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Title: Heritage
Author: Sackville-West, V. (Victoria Mary)
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Heritage" ***

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Internet Archive)



                                HERITAGE



            “_I was born, and learned myne English in Kente,
            in the Weald, where English is spoken broad and
            rude._”

                                             WILLIAM CAXTON.



                                HERITAGE


                                   BY

                           V. SACKVILLE WEST

[Illustration: NEW ^GD^H YORK]

                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                            COPYRIGHT, 1919,
                       BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY


                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                   TO
                               MY MOTHER



             _Haec super arvorum cultu pecorumque canebam,
             Et super arboribus, Cæsar dum magnus ad altum
             Fulminat Euphraten bello:
             Carmina qui lusi pastorum, audaxque juventa,
             Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi._

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                HERITAGE



                                 PART I



                                   I


Two years of my life were spent in a rough gray village of the
Apennines; a shaggy village, tilted perilously up the side of the hill;
a rambling village, too incoherent to form a single perspectived street,
but which revolved around, or, rather, above and below, a little piazza
warm with present sun, though grim with unknown, conjectured violence in
the past. Here stood the massive civic palace, ancient and forbidding,
with its tower poised and tremulous in the evening sky; and here the
church, with its marble pietà, the work, it was said, of Mino da
Fiesole. A mountain torrent poured down the village, a wild little storm
of water, brown and white, spanned by a bridge, which rose abruptly to a
peak, and as abruptly descended. In the evenings the youth of the
village drifted towards the bridge, gossiped there, sang a snatch of
song, or indolently fished. In the silent midday, stretched at length on
the flat stone parapet, they slept....

The village was called Sampiero della Vigna Vecchia.

If I dwell thus upon its characteristics, it is from lingering affection
and melancholy memories. My sentiment is personal; irrelevant to my
present purpose. I resume:—

In this village—and it is for this reason that the village started up so
irrepressibly in my thoughts—I had as a companion a man named Malory.
Like me, he was there to study Italian. We were not friends; we lodged
in the same house, and a certain degree of intimacy had thereby
necessarily forced itself upon us; but we were not friends. I cannot
tell you why. No quarrel stood between us. I liked him; I believe he
liked me. But we were each conscious that our last day in Sampiero would
also be the last day we spent together. No pleasant anticipation of
continued friendship in our own country came to sweeten our student days
in Italy.

Yet for one week in those two years Malory and I were linked by the
thread of a story he told me, sitting out under a clump of stone-pines
overlooking the village. It linked us, indeed, not for that week alone,
but, though interruptedly and at long intervals, for many years out of
our lives. Neither of us foresaw at the time the far-reaching sequel of
his confidences. He, when he told me the story, thought that he was
telling me a completed thing, an incident revived in its entirety out of
the past; I, when I later went to investigate for myself, went with no
thought of continuance; and finally, I, when I departed, did so in the
belief that the ultimate word was spoken. Our error, I suppose, arose
from our delusion that in this affair, which we considered peculiarly
our own, we held in some measure the levers of control. Our conceit, I
see it now, was absurd. We were dealing with a force capricious,
incalculable, surprising, a force that lurked at the roots of nature,
baffling alike the onlooker and the subject whose vagaries it prompted.

I should like to explain here that those who look for facts and events
as the central points of significance in a tale, will be disappointed.
On the other hand, I may fall upon an audience which, like myself,
contend that the vitality of human beings is to be judged less by their
achievement than by their endeavour, by the force of their emotion
rather than by their success; if this is my lot I shall be fortunate.
Indeed, my difficulty throughout has been that I laboured with stones
too heavy for my strength, and tried to pierce through veils too opaque
for my feeble eyes. Little of any moment occurs in my story, yet behind
it all I am aware of tremendous forces at work, which none have rightly
understood, neither the actors nor the onlookers.

It was less of a story that Malory told me, than a quiet meditative
reminiscence, and he wove into it a great deal which, I begin to
suspect, as I think over it, without extracting from my granary of words
and impressions any very definite image, was little more than the
fleeting phantom of his own personality. I could wish that fate had been
a little kinder to me in regard to Malory. I am sure now that he was a
man in whom I could have rejoiced as a friend.

When I think of him now, he stands for me as the type of the theorist,
who, when confronted with realities, strays helplessly from the road. He
had theories about love, but he passed love by unseen; theories about
humour, but was himself an essentially unhumorous man; theories about
friendship between men, but was himself the loneliest being upon earth.
At the same time, I sometimes think that he had something akin to
greatness in him; a wide horizon, and a generous sweep of mind. But I
may be mistaking mere earnestness for force, and in any case I had
better let the man speak for himself.

He said to me as we smoked, “Do you know the Weald of Kent?” and as he
spoke he indicated with his pipe stem a broad half-circle, and I had a
glimpse of flattened country lying in such a half-circle beneath my
view.

His words gave me a strong emotional shock; from those gaunt mountains,
that clattering stream, I was suddenly projected into a world of
apple-blossom and other delicate things. The mountains vanished; the
herd of goats, which moved near us cropping at the scant but faintly
aromatic grass of the hill-side, vanished; and in their place stood
placid cows, slowly chewing the cud in lush English meadows.

“I fancied once that I would take up farming as a profession,” said
Malory. “I have touched and dropped many occupations in my life,” and I
realised then that never before in the now eighteen months of our
acquaintance had he made to me a remark even so remotely personal. “Many
occupations, that have all fallen from me, or I from them. I am an
inconstant man, knowing that no love can hold me long. Perhaps that is
one of the reasons why I have never married. Such people should not
marry, or, if they do, should at least choose a partner as inconstant as
themselves. When I say inconstant, I mean of course the temperamentally,
not the accidentally, inconstant. It is a new kind of eugenics, a sort
of moral eugenics.

“So at one period of my life I had a fancy that I would try my hand at
farming. I think perhaps it was one of my most successful experiments. I
have a great love for the country people; they are to me like the oaks
of the land, enduring and indigenous, beautiful with the beauty of
strong, deep-rooted things, without intention of change. I love in them
the store of country knowledge which they distil as resin from a pine,
in natural order, with the revolving seasons. I love the unconsciousness
of them, as they move unheeding, bent only on the practical business of
their craft. I revere the simplicity of their traditional ideals. Above
all, I envy them the balance and the stability of their lives.”

I wasn’t very much surprised; I had always thought him a dreamy,
sensitive sort of fellow. I said,—

“But you surely don’t want to change with them?”

Malory smiled.

“Don’t I? Well, perhaps I don’t. I should have to give up my sense of
wonderment, for they have none. They may be poems, but they are not
poets. The people among whom I lived were true yeomen; they and their
forefathers had held the house and tilled the land for two hundred and
fifty years or more, since the Puritan founder of their race had
received the grant from, so tradition said, the hands of Cromwell in
person. Since the days of that grim Ironside, one son at least in the
family had been named Oliver.

“The house was partly built of lath and plaster and partly of that gray
stone called Kentish rag, which must have been, I used to reflect with
satisfaction, hewn out of the very land on which the house was set. I
remember how the thought pleased me, that no exotic importation had gone
to the making of that English, English whole. No brilliant colour in
that dun monochrome, save one, of which I will tell you presently. Have
patience, for the leisure of those days comes stealing once more over
me, when haste was a stranger, and men took upon them the unhurrying
calm of their beasts.

“After the fashion of such homes, the house stood back from a narrow
lane; a low stone wall formed a kind of forecourt, which was filled with
flowers, and a flagged path bordered with lavender lay stretched from
the little swing-gate to the door. The steps were rounded with the
constant passing of many feet. The eaves were wide, and in them the
martins nested year after year; the steep tiled roofs, red-brown with
age, and gold-spattered with stonecrops, rose sharply up to the
chimney-stacks. You have seen it all a hundred times. Do you know how
such houses crouch down into their hollows? So near, so near to the warm
earth. Earth! there’s nothing like it; lying on it, being close to it,
smelling it, and smelling all the country smells as well, not
honeysuckle and roses, but the clean, acrid smell of animals, horses,
dogs, and cattle, and the smell of ripe fruit, and of cut hay.

“And there’s something of the Noah’s Ark about a farm; there’s Mr. Noah,
Mrs. Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and the animals, because there’s
nothing in the world more like the familiar wooden figures of our
childhood than the domestic animals. If you had never seen a cow before,
gaunt and unwieldy, what a preposterous beast you would think it. Also a
sheep—the living sheep is, if anything, even more like the woolly toy
than the woolly toy is like the living sheep. And they all fit in so
neatly, so warmly, just like the Noah’s Ark. However, I won’t labour the
point....

“This house of which I am telling you was nearer to the earth than most;
it had, in fact, subsided right down into it, sinking from north to
south with the settling of the clay, and the resultant appearance of
established comfort was greater than I can describe to you. The
irregularity of the building was the more apparent by reason of the oak
beams, which should have been horizontal, but which actually sloped at a
considerable angle. I found, after I had lived there no more than a
couple of days, that one adopted this architectural irregularity into
one’s scheme of life; the furniture was propped up by blocks of wood on
the south side, and I learnt not to drop round objects on to my floor,
knowing that if I did so they would roll speedily out of reach. For the
same reason, all the children of the house, in this generation as no
doubt in many generations past, had made their first uncertain steps out
in the garden before they climbed the hill or toppled down the incline
of their mother’s room.

“I paused, on the evening of my arrival, before my future home. I said
to myself, here I shall live for one, two, three, possibly four, years;
how familiar will be that unfamiliar gate; I arrive with curiosity, I
shall leave, I hope, with regret. And I foresaw myself leaving, and my
eyes travelling yearningly over the house and the little garden, which
in a moment the bend of the lane would hide from me for ever. I say for
ever, for I would not court the disillusion of returning to a once happy
home. Then, as my eyes began to sting with the prophetic sorrow of
departure, I remembered that my one, two, three, or possibly four, years
were before and not behind me; so, amused at my own sensibility, I
pushed open the swing-gate and went in.

“The house door opened to my knock. I stood on the threshold—I stand
there now in spirit. Have you experienced the thrill of excitement which
overcomes one when one stands on the threshold of new friendship, new
intimacy? such a thrill as overcame me now as I stood, literally and
figuratively, in the doorway of the Pennistans’ home. I scanned the
faces which were raised towards me, faces which were to me then as
masks, or as books written in a language I could not read, but which
would speedily become open and speaking; no longer the disguise, but the
revelation of the human passion which lay behind. The facts of life at
Pennistans’ I could foresee, but not the life of the spirit, the mazy
windings of mutual relation, the circumstance of individual being. These
people were anonymous to me in their spirits as in their names.

“You might fare far before you came upon a better-favoured family. I was
in the low, red-tiled kitchen; they were seated at their supper round a
central table, the father, the mother, three sons, and the daughter
Nancy. Amos Pennistan had the bearing, the gravity, and the beard of an
apostle; I never saw a nobler looking man; he had his coat off, and his
scarlet braces marked his shirt like a slash of blood. His sons, as they
raised their heads to me from their bread and porridge, cast their eyes
over my city-bred frame, much as calves in a field raise their heads to
stare at the passer-by over the hedge, and I felt myself in the presence
of young, indifferent animals.

“An old, old woman was sitting over the fire. No mention of her had been
made in our correspondence, nor did I then know who she was. Yet had it
not been for her, and for the strange flame she had introduced into this
English home, the story I am endeavouring to tell you might never have
sprung up out of the grayness of commonplace.

“The faintest smell floated about the room, and as I stood in slight
bewilderment looking round I wondered what it could be; it was oddly
familiar; it transported me, by one of those side-slips of the brain,
away from England, and though the vision was too dim and transitory for
me to crystallise it into a definite picture, I dreamed myself for a
second in a narrow street between close, towering houses; yoked bullocks
were there somewhere, and the clamour of a Latin city. I have gazed at a
rainbow, and fancied I caught a violet ribbon between the red and the
blue; gazed again, and it was gone; so with my present illusion. Then I
saw that the old woman was fingering something by the fire, and in my
interest I looked, and made out a row of chestnuts on the rail; one of
them cracked and spat, falling on to the hearth, where she retrieved it
with the tongs and set it on the rail again to roast.

“The bullock-like sons took no notice of me beyond their first
dispassionate glance, but Mrs. Pennistan in her buxom, and Amos in his
reticent, fashion gave me an hospitable welcome. I was strongly
conscious of the taciturn sons, who, after a grudging shuffle—a
concession, I suppose, to my quality as a stranger—returned to their
meal in uninterested silence. I was abashed by the contempt of the young
men. It was a relief to me when one of them pushed aside his bowl and
rose, saying, ‘I’ll be seeing to the cattle, father.’

“Amos replied, ‘Ay, do, and see to the window in the hovel; remember
it’s shaky on the hinge.’ I had a sudden sense of intimacy: a day, a
week, and I too should know the shaky hinge, the abiding place of tools,
the peculiarities of the piggery.

“I wandered out. A mist lay over the gentle hills, as the bloom lies on
a grape; a great stillness sank over the meadows, and that mellow
melancholy of the English autumn floated towards me on the wings of the
evening. I felt infinitely at peace. I reflected with a deep
satisfaction that no soul in London knew my address. My bank, my
solicitors, would be extremely annoyed when they discovered that they
had mislaid me. To me there was a certain satisfaction in that thought
also.”

“On the following morning,” continued Malory, “I rose early. I went out.
The freshness of this Kentish morning was a thing new to me. The ground,
the air, were wet with dew; gossamer was over all the grass and hedges,
shreds of gossamer linking bramble to bramble, perfect spiders’ webs of
gossamer, and a veil of gossamer seemed to hang between the earth and
the sun. The grass in the field was gray with wet. A darker trail across
it showed me where the cattle had passed, as though some phantom sweeper
had swept with a giant broom against the pile of a velvet carpet. The
peculiar light of sunrise still clung about the land.”

For a moment Malory ceased speaking, and the goats, the barren
mountains, the impetuous torrent, rushed again into my vision like a
wrong magic-lantern slide thrown suddenly, and in error, upon the
screen. Then as his voice resumed I saw once more the hedges, the clump
of oaks, and the darker trail where the cattle had passed across the
field.

“I was at a loss,” said Malory, “to know how to employ my morning, and
regretted my stipulation that my training should not begin until the
following day. I wished for a pitchfork in my hand, that I might carry
the crisp bracken for bedding into the empty stalls. I heard somewhere a
girl’s voice singing; the voice, I later discovered, of Nancy, upraised
in a then popular song which began, ‘Oh, I do love to be beside the
sea-side,’ and so often subsequently did I hear this song that it is for
ever associated in my mind with Nancy. I could hear somewhere also the
clank of harness, and presently one of the sons came from the stable,
sitting sideways upon a great shire horse and followed by two other
horses; they passed me by with the heavy, swinging gait of elephants,
out into the lane where they disappeared, leaving me to my loneliness. I
felt that the great fat ball of the world was rolling, rolling in the
limpidity of the morning, and that I alone had given no helping push.

“I wandered, stepping gingerly upon the cobble stones, round the corner
of the farm buildings, and there, in a doorway, I came unexpectedly upon
a girl I had not previously seen. She stood with a wooden yoke across
her shoulders, and her hands upon the two pendent buckets of milk. I
felt myself—do not misunderstand me—suddenly and poignantly conscious of
her sex. The blue linen dress she wore clung unashamedly to every curve
of her young and boyish figure, and around the sleeves the sweat had
stained the linen to a widening circle of darker blue. Swarthy as a
gipsy, I saw her instinctively as a mother, with a child in her arms,
and other children clinging about her skirts.”

I thought I understood Malory, a lyre whose neurotic treble alone had
hitherto responded to the playing of his dilettantism, with the chords
of the bass suddenly stirred and awakened.

“You have probably known in your life one or more of those impressions
so powerful as to amount to emotions, an impression such as I received
now, as, at a loss for words, this girl and I stood facing one another.
I knew, I _knew_,” said Malory, looking earnestly at me as though
driving his meaning by force of suggestion into my brain, “that here
stood one for whom lay in wait no ordinary destiny. She might be common,
she might be, probably was, rude and uncultivated, nevertheless
something in her past was preparing a formidable something for her
future.”

As he spoke I thought that, by the look on his face, he was again
receiving what he described as an impression so powerful as to amount to
an emotion. And he communicated this emotion to me, so that I felt his
prophecy to be a true one, and that his story would henceforward cease
to be a mere story and would become a simple unwinding off the spool of
inevitable truth.

He went on,—

“Our silence of course couldn’t endure for ever. The girl herself seemed
conscious of this, for a smile, not unfriendly, came to her lips, and
she said quite simply,—

“‘How you startled me! Good-morning.’

“‘I am very sorry,’ I said. ‘Can’t I make up for it by carrying those
buckets for you?’

“‘Oh, they’re nothing with the yoke,’ she answered.

“Here old Amos came round the corner, walking clumsily on the cobbles
with his hobnailed boots. He looked surprised to find me standing with
the dairymaid, a little group of two.

“‘Morning!’ he cried very heartily to me. ‘You’re out betimes. Fine day,
sir, fine day, fine day. Well, my girl, done with the cows?’

“‘I’m on my way to the dairy, dad,’ she said.

“I asked if I might come with her.

“‘Ay, go with Ruth,’ said Amos, ‘she’ll show you round,’ and he went
off, evidently glad to have shifted the responsibility of my morning’s
entertainment.

“Ruth refused to let me carry the buckets, and by the time we reached
the dairy—one of the pleasantest places I ever was in, clean and bright
as a yacht—their weight had brought a warm flush of colour to her
cheeks. Great flat pans of milk stood on gray slate slabs, covered over
with filmy butter-muslin; in one corner was fixed a sink, and in another
corner a machine which I learnt was called the separator.

“‘Father’s very proud of this,’ said my companion, ‘none of the other
farms round here have got one.’

“I sat on the central table watching her as she moved about her
business; she didn’t take very much notice of me, and I was at liberty
to observe her, noting her practised efficiency in handling the pans and
cans of milk; noting, too, her dark, un-English beauty, un-English not
so much, as you might think, owing to the swarthiness of her complexion,
as to something subtly tender in the curve of her features and the swell
of her forearm. She hummed to herself as she worked. I asked her whether
the evening did not find her weary.

“‘One’s glad to get to bed,’ she said in a matter-of-fact tone, adding,
‘but it’s all right unless one’s queer.’

“‘Can’t you take a day off, being on your father’s farm?’

“‘Beasts have to be fed, queer or no queer,’ she replied.

“The milk was now ready in shining cans, and going to the door she
shouted,—

“‘Sid!’

“A voice calling in answer was followed by one of the sons. Neither
brother nor sister spoke, while the young man trundled away the cans
successively; I heard them bumping on the cobbles, and bumping more
loudly as, presumably, he lifted them into a cart. Ruth had turned to
wiping up the dairy.

“‘Where is he going with the cans?’ I asked.

“‘Milk-round,’ she answered laconically.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“That was the first time I saw her,” he added. “The second time was in
full midday, and she was gleaning in a stubble-field; yes; her name was
Ruth, and she was gleaning. She moved by stages across the field,
throwing out her long wooden rake to its farthest extent and drawing it
back to her until she had gathered sufficient strands into a heap, when,
laying down the rake, she bound the corn against her thigh, rapidly and
skilfully into a sheaf. The occupation seemed wholly suitable. Although
her head was not covered by a coloured handkerchief, but hidden by a
linen sunbonnet, she reminded me of the peasant women labouring in the
fields of other lands than ours. I do not know whether, in the light of
my present wisdom, I exaggerate the impression of those early days. I
think that perhaps at first, imbued as I was with the idea of the
completely English character of my surroundings, I remained insensible
to the flaw which presently became so self-evident in the harmony of my
preconceived picture.

“Tiny things occurred, which I noted at the time and cast aside on the
scrap-heap of my observation, and which later I retrieved and strung
together in their coherent order. As who should come upon the pieces of
a child’s puzzle strewn here and there upon his path.

“Ruth, my instructress and companion, I saw going about her work without
haste, almost without interest. She was kind to the animals in her care
after an indifferent, sleepy fashion, more from habit and upbringing
than from a natural benevolence. She brought no enthusiasm to any of her
undertakings. Her tasks were performed conscientiously, but by rote. Yet
one day, when the sheep-dog happened to be in her path, I saw her kick
out at it in the belly with sudden and unbridled vehemence.

“I was first really startled by the appearance of Rawdon Westmacott. In
the big, shadowy, draughty barn I was cutting chaff for the horses,
while Ruth sat near by on a truss of straw, trying to mend a
bridle-strap with string. I had then been at Pennistans’ about a week.
The wide doors of the barn were open, letting in a great square of
dust-moted sunlight, and in this square a score of Leghorn hens and
cockerels moved picking at the scattered chaff, daintily pricking on
their spindly feet, snowy white and coral crested. A shadow fell across
the floor. Ruth and I raised our heads. A young man leant against the
side of the door, a tall young man in riding breeches, with a dull red
stock twisted round his throat, smacking at his leathern gaiters with a
riding whip he held in his hand. The rein was over his arm, and his
horse, lowering his head, snuffed breezily at the chaff blown out into
the yard.

“‘You’re back, then?’ said Ruth.

“‘Ay,’ said the young man, looking suspiciously at me, and I caught the
slightest jerk of the head and interrogative crinkle of the forehead by
which he required an explanation.

“‘This is my cousin, Rawdon Westmacott, Mr. Malory,’ Ruth said.

“The young man flicked his whip up to his cap, and then dismissed me
from his interest.

“‘Coming out, Ruth?’ he asked.

“She pouted her indecision.

“‘You shall have a ride,’ he suggested.

“‘No, thanks.’

“‘Well, walk a bit of the way home with me, anyhow.’

“‘I don’t know that I’m so very keen.’

“‘Oh, come on, Ruthie, after I’ve ridden straight over here to see you;
thrown my bag into the house, and come straight away to you, without a
look into one single thing at home.’

“‘It’d be better for things if you did look into them a bit more,
Rawdon.’

“Overcome by the perversity of women, he said again,—

“‘Come on, Ruthie.’

“She rose slowly, and, untying the apron of sacking which she wore over
her skirt, she stepped out into the sunshine. For a flash I saw them
standing there together, and I saw Rawdon Westmacott as he ever after
appeared to me: a Bedouin in corduroy, with a thin, fierce face, the
grace of an antelope, and the wildness of a hawk; a creature captured
either in the desert or from the woods. Strange product for the English
countryside! Then they were gone, and the horse, turning, followed the
tug on the rein.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“I date from that moment my awakening to a state of affairs less simple
than I had imagined. I saw Ruth again with Westmacott, and learnt with a
little shock that here was not merely an idle, rural, or cousinly
flirtation. The man’s blood was crazy for her.

“And so I became aware of the existence of some element I could not
reconcile with my surroundings, some unseen presence which would jerk me
away abruptly to the sensation that I was in the midst of a foreign
encampment; was it Biblical? was it Arab? troubled was I and puzzled; I
tried to dismiss the fancy, but it returned; I even appealed to various
of the Pennistans for enlightenment, but they stared at me blankly.

“Yes, I tried to dismiss it, and to brush aside the haze of mystery as
one brushes aside the smoke of a cigarette. And I could not succeed. How
trivial, how easily ignored are facts, when one’s quarrel is with the
enigma of force at the heart of things! It isn’t often in this civilised
life of ours that one comes into contact with it; one’s business lies
mostly with men and women whose whole system of philosophy is inimical
to natural, inconvenient impulse. It obeys us as a rule, like a tame
lion doing its tricks for the lion-tamer. A terrifying thought truly,
that we are shut up for life in a cage with a wild beast that may at any
moment throw off its docility to leap upon us! We taunt it, we provoke
it, we tweak its tail, we take every advantage of its forbearance; then
when the day comes for it to turn on us, we cry out, and try to get away
into a corner. At least let us do it the honour to recognise its roar of
warning, as I did then, though I was as surprised and disquieted as I
dare say you would have been, at meeting a living lion in the woods of
Kent.

“I could compare it to many other things, but principally I think I felt
it as a ghost that peeped out at me from over innocent shoulders. Am I
mixing my metaphors? You see, it was so vague, so elusive, that it
seemed to combine all the bogeys of one’s childhood. Something we don’t
understand; that is what frightens us, from the child alone in the dark
to the old man picking at the sheets on his deathbed. Perhaps you think
I am exaggerating. Certainly my apprehension was a very indefinite one,
at most it was a dim vision of possibilities unnamed, it wasn’t even a
sense of the imminence of crisis, much less the imminence of tragedy.
And yet ... I don’t know. I still believe that tragedy was there
somewhere, perhaps only on the horizon, and that the merest chance alone
served to avert it. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely averted. One never knows;
one only sees with one’s clumsy eyes. One sees the dead body, but never
the dead soul. The whole story is, to me, unsatisfactory; I often wonder
whether there is a conclusion somewhere, that either I have missed, or
that hasn’t yet been published by the greatest of story-tellers.

“Anyway, all this is too fanciful, and I have inadvertently wandered
into an inner circle of speculation, I mean soul-speculation, when I
really meant to be concerned with the outer circle only.

“I could lay my hand on nothing more definite than the appearance,
certainly unusual, of Ruth or of Westmacott; other trifles were so
absurd that I scorned to dwell on them in my mind, the red braces of
Amos and that faint scent of roasting chestnuts in the kitchen under the
hands of Amos’s grandmother. Whenever I went into the kitchen I met that
scent, and heard the indefinite mumble of the old woman’s toothless
mouth, and the smell of the chestnuts floated out, too, into the narrow
entrance-passage and up the steep stairs which led to the rooms above. I
associate it always now with a narrow passage, rather dark; sloping
ceilings; and rooms where the pictures could be hung on the south wall
only, because of the crookedness of the house. In the parlour, which
balanced the kitchen, but was never used, was an old-fashioned
oil-painting of a soldier with whiskers and a tightly-buttoned uniform,
and this painting swung out from the north wall with a space of perhaps
six inches between the wall and the bottom of the frame.”



                                   II


On the morrow we again took our pipes to the clump of pines, and Malory
began, in his drowsy, meditative voice, to tell his story from where he
had left off.

“I hope you are by now as curious as I was to discover the secret of the
Pennistan quality. The family were evidently unconscious that there was
any secret to discover. They thought no more of themselves than they did
of their blue surrounding hills, though in relation to the weather they
considered their blue hills a good deal, and Amos taught me one evening
that too great a clearness was not to be desired; the row of poplars
over towards Penshurst should be slightly obscured, misty; and if it was
so, and if the haze hung over Crowborough Beacon, I might safely leave
the yearling calves out in the field all night. I should look also for a
heavy dew upon the ground, which would predict a fine day besides
bringing out the mushrooms.

“We were standing in the cross-roads, where the white finger-post said,
‘Edenbridge, Leigh, Cowden,’ and Amos had corrected my pronunciation
from Lee to Lye, and from _Cow_den to Cow_den_. I know no greater joy
than returning to the heart of a beloved country by road, and seeing the
names on the finger-posts change from the unfamiliar to the familiar,
passing through stages of acquaintance to friendship, and from
friendship into intimacy. Half the secret of love lies in intimacy,
whereby love gains in tenderness what it loses in mystery, and is not
the poorer by the bargain.

“Mrs. Pennistan came out to join us, and I took the opportunity of
asking her whether I might use a certain cupboard for my clothes, as I
was pressed for room. She replied,—

“‘Granny had that cupboard, but she’s surely past using it now, so
anything of hers you find in it, hang out over the bannister, and I’ll
pack it away in a box.’

“Out of this little material circumstance I obtained my explanation; I
went in, leaving husband and wife strolling in the road, for it was
Sunday evening, and on their Sunday evening they clung to their hour of
leisure. I went in, past the chestnuts, up the stairs, and at the top of
the stairs I opened the cupboard door, and explored with my hand to
discover whether the recess was empty. It was not, so I fetched my
candle in its blue tin candlestick, and lifted out the garments one by
one; they were three in number.

“I carried them carefully into my room, with no intention of examining
them, but as I laid them on the bed their texture and fashion arrested
me. A smell came from them, faded and far away. I held them up one by
one: a heavily fringed shawl of Spanish make, a black skirt with many
flounces, a tiny satin bodice that would barely, I thought, fit a child.
As I unrolled this last, something fell from it: a pair of old, pink
shoes, tiny shoes, heelless shoes,—the shoes of a ballet dancer.

“As I turned over these relics I heard some one moving in the passage
below, and going to the top of the stairs I called to Ruth. She came up,
then seeing the shoes in my hands she gave an exclamation of surprise.

“‘Are these yours?’ I asked.

“‘Mine! no; why, look here,’ and she held a shoe against her foot,
which, although small, outstripped the shoe in width and length.
‘They’re granny’s, I reckon,’ she added.

“Then she took up the bodice and examined it critically.

“‘It’s a bit rotten, of course,’ she remarked, pulling cautiously at the
stuff, ‘but where’d you buy satin now to last as well as that? and
bought abroad, too.’

“The subtlest inflection of resentment was in her tone.

“‘Here, give them to me,’ she said. ‘Granny can’t want these old rags,
messing up the house. There’s little enough cupboard room anyhow. I’ll
put the shawl away up in the attic, for there’s wear in it yet, but the
rest can go on the midden.’

“I detained her.

“‘Tell me first, how comes your grandmother to have these things?’

“She was surprised at my ignorance.

“‘To start with, she’s father’s grandmother, not mine. She’s so old, I
forget her mostly.... She’s ninety-six, ninety-seven come Christmas.
We’re wondering if she’ll last to a hundred.’

“How callous she was! Triply callous, I thought, because of her own
youth, because of her great-grandmother’s extreme age, and because of
the natural philosophic indifference of her class towards life and
death.

“‘She was a dancer, once, you know,’ she went on. ‘Used to dance on the
stage, and my great-grandfather found her there, and married her. What a
tiny little thing she must have been, just look at this,’ and she held
the little bodice across her own breast with a gay laugh, like a child
trying to put on the clothes of its biggest doll.

“Then she held the skirt against her slender hips to show me how short
it was, and pointed her foot in an instinctive dance position.

“She was holding up the bodice by tucking it under her chin. I looked at
her, and she blushed, and convinced me that no woman ever stands
altogether innocent of coquetry before any man.

“‘Tell me more about your grandmother,’ I said.

“‘It’s so long ago,’ she replied. ‘She had two children, and one was my
father’s father, and the other was Rawdon Westmacott’s mother. You know
my cousin Rawdon?’

“‘I know him,’ I said. ‘So you and he are of different generations,
though there’s not more than twelve years between you in age.’

“‘Yes, that’s so. Now I come to think of it, there’s the old book in the
parlour you might like to read, a diary or something, kept by my
great-grandfather. It’s only an old thing; I’ve never looked on it
myself, but I’ve heard father talk of it. Shall I get it for you?’

“I begged that she would do so, and she ran downstairs, and returned
with a little tartan-covered volume in her hand.

“‘Father sets great store by it,’ she said hesitatingly, as she gave it
up to me.

“‘He won’t object to my reading it?’

“‘Oh, no, if you’ve a mind.’

“She evidently looked down on me a good deal for my interest in the
old-fashioned volume.

“Left alone, I drew my chair near to the chest of drawers, whereon I had
set the blue candlestick; I had two hours before me, and I felt as an
explorer might feel on the verge of a new country. Here was a document
written by a dead hand, an intimate document, private property, not
edited and re-edited, but quietly owned by dignified and unassuming
descendants, who would neither cheapen nor profane by giving the dead
man’s confidence to the world. It was probable that no intelligently
interested eyes but mine would ever read it. I hesitated for an
appreciable time before I opened the diary, and in that pause my eyes
wandered from the little book to the little garments on the bed, and I
fancied that these inanimate objects, made animate by the spirit of
their respective owners, called to one another yearningly across the
silence of my room.

“When I at last opened the diary I found myself carried straight away
into an unanticipated world. The man, whose name and rank, ‘Oliver
Pennistan, captain, Dragoons,’ I read on the fly-leaf, was writing in
Spain. His first entry was dated Madrid, 1830. He wrote without
conscious art, and indeed his daily jottings seemed to me solely the
occupation of a lonely evening; at one moment he was annoyed because he
had been given _pan de municion_, which was hard, black, and uneatable,
instead of _pan de candeal_; at another, he had been overcharged by his
landlord, and feared he must exchange into a different posada.

“He was innocent of literary artifice, this Pepys of nineteenth century
Spain, yet the natural, matter of fact, unstudied candour of his daily
biography brought the preposterous age before me, crimped and grotesque,
the Spain of Goya. Eighteen-thirty, an incredible period in any country,
attained in Spain an incredibility which turned it into a caricature of
itself. Oliver Pennistan, I knew, wore whiskers and an eyeglass; tight,
straight, high military trousers; drawled; guffawed; said ‘Egad.’ As for
the women of his acquaintance, I knew them to be frizzed and fuzzed,
with faces mauve beneath their powder, and hearts sick with sentiment
beneath their tight bodices. I did not know what had taken Oliver
Pennistan to Spain, but I supposed that he was a younger son, as I had
heard Amos boast of the dozen boys of his grandfather’s generation.

“Still I did not connect his Spanish experiences with the Pennistans I
knew. I read the Madrid portion of his diary without impatience, because
I was greatly entertained by the subtle flavour of the age which I found
therein, but when he came to packing his valise preparatory for a trip
to Cadiz, I fluttered the pages over, looking for his return to England.
I wanted to get to the dancer who now sat in the room below mine
roasting chestnuts over the fire. I was disappointed to see that the
diary never accompanied him to England, and I began to fear that his
courtship and marriage would not be revealed to me.

“‘Leaving Madrid with regret,’ ran the diary, ‘but have the benefit of
agreeable society on the road. Hope to cover thirty miles to the day. I
have a broad sash to keep off the colic, and an amulet from a fair
friend to keep off the _evil eye_.’

“Thus equipped, the dragoon rode to Cadiz, and I must do him the justice
to say that he looked on the country he rode through with an
appreciative eye, noting the scent of the orange-blossom which assailed
him as he entered Andalusia, and the grandeur of the rocky passes which
connect northern and southern Spain. At the same time, he kept that nice
sense of proportion by which tolerable food and lodging remains more
important to the traveller than beauty of scenery. He noted also the
superior attractions of the Andalusian women, ‘little, and dark, and for
the most part fat, but with twinkling eyes and a smile more _friendly_,
if also more _covert_, than their sisters of Madrid.’

“I turned over the pages again at this point, and chanced at last upon a
phrase which convinced me that he had met his love. Then the book fell
from my hand, and I lost myself in a reverie, working my way laboriously
through a maze of preconception to the fact that this dancer of whom I
had heard from Ruth was not an English dancer, but a Spanish dancer, and
as this fact broke like daylight upon me I realised that I had bored
into the heart of my mystery. Moments of revelation are intrinsically
dramatic things, when a new knowledge, irrevocable, undisputable, comes
to dwell in the mind. All previous habitants have to readjust themselves
to make room for the stranger. A great shuffling and stampeding took
place now in my brain, but I found that, far from experiencing
discomfort or difficulty in accommodating themselves to their new
conditions, my prejudices jumped briskly round and presented themselves
in their true shape beneath the searching glare of the revelation.

“I read on eagerly, the shadow of disappointment lifting from me. Oliver
Pennistan lodged at an inn which provided him with excellent Valdepeñas;
his business in Cadiz was somehow connected with wine, and many
technical jottings followed, put in as a guide to his memory; I did not
understand all his abbreviations, but was nevertheless impressed by his
knowledge of sherry. His business took him most of the day. In the
evenings he was a free man, and spent his time in the theatre; probably
it was here that he first saw his dancer, for at about this time her
name began to appear in the diary: ‘To the fight with Concha,’ or ‘With
Concha to the merry-go-round.’ There were also references to the
‘Egyptians,’ who were Concha’s people, and the Goya world of Madrid was
replaced by a society of Bohemians—bull fighters, mountebanks, acrobats,
hunchbacks, thieves, fortune tellers, all the riff-raff of the gipsy
quarter.

“I took this as a miniature allegory, for in the Prado at Madrid the
Goya portraits of ladies and the Royal family hang upstairs, while in a
basement, typical of the underworld into which Oliver Pennistan had now
plunged, hang his series of extraordinary cartoons, caricatures,
nightmares, peopled with obscene dwarfs and monstrous parasites.

“How remote the England of his boyhood must have seemed to him, his
eleven brothers, the hills, the hawthorn, the farm-buildings; if he saw
them at all, it must have been as at the end of a long avenue. I looked
up, out of my window across the sleeping fields, and returned again to
the pages yet hot and quivering with life, written in an ill-lighted
posada at Cadiz.

“In the same way that, without a descriptive word, he had contrived to
give me an unmistakable impression of the Spain of his day, he now gave
me a portrait of the dancer, passionate but strangely chaste, scornful
of men, but yielding her heart to him while she withheld her body. He
gave me a picture also of his own love, flaming suddenly out of a night
of indifference, overwhelming him and sweeping aside his reason,
determining him to make a wife of the gipsy he would more naturally have
desired as a passing love. I was intimate with his intention, yet he
never departed from his catalogue of facts and doings; stay, once he
departed from it to say, ‘Her head sleek as a berry, her little teeth
white as nuts.’ His one description.... I looked across at the little
silent heap of garments on my bed, that had clasped the fragile being he
revered with so much tenderness.

“‘To the bull-ring with Concha,’ he noted on one occasion. ‘Not to the
spectacle, but to the driving in from the corral. Miura bulls, black and
small, but agile more than most. They are driven in through the streets
in the small hours of morning, together with the tame cattle, by men on
horses. These men wear the bolero and high, peaked hat, and carry a long
pole armed with an iron point. I would have ridden, but she dissuaded
me. We waited on a balcony above a yard. A long wait, but not dreary in
such company. There is much _shouting_ when the bulls come, and the yard
beneath is filled with fury and bellowing; I would not willingly chance
my skin among such angry monsters, but their drivers with skill manœuvre
each bull by himself into a separate cell where he is to remain without
food or drink until morning. A diverting spectacle, had it not been for
the press and the stench of ordures.’

“I have seen that dim yard myself,” said Malory, “chaotic with lashings
and tramplings, and pawings and snortings, and the vast animals butt
against the woodwork, and their huge forms move confusedly in the
limited space. Like Pennistan, I would not care to chance my skin.
Concha, who being a Spaniard was bred up to violence, was even a little
frightened, ‘clung to me,’ said the diary, ‘and besought me not to leave
her. We saw the bulls in their cells from above, by the light of
torches. These brands may be thrust down to burn and singe and further
enrage the beast,’ but Oliver Pennistan, who had been nurtured on this
mild farm among pampered and kindly kine, did not like the sport, so
turned away with Concha on his arm and passed through a door into the
upper gallery of the arena.

“The vast circle seemed yet vaster by reason of its emptiness. Its ten
thousand seats curved round in tiers and tiers and tiers, a gigantic
funnel, open to the sky in which sailed a full and placid moon. The
arena, ready raked and scattered with whitish sand, gleamed palely
below, as if it had been the reflection of the heavenly moon in a pool
of water. The great place lay in haunted silence.

“It was here, sitting in a box, that they came to their final agreement.
The diary naturally giving me no hint of the words that passed between
them, I had to be content with a laconic entry some few days later:
‘Married this morning at the church of S. Pedro.’ I sat on in my room
wondering what Oliver Pennistan had made of that surrendered, inviolate
soul, the no doubt rather stupid and affected soldier, the scion of
English yeomen; I wonder what he made of his wildling, sprung as she was
from God knows what parentage; the Moorish Empire and the Holy Land had
both surely gone to her making. They roamed Spain together for their
honeymoon, and I accompanied them in spirit, seeing her dance, not in
public places only, but in their room, for his eyes alone, his hungry
love her sweetest applause; dancing in her little shift, and teaching
his clumsy hands to clap and his lips to cry ‘Olé!’ I wonder too what
the mountebanks of the trade thought of Concha’s husband, who sat
through her performance in the hot, boarded theatres of Spanish
provincial towns, and would allow no other man near his wife, and who,
when one evening she for pure mischief eluded him, only grieved in
silence and thought her love was going from him. I wonder most of all
what Concha thought of him, his staid insularity, his perpetual talk of
home, and his unassailable prejudices?

“As I came to the last pages of the diary, which ended abruptly on the
last day of the year in Valladolid, Ruth knocked on my door and said she
had come for the clothes. I was so full of the illuminating romance that
I pressed her with questions. She was not so much reserved as merely
indifferent, but looking at her warm young face in the uncertain
candlelight I knew that therein, rather than in her speech, lay the
answer to all my queries. I had seen the portraits of Amos Pennistan’s
father, and of Rawdon Westmacott’s mother, daguerreotypes which hung,
enlarged, on either side of the kitchen dresser, and I knew that in that
generation no sign of the Spanish strain had appeared. I looked again at
Ruth, at her sleek brown head, her glowing skin, her disdainful poise;
looked, and was enlightened. I urged her memory. Could she recall no
anecdote, dear to her father when in a mood of comfortable expansion, a
family legend of her grandfather’s youth? Yes, she remembered hearing
that the children had an uneasy time of it, blows and kisses distributed
alternately between them, now hugged to their mother’s breast, now sent
reeling across the room.... She had been gay, it seemed, that ancient
woman, deliciously gay, light-hearted, generous, full of song, but of
sudden and uncertain temper. But she remembered, though it was not worth
the telling, that Mrs. Oliver Pennistan, in her sunniest mood, would set
her children on hassocks to watch her, their backs against the wall,
would take down her hair, which was long and a source of pride to her as
to all Spanish women, would take her shawl from the cupboard, and,
stripping off her shoes and stockings, would dance for her children, up
and down, the sinuous intricacies of an Andalusian dance. I wondered
what Oliver Pennistan thought, when, coming in of an evening with the
mud from the turnip fields heavy on his boots, he found his wife with
hair and fingers flying, dancing to the music of her own voice on the
tiled floor of his ancestral kitchen?”



                                  III


“Now,” said Malory, “I scarcely know how to continue my story. I have
told you how I went to live with the Pennistans, and I have told you
Oliver Pennistan’s Spanish adventure, and the rest lies largely in hours
so full of work that no day could drag, but which in words would take
five minutes’ reproducing. I have told you already how I loved that
simple monotone of life. I had arrived in autumn, an unwise choice for a
novice less enthusiastic than myself, for soon the trees were bare of
the fruit which had so rejoiced me, bare, too, of the summer leaf, and
the working day, which at first had drawn itself out in long, warm,
melting evening, now rushed into darkness before work was done, and not
into darkness alone, but into chill and wet, so that you might often
have seen me going about my work in the cow-sheds with a sack over my
shoulders and a hurricane lantern in my hand. I do not pretend that I
enjoyed these squally winter nights. They had the effect of dulling my
perception, and presently I found myself like the country people whose
life I shared, considering the weather merely in its relation to myself;
was it wet? then I should be wet; was it a bright, fine day? then I
should be dry. My standpoint veered slowly round, like the needle of a
compass, from the subjective to the objective. I wish I could say as
much for many of my contemporaries. Then in our age as in all great
ages, we might find more men living, not merely thinking, their lives.”

In after years I remembered Malory’s words, and wondered whether he had
found on the battlefield sufficient signs of the activity he desired.

“I remember how entranced I was,” he went on, altering his tone, “by the
sense of ritual in the labouring year. I thought of the country as a
vast cathedral, teeming with worshippers, all passing in unison from
ceremony to ceremony as the months revolved. When I had come to join the
congregation, apse and column and nave were rich with fruit, the common
fruit of the English countryside, plum and apple, damson and pear,
curved and coloured and glowing with the quality of jewels; then busy
hands came, and packed and stored the harvest into bins, and colour went
from the place, and it grew dark. A long pause full of meditation fell.
The trees slept, men worked quickly and silently, no more than was
imperative, and from darkened corners spread the gleam of fires which
they had lighted for their warmth and comfort. But then, oh! then the
place was suddenly full of young living things, and of a light like
pearls; children laughed, and over the ground swept a tide which left it
starred with flowers, and a song arose, full of laughter and the ripple
of brooks. The spring had come.”

He was strangely exalted. I knew that my presence was forgotten.

“The shepherd and his nymph were not long lacking in this Arcadian
world. I met them crossing the fields, I spied them beneath the hedges,
I learned to step loudly before entering the dairy with my pails of
milk. I loved them, more perhaps as a part of the picture than for their
own sakes. To me they were Daphnis and Chloe, not the game-keeper’s son
and the farmer’s daughter.

“The match was favourably viewed by Amos Pennistan, though Nancy was but
eighteen and her lover two years older. I was honoured by an invitation
to the wedding. I had already woven a little tale for myself around
those country nuptials, a celebration which, although slightly
irregular, would have become my lovers better than the parochial
gentility which did actually attend their union. I had pictured them by
a brook, Daphnis in, to our minds, becomingly inadequate clothing,
Chloe’s muslin supplemented by chains of meadow flowers such as the
children weave, accompanied by their flocks and the many young
creatures, lambs, kids, and calves, as are characteristic of that least
virginal of seasons. No wooing; no; or if there must be wooing, let it
be sudden and primitive, and of the nature of a revelation, and let the
oak trees be their roof that night, and the stars the witnesses of their
natural and candid passion. But passion, poor soul! was put into stays
and stockings, had his mad gallop checked into a walk, while fingers
poked, eyes peeped, and tongues clacked round the prisoner. Alas for the
secret of Daphnis and Chloe; shorn of the dignity of secrecy, it glared
in the printed column, was brayed out from the pulpit, was totted up in
pounds and shillings. Food entered to play his hospitable and clumsy
part. For days Mrs. Pennistan baked, roasted, and kneaded cakes and
pastries, and daily as she did it her temper disimproved. Such beauty as
was Chloe’s, the beauty of health and artlessness, was devastated by the
atrocious trappings of respectability....

“What a commonplace tale! you will say, and a vulgar one into the
bargain! and indeed you will be right, if a miracle can become a
commonplace through frequent working, and if you look upon the marriage
of two young creatures as a social convenience, ordained, as we are
told, for the procreation of lawful children. I have told you nothing
but the love of rustic clowns. But as the great words of language, life
and death, love and hate, sin, birth, war, bread and wine, are short and
simple, and as the great classical emotions are direct and without
complexity, so my rustic clowns are classical and enduring, because Adam
and Eve, Daphnis and Chloe, Dick and Nancy, are no more than
interchangeable names throughout the ages.

“My Arcady missed its lovers. I realised after they had gone that they
had been real lovers, imperative to one another, and that they had not
simply drifted into marriage as a result of upbringing and propinquity.
Had their parents’ consent been for some reason refused, they would, I
am convinced, have gone away together. Amos Pennistan, in one of his
rare moments of expansion, told me as much himself. ‘Nancy,’ he said,
‘it never did to cross Nancy. She was strong-willed from three months
upward. Ruth, now, she’s a steady, tractable girl for all her dark
looks. Of the two, give me Ruth as a daughter.’

“You may imagine my profound interest in the study of this strain sprung
from the stock of Concha and Oliver Pennistan. Here I had Nancy, with
her slight English prettiness, and the fiery will which might never be
crossed; and Ruth, who looked like a gipsy and was in fact steady and
tractable. I could not help feeling that fate had her hand on these
people, and mocked and pushed them hither and thither in the thin
disguise of heredity. You remember Francis Galton and the waltzing mice,
how he took the common mouse and the waltzing mouse, and mated them, and
how among their progeny there were a common mouse, a black and white
mouse, and a mouse that waltzed; and how in the subsequent generations
the common brown house mouse predominated, but every now and then there
came a mouse that waltzed and waltzed, restless and tormented, until in
the endless pursuit of its tail it died, dazed, blinded, perplexed, by
the relentless fate that had it in grip. Well, I had my mice in a cage,
and Concha, the dancer, the waltzing mouse, sat mumbling by the fire.”

I shuddered. I did not understand Malory. He had spoken of the violence
of his feeling when he first caught sight of Ruth; I could not reconcile
that mood with his present chill analysis.

“You held a microscope over their emotions,” I said.

“I was afraid there would not be many emotions left now that Nancy was
gone,” he replied regretfully. “I missed her as a study, and I missed
her as an intrinsic part of my Arcady. I turned naturally for
compensation to Ruth and to Rawdon Westmacott, but here I realised at
once that I must dissociate the figures from the landscape. They would
not fit. No; contrive and compress them as I might, they would not fit.
I am very sensitive to the relation of the picture to the frame, and I
was troubled by their southern exuberance in the midst of English hay
and cornfields. Now could I but have had them here ...” and again the
cropping goats, the mountains, and the torrent rushed across the magic
lantern screen in my mind.

“I told you that I knew young Westmacott was there crazy for her; he had
no reserve about his desire, but hung round the farm with a straw
between his teeth, his whip smacking viciously at his riding-boots, and
his eyes perpetually following the girl at her work. He would look at
her with a hunger that was indecent. Me he considered with a dislike
that amused while it annoyed me. I often left my work when I saw him
looming up morosely in the distance, but old Amos dropped me a hint,
very gently, in his magnificently grand manner, after which I no longer
felt at liberty to leave the two alone. If they wanted private
interviews they must arrange them when they knew my work would take me
elsewhere.

“I was not sorry, for I had no affection for Westmacott, and it amused
me to watch Ruth’s manner towards him. I had heard of a woman treating a
man like a dog, but I had never seen an expression put into practice as
I now saw Ruth put this expression into practice towards her cousin. She
seemed to have absolute confidence in her power over him. When it did
not suit her to notice his presence, she utterly ignored him, busied her
tongue with singing and her hands with the affair of the moment, never
casting so much as a glance in his direction, never asking so much as
his help with her work; and he would wait, lounging against the doorway
or against a tree, silent, devouring her with that hungry look in his
eyes. Often I have seen him wait in vain, returning at last to his home
without a word from her to carry with him. His farm suffered from his
continual absence, but he did not seem to care. And she? did she get
much satisfaction out of her ill-treatment of his devotion? I never
knew, for she never alluded to him, but I can only suppose that, in the
devilish, inexplicable way of women, she did. In his presence she was
certainly an altered being; all her gentleness and her undoubted
sweetness left her, and she became hard, contemptuous, almost impudent.
I disliked her at such moments; self-confidence was unbecoming to her.

“Then, when she wanted him, she would whistle him up like a little
puppy, and this also I disliked, because Westmacott, whatever his
faults, wasn’t that sort of man, and it offended me to witness the
slight put upon his dignity. He didn’t seem to resent it himself, but
came always, obedient to her call. And he would do the most
extraordinary things at her bidding. Mrs. Pennistan told me one day that
when the pair were children, or, rather, when Ruth was a child of ten
and he was a young man of twenty-two, she would order him to perform the
wildest feats of danger and difficulty.

“‘And he’d do what she told him, what’s more,’ said Mrs. Pennistan, to
whom these reminiscences were obviously a source of delight and pride,
as though she, poor honest woman, shone a little with the reflected
glory of her daughter’s ten-year-old ascendancy over the daring young
man. ‘Lord, you would have laughed to see her standing there, stamping
her little foot, and defying him to go down Bailey’s Hill on his bicycle
without any brakes, and him doing it, with that twist in the road and
all.... One day she wanted him to jump into the pond with all his
clothes on, and when he wouldn’t do that she got into such a rage, and
stalked away, and wouldn’t speak to him, enough to make a cat laugh,’
and Mrs. Pennistan with a great chuckle doubled herself up, rubbing her
fat hands in enjoyment up and down her thighs, straightening herself
again to say, ‘Oh, comical!’ and to wipe her eye with the corner of her
apron!

“‘Well, now, I declare!’ she said suddenly, craning her neck to see over
the hedge. ‘If she isn’t at her old tricks again!’

“I followed her with a thrill to a gap in the hedge whither she had
darted—if any one so portly may be said to dart. There, across the
field, by the gate, stood the pair we had been discussing, and I was
actually surprised to find that the little ten-year-old girl whom I had
half expected to see was a well-grown and extremely good-looking young
woman. She was sitting on the gate, and Westmacott was lounging in his
usual attitude beside her; even at that distance his singular grace was
apparent.

“They seemed to be looking at the two cart-horses which were grazing,
loose in the field.

“‘She’s up to something, you mark my words,’ said Mrs. Pennistan to me.

“I agreed with her. Ruth was pointing, and the imperious tones of her
voice floated across to us in the still evening; Rawdon was following
the direction of her finger, and now and then he turned in his languid,
easy way that covered—with how thin a veneer!—the fierceness beneath, to
say something to his companion. I saw his hand drop the switch he
carried, and fall upon her knee. Her manner became more wilful, more
imperative; had she been standing on the ground, she would have stamped.
I heard Rawdon laugh at her, but that seemed to make her angry, and with
a resigned shrug he pushed himself away from the gate and began to walk
across the field.

“‘Lord sakes,’ said Mrs. Pennistan anxiously, ‘whatever is he going to
do?’

“I begged her to keep quiet, because I wanted to see any fun that might
be going.

“Mrs. Pennistan was not happy; she grunted.

“Ruth was perched on the gate, watching her cousin. I was delighted to
have an opportunity of observing them when they thought themselves
alone. Besides, I intensely wanted to see what Rawdon was going to do.
He walked up to one of the horses, hand outstretched and fingers moving
invitingly, but the horse snorted, threw up its head, and cantered
lumberingly away to another part of the field. Rawdon followed it,
pulling a wisp of grass by means of which he enticed the great clumsy
beast until he was able, after some stroking and patting, to lay his
hand upon its mane. Ruth, on the gate, clapped her hands and called out
gaily,—

“‘Now up with you!’

“‘Lord sakes!’ said Mrs. Pennistan again.

“I saw Westmacott getting ready to spring; he was agile as a cat, and
with a leap and a good hold on the mane he hoisted himself on to the
horse’s back. The horse galloped madly round the field, but Westmacott
sat him easily—not a very wonderful feat for a farm-trained boy to
accomplish. As he passed Ruth he waved his hand to her.

“She wasn’t satisfied yet; she called out something, and, the horse
having come to a standstill, I saw Rawdon cautiously turning himself
round till he sat with his face to the tail. Then he drummed with his
heels to put the horse once more into its lumbering gallop.

“I saw the scene as something barbaric, or, rather, as something that
ought to have been barbaric and only succeeded in being grotesque. Ruth
ought to have been, of course, an Arab girl daring her lover in the
desert to feats of horsemanship upon a slim unbroken thoroughbred colt.
Instead of that, Westmacott was just making himself look rather
ridiculous upon a cart-horse. But the intention was there; yes, by Jove!
it was; the intention, the instinct; he was wooing her in a way an
English suitor wouldn’t have chosen, nor an English girl have approved.
Mrs. Pennistan, however, saw the matter in a different light, as a
foolish and unbecoming escapade on the part of her daughter; so,
thrusting herself between the loose staves of the fence and waving her
hands angrily, she called out to Westmacott to have done with his
dangerous nonsense.

“He slipped off the horse’s back, and Ruth slipped down off the gate,
the man looking annoyed, and, in a slight degree, sheepish, the girl
perfectly self-possessed. Mrs. Pennistan rated them both. Westmacott
kicked sulkily at the toe of one boot with the heel of the other. I
glanced at Ruth. She had her hands in the big pockets of her apron and
was looking away into the sky, with her lips pursed for an inaudible
whistle. Her mother stormed at her.

“‘You’re getting too old for such nonsense. It was all very well when
you were a chit with pig-tails down your back. And you, Rawdon, I should
ha’ thought you’d ha’ known better. What’d Pennistan say if he knew of
your larking with his horses? I’ve a good mind to tell him.’

“‘I’ve done the brute no harm,’ he muttered.

“‘Well, I’ll tell him next time, see if I don’t. What did you do it for,
anyway?’

“‘A bit of fun ... ’ he muttered again, and, his smouldering eyes
resting resentfully upon her, he added something about Ruth.

“Ruth brought her gaze slowly down from the clouds to bend it upon her
cousin. Their eyes met in that furnace of passion and hatred with which
I was to become so familiar.

“‘Ay, Ruth told you,’ stormed Ruth’s mother. ‘An old tale. You let Ruth
alone and she’ll let you alone, and we’ll all be better pleased. Now be
off with you, Rawdon, and you, Ruth, come in to your tea.’

“Her excitement had grown as it beat in vain against the rock of Ruth’s
indifference.

“Ruth,” said Malory after a long pause, and paused again. “She is a
problem by which I am still baffled. I do not know how to speak of her,
lest you should misunderstand me. That first impression of which I have
already told you never wore off. Do not think that I was in love with
her. I was not. I am not that sort of man. But I was always conscious of
her, and I cannot imagine the man who, seeing her, would not be
conscious of her.

“She on her part, was, I am certain, unaware of the effect she produced.
Before I had been very long on the farm I had come to the conclusion
that she was a slow, gentle, rather stupid girl, obedient to her parents
in all things, less from the virtue of obedience than from her natural
apathy. She and I were thrown a good deal together by reason of my work.
I tried to draw her into conversation, but no sooner had I enticed her,
however laboriously, into the regions of speculation than she dragged me
back into the regions of fact. ‘Ruth,’ I would say, ‘does a woman cling
more to her children or to her husband?’ and she would stare at me and
reply, ‘What things you do say, Mr. Malory! and if you’ll excuse me I
have the dairy to wash down yet.’

“I am a lover of experiments by nature, and having no aptitude for
science it is necessarily with human elements that I conjure in my
crucible. You said I held a microscope over emotions. I say, rather,
that I hold my subject, my human being, like a piece of cut glass in the
sunlight, and let the colours play varyingly through the facets.

“Sunday afternoon was our holiday on the farm, and to the worker alone a
holiday is passionately precious. It is all a matter of contrast. On
Sunday afternoon I would take Ruth for a walk; the sheep-dog came with
us, and we would go through shaw and spinney and young coppice, and
along high-hedged lanes. One spot I loved, called Baker’s Rough, where
the trees and undergrowth had been cleared, and wild flowers had
consequently gathered in their millions: anemones, wood-violets,
bluebells, cuckooflowers, primroses, and later the wild strawberry, and
later still the scarlet hips of the briar. I never saw a piece of ground
so starred. Here we often passed, and we would climb the hill-ridge
behind, and look down over the Weald, and fancy that we could see as far
as Romney Marsh, where Rye and Winchelsea keep guard over the melancholy
waste like little foreign towns. We stood over the Weald, seeing both
fair weather and foul in the wide sweep of sky; there a storm, and there
a patch of sun on the squares of meadow. On fine days great pillows of
white cloud drifted across the blue, painted by a bold artist in
generous sweeps on a broad canvas, and those great clouds were repeated
below in the great rounded cushions of trees. We looked over perhaps
fifty miles of country, yet scarcely one house could we distinguish, but
when we looked for a long time we made out, here and there, a roof or an
oast-house, and I used to think that, like certain animals, these
dwellings had taken on the colour of the land. For the most part, a
clump of trees would be our nearest landmark.

“I could evoke for you many of those hours when, with the girl beside
me, I explored the recesses of that tender country. Without sharing my
enthusiasm, she was yet singularly companionable, happy and contented
wherever our footsteps led us, with the reposeful quality of content
essential to a true comrade.”

He was silent, and I considered him covertly as he sat hugging his knees
and staring into the distance with a far-away look on his face. He was,
I thought, a queer chap; queer, lonely, alien; intensely, damnably
analytical. As I watched him, his head moved slightly, in a distressed,
unconscious manner, and his brow contracted into a frown that emphasized
the slight negative movement of the head. Yet he did not share his
difficulties with me. He dismissed them with a sigh, and a gesture of
the hand, and resumed,—

“I mentioned just now the place called Baker’s Rough. Ruth came to me
one morning with glowing eyes.

“‘There’s flowers such as you never saw on Baker’s Rough to-day,’ she
said mysteriously.

“I tried to guess: mulleins? ragged robins? periwinkles? but it was none
of those. She would not tell me. I must come and see for myself.

“We set out after tea for Baker’s Rough, walking quickly, for we had
only an hour to spare. As we drew near, the sheep-dog, who had run on
ahead, set up a tremendous barking at the gate. I cried,—

“‘Gipsies!’

“There was a real gipsy encampment, caravans hung with shining pots and
pans, gaudy washing strung out on a line, a camp fire, lean dogs,
curly-headed children. Ruth had guessed aright when she guessed that I
would be pleased. Amos hated gipsies, but I loved them. I’ve never
outgrown the love of gipsies that lurks in every boy. Have you?”

His eyes were actually sparkling as he asked the question, and I was
overcome by a feeling of guilt. Often I had thought this man a prig. He
was not one, but simply an odd compound of philosopher and vagrant, poet
and child. I resolved not to be hard on him again. I was uncomfortably
suspicious that it was I who had been the prig.

“As we stood looking,” he went on, “a woman came down the steps of a
caravan, and, seeing us, invited us with a flashing smile to come into
the camp. Ruth was delighted; she followed the woman, looking like a
gipsy herself, I thought, and the children came round her, little
impudent beggars, staring up into her face and even touching her
clothes. She only laughed, curiously at home; I felt, despite my love of
the roaming people, over-educated and sophisticated. I was loving the
camp self-consciously, almost voluntarily, aware that I was loving it
and rather pleased with myself for doing so.”

“Your mind twists,” I interrupted, “like the point of a corkscrew.”

He laughed, but he looked a little hurt, taken aback, checked on his
course.

“I am sorry,” he said, “you are right to snub me for it. Well, Ruth at
any rate was thoroughly at home, and I could see that the gipsy was
sizing her up with her shrewd eyes, and wondering whether I should be
good for half-a-crown or only a shilling.

“She let Ruth sit on a stool and stir the pot over the fire; it smelt
very good, though it probably contained rabbits, which of all foods in
the world is the one I most dislike. Then she offered, inevitably, to
tell our fortunes, and Ruth, as inevitably, accepted with alacrity. She
stretched out her little brown hand, strong and hard with work.

“Of course the gipsy told her a lot of nonsense, and I stood by, acutely
apprehensive that I should be drawn in an embarrassing rôle into the
prognostications. I had come there with Ruth; therefore, in the gipsy’s
eyes, I must be Ruth’s young man. I took off my cap to let the gipsy see
that my hair was going gray on the temples. But it wasn’t any use; I
found myself appearing as the middle-aged man whose heart was younger
than his years, and who would finally carry off the young lady as his
bride.

“I tried, of course, to laugh it off, but to my surprise I saw Ruth
growing very red and her mouth quivering, so I told the gipsy we had
heard enough and that we had no more time to spare. Ruth rose, the
pleasure all died away from her face. Then, to add to the misfortunes of
the evening, I heard a scream and an outburst of laughter from a
neighbouring caravan, and, looking round, I saw Rawdon Westmacott jump
to the ground in pursuit of a young gipsy woman, whom he caught in his
arms and kissed.

“I looked hastily at Ruth; she had seen the thing happen. The distress
which had troubled her face gave way to anger; the name ‘Rawdon!’
slipped in involuntary indignation from her lips. Then an instinct
asserted itself to pretend that she had seen nothing, and to get out of
the place before her cousin had discovered her. But she conquered the
instinct, staring at Westmacott till he turned as though compelled in
her direction.

“Not a word did they speak to one another then, but in the silence her
anger and contempt flashed across at him like a heliograph, and his
vexation flashed back at her. She stood there staring at him
deliberately, staring him out of countenance. God! how vexed and furious
he was! It makes me laugh now to remember it. I never knew what a fool a
man could look when he was caught red-handed. The gipsy only giggled
vulgarly, and tried to rearrange her tumbled dress. Ruth never even
glanced at her, and presently she removed her gaze from Westmacott—it
seemed quite a long time, though I suppose it was not really more than a
few seconds—and turned to me.

“‘Shall we go?’ she said.

“‘We went, Ruth haughty, and I at a loss for words. Decidedly the
expedition had not been a success. The sheep-dog ran on in front and
tactfully barked, and in throwing little stones at him relations were
re-established between us. I was prepared not to allude to the incident,
but Ruth was bolder; she grappled directly with the difficulty.

“‘You saw Rawdon?’ she said with suppressed violence.

“‘I.... Well, yes, I saw him.’

“‘What was he doing there? He was up to no good with those gipsy women.’

“I had nothing to say; I knew she was right.

“‘He’s always after women,’ she added violently.

“‘I knew that she would not have said this to me had she not been
completely startled out of her self-control.

“‘He cares for you though, in his heart,’ I said, rather inanely.

“‘Does he!’ she exclaimed. ‘It doesn’t look like it.’

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘he rides the cart-horses bareback with his face to
their tails to please you.’

“‘Oh, you may joke,’ she said; ‘he wants to please me now, but where’d I
be if I belonged to him? He’d sing a very different song.’

“‘It rests with you, after all,’ I ventured.

“She was silent, swishing at the hedges with her stick as she passed.

“‘Doesn’t it?’ I urged.

“‘Oh—I suppose so.’

“‘How do you mean, you suppose so? Nobody wants you to marry him; your
parents don’t; your brothers don’t. You need never see him again. Send
him away!’

“‘I can’t do that,’ she said in a very low voice.

“‘Why not?’

“‘I can’t.... I sometimes feel I can’t escape Rawdon,’ she cried out.
‘He’s always been there since I can remember, I think he always will be
there. There’s something between us; it may be fancy; but there’s
something between us.’

“‘Hush!’ I said, startled as I was; ‘here he is.’

“He caught us up, walking rapidly, and I could see at a glance that he
was determined to have it out with Ruth in spite of my presence. He came
up with us, and he took her by the arm.

“‘Ruth!’ he said, in a vibrant voice. I want a word with you. You’ve
misjudged me.’

“We had all come to a standstill.

“‘I can’t misjudge what I see,’ she answered very coldly.

“‘You saw, you saw! well, and what of it? That was only a bit of fun.
Damn you, if you treated me a bit better yourself ...’

“‘Let me alone, Rawdon,’ she said, shaking him off. ‘You can do as you
like, that’s your affair, only let me alone. I don’t want to talk to
you. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.’

“‘Your way!’ he said, scowling at me. ‘Your way’s my way, as you’ll
learn.’

“‘Now don’t you come bullying me, Rawdon,’ she said, but I think she was
frightened.

“‘Well, you speak me fair and I won’t bully you. I was up to no harm,
only larking around.... Come, Ruthie, haven’t you a smile for me? You
treat me cruel bad most days, you know, and I don’t take offence.
Ruthie!’

“‘We’re not alone, Rawdon,’ she said sharply.

“I thought he muttered, ‘No, damn it!’ between his teeth, and just then
I felt a hand close over my wrist on the side farthest from Westmacott,
a little imploring hand that checked in the nick of time my impulse to
move away. She spoke bravely, as though the contact gave her courage.

“‘That’ll do, now, Rawdon, don’t come making a scene. There’s nothing to
make a scene about.’

“‘But you’ll not sulk me?’ he said.

“‘I’ll not sulk you, why should I?’

“‘Then give me a kiss, for peace.’

“‘Let me be, Rawdon.’

“She was troubled, now that her anger had passed. I would have walked
on, but for the dry, fevered fingers gripping my wrist.

“A new idea had taken possession of Rawdon’s mind; his eyes glowed in
the noble, architectural carving of his face, that so belied the
coarseness of his nature.

“‘I’m your cousin, Ruth!’ he cried satirically.

“He caught her by the shoulder and turned her towards him. I thought she
would have struggled, and indeed I saw the preparatory tautening of her
frame; then to my astonishment she yielded suddenly, flexible and
abandoned, and he kissed her regardless of my presence; kissed her
ferociously, and pushed her from him.

“‘I’ll see you to-morrow?’ he asked.

“‘To-morrow, likely,’ she answered indifferently, with a quick return to
her old contemptuous manner.

“He nodded, put his hand on the top bar of the adjoining gate, and
vaulted it, walking off rapidly across the fields in the direction of
his own farm.

“‘And let me tell you,’ said Ruth, as though she were continuing an
uninterrupted conversation, “he’ll be back around that gipsy place
to-night as sure as geese at Michaelmas. He’s as false as can be, is
Rawdon.”

“‘Then I think you were weak with him,’ I said. ‘Are you afraid of him?’

“‘It’s like this,’ said Ruth, with that great uneasy heave of the
uneducated when confronted with the explanation of a problem beyond the
scope of their vocabulary, ‘we never get straight. Rawdon and I. He
cringes to me, and then I bully him; or else he bullies me, and then I
cringe to him. But quarrel as we may, we always come together again.
It’s no good,’ she said with a note of despair in her expressive voice
like the melancholy of a violin, ‘we can’t get away from one another. We
always come together again.’

“I was sad; I foresaw that those two would drift into marriage from pure
physical need, though there might well be more hatred than love between
them.

“In the meantime I tried, not always very successfully, to keep Ruth
away from him; she liked being with me, I know, and I think she even
welcomed a barrier between herself and her all-too compelling cousin,
and so it came about that our Sunday afternoons were, as I have told
you, usually spent together. There were times when she broke away from
me, when the physical craving became, I suppose, too strong for her, and
she would go back to Rawdon. But for the most part she would come after
dinner on Sundays, silent and reserved, to see if I was disposed for a
walk. She would come in her daily untidiness, with the colour blowing in
her cheeks, as beautiful and as wild as a flower. I used to feel sorry
for Westmacott and his hot blood.

“On these afternoons I tried my experiments on Ruth, and I sometimes
wonder whether she ever caught me at the game, for she would give me a
scared, distrustful glance, and turn her head away. She was curiously
lazy for so hard a worker, and in sudden indolence she would refuse to
move, but would lie on the ground idle and half asleep, and would do
nothing but eat the sweets I gave her. I never saw a book in her hand.
Once,” said Malory, throwing a bit of wood at the goats, “I thought I
would convert her to Art. I brought out some treasured books, and showed
her the pictures; she was neither bewildered, nor bored, nor impressed,
nor puzzled; she simply thought the masterpieces unspeakably funny. She
laughed.... I was absurdly offended at first, then I began to come round
to her point of view, and now I am not at all sure that I don’t agree.
She opened out for me a new attitude.

“After the failure of my pictures, I tried her with a more tangible
object. I took her to Penshurst. In telling you of this I am making a
very real sacrifice of my pride and self-respect, for, as sometimes
happens, I have realised since, from my disinclination to dwell in my
own mind upon the incident, that the little rapier of humiliation went
deeper than I thought, down to that point in the heart where
indifference ceases and essentials begin.”

As Malory said this, he looked at me with his quizzical, interrogative
expression, as if to see how I was taking it. I noticed then that he had
a crooked smile which gave to his face a quaint attraction. He was a
clean-shaven man, with lean features and a dark skin; graying hair; I
supposed him to be in the neighbourhood of forty.

“When I asked Ruth if she would come to Penshurst with me,” he
continued, “she said she must change her dress. She was absent for about
half an hour, while I waited in the garden and threw stones for the
sheep-dog. When she joined me I saw that she had done her best to
smarten herself up; she had frizzed her hair and put on a hat, and her
blouse was decorated with some sort of lace—I can’t give you a closer
description than that. I scarcely recognised her, and though I felt that
I was expected to make some comment I knew at the same time that I was
physically unable to do so. ‘How nice you look!’ were the words that my
will hammered out in my brain, but the words that left my lips were,
‘Come along.’

“We started thus unpropitiously, and the strain between us was tautened
at every step by the mood of excitement which possessed her. I had never
known her like this before. Usually she was quiet, lazy about her
speech, and not particularly apposite when she did make a remark, yet I
had always found her a satisfactory companion. To-day she chattered
volubly, and the painful conviction grew upon me that she was trying to
be coy; she hinted that she had broken an appointment with Westmacott; I
became more and more silent and miserable. I had anticipated with so
much pleasure our going to Penshurst, and I knew now that the afternoon
was to be a failure. When we reached the house, bad became worse; Ruth
giggled in the rooms, and the housekeeper looked severely at her. She
made terrible jokes about the pictures; giggled again; crammed her
handkerchief against her mouth; pinched my arm. At last my endurance
gave out, and I said, ‘We had better go home,’ and I thanked the
housekeeper, and said we would find our own way out.

“Ruth was very crestfallen as we went silently across the park; she
walked with hanging head beside me, and as I looked down on the top of
her absurd hat I was almost sorry for her, but I was really annoyed, and
childishly disappointed, so I said nothing, and stared gloomily in front
of me. I thought that if I thus marked my disapproval of her sudden mood
she would never repeat the experiment, and that next day she would
return to her blue linen dress and her habitual reserve. I did not think
she would make a scene, but rather that she would be glad to pass over
the disaster in silence.

“I was surprised when she stopped abruptly.

“‘I suppose you’ll never take me out again?’ she said, as though the
idea had been boiling wildly in her brain till it found a safety valve
in her lips.

“‘My dear Ruth....’ I began.

“‘How cold you are!’ she cried violently, and she stamped her foot upon
the ground. ‘Why don’t you get angry with me? shake me? abuse me? at any
rate, say something. Only “my dear Ruth.” I suppose I’m not good enough
for you to speak to. If that’s it, say so. I’ll go home a different way.
What have I done? What’s wrong? What have I done?’

“I realised that she was in the grip of an emotion she could not
control. Such emotions came over one but seldom in ordinary life, but
when they come they are uncontrollable, for they spring from that point
in the heart, which I was speaking of, where indifference ceases and
essentials begin. Still, while realising this, I hardened myself against
her.

“‘Nothing,’ I said, adding, ‘except failed to be yourself.’

“‘What do you want me to be?’ she asked, staring at me.

“‘My dear Ruth,’ I said, ‘I like you in blue linen.’

“I swear I only meant it symbolically; it was perhaps foolish of me to
think she would understand. She went on staring at me for a moment, then
a change came over her face, a wounded look, horrible to see, and I felt
I had hurt a child, most grievously, but before I could rush into the
breach I had made and build it up again with fair words, she had dropped
her face into her hands and I saw that her shoulders were shaking. She
uttered no word of reproach or self-justification, no plea; thereby
increasing her pathos a hundredfold.

“I was distressed and embarrassed beyond measure; I hated myself, but I
no longer hated her. I had begun to like her again in the brief period
of her rage, and now in the period of her despair I liked her again
completely. I implored her to stop crying, and I tried confusedly to
explain my meaning.

“She would have none of my explanations, but turned on me cheeks flaming
with a shame which forbade any allusion to her clothes. I could see that
she was trembling from head to foot, and by the force of her authority
over me I gauged the force of her emotion over herself. Genius and
passion are alike compelling. Here was a Ruth I did not know, but it was
a Ruth I had desired to see, and I triumphed secretly for having divined
her under the Ruth of every day.

“Well,” said Malory, “I have made my confession now, for it partakes of
the nature of confession. I never saw that piteous finery again, and I
never saw the mood that matched it. She calmed down at length, and we
made a compact of friendship, but if ever the name of Penshurst arose in
conversation I saw the scarlet flags fluttering in her cheeks.

“Meanwhile the familiarity of the place grew on me, as I had foreseen,
and there were many inmates of the farm, now old-established, whom I had
known since their birth; plants and animals alike. We were haymaking, a
common enough pursuit, but to me full of delight; I loved the ready
fields, the unceasing whirr and rattle of the cutter, the browning grass
as it lay where it had fallen, and the rough wooden rake in my hand. I
loved the curve of the fields over the hill, and the ridges of hay
stretching away like furrows. Above all I loved the great stack, which
swallowed up the cart-loads one by one, and the green tarpaulins furled
above it, which made it look like a galleon with sails and rigging.

“I told you I had dipped into many things; I worked once on a Greek
trader which plied with figs and oranges from Smyrna to Corinth through
the islands of the Ægean. It was a bulky, mediæval-looking vessel, with
vast red sails, very little changed, I should imagine, from the one in
which Ulysses sailed on his immortal journey. I learnt a certain amount
about the orange trade, but I learnt another thing from that Greek ship
which I value more: I learnt about colour, hot, tawny colour, that ran
the gamut from the bronze limbs of the crew, through the Venetian sails,
to the fire of the fruit, and echoed again in the sunset behind
Hymettus, and dropped in the cool aquamarine of the waves near the
shore, and deepened into sapphire as I hung over the sides of the ship
above the moving water. From this rich canvas I had come to the grays
and greens and browns of England, the dove after the bird of Paradise,
and do you know, I felt the relationship of the two, the relationship of
labour between the Greek, the almost pirate, crew, and the English
farmer with his classic and primitive tools, the brotherhood between the
sweeping scythe and the dipping oar, between the unwieldy stack and the
clumsy vessel.

“The scent of the hay is in my nostrils, and the stirring is in my arms
to throw up my fork-load upon the cart. We worked sometimes till ten at
night, a race with the weather; we worked by sunlight and moonlight, and
I preferred the latter. You may think that I preferred it because it
pleased me to see the round yellow moon come up from behind the trees,
and light that wholesome scene with its unwholesome radiance, like a
portrait of Hercules, naked, by Aubrey Beardsley? Well, you are wrong. I
preferred it because I got less hot.

“Rawdon Westmacott used to come over to help us. A pair of extra hands
was welcome, but I think old Pennistan would rather the hands had been
tied on to any other body. It was quite clear that he neglected his own
farm only to be near Ruth, and I had long since gathered that the
Pennistans would never willingly consider him as a son-in-law. I
sympathised with them. He was an unruly man, as wild as he was handsome,
a byword among the young men of the countryside; prompt with his
fist—that was perhaps the best thing that could be said of him—foul with
his tongue, intolerable when in his cups. So quarrelsome was he that
even when sober he would seek out cause for insult. I myself, who in my
capacity of guest took every precaution to avoid any unpleasantness, had
an ominous encounter with him. I had spent a day in London, and returned
with various little gifts which I had thought would please the
Pennistans; to Ruth I brought a pair of big, round, brass ear-rings and
a coloured scarf, for I had a fancy to see her tricked out as a gipsy.
It entertained me to see her, who as I have told you was habitually slow
of mind, enthusiasm, and speech, respond with some latent instinct to
the gaudy things. She ran to the glass in the kitchen and began to screw
the rings on to her unpierced ears.

“‘You must learn to dance now, Ruth,’ I said.

“She looked round at me, and in the turn of her head and the flash of
the rings I seemed to see Concha of the gipsy booth.

“‘Father doesn’t hold with dancing,’ she replied.

“‘He isn’t here to see,’ I said. ‘Won’t you try a step?’

“She blushed. It was a pretty sight to see her blush.

“‘I don’t know how,’ she said awkwardly, looking away from me into the
glass as she wound the scarf round her neck.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘will you learn if I have you taught?’

“She burst into the shrill laugh of the common girl, and cried, ‘Get
along with you, Mr. Malory! making fun of a poor girl like me.’

“Concha was gone, but I struggled to revive her, without conviction, and
with a queer blankness in my heart. At least,” said Malory, correcting
himself, “it wasn’t my heart, but my mind, my sense of rightness, that
was disappointed.

“‘I mean it,’ I said. ‘I’ll have you taught the dances of Spain.’

“‘Spain?’ she echoed, with a frown genuinely puzzled, so remote from her
was all thought of the land of her wandering forefathers.

“I risked a bold remark.

“‘Your great-grandmother, I’ve no doubt, could give you a hint of the
Spanish dances.’

“Then she remembered, but the recollection came to her, I could see,
from afar off, with the unreality of a date in history, poignant enough
at the time.

“At that moment a knock fell upon the door, and Rawdon Westmacott came
in without waiting to be bidden. He saw Ruth standing there, and
stopped. Then he caught sight of me by the wide fireplace. His eyes
travelled swiftly between us, and I saw the rage and the prompt
conclusion spring into them. In fact, I never saw a man so suddenly full
of barely contained anger. He would have given a great deal, I am sure,
to have insulted me openly.

“We stood for a moment in silence, the three of us, then Westmacott’s
voice came out of space to break the moment’s eternity.

“‘That’s fine toggery, Ruth, you’ve got on,’ he said.

“She looked at him without answering, her breath beginning to come a
little quicker. I watched them both; I was angry, but not too angry to
be interested. I felt the man’s power; his brutality; and I remember
thinking that something in her—was it primitive woman?—responded to
something—was it primitive man?—in him. At the same time I knew that
waves of hatred vibrated between them; that, if she was attracted, she
was no less repelled. Did I touch then, in an unexpected moment of
insight, the vital spot of that enigma? I believe that I was very near
the truth. I knew that the situation was not by any means an important
one, but it was nevertheless a battle, a clash of wills, and as such I
thought it significant.

“I saw her hand travel upward, and slowly begin to unwind the scarf.

“‘It’s ill becoming you, my girl,’ he went on, with the threatening note
rising in his voice. ‘I’d sooner see you simple, Ruth,’ and I thought of
the lashing sea when the wind begins to swirl like a dragon’s tail along
the beach.

“I tried to intervene.

“‘I brought....’ I began to say, but catching the glance which Ruth
turned upon me I was silent.

“‘You’d best take them off,’ Westmacott said.

“Slowly she took the scarf, and laid it on the table, slowly she
unfastened the rings and laid them beside the scarf. I could have wrung
his neck, but for the sake of the girl I remained quiet; I knew that she
would have to pay for my championship, and, besides, I was ignorant of
what understanding existed between them. Underneath my anger, I was
conscious of a vague irritation creeping over me, that she had taken his
bullying so meekly and had not flown out at him, with her brass
ear-rings clanking in her ears, as she had flown out at me on the day of
Penshurst.

“Westmacott was clever enough to ignore the obvious fact that I had been
the giver of the ornaments. He swept them off the table into his pocket,
and, I presume, threw them into the horse-pond, and would have liked to
throw me after; but that Ruth should not go without a present I ordered
for her a pair of mice in a cage, a brown mouse and a Japanese waltzing
mouse. She thought it extremely diverting to see the black and white
mouse turning unceasingly after its tail, white the brown mouse watched
it in perplexity mingled with disapproval from a corner of the cage.”



                                   IV


“Either Westmacott did not notice these new inhabitants of the kitchen
window-sill, for there they lived, among the pots of red geranium, or he
considered he had humiliated me sufficiently; at any rate he made no
allusions to the cage. As for Ruth and I, we went for several
uncomfortable days without reference to the scene, but there it was
between us, an awkward bond, until she broke the silence.

“We were in the dairy; I had brought in the newly-filled milk pails, and
she stood churning butter upon a marble slab. I liked the dairy, with
its great earthenware pans of milk, its tiled floor, and its cleanliness
like the cleanliness of a ship. To-day it was full of the smell of the
buttermilk.

“‘Mr. Malory,’ said Ruth, suddenly turning to me, ‘I’ve never thanked
you for understanding me the other night. I didn’t think any the worse
of you, I’d like to say, for keeping back your words.’

“‘So long as you didn’t think I was afraid of your savage young
friend....’ I said.

“‘No, no, I didn’t think that,’ she answered with her quick blush. ‘He
says more than he means, Rawdon does, if he’s roused, and it’s best to
give in.’

“‘You give in a good deal to people,’ I said with that same irritation
at her meekness.

“‘It’s easier...’ she murmured.

“Ah? so that was it? not tameness of spirit, but mere indolence? I felt
strangely comforted. At the same time I thought I would take advantage
of our enforced confidences to make some remark about the young man of
whom her parents had disapproved.

“‘Westmacott....’ I said. ‘He must be a difficult man to deal with? Even
for you, whose word should be law to him?’

“But my attempt wasn’t a success, for she shut up like a box with a
spring in the lid. I saw that I should never get her to discuss Rawdon
Westmacott with me, and I came to the conclusion that she must be fond
of the fellow, and I could understand it, regrettable as I thought it,
for he was an attractive man in his dare-devil way.

“I soon had cause to regret my conclusion more, for I surprised the
secret of a young handy-man who worked sometimes on the farm and for
whom I had always had a great liking. He came to fell timber when old
Pennistan wanted him, and he also did the thatching of the smaller,
out-lying stacks. I went to help him at this work one day when his mate
was laid up with a sprained ankle. He told me he had learnt his craft
from his father, who had been a thatcher for fifty years; it gave me
great satisfaction to think that a man could spend half a century on so
monotonous a craft, constantly crawling on the sloping tops of ricks,
with a bit of carpet tied round his knees, and his elementary tools—a
mallet, a long wooden comb, a bundle of sticks, and a pocketful of
pegs—always ready to his hand, while his mate on the ground pulled out
the straw from the golden truss, made the ends even, and lifted the
prepared bundle on a pitchfork up to the thatcher. My young friend told
me the art of thatching was dying out. I tried my hand at it, but the
straw blew about, and I found I could not lay two consecutive strands in
place.

“He was a fine young man, whose knowledge of the country seemed as
instinctive as it was extensive. I said I surprised his secret. I should
not have used the word surprise. It shouted itself out from his candid
eyes as he rested them on Ruth; she had brought out his dinner, and
leaned against his ladder for a moment’s talk; he looked down at her
from where he knelt on the rick, and if ever I saw adoration in a man’s
face I saw it on his just then. I felt angry with Ruth in her serene
unconsciousness. She had no right to disturb men with her more than
beauty. I wondered whether she was or was not pledged to Rawdon
Westmacott, and the more of a riddle she appeared to me the angrier I
felt against her.

“I was dissatisfied with the whole situation; I could not manipulate my
puppets as I would; I felt that I held a handful of scattered pearls,
and could find no string on which to hang them. In my discontent I went
into the kitchen to look at the mice, they were still and huddled in
separate corners. Amos and his wife were sitting at the table drinking
large cups of tea, Amos, full-bearded, and in his shirt sleeves and red
braces as I had first seen him. As I turned to go they stopped me.

“‘Mr. Malory,’ Amos said, ‘we’d like to ask your advice. We’re right
moidered about our girl. You’ve seen how it is between her and young
Westmacott. Now we’ll not have young Westmacott in our family if we can
help it, and we’re wondering whether it would be best to forbid him the
place, and forbid Ruth to hold any further truck with him, or to trust
her good sense to send him about his business in the end.’

“I reflected. Then I considered that Westmacott was probably more
attractive present than absent, and spoke.

“‘I hardly like to interfere in what isn’t really my affair at all, but
as you’ve asked me I’ll say that if Ruth were my daughter I should
forbid him the farm.’

“‘That clinches it,’ said Amos, bringing his hand down on the table.
‘We’ll have the girl in and tell it her straight away. You’ve voiced my
own feelings, sir, and I’m grateful to you.’

“Here Mrs. Pennistan began to cry.

“‘My poor Ruth! and what if she’s fond of the boy?’

“‘Better for her to shed a dozen tears for him now than a hundred
thousand in years to come. I’ll call her in.’

“She came, wiping her hands on her blue apron.

“‘Father, the butter’ll spoil.’

“‘Never mind the butter. Now listen here, my girl, we’ve been talking
about you, your mother and I, and we’ve decided that you and Rawdon have
seen more of each other than is good for you. So I’m going to tell him
that he’s to keep over at his own place in the future, and I expect you
to keep over here; that is, I won’t have you slipping out and meeting
that young good-for-nothing when the fancy takes you.’

“What a gentleman he is, I thought to myself, to have kept my name out
of it.

“I looked at Ruth, wondering what she would do, and hoping, yes, hoping
that she would rebel.

“‘Very well, dad,’ was all she said, and she looked perfectly composed,
and was not even twisting her apron as she stood there before the court
of justice.

“I think Amos was a little surprised, a little disappointed, at her
compliance.

“‘You understand?’ he said, trying to emphasise the point which he had
already

“‘I understand, dad,’ she said, still in that quiet and perfectly
respectful voice.

“‘There’s a good girl,’ said Mrs. Pennistan, and she got up and kissed
her daughter, who submitted passively.

“‘Now perhaps Mr. Malory’ll lend me a hand with the butter, or it’ll
spoil,’ said Ruth, looking at me, and I followed her out to the dairy,
expecting, I must confess, that she would turn upon me and rend me. But
she remained severely practical as she set me to my task.

“I could bear it no longer.

“‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘I must be honest with you, even though it makes you
angry. Your father asked my advice in this business, and I gave it him.’

“‘You shouldn’t stop,’ she said, ‘the butter’ll never set properly.’

“I returned to my churn.

“‘But, Ruth, do you understand what I say? I am partly responsible for
Westmacott’s dismissal.’

“Her hand and arm continued their rotary movement, but she turned her
large eyes upon me.

“‘Why?’ she inquired, with disconcerting simplicity.

“‘I don’t like him,’ I muttered. ‘How could I live here, knowing you
married to a man I dislike and mistrust?’

“To my surprise she said no more, but bent to her work, and I saw a
great blush like a wave creep slowly over her half hidden face and down
where her unfastened dress revealed her throat.

“‘Ruth,’ I said humbly, ‘are you angry with me?’

“I heard a ‘No,’ that glided out with her breath.

“‘I hope you don’t care for him too much? He isn’t worthy of you.’

“‘Can you lift that pail for me?’ she said, pointing, and I lifted the
heavy pail, and poured it as she directed into the separator, a smooth
Niagara of milk.

“About three days later my thatcher unbosomed himself to me. Westmacott
had disappeared from the farm, and of course every one for five miles
round knew that Pennistan had turned him out. I don’t know how they knew
it, but country people seem to know things like a swallow knows its way
to Egypt.

“I recommended my thatcher to speak privately to Amos first, which he
did, and received that good man’s sanction and approval.

“Then Ruth came to me, or, rather, I met her with the pig pail in her
hand, and she stopped me. A distant reaper was singing on its way
somewhere in the summer evening.

“‘I’ve seen Leslie Dymock,’ she said abruptly. ‘Is it true that you....’

“‘I didn’t discourage him,’ I said as she paused.

“Again she put to me that disconcerting question, ‘Why?’

“‘He’s a good fellow,’ I answered warmly. ‘He cares for you. He didn’t
tell me. I guessed.’

“‘How?’ she asked.

“‘Heavens!’ I cried, taking the pig pail angrily from her, ‘you
positively rout me with your direct questions. Why? How? As if one’s
actions could hold in a single why or how. Don’t you know that the stars
of the Milky Way are as nothing compared with the complexity of men’s
motives?’

“She gazed at me, and as I looked into her eyes I felt that I had been a
fool, and that with certain human beings a single motive could sail
serenely like a rising planet in the evening sky. Then I remembered I
was still holding the pail. I set it down.

“‘I am sorry,’ I said more gently, ‘I ought not to answer you like that.
I like, I respect, and I trust Leslie Dymock, and for that reason I
should at least be glad to see you consider his claim. As for my
guessing, I had only to look at his face when you came.’

“‘I see,’ she said slowly. She bent to recover her pail. ‘I must be
getting on to the pigs,’ and indeed those impatient animals were
shrieking discordantly from the stye.

“Next day,” said Malory as though in parenthesis, and with a reminiscent
smile on his face, “I remember that a butcher came to buy the pigs. He
fastened a big hook on to the beams of the ceiling in a little, dark,
disused cottage, and we drove the pigs, three of them, into the cottage
for the purpose of weighing them alive, and Ruth looked on from outside,
through the much cobwebbed window. It was a scene both farcical and
Flemish. All the farm dogs gathered round barking; the pigs, who were
terrified into panic, made an uproar such as you cannot imagine if you
have never heard a pig screaming. The butcher and his mate drove them
into sacks, head first, and as he got the snout neatly into one corner
of the sack, and the feet into as many corners as were left to
accommodate them, the sack took on the exact semblance of a pig dragging
itself with restraint and difficulty along the ground. One after the
other they were hoisted into the air and suspended yelling from the
hook. I went out to see whether Ruth was scared by the noise. She was
not. She was laughing as I had never seen her laugh before, her hands
pressed to her hips, tears in her eyes, her white teeth gleaming in the
shadows. I was interested, because I thought I understood the inevitable
introduction of farcical interludes into mediæval drama. Now I think I
understand better, that Ruth, who entirely lacked a sense of the
humorous in life, was rich in the truly Latin sense of farce. I
practised on her on several occasions after that, and never failed to
draw the laugh I expected. The physical imposition of the automatic was
unvarying in its results. And she had no feminine sentimentality about
the sufferings of the pigs—not she. She rather liked to see animals
baited.”

Yes, my friend, thought I as he paused, and I understand you even better
than you profess to have understood the girl. You have no spark of real
humour in you.

Just as Malory reached this point in his story, I was obliged to go away
to Turin for a couple of days, but my mind ran more on the Weald of Kent
than on my own affairs: I felt that the summer days were slipping by,
that the corn would be cut and set up in stooks, if not already carted,
by the time I got back, and that Leslie Dymock might have made such good
use of his time as to be actually betrothed. As soon as I reached
Sampiero and had changed from my travelling decency into my habitual
flannels, I rushed out to find Malory, who was sitting with his pipe in
his mouth beside the stream fishing.

He greeted me, “I’ve caught two trout.”

“No? We’ll have them for breakfast,” and I threw myself on the ground
beside him, and watched his lazy line rocking on the water.

“What it is to be a fisherman!” Malory said. “To wade out into a great,
broad river, and stand there isolated from men, with the water swirling
round your knees, and crying ‘Come! come away from the staid and stupid
land out to the sea, and exchange the shackles of life for the liberty
of death.’ When the voice of the water has become too insistent, I have
all but bent my knees and given myself up to the rhythm of the stream.
Fishing, like nothing else, begets serenity of spirit. Serenity of
spirit,” he repeated, “and turbulence of action—that should make up the
sum of man’s life.”

He cast his fly and began to murmur some lines over to himself,—

           “Give me a spirit that on life’s rough sea
           Loves t’ have his sails filled with a lusty wind,
           Even till his sail-yards tremble, his masts crack,
           And his rapt ship run on her side so low
           That she drinks water, and her keel ploughs air.
           There is no danger to a man that knows
           What life and death is....”

“The Elizabethans counted life well lost in an adventurous cause. I
believe in their sense of duty, but I believe still more in their sense
of adventure. And they share with the French the love of _panache_.
Prudence is a hateful virtue. I believe the hatefulness of prudence is
the chief cause of the unpopularity of Jews.”

He looked apologetically at me to see what I made of his dogmatic
excursion.

“I wonder whether you want me to go on with my story? You do! Well. Amos
Pennistan said to me after a month had passed, ‘I’ve enough of Ruth’s
nivvering-novvering.’

“I thought that,” said Malory, “an excellent expression—a moral
onomatopœia. Amos continued, ‘I’m going to say to her, “One thing or the
other; either you take Leslie Dymock, or you leave him.“’ ‘Grand!’ I
said, ‘I like your directness, straight to the point, like a pin to a
magnet. After all, over-much subtlety has weakened modern life and
modern art alike. And what if she replies that she will leave him?’

“I thought his answer a fine simple one, patriarchal in its pride:
‘There’s many young men besides Leslie Dymock that would be glad to
marry my daughter; ’tis not every girl has such a dower of looks as my
girl, and a dower of this world’s goods thrown along.’ Flocks and herds,
she-goats and he-goats, I suppose he would have said, had he lived in
Israel two thousand years ago.

“So this ultimatum was presented to Ruth, who asked for a month in which
to make up her mind. I saw her going about her work as usual, but I
supposed that thoughts more sacred, more speculative, than her ordinary
thoughts of daily labour, were coming and going in her brain, hopping,
and occasionally twittering, like little birds in a coppice. I did not
speak to her much at this time. I pictured her as a nun during her
novitiate, or as a young man in vigil beside his unused armour, or as
the condemned criminal in his cell, because all three figures share
alike a quantity of aloofness from the world. I only wished that Heaven
might grant me a second Daphnis and Chloe for my depopulated Arcady, and
I asked no greater happiness than to see Ruth and Leslie tangled
together in the meshes of love.

“September was merging into October, and again the orchards on the slope
of the hill were loaded with fruit, the bushel baskets stood on the
ground, and the tall ladders reared themselves into the branches. We
were all fruit-pickers for the time being. Of the apples, only the very
early kinds were ripe for market, and of this I was glad, for I enjoyed
the jewelled orchard, red, green, and russet, and yellow, too, where the
quince-trees stood with their roots under the little brook, but the
plums were ready, and the village boys swarmed into the trees to pick
such fruit as their hands could reach, and to shake the remainder to the
ground. We, below, stood clear while a shower of plums bounced and
tumbled into the grass, then we filled our baskets with gold and purple,
returning homewards in the evening laden like the spies from the
Promised Land. Amos stood, nobly apostolic, his great beard spread like
a breastplate over his chest, among the glowing plunder. I was reminded
of my Greek trader, and of the Tuscan vineyards; and the English country
and the southern plenty were again strangely mingled.

“Towards the end of the month, considering that if her mind had not yet
sailed into the sea of placidity I so desired it to attain, it would
never do so, I decided to sound Ruth upon her decision. You see, she
interested me, disappointed as I was in her, and I had nothing else to
think about at the time save these, to you no doubt tame, love affairs
of my country friends. I had a good deal of difficulty in coaxing her
into a sufficiently emotional frame of mind; as fast as I threw the
ballast out of our conversational balloon, she threw in the sand-bags
from the other side. My speech was all of the lover’s Heaven, hers of
the farm-labourer’s earth. She was curiously on the defensive; I could
not understand her. I was certain that her matter-of-factness was, that
evening, deliberate. She was full of restraint, and yet, a feverishness,
an expectancy clung about her, which I could not then explain, but which
I think was fully explained by later events.

“We got off at last, we went soaring up into the sky; it was my doing,
for I had uttered the wildest words to get her to follow me. I had
talked of marriage; Heaven knows what I said. I told her that love was
passion and friendship—passion in the secret night, but comradeship in
the open places under the sun, and that whereas passion was the
drunkenness of love, friendship was its food and clear water and warmth,
and bodily health and vigour. I told her that children were to their
begetters what flowers are to the gardener: little expanding things with
dancing butterflies, sensitive, responsive, satisfying; the crown of
life, the assurance of the future, the rhyme of the poem. I told her
that in love alone can the poignancy of joy equal the poignancy of
sorrow. I told her of that minority that finds its interest in continual
change, and of that majority which rests on a deep content, and a great
many other things which I do not believe, but which I should wish to
believe, and which I should wish all women to believe. I told her all
that I had never told a human being before, all that I had, perhaps,
checked my tongue from uttering once or twice in my life, because I knew
myself to be an inconstant man. I made love by quadruple proxy, not as
myself to Ruth Pennistan, or as myself in Leslie Dymock’s name to Ruth
Pennistan, or as myself to any named or unnamed woman, but as any man to
any woman, and I enjoyed it, because sincerity always carries with it a
certain degree of pain, but pure rhetoric carries the pure enjoyment of
the creative artist.”

I disliked Malory’s cynicism, and I should have disliked it still more
had I not suspected that he was not entirely speaking the truth. I was
also conscious of boiling rage against the man for being such a fool.

“When I had finished,” he went on, “she was trembling like a pool
stirred by the wind.

“‘You think like that,’ she said, ‘I never heard any one talk like that
before.’

“Then I told her a great deal more, about her Spanish heritage and that
disturbing blood in her veins, and about Spain, of which she knew next
to nothing: that southern Spain was soft and the air full of
orange-blossom, but that the north was fierce and arid, and peopled by
men who in their dignity and reserve had more in common with the English
than with the Latin races to whom they belonged; that as their country
had not the kindliness of the English country, so they themselves lacked
the kindly English humour, which mocks and smiles and, above all,
pities; and that their temper is not swift, but slow like the English
temper, but, when roused, ruthless and as little to be checked as a fall
of water. I think that for the first time she guessed at a world beyond
England, a world inhabited by real men. Before that, Spain and all
Europe had been as remote as the stars.”

Malory told her all this, and then, when they were fairly flying through
the air—I imagined them as the North Wind and the little girl in the
fairy-story: hair streaming, garments streaming, hand pulling hand—he
judged the moment opportune to return to Leslie Dymock. I fancy that the
crash to earth again must have knocked all consciousness from the girl
for a considerable interval. During this interval Malory dilated on the
admirableness of the young man, his estimable qualities, and his worldly
prospects. I could understand his scheme. He had planned to fill her
with electricity, then to switch her suddenly off, sparkling and
thrilling, on to Leslie Dymock. He had, I suppose, assumed that a
certain sympathy had already inclined her native tenderness towards
Leslie Dymock. The scheme was an excellent one in all but one
particular: that his initial premise was radically false.

After the interval of her unconsciousness, she returned with slowly
opening eyes to what he was saying. God knows what she had expected the
outcome of their wild journey to be. Malory only told me that with
parted lips and eyes in which all the mysteries of awakened adolescence
were stirring, she laid her hand, trembling, on his hand and said,—

“What do you mean? why do you speak to me like ... like this, and then
talk to me again about Leslie Dymock?”

He asked her whether she could not find her happiness with Leslie Dymock
and realise in her life with him all the pictures whose colours he,
Malory, had painted for her. And she answered so bitterly and so
scornfully that he charged her with having her heart still fixed on
Rawdon Westmacott.

“Still fixed!” she cried, emphasising the first word, “and how could
that be still fixed which never was fixed at all?”

He was baffled; he thought her an unnatural creature to be still
heart-whole when her youth, her advantages, and that depth which, in
spite of her tameness, her reserve, and his own protestations of her
lack of passion—protestations which I suspect he continued to make for
the strengthening of his own unsure belief—he instinctively divined,
should have created a tumult in her soul. It was to him unthinkable that
such hammer-strokes as Nature, Westmacott, and Dymock had conjointly
delivered on the walls of her heart, should have failed to open a
breach. Such breaches, once opened, are hard to close against a
determined invader. He urged her to confide in him, he told her that his
whole delight lay in the problems of humanity, that metaphysics and
psychology were to his mind as sea-air to his nostrils. She only looked
at him, and I think it was probably fortunate for his vanity that he
could not read what a fool she thought him. I suppose that every man
must appear to a woman half a genius and half a fool. Much as a grown
person must appear to the infinitely simpler and infinitely more complex
mind of a child.

He urged her confidence, therefore, seeing that she remained silent,
although her lips were still parted, her hand still lying on his hand,
and the expectation still living in her eyes, that had not as yet
remembered to follow the lead of her mind. They were the mirrors of her
instinct, and her instinct was at variance with her reason. He had come
down to the practical business of his mission, while she lived still in
the enchanted moments of their flight into a realm to her unknown. If
her ears received his emphatic words, her brain remained insensible to
them. He detached his hand from hers, to lay it on her shoulder and to
shake her slightly.

“Ruth, do you hear what I am saying to you?”

Her widened eyes contracted for an instant, as with pain, and turning
them on him she prepared an expression of intelligent comprehension to
greet his next sentence.

“I am asking you to trust me as a friend. It’s lonely to be left alone
with a decision. If you are angry with me for interfering, tell me to go
away, and I will go. But so long as I may talk to you, I want to keep my
finger on the pulse of your affairs, where it has been, let me remind
you, ever since I set foot in your father’s house. I want to see you
happy in your home, and to know that I accompanied you at any rate to
the threshold.”

She broke from him, he told me, with a cry; ran from him, and never
reappeared that evening. On the following day she accepted Leslie
Dymock.



                                   V


“There was a great deal of rejoicing,” Malory continued, “in the
Pennistan household over the engagement. Nancy and her husband came for
a three days’ visit. I was glad to see my Daphnis and Chloe again, and
to discover that all the sweets of marriage which I had described to
Ruth were living realities in these two. They seemed insatiable for each
other’s presence. Their attitude towards Ruth and Leslie was parental;
nay, grandfatherly; nay, ancestral! Experience and patronage transpired
through the cracks of their benison. Ruth was annoyed, but I was greatly
amused.

“It had been arranged that the wedding should take place almost
immediately. Why delay? I am sure that Leslie Dymock was hungering to
get his wife away to his own home. And Ruth? She accepted every
happening with calm, avoided me—I supposed that she was shy, and left
her to herself—was gentle and affectionate to Leslie, took a suitable
interest in the preparations of her wedding. I was, on the whole,
satisfied. I did not believe that she was much in love with Leslie
Dymock, in fact I was inclined to think that she regretted her handsome
blackguard, but I believed that her evident fondness for Dymock would
develop with their intimacy, and that the bud would presently break out
into the full-blown rose.

“As for him, he would not have exchanged his present position with an
archangel.

“I asked Amos what had become of Westmacott.

“‘Over at his place, like a wild beast in a cave,’ he replied with a
grin.

“‘Is he coming to the wedding?’

“‘Oh, ay, if he chooses.’

“I now became concerned for my own future. Life at the Pennistans’
without Ruth would, I foresaw, be less agreeable although not actually
unbearable. She and I had worked together in a harmony I could scarcely
hope to reproduce with the hired girl who was to take her place, for you
must realise that although I have only reported to you our conversations
on the more human subjects of life, our everyday existence had been made
up of hours of happy work and mutual interest. I seriously thought of
leaving, and said as much to Dymock.

“Some days afterwards that good young man came to me.

“‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said, ‘of your leaving and of your not liking,
as you told me, to go away from the Weald till after next spring. Now
I’ve a proposal to make to you,’ and he told me of a cottage near his
own place, with five acres, enough to support hens, pigs, and a cow,
whose tenant had recently died. He suggested to me that I should rent
this small holding for a year. ‘And you can walk over o’ nights, and
have a bit of supper with us,’ he added hospitably.

“The matter was adjusted, and I told Ruth with joy that I should be
within half a mile of her in her new life. I was grieved to see that she
first looked taken aback, then dismayed, then irritated. I say that I
was grieved, but presently I found occasion to be glad, for I reflected
that if she thus resented the disturbance of her solitude with her
husband it could only be on account of her growing fondness for him, and
as I could not now revoke my tenancy I resolved that I would at least be
a discreet neighbour.

“How smugly satisfied we all were at that time! I feel ashamed for
myself and for the others when I think of it.

“The first indication I had that anything was wrong came about a week
before Ruth’s wedding, when, walking down a lane near Pennistans’
driving home the cattle, I passed Rawdon Westmacott. We were by then
near November, so the evening was dark, and I was not sure of the man’s
identity until we had actually crossed. Then I saw his sharp face, and
recognised the subtly Oriental lilt of his walk. He looked angry when he
saw that I was myself, and not one of the herdsmen he no doubt expected.
I wondered what the fellow was doing on Pennistan’s land.

“The weather was bitterly cold, all the leaves were gone from the trees,
and the fat, wealthy Weald was turned to a scarecrow presentment of
itself. Instead of the blue sky and great white clouds like the Lord
Mayor’s horses, a hard sulphur sky greeted me in the early mornings,
with streaks of iron gray cloud on the horizon, and a lowering red disc
of sun. Underfoot the ground was frosty, and the frozen mud stood up in
little sharp ridges. As it thawed during the day the clay resumed its
slimy dominion, and I had to exchange my shoes for boots, as the clay
pulled my shoes off my heels.

“It was now two days before the wedding, and I sought out Ruth to make
her my humble present. Never mind what it was. I had got her an extra
present, which, I told her, was my real offering, and I gave her the
case, and she opened it on a pair of big brass ear-rings. She got very
white.

“‘You can wear them now,’ I said, ‘Leslie at least isn’t jealous of me,
and here is the rest,’ and I gave her the coloured scarf.

“She took it from my hand, never thanking me or saying a word, but
looking at me steadily, and put the scarf round her throat.

“I added my good wishes; Heaven knows they were sincere.

“‘Tell me you’re happy, Ruth, and I shall be filled with gladness.’

“‘I’m happy,’ she said dully.

“‘And you’re fond of Leslie?’

“‘Yes,’ she said with such sudden emphasis that I was startled, ‘all
that you said about him is true; he is kind and valiant, a man with whom
any woman should be happy. I am glad that I have learnt how good he is.
I am fonder of him than of my brothers.’

“I thought that a strange comparison, but not wholly a bad one.

“I tried to be hearty.

“‘I am so pleased, Ruth, and my vanity is gratified, too, for I almost
think you might have passed him by but for me.’

“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘yes, I would have passed him by.’

“‘By God, Ruth!’ I burst out, ‘he is a lucky fellow. Do you know that
you are a very beautiful woman?’

“She swayed as though she were dizzy for a moment.

“‘I must go,’ she said then, ‘and I haven’t said thank you, but I do
thank you.’

“She paused.

“‘You have taught me a great deal. I have learnt from you what men like
Leslie Dymock have a right to expect from life.’

“‘And you will give it him?’ I asked.

“She bowed her head.

“‘I will try.’

“Now I thought that a very satisfactory conversation, and I went about
my work, for beasts must be fed and housed, weddings or no weddings,
with a singing heart that day. If, somewhere, a tiny worm of jealousy
crawled about on the floor-mud of my being, I think I bottled it very
successfully into a corner. I was not jealous of Dymock on account of
Ruth; no, not exactly; but jealous only as one must be jealous of two
young happy things when one remembers that, much as one values one’s
independence, one is not the vital life-spark of any other human being
on this earth. There must be moments when the most liberty-loving among
us envy the yoke they fly from.

“I clapped a cow on her ungainly shallow flanks as I tossed up her
bedding, and said to her, ‘You and I, old friend, must stick together,
for if man can’t have his fellow-creatures to love he must return to the
beasts.’ She turned her glaucous eye on me as she munched her supper.
Then I heard voices in the shed.

“‘Rawdon! if dad sees you....’

“And Westmacott’s hoarse voice.

“‘I’ll chance that, but, by hell, Ruth, you shall listen to me. They
think you’re going to marry that lout, but as I’m a living man you
shan’t. I’ll murder him first. I swear before God that if you become
that man’s wife I’ll make you his widow.’

“I stood petrified, wondering what I should do. It was night, and pitch
dark inside the shed, but as I looked over the back of my cow down the
line of stalls in which the slow cattle were lazily ruminating, I saw
two indistinct figures and, beyond them, the open door, the night sky,
and an angry moon, the yellow Hunter’s moon, rising behind the trees.

“Ruth spoke again.

“‘Rawdon, don’t talk too loud. I’ll stay, yes, I’ll stay with you; only
dad’ll kill you if he finds you here.’

“‘I’ve been up every night to find you,’ Westmacott said in a lower
voice. ‘I’ve hung about hoping you’d come out. Ruth, you don’t know. I’m
mad for you.... You’re my woman. What business have you to go with
bloodless men? You come with me, and I’ll give you all you lack. I’ll be
good to you, too, I swear I will. I’ll not drink; no, on my word, it’s
the thought of you that drives me to it. Ruth!’

“He put out his arms and tried to seize her, but she recoiled and stood
holding on to the butt-end of a stall.

“‘Hands off me, Rawdon.’

“‘You’re very particular,’ he sneered; and then, changing his tone,
‘Come, child, you’re just ridiculous. I know you better than that. Have
you forgotten the day we drove to Tonbridge market? you wasn’t so nice
then.’

“‘I disremember,’ she said stolidly, but under her stolidity I think she
was shaken.

“‘You don’t disremember at all. There’s fire in you, Ruth, there’s
blood; that’s why I like you. You’re shamming ladylike. I’ve got that
gent with his accursed notions to thank, I suppose.’

“This reminded me with a start of my own identity. I could not stay
eavesdropping, so I made up my mind and stepped out into the passage
between the stalls.

“Westmacott and Ruth cried simultaneously,—

“‘Who’s that?’

“‘Mr. Malory!’

“‘This is a bad hour for you, sir,’ said Westmacott to me.

“I knew that I must not quarrel with him.

“‘I am sorry,’ I said. ‘I had no intention of spying on you and was only
doing my ordinary work in here. I will go if you, Ruth, wish me to go.’

“‘No,’ said Westmacott, ‘go, and tell them all I’m here? Not much.
You’ve heard enough now to know I want Ruth. You’ve always known it.
I’ve always wanted her, and I mean to have her. Who are you, you fine
gentleman, that you should stand in my way? I could crush your windpipe
with my finger and thumb.’”

I pictured that grotesque scene in that dark, smelly shed, among the
ruminating cattle, and those two antagonistic men with the girl between
them.

“I turned to Ruth,” said Malory, “and asked her frigidly what she wanted
me to do? Should I attack the fellow? or give the alarm? or was it by
her consent that he was there? Again she did not speak and he answered
for her.

“‘I’m here by her consent, she’s had a note from me, and she answered
it, and here she is. Isn’t it true?’ he demanded of her.

“‘It is quite true,’ she said, speaking to me.

“I was hurt and disappointed.

“‘Then I will go, as it appears to be an assignation.’

“‘No,’ said Ruth, ‘wait. You said you had had your finger on the pulse
of my affairs ever since you came here, and now you must follow them out
to the end. I am not a bit afraid of your turning me away from the path
I’ve chosen.’

“Weak! I had thought her. As I stood there like a bereft and helpless
puppet between those two dark figures, I felt myself a stranger and a
foreigner to them, baffled by the remoteness of their race. They were of
the same blood, and I and Leslie Dymock were of a different breed, tame,
contented, orderly, incapable of abrupt resolution. Weak! I had thought
her. Well, and so she had been, indolently weak, but now, like many weak
natures, strong under the influence of a nature stronger than her own.
So, at least, I read her new determination, for I did not believe in a
well of strength sprung suddenly in the native soil of her being. I
perceived, rather, a spring gushing up in the man, and pouring its
torrent irresistibly over her pleasant valleys. I thought her the
mouthpiece of his thunder. At the same time, something in her must have
risen to merge and marry with the force of his resolve. Who knows what
southern blood, what ancient blood, what tribal blood, had stirred in
her from slumber? what cry of the unknown, unseen wild had drawn her
towards a mate of her own calibre? An absurd joy rushed up in me at the
thought. I flung a dart of sympathy to Leslie Dymock, but he, like those
slow-chewing cattle, was of the patient, long-suffering sort whose fate
is always to be cast aside and sacrificed to the egoism of others. I
forgot my homily on marriage, and the pictures I had drawn of Ruth and
Dymock in their happy home with their quiverful of robust and flaxen
children. I forgot the sinful lusts of Rawdon Westmacott. Yes, I lost
myself wholly in the joy of the mating of two Bohemian creatures, and in
Ruth’s final justification of herself.

“‘I want you,’ continued Ruth, in the same even, relentless voice, ‘to
stand by Leslie whatever may come to him, and to show him that he’s a
happier man for losing me....’

“I heard Westmacott in the darkness give a snarl of triumph.

“‘You’re determined, then?’ I said to Ruth. ‘You’ve not had much time to
make up your mind, or wasted many words over it, since I surprised you
here.’

“‘Time?’ she said, ‘words? A kettle’s a long time on the fire before it
boils over. I know I’m not for Leslie Dymock, I know it this evening,
and I’ve known it a long while though I wouldn’t own it. I’m going, and
I want to be forgotten by all at home.’

“I was moved—by her homely little simile, and by the anguish in her
voice at her last sentence.

“‘I don’t dissuade you,’ I said. ‘Dymock must recover, and if you and
your cousin love one another....’

“Westmacott broke in bitterly,—

“‘Say! You seem to have missed the point....’

“‘Rawdon!’ Ruth spoke with a passion I, even I, had not foreseen.
‘Rawdon, I forbid you to say another word.’

“He grumbled to himself, and was silent.

“I looked at her during the pause in which she waited threateningly for
signs of rebellion on his part, and I found in her face, lit by the
light of the Hunter’s moon, the strangest conflict that ever I saw on a
woman’s face before. I read there distress, soul-shattering and
terrible, but I also read a determination which I knew no argument could
weaken. She was unaware of my scrutiny, for her eyes were bent on
Westmacott. Her glance was imperious; she knew herself to be the coveted
woman for whose possession he must fawn and cringe; she knew that
to-night she could command, if for ever after she would have to obey. I
read this knowledge, and I read her distress, but above all I read
recklessness, a wild defiance, which alarmed me.

“‘I’ve said what I want to say,’ she added. ‘You’ve thought me a meek
woman, Mr. Malory, you’ve told me so, and so I am, but I seem to have
come to a fence across my meekness, and I know neither you nor any soul
on earth could hold me back. It’s never come to me before like this.
Maybe it’ll never come again. Maybe you’ve helped me to it. There’s much
I don’t know, much I can’t say ...’ her ignorant spirit struggled vainly
for speech. I was silent, for I knew that elemental forces were loose
like monstrous bats in the shed which contained us.

“‘Am I to say good-bye?’ I asked.

“She swayed over towards me, as though the strength of her body were
infinitely inferior to the strength of her will. She put her hands on my
shoulders and turned me, so that the light of the yellow moon fell on my
face.

“She said then,—

“‘Kiss me once before I go.’

“Rawdon started forward.

“‘No, damn him!’

“She laughed.

“‘Don’t be a fool, Rawdon, you’ll have me all your life.’

“I kissed her like a brother.

“‘Bless you, my dear, may you be happy. I don’t know if you’re wise, but
I dare say this is inevitable, and things are not very real to-night.’

“There was indeed something absurdly theatrical about the shed full of
uneasily shifting cattle, and that great saffron moon—shining, too, on
the empty arena of Cadiz.

“I left them standing in the shed, and got into the house by the back
door; with methodical precision I replaced the key under the mat where,
country-like, it always lived.”

I felt in my own mind that much remained which had not been
satisfactorily explained, but when Malory resumed after a moment’s
pause, it was to say,—

“I don’t know that there is very much more to tell. I came down at my
usual hour the next morning, and found no signs of commotion about the
farm. As a matter of fact, I caught sight of nobody but a stray labourer
or so as I went my rounds. I moved in a dull coma, such as overtakes us
after a crisis of great excitement; a dull reaction, such as follows on
some deep stirring of our emotions. Then as I went in to breakfast, I
saw Mrs. Pennistan moving in the kitchen in her habitual placid fashion,
and Amos came in, rubbing his hands on a coarse towel, strong and hearty
in the crisp morning. The old grandmother was already in her place by
the fire, her quavering hands busy with her toast and her cup of coffee.
Everything wore the look I had seen on it a hundred times before, and I
wondered whether my experience had not all been a dream of my sleep, and
whether Ruth would not presently arrive with that flush I had learnt to
look for on her cheeks.

“‘Where’s Ruth?’ said Mrs. Pennistan as we sat down.

“‘She’ll be in presently, likely,’ said Amos, who was an easy-going man.

“Her mother grumbled.

“‘She shouldn’t be late for breakfast.’

“‘Come, come, mother,’ said Amos, ‘don’t be hard on the girl on her
wedding-eve,’ and as he winked at me I hid my face in my vast cup.

“Then Leslie Dymock burst in, with a letter in his hand, and at the
sight of his face, and of that suddenly ominous little piece of white
paper, the Pennistans started up and tragedy rushed like a hurricane
into the pleasant room.

“He said,—

“‘She’s gone, read her letter,’ and thrust it into her father’s hand.

“I wish I could reproduce for you the effect of that letter which Amos
read aloud; it was quite short, and said, ‘Leslie. I am going away
because I can’t do you the injustice of becoming your wife. Tell father
and mother that I am doing this because I think it is right. I am not
trying to write more because it is all so difficult, and there is a
great deal more than they will ever know, and I don’t think I understand
everything myself. Try to forgive me. I am, your miserable Ruth.’

“I cannot tell you,” said Malory, who, as I could see, was profoundly
shaken by the vividness of his recollection, “how moved I was by the
confusion and distress of those strangely disquieting words. I could not
reconcile them at all with the picture I had formed of two kindred
natures rushing at last together in a pre-ordained and elemental union.
I rose to get away from the family hubbub, for I wanted to be by myself,
but on the way I stopped and looked at the mice in their cage among the
red geraniums. They were waltzing frantically, as though impelled by a
sinister influence from which there was no escape.”



                                PART II



                                   I


I continued to feel, as I have said, that there was much in Malory’s
story which remained to be satisfactorily explained, for I was convinced
in my own mind that his interpretation of Ruth Pennistan’s flight,
plausible as it was, was totally misleading, with the dangerous
verisimilitude of a theory which will fit all, or nearly all, the facts,
and yet more entirely miss the truth, by a mere accident, than would a
frank perplexity. I think that he himself secretly agreed with me, a
conviction I arrived at less by his own doubting words after the reading
of the letter, than by his manner towards me when he had finished the
story, and his mute, but none the less absolute, refusal to discuss, as
I in my interest would willingly have discussed, certain points in his
narration. I received the impression that he had chosen me as his
audience merely because we knew nothing of one another beyond our names,
from a craving to pour out that long dammed-up flood of emotion and
meditation. I had—a somewhat galling reflection—played the part of the
ground to Malory’s King Midas. I think that his indifference towards me
turned to positive dislike after our week of intimacy, and this belief
was strengthened when, with scarcely a farewell, he took an abrupt
departure.

I will confess that I was hurt at the time, but an unaccountable
instinct buoyed me up that some day, it might be after the passage of
years, I should again be thrown in contact either with him or with his
_dramatis personæ_. How this came about I will now tell, though I do not
pretend that any more mysterious purpose than my own desire intervened
in the accomplishment of my hopes. Perhaps Malory would say that War was
my fate, my god in the machine; perhaps it was; I do not know. The
definition of fate is a vicious circle; like a little animal, say a
mouse, turning after its tail.

I left Sampiero in 1914, a year after I had parted there from Malory,
and my earlier prophecy justified itself, that our acquaintance would
not be continued in our own country. In fact, amid the excitement of the
war, I had almost forgotten the man, his habitual reticence, his sudden
outburst into narrative, and the unknown, unseen people with whom that
narrative had been concerned. But now as I idled disconsolately in
London, discharged from hospital but indefinitely unfit for service,
there stirred in my memory a recollection of the Pennistans, who were to
me so strangely familiar, and I resolved that I would go for myself to
pick up the thread where Malory had dropped it, to work on the fields
where he had worked, and to probe into the lives he had tried to probe.

Hearing that the small help I could give would be welcome, I started
out, much, I suppose, as Malory had started, with my bag in my hand, and
reached the tiny station one evening in early April. The stationmaster
directed me across the fields, by a way which I felt I already knew, and
as I walked I wondered what had become of Malory; presumably he had
turned his hand to a fighting trade, or had he sought some bizarre
occupation congenial to him, in the bazaars of Bagdad, or in a North Sea
drifter, or had the air called to him? I could not decide; perhaps the
Pennistans would have news of his whereabouts.

But they had none. He had sent them a field post card from Gallipoli,
and since then he had again disappeared; they did not seem very much
surprised, and I guessed that in their slow instinctive way they had
felt him to be a transitory, elusive man, who might be expected to turn
up in his own time from some unanticipated corner. They suggested,
however, that I should walk over to Westmacotts’ on a Sunday, and
inquire from their daughter Ruth about Mr. Malory.

I cannot say that I was unhappy at the Pennistans’, for, though I
fretted a good deal at my comparative inactivity, the peace and
stability of the place, of which Malory had so often spoken, stole over
me with gradual enchantment of my spirit, like the incoming tide steals
gradually over the sands. During the first days I took a curious delight
in discovering the spots that had figured in his story, the fields, the
dairy, and the cowshed, in recognising the pungent farm smells which had
pleased his alert senses. These things were the same, but in other
respects much was changed. The three bullock-like sons were gone, and
few men remained to work the land. Rawdon Westmacott, they told me, was
at the war, so was Nancy’s husband. And on sunny days I used to watch
the aeroplanes come sailing up out of the blue, the sun catching their
wings, and tumble, for sheer joy it seemed, in the air, while the hum of
their engines filled the whole sky as with a gigantic beehive.

One detail I noticed after several days. The cage of mice which Malory
had given to Ruth was no longer in the place I expected to see it, on
the kitchen window-sill.

The unexpected had favoured me in one particular. Malory had mentioned
that the old woman was ninety-six in the year he had gone to
Pennistans’, and although he had never, so far as I remembered, given a
date to that year, I reckoned that she must, if alive now, have passed
her century. I was certain I should find her gone. Yet the first thing I
saw as I entered the house was that little old huddled figure by the
fire, head nodding, hands trembling, alive enough to feed and breathe,
but not alive enough for anything else; she spent all her days in a
wheeled chair, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in her own room, the
quondam parlour, on the ground-floor across the passage; sometimes, when
it was very warm, beside the garden-door out in the sun. She must always
have been tiny, but now the frailty of her shrunken form was pitiable.
Her wrists were like the legs of a chicken. Her jaws were fallen in,
thin and flabby; her eyes never seemed to blink, but stared straight in
front of her, at nothing, through everything....

I had Malory’s bedroom. It was bare, whitewashed, monastic, and appeared
to me peculiarly suitable as a shrine to his personality. I wondered
whether he had spent any part of his wandering life in the seclusion of
a cloister, and as I wondered the realisation came over me that Malory
was in spirit nearly allied to those mediæval scholars, so unassuming,
so far removed from the desire of fame, as to dedicate their anonymous
lives to a single script, finding in their own inward satisfaction the
fulfilment of personal ambition. And as I thought on Malory, in that
clean, bare room, I came to a closer understanding of his kinship with
many conditions of men, of his sympathy with life, nature, and
craft—Malory, the man who had not been my friend.

As the week passed, I found myself greatly moved by the prospect of
seeing, of speaking with Ruth. As I drew near to Westmacotts’, I felt
the physical tingling of intense excitement run over me. I was about to
meet a dear companion, to hear the sound of her voice, and to look into
the familiarity of her eyes. Another picture swam up out of the mist to
dim my vision, a babbling music filled my ears like the sound of waves
in a shell, and the faintest scent quivered under my nostrils; gradually
as these ghosts emerged from the confusion I defined the Italian
hill-side, the rushing stream, and the dry, aromatic scent of the
ground. Was this, then, the setting in which Ruth walked and spoke for
me? I was startled at the vividness of the impression, and at the
incredibly subtle complexity of the ordinary brain.

Although Malory had never, so far as I could remember, given me any
description of Westmacott’s farm, whether of impression or detail, I
recognised the place as soon as I had emerged from a little wood and had
seen it lying in a hollow across the ploughed field, a connecting road
which was little more than a cart-track running from it at right angles
into the neat lane beyond. I recognised the farm-house, of creamy
plaster heavily striped by gray oak beams, its upper story slightly
overhanging, and supported on rounded corbels of the same bleached oak,
rough-hewn. I was prepared to see, as I actually saw, the large barn of
black, tarred weather-boarding, terminated by the two rounded
oast-houses, and should have missed it had I not found it there.

And I knocked, and the sense of reality still failed to return to me.
Some one opened the door. I saw a young woman in a blue linen dress,
with a child in her arms, and other children clinging about her skirts.
My first impression was of astonishment at her beauty; Malory had led me
to expect a subtle and languorous seduction, but I was not prepared for
such actual beauty as I now found in her face.

“Are you Mrs. Westmacott?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said, “are you the gentleman that’s stopping with
father?”

“I see you know about me.”

“Yes, sir; mother was over yesterday, and said you’d likely be coming.
Won’t you come in, sir? if you’ll excuse the children. There’s only me
to look after them to-day.”

I went into a clean and commonplace kitchen, and Ruth wiped a chair for
me with her skirt, and put the baby into its cradle. She then sat down
beside it, and with her foot kept the cradle moving on its rockers. I
glanced round, and on the window-sill, among the pots of red geranium, I
espied a wire cage with some little mice huddled in a corner.

“Mrs. Westmacott,” I said, feeling that the beginning of the
conversation rested with me, “you and I are quite old friends though you
may not know it.” I hated myself for my jocularity. “You remember Mr.
Malory? He has spoken to me about his life here, and about you.”

I was looking at her; I saw that marvellous, that red rose blush of
which Malory had spoken, come up under her skin till her cheek was like
the rounded beauty of a nectarine. And I wondered, as I had wondered
before; I wondered....

“And what news have you of Mr. Malory?” she asked.

“None,” I said. “I thought perhaps you might have heard.”

“I? If Mr. Malory was to write at all, would he not have written to you?
Why should he write to me?”

“I hope,” I said, “that nothing has happened to him.”

She had answered me before I had finished speaking.

“Nothing has happened to him.”

“Why,” I said surprised, “how are you so certain?”

She looked suddenly trapped and angry.

“It’s an odd name,” she said at last, “one would notice it in a casualty
list.” She rushed on. “We poor women, you know, have to keep our eye on
the lists; there’s few officers, but many men, a mistake’s soon made,
and my husband is there in France. This is my husband.” She lifted a
photograph and showed me the keen, Arab face I had expected.

“Mr. Malory always told me your husband was a very handsome man. Are any
of your children like him?”

I wished that Malory could have seen the softening of her face when I
spoke of her children.

“No, sir,” she said, and I could have sworn I heard an exultant note in
her voice. “They mostly take after their grandmother, I think,” and
indeed I could see in the sleeping baby an absurd resemblance to Mrs.
Pennistan. “Now my sister’s children, she has two, and one is fair like
her, and one is as dark as my husband.”

I do not know what impulse moved me to rise and go over to the cage of
mice.

“I have heard of these, too, from Mr. Malory,” I said. “You have had
them six, seven, eight years now?”

“Oh, sir,” she cried amused, “those are not the pair Mr. Malory gave me.
Those are their great-great-great-great, I don’t know how many greats,
grandchildren. I’ve bred from them and bred from them; they’re friendly
little things, and the children like them.”

“How do they breed now?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “they mostly come brown, I notice; I fancy the
strain’s wearing out. From time to time I’ll get a black and white that
doesn’t waltz—waltzing mice Mr. Malory used to call them—and from time
to time I’ll get a waltzer; there was a lot of them at first, one or two
in a litter, but they’re getting rare. That little fellow,” she said,
pointing—and as she stood beside me I was conscious of her softness and
warmth, and felt myself faintly troubled—“I’ve known him waltz once only
since I’ve had him, which is since he was born. I look at them,” she
added unexpectedly, “when they’re blind and pink in the nest, and wonder
which’ll grow up brown and which’ll waltz and which be just piebald.”

“You speak like Mr. Malory,” I said.

She laughed as she turned away.

“Is that so, sir? Well, Mr. Malory always liked the mice, I don’t know
why. He lived with us over a year, and maybe one takes on a manner of
thinking in a year, I don’t know.”

Somehow I felt that the section of our conversation dealing with Malory
was closed by that remark. We hung fire for a little. Then I asked her
to show me over the place, which she did, and after that we had tea in
the kitchen, brown bread cut from the big loaf, honey from her own
hives, and jam of her own making. I watched her as she laid the cloth,
noted her quick efficiency, was conscious of her quiet reserve and her
strength, saw her beauty foiled and trebled by the presence of her
children. After tea she made me smoke a pipe, sent the children out to
play, and sat opposite me in a rocking chair with sewing in her hands
and more sewing heaped near her on the floor. It was very pleasant in
that warm interior, the fire crackled, the big clock ticked. I thought
what a fool Malory had been.

I walked home in the dusk, hearing what he had never heard from those
meadows: the thudding and bruising of the distant guns.



                                   II


Little by little I learnt the details which linked the end of Malory’s
story to the point where I was to take it up. Rawdon Westmacott, in
spite of his wife’s entreaties to settle in another part of the country,
had insisted on returning almost directly after their marriage to his
farm, and there, ignored by her own family and by the whole horrified,
scandalised countryside, Ruth had dwelt in a companionship more terrible
than solitude. For Westmacott had followed unbridled his habitual paths
of drunkenness and violence. How grim and disquieting must have been
that situation: not two miles separated Pennistans’ from Westmacotts’,
not two miles lay between the parents and the daughter, yet they were
divided by league upon league of pride, across which their mutual
longing quivered as heat-waves upon the surface of the desert. The
mother, I think, would have gone, but Amos, with that Biblical austerity
which Malory had noted in him, forbade any advance towards, any mention
of, the prodigal. The ideal of decency, which is the main ideal of the
country people, had been outraged, and this Amos, the heir of tradition,
could not forgive. During the greater part of the first year, neither
Ruth nor her mother can willingly have stirred far from their own garden
door. The torment, the gnawing of that self-consciousness! The
apprehension of that first Sunday, when Amos with set jaw forced his
wife to church! with what tremulousness she must have entered the little
nave, casting round her eyes in secret, dreading yet hoping, relieved
yet disappointed. She bore traces of the strain, the buxom woman, in the
covert glance of her eyes and the listening, searching expression of her
face. I have seen her start at the sound of the door-latch, and look up
expectantly as she must have looked in those days, afraid and longing to
see the beloved figure in the door.

The tension came to an end at last, for Nancy, whose will might not be
crossed, burst out with indignation at the treatment of her sister and
set off angrily for Westmacotts’. She returned within an hour with the
information that Rawdon was dead drunk in the kitchen and that Ruth’s
child would surely be born before morning. Mrs. Pennistan had not known
of the child; she leapt to her feet saying that she must go at once, and
upbraided Amos for having withheld her so long from her own flesh and
blood. Amos rose, and saying gloomily, “Do what you will, but don’t let
me know of it,” he left the room.

I know nothing of the meeting between mother and daughter, but I imagine
that the sheer urgency of the situation mercifully did much to smooth
the difficulty of the moment. The crisis over, a new order of things
replaced the old: relations were re-established, and Ruth henceforward
came and went between her present and her former home. Only, the
Pennistans’ door was barred to the son-in-law, as their lips were barred
to his name. At the most, his phantasm hovered between them.

Now I have told all that I could reconstruct, and most of this I heard
from Nancy, who was a frank, outspoken girl; common, I thought her, and
ordinary, but good-hearted underneath her exuberance. She had lived at
home since her husband had gone to fight. She was very different from
her quiet sister, as different as a babbling brook from a wide, calm
pool of water. I heard a great deal of abuse of Westmacott from her,
even to tales of how he ill-treated his wife; and I also heard of her
own happiness, confidences unrestrainedly poured out, for she was
innocent of reserve. To this I preferred to listen, though, truthfully,
she often bored and sometimes embarrassed me. I soon discovered that for
all her fiery temper she was a woman of no moral stamina, and I didn’t
like to dwell in my own mind upon her utter annihilation under the too
probable blow of war.

The blow fell, and by the curse of Heaven I was there to see it; the
reality of the danger had always seemed remote, even in the midst of its
nearness, for such nightmares crawl closer and closer only to be flung
back repeatedly by the force of human optimism. I had never before
realised the depths of such optimism. Her first cry was “It cannot be
true!” her first instinct the instinct of disbelief. In the same way she
had always clung to an encouraging word, however futile, and had been
cast down to an equal degree by an expression of pessimism. I suppose
that when the strings of the human mind are drawn so taut, the slightest
touch will call forth their pathetic music.... Poor Nancy! I had seen
her husband on leave for ten days during which her eyes were radiant and
her voice busy with song; he went; and was killed the day after his
return to France.

Not very long afterwards I got a letter from Malory, forwarded and
re-forwarded, which, coming out of the, so far as he was concerned,
silence of years, reminded me forcibly of the day he had broken silence
at Sampiero. It gave me a queer turn of the heart to see that the
envelope I held in my hand had gone first of all to Sampiero, to our
little lodging house, had been handled, no doubt, by the hunch-backed
postman I had known so well. I could see him, going down the street,
with his bag over his shoulder, and my letter in his bag. I could see my
old landlady with the letter in her hand, turning it over and over, till
light broke on her, and she remembered the Englishman, and hunted up his
unfamiliar address, and wondered, perhaps, whether he, too, had fallen
in the war.

I give Malory’s letter here.


“... I read his name in the official list, and can only suppose that it
is my Daphnis, as I know he was in a Kentish regiment. Oh, these yeomen
of England, of whom I always thought as indigenous to the soil, born
there, living there, dying there, buried there, with no knowledge beyond
their counted acres, but knowing those so well and thoroughly, tree by
tree, crop by crop, path by path through the woodland! They have been
uprooted and borne to foreign shores, but they are England, and it is
for their own bit of England, weald, marsh, or fell, that they die.

“They have lived all their lives in security, and the security of
centuries lies behind them, as the volume of ocean lies behind each wave
that laps the shore. Now the mammoth of danger and unrest prowls round
their homesteads, and a hand whose presence they did not suspect moves
and removes them, pawns in the game. How can they understand? They do
not. They only cling, for the sake of sanity, to what they know: their
corner of England and their own individuality, rocks which have been
with them since they were born, and which in the thunderstorm about
their ears they can retain unaltered.

“I live amongst them now, and I know.

“I have been once in a great earthquake, and I know that the secret of
its terror is that the earth, the steady immutable earth, betrays the
confident footstep. So in this earthquake men cling to themselves and to
their land, as they know it, as immutable things.

“I am living now in a great peace; I do not hear the din around me; I am
as one in the centre of those tropical winds, where all that is in the
path of the hurricane is destroyed, but in the still and silent centre
birds sing and leaves do not stir. Or I am as a totally deaf man, the
drums of whose ears are burst. I am happy.

“But the others, who are in the path of the wind, they are clouted and
pushed and beaten, blinded and deafened by the cyclone. They are made to
gyrate as the little mice were made to gyrate. What is it, oh God, that
drives us, poor creatures?

“I am not one of those who, at this moment, hold that the war is supreme
and all-eclipsing. The war is not eternal, and its proportions are
relative; only life is eternal, and fate is eternal. Fate! Do you
remember the Pennistans, and how fate, the freaky humorist, played her
tricks upon them? There was no escape for them then, there is no escape
for us now.

“If all mankind were resigned to fate, sorrow would take wing and fly
from the world.

“I think of this present stirring of nations as the stirring of huge
antediluvian beasts, kicked up out of their slumber by a giant’s foot,
and fighting amongst themselves like the soldiers of Jason. No human eye
can follow the drift of war, as no human mind can encircle the entirety
of modern knowledge. We are as men in the valley, with mountains rising
around, and, beyond each ridge that we climb, a farther ridge. It is for
the geographers of the future to come with their maps and measure peak
after peak to their correctness of altitude. And it is for us to
remember that as the highest peak is as nothing upon the perfect
roundness of the globe, so is our present calamity as nothing upon the
perfect roundness of the scheme of destiny.”


Again that strange impulse to confide in me! in me the stranger whom he,
if anything, disliked. I wondered whether our whole lives were to be
punctuated by these spasmodic confidences, and whether the forging of a
number of such links would finally weave together a chain of friendship?
I reflected that he, the analyst, could probably explain the kink in
men’s brains by which confidential expansion is not necessarily based on
sympathy, but I admitted to myself that I was routed by the problem.

I liked his letter; it produced in me a sensation of peace and light,
and of a great broadening. I envied him his balance and his sanity. I
envy him still more now that peace has come, and that the rapid
perspective of history already shows me the precision of his judgment.

I showed part of the letter to Ruth, curious to observe the impression
which Malory’s reflections would produce on a primitive and uncultivated
brain. I knew that that letter was not the outcome of a transitory or
accidental frame of mind, but that, like a rock gathering speed as it
bowls down the side of a hill, the swell and rush of his considered
thought had borne him along until his fingers, galloping to the
dictation of his mind, had covered the sheets I now held in my hand.
Ruth frankly understood no word of his letter. She merely asked me in
her direct way whether I thought Mr. Malory was sorry her brother-in-law
had been killed. Privately I thought that some devilish cynicism in the
man, some revolting sense of artistic fitness, would rejoice in a
detached, inhuman fashion, at the pertinence of the tragedy.

He said in his next letter to me—a reply to a letter of mine:—


“... Destiny and nature are, after all, the only artists of any courage,
of any humour. Do they take Rawdon Westmacott? for whose disappearance
all concerned must pray; no, they take Daphnis, who, of the thirty or
forty million fighting men, is in the minority that should be spared.

“From the beginning they have exercised their wit on these innocent
country people. How can we escape from their humour, when it gambols
around us in the unseen? we cannot escape it, we can only hope to cap it
with the superlative humour of our indifference.

“Around how many homes must it be gambolling now! from the little centre
in the Weald of Kent, which is known to both you and me, to the little
unknown centres of human life in the heart of Asia, where anxiety
dwells, and where no news will ever come, but where hope will flag and
droop day by day, till at last it expires in hopeless certainty.

“If you do not hear of me again, you may conclude that the arch-joker
has taken me also, but remember that I shall have had the laugh on him
after all, for I shall not care. However, I shall probably be spared,
for no man or woman would weep for me.

“One’s chief need, one’s principal craving, I find, is to get Death into
his true proportion. We have always been accustomed to think of Death as
a suitable and even dignified ending to life in old age, but to regard
the overtaking of youth by Death in quite a different light, as an
unspeakable calamity. Here, of course, such an overtaking is of everyday
occurrence. This, you will say, is a truism. I answer, that there is no
such thing as truism in war; there is only Truth.

“If I take all my reflections about Death, slender as is their worth,
and pass them through a sieve of analysis, what do I get? I get, as a
dominant factor, Pity. Pity, yes, pity that these young men should have
missed the good things life would have given them; not horror so much
that they should be in the blackness below the ground, as pity that they
should not be above it in the light....”


An intense anger and irritation rose in me at his passive acceptance of
what he termed fate. If man must struggle against his fellow-men in
order to survive in the life-battle, then why not against fate also? He
who does not resist must inevitably be crushed. It was at this stage
that my great scheme began to formulate in my mind, by which I should
defeat fate for the sake of Malory and Ruth; partly, largely, for the
sake of their happiness, but partly also, I must admit, for the triumph
of taking Malory by the hand and showing him how with the help of a
little energy I had overcome the destiny he had been passively prepared
to accept as inevitable. I would pit my philosophy against his
philosophy, and incidentally bring two muddled lives to a satisfactory
conclusion.

I hugged my scheme to myself in the succeeding months as a lunatic hugs
an obsession.



                                  III


I was a little disturbed by the thought that even I could not make
myself wholly independent of what, for want of a better word, I had to
call fate; independent of a certain Providence whose concurrence I daily
implored, but on whose nature I deliberately tried to set a more
religious complexion than did Malory, who was frankly, in every
instinct, a pagan. Wriggle as I might, I could not wriggle away from the
fact that as prime essentials to the success of my scheme stood the
survival of Malory and the non-survival of Westmacott. If the unknown
chose to thwart me in these two particulars, my cherished plan must come
to naught, but a conviction, whose very intensity persuaded me of its
truth, entered into my spirit that in this respect at all events all
would be well.

As the war progressed I fell into one of the inconsistencies of our
nature, for as the news of Malory continued good I came gradually to
feel that his safety up to this point was growing into a kind of earnest
for his safety in the future—a conclusion in itself totally
illogical—whereas the equally continued safety of Westmacott, whom I so
ardently desired out of the way, distressed me not at all.

Was I presumptuous in thus constituting myself the guardian angel of two
lives? I was only a poor wreck, flotsam of the war, cheated of the man’s
part I had hoped to play, and nursing my scheme like an old maid cheated
of the woman’s part she, on her side, should have played on earth.

I shall not dwell longer than I need upon the days of the war,
considering them rather as an incident, a protracted incident, than as a
central point in my story, for we have no need or desire to revive
artificially the realities we have lived through. I quote, however,
Malory on this subject:—


“... Our sons will scarcely be _our_ children, for the war will have
fathered them and mothered them both. The children of the war! growing
up with the shadow of that great parent in the background of their
lives, a progenitor dark as the night, yet radiant as the sun; torn with
misery, yet splendid and entire with glory; poor and bereft by ruin, yet
rich with gold-mines as the earth; a race of men sprung from loins broad
and magnificent. They will stand like the survivors of the Flood when
the waters had retreated from the clean-washed world. What will they
make of their opportunity? They will not, I trust, hold up a mirror to
reflect the familiar daily tragedy, but out of the depths of their own
enfranchised hearts will call up a store of little, lovely, sincere,
human, and simple things wherewith to make life sweet. They must be as
children in a meadow. Let us have done with pretence and gloom. There is
no room now in the world for the introspective melancholy of the idler.
We hope for a world of active sanity.”


He reverted several times to the men who had been torn from their homes,
the men who, but for war, would never have gone beyond the limit of
their parish. He compared himself angrily with them, and I perceived
that his theory, in embryo at Sampiero, had struck deep roots under the
rain of present day realities.


“... I want to shout it aloud: objectivity! objectivity! action, the
parent of thought. We had worn thought to a shadow, with hunting him
over hill, plain, and valley. We were miners who had exhausted the drift
of gold. Thank God, we are daily burying fresh gold for our successors.
We were sick with the sugar of introspection; introspection, subtlest of
vanities; introspection, the damnable disease. We were old and outworn
in spirit. The soil bore weakly crops, and cried out for nourishment. We
are giving it blood to drink, and it grows fertile in the drinking.

“I am aware of the coarsening of my fibres; I grow more conscious of my
body, less conscious of my mind. I am very humble. I know that the
meanest hind who turned the ridges under the ploughshare had a truer
value than I, the critic, the analyst—I use the words disparagingly—the
commentator. He silently constructed while I noisily destroyed.”


Malory continued at great length in this strain, and I read between the
lines of his letter that he had devoted much of the intolerable leisure
of his soldier’s life to the evolution of a new creed, not really new to
him, for its precepts were and must always have been in his blood, but
now for perhaps the first time formulated and taken close to his heart.
He wrote to me more and more openly, and I knew that I was getting the
expression of his inmost thoughts. I have all his letters—for they came
now in numbers though with great irregularity—and have sometimes thought
that I have not the right, nor he the right to compel me, to keep them
to myself. As he said:—


“... All men have creeds, and I behold myself a faddist in a universe of
faddists. I cannot be wholly right, nor they wholly wrong. But I argue
in my own defence, that a creed such as mine, resting on many pillars,
the most mighty of which is the pillar of tolerance, is at least
inoffensive in a world it does not even seek to convert. I offer my
little gift—and if it is rejected I withdraw my hand, and tender it
elsewhere.

“I am not concerned with practical matters, nor with controversial
subjects; I am not a political or a social reformer, nor a nut-eater,
nor a prophet of the Pit. I am not, I fear, a very practical preacher
even in my own region, for my words, were I ever to spread them abroad,
could germinate only in the ready tilled field of a contented soul, and
will put no bread into the mouth of the hungry. So I desist, for mere
reflection is of no value in our times, and he alone has justified his
existence who has relieved the poor, benefited the sickly, or fed the
starving.”


I do not wholly agree with him.

At least in one particular I will take his advice, and will not dwell
further upon those years. We know now that, interminable as they seemed
at the time, they passed, and in a golden autumn peace came to the earth
like sleep returning after night upon night of insomnia. Malory wrote to
me on that occasion also, a letter more full of sarcasm, bitterness, and
sorrow than any I had yet received.


“... So here we are at last at the end of this long, long road, more
like straight railway-lines than like a road, which is a poetical thing.
I look back, and I see iron everywhere: iron hurtling through the air
and smashing against the soft flesh of men and the softer hearts of
women; iron thundering in the sea; masonry toppling; careful labour
destroyed; skies full of black smoke; giant machines. Impressionism is
the only medium to express the war. In this chaos little men have
laboured, trying to put their brains round the war like putting a string
round the globe; and pitting their little bodies against the moving tons
of iron, like a new-born baby trying to push against a Titan. What has
emerged? a new, a great tradition, greater than the Trojan or the
Elizabethan; a new legend for the ornament of art. For it all comes down
to art in the end; the legend is greater than the fact; the mind
survives the perishing matter. We are the heirs of the past. The man of
action is the progenitor of the dreamer. What am I saying? The
progenitor? he is the manure, merely the manure dug into the soil on
which the dreamer will presently grow. Poor, inarticulate,
uncomprehending men have died in their anonymous millions to furnish a
song for the future singer, a vicious, invertebrate effete, no doubt; a
moral hermaphrodite of a worthless generation.

“How many before me have asked, What is Truth? is it indeed a flower
which blooms only on a dung-heap?

“... I have seen so many men here die in their prime, who were precious
to mankind or all in all to their individual loves, yet they have been
taken, and I, the valueless, the solitary, am left. Is there a purpose
behind these things? or am I to believe that fate is, after all, the
haphazard of chance?”


We held no peace rejoicings at Pennistans’, for Nancy’s sake; peace was
to her an additional sorrow. During the war she had had the feverish
interest of having given her greatest sacrifice to the ideal of the
moment, but as the horror faded away so the memory of those who had died
faded also. Nancy and her kindred ceased to shine as the heroic, and
became merely the unfortunate, a sad and scattered population to whom
the war would last, not a few years, but all their lives. Shattered
women and shattered men; but to us the war appeared already as a
nightmare interlude from which we had wakened.

I was now confronted with my own particular purpose, the one I had
bargained with myself to carry out; I turned it over and over in my
mind, and though by the light of reason I could perceive no solution to
the obvious difficulty presented, yet my curious instinct persisted,
that all would be well. I was certain that my purpose was a good one. I
contemplated a Malory changed, softened, hardened, sobered, steadied, by
the red-hot furnace of war; he had called himself an inconstant man; I
felt that he would be now no longer inconstant. I contemplated a Ruth
intolerant, after her four years lived in liberty, of her former
bondage. I saw them fuse, in my own mind, in mutual completion.

In the meantime, Westmacott stood ominously in the centre of the road.

I heard first of his return from Amos, as I stood with Mrs. Pennistan
watching the folding of the sheep. Amos had brought the sheep with him
in a cart from Tonbridge market; he was taciturn while he turned them
out from under the net into the hurdled fold, but when the hired man had
driven away the lumbering cart, he said, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder,—

“Wife, who d’you think I met on the road yonder?”

She stared at him, and he added, in his laconic way,—

“Rawdon.”

“He’s back?” she said, dismayed.

Amos expanded.

“Ay. They’ve a system for bringing them home, it seems, according to
their employ: farmers and food producers come first.”

“Then Malory,” I said involuntarily, “will come among the last lot as a
man of no occupation.”

“That’ll be it. We’ll be looking soon for those boys of ourn,” he said
to his wife.

She smiled gladly at him, but remained pensive. Then she asked,—

“Was he alone, Amos?”

“Ay. He’d his pack on his back, too, so I doubt he’d come from the
station. He’d his back to Penshurst and his face towards home. He
touched his cap at me, friendly, and I twirled my whip to him, friendly,
too.”

“I’m glad of that,” his wife murmured.

Amos shrugged.

“A man’s glad to welcome his son-in-law back from the wars,” he said
ironically as he turned to go.

Mrs. Pennistan and I strolled out towards the road.

“He’s dead against Rawdon; always was,” she said in a distressed tone.
“I was for making up, and making the best of it, but Pennistan isn’t
that sort. He’d sooner have life unbearable than go a tittle against his
prejudices. After all, Rawdon’s married to Ruth, and the father of our
grandchildren, and there’s no going against that. He’s an unaccountable
hard man, my man, when he chooses. I couldn’t never do nothing with him,
and Nancy she’s the same.”

“And Mrs. Westmacott?” I asked.

The distress in her tone deepened.

“I used to think Ruth a good quiet girl, but since the trick she played
me over her marriage I haven’t known what to think. I’ve lain awake o’
nights worrying over it. You’ve heard the whole tale from Mr. Malory.
Gentle she was until then, and a good daughter to me, I must say, and
then ... gone in a night withouten a sign, and never a word to me in
explanation since. What’s a mother to make of that?”

I could have laughed at the poor woman’s perplexity. I thought of the
hen whose brood of ducklings takes suddenly to the water.

“But has she never alluded to her ... her elopement?”

“Never a word, I tell you. I asked her once, and she put on a look as
black as night, and I never asked her again. I’ve sometimes wished Mr.
Malory could speak to her, I’ve a fancy she might answer him freer; and
yet I don’t know.”

“I’ve never fully understood,” I said, wishing to make the most of my
opportunity, “whether she cares at all for her husband or not?”

“Small wonder that you haven’t understood,” said Mrs. Pennistan tartly,
“when her own mother is kept out in the dark. It’s my belief she hates
him, and it’s my knowledge that he ill-treats her, but at the same time
it’s my instinct she loves him in a way. It sounds a hard thing to say
of one’s child, but I’ve always held Ruth was a coarse, rough creature
at times under her smoothness.”

She instantly repented of her words.

“There, what am I saying of my own kith and kin? I get mad when I get
thinking of my girl, so you mustn’t lay too much store by my talk.
Pennistan’d give it me if he heard me.”

I persisted.

“Then you think that, when she ran away with him, she hated him and
loved him both together?”

Mrs. Pennistan paused for a long time.

“Well,” she said at last, “if you ask me what I think, it’s this. There
was a deal more in that running away than any of us knew at the time.
What it exactly was I don’t know even now. I doubt Ruth doesn’t know
either, or if she does know, she doesn’t own to it, not to herself even.
I doubt Rawdon knows most about it.”

I saw another man becoming inevitable.

“And Mr. Malory?”

She shot at me a quick suspicious look.

“You’re Mr. Malory’s friend, what do you know?”

“I know nothing,” I said. “He didn’t know himself.”

“No,” said Mrs. Pennistan suddenly, “that’s the truth. He didn’t know
himself. He wasn’t a man to fancy those things. To me it was as plain as
daylight, but Pennistan he always scoffed at me, and I daren’t speak it
to Ruth, and I’ve thought since that maybe I was wrong after all. Maybe
she went with Rawdon because she loved Rawdon: maybe she didn’t go, as
I’ve sometimes thought, because she was afraid.... It’s hard, isn’t it,
to see into people’s hearts, even when you live in the same house with
them? Day in, day out, and you know little more of them than the clothes
they wear and what they like to get to eat.”

I was sorry for her. She went on,—

“Your children, they seem so close to you when they’re little; they come
to you when they’re hungry, and they come to you when they tumble, and
you cosset them; and then when they’re big you find you’re the last
person they want to come to. It’s cruel hard sometimes on a woman. But
they don’t mean it,” she added, brightening, “and my children have been
good children to me, even Ruth.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

I met Westmacott, the formidable man, the day after his return, a
Sunday, walking on the village green with his wife and the two eldest
children. As I looked at him I felt a little pang of horror on realising
how ardently I had desired this man to die in the trenches, and now, as
he materialised for me out of a mere name into a creature of flesh and
blood, I grew dismayed, and was overcome by the reality of the obstacle.
Perhaps I had always unconsciously thought of him as a myth. And now
here he was, and Ruth shyly introduced me.

I fancied I caught a sullen look on her face, a look of suffering, long
lulled to sleep, and suddenly returned. Perhaps for the last four years
he had been a myth to her also.

By his home-coming he soon waked the echoes of scandal; his way of life,
they said, had not been mended by the war, and after the long restraint
of discipline he broke loose into his old debauches. I noted the growing
of that sullen look on Ruth’s features; she made no comment, but I
divined the piling-up of the thunderstorm. So, I thought, she must have
looked during the month of her engagement to Leslie Dymock, when Malory
in his error had considered her as a nun in her novitiate. The kettle,
she had said, is long on the hob before it boils over.

She spent less time at Pennistans’ than formerly, pride and obstinacy
withholding all confession from her lips or from her actions. Amos was
gloomy, and Mrs. Pennistan oppressed. As for me, I lived dreamily,
content to let the river of events carry my boat onwards. I made no
prophecies to myself, I experienced no impatience; Malory was not yet
home, and I believed that by the time he got home my problem would have
resolved itself automatically.



                                   IV


How? I never formulated, but I suppose now, looking back, that the
prosaic solution of divorce lay behind my evasions. I did not take into
account the dreary conventionality of the English side to Ruth’s nature.
People like the Pennistans do not divorce; they endure. Nor do they run
away; yet Ruth had run away. Which would prove the stronger, her
life-long training, or the flash of her latent blood?

There came a day—for I have dallied a long time over Malory’s letters
and my own reflections—when Ruth came into Pennistans’ kitchen, hatless,
with her three children clinging round her skirts. Her father and mother
stared at her; she gave no explanation, and Amos, who was a great
gentleman in his way, asked for none, and moreover checked the doleful
inquiries of his wife, to whom the prompt and vulgar tear was always
ready. I saw then a certain likeness between the father and the
daughter; that apostolic beard of his gave him a southern dignity, and
his scarlet braces marked his shirt with a blood-red slash, as red as
her lips over her little teeth white as nuts. She could remain at the
farm as long as she chose, he said. She had, he did not add, but his
eyes added it, a refuge from all mankind in her father.

No reproaches, no recriminations, and when Mrs. Pennistan, after Ruth
had gone out with all apparent calm to put her children to bed, began
anew to wonder tearfully what had happened, and to suggest lugubriously
that as Ruth had made her bed, so she must lie in it, he checked her
again and frightened her into silence by his sternness. She went out
weeping, and Amos and I were left together.

I offered to go, but he assured me that my presence in the house would
be a help, adding that he supposed I had heard something of his
daughter’s story, and that her marriage was not a happy one. It probably
cost him a great effort to say this. I tried to make it as easy as I
could for him. He then asked me to remain with Ruth should her husband
follow her, and should he, Amos, or one of her brothers, not be in the
house.

I could see that he thought it likely Westmacott would come over sooner
or later.

I was greatly elated at the turn things had taken, and felt that my
belief in the lucky star of my scheme had been justified. I had no doubt
now that Ruth would rid herself of Westmacott, and do for herself what
the war had not done for her. I hung about the farm all day, partly to
oblige Amos, who had his usual work to attend to, but principally to
satisfy the tense spirit of expectation which had risen in me since the
morning. As the player sees an imaginary line running between his ball
and the objective, so I imagined a string running between the moment at
Sampiero when Malory had said, “Do you know the Weald of Kent?” and this
moment when I, a tardy, but, I flattered myself, an essential actor,
waited about Pennistans’ threshold for the advent of Rawdon Westmacott.
All the beads but one were now threaded on that string; I must watch the
last and final threading, before I could put on the clasp.

Towards evening I espied Westmacott entering a distant field, and
something in me gave a fierce leap of exultation. I then realised the
practical difficulties of the position. Here was I, left on guard, but
physically quite unable to grapple with the wiry man should he lay hands
on me, or on his wife. I thought for an instant of summoning Amos, but
as instantly rejected the idea: the final act must lie between
Westmacott, Ruth, and myself. Had I been alone, I would have chanced his
violence; as it was, I must consider the woman. I ran quickly into the
house, up to my room, and brought down my service revolver.

When I came into the kitchen carrying this weapon, Ruth, who was sitting
there sewing, as placidly, I swear, as she had sat sewing in her own
kitchen the first time I had seen her, looked at my loaded hand and up
into my face with a grave, inquiring surprise. I reassured her. Her
husband, I told her, was coming across the fields and would doubtless
insist on seeing her, and considering the nature of the man I had
thought it best to have an unanswerable threat ready to hand. With that
muzzle we would keep him at bay.

Ruth rose very quietly and took the weapon from me. I had no idea of
resistance. Malory himself could not have felt more definitely than I
that the words we were to speak, the actions we were to perform, were
already written out on a slowly unwinding scroll.

She asked me to leave her alone with her husband; to my feeble protest,
made by my tongue, but barely seconded by the vital part of my being,
the part so intensely conscious, yet at the same time so pervaded by a
sense of trance and unreality,—to that feeble protest she replied,
bitterly enough that she had faced him many times before and with my
weapon on the table beside her would face him with additional confidence
and security. She had already taken it from me, and now laid it on the
table, speaking as one does to a child from whom one has just taken a
dangerous toy. She smiled as she spoke, so serenely that I felt sure she
had accepted the revolver merely for the sake of my peace of mind. She
charged me to keep the children away, should I see them drawing near to
the house, and with that injunction she took me kindly by the shoulders
and turned me out into the garden.

Westmacott entered it at the same moment by the swing-gate. His looks
were black as he passed me and strode into the house he had not darkened
since his marriage. I stood out in the garden alone in the dusk. I
looked in through the latticed window of the kitchen, seeing every
detail as the detail of a Dutch picture, lit by the fire; the window was
very largely blocked by the red geraniums, but I could see the deal
table, the swinging lamp, the brass ornaments gleaming by the fireplace,
the pictures on the walls, the thin ribbon of steam coming from the
spout of the singing kettle; I could even see the brown grain in the
wood of which the table-top was made. I saw Ruth standing, and
Westmacott looking at her; then he caught sight of me, and with an angry
gesture dragged the curtain across the window.

I was now shut out from all participation in this act of the drama, but
I did not care; I felt that what must be, must be, that the inevitable
was right, and, above all, ordained. Come what might, no human agency
could interfere. I smiled to myself as I thought of Malory’s triumph
could he behold my resignation, and as I smiled I felt Malory’s presence
in the garden, waiting like me, and, like me, entirely passive. I saw
his face; his iron gray hair where it grew back from his temples; I saw
the tiny hairs in his nostrils, and the minute pores of his skin. My
head was swimming, and the vividness of my perception stabbed me.

Then a little scent floated out to me, and I wondered vaguely what it
was, and what were the memories it awakened, and in some dim, extremely
complicated way I knew those memories were awakened by a mental rather
than a physical process, and that they were, at best, only second-hand.
A narrow street, yoked bullocks, and the clamour of a Latin city....
These meaningless and irrelevant words shaped themselves out of the mist
of my sensitiveness. I linked them and the picture they created to the
violence of feeling within the little room behind the drawn curtain, and
as I did so they fell away together from the twilit English garden, the
English country; fell away to their own place, as a thing apart; or
shall I say, they stood behind the English country as a ghostly stranger
behind a familiar form? This was the ghost of which Malory had always
been conscious. Then I knew that my troubled perplexity was but the echo
of Malory’s first perplexity, and I narrowed it down with an effort of
will to the scent of roasting chestnuts. The ancient woman in her
bedroom was at her usual occupation.

I folded my arms and leant my back against the house wall; I heard the
rise and fall of angry voices within the room; I found that I could look
only at little things, such as the cracks in the stone paving of the
garden path, or the latch on the gate, and that the horizon, when I
raised my eyes towards it, swam. I tried to drag back my failing sense
of proportions. As I did this, clinging on to and deliberately ranging
my thoughts in ordered formation, there emerged the dearness and
all-eclipsing importance of my scheme to me in the past; I realised that
never for a moment had it been absent from my conscious or my
sub-conscious thought. So, I said to myself, this is the phenomenon of
poets, and are they, I wonder, as passive as I am when after months of
carrying their purpose in their brain, the moment comes of its fruition?
Have they, like me, no feeling of control? I remembered what Malory had
said of the corelation of human effort.

I looked towards the darkened window and, hearing the drone of voices,
beheld myself again as the brother of the poet whose puppets, brought by
him to a certain point, continue to work along the lines he has laid
down, as though independent of his agency. I would resume control, I
thought, when this so terribly inevitable act had played itself out.
Then I would step in, lead Malory to Ruth, and again step out, leaving
them to the joy of their bewilderment.

Why should I have cherished this scheme so passionately? so passionately
that my desire had risen above my reason, carrying with it that strange
conviction that by the sheer force of my will events would shape
themselves—as indeed they were shaping—under my inactive hand? Why? I
could not explain, but as the twilight deepened rapidly in the garden I
saw again Malory’s grave, lean face, heard his half-sad, half-happy
comments, was pierced by the pitiable and unnecessary tragedy of his
loneliness—Malory away in France, unconscious of the intensity of the
situation created around him, without his knowledge and without his
consent, by a woman who loved him and a man who, I suppose, loved him
too.

It was at that moment, when I had worked myself up into a positive
exaltation, that I heard a sudden angry shout and a shot from a
revolver.

I awoke, and I confess that before rushing into the house I stood for a
dizzy second while a thousand impressions wheeled like a flock of
startled birds in my brain. It was over, then? Westmacott was dead, I
was sure of that. Would the mice, two miles away, be waltzing? I had an
insane desire to run over and look. Westmacott was dead; then I had
killed him, I was his murderer as much as if I stood in Ruth’s place
with the smoking revolver in my hand. It was over; the recent tradition
of war, where life was cheap, had joined with Concha’s legacy for the
fulfilment of my purpose. What a heritage! for that double heritage, not
fate, had helped me out. Blood, war, and I were fellow conspirators.

I stood for a second only before I burst open the door, but the strength
of my impression was already so powerfully upon me that when I saw
Westmacott by the fire holding the revolver I did not believe my eyes.
When I say I did not believe my eyes I mean that I was quite soberly,
deliberately persuaded that my eyes were telling an actual falsehood to
my brain. Westmacott could not be standing by the fire; he must be lying
somewhere on the ground, huddled and lifeless. I removed my eyes from
the false Westmacott standing by the fire, and sent them roving over the
floor in search of that other Westmacott from whom life had flown.

I ran my eyes up and down the cracks between the tiles until they came
to a darkness, and then, running them upwards, I reached the face of
Ruth. She was there, shrinking as she must suddenly have shrunk when he
snatched the revolver from her. In her face I read defeat, reaction,
submission. She had struck her blow, and it had failed; and she and I
were together beaten and vanquished.

I knew that my attempt would be hopeless, but a great desperation seized
hold of me, and I cried out, absurdly, miserably,—

“There are other methods.”

She only shook her head, and, pointing at the revolver, said,—

“It kicked in my hand.”

I looked across the room, and running to the fire I picked up some bits
of china which had fallen in the grate; I tried to fit them together,
repeating sorrowfully,—

“Look, you have broken a plate, you have broken a plate to pieces.”



                                   V


For how long we stood gazing at those ironical shards I do not know.
There are moments of suspension in life when the whirling mind travels
at so great a rate that everything else seems stationary; so, now, we
were touched into immobility while our minds flew forward into space and
time. I cannot say what the others found in that fourth dimension of
thought; I, personally, returned to earth utterly inarticulate, with
these two words shaping themselves and singing over and over in my
brain: Futile creatures! futile creatures! It was as though some little
mocking demon sat astride my nerve cords, drumming his heels, and
chanting his refrain. I could have shaken myself like a dog coming out
of water to shake him off. Then I became aware of Westmacott’s voice
speaking at an immense distance.

He must have been speaking for some time before the sound pierced
through to my ears, for I saw Ruth moving in obedience to his voice
before I had grasped what he was saying. Her movement made the same
impression upon me as his voice: muffled, slow, and infinitely remote;
she crept, rather than she walked, and when she raised her hand she
raised it with such torpid and deliberate effort that she seemed to be
dragging it upwards with some heavy weight attached. As for her feet,
they positively stuck to the ground. Westmacott said something more; he
pointed. She turned, still with that slow laborious deliberation, and
moved like a shackled ghost from the room.

Westmacott and I were left, and we were silent, he perhaps from choice,
I certainly from inability to speak. I think now that he was less
shattered than Ruth or me, having played a more negative rôle; he had
merely stood there to be shot at, while Ruth and I had flung, she
direct, I indirect passion into the shooting. We were worn, spent,
exhausted, he had his forces still intact. An absurd phrase came into my
mind, so childish that I hesitate to write it down: Which would you
rather be, the shooter or the shootee? and presently I hit on the rhyme,
so that a sing-song began in my head:—

                      “Which would you rather be,
                      The shooter or the shootee?”

and still Westmacott stood there holding the revolver, and I stood there
holding the pieces of the broken plate, and all the while I seemed to
hear the corner-stones of my cherished schemes dropping to earth like
pieces of masonry after an explosion. We stood quite motionless.
Overhead somebody was moving about. Outside it was nearly dark.

Perception was beginning to return to me, bringing in its train a sense
of defeat. I had often wondered how the people in a play or in a story
continued to live their lives after the climax which parted spectator
and actor for ever, I had often followed them in spirit, come down to
breakfast with them next morning, so to speak, producing the situation
into the region of inevitable anticlimax. Here I was, then, at the old
game, an actor myself. I supposed that the play was at an end, and that
this was the return to life. That the play should end happily or
unhappily, was an accident proper to the play only; all that was
certain, all that was inevitable, was that life must be gone on with
after the play was over. You couldn’t stop; you were like a man tied on
to the back of a traction-engine, willy-nilly you had to go on walking,
walking, walking. The dreariness of it! I looked at the pieces of broken
plate in my hand, the sum total of all that passion, all that great
outburst of pent emotion. I threw back my head, and laughed long, loud,
and bitterly.

Westmacott regarded me without surprise, scarcely with interest. He
appeared cold and quite indifferent, entirely in possession of his
faculties. I grew ashamed under his dispassionate gaze, my laughter
ceased, and I laid the pieces of plate on the table. Then it occurred to
me we were waiting for something. The movement overhead had died away,
but as I listened I heard steps upon the stair, several sets of steps,
light pattering steps as of children, and heavier steps, as of a grown
person.

Then Westmacott stirred; he went across the room and opened the door. I
saw Ruth standing in the passage with her children. She was hatless as
she had arrived, but the glow of the lamp, hanging suspended from the
ceiling, where it fell upon the curve of her little head, drew a line of
light as upon a chestnut. Westmacott nodded curtly, passed out, and his
family followed him in a passive and mournful procession.

I watched them go, across the little garden, through the swing-gate, and
into the dusky fields beyond. They seemed to me infinitely gray,
infinitely dreary, infinitely broken, the personages of a flat and faded
fresco. All that pulsating passion had passed, like an allegory of life,
leaving only death behind. Gone was the vital flame from the human clay.
And nothing had come of it, nothing but a broken plate. What ever comes
of men’s efforts, I thought bitterly? so little, that we ought to take
for our criterion of success, not the tangible result, but the
intangible ardour by which the attempt is prompted. So rarely is the one
the gauge of the other! I looked again at the little train rapidly
disappearing into the darkness, a funeral cortège, carrying with it the
corpse of slain rebellion. I saw the years of their future, a vista so
stark, so arid, that I physically recoiled from its contemplation. How
hideous would be the existence of those children, suffering perpetually
from a constraint they could not explain, a constraint which lacked even
to the elements of terror, so dead a thing was it, in which terror, a
lively, vivid reality, could find no place. Death and stagnation would
be their lot.

The darkness of the fields had now completely swallowed them up, but I
still stood looking at the spot where I had last seen them, and saying a
final good-bye to the tale that place had unfolded to me. This time, I
was certain, no sequel was still to come. On the morrow I should leave
the Pennistans’ roof, with no hope that an echo of the strangely cursed,
ill-fated, unconscious family would ever reach me again in the outer
world.

A peace so profound as to be almost unnatural had settled over the land,
one or two stars had come out, and I wondered vaguely why Amos and his
people had not yet returned home from work. I supposed that they were
making the most of a fine evening. The Pennistans would accept their
daughter’s defeat, I was sure, with the usual stoic indifference of the
poor. At last I turned slowly in the doorway, a great melancholy soaking
like dew into my bones, so that I fancied I felt the physical ache.

Now I have but the one concluding incident to tell, before I have done
with this portion of my cumbersome, disjointed story, an incident which
has since appeared to me frightening in its appositeness, as though
deliberately planned by some diabolically finished artist as a rounding
of the whole. Malory had spoken of destiny and nature as being the only
artists of any humour or courage, and upon my soul I am tempted to agree
with him when I think over the events of that packed evening, of which I
was the sole and baffled spectator. I said this incident appeared to me
frightening; I repeat that statement, for I can conceive of no situation
more frightening than for a man to find himself and other human beings
shoved hither and thither by events over which he has no control
whatsoever, the conduct of life taken entirely out of his hands,
especially a man, like me, had always struggled resentfully against the
imposition of fate on free-will, but never more so than in the past few
weeks. Wherever I turned that night, mockery was there ready to greet
me.

I went again, as I have said, into the house with the intention of
waiting in the kitchen on Amos’s return. In this small plan as in my
larger ones I was, it appeared, to be thwarted, for as I passed down the
narrow passage I noticed that the door of old Mrs. Pennistan’s room was
open. I paused at first with no thought of alarm. I longed to go in, and
to tell the ancient woman of the futile suffering she had brought upon
her hapless descendants. I longed insanely to shout it into her brain
and to see remorse wake to life in her faded eyes. As I stood near her
door she grew for me into a huge, portentous figure, she and her love
for Oliver Pennistan, and I saw her, the tiny woman I had all but
forgotten, as a consciously evil spirit, a malign influence, the spring
from which all this river of sorrow had flowed. Then my steps were drawn
nearer and nearer to the door, till I stood at last on the threshold,
looking for the first time into the room. Some one, presumably the now
invisible servant, had lit the two candles on the dressing-table, and
these with the glow of the fire between the bars threw over the room a
fitful light. I had, curiously enough, no sense of intrusion; I might
have been looking at a mummy. Yet I should have remembered that the
occupant was not a mummy, for the familiar smell of the chestnuts had
greeted me even in the passage.

She was sitting in her usual place over the fire, her back turned to me,
and a black shawl tightly drawn round her shrunken shoulders. Again I
was struck by her look of fragility. I had a sudden impulse that I would
speak to her, and would try to draw some kind of farewell from her,
explaining that I was leaving the house the next day—though whether she
had ever realised my presence there at all I very much doubted.

As I went forward the crackle of a chestnut broke the utter stillness of
the room. I waited for her to pick it out of the grate with the tongs,
but she did not stir. I came softly round her chair and stood there,
waiting for her to notice me, as I had seen the Pennistans do when they
did not wish to startle her. Indeed, so tiny and frail was she, that I
thought a sudden fright might shatter her, as too loud a noise will kill
a lark.

I looked down at the chestnuts on the bar, and then I saw that they were
quite black. I bent down. They were burnt black and friable as cinders.
Sudden panic rushed over me. I dropped on to my knees and stared up into
the old woman’s fallen face. She was dead.



                                PART III



                                   I


During ten years my story remained at that, with a fictitious appearance
of completion. Then I received a letter which, without further preamble,
I here transcribe:—

                  *       *       *       *       *

“... I laugh to myself when I think of you receiving this letter, surely
the most formidable letter ever penned by mortal man to mortal man, a
letter one hundred and fifty pages long; who ever heard of such a thing?
You will stare dismayed at the bundle, and, having forgotten the sight
of my writing, will turn to the end for the signature; which finding,
you will continue to stare bewildered at the name of Malory until light
breaks upon you as faint and feeble as a winter dawn. Let me help you by
reminding you of Sampiero first, and of Pennistans’ farm later. You see,
I am not vain, and am perfectly prepared to believe that the little set
of your fellow-men among whom I figured had entirely faded from your
mind.

“Are they gradually reviving as I write? and do you, as they one by one
sit up in the coffins to which you had prematurely relegated them, greet
them with a smile? Oh, I don’t blame you, my dear fellow, for having put
us away, myself included, in those premature graves. I should have done
as much myself. I will go further: I should have buried the lot that day
I left you at Sampiero; yes, I am sure I should not have displayed your
energy in seeking out the birds in their very nest.

“I had better warn you at the start that you will find it hard to
believe the things I am going to tell you. You know already of two
crises in the lives of my Hispano-Kentish yeomen, two crises which I
think have puzzled you sufficiently—though in the first case I suspect
that you were more clear-sighted than I—but in this third crisis with
which I deal you will probably refuse to believe altogether. I do not
pretend to explain it myself. I only know that it happened, and
therefore that it is true. Were it not true, I would not dare to foist
its relation on any living man, however credulous. Human ingenuity could
not, however, have planned this sequel, nor human courage have invented
a solution at once so subtle and so naïf, and so in the absurd
incredulity of my tale I place my reliance that it will carry
conviction.

“Ours has been a queer friendship, but one which has held great value
for me; I think many people would be better for such a friendship in
their lives. Of course, to make it ideal, I should never have seen you;
picked your name and address out of a telephone directory, and written;
I am sure you would have answered. Then I should have had no reserve
towards you, not that I have much now, but you see I never can be
certain that I am not going to meet you in a train or in the street,
when my ideally unknown correspondent and I could pass by without
recognition, but when you and I would have to stop, and shake hands, and
a host of intimate, remembered phrases would come crowding up to people
our silence. I dislike such embarrassments. I find that solitude, like
leprosy, grows upon one with age, for I observe myself physically
wincing from the idea that I might possibly meet you as I have said, in
a train or in the street.

“You will be surprised, after this, to hear that I no longer live alone.
But I shall not give you the pleasure of anticipating the end of what I
have set out to tell you; I am going to roll my story off my pen for my
own delectation far more than for yours, and to see whether in the
telling I cannot chance upon the explanation of various points which are
still obscure.

“I was never a man who thought life simple; I had not a five-hundred
word vocabulary wherewith I explained the primitive emotions of birth,
hunger, adolescence, love, and death; no, life was always difficult and
involved to me, but now in the evening of my own existence, serene and
ordered as that evening turns out to be, it appears as a labyrinth
beyond conception, with not one, but a thousand centres into which we
successively stray. Difficult, difficult and heavy to shift are the
blocks of which our mansion is built. Nor am I now speaking of
social-political creeds which are to govern the world; I am speaking
only of poor, elementary human beings, for, not having mastered the
individual, I don’t attempt to discuss the system under which he lives.
Big and little things alike go to our building; and if it was the war
which first put the grace of humility into me, it is the sequel to a
tale of plain people which has kept it there.

“Oh, the humility of me! I cross my arms over my eyes and bow myself
down to the ground like a Mussulman at prayer. There’s nothing like life
for teaching humility to a man, nothing like life for shouting ‘Fool!
fool! fool!’ at him till he puts his hands over his ears. It buzzes
round our heads like a mosquito inside mosquito-curtains. Humility isn’t
the gift of youth—thank God—for it takes a deal of buffeting to drive it
into us. The war should have taught us a lesson in humility; a wider
lesson, I mean, than the accident of defeat or victory, efficiency or
non-efficiency. Let us ignore those superficial aspects of the war. What
we are concerned with, is the underlying forces, the courage, the
endurance, the loyalty, the development of a great heart by little mean
men; all this, abstract but undeniable, unrivalled, the broadest river
of human excellence that ever flowed. What then? Mistaken, by God!
wrongheaded! an immense sacrifice on the altar of Truth which was all
the time the altar of Untruth. Doesn’t it make you weep? All the gold of
the human heart poured out, like the gold of the common coffers, in a
mistaken cause. It’s barbaric; it’s more than barbaric, it’s
pre-historic; it’s going back to the Stone Age. We can’t say these
things now; not yet; not from lack of courage, but from a sense of tact:
we’re living in the wrong century. It’s an outrage on tact to say to
your century what will be self-evident to the next; therefore we
continue to hate our enemy and love our country; mistaken ideals both.

“There, my dear fellow, I profoundly apologise; if I oughtn’t to say
these things to my century I oughtn’t to say them to you either, not
that you are narrow enough to condemn me, but because I shall bore you.
I promised you, too, that my letter was to deal with our little corner
of Kent, and on that understanding I have induced you to read thus far.
I reflect, moreover, that I have no right to speak thus and thus to a
man who has lost much of his activity in his country’s service. Mrs.
Pennistan has drawn me a touching picture of you, though she hasn’t much
descriptive talent, has she? A motherly soul, pathetically out of place
among that untamed brood. Like the majority of people, she lives a life
of externals, with sentimentality as a mild substitute for the more
heroic things, and it has been her misfortune for her lot to fall among
people who, in the critical moments of their lives, allow themselves to
be guided by internal powers of which Mrs. Pennistan knows nothing. I
said, nothing. Yet is such true placidity possible? When you see a
person, a body, marvellous casket and mask of secrets, what do you
think? I think, there stands a figure labelled with a name, but he, or
she, has lived a certain number of years; that is to say, has suffered,
rejoiced, loved, been afraid, known pain; owns secrets, some dirty, some
natural, some shameful, some merely pathetic; and the older the figure,
the greater my wonderment and my admiration. Mrs. Pennistan, dull,
commonplace woman, once gave herself to Amos; was then that not an
immortal moment? But if she remembers at all, she remembers without
imagination; she can’t touch her recollection into life.

“And she dwells among hot, smouldering natures to whom the life of the
spirit is real. She doesn’t understand them, and when her daughter, who
is apparently living in externals likewise, breaks out into the
unexpected, she is perplexed, dismayed, aggrieved. She doesn’t travel on
parallel lines with the workings of such a mind as her daughter’s and
consequently has to catch up with a sudden leap forward which disturbs
her comfortable amble. She had to take such a leap when her daughter
eloped, and another similar leap when her daughter tried to shoot her
son-in-law. Humorous, isn’t it? and rather sad. I feel less for Amos,
whose instinct is more in tune with Ruth’s, and is able to follow
quickly by instinct if not by reason.

“At present Mrs. Pennistan’s mind must be in chaos, but it is happy
chaos, and so she accepts it without disproportionate bewilderment.
Besides, she has come by now to a fortunate state of resignation, in
which she is determined to be surprised at nothing. I have questioned
her on the subject. She is so profoundly unanalytical that I had some
difficulty in getting her to understand at all what I was driving at,
let alone getting her to answer my questions; still, what she told me
was, in substance, this:—

“‘Ruth was my own girl, and a quiet girl at that, but Rawdon isn’t my
boy, and we all knew that Rawdon was queer (this is the adjective she
invariably applies, I find, to anything a little bit beyond her), so we
got into the way of not being surprised when Rawdon did queer things.
Though, I must say, this beats all. After ten years!... And he no coward
either, I’ll say that for him. He was always a reckless boy, and if
you’d seen the things he did you’d wonder, like I do, that he ever lived
to grow up.’

“That, of course, is where her lack of imagination leaves her so much at
fault. She has seen Rawdon climb into the tops of spindly trees after
jackdaws’ nests, and has trembled lest he should fall and break his
head, and has marvelled at his daring; but she cannot imagine, because
she cannot with her physical eyes behold the torments he endured of late
because his moral imaginative cowardice was so much greater than his
physical courage. She cannot understand that the force of his
imagination was such as to drive him away from all that he most desired.
She cannot understand this, and I will admit that for us, who are
phlegmatic English folk, it is difficult to understand also. We must
dismiss our own standards first, and approach the situation with an
unbiased eye. We must, in fact, pull prejudice down from his throne and
set up imagination in his place. We must forget our training and our
national conventions, if we wish to understand something alien to
ourselves, something alien, but not thereby impossible or, believe me,
uninteresting.

“I look back over what I have already written, and am bound to confess
that I have set down hitherto the incoherent thoughts that came into my
head, simply because I have been afraid of tackling my settled duty. To
deal with ten years—for it is now ten years since the period of our
correspondence ceased with the ceasing of the war—is a very alarming
task for any man to undertake. I could, of course, acquaint you in a
dozen lines with the salient happenings of those years. But it amuses me
to cast them into the form of a narrative, and you will forgive me if I
should slip into elaborating scenes in which I played no part.

“At the end of the war, I must tell you, I came back to England with no
very fixed ideas as to my future. I had been a wanderer, and, I say it
with shame, a dilettante all my life, and I felt that my restlessness
had not yet spent itself. I had hated, oh, how I had hated, the
discipline of the army! I had no joy in war; my theories—I can’t call
them principles, for they were things too fluid for so imposing a
name—my theories were in complete disaccord with war, and moreover my
freedom, for the love of which I had sacrificed a possible home and
children, was now taken from me, and, in its place, fetters both
physical and moral were clamped upon me. As my feet had to move left!
right! left! right! so my poor rebellious tongue had to move left!
right! also. And yet, there were fine moments in that war; one learnt
lessons, and one watched great splendid fountains leaping upwards out of
that sea of humanity.... Then the end came when I was free, and could
make a bonfire of my uniform. I wondered what I should do next, and as I
wondered I became aware of two things pulling at me; one thing pulled me
towards the Weald of Kent, and the other pulled me towards the Channel,
where all the world would lie open to my wandering. I decided that the
two were, in order, compatible.

“What a free man I was! I enjoyed paying the full fare for my ticket,
and no longer travelling by warrant. You and I both know that journey to
Penshurst, but you don’t know the freedom that was mine in those fields;
I shouted, I ran, I jumped the brooks, I was like a lamb in May,
forgetful of my middle-age. And then I was suddenly lonely, wanting, for
the first time in my life, a companion to share my light-heartedness. I
wished that you were with me, for I couldn’t think of anybody else. Home
from the war; free indeed, but no welcome anywhere. Not even a dog. And
as for a woman!...

“Westmacott had come home, and I knew that he had found his children
grown, and his wife, perhaps, temporarily happy to see him. At least he
could turn to watch her beauty as she slept.... I cursed my instinct for
following people into their private lives, a damnable trick, and nothing
more than a trick, but one which made me lower my eyes in shame when
next I met them. Peeping through keyholes. I had done it all my life.
Well, if anybody peeped through my keyhole, there wouldn’t be much to
see.

“How queerly things work out sometimes, for no sooner had I emerged from
the fields on to the cross-roads, where the finger-post says
‘Edenbridge, Leigh, Cowden,’ still wrapped in my loneliness as in a
cloak, I came upon Mrs. Pennistan walking slowly up and down, waiting, I
presumed, for Amos. At the sight of me she stopped and stared, till we
simultaneously cried one another’s names. I was filled with real warm
gladness on seeing her there unchanged, unchangeable, and I went forward
with my hands outstretched to clasp her fat, soft hands—do you remember
her hands? they spoke of innumerable kneadings of dough, and she had no
knuckles, only dimples where the knuckles should have been. And then,
before I knew what had happened, that good woman’s arms were round my
neck and her soft, jolly face was against mine, and she kissed me and I
kissed her, and I swear there were tears in her eyes, which, for that
matter, she didn’t trouble to conceal.

“Presently Amos came along. I had intended returning to London that
night, but they would hear nothing of it, and I found myself supping as
of old in their happy kitchen, and going upstairs later to that bare
little room which had once been mine and had since been yours. It is a
real satisfaction to me that you should be as familiar with these
surroundings as I am myself, for you have, as you read, the same picture
as I have as I write, and this harmony we could never achieve were I
telling you of places and faces you had never seen.

“We talked, naturally, of you, for after the manner of old friends we
travelled from one to the other of persons we had known. The sons, who
were there solemnly munching, lent a certain constraint to the evening.
And I missed so poignantly, so unexpectedly, the figure of the old woman
by the fire. I had not realised until then what a prominent figure it
had been, although so tiny and so silent, bent over the eternal
chestnuts, the great-great grandmother of the little Westmacotts. Will
you smile if I tell you that I took the diary up to bed with me, and
read myself again into the underworld of Spain?

“Was it you, by the way, that drew a charcoal portrait of me over the
wash-stand in my room?

                  *       *       *       *       *

“I got up and dressed the next morning still uncertain as to whether I
should or should not go over to Westmacotts’. I do not exactly know why
I was uncertain, but perhaps my loneliness on the previous day had more
to do with it than my self-offered pretext, that my acquaintance with
Ruth had better be left where it was at our last meeting. Remember, I
had not seen her since she stood distraught but resolute in the cowshed
with the Hunter’s moon as a halo behind her head. What could one say to
people in greeting when one’s last words had been full of dark mystery
and of things which don’t come very often to the surface of life? In a
word, I was afraid. Afraid of embarrassment, afraid of the comfort of
her home, afraid of her. Afraid of my own self as a companion through
lonely years afterwards. I dressed very slowly because I wanted to put
off the inevitable moment of making up my mind. And after all it was
Mrs. Pennistan who made it up for me, for such was her surprise when I
mentioned catching a train which would certainly leave me no time for
the visit, that I said I would go.

“I realised then that I was glad. When I was a boy and couldn’t make up
my mind whether I wanted to do a thing or not, I used to toss a coin,
not necessarily abiding by the coin’s decision, but my own predominant
feeling of relief or disappointment. I found the system invaluable. In
this case Mrs. Pennistan had spun herself as a coin for me.

“Westmacott, I knew, would be out. Would Ruth be out, too? and my
problem thus resolved by, as it were, another spin of the coin? She was
not out; she was in her kitchen rolling a white paste with a
rolling-pin, the sleeves of her blue linen dress turned back, and as she
rolled she sang to the baby which lay in a low cradle in the corner. The
baby lay on its back waving a piece of red coral which it occasionally
chewed. I stood for quite a long time in the doorway watching them, and
then Ruth looked up and saw me.

“I suppose I had remembered her blush as the most vivid thing about her,
for I had waited there fully expecting her to look up and colour as she
always did when surprised in any way, but instead of this she stood
there gazing at me with the colour faded entirely from her face. She
stood holding the rolling-pin, as white as the flour upon her hands and
arms. The strong light of the window was upon her. Red geraniums were in
the window. The strident voice of a canary broke our stillness.

“‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘aren’t you glad to see me?’

“I went forward into the kitchen, standing close to her by the table,
and light was all around us, light, and the song of the bird. Everything
was light, white, and dazzling; a flood of light, and bright colours.
Revelation, like an archangel, was in that room.

“She asked,—

“‘Where have you come from?’

“‘From your father’s house.’

“‘You’re living there?’

“‘Only for to-day.’

“‘And then you’re going...?’

“‘Away.’

“‘Away?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘For good?’

“‘To travel....’

“I saw her face, and her beauty began to swim in front of my eyes, and a
roaring began in my ears like a man who is breathing chloroform.
Swimming, swimming, all the room and the light, and I heard my own voice
as I had never heard it before,—

“‘Ruth! Ruth! you must come with me.’

“‘Come with you?’

“‘Yes, now, at once. Before your husband comes back. Get your things. I
give you five minutes.’

“She cried,—

“‘Oh, but the baby?’

“‘I’ll look after it while you go upstairs.’

“‘No, no,’ she said, ‘not now; afterwards?’

“I understood.

“‘Take it with you.’

“‘But, my dear, I’ve three children!’

“The divinity was vanishing from the room, the sunlight grew flat and
cold. We stared at one another. I heard Westmacott’s voice out in the
yard. I said desperately,—

“‘Let me tell him!’

“‘Oh, no!’ she cried shrinking, ‘no, no, no.’

“‘You’re afraid,’ I taunted her.

“‘What if I am? Please go.’

“‘Alone?’

“‘Please, please go.’



                                   II


“You want to know if I went? I did, and in the yard I met Westmacott,
who discussed with me the prospects of the season. He was particularly
affable, and I did my utmost not to appear absent-minded. I suppose that
I succeeded, for his affability increased, culminating in an invitation
to join him in a glass of ale within the house. I was dismayed, and
protested that I had no time, also—quite untruthfully—that since the war
I had given up drink of all kinds. He urged me.

“‘You’ll not refuse to taste my wife’s cider?’

“I thought that I cried out,—

“‘Man alive, I come straight from imploring your wife to come away with
me,’ but as his expression remained the same, and neither glazed into
horror nor blazed into fury, I suppose that the words, though they
screamed in my head, never materialised on my lips.

“I was helpless. He led me back, odious and hospitable, into the kitchen
where Ruth still stood rhythmically rolling the dough. The sun had gone
behind a cloud, and the room, which had been so dazzling with its
colours and its clarity, was dim, even to the red of the geraniums, even
to the glow under the skin of Ruth. Dead, I thought, dead, dead.

“Westmacott stood outside, stamping the clay from his boots, and calling
to his wife for cider. I winced from his heartiness, and from the tragic
absurdity of my position. If only tragedy could be our lot, we should at
least enjoy the consolation of the heroic, but in the comic tragedy to
which Providence so delights in exposing us, there is no consolation. I
was thankful that Westmacott did not know what a fool he was
successfully making of me.

“Ruth took down from the dresser an earthenware jug, and went through
into the little back hall of the place. I watched her through the door
which she had left open. She filled the jug at a great wooden barrel;
the golden cider streamed out from the tap, and she held the jug with a
precision and a steadiness of hand that made me marvel. Returning, she
set it with two glasses on the table.

“‘This is my own brewing,’ she said to me.

“I thought that the cider must surely spill from my glass as I raised it
from the table, or that it must bubble and choke in my throat as I drank
with her eyes upon me. I felt trapped and prisoned, but in Westmacott’s
face there was nothing sinister, no trace of suspicion. He was not
playing a game with me. Perversely enough, I should have preferred an
outburst of fury on his part, to have felt his fist in my face, and to
roll with him, body grappling with body, on the floor. But this could
not be, and I must sit, drinking cider, between those two, a husband and
wife whom the flash of a revolver had so nearly separated not many weeks
beforehand, a revolver fired in anger and hatred, and in a desire for
freedom; I must sit there, near a woman between whom and myself
unforgettable words had been suddenly illuminatingly spoken. I laughed;
Westmacott had just made some remark to which my laugh came as an
inappropriate answer; he looked a little surprised, and I was hunting
about for some phrase to cover my lapse, when Ruth said,—

“‘Here are the boys.’

“They came in whistling, but fell silent as they saw me, and took their
caps off awkwardly. They were good-looking little boys—but I forget:
you’ve seen them. Westmacott glanced at them with obvious pride. Ruth
moved with her former steadiness to the cupboard to cut them each a
chunk of bread liberally spread with jam; she pushed their chairs close
up to the table, and ran her fingers through their rough mops of hair.
They began to eat solidly. Westmacott winked at me.

“‘There’s a mother for you,’ he said.

“I could make no reply to his hideous jocularity; if I had spoken, I
should have screamed.

“I felt that I should never escape, that the situation would last for
ever. I was, naturally enough, not very clear in my mind just then, but
already I seemed to see my recent scene with Ruth as a sunlit peak
bursting out of the dreariness and blindness of days, as brief as the
tick of a clock, but as vibrant as a trumpet-call, while the present
scene was long, interminable, flat as a level plain. Yes, that was my
impression: the peak and the plain. I longed to get away, that I might
dwell at my leisure upon that moment full of wonder. I bitterly resented
my bondage. I wanted to go away by myself to some solitary corner where
I might sit and brood for hours over the one moment in which, after
years of mere vegetation, I could tell myself that I had truly lived. I
felt that every minute by which my stay in that kitchen was prolonged,
was making of the place a thing of nightmare, instead of the enchanted
chamber it actually was, and this also I resented. Why could not I have
come, lived my brief spell, and gone with an untarnished treasure
imprisoned for ever within my heart? Why should perfection be marred by
the clumsiness of a farmer’s hospitality?

“Nor was this all. Creeping over me came again the humiliating sensation
which I had more than once experienced in the presence of Ruth and
Westmacott, the sensation that they were alien to me, bound together by
some tie more mysterious than mere cousinship, a tie which, I believed,
held them joined in spite of the hatred that existed between them. I
won’t go into this now. It is a mystery which lies at the very root of
their strange relationship. I do not suppose that Ruth was conscious of
it—she was, after all, an essentially unanalytical and primitive
creature—but it drove her now to a manifestation as typical of her in
particular as it was of all women in general.

“She set herself deliberately to increase my misery and discomfort by
every trick within her power. She must have been aware of what I was
enduring, and you would have thought, however indifferent to me in the
emotional sense, that she would have tried, in ordinary human pity and
charity, to help me to escape as soon as possible from my wretched
position, and to make that position less wretched while it still lasted.
You would have thought this. Any man would have thought it. But
apparently women are different.

“She took, then, my misery and played with it, setting herself to
intensify it by every ruse at her disposal. She contrived, with
diabolical subtlety, to separate us into two groups, one consisting of
herself, her husband, and her children, the other consisting of me,
isolated and alone. To this day I do not know whether she wanted to
punish me for my former temerity, or whether she was simply obeying some
obscure feminine instinct. In any case, she succeeded. I had never felt
myself such an intruder. Even the resemblance between husband and wife,
the curious, intangible resemblance of race and family in their dark
looks, rose up and jeered at me. ‘We understand one another,’ something
seemed to say, ‘and we are laughing together at your expense.’

“I realised then that the calm with which she had received me, and had
drawn my cider, the matter-of-fact way in which she had told me it was
of her own brewing, were all part of her scheme, as was her present
conversation, standing by the table, and her occasional demonstrations
of affection towards her boys. You will remember perhaps that I once
told you of a walk she and I had taken to Penshurst. Well, I dimly felt
that her behaviour on that occasion and upon this were first-cousins. I
don’t know why I felt this; I only record it for you without comment.

“So she stood there talking, a hard devil behind all her commonplace
words. I hated her; I wished myself dead. My one consolation, that
Westmacott did not know what a fool he was making of me, was gone, since
Ruth was making of me a much bigger fool, and was doing it in all
consciousness. How I hated her! and at the same time, through her
hatefulness, she seemed to me more than ever desirable. Westmacott knew
nothing of what had gone before, but, sensitive as he was underneath his
brutality, with the unmistakable sensitiveness of the Latin, he was, I
think, aware of some atmospheric presence in the room. At any rate, he
realised the devilish attraction of his wife, and in his spontaneous
foreign way he put out his hand to touch hers. An English farmer! I
nearly laughed again. When he did this, she sat down on the arm of his
chair, and, putting her arms round his neck, laid her cheek against his
hair, with her eyes on me all the while. Then, as though she had
released some lever by her action, he turned within her arms, and kissed
her savagely.

“The next thing I knew was that I was walking at an extraordinary pace
across the fields, gasping in the air, and that strong shudders like the
shudders of a fever were running down my frame. I am not really very
clear as to how I spent the rest of that day, or of the days that
followed. Do you know that familiar nightmare in which you roll a tiny
ball no bigger than a cartridge-shot between your finger and thumb, till
it grows and grows into an immense ball that overwhelms you? So through
a nightmare haze I rolled the memory of that horrible little scene into
a tight ball, till I could see neither beyond nor above it, but all my
horizon was obscured by the distended pellet in my brain. And during all
this time I moved about the world like a man in full possession of his
senses, making my dispositions for a long absence abroad, talking to my
banker out of the depths of a leather arm-chair, buying my tickets from
Thomas Cook, directing the packing of my luggage, and, so far as I know,
neither my banker nor Cook’s clerk nor the club servant realised that
anything was amiss with me.

“I had only one desire: to get away, to think. I was as impatient for
solitude as the thirsty man is for water. I resented every one in my
surroundings and my delay in London much as I had resented Westmacott
and my delay in the kitchen. Until I could get away, I banished all
thought from my mind; only, as I tell you, the scene in the kitchen
remained whirling and whirling beyond my control.

“Finally I escaped from England, and as I lay sleepless, buffeted all
night in the train, one thought persisted like music in my brain,
‘To-morrow I shall be alone, I shall be rid of nightmare, I shall be
able to dwell luxuriously upon the magical moment, and all that it
means, all that it entails. Yes! I shall be alone with it, for weeks,
months, years if I like. I shall no longer be forced to grant undue
proportion to the nightmare; until now it has made black night of my
days, but to-morrow it will recede like a fog before the sun, and I
shall dwell in the crystal light of the mountain-tops.’

“My destination was—I wonder if you have guessed it already?—Sampiero. I
knew that there I was certain of peace, hospitality, familiar rooms.
Besides, it was there that I had spoken to you for so many hours of the
opening chapters of this story, and I had a fancy that if I took my
dreamings up to the clump of pines, the shadows of those earlier
chapters might come, re-evoked to brush like soft birds against my
cheek. I had planned to go up to the clump of pines on my first evening
after dinner. My dear fellow, do not be offended when I tell you that as
I arrived by that absurd mountain railway at Sampiero, I was seized by a
sudden panic that some desire for rest and peace might have brought you,
like myself, to the same old haunt. I suppose that I was in an excitable
state of mind already, for by the time I reached our old lodging-house I
was in a fever and a passion of certainty that I should find you there
before me. Signora Tagliagambe was at the door to welcome me, but I
rushed at her with inquiries as to whether I was or was not her only
guest. She stared at me with obvious concern for my reason. There were
no other guests. I had my former room, also the sitting room to myself.
I should be completely undisturbed.

“I recovered myself then, realising that I had been a fool, as I dare
say you are thinking me at this moment. A delicious peace came stealing
over me, the peace of things suspended. I was half tempted to give
myself the luxury of putting off my first visit to the stone-pines until
the following day. But the evening fell in such perfection that I
wandered out, much as you and I have often wandered out to sit there in
silence, sucking at our pipes; in the days, I mean, before I asked you
that memorable question about the Weald of Kent.

“So there I was, at length, at peace, and I stretched myself out on the
ground beneath the pines, pulling idly at a tuft of wild thyme, and
rubbing it between my hands till the whole evening was filled with its
curious aromatic scent, that came at me in gusts like a tropical evening
comes at one in gusts of warmth. I had not yet begun to think, for,
knowing that the moment when thought first consciously began to well up
in my spirit would take its place in the perspective of my life not far
short of that other moment on whose sacredness I scarcely dared to
dwell, I put it off, even now, when it had become inevitable, torturing
myself with the Epicureanism of my refinement. I was thirsty, thirsty,
thirsty, and though the water stood there, sparkling and clear, I still
refused myself the comfort of stretching out my hand.

“And then it came. Slowly and from afar, almost like pain running
obscurely and exquisitely down my limbs, reflection returned to me like
light out of darkness. I lay there absolutely motionless, while in my
head music began to play, and I was transported to palaces where the
fountains rose in jets of living water. Light crept all round me, and
music, music ... a great chorus, now, singing in unison; swelling and
bursting music, swelling and bursting light, louder and louder, brighter
and more dazzling; a deafening crash of music, a blinding vision of
light.

“I stood at last on the sunlit peak.

“All around me, but infinitely below, stretched the valleys and plains
of darkness where I had dragged out my interminable days. I looked down
upon them from my height, knowing that I should never return. I knew
that I now stood aloft, at liberty to examine the truth which had come
to me, turning it over and over in my hands like a jewel, playing with
it, luxuriating in its possession. It was to be mine, to take at will
from the casket of my mind, or to return there when other, prosaic
matters claimed my attention. But, whether I left it or whether I took
it out, I should bear it with me to the ends of the earth, and death
alone could wrench me from its contemplation.

“What a lunatic you must think me after this rhapsody! What! you will
say, does the man really mean that he wouldn’t exchange the recollection
of a moment for the living, material presence of the woman concerned?
Well, it is very natural that you should think me a lunatic, but have
patience; take into consideration my life, which has been lived, as you
know, alone; always in unusual places, with no one near my heart.
Living, material presences come to have comparatively little
significance after twenty or thirty years of solitude. Try it, and you
will see. One drifts into a more visionary world, peopled by shadowy and
ideal forms; memories assume incredible proportions and acquire an
unbelievable value; one browses off them like a camel off his hump. Do
you begin to understand now that this great, shining, resplendent moment
should rush in to fill a mind so dependent on the life unreal? One must
have something, you see, and if one can’t have human love one must fall
back upon imagination. Hence the romantic souls of spinsters....

“And hence, I might say, a great many other things which practical men
barely acknowledge. I find myself straying off down paths of thought
which may lead me into swamps of digression. Hence religion, hence
poetry, hence art, hence love itself—the spiritual side of love. All
these things, unpractical, inconvenient, unimportant things, all sprung
from a craving in man’s nature! A craving for what? Hasn’t he been given
strength, health, bodily well-being, hunger and thirst, fellow-men to
fight, and fists to fight them with? What more does the creature want?
He wants a thing called Beauty, but what it is he can’t tell you, and
what he wants to do with it when he’s got it he can’t tell you; but he
wants it. Something that he calls his soul wants it. A desire to
worship.... Beauty, a purely arbitrary thing. All men strive after it,
some men so little that they are themselves unconscious of the desire,
other men so passionately that they give up their whole lives to its
pursuit; and all the graded differences come in between.

“Here am I, then, a man of irregular and spasmodic occupation, an
unsatisfactory, useless member of society, I’ll admit, useless, but
quite harmless; an educated man, what you would call an intellectual,
not endowed with a brain of the good, sound type, but with a rambling,
untidy sort of brain that is a curse to himself and a blessing to
nobody. Here am I, without one responsibility in the world, with nothing
to do unless I go out and forage for it, living alone with books,
dabbling in this and that, and necessarily thrown for a certain number
of hours each day on my own resources. You cannot wonder that my life of
the imagination—as I will call it—becomes of supreme importance to me as
my only companion. It had been a singularly blank life, so blank that
when I went out for walks alone I used to fall back on repeating verse
aloud, so you see it was a life of books, and man wants more than that.
He wants something that shall be at once ideal and personal. There is
only one thing which fulfils those two conditions: Woman. But, you will
say, if there’s no woman in a man’s life he has only himself to blame.
You’re right; I don’t know why I never set out to find myself a woman,
perhaps because I was too hard to please, perhaps because I knew myself
to be too fickle and restless. You used to laugh at me when I said this.
Of course, I don’t pretend that there haven’t been incidents in my life;
but they never lasted, never satisfied me for long; they weren’t even
good to think about afterwards. Anyway, there I was: free, but lonely.

“And now I had got this new, precious, incredible thing to think over. I
am afraid to tell you how long I stayed at Sampiero, doing nothing,
lapped in my thoughts as in a bath of warm water. My conversation with
Ruth had been brief, and I knew every word of it by heart; my hour
started from when I had come up to her house and had stolen
surreptitiously to the doorway to take her unawares, and had stood there
with a smile on my lips, waiting for her to look up. I saw again the
light and the flowers and the baby in the cradle. I felt again the
swimming in my head as I looked, for the first time, it seemed, into the
beauty of her face. I heard again my own voice saying, ‘Ruth! Ruth! you
must come with me.’

“But I told you all that before; why do I repeat it? Because I lived
through it all an infinitude of times myself. I thought I couldn’t
exhaust the richness of my treasure. Nor could I, but after a while I
found that my perfect contentment was being gradually replaced by a
hunger for something more; I was human; the imagination wasn’t enough.

“I began to want Ruth, Ruth herself, warm and living, and when I made
this discovery I took a step I had long since prepared in my mind,
foreseeing the day when dissatisfaction would overcome me: I left
Sampiero and joined a party that was going into Central Africa after
ivory.



                                  III


“The change in my existence was two-fold; I was now busy instead of
idle, and in my thoughts I was unhappy instead of happy. At moments,
indeed, I was so acutely unhappy that I welcomed desperately the
preparations of our expedition, which gave me plenty to do. I looked
back to my months at Sampiero as one of the best periods of my life. One
of my new companions asked me what I had been doing since the end of the
war. I replied,—

“‘I’ve been on a honeymoon with a thought,’ and he stared at me as
though I were mad, and never quite trusted me for the rest of the
expedition.

“I was busy before we started, and that took my mind off my own affairs,
but on the ship I was again unoccupied; I used to lean my arms on the
rail and stare down into the churning water, and feel my heart being
eaten out as though by scores of rats with pointed teeth. I longed, I
longed madly, for Ruth. In those days I used to think of her as a
person, not as an abstraction; I wondered whether she was unhappy or
fairly contented; I tried to draw up in my own mind a scheme of her
relations with Westmacott. But I couldn’t; I couldn’t face that just
then, I put it off. I knew that sooner or later I must think the whole
thing out, but when one has a score or more years in front of one, one
can afford to delay.

“Apart from this, I enjoyed my African experience; the men I was with
were all good, dull fellows; I didn’t make friends with any of them,
beyond the comradeship of every day. What I enjoyed were the days of
hunting, and the nights of waiting under such stars as I’d never seen;
well, I suppose it is all lying there now as I write, just as I used to
think of the untroubled Weald lying there spread under an English sky.
It’s funny to think of places you’ve been to, existing just the same
when you aren’t there. Yes, I liked Africa, and I tried to live in the
present, but when the expedition was over, and I found myself landed
alone at Naples, I realised with a shock that I had only succeeded in
putting ten months of my life away behind me, and that an unknown
quantity of years stretched out in front.

“I was sitting outside my hotel after luncheon, smoking, and looking
over that most obvious and panoramic of bays. I hated Naples, I hated
Italy; I thought it a blatant, superficial country, with no mystery,
therefore no charm. I had almost made up my mind to take ship for
Gibraltar, when a voice beside me said,—

“‘You look pretty blue.’

“I turned round and saw a long, leggy creature stretched out on a
deck-chair beside me; he was squinting up at me from under a straw hat.

“‘I feel it,’ I replied; ‘about as blue as that sea.’

“‘What are you going to do?’ he went on.

“I told him that I had just been thinking of going to Gibraltar.

“‘And what’ll you do when you get there?’

“‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ I answered.

“‘On a holiday?’ he inquired.

“‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t work; I lead an aimless sort of life.’

“‘Great mistake,’ said he.

“I agreed.

“‘How did it come about?’ he asked.

“Somehow I found myself telling him.

“‘When I was young—that is to say, after I had left Oxford—I thought I’d
like to see the world, so I started; I travelled, stopping sometimes for
six months or two if I liked the place. Then when I got tired of that, I
took to specialising in different subjects, giving a year, two years,
three, to each. So I drifted on till the war, and here I am.’

“‘I see,’ he said. ‘And now you’re bored.’

“‘Yes,’ I said, adding, ‘and worse.’

“He made no comment on that; I don’t know whether he heard. He said
presently, in the same tone as he would have used to remark on current
politics,—

“‘I’m going to Ephesus to-morrow, you’d better come with me. My name’s
MacPherson.’

“‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’ll come. My name’s Malory. What are you going
to do at Ephesus?’

“He replied, ‘Excavate.’

                  *       *       *       *       *

“That will tell you what MacPherson was like; an eccentric, laconic sort
of fellow; he never argued, he just made proposals, and, whether they
were accepted or declined, nodded briefly in acquiescence without
further discussion. For a long time I thought that I should never get
any further with him, then gradually I began to find him out: a grim,
sardonic soul, with only one passion in life, if I can give the name of
passion to a determination so cold and unshakable; I mean his passion
for excavation. I have seen him labouring for hours under the sun, dusty
and indistinguishable from the ruins among which he worked, apparently
tireless and thirstless; I have seen him labour like a man under the
domination of a great inspiration, of a force such as drives fanatics to
cut their own heads and cover their own backs with wales from the rod,
but I have never heard an expression of delight or enthusiasm, or even
of satisfaction, escape his lips at the result of his labours.
Scientists and archæologists came to him with respect, invited his
opinion, paid him compliments evidently sincere; he listened in total
indifference, neither disclaiming nor acknowledging, only waiting for
them to have done that he might get back to his work.

“Such was the man with whom I now lived, and you may imagine that I was
often puzzled to know what had prompted his original invitation to me. I
could, of course, have asked him, but I didn’t. He took my presence
absolutely as a matter of course, made use of me,—at times I had to work
like a navvy,—never gave me his confidence, never expected mine. It was
a queer association. We lived in a native house not far from the site of
the temple on the hill above the ramshackle Turkish village of
Ayasalouk, and one servant, an Albanian, did our housework for us,
washed our clothes, and prepared our meals. We shared a sitting-room,
but our bedrooms were separate; it was a four-roomed house.
Occasionally, about once a month, MacPherson would go down into Smyrna
and return next day with provisions, cigarettes, and a stock of tools
and clothes, and sometimes an English paper.

“He let me off on Sundays, ungraciously, grudgingly, if silence can be
grudging. I insisted upon it. At Pennistans’ I had had a half-holiday on
Sunday, and at Ephesus I would have it too. But here my hours of freedom
were spent in loneliness. Lonely I would tramp off to the banks of the
Cayster, and, standing among tall bulrushes and brilliant iris, would
fish dreamily for mullet, till the kingfishers swept back, reassured, to
the stream and joined me in my fishing.

            _Jam varias pelagi volucres, et quæ Asia circum
            Dulcibus in stagnis rimantur prata Caystri._

You will admit, I think, that the quotation is singularly apposite. Or,
as with Ruth I had climbed the hills above the Weald, I would climb
alone the heights of Mount Coressus, where the golden angelica surged
about me, or the heights of Prion, which showed me, across the plain of
Ephesus, the flatter plain of deep blue sea, broken by the summits of
Samos—the very sea, the very Samos, where Polycrates flung forth his
ring in defiance of the gods.

“A certain number of travellers came to Ephesus, whom MacPherson
regarded with a patient disdain, but whom I welcomed as messengers of
the outside world. I wanted to question them, but they were always so
eager to question me, making me into a sort of guide, and inveigling me
into doing them the honours of the place. This used to annoy MacPherson,
though he never said anything; I think he felt it as a sort of
desecration. I could see him watching me with disapproval, standing
there among the columns in his dust-coloured shirt and trousers and
sombrero hat, leaning his hands on the handle of his pick-axe, a hard,
muscular man, thin and wiry as an Australian bush-settler. The tourists
questioned me about him and about our life, but I noticed they rarely
approached him, or, if they did so once, they did not do so twice. After
talking to me, they would move away, decide—thankfully—among themselves
that I could not be offered a tip, and finally would stroll off in the
direction of our little house. Here I had dug a little garden in
imitation of the Kentish cottages I knew so well; just a few narrow beds
in front of the house, where I had collected the many wild flowers that
grew on the neighbouring hills. MacPherson took an odd, unexpected
interest in my garden. He brought me contributions, rare orchids and
cyclamen which my eyes had missed, brought them to me gravely, carrying
them cupped in his hands with as much tenderness as a child carries a
nest full of eggs. He stood by me silently watching when I put them in
with my trowel in the cool of the evening. Of course we got terribly
burnt up in the summer, but in the spring my garden was always merry,
and, if it added to my homesickness, it also helped to palliate it.

“MacPherson had evidently never thought of making the place less dreary
than it naturally was; I have no great idea of comfort myself, but I
can’t live without flowers, and so my instinct, which began in a garden,
produced itself into other improvements; I bought a mongrel puppy off a
shepherd, and its jolly little bark of welcome used to cheer our
home-coming in the evening; then I made MacPherson bring back some
chickens from Smyrna, a suggestion which seemed to horrify him, but to
which he made no objection; finally I grew some flowers in pots and
stood them in the windows. Oh, I won’t disguise my real purpose from
you: I was trying to make that rickety Turkish house as like a Kentish
cottage as possible. I even paved a garden path—MacPherson examined
every stone with the minutest care before I was allowed to lay it
down—and finished it off with a swing-gate. Then it struck me that a
swing-gate in mid-hill-side looked merely absurd, so I contrived a
square of wooden fencing all round our little property. Lastly, I hung a
horse-shoe, which was a mule-shoe really, over the door.

“I tell you, the more the resemblance grew, the more and the less
homesick I got. It was at once a pain and a consolation. There were
times when I almost regretted my enterprise, and wanted to tear up the
path, destroy the garden, strangle the puppy, and throw away the
flowers, letting the whole place return to the bleakness from which I
had rescued it. I wanted to do this, because my efforts had been too
successful, and as a consequence I expected to see Ruth appear in that
doorway, white sewing in her hands, and a smile of welcome to me—to
me!—in her eyes. I have often come home pleasantly tired from my day’s
work, fully though sub-consciously confident that I should see her as I
have described....

“That garden of mine had many narrow escapes. But I kept it, and I went
on with my pretence, perfecting it here and there: I got a kennel for
the puppy, and I got some doves that hung in a wicker-cage beside the
door. At last the counterfeit struck MacPherson.

“‘Why,’ he said, stopping one evening, ‘it looks quite English.’

“‘Do you think so?’ I replied.

“‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but I tell you what, those flowers are wrong. An
English cottage garden doesn’t have orchids; it has mignonette. How can
we get some mignonette?’

“‘I might write home for some,’ I said slowly.

“It was true: I might write home for some. To whom? Mrs. Pennistan would
send it me. Then it would have a sentimental value which it would lack
coming from a seedsman. But I knew quite well that it was not to Mrs.
Pennistan that I intended to write.

“After dinner I brought out a little folding table and set it by the
door. MacPherson was there already, playing Patience as was his
invariable habit.

“‘Going to write letters?’ he asked, seeing my inkpot.

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m going to write for the mignonette.’

“I headed my letter, ‘Ephesus,’ an address which always gave me
satisfaction; not that I often had an opportunity of writing it.

  “‘MY DEAR RUTH,—I am writing to you from a hill-side in Turkey to
  ask you if you will send me some seeds of mignonette for my garden;
  it is very easy to grow, and I think would do well in this soil. You
  would laugh if you could see my house, it is not like anything you
  have ever seen before. Please send me the mignonette soon, and a
  line with it to tell me if you are well.’

“I addressed it, ‘Mrs. Rawdon Westmacott, Vale Farm, Weald, Kent,
England,’ and there it lay on my table grinning and mocking at me,
knowing that it would presently cross the threshold I was dying to
cross, and be taken in the hands I was dying to hold again.

“‘Done?’ said MacPherson. ‘Where have you ordered the seeds from?
Carter’s?’

“‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve asked a friend for them,’ and some odd impulse made
me show him the address on the envelope.

“He read it, nodded, and said nothing. I was disappointed, though really
I don’t know what I should have answered had he questioned me.

“After that my days were filled with one constant thought. I calculated
the nearest date, and then coaxed myself into the belief that there
would be a delay after that date had come and gone; a long delay;
perhaps a month. So many things might happen, Ruth might not be able to
get the seed, she might put off writing, she might simply send the seed
with no covering letter at all. This last thought was unendurable. It
grew, too, in my mind: people of Ruth’s upbringing and education didn’t
like writing letters, they didn’t like perpetuating their opinions so
irrevocably as ink on paper perpetuated them, and anyway they always had
a conviction that the letter once written, would not arrive, especially
at an unheard-of-place like Ephesus. It was difficult enough to imagine
the safe transit of a letter from one English county to another, but
that a letter posted in the Weald of Kent should arrive in due course at
a place out of the Bible was unthinkable.... I became daily more
persuaded that she would not write, and daily my gloom deepened.
MacPherson noticed it.

“‘Feel ill?’ he asked.

“‘No, thanks,’ I said, annoyed.

“‘You’re not starting cholera?’ he suggested suspiciously.

“‘No, I tell you; I’m perfectly well.’

“‘Glad of that,’ he said, but I told myself peevishly that his gladness
was based entirely on considerations of his own convenience.

“Ten days passed; a fortnight; three weeks; I was in despair. Then one
morning, as I came out of our door with a basket in my hand to pick up a
couple of eggs for breakfast, I saw a large magenta patch down below, on
the hilly pathway which led from our house to the village. This, I knew,
must be the old negro woman who brought our rare letters. I watched her;
the morning was slightly misty, for it was very early, not long after
sunrise, and I saw her black face emerge from the plum-coloured mashlak
she wore. I started off to meet her. She came toiling up the hill,
panting and blowing, for she was enormously fat, but an indestructibly
good-humoured grin parted her lips over her gleaming teeth, and suddenly
I fancied a grotesque resemblance to Mrs. Pennistan, and I laughed aloud
as though a good omen had come to speed me.

“I came up to her. Her black skin was glistening with moisture, and her
vast body rocked and swayed about inside her gaudy magenta wrapper; I
suspected it of being her only covering. Still, I almost loved her as
with a chatter of Turkish she produced a great black arm and hand out of
the folds of her mashlak—a fat black hand so ludicrously like Mrs.
Pennistan’s fat white one, holding a little packet which she tendered to
me.

“I summoned my Turkish to thank her; this called forth a deluge of
conversation on her part, with much shining of teeth and clattering of
bangles, but I shook my head regretfully, and she, heaving her huge
shoulders and displaying her palms in equivalent regret, turned herself
round and started on the easier downward road to Ayasalouk. Could Ruth
but have seen this voluminous magenta emissary! for the packet I held
was indeed from Ruth and bore the Weald postmark.

“I sat down by the roadside to open it. The seeds were there, and a
letter, written in a round, Board-school hand, accompanied them. I was
suddenly unable to read; it was the first word, remember, that had come
to me from her since that memorable day. I was more than moved; I was
shaken, like a tree in the wind.

“I read:—

                                                   “‘Vale Farm, Weald,
                                                     “‘15 IV. 22.

  “‘DEAR MR. MALORY—Yours to hand, and enclosed please find mignonette
  seeds as requested. I hope they will do well in your garden. Our
  garden was baked hard in the drowt last summer, but hope we will
  have more favourable weather this year. My husband and the boys are
  well, and send their respects. Well, must stop now as have no more
  news. Hoping this finds you well, I am,

                                        “‘Yours obediently,
                                                    “‘R. WESTMACOTT,’”

“That was her letter—I have it here to copy, old and worn and torn—and
in its stiff conventionality, its pathetically absurd phraseology, it
seemed to tear my heart into little fluttering ribbons. Anything less
like her I couldn’t conceive, yet she was indescribably revived to me; I
saw her bending, square-elbowed, over that bit of paper, hesitating when
she came to the word ‘drought,’ deciding wrong, tipping up the
octagonal, penny bottle of ink which hadn’t much ink left in it; I saw
her getting the seeds, making up the parcel, copying ‘Ephesus’
conscientiously from my letter. You may think me sentimental; it was the
only tangible thing I had of hers.

“MacPherson met me at the top of the path.

“‘Letters?’ he said.

“‘Not for you, but I’ve got the mignonette seed.’

“He looked puzzled.

“‘The what?’ Heavens! the man has forgotten! ‘Oh, yes, I remember,’ he
said; ‘let’s go and put it in.’

“I had got ready a prepared seed-bed, where I think I had broken up
every lump of earth, however insignificant, with my own fingers, and
here I sowed Ruth’s packet of seed. I sowed it with the solemnity of a
priest sacrificing at the altar. MacPherson looked on as was his wont,
unaware of anything special in the occasion, and rather impatient to get
to breakfast.

“In a few weeks’ time the plants began to show; I watered them, and
cherished them, thinned them out, put wire round them, treated them as
never was hardy annual treated before. Soon the fragrant thing was all
round our doorstep. I felt like a prisoner tending the plant between the
flag-stones of his prison, or like Isabella with her pot of Basil. I
laughed at myself, but still I continued my cult, and the nightly
watering of the flowers throughout the hot summer became to me a species
of ritual.

“You used to call me a pagan; that’s as it may be, but anyway I
dedicated my whole garden to Ruth, growing my flowers in her honour,
enlarging my plot, planting the hill-side outside the fence with broom
and wild things, till the whole place was rich and blooming. This labour
gave me the greatest satisfaction. My dreadful hungry craving for her
living presence was momentarily lulled and I returned to that happier
frame of mind when, as I described to you, I was content to live in the
imagination. I could set her up now as a kind of idealised vision of all
that was beautiful, all that was desirable. She was the deity of my
garden, almost the deity of the great temple where I laboured. I should
think MacPherson would have half killed me had I hinted this to him.

“I was happy again, and in the next spring I got Ruth to send me out
some more seeds from her own garden. With them came another stilted
little note, but this time there was a postscript: was I ever coming
back to England? That disturbed me terribly; I knew it contained no
double meaning, for I knew perfectly well that Ruth would never leave
her children to come away with me, but at the same time it stirred up my
sleeping desire to see England again. I analysed this, and found that I
didn’t in the least want to see England; I only wanted to see Ruth. This
frightened and distressed me; I had been so calm, so comparatively
happy, and here a few idle words had thrown me into a state of emotional
confusion. The ruins seemed odious to me that day, my garden seemed a
mockery, and in the evening I said to MacPherson,—

“‘I am afraid I must go away.’

“He said, ‘Oh?’ less in a tone of dismay than of polite inquiry, and, as
usual, of acceptance.

“‘I am getting restless here,’ I said, ‘but if I go and stretch my limbs
a bit I shall be better; I will come back.’

“‘All right,’ he answered, as though there were no more to be said on
the matter.

“‘That is, if you want me,’ I added, provoked.

“‘Naturally I shall be glad to see you whenever you choose to come
back,’ he said, without a trace of emotion or cordiality in his tone.



                                   IV


“Before I left I made arrangements with the Albanian to look after my
garden during my absence; much as I hated leaving it to other hands I
felt that I must get away or I should begin to scream upon the hills of
Ephesus. I went down to Smyrna without much idea of what I should do
after that, but when I got there I found a ship bound for Baku, so,
thinking I might as well go there as anywhere else, I got on board and
we sailed that night. I don’t want to give you a tedious account of my
journey; I will only tell you that it did me all the good in the world,
and that I walked up to Ephesus one evening in the late autumn with my
toothbrush in my pocket and real home-coming excitement in my heart.
There was the little house; there was my garden, showing quite a fair
amount of colour for the time of year; there was MacPherson sitting
outside, gravely playing his interminable Patience. The puppy—puppy no
longer, but a dog of almost inconceivable ugliness—rushed out barking,
and seized the ankle of my trousers in its joy. MacPherson looked up.

“‘Hallo,’ he said. ‘Evening.’

“‘Evening,’ I replied, and sat down.

“‘I believe this Patience is coming out,’ he said presently.

“‘Is it?’ I answered, vastly amused.

“‘Yes,’ said MacPherson, ‘if I could only get the three I should do it.
Ah!’ and he made a little pounce, and shifted some cards. ‘Done it,’ he
announced in a tone of mild triumph, adding regretfully, ‘now it won’t
come out again for at least a week.’

“‘That’s a pity,’ I said.

“‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I reckon it comes out about once in every hundred
times. Garden’s all right, isn’t it?’

“‘Splendid,’ I said; ‘I was just looking at it. How’s your digging?’

“‘That’s all right, too. Glad you’re back.’

“I was surprised at this and gratified, but my gratification was damped
when his obvious train of thought had occurred to me.

“‘Ready to work to-morrow?’ he asked, confirming my suspicion.

“‘Rather.’

“‘That’s all right,’ he said again.

“He did not ask me where I had been, and I thought I would not volunteer
it, but after a day or two I did.

“‘I went to the Caucasus,’ I said.

“He answered, ‘Oh.’ I was not offended, only greatly amused; he was a
perpetual joy to me, that man.

“I took up my life again very much where I had left it, and now again a
change came about in my thoughts; they were constantly occupied with
Ruth and with that examination I had so long put off, of her relations
with her husband. As the story which I shall presently tell you will
make them quite clear to you—if anything so involved can ever be made
quite clear—I shall not bore you now with my own conjectures. It is
quite bad enough that I should bore you with my own life, but you will
agree that I couldn’t say to you, ‘Now ten years passed,’ without giving
you the slightest idea of my movements during those ten years. Those ten
years, you see, are my little Odyssey; I look back on them now, and I
see them in that light, but while they lasted I naturally didn’t look on
them as a poetic spell out of my life; no, I looked on them as a sample
of what my life would be till it came to the simplest of all ends:
death. I supposed that I should stay at Ephesus with MacPherson till he
got tired of excavating, which I knew would never happen, or till I got
tired of excavating, which I thought was much more likely, or till the
authorities turned us out. After that I didn’t know what I should do,
but I thought, so far as I ever thought about it at all, that something
would turn up in much the same way as the boat at Smyrna had turned up
to take me to Baku. What did occasionally exercise my mind was the
question whether I should ever see England again? If I couldn’t have
Ruth I didn’t want to go to England; it would be a torment to know her
so near; but on the other hand I foresaw that as an old man of seventy I
should not want to be still knocking about the world or excavating at
Ephesus. The ravens would have to provide. Why make plans? Fate only
steps in and upsets them. How angry I used to make you by talking about
Fate, do you remember?

“Meanwhile my Odyssey continued, and I found that every year my
restlessness returned to me, so that sooner or later the moment always
came when I said to MacPherson,—

“‘I am afraid I shall have to go away to-morrow,’ and he replied
invariably,—

“‘Oh? All right.’

“I went to all manner of places, but never to England, and always in the
autumn I returned to Ephesus to find MacPherson there unchanged, always
glad to see me because of my help in his work, and in all those years he
never once asked me where I had been to. I forget now myself where I
went, except that I never once went anywhere near England, much as I
wanted to go, because I knew the temptation would be too strong for me.
This journey of mine became thus an annual institution. There was
another annual institution of which MacPherson knew only the outer and
less important part; this was the arrival of seeds from England, with
Ruth’s little letter attached; I came to know all her phrases, which
revolved with the years in a cycle: she hoped the seeds would do well
with me; her garden had been dried up, or washed out, as the case might
be, the previous summer—there is never a perfect summer for a gardener,
just as there is never a perfect day for a fisherman; her children were
well and sent their respects, varied by love; her husband was well too;
she must stop as she had no more news, or, as the post was going.
Occasionally she ended up, ‘In great haste,’ though what the haste could
be in that leisurely life I failed to imagine.

“I came to look for this letter in my year as the devout man looks for a
feast-day; it was, so to speak, my Easter. My little packet grew, that
much-travelled little packet, which went with me on all my pilgrimages.
I wondered whether she cherished my letters, over in England, as I
cherished hers at Ephesus? In the meantime she was there, in the house I
knew, living through these years in a calm monotony which was a
consolation to me, because I could so well imagine it; I could call up a
picture of her, in fact, at practically any moment of the day, for what
variation could there be to her quotidian round of cooking, housework,
washing, sewing? This was, I say, a pleasant reflection to me, though I
was enraged to think that her care and labour should be expended upon
another man and another man’s children. A placid existence, broken only
by the calving of cows, the farrowing of swine, the gathering in of
crops.... And I at Ephesus!

“MacPherson never spared me my share of the work, and a hard taskmaster
he was, as hard to himself as to me. In the summer we breakfasted soon
after the dawn had begun to creep into the sky, then with pick and
mattock we trudged to the ruins, there to toil until the heat of the sun
glaring upon the quantities of white marble which lay about drove us
indoors until evening. MacPherson was always very grudging and resentful
with regard to this enforced siesta. In fact he would not admit it as a
siesta, but affected to consider it merely as a variation of work, and
would remain below in our little sitting-room, turning over for the
thousandth time his scraps and fragments of glass, pottery, and other
rubbish, while I lay on my bed upstairs damning the mosquitoes and
trying to go to sleep. No sooner had I dozed off than I would be aroused
by MacPherson’s remorseless voice calling up to know if I was ready.
Evening in the ruins I did not mind so much; a little breeze often
sprang up from the sea, and I had the prospect of an hour’s gardening
immediately in front of me. On the whole I was happy in those hours of
toil. Living in my thoughts, and sparing just the bare requisite of
consciousness to the needs of my tools, I became almost as taciturn as
my companion. Yet I never came to look on Ephesus as a home; I was only
a bird of passage—a passage lasting ten years, it is true, but still
only a passage. I didn’t see how it was going to end, but my old friend
Fate stepped in at last and settled that for me.

“It was July, and my annual restlessness had been creeping over me for
some time; besides, it was getting unpleasantly hot at Ephesus, and I
panted for the cold air of the mountains. So I said to MacPherson at
breakfast,—

“‘I think the time for my yearly flitting has come round again; in fact,
I think I’ll be off to-day.’

“I waited for the, ‘Oh? All right,’ but it didn’t come. Instead of that,
he said after a little pause,—

“‘I wonder if you would put off going until to-morrow?’

“It was the first time I had ever heard him raise an objection to any
suggestion of mine, and I was faintly surprised, but I said,—

“‘Of course I will. One day’s just as good as another. Got a special job
for me?’

“‘No,’ he said, ‘it isn’t that.’

“I did not question him; I had long since followed his lead, and we
never questioned one another.

“Still, I wondered to myself, as one cannot help wondering when anything
unusual, however slight, occurs to break a regularity such as ours. A
stone thrown in a rough sea falls unperceived, but thrown into a pond of
mirror-like surface it creates a real disturbance. So all the morning I
observed MacPherson as closely as I dared; I saw him go to get his
things, and I detected a slight weariness in his walk; still he said
nothing. It was glaringly hot at the ruins. I thought of suggesting that
we should go home earlier than usual, and, turning round to look for
MacPherson, I saw him at a little distance, sitting on a boulder, with
his head in his hands. This was so unusual that I immediately crossed
over to him.

“‘I say, aren’t you feeling well?’

“He raised to me a livid face.

“‘I shall be all right presently.... A touch of the sun.’

“‘You must come indoors at once,’ I said firmly. ‘You must be mad to sit
here in this heat. Can you walk?’

“He rose with infinite weariness, but without a word of complaint, and
attempted to lift his pick.

“‘I’ll take that,’ I said, taking it from him, and he gave it up without
a word. ‘Is there anything else to bring?’

“He shook his head, and began to stumble off in the direction of the
house. Long before we had reached home, I knew what was the matter with
my companion. The sun was not responsible. He was in the grip of
cholera.

“The Albanian, who was splashing cold water from a bucket over the tiled
floor of our little sitting-room when we arrived, stared at us in
astonishment. MacPherson, his face faded to the colour of wood-ashes,
had his arm round my neck for support, and already the terrible cramps
of the disease were beginning to twist his body as he dragged one leaden
foot after the other. I called to Marco, and between us we half carried
him upstairs and laid him on his bed, where he lay, silent, but drawing
his breath in with the long gasps of pain, and with his arm flung across
his eyes so that we should not observe his face.

“I drew Marco out on to the landing. I bade him saddle the mule and ride
straight to the station, where he must take the train for Smyrna and
return without delay with the English doctor. I did not think, in my
private mind, that the doctor could arrive in time, or that he could do
more than I could, who had some experience of cholera, but still I was
bound to send for him. Marco nodded violently all the time I was
speaking. I knew I could trust him; he was an honest man. I went back to
MacPherson.

“I had never been into his bedroom before. The Venetian blinds were
lowered outside the windows, and the floor and walls were barred with
the resulting stripes of shade and sun. A plaid rug lay neatly folded
across the foot of the bed. On the dressing-table were two wooden
hair-brushes and a comb, on the wash-stand were sponges, but no
possessions of a more personal nature could I discover anywhere. The
man, it seemed, had no personal life at all.

“He was lying where I had left him, still breathing heavily; his skin
was icy cold, so I covered him over with the quilt from my own room,
knowing that it was no use attempting to get him into bed, and feeling,
in a sympathetic way, that he would prefer to be left alone. I went to
get what remedies I could from our medicine-chest downstairs, and as I
was doing this my eye fell on his little cupboard where behind glass
doors he kept his precious shards, all labelled and docketed in his
inhumanly neat handwriting, and I wondered whether, in a week or so, I
should see him sitting down there, fingering his treasures with hands
that, always thin, would surely be shrunken then to the claws of a
skeleton.

“It’s bad enough to see any man in extreme agonies of pain, but when the
man is an uncommunicative, efficient, self-reliant creature like
MacPherson it becomes ten times worse. I felt that a devil had
deliberately set himself to tear the seals from that sternly repressed
personality. MacPherson, who had always assumed a mask to disguise any
human feelings he may have had, was here forced, driven, tortured into
the revelation of ordinary mortal weakness. I believe that, even through
the suffering which robs most men of all vestiges of their self-respect,
he felt himself to be bitterly humiliated. I believe that he would
almost have preferred to fight his disease alone in the wilderness. Yet
I could not leave him. He was crying constantly for water, which I
provided, and besides this there were many services to render, details
of which I will spare you. I sat by the window with my back turned to
him whenever he did not need me, glad to spare him what observation I
could, and glad also, I confess, to spare myself the sight of that blue,
shrivelled face, tormented eyes, and of the long form that knotted and
bent itself in contortions like the man-snake of a circus.... His
courage was marvellous. He resolutely stifled the cries which rose to
his throat, hiding his face and holding his indrawn breath until the
spasm had passed.

“I knew that this stage of the disease would probably continue for two
or three hours, when the man would collapse, and when the pain might or
might not be relieved. The sun was high in the heavens when I noticed
the first signs of exhaustion. MacPherson sank rapidly, and the deadly
cold for which I was watching overcame him; I covered him with
blankets—this he feebly resisted—and banked him round with hot water
bottles, of which we always kept a supply in case of emergency. It was
now midday, and I had continually to wipe the sweat from my face, but I
could not succeed in bringing much warmth to poor MacPherson. He lay
quiet and silent now, save when the fearful sickness returned, as it did
at short intervals. I sat beside him, ready with the water for which he
was continually asking.

“He was, as I have said, always thin, but by this time his face was
cavernous; I could have hidden my knuckles in the depression over his
temples, and my fist in the hollow under his cheek-bones. His scant,
reddish hair, always carefully smoothed, lay about his forehead in
tragic wisps. His pale blue eyes showed as two smears of colour in their
great sockets. His interminable legs and arms stirred at unexpected
distances under the pile of blankets. He was very weak. I feared that he
would not pull through.

“When the merciless sun was beginning to disappear round the corner of
the house, MacPherson, who had been lying for the last hour or so in a
state of coma, spoke to me in a low voice. I was staring in a melancholy
way from my chair by his side, across the bed, between a chink of the
Venetian blind; I don’t know what I was thinking of, probably my mind
was a blank. I started when I heard him whisper my name, and bent
towards him. He whispered,—

“‘I don’t think I’m going to recover.’

“Neither did I, and seeing that he had made the remark as a statement of
fact, in his usual tone, though low-pitched, I waited for what he should
say next. He said,—

“‘I am sorry to be a bore.’

“This was a hard remark to answer, but I murmured something. He went on,
still in that hoarse whisper,—

“‘I must talk to you first.’

“I saw that he was perfectly lucid in his mind, and thinking that he
wanted to give me some necessary instructions I encouraged him to go on,
but he only shook his head, and I saw that he had fallen back into the
characteristic apathy. I sat on, expecting the arrival of Marco and the
doctor at any moment.

“Towards night, MacPherson roused himself again. He was so much weaker
that I could barely make out the words he breathed.

“‘It is time you went to water your garden.’

“I shook my head. A distressed look came over his face, and to comfort
him I said,—

“‘Marco has promised to do it for me.’

“He was content with that, and lay quiet with his long, long arms and
thin hands outside the coverlet. I thought that he wanted to speak
again, but had not the energy to begin, so, to help him, I suggested,—

“‘Was there anything you wanted to say to me?’

“He nodded, more with his eyelids than with his head, then, bracing
himself with pain for the effort, he whispered,—

“‘You won’t stay on here?’

“I answered, ‘No,’ feeling that to adopt a reassuring, hearty attitude
would be an insult to the man.

“After a long pause he said,—

“‘I want to be buried up here. By the ruins. I don’t care about
consecrated ground.’

“An appalling attack of sickness interrupted him, after which he lay in
such complete exhaustion that I thought he would never speak again. But
after about half an hour, he resumed,—

“‘Give me your word of honour. They will try to prevent you.’

“I swore it—poor devil.

“‘Bury me deep,’ he said with a grim, twisted smile, ‘or some one will
excavate me.’

“He seemed a little stronger, but I knew the recovery could only be
fictitious. Then he went on,—

“‘Will you do something else for me?’

“‘Of course I will,’ I answered, ‘anything you ask.’

“‘My wife ...’ he murmured.

“‘Your _wife_?’ I said.

“‘She’s in London,’ he whispered, and he gave me the address, dragging
it up out of the depths of his memory.

“In London! Even in that dim room, with the dying man there beneath my
hand, I felt my heart bound with a physical sensation.

“‘Just tell her,’ he added; ‘she won’t mind. She won’t make you a
scene.’

“He was silent then, but drank a great draught of water.

“‘Is there any one else?’ I asked.

“His head moved very feebly in the negative on the pillow.

“‘And what am I to do with your things?’ I asked lastly.

“‘Look through them,’ he breathed; ‘nothing private. Give the fragments
to the British Museum. I’ve made a will about money.’

“‘And your personal things? Would you like me to give them to your
wife?’

“‘Oh, no,’ he said wearily, ‘’tisn’t worth while.’ Then after a long
pause in which he seemed to be meditating, he said, with evidently
unconscious pathos, ‘I don’t know.... Better throw them away.’



                                   V


“MacPherson died that night about an hour before the doctor came; Marco
and the doctor had missed each other, and had missed the trains, but the
doctor reassured me that I had done all that was possible, and that had
he arrived by midday he could not have saved MacPherson’s life.

“‘I suppose you will want to bring him down to the English cemetery at
Smyrna?’ he said, with an offer of help tripping on the heels of his
remark. He looked horrified when I told him of MacPherson’s wish and of
my intention of carrying it out.

“‘But no priest, I am afraid, will consent to read the burial service
over him under those conditions,’ he said primly.

“‘Then I will read it myself,’ I replied in a firm voice.

“‘You must please yourself about that,’ said the doctor, giving it up.
His attitude towards me, which had started by being sympathetic, was now
changing subtly to a slight impatience. He took out his watch. ‘I am
afraid I ought to be going,’ he remarked, ‘if I am to catch the last
train down to Smyrna, and there seems to be nothing more I can do for
you here. There will have to be a certificate of death, of course; I
will send you that. And if you like I will stop in the village on the
way, and send some one up to you; you understand me—a layer-out.’

“I said that I should be much obliged to him, and, accompanying him as
far as the front door, I watched him go with Marco and a lantern, the
little parallelogram of yellow light criss-crossed with black lines,
swaying to and fro in the night.

“I could not go to bed, and as I was anxious to leave Ephesus as soon as
possible, I thought I would employ my time in going through poor
MacPherson’s few possessions. As he said, there was nothing private. I
sat downstairs in the sitting-room we had shared, with his tin box open
on the table before me, shiny black, and the inside of the lid painted
sky-blue. It was pitifully empty. His will was in a long envelope, a
will making provision for his wife, and bequeathing the remainder of his
income to an archæological society; there was also a codicil directing
that his Ephesian fragments were to go, as he had told me, to the
British Museum. The box also contained a diary, recording, not his life,
but his discoveries; and a few letters from men of science. For the
rest, there were his books, his clothes, his wrist-watch, his plaid rug,
and a little loose cash in Turkish coins. And that was all. There was
absolutely nothing else. Not a photograph, not a seal, not even a bunch
of keys. Nothing private! I should think not, indeed.

“I sat there staring at the bleak little collection when Marco came in
to say that he had returned with the layer-out. I went into the passage,
and there I found our old negro post-woman, grinning as usual in her
magenta wrapper; it seemed that she combined several village functions
in her own person. I felt an instinctive horror at the thought of those
black hands pawing poor MacPherson, but the thing was unavoidable, so I
took her upstairs to where he lay in a repose that appeared to me
enviable after the brief but terrible suffering he had undergone, and
left her there, bending over him, the softer parts of her huge body
quivering as usual under her mashlak. I went downstairs again, and stood
outside to breathe the clean, cool air; the sky hung over me swarming
with stars; I tried not to think of the old negress exercising her
revolting profession on MacPherson’s body.

“Next day two men in baggy trousers and red sashes came up to the house
carrying the hastily-made coffin. Then we set out, Marco, myself, and
the two men with the coffin and MacPherson inside it. Providentially
there were no tourists that day at Ephesus. Marco and I had been hard at
work all the morning digging the grave, and as I drove my pick I
reflected that this was, humanly speaking, the last time I should ever
break up the flinty ground of Ephesus. After ten years! With regard to
myself and my future, I dared not think; my present preoccupation was to
have finished with MacPherson and his widow.

“Well, I buried him up there, and may I be hanged if I don’t think the
man was better and more happily buried in the place he had loved, than
stuck down in a corner of some unfriendly cemetery he had never seen.
For myself—such is the egoism of our nature—I was thinking all the while
that I would leave behind me a written request to be buried within sight
of Westmacott’s farm in Kent. And after I had buried him, and had got
rid of Marco and the two men over a bottle of _raki_ in the kitchen, I
took all the flowers from my garden and put them on his grave, and I dug
up some roots of orchid and cyclamen and planted them at his head and at
his feet; but I don’t suppose they ever survived the move, and probably
to this day the tourists who wander far enough afield to stumble over
the mound, say, ‘Why, some one has buried his dog out here.’

                  *       *       *       *       *

“A week later I was in London, on a blazing August day which seemed
strangely misty to me, accustomed as I was to the direct, unmitigated
rays of the sun on the Ephesian hills. I still hadn’t thought about my
future, and I was resolved not to do so until, my interview with Mrs.
MacPherson over, I could look upon the whole of the last ten years as an
episode of the past. I had tried to forget that I was in the same
country as Ruth; but this had been difficult, for the train from Dover
had carried me through the heart of Ruth’s own county, a cruel,
unforeseen prank of fortune; I had pulled down the blinds of my railway
carriage, greatly to the annoyance of my fellow-travellers, but these
good people, who might have been involved with Fate in a conspiracy
against me, had their unwitting revenge and defeated my object utterly
by saying, as we flashed through a station, ‘That was Hildenborough; now
we have to go through a long tunnel.’

“Hildenborough! After ten years, during which I had consistently kept at
least fifteen hundred miles between us, I was at last within two miles
of her home. I nearly sprang out of the train at the thought. But I
resolutely put it away, so resolutely that I found myself pushing with
my hands and with all my force against the side of the railway carriage.

“It was too late, when I reached London, to do anything that day. I
slept at my old club, where everybody started at the sight of me as of a
ghost, and the following morning I went to the address MacPherson had
given me. It was in a block of flats, a long way up. I was left stranded
upon the tiny landing by the lift-boy, who, with his lift, fell rapidly
down through the floor as though pulled from below by a giant’s hand. I
rang the bell. It tinkled loudly; I heard voices within, and presently a
woman came to open the door, with an expression of displeased inquiry on
her face; a middle-aged woman, wearing a dingy yellow dressing-gown
which she kept gathering together in her hand as though afraid that it
would fall open.

“‘Can I see Mrs. MacPherson?’ I asked.

“She stared at me.

“‘There’s no Mrs. MacPherson here.’

“I heard a man’s voice from inside the flat,—

“‘What is it, Belle?’

“She called back over her shoulder,—

“‘Here’s a party asking to see Mrs. MacPherson.’

“‘Who is it?’ asked the voice.

“‘Who are you, anyway?’ said Belle to me.

“‘I have been sent here by Mr. MacPherson, Mr. Angus MacPherson, with a
message for his wife,’ I said, ‘but as I have evidently made a mistake I
had better apologise and go away.’

“She looked suddenly thoughtful—or was it apprehensive?

“‘No, don’t go away,’ she said. ‘You haven’t made a mistake. Come in.’

“I went in, and she closed the door behind me. I followed her into the
sitting-room where, amid surroundings at once pretentious and tawdry, a
man, also in a dressing-gown, lay stretched on the sofa smoking
cigarettes. He was handsome in a vulgar way, with black wavy hair and a
curved, sensuous mouth.

“‘Now,’ said Belle, ‘let’s hear your news of Mr. Angus MacPherson?’

“‘First of all,’ I answered, ‘may I know who I am talking to?’

“Belle and the man exchanged glances.

“‘Oh, well,’ she said then, I am Mrs. MacPherson all right enough. If
you have really got a message for me, let’s hear it.’

“There was anxiety in her tone, and she edged nearer to the handsome
man, and surreptitiously took possession of his hand.

“I did not think that the news of MacPherson’s death was likely to cause
much grief to his widow. I therefore said without preamble,—

“I have come to tell you that he died a week ago of cholera. I was with
him at the time, and I have brought you the certificate of his death,
also his will. He left no other papers.’

“‘Angus dead?’ said Angus’s widow. ‘You don’t say! Poor old Angus!’

“She was relieved by my words; I know she was relieved. She began
reading the will with avidity. If I could find nothing else to admire
about her, I could at least admire her candour.

“‘He’s left me five hundred a year,’ she said abruptly, ‘and the rest to
some archi—what is it? society. Five hundred a year, and he had a
thousand!’

“‘Oh, come, Belle,’ said the handsome man, ‘that’s better than nothing.’

“She let her eyes dwell on his face with real affection, real
kindliness.

“‘Let’s have a look at that will,’ he murmured lazily.

“She passed it across to him, sat down on a stool, clasped her knees,
and became meditative.

“‘Poor old Angus!’ she repeated. ‘Fancy that! Well, he was rare fun in
his day, wasn’t he, Dick?’

“‘No end of a dog,’ replied Dick without removing his eyes from the
will.

“‘Perhaps, if there are no questions you want to ask me, I had better be
going now,’ I began. I was bewildered, for MacPherson, in spite of his
eccentricities, had undoubtedly been a scholar and a man of refinement.

“Dick stirred from his spoilt torpor.

“‘I suppose it is quite certain,’ he said, ‘that there is no mistake? I
mean, it’s quite certain he’s dead?’

“‘Quite,’ I answered rather grimly, as certain visions rose before my
eyes. ‘I buried him myself;’ and the flat with its dirty lace, its cheap
pretension, melted away into the quiet beauty of Ephesus.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“I walked away from the building with an inexpressible loneliness at
heart, faced with my own immediate and remoter future, a problem I had
hitherto refused to consider, but which now rushed at me like the
oncoming wave rushes at the failing swimmer and overwhelms him. I had
finished with Ephesus and MacPherson, and with MacPherson’s wife, and to
say that I felt depressed would give you no idea of my feelings: an
immense desolation took possession of me, an immense desolation, and
more: an immense, soul-destroying disgust and weariness at the cruelty
of things, a lassitude such as I had never conceived, so that I envied
MacPherson lying for ever at peace, away from strife and difficulties
and things that would not go right, among beautiful and untroubled
hills, with wild flowers blooming round his grave. Yes, I envied him, I
that am a sane man and have always prized rich life at its full value.

“And as I walked I met two men I had known, who spoke to me by my name
and stopped me.

“‘Why, it’s Malory,’ said one of them. ‘I haven’t seen you lately.
Somebody told me you had gone to Scotland?’

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I went to Scotland.’

“He asked me, ‘What part of Scotland?’

“‘To Aberdeen,’ I cried, ‘to Aberdeen!’ and laughed, and left them.

“I had been prepared to pass unrecognised after ten years, but for this
friendliness, which had not ‘seen me lately,’ I was unprepared. I turned
into a park, longing instinctively for the country as the only
palliative for my loneliness and melancholy. In all London that day I
think there was no lonelier soul than I. I would have sought you out,
but in such crisis of world-sorrow as was mine, I could desire only one
presence—a presence I might not have. She could have annihilated my
sorrow by a word, could have made me forget the dirt, and the irony; all
that hurt me so profoundly—though I don’t think myself a sentimentalist.
For I was hurt as a raw sentimentalist is hurt, and this pain blended
with my own trouble into a sea of despair. I wanted to find a haven of
refuge, some beautiful gulf where the wind never blows, but where
harmonious hills rise serenely from the water, and all is cultivated and
easy and fertile.

“I sat for a long time under the trees, gazing immovably at the ground
between my feet, and then I got up mechanically, without any plan in my
head, and wandered as mechanically home towards my club. My club burst
incongruously enough on my dreams of a beautiful gulf; that, again, was
part of the irony on this most cruel of days. But I had nowhere else to
go to.

“I began to write to MacPherson’s solicitors to inform them of their
client’s death; the new life was so empty that I clung for as long as I
was able to the old. As I wrote, the hall-boy came and stood at my
elbow.

“‘Please, sir, there’s a young woman asking to see you.’

“A young woman? Could it be Belle? so equipped for the day’s battle as
to pass for young?

“‘What’s her name? what does she want?’

“‘She won’t say, sir; she wants to see you.’

“I went out. Ruth was standing by the hall-door, plainly dressed in a
dark coat and skirt, and a sailor hat, and holding a couple of faded red
roses in her hand.

“I looked at her incredulously, and all the world stood still.

“She began, shyly and hurriedly,—

“‘Oh, I don’t want to bother you if you are busy....’

“That made me laugh.

“‘I am not busy,’ I told her.

“‘Oh, then perhaps I could speak to you for a few minutes? somewhere
just quietly, and alone?’

“I glanced round. The porter was standing there with a face carved in
stone.

“‘You can’t come in here,’ I said. ‘Where can I take you? Will you come
to an hotel?’

“‘Oh, no!’ she said, shrinking, and I noticed her little gray cotton
gloves.

“‘At any rate, let us get away from here. Then we can think where to
go.’

“We went down the steps, across Piccadilly, and passed into the Green
Park. There I stopped, but she would not sit on the chair I suggested.
She stood before me, her eyes downcast, and her gloved fingers twisting
the stems of her roses. I bethought myself to ask her,—

“‘How on earth did you find me, to-day of all days?’

“‘I came to ask,’ she answered, still in that shy, hurried tone,
‘whether they knew when you would be coming to London.’

“‘And they told you I was there?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘You came up from the Weald on purpose to ask that?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘But why?’

“She was silent.

“‘Why, Ruth?’

“‘Because I wanted to see you.’

“‘To see me?’

“‘To tell you something,’

“‘What is it?’

“‘I can’t tell you here,’ she murmured.

“‘Come to an hotel,’ I said again, ‘we can get a private sitting-room;
we can talk.’

“‘Oh, no, not that. I suppose ... I suppose you wouldn’t ... I am sure
you are busy.’

“‘No, no, on my honour, Ruth, I have absolutely nothing to do either
to-day, or to-morrow, or the next day, or any day after that.’

“‘Sure?’ she said eagerly, raising her eyes for one moment to mine and
then lowering them again.

“‘Quite sure.’

“‘Then,’ with sudden boldness, ‘will you come down to the Weald with me?
now? at once?’

“‘To the Weald? Of course I will, I’ll do anything you like. We’ll go
straight to Charing Cross, shall we?’

“‘Oh, yes, please, you are very good. And please, don’t ask me any
questions till we get there.’

“My ten years’ training with MacPherson proved invaluable to me now, and
I can say with pride that neither by direct nor indirect means did I
seek to extract any information from Ruth. Indeed, I was content to
observe her as she sat by me in the cab, no longer the girl I
remembered, but a woman of ripe beauty, and yet in her confused manner
there was a remnant of girlishness, in her lowered eyes, and her
tremulous lips. I saw that she sat there full of suppressed emotion,
buoyed up by some intense determination which carried her over her
shyness and confusion as a barque carries its passenger over high waves.
I was too bewildered, too numb with joy, to wonder much at the cause of
her journey.

“At Charing Cross she produced the return half of her third-class ticket
from her little purse, refusing to let me pay the excess fare which
would allow us to travel first. I think she was afraid of being shut
alone with me into a first-class carriage, knowing that in the humbler
compartment she could reckon on the security of company. So we sat on
the hard wooden benches, opposite one another, rocking and swaying with
the train, and trying to shrink away in our respective corners from the
contact of the fruit-pickers who crowded us unpleasantly: Ruth sat
staring out over the fields of Kent, her hands in their neat gray cotton
gloves lying on her lap, and the tired roses drooping listlessly between
her fingers; she looked a little pale, a little thin, but that subtle
warmth of her personality was there as of old, whether it lay, as I
never could decide, in the glow under her skin or in the tender curves
of her features. She looked up to catch me gazing at her, and we both
turned to the landscape to hide our confusion.

“Ah! I could look out over that flying landscape now, with no need to
pull down the window-blinds, and Penshurst station, when we reached it,
was no longer a pang, but a rejoicing. The train stopped, I struggled
with the door, we jumped out, the train curved away again on its
journey, and we stood side by side alone on the platform.

“It was then about five o’clock of a perfect August day. Little white
clouds stretched in a broken bank along the sky. Dorothy Perkins bloomed
in masses on the palings of the wayside station. The railway seemed
foreign to the country, the English country which lay there immovable,
regardless of trains that hurried restless mankind to and fro, between
London and the sea.

“‘Let us go,’ I said to Ruth.

“We set out walking across the fields, infinitely green and tender to my
eyes, accustomed to the brown stoniness of Ephesus. We walked in
silence, but I, for one, walked happy in the present, and feeling the
aridity of my being soaked and permeated with repose and beauty. Ruth
took off her jacket, which I carried for her, walking cool and slender
in a white muslin shirt. In this soft garment she looked eighteen, as I
remembered her.

“We took the short cut to Westmacotts’. There it was, the lath and
plaster house, the farm buildings, the double oast-house at the corner
of the big black barn, simmering, hazy and mellow, in the summer
evening. A farm-hand, carrying a great truss of hay on a pitchfork
across his shoulder, touched his cap to Ruth as he passed. There was no
sign of Westmacott.

“‘Where ...’ I began, but changed my question. ‘Where are the children?’

“‘I left them over with mother before I came away this morning,’ she
answered.

“We went into the house, into the kitchen, the same kitchen, unchanged.

“She took refuge in practical matters.

“‘Will you wait there while I take off my things and get the tea?’

“I sat down like a man in a dream while she disappeared upstairs. I was
quite incapable of reflection, but dimly I recognised the difference
between this clean, happy room of bright colours and shining brasses,
and the tawdry, musty flat I had penetrated that morning, and the
contrast spread itself like ointment over a wound.

“Ruth returned; she had taken off her hat and had covered her London
clothes by a big blue linen apron with patch pockets. Her sleeves were
rolled up to the elbow; I saw the smooth brown arm with the delicate
wrist and shapely hand.

“‘You’ll want your tea,’ she said briskly.

“I had had nothing to eat since breakfast.

“You told me once in a letter that you had been to tea with Ruth, so you
know the kind of meal she provides: bread, honey, scones, big cups, and
tea in an enormous teapot. She laid two places only, moving about,
severely practical, but still quivering with that suppressed excitement,
still tense with that unfaltering determination.

“‘It’s ready,’ she said at length, summoning me.

“I couldn’t eat, for the emotion of that meal alone with her was too
strong for me. I sat absently stirring the sugar in my cup. She tried to
coax me to eat, but her solicitude exasperated my overstrained nerves,
and I got up abruptly.

“‘It’s no good,’ I said, ‘I must know. What is it, Ruth? What had you to
tell me?’

“The moment had rushed at her unawares; she looked at me with frightened
eyes; her determination, put to the test, hesitated.

“I went over to her and stood before her.

“‘What is it, Ruth?’ I said again. ‘You haven’t brought me down here for
nothing. Hadn’t you better tell me before your husband comes in?’

“‘He won’t come in,’ she said, hanging her head so that I could only see
the wealth of her hair and her little figure in the big blue apron.

“‘How do you know?’ I asked.

“‘He isn’t here.’

“‘Where is he, then?’

“She raised her head and looked me full in the face, no longer
frightened, but steady, resolute.

“‘He has left me,’ she said.

“‘Left you? What do you mean? For good?’

“‘Yes. He’s left me, the farm, and the children; he’s never coming
back.’

“‘But why? Good Heavens, why?’

“‘He was afraid,’ she said in a low voice.

“‘Afraid?’

“‘Yes. Of me. Oh,’ she broke off, ‘sit down and I will tell you all
about it.’



                                   VI


“And then she unfolded to me the extraordinary story which, as I warned
you at the very beginning of my letter, you will probably not believe.
Nevertheless I offer it to you as a fact, so tangible a fact that it has
driven a man—no chicken-hearted man—to abandon his home and source of
wealth, his wife, and his children, and to fly, without stopping to pack
up his closest possessions, to America. I will not attempt to give you
the story in Ruth’s own words, because they came confusedly, transposing
the order of events, dealing only with effects, ignoring the examination
of causes. I will tell it you as I see it myself, after piecing together
all my scraps of narrative and evidence. I only hope that, in dragging
you away with me to Ephesus, and in giving you the events of my own
life, you have not forgotten those who, in the Weald of Kent, are, after
all, far more essential characters than I myself. Please try now to
forget the MacPhersons, and project yourself, like a kind, accommodating
audience, to the homestead, outwardly so peaceable, inwardly the stormy
centre of so many complicated passions.

“And, again like a kind, accommodating audience, put ready at your elbow
a little heap of your credulity, that you may draw on it from time to
time, like a man taking a pinch of snuff.

“I do not know how far I should go back, perhaps even to the day when
Ruth, in a wild state of reckless misery, ran away with Rawdon
Westmacott. At once, you see, I am up against the question of their
relationship, and you will understand that, situated as I now am with
regard to Ruth, it isn’t a question I like to dwell upon. There is a
certain fellowship, however, between us, Ruth, Rawdon, and I, and when I
consider that fellowship, my resentment—I will go further than that, and
call it my loathing, my disgust—bends down like a springing stick and
lies flat to the ground. By fellowship I mean, in myself, the restless
spirit which drove me onward until, blinded by the habit of constant
movement, I couldn’t see the riches that lay close to my hand. In Ruth
and Rawdon, I mean the passionate spirit that was the heritage of their
common blood, and that drew them together even when she, by an accident
of dislike, would have stood apart. We talk very glibly of love and
indifference, but, believe me, it is largely, if it doesn’t come by
sudden revelation, a question of accident, of suggestion. It simply
didn’t occur to me that I might be in love with Ruth; I didn’t examine
the question. So I never knew.... And she, on her part, was there,
young, southern, trembling on the brink of mysteries, pursued by Rawdon,
whose character and mentality she disliked, from whom she, afraid,
wanted to fly, and in whose arms she nevertheless felt convinced that
she must end. From this I might have saved her. I see her now, a hunted
creature, turning her despairing eyes on me, for a brief space seeking a
refuge with Leslie Dymock, but finally trapped, captured,
yielding—yielding herself to a storm of passion that something
uncontrollable in her own nature rose up to meet.

“Seeing her in this light, I am overcome, not only with my stupidity and
blindness, but with my guilt. Yet she was not altogether unhappy. It is
true that Rawdon ill-treated and was unfaithful to her almost from the
first, but it is also true that in their moments of reconciliation,
which were as frequent as their estrangements, that is to say, very
frequent indeed—in these moments of reconciliation she found consolation
in the renewal of their curiously satisfying communion. I don’t pretend
to understand this. Ruth loved me—she has told me so, and I know,
without argument, that she is speaking the truth—yet she found pleasure
in the love of another man, and even a certain grim pleasure in his
ill-treatment of her. Or should I reverse my order, finding more marvel
in her humility under his caresses than under his blows?

“What am I to believe? that she is cursed with a dual nature, the one
coarse and unbridled, the other delicate, conventional, practical,
motherly, refined? Have I hit the nail on the head? And is it, can it
be, the result of the separate, antagonistic strains in her blood, the
southern and the northern legacy? Did she love Westmacott with the one,
and me with the other? I am afraid to pry deeper into this mystery, for
who can tell what taint of his blood may not appear suddenly to stain
the clear waters of his life?

“This, then, is Ruth, but in Westmacott the southern strain seems to be
dominant; the clear English waters are tainted through and through. He
is a creature of pure instinct, and when his instinct is aroused no
logic, no reason will hold him, any more than a silk ribbon will hold a
bucking horse. Ruth has told me of her life with him after he had gained
possession of her, all his humility gone, changed into a domineering
brutality; sometimes he would sit sulkily for hours, smoking and playing
cards, and then would catch her to him and half strangle her with his
kisses. She seems to have lived with him, the spirit crushed from her,
meek and submissive to his will. I remembered the days when he used to
lounge about Pennistans’, leaning against the doorpost staring at her,
and when she in disdain and contempt would clatter her milk-pans while
singing at the top of her voice. Westmacott, I thought grimly, had had
his own revenge.

“Once, as you know, she rebelled, but I do not think you know what drove
her to it. Westmacott had brought another woman home to the farm, and
had ordered his wife to draw cider for them both. When she refused, he
struck her so that she staggered and fell in a corner of the room. She
then collected her children and walked straight over to her father’s
house. How she tried to shoot Westmacott you know, for you were there.—I
can’t think about that story.

“But to come down to the day I went to the farm and asked her to come
away with me. Westmacott suspected nothing at the time. About a week
later he came home slightly drunk, and began to bully one of the
children. Ruth cried out,—

“‘Hands off my children, Rawdon!’

“‘You can’t stop me,’ he jeered.

“She said,—

“‘I can. I nearly stopped you for ever once, and what’s to prevent my
doing it again?’

“He looked at her blankly, and his jaw dropped.

“For a week after that he was civil to her; their rôles were reversed,
and she held the upper hand. Then he started shouting at her, but, brave
in her previous success, she defied him,—

“‘Stop swearing at me, Rawdon, or I’ll go away and leave you.’

“He roared with laughter.

“‘Go away? Where to?’

“She says that she was wild, and did not care for the rashness of her
words,—

“‘I shall go to Mr. Malory.’

“‘He wouldn’t have you!’ said Rawdon.

“‘He would!’ she cried. ‘He came here—you never knew—and tried to get me
to go with him. And I’d have gone, but for the children. So there!’

“After this there was a pause; Rawdon was taken aback, Ruth was appalled
by her indiscretion. Then Rawdon burst out into oaths, ‘which fouled the
kitchen,’ said Ruth, ‘as though the lamp had been flaring.’ At this
time, I suppose, I was at Sampiero.

“Of course, these and similar scenes could not go on perpetually. Their
married life, although long in years, had been interrupted by over four
years of war and absence, but now they found that they must settle down
to life on a workable basis. They were married, therefore they must live
together and make the best of it. Ruth tells me that they talked it out
seriously together. A strange conversation! She undertook not to resent
his infidelities if he, on his side, would undertake not to ill-treat
her at home. So they sealed this compact, and in the course of time sank
down, as the houses of the neighbourhood sank down into the clay, into a
situation of no greater discontent than many of their prototypes.

“There was apparently no reason why this should not go on for ever. It
did, indeed, let me tell you at once, go on for nearly ten years. They
were quite tolerably happy; their children grew; their farm prospered;
they were able to keep a servant. And then she saw a change coming over
her husband.

“This is the thing which I do not expect you to believe.

“It began with his suggestion that Ruth should occupy the larger bedroom
with the younger children, while he himself moved up to an attic at the
top of the house, next to the boys’ attic. She was astonished at this
suggestion, and naturally asked him for his reasons. He could give none,
except that it would be ‘more convenient.’ He shuffled uneasily as he
said it. For the sake of peace, she agreed.

“But, suspicious now, she watched him closely, and he, realising that
she was watching him, tried to writhe away from her vigilance. He would
invent excuses to absent himself all day from the farm—a distant market,
a local show—and would return late at night, creeping unheard up to his
attic, there to slip off his clothes in the dark, or with the moonlight
streaming in through his little latticed, dormer window. So for days he
would contrive to meet his wife only at breakfast. His excuses were
always convincing, and in them she could find no flaw. She might not
have noticed his strange behaviour, but for the incident of the
re-arranged bedrooms, and perhaps some feminine instinct which had
stirred in her. She dared not question him, fearing a scene, but
gradually she came to the not unnatural conclusion that he was keeping a
second establishment where he spent most of his time.

“This left her indifferent; she had long since made her life independent
of his, and the possible gossip of neighbours did not touch her as it
would have touched a woman of commoner fibre. She had quite made up her
mind that Rawdon spent all his nights away from home, returning shortly
before she awoke in the morning. She did not resent this, especially as
he had shown himself much gentler towards her of late. She was even
vaguely sorry for him, that he should take so much trouble to conceal
his movements. It must be very wet, walking through the long dewy grass
of the fields so early in the morning.

“She was surprised to notice that his boots were never soaked through,
as she logically expected to find them.

“One night she lay awake, thinking over all these things, when an
impulse came to her, to go and look in his room. She got up quietly,
slipping on her shoes and dressing gown, and stole out on to the
landing. The house was dark and silent. She crept upstairs, and turned
the handle of his door, confident that she would find the room empty. By
the light of the moon, which poured down unimpeded by any curtain
through the little oblong window in the sloping roof, she saw her
husband’s dark, beautiful head on the white pillow. He was sleeping
profoundly. His clothes lay scattered about the floor, as he had thrown
them off.

“So surprised was she—a surprise amounting, not to relief, but almost to
dismay—that she stood gazing at him, holding the door open with her
hand. Sensitive people and children will often wake under the influence
of a prolonged gaze. Westmacott, who was a sensitive man beneath his
brutality, and who further was living just then, I imagine, in a state
of considerable nerve tension, woke abruptly with an involuntary cry as
from a nightmare. He sat up in bed, flinging back the clothes—sat up,
Ruth says, with staring eyes and the signs of terror stamped on all his
features.

“‘You! you!’ he said wildly, ‘what do you want with me? in God’s name
what do you want?’

“She thought him still half-asleep, and replied in a soothing voice,—

“‘It’s all right, Rawdon; I don’t want anything; I couldn’t sleep,
that’s all; I’m going away now.’

“But he continued to stare at her as though she had been an apparition,
muttering incomprehensibly, and passing his hand with a wild gesture
over his hair.

“‘What’s the matter, Rawdon?’ she said, genuinely puzzled.

“At that he cried out,—

“‘Oh, go away, leave me alone, for God’s sake leave me alone!’ and he
began to sob hysterically, hiding his face in his sheets.

“Afraid that he would wake the children, she backed hastily out,
shutting the door, and flying downstairs to her own room.

“He did not come to breakfast, but at midday he appeared, white and
hollow-eyed, and climbed to his room, where he spent an hour screwing a
bolt on to the inside of his door. When he came down again, he tried to
slip furtively out of the house, but she stopped him in the passage.

“‘Look here, Rawdon,’ she said, taking him by the shoulders, ‘what’s the
matter with you?’

“He shrank miserably under her touch.

“‘There’s nothing the matter,’ he mumbled.

“Then he spoke in a tone she had never heard since the days before their
marriage, a cringing, whining tone.

“‘Let me be, Ruth, my pretty little Ruth; I’m up to no wrong, I promise
you. Be kind to your poor Rawdon, darling,’ and he tried to kiss her.

“But instantly with his servility she regained her disdain of him. She
pushed him roughly from her.

“‘Get out then; don’t bother me.’

“He went, swiftly, thankfully.

“The furtiveness which she had already noticed clung to him; he slunk
about like a Jew, watching her covertly, answering her, when she spoke,
in his low, propitiatory voice. She had lost all fear of him now. She
ordered him about in a peremptory way, and he obeyed her, sulkily,
surlily, when she was not looking, but with obsequious alacrity when her
eyes were on him. His chief desire seemed to be to get out of her sight,
out of her company. He moved noiselessly about the house, seeking to
conceal his presence; ‘pussy-footed,’ was the word she used. Their
relations were entirely reversed. With the acquiescent philosophy of the
poor, she had almost ceased to wonder at the new state of affairs thus
mysteriously come about. She dated it from the day he had first taken to
the attic, realising also that a great leap forward had been made from
the hour of her midnight visit to his bedroom. He was an altered being.
From time to time he tried to defy her, to reassert himself, but she
held firm, and he slid back again to his cowed manner. She became aware
that he was afraid of her, though the knowledge neither surprised nor
startled her over-much. She merely accepted it into her scheme of life.
She was also perfectly prepared that one day he should break out, beat
her, and reassume his authority as master of the house and of her
person.

“This, then, was the position at Westmacotts’ while I toiled at Ephesus
and received with such wide-spaced regularity little packets of seed
from Ruth. The situation developed rapidly at a date corresponding to
the time when MacPherson fell ill with cholera. It was then three months
since Westmacott, by going to the attic, had made the first concession
to his creeping cowardice. He was looking ill, Ruth told me; his eyes
were bright, and she thought he slept badly at night. Her questioning
him on this subject precipitated the crisis.

“‘Rawdon, you’re looking feverish.’

“‘Oh, no,’ he said nervously. They were at breakfast.

“‘Ay, dad,’ said the eldest boy, ‘I heard you tossing about last night.’

“Ruth turned on him with that bullying instinct that she could not
control, and asked roughly,—

“‘What do you mean by keeping the children awake?’

“He cowered away, and she went on, her voice rising,—

“‘I won’t have it, do you hear? If you can’t sleep quietly here, you can
go and sleep elsewhere—in the stable, for all I care.’

“He didn’t answer, he only watched her, huddled in his chair—yes,
huddled, that tall, lithe figure—watched her with a sidelong glance of
his almond eyes.

“She went on storming at him; she says she felt like a person speaking
the words dictated to her by somebody else, and indeed you know Ruth
well enough to know that this description doesn’t tally with your
impression of her.

“He was fingering a tea-spoon all the while, now looking down at it, now
stealing that oblique glance at his wife, but never saying a word. She
cried to him,—

“‘Let that spoon alone, can’t you?’ and as she spoke she stretched out
her hand to take it from him. He bent swiftly forward and snapped at her
hand like a hungry wolf.

“The children screamed, and Ruth sprang to her feet. Rawdon was already
on his feet, over in the corner, holding a chair, reversed, in front of
him.

“‘Don’t you come near me,’ he gibbered, ‘don’t you dare to come near me.
You said you nearly stopped me once’—oh little seed sown ten years
ago!—‘but by Hell you shan’t do it again. I’ll kill you first, ay, and
all your children with you, cursed brats! how am I to know they’re
mine?’ and a stream of foul language followed.

“Ruth had recovered herself, she stood on the other side of the room,
with all her frightened children clinging round her.

“‘I think you must be mad, Rawdon,’ she said, as coldly as she could.

“‘And if I am,’ he cried, ‘who’s driven me to it? Isn’t it you? making
my life a hell, spying on me, chasing me even to my bed at night, ready
to pounce on me the moment you get a chance? Oh, you hate me, I know;
it’s that other man you want, you’ve had your fill of me. Oh, you false,
lying vixen, you’re just waiting till you can get me—catch me asleep,
likely; what was you doing in my room that night? The woman who can
shoot at a man once can shoot at him twice. Mad, you say I am? No, I’m
not mad, but ’tis not your fault that I wasn’t mad long ago.’

“The eldest boy darted across the room at his father, but Rawdon warded
him off with the chair.

“‘Keep the brat off me!’ he cried to Ruth. ‘I won’t be answerable, I’ll
do him a mischief.’

“He cried suddenly,—

“‘This is what I’ll do if you try to lay hands on me, you and all your
brood.’

“He was near the window, he took the pots of geranium one by one off the
sill, crying, ‘This! and this! and this!’ and flung them with all
possible violence on the tiled floor, where the brittle terra-cotta
smashed into fragments, and the plants rolled with a scattering of earth
under the furniture.

“‘I’ll do that with your heads,’ he said savagely.

“His eye fell on the cage of mice, left standing exposed on the
window-sill. At the sight of these his rage redoubled.

“‘_He_ gave you these,’ he shouted, and hurled the cage from him into
the farthest corner of the room.

“He was left quivering in the midst of his devastation, quivering,
panting, like some slim, wild animal at bay.

“The storm that had swept across him was too much for his nerves; the
expression on his face changed; he sank down in the corner, letting the
chair fall, and hiding his face in his hands.

“‘There, it’s over,’ he wailed, ‘don’t be afraid, Ruth, I won’t touch
you. Only let me go away now; it’s this life has done for me. I can’t
live with you. You can keep the children, you can keep the farm; I’m
going away, right away, where you’ll never hear of me again. Only let me
go.’

“It seemed to be his dominating idea.

“She moved across to him, but he leaped up and to one side before she
could touch him.

“‘Keep away!’ he cried warningly.

“He reached the door; paused there one brief, intense moment.

“‘You’ll hear from me from London,’ he uttered.

“He seemed to her exactly like a swift animal, scared and untamed,
checked for one instant in its flight.

“‘I’ll never trouble you more.’

“Then he was gone; had he bounded away? had he flown? she could not have
said, she could only remain pressed against the wall, the children
crying, and her hands clasped over her heart.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“There, what do you think of that for the story of a Kentish farm-house?
What a train of dynamite, isn’t it, laid in the arena of Cadiz? What a
heritage to transmit even to the third generation! You don’t believe it?
I thought you wouldn’t. But it is true.

“Ruth told me the whole of this amazing story in a low voice, playing
all the while with her two faded roses. She showed me a lawyer’s letter
which she had received next day, formalising the agreement about the
farm, stipulating that she should pay rent; all couched in cold,
business-like terms. ‘Our client, Rawdon Westmacott, Esq.,’ that savage,
half-crazed, screaming creature that had smashed the flower-pots only a
week before....

“‘I see you’ve replaced the geraniums,’ I said rather irrelevantly.

“‘Yes.’

“‘What about the mice?’

“‘They all died.’

“So that chapter was closed?

“‘At any rate, Ruth, you need not worry now about your children.’

“She looked puzzled.

“‘Never mind, I was only joking.’

“Then we were quite silent, faced with the future. I said slowly.

“‘And you brought me down here to tell me all this?’

“‘Yes. I am sorry if you are annoyed.’

“‘I am not annoyed, but it is late and I must go back to London
to-night.’

“She came a little closer to me, and my pulses began to race.

“‘Why?’

“‘Well, my dear, I can’t stop here, can I?’

“She whispered,—

“‘Why not?’

“‘Because you’re here alone, even the children are away.’

“‘Does that matter?’ she said.

“A ray from the setting sun slanted in at the window, firing the red
geraniums, and the canary incontinently began to sing.

“‘You came here once,’ said Ruth, ‘and you asked me to go away and live
with you. Do you remember?’

“‘My dear,’ I said, ‘I have lived on that remembrance for the last ten
years.’

“I waited for her to speak again, but she remained silent, yet her
meaning was clearer to me than the spoken word. We stood silent in the
presence of her invitation and of my acquiescence. We stood in the warm,
quiet kitchen, where all things glowed as in the splendour of a mellow
sunset: the crimson flowers, the sinking fire, the rounded copper of
utensils, the tiled floor rosy as a pippin. In the distance I heard the
lowing of cattle, rich and melodious as the tones within the room. I saw
and heard these English things, but, as a man who, looking into a
mirror, beholds his own expected image in an unexpected setting, I had a
sudden vision of ourselves, standing side by side on the deck of a ship
that, to the music of many oars, glided majestically towards the land.
We were in a broad gulf, fairer and more fruitful than the Gulf of
Smyrna. The water lay serenely around us, heaving slightly, but unbroken
by the passage of our vessel, and the voices of the rowers on the lower
deck rose up in a cadenced volume of song as we came slowly into port.

                        “Ever yours,
                          “CHRISTOPHER MALORY.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 2. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
      printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.
 4. Superscripts are denoted by a caret before a single superscript
      character or a series of superscripted characters enclosed in
      curly braces, e.g. M^r.





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