was a still and brilliant night.  He could
hear the fall, and swish, and drone of the sea, rhythmical and
recurrent, at the foot of the cliff.  From the crest of the hill behind
the house came the occasional tinkle of the canister-bell of some old
wether of the flock.

Then the silence was disturbed by a growing tumult in the darkness.

A squadron of destroyers was thrashing furiously round the Head, not a
light showing, close inshore, too, only an occasional smudge of white
in the darkness revealing their position and the feather of foam they
bore along like a plume before them.

Out of the darkness they came at a speed incredible, and into the
darkness they were gone once more like a flash.

The Colonel breathed again.

At least the Navy was ready, thanks to Churchill.

Was the Army?

He recalled a remark reported to him as having been made at a P.S.A. in
the East-end some weeks since: that the Army no longer trusted its
officers, and the country no longer trusted its Army.  Could it be true?

His thoughts turned with passionate sympathy to Gough and the simple
regimental officers who had been lured by politicians into the dreadful
business of the Army Conspiracy.  But that other feller!--that yappin
chap at the War Office, who ought to have known better! ...

Away on the crest of Beau-nez, humping a huge black back against the
brilliant darkness, someone was swinging a lantern--once, twice.

The Colonel flashed his electric torch in answer.

The gaunt figure at the window turned.

"Rachel," he said low, to the woman in the bed beneath him.

"Jocko," came the answering voice, quiet as his own.

"We're going in."

"Thank God."

In the darkness she reached up arms, white and trembling as a bride's,
and drew him to her.

He kissed her eyelids and found them wet.

"I can't help it, Jocko," she sobbed.  "Jock!"

Her boy was in India with the second battalion; but she knew very well
that now the crash had come every battalion in the Service would be
flung into the furnace.

The Colonel went back to the window and she came to his side.  His arm
crept about her, and she trembled in the curve of it.  A mild but
ghastly beam, as of the moon, fell on them standing at the window.  A
battleship was playing its searchlight full on them.  The cold wan beam
roamed along the hill-side callous and impersonal, exposing every bush
and scar.  It fell on the white bluff of Beau-nez and came creeping,
like the fingers of a leper, along the cliff.  Just opposite the
hostel, at the spot where the path ran down to the beach, it stayed,
pointing as it were, at a little pillar of solid blackness erect on the
cliff edge.

The Colonel caught his breath with a gasp.

"Don't look!" he cried sharply and snatched his wife away.  As he did
so the pillar broke up in two component parts, as though dissolved by
the white encircling flood of light.

A woman's stifled scream came through the open window.

"Joe!"

Then there was a slither of chalk as the pair stampeded down the path
out of sight, and crashed into the beach beneath.  The Colonel let down
the blind with a rattle.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT

Ernie clattered into the kitchen at a busy trot, and stumbled upstairs
without a word to his wife at the sink.

There was such an air of stir and secret purposefulness about him that
Ruth followed him up to the bedroom.  There she found him on his knees
in a litter of things, packing a bundle frantically.

A dish-cloth in her hand, she watched his efforts.

"Where away then?" she asked.

"Berlin this journey.  Hand me them socks!"

Her eyes leapt.  "Is it war?"

"That's it."

She sat down ghastly, wrapping her hands in her apron as if they had
been mutilated and she wished to hide the stumps.


Men abuse the Army when they are in it and take their discharge at the
earliest possible moment; but when the call comes they down tools with
avidity, and leaving the mill, the mine, the shunting yard, and the
shop, they troop back to the colours with the lyrical enthusiasm of
those who have re-discovered youth on the threshhold of middle-age.

Ern, you may be sure, was no exception to the rule.

Packing and unpacking his bundle on his knees, he was busy, happy,
important.  But there was no such desperate hurry after all: for he did
not join the crowds which thronged the recruiting stations in those
first days: he waited for the Colonel to arrange matters so that he
could join his old battalion at Aldershot direct.

Ruth watched him with deep and jealously guarded eyes in which
wistfulness and other disturbing emotions met and mingled.

Once only she put to him the master question.

"What about us, Ern?"

He was standing at the time contemplating the patient and tormented
bundle.

"Who?"

"Me and the children."

"There's one Above," said Ernie.  "He'll see to you."

"He don't most in general not from what I've seen of it," answered
Ruth.  "What if He don't?"

There was a moment's pause.  Then Ern dropped a word as a child may
drop a stone in a well.

"Joe."

Ruth caught her breath.

In those days Ernie grew on her as a mountain looming out of the
dawn-mist grows on the onlooker.  Joe did not even come to see her; and
she was glad.  For all his virility and bull-like quality, now that the
day of battle had come, Ern was proving spiritually the bigger man.

And his very absorbtion in the new venture appealed to Ruth even while
it wounded.  Ern had been "called" as surely as Clem Woolgar, the
bricklayer's labourer, her neighbour in the Moot, who testified every
Sunday afternoon in a scarlet jersey at the _Star_ corner to the clash
of cymbals.  Clem it was true, spoke of his call as Christ; to Ernie it
went by the name of country.  In Ruth's view the name might differ but
the Thing was the same.  A voice had come to Ern which had spoken to
him as she had not, as the children had not.  Because of it he was a
new man--"converted," as Clem would say, prepared to forsake father and
mother, and wife, and child, and follow, follow.

England was calling; and he seemed deaf to every other voice.  She
seemed to have gone clean out of his life; but the children had
not--she noticed it with a pang of jealousy and a throb of hope.  For
each of the remaining nights after dark, he went round their cots.  She
was not to know anything about that, she could see, from the stealthy
way in which he stole upstairs when her back was supposed to be turned.
But the noises in the room overhead, the murmur of his voice, the
shuffling of his feet as he got up from the bedsides betrayed his every
action.

On the third night, as he rejoined her, she rose before him in the
dusk, laying down her work.

"Anything for me too, Ern," she asked humbly--"the mother of em?"

"What d'you mean?" he asked almost fiercely.

"D'you want me, Ern?"

He turned his back on her with an indifference that hurt far more than
any brutality, because it signified so plainly that he did not care.

"You're all right," he said enigmatically, and went out.

He could ask anything of her now, and she would give him all, how
gladly!  But he asked nothing.

In another way, too, he was torturing her.  It was clear to her that he
meant to do his duty by her and the children--to the last ounce; and
nothing more.  He cared for their material wants as he had never done
before.  All his spare moments he spent handying about the house,
hammer in hand, nails in mouth, doing little jobs he had long promised
to do and had forgotten; putting little Ned's mail-cart to rights,
screwing on a handle, setting a loose slate.  She followed him about
with wistful eyes, holding the hammer, steadying the ladder, and
receiving in return a few off-hand words of thanks.  She did not want
words: she wanted him--himself.

Then news came through, and he was straightway full of mystery and
bustle.

"Join at Aldershot to-morrow.  Special train at two," he told Ruth in
the confidential whisper beloved of working-men.  "Don't say nothing to
nobody."  As though the news, if it reached the Kaiser, would
profoundly affect the movements of the German armies.

That evening Ernie went up to the Manor-house to say good-bye.

Mrs. Trupp was far more to him than his god-mother: she was a friend
known to him from babyhood, allied to him by a thousand intimate ties,
and trusted as he trusted no one else on earth, not even his dad.

Now he unbosomed to her the one matter that was worrying him on his
departure--that he should be leaving Ruth encumbered with debt.

Mrs. Trupp met him with steady eyes.  It was her first duty, the first
duty of every man, woman and child in the nation to see that the
fighting-men went off in good heart.

"You needn't worry about Ruth," she said, quietly.  "She'll have the
country behind her.  All the soldiers' wives will."

Ernie shook his head doubtfully.

"Ah, I don't hold much by the country," he said.

The lady's grave face, silver-crowned, twinkled into sudden mischievous
life.  She rippled off into the delicious laughter he loved so dearly.

"I know who's been talking to you!" she cried.

Ernie grinned sheepishly.

"Who then?"

"Mr. Burt."

Ernie admitted the charge.

"If you don't trust the country, will you trust Mr. Trupp and me?" the
other continued.

Ernie rose with a sigh of relief.

"Thank you kindly, 'm," he said.  "That's what I come after."


Ernie went on to Rectory Walk, to find that his mother too had joined
the crucified.  In the maelstrom of emotion that in those tragic hours
was tossing nations and individuals this way and that, the hard woman
had been humbled at last.  Stripped to the soul, she saw herself a twig
hurled about in the sea of circumstance she could no more control than
a toy-boat a-float on the Atlantic can order the tides.  No longer an
isolated atom hard and self-contained, she was one of a herd of
bleating sheep being driven by a remorseless butcher to the
slaughter-house.  And the first question she put to him revealed the
extent of the change that had been wrought in her.

"What about Ruth?" she asked.

It was the only occasion on which his mother had named his wife to Ern
during his married life.

"She's all right, mother," Ernie replied.  "She's plenty of friends."

"Mrs. Trupp," jealously.  "Well, why don't ye say so?  What about the
children?"

"They'll just stay with their mother," answered Ernie.

"I could have em here if she was to want to go out to work," Anne said
grudgingly; and must add, instigated by the devil who dogged her all
her life--"Your children, of course."

Ernie answered quite simply:

"No, thank-you, mother," and continued with unconscious
dignity--"They're all my children."

A gleam of cruelty shone in his mother's eyes.

"She's behind with her rent.  You know that?  And Alf's short.  He says
he's dropped thousands over his Syndicate.  Ruined in his country's
cause, Alf says."

"If he's dropped thousands a few shillings more or less won't help
him," said Ernie curtly.

"And yet he'll want em," Anne pursued maliciously.  "He was sayin so
only last night.  _Every penny_, he said."

"He may want," retorted Ernie.  "He won't get."

His mother made a little grimace.

"If Alf wants a thing he usually gets it."

Ernie flashed white.

"Ah," he said.  "We'll see what dad says."

It was a new move in the family game, and unexpected.  Anne was
completely taken a-back.  She felt that Ernie was not playing fair.
There had always been an unwritten family law, inscribed by the mother
on the minds of the two boys in suggestible infancy, that dad should be
left outside all broils and controversies; that dad should be spared
unpleasantness, and protected at any cost.

She was shocked, almost to pleading.

"You'd never tell him!"

"He's the very one I would tell then!" retorted Ernie, rejoicing in his
newly-discovered vein of brutality.

"Only worry him," she coaxed.

"He ain't the only one," Ern answered.  "I'm fairly up against it,
too."  Grinning quietly at his victory, he turned down the passage to
the study.

His father was sitting in his favourite spot under the picture of his
ancestor, watching the tree-tops blowing in the Rectory garden
opposite.  The familiar brown-paper-clad New Testament was on his knee.

Ernie marked at once that here was the one tranquil spirit he had met
since the declaration of war.  And this was not the calm of stagnation.
Rather it was the intense quiet of the wheel which revolves so swiftly
that it appears to be still.

He drew his chair beside his father's.

"What d'you make of it all, dad?" he asked gently.

The old man took his thumb out of his New Testament, and laid his hand
upon his son's.

"_And behold there was a great earthquake,_" he quoted.  "_For the
Angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the
stone from the door of the Tomb._"

Ernie nodded thoughtfully.  For the first time perhaps the awful
solemnity of the drama in which he was about to play his part came home
to him in all its overwhelming power.

"Yes, dad," he said deeply.  "Only I reck'n it took some rolling."

The old man gripped and kneaded the hand in his just as Ruth would do
in moments of stress.

"True, Boy-lad," he answered.  "But it had to be rolled away before the
Lord could rise."

Ernie assented.

Hand-in-hand they sat together for some while.  Then Ernie rose to go.
In the silence and dusk father and son stood together on the very spot
where fourteen years before they had said good-bye on Ernie's departure
for the Army.  The Edward Caspar of those days was old now; and the boy
of that date a matured man, scarred already by the wars of Time.

"It won't be easy rolling back the stone, Boy-lad," said the old man.
"But they that are for us are more than they that are against us."

It was not often that Ernie misunderstood his father; but he did now.

"Yes," he said.  "And they say the Italians are coming in too."

"The whole world must come in," replied the other, his cheeks rosying
faintly with an enthusiasm which made him tremble.  "And we must all
push together."  He made a motion with his hand--"English and Germans,
Russians and Austrians, and roll it back, back, back! and topple it
over into the abyss.  And then the Dawn will break on the risen Lord."

Ernie went out into the passage.  His mother in the kitchen was waiting
for him.  She looked almost forlorn, he noticed.

"Give me a kiss, Ern," she pleaded in sullen voice that quavered a
little.  "Don't let's part un-friends just now--you and me--After all,
you're my first."

Ernie's eyes filled.  He took her in his arms, this withered old woman,
patted her on the back, kissed her white hair, her tired eyelids.

"There!" he said.  "I should knaw you arter all these years, Mum.
Always making yourself twice the terror you are--and not meaning it."



CHAPTER XXXIII

BEAU-NEZ

He returned to the Moot to find little Alice crying in the door.  A
pathetic little shrimp of a creature she looked, huddled against the
door-post, her face hidden, her shoulders quivering, her back to the
hostile world.  Some children who had been mocking her drew away on
Ernie's approach.

"What's up, Lal?" he asked tenderly, bending over her.

She would not look up.

"It's nothing, daddy," she sobbed and crept away up the street, like a
wounded animal.

Ernie went in.  Ruth was sitting alone in the kitchen forlorn and
wistful as he had never known her.  It was clear to him that the
sorrow, whatever it might be, was shared by mother and daughter.  He
watched her quietly for a minute; then came to her.

"What is it, mother?" he asked with unusual gentleness.

His tone touched the spring of tears in her heart.  She bit her lip.

"Its Alf," she said with gasps.  "He's been settin em on to her
again...  He's spiteful because the war's spoilt his Syndicate...  So
he takes it out of her...  They've been tormenting her...  Only she
wouldn't tell you because she wanted your last day to be happy."

Ern went out, found little Alice once again in the door, her pinafore
still to her eyes, took her up in his arms and put her in her mother's
lap.

"Love one another," he said huskily.  "And don't forget me."

Then he went out again, burning his battle-flare.

In half an hour he was back with Joe Burt.

There was a strange hushed dignity about him as he entered the kitchen.
He might have been a priest about to conduct a ceremony at the altar of
the Most High.  Joe lagged behind sullen and with downward eyes,
twisting his cap.  Somehow he looked strangely common beside his
friend.  Ruth, as she rose to meet the two men, was profoundly
conscious of the contrast between them.

"Joe," said Ernie, still and solemn, "I bequeath Ruth to you..."

In a flash the woman seized the situation.

"--to have and to hold," she murmured quietly, her head down to stifle
sobs and laughter.

Ernie with that love of ritual which characterises his class continued
with the smile-less intensity of a child.

"Yes, to have and to hold ... her and her children ... for me ... till
I return."

Joe was obviously staggered.  His eyes roved the floor; his head weaved
to and fro.

"Here, I didn't bargain for this," he muttered.

Ruth thrust out her hand almost sternly, as though to silence him.  He
took it grudgingly, and then Ern's.

"A suppose A'll do ma best," he said, and slouched out hasty as a
schoolboy escaping from the schoolroom.

When he was gone Ruth laid both hands on Ernie's shoulders and looked
at him her eyes dazzled with laughter and tears.

"You should never ha done it, Ern!" she said.  "Never!"

"There was nothing for it only that," Ern answered sturdily.  "It's a
world of wolves.  Somebody must see to you while I'm away."

She withdrew her hands and stood before him, defenceless now, humble,
beautiful, appealing.

"Ern," she said with a little sob, "will you take me up along to the
Ambush--our last night and all?"

He looked at her steadily.  Then he caught her hand.

"All right, old lass," he said.

They had not visited their couching-place that summer and the romance
of old and intimate association was on them both now as they came to
the tryst in the scented dusk.  The gorse, unpruned, had grown over the
track that led to the heart of the covert.  Ernie forced his way
through, Ruth following him, anchored jealously to his hand.  Behind
her the bushes closed, blocking the way; and she was glad.  Her eyes
were on the shoulders of her man, wistful still but triumphant; and she
found herself smiling secretly as she marked how bride-like she felt,
how warm and shy and tremulous.  In this great hour the tides of her
ebbing youth had returned with power and the desert bloomed afresh.
The world-catastrophe had wrought a miracle.  Spring had quickened the
stale summer air.  Here at the parched noon was a hint of dawn,
dew-drenched and lovely.

Waist-deep in the dark covert, the man and woman stood on the summit of
the hill, under the sky, the sea spread like a dulled shield beneath
them.

It was already nine o'clock; a perfect evening of that
never-to-be-forgotten August.  The sun had long gone down behind the
Seven Sisters.  In Paradise a nightjar was thrumming harshly.  Below in
the coombe the lights of Undercliff began to twinkle.  On the Head
Brangwyn-like figures were moving heavily.  A night-shift was working
there behind windy flares, screened by tarpaulins from enemy eyes at
sea.  Ernie knew what they were doing.

"They're building a battery to protect the new wireless station against
aircraft attack," he told Ruth.  "That dark thing in the road's a
fire-engine to dowse the flares if a night attack's made."

Then above the noise of the navvies busy with pick and shovel, and the
pleasant gargle of the night-jar, blended another sound.  A hollow
ominous rumbling like the voice of a great ghost laughing harshly in
his grave came rolling across the sea out of the darkness.

"Guns," said Ernie.  "They're at it in the Bight."

Ruth drew closer and took his arm.  One finger was to her lips.  She
was a little bit afraid.  He felt it, and pressed her arm.

From the distance, muffled by the shoulder of the hill, came the
hammer-hammer that would endure all night of the emergency gangs,
rushed down in special trains from the North, to run up a huge camp in
the great coombe at the end of Rectory Walk where of old lambs had
often roused Ernie as a lad on bleak March mornings by their forlorn
music of spirits exiled and crying for home.

He stood and looked and listened.

"Who'd ever ha beleft it'd ha come to this when we first lay out here
six years ago?" he mused.

"Or now for that matter," answered Ruth, her voice deep and hushed as
the evening.  "All so good and quiet as it looks."

She pulled him down into the darkness of the covert.

"D'is safer here, I reck'n," she said, and nuzzled up against him.

Ernie peeped though the gorse at the lights flickering on the Head.

"They ca-a-n't see us here," he said.

"And a good job, too, I reck'n," answered Ruth sedately, fingering her
hair.

Ernie chuckled.

"Listen!" he said.

They sat close in their ambush, walled about with prickly darkness,
roofed in by the living night.

Beneath them the sea came and went, rose and fell, rhythmical and
somnolent, as it had done in the days when badger and wolf and bear
roamed the hill, with none to contest their sovereignty but the hoary
old sea-eagle from the cliffs; as it might still do when man had long
passed away.  Sounds ancient almost as the earth on which they lay,
which had lulled them and millions of their forefathers to sleep, were
crossed by others, new, man-made, discordant.

Down the road at the back of the covert, not a hundred yards away, came
a sudden bustling phut-phut-phut.

"Despatch-rider," said Ernie, peering.  "Light out and all.  Rushin it
to Birling Gap.  There's a company of Territorials there, diggin
emselves in behind barbed wire to guard the deep-sea cables."

"The Boy-Scouts were layin out all day on the road to Friston, Mr.
Chislehurst told me," remarked Ruth.  "They took the number of every
motor and motor-bike on the road to Newhaven."

She unloosed her hair that fell about her like a torrent of darkness.

A huge beetle twanged by above them; and then in the covert close at
hand there was a snuffling and grunting, so loud, so close, so
portentous that Ruth, creature of the earth though she was, was
startled and paused in her undoing.

"What-ever's that?" she asked, laying a hand on Ernie.

"Hedge-pig, I allow."

"Sounds like it might be a wild boar routin and snoutin and carryin
on," she laughed.

Ruth reclined on the bed of sand.  The calm blessedness of night
embraced her; and the stars lay on her face.  She lifted her lips to
them, seeming to draw them down with each breath, and blow them away
again, babe-like.  A dreamy amazement still possessed her.

"Who'd ever ha beleft it?" she said quietly.

Then she turned her face to him and laughed.

"Ernie!" she called.

"Whose are you now?" he said fiercely in her ear.

She chuckled and gathered him to her bosom.

He sighed his content.

"That's better," he murmured.  "Now, never no more of it!"

A great mate, Ruth was a still greater mother; and this living, pulsing
creature in her arms was her child, her first-born cub.

In the stress and conflict of the last few years necessity had
compelled her to discard the royal indolence that was her natural
habit.  The lioness in her, roused by conflict, had made her fierce and
formidable in any battle.  Six months ago she had fought Ernie--because
he was weak; now she would shield him--because he was strong.

Jealously she pressed him to her.

"They shan't get you, my lad," she said between her teeth.  "I'll see
to that."

"I'm not afraid o them," answered Ernie drowsily.  "I knaw the Germans.
All you got to do is to say Shoo!--and goo with your arms and they're
off like rabbits from the garden."

She thrust his head back till she saw it as a dim blob against the
shining night; and looked up into his eyes, her own so close to his, so
deep, so dear.

"You're my soldier," she murmured in his ear.  "I always knew you was."

Then she drew his face down to hers, till their lips met.

"I got something to tell you, Ern."

Now she leaned over him.  The moon shone on the smooth sweep of her
shoulders, rounded and luminous.

"I only deceived you the once, Ern," she whispered, her voice murmuring
like a stream that issued from the slowly-heaving ocean of her chest.
"Afore we were married.  He ne'er wrote me ne'er a letter."

"I knew that then," muttered Ernie, sleepily, his head beside her own.

"It was Madame," Ruth continued.  "She come over in a car and told the
tale."

Her confession made she waited; but in a moment his breathing told her
that he had fallen off to sleep.

She stroked him rhythmically, just as she would her children when they
were tired.

He was going back to the regiment--to Captain Royal--to the Unknown.
She was not afraid for him--nor for herself--nor for the children.  An
immense peace had fallen on her.

Then all about her a murmur as of wings grew.  There was a whispering
patter as of rain upon the turf that ringed the covert; but no rain
fell.  Through the patter came the tinkle of a bell.  An immense flock
of sheep was rippling dimly like a flood over the parched turf to the
dew-pond by the old wall on the brow.  The whisper grew louder, as
though the rain had turned to hail.  The flock was crossing the road.
Then there was almost a silence, and in the silence the leader
ba-a-a-d.  The flock had reached the waters of refreshing.

Ruth slept, strangely comforted.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE STATION

Next day Ernie was to join up.

After dinner he kissed Susie and Jenny, gave them each a penny, and
despatched them to play.  Hand in hand they stamped away to Motcombe
Garden with clacking heels, roguish backward glances and merry tongues.

Then he asked Ruth to go into the backyard.  Left alone with Alice he
lifted her on to the kitchen-table, took her hands in his, and looked
gravely into her eyes.

"I trust you to look after mother and the little ones when I'm gone,
Lal," he said.

The little maid, swift and sympathetic as her mother, nodded at him,
nibbling her handkerchief, her heart too full for words.  Then she
raised her crumpled face, that at the moment was so like her mother's,
for a last kiss, and as she wreathed her arms round his neck she
whispered,

"You are my daddy, aren't you, daddy?"

"Of course I am," he murmured, and lifted her down.

She ran away swiftly, not trusting herself to look back.

A moment later Ruth entered the kitchen, slowly and with downcast eyes.
He was standing before the fire, awaiting her.

"Ruth," he said quietly.  "I've tried to do well by your child; I'll
ask you to do the same by mine."

She came to him and hung about his neck, riven with sobs, her head on
his shoulder.

"O Ern!" she cried.  "And is that your last word to me?"

She lifted anguished eyes to him and clung to him.

"I love them all just the same, only we been through so much together,
she and me.  That's where it is."

His arms were about her and he was stroking her.

"I knaw that then," he said, husky himself.

"See, they got you and each other and all the world," Ruth continued.
"Little Alice got nobody only her mother."

"And me," said Ernie.

She steadied and drew her hand across rain-blurred eyes.

"Ern," she said, deeply.  "I do thank you for all your lovin kindness
to that child.  I've never forgot that all through--whatever it seemed."

"She's mine just as well as yours," he answered, smiling and uncertain.
"Always has been.  Always will be."

She pressed her lips on his with a passion that amazed him.

Then he took the boy from the cot and rocked him.  The tears poured
down his face.  This, then, was War!--All his light-heartedness, his
detachment, had gone.  He was a husband and a father torn brutally away
from the warmth and tenderness of the home that was so dear to him, to
be tossed into the arena among wild beasts who not long since had been
men just like himself, and would be men still but for the evil power of
their masters to do by them as his masters had done by him.  Then he
put the child back and turned to say good-bye to Ruth.

The passionate wife of a few minutes since had changed now into the
mother parting from her schoolboy.  She took him to her heart and
hugged him.

"You'll be back before you know," she told him, cooing, comforting,
laughing through her tears.  "They all say it'll be over soon, whatever
else.  A great war like this ca'an't go on.  Too much of it, like."

"Please God, so," said Ernie.  "It's going to be the beginning of a new
life for me--for you--for all of us, as Joe says....  God keep you till
we meet again."

Then he walked swiftly down the street with swimming eyes.

The neighbours, who were all fond of Ern, stood in their doors and
watched him solemnly.

He was going into _IT_.

Like as not they would never see him again.

Many of the women had handkerchieves to their lips, as they watched,
and over the handkerchieves their eyes showed awed.  Some turned away,
hands to their hearts.  Others munched their aprons and wept.  A
mysterious rumour in the deeps of them warned them of the horror that
had him and them and the world in its grip.

They could not understand, but they could feel.

And this working man with the uncertain mouth and blurred eyes--this
man whose walk, whose speech, whose coal-grimed face, and the smell
even of his tarry clothes, was so familiar to them--was the symbol of
it all.

A big navvy came sheepishly out of the last house in the row and
stopped him.  It was the man who had insulted Ernie in the _Star_ six
months before.

"I ask your pardon, Ern," he said.  "I didn't mean what I said."

Ern shook hands.  Years before the two had been at school together
under Mr. Pigott.

"It wasn't you, Reube," he said.  "I knaw who spread the dung you
rolled in."

"I shan't be caught again," replied the other.  "That's a sure thing."

Ern jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

"Keep an eye to her!" he whispered.

"You may lay to it," the big man answered.

At the corner a young girl of perhaps fifteen ran out suddenly, flung
herself into his arms, kissed him, with blind face lifted to the sky,
and was gone again.

At the bottom of Borough Lane a troop of Boy-Scouts in slouch hats,
knickers, and with staves, drawn up in order, saluted.  A tiny boy in
his mother's arms blew him shy kisses.  Just outside the yard of the
Transport Company his mates, who had been waiting him, came out and
shook him by the hand.  Most were very quiet.  As he passed on the man
among them he disliked most called for three cheers.  A ragged noise
was raised behind him.


At the _Star_ corner a beery patriot, wearing the South African medals,
mug to his lips, hailed him.

"Gor bless the Hammer-men!" he cried.  "Gor bless the old ridgiment!"
and tried to lure Ernie into the familiar bar-parlour.

"Not me, thank ye!" cried Ernie stoutly.  "This ain't a beano, my boy!
This is War!"

As he rounded the corner he glanced up at the sturdy old church with
its tiny extinguisher spire, standing on the Kneb behind him,
four-square to the centuries, the symbol of the rough and ready England
which at that moment was passing away, with its glories and its shames,
into the limbo of history.


At the station all that was most representative in Beachbourne had
gathered to see the reservists off.

The Mayor was there in his chain of office; the Church Militant in the
person of the Archdeacon; Mr. Glynde, the senior member for
Beachbourne, middle-aged, swarthy, his hair already white, making a
marked contrast to his junior colleague, the fair-haired young giant,
talking to the Archdeacon.

The old gentleman looked ghastly; his face colourless save for the
shadows of death which emphasised his pallor.  Then he saw Bobby
Chislehurst busy among the departing soldiers, and beckoned him
austerely.

"I thought you were a pacifist, Chislehurst!" he said, his smile more
kindly and less histrionic than usual.

"So I am, sir," answered Bobby, brightly.  "But there are several of
our men from the Moot going off.  It's not their fault they've got to
go, poor beggars!"

"Their _fault_!" cried the Archdeacon.  "It's their privilege."  He
added less harshly, "We must all stand by the country now, Chislehurst."

"Yes, sir," said Bobby.  "I shan't give the show away," and he bustled
off.

Then the Colonel stalked up.

"Well, Archdeacon, what d'you make of it all?" he asked, curious as a
child to gather impressions.

The Archdeacon drew himself up.

"Just retribution," he answered in voice that seemed to march.  "If a
nation will go a-whoring after false gods in the wilderness what can
you expect?  Gahd does not forget."

The Colonel listened blankly, his long neck elongated like a questing
schoolboy.

"What you mean?" he asked.

"Welsh Disestablishment Bill," the other answered curtly.

Mr. Trupp now entered the station, and the Colonel, who though quiet
outwardly, was in a condition of intense spiritual exaltation that made
him restless as dough in which the yeast is working, joined his pal.
He had cause for his emotion.  The Cabinet had stood.  The country had
closed its ranks in a way that was little short of a miracle.  All men
of all parties had rallied to the flag.  In Dublin the Irish mob which
had provoked the King's Own Scottish Borderers to bloody retaliation,
had turned out and cheered the battalion as it marched down to the
transports for embarkation.

"Well, we're roused at last," said the Colonel, as he looked round on
that humming scene.

"Yes," answered Mr. Trupp.  "It's taken a bash in the face to do it
though."

"Should be interesting," commented the Colonel, hiding his emotion
behind an air of detachment.  "An undisciplined horde of men who
believe themselves to be free against a disciplined mass of slaves."

Just then Mr. Pigott approached.  The old Nonconformist had about him
the air of a boy coming up to the desk to take his punishment.  He was
at once austere and chastened.

"Well, Colonel," he said.  "You were right."

The Colonel took the other's hand warmly.

"Not a bit of it!" he cried.  "That's the one blessed thing about the
whole situation.  _We've all been wrong_.  I believed in the German
menace--till a month or two ago.  And then...."

"That's it," said Mr. Trupp.  "We must all swing together, and a good
job too.  If there's any hanging done Carson and Bonar Law, Asquith and
Haldane, Ramsay Macdonald and Snowden ought to grace the same gallows
seems to me.  And when we've hanged our leaders for letting us in we
must hang ourselves for allowing them to let us in."

The old surgeon had turned an awkward corner with the gruff tact
peculiar to him; and Mr. Pigott at least was grateful to him.

"You've heard Carson's committed suicide?" he said.  "Shot himself this
morning on St. Stephen's Green."

"Not a bit of it," replied the Colonel.  "He's far too busy holding up
recruiting in Ulster while he haggles for his terms, to do anything so
patriotic."

"Besides why should he?" interposed a harsh and jeering voice.
"Treason's all right if you're rich and powerful.  Jim Larkin got six
months a year ago for sedition and inciting to violence.  What'll these
chaps get for provoking the greatest war that ever was or will be?
I'll tell ye, _Fat jobs_.  Where'll they be at the end of the war?
under the sod alongside the millions of innocent men who've had to pay
the price of their mistakes?  No fear!  They'll be boolgin money, oozin
smiles, fat with power, and big-bellied wi feedin on the carcases of
better men."

It was Joe Burt who had come up with Mr. Geddes.

The Colonel, giving his shoulder to the engineer, turned to the tall
minister, who was stiff, a little self-conscious, and very grave.

Possessed of a far deeper mind than Mr. Pigott, Mr. Geddes was still
haunted by doubts.  Were we wholly in the right?

The Colonel, intuitive as a girl, recognised the other's distress, and
guessed the cause of it.

"Well, Mr. Geddes," he said gently.  "Evil has triumphed for the moment
at least."

"Yes," replied the other.  "Liebknecht's shot, they say."

"All honour to him!" said the Colonel.  "He was the one man of the lot
who stood to his guns when the pinch came.  All the rest of the Social
Democrats stampeded at the first shot."

Joe Burt edged up again.  Like Mr. Pigott he had made his decision
irrevocably and far sooner than the old Nonconformist; but there was a
vengeful background still to his thoughts.  He refused to forget.

"I hear the Generals are in uproarious spirits," he said.

"One of them," answered the Colonel quietly.

"They won't pay the price," continued Joe.  "They'll make--trust them.
_There's_ the man they'll leave to take the punishment they've brought
on the coontry."  He nodded to Ernie who was busy with some mates
extracting chocolates from a penny-in-the-slot-machine.

The Colonel's eye glittered.  He had spied Stanley Bessemere doing,
indeed over-doing, the hearty amongst the men by the barrier.

"After all it's nothing to what we owe our friend there and the
politicians," he said brightly, and made towards his victim, with an
almost mincing motion.

Since the declaration of war his solitary relief from intolerable
anxieties had been baiting the junior member for the Borough.  He left
him no peace, hanging like a gadfly on his flank.  At the club, in the
street, on committees at the Town-hall there rose up to haunt the young
man this inexorable spectre with the death's head, the courteous voice,
and the glittering smile.

"Ah, Bessemere!" he said gently.  "Here still!--I heard you had
enlisted, you and Smith."

The other broke away and, seeing Ernie close by, shook hands with him.
The move was unfortunately countered by Joe Burt.

"You've shook 'ands with Mr. Caspar five times since I've been here,"
he remarked tartly.  "Can't you give somebody else a turn now?"

Just then, mercifully, Mr. Trupp rolled up, coughing.

Summer or winter made no difference to the great man's cold, which was
always with him, and lovingly cherished; but he liked to mark the
change between the two seasons by exchanging the long woollen muffler
of winter for a silken wrapper in which he swaddled his neck in the
summer months.

"Good luck, Ernie," he said in his brief way, his eyes shrewd and sweet
behind his pince-nez.

"Keep an eye to Ruth, won't you, sir?" said Ernie in his most
confidential manner.

"We'll do our best," replied the other hoarsely.  "Here's Mr. Pigott.
Quite a jingo these days."

"Who isn't?" the old school-master answered with an attempt at the
familiar truculence.  "Well, you look like it, Ern."  He added almost
with admiration.  "Quite a changed man."


Then the Colonel joined the little group.

"Coming along sir?" asked Ernie keenly.

"No luck," replied the other gloomily.  "Too old at sixty...  What
about that brother of yours?"

Ern's face darkened.

"Ah, I ain't seen him," he said.

"There he is by the bookstall," muttered Mr. Pigott.  "Envying the men
who are going to fight his battles!  I know him."

Alf, indeed, who had clearly recovered from the first shock of war, was
very much to the fore, modest, fervent, the unassuming patriot.  Now he
approached his brother with a mixture of wariness and manly frankness.

"Will you shake 'ands, Ernest?" he asked.

"I will _not_," said Ern.  "It was you who done the dirty on our Lal."

"Never!" cried Alf and came a step closer.  "I'll tell you who it
were."  He nodded stealthily in the direction of Joe.  "That's the chap
that's out to spoil your home.  Wrecker I call him.  I tell you what,
Ern," he whispered.  "I'll watch out against him for you while you are
away so you don't suffer."

"I thank you," said Ern, unmoved.

Just then Joe came up, took him by the arm, and bustled him off to the
departure platform.

"You'll be late else, ma lad," said the engineer.



CHAPTER XXXV

IN THE EVENING

The Archdeacon and his sidesman walked back to Old Town from the
station together.

Mr. Trupp and Mr. Pigott followed behind.

"The Archdeacon lags a bit," said the former.

"Yes," answered the other.  "And I don't wonder.  This war'll be the
end of him yet.  You heard about last night?"

The veteran had sallied out at midnight with an electric torch and the
Reverend Spink to deal with spies who had been signalling from the top
of the Downs.

Unhappily the stalker had himself been stalked by another patriot bent
on the same errand.  The two old gentlemen had arrested each other by
the dew-pond on Warren Hill; and report had it that words and worse had
passed between the two.  In the small hours of the morning Anne Caspar,
hearing voices, had risen and seen from her window the Archdeacon
stalking down the road, dusty, draggled, his curate trotting with
sullen barks at the heels of his chief.  The Archdeacon had no
prisoner, but he had lumbago, a scratch or two, and an indignant sense
that his curate had proved both disloyal and inefficient.  The two had
parted at the Rectory gate wrathfully, the Reverend Spink offering his
resignation.

Opposite his garage in the Golfs, Alf now said goodbye to his Rector,
and crossed the road with an almost aggressively sprightly air.  Mr.
Trupp noticed it.

"What about him and his Touring Syndicate?" he asked.

"He's all right," answered Mr. Pigott.  "Trust him for that.  Artful
isn't in it with Alf.  Called his drivers together on the declaration
of war, and made em a speech.  Said he knew where they wanted to
be--where he wanted to be himself: in the fighting line.  He'd be the
last to stand between them and their duty.  He wouldn't keep them to
their contract.  The Motor Transport was crying for them--five bob a
day and glory galore.  All he could do was to say God bless you and
wish he could go himself--only his responsibilities...."

Mr. Trupp grinned.

"Did they swallow it down?" he asked.

"Like best butter," said Mr. Pigott.  "He's got the tongue.  He twisted
em.  Parliament's the place for Alf."

"Ah!" committed the other.  "We're only beginning.  This war'll find us
all out too before we're through." ...

Alf turned into his yard.

A little group of broken down old men were waiting him there.

"Who are you?" he asked fiercely.  "What you want?"

"We've come on behalf of the cleaners, sir," said the spokesman, in the
uncertain voice of the half-starved.  "What about us?--The Army don't
want us."

The group tittered a feeble deprecatory titter.

"H'every man for himself in these days!" cried Alf, brief and brisk.
"I'm not the Charity Organisation Society."

The old man, a-quaver in voice and body, doddered forward, touching his
hat.  Undersized and shrunken through starvation during infancy, and
brutal usage throughout his growing years, he was an example of the
great principle we Christians have enforced and maintained throughout
the centuries: that the world's hardest work should be done by the
weakest.  Tip, as he was called, had been a coal-porter till at
fifty-five he dislocated his shoulder shifting loads too heavy for him.
Thereafter he was partially disabled, a casualty of the Industrial War,
and to be treated as such.

"Would you give us a week's money or notice, sir?" he said now in his
shaking voice.

"Did I take you on by the week?" asked Alf ferociously.

"No, sir; by the day."

"Then what ye talking about?--Ain't I paid you up?"

"You paid us up, sir.  Only we got to live."

"Very well then.  There's the House at the top of the hill for such as
you.  Ain't that good enough?  This is a Christian country, this is."

Alf was half-way up the steps to his office, and he pointed in the
direction of the Work-house.

A curious tawny glow lit the old man's eyes.  His lips closed over his
gums.

"Bloody Bastille," he muttered.

Alf heard him and ran down the steps.  He was still with the stillness
of the born bully.

"None of that now," he said quietly.  "No filthy language in my yard!
And no loiterin eether!--Off you go or I send for the police.  The
country's got something better to think of than you and your likes, I
reckon, just now."

He stood in the gate of the yard with the cold domineering air of the
warder in charge of convicts.

The cleaners shambled away like a herd of mangy donkeys past work and
turned out on waste land to die at their leisure.

They were broken men all, old and infirm, drawn from the dregs of that
Reserve of Labour on which the capitalist system has been built.  They
belonged to no Union; they were incapable of organisation and therefore
of defence against the predatory class ...

"We got no bloody country, men like us ain't."

"Nor no bloody Christ."

"The rich got Him too."

"Same as they got everythink else" ...

The last of them gone, Alf skipped up the steps into his office.  He
was not afraid of them, was not even depressed by their uncalled-for
consideration of themselves.

Indeed he was extraordinarily uplifted.

His great scheme had, it is true, been brought low--through no omission
on his part; but he had got out with a squeeze after a dreadful period
of panic fury, and now experienced the lyrical exhilaration of the man
who has escaped by his own exertions from sudden unexpected death.

He had unloaded his drivers on the Army; and sold his buses to the
Government.  The only big creditor was Captain Royal, and Alf could
afford to laugh at him.  Besides Captain Royal would be off to the
war--and might not come back.  Moreover, unless he was much mistaken,
the war meant all manner of chances of which the man with his eyes open
would take full advantage: world convulsions always did.

Meanwhile he had the garages on which he could rebuild his original
edifice at any moment, add to it, alter it as opportunity offered.  The
war would not last for ever; but it would un-make businesses and devour
men--some of them his rivals.  While they were away at the Front he
would be quietly, ceaselessly strengthening his position at home.  And
when peace came, as it must some day, he would be ready to reap where
he had sown in enterprise and industry.

On his way up to Old Town that evening he met the Reverend Spink and
asked him how long the Franco-Prussian war had lasted.

The curate still had the ruffled and resentful air of a fighting
cockerel who has a grievance against the referee.  Lady Augusta,
indeed, had passed a busy morning smoothing his plumage and inducing
him to withdraw his resignation.  His meeting with Alf served as
further balm to his wounded spirit; for above all else the Reverend
Spink loved to be appealed to as a scholar.

Now he answered Alf with a learned frown,

"Six months.  It began at the same date as this.  They were in Paris by
January."

"As long as that!" said Alf surprised.  "Looks as if they'd be quicker
this time!"

A thought struck him.  He turned down Borough Lane, and went to call on
Ruth.

She was at home, alone in the kitchen, her babes in bed.  He did not
enter, but stood in the door awhile before she was aware of him,
watching her with sugary and secretive smile.

Then he chirped.

She looked up, saw him; and the light faded out of her face.

"So Ern's gone to the wars," he said.  "You'll be a bit lonely like o
nights, the evenings drawing in and all.  Say, I might drop in on you
when I got the time.  I'm not so busy, as I was.  Likely I'll be goin
back to drive for Mr. Trupp now."

She rose, formidable as a lioness at bay in the mouth of her cave.

"Out of it!" she ordered, and flung an imperious hand towards the door.

Alf fled incontinently.

A navvy, who had been watching him from a door opposite, shouldered
heavily across the street to meet him.  He was a very big man with a
very small head, dressed in corduroys; of the type you still meet in
the pages of Punch but seldom in real life.  His hands were deep in his
pockets, and he said quietly without so much as removing his pipe.

"Stow the bloody truck then!"

Alf paused, astonished.  Then he thought the other must have mistaken
his man in the dusk.

"Here! d'you know who you're talkin to?" he asked.

The navvy showed himself quite undisturbed.

"Oughter," he said, "seein you and me was dragg'd oop same school
togedder along o Mr. Pigott back yarnderr.  You're Alf Caspar, and I be
Reuben Deadman.  There's an old saying these paarts you may have
heard--_When there isn't a Deadman in Lewes Gaol you may knaw the end
o't world's at hand_.  I've not been in maself, not yet.  When I goos
I'll goo for to swing--for you--for old times sake; let alone the dirty
dish you done Old Tip and them this arternoon."

Alf walked up the hill, breathing heavily and with mottled face.

The bubble of his exaltation had burst.  He felt a curious sinking away
within him, as though he were walking on cold damp clouds which were
letting him through.

The war was changing things already, and not to his liking.

Three weeks ago who'd have talked to the Managing Director of Caspar's
Syndicate like that?

Brooding on his troubles, he ran into Joe Burt who was coming swiftly
round the corner of Borough Lane, brooding too.

Alf darted nimbly back.  Joe stood with lowered head, glaring at his
enemy.  Then he thought better of it and turned on his way.

Alf, standing in the middle of the road with jeering eyes, called after
him furtively.

"Want her all to yourself, don't you?"

Joe marched on unheeding to the cottage Alf had just left.

Ruth must have been awaiting him: for he entered at once without
knocking.



CHAPTER XXXVI

RUTH FACES THE STORM

That night as the Colonel sat on the loggia chewing his pipe, long
after Mrs. Lewknor had retired, he was aware of a pillar of blackness,
erect against the dull sea and star-lit sky, on the edge of the cliff,
at the very spot where he had seen it on the night of the declaration
of war.

Electric torch in hand, he stole out on the pair.  Oblivious of all
things save each other, they remained locked in each other's arms.  He
flashed the torch full in their faces.

"O, Joe!" came a familiar voice.

The Colonel was taken a-back.

"That you, Anne?" he muttered.

"Yes, sir," his parlour-maid answered.  "Me and my Joe.  He come up to
say goodbye.  Joining up to-morrow, he is."

The Colonel mumbled something about spies, and apologised.

"No harm done, sir," laughed Anne, quietly.  "It's nothing to some of
them.  Turn their search-light full glare on you just when you don't
want, and never a by-your-leave--same as they done war-night!  _If
that's war_, I says to Joe, _better ha done with it afore you begin_, I
says."

The Colonel retired indoors, doubly humiliated: he had made a fool of
himself before his own parlour-maid, and in his mind he had gravely
wronged Ruth Caspar.

Next day he started off for Old Town to find out if there was any way
by which he could make amends to his own conscience and, unknown to
her, to the woman he had maligned.

She met him with kind eyes, a little wistful.

"We're all friends now, sir," she said, as she shook hands.  "Got to
be, I reckon."

If it is true, as is said to-day, that old men make wars and young men
pay for them, it is also true that the mothers, wives, sisters, and
sweethearts of the young men bear their share of the burthen.

Ruth was left with four children and a debt.

She faced the situation as hundreds of thousands of women up and down
Europe in like case were doing at that moment--quiet, courageous,
uncomplaining as an animal under the blows that Life, the inexplicable,
rained upon her.  One thought constantly recurred to her.  In her first
tragedy she had stood alone against the world.  Now there were millions
undergoing the same experience.  And she derived from that thought
comfort denied to others.

There were no complications about her economic situation.

That at least was very simple.

She owed several weeks' rent, had debts outstanding to the tune of
several shillings--mostly boots for the children; and a little cash in
coppers in hand.

Two nights after Ernie's departure, Alf came round for his back-rent.
He came stealthily, Ruth noticed; and she knew why.  Public opinion in
the Moot, which might at any moment find explosive self-expression
through the fists of Reuben Deadman, was against him.  It was against
all landlords.  Ern moreover was still a hero in the eyes of the Moot
and would remain so for several days yet; and Ruth received the
consideration due to the wife of such.

Alf was dogged, with downcast eyes.  There was no nonsense, no
persiflage about him.  He went straight to the point.

"I come for my money," he said.

Ruth rallied him maliciously.

"Money!" she cried, feigning surprise.  "I thart it was accommodation
you was a'ter."

"And I mean to have it," Alf continued sullenly.

"Even a landlord's got to live these times.  I got to have it or you
got to go.  That's straight."

Ruth had her back to the wall.

"Ah, you must have that out with the Government," she said coolly.
"It's got nothing to do with me."

"Government!" cried Alf sharply.  "What's the Government got to do with
it."

"They're passin some law to protect the women and children of them
that's joined up," Ruth answered.

"Who said so?"

"The Colonel."

"Anyway it's not passed yet."

"No," retorted Ruth.  "So you'd best wait till it is.  Make you look a
bit funny like to turn me out, and put some one else in, and then have
to turn them out and put me back again, say in a fortnight, and all out
o your own pocket.  Not to talk o the bit of feeling, and them and me
taking damages off o you as like as not, I should say."

That evening Ruth went up to see Mr. Pigott.

The Manager said he would pay her half Ern's wages while the war
lasted; and he paid her the first instalment then and there.

"Will the Government do anything for the women and children sir?" she
asked.

Mr. Pigott shook his grizzled head.

As the years went by he had an always diminishing faith in the power
and will of Governments to right wrongs.

"The old chapel's the thing," he would say.

Ruth put the same question to Mr. Trupp whom she met on her way home to
the Moot.

"They will if they're made to," the doctor answered, and as he saw the
young woman's face fall, he added more sympathetically, "They're trying
to do something locally.  I don't know what'll come of it.  Keep in
touch with Mrs. Trupp.  She'll let you know.  I believe there's to be a
meeting at the Town Hall."

He rolled on, grumbling and grousing to himself.  Call ourselves a
civilised country, and leave the women and children to take their luck!
Chaos--as usual! ... Chaos backed and justified by cant! ... Would cant
organise Society? ... Would cant feed the women and children? ... Would
cant take the place of Scientific Method? ...

Ruth went home with her eleven shillings and sixpence and an aching
heart, to find that little Alice had already arranged her brood in
their bibs around the tea-table, and was only waiting for mother to
come and tilt the kettle which she might not touch.

The other fledgelings hammered noisily on the table with their spoons.

"My dears," she said, as she went round the table, kissing the rosy
faces uplifted to hers.

"What is it, Mum?" asked little Alice, who had something of her
mother's quick sympathy and power of intuition.  "Is daddy shotted at
the war?"

"Not yet, my pretty," her mother answered.  "It's only nothing you can
understand.  Now help me get the tea."

Next day brought a lawyer's letter giving her notice to quit.

That evening Ruth took the letter up to the Manor-house.

The maid told her Mr. and Mrs. Trupp had just started off to a meeting
at the Town Hall.

"Something to do with the women and children, I believe," she added.
"Prince o Wales's Fund or something."

Ruth turned down the steps disconsolate.

Just then she saw Joe Burt getting off the motor-bus opposite the
_Star_.  She had not seen him since he had come up on the evening of
Ern's departure to give her the latest news of her husband.  Now he
came striding towards her, blowing into her life with the vigour of
Kingsley's wild Nor'-easter.  At the moment the politician was on
top--she noted it with thankful heart.

"Coom on, ma lass!" he said.  "You're the very one I'm after.  We want
you.  We want em all.  You got to coom along o me to this meeting."

"But I aren't got my hat, Joe!" pleaded Ruth, amused yet deprecating.

The engineer would take no excuses.

"Your children are worth more'n your hat, I reck'n," he said.  "Coom
on!--Coom on!--No time to be lost!"

And in a moment she was walking briskly at his side down the hill up
which he had just come.

The strength, the resolution, the certainty of her companion swept all
her clouds away and renewed her faith.

She told him of the notice she had received.

"All the better," he said.  "Another trump for us to play.  Don't you
worrit.  The Labour Party in Parliament's disappointed all its
supporters so far, but it's going to justify itself at last.  One
thing.  They can't trample on us this time, the Fats canna.  We're too
well organised."

They walked down the hill together.

At the stile opposite the Drill Hall where six months before she had
rescued Ernie, drenched and dripping, from the police, they turned off
into Saffrons Croft in the direction of the Town Hall.

Joe, as he trod the grass beneath his feet, became sombre, silent.  The
woman sweeping along at his side, her shawl about her head, felt his
change of mood.  The Other was coming to the top again--the One she
feared.  She was right.  The Other it was who spoke surlily and
growling, out of his deeps, like the voice of a yard-dog from his
kennel.

"Well, what's it going to be?"

Her heart galloped but she met him gaily.

"What you mean, Joe?"

"You know what I mean," bearing down on her remorselessly.

She made a half halt.

"O Joe!"

"Aye, you may O Joe me!  That wunna better it."

"And after what you promised him solemn that night and all."

He answered moodily.

"He forced me to it.  Took advantage.  Shouldn't ha done it.  Springin
it on me without a word.  That's not the game."

Ruth turned on him.

"You're the one to talk, aren't you?" she said, flashing the corner of
an eye at him.  "Playing the game prarper, you are?"

He barged ahead, sullen as a bull and as obstinate.

"A don't know; and A don't care.  A know what A want and A know A'm
going to get it."

She met him light as a rapier thrust.

"I thart you was a man, Joe."

"Better'n a no-man anyway."

She stopped dead and faced him.

"Where's my no-man now then?" she cried.  "And where are you?"

That time she had planted her dart home.  He glared at her savage,
sullen, and with lowered head.

"Thou doesna say A'm a coward?"

Slowly she answered,

"I'm none so sure.--Ern's my soldier, Ern is."

He gripped her arm.

"I'll go home," she said, curt as the cut of a whip.

He relaxed.

"Nay," he answered.  "If we're to fight for your children yo mun help."

She threw off his arm with a gesture of easy dignity.  Then they walked
on again together down Saffrons Road towards the Town Hall.



CHAPTER XXXVII

MRS. LEWKNOR

The Town Hall was crowded.

The Mayor, who was in the chair, had spoken on behalf of the Prince of
Wales's Fund and announced that subscriptions would be received by the
Town Clerk.

Thereafter an indescribable orgie of patriotism had taken place.
Red-necked men outbid fat women.  The bids mounted; the bidders grew
fiercer; the cheers waxed.  And all the while a little group of Trade
Unionists at the back of the hall kept up a dismal chaunt--

  We don't want charity,
  We won't have charity.


Then a little dapper figure in the blue of a chauffeur rose in the body
of the hall.

"I'm only a workin chauffeur," he said, wagging his big head, "but I
got a conscience, and I got a country.  And I'm not ashamed of em
eether.  I can't do much bein only a worker as you might say.  But I
can do me bit.  Put me down for fifty guineas, please, Mr. Town-clerk."

He sat down modestly amidst loud applause.

"Who's that?" whispered the Colonel on the platform.

"Trupp's chauffeur," the Archdeacon, who had a black patch over his
eye, answered with a swagger--"my sidesman, Alfred Caspar.  Not so bad
for a working-man?"  He cackled hilariously.

Then a voice from Lancashire, resonant and jarring, came burring across
the hall.

"Mr. Chairman, are you aware that Alfred Caspar is turning his
sister-in-law out of his house with four children."

Alf leapt to his feet.

"It's a lie!" he cried.

A big young woman sitting just in front of Joe rose on subdued wings.
She was bare-headed, be-shawled, a dark Madonna of English village-life.

"Yes, you are, Alf," she said, and sat down quietly as she had risen.

There was a dramatic silence.  Then the Archdeacon started to his feet
and pointed with accusing claw like a witch-doctor smelling out a
victim.

"I know that woman!" he cawed raucously.

A lady sitting in the front row just under the platform rose.

"So do I," she said.

It was Mrs. Trupp, and her voice, still and pure, fell on the heated
air like a drop of delicious rain.

She sat down again.

The Archdeacon too had resumed his seat, very high and mighty; and
Bobby Chislehurst was whispering in his ear from behind.

The Colonel had risen now, calm and courteous as always, in the
suppressed excitement.

"Am I not right in thinking that Mrs. Caspar is the wife of an old
Hammer-man who joined up at once on the declaration of war and is at
this moment somewhere in France fighting our battles for us?"

The question was greeted with a storm of applause from the back of the
hall.

"Good old Colonel!" some one called.

"Mr. Chairman, d'you mean to accept that man's cheque?" shouted Joe.
"Yes or no?"

In the uproar that followed, Alf rose again, white and leering.

"I'd not have spoken if I'd known I was to be set upon like this afore
em all for offering a bit of help to me country.  As to my character
and that, I believe I'm pretty well beknown for a patriot in
Beachbourne."

"As to patriotism, old cock," called Joe, "didn't you sack your
cleaners without notice on the declaration of war?"

"No, I didn't then!" shouted Alf with the exaggerated ferocity of the
man who knows his only chance is to pose as righteously indignant.

The retort was greeted with a howl of _Tip_!  There was a movement at
the back of the hall; and suddenly an old man was lifted on the
shoulders of the Trade Unionists there.  Yellow, fang-less, creased, he
looked, poised on high above the crowd against the white background of
wall, something between a mummy and a monkey.  As always he wore no
tie; but he had donned a collar for the occasion, and this had sprung
open and made two dingy ass-like ears on either side of his head.

"Did he sack you, Tip?" called Joe.

"Yes, he did," came the quivering old voice.  "Turned us off at a day.
Told us to go to the Bastille; and said he'd put the police on us."

The tremulous old voice made people turn their heads.  They saw the
strange figure lifted above them.  Some tittered.  The ripple of
titters enraged the men at the back of the hall.

"See what you've made of him!" thundered Joe.  "And then jeer! ...
Shame!"

"Shame!" screamed a bitter man.  "Do the Fats know shame?"

"Some of em do," said a quiet voice.

It was true too.  Mrs. Trupp was looking pale and miserable in the
front-row, so was the Colonel on the platform, Bobby Chislehurst and
others.  The titterers, indeed, howled into silence by the storm of
indignation their action had aroused, wore themselves the accusing air
of those who hope thereby to fix the blame for their mistake on others.

In the silence a baggy old gentleman rose in the body of the hall,
slewed round with difficulty, and mooned above his spectacles at the
strange idol seated on men's shoulders behind him.

"_And He was lifted up_," he said in a musing voice more to himself
than to anybody else.

The phrase, audible to many, seemed to spread a silence about it as a
stone dropped in a calm pond creates an ever-broadening ripple.

In the silence old Tip slid gently to the ground and was lost once more
amid the crowd of those who had raised him for a brief moment into
fleeting eminence.

The meeting broke up.

Outside the hall stood Mr. Trupp's car, Alf at the wheel: for the old
surgeon's regular chauffeur had been called up.

Mrs. Trupp, coming down the steps, went up to Ruth who was standing on
the pavement.

"So glad you spoke up, Ruth," she said, and pressed her hand.

"Come on!" said Mr. Trupp.  "We'll give you a lift home, Ruth."

Alf was looking green.  The two women got in, and the old surgeon
followed them.  He was grinning, Mrs. Trupp quietly malicious, and Ruth
amused.  The people on the pavement and streaming out of the hall saw
and were caught by the humour of the situation, as their eyes and
comments showed.

Then Colonel Lewknor made his way to the car.

"Just a word, Mrs. Caspar!" he said.  "Things are squaring up.  Mrs.
Lewknor's taking the women and children in hand.  Could you come and
see her one morning at Under-cliff?"


The hostel that Mrs. Lewknor had built upon the cliff boomed from the
start.  It was full to over-flowing, winter and summer; and Eton was in
sight for Toby when war was declared.

Then things changed apace.

Beachbourne, for at least a thousand years before William the Norman
landed at Pevensey on his great adventure, had been looked on as the
likeliest spot for enemy invasion from the Continent.  Frenzied parents
therefore wired for their children to be sent inland at once; others
wrote charming letters cancelling rooms taken weeks before.  In ten
days the house was empty; and on the eleventh the mortgagee intimated
his intention to fore-close.

It was a staggering blow.

The Colonel, with that uncannie cat-like intuition of his she knew so
well, prowled in, looked at her with kind eyes, as she sat in her
little room the fatal letter in her hand, and went out again.

Throughout it had been her scheme, not his, her responsibility, her
success; and now it was her failure.

Then Mr. Trupp was shown in, looking most unmilitary in his uniform of
a Colonel of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

"It's all right," he said gruffly.  "I know.  Morgan and Evans rang me
up and told me.  Unprofessional perhaps, but these are funny times.  I
let you in.  You built the hostel at my request.  I shall take over the
mortgage."

"I couldn't let you," answered the little lady.

"You won't be asked," replied the other.  "I ought to have done it from
the start; but it wasn't very convenient then.  It's all right now."
The old man didn't say that the reason it was all right was because he
was quietly convinced in his own mind that his boy Joe would need no
provision now.

Just then the Colonel entered, looking self-conscious.  He seemed to
know all about it, as indeed he had every right to do, seeing that Mr.
Trupp had informed him at length on the telephone half an hour before.

"You know who the mortgagee is?" he asked.

"Who?" said both at once.

The Colonel on tiptoe led them out into the hall, and showed them
through a narrow window Alf sitting at his wheel, looking very funny.

"Our friend of the scene in the Town Hall yesterday," he whispered.
"When I went to the bank yesterday to insure the house against
bombardment, the clerk looked surprised and said--_You know it's
already insured_.  I said--_Who by_?  He turned up a ledger and showed
me the name."

Mr. Trupp got into his car, wrapping himself round with much
circumstance.

"To Morgan and Evans," he said to Alf.

In the solicitors' office he produced his cheque-book.

"I've been seeing Mrs. Lewknor," he said.  "I'll pay off your client
now and take over the mortgage myself."

He wrote a cheque then and there, and made it out to Alfred Caspar, who
was forthwith called in.

"I'm paying you off your mortgage, Alf," he said.  "Give me a receipt,
will you?"

Alf with the curious simplicity that often threw his cunning into
relief signed the receipt quite unabashed and with evident relief.

"See, I need the money, sir," he said gravely, as he wiped the pen on
his sleeve.  "The Syndicate's let me in--O, you wouldn't believe!  And
I got to meet me creditors somehow."

"Well, you've got the money now," answered Mr. Trupp.  "But I'm afraid
you've made an enemy.  And that seems to me a bit of a pity just now."

"Colonel Lewknor?" snorted Alf.  "I ain't afraid o him!"

"I don't know," said Mr. Trupp.  "It's the day of the soldier."

That evening, after the day's work, Alf was summoned to his employer's
study.

Mrs. Trupp was leaving it as he entered.

"I've been thinking things over, Alfred," said the old man.  "There's
no particular reason why you shouldn't drive for me for the present if
you like--until you're wanted out there.  But I shall want you to
destroy this."

He handed his chauffeur Ruth's notice to quit.

Alf tore the paper up without demur.

"That's all right, sir," he said cheerfully.  "That was a mistake.  I
understood the Army Service Corps was taking over my garage; and I
should want a roof over my head to sleep under."

He went back to his car.

Another moment, and the door of the Manor-house opened.  Ruth emerged
briskly and gave him a bright nod.

"Can't stop now, Alf," she said.  "I'm off to see Mrs. Lewknor.  See
you again later."

"That's right," Alf answered.  "She's on the committee for seeing to
the married women ain't she?--them and their _lawful_ children.
Reverend Spink's on it too."

He stressed the epithet faintly.

A moment Ruth looked him austerely in the eyes.  Then she turned up the
hill with a nod.  She understood.  There was danger a-foot again.


The matter of the hostel settled, Mrs. Lewknor, before everything an
Imperialist, and not of the too common platform kind, was free to
serve.  And she had not far to look for an opening.

The Mayor summoned a meeting in his parlour to consider the situation
of the families of soldiers called to the colours.

Mrs. Lewknor was by common consent appointed honorary secretary of the
Association formed; and was given by her committee a fairly free
discretion to meet the immediate situation.

Nearly sixty, but still active as a cat, she set to work with a will.

Her sitting room at Undercliff she turned into an office.  Her mornings
she gave to interviewing applicants and her afternoons to visiting.

Ruth Caspar was one of the first to apply.

The little slight Jewish lady with her immense experience of life
greeted the beautiful peasant woman who had never yet over-stepped the
boundaries of Sussex with a brilliant smile.

"There's not much I want to know about you," she said.  "We belong to
the same regiment.  Just one or two questions that I may fill up this
form."

How many children had Mrs. Caspar.

"Three, 'M ... and a fourth."

Mrs. Lewknor waited.

"Little Alice," continued Ruth, downcast and pale beneath her
swarthiness.  "Before I were married."

Mrs. Lewknor wrote on apparently unconcerned.

She knew all about little Alice, had seen her once, and had recognised
her at a glance as Royal's child, the child for which, with her
passionate love for the regiment, she felt herself in part responsible.
On the same occasion she had seen Ruth's other babies and their
grandfather with them--that troubadour who forty years before had swept
the harp of her life to sudden and elusive music.

"I think that'll be all right now, Ruth," she said with a re-assuring
look.  "I'm going to call you that now if I may.  I'll come round and
let you know directly I know myself."

Ruth retired with haunted eyes.  She guessed rather than knew the
forces that were gathering against her, and the strength of them.

Outside in the porch she met Lady Augusta with her mane of thick bobbed
white hair and rosy face; and on the cliff, as she walked home, other
ladies of the Committee and the Reverend Spink.

How hard they looked and how complacent! ...

Mrs. Lewknor put the case before her committee, telling them just as
much as she thought it good for them to know.

There was of course the inevitable trouble about little Alice.

"We don't even know for certain that she is the child of the man the
mother afterwards married," objected Lady Augusta Willcocks in her
worst manner.  "She mayn't be a soldier's child at all."

Mrs. Lewknor turned in her lips.

"Our business surely is to support the women and children while the men
are away fighting our battles," she said.

"Need we form ourselves into a private enquiry office?" asked Mrs.
Trupp quietly.

The old lady's eyes flashed.  Mrs. Trupp of course didn't care.  Mrs.
Trupp never went to church.  "Putting a premium on immorality!" she
cried with bitter laughter--"as usual."

"We must look a little into character surely, Mrs. Lewknor," said a
honied virgin from St. Michael's.

"I'll go bail for this woman's character," answered Mrs. Lewknor,
flashing in her turn.

"I believe she _is_ more respectable than she used to be," said a dull
spinster with a dogged eye.

"_Damn_ respectability," thought Mrs. Lewknor, but she said, "Are we to
deprive this child of bread in the name of respectability?  Whatever
else she is she's a child of the Empire."

Then the Reverend Spink spoke.  He and Lady Augusta Willcocks were
there to represent the point of view of the Church.

He spoke quietly, his eyes down, and lips compressed, mock-meekly aware
of the dramatic significance of his words.

"Perhaps I ought to tell the committee that the man this woman is now
living with is not her husband."

The silence that greeted this announcement was all that the reverend
gentleman could have desired.  It was only broken by the loud
triumphant cry of the Lady Augusta Willcocks.

"Then all _four_ children are illegitimate!"

"Oh, that _would_ be joyful!" cried Mrs. Lewknor with a little titter.

It was the great moment of the Reverend Spink's life.

"She married some yeahs ago," he continued, so well-pleased with the
cumulative effect of the impression he was making, as even to venture
an imitation of the Archdeacon's accent.  "And her husband is still
alive."

Mrs. Lewknor challenged swiftly.

"Where did she marry?" she asked, lest another question should be asked
first: for the honour of the regiment was involved.

"At the Registrar's Office, Lewes."

"When?"

"September 14th, 1906."

The man had his story pat enough to be sure.

"Who told you?" asked Mrs. Lewknor aggressively.

Mr. Spink pursed his lips.

"I have it on reliable information."

"I know your authority, I think," said Mrs. Trupp quietly.

"Did you check it?" asked Mrs. Lewknor.

"It was unnecessary," replied the curate insolently.  "I can trust my
authority.  But if you doubt me you can check it yourself."

"I shall of course," retorted the little lady.

Then the Chairman interposed.

"It looks like a case for the police," he said.

"Certainly," Lady Augusta rapped out.

"It's very serious," said the Chairman.

"For somebody," retorted Mrs. Lewknor.

By common consent the case was adjourned.

The Reverend Spink retired to Old Town.

The fierce hostility of Mrs. Lewknor, and the no less formidable
resistance of Mrs. Trupp, made the curate uneasy.

After dark he went round to Alf Caspar's garage.

"You're sure of your facts?" he asked.

"Dead cert," said Alf.  "Drove em there meself."

"And the date?"

"Marked it down at the time, sir....  I can show it you in me ledger.
Always make a note of me engagements.  You never know when it mayn't
come in handy."

He went down to his office, followed by the curate, and was proceeding
to take a bulky folio down from the shelf, when the telephone bell rang.

It was Mr. Trupp to say the car would be wanted at four to-morrow
afternoon.

"Is it a long run, sir?" asked Alf.

"No," came the answer.  "Lewes--Mrs. Trupp."

Alf determined to send a man and not drive himself.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

SUSPENSE

Ruth walked home across the golf links, at her heart the agony of the
beaten vixen who, crawling across a ploughed field still far from her
earth, glances round to see a white wave of hounds breaking over the
fence at her brush.

At Billing's Corner she nearly ran into her mother-in-law.

For the first time Anne paused deliberately to address her.

"That you, Mrs. Caspar?" she said, and looked away a sour smirk on her
face.  At the moment, beautiful old woman though she was, with her
porcelain complexion of a girl, her snow-white hair, and broad-splashed
dark brows, there was a suggestion of Alf about her--Ruth noticed it at
once and was afraid.

"They're puttin away all the chance children the mothers can't support
in there," the elder woman said casually, nodding at the blue roofs of
the old cavalry barracks at the back of Rectory Walk that was now the
Work-house.  "To save expense, I suppose--the war or something.  If you
didn't want yours to go I might take my son's children off your hands.
Then you could go out and char for her."

Ruth sickened.

"No, thank-you, Mrs. Caspar," she said.

Just then a nurse came by pushing a wicker spinal chair in which were a
host of red-cloaked babies packed tight as fledgelings in a nest.
Behind them trooped, two by two and with clattering heels, a score of
elder children from the Work-house, all in the same straw hats, the
same little capes.  Ruth glanced at them as she had often done before.
Those children, she remarked with ironic bitterness, were well-soaped,
wonderfully so, well-groomed, well-fed, with short hogged hair, and
stout boots; but she noted about them all, in spite of their apparent
material prosperity, the air of spiritual discontent which is the
hallmark, all the world over, of children who know nothing of a
mother's jealous and discriminating care.

"The not-wanteds," said Anne.  "They'll put yours along with them, I
suppose."

Ruth shook.  Then she lifted up her eyes and saw help coming.  Old Mr.
Caspar was bundling down the road towards her, crowding on all sail and
waving his umbrella as though to tell her that he had seen her mute
S.O.S.

Anne drew away.

"There's my husband," she said.

"Yes," answered Ruth, "that's dad," and walked away down Church Street,
trembling still but faintly relieved that she had planted her pin in
the heart of her enemy before disengaging.

She reached home and turned the key behind her.  That vague enemy,
named _They_, who haunts each one of us through life, was hard on her
heels.  She was in her earth at last; but _They_ could dig her out.
Before now she had seen them do it on Windhover, with halloos, the men
and women standing round with long-lashed cruel whips to prevent
escape.  She had seen them throw the wriggling vixen to the pack ...
and the worry ... and the huntsman standing amid a foam of leaping
hounds, screaming horribly and brandishing above his head a bloody rag
that a few minutes since had been a warm and breathing creature.
Horrible--but true ... That was the world.  She knew it of old; and
could almost have thanked that hard old woman with eyes the blue of
steel who had just reminded her of what _They_ and life were compact.

Then she noted there was silence in the house.

What if in her absence _They_ had kidnapped her child--little Alice,
born in agony of flesh and spirit, so different from those other
babies, the heirs of ease and security; little Alice, the child for
whom she had fought and suffered and endured alone.  It was her They
were after: Ruth never doubted that.  She had seen it in Lady Augusta's
eyes, as she passed her in the porch of the hostel; in the downward
glances of those other members of the committee she had met upon the
cliff; in the voice and bearing of her mother-in-law.

She rushed upstairs.

Alice, busiest of little mothers, had tucked the other three away in
bed a little before their time because she wanted to do it all alone
and without her mother's help.  Now she was turning down her own bed.
Her aim successfully achieved she was free to bestow on her mother a
happy smile.

Ruth swept her up in her arms, and bore her away into her own room,
devouring her with passionate eyes.

"You shall sleep along o me place o daddy," she said, and kissed her
hungrily.

"What about Susie and Jenny, mum?" asked the child.

"We'll leave the door open so we can hear," answered Ruth, remarking
even then the child's thoughtfulness.  "See, daddy wants you to take
care o mother."

Alice gave a quick nod of understanding.

Next morning Ruth refused to let her go to school with the others,
would not let her leave the house.

"You'll stay along with me," she said, fierce for once.

At eleven o'clock there came a knock.  Ruth hustled the child out into
the backyard, shoved her into the coal-shed, turned the key on her, and
locked the backdoor.  Then she went very quietly not to the front-door
but to the window, opening it a crack with the utmost stealth.
Kneeling she listened.  Whoever was at the door was very quiet, not a
man.  If it had been he would have spat by now, or sworn.

"Who is it?  she asked.

"Mrs. Lewknor," came the reply.

Ruth opened.  The little lady entered, and followed into the kitchen.

"Is it all right, 'M?" asked Ruth anxiously.

"It's going to be," replied the other, firm and confident.  "You've got
your marriage-certificate if we should want it?"

Ruth sighed her relief.

"O yes, 'M.  I got my lines all right.  They're in the tin box under
the bed."  She was running upstairs to fetch them when the other stayed
her.

"There's just one thing," said Mrs. Lewknor gravely.  "It would help
Mrs. Trupp and me very much, if you could give us some sort of idea
where you were on September 14th, 1906--if you can throw your mind back
all that great way."

"I was with _him_!" Ruth answered in a flash.  She was fighting for her
best-beloved: everything must be sacrificed to save her--even Royal.
"It was _the day_!" she panted.  "It were the first time ever I was in
a car--that's one why I remember: Alf drove us."

"D'you happen to remember at all where you went?" tentatively.

"All wheres," Ruth answered.  "Hailsham--Heathfield.  I hardly rithely
knaws the names.  We'd tea at Lewes--I remembers that."

Mrs. Lewknor raised her keen eyes.

"You don't remember where you had tea?"

Ruth shook her head, slowly.

"I can't justly remember where.  See Lewes is such a tarrabul great
city these days--nigh as big as Beachbourne, I reck'n.  It was over the
Registrar's for births and deaths and such like--I remember that along
o the plate at the door."

Mrs. Lewknor rose, her fine eyes sparkling.

"That's splendid, Ruth!" she said.  "All I wanted."

All that afternoon Ruth waited behind locked doors--she did not know
what for; she only knew that _They_ were prowling about watching their
chance.  She had drawn the curtains across the windows though the sun
was still high in the heaven, and sat in the darkness, longing for
Ernie as she never would have believed she could have longed for him.
Every now and then little Alice came in a tip-toe from the backyard to
visit her.  The child thought her mother had one of her rare
head-aches, and was solicitous accordingly.

About three o'clock Ruth crept upstairs and peeped through her window.
It was as she had thought.  Alf was there, strolling up and down the
pavement opposite, watching the house.  Then he saw her, half-hidden
though she was, crossed the street briskly and knocked.

She went down at once to give him battle.

He met her with his sly smile, insolently sure of himself.

"Police come yet?" he asked.

She banged the door in his face; and the bang brought her strange
relief.  With mocking knuckles he rapped on the window on to the street
as he withdrew.

After that nobody came but the children back from school.  Ruth packed
them off to bed early.  She wanted to be alone with little Alice.

In the kitchen she waited on in the dark.

Then she heard solid familiar feet tramping down the pavement towards
her cottage.  She knew whose feet they were, and knew their errand.
The hour of decision had come.  One way or the other it must be.

In the confusion and uncertainty only one thing was clear to her.
There was a way--and a price to be paid; if she took it.

Joe knocked.

Ruth slipped to her knees.  She did not pray consciously.  Kneeling on
the stone-slabs, her face uplifted in the darkness, her hands pale on
the Windsor chair before her, she opened wide the portals of her heart
to the voice of the Spirit, if such voice there were.

And there was.  It came to her from above in the silence and the dusk.
Ruth knew it so well, that still small voice with the gurgle in it.

It was Susie laughing in her sleep.



CHAPTER XXXIX

THE VALLEY OF DECISION

The answer she had sought had been given her.  Comforted and
strengthened she rose, went to the door and unlocked it.  Joe had
strolled a yard or two down the street.  She did not call him, but
retired to await him in the kitchen, leaving the door a-jar.

In a few minutes his feet approached slowly.  She heard him brush his
boots in the passage, and turn the key of the outer door behind him.
Then he entered.

An immense change had been wrought in him since last they had met.  The
bull-moose of Saffrons Croft had given place to a man, humbled, solemn,
quiet, the heir of ages of self-discipline and the amassed spiritual
treasure of a world-old civilisation.

He stood afar off, with downward eyes.  Then he held out both arms to
her.

"Ruth, A've come to claim thee--or say good-bye."

She gripped the mantelpiece but did not answer.  Her head was down, her
eyes closed.

"Then it's goodbye, Joe," she said in a voice so small that she hardly
recognised it herself.

He dropped his hands, darkening.

"And who'll keep thee and children now Ern's gone?"

A note of harshness had crept into his voice.

She murmured something about the Government.

He laughed at her hardly.

"The Government!  What's Government ever done for the workers?  _They_
make wars: the workers pay for em.  That law's old as the capitalist
system.  What did Government do for women and children time o South
Africa?--Left em to the mercy o God and the ruling class.  If your
children are to trust for bread to the Government, heaven help em!"

Ruth knew that it was true.  She remembered South Africa.  In those
days there had been a neighbour of theirs at Aldwoldston, the wife of a
ploughman, a woman with six children, whose husband had been called up.
Ruth had only been a girl then; but she remembered that woman, and that
woman's children, and her home, and that woman's face.

"There's the ladies," she said feebly.

Joe jeered.

"You know the ladies.  So do I.  Might as lief look for help to the
Church straight off."

"There's One Above."

"Aye, there's One Above.  And He stays there too and don't fash Himself
over them below--not over you and me and our class any road."

His tone that had been mocking became suddenly serious.

"Nay, there's nobbut one thing now atween you and them and Work-house."

She peeped, faintly inquisitive.

"What's that?"

"The arm of a Lancasheer lad."

There came into her eyes the tenderness tinged with irony of the woman
amused at the eternal egoism of the male.  He noted the change in her,
thought she had relaxed, and came in upon her, instantly, appealing
now--

"Coom and live with me, brother and sister, the lot of you ... A swear
to thee a wunna touch thee."

She laughed at him, low and tender.

"Never do, Joe--never!" shaking her head and swallowing.

"Why not then?"

"There's far over much nature in us--two valiant great chaps like you
and me be."

Then little Alice entered and went to Joe, who put a sheltering arm
about her.

"Her and me and you!" he said huskily to Ruth.  "Us three against the
world!  Laugh at em then!"

Ruth motioned to the child to go on up to bed.  She went; and the two
striving creatures were left alone once more.

"Ern bequeathed thee to me."

"Aye, but he didn't rithely knaw you, and he didn't rithely knaw me
eether."

He caught at the straw.

"Then you do loov me?"

She shook her head, and the tears from her long lashes starred her
cheek.

"Nay, Joe: Ern's my man--always was and always will be."

He stood before her, firm on his feet, and solid as a rock, his fists
clenched, his eyes on her, brilliant, dark, and kindly.  She felt the
thrill of him, his solidity, his sincerity, above all his strength, and
thrilled to him again.

"A'm the mon for thee," he said.

She did not answer.  In her ears was the roar of cataracts.

"Thoo dursena say me nay."

The words came from far off, from another world.  Wavering like a flame
in the wind, she heard but could make no reply.

"Thoo canna."

Then a voice spoke through her, a voice that was not hers, coming from
far away over waste seas, a voice she had never heard before and did
not recognise.

"I can--Lord Jesus helpin me."

At that the mists began to float away.  She saw more clearly now.  The
worst perhaps was over.

"You want a mon with a purpose in his life."

Ah, how well he knew her!

"A mon who knows what he wants to do and means to do it.--And you must
have it or dee.  The bairns arena enough for a woman like you."

He was putting forth the whole of his huge strength to overwhelm her:
she was aware of it and of her own weakness.

"A've got a purpose.  You can help me fulfill it--none else, only you.
Time was A thought A could go on alone.  You learnt me better.  A
canna.  God didna make mon that way--not _this_ mon any gate.  Mon
needs Woman for his work.  A need you."

Quietly she was gathering her forces.

"Ern's my man, Joe," she repeated.  "I need him; and none other."

Baffled for the moment, her assailant paused in his assault.

"And has Ern got a purpose in his life?"

"He has now."

"What's that then?"

"What you said at the Citadel that Sunday--the war, and what it stands
for."

"The war won't last for ever.  What when that's over?"

"He'll come back a made man."

He regarded her with a kind of sardonic pity.

"He'll never coom back--never."

She lifted her eyes to his, steadfast and tender.

"Hap he'll not, Joe.  If so be he doosn't, I shan't grudge him.  A
soldier in a soldier's grave.  Liefer that than he should linger here
now.  He's such a battler, Ern is.  That's why I love him."

He took the blows she dealt him, unflinching.

"You don't loov, Ern."

"I'm learning to."

His lips curled in scorn.

"You don't know what loov is.  See here!--This is loov."  He tapped his
outspread palm, as often when lecturing.

"Ern's ma familiar friend--has been for years.  He trusts me--look at
what he did that last night.  And sitha!  A'm a mon men do trust.
That's ma reputation--earned too.  A never sold a pal yet, big or
little.  And now--A'll betray ma own mate behind his back; ma mate
that's gone fightin ma battles in the cause for which A've lived twenty
years; ma mate that trusts me--and all for the sake of loov."  The
great fellow was trembling himself now.  "Am A a rotter?--You know A'm
none.  Am A a mon?  You know A am.  The measure o ma sin is the measure
o ma loov.  Judge for yourself."

He was battening down the furnace behind steel-doors; but she could
hear the roar of the flames.

"That's loov.  A'll lose all to win all; and A've more than most to
lose.  A'll lose ma life to save ma soul--and that's you.  Are you for
it?--Was a time A thought nowt o women: now A think o nought but the
One Woman....  Now then!--Take it or leave it!--Choose your path!--Will
you throw a loov like that away--the loov of a mon--for what?--A chap
you don't trust, a chap you can't respect, a chap who's let you and the
children down and will again, a chap you're never like to see again--a
feeble feckless sot, and son of a sot--"

She put both hands to her ears.  He wrenched them fiercely aside and
held them.  She stood before him, her hands imprisoned in his, her eyes
shut, on her face the look of one awaiting the blows about to rain down
in her defencelessness.

"I may ha doubted him once, Joe.  But I knaw him better now.  May he
forgive me--and you too; all the wrong I done you both.  I knaw him,
and myself, better than I did a while back.  And now he's won me, I'll
never loose him, _never_."

She spoke with a passion which convinced even that stubborn lover.

He drew back, and she knew from the sound of his breathing that she had
beaten him.

"Then you was playin wi me?"

He brooded over her, sullen and smouldering.

She put out her hands to him with something of the appeal of a child.

"Hap a while back when you called me so strong I _did_ answer
you--more'n I should--not knawin you cared so much, Joe.  And may be I
thart if Ernie saw there was anudder man around hap it'd ginger him
jealous and help us along.  I was fighting for my home ... and my
children ... and for him, Joe.... And when a woman's fighting..."

She broke off and gasped.

He met her remorselessly.

"Then yo've chosen ... It's goodbye."

She laid her hands upon his shoulders.

"But not like that.--Kiss me, Joe."

She lifted her face.

Slowly he dropped his hands upon her arms.

And as they stood thus, entwined, the window opened quickly from
outside, the curtains parted, and a voice low at first and rising to a
horrible scream shrilled,

"Caught em at it!--_Mr. Spink_.--Come and see for yourself then!  _Mr.
Spink_."



CHAPTER XL

VICTORY AND REVENGE

In the fury of his excitement Alf thrust his head and shoulders far
into the room.

"Got you this time!" he screamed to Joe, his face distorted with hate.
"_Mr. Spink!_" he cried to somebody who must have been near by.

The engineer made a grab at him and seized him by the head.

"Got _you_, ye mean!" he bellowed and jerked the other bodily into the
room.  "Ah, ye dirty spyin tyke!--I'll learn you!"

He heaved his enemy from his knees to his feet and closed with him.
The struggle was that of a parrot in the clutch of a tiger.

Joe carried his enemy to the door and slung him out head first.  Alf
brought up with a bang against a big car which had just drawn up
outside.

A little lady sat in it.

"Will you get out of my way, please?" she said coldly to the man
sprawling on his hands and knees in the dust at her feet, as she
proceeded to descend.

The prostrate man raised his eyes and blinked.  The lady passed him by
as she might have passed a dead puppy lying in the road.

Joe crossed the path and examined with a certain detached interest, the
door of the car against which Alf's head had crashed.

"Why, yo've made quite a dent in your nice car," he said.  "Pity."  And
he walked away down the street after Mr. Spink who was retiring
discreetly round the corner.

Mrs. Lewknor entered the cottage.

Ruth was sitting in the kitchen, her hands in her lap, dazed.

The lady went over to her.

"It's all right, Ruth," she said gently in the other's ear.

Slowly Ruth recovered and poured the tale of the last twenty-four hours
into the ear of her friend.  It was the cruelty of her mother-in-law
more than anything else that troubled her: for it was to her
significant of the attitude of the world.

"That's her!" she said.  "And that's them!--and that's how it is!"

Mrs. Lewknor comforted her; but Ruth refused to be comforted.

"Ah, you don't know em," she said.  "But I been through it, me and
little Alice.  See I'm alone again now Ernie's gone.  And so they got
me.  And they know it and take advantage--and Mrs. Caspar, that sly and
cruel, she leads em on."

"I think perhaps she's not as bad as she likes to make herself out,"
Mrs. Lewknor answered.

She opened her bag, took out a letter, and put it in Ruth's hand.  It
was from Anne Caspar, angular as the writer in phrase alike and
penmanship, and in the pseudo-business vein of the daughter of the
Ealing tobacconist.


_Dear Madam,--If your Committee can help Mrs. Caspar in the Moot, board
for herself and four children, I will pay rent of same._

  _Yours faithfully,
      Anne Caspar._


Later just as twilight began to fall Ruth went up to Rectory Walk.
Anne was standing on the patch of lawn in front of the little house
amid her tobacco plants, sweet-scented in the dusk, a shawl drawn tight
about her gaunt shoulders.

Ruth halted on the path outside.

"I do thank you, Mrs. Caspar," she said, deep and quivering.

The elder woman did not look at her, did not invite her in.  She tugged
at the ends of her shawl and sniffed the evening with her peculiar
smirk.

"Must have a roof over them, I suppose," she said.  "Even in war-time."


The visit of Mrs. Trupp and Mrs. Lewknor to the Registrar at Lewes had
proved entirely satisfactory.  No marriage had taken place on the day
in question, so examination disclosed.  Mrs. Lewknor reported as much
to her husband on her return home that evening.

The Colonel grinned the grin of an ogre about to take his evening meal
of well-cooked children.

"We must twist Master Alf's tail," he said; "and not forget we owe him
one ourselves."

At the next Committee meeting, which the Colonel attended, there was
heavy fighting between the Army and the Church; and after it even
graver trouble between Alf and the Reverend Spink.

"It's not only my reputation," cried the indignant curate.  "It's the
credit of the Church you've shaken."

"I know nothing only the facts," retorted Alf doggedly--"if they're any
good to you.  I drove them there meself--14th September, 1906, four
o'clock of a Saturday afternoon and a bit foggy like.  You can see it
in the entry-book for yourself.  They went into the Registrar's office
single, and they walked out double, half-an-hour later.  I see em
myself, and you can't get away from the facts of your eyes, not even a
clergyman can't."

Alf was additionally embittered because he felt that the curate had
left him disgracefully in the lurch in the incident of the Moot.  The
Reverend Spink on his side--somewhat dubious in his heart of the part
he had played on the fringe of that affair--felt that by taking the
strong and righteous line now he was vindicating himself in his own
eyes at least for any short-comings then.

"I shall report the whole thing to the Archdeacon," he said.  "It's a
scandal.  He'll deal with you."

"Report it then!" snapped Alf.  "If the Church don't want me, neether
don't I want the Church."


The war was killing the Archdeacon, as Mr. Trupp had said it must.

The flames of his indomitable energy were devouring the old gentleman
for all the world to see.  He was going down to his grave, as he would
have wished, to the roll of drums and roar of artillery.

Thus when the Reverend Spink went up to the Rectory to report on the
delinquencies of the sidesman, he found his chief in bed and obviously
spent.

The old gentleman made a pathetic figure attempting to maintain his
dignity in a night-gown obviously too small for him, which served to
emphasize his failing mortality.

His face was ghastly save for a faint dis-colouration about one eye;
but he was playing his part royally still.  His bitterest enemy must
have admired his courage; his severest critic might have wept, so
pitiful was the old man's make-believe.

On a table at his side were all the pathetic little properties that
made the man.  There was his snuff-box; there the filigree chain; a
scent-bottle; a rosary; a missal.  On his bed was the silver-mounted
ebony cane; and beneath his pillow, artfully concealed to show, the
butt-end of his pistol.

Over his head was the photograph of a man whom the curate recognised
instantly as Sir Edward Carson; and beneath the photograph was an
illuminated text which on closer scrutiny turned out to be the Solemn
League and Covenant.

Facing the great Unionist Leader on the opposite wall was the Emperor
of the French.  The likeness between the two famous Imperialists was
curiously marked; and they seemed aware of it, staring across the room
at each other over the body of their prostrate admirer with intimacy,
understanding, mutual admiration.  Almost you expected them to wink at
each other--a knowing wink.

Mr. Spink now told his chief the whole story as it affected Alf.  Much
of it the Archdeacon had already heard from his wife.

"I'd better see him," he now said grimly.

And the Archdeacon was not the only one who wanted to see Alf just
then.  That afternoon, just as he was starting out with the car, he was
called up on the telephone.

The Director of Recruiting wished to see him at the Town
Hall--to-morrow--11 a.m., sharp.  The voice was peremptory and somehow
familiar.  Alf was perturbed.  What was up now?

"Who is the Director of Recruiting here?" he asked Mr. Trupp a few
minutes later.

"Colonel Lewknor," the old surgeon answered.  "Just appointed.  All you
young men of military age come under him now."

Alf winced.


The Colonel's office was in the Town Hall, and one of the first men to
come and sign on there was Joe Burt.

The Colonel, as he took in the engineer, saw at once that the hurricane
which was devastating the world had wrought its will upon this man too.
The Joe Burt he had originally known four years ago stood before him
once again, surly, shy, and twinkling.

"Good luck to you," said the Colonel as they shook hands.  "And try to
be an honest man.  You were meant to be, you know."

"A'm as honest as soom and honester than most, A reckon," the engineer
answered dogged as a badgered schoolboy.

The Colonel essayed to look austere.

"You'd better go before you get into worse trouble," he said.

Joe went out, grinning.

"Ah, A'm not the only one," he mumbled.

Outside in the passage he met Alf, and paused amazed.

"You goin to enlist!" he roared.  "Never!" and marched on, his laughter
rollicking down the corridor like a huge wind.

Alf entered the Colonel's office delicately: he had reasons of his own
to fear everything that wore khaki.

The Colonel sat at his desk like a death's head, a trail of faded
medal-ribands running across his khaki chest.

He was thin, spectral, almost cadaverous.  But his voice was gentle, as
always; his manner as always, most courteous.  Nothing could be more
remote from the truculence of the Army manner of tradition.

He was the spider talking to the fly.

"I'm afraid this is a very serious matter, Mr. Caspar," he began; and
it was a favourite opening of his.  "It seems you've been taking away
the character of the wife of a member of His Majesty's forces now in
France..."

The interview lasted some time, and it was the Colonel who did the
talking.

"And now I won't detain you further, Mr. Caspar," he said at the end.
"My clerk in the next room will take all your particulars for our index
card register, so that we needn't bother you again when conscription
comes."

"Conscription!" cried Alf, changing colour.

"Yes," replied the Colonel.  "There's been no public announcement yet.
But there's no reason you shouldn't know it's coming.  It's got to."

Alf went out as a man goes to execution.  He returned to his now almost
deserted garage to find there a note from the Archdeacon asking him to
be good enough to call at the Rectory that afternoon.

Alf stood at the window and looked out with dull eyes.  Now that the
earth which three weeks since had felt so solid beneath his feet was
crumbling away beneath him, he needed the backing of the Church more
than ever; and for all his brave words to Mr. Spink, he was determined
not to relinquish his position in it without a fight.

That afternoon he walked slowly up the hill to the Rectory.

Outside the white gate he stood in the road under the sycamore trees,
gathering courage to make the plunge.

If was five o'clock.

A man got off the bus at Billing's Corner and came down the road
towards him.  Alf was aware of him, but did not at first see who he was.

"Not gone yet then?" said the man.

"No," Alf answered.  "Got about as far as you--and that ain't very far."

"I'm on the way," answered Joe.  "Going up to the camp in Summerdown
now; and join up this evening."

"Ah," said Alf.  "I'll believe it when I see it."

Swag on back, Joe tramped sturdily on towards the Downs.

Alf watched him.  Then a gate clicked; and Edward Caspar came
blundering down the road.  Alf in his loneliness was drawn towards him.

"Good evening, father," he said.

The old gentleman blinked vaguely through his spectacles, and answered
most courteously,

"Good evening, Mr. Er-um-ah!" and rolled on down the road.

So his own father didn't know him!

Overhead an aeroplane buzzed by.  From the coombe came the eternal
noise of the hammers as the great camp there took shape.  Along
Summerdown Road at the end of Rectory Walk a long convoy of Army
Service Corps wagons with mule-teams trailed by.  A big motor passed
him.  In it was Stanley Bessemere and three staff-officers with red
bands round their caps.  They were very pleased with themselves and
their cigars.  The member for Beachbourne West did not see his
supporter.  Then there sounded the tramp of martial feet.  It was
Saturday afternoon.  The Old Town Company of Volunteers, middle-aged
men for the most part, known to Alf from childhood, was marching by on
the way to drill on the Downs.  A fierce short man was in charge.
Three rough chevrons had been sewn on to his sleeve to mark his rank as
sergeant; and he wore a belt tightly buckled about his ample waist.
All carried dummy rifles.

"Left-right, left-right," called the sergeant in the voice of a
drill-instructor of the Guards.  "Mark time in front!  Forward!
Dressing by your left!"

It was Mr. Pigott.

Alf's eyes followed the little party up the road.  Then they fell on
his home covered with ampelopsis just beginning to turn.  His mother
was at the window, looking at him.  Whether it was that the glass
distorted her face, or that his own vision was clouded, it seemed to
Alf that she was mocking him.  Then she drew down the blind as though
to shut him out--his own mother.

Alf shivered.

A young woman coming from Billing's Corner crossed the road to him.

"Well, Alf," she said gaily, "you're getting em all against you!"

Alf raised his eyes to hers, and they were the eyes of the rabbit in
the burrow with the stoat hard upon its heels.

"Yes," he said more to himself than her.  "Reckon I'm done."

      *      *      *      *      *



THE COMFORTER

Ruth passed down the lane towards the golf links, the laughter
sparkling in her brown eyes.

She was merry, malicious, mischievously prim.  Then suddenly, as at the
shutting of a door, her mood changed.  Something warm and large and
tremulous surged up unbidden out of the ocean-deeps of her.

To her own amazement she found herself sorry for the forlorn little
figure with the eyes haunting and haunted, she had left standing in the
road outside the Rectory gate.

A sense of the dramatic vicissitudes of life caught her by the throat.
Three weeks ago that little man had been conquering the world with a
swagger, the master of circumstance, over-riding destiny, sweeping
obstacles aside, a domineer, with all the attributes of his
kind--brutal, blatant, sure of himself, indifferent to others, scornful
of the humble.  Now he stood there at the cross-roads like some old
tramp of the world, uncertain which way to turn--a mouse tossed
overboard in mid-Atlantic by the cook's boy, the sport of tides and
breakers, swimming round and round with ghastly eyes in ever-shortening
circle.

The tempest which had all the world in grip, which had snatched Ernie
from her arms, and hurled him across the seas, which had set millions
of men to killing and being killed, had caught this insignificant gnat
too, flying with such a fuss and buzz of wings under ominous skies, and
then swaggered on its great way indifferent to the tiny creature it had
crushed.

Ruth crossed the links, almost deserted now, and walked along over the
crisp smooth turf, her eyes on the township of yellow huts rising out
of the green in the great coombe across Summerdown Road.

Then she was aware of Mr. Chislehurst coming swiftly towards her beside
the ha-ha of the Duke's Lodge.  He looked, Ruth noticed at once, less
harassed than he had done since the outbreak of war.

"I am glad I've met you, Mrs. Caspar," he began with the old boyish
enthusiasm.  "I'm off to-morrow and wasn't sure I should have time to
come round and say goodbye to you and the babes."

Ruth stared.

"_You're_ never going out there, sir!"

"Only as military chaplain."

Ruth refused to believe.

"But I thart you was against war and all that."

"So I am," Bobby answered gravely.  He looked away towards Paradise.
"But I feel Our Lord is there, or nowhere--just now."

Ruth felt profoundly moved.  The young man's words, his action, brought
home to her with a sudden pang, as not even the departure of Ernie had
done, the change that had rushed upon the world.

Ruth looked at the smooth young face before her, brown and goodly, with
all the hope and promise of the future radiant in it.

A passionate desire to take the boy in her arms, to shield him, to
cry--You _shan't!_ came over her.  Then she gulped and said,

"Goodbye, sir," and moved on rapidly.


Passing through Meads, she turned the shoulder of the hill, and walked
along the cliff, till she came to the long low house in the coombe.

It had a strangely deserted air, no spinal chairs and perambulators on
the terrace, no nurses on the lawns, no beds on the balconies.  All
that busyness of quiet recreation which had been going on here for some
years past had been brought to a sudden halt.  Mrs. Lewknor came out to
her and the two women sat a while on the terrace, talking.  They had
drawn very close in these few days, the regiment an ever-present bond
between them.  The husband of one was "out there" with the 1st
battalion; the son of the other was racing home with the 2nd battalion
in the Indian Contingent.  Mrs. Lewknor felt a comfortable sense that
once the two battalions were aligned on the West Front all would be
well.

"Then let em all come!" the little lady said in her heart with almost
vindictive glee.

As Ruth left she saw the Colonel in khaki, returning from his office.
He came stalking along the cliff, his head on his left shoulder,
looking seawards.  There was about the gaunt old man that air of
austere exaltation which had marked him from the moment of the outbreak
of war.  In his ears, indeed, ever since that hour, there had sounded a
steady note, deep and pulsing like the throb of an engine--the heart of
England beating on, beating eternally, tireless, true, from generation
to generation.

And for one brief moment he had doubted her--might God forgive him!

Ruth asked him how recruiting was going.

"Well," replied the Colonel.  "They're flocking in--men of all ages,
classes, and creeds.  I shipped off Burt this morning; and he's forty.
Wanted to join the Hammer-men or Manchesters with his friend Tawney;
but I said _No: every man his own job_, and sent him off to the flying
folk as air-mechanic.  He's joining up at Newhaven to-night, and in a
week he'll be out there."

Ruth asked if there was any news of the Expeditionary Force.

"They're landed all right," the Colonel replied.  "We should soon hear
more.  Our battalion's with the Fourth Division.  If you go up on the
Head you can see the transports crossing from Newhaven with the stuff."

"Think it'll be all right, sir?" asked Ruth.

"If we can stop their first rush," the Colonel answered.  "Every day
tells.  We can't be too thankful for Liége, though Namur's a nasty
knock."

Ruth looked across the sea.

"I wish we could do something for em," she said wistfully.

"We can," answered the Colonel sharply, almost sternly.

The old soldier took off his cap and stood there bare-headed on the
edge of the white cliff, the wisps of silver hair lifting in the
evening breeze.

"May the God of our fathers be with them in the day of battle!" he
prayed, and added with quiet assurance as he covered again--"He will
too."

Then he asked the woman at his side if she had heard from her husband.

Ruth dropped her eyes, sudden and secretive as a child.

"Ern's all right, I reckon," she said casually.

In fact a letter from him on the eve of sailing lay unopened in her
pocket.  She was treasuring it jealously, as a child treasures a sweet,
to devour it with due ritual at the appointed hour in the appropriate
place.

Ten minutes later she was standing waist-deep in the gorse of the
Ambush looking about her.

Far away a silver-bellied air-ship was patrolling leisurely somewhere
over the Rother Valley; and once she heard a loud explosion seawards
and knew it for a mine.

Like a hind on the fell-side she stood up there, sniffing the wind.
Behind her on the far horizon was a forest fire.  She could smell it,
see the glow of it, and the rumour of its coming was all a-round her:
overhead the whistle and pipe of birds hard-driven, while under-foot
the heather was alive with the stealthy migration of the
under-world--adder and weasel, snake and hare, flying from the torment
to come.  But for her as yet the conflagration devouring the world was
but an ominous red glare across the water.  She breathed freely: for
she had shaken off her immediate enemy--the Hunter.

Then she looked up and saw a man coming over the brow of Warren Hill
towards her.

She dropped as though shot.

_He_ was at her heels again.  Face down, flat on the earth, she lay
panting in her form.

And as she crouched there, listening to the thumping of her own heart,
she was aware of another sound that came rollicking down to her, born
on the wind.  The Hunter was laughing, that huge gusty laughter of his
she knew so well.  Had he tracked her down?

She heard his feet approaching on the turf.  Was the earth trembling at
the touch of them or was it the beating of her own heart that shook it?

Prone on the ground, spying through the roots of the gorse, she could
see those feet--those solid familiar boots that had dangled so often
before her fire; and the bottoms of the trousers, frayed at the edges
and rather short, betraying the absence of a woman's care.

Was it her he was after?

No: he passed, still rollicking.  He was not mocking her: he was
tossing off his chest in cascades of giant laughter the seas that had
so long threatened to overwhelm him, tossing them off into the blue in
showers of spray.

_I am free once more_! that was what his laughter said.

She sat up: she knelt: warily she peeped over the green wall.  His back
was moving solidly away in the evening, his back with the swag on it.
He reached the flag-staff and dropped away down into Hodcombe, that
lies between Beau-nez and the Belle-tout light-house.  She watched him
till only his round dark head was visible.  Then that too disappeared.
She rose and filled her chest as the breeze slowly fills the sails of a
ship that has long hovered uncertainly in stays.

He too was gone--into _IT_.

That Other was gone--like the rest--and the past with him.

How queer it all was! and how differently each man had met the huge
tidal wave that had swept the whole world off its feet!

Joe, paddling in the muddy shallows, had been caught up, and was
swimming easily now on the crest of it.  Alf, snatched up unawares as
he grubbed for bait upon the flats, had been tumbled over and over like
a pebble, smashed down upon the remorseless beach, and drawn back with
a sickening scream by the undersuck into the murderous riot of it.
Last of all, Ern, asleep and snoring under the sunny sea-wall, had
risen suddenly, girded on his strength, and waded out to meet it with
rejoicing heart.

Dear Ern!

Sinking down into the harbourage of this deep and quiet covert where,
under the stars, all his children, conceived in ecstasy, had come to
her, she took out his letter, opened it, and began to read.

It was dated _In the train_, and began full of affection for her and
the children.

"Now we made it up I don't mind what comes.  I feel like it was a new
beginning.  There's a lot of married men joined up feel the very same.
I feel uplifted like and that whatever comes nothing can ever come
atween us no more really.  Even when it was dark I felt that--that it
wasn't _really real_ between us--only a shadow like that would surely
pass away--as it has passed away--thank God for His great mercies."

There followed love and kisses to all the children and especially
little Alice, underlined, and fraternal greetings to old Joe.

"We shall push em back where they belong all right, I expect.  And if
we don't I shall send for him to lend a shove.  He's all right, old Joe
is.  There's not many of em I'd trust, but you can trust him.  I knew
that all along."

The letter finished,

"It's an end and a beginning, as old dad says.  And whatever else
_that's_ finished, and I don't care."

It was true too.

She folded the letter and slipped it in her bosom.

The second volume of her life had ended, and ended well.  The sudden
hand of destiny had reached forth to save her, to save the children, to
save Ernie, to save Joe.

Had she ever wavered?--Who shall say?--Perhaps she could not say
herself.

She cast her mind back over her married life.  Six years in September
since she and Ern had ridden back to Old Town in Isaac Woolgar's cart.
Six years of struggle, worry, and deep joy.  She was thankful for them,
thankful for the crowding babes, and most of all, she sometimes
thought, thankful for Ernie ... His unfailing love and solicitude for
little Alice!  She could never be grateful enough to him for that.
Dear Ern:--so affectionate, so always loveable.  She regretted nothing,
not even his weakness now.  Because of his weakness strength had come
to her, growth, and the consummation of deep unconscious desire.

Had she been too hard on him?--A great voice of comfort, the voice of
Ernie, so it seemed to her, only swollen to gigantic proportions, till
the sound of it was like the sound of the Sou-West wind billowing
through the beach-tops in Paradise, surged up within her crying No.

Then she turned back to the first volume of her life, completed now so
many years ago.

For the second time she had been left thus, man-less, a new life
quickening within her.  But what a difference between then and now!
Then the fierce thief of her virginity had stolen away in the night,
leaving her to meet the consequences, alone, an outcast, the hand of
all men against her; and she recalled now with a shudder the afternoon
on which she had gone forth to the Crumbles and there amid the jeers of
the remorseless sea had faced the situation.  Now it was true her
accustomed mate had been snatched from her side; but the world was
behind her.  She was marching with the hosts, a mighty concourse, one
of them, and uplifted on their songs.

She had nothing to fear, much to be thankful for.  How calm she felt,
how strong, how confident of herself, above all of Ernie!  His
punishment had made him and completed her own life.  She had won her
man and in winning him had won herself.  And she would never lose him
now.  His pain, her pain, had been worth while.  Smiles were in her
eyes as she recalled the fuss that he had made--his struggles, his
temper, his wiles of a naughty and thwarted child; and tears where she
recalled the anguish of his time of purgation.  And yet because of his
suffering he had been strong when the day of battle came, and he would
be strong.  She had no doubt of that.  And it was all over now.

Rising she stood up and looked about her, absorbing the down-land,
familiar and beloved from childhood.  The sky, grey now and mottled,
drooped about her quietly with the soft wings of a mothering bird
settling soft-breasted on her nest.  The good green earth, firm beneath
her feet, lifted her up into the quiet refuge of that welcoming bosom,
lifted her to meet it like a wave gently swelling.  So it had always
been: so it always would be.  This earth she knew and loved so well was
not alien, it was not hostile; rather it was flesh of her flesh and
soul of her soul.  It gave her strength and comfort.  Her bosom rose
and fell in time, so it seemed to her, with the rise and fall of the
breast of this virgin-mother, whose goodness she assimilated through
heart and eyes and nostrils.  She felt utterly at home.  All sense of
separation, of dissent, had left her.

Absorbed she stood, and absorbing.

These woman-bodied hills, sparsely clad in rags of gorse that served
only to enhance their loveliness, brought her solace and content as did
nothing else.  So it had always been: so it always would be.  The
beauty and wonder of them rolled in upon her in waves of sound-less
music, sluicing over the sands of her life in foaming sheets of
hyacinth, drowning the resentment, filling and fulfilling her with the
grand harmony of life.

Sometimes down in the Moot, amid the worry, and the tumult, and the
exasperations, she became empty, a discord, a desert.  Then she would
get away for an hour among the hills and her parched spirit found
instant refreshment.  She brimmed again.  The quiet, the comfort, the
deep abiding wonder of it all came back to her; even the words which
she always associated with it--_I am the Resurrection and the Life_.

Since Ernie's departure the Comforter had come thus to her with renewed
power; as if knowing her need and resolute to fortify her in the hour
of her ordeal.

Standing there upon the brow, Ernie's letter lying like his hand upon
her breast in the old dear way, she gazed across the waters, dimming in
the dusk, and sent out her heart towards him, strong and pulsing as the
sun's rays at dawn seen by some mountaineer from his native peak.  She
could shield him so that no evil thing could come nigh him.  She had no
fear for him and was amazed at her own triumphant faith.

Established on the rock herself, earth in earth, spirit in spirit,
invincibly secure, she had him safe in her keeping, safe, aye safe as
his child quickening in the warm and sheltered darkness of her womb.



Headley Bros., Ashford, Kent, & 18 Devonshire St., E.C.2.





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