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Title: The Dragon in Shallow Waters
Author: Sackville-West, V. (Victoria)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE DRAGON IN SHALLOW WATERS

by

V. SACKVILLE-WEST

Author of “Heritage”


[Illustration]



G. P. Putnam’S Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1922

Copyright, 1922
by
V. Sackville-West

Made in the United States of America


[Illustration]



                                  To L



The dragon in shallow waters _became_ the butt of shrimps.—_Chinese
Proverb._

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



                      The Dragon in Shallow Waters



                                   I


An immense gallery, five hundred feet long, occupied the upper floor of
the main factory-building. Looking down the gallery, a perspective of
iron girders spanned the roof, gaunt skeletons of architecture,
uncompromising, inexorably utilitarian, inflexible, remorseless. A drone
of machinery filled the air, neither very loud nor very near at hand,
but softly and unremittingly continuous; the drone of clanking, of
loosely-running wheels and leather belts, muffled by the intervening
floor into a not unpleasant murmur. Outside the windows three chimneys
reared their heads side by side, emitting three parallel streams of
smoke, gigantic black plumes that floated horizontally away over the
flooded country, and that at night were flecked with red sparks as they
flowed out from the red glare at their base.

All these things, the chimneys and the girders, were crushingly larger
than the men who laboured amongst them. The men seemed of pigmy size as
they pushed their hand-trucks along the floor of the big gallery. They
pushed them down the narrow passage-ways left between the vats. The
gallery was full of vats, set in pairs down the whole length of the
building; square vats twenty feet each way, as large and as deep as an
ordinary room. Some of the vats were empty, temporarily not in use; some
were only half full; but in most the hot, liquid soap boiled and bubbled
right up to the rim.

The smell which filled the gallery was the smell of the soap, pungent
and acrid on the surface, but fat and nauseating underneath, rasping the
throat of the chance visitor before it penetrated deeper with its hot,
furry smell that tickled and disgusted the sensitiveness at the back of
his nose. The chance visitor rarely lingered long in the gallery. He
would stand for a few moments watching the men that came and went in
their splashed overalls, indifferent to his presence; then he would turn
to go carefully down the steep iron stair into the pleasanter rooms
where white powder was heaped on the floor in miniature mountains, and
where lines of girls seated on high stools were occupied in tying
ribbons with the twist of dexterity round the necks of scent bottles,
and the room was filled with scent like a garden of orange-trees in
blossom.

Up in the gallery, the soap in the vats moved uneasily with the motion
of an evil quicksand. The soap was yellow, and its consistency one of
slimy liquidity. If the vat were not sufficiently full, the quantity
increased mysteriously from below, the level rising thanks to the unseen
source of supply. It was not hard to believe that the recesses of the
vat were inhabited by some foul and secret monster whose jaws emitted
the viscid, yellow stream to conceal his abode. The soap moved
restlessly, boiling and bursting into little craters, which subsided,
leaving wrinkles and circles on the surface. Quiet for a moment, it
heaved in another place; heaved slowly and deliberately, but did not
break; heaved again; broke with a spout of steam and a sluggish splash
as the walls of the crater fell in. It was never altogether still. It
seemed alive, because it swelled and breathed and vomited, or at least
it seemed as though some live creature dwelt within, occasioning by its
movements the disturbances and eruptions of the slime.

In other vats a wrinkled brown skin had formed over the cooling soap, a
skin puckered and broken up into valleys and chasms, plains and ridges,
so that of all things it most resembled the physical map of a country.
The parallel was exact as to colour, even to the greenish stretches at
the bottom of the valleys. Mountain ridges three inches high, chasms
three inches deep, plateaux six inches across, the landscape of some
dead but perpetually changing world. For here the slime moved also, but
with a difference; it did not seethe, it did not erupt; it rather
subsided; was a dead, rather than a living thing. The monster that dwelt
in those depths had died, and lay at the bottom, a heap of corruption
the imagination would not willingly picture.

Other vats were empty, and if the hot boiling soap resembled a shifting
quicksand, and the cooling soap the desolation of a dead world, the
empty vats resembled the sea-bottom. The others, with their hint of
greed and evil, might be more terrifying; these empty vats were
infinitely more fantastic. Their sides were caked with the dry soap,
brown-yellow, and their depths were surprisingly revealed; ending in a
blunt point, like the point of a cone; they were sunk lower than the
floor of the gallery into an unlighted chamber of corresponding size
below. In these empty vats, various portions of apparatus were brought
to light: immense chains, caked and corroded, hung like ship’s cables
and were lost in the deposit at the bottom; vast strainers swung against
the sides; ropes, stiffened hard as wood, spanned diagonally from side
to side; and, emerging from the tapering depths, stumps of wreckage
stood up, transformed from their original shape to stalagmites of dry
frangible matter, that would chip away, crisp and powdery, betraying the
nature of their kernel,—was it a shovel? was it an anchor? was it the
decaying bones of the ancient monster?—and the low parapets of the vats
were coated with the same brittle dryness that yellowed the walls of
those grotesque and extraordinary pits.



                                   II


                                   I

The workers were subordinate to the factory; it was a giant, a monster,
that they served. At night the red glow from the chimneys,—the glow from
the fires that must never flag or die,—accentuated the disregard of
man’s convenience. To keep alive that red breath of activity, men must
forego their privilege of sleep.

The tragedy in the household of the Denes was not allowed to interrupt
the general work of the factory, but the overseer, Mr. Calthorpe,
offered Silas Dene a week, and Gregory Dene a day,—the day of the
funeral,—as a concession to their mourning. He thought the offer
sufficiently generous.

The brothers Dene, however, refused it.

They lived in a double-cottage; Gregory with his wife in one half; Silas
and his wife, before her sudden death, in the other. Although situated
in the village street, it was a lonely cottage, for “the black Denes”
did not encourage neighbourly communion, nor did the neighbours trouble
them with unwelcome advances. This was not surprising, for they were
indeed a sinister race to whom affliction seemed naturally drawn. Nature
cursed them from the hour of their birth with physical deficiencies and
spiritual savagery; whether or no, as some said, the latter was only to
be expected as the outcome of the former, the name of Dene remained the
intimidation of the village.

Others again said that Nature was not so much to be held responsible as
the Denes’ father, whom everybody had known as a rake, and who never
ought to have married, much less begotten children.

Of the two brothers, Gregory had been deaf and dumb from birth, and
Silas blind. Their physique, however, was full of splendour, and
they were accounted two of the most valuable workers in the
factory,—magnificent men, tall, muscular, and dark.

Calthorpe came to their cottage directly he was told of the accident. It
was then evening, and the accident had occurred in the earlier part of
the afternoon. Calthorpe knew no details beyond the bare fact that Silas
Dene’s wife had been discovered, a mass of almost unidentifiable
disfigurement, lying across the railway line after the passage of the
little local train. He had been told this much by the men who had come
running with the news to his office; they had come breathless, shocked,
mystified; he had understood at once that they were mystified; they had
made no comment, but Calthorpe had been quick to catch the hint of
mystery; any concern of the Denes was always luscious with mystery.

He found Silas, the blind man, sitting in his kitchen, chewing an
unlighted pipe. He appeared to be strangely indifferent. A little man
named Hambley, Silas Dene’s only crony, sat in a dark corner, not
speaking, but observing everything with bright furtive eyes, like the
eyes of a weasel. He hugged himself in his corner; a sallow faced little
man, with a red tip to his thin nose. Gregory Dene was in the kitchen
too, and Gregory’s wife, with frightened eyes, was laying the table for
supper; she moved quickly, placing cups and plates, and casting rapid
glances at the two men.

“I’m terribly distressed, Silas,” Calthorpe began.

“What, you too, Mr. Calthorpe, come to condole?” cried the blind man,
laughing loudly. “Well, it takes an accident to make me popular, it
seems; I haven’t had so many callers in the last four years as in the
last four hours. Sit down, Mr. Calthorpe; I ask ’em all to sit down.
Nan, give a chair.”

Calthorpe sat down uneasily, beneath the silent scrutiny of Gregory and
the quick glances of Gregory’s wife. The burning and sightless eyes of
Silas were also bent upon him.

“I have only just heard the news,” he began again, “or I would have come
sooner....”

“That’s all right. The neighbours ran to help, and to nose out what they
could; the parson came too, he’s upstairs now. All very helpful,” said
Silas, with another burst of laughter. “Gregory, my brother, too, though
he isn’t much company, but we understand one another. Don’t we, Gregory?
He can’t hear, but I always talk to him as though he could. I trust him
with my secrets, Mr. Calthorpe. They say dead men tell no tales; I say
deaf and dumb men tell no tales either. We understand one another, don’t
we, Gregory?” He looked without seeing at the deaf mute who had listened
without hearing, aware only that Silas was speaking by the movement of
his lips. “One’s always sorry to have told a secret,” Silas said,
nodding at Calthorpe; “always sorry sooner or later, but Gregory, my
brother, he’s safe with any secret. I only tell them to him. Never to
Nan, and I never told one to Hannah. Only to Gregory. All my secrets,”
and he fell silent, and began biting his lips, pressing them between his
teeth with his fingers, that were surprisingly long and nervous.

Calthorpe did not know how to answer; he looked at Gregory’s wife,
trying to establish a bond of helpful sympathy between himself and her,
the two normal people in that room, but she immediately looked away in
her scared and nervous fashion. Calthorpe then saw that Gregory was
watching him with a malicious sarcasm that startled Calthorpe for a
moment into the belief that he was actually grinning, although no grin
was there. Thus startled, he began to speak, hurriedly, confining
himself to the practical.

“Of course, you must take some time off, Silas; this week will be very
trying for you, and very busy too; there will be the inquest and the
funeral.” (“Why did I say that?” he thought to himself.) “We shall all
want to make it as easy as possible for you, and the men will be glad to
take turns at your job. You mustn’t worry about that. Supposing I give
you a week?” Seeing that Silas’s lips curled with what he took to be
disdain, he thought that perhaps his offer had been inadequate, and
added to it, “and your brother of course would be given the day of the
funeral, and if at any other time you want him, Silas, you have only to
ask me; I shouldn’t be hard on you.”

“We don’t want any time off,” Silas replied ungraciously.

“You know that it is customary ...” said Calthorpe. Customary! he clung
to the word; it gave him a sense of security. “It is customary,” he
repeated, “in the case of death, or sickness, or accident, to release
such near relatives as are employed at the factory. You needn’t think
you would be accepting a special favour.”

“Why should I think that, Mr. Calthorpe?”

Calthorpe knew from the instant defiance in the blind man’s tone that he
must make no allusion to Silas’s disability; he said, “Well, the sad
circumstances of your wife’s death....”

“She brought me my dinner as usual,” said Silas suddenly; “she sat with
me in the shed while I ate it, down by the railway, like she always did,
because afterwards she used to bring me back to my work, and then carry
the plate and things home. Just like every other day. When I’d done she
took me back and left me in the shops; I didn’t know anything more.
After I’d been there two or three hours they came and told me. They said
she’d been found on the railway line. I don’t know how long she’d been
there, or why she didn’t start off for home at once. Perhaps she’d been
waiting for the fog to lift; there was a fog to-day, wasn’t there? and
anyway I could feel it in my breath without her telling me so. It was
extra thick down on the railway. Perhaps she waited for it to lift. Or
perhaps she was waiting to meet somebody in the shed.”

“Waiting to _meet_ somebody, Silas?”

“I’m a blind man, Mr. Calthorpe, and she was a blind man’s wife.”

Calthorpe saw that Gregory’s wife had ceased her little clatter with the
supper-things, and was standing as though stupefied beside the supper
table, her fingers resting on its edge. Now she moved again, setting a
kettle on the range.

“I knew nothing till hours after she left me—two or three hours,” Silas
reverted. “Nothing until they came and told me. I’d been working all the
afternoon. She left me at the door of the shops, Mr. Calthorpe,” he
said; “she didn’t come in with me.”

“No, no; I see,” said Calthorpe.

“Sometimes she’d come in for a chat; she was friendly with my mates,
friendly with Donnithorne specially. He’d come here sometimes, Sundays,
wouldn’t he, Gregory? But to-day she didn’t come in. No. She said she
had a bit of mending to do at home; that’s it, a bit of mending. She
wanted to get home quick.”

“Then why should you think she waited to meet anybody in the shed?”
asked Calthorpe.

“That’s only my fancy; I’m a blind man, Mr. Calthorpe; I couldn’t have
seen who she waited for, or who she met. Gregory could have seen. But
_I_ couldn’t, and Gregory wasn’t there. You know he works inside the
factory, Mr. Calthorpe, and I work in the shops down by the
railway-sheds, tying up the boxes.”

“I know; you’re a grand worker,” said Calthorpe. He was afraid of Silas.
He saw with relief that the clergyman had come down from the upper room,
and was standing on the lowest step of the stairs where they opened into
the kitchen.

“I knew nothing,” Silas went on with a rising voice. “Funny, that a
man’s wife should be lying across railway lines, and the man not know
it. Husband and wife should be one, shouldn’t they? But I never told her
my secrets. Women don’t understand men’s secrets. I don’t hold with
women, Mr. Calthorpe, they’re lying and deceitful animals; you can’t
trust them out of your sight, and as I haven’t any sight it stands to
reason I can’t trust them at all. But husband and wife should be one all
the same, so they say. Dutiful and patient and faithful, that’s what
women ought to be, but they’re only artful. Perhaps I’ll be better
without one. I’ll get a man to share the house with me, and lead me
about when I need it; I know a nice young chap who’d be glad.”


                                   II

“My poor friend, your sorrow has thrown you off your balance,” said the
clergyman as he came forward and laid his hand upon Silas’s shoulder.

“That’s you, Mr. Medhurst?” said Silas, instantly recognising the voice,
which indeed was unmistakable. “You’ve prayed over her; well, I hope
she’s the better for it. Heaven send me a parson to pray over me when my
turn comes, that’s all I say.”

“My poor friend,” the clergyman said again, “pray rather to Heaven now
that you be not embittered by your affliction. Let us call forth our
courage when the test comes upon the soul; let us pray to be of those
whose courage is steadfast even unto death. The lot of man is trouble
and affliction, and He in His Mercy hath appointed our courage as the
weapon wherewith to meet it.”

“That’s a help, isn’t it, Mr. Calthorpe?” said Silas, “that’s a great
help, that thought. Is that what you say, Mr. Medhurst, to a man that’s
going to the gallows? What do you tell him—to feel kindly towards his
jailers, the judge who condemned him, the jury that found him guilty,
the police that arrested him, the man or woman he murdered, the teacher
that taught him, the mother that bore him, and the father that begot
him? You tell him not to curse them all,—eh? You tell him to feel kindly
and charitable like you’ve told me to be long-suffering under my
blindness and to have courage now my wife’s dead,—eh? you tell him
that?”

“I am not a prison chaplain, Dene,” said Mr. Medhurst, stiffly, removing
his hand which, however, he immediately replaced, saying with
compassion, “My poor friend, my poor friend! you are sorely tried.”

“There’s worse things than death, Mr. Medhurst,” Silas exclaimed, and he
sprang up as though the clergyman’s touch were unendurable to him, and
stood in front of the range, having felt his way rapidly across the
room. Mr. Medhurst followed him, but Silas heard him coming, and moved
away again, behind the table. Mr. Medhurst turned to Calthorpe with a
gesture of resignation, saying in a low voice, “These poor fellows! we
must be tolerant, Calthorpe,” and Gregory continued to watch the
movements and gestures, which he could understand, although he could not
hear their speech. “Look here, sir,” Silas began again, “I didn’t know
of the accident, not till hours afterwards, as I’ve been telling Mr.
Calthorpe,—is Mr. Calthorpe still here?”

“Yes, Silas, I’m still here,” said the overseer.

“Ah, I thought I hadn’t heard the door. Well, I was in the shops, and
they told me at five o’clock. When they came to tell me, I asked what
time it was, and they told me, five o’clock. Now it was two o’clock when
I finished my dinner; I asked Hannah, and she told me, two o’clock.
That’s three hours, sir. Mark that. She’d been on that line three hours
before her husband knew it. Is that right, when husband and wife should
be one?”

“They told you directly she was found, Dene,” said the clergyman. “No
one is to blame.”

“I’m blaming no one,” said Silas sullenly, “I only ask you to mark it,
sir: three hours. Three hours before I knew.”

“Why does he insist on that point?” thought Calthorpe.

“I’m alone now, a lonely man and a blind one. The inquest now,—must you
have an inquest?”

“We are all equal before the law,” said Mr. Medhurst in a gentle and
reproving voice.

“And I have to go to it?”

“I am afraid so, Dene.”

“Well, I’ll tell them what I told you: it was three hours before I knew.
She was alive at two o’clock, when she left me,” said Silas with great
violence, striking his fist upon the table and glaring round the room
with his sightless eyes; “you’ve all heard: three hours,—you, Mr.
Medhurst, and you, Mr. Calthorpe, and you, Hambley, and you, Nan. Come
here, Nan.”

Gregory’s wife went to him, like a dog to a cruel master; he had thrust
his fingers through his black hair, and looked wild. He groped for her
shoulder; clutched it firmly.

“Tell Gregory, Nan; tell him she had been dead three hours before I
knew.”

Gregory’s wife made swift passes with her fingers to her husband, who
read the signs and answered in the same language.

“He says you told him that when you first came in, Silas.” She had a
clear and gentle voice.

“You hear that, Mr. Medhurst? you hear, Mr. Calthorpe? I told my brother
that when I came in. I’m alone now; I had a son, but I don’t know where
he is; I had a daughter too, but she went soon after her brother. I
stand alone; I don’t count on nobody.”

“Come, Dene; I respect your sorrow, but I cannot hear you imply that
your children deserted you: you were always, I am afraid, a harsh
father.” Mr. Medhurst spoke in the reprimanding tone that he could
assume at a moment’s notice; it was shaded with regret, as though he
spoke thus not from a natural inclination to find fault, but from a
pressure of duty.

“Why don’t you say that I was harsh to Hannah?” demanded Silas. Mr.
Medhurst made a deprecatory movement with his hands; he would not
willingly bring charges against a man already in trouble. “Why don’t you
say so?” repeated the blind man, upon whom the movement was naturally
lost.

“Since you insist,” said the clergyman, “I must say that the whole
village knew you were not always very kind to your wife; in fact, I have
spoken to you myself on the subject.”

“I knocked her about; I’d do the same to any woman, if I was fool and
dupe enough to take up with another one,” Silas said.

His pronouncement left the room in silence; his blind glare checked the
words on the lips of both the clergyman and the overseer; he still stood
entrenched behind the table, his sinewy hand gripping Nan’s small
shoulder, for she dared do nothing but remain motionless, neither
cowering away nor moving closer to him, but keeping her eyes bent upon
the floor. An oil-lamp swung from the ceiling above the table. Gregory
watched them all in turn, from his chair beside the oven; he was really
grinning now, and seemed more in the mood to defend his brother’s
quarrels with his fist than to take any interest in the visible terror
of his wife. Nor did she appear to expect championship from him. She had
not thrown him so much as one appealing glance. Living between the two
brothers, she might almost have forgotten which of the two was her
husband and which her brother-in-law; in fact, it had been whispered in
the village that the mode of life in the Denes’ cottage was such as to
lead the woman into that kind of confusion,—but those who spoke so were
the ignorant, who disregarded or else knew nothing of the pride and
jealousy of the Denes.

“I didn’t knock her about so cruelly as the train,” said Silas, laughing
wildly.

“O Lord!” Mr. Medhurst began, clasping his hands, “look with mercy upon
this Thy servant, that in the hour of his trial....”

“Trial? what’s that?” cried Silas. “An inquest isn’t a trial, that I’m
aware?”

“... that in the hour of his trial he may rise above the sorrows of the
flesh to a more perfect understanding of Thy clemency....”

“It’s just babble,” said Silas, who was shaking now with rage from head
to foot.

“Save him, O Lord, from the mortal sin of profanity; endow him with
strength righteously to live, bringing him at the last out of the sea of
peril into the calm waters of that perfect peace....”

“You so smooth and righteous, sir, I wonder it doesn’t shock you to see
a woman battered in like Hannah’s battered now; yet you went and said
your prayers over her; fairly gloated over her, perhaps?”

“Look, O Lord, with mercy upon this Thy poor distraught but faithful
servant. Consider him with leniency; mercifully pardon....”

“Look here,” Silas cried, “the Lord’ll hear your prayers just as well if
they’re put up from your parsonage. This is my cottage, and my affairs
are my affairs; what I do, or what’s sent to me, and how I take it, is
my affair. I’ve always held that a man was a thing by himself, specially
when he’s in trouble; he isn’t forced to be the toy of sympathy, and of
help he doesn’t want. Let me alone. I don’t want your prayers, Mr.
Medhurst. I don’t want your holiday, Mr. Calthorpe. I’ll be at my work
to-morrow morning same as I always am—same as I was to-day after my wife
died, though, mark you, I didn’t know it. I don’t whine, so I don’t want
you to do my whining for me. No. I never missed a day at my work yet,
and though I’m blind I work to keep myself, and I’ll look after myself,
and my rights, blind as I am,—I’ll not be deceived, not I. ‘Poor blind
Silas.’ Don’t let me hear you say that. Perhaps I know more than you
think, and guess the rest.” He went off into a string of mumblings, and
a slight foam of saliva appeared at the corners of his mouth.

“It’s no good staying here, Mr. Medhurst,” said Calthorpe, trying to get
the clergyman away.

“You speak to him, Calthorpe.”

“I’ll try.—Here, Silas, you don’t hate me?” said Calthorpe, going up to
the blind man.

“No; you’re a well-meaning, ordinary sort of chap,” replied Silas.

“Yes, I don’t want to be anything else. Now see here, if you think work
will keep your mind off things, you must come to work; but if you want
to stop away, you can stop away for a week. Is that clear?”

“I’ll come to work. A man’s got a right to decide for himself, hasn’t
he?”

“Of course he has; but don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t get mulish.
You don’t look right somehow. You’re all out of gear; small wonder just
now, but you know as well as I do that you’re a bit ill-balanced at the
best of times. Take it easy, Silas.”

“You mean well, I dare say.”

“Yes, I swear I do; don’t say it so grudgingly. See here: cling on to
your political grievances, man; they’ll take your mind off your own
troubles.”

“I know how to bear my own troubles.”

“I’m only giving you a hint; get angry over something. Go down and make
one of your speeches to the debating society. I don’t share your views,
and I disapprove of your methods, because they stir up trouble amongst
the men, but I’d like to think that something was helping you.”

“Chatter!” said Silas suddenly.

“You’re too damned scornful,” said Calthorpe flushing. “All right then;
fight it out with yourself. Snarl at your mates, and scare the women.
Make yourself lonelier than you already are, you poor lonely devil.”

Silas laughed at that, and some of the hostility went out of his face.

“Thanks, Mr. Calthorpe. I’ll be at work to-morrow. Going now?”

“Mr. Medhurst and I are both going—unless you want us to stay?”

“No, I don’t want you to stay.”

“No ill-feeling, Silas?”

“None, if you mean because you mislaid a bit of your temper.”


                                  III

Nan opened the door for Mr. Medhurst and Calthorpe, who passed out
together and were immediately lost to sight in the fog. In the winter
months, fog hung almost continuously over that low, fenny country; white
fog; billowy, soaking mist. Little wraiths of it swirled into the
kitchen as she opened the door, so she shut it again quickly,—she did
everything quickly and neatly. For one moment of panic she wished she
could have gone with Calthorpe, who was kindly, commonplace, and easy,
instead of remaining alone with those two violent and difficult men, and
the dead body of her sister-in-law upstairs. She was weary of the strain
that never seemed to be relaxed in their cottage.

“Next time that canting parson comes here, I’ll lay hands upon him,”
said Silas.

“Will I get supper now?” asked Nan, trying to distract him.

“What a packet of folk we had!” Silas broke out; “it was rat-tat at the
door all the time, till the whole village had passed through, I should
say.”

“Folks are kindly,” said Nan.

“Folks are curious,” barked Silas.

She sighed, but, knowing better than to remonstrate, resumed her
question.

“Will you have supper now, Silas?” and she repeated the question on her
fingers to Gregory. “We’ll eat with you, Silas, to-night. Gregory and
I,—we’ll be there whenever you want us. I’ll do the house for you, and
your cooking. We’ll all eat together, so long as you want us to.” She
was gentle and bright.

“I don’t want your pity.”

She busied herself with getting the supper out of the oven, carrying the
hot dishes carefully with a cloth. Gregory watched her, pivoting in his
chair to follow her movements. Once he talked to her on his fingers:
“Don’t you take no notice of Silas; he looks queer to-night,” and when
she answered, “Small wonder,” a broad grin distorted his dark face. His
bones and features, strongly carven, in conjunction with the muscularity
of his body and the perpetual silence to which he was condemned, made
him appear like a man cast in bronze. He was, moreover, singularly
still; he would sit for hours without stirring, his arms folded across
his chest; he never betrayed what he was thinking, but the others knew
that it was always about machinery. Silas, on the other hand, was far
more excitable; he was always occupied; his mind had many trains of
thought which it pursued; Nan never knew which of the two brothers she
found the more alarming, and life had become for her an uneasy effort to
conciliate them both. She had hesitated before speaking of supper; meals
seemed to accord badly with tragedy.

Silas talked unceasingly; he talked with his mouth full and many phrases
were unintelligible. Now and then he mumbled, now and then raised his
voice to a shout. He thundered assertions, and spat questions at Nan.
Gregory sat crumbling bread and sneering at her distress. She was
distressed because Silas was in one of his most uproarious moods,
launching opinions on his diverse subjects, every one of which readily
attained the proportions of an obsession in his mind; and she was
distressed further because she had all the while the alienating
sensation that her husband understood his brother better than she did,
although he could hear no word. She sat between them, eating very
little, while they ate voraciously. She was thinking of Hannah, who lay
upstairs.

Once she asked a question. “Who’ll you get, Silas, to live with you
now?”

“Linnet Morgan. He’s anxious to find handy lodgings.”

“Linnet Morgan. That’s the chap newly in charge of the scents? Would he
live with just working-people like us?”

“What’s the difference?”

Nan could not define it. She had not intended a challenge, but Silas had
a trick of treating everything as a challenge.

“He’s soft,” she said at last.

“He’ll learn not to be soft here.”

Towards the end of the supper, Silas fell into one of his silences that
were little less alarming than his speech. He sat over the range,
chewing his pipe. Nan, having cleared away the supper, made herself
small with some sewing in a corner. Gregory, looming hugely about the
low room, disposed his drawings on the table under the direct light of
the hanging lamp. They were on oiled paper, pale blue, pale pink, and
white; large sheets of exact drawings of exquisitely intricate
machinery. He bent over them, handling pencils, rulers, small compasses,
and other neat instruments of his craft with a certain and delicate
touch. He had clamped the drawings to the table with drawing pins,
holding down the curling corners, smoothing out the shine of the folds.
He was lost at once in them, forgetting both his own observant mockery
and the tragedy which had seized and shaken his relations in its rough
grasp. He was lost in his silent world of smooth-sliding precision and
perfection.

His drawing was his hobby, not his profession; he guarded it from the
outside world as a secret, and in the factory perversely clung to the
meanest and most strenuous physical labour. When his wife protested—with
more politeness than indignation—his fingers ran in emphatic oaths. When
his machines were ripe to be shown, he would lay them before the whole
board of directors; yes, he would startle those gentlemen; but until
then he would be a workman, wheeling the barrels of liquid soap to the
vats, beating and stirring it in the vats when it needed
cooling,—nothing more.

He worked under the light of the lamp, making here a dot of correction,
there a measurement of infinitesimal exactitude. His great fingers
touched as delicately as those of a painter of miniatures.

The kitchen clock ticked in the stillness.


                                   IV

Nan rose presently, heaping her sewing into her large open basket. Her
husband was still absorbed in his drawings, and Silas in his
meditations, over which he muttered and scowled. He seemed to be
conducting an argument with himself, for his lips moved, he nodded or
shook his head, and tapped his fingers upon his knee. Nan hesitated
before disturbing him. But she knew that she must warn him before she
left the room, for he could communicate with Gregory only with
difficulty. She put her hand on his shoulder.

“Eh? what’s that?” said Silas, starting; he had been very deeply lost in
his thoughts.

“I’m going to our cottage for a bit, Silas, to put things straight
there; I’ll be back presently.”

“Gregory’s here, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he’s got his drawings out on the table.”

Silas grunted, and Nan, after wrapping a muffler round her head and
mouth, let herself out of the front door.

In her own kitchen, which was identical with Silas’s in the other half
of the cottage, she stood breathing with a sense of relief. Ah! if she
might remain there! But she might not; Silas, who fought all the time
against her sympathy and her ministrations, Silas, in spite of that
ungracious ferocity, was now dependent upon her and could not be
forsaken. Responsibilities by a cruel irony thrust themselves upon her
weakness. She, who had so much need of protection, must protect.

She must not idle here.

She began rapidly clearing away the disorder of the day, raking out the
fire, and drawing the short curtains across the little windows. She took
her husband’s boots into the scullery at the back of the kitchen, and
set them ready to be cleaned the next morning. She went upstairs with a
candle, turned down the bed, drew the curtains there too, and tidied the
dressing-table. Through the partition in the next cottage was, she knew,
a similar bedroom, and in that bedroom, where Silas and Hannah had slept
every night for twenty-five years and where Hannah’s two children had
been born, the remains of Hannah now lay, covered over with a sheet, and
Hannah, brawny, loud-voiced, tyrannical towards her sister-in-law,
bullied by Silas, at times sullen and at times nosily recalcitrant
towards him, would no longer go about the house as a working-woman, her
sleeves rolled up, an apron over her dress, clattering pails and mops,
ordering stray children off her whitened doorstep. Nan had not loved
Hannah, but she thought it horrible that Hannah should be lying through
that thin partition, in the disfigurement of which the men had
whispered.

She wished that she dared arrange to sleep in another room, but Gregory
would be angry.

She finished her work as quickly as she could and returned to Silas’s
cottage; only a couple of yards separated front-door from front-door,
but, shivering, she pressed her muffler against her mouth to keep out
the fog. The light and warmth were welcome again as she slipped into the
kitchen.

Silas had not heard her. Gregory had his back to the door and did not
see her. He was still bending over his drawings, all unaware that Silas
stood near him, speaking, a wild and reckless look upon his face.

“You can’t hear me, Gregory, old man. Old brother Gregory, wrapped up in
your drawings! How much do you know, hey? How much do you guess? _I_ did
it—you know that, hey? She laughed at me—with Donnithorne. She played
the dirty on me—with Donnithorne. I hated her, but I’ve got my honour to
look after. I shan’t tell anybody, only you, old man. Tell you I did
it—hey? Don’t tell anybody, Gregory!”



                                  III


                                   I

Calthorpe and Mr. Medhurst had entered into a conspiracy to spare Silas
from attending the inquest.

As they walked away from the Denes’ cottage together, in the fog, they
did not speak for some time. They were turning the same thoughts over in
their minds as they paced side by side down the village street, seeing
the lights in the windows on either hand very dimly through the fog. The
lantern which Calthorpe carried, swaying, lit up a pale milky circle but
cast no forward ray. They were chilled; little drops of moisture
gathered on the clergyman’s eyebrows and on Calthorpe’s brown beard;
their very footfalls seemed to be muffled by the fog.

“It was warmer in Dene’s kitchen, Calthorpe!” said the clergyman at
last, handling his chilblained fingers tenderly, and then beating his
hands together in their thick woollen gloves.

“Yes, sir, but I’d sooner be out here than in that unhealthy sort of
atmosphere,—like that poor little woman. I think, if you ask me, the fog
was thicker in that room than it is out here. I scarcely liked to come
away leaving her there. I never saw any one look more out of place. And
so resigned, too; never a thought of revolt. But not glum, not pulling a
long face; that’s what touched me.”

“No doubt she enjoys sufficient philosophy and religion to accept with a
brave fortitude the lot she has herself chosen,” said Mr. Medhurst.

Calthorpe, who had been feeling slightly exalted and full of a
chivalrous emotion, the novelty of which surprised him agreeably,
thought that Mr. Medhurst laid hands of lead upon a butterfly.

“Well, I thought there was something _lighter_ about her than that,
somehow,” he said, struggling; but as the clergyman remained rigid, with
a compassionate murmur of “Poor soul!” he turned to another subject.
“Silas Dene seemed more excitable than usual, sir; they are strange
fellows, those two, and you never know how they are going to take
things. Silas’s readings work upon his mind; he’s full of queer
theories. No doubt you’ve noticed, Mr. Medhurst. First he’s off on one
hobby-horse, and then another. Politics, death, women, fate, science,
even poetry—he’s got his views on them all; not lukewarm views, or ready
to listen to argument, as you or I might be, but loud, aggressive views,
and contradiction only makes him angry. He fairly bullies the village; I
don’t know how he does it, but all the chaps are too much afraid of him
to turn upon him.” Calthorpe came at last with a rush to the real point
he had in sight, and said, “I thought his manner more than usually queer
to-night; queerer, I mean, even than the circumstances warranted?”

“Yes; his irreverence—I might almost say his blasphemy—was very painful
to hear; but we must remember, he is sorely tried.”

Calthorpe grunted.

“I wasn’t considering it, sir, only from the point of view of the
church,” he suggested.

They had reached the little gate leading to the Rectory, and Mr.
Medhurst stood with his hand on the latch. The breath of the two men
eddied like smoke in the fog above the pallid light of Calthorpe’s
lantern. Mr. Medhurst repressed his desire for the shelter of his own
study, inhospitable as it was; so faint a stirring could scarcely be
dignified by the name of desire, but such as it was he repressed it,
recognising an enemy; personal inclinations were allowed no place in a
life of monotonous mortification; his conscience ordered him to remain
out in the raw evening until Calthorpe had finished saying whatever he
might have to say, so he remained. Suavity, patience, tolerance,
impartiality; above all, no self-indulgence.

“Yes, Calthorpe?” he prompted.

“That man’s not in a fit state to attend an inquest,” the overseer
brought out.

“Ah. No, perhaps not,” said Mr. Medhurst, and then, startled, “You don’t
mean....”

“Good gracious, sir, I don’t mean anything,—only to spare the man. It’s
a clear enough case of accident,” muttered Calthorpe. “I’m only afraid
he’ll lose his head if he’s brought to the inquest; begin to rant on all
his pet topics, do himself harm very likely; be talked about; give a bad
name to the factory; perhaps lose his job. The Board is very particular.
And I can’t help having a liking for Silas Dene; he’s a sound worker,
he’s full of pluck, he doesn’t drink as many men would under his
circumstances. I can’t help having a respect for the man. He’s something
out of the ordinary. Can’t we keep him away from the inquest, Mr.
Medhurst?”

“Unfortunately, he was the last person to see his wife alive.”

“I think I can get round the coroner, sir, if you’ll back me up.”
Calthorpe was quite eager.

“I will certainly lend you my support,” said the clergyman rather
dubiously. “After all, it is a clear case of accident, as you say, and
the inquest will only be a formal affair. I suppose it is really a clear
case,” he added, “but his manner was very peculiar.”

“There now, sir,” said Calthorpe, pouncing on him, delighted to have
proved his point, “you know Silas Dene as well as I do, and we both
trust him, yet, having seen him in this state, you’re aware of the
beginnings of doubt; what about the coroner, who comes out from Lincoln,
and has never heard of Dene or his record before? I tell you, we must
keep the man away. It’s only decent, only Christian. The man’s blind in
more ways than one; we must see for him, and keep him from hitting his
head against a wall.”

“No doubt you are right; I’ll help you. Send for me when you want me,
Calthorpe; good-night.”

“Good-night, sir; thank you.”

Calthorpe hurried away with his lantern into the fog; Mr. Medhurst let
himself in at his front door. He wondered whether he had been too hasty
in leaving Calthorpe, whether he ought not to have inquired more
thoroughly into the overseer’s exact meanings. Had his wish for creature
comfort relaxed the vigilance he kept over his conscience? In any case,
it was too late now for regrets. With a sigh he laid his coat, his
clerical hat, his muffler and his gloves on the sideboard in his narrow
hall, and, passing into his study, held a match to the gas-jet above his
table. A small pop of explosion resulted in a thin blue flame. No fire
burnt in the grate; Mr. Medhurst never permitted himself a fire until
seven o’clock in the evening, and by the clock he saw that it was only
half-past six. He blew upon his fingers, trying to warm them. For a few
moments he knelt in prayer for guidance at his black horsehair sofa,
then, rising, he drew his chair up to the writing-table and began to
deal, methodically, with a pile of his papers. He had pigeon-holed Silas
Dene already in the files of his mind.


                                   II

Silas Dene came to the inquest in spite of Calthorpe’s intervention, Mr.
Medhurst’s collaboration, and the coroner’s acquiescence.

He had agreed not to come; he had been surly and ungracious, but finally
had given his consent and had even added a word of conventional
gratitude. He had given a written affidavit, which was read at the
inquest before his arrival. All evidence had been taken, that of Dene’s
mates, of the driver of the truck-train,—the fog had been very thick at
the level-crossing, and he couldn’t see five yards ahead of him,—that of
the shunters who had found the body lying across the rails. All had gone
smoothly in unbroken formality; the inquest was held in the village
concert-room, with the body lying next door; Calthorpe was there, Mr.
Medhurst, a representative of the board of directors, and many of the
factoryhands who out of curiosity had interpolated themselves as
possible witnesses; the proceedings were nearly over, and the verdict
about to be pronounced, when after a fumbling at the door Silas Dene
appeared suddenly in the room.

He was alone, and in the unfamiliar room he stood stock still, solitary,
detached and startling; isolated as a man who has vast spaces around
him, regardless of the cheap pitch-pine walls that actually confined
him. He was bare-headed, in his working-clothes, as rugged as the bole
of a storm-wrecked tree on the borders of a great plain. All gazed at
him, and the coroner ceased speaking.

Silas broke the silence to say, in a restrained but threatening voice,—

“Is this the inquest?—I came here by myself,” he went on; “I was in the
shops. I know Mr. Calthorpe persuaded me not to come. Then I changed my
mind. I thought I’d like to hear for myself. Will some one take me to a
place?”

They were amazed at his feat of travelling unescorted from the shops
where he worked, to the heart of the village, and mysteriously this
achievement increased their fear of him, enriching it with a bar of
superstition. Calthorpe led him to a central chair, near the coroner, so
that he stood in the middle of the room, with his hand on the back of
the chair. He would not sit.

“This is very irregular,” said the coroner, “I know of no precedent for
this, but of course there is no reason why Dene should not attend the
rest of the inquest if he wishes. There will be no need for me to call
him as a witness now; he attends as a spectator only. Dene, your
affidavit was read earlier in the proceedings.”

“I want to speak,” said Silas.

“If there is anything you want to say, Dene....”

Silas stood erect at his full height, ignoring the chair to which he had
been led; he had on his most truculent expression. Calthorpe was
dismayed, but knew his own impotence. There was a natural force in Silas
that was not to be thwarted. He made other men seem puny; only his
brother Gregory matched him, and Gregory was not there.

“I’d like to hear the verdict returned first, if you’ve reached it,”
said Silas.

The coroner shrugged his shoulders, annoyed and perplexed, then said,—

“Perhaps that would be as well. With the returning of the verdict the
inquest is over, and anything you may like to say afterwards will be in
the nature of a private address, not one held in a coroner’s court.”

He put the usual questions, and a verdict of “Death by Misadventure,”
was returned, with a rider of sympathy to the widower “in the peculiarly
sad circumstances of his bereavement.”

“Death by Misadventure,” Silas repeated slowly; everybody listened in
greedy anticipation; the accident and the inquest both provided
succulent material for the curiosity of the vulgar, and to batten upon
the exposed passions of a fellow-being—and that fellow-being a Dene!—was
an excitement, a treat, albeit an alarming treat, full of surprise and
of that quality of danger never very far removed from all manifestations
of the Denes. The audience bent forward, with a slight rasping of
chair-legs on the wooden floor; they gazed at Silas as though he were an
animal at bay, devouring him all the more shamelessly that they knew he
could neither see them nor read the unthinking hunger on their faces. He
was the centre of mystery and alarm in the village, emerging from his
darkness and seclusion only to terrorise. Celebrated as an orator at the
village debating society, the men never knew whether to regard him as a
leader, an enemy, or an ally. But here his heart, and not his theories,
was concerned!

His first words startled them beyond their hopes of gratification,—

“Are you so sure?” He had intoned, but now, seeking effect with the
skill of a natural speaker, he dropped his voice a full octave as he
swung out into the current of his theme, “It seems to me a paltry sort
of thing, to die by misadventure. A paltry ending, to be taken away
willy-nilly, like a brat from a party! Why, a man might be leaving many
things incompleted, many things he had set his heart on doing before he
died. Death by misadventure! I wouldn’t set much store by the man that
couldn’t look after his own life better than that, owning himself the
sport when he ought to be the master. It’s a shameful thing to be
beaten. It’s a shameful thing to give up your right of choice. Death by
misadventure! a blunder, a clumsy mismanagement, a failure to carry
through to the end, that’s all.”

His audience was amazed at the scorn he contrived to infuse into what
was, to them, nothing but a trumped-up thesis. They could not admit that
this unexpected, unnecessary, far-fetched thesis could be anything other
than trumped-up. Even Silas Dene, full of surprising opinions as he was,
could not, with the longest plumb-line, have discovered such an opinion
as this anchored in the wells of his heart. He must be joking at their
expense—deluding himself, perhaps, in his effort to delude them. A
practical joker, Silas; even, it would appear, over his wife’s body!

He had paused after his preamble, gathered all his thoughts up into his
grip, and began to deal them out to his audience.

“Suicide, now—there’s nobility in that. That’s grand. That’s escape;
true escape from a prison. The man who doesn’t care a damn for his own
life is no prisoner. I call him the contemptuous man. He’s a conquerer;
he’s free. How many of you have got that freedom? and how many have got
snivelling, timorous little spirits that cling on to their miserable
breath as a treasure? So long as you do that you’re bound slaves and
prisoners. There’s no escape for you.

“You’re angry? I shouldn’t bait you and gibe at you? Every one of you is
man enough to live up to my principles? Well, the floods are out;
they’re handy; there’s nothing to prevent any one of you from proving
his manhood and his independence. The floods over the fields, and
there’s the Wash for anybody who’d like something a bit deeper.”

He launched this invitation at them with a trivial insolence. “He’s
mad,” they said, and shrugged, crossing their arms in resignation, but
they were troubled for all that; he was poking fun at them, a grim kind
of fun, and their annoyance increased as they remembered his superiority
over them: one couldn’t answer Silas Dene, he had read too many books,
he returned fire with too many arguments and quotations. He stood there
now, apparently ready to go on talking for ever, his only difficulty
abiding in the variety of his topics, which to choose and which to
discard. A little smile played across his lips as he paused, mentally
turning over his wares, and surveying the audience which he could not
see.

“That’s suicide. I see no reason why the man who, so to speak, has
always got his finger on the trigger of his revolver and the muzzle of
the revolver tapping between his teeth, should fear any pain or hazard.
He has his way of escape always open. But there’s a braver man than
that,” he said loudly, “the man who abstains from the death he doesn’t
fear. Not from religion, not from thoughts of the hereafter; simply from
contempt of the easy path. Too proud to avail himself of the remedy he
has at hand. All of you who have troubles,” he said, pointing his finger
at them and letting it range from side to side, sweeping across their
rows as they sat, “wouldn’t you like to shake off those troubles by the
easy way? never to suffer any more? to leave the responsibility to
others?”

They could scarcely believe that a few minutes previously he had been
inviting them to cast themselves into the floods.

“I should roar with derision at the man who killed himself to escape his
pain,” he went on, as though possessed by a demon of mockery, a cold
demon that enjoyed goading their bewilderment. Mr. Medhurst frankly
thought him diabolic; Calthorpe wondered whether he was in his right
mind. “I have the right to speak of it,” he exclaimed, suddenly angry;
“I spend my life in darkness; let any one dare to say that I have got no
right to speak of pain! I don’t complain or ask for pity; I don’t want
pity, I’ll fight against pity so long as I have breath, your pity
insults me. But I can speak, because I know death as well as any man who
has once stood on the gallows with the rope round his neck and been
reprieved at the last moment. I’ve leant across the border like one
leans across a ditch, and touched fingers with death, and then drawn
back my hand. You can’t say as much. But shall I tell you something?” he
added sombrely. “I mistrust myself, whether I have that true freedom; am
I truly the contemptuous man? I wonder! but I wonder without very much
confidence.”

They were impressed, and as he ceased speaking they remained very still;
the men thought “Poor devil!” and the women shivered. Calthorpe saw that
Nan was straining forward in her place, her breath coming quickly, and
her eyes full of tears. As she caught his glance she murmured, “Oh, can
no one get him away?” but Calthorpe shook his head, for Silas had
already begun to speak again.


                                  III

“That’s for suicide, and that’s against suicide, and the more you think
about it the more you’ll be obliged to think about it. Then there’s
another thing to think about and talk about: murder.”

This time his audience was really startled; Nan gave a cry, and
Calthorpe saw that she had grown pale, and that deep lines had appeared
at either corner of her mouth. He made a movement to go and sit beside
her, but at the same time Linnet Morgan shifted into a chair just behind
her, and whispered to her over her shoulder, so Calthorpe remained where
he was. Mr. Medhurst got up and pointedly left the building. The coroner
coughed and said, “Really, Dene, you know....”

“I thought you told me, sir,” said Silas in his most insolent manner,
“that this would cease to be a coroner’s court after the verdict had
been returned?” The coroner made no answer to this, but began turning
over his papers in order to conceal his annoyance, and after waiting a
minute Silas continued, “Murder.... No one will deny that there’s as
much courage in murder as in suicide. Oh, not in the actual fact, I
grant—many of you would say there’s no courage, but only a sort of
brutal cowardice, in murdering a man unawares, or worse still in
murdering a woman,—no courage needed to push a woman under a train!—no,
there’s no courage in the actual fact, but what about the forethought of
it? the first idea, the scheming and the planning, the daily watching of
the chosen victim, hey? you must come to a grand pitch of hatred before
you can look at warm living limbs and think ‘I’ll turn you to the cold
of death!’ Life’s great; I’ve a great respect for life. Life’s rich and
warm and manifold, and lies outside the bestowal of man. That’s why I’ve
so high a regard for life: there’s wealth in it, that we can’t bestow
the same as we can take away. That’s why I say there’s courage in murder
just as there is in suicide,—courage in assuming that liability.

“And consider the afterwards,—the courage in keeping silent afterwards.
The man would be living with a secret that took him by the arm as he
walked down the street, whispering in his ear, and that snatched bits
off his fork at meal-time as he lifted the fork to his mouth,—a playful
familiar secret. It’d jolt his elbow at the first sign of forgetfulness.
It’d come out with him on Sundays, jaunty.... He’d know that by a word
he could turn his invisible mate into a visible thing for every man to
see. The deed wouldn’t be finished with the moment the deed was done. Oh
no! Crime would be easy enough to the man who had no memory. But memory
has long wiry fingers to prod us under the ribs....

“Soberly,” he continued changing his voice, “let us think: it would be
simple for any one to murder my wife. They could do it in my presence;
I’m blind; I should be none the wiser. Let us suppose that, after she
left me at the shops that day, some one had seized on her and dragged
her away towards the level crossing; she could have held out her arms
towards me for rescue, but I should have known nothing—nothing! That’s
all perfectly plausible. But who should have had a sufficient grudge
against my wife? I’m going through the names....”

A real protest was about to be raised against this hideous
entertainment, when a commotion arose:—Nan Dene had fainted.


                                   IV

“Not surprising!” said the woman in commiseration, peering at her where
she lay on the floor, “pore little soul!” “Better get her home,” said
the men, and meanwhile the representative of the directors’ board took
Silas firmly away from the hall. “Where’s Gregory?” asked some one; “At
the factory,” some one else replied, and Calthorpe, pushing through the
throng, said “Here, let me carry her.” “Mr. Morgan’s got her, sir,” said
a voice, and Calthorpe saw Morgan rising from his knees with Nan
drooping limply in his arms.

Great indignation was expressed against Silas as the factoryhands came
in little groups out into the street. In the wan January sunlight Nan
was already being hurried away in Morgan’s careful clasp towards her own
cottage, followed by two women. Silas was on the opposite side of the
street, his back against a house, in an attitude of defiance, talking to
the director, who looked restrainedly indignant. Silas called out
suddenly, pointing with his finger across the street, “Oh, I can hear
you whispering! why not say it out loud: Silas Dene ought to be
suppressed? but I’ve been a good friend to you in strikes and troubles,
and it’s always been, ‘Get Silas Dene to speak for us.’...”

“Hush, hush, Dene!” said the director; “you’re not quite yourself; walk
up and down with me for a little.” He took Silas by the arm and forced
him to walk up and down, talking to him all the time in an earnest and
persuasive undertone. The men and women lingered in their groups about
the concert-room door, whispering together and watching Silas, but
Calthorpe came amongst them and ordered them away. He was peremptory and
irritable as they had rarely seen him.



                                   IV


                                   I

The fog persisted, turning the world to a strange and muffled place, and
seeming by its secrecy to favour the evil deeds of men. Within its
shroud a man bent on dark purposes might creep unobserved by his
fellow-beings. It could be imagined to breed such purposes, as miasmic
places breed fantastic lights and unwholesome growths. It was the more
oppressive because it had no tangible weight; only the moral weight, and
the obscuring of vision. It was a foul-playing foe, insidious and
feline, not to be lifted by strength, or countered by resistance. It was
stealthily horrible, as the destroyer of clarity, setting itself mutely
but quite implacably against all bright and manifest things, against the
proclamation of the sun and the sweet glory of the breeze. Like an
influence that intentionally confuses clear thought and strong
endeavour, discolouring all that is pure, fostering all that is obscure
and fungoid, it made more difficult the road of the traveller, and,
waiting ever outside the doors of houses, tried to slip in its
unwholesome presence through any crack of door opened to admit it. It
wreathed strangely around the corners of houses so entered. The
inhabitants of Abbot’s Etchery spoke of it as a living thing. “He’s
terrible thick to-day,” they said, or else, “He’s not thinking of going
away from us as yet.”


                                   II

On the higher ground beyond the marshes the air was clear from fog. Here
were knolls surmounted by clumps of beech-wood, the ground beneath the
trees rusty with last year’s leaves, and the trunks of the beeches
themselves bare, lofty, and processional, their clubbed heads shaven
against the winter sky. From these knolls one looked down over the brown
mirror of the floods, that surrounded the block of the village with the
factory and the ancient abbey, and that were crossed until the eye lost
it in distance by the great dyke carrying the road and the perspective
of stark telegraph poles. But this was only when the fog had lifted.
When the fog lay heavy, one looked down upon a white plain of cloud,
blackened by a great smear and a fading trail where the smoke of the
factory-chimneys rose to mix with it (the chimneys whose summits
sometimes reared themselves through the fog like three giant fingers),
and concealing beneath it who could tell what stress and labour, what
hope or suffering, what secrecy of purpose, what web of mingled and
obscurely tending lives?

On the higher ground amongst the beeches stood the big Georgian house
belonging to Malleson, a director of the factory and local squire of the
district. It was built to turn its back upon the flooded region, and
from the front windows and colonnaded façade the view stretched away
over the gentle rise and fall of the midland country, the dun fields,
clumps of bare trees, grey sky, and cawing rooks,—a landscape in dead
and uneventful levels. Malleson was very well satisfied with it. His
wife was not. Malleson found satisfaction in the dark tangle of the
sleeping hedgerow and the dying brake, and was happy if with gun and
spaniel he might wait at the top of a ride for the bolt of a rabbit, or
might stand watching woodcutters at their cleavage, and, passing on,
come upon a plough-team of his own horses straining across the shoulder
of a hill under a wide heaven. He was content to lean over a gate
looking across a bean-field, for so long a while that, like some
animals, he took on the colour of his surroundings; a hare ran amongst
the beans, sat listening upon its haunches, then ran again a little
farther; a jay flashed blue between two clumps of hawthorn,—but
Malleson, whose interest was professional, and who would never have
owned to a more sentimental satisfaction, did not like jays in his woods
any better than the presence of hares among his young beans.

Christine Malleson, his wife, hated the country, hated the Midlands,
hated Malleson Place, Malleson’s spaniel, Malleson’s friends, Malleson’s
relations, clothes, politics, point of view, position in the county,
religion, appearance, conversation, and occupations. The only thing she
liked about him was his money. In very early days, fifteen years ago,
before she knew better, she had given him a son; but in the horror of
that one experience,—which had, progressively, infringed upon her
comfort, outraged her vanity, terrified her nearly out of her wits in
one brief concentrated nightmare, and finally drawn down upon her the
irony of Malleson’s joy, and of remarks designed to please her, smiling,
congratulatory, immemorial, consecrated, fatuous,—all that had taught
her never to allow the experiment to be repeated. The months that
Malleson obliged her to spend in the country were one long sulky
lassitude; she rarely set foot beyond the garden, and in cool weather
spent her days in overheated rooms; discontented and fastidious, picking
up a book, reading the beginning, and, if that interested her, turning
to read the end, but always too languid to read the middle; sleeping on
her sofa after luncheon, resting after tea, amusing herself by frequent
change of clothes, sometimes staring out of the window while her
be-ringed hand held back the muslin curtain, watching for the post that
might cheer her by bringing some phrase of flattery or homage, after
which event remained only the long empty hours before she found herself,
arrived there by some monotonous law of routine, sitting at dinner
opposite Malleson.

She never listened to what he said, and indeed when they were alone he
spoke very little. She usually leaned her head upon her hand as though
she were weary, a head of lovely shape, drooping gracefully; and picked
at burnt almonds, or held a cigarette to her lips, for she had a habit
that maddened Malleson, of smoking almost throughout a meal. It maddened
him, yet he owned that his wife was a very graceful woman, sitting there
languid, spoilt, indefinably but flowingly dressed, a woman unlike the
wives of other country squires, and within his very scrupulous heart he
contested that he preferred her thus, that a woman was designed as an
ornament, not for the sturdier business of companionship. He knew that
she despised him, and, humble, accepted her estimate, ranging himself
low, not putting into the opposite balance the esteem in which men held
him. Having long since ceased to think that his conversation might
attract her attention, only his loyalty withheld him from admitting to
himself that he looked forward to the relief of the moment when she
would nod to him and trail out of the room, and he might throw his legs
over the arm of his chair with a pipe and a book until he began to
reflect it was time for him to go to bed.


                                  III

She listened to him, however, while he told her about the inquest he had
that day attended. She had volunteered an inquiry, and when he said in
mild surprise, “My dear, it never occurred to me to mention it, because
I know you don’t care much for the factory,” she replied, “You may as
well tell me,” thinking how little discrimination he showed between the
things that might interest her and those that could not possibly be
expected to do so, “Emma said something about it while I was dressing.”
“Gossip, of course,” he said, restrained but displeased, and she
shrugged and murmured, “Prig....”

In the end he told her, though without enthusiasm; and the story stirred
the rather stagnant pool of her curiosity. One or two of his phrases,
pronounced meditatively, had put her on the scent of something unusual,
something that might while away a portion of the dreary time, though
calling for very little effort on her part,—she could not endure the
idea of effort. “He speaks like an educated man,” her husband had said
of the blind factory-hand, “or a great deal better than most educated
men speak, and I believe he is entirely self-taught. It appears that he
has a hunger for books.... And a born speaker, like some of those
ranting parsons one hears sometimes talking to a crowd from a tub. All
the makings of a demagogue. I should like to assist at one of his
performances at the debating society; Calthorpe gives me to understand
that they’re remarkable. He’s full of ideas—Utopian mostly—exposes them
ably, works them out in both scope and detail, convinces his audience,
or at any rate stirs them—and then demolishes the whole fabric—out of
pure devilry. I wonder what the fellow’s mind is like inside? A black
business, I should fancy!”

“I have heard of him before,” said Lady Malleson.

“I dare say he is merely a disgruntled Socialist,” said Malleson, who
was already ashamed of having been led away into such speculative
wordiness.


                                   IV

In the waste of hours, after that, she found her thoughts revolving
constantly around her preconception of Silas Dene. At first she smiled
indulgently to herself when she encountered that unknown but quite
definitely conceived figure, again erect and motionless in the
foreground of her mental vision; then she grew resentful of the unknown
man who so imposed himself upon her attention, like a grave and
persistent apparition, bending upon her his unfaltering gaze. So long as
he remained an evocation, she could toy with him; fit theories on to
him, like an artist draping a lay figure. She diverted herself greatly
by thinking him out at leisure, ordering and re-ordering the procession
of her ideas; it was true that she had heard but little about him, yet
her theories were clearly formulated: he must be a self-conscious man,
humorously so perhaps, (she was not yet certain on the score of his
humour, trying whether she liked him best with or without it), but in
any case alarmingly so; but whether he had control over the trend of his
life, as would seem to be indicated by his raising himself by his own
effort above the intellectual level of his class, or the trend of his
life over him, she was unable to decide. Was he that being for whom in
her discontented, languid, tentative way she always sought,—for in her
endlessly renewed hours of idleness she dallied, not unintelligently,
with a little practical philosophy,—was he, might he be, that being who
lived in perfect consciousness, viewing each incident of life in instant
proportion, not condemned to wait for the slow drawing out of years into
perspective, but calm, secluded, not so inhuman as to escape the passing
ruffle of moods, nor so unreceptive as to escape the stimulus of new
influences, but on the whole sternly planned, continuous, progressive,
working towards a goal, not drifting towards some end unknown and
concealed within the uncertainty of mists? This apprehension, this
quality of being aware, was by Christine Malleson so greatly envied,
because it was in herself so totally lacking. What did she upon earth?
what track would she leave, did she hope to leave? she could not have
replied. Would she find in a blind factory-hand that rarest
illumination, flung like a straight ray along a dark road,—clearness and
wholeness of vision? She knew without being told that he would prove a
man of strong opinions; that much might be said of many men, but would
he have taken the further step, and welded the scattered material into a
system, that could be a weapon of defence or offence, a pix so ably
constructed as to appraise the worth of coin both large and small? Was
he of that calibre? She thought, potentially yes. She raised her
cigarette to her lips, watching the slim blue trail of smoke that rose
without wavering in the warm air of the draughtless room. Silas Dene,
surely, smoked a pipe, of pungent black tobacco, and along with the
specific picture of him ramming in the shreds, she played with the idea
of herself as the wife or the mistress of such a man; he would be the
experiment in a fine but natural metal, dross and dirt mingled with the
gold of the nugget. She allowed herself to drift with the current of
this amusement; she was alone, none could read her thoughts, a new
luxury was precious to her appetite wearied by ennui, and she had the
frankness of acknowledging to herself her craving for any new sensation.
She smoked in long inhalations, more concerned with the thought of what
she might do to Silas Dene than with the apprehension of what Silas Dene
might do to her. She would like to bewilder that man. She would like to
test his arrogance, break it if she could. She would like to prove to
him that his control of life was based upon no true security. It could
not be so based; no poor human could be truly immune. They might think
themselves immune until the storm came along. Should she play this
experiment, under the guise of Lady Bountiful, on Silas Dene? Should she
indulge her curiosity at his expense? The first unseemliness of the idea
passed away with surprising ease. He would help her to get through the
weary country months. She had tried her hand at most things, this would
be something new; something, therefore, amusing....



                                   V


                                   I

Calthorpe came often to see the Denes after the inquest; no one could
have been kinder, more considerate, or more attentive than Calthorpe.

No doubt the Denes would have preferred to keep out Calthorpe, as they
had kept out every one else, but he was the overseer, and they tolerated
him.

He came on Saturday afternoons, on Sundays, and sometimes on ordinary
week-days, during the evening.

He would spend a little time talking to Silas, and then he would knock
at Nancy’s door and ask her for confidential information.

“Nobody can tell me so well how Silas is getting on as you can, Mrs.
Dene,” he would say; “may I come in for a minute?” or else “would you
stroll down the road?”

Nan never strolled down the road, but she always let him into her
kitchen and gave him a chair beside the fire. Sometimes her husband was
there, sometimes he was not, but in either case he could not affect the
conversation. Nan told Calthorpe one day how it had taken her a little
while to become accustomed to the disabilities of the brothers, and to
remember that whereas Silas could hear and speak but could not see,
Gregory could see but could neither hear nor speak.

“I used to stop and think; now of course I know without thinking. And
really you wouldn’t believe how one can get on with Gregory: I talk to
him with my fingers like I talk to you with my tongue, it’s no bother.
He’s very quick, too, at understanding.”

Calthorpe had already noticed that she never lost an opportunity of
praising her husband and advertising her own contentment. She was more
reticent about her brother-in-law, and when once Calthorpe asked her
why, she replied after a slight hesitation.

“Silas can speak for himself; he doesn’t need any one to speak for him.”

“He can certainly speak!” said Calthorpe. “Do you remember how he
startled us all at the inquest? why, by the time he’d finished, half the
folk were wondering whether they shouldn’t throw themselves into the
floods, and the other half whether they shouldn’t go home and strangle
their families!”

It was the first time he had directly mentioned the inquest to Nan, and
he did so now in full recollection of the effect Silas’s speech had had
upon her. He had hesitated long over the problem whether he should ever
allude to it or no, but recognising the subject as the shadow always in
the background of their talks, he had decided to attack it openly, his
intent, as usual, kindly.

“It’s worried you a good deal, I know,” he added.

“Oh,” she began,—he knew that little “Oh,” by which she prefaced her
remarks and which always betrayed her nervousness,—“Oh, I don’t think we
ought to talk about it, do you?”

“You mean, you don’t want to talk about it?”

She got up in a restless way, and busied herself with a vase of wild
flowers upon the dresser, turning herself so that her face was hidden
from him.

“Mrs. Dene, you don’t want to talk about it?”

“Oh, don’t _drive_ me, please,” she murmured, in a voice full of
distress.

Calthorpe was very remorseful to feel that he had been the cause of this
distress, and he came over to the dresser where she stood arranging the
flowers.

“Very well; of course we will never speak of it again,” he said, trying
to soothe her, but knowing that if his repentance took too affectionate
a form she would immediately shy away from him. “What are you doing with
those flowers? look, you have upset some of the water! here’s my
handkerchief to mop it up with.”

As she took the handkerchief he saw that there were tears on her cheek,
as clear as the drops of water she had spilt from the flowers; but with
his large, rough tact he pretended not to notice.

“Where did you find so many flowers, this time of year? Primroses in
February! Catkins, of course, and grasses, and a sprig of plum
blossom....”

“And some wild violets,” she said, showing him. “Smell them, how sweet!”

“Well, I wish I had somebody like you to put flowers about my place,” he
said in a rush of sentiment.

“Will you take these? Yes, please!” crushing them, all wet as they were,
into his hands. “I got them in a copse over by Thorpe’s Howland last
Sunday, I walked over there....”

“What, by yourself?”

“No, with Silas and Mr. Morgan; it was Gregory’s Sunday on at the
factory. We started after dinner, Silas was in a good temper, and I was
happy to get away from the floods for a bit. You know, there’s a belt of
higher ground away there to the south, which never gets flooded. It was
nice to see the green again, and to go through woods where the trees
didn’t stand with their roots soaking and rotting in water. I hate the
floods, they’re so cruel; cruel in a dull, flat sort of way.... Gregory
likes them; they make him grin. Of course, Silas can’t see them, but if
he could I’m certain he’d like them too; he’s always asking me to tell
him just what they’re like. But that Sunday he’d forgotten about them.
He was as cheerful as could be, repeating poetry all the time as we went
along the lanes; he kept stopping and saying “Now listen to this!” and
waving time with his stick as he recited, and Mr. Morgan kept capping
what he said, and they laughed a lot, trying to outdo each other.” She
smiled at the recollection, leaning with her back against the dresser;
then Calthorpe saw the smile disappear from her lips as though at
another darker remembrance, and the scared look came into her eyes.

“Well?” he prompted.

“Oh. Well, then we went on till we got to Thorpe’s Howland, and we made
Silas sit under a beech-tree while we looked for primroses....”

“You and Linnet Morgan?”

“Yes, I and Mr. Morgan. Silas sat under the tree for a bit, pulling up
the moss all round him; then he got up and leant against the tree-trunk,
saying more poetry; Shakespeare, I think it was. Mr. Morgan beckoned to
me to come and listen, so we crept up on tiptoe, and Silas went on like
that for about half an hour; I don’t know how he manages to keep it all
in his head. I don’t like it so much when he starts his poetry in the
kitchen, but in the wood it seemed all right; it might have been part of
the wood,” she said, lowering her voice and hanging her head with her
pretty, sudden shyness, and scrutinising her finger nails.

“How do you mean: part of the wood?”

“Well,—there was a lot of patchy sunlight on the ground, coming through
the trees, and the moss that Silas had torn up smelt bitter,—like
earth,—and the primroses smelt soft and sweet. There was the sort of big
sand-pit in the bank, where we had picked them. There were the trees, so
gray and naked. There was Silas,—Mr. Morgan whispered to me that Silas
looked like a tree himself, a tree that had been blasted by lightning,
and when he said that, I saw he was right; even Silas’s arms, waving
about, were like the branches.”

“Well, well!” said Calthorpe, scratching his chin.

“Mr. Morgan’s like a son to Silas already,” she went on; “he’s gay with
him, and he’s as gentle as a woman. He’s never put out by Silas’s
ways—never seems to notice them, in fact. And Silas likes him because he
can talk to him by the hour about all the things he thinks about and
reads about.”

“But Silas always talks to everybody.”

“Yes, he’s so greedy for an audience that he’ll put up with never
getting a sensible answer, sooner than not talk at all. But Mr. Morgan’s
got education; he’ll argue with Silas; he’s like a whetstone to a knife.
He’ll get Silas into a proper excited rage, and then laugh, and Silas
takes it in good part. It was a grand day when he came to live in the
cottage.”

“Yes,—well, I must be going,” said Calthorpe, moving away, and he went
after a rather sulky good-bye, very unlike his usual friendliness and
promises to come again.


                                   II

Nan stood still, with a finger to her lip, after he had gone, then she
opened the door and ran quickly after him. He heard her steps, and her
voice calling his name and, turning, he saw her, a bright flushed spot
on each small cheek-bone, with strands of dark hair blowing across her
face.

“Oh, Mr. Calthorpe, I haven’t offended you, have I?”

(“How tiny she is, and how concerned she looks!” he thought, and nearly
laughed with tenderness.)

“Bless me, no, my dear!” he said, patting her arm as one might pat a
child’s.

“I’m so glad; I was afraid ... you went away so suddenly.... You forgot
the flowers; here, I’ve brought them.” She held them out, and continued
to look anxiously up into his face. “Sure I didn’t say anything to
offend you—sure?”

“Sure! you’re very sweet,” he said, taking the flowers.

“You’ve been so kind; I think you’re my best friend,” she said
impulsively, and she put her hand on his cuff. “I must go back now—but
you’re not cross, are you?”

“Not a bit; not in the very least.”

He walked away shaking his head rather ruefully.

“She won’t come for an ordinary stroll with me of an evening, yet she
tears after me without a hat or a coat, all upset, for anybody to see!
She’s got a good heart.... She’s never herself when those Denes are
about. But when she’s herself she’s just as sweet as she can be. Poor
little thing! Am I a fool to go there?” and thinking these thoughts he
hurried on, carrying the flowers she had given him.


                                  III

He continued, however, to go there, but he made his visits more rare,
reflecting, with a shade of surprise at his own considerateness, that it
would be doing her a bad turn to cause gossip in the village. He was,
after all, the overseer, while she was only the wife of a factory-hand
and a factory-hand herself, so that he could not visit the Denes as
another man might, on a footing of equality. The death of Silas’s wife
had given him an excuse at first for frequenting the double cottage, but
that affair was now a month old, and was already beginning to be
forgotten in the rude world of the factory-village, where accidents were
more or less common. Silas himself never alluded to it. He seemed, as
Nan had said, to live in comparative content with Linnet Morgan. Linnet
Morgan was young, educated, and extremely clever; and so merry that
Silas’s dark moods usually ended by being dispelled before his laughter.
Linnet Morgan seemed, in fact, to have taken charge of Silas’s life.

So much, Calthorpe thought, for Linnet Morgan.

But Nan,—ah! Nan was winning and tantalising, demure sometimes and
sometimes impetuous; Nan was shy but confiding; little and sweet and
windblown; and Calthorpe tried to feel large and fatherly towards Nan.
She evidently welcomed him, gave him his chair by the fire; then went
about her occupations, stopping to chatter when she felt inclined,
asking him his opinion with her pretty head held on one side and her
hands on her hips, singing over her work,—adopting him very much, in
fact, as an inmate of her household. This method might put him at his
ease, but it also mortified him. She accepted his visits with a lack of
self-consciousness, he sometimes thought, that would have been
mortifying to any man. He supposed that Gregory was fond of her, but the
difficulty of communicating with Gregory rendered too tedious the effort
of discovering his thoughts. Calthorpe usually nodded pleasantly to
Gregory, and left their acquaintance at that. He thought Gregory a
sneering, sour kind of fellow, jealously wrapped up in his machinery; he
would not let Calthorpe look at his designs, but covered them over with
both hands outspread, when once the overseer bent with a friendly
interest over his shoulder.

But Nan,—no, never had Calthorpe blundered across so delectable a being
as Nan. He cursed himself for having hitherto overlooked the grace and
delicacy which set her so apart from the other working women; he cursed
himself anew each time he watched her as she hung muslin curtains across
her windows, or arranged and re-arranged her wild flowers upon the
dresser. He had to make his observations for himself, for she told him
nothing; she did not tell him how she wilted daily as she passed through
the factory on her way to her own work, which lay among the heaps of
white powder and the myriads of little scent-bottles, and was congenial
to her,—soft powder, coloured boxes, gilt labels, pretty cut-glass, and
a constant rainbow of ribbons. She snipped them with her scissors,
sitting on a high stool before the table, in company with rows of other
girls, all in blue overalls; and the ends of ribbon fell in a scatter of
confetti around her. She noticed everything that the other girls did not
notice. They only lifted their heads to gape at the visitors who were
being taken over the factory, but Nan, gentle, uncommenting, and
inwardly blandished, dwelt with pleasure upon the bright lightness of
the big room, upon the pale sunlight that fell on the bent heads of the
girls,—some of them had fair, sleek hair that looked like spun silk in
the sun,—upon the powdery cleanliness of the floor, and the scrubbed
expanse of the tables between the armies of shining little bottles. She
hated the rest of the factory, that smelt and smoked and clanked; but
this one room approached her secret vision of diaphaneity and
seemliness.


                                   IV

For who amongst men and women lives without the secret vision of some
spot, either known or merely conjectural, whether of red moors or
sheltered meadows, mirrored coasts or battlemented mountains? Hers was a
pitifully simple dream. Sun and water, and always light: light
everywhere, streaming and pouring in, because light to her meant
happiness. The house must be small, the rooms low; size alarmed her. She
would be too timid to dwell beneath vaulted roofs. In her mind she knew
its geography intimately, and the disposal of its garden; it stood in
the heart of undulating cornlands, not very far from the sea. She had
never seen it. And with whom she shared it she did not know. Certainly
not with Gregory. Gregory’s exclusion was not deliberate; it was
unthinking, and, had it been put to her in words, might have perplexed
and dismayed her; nevertheless, it was a fact that Gregory’s step never
sounded upon the tiles of her dream-passage, nor did his belongings lie
in the litter of joint-proprietorship about the rooms.


                                   V

Instead of this she was given flooded, low-lying country, a dark and
ancient abbey, and the clanging factory served by fire and iron. She
shuddered at the cranes which discharged the coal from the slow
canal-barges of the factory’s private canal. She compared the barges to
beetles, and the cranes that poised above them, to the pincer-armed
antennæ of some gigantic spider, descending to devour. When they pivoted
slowly with their dangling burdens, she shrank, thinking that the cable
must break, either from accident or mischief, and drop the weight upon
the men below. She thought the factory would relish that. She never went
near the canal wharves or the railway line if she could possibly avoid
it, but sometimes she had to take Silas to the “shops”—the packing sheds
where he worked, and which were near the railway. He seemed often to ask
her to take him there since Hannah had died, and on the way there he
would talk about the accident. Nan was unable to answer. She led him
conscientiously, holding her black shawl about her head with her free
hand, and turning her profile away from him; but though she was careful
of his steps she could never force an answer between her lips. No, not
if she had known that he would guess his secret had been surprised;
nothing could have loosened her response,—yet her terror of him was
extreme. She had often to constrain herself from crying out. He walked
boldly, really knowing the way without her guidance, and talking in a
loud voice, swinging his arms, so that sometimes people stopped to stare
at him. He rehearsed and repeated every detail of that day, making a
grievance that he had not known of his wife’s death until three hours
after its occurrence, and Nan shuddered, wondering how he could infuse
so much vehemence into a lie. Had he perhaps persuaded himself of its
truth? But she little knew the rotations moving in his brain, that dwelt
upon the murder as a vindication of his own cunning and courage. That
was a deed planned and executed by no bungler and no coward! He
delighted fearfully in its elaboration. With every phrase he was risking
a slip, as a man walking in a dangerous place risks his limbs with every
step. True, he held Nan in contempt, but she did well enough for him to
practice on; any suspicion that might raise its head in her mind could
easily be laid again by his inventive brain. And after she had left him,
he felt flattered and gratified by his own daring.


                                   VI

A coward! was he a coward? Surely a blind man had very little choice;
deeds of danger were debarred from him, but Silas dwelt amorously upon
such deeds—courage pre-eminent amongst the high attributes that
fascinated, baffled, and angered him.

By a twist of his brain, through his blindness, courage meant light.
Courage shone. It allured him, so that he turned constantly round the
image. There was nothing moral about this allurement, it was as pagan as
any cult of beauty. Courage moreover—physical courage—carried with it
the thought of death, which to his egoism was so supremely and morbidly
entrancing. That he should cease to be?... he could never adopt this
idea. He went up to it, and fingered it, but its clammy touch revolted
him, and he violently rejected it always. But he returned to it again
and again, working back his way in a roundabout fashion, disguising the
phantom under a rich cloak of phrases.


                                  VII

He was scarcely more wary in his dealings with Lady Malleson than with
Nan, not that he underestimated her intelligence, but because she awoke
all his boastfulness, pandered to it, stimulated him as nobody had in
the whole of his highly experimental life. The comparative frequency of
his interviews with her was kept strictly secret. It was now no longer
Nan who led him to Malleson Place, as on the first occasion, but
Hambley, whom Silas had terrorised into discretion. Nor did those
meetings invariably take place in the house, but sometimes in a
summer-house, away from the gossip of the servants, while Hambley was
sent to skulk about the park, with orders not to return before an hour,
or two hours; and even once, when Sir Robert was in London, Hambley was
dismissed until midnight. He offered no objection; the employment was
after his own heart, and Lady Malleson, unknown to Silas, made it well
worth his while. He knew that he was safe enough over this. When the
lady brought Silas to the garden gate, and gave him over to Hambley,
Silas could not see what passed between her hand and Hambley’s. He could
not see Hambley’s grin of thanks, or his lifted cap, or Lady Malleson’s
nod of smiling complicity that enjoined silence. He could only stand by,
waiting to be led away, during the little farce that was never
neglected:

“Well, good-night, Dene; so glad you’re getting on well.”

“Good-night, my lady; thank you.”

“Good-night, Hambley. Take care of Dene going through the park.”

“Yes, my lady; good-night, my lady.”

Then they would turn and go, Hambley leading Silas with care, while
Christine Malleson re-locked the garden gate and watched them, always
reluctantly, out of sight.


                                  VIII

That first occasion!

She had long resisted the impulse to send for him. How long? She did not
know; every day had been a week, since the wish first consciously awoke
in her. What had deterred her? she did not know that either; perhaps a
superstitious shrinking, an instinct that the amusement might turn to a
wild beast of danger as soon as she exchanged the tractable wraith of
her own evoking for a human creature of independent intentions, of will
and muscle. So she had prolonged the period of evasion, knowing
perfectly well that at the end of the road she was descending with such
restrained, deliberate footsteps, stood the figure of Silas, with folded
arms, waiting for her. Sometimes she had wondered whether the whole
thing were not the creation of her fancy. The matter had grown in her
mind, since she had first heard from her husband the story of the
inquest, until the blind man now accompanied every moment of her day;
and so strong was this fateful companionship, that she believed Silas,
down in the village, must be living in equivalent consciousness of her
nearness and the rapid convergence of their lives. Still she attempted
to persuade herself that her own idle mind was alone responsible;
sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with a shrug, she had tried to dismiss
the too persistent figure.

She had not believed her own lips when she heard them giving the order
to fetch Silas Dene.


                                   IX

When they came to tell her that he had arrived she had glanced at
herself in the mirror, then remembering that he was blind, she thought,
“Absurd!”

“Who is with him?” she asked the servant.

“A young woman, my lady.”

“Very well; give her some tea in the housekeeper’s room. Bring Dene up
here.”

She lay on her sofa, waiting for him to be brought up. She hoped his
blindness was not disfiguring, and suddenly the matter lost its almost
mystical value, and she saw it in a prosaic light: why had she been so
foolish as to obey her whim and send for this man? she knew that she was
very unskilled at talking to what she called “common people,” even when
she came across them accidentally, such as gardeners; they were always
taciturn and hostile, and she thought vaguely that they would be more so
within four walls even than in the open air. The prospect of being
closeted in her sitting-room alone with a factory-hand,—he was nothing
else,—appalled her. Perhaps he would spit. Perhaps he would smell.... In
any case, what should she find to say to him?

He was there, standing by the door where the servant had left him, with
the special stillness of the blind in a strange place. Contrary to her
expectation, he did not wear a beard. She saw at once that he had an
extraordinary proud, fine-featured face, and that his blindness was not
in the least disfiguring. Indeed, his eyes were so dark and so full of
fire that it was hard to believe them sightless. He had nothing of the
smartened-up appearance that she was accustomed to associate with the
poor when visiting the rich. He had so clearly taken no trouble either
to brush his hair or change his coat, that she remembered with a twinge
of annoyance her own glance into the mirror when his arrival was
announced. Her embarrassment diminished as she realised that he was
himself neither intimidated nor impressed.

“Oh, Dene,” she said, “I am glad to see you. Sir Robert has been telling
me a little about your circumstances, and I wondered whether I could
help you in any way? So I asked you to come up here to speak to me.” She
was satisfied with her opening, but felt the last phrase to be weak, a
falling away; his quietness, and the knowledge that he could not see
her, disconcerted her.

“In what way did you mean exactly, my lady?” he asked.

How could she answer that question? Mention of money was impossible; she
knew that already, although she had only heard him pronounce nine words.
She was driven up against the truth that she had wanted to see him for
no other purpose than her own distraction, that any other reason would
be a mere pretext, and she had a swift impulse to tell him this,
confident that he would not misunderstand. So much already did she feel
him to be not only her social, but also her intellectual equal. (Social
was a wrong word, an absurd word; it could never be used, with all the
artifice and fallacy that it implied, in connection with Silas Dene. Her
discoveries went rapidly. But she must give some sort of answer.)

“I meant nothing exactly. I thought that if there was anything I could
do, you would tell me.”

“This is the first time, my lady, that I remember your sending for any
one from the factory up to Malleson Place.”

She was astonished at that; his tone amounted to an accusation. He was
so grave, and she used in her mind the word “chained,” as most nearly
expressing his obvious reserve of force.

“The truth is,” she said, ceasing to lie at full length upon the sofa,
and sitting upright, “that I was very much interested in what Sir Robert
told me, and thought I would like to see you for myself.”

“As your ladyship has seen me now,” he suggested, “and there is nothing
I want, I can go?”

As soon as he wanted to go, she wanted him to stay. She got up and came
to help him, saying, “But I should like to talk to you for a little,
Dene; give me your hand and I will take you to a chair.”

He shook his head, and said that he preferred to stand. She had to go
back to her sofa thwarted, though in so small a thing, while he remained
by the door. He made her sitting-room appear tawdry, with its little
gilt chairs and lacy cushions and pink carpet, so much did he rob people
and objects of all but their true significance. She was almost ashamed
of her surroundings, and was thankful that he could not see them, but
she thought that it would take more than mere blindness to stay his more
perilous vision down through the embellishments into anybody’s soul. She
was conscious of saying to herself, “This _won’t do_,” and of taking
herself sharply in hand. “This is to be _my_ game,” she insisted, “not
his.”


                                   X

She had failed entirely to make him sit down, for he continued to refuse
her invitation with the same haughty gravity, and responded not at all
to the one or two phrases with which she tried him.

“I have heard reports of your fame as a public speaker, Dene,” she said
with a propitiatory smile, forgetting for the moment that her smiles
were wasted on him.

“A lot of the chaps speak, my lady.”

“But without your advantages. Sir Robert tells me you are a very
highly-educated man.”

“No such luck, my lady.”

“Oh, come, Dene? Sir Robert says you are a great reader.”

“Somebody must ha’ been kiddin’ Sir Robert, my lady.”

She delighted in him. He was perfectly grave, and affected a
Lincolnshire accent, which he certainly had not possessed when he first
came into the room; a subtle insolence, but one which she did not
resent, for it demonstrated him as unwilling to prance out his tricks,
cheaply, at the bidding of a sophisticated curiosity, and she was a
woman who knew how to esteem superficial, although perhaps not
fundamental dignity. (Malleson had fundamental dignity, which, poor man,
had not served him to very much purpose with his wife.) Also, she was
emphatically a woman who maintained that the first duty of sex in the
game was to be a danger to the opposite sex. Dene—certainly Dene
fulfilled both these conditions! Acquaintance such as hers with him was
like a sojourn at the foot of a volcano which might at any moment erupt.
She relished the peril of the game. How she stirred him to extravagance
after extravagance! how she poked and probed and decoyed his mind!
encouraging, insinuating, blowing upon the ready spark; “baiting Silas
Dene,” she called it, as a baron might have said, “baiting the bear”;
all the better sport because she knew it to be so quick with danger. She
sent for him as often as she dared, and when he was absent she thought
about him, but always as an experiment, an intellectual exercise. She
was too cold-blooded a schemer to allow herself to think of him now as
anything else....



                                   VI


                                   I

Nan returned frequently along the road on the top of the dyke, on the
red and gray February evenings, when the stillness was absolute; on
either side of the dyke the floods lay, placid and flat as mirrors, over
broad miles of country, reflecting the crimson sun up a path of
roughened and reddened splendour. The water-filled ruts along the road
glowed with the same light; long narrow lines of fire. How dismal that
flooded land would have been without that light; gray, only gray,
without the red! All the most dismal elements were present: a few
isolated and half-submerged trees stuck up here and there out of the
water, and at intervals the upper half of a gate and gate-posts
protruded, the entrance to some now invisible field; useless,
ridiculous, and woebegone. But that red light, cold and fiery, scored
its bar of blood across the gray lagoons.

The village lay in front of her, at the end of the road, and behind the
village rose the three high chimneys of the factory, black amongst the
gray waters, the gray sky, threatening and desolate in the midst of
desolation. The three black plumes of smoke drifted upwards, converged
into a large leisurely volume, and dispersed; already in the dusk the
red glow at their base was becoming visible, and a single star appeared
high above them, as though a spark that had floated out from the heart
of the factory now hung suspended in supercilious vigil. The abbey on
the farther side lay heaped in a mass as dark as the mass of the
factory. Nan would shift to the other hand the basket she was carrying
home from the market-town of Spalding; walking along the elevation of
the dyke, she made a tiny, upright figure in the great circle of the
flat country, for here the disc of the horizon was as apparent as it is
at sea. The group of village, factory, and church, emerged like an
island loaded with strange and sombre piles of architecture, adrift from
all other encampments of men. Abbot’s Etchery lay before her, against
that formidable foundry of the heavens, that swarthy splendour of smoke
and sunset, and as she continued to advance she thought that she
re-entered an angry prison, too barbarous, too inimical, for her to
dwell beneath it, and live.


                                   II

The calm, cold weather broke late in February; a gale swept for two
nights and a day across the country, beating up the waters into little
jostling peaks and breaking from the forlorn trees branches that were
jerked hither and thither upon the waves, now coming to rest upon a
tussock of higher ground, now taken again by the shallow storm of the
floods, or tossed to lie against the bulwark of the dykes. The smoke
from the factory chimneys was snatched by the wind, and swirled wildly
away in coils and streamers, black smoke mingled with the dark masses of
cloud that drove across the disordered sky. Gulls from the Wash flew
inland,—the gulls, that more than any other bird attune themselves to
the season, in summer gleaming white, lovely and marbled, on the wing,
but in times of tempest matching the clouds, iron-gray, the most
desolate of birds.

It became unsafe for carts to travel along the road on the top of the
dyke, since one farm-cart, swaying already under an excessive load of
fodder, was caught by a gust of wind and overturned. After one moment of
perilous balance, it crashed down the embankment, dragging after it the
two frenzied horses, falling in a welter of broken limbs, tangled
harness, and splintered woodwork, while the trusses of hay broke from
their lashings and scattered into the borders of the flood.

The storm of wind and water raged round this disaster, and folk from the
village collected on the top of the dyke to gape down at the carter busy
amongst the wreckage, and surreptitiously at Malleson, the owner, who
stood alone, more in sorrow for his valiant horses than in regret over
his material loss. There was no hope of saving the horses,—they were
shire horses, stately and monumental,—by the time the crowd had
assembled their tragic struggle had already ceased. The carter was
sullenly bending down, unbuckling the harness; he would speak to no one.
On the top of the dyke the gale buffeted the little crowd, so that the
men (their hands buried in their pockets, their overcoats blown against
their legs as they stood with their backs to the winds, and their
mufflers streaming) stamped their feet to keep themselves warm, and the
women with pinched faces drew their black shawls more closely round
their heads and whispered dolefully together.


                                  III

The accident greatly excited Silas Dene; it occurred on a Saturday
afternoon, and Nan, who was sewing in her own kitchen, heard upon the
wall the three thumps that were Silas’s usual summons. She found him
with Linnet Morgan, Hambley, and Donnithorne, one of his mates, who had
stopped on his way down the street to bring the news.

Silas wanted Nan to go to the scene of the accident and to bring him
back a first-hand report. She cried out in dismay, appealing with her
eyes to both Morgan and Donnithorne. Hambley she ignored; his very
presence made her shudder, and she knew he would side with Silas.

“But, Silas, I wouldn’t for the world! Those poor horses—what are you
asking me to do? to go and gloat over them?”

“Sentiment!” said Silas, who was angry. “Linnet says the same. God, if I
had eyes to use.... There’s violence and destruction half a mile down
the road, and you won’t go to see it. It maddens me, the way you folk
neglect the gifts and the opportunities God offers you. Sentimentalists!
A fine rough smash-up ... the wind’s a poet. A poet, I say, wasting food
and life for the mischief of it. The food of beasts, and the life of
beasts; wasted! There’s twenty trusses of hay in the floods, so
Donnithorne here tells me,—twenty trusses spoilt for dainty-feeding
cows,—and two fine horses smashed, and a big wagon. They’re lying heaped
at the bottom of the dyke. There’s blood spilt, as red as the heat of
the sun. No man would dare to bring all that about for the sake of the
mischief; but the wind’s a poet, I say—I like the wind—he tears up in a
minute trees that have persevered inch by inch for a thousand years, and
sends to the bottom ships full of a merchant’s careful cargo. Well, you
won’t go down the road and tell a blind man about the smash?”

“Guts spilt, Mrs. Dene!” said Hambley, rubbing his hands together and
provoking her. She turned away from him with repulsion.

“Ye’re morbid, Silas,” said Donnithorne in disgust, his hand on the
latch. He was a red-headed, red-bearded man, with pale but lascivious
blue eyes that once had leered at Hannah, Silas’s wife.

“Morbid, am I? no, it’s you squeamish ones that are morbid, and I that
have the stout fancy. If Heaven had given me eyes! I wouldn’t be such a
one as you. I’d sooner be a fool playing with a bit of string, and
crooning mumble-jumble, or taking off my hat to a scarecrow in the
dusk.”

With that he bundled them all out, and slammed the door.


                                   IV

Linnet Morgan followed Nan back into her own kitchen.

“Oh, Mr. Morgan, is Silas mad?” she said, turning to him at once.

“I sometimes don’t know what to make of him.”

“Would he go to look at the accident, do you think, if he could see?”

“Not he!” said Morgan, “not he! But he’s safe to say so. He turned pale
when Donnithorne told him about it, but next minute he was pretending to
be all eager, like you heard him.”

They remained standing, occupied with their own thoughts. Gregory
glanced up from his drawings as they came in, but otherwise took no
notice of them. Morgan sat down before the range, and began prodding a
piece of firewood between the small open bars.

“I lose my bearings, living with Silas,” he said presently; “amongst all
his manias, he’s got this mania for destruction. Perhaps the long and
short of it is, that he likes talking loud about big noisy things, when
he’s certain they won’t come near him to hurt him. Being blind keeps him
safe.... Mrs. Dene, come for a turn with me. You look right white and
scared. Come out, and let the wind blow away bad thoughts?”

“I’ll ask Gregory to come with us.” She went over to her husband,
touched him on the arm to attract his attention, and spoke to him on her
fingers. “He says he’s busy with his drawings, but will we go without
him.”


                                   V

They took the road that led in the opposite direction from the accident,
and uncharitable eyes watched them go past the windows of the houses in
the village. But they walked all unconscious, feeling relieved and with
a gay sense of holiday, almost a sense of truancy; and when the wind
caught them as they left the shelter of the village, and forced them to
a breathless standstill, they laughed, and struggled on again,
exhilarated by their fight against so clean and natural a foe. They were
soon in the open country, having left the village behind; they breasted
the wind, and breathed it deeply, tasting, or fancying that they tasted,
upon their lips the salt of the flying spray. The road which they
followed lost the monotony of its straightness when they conquered it
yard by yard, and remembered that, did they but follow it far enough, it
would lead them eventually to the sea.

There was indeed a regal splendour about the day, about the embattled
sky and driven clouds. The northern forces had been recklessly
unleashed. The sea would be beaten into a tumult full of angry majesty.
How wild a day, how arrogant a storm!


                                   VI

Coming back, the wind almost forced them into a run, and they yielded,
racing along the road, impelled as by a strong hand. They could not
speak to one another in the midst of the turmoil, but they smiled from
time to time in happy understanding. As they neared the village Nan
checked herself, and, leaning breathless against one of the
telegraph-posts that bordered the road, tried to re-order her hair, but
the wind took her shawl and blew it streaming from her hand, also the
strands of her hair in little wild fluttering pennons. Nevertheless, she
was in such high good humour that she only laughed at what might have
been an annoyance, turning herself this way and that to gain the best
advantage over the wind. Morgan stood by, laughing himself, and watching
her. She wore a dark red shirt, and the wind had blown two patches on to
her cheeks, which were usually so pale they looked fragile and
transparent. They continued more soberly towards the village, still
without speaking, even when they reached the shelter of the street,
because it seemed unnecessary.

They saw Silas standing on his own doorstep, hatless, in a strange
attitude, holding his hands stretched out before him, the fingers wide
apart. Nan ran up and caught one of his hands; Morgan was surprised, for
she never treated Silas with levity. She seemed to have shaken off the
years of repression, to have forgotten totally the conscientious lesson.

“What are you doing standing there, Silas?” She was very gay.

“Letting the wind whistle in my fingers. Hark! Bend down your head.”

“I can’t hear it, Silas.”

“No, you’ve coarse ears; eyes! eyes! yes! but coarse ears. Where have
you been?”

“Along the dyke....”

“Seen the accident?”

“Hush, Silas; you shan’t dwell on that.” Morgan had never seen her so
brave, so radiant, with the blind man. She took his arm now, leading him
back into his cottage. “Sit down by the fire, Silas; it’s warm and
sheltered in here. The kettle’s singing.”

“I’d sooner stay in the wind,” he said, striving against the light
pressure of her hands on his shoulders as she held him down.

“The wind’s too rough; I’ve had enough of it.”

“Then let me stay on the doorstep alone. You stop in the shelter with
Linnet.”

“No, Silas, we’ll all three stop in here together. I’ll sing to you a
bit, shall I?” Morgan observed her firmness with a surprised admiration.

She got her zither from the cupboard where she kept it, laid it on the
table, and tried the chords with a little tortoiseshell clip that she
slipped over her thumb. The thin notes quivered through the bluster of
the wind and the harshness of Silas’s voice. She bent intently over her
tuning, trying the notes with her voice, adjusting the wires with the
key she held between her fingers.

“Now!” she said, looking up and smiling.

She sang her little sentimental songs, “Annie Laurie,” and “My boy Jo,”
her voice as clear and natural as the accompaniment was painstaking. She
struck the wires bravely with her tortoiseshell clip. Morgan applauded.

“It’s grand, Mrs. Dene.”

“Why do you choose to-day for your zither?” Silas asked in his most
rasping tone.

“It’s Sunday, Silas,—a home day.”

“But you’re not home; you’re in my cottage; your home is with Gregory,
next door. You’re here with me and Linnet.”

“Gregory can’t hear me sing,” she said pitifully.

“Then why don’t you dance? he could see you dance.”

“I asked him to come for a walk,” she said, her brightness dimmed by
tears.

“And he wouldn’t go? with you and Linnet?”

“No, he was drawing.”

“Ah?” said Silas. “But Linnet went with you? Linnet wasn’t busy?”

“What’ll I sing that pleases you?” she said, maintaining her endeavour;
“‘Loch Lomond?’ You used to like ‘Loch Lomond.’”

“Ask Linnet; he’s Scotch; no doubt that’s what put a Scotch song into
your mind.”

“Silas!” she said in despair, dropping her hands on to her zither, which
gave forth a jangle of sounds.

“If you want home, as you say, stop here with Linnet; I’ll lend you my
cottage,” said Silas, rising and groping for his cap. “Play at home for
a bit. Draw the curtains, light the lamp, make tea for yourselves, put
the kettle back to sing on the hob, and you, Nan, sing to your zither to
your heart’s content. It’s a pleasant, warm room, for pleasant, warm
people. Home of a Sunday, with the wind shut out! Oh yes, I’ll lend you
my cottage. Gregory’s lost in his drawings till supper-time. Stay here
and talk and smoke and sing, while the room grows warmer, and you forget
the wind and the two dead horses and spoilt fodder lying down the road.
Spend your evenings in forgetfulness. Ask no questions of sorrow. Kill
darkness with your little candle of content.”

“You’re crazy; where are you going?” cried Morgan.

“Only to the Abbey,—not into the floods,” Silas replied with a laugh.

“To the Abbey? alone?”

“One of my haunts, you know.”


                                  VII

Silas found his way along the village street by following the outer edge
of the pavement with his stick; as he went he snorted and muttered.
“I’ll have nothing to do with Nan’s kindness,” he said to himself
several times. “She’s easily satisfied; she’s comfortable; she’s
grateful. She shuts the eyes that she might see with.” This thought made
him very angry, and he strode recklessly along, knocking against the few
folk that were abroad on that inclement evening. One or two of them
stopped him with a “Why, Dene! give you a hand on your way anywhere?”
but he rejected them, as he was determined to reject all comfort and
patience that Nan might offer him. He liked the wind, that opposed him
and made his progress difficult; he struck out against it, the struggle
deluding him into a reassuring illusion of his own courage. He welcomed
the wind for the sake of that tortuous flattery....

He would have made his way to Lady Malleson, but he was afraid to
venture under the trees in the park, where a bough might be blown down
upon him.


                                  VIII

At the end of a side-street the Norman abbey rose, black and humped and
semi-ruined, the huge dark clouds of the evening sky sailing swiftly
past the ogive of its broken arches. The village had retreated from the
abbey, because the abbey’s furthermost walls were lapped by the floods,
so that it remained, the outer bulwark of man’s encampment upon the
inviolate mound in the midst of the inundations; it remained like some
great dark derelict vessel, half beached upon dry land, half straining
still towards the waters. The street which led to it was a survival of
the ancient town, gabled and narrow, with cobbled ground; Silas tapped
his way over the cobbles. He could not see the enormous mass of tower
and buttress and great doorway, that blocked the end of the street
before him, but he heard the scattered peal of bells, and the deep gloom
of the abbey lost nothing in passing through the enchantment of his
blind fancy. He entered, and was swallowed up in shadows. The roof was
lost in a sombre and indistinguishable vault. The aisles became dim
colonnades, stretching away into uncertain distance. The pillars with
their bulk and gravity of naked stone dwarfed the worshippers that
rustled around their base. The organ rumbled in the transept. Silas
moved among the aisles, handing himself on from pillar to pillar; he
imagined that he moved in a forest, touching his way from tree-trunk to
tree-trunk; he conceived the abbey as illimitable, and relished it the
more because ruin had impaired the intention of the architecture.

The organ from its rumbling broke out into its full volume, a giant
treading in wrath through the forest, a storm rolling among the echoes
of the hills. Night came, and the clouds moved invisibly past overhead,
over the abbey and the floods. Nothing but the dark flats of water lay
between the abbey and the sea; its bells gave their music to the wind,
and the great voice of its organ was more than a man-made thing. The
black shape of the abbey on the edge of the desolate floods bulked like
a natural growth rooted in old centuries, harmonious and consonant with
nature. To the vision of Silas Dene, on which no human limitations were
imposed, and whose mind was fed on sound and thought alone, the abbey
was not less vast than night itself, only a night within the night, an
abode of ordered sound within the gale of sound. In his fancy he was not
clear as to whether it were roofed over, or lay open to the sky; he
could vary his decision according to the vagary of the moment,
alternately picturing the rafters high above his head, or the scudding
moonlit heavens of ragged black and silver. He put his hands upon the
pillars with no thought of man’s construction; they seemed monolithic.
He caressed them, moving between them, leaning against them, and
listening to the organ. He was in a large, dim, mysterious place, that
had a kindred with the floods and with the storm. He knew that all
around him were shadows which, while making no difference to the
perpetual shadow he himself lived in, obscured and hampered the free
coming and going of other men. Darkness was to him a confederate and an
affinity; he would smile when people spoke of nightfall or of an
impenetrable fog. He searched now with his hand until it touched the
shoulder of a kneeling woman.

“Are there any lights in the church?” he whispered.

“Why, surely!” she said, startled, “candles upon the altar.”

He was displeased; he moved behind a column where he knew the shadows
would be deeper. The organ had ceased, and he heard prayers. He shook
with inward mockery, confident that the abbey, which he had endowed with
a personality and had adopted into his own alliance, would reject the
prayers as contemptuously as he himself rejected them. It would await
the renewed majesty of the organ.... To Silas the organ represented no
hymn of praise; it represented only the accompaniment of storm; he was
not even troubled, because he did not notice them, by the infantile
words which the congregation fitted to its chords. It had never occurred
to him to think of the abbey as a holy temple until he came by chance
upon a thing to which his imagination made a kindled and ravenous
response.

For once he had not made for himself the discovery of this new theme in
the course of his reading. He owed it, a resented debt, to the
conversation of his mates in the shops. Silas, listening, had felt his
ever-ready contempt surging within him; it angered him to learn from
illiterate men of a subject that he alone amongst them was fitted to
understand. They skirted round it; but he grasped it avidly, adopting
it, as though a niche in his mind had been always waiting for it. He
took it with him to the abbey, like a man carrying something secret and
deadly under his cloak. Black Mass....

He scarcely knew what it meant. He took it principally as a symbol of
distortion and mockery. It seemed to be one of the phrases and summings
up he had always been searching for, he who liked to condense a large
vague district of imaginings into a final phrase.

When he remembered Black Mass in the ordinary way, he smiled in
satisfaction, and stowed it away as a secret; but when he thought of it
in the abbey he hunched himself as though he were in the throes of some
physical pleasure. In bringing that thought with him into the abbey he
was taunting a tremendous God, a revengeful God; and he exalted
fearfully in the latent implication of his own daring. Surely courage
could go no further than the defiance of God! His ready ecstasy swept
him away. The world he lived in was a reversed world, where darkness
held the place of light; in the world of his soul a similar order should
prevail. Taut-strung, he cast around for some piece of blasphemy, some
monstrous thing that he could do,—he did not know what. He only knew
that now he was brave, though it might be with the courage of hysteria;
presently he would be again afraid. He dreaded the return of his
cowardice. He had not been a coward the day he had killed Hannah; only
afterwards; he must not dwell upon the afterwards.

He had no weapon with him in the church except his voice, and a penknife
in his pocket.

He must achieve something; something! anything!

In the midst of his excitement he took it into his head that a piece of
the ruined masonry, detached by the wind, might fall in upon him and
crush him. Still chattering under his breath to himself, his hands
nervously working, he moved closer to the shelter of the pillar. Here he
felt more secure, but still the gusts of storm sent waves of physical
anxiety through him. He was torn between that small anxiety and the
illimitable defiance.

The organ swelled out again, lifting him upon its great rhythm as a wave
lifts a swimmer.



                                  VII


                                   I

It was on the same unpropitious evening that Silas’s only son returned
to his home from Canada.

The train discharging him at Spalding, he fought his way against wind
and rain, along the lonely road on the top of the dyke. He trudged with
his hands in his pockets and a bundle on his back, the peculiar
bleakness of the road returning familiarly to him after his absence of
seven years. It was dark, but through occasional rifts the moon
appeared, showing him the floods; they were familiar too,—their wide
flat stretches lying on either side of the high dyke, and swept by the
East Anglian wind straight from the North Sea,—he knew in his very bones
the shape and sensation of the Fens; this was homecoming. There was a
knowledge, a grasp of the size, shape, and colour—almost of taste and
smell—a consciousness that marked off home from any other place.

When he reached the village, he felt in similar manner the presence of
the factory on the one hand, and of the abbey on the other, with the
village lying between them. His boots rang on the stone of the
pavements. That was the school, and this the concert-room.... He reached
the double cottage of his father and his uncle; he thought he would
surprise his father and mother, so without knocking he turned the
door-handle and went in.

Nan was still sitting by the table on which her zither lay; her hands
were clasped and drooped listlessly. Her whole attitude betrayed her
dejection. Morgan stood by the range talking. They were alone, and young
Dene recoiled, thinking he had broken in upon strangers, though the
smile was still broadly upon his face, with which he had prepared to
greet his parents’ surprise.

“I’ve made a mistake,” he muttered, “this used to be Silas Dene’s
cottage ... my name’s Martin Dene.”

He was a bronzed young man, with thick black hair, a Roman nose, and a
fine curved mouth; a proud face, like the face upon a coin.

“Can you tell me where my father lives now?” he added. He looked at them
frankly; he took them for a young married couple.

“Why, Martin!” cried Nan, recognising him.

“Why, it’s Nancy Holden,” he said almost at the same moment. They
greeted one another gladly. “You’re married? living here?” he asked,
with a glance at Morgan.

“Married to your uncle Gregory....”

“No! He could be your father!” exclaimed young Dene naïvely, and again
he glanced at Morgan.

“Oh, no,” said Nan, flushing, and she hurried on with an explanation,
“Your father lives here still, but he went out a little time back; he
said he was going to the abbey. He’ll be in presently. Sit down; I’ll
get you a cup of tea.”

“But where’s mother?” asked Martin Dene, and in his impulsive,
attractive manner he strode across the room, flung open the door that
led to the staircase, and shouted “Mother!”


                                   II

“What’s that?” cried Silas, startling them all.

They had not heard him come in. He stood on the threshold, his hand
outstretched, the likeness between himself and his son strongly
apparent. “What’s that?” he repeated; “who’s that, calling ‘Mother’
here?”

“Silas, it’s Martin come home,” said Nan, who was trembling and who had
gone, quite unwittingly, closer to Morgan.

“Martin? it’s suited him to come back, after seven years?” Silas uttered
a derisive “Ho!” He added, “It’s too late, my boy, to come here calling
‘Mother.’ That’s rich, that is—eh, Nan?”

“What d’you mean?” said Martin Dene, swinging round.

“Your mother’s dead, that’s what I mean.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, dead three months ago.”

“Dead! Mother dead? why? how?”

“Tell him, Nan.”

“Look here,” said Morgan, speaking for the first time, “I’m sorry you’ve
got to learn this news....”

“Oh, smooth it over! water it down! I didn’t know you were there,
Linnet,” interrupted Silas. “I’ll tell him myself. Your mother was
killed in an accident—picked up unrecognisable—run over by a train—now
you know. Got anything to say?”

“My God!” said young Dene, covering his face. Nan went up to him and
began to whisper to him; he heard her half through with horribly staring
gaze, but then, disregarding her, he cried in a hoarse voice to his
father, “Accident be damned! you drove her to it. I know your ways—they
drove me away to Canada, and Elsie to London—I’ve seen her there—and
they drove mother to _that_—come, own up! it was suicide, wasn’t it?” He
made a movement towards his father, but Nan clung to his arm.

“No, I swear it wasn’t,” replied Silas, full of a grim amusement at his
suggestion.

“Well, how did it happen, then? What’s your account of what happened?
Did any one see?”

As neither of the others answered, Morgan said, “Nobody saw it happen.”

Martin leapt on to that. “So it was never explained?”

“No,” said Morgan, “the coroner’s inquest gave Accidental Death.” Martin
laughed.

“You’re going now, I suppose?” said Silas, “Morgan’s answered you, and
his answer can hardly satisfy you. Suspicion’s a sleepless guest in the
mind.”

“You’re alone now, father?” asked the son. His tone altered as a sort of
pity and repentance overcame him, and as he remembered his father’s
blindness. “Perhaps I spoke too hasty, father; see here, I’ll stop on
with you if you like.”

“I don’t like; you can get out,” said Silas. Morgan and Nan gave an
exclamation.

“I’ll stop to-night; we’re not calm, either of us.”

“I don’t remember you calm, somehow?” Silas sneered. Martin’s temper,
which he had controlled, rose again.

“I’ll get out, then,” he said, moving towards the door. Nan, through her
terror, thought him very handsome,—bronze and black, his bony cheeks
still glistening from the rain.

“You needn’t bother to come back, after another seven years.”

“Don’t you worry, father; I won’t come back.”

“Martin!” cried Nan. This flare of quarrel between father and son
troubled her greatly; it was a disturbance of harmony, and she longed
for the re-establishment of peace, at the same time dreading further
questionings, further possible accusations; Martin would probe and
examine, Silas might lose his head,—Nan, knowing the truth, lived in the
perpetual terror of a frenzied outburst of candour on Silas’s part....
He was, she knew, quite capable of such an outburst. Life, and the
harmony of life, would be less endangered with Martin out of the way.
But this was an unkind greeting for Martin at his home—poor Martin!
after seven years’ absence and a trudge in the rain, to find his mother
dead and his father ferocious!—Nan’s fund of pity overflowed, and she
tried to compromise: “Martin! you can’t walk back to Spalding through
this awful night; stop till to-morrow with Gregory, and me.”

“Not he!” said Silas, unexpectedly, and as though he spoke with pride.

“You’re right, father,—though I thank you, Nan; you mean it kindly.”

“They mean everything kindly, Martin,” said Silas, indicating the other
two. He continued to speak with the same curious understanding towards
his son. Nan and Morgan, separately, stood repudiated and estranged.

Martin Dene nodded, his eyes meditatively upon them.

“Won’t you stop, Martin?” urged Nan’s timid voice.

“I’ve said an unforgivable thing to father,” he said, turning to her, in
patient explanation.

“But you didn’t think it, Martin; tell your father you didn’t think it.”

“I did think it; I still think it; father knows that. I shall always
think it. That’s why I can’t stop. So long,” he said, shouldering his
bundle; he nodded to them again and went out.


                                  III

“Are you satisfied now, Silas, are you satisfied?” Silas kept mumbling
to himself later as with haste he tore his clothes off in the dark.

He would tell Lady Malleson—tell her that he had wantonly thrown out his
own son. What would she think of that? Once she had said he was
terrible; he hoped that she would say it again. The words had crowned
him with a rare reward. Surely he had earned their repetition?

He scrambled into his bed; lay there with his muscles jerking. He
tautened them, trying to keep them still, but could not. Martin, yes;
he had thrown out Martin. That was a resolute thing to do. It was all
of a piece with what had gone before; Hannah had ministered to his
comfort; in a rough and ready way, it was true, often more rough than
ready; but still she had ministered; and Hannah, along with his
personal comfort and convenience, had been sacrificed when necessity
dictated. (If he chose to consider in the light of a necessity the
suspicion of an outrage upon his own sensitive dignity which another
man might have dismissed as negligible, even inevitable, that was his
own business; nobody else’s.) Hannah had gone. Now Hannah’s son, for a
quick, intuitive suspicion of his father, had gone too—thrown out to
founder, possibly, though the sequel was now no concern of Silas’s;
Martin was proud, Martin would not return, least of all to appeal for
help. Lying awake in the night that to him was no more deeply night
than midday, Silas fought his regret for Martin. Martin had come, his
memory rich with what garnered tales of peril? he had led a hunter’s
life among red men, bony, painted, feathered men; he had tracked
wounded beasts, either great-horned or soft-footed; he had dared the
great solitudes, blazed his way through forests, and taken his chance
of the rapids; with all this, Martin, a fine young man, would have
beguiled his father’s ears and opened new horizons to his insatiable
fancy. Bringing all this with him, like a pedlar’s pack, Martin had
tramped along the dyke from Spalding; no doubt with a certain pitiful
eagerness he made his way home from the incredible distance of that
rough primitive world. Tears forced themselves out from Silas’s
sightless eyes. He had never wept for Hannah, he had hated Hannah,
even when through her death she became, poor woman, an object of
satisfaction to his insecure vanity; an object, too, of allurement to
his prowling cowardice. But for Martin he wept, for Martin and all
that Martin stood for. Then envy shook him, that Martin, free, young,
keen-sighted, and, above all, fearless,—fearlessness was the only true
freedom,—should be returning to that worthy life, in more ways than
one a hunter of big game. Big game! to the simple, eager nature all
life was big game. The actual quarry; the stake in a hazardous
enterprise; the test of endurance; or the interlude of women,—all that
was big game; a big, audacious, masculine game. The hint, the mere
passing suggestion, of enterprise acted as a sufficient stimulant,
under which his imagination flamed at once as a torch, widening a
bright, lit space in the darkness, populating it with figures full of
splendour, heroically proportioned. He reached out to another and more
ardent life, away from the security in which he so carefully preserved
himself. He was pierced through by the sheer valour of man, as a shaft
of light might on a sudden have pierced his darkness. He beheld man,
small, imperfect, but dauntless; sustained by a spirit of
extraordinary intrepidity, intent upon the double mastery of his
planet and of his own soul; man, stern against his own weakness,
checked here and thwarted there by the inner treachery of his own
heart, foiled in his ambitions, cast down from such summits as he had
attained, but ever fighting forward in the pursuit of an end perhaps
undistinguishable, to which the path of conquest, so difficult, so
jeopardous, was in itself a measure of recompense. So he was blind, as
blind as Silas himself; the more honourable because, despite his
blindness, he still wrought undeterred.

How various were his pursuits, his methods of conquest! to maintain and
advance himself in the supreme captaincy; so diverse the images of
vigour which the labourer in his activity was too simple to suspect.
There were men who wrested from the earth the last guarded secrets,
pitting their limbs against forest, mountain, ice, or waterless plain;
only their soft limbs against the giant sentries of unhandseled nature;
those who scored the monotonous sea with the rich and coloured roads of
commerce, heaping in the harbours of the world the strangeness of
cargoes, always strange because always exotic; those who tilled the
responsive soil; the hunters, the fighters, and the princes; others who,
living their true life, sequestered and apart by reason of their austere
calling, through a patience so immense that the profound darkness of the
mysteries with which it dealt was punctuated by reward of fresh light
only here and there along the wide-spaced generations, gained fragment
by fragment the knowledge of the ordering of distant worlds; the women
who bore the burden of fresh lives,—he could feel himself alien to none
of these, neither to the law-givers nor the law-breakers; the
acquiescent nor the rebellious; no, nor the spare anchorite who aspired
through lonely frugality and penance towards the same summit of
domination; he stretched out his hand, alike to king and prostitute, and
with the falling strove still to uplift the tattered standard, and with
the multitude of the triumphant marched upon the road of pride. All this
he saw with a clarity, a wholeness that was in the nature of actual
beholding far more than of the blurred confusion of a vision. He had his
landscape under sharp sunlight, precision of detail allying itself with
breadth of horizon. He saw, too, skulking in and out amongst the
pageantry rich with legend that went its way under windy banners, he saw
dark, puny, ignoble figures; not one of them bore the tool of an honest
craft, but small forked tongues darted between their lips; and in his
abasement he included himself in their number, and questioned whether
the rest of them, damned spirits, worshipped in secret, as he did, the
magnificence they must envenom because they could not share?


                                   IV

Then with a rush of incredulous disgust the constituents of his own
existence stood out in the same white light; confused, craven, petty; a
tangle that he despised and loathed with a weak fury, the more that he
could not extricate himself. Envy without emulation, spite without
hatred, violence without strength! Then the personages: Hambley, the
lick-spittle go-between; Christine Malleson, whose pretended mental
companionship with him disguised the claw of cruelty; inanimate objects,
the floods, the gale; Hannah, a ghost now, not a personage, a ghost that
gave him no rest, try as he would to weld the whole incident to his own
uses, to the furtherance of his own self-confidence; Martin, sacrificed
for the same purpose; Nan, the object of an as yet ill-defined, floating
malevolence that crouched ready for a spring on to the back of the first
poor pretext; all the men, his fellows, in whom he amused himself by
fostering dissatisfaction; and, lastly, he found that he must include an
animal in this lamentable population,—the donkey on the green, that, no
less than the others, had, that evening, fallen a victim to his need for
mischief; the coarse pelt was still vivid under his fingers, as he had
slid his hand down the leg, till he came to the fetlock, and he
remembered now the sharp puncture of the knife into the sinew, and the
animal’s start of pain—to this, to this had he sunk! when he crept out
from the abbey, his soul seething with blasphemy, and his fingers
closing over the penknife in his pocket! A small, mad deed,—all that his
soul in travail could bring forth. In this deed, tinily terrible, had
his exaltation culminated; the exaltation engendered by storm, by the
disaster on the dyke, by the organ swelling in the ruined abbey, by the
suggestion of the Black Mass.

He rolled from side to side in his bed, tearing at the blankets with his
teeth.

He directed his despair and fury then against Christine Malleson, making
her responsible for this ruthless savagery which always possessed him,
without system or goal beyond a need to damage everything that was
happy, prosperous, and entire. True, she was partly responsible; she was
responsible for the pranks of experiment that she played upon him,
stirring and poking his mind, his ambitions, into a blaze, and the chill
“Don’t forget yourself,” with which she quenched the flame. He raged
against Christine: she had him at a disadvantage; he must strive always
to compete with her serenity of class; she drew him out from his own
class, aroused his angry socialism, laughed at the gaps in his
knowledge, gave him glimpses of a life whose significance and habit he
could never encompass, but which he burnt with an envious hatred to
destroy; then she would laugh at him again,—she, who had come down from
her heights to walk curiously in his valleys,—she would laugh, and he
would fling away into fresh magniloquence, seeking to impress her; and
when the time came for him to take his leave, the excitable irritation
provoked by her remained still unappeased, consuming his vitals. But
this he believed she did not suspect. So far as he knew, he had deceived
her; he had passed off upon her the old fraud of making her believe him
strong when he was, in reality, the bewildered, unhappy prey of his own
weakness. The thought that he had so deceived her gave him a little
satisfaction. He would tell her about Martin; she would catch her
breath. He would not tell her about the donkey. And he swayed again from
the paltry tangle of his own life to the bright heroic visions that
alone contented him, weeping with an incurable sorrow, but whether for
Martin or the vague grandeur of the unattainable, he could not well have
said.



                                  VIII


                                   I

If the floods would but retreat! If the winter would but dissolve and
allow spring to break over the land! Then the rich black loam of the
fields would appear in the place of the water,—that flat and cruel,
unprofitable water,—and the country under the blush of green would cease
to be so mournful, rayless, and forbidding. The floods were so dead;
dead brown, dead level; there was no life in them, except sometimes
under the red sun, a fierce, angry sort of life, and sometimes when the
wind beat them; but now gray rainy day succeeded gray rainy day, mild
indeed, but not spring, not the spring of clear sunlit showers and
rainbows! It would be a dark, fertile country that came to light,
curiously un-English in its effect of unboundaried acreage, wide ditches
marking off the fields in the place of hedges. Ditches and dykes would
remain as the scar and testimony of the floods, the dykes that like some
Roman aqueduct stretched away into the flat and misty distances.

Yearly Nan lived through the winter in the hope of such a spring, and
almost yearly it failed her. She was drawn towards spring with an
instinct of unsatisfied youth. It appeared to her like a vista cut in
the darkness of the life she led between Silas and Gregory.

The population of her world was so restricted; in very early days she
had been sharply taught that Gregory would neither welcome his wife’s
friends at his fireside, nor allow her to go to theirs. She had never
forgotten the written message he had left for her on the table in the
first week of their marriage, having found her laughing in the kitchen
with another girl: “No _prying eyes_ here, missis.” The Denes, she
learnt, were as sensitive as they were savage and solitary, and, so
strong was the legend that they had created around themselves, that she
had found herself quickly alienated from the rest of the village and
definitely regarded as of the company inhabiting the lonely cottage.
Silas, Gregory, Linnet Morgan, Donnithorne sometimes, Mr. Calthorpe.
That was all. The two dominating figures were Silas and Gregory; she was
more frightened of Silas than of Gregory, because of her secret
knowledge, but Gregory was like a stranger to her; she was submissive to
him but felt no nearness, no intimacy; he was more closely allied to
Silas than to her. Of Linnet Morgan she thought with shy and oddly
pleasurable evasion. Of Calthorpe, with confidence; she liked his
well-brushed hair, precisely parted down one side, and the close pointed
beard that gave him a certain robust dignity and rather the appearance
of a sailor; thinking of Calthorpe was like leaning up against a solid
and stable building. He looked at her with great kindliness now, when
she talked to him; she had always wanted somebody to look at her like
that. It awoke, too, in her a certain pride: she had trained this big
man in the part she wanted him to play; she, so small, had taught him,
so large, a trick, and whenever she brought him her confidences, and he
responded with that look so full of kindliness, he was doing the trick
she had trained him, against his will, to do. This gave her a
proprietary sense in him. She found him very docile. He, on his part,
loved her for her little domineering manner.

It was only when she returned to Silas and Gregory that she was made to
realise her own futility. Against the weak pushing of her hands they
remained immovable....

Then she fell sometimes into despair, and her courage crumpled. For days
she would be silent, then with an effort she would bring out her zither
and sing, until before their contempt her voice would trail away again
miserably into silence.

She longed for the retreat of the floods and the end of the winter,
because now the country and the year seemed to be conspiring with Silas
and Gregory.


                                   II

Once she tried to bring about a complete revolution in all their lives;
only once. She was really half-crazy with despair when she made the
attempt; nothing else could have given her the courage. As it was, she
was intimidated by her own audacity, for by nature she accepted
circumstances without questioning. Inaugurations terrified her; yet here
was she, Nan, inaugurating.

She sat at the table, under the lamp, Silas and Gregory on either side
of her, the remains of supper before them. She sat twisting her hands;
swallowing hard.

She began, “Shall we be here always?” then stopped, then plunged on
again, “living always here, with the floods every winter, all the winter
through? Why shouldn’t we go away, somewhere else, if we choose? Why
shouldn’t we?” she cried suddenly, in a frightened voice, as nobody
answered.

She looked at Silas and Gregory; Silas was smiling, and Gregory was
smiling too, in a twisty, derisive way, as though he knew what she had
been talking about. Yet he couldn’t know. Silas had a look of surprise
and amusement; grateful surprise, as though she had provided him with an
unexpected amusement in an hour of boredom.

“Go on!” he said to her.

At that she felt all her source of boldness, of inventiveness, dried up
within her. What was the good of this struggle for escape when she was
hemmed in, not only by the floods and the dykes, but by those two
immovable men who owned her? But her terror urged against her
hopelessness; and was the stronger.

“Can you _like_ living here?” she appealed to Silas, trying to touch him
upon his own inclinations.

“As well here as anywhere else,” he answered. “I work here.”

She knew the bitterness that edged his voice whenever he mentioned his
work.

“You tie up parcels in a packing-shed,” she said, “always the same,—work
that a half-wit could do. Yes, a poor wanting creature could do your
work. Why don’t you bestir yourself? Why don’t you come away?” She
talked so, knowing that she strained to pull a weight that lay solid
against her small strength.

If only Silas or Gregory would get up, she thought that with that
insignificant display of mobility her hope would revive; but they sat on
either side of her, cast in bronze. If they were doomed men, then they
made no effort to escape their doom. Too proud, perhaps. They sat and
waited. They seemed too indifferent to care.

“Nobody’s put you in prison into Abbot’s Etchery,” she murmured.

Yet they were so like prisoners, Silas in his darkness, Gregory in his
silence, that she almost looked for gyves about their wrists and ankles.
When they stirred, it should have been to the accompaniment of a heavy
clank. When Silas fought, when he cried aloud, it was the struggle of a
chained man. But his struggles were so ineffective; Nan, who was not
oppressed from within, but only from without, thought that he could help
himself if he would. She had all the impatience of the naturally buoyant
with the dogged tragedy of the fatalistic.

“Come away,” she urged. “What is it that keeps you here? There are warm,
pretty places. Let’s make the best of things.”

“I might get away from Abbot’s Etchery, I shouldn’t be getting away from
myself,” said Silas.

Nan cried out, “_Can’t_ one get away? Who says so? Isn’t it in our own
hands?”

“Is it?” replied Silas, letting drop the sorrowful query as though it
were rather the echo of a perpetual self-communion revolving in his
soul, than an idle response.

The old mournfulness, the old anguish, closed down upon them again. They
were like haunted people, who would not help themselves. They seemed
haunted by the past,—which contained indeed the death of Hannah, a death
so rough and dingy,—by the present, and by the overcharged future. But
their dread was not to be defined; it was of the nature of a mystic
sentence, presaged from a long way off. Sometimes she thought that they
were afraid of themselves; sometimes that they were too apathetic to be
afraid. Only Silas made his dungeon clamorous sometimes with his wild
revolt, that led to nothing, to no change, to no illumination.


                                  III

Calthorpe found her sitting listless in a corner. She showed a hunted
preference for corners, and for shelter behind furniture.

“Why, you’re pale,” he said. He came closer, “You’re wan.”

She did a rare thing: she put her hand into his and let him hold it,
which he did as though it were a child’s. He was overcome by her
smallness and frailty; she seemed to be almost transparent, and her
features were tiny and delicate, but her eyes were large as she raised
them. “Not ill?” he asked. “No,” she replied, “only tired and afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“No, not afraid really; only worn.”

“Yes, indeed; you’re like a little wraith. You’d blow away in a puff.”

He could not rouse her at all; she made no complaint, but sat very quiet
and beaten, letting her hand lie in his. In reply to his questions, she
kept on saying that she was tired. He knew that she meant spiritually,
not physically, tired. She was very polite to him, saying “No, thank
you, Mr. Calthorpe,” and he found her extremely pitiable, but his
science failed him when he tried to think of a remedy. He could only sit
alternately patting and pressing her hand. She gave him a grateful
smile, at length.

“You do me good, just by being there.”

“Come, that’s better; won’t you tell me now what was the matter?”

“I only want to be happy,” she said suddenly, and her mouth quivered
beyond her control, so she bit her under-lip and looked away.

“Oh, my dear! my dear!” said poor Calthorpe.

“I want to run by the sea, over the sands,” she cried, as though her
heart had burst its compressing bonds; “I used to live by the sea once,
in the south, and I think about it ... and the birds nesting. There were
gulls upon all the rocks. There were white splashes down the rocks. It
wasn’t home. But I’m homesick, I think.”

“You’re just a child,” said Calthorpe. “You want to play. Poor little
soul!”

“Oh, how kind you are,” she said, and he felt her fingers flutter within
his hand. “I get so tired of fighting, sometimes....”

“Won’t you tell me just exactly what you’re fighting against?” He was
very patient and full of pity, but believing her to be slightly
hysterical he had the reasonable man’s reliance on a calm statement of
her difficulties to disperse much of their bogie-mist.

She only said, however, “I don’t know.”

(“Hysteria,” he thought. If she had said, “Forces of darkness,” he would
have started mistrustfully, without allowing himself to be impressed.
But she was too ignorant to use the phrase.)

“Come, then,” he said heartily, “it can’t be a very serious enemy if you
can’t give it a name,—what?”

“It’s everything,” she said, “the floods,—I hate them,—the factory....
If the factory would stop, sometimes, but it never does: always that
black smoke, and the men working in shifts to keep it going, and then
the men always talking about wages, and sometimes the strikes. Even the
abbey gets to be like the factory.”

“You’re fanciful,” said Calthorpe.

“Anybody would get fanciful, living with Silas and Gregory,” she replied
mournfully.

How she changed! he reflected. Sometimes she ordered him about, and
sometimes she came to him like a child for consolation. Whatever her
mood, he never ventured upon familiarity. He told himself sometimes with
irritation that he had never been kept so at arm’s length by an
otherwise friendly woman. He was a wholesome and masculine man, and he
had a wholesome and masculine liking for the company of woman in his
hours of relaxation, and in regard to Nan had certainly intended their
friendship to run upon different lines, harmless enough, but perhaps a
little more stimulating; he found, however, that quite quietly it was
she who decided the direction, while he in aggrieved but unprotesting
surprise fell meekly in with her wishes. He often told himself that he
was wasting his time, and would go no more to the Denes’ cottage, but he
always broke his resolution.

“Is Morgan no help to you? he’s something young about the house.”

“I don’t speak to him much, he’s always in his books. I wish you lived
in the house, Mr. Calthorpe.”

“I wish I did, Nan.” But on the whole, he thought, he was glad he
didn’t.


                                   IV

Morgan, whom Nan represented as being always in his books, was by
inclination a scientist, but for the moment, until he had the means to
devote himself to his profession, he managed that branch of the factory
concerned with scents and powders.

He worked among shining alembics and great-bellied bottles of dark green
glass, standing round his room in rows.

The latticed window was hung with cobwebs. The table was littered with
bottles, saucepans, test-tubes, and little flames burning. Of all things
in the room, the alembics alone were kept clean, gleaming bright brass
globes, pair by pair, connected by twisting pipes, and ever dripping the
distilled, overpowering scent into dishes put ready to receive it. They
shone out from the disorder of the room. Canisters ranged round the
walls on shelves: benzoin, civet, frankincense, ambergris,—the names on
the labels smouldered as a group of Asiatics among ordinary people.

Nan was sent up with a message to him in this room.

She appeared in the doorway, continuing to knock as she pushed open the
door, in the bright blue overall she wore when at her work. She was
smiling shyly, as though she expected a welcome. But he did not
immediately see her. He was bending with great absorption over a little
pair of scales, weighing a quantity of grains, and when he had done this
he poured the grains very carefully into a kind of box, which he set
above a small lamp to heat. Then as he wiped his hands on a piece of
linen, he caught sight of her.

“Mrs. Dene! What brings you here? what bit of luck? What extraordinary
bit of luck?”

He went to her, drew her into the room, and shut the door. He gazed at
her with incredulous delight. He wanted to touch her, to make sure that
she was real.

“Why don’t you tell me?” he queried, as she stood there smiling but not
speaking.

As she delivered her message, every word seemed to give birth to an
unspoken, irrelevant flight of words that fluttered round them with
ghostly rustle of wings, finding no resting-place. When she had
finished, she stood irresolute.

“I must go back.”

Her eyes roamed over the room, and every now and then swept over him in
passing. They caressed him in that quick, diffident, gentle way she had.
They rested with a mild dismay on all his disorder, and a pucker of
trouble appeared between her brows.

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Dene?”

“Oh, your things want straightening,” she murmured in tones of distress.
“Doesn’t any one have charge of your room? The dust,—look at it! The
litter!”

She moved to his table as though her deft hands were yearning towards
it. She made little tentative touches at his things, while he watched
her. She looked at him to see whether she was annoying him.

“Oh, do you mind?”

“On the contrary, I like to see you doing it.”

She gained courage.

“You haven’t a duster, have you?”

He discovered a duster in the table drawer and gave it to her; like all
good workmen, she was heartened by the touch of an instrument, however
humble, of her natural work. She picked things up and set them down more
briskly, saying meanwhile, half in excuse for her briskness,—

“I must hurry, or they’ll be missing me downstairs.”

“You can say I kept you. I’ll find something for you to take to the
forewoman; that’ll be an excuse.”

“An excuse—is that right, do you think? But your room _is_ in a mess,
isn’t it? It can’t have been touched for months. Does no one clean up?”

“No, I won’t let them.”

“You ought to have told me,” she said, greatly distressed. “I am so
sorry ... I didn’t think. Some men are like that, I know. They think
they can find things better. But I haven’t tidied; look, nothing has
been moved.”

“I told you I liked to see you doing it.”

“You were civil,” she said, not comforted.

“No, I’m never civil.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Morgan; you can’t help it, if you’re civil in your heart.
It comes kindly, to folk who laugh as much as you do.”

“You laugh too; I’ve heard you laughing downstairs, in the workroom. You
and I laugh more than Silas and Gregory.”

“Gregory can’t laugh,” she said gravely.

For a moment their chatter stopped quite short. Then she began again,—

“I must go now, Mr. Morgan.”

“No, stay; you shall look at some of my things,” he cried, making a
movement to detain her. “These are the alembics where the scent is
distilled,” he went on; “of course, these are only the small ones that I
use for my own experiments; I expect you’ve seen the big ones in the
shed downstairs.

“The shed all littered with sandal-wood shavings? I like it; it smells
good.”

“It smells good here in my room too, don’t you think? That’s because of
the scent dripping from the alembics. You see it drips into these
pannikins that are put there to catch it. They are all new scents—new
combinations of scents, that is—that I’m trying.” He was eager, both for
the sake of his work and in his anxiety to hold her interest. “Now I’ll
show you some of the raw material; it doesn’t always smell good before
we’ve been to work upon it.”

He wondered whether he might take her arm, whether he might venture. She
was like the little bird to which he always compared her, and as easily
scared! He turned the question over and over in his mind while he was
talking, now bracing himself to be bold, now shrinking back; almost
moving towards her; but while hesitation still swirled within his mind
he found that his hand had, quite simply, taken hers. “It’s so natural,
so fitting, for me to take her hand, that she hasn’t even noticed,” he
thought with joy.

“These are the canisters where I keep my raw stuff,” he said, pointing
to the tin canisters ranged on shelves. They stood hand in hand reading
the names on the labels.

“Ambergris—that’s the name of a scent I bottle,” she said, with a little
laugh. “I use a lavender ribbon for that. And orris—that’s the powder.
Don’t they have queer names? Opoponax, that always makes me laugh.”

They laughed together over opoponax.

“And there’s names out of Scripture,” she said, “frankincense and
myrrh.”

He took down the tin of benzoin, and made her smell it, shaking some of
the brittle stuff into the palm of her hand; crumbling up her hand into
a cup, and guiding it now to her nose and now to his own. They compared
their tastes; “I think this sort smells nicest,” she said to him,
gravely holding out her cupped hand, but he would not agree, after
bending over it with the deliberation of a practised critic, and added a
little storax, which, he said, brought out the pungency of the benzoin.

“All these gums and resins,” he said, “come from trees; you cut a gash
in the tree, and the gum comes from it like blood from a wound, oozing
out. And one of them—labdanum—is got by the natives by beating the bush
with long whips; or sometimes they get it by combing the beards of the
goats which have been browsing off the bush.”

That made her laugh too, but she was impressed by his knowledge, and
that made him laugh in his turn.

“Now I’ll show you the woods,—you said you liked the sandal-wood; well;
this is cedar, don’t you like that even better? Shall I give you some to
take away in a little packet? you can keep it with your clothes, like
the sachets you tie up downstairs.” He thought with a momentary panic
that he might have offended her by referring to her clothes, but the
hint of intimacy in the suggestion pleased and troubled him so much that
he was glad he had taken the risk for the sake of that pleasure.

She was not offended; she only blushed a little.

“That will be nice,—but I’m taking all your time, Mr. Morgan.”

“Oh no; I have plenty of time, and there’s lots more that I could show
you. I could tell you a good deal, too, that might amuse you: how the
Egyptians used to embalm their mummies, and how an Assyrian king caused
himself to be burnt with all his wives on a high pyre of scented boughs
sooner than fall into the hands of an enemy. And how the Chinese hunt
for musk; this is musk; it doesn’t smell nice in this state, but it’s
very precious. This is attar of roses in this little bottle; smell very
carefully. Let me hold it for you. Do you like my things?”

She liked his things very much.

“Do you think my room less untidy and dusty, now that you know there are
other things in it besides dust and untidiness?”

“All those tins, full of sweet scents,” she said unexpectedly. “Only, I
ought to go back to my work now, don’t you think? You said you would
give me something to take to the forewoman.”

“But you said that wasn’t right.”

“No, perhaps it isn’t,—Oh, I see: you’re teasing me. Well, I’ll go
without it.”

“But you’re frightened of being scolded?” he said, following her and
laying his hand upon the handle of the door. “Now aren’t you? confess!
What do you say when the forewoman is cross? Do you stand hanging your
head and twisting your apron?” He was laughing down at her.

“She isn’t often cross, but she will be if I stay dawdling here,—oh,
_please_, Mr. Morgan!”

He saw with astonishment that her eyes were suddenly brimming with
tears, and her soft mouth quivered.

“You are dreadfully unkind, getting me into trouble and then teasing me
about it,” she said, nearly crying, but trying to conceal it from him.
“I enjoyed looking at the scents, and I forgot the time, but now it is
all different, and I want to go away, please. Please take your hand off
the door-handle,” she continued, trying to pull away his fingers with
her weak ones.

“Why, you have got quite excited,” he said gently; “look, I am not
keeping you—I have let go of the handle—but won’t you wait while I write
a note to the forewoman? I want to send her a message, I really do!
Won’t you wait for it?”

“Of course, if you ask me as one of the girls, I must.”

“You’re terribly perverse!” he exclaimed, half annoyed.

“If you ask me as one of the girls....”

“Very well; Nan, will you please wait a minute while I write a note for
you to take to Miss Dawson?” He was not sure to what extent she was
serious or joking. Then she flushed at his use of her name, but he saw
that she was not joking at all. “What a strange, perplexing thing!” he
commented inwardly, as he searched for a pencil among the litter on his
table.

“If you’re looking for your pencil, I put it in the tray with your
measure and the little thermometer,” she volunteered sulkily.

It was on the tip of his tongue to say, “You said you hadn’t tidied!”
but a glance at her face, which was still quivering with her aroused
sensitiveness, warned him not to tease her. He sat down and wrote his
note while she waited over by the door, then he brought it across to
her.

“Have we quarrelled?” he said wistfully.

“Is there no message with the note?”

“How severe you are!” He held the note just out of her reach, risking
her anger if he might keep her a moment longer. “Have you got the packet
of cedar-dust I gave you?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

She made one of the patch-pockets on her overall gape, and let him see
the packet within. He gave her the note reluctantly, and opened the door
for her.

“Good-bye, Mr. Necromancer, with your alembics,” she said.

“Stop! where did you get that big word?”

“Out of a book.”

He could think of nothing to say but “What book?” in order to delay her,
but she was already half-way down the passage. He watched her till she
was out of sight, then returned to his room and shut the door. “She’s
like a little delicate moth flitting through gross life,” he thought,
and he wandered about his room, touching the things which had taken her
fancy most.



                                   IX


                                   I

He was on duty at the factory that night, so Silas, not to be alone, had
his supper with Nan and Gregory. The households of the double-cottage
were so interchangeable that it increased Nan’s sense of restriction
within that grim and tiny circle, the monotony of knowing that after
supper Gregory would bring out his roll of drawings and flatten them out
on the table with drawing-pins, and that Silas would surround himself
with his great Braille volumes, running his fingers over the pages while
his eyes would remain fixed on some distant corner and expressions of
amusement, interest, or indignation uncannily succeeded each other upon
his face. To watch him while he was reading never ceased to fascinate
and frighten Nan. To see him laughing when no one could tell what he was
laughing at, when his eyes were not even bent upon the page!

But to-night she had other thoughts. They were not thoughts, they were a
timorous, shying riot, that took hands; danced; and upon detection broke
up into a scattered rabble. She knew only that they were lovely, and
felt the soft muslin of their garments as they passed her. Not thoughts!
no, they were more like wings, song, and breeze all chasing one another
in her heart. Even the bronze presence of Silas and Gregory could not
weigh against their feathery loveliness. She was bewildered, turning
this way and that with hands outstretched, trying to capture one, to
hold it, and examine it; but she could not, either because it eluded
her, or because she feared to rub away its bloom and colour. She was
like a girl, blindfolded, playing blindman’s buff in the midst of a ring
of children. She sat quite idle, not consciously thinking, not even
conscious that she was happy. For the moment she was completely happy;
she had forgotten both Silas and Gregory. Calthorpe would not have found
her wan; her cheeks were flushed and her lips parted, but so abstracted
was she that she did not know it. She did not know that she was idle,
although she was usually busy over some little industry. She had lost
all sense save that of well-being and deliverance.


                                   II

Silas recalled her as he shut his volume with a bang.

“What are you doing, Nan?”

“Oh....” She rebelled against this inquisition, irritated for once
because she was startled. For all that she lived between a blind man and
a deaf one, she had perpetually the sensation of being both watched and
overheard. Her instinct leaped to a pang of guilt in being detected
idle, and she resented the unspoken criticism. “Nothing, Silas;
thinking.”

“What about?”

“I wondered what you were reading,” she lied.

He reopened the book, always eager to share out his own impressions.
Trying page after page with his fingers, he came at last to the passage
he sought. She saw the raised letters standing up in their strange
shapes, casting strange little shadows.

“I’ll read to you, shall I?”

He began to read,—


  “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy
  love than wine! and the smell of thy ointments than all spices!

  “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are
  under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of
  Lebanon.

  “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a
  fountain sealed.

  “Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits;
  camphire, with spikenard.

  “Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of
  frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.

  “A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters and streams from
  Lebanon.

  “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden,
  that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his
  garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”


Nan was not able to speak; she had listened with indrawn breath, and her
hand had flown upwards to her heart.

“I don’t like that—sugar!” said Silas resentfully. “You liked it, I
expect? This suits me better,—


  “I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning
  ague, that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart: and ye
  shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

  “And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before
  your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall
  flee when none pursueth you.

  “And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your
  heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

  “And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not
  yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their
  fruits.

  “I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your
  children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and
  your highways shall be desolate....

  “And upon them that are left alive of you, I will send a faintness
  into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a
  shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a
  sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.”


Nan had not listened; the music of that other verse was running in her
drunken head, “Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon; myrrh and
aloes, with all the chief spices....”

“Half of the Bible should be printed in blood,” said Silas, meditating
the fulminations, “and read with a spear in the hand.—But it’s a trick,
a trick!” he said, instantly checking his enthusiasm, with the mocking
twist on his mouth, “I do the trick myself, sometimes, to demolish it,”
and turning over the pages of Leviticus, he came across a sheet covered
with his own handwriting, which he gave to Nan. “Read it aloud.”

She read,—


  “Consider how miserable a pigmy is man, who for his most terrible
  fancy conceives bulk, weight, and uproar; the magnifying of what he
  commonly beholds.

  “Get hence, thou starveling, thou poverty-stricken of spirit! let
  thy poor eyes dictate; creation was not given unto thee.

  “God said: I will be niggardly toward my servant; the earth will I
  give him, and the sea and the sky shall be his; but in his heart
  shall he find no separate image.

  “Look, then, within thy heart: what shalt thou find? a perishable
  hate, a faltering resolve, and, for thy richest treasure, the swift
  feet of love.

  “Terror shalt thou find, and care; the terror of the seen and the
  unseen; of the steps that pursue thee, and the voices that cry out
  thy name.

  “These shall be thy companions; that shall clog thy spirit
  throughout all thy days.”


“Well? hey? shorn of its magic?”

“Oh, Silas, to laugh at the Bible and write such bitter things!”

Silas roared with laughter; he clapped his hand upon his knee.

“You little fool. Shall I redeem myself? Give me a pencil and paper.”

She gave it to him in a dream. “A garden enclosed is my sister, my
spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed....”

Silas was writing; he wrote and chuckled, and handed the sheet to Nan.


  “Then man turned and said: ‘All these things are true.’

  “But look again within my heart; thou shalt find charity there, and
  pity like a healing ointment; reverence before strength, and courage
  as an archangel in bright armour.

  “Blow but upon the embers of truth which thou shalt find, and they
  shall leap as a flame; truly, thou shalt re-kindle the spark of thy
  breath in man.

  “So shalt thou not say in anger, ‘This man which I have made is
  nothing worth.’”


“Does that please you better?”

“It’s surely not right, Silas.”

“Right! a fig for right and its insipidity!”

(“Insipid!” her heart rebelled; what could be insipid when light was
over the whole of life? new light, young light?)

“That first bit you read ...” she began, “it reminded me of the scents
at the factory; it was funny your reading just that bit.”

Silas said nothing; he was biting his nails and muttering; she resumed,
drawn onward though reluctant.

“It put me in mind of Mr. Morgan’s room; he has things like
that—spikenard and saffron, and the rest.”

“Morgan’s room—how do you know?”

She was terrified by his pounce upon her out of the heart of his
abstraction.

“Oh, I was sent there with a message.”

“To-day?”

“Yes, this afternoon.” Although she was guiltless she had all the quick
panic of guilt,—what should she say? what must she not say? hold
concealed?—and she felt that Silas held her pinned down beneath talons
while he pried.

“What message?”

“Miss Dawson wanted something.”

“What did she want?”

“To know whether he had ordered some printed labels.” Again that panic
of guilt, reassured now because she could answer his question without
stumbling. She almost wanted to call his attention to it, to say, “Look,
I’m telling the truth; there’s no necessity for me to invent.”

“So you went up to his room?”

“Yes.”

“And you saw the spices?”

“Yes—I was just saying, wasn’t I? that it was funny you should choose
that bit to read aloud.”

“I expect he showed them to you—he’s always talking about them to me—did
he?”

“One or two—yes, he did show me. But I couldn’t stop. I had my work
waiting.” She regretted ardently that she had introduced the subject;
she not only feared and mistrusted Silas’s inquisition, but she also
shrank, as with physical pain, at his handling of it. He was rough and
defamatory.

His tone changed, and unexpectedly he continued in a gentle, interested,
and sympathetic voice.

“I’m glad to think you make friends with Linnet. I often think it’s hard
for you, living between me and Gregory; you’re a young thing, so’s
Linnet; it’s natural you should be drawn together. He’s got a brain,
too; none of your young fools! I’ve a grand opinion of him. I thought
when he first came to the house that you and he would get laughing
together. Tell me what he looks like?”

“What he looks like, Silas?”

“Yes, describe him to me.”

“He has short curly hair and always laughing eyes.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, he looks younger than his age.”

“How old would you think him?”

“Oh, about twenty-two, twenty-three.”

“How old are you, Nan?”

“Twenty-one.”

“And he’s twenty-five. It sounds good. I’m fifty. What more about
Linnet?”

“I haven’t looked at him so closely, Silas.”

“You mean you haven’t noticed anything more?”

“No, nothing more.” She had no shame, but rather pride, in the lie.

“If I had eyes, I should make better use of them,” said Silas, not
disagreeably. He went on, “I’ve helped you and Linnet, haven’t I? sent
you for walks together, left you alone in my kitchen more than once? I’m
less soured than you think me. I’m sorry for you sometimes, being young,
and I liked helping you to Linnet as a playfellow. You reckon on me,
little Nan.”

She did not know what to make of this. She wanted to believe that Silas
meant to be kind; indeed, in spite of her latent scepticism she was
touched; but she was alarmed by and resisted the insinuations of his
words, which he had spoken in a lower voice, as though in an unnecessary
precaution of secrecy before Gregory; she glanced at Gregory, poising
his beautifully sharpened pencil over his drawing, and his fine looks,
and coarse rough hair, appeared to her distasteful. She looked at Silas,
so similar in build and feature, yet with a certain slyness that was
wholly absent from his brother. Silas was speaking again,—

“If you need anything, come to me, little Nan. You’re good to me, and
it’s not forgotten. We’ll be allies.”

This was the kind of phrase that frightened her, and whirled her away
before she was well aware, to a region of tacit admissions and
implications. Had she said more than she meant? more than she even
thought? Why, she thought nothing, or had thought nothing until Silas
began, but now her sense of undefined well-being was taking shape,
emerging from the mist of rustle and cadence, as the coast-line of
undiscovered country emerges from the sea mists of dawn. She had been
rushed; Silas had rushed her. She thought with terror of how Silas had
fastened upon her first words; one could believe that he had only been
waiting for her to pronounce them. He had been so ready. He had fired so
many questions. He had obliged her to say, or at least to admit, by her
silence, anything he wanted. He might not want much yet, but later?
later?

Apparently he was satisfied for the moment, for he picked up his Braille
volume and fell to running his finger tips over the pages, smiling to
himself.



                                   X


                                   I

She hoped that the subject would be forgotten. It was not forgotten.
That was clear to her, although Silas made no direct allusion; but by
his manner he established the existence of a secret between them, and
because she dared not say to him, “There is no secret,” the secret
remained, growing insidiously. She was nervous and uneasy in his
presence. Silas was kinder than ever she had known him, kinder and
gentler, also he appeared to be more contented, but she had a terrified
suspicion that he was contented only because his mind was occupied, and
it seemed horrible to her that she should be the centre of that
occupation. She had suddenly become involved in an affair whose
existence, she protested to herself, had its being solely as the outcome
of Silas’s imagination. She tried to shake it off and to laugh it away,
but he held her to it. She had the helpless sensation of being on the
end of a rope that he was slowly hauling in, maintaining his purchase
over every miserly inch as he gained it.

Hambley, soft-footed, insinuating, and urbane, added by his parasitic
presence to the uneasiness of the house. The yellow faced, thin little
man, with his black hair and his long front teeth like a rodent’s, never
had an opinion of his own, but echoed Silas, or cackled with the
laughter of approval. He alternately tried to provoke and to propitiate
Nan and Morgan, gibed at them when they were civil to him, and fawned on
them when they were curt. Nan shuddered when she wondered how many of
Silas’s darker thoughts were shared out to his keeping.

Was there a conspiracy against her? To her mind, full of alarm, this
seemed not impossible. Calthorpe even,—her prop, her kind, comfortable
friend,—Calthorpe mentioned casually, “I may have to steal Gregory from
you, my dear; I must have a man with me when I go to Birmingham to look
over some new plants, and I fancy that your Gregory would relish the
job, and be very useful to me.” She had clasped his arm. “Oh no, don’t
take Gregory away, Mr. Calthorpe.” “What!” he said in surprise, “are you
so fond of him?” She did not answer. She was not fond of Gregory; he was
an owner and an institution, but the question of fondness played no
part. Hitherto, she had not thought of disliking him; that was all. He
and Silas (until she knew Silas was a murderer) had appeared very much
the same in her mind, the only difference being that whereas Gregory had
rights over her passive and uninquiring person Silas had none.

“Well, am I not to take him?” asked Calthorpe.

“Yes, take him,” she replied. Why had she hesitated? By all these doubts
and hesitations she was playing Silas’s game; he had gained another inch
of the rope. “When are you going?”

“It’s all quite uncertain; I may not be going at all. But if I go, it
will be some time next month, and I shall ask for Gregory. I am
discovering that he has the real knack for any kind of engine; he’s
sulky about it and contemptuous, but I urge him, and he unfolds. He
showed me some of his plans—but you’re in the clouds?”


                                   II

Silas was with Lady Malleson, more than usually morose. She lay upon the
sofa, while he prowled up and down the room.

“Dene, you scarcely speak to me to-day?”

(“She cringes,” he thought with pride.)

“My sister-in-law’s in love,” he replied tersely.

“With whom has she fallen in love?” asked Lady Malleson, thinking how
strange it was that she should be thus intimately conversant with a
group of work-people down in the village.

“With Morgan,—the young zany.”

“Why, you always seemed so fond of him! your one human frailty,” she
bantered. But he rounded on her with unwarrantable sharpness. “I think
your ladyship is mistaken: I never remember saying I was fond of Morgan.
They’re neither of them any more alive than a turtle-dove sunning itself
in a wicker cage.”

“You strange creature—have you _no_ natural affections?” she said, with
indolent curiosity. “None for that young man, who really devotes himself
to you? none for your little harmless sister-in-law?”

“I’m nothing to them—only a blind man to whom they’re kind out of their
charity.”

“I don’t believe, Silas, that you are so bleak as you make out.”

“My own solitude, my lady, is my own choosing.”

“Why shouldn’t you accept what comfort those two young things could give
you?”

“It’s weak,” he burst out, “why not stand alone? why depend on another?
Why shouldn’t the strength of one suffice? Why all this need to double
it? Love’s wholly a question of weakness; the weaker you are, the more
desperately you love. A prop.... Love’s the first tie for an independent
man to rid himself of. It’s a weakness that grows too easily out of all
proportion. I want my mind for other things, not for anything so trite.
So well charted. So ... so recurrent.”

“Another theory, Silas? Be careful,” she lazily teased him; “what we
most abuse, you know, is often what we most fear.”

“I shall break them,” he growled.

“What! your sister-in-law? that frail-looking little thing?”

“She, and ... her lover.”

“Silas, you scare me sometimes, you speak so savagely.”

“Scare you, my lady? even you?”

“Why ‘even me’?”

“You’ve explored me,” he said grudgingly; “you know me so well.”

“Do I? everything about you?”

“Not quite,” he said, in a tone of profound gloom.

“Do you know yourself, I wonder?”

“To the depths,” he replied.

“Do you enjoy having such complete self-knowledge?”

“It’s lonely,” he said, his face drawn.

“Lonely, but you have _me_ now to talk to.”

“Oh, your ladyship is very kind and gracious,” he said, with the
deferential manner he sometimes abruptly assumed, and through which she
always uncomfortably suspected the sarcasm; “I am very grateful to your
ladyship. But your ladyship....” and thus far he preserved his
deference, but abandoned it now to exclaim as though tormented, “You’re
a whetstone to my disquiet; you taunt me, you keep all peace from me.”

“I never knew you wanted peace.”

He was tired and dispirited that day, and had been dwelling upon his
blindness; he craved for peace, for some one to give him peace!—and she
knew it. But she must whip and provoke him back to the strain of his old
attitude. She did not know what urged her to say as she did, in her most
sneering tone, “I never knew you wanted peace.”

“Nor I do,” he snarled; “I wouldn’t have it as a gift.”


                                  III

So they wrangled always; indispensable she might be to him, but peace
was certainly not what she brought him. And although they maintained the
disguise afforded by her tone of slight condescension, and by his of
conventional respect, underneath this disguise fomented the perpetual
and manifold contest, of class against class, of the rough against the
fastidious, of the man against the woman. She had very little real fear
that its full strength would ever break over her,—little real fear, only
enough to provide the spice she exacted. She trusted to her appraisement
of him: too proud to risk a rebuff; too fiercely recalcitrant under the
thongs of affection. Under their menace he snorted and reared, while she
laughed indolently, and incited him to further indignations. Yet she
held him, she held him! and though she knew full well that she fretted
and exasperated him, she held him still; seeing his struggles, but
toying with him, pretending to let him go, pulling him back, distracting
and confusing his spirit that was always beating round in the search for
escape; and all the while she heard from various quarters the pleasant
flattery of her guilt extolled under the name of charity.


                                   IV

“You’ll be happy soon: you’ll have the spring,” Silas said to Nan. He
did not speak with the customary note of derision in his voice,—this was
the newer Silas,—but she thought she detected it very painstakingly
concealed.

She went away from him, and her going was after the manner of a flight.
Had she followed her impulse, she would have gone running, with her head
bent down between her protecting hands. It seemed that she could keep
nothing from Silas; he laid his grasp without mercy upon her shyest
secrets. She had tried to keep her joy in the coming spring a secret;
although reserve was hard of accomplishment to her, she had achieved it,
hiding her delight away in her heart, or so she believed, not knowing
that her laughter had rung more clearly, or that she had been singing so
constantly over her work in the two cottages. She was conscious of no
impatience and no desires. She would not, by a wish, have made herself a
month older. She was happy now, she told herself, because the country
would presently become a refuge from the factory, instead of its dismal
and consonant setting, wide and level as the sea itself, in its centre
the sinister hump of the abbey and the factory. By walking a little way
in the opposite direction, and turning her back upon the village, she
would dismiss the factory and look across the liberated country, as it
was impossible to do in these days when the floods accompanied the
factory for miles around as a reflection of its spirit. She told herself
that she wanted nothing more. She knew that she could be happy,—perhaps
not indefinitely, but she did not look far ahead, the present was too
buoyant and suspended,—happy for the moment if Silas would but leave her
alone.


                                   V

For a few days he kept up his new smooth-spoken tone; it was “little
Nan” this, and “little Nan” that, and whenever he could get hold of her
hand he stroked and patted it, and joined his fingers round her wrist,
saying that it was fragile. “You’re very slight, Nan,” he said, feeling
her arm and shoulder, and once he laid one hand against her chest and
the other against her back, and said that there was no thickness in her
body. She withdrew herself, shuddering, from his touch. “I’m blind, you
know,” he whined, and then laughed, “Bless you, blind or not blind, I
know any of you in the room before you’ve spoken; there’s very little
Silas doesn’t know. I know all about you, Nan, and I’m a good friend to
you, too.” “But Silas ...” she began desperately. “Hush!” he said,
putting his fingers to her lips and looking mysterious, “no need to say
anything; we understand one another.” Just then Linnet Morgan came in,
throwing aside his cap, and Nan clasped her hands in terror lest Silas
should continue. “Linnet?” said Silas instantly, “you’re back early
to-day.”

Linnet had work which could as easily be done at home. He began at once
getting books and papers out of his cupboard, and disposing them on the
table. He and Nan observed one another stealthily and quickly; he saw
that she wore her dark red shirt and black skirt, and that on his
entrance she had become silent as though confused, but meanwhile he
talked to Silas and made him laugh, and ran his fingers backwards
through his hair. Nan noticed that his crisp hair was quite golden at
the roots, and that a fine white line followed the beginning of its
growth. He was very fair-skinned, and the back of his neck where it
disappeared into his collar was covered with a fine golden down. He was
always busy; when he was not working he was talking and laughing; Nan
supposed that he had never in his life had time to think about himself.

“There’s something I’ve always wanted to know,” began Silas, resting his
arms upon the table as though he were watching Nan and Linnet, “what
were you two doing here the night Martin came? while I was at the
Abbey?”

“The night the donkey was maimed?” asked Morgan.

“Why, fancy you remembering that!” said Silas negligently.

“I was clearing up, and we talked for a bit,” Nan put in.

“There was nothing to clear up; it was Sunday evening and you’d been
singing and playing your zither. You talked mostly,—now, didn’t you?”

“Why not?” asked Morgan. He was very rarely sharp in speech, but he saw
Nan’s discomfort.

“Why not, indeed? you and Nan are much of an age,” Silas replied. They
considered him wonderingly; was he well-intentioned or infinitely
malign? As they considered him he got up and went towards the stairs.
“Back in a moment,” he said. They heard his tread upon the steps, then
moving overhead. They looked at one another.

“Why did you say that about the donkey?” Nan asked.

“You think, like me, that Silas did it,” he answered, as a statement.
“Don’t look so frightened,” he went on, his eyes softening into his
ready smile; “I assure you, you need never be frightened of Silas.
There’s no muscle in his violence. Nothing will ever come of it—beyond
maiming donkeys. Oh yes, it’s horrible, I know, because it’s so futile.
No, don’t shake your head—your pretty head,” he added inaudibly. An
impulse came over him to cry “You tiny thing! you slip of fragility!”
but he repressed it.

She uttered the most treacherous remark she had ever breathed about
Silas, something which fringed the frightful truth, “I know better,”
then terrified of her indiscretion, added, “Oh no, I mean nothing.”

“You are afraid of him, aren’t you?” he said, coming round the table
closer to her, his attitude very sympathetic and protective, and
differing by a shade from Calthorpe’s attitude. “You must not be that.
One can only be sorry for Silas, who has grown warped and crooked, and
who talks because there is nothing else he can do. Whenever I think of
Silas, I feel so lucky in mind and body.”

She glanced at him gratefully. He had had the tact not to urge an
explanation of her injudicious remark, and she knew that she could
always depend upon this gentle tact; moreover, he had rescued her soul
from the terror she so dreaded, and had by his words set Silas in a sane
and pitiful light. It suited her temperament to have Silas drawn down
from the uncomfortable heights where he seemed to dwell in perpetual
strife with elements. It was no longer Silas who brooded over them, but
they who endured and even loved Silas with widened charity. She was very
grateful to Linnet for this. What he had done once he could do again; he
could soothe her terrors. She had not yet thought of him in so human,
companionable a way.

He continued the line that he had taken up, giving her time to command
herself fully, making no demands upon her and pretending that nothing
had been amiss. He swung himself on to the table, and talked easily,—

“I feel so lucky and thankful for having whole limbs and a sane mind. I
don’t covet genius, but I do covet sanity; in fact, I’m not sure that
the broadest genius isn’t the supreme sanity. Balance and justice! I
think those two things are magnificent and grand,” (but he himself, she
knew, would in practice always be merciful rather than just).

“I wish I had your book-learning,” she said; “you ought to stick to
books.”

“Oh no,” he replied, “I like chemistry better, and those things.
Science.... If I hadn’t to earn my living I shouldn’t be working on
scents in this factory. No! I’d be in a country cottage with a
laboratory.”

“You do your best as it is,” she said, touching his stack of scientific
books.

“I had a bit of training at Edinburgh University,” he said, in wistful
reminiscence, “but one ought to dedicate years....”

“Who was your father?” she asked after much deliberation whether she
might venture the question. She knew Morgan only as an isolated person,
who had arrived one day into the world of the factory, and had never
mentioned home or relations. She knew only that he was Scotch; he had a
very slight Scotch accent.

“He was an Inverness crofter,” he replied vaguely, “I used to keep the
sheep on the hills in mists and snows, and properly I hated it. The days
were short, and I thought it was always winter. I used to sit shivering
on the brae-side, huddled in a plaid for shelter under a boulder, trying
to read while I kept one eye on the sheep. The pages of my book used to
get damp and limp, and the print got blurred when I tried to dry the
page with the corner of my jacket. Then somebody found out that I wasn’t
getting any education, and reported it, so I was sent back to school,
and was happy again. And you—you haven’t lived here always, have you?”

“Since I was ten,” she replied, sighing, “we used to live in the south
before that ... I liked that,” she said, “it was a pretty place,
Midhurst, near Arundel—perhaps you know it?” She thought innocently, and
rather in the fashion of a child, that every one must know what she
knew.

“I wish I did, but I don’t.”

“Oh, it’s under the Downs. Do you remember the day we walked with Silas
to Thorpe’s Howland? that put me in mind of Midhurst; there were woods
round about Midhurst.”

“You enjoyed yourself that day, didn’t you?”

He expected a little burst of rhapsody from her, but she only said
quietly, “Yes, I did,” and he was aware of disappointment, and at the
same time of the little stinging charm of her occasional unexpectedness.

“We both come from sheep country, then,” he said, but the images evoked
in their minds were different: his of rough hills with their summits
lost in mist, and lochs lying amongst the windings at their base; of
dirty huddled flocks swept by wind and sleet; while hers were of cropped
downland under a blue and white open sky, with the shadows of the clouds
bowling across the downs and over the clumps of trees and little
church-steeples in the valleys. He realised the disparity, saying “When
I say that, we see different pictures,” and he smiled, but in his heart
he longed for their childhood to have run side by side either in the
Sussex or the Highland village. “Have you ever been back there?” he
asked.

“Oh no; it’s a long way from Lincolnshire. I was always at the factory
after I left school, and then when I was eighteen Mother died and I
married.”

“Only eighteen?”

“A week after my birthday.”

“How young!” he said, with such rich and wondering compassion that she
looked suddenly as it were into the depths of a cool inexhaustible well,
always at hand for the quenching of her thirst. He was sitting on the
table near her, while their conversation flowed on in its effortless
interest, so that time and his books were forgotten. He seemed quite
absorbed in what they were saying, looking down at her with intent
consideration. They had attained an intimacy in which they could talk
untroubled; she found it very precious.

“Now, Linnet!” said Silas’s bantering voice, “making love to my
sister-in-law?”


                                   VI

Silas became unwontedly withdrawn into himself, neither Nan nor Morgan
knew what to make of him. At times he avoided them, at other times
silently sought their company. Gregory, to whom Nan turned, after one
glance at his brother, replied, “Let him alone,” and she followed the
brief formula as being the best advice, finding that Silas only snarled
at her whenever she spoke to him. She was relieved rather than dismayed;
Silas surly was preferable to Silas honeyed.

He roamed alone, spending hours in the abbey after dusk; or ordered up
Hambley, and under the little man’s guidance made his way to the
secluded summer-house at Malleson Place. Lady Malleson was also at a
loss to understand his altered manner; towards her he relaxed his
taciturnity, and his speech was more than ever wild and varied, but
although he ranged erratically she had the impression that his mind
rarely departed from one central subject, and she had also the shrewd
idea that that subject was his little sister-in-law, whom she had once
seen, and whom she vaguely thought a pretty, delicate, rather appealing
girl, unimportant until she had become the preoccupation of Silas’s
thoughts.

So long as she had Silas with her, however, she cared very little what
he talked about. The utmost that she deplored, sometimes, was his
restlessness. It made her wonder whether she really held him. She
wondered, indeed, sometimes whether her hold on him was too light to
satisfy her vanity, or too secure—all too secure!—for the preservation
of her safety and her convenience. She liked danger well enough, but
there was a point where danger might become too dangerous.

“Wild man,—Ishmael,” she said to him.

But he went on regardless with what he had been saying.

“There’s but one use for the body,” he exclaimed, “health. Not
mortification—that’s morbid. But _health_, lean and hard. Sinews like
whips.” He bared a magnificent forearm. “The only instance where I
practise what I preach,” he added bitterly, causing the muscles to rise
at will.

“Then you should respect your brother Gregory,” she said, languidly
content.

“You have seen him lately, my lady?”

“Yesterday, in the village.”

“The neatest of minds, in the body of a blacksmith,” said Silas.

“Neat?”

“Why, yes—so long as he doesn’t break out. Then he lays all around him,
smashes everything he can see, without comment—that makes it quite
uncanny, I assure you—and in a trice returns to his quiet and his
neatness as though nothing out of the way had happened. He’s very
inaccessible, my brother Gregory. No warnings. No explanations. No
remorse. Nothing apparently, but action.”

“You respect that,” she said, looking at his fine bony face, and his
thick rough hair.

“Think, if a man’s killed,” he brooded, “killed by violent means, what
an outrage on the body. Blood spilt, that ran secretly and private in
his veins. Bones, no one had ever seen. Entrails. What a bursting!”

She pictured his mind as a landscape ravaged by war, here a wreckage of
stone and twisted iron, there a grave, here the stark Calvary of a
stricken tree, there the bright blare of poppies striving for life
amongst the rushes and rank weeds.

“You waste yourself,” she said; “you should be a martyr,—or a poet.”

She liked to stir him, by such calculated remarks.

“A second-rate poet? not I,” he sneered instantly; then, as the flattery
stole over him, “More likely a martyr, of the two,” he said, responding.

“You waste yourself,” she repeated, drawing meanwhile slowly through her
fingers the long silk fringe of a shawl that lay thrown across her sofa,
“you waste yourself, out of contempt. You eagle with broken wings!”—she
knew with what gluttony he accepted such metaphors, and amused herself
when he wasn’t with her by thinking out new ones that she might serve up
to him,—“you repudiate comfort, don’t you, in your dream of grandeur.
Will you end, I wonder, by getting neither?” “No one speaks to me like
your ladyship,” he muttered reluctantly. She laughed. She enjoyed
pretending to an ideal of him that, his pride well fired, he would
strain himself to live up to; an ideal, moreover, that coincided so
adroitly with his own ideal of himself. “I never knew a man so
vigorously reject the second-best. It was a pity,” she continued,
smoothing out and patting down the fringe of the shawl, “that you never
came across a woman to suit you.” She raised her eyes to watch him as
she talked, and modulated her phrases according to the expression she
found on his face, nor did she trouble to conceal the busy mischief in
her own; there were advantages, certainly, in his blindness. “How would
you have behaved, I wonder?” she went on; “you would have made a stormy
lover, I fancy, once your resistance had been thrown to the winds.
Stormy and exacting. Poor woman! Yet I dare say she wouldn’t have
minded. Women are like that, you know. And for you,—no more loneliness,
no more unsatisfied longings, no more misanthropy. I believe you’d have
grown into a different man. You would probably have achieved a good
deal.... But it would have taken a clever woman, a very clever woman, to
steer you without your knowing that you were being steered.”

“Women in my walk of life don’t have time for cleverness, my lady,” he
said acrimoniously, giving a literal answer to her words because he must
ignore the meaning which he read into them, and which, as he well knew,
she had intended him to read. Her ingenuity was tireless over
insinuations that put him on the rack. Clever, she had said; she was
clever enough! why hadn’t they, he wondered, appointed women to sit upon
the tribunals of the Inquisition? “If you had been born into my class,
or I into yours ...” he burst out.

“I don’t admit impertinence, you know, Dene,” she said in a voice of
ice, “and anyway I am afraid I cannot give you any more time at
present.”


                                  VII

Thus, always. He hated his bondage, he despised while he coveted the
woman, he hated her for holding him bound, but nothing, nothing was
comparable to his hatred and disgust of himself in his inability to get
free. Often he raved audibly, shaking his fists; and those who saw him
stopped to listen to his mutterings, and thought what an alarming sight
Silas Dene presented, with his wild blind eyes and furrowed mouth that
mumbled and let drop the tiny river of saliva. He was often to be seen
thus in the abbey, of an evening, prowling in the aisles; where
occasionally on a Sunday he would be perceived by the rare visitor
attracted to Abbot’s Etchery, that strange island of factory and Norman
abbey emerging amidst the floods, sufficiently singular to be worth the
journey out from Lincoln; and those who saw him there went away saying
that not the least arresting sight in the desolate encampment was the
blind man who in savagery and loneliness haunted the precincts of the
abbey, and whose incoherent ravings could be readily changed by a little
encouragement into a tirade of such vehemence, such angry bitterness,
such bewildering aggression. They went away wondering what ailed him, to
have made of him so baffling and solitary a figure.


                                  VIII

Rumour, at the same time, began to trot like a jackal round the figure
of Silas. There was the incident, never very clear to the village, of
the fire. Loyalty of course silenced Nan and Morgan; and Hambley, to a
very large extent silenced through fear, dared do no more than drop
hints that Silas could scarcely trace back to him. Nevertheless, a taste
of the story got about, a taste that the village relished and rolled
over on its tongue, both in the workshops and the public bar,—for gossip
that penetrated the fiercely secluded house of the Denes, and brought to
light even the tip of one of their buried secrets, had a legendary smack
denied to topics more vulgar and more frequently accessible.

Also, Lady Malleson’s name was murmured, behind the shelter of a raised
hand.

Nan was aware of the curious looks, thrown at her because she had been
with Silas during the fire; and Morgan, aware of similar looks, met them
with a contemptuous impatience; but Silas for some days knew of nothing
amiss. Only when he stood up to speak at the debating-club, down in the
concert-room, he heard a murmur pass through his audience, a murmur of
resentment and disapproval. It was as though the accumulated resentment
of the men, repressed hitherto out of a lack of understanding, a certain
awe, and even a grudging admiration, had now broken its bonds under a
definite provocation that had submerged their submission by arousing
their disgust. It was a low murmur, compounded of irritation, criticism,
and of mutiny under a tyranny they no longer respected and were
therefore no longer prepared to admit. Silas heard it, and with his fist
already lifted for his peroration, stopped himself dead.

He faced them, standing alone under the dark frown of many sulky and
rebellious looks.

“Some one spoke?” he demanded.

He was accustomed to exact silence when he took up the debate.

He had very little time to decide his course of action; he knew that
they were against him; knew, obscurely, why; and dared not press home
the question.

Morgan was not present, or he might have tided over the matter, out of
pity for Silas, who in his defiance looked so extraordinarily gaunt and
solitary, and so undefeatably proud.

Morgan, however, was busy elsewhere, so that Silas faced only a lowering
throng, that sat obstinate, chins thrust forward into palms and murmured
still, with deliberate intent to affront, but without the courage to
bring clear accusation.

“This isn’t the treatment I’m accustomed to receive here,” Silas bayed
at them finally, “and until I’m invited I’ll no longer trouble you.
Invited I said, and invited I meant. If I’m sought up at my own house
perhaps I’ll reconsider it, and come back to you. For the present,
good-night to you all.”

One, more kind-hearted than the rest, and perhaps ashamed, rose clumsily
to intercept him as he went towards the door.

“I’ll help you, Dene.”

Silas thrust him aside, and strode away alone.


                                   IX

When this story had come to the ears of Nan and Morgan, they whispered
“The fire!” and crept away from one another sooner than disturb a
subject of which they could not bear to speak.

The fire had taken place at night, and had not been in itself of any
importance. “You see nothing but a few tarred sheds burning,” Silas had
cried, in a frenzy of desperation to Morgan, “and folk will come to me
to-morrow to say you acted gallantly, or what not. Why shouldn’t you,
seeing only wood and flames? You don’t hear it coming after you with
great light strides and flaming fingers....”

“Silas, you’re afraid,” Morgan had said gravely.

Silas had checked himself at that; he had quavered, and made an effort
to recover. The accusation had fallen like a plummet into the
uncontrolled waters of his mind. He had quavered, and almost gibbered at
Morgan; so greatly fallen beneath his normal standard of pride and
independence that he had been shocking to hear and see. He had tried to
defend himself, “Not afraid, only helpless, helpless....”

Nan and Morgan had stood, hearing him beseech them not to leave him. Nan
knew then that Silas was betrayed by fear into revealing something he
usually kept very, very carefully concealed; that was why the exposure
was so shocking and so degrading; and Morgan seeing it with her eyes
stood beside her, both equally hurt, and equally craving to rescue
Silas. But he, in his mingled panic and resentment, had had nothing but
insults for them, and, nearly screaming, told Morgan to clear out.

“Shall I stay with you?” Nan had asked.

He had hesitated; he wanted to fling her out, he tried to make himself
say, “No, go!” but his extreme terror was stronger than this flicker of
his other, antagonistic. He said, “Yes, you can stay,” a heat of hatred
for her passing over him as he said it.


                                   X

They had sat in silence after Morgan had gone, because Silas had
forbidden her to speak. She was glad of the hush, for she felt that she
had passed through a great empty din and that the brass vacancy of
cymbals was still clanging in her ears. The scene had wounded her, and
had roused emotions that bewildered her. Why should she resent (to the
extent of stretching out deterrent hands, as she had done,) the betrayal
of Silas by himself? Somewhere, though she would neither have probed nor
acknowledged, she had believed that underneath her fear and pity lay
hatred of Silas; she had even tried to extend her pity into a reassuring
mental scorn. Yet to him, who never spared others, she had had the
impulse to cry, “Spare yourself.” She had suffered from seeing him
untrue to his own tradition.

They sat in silence, Silas tearing at the seat of a rush-bottomed chair,
Nan watching the unequal glow in the sky outside the windows. She found
herself trembling from time to time. Not with fear of the fire, but with
disgust and regret of that noisy scene. She wished that something would
happen to restore him to his ancient formidable credit, something to
remove that disquieting sense of his fraudulence. She turned away from
him, but next moment was glancing at him again; he was destroying the
seat of the chair, shred by shred, his fine hands pulling at the rushes
with a peevish haste and his head bent obstinately away from
observation. Every time a siren hooted he hunched himself more closely
together, as though the compression of his limbs would afford him some
protection.

“I think the glare is dying down, Silas,” she said gently.

He hunched himself fretfully away.

He was thinking, “They are full of forbearance and long-suffering. Am I
to be taught gratitude? perhaps through disaster? They would let God
himself look into every corner of their minds. Little children!” For the
moment, under the effect of his fear, he did not brand them as lacking
in savour. Their limpidity seemed to him as desirable as the absence of
danger. If danger might but be removed he would abandon as the price his
own arrogant passions. He was humbled now to another standard of life.
Weary of battle and opposition, peace appeared to him sweet and seemly,
now that he had been granted tumult,—a tumult not of his own making, and
entirely out of the control of his stage-managing. He thought again,
“They have never a quick word against me. Nan gave me a stick, and I
broke it and said I wanted no stick, because I knew she expected me to
show pleasure. I am sure that after I broke it she had tears in her
eyes. But why should she try to coax me with presents? or I allow myself
to be coaxed?” He shuddered at the long scream of a siren, and reflected
that they had probably kept the extent of the fire from him, knowing
that he could not verify. For an instant he caught hold of the idea that
the fire might get across the village to the abbey, and destroy that;
and a little flash of old wicked glee passed across him. But it died
away. He imagined the fire travelling down his own street, men and women
flying before it, and he himself forgotten, engulfed,—perhaps even
purposely left to perish. At this point he spoke, “Are you there, Nan?”
She was there. “I never meant you any harm, Nan,” he said surprisingly.
Warm-hearted, she was at his side as the words left his lips. “No,
Silas, I know that....” “That’ll do,” he said pushing her away.

But he had now started upon another train of thought, which he adopted
and amplified with his usual vehemence. “God preserve me, and I will
live to befriend Nan and Linnet.” Obscurely he had the instinct of
propitiation, offering his intention as a bribe to a very angry god; and
partially in his chastened mood,—albeit but the vile chastening of
terror,—he yielded to the stirrings of his own repressed sentimentalism.
Simplicity, limpidity, were perhaps not the poor and bloodless
attributes he had thought. Their case might be turned convincingly by a
skilful advocate. He, Silas, had the mettle of strife within him; those
other two had not: (The fire! the fire! in the meanderings of his
arguments he had almost forgotten the fire. In the rush of recollection
he knotted his fingers together till they cracked. He was horribly
afraid.) Those two did not fight and wrestle with chimeras, muscles
knotted and sweat pouring, as Silas did. Their minds were not ridden by
demons. They did not sight everywhere a portent, a dark enemy or a
fiercely fair ally. He had scorned them as easy, milky, satisfied,—he
knew well the run of the familiar epithets. He had tried to scorn them;
he had forsworn their kindness. He had crushed his love for them, and
his longing to allow the warm tide of that love to flow in solace over
him. He had been proud, and had driven his craft ever to sea, courting
the gales and riot, rather than accept the broad comfort of the haven.
Proud! proud! how superbly proud! how proportionately base the physical
fear that could humble such a spirit of arrogance in man!


                                   XI

A cry from Nan brought him to his feet, chattering. “What it it? what is
it?” in a renewed access of fear. “Oh, Silas!” she exclaimed, coming
close to him, “there’s Hambley looking in through the window; tell him
to go away, oh, please tell him to go away! He does what you tell him
always.”

Hambley was indeed pressing his face against the window, and the shape
of his head was dark against the red sky. He was so small that he was
only just able to reach the window by climbing to the outside sill with
the tips of his fingers, and the end of his nose was flattened white
upon the pane. Nan could see the grin on his evil little face. Silas
strode to the door, flung it open, and summoned the little man. At the
end of the street the night was torn by flames.

As soon as Hambley was inside he seized the little man by his collar.
“Now what were you doing, peeping into my house when you thought you
wouldn’t be found out? You little skunk, I’ve always called you, and so
you are. You frightened Nan, you little skunk. You meant to spy upon me.
Well, you’ll see what you get!” Holding him easily with one hand,
sometimes swinging him clean off his feet, so that he twirled and
dangled in mid-air, Silas thrashed him with his fist, and Hambley
shrieked and appealed to Nan, and tried, but quite vainly, to kick
Silas. Nan got into a corner, out of the way of the blows. When he had
finished, Silas carried him over to the door and threw him regardlessly
out into the street.


                                  XII

Morgan came back at midnight, and said that the fire was over, not
having spread beyond the sheds. He was rubbing his blackened hands on a
piece of waste. His eyes fell upon the litter of shredded rushes
scattered in witness on the floor near Silas. Nan drooped, pale and
tired. He began to tell her about the fire, trying to brighten her and
to make her feel that she was no longer a prisoner alone with Silas. He
was purposely taking no notice of Silas, but presently looked up to see
the blind man standing above them.

He appeared to be immensely tall and haggard, and upon his face was a
look of suffering, which by the accentuation of furrow and wrinkle gave
the suggestion that he was unkempt. His limbs and torso were hugely,
grotesquely reproduced in shadow upon the walls and ceiling behind him.
Inscrutable to them, he loomed over Nan and Linnet. At last he spoke.

“You’re glad to have him back, Nan. You’re glad to come back to her,
Linnet.”

Their eyes met in tremulous surprise; was Silas to serve as their
interpreter?

“You little, dainty people! Oh, yes. I know. Gentle in your dealings.
Amiable. Indulgent. You don’t criticise—criticism’s uncharitable—might
hurt somebody’s feelings. Let things remain as they are; don’t disturb.
Moderation! That’s your creed. Make terms. Compromise!” He dropped
ejaculations, and swung into his most rhetorical vein, in which he
seemed really possessed by a spirit that released the unfaltering words.
“O pliant ones of the earth! blessed are the meek, and flowers shall
revive at your passage. Wander into the woods; call to the roe-deer to
eat from your hand. Look with envy at the pairing foxes, the nesting
birds; no creature so wild that it may escape the yearly call of home.
If the fox and the vixen together can burrow their earth for shelter and
the whelping of their litter, cannot you two together build a hut of
boughs and branches in a clearing beside the stream? Listen: I covet no
love, I am debarred; and love when it touches men like me is no virtue,
only an indulgence of self and a lapse from strength.” He laughed. “Who
would be weak? or bestial? But in you, love shall attain its highest
purpose of usefulness and steadfastness. To be steadfast in love is
reserved to man; it is the conscious will of love, the sustained reason.
Without it, as well be a dog, and couple in the street. Are you fit? You
are young and your minds are counterparts; you have no business with me
or with Gregory. Leave me to Gregory, and Gregory to me; the dumb shall
lead the blind, and the blind shall speak for the dumb. But you, go out,
where no strife assails, and concern yourselves with labour. You are the
builders, and we are the destroyers; we are the cursed, and you are the
blessed. You and your like must build your security upon the ruins of us
and our like; it’s the natural law. I might have been another man, but
God saw fit to twist me; he wrenched my spirit and upon each of my eyes
in turn he laid a finger.”

They sat absolutely speechless, confused and confounded that he should
thus trumpet out the secret they had hitherto guarded from one another.
They had wondered and suffered and trembled much, but of all outcomes
this was an outcome they had certainly never foreseen. It broke over
them like a natural catastrophe; Silas was making it into something
beyond the diapason of their souls.

“Build!” he said passionately, earnestly, “build with your sanity and
your health. Leave query and destruction to the tormented spirits; there
will always be enough of those; and if you did but know,—oh, world!” he
said, clasping his hands, “if you did but know, you would pity the
precursor, solitary and bold. Then comes the army of the workers, with
honest tools, and their flowing quietness.—Why should you struggle, you
two, beside Gregory and me? You should be side by side, perfectly
matched, amongst children who should resemble you. Tell me,” he said,
bending down to them, “you love?”

When he reduced it to those naked terms, they were ashamed into honesty,
both towards him and towards each other; they assented, as though he
were a priest reading over them a terrible and simple marriage-service.

“Then you shall have the courage to love. You shall go unmolested. You
were intended to fulfil, not to renounce. Who pretends to one law for
all? Not I; I wouldn’t dare utter such a heresy of intolerance. Not in
my sane moments. Who would take a field-bird up into the mountains? His
place is simpler; sweeter....”

He suddenly put his hands over his face, and his voice faltered, as
though he were spent and had nothing more to say.

“Go away now,” he said fretfully, “I’m tired out.”



                                   XI


                                   I

This wound, this gash, to be exposed to the village! How greedily they
would lick up his blood! they would set upon him with claw and fang as
upon a lion brought low. No delight could equal the delight over the
dictator shamed, or the eagerness with which those in subjection would
pounce upon the infallible taken in fault. But, while knowing the story
of the fire to be common gossip, he would grant no concessions; he
stalked about the streets in challenging pride, more than usually
unkempt, more than usually fierce, an object of whispered comment for
all those who had expected him to keep himself at last within bounds. It
was noticed that when spoken to, he threw back his head as though it had
been crowned with a mane, and his answers were too haughty to be set
down as the cheaper insolence. The men were a little impressed, but to
give themselves determination they continued to mutter against him.
Calthorpe knew it, and was concerned. He hinted something to Sir Robert
Malleson, but Malleson had received an anonymous letter which disturbed
and occupied every energy of his mind, and was unsympathetic. The only
person with whom Calthorpe could get a hearing was Mr. Medhurst, who
called at Silas’s cottage, and came away saying blandly that Dene was an
altered being. Why had Calthorpe so distressed himself over Dene’s state
of mind, and the attitude of the village? He could not understand.
Calthorpe in his kind-heartedness had surely been mistaken.

“Why, Dene, I am very happy to find you in so Christian a spirit.” Poor
Mr. Medhurst suffered greatly from the trap of his phraseology; it made
all intercourse with his fellows a source of self-consciousness so acute
that he felt justified in counting every visit as a mortification. Yet
he was unable to control it. Visits to Silas Dene were a special
mortification; he had to pray for strength before setting out, and now
Mrs. Gregory Dene, a good little soul, was not there to help him. “Of
course, you are a church-goer; I often see you in the abbey,” Mr.
Medhurst pursued.

“Yes, sir,” Silas replied gravely.

“You seem to prefer the evening services? Ah well, I dare say they fit
in better with your work.” Silas made no reply, but sat smiling to
himself. Mr. Medhurst started another topic, “What pretty flowers you
have always in here, Dene.”

“Yes, sir, my sister-in-law does that.”

“She must be a great comfort to you, Dene, since ... well, since you
have been by yourself ... you know....”

“Since my wife was killed, sir.”

“Well ... yes; yes, after all, that is what I meant. I should like to
say, Dene, that I admire extremely the courage you have displayed under
your sorrow; I think I may claim that I am not unobservant—although, God
knows, sorely wanting in other qualities, I add in all humility. I will
confess that your conduct at the inquest impressed me most painfully,
but we need not dwell upon that; since then I have had nothing but
praise for your demeanour.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Yes, indeed. I was saying so to Sir Robert Malleson only the other day.
It gives me great pleasure to say so to you now. You are a brave man,
Dene.” He pronounced the words “brave man” separately and with emphasis,
and allowed a suitable emotion to rise through his tone.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Not at all, Dene, not at all. It is only your due.”

“Well, sir, perhaps we all have liftings towards honour,” said Silas
demurely.

“H’m!” said Mr. Medhurst. What strange phrases the man employed!
“Liftings towards honour.” What could that mean? But he was certainly
quieter; quieter and better-mannered, and his frequent presence at
evening service was a hopeful sign, though Mr. Medhurst had noticed with
a vague misgiving that he took no part in the responses.


                                   II

Two days after the fire Silas received a summons from Lady Malleson, a
summons that he had been expecting because he knew Malleson was away. It
was brought to him not by Hambley as usual (that was scarcely
surprising), but by Emma, Lady Malleson’s maid. Would he come
immediately? she, Emma, was to bring him back. “I’ll wait for you, Mr.
Dene; you’ll be wanting to brush up a bit,” she said, looking at his
dirty hands and untidy hair, but he scoffed at the suggestion and said
that they should start at once.

In his impatience he forced the maid to a great pace, dragging her along
rather than allowing her to lead him. She kept exclaiming that he would
stumble over roots and rabbit-holes as they crossed the park, but he
brushed her caution aside. “You’re very particular not to keep her
ladyship waiting,” said she meaningly, not appreciating this walk with
blind Dene, of whom so many strange tales were told. Little Hambley had
been seen that morning up at Malleson Place, scowling and limping in the
stable-yard, and the grooms with much relish had said that Silas Dene
had given him a thorough thrashing. Little Hambley had, of course, not
owned to it. He had snapped viciously in reply to their chaff. Emma
longed to ask Silas whether the story was true, but as no one ever asked
questions of Silas, she, like many others, held her tongue.


                                  III

He was taken up to the sitting-room, introduced by the maid, and left
just inside the door, as on the occasion of his first visit. But now he
knew the way about the room.

“In the house to-day, my lady?” he said, “I like the garden-house
better.”

“And you want your own way, as usual?” she asked.

“You say that as though you hated me,” he said, stopping dead.

“What a sensitive ear you have,” she replied cruelly. “I do.”

There was a finality about this pronouncement which caused him to take
it with the utmost seriousness. Her tones were chill and bloodless and
dead, and they disquieted him, so much that he advanced not another
step, but remained readjusting his mood, which had been eager, to one of
defence. He was horribly startled. It was fortunate for him that he
could not see her; she had retreated from him as far as the size of the
room would allow, behind the sofa, where she stood shivering as though
with cold, her eyes fixed and unblinking, her hand laid upon her loose
garment to hold it close at the throat, and all her muscles gathered
ready for swift escape at any sign of advance on his part.

“I should not have sent for you,” she said, “but I knew you could not
read a letter if I wrote you one, and I did not care to send you a
message through any of my servants. I don’t want to keep you long, as I
only want to tell you that I am leaving for London to-morrow and shall
not be seeing you again. I could certainly have sent you a message to
tell you that. But I wanted to tell you my reason myself.”

She had prepared beforehand what she intended to say, for her safeguard
lay in frigidity of speech, and to achieve that she must maintain
frigidity of feeling. That had been easy before he came; but when she
saw him her cold anger had been shaken, her contempt had wavered beneath
a return of her old respect, and her audacity in risking danger had
revived. “I wanted to tell you my reason,” she resumed, “but before
doing so I must own that you had completely taken me in. I thought I
knew you well, but I knew only that part of you which you were willing
that I should know. I thought I had made in you the discovery of
something really rather remarkable. I was rather pleased with myself
over it. I know now that I have been stupidly mistaken. Your elaborate
fraud deceived me as being a genuine thing....”

“I can see you have learnt all this by heart,” he interrupted. She
flamed up no less at his perspicacity than at his rudeness.

“Very well,” she cried, “I’ll drop my stilted phrases. I did prepare
them, but they are true, for all that. I have found you out. You
interested me, you even impressed me,—I hate you for it. You’re nothing
but a sham and a coward.”

“It’s not true,” said Silas, growing very pale.

“It’s so true,” she said quickly, “that the words I’ve just used to you
are the very words you have always most dreaded hearing. A sham and a
coward. You’re such a coward that there have been moments when you were
glad you were blind, because that saved you from dangers other men were
expected to undertake. You were quite safe to talk about danger; your
blindness sheltered you, and words couldn’t possibly hurt. Am I not
speaking the truth? Your blindness has been your best friend, as well as
your worst enemy,—your worst enemy, because it favoured your horrible
imagination, and provided a darkness that you peopled with shapes; your
best friend, because all the time it preserved you from having to
practise what you preached. See how I know you now. I suppose it amused
you to deceive me, to see just how far you could go, and sometimes when
you thought you’d put your foot an inch over the line of my credulity
you drew it back very skilfully. Now I have simply found you out for
what you are. I have learnt the story of the fire two nights ago.”

“Nan!” exclaimed Silas, in a burst of fury.

“Not at all; I have seen Hambley. I don’t wish to make any mystery. He
came to see me this morning, whining and snivelling, and told me the
whole story: how you had lost your head, how you had gibbered with
fright—gibbered was the word he used—he says you went like this,” and
she imitated a man in the extremity of terror, working her mouth,
distending her eyes and nostrils, and clacking her fingers; “he was not
pretty to watch, Dene. Then he told me how you had dragged him in and
beaten him for looking in through your window; he was quite shrewd
enough to see that you seized upon the pretext of beating him merely as
a relief to your nerves, that fright had exasperated. He came to me in
order to be revenged on you, and also, I think, because he wanted to
whimper to some one. He says you went upon your knees to young Morgan,
and that Morgan was laughing at you, though you didn’t know it, and that
even your sister-in-law smiled more than once behind her hand. Well,
that’s the picture I carry away of you, Dene. You can hardly be
surprised that I regret the kindness I have shown to you. I have made a
great mistake which I shall know better than to repeat in the future.”
She hardened herself, she mentally insisted on her relief at escaping
from a situation which she had felt to be getting beyond her control.
There were many incidents she remembered with discomfort, and her
husband had been very peremptory, when, the anonymous letter in his
hand, he had come to her, “If I thought there was any truth in these
revolting hints ...” yes, decidedly, Hambley’s revelations had been very
opportune as an excuse for getting rid of Silas. She thought, on the
whole, she had manœuvred her opportunities ably.

“Hambley shall pay for this.”

“Hambley must take care of himself,” she replied, “I have no doubt that
you will invent some form of revenge which will interest you very much
as a new experiment, and you will improve it and refine it and fiddle
over it, like some magician preparing a brew. I should never, at any
moment, have had any doubts as to that. I should like you to understand
that I always knew you for cruel, unscrupulous, and without heart or
conscience; I thought you a ruthless man, but where I went wrong was in
not thinking you despicable. I could have respected you for
thorough-going villainy,—yes, I thought there was a certain largeness of
gesture about your discontent,—but I have only contempt for the sham.”

Her voice had grown still more cold and level; it licked sharply round
his vanity, and as ever, his instinct flew to physical violence. He
snarled, and moved in her direction, knocking over a small table, but
she dodged him.

“Keep quiet, Dene,” she said, in the same glacial tone, “we really
cannot play this ridiculous game of blindman’s buff.”


                                   IV

He saw that he could do nothing against her, and indeed was too proud to
try. His pride had risen correspondingly to his humiliation; he would
show her that something, at all events, in him was not a sham. He was
terribly, doubly hurt,—hurt in his heart, and hurt, too, with the uneasy
wound of pride, his pride towards her, his pride towards himself. All
that she had said had been so true; she had found the truth as a weapon,
and had beaten him with it across the face. He was so battered, so
gashed with scorn, that he was surprised to find himself still alive and
sentient. But he _was_ sentient. He _was_ indomitable. His life was so
strong that it had not been knocked even temporarily unconscious. It
stirred: he spoke.

“I shall say nothing to justify myself,” he began. “If your ladyship
wishes to think ill of me you must do so, although I dare say I could
alter your opinion.” He was prompted to say this by a phrase that had
occurred to his mind, and which gave him some private consolation, “I
have, after all, murdered my wife, defied God, and banished my own son.”
But he did not say these words aloud. “You are of course free, my lady,”
he went on, “to dismiss me without being besought by me. You call me a
coward; you forget I have the courage to live alone.”

“The egoism,” she amended.

“No!” he said sharply, “it’s discipline, not inclination, and it began
when I was a boy, because I wouldn’t have pity. Now it’s a habit. I’ve
shut myself off from pity. I’m well schooled.”

“Is that all you have to say?” asked Lady Malleson, as he ceased.

“Did you expect me to plead for mercy? You were quite right when you
said you knew only the part of me that I was willing for you to know. If
you had known everything, my lady, you might have been startled.” He was
nursing his secret phrase. “But I plan very carefully what I shall
betray to different people. Being blind, I must invent things to think
about.”

“You are a demon!” broke from Lady Malleson.

Silas smiled a bitter, gratified smile; he had at least succeeded in
making her angry. Having done so, could he reconquer her? Should he risk
the affront of failure? She was all he had. No! if she cared so little,
let her go. He would not submit to being patronised, to being kept on
sufferance by the woman who alone had the privilege of twisting the
strings of his heart. If that privilege, so grudgingly, so agonisingly
accorded, were to be so little esteemed, let her go! What matter? A
loneliness the more.

“I thought at first that I would tell Emma to bring you to the abbey,”
she resumed, more quietly; “I thought that the setting would please you
and satisfy your sense of histrionics. It would have been so thoroughly
Silasian. For you _are_ histrionic, aren’t you, Silas?”

“Perhaps,” he said.

“You and I, sitting on two cane chairs, in the dark abbey,” she went on,
“while I poured out to you in an undertone all my opinion of you, my new
opinion, for the first time, my true opinion, and then, who knows? the
organist might have come in to practise, and so provided an
accompaniment for your answer. I really believe your answer would have
varied according to the music. It would tickle you to sway your life on
a dainty chance like that. I wonder that I overcame the temptation.”

“A great pity,” said Silas indifferently, but as though he had allowed
himself to be beguiled a moment by the charm of the suggestion. She was
annoyed with herself; she felt that she had allowed her irony to run
away with her, to become a little too wild, especially when he continued
in a tone of irreproachable conventionality, “I must now thank your
ladyship for the kindness shown in the past and for the many hours I
have been allowed to spend at Malleson Place. I appreciate that it isn’t
many poor chaps like me that’s given the advantage. It’s been a gift
blown me by the ill wind of my wife’s death and my blindness. Your
ladyship has a kind heart,—they all say so in the village when they hear
of the favours shown to blind Dene.” As he spoke he made small staccato
movements with his fingers, bearing a resemblance to the dart of
Gregory’s pencil in some minute alteration of his designs, a family
resemblance, that in its finicky precision was equally incongruous to
both brothers; in Silas the gestures seem to indicate the finishing
touches to a work of art about to be laid aside; the touches were given,
possibly, with regret, but still with a certain affectionate
satisfaction, as to work well done, and opportunely completed; (he
marvelled at himself even as he spoke and gesticulated); they irritated
Lady Malleson with a small, wiry irritation, like some insignificant but
exasperating physical pain, causing her to forget what she had called
the grandeur of Silas, and to remember only the warped, malicious
artistry in which he appeared to take delight.

Then he changed; he towered; he dwarfed her; all her superiority went in
a flash.

“Listen,” he said then, so suddenly that she had the impression that he
had stepped bodily out of a disguise,—“Your interest in me may have been
unreal to you,—how could it have been otherwise? You are a fine lady,
you have been through many experiences; I’m a rough fellow, and I dare
say bitter and brutal enough....”

“You like to think yourself brutal, don’t you?” she interjected.

“Such as I was,” he said, “you had me; are you proud of what you made of
me?—Oh!” he said, hearing her movement of impatience, “I won’t make you
discourse; only that question I wanted to ask you: are you proud of what
you made? Only this: was I _so_ unworthy of your ladyship? Have you been
sullied by my contact? Or have I, by God,” he thundered at her, “been
sullied by yours? I’m not so sure. What are you wondering in your mind
now? whether you can trust me to go away and hold my tongue? You think
you won’t risk putting the idea of indiscretion into my head; you
probably think it will come there quite soon enough by itself. Are you
any less of a coward than I? You need have no anxiety, I’m not tempted
to revenge myself on you in that way,—you think of that, you’re
preoccupied with that, but do you think at all of what you may have done
to me? You picked me up casually, and you think you can put me down in
the same way. But, between picking me up and putting me down, you’ve
worked on me; you don’t leave me quite the same as you found me; and I’m
not an easy metal.”

She was frightened when he said that, and muttered hurriedly, “I hope I
haven’t done you any harm.”

“One doesn’t know what harm or good one does,” he replied, “working-man
or grand lady. You’ll go your way. I’m asking you only whether you’ll
remember me with pride, or whether you’ll think of yourself as one of
the things that dragged me back, when I was always trying to escape? I’m
not strong, you know. I’m not strong. I’m only cursed with a spirit
that’s totally beyond my strength.”

“I don’t understand,” she said uneasily; she tried to tell herself that
he was making a great fuss; but she could not get away from the idea
that the “fuss” was tragically weighted.

“You’re quite safe,” he said, with extraordinary gentleness. “I never
wanted to love, you know, either you or any one else; I often told you
so; but it isn’t love that I abuse, only the weakness that submits to
it. And I have to acknowledge that you are wise in getting rid of me.
I’m all awry, you know; misbegotten; and folk like me are better left
alone; their misfortune only rubs off on to other people. You are wise
to protect yourself; that’s always a wise thing to do. I could wish only
that you had done it earlier; you would have made it easier for me.”

The melancholy of his reproach surprised her into saying, “Is it at this
moment that you’re speaking from your heart, or was it just now?” and
she remembered the sharp finicky gestures he had made when he thanked
her for the kindness she had shown him. “To what extent are you
theatrical?” she asked, in a little outburst of bad temper.

“That isn’t a question I should answer, even if I had the answer at the
tip of my tongue,” he replied. “You may think, if you choose, that I am
never sincere.” (She thought, “He is going back to his old manner.” She
was greatly thankful.) “Perhaps I am no more sincere,” he continued,
standing there, “than any of your ladyship’s little gimcracks in this
room.” His reference to her gimcracks was not contemptuous; he seemed
rather to be translated into a region where a large gentleness held
sway. Ironically enough, she thought that she had never seen him before,
although this was the last time she was seeing him. A similar idea
appeared to strike him at the same moment, for he said, “All along, I
have fought against you, and tried to disguise myself from you. It
doesn’t matter now. I seem always to be fighting,—floundering
about,—don’t I? I wonder whether I shall ever get away? away from
myself? Would your ladyship ring for Emma now? I should like to go.”

She got up wearily and crossed the room to the bell. He was standing
there, no longer scathing, but quiet, patient, and tired. She looked at
him; and, going swiftly to him, she caught his hand.

“Listen, Silas. Perhaps I’ve been too hasty. Listen to me. Perhaps I
need not dismiss you altogether ... I might reconsider....”

“No,” he brought out with extreme firmness, as though he extorted from a
long way off the last tragic effort of an overstrained will.

“As you please,” she said, dropping his hand, and in her angry haste she
threw open the door to urge the maid who was coming to lead him away.



                                  XII


                                   I

Gregory still worked obstinately among the vats. Calthorpe had tried to
coax him away to the engine-rooms, but got no more answer than a shake
of the head. In his secret mind, Gregory was preparing a scheme, now
nearly complete, that would reorganise the whole working of the factory;
he saw himself as its originator and supervisor, and was far too proud
to accept a preliminary post as a unit among a number of mechanics. He
was living for the day when, before an assembled board-meeting, he would
lay his designs upon the table; although he could not explain them by
speech, their beautiful precise simplicity would explain itself while he
stood aside, arms folded, and read the effect upon the faces of the
directors. (He had tested some designs upon Calthorpe,—not those
designs, of course,—and the overseer had been seriously impressed.
Gregory knew with calm certainty, untouched by diffidence, that his work
was good.) Perhaps he would take Nan with him as interpreter to the
board-meeting; she was intelligent, her small fingers flew fast, and it
would be a compensation, in some guise, for the hours he had spent away
from her in abstraction over his drawings.

Meanwhile, time progressing towards that day, he worked in the gallery
of vats. It was a sort of grotesque vigil. He hated the nauseous,
automatic work, but obliged himself to keep to it with a strength of
mind that Silas wholly appreciated. Day after day he climbed the long
iron ladder to the upper gallery, dressed in splashed and grimy
overalls, and renewed his occupation, trundling hand-barrows, emptying
an over-full or cooling an overheated vat. When he had to do this he
stripped to the waist, and stirred and flacked the boiling slime with a
weapon shaped like a flail. Sweat ran from him, and in the gaunt gallery
of iron girders, amongst the vats of moving yellow fat, the play of his
shining muscles and sculptural body stood out as a classical and noble
revelation.

Regarding Nan as his chattel, he never wondered whether he was or was
not agreeable to her, and in his egoism never noticed her sensitive
wilting under his caresses. His pride and his machines were
personalities infinitely more living to him than the instrument of
comfort and pleasure that was his wife. When he had married her, he
had loved her in a rough animal way, that never had in it a streak of
consideration or unselfishness; it had amused him to possess as a toy
something so weak, so little, and so pretty, and in the first weeks of
their marriage he had devised games for his own satisfaction, to pick
her up between both hands and lift her till her head touched the
ceiling, or to catch her up and run with her along the dyke—such
eccentric sports, that half frightened her, half pleased her instinct
by his display of strength. Then he had grown accustomed to her
flitting presence. He had ceased to raise his head when she came into
the room, or to finger with wonderment her small hands, or to turn
over with derisive affection the ribbons, cottons, and odds and ends
in her work-box. She ceased to be so distinctly, so newly, Nan, and
became merely one of the little knot of four living in the
double-cottage,—himself, Silas, Nan, and Hannah. He watched her when
he had nothing better to do, just as he watched Silas or Hannah, or,
nowadays, Linnet, but within the vaults of silence his true life was
turned inwards upon himself.

And Silas was studying him; Silas studying Gregory! Communication
between them was almost non-existent; Silas could, indeed, write on a
piece of paper and Gregory could read the message, but, beyond a clumsy
finger-system relating only to elementary practical matters,—names of
objects, and such,—Gregory was quite unable to converse with Silas.
Silas foresaw therefore that he would have no means of judging the
effects of his observations on Gregory’s mind. But difficulties only
whetted his ingenuity. He needed an occupation and an opiate as he had
never needed them before,—not that he allowed himself to own to
this,—and the double disaster he had undergone, far from humbling him,
stung him to a determination of mischief that welcomed any obstacle as
an additional employment for his days. He stood at his work in the
shops, before a trestle table, making the square boxes into parcels, and
as he tied the string he fancied that every knot secured a further mesh
in the net he was weaving round unsuspecting lives.


                                   II

But all the while he was gnawed by sorrow for what he was doing. Nan!
Linnet! so young, so disarming! he knew he loved them both. In his mind
they were children. Could he but struggle out of the deadly groove of
perversity that held him, could he but shake off the innumerable fetters
of his small malignities! As well hope to shake off the physical
cowardice that was his secret torment and his shame. To rise! to escape!
to leave behind all the indignity of petulance and rancour! at times he
fancied almost that he could hear the beating of great wings, and a kind
of swoon overtook him, as one who has fasted, or has remained too long
in mystic contemplation; but, emerging from it, he was instantly wrapped
up again in the cold craftiness of his schemings, that tangled
themselves round him as surely as he would tangle them round others.


                                  III

He must forget Lady Malleson. He wished that the cause of his disgrace
could have been different; those words, “a coward and a sham,” left a
bad taste in his mouth; there was no getting round them, and no getting
round the incident of the fire; he wished passionately that the whole
thing might be blotted out: there was Nan’s knowledge, Morgan’s
knowledge, Lady Malleson’s knowledge,—that was the worst,—and lastly
Hambley’s knowledge, but his contempt for Hambley was so great that he
could disregard everything from that quarter. But he could not pretend
to himself to disregard the knowledge of those other three; it
infuriated and mortified him. Lady Malleson knew him for what he was;
knew him for worse than he was, despised him more than he deserved. He
had to bear this, added to his loss of her; and he found it hard. Once
his angry pain drove him to write to her, as lackadaisical a letter as
he could compose, flicking at her the phrases that he had been slightly
drunk on the occasion of his last interview with her; that he apologised
for presenting himself to her in that condition, also for whatever wild
statement he might have uttered; he sent the letter; in his mind he
followed its journey; he wept bitter and angry tears on the morning when
it must be received.


                                   IV

Warily, above all, must he tickle Gregory’s suspicions.

No one knew of the system that grew up then in that house. The house was
secret enough at any time; now it contained a secret within its secret.
It contained the pursuit of Gregory by Silas, the difficult
tracking-down, the requisite, progressive measure of suggestion, the
pieces of paper bearing the poison of a phrase, the impotence of the
dumb man, his efforts to escape from his tormentor, then his return in
his cravings for a greater certainty. Silas was intent upon his own
skill; a touch here, a touch there; he placed them with a sharp and
delicate artistry. His only fear now was that Gregory might refuse to go
with Calthorpe, and to forestall that danger he got hold of the
overseer.

“I hope, Mr. Calthorpe, you’ll keep Gregory to this job. You know he’s
diffident,—to look at the way he sticks to those vats, he who’s fit to
manage the engine room!—and now he’s saying that you’re wanting him to
go out of charity, like, and if he thinks that, he won’t be beholden to
you.”

“I’ll go in to him now, and fix it up once for all. There’s no charity
about the matter; I don’t want Gregory to _talk_ to the plants, I want
him to _look_ at them.”

“I knew I only had to mention it to you,” said Silas demurely.


                                   V

Gregory was torn. He was bitterly unwilling to forego the chance offered
to his solitary ambition. He was forty-five, and he had given the whole
of his youth to the patient, meticulous study of machinery; could he
decline the chance, on the strength of a few words from Silas,—roguish,
busy old Silas! always meddling at something, never letting well alone—a
few words that perhaps were rooted in nothing but Silas’s imagination?
No, he couldn’t decline it! But what if Silas were right? Nan was young,
Morgan was young, he constantly saw them talking together, talking when
Nan should have been working and when Morgan, more naturally, might have
been kicking a ball with other young men on the green. Here he became
full of gloom. Should he charge Nan with it? no, women were too artful;
he would learn nothing through charging Nan. Better to trust Silas, then
by the time he came back from Birmingham Silas could tell him as a sure
fact whether or no.... For the first time he began to think of the
consequences, of the obligation that might be laid upon him....
Perfectly honest, he envisaged facts unflinchingly, in the sole light
under which they offered themselves to him. He was not a man to admit
alternatives.

He had only one slight hesitation: was it fair to lay a trap for Nan?
But he discarded the doubt. If she were innocent no trap could catch
her; if she were guilty, he had the right to protect his interests as
best he might; he and Silas both had that right. They were both
handicapped; their whole lives were, in some measure, the lives of
animals at bay.


                                   VI

He spent the interval before his departure in making observations for
himself, prowling round when he might least be expected, entering his
house, suddenly and noiselessly, or even looking in through the
window,—which, being tall, he could do with ease,—and sometimes on these
occasions he saw Nan and Morgan together, talking, in the midst of their
occupations, but he never saw more than that. To see them talking was,
however, a source of exasperation to him; he fancied that the most
tender words were passing between them under his very eyes, an affront,
an outrage, that drove him to gnaw his finger-tips in the same way that
Silas did, and to fly the house lest his black looks should arouse their
vigilance. His behaviour became wild and unaccountable. When he was
alone with Nan, he turned roughly demonstrative, while behind his
caresses lay the intention of finding out whether she would wince. It
was all too clear to him that she did wince. More than once he was upon
the point of questioning her, and again upon the point of refusing to
leave with Calthorpe, but he crushed these impulses. If he remained, he
might never know, so wily and circumspect would they be; if he went,
they would throw off much of their caution before blind Silas. Silas was
a good watch-dog, who in ten days would nose out certainty. To the
suspense of those ten days Gregory would expose himself; a martyrdom
which he undertook in the bleak spirit of a martyr, grimly, without
heroics, in the stern desire to win truth at the cost of pain.

She winced—oh yes! she winced. She turned away from him, said he
bothered her, kept herself unnecessarily busy. The more she evaded him,
the less willing was he to leave her alone; he followed her when she
fled into the scullery, and with a gasp she became aware of his silent
presence as his hands were laid from behind upon her shoulders. This was
a persecution worse than the verbal persecution she had endured from
Silas! She prayed ardently and with terror for the day when he should
go. The ten days’ reprieve stretched luminous as a lifetime—but even
then there would be Silas, Silas honeyed again, when, all her wits cried
to her, he was fifty times more dangerous. She thought that without
Linnet she would have become truly distracted; yet even to Linnet, at
home, she dared not speak overmuch. She could have kissed the forewoman
of her department who again sent her to his room with a message.


                                  VII

She knocked at his door with no less timidity than she had done the
first time, her hand clasping her beating heart. His voice called “Come
in!”; she slipped in; his dim room and the shining alembics were lovely
and mysterious, like a fairy-story, after the chill of the bare
linoleum-lined passage she had just followed. In a moment they were
close to one another, their fingers wove together without knowing how it
had so come about; the fact of being unexpectedly alone came like a
draught of water to the thirsty.

“I hate that passage leading to your room—it’s like a prison,” she
murmured, raising her hand to his bright hair; “it so cool and dim in
here; I wish, oh, how I wish I could work in here helping you.”

“It might be arranged ...” he began enviously.

“Oh no,” she said, shaking her head, “we mustn’t think of it.”

“We’re never really alone,” he said.

“No.”

They looked at each other gravely and pitifully.

“It does seem so hard,” her small voice took up again, “that you and I,
who have never done any harm, should be spied on and hunted, because
that’s what I feel: hunted. We haven’t done any harm, have we? only in
our thoughts, that is,” she amended, scrupulous, “and even then I don’t
think it’s terrible harm to wish we might sometimes be alone. I try not
to wish for more than that, Linnet; I do indeed. You mustn’t come so
close to me, please,” and she put out her hand to push him away a
little.

“Why mustn’t I?”

“You know quite well: I can’t bear your nearness.”

“Nan, you are the most provoking mixture of frankness and prudery....”

“I don’t mean to be. I came straight to you when I got into the room,
because I was happy and forgetful, but I am sorry; that wasn’t
encouraging you to behave as I want you to behave. You know what I tell
you: we can _talk_, no more.”

“But talk can lay up trouble too, you know, Nan.”

Her face took on a startled look, as a dismayed child’s.

“What! do you mean we ought to give that up too? Oh, no, Linnet, I
couldn’t bear that, indeed I couldn’t; you mustn’t suggest it.”

“Of course I don’t suggest it; is it likely? Only I think you trick
yourself into believing what you want to believe, and if your conscience
does prick you, you try to salve it—and I dare say succeed—by imposing
some quite hypocritical limitation.”

“Are you laughing at me or not? Or are you serious? do you mean that I
ought not to see you at all or talk to you? perhaps you are right....”

“Nan, you are too perverse! I only mean that if you allow yourself to
talk to me, and allow me to talk to you, and to make love to you, you
might consistently allow me to go further, to take your hand, for
instance, without pushing me away when I stand quite respectfully beside
you.”

“I see what you mean; I can’t argue, but I think, please, I would rather
go on in the same way as before.”

“Very well,” he said ruefully.

“And why do you say ‘make love’?” she harked back after a little. “As
though it were just a way of spending the time? Anyway, I think I would
rather you did not; we can talk quite well without that, and then you
need not think I am hypocritical.”

“You do keep me in order, Nan, don’t you?” he said.

“No, I am often very weak and cowardly.”

“You are only cowardly when you won’t face what is to become of us,” he
replied, with more seriousness.

Again she looked startled.

“Oh, please, Linnet, I don’t like talking about that.”

“Well, but, my dear,” he said, “you know quite well that we cannot go on
indefinitely as we are at present; you ought to be the first to realise
it, with your scrupulous mind always splitting hairs and dwelling on
niceties. If it were light come, light go, between us—there a kiss and
here an arm round you—it would be different. But you know it is not like
that. It is perhaps your very prudery that puts the whole thing on a
different footing. Anyway you know that it is a matter of all our
lives....”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” she said, with a contented sigh, and leaning up
against him.

“Nan, you distract me!” he exclaimed, “I say that it is for all our
lives, and you murmur with pleasure, as though the whole thing were
thereby settled. In the meantime I am neither one thing nor the other; I
am neither your friend, nor your husband, nor your lover.”

“Oh, but you are surely....”

“Well, what am I? I wish I knew!”

“My lover,” she said in a low voice.

“Nan, don’t hang your head so; for pity’s sake don’t; you are too
charming when you do it. No, I am not your lover ... worse luck....”

“But you do love me, don’t you?”

“Good God, do you doubt it?”

“Well, you never say so. You never said it. Silas had to say it for
you.”

“But I’ve said so since.”

“Oh ... _since!_” she said.

“But, my darling Nan, a little way back you forbade me to speak of love
to you.”

“Yes, you see,” she said with another sigh, less contented, this one, “I
want to have nothing on my conscience, nothing, nothing, nothing—except
my thoughts, and I can’t help those.”

“Won’t you tell them to me?”

“If I told them to you, they would be on my conscience, and that’s where
I don’t want them to be.”

“You are deplorably logical, when it is for my undoing,” he said,
sighing in his turn.

“If I had a laden conscience, I should become a coward. If I became a
coward, I should never have the courage to face Gregory,” she said,
checking the points off on her fingers. “No, stop: I know what you’re
about to say, ‘then you do mean some day to face Gregory.’ I can’t
answer that, and you must be patient to let these ten days go by; maybe
by the time we’re in the middle of them I will have got back my wits.
I’m too scared now to have any wits at all. What is going on in our
house now? you know no more than I do, and yet you know just as I do
that there is something strange. It’s something between Silas and
Gregory. Oh, it’s dreadful to think that there should be something
between them which they are working out for themselves, with all their
difficulties, because they can’t ask _our_ help, either yours or mine.
It frightens me so. Oh, my dear, it’s horrible to be afraid! Linnet, you
must take care of me.”

“You don’t give me much chance....”

“No, I know I don’t; I’m bad to you, I know. I seem to turn this way and
that for a way out, and things press upon me, and then I make you suffer
for it. Put it down that I scarcely know what I’m doing....”

“No, I know you don’t, my pretty, my poor pretty, only tell me about it,
if that’s any help, and don’t let things get magnified in your mind
bigger than they ought to be; hills look steeper than they are, you
know, before one starts going up them.”

“Oh,” she said, her eyes brimming, “you’re good and patient, indeed you
are. I hardly understand, yet, what’s come over us, that sometimes my
breath comes short and I shut my eyes and think I must faint away with
the longing to see you. I wish, sometimes I wish that something would
happen—something quite outside this life, I mean,—to relieve us; I don’t
know what I mean, rightly. But it’s the weight ... and the longing ... I
can’t keep still under it, at times; I have to get up and move about ...
the longing ... the burning.” She put her hand up to her throat as
though she were physically oppressed. “And I put questions to
myself—about you, I mean—and the answers come springing without my
having to think. They leap out, the answers do. Would I die for you? Oh,
so gladly! would I starve for you? yes, and never a word to let you
know. Would I die if you died? I’d pine if I lived an hour after you’d
gone. Would I give myself up to you? yes—to beat me if you chose; I’d
shut my eyes and let you.... That’s love, isn’t it? It’s like striking a
bell; it clangs back at once. And now—I can’t help saying it—for ten
days there’ll be times when we’re alone, and I’ll be less starved than I
am now; it seems I’ve just been keeping alive for this, and reach it all
spent and gasping. Oh, nothing, nothing more! only to talk to you, and
look at you; we’re strangers still. I want to _drink_ being with you.
Then I’ll be able to think, and we’ll sort everything out, and get it
clear. Only now I’m too parched for you, and too frightened of _them_.
You must decide everything for me, and tell me what to do, and then take
me away,—oh, take me away!”

She clung to him as she besought him, abandoning herself like a
frightened child, and putting her arms up round his neck exactly like a
child.

“My God, I didn’t know you could speak so, or feel so. _I_ felt so, but
I didn’t dare to tell you.”

“I didn’t know either ... one doesn’t know....” She had sunk so
unrestrainedly against him, that but for his support she would have
slipped down without resistance upon the floor. He felt that she would
lie there, like a shot bird, at his feet, making no effort to rise, and
letting her will glide away from her in a passive extinction of self; it
would be for her the most exquisite, and at the same time the most
spiritually voluptuous experience of her life. As it was, she had never
known anything like the wild, fainting rapture of this half-surrender.
“Linnet, Linnet,” she said, pushing him away, “where are we? it won’t
do; we’re being swept along; I’m afraid. Go right over there, to the
other side of the room; no, farther away than that.” She directed him
with an imperious urgent finger. “You mustn’t come any nearer. Promise.
Sit down on that chair. I’ll stop over here.” She leant her head back
against the wall.

“Now we couldn’t well be farther apart,” he said, having obeyed her.
They were both pale as they looked at one another across the width of
the room, and their breath came and went quickly between their parted
lips.

“It’s to be like this the whole time that Gregory is away. Then when he
comes back I can tell him everything. If we had been different, I should
tell him less easily.”

Morgan was just able to follow the ethics of this argument.

“Now I’m going away,” she continued; “you mustn’t move. If you moved, I
should run to you....”

“Oh, Nan!” he said, stretching out his hands to her across the room.

“No, no, no,” she cried, vigorously shaking her head from side to side,
the shake becoming more vigorous as her need for determination
increased. “Oh, my darling heart,” she cried, “I want so to come to
you,” and she fled from the room, leaving him unbalanced and perplexed,
and in half a dozen minds as to whether he ought to submit as he did to
her directions, or to take the law away from her by adopting a bolder
course.



                                  XIII


                                   I

She lay still asleep in her bed while Gregory prepared himself for his
journey. He trod in stockinged feet upon the boards of the bedroom,
throwing articles of clothing into a carpet bag, and stopping to glance
at his wife who, with her hair loose on the pillow around her small
face, looked like some fragile child, and like a child’s too was the
shape of her limbs beneath the thin covering of blanket. She lay
sleeping; her lips parted. Gregory had purposely not roused her. It was
her undoubted business to go downstairs, light the fire, and get him
some breakfast, but he would forego the meal sooner than watch her
moving about the house he was that day abandoning. He did not wish to
carry away the picture of her at her familiar tasks, in which, he
imagined, she would so soon be watched by another. In his fancy he
pictured Morgan entering the house as soon as he, Gregory, had safely
left it. Would they breakfast delightedly together? or would the fear of
Silas counsel prudence? Again, as many times before, he was upon the
point of renouncing his journey. He looked at Nan with his fists
clinched, a storm of hatred and possession tearing him. His placid
inward life, running as smoothly as the machines with which it was
always occupied, had been disturbed lately, disturbed with a violence he
would not have suspected; he was troubled and resentful, directing his
resentment particularly against Nan who had brought this disturbance
upon him. He glared at her as she lay asleep. He thought angrily that he
should be allowed to live as a privileged designer of engines, not drawn
into the fury of domestic calamity. His nature, once roused, held
elements so harsh and intolerant, he knew, that it fitted him all too
well for a part in such a calamity. Had he been aloof, indifferent ...
ah! how he coveted that gift of indifference. He had it not; he was too
much of a Dene. So he dressed himself, packed his bag, and brooded
resentment over Nan. She slept on; breathing softly; unconscious.

He was ready, but for his coat. He stood in his shirt sleeves looking at
Nan and wondering whether he should wake her or slip away to the station
with no farewell. Then he bent down and slid his arm beneath the pillow,
lifting her bodily towards him. She woke with a cry, to find Gregory’s
face near hers as he knelt on the floor. It was very fortunate that he
could not hear the cry, which, at first merely startled, changed to
horror as she recognised him. His sardonic smile and her widened eyes
were terribly close; their two faces, by reason of their nearness,
seemed large to one another. She pushed with both hands against his
chest, struggling silently; only half awake, she had not the wisdom not
to struggle; now, she knew only his distastefulness. He held her,
hardened to a cold fury by her resistance. He could see all her muscles
exerted in the effort to get rid of him; even the corners of her mouth
were drawn tight, and her eyes were fixed on him in concentration. She
could not plead with him, as she could have with another man; their
strife must be soundless; she pushed, and twisted herself within his
grasp, both quite in vain, then, relaxing, she lay quiet, with his arm
still beneath her. She stared up at him. She knew, and was terrified by,
the expression in his eyes. He drew his hand from beneath her and
sketched a rapid phrase on his fingers, at the same time moving towards
her. She answered vehemently in the same manner, her arms pitifully
slight and delicate as the loose nightgown fell back from them, and the
fingers racing in gesticulation. His whole face darkened as he read; she
saw that an angry obstinacy was taking possession of him. She tried to
escape from the opposite side of her bed, but he seized her again,
holding her down, determined, revengeful, and unshaken by pity. She
sought wildly in her mind for some means of release, finding none, when
she heard Calthorpe’s voice calling for Gregory beneath the window.


                                   II

She was saved, he had gone, flinging on his coat and snatching his
carpet-bag, but for long she remained trembling and fearing his return.
She shuddered at intervals as she remembered their struggle, conducted
in that horrible silence; their antagonism had been so condensed; none
of it could slip away in words. She could still feel where his fingers
had gripped into her flesh. If Calthorpe had not come! Now, now, they
were on the road to Spalding; she was alone in the house, she was to
breakfast with Silas and Linnet. Her shudders of horror gave place to
the sweet shivering she knew when she thought of Linnet, an etherealised
desire, a trembling of her spirit more than of her body, a going out
towards a young and fit companion, who by a refinement of perfection was
also a lover. Gradually she ceased to think of Gregory, and lost herself
in the other thought, lying propped up on her pillow with an unconscious
smile of heavenly happiness in her eyes and upon her lips. She rose
presently, and in the same dream started to dress, delighting in the
touch of the cold water she splashed over her throat and arms. The
puritanical neatness of each garment, and the fibre of her laundered
linen, likewise satisfied her as she became clothed. She had noticed
how, without any exaggeration of fancy, small physical experiences were
intensified of late,—colours were brighter, the song of birds more
ringing, her flesh more sensitive to the touch, and in looking at people
she had observed how the pores of their skin were distinct, or the firm
planting of eyelashes, and sweep of eyebrow,—all these things, that were
foolishly unimportant, but that added a vividness to daily life. She was
in every detail more keenly alive; her nostrils dilated to smell the
air, and she touched the sill of the window, where the wood was faintly
warm under the sun, with a sense of comradeship. She moved, too, with a
difference; her tread became resilient; her foot was springy as it
poised upon the ground. Her small head carried itself with a light
elasticity in the air, and she was actually conscious of the soft mass
of her hair that caressed the nape of her neck as she turned her head.
She had a wish for woods and cornlands; to sit in the roots of a tree
beside a brook, allowing the water to eddy between her staying fingers;
to bathe her body in a lake or in the surf of the sea. So, in loving one
man, one loved the whole company of earth? Love was illimitable indeed,
if it conferred that privilege, a wider thing than mere absorption in a
fellow-being that was a creature, after all, of limitations as narrow as
any other.


                                  III

They were alone, the three of them, the absence of Gregory so
startlingly unprecedented that despite Silas’s presence she obtained a
foretaste of complete and sudden solitude with Linnet. She was admitted,
she, the starved, to a feast of dominion. She found herself translated
into a world where she, most marvellously, was the object of reverence
and solicitude, and under this warmth of spoiling her natural grace
expanded even beyond the anticipation of his delight. Aware that those
ten days were but a reprieve, she gave herself up to making the most of
them,—in so far as was consistent with the narrow rulings of her
conscience. Linnet, exasperated at times, but ruefully submissive
always, acknowledged and obeyed her imperious orders. She was very happy
in her control of him; all the happier, perhaps in the knowledge that
she owed it solely to the consent of his chivalry, without which (O
exquisite danger!) her security would, like glass, be shivered.

There was, unforgettably, Silas. Silas proclaiming himself a friend,
but, nevertheless, remaining a spy, a jailer. Silas who seemed to come
upon them with a queer noiselessness; who cried, “Well?” over their
shoulders, and who then, suddenly swooping down upon them, swept with
his hands to learn whether they were sitting close together, or apart.
They were always apart. Angered, he would say, “Well?” again, this time
with a forced benevolence in his voice; and sometimes he would amuse
himself by walking along between them, hilarious, taking an arm of each.
This method of surprising them, this sham benevolence, this reasonless
hilarity, struck cold terror into Nan as something indefinably sinister.
Once, too, when she met Silas tapping his way over the cobbles towards
the letter-box, on the envelope which he carried in his hand she read
the name and address of Gregory. (Silas had adapted with delight this
method of communication. He rubbed his hands together when he thought of
Gregory, in Birmingham, tearing the flap open and scanning the lines of
those able, indefinite letters.) But at other times she was puzzled by
the hungry interest with which he questioned her, and in which her ear
did not detect the usual unalloyed malignity, but rather a wistfulness,
a desire to be admitted to a lovely secret, a genuine craving for
participation, however humble, however incomplete, and beggarly upon the
fringe of riches. At such times an eagerness crept into his face, as he
bent forward to question her, his hands hanging loosely interlaced
between his knees, the strong cords of his throat standing out in
sculptural masses of light and shadow; words came from him almost
timidly, as though he feared to presume or to give offence, but must
nevertheless urge his examination, irresistibly tempted and allured.
Nan, who sat sewing, looked into his face with wonderment. Experience
taught her mistrust, but instinct taught her a heart-searching pity.
There was always that same feeling which she had for Silas, which she
could not explain, and which nothing,—no dread, no premonition, no
knowledge,—could permanently destroy. It reawakened always at the sound
of his yearning voice. Once it led her to put her fingers on his
forehead, “How much you’ve missed!”

He sprang away, detected at the very moment when forgetful absorption
had suspended his defiance.

“I’ve had all I wanted. Make no mistake. You’re wasting your sloppy
pity....”


                                   IV

Gregory had been so suddenly and so completely withdrawn! She adapted
herself without bewilderment to the new order. She became as a girl,
betrothed to Linnet. Their relationship had all the innocence of a
betrothal. Her past life might have been blotted out, the future so far
distant (down a vista of ten days!) as to be, for all practical
purposes, negligible. She could have drawn from this a proof that the
violence of the years lived between Gregory and Silas had made upon her
being only a mark such as might be soon effaced. She, the true Nan, had
slipped away from violence, because violence was so unalterably alien to
her. The lesson of violence was a lesson she might provisionally learn,
but would never long remember. She went out now to meet the condition
she had always wanted: the secure tenderness, the settlement, once and
for all, in her choice; she was not one who would demand variety upon
the face of existence. Variety! she had had it; excitement, uncertainty,
passion, and the weight of failure all around her, reckless because
resigned; she had had all that, compressed within the limits of an iron
circle; those were not the things she wanted. The things she wanted were
the things that Linnet could give her.

The subtle sarcasms of Silas were incapable of troubling her quiet
discernment.



                                  XIV


                                   I

Their last afternoon, a Saturday. They believed that Gregory was to
return at seven; only Silas knew that he was to return at five. With the
hoarding instinct that this knowledge might be useful to him, he kept it
a secret. They were very silent, and remained close to one another,
holding hands. How grave they were! They were very self-contained,
husbanding all their strength. He knew that they meant to beard Gregory
that evening, but he, Silas, equally, meant to outwit them, and he
thought with satisfaction that his cunning was greater than theirs. He
considered their silence with an irony more tragic than any of them
knew. The pain that their company had cost him during the last ten days;
the pain, too, which his own desire for their happiness had cost him;
his angry, resentful love for them both; the strain of remaining true to
his principles, and his vindictiveness (Christine! Christine! always
Christine, recurrent, gnawing,) all this mingled in his mind to a state
of folly with which he was almost unable prudently to deal. He
acknowledged that he had been partly to blame. He had drawn out Nan’s
confidences. But his temperament inclined him harshly towards
self-flagellation....

“Only a little time now, Nan, before he’s here,” he said. “You’ll have
much to tell him, much that’ll interest him. Remember, if you want any
help, I’m here: Silas is here. Him being my brother, we understand one
another, like you and Linnet understand one another. Blood brothers is
close like lovers. Close as lovers.—But what call have I to talk of
love, seeing I never knew it, nor wanted it?”

He went outside and sat on the doorstep, leaning his back against the
closed door. The village street was deserted, distant voices sounded
from the green; in the faint warmth of the April sun the paint of the
door smelt hot, and flies buzzed stickily in the corners of the
woodwork. Silas sat there clasping his knees, and swaying slightly to
the ironical rhythm of his own thoughts. He felt like a jailer, keeping
those two imprisoned inside; they were happy, in spite of the imminent
crisis; merely and childishly happy because they were together,—that
sufficed; he had learnt during those ten days the perfection of their
happiness. Nan had betrayed, under his questionings, more than she had
probably intended to betray, and under the pain of defrauded envy he had
accumulated a store of knowledge. They seemed to _be_ one another; it
was not so much sympathy that they enjoyed, as identity. Silas swayed
himself slowly backwards and forwards; he put the tip of his tongue
between his teeth and held it there; he tapped his boots softly together
because of his enjoyment. They were inside, talking; Gregory would be
home soon. It tickled Silas’s fancy to think he had a surprise up his
sleeve in store for them; he, the unwanted third! he, the ostracised of
the village! they would soon learn, all of them, that he still had
fangs. He strained his ears to catch the first sound of the train,
which, after stopping at Spalding, crossed the fenny country at some
little distance. He wished for the dulled rumble indicative that the
train was upon its journey and therefore that Gregory and Calthorpe were
upon their way to Abbot’s Etchery along the dyke, but at the same time
he wished this hour prolonged, an hour so entirely after his own heart.
He had so many revenges to take, so many old debts to wipe off, that no
luxury of procrastination could be too great. Provided only, indeed,
that the completion was sufficient, and sufficiently inevitable; and as
to this he had no misgivings.

He never heard the train. He continued to hear only the distant shouts
from the green, the small noises of insects, and the murmur within the
room—not a continued murmur, only an intermittent one—and the first
sound that drew him from his torpor of satisfaction was that of
footsteps on the cobbles and Calthorpe’s voice, in its somewhat
irritatingly cheery tones, “Friend Silas! well, I’ve brought back
Gregory safe and sound, and how are you all at home?”

Gregory stood planted in the middle of the street watching his brother’s
face for his greeting of Calthorpe. His throat heaved, and his
suppressed violence, which was entirely apparent, made his stiff black
travelling suit and bowler hat seem puerile and ridiculous. He was in
one of those primitive moods when civilised trappings become laughable:
an angry man in a bowler hat.... Not only angry, but convulsed with
anxiety, and with a rage that prayed only to be released. Yes, even
though that rage must destroy his soul, it craved for an outlet. A man
so minded would not have thanked the reassuring speech that drove back
the straining rage as unwarrantable. The bag he carried was as paper in
his hand. His limbs seemed to burst out of his clothes; strong muscle
impatient for nakedness. His throat reared itself out of his collar. His
hands protruded starkly from his cuffs. Civilisation upon him was as
preposterous as the naked man wrestling beneath was superb. He stood
with his feet planted wide apart, in the attitude of one who awaits and
encourages an attack.

Silas was petulant at being taken by surprise; “I didn’t expect you,” he
said, as though he had been cheated of his due. “Well, now that we’re
here, let us come in,” said Calthorpe, still good-humoured, but slightly
uneasy; he would have liked the numbers increased, not fancying the part
of sole interpreter between the brothers; was he to act as light to the
one, and as sound to the other? The constant companionship of Gregory,
and, above all, the railway journey that day, and the walk along the
dyke, had convinced him that all was very far from well amongst the
Denes. “No,” said Silas, standing up and stretching his arms
crucifix-wise across the door, “you can’t go in there.”

Gregory saw the gesture, which was intelligible enough, although he did
not hear the words. A perverse relief swept over him, at having his
worst dread confirmed. A horrible inarticulate noise broke from him,
which made Calthorpe swing round in his direction. “Good God,” said
Calthorpe appalled, “it’s like a baboon,” and he continued to stare,
expecting the noise to be repeated. Silas, too, had heard; “Yes—like a
brute,” he said, becoming transfigured with delight as he saw the
certainty of manœuvring that brute with the cunning of his own
intellect. Gregory never uttered a sound unless he was extraordinarily
moved. “Tell him, Mr. Calthorpe,” said Silas, “that he can’t go into my
cottage.”

“He wants to know why,” said Calthorpe, having delivered this message
and received the answer from Gregory’s quivering fingers. “He looks as
though he might spring upon you at any moment, Silas.” He watched,
anxiously, first one and then the other.

“Gathering himself together, is he?”

“Yes—he doesn’t look as though he’d hold himself in much longer. Oh, you
wouldn’t chuckle if you could see him.”

“Tell him to trust me and not to be a fool.”

“He says, was it true?”

“Tell him first, that he must let me manage things.”

“I don’t like the look of this, Silas; I’m all in the dark.”

“Never mind, sir; you just tell him to trust me.”

“He’ll be at your throat if I don’t,” and the communication passed
silently from Calthorpe to Gregory. “He says he will trust you a bit
longer, but he wants to see things for himself.”

Silas appeared to be perplexed by his brother’s impatience, and by the
danger of Calthorpe putting two and two together.

“Ask him if he will wait till to-morrow,” he said, at length.

This suggestion so enraged Gregory that he leapt at his brother and was
only warded off by Calthorpe’s appeasing gesture. He fell back a pace,
and framed a message with shaking hands.

“He says,” said Calthorpe, “that he will be damned if he waits another
five minutes. And I am damned myself, Silas,” added the honest
instrument, “if I understand a word of this, or if I will go on letting
you make a cat’s-paw of me for your black tricks. Call Mrs. Dene, who
perhaps knows what you are up to.”

Silas was outwardly calm, but alert. He must lose no time in breaking up
the trio.

“I shall explain everything to you, Mr. Calthorpe,” he said earnestly,
still standing with his arms flung wide across the door, “but he’s a
dangerous man, my brother. He’s in a dangerous temper. To tell you the
truth, Mr. Calthorpe,” he ran on with extreme glibness, “he suspects
some one of tampering with his designs—but keep that for yourself. I’ve
got the proofs inside my cottage, only I didn’t expect you so early. We
must get him away. Tell him to go into his own place and change his
clothes, and I’ll send his wife to him.”

“Well, there seems to be no harm in that,” said Calthorpe dubiously.

“Believe me, sir, I’m acting for the best.”

“H’m—you seem mighty eager to get your brother out of the way.”

“Surely you only have to look at him, Mr. Calthorpe.”

Calthorpe looked, and, having done so, he asked Gregory to go. “But I am
damned if I understand,” he said again, taking off his hat and
scratching his head. “You Denes are hard fellows to make out,” he added
in an access of irritation, seeing the expression on Silas’s face, and
indeed he felt that his irritation was only small and petulant beside
the anger of Gregory and the sardonic malevolence of Silas. If it were
not for Nan, he would wash his hands of the whole lot of them. His
easy-going philosophy of life was too greatly disturbed by the stress
and inexplicable ferment of the Denes. He saw Gregory scowling in his
indecision, than a message came from the able fingers, which he passed
on to Silas. “He says he will wait for his wife in his own cottage.”

“Tell him she shall join him there,” said Silas grimly.


                                   II

Devastation met Nan’s eyes when she hurried into her cottage. The white
lace curtains were torn from the windows and the pictures lay scattered
about the floor. Any ornament or attempt at decoration had been snatched
from its place and flung across the room. In the midst of this wreckage
stood Gregory, in his shirt sleeves, his chest heaving and his bronze
forehead shining with sweat. He held out to Nan a paper upon which he
had written, “_Plain deel tables and chairs is good enough for us,
without fal-lals._” She read it, and with tears running over her cheeks
knelt down to gather up her broken china, collecting the pieces tenderly
into the shreds of the curtains. Gregory came towards her and kicked the
things away from her hand. She knelt upon the floor, gazing up at him
without protest but with inexpressible sorrow. Every time she renewed
her gesture of gathering up the shares, he scattered them again by a
kick, until in discouragement she desisted, waiting for his next
manifestation. She dared not get up while he stood over her in his
threatening attitude.

Silas came in; Nan found herself turning to him as towards a friend.
Here, at least, was one who had some influence over Gregory! She felt
herself the alien before the brothers.

Silas was sympathetic. Silas commiserated. Let her go away for a little,
and he would soothe Gregory. Gregory had behaved like a peevish child.
He, Silas, would remonstrate. He even patted Nan’s shoulder kindly as
she passed him, drying her eyes, to leave the brothers together as she
was bid.



                                   XV


                                   I

It was not long before she returned, and saw Silas alone, with the
wreckage created by Gregory’s rage still around him.

“Silas!” she exclaimed, going up to him, “where’s Gregory?—where’s
Linnet?”

“You ask for them in the same breath?” he replied.

“But I must know!” she said, catching hold of his arm and peering
urgently into his face. “Silas, what dreadful excitement is making you
so quiet, so strung-up like? Don’t think that I can’t see it. You’re
gathered all into yourself, like as though you were waiting, and your
face looks so strange. Silas! you are in a trance? For pity’s sake,
speak to me. If you won’t speak, I must go. I can’t stop here. I’m going
out—to look for them both. Only, if you can tell me aught, won’t you do
so, Silas? you could if you would, I’m sure, and I’m so broken by
terror, Silas, if you can help me now you’ll surely not refuse?”

“The sinner must expect to pay,” he said slowly, his eyes wide open and
glazed into impassivity.

“But I haven’t sinned, God be my judge!” she cried, wringing her hands
together. “Silas, I do conjure you, as you hope for mercy yourself, let
your lips speak; tell me—for you know—where they’ve gone, and why? Tell
me where I can find them. Oh, if I were there, I could come between
them, and if Gregory must injure me, why, then, he must, but I should
_know_, I should know; it’s this doubt, this knowing that they’re
together, this not knowing what they may be saying! it kills me, Silas.
Silas, see here, listen to me, Silas: I’ve not been bad to you, have I,
Silas? We’ve not been bad to you, Linnet and I? Well, have a little
mercy on us now: we’ve loved, yes, but we’ve done no more wrong than
that. I wouldn’t, with Gregory away. We were to tell Gregory everything,
so soon as he came back. You know that, Silas.—Oh, you’ll not help me: I
see it by your face. What are you thinking of? I never saw you look so
terrible. But I haven’t time to beseech you more; I must go, and take my
chance of finding them, and may your wicked heart be afraid for whatever
goes amiss.”

“You’ll not go,” he said suddenly, holding her down.

She struggled against him.

“Silas, you hurt my wrist; let go, I say. Oh, I see it: you’re in with
Gregory, you’ve tricked us; my God, what can Linnet and I do against you
and Gregory?—You laugh at that, you fiend,” she said, quietening into
despair; “you laugh,” she said, rocking her head piteously from side to
side, “you laugh, you laugh!”

“Gregory’s honest,” he pronounced; “I’ve got three of you, not two, in
the net. Gregory’s my dupe too; he’s an honest man.”

“But, then, why? in God’s name, _why_? what is it, Silas? are you mad or
sane? Are we to be your toys? What have we done to you? What had Hannah
done?”

“Hannah?...”

“You killed Hannah.”

He still held her down on a chair, and by the high standard of their
present stress the retrospective admission that he had killed Hannah
seemed to them both subordinate. He was breathing heavily.

“Hannah laughed at me and fooled me; she was rough with me, and
sweet-tongued enough with other men. I wasn’t going to be fooled by
Hannah. She’d thrown in her lot with mine, and if I suffered she should
suffer too. That’s why I killed Hannah. The world’s been made black for
me; I’ll make it black for others.”

“It’s awful, your revengefulness.... But I tried to make it _less_
black, Silas, so did Linnet; look, I don’t ask you now to help me, or to
tell me anything, but only to let me go,—won’t you, Silas? It’s so easy
for you to keep me here; I can’t escape from your strength if you’re
determined to hold me. But I beg you; I beseech you. Often you tried me
high, and if I failed you I ask your forgiveness. Only let me go now.
Don’t _help_ me; I don’t ask that; only give me the chance of helping
myself. I ask with all the patience and humbleness in me; I’m in bitter
anguish, Silas. Gregory’s hard enough, Heaven knows, but he’s got the
heart of a woman next to you.”

“Gregory’s less bereft than I; I only have my own mind to feed upon.”

“Surely that’s true of us all, blind or not blind?” she said, in a weak
attempt at argument.

“Then I was born with a darkened mind, not only with darkened eyes,” he
exclaimed violently, and with renewed determination. “I’m cursed with
the one as much as with the other, and though God knows no justice I’ll
throw in my quota to balance the scales: I never deserved the curse I
got, but, since I got it, I’ll deserve it; and I’ll see to it that
others get something they don’t deserve, as I did myself. Did you ever
consider what blindness meant? To be dependent on others’ charity, to be
a burden, a maimed thing? above all to have to submit to pity, when you
were born with a spirit that wanted the _envy_ of other men?”

“Silas, Silas, all that’s just words, and meantime you’re draining the
life out of me.”

“You’re not Nan,” he said, “not Nancy Dene; you’re just the victim of
_my_ curse. What does it matter that you never knew Lady Malleson?
Blind, you call me? why, I think we’re all blind—blind instruments, not
more blind one than the other.”

“Gregory only breaks my things,” she cried out, kicking with her toe at
a fragment of china, “but you’re putting all my happiness in pieces.”

“Yes,” said Silas, “I told you he was an honest man.”

“That’s why we would have put everything to him honestly,” she began
with extreme earnestness; “we would have told him we hadn’t sought one
another out, but that something led us.... We had talked it all over,
what we would say. Silas, will nothing soften you? You talk about
courage: we meant to be brave, not deceitful; you even urged us, once,
after the fire, to hold to one another if we loved truly. You said we
were the builders; you talked beautiful. I never knew a man talk like
you talk, sometimes, Silas. You seem all lifted-up.... Maybe you
wouldn’t see so bright if you didn’t see so black. I had a feeling for
you; oh yes, I had! Though all the while I knew about Hannah, and after
Hannah, Martin. But I didn’t know then that after Hannah and Martin it
would be me and Linnet—and Linnet! You seemed kindly to us, of late. Was
it _all_ a trap? did you never _feel_ kindly while you spoke us fair?
Oh, Silas, everything’s going from me. It’ll go badly between Linnet and
Gregory. If I was there, I’d manage; you fight things as they come
along; and Linnet, he needs me to look after him. He’ll be stiff and
buttoned-up with Gregory, but that’s not the worst: it’s Gregory I’m
afraid of. Not speaking, he puts everything into his fists; you know
what he’s like, Silas. And Linnet’s my life,—my life. I’m telling you
more than I ever told him, save once. Won’t you let me go?” She moved
her wrist tentatively within the clench of his fingers.

“I waste, I fail,” said Silas, holding her wrist more closely than
before; “the day you came from Sussex to Abbot’s Etchery you were meant
to fall in with me. I told you already, you’re not Nan Dene; you’re a
thing. You’re part of my design. You, and your little loves, and dreams
and what-not—I’ll _grind_ you. When I was a boy, I set out to give
people as bad a time as I had myself. My mother hated my father and was
afraid of him; he used to jeer at her when he saw how much she hated
Gregory and me. Because we were deformed, you understand. Once I was
given a rabbit for a pet; well, I put out its eyes with a needle. That
makes you shiver: I hold that it was only just. Now I’ve got you; you’ll
be better game than Hannah, because that was over too quickly; but you,
once Linnet is taken away from you, and you’re brought back where you
belong, to my brother, to be my brother’s wife, his faithful, broken,
submissive wife—I’ll know that every day your prettiness will wither,
you’ll never sing, you’ll never put out china for Gregory to break,
you’ll shun young men because you’ll have known the pain of love, you’ll
bury your heart below a mound, and your hopes beside your heart, and so
you’ll grow old between Gregory and me, and we’ll speak less and less,
until you and I sit as silent as Gregory himself.”

He paused, but she gave only a small moan.

“You were right,” he went on, “Linnet is with Gregory now. I sent Linnet
off, and now I’ve sent Gregory to join him. You won’t see him again,—not
if I know Gregory. Gregory won’t tell us what took place between
them,—not he! He’ll come home presently, and you’ll get our supper, and
have yours between us, and after supper Gregory’ll get out his drawings.
And every evening afterwards will be the same,—exactly the same. Maybe
you’ll have children and watch them growing like me; you don’t know,
yet, what seeds might be lying in your children’s minds. I’d watch over
them, never fear; I’ll not have my nephews grow into milksops, into
sentimental dabs....”

He spoke with such virulence that Nan cried out, unbearably slashed.
That seemed to gratify him, for he settled down into an intermittent
growl:—

“Your children.—Your sons.—But Denes, all the same.—Who stands alone?”
he muttered, taken up on that revived train of thought, “Who stands
single? no one, it seems; your sons wouldn’t be solely yours. Where’s
independence? not in this world. O folly! to let it slide, even in part,
into another’s keeping. Where would be your trouble now, if Linnet
hadn’t your heart? Freedom goes when the heart goes.—Not strong
enough.—Loneliness and labour,—yes, surely.”

“’Tisn’t all that, ’tis happiness you grudge,” said Nan, suddenly
bitter.

“That’s your little view: there spoke Nan Dene!—And if you thought that,
anyway why did you flaunt your happiness in my face? Eh?”

“Oh, Silas, you kept asking me....”

“And if I did! Was it part of your kindness that you boast of, to give
me the glimpse of a feast I couldn’t share? Was it meant as a treat?
You’d be willing to give me kindness; I couldn’t expect more,—a blind
man like me. Very lucky to get as much.” He roared suddenly with
laughter. “That’s a pallid sort of thing to offer,—I won’t give you
thanks for that,” he cried.

Nan thought that he was really going mad; madness and disaster had
broken crashing over her world. The forces loosed were too great and too
bewildering for her to strive against; the sanity of Linnet, the sanity
of their joy, was lost for ever, lost, foundered in the madness of the
hurricane brought about by Silas and Gregory. For Gregory there might be
some excuse; Silas appeared to be possessed by a senseless, impersonal
fury of destruction. She thought she might as well argue with the
unleashed elements as with Silas in his bitterness and diabolical
delight. Yet life still moved, still endeavoured; and, pricked by its
promptings, she struggled,—

“You hurt me and Linnet because we are safe to hurt; we can’t hurt you
back.”

“It’s not true!” he yelled.

She was utterly astonished at the effect she had produced.

“But, Silas,” she said, inspired, “we all know you for a coward. We all
know your talk for bluster. Did you think we didn’t know that, by now?”


                                   II

She had not at first spoken tauntingly. She thought she had meant only
to pronounce the truth. Then she perceived that the truth had cut deeper
than any taunt. She was as a naked, unarmed person driven up against a
wall, that finds suddenly a blade put into their hands. She held it, but
was perplexed how best to use it. She made a thrust,—

“All your talk is talk. It costs you nothing to ruin Linnet and me. It
cost you nothing to throw out Martin.—And Hannah,” she whispered, “and
Hannah!—What have you ever done that hurt yourself?”

From the tremor of the hand still clutching her wrist she discovered
that he was shuddering.

“You dare speak to me so?” he threatened.

“Hit me,—I can’t hit back,” she replied, upheld.

But he made no movement to injure her. His defeat was as complete as it
was sudden. Against his determination, which no appeal could have moved,
no bribe impressed, she had turned the sole effective weapon, his own
intrinsic weakness. There was no repair possible to a breach that had
started from the inside. She had struck down upon the rot within him and
the inner walls of his defences crumbled.


                                  III

Failing to understand what she had brought about, she sat watching him,
alarmed, perplexed, but, through her confusion, something stirred, which
might perhaps not be called hope, but which was at least removed from
the despondency of death that had lately descended upon her. He
maintained upon her wrist a grasp that had now become automatic; he sat
bent, covering his eyes with his free hand. She recognised only that he
must work his way towards his decision without interference on her part;
he was beyond such interference, and although the stealing away of time
roused her anxiety to the pitch of physical pain, she constrained
herself to wait, tense, in the knowledge that Silas passed through a
crisis no less momentous than her own. He moved his body uneasily about,
and unintelligible mumblings like groans escaped him. He fought; he
wrestled. He fixed that sightless gaze upon Nan, saying in tones of
reluctant abnegation, “And am I to end so?” He cried out once, startling
her by the anguish that tore his voice, “Failure! failure! beaten by a
jeer! weakness beats me; poor blind Silas, poor weak Silas, couldn’t
stick to his purpose even when his end was in sight!” One thing was
clear, that he suffered intensely; but the complexity of his sufferings
was hopelessly beyond her comprehension. She could only wait, and,
trembling, watch. She no longer tried to free her wrist, fearing by that
mere flutter of self-assertion to recall his former mood. She tried to
pray, and her mind produced a prayer like a child’s, “Please, God....”
His ravings had ceased, and nothing now came from him but the small
phrases that jerked themselves to the surface, after which the riot and
despair of his thoughts were again submerged. “Flotsam and jetsam,” he
muttered. Striking his chest, he said, “Here stands Silas Dene, who
helped two children to happiness,—let that be my epitaph!” “Where’s
truth? do I know my own mind, or don’t I?” After these disjointed
remarks, that emerged at intervals, like milestones marking off the
painful road he was travelling, he released her and stood up. “I’ll save
you yet,” he pronounced. “Stay you there and let me manage things my own
way. You’ve nothing to fear now,—once there was something to fear in me,
perhaps, but that’s a thing of the past. That’s finished. You stay where
you are, and I’ll bring Linnet to you.”

“You may be too late,” she said.

“I’m not too late,” he replied, with such certainty that she was misled
into thinking he had some inner knowledge.

He put her quite gently away from him as she tried to detain him,
pleading to be allowed to help.


                                   IV

He passed out of the house, guiding himself by his finger-tips that
brushed lightly against the doorpost. Not daring to disobey by following
him, Nan saw him thus lower himself to the doorstep, whence he set out
down the street in the direction of the factory, slipping his fingers
along the walls of the houses. She wondered whether she might venture to
follow at a distance. Inactivity seemed, in that pregnant hour,
intolerable.—Slowly she put her shawl over her head and stood in the
doorway holding the edges of the shawl close under her chin, and
exerting her eyes to keep pace with Silas. He strode on as though
confident in perfect vision; only that outstretched hand slipping
rapidly from house to house set any peculiar mark upon his progress. But
Nan, with a solicitude whose almost maternal quality she recognised with
a shock of dismay, thought, “He’s going much too fast,” for she made no
allowance for the quickening of all his instincts under the exalted
condition of his mind. She had now no enmity towards him. She was too
well-used to his violence to bear him any grudge for that, and moreover,
in her eyes, if he intervened on her behalf and Linnet’s, he was
redeemed. She recognised obscurely that he had considered himself
shamed,—shamed to the extent of catastrophe—but this problem she
banished as beyond the scope of her understanding. If he would but come
to her aid and Linnet’s she would accept,—oh, with what
thankfulness!—the benefit at his hands without perplexity or
investigation.

He had turned the corner, and, keeping her distance, she began to
follow.


                                   V

When the factory came in sight she realised from the absence of movement
about the buildings, that six o’clock had long since struck and that the
work-people, in consequence, had left their employment for the day. The
evening shift, reduced to a minimum, would be occupied in one or two
specialised portions only,—in the boiler-rooms, for example, or amongst
the engines. For all practical purposes the Denes had the place to
themselves. A terrible doubt overcame her: might Silas, still, be
playing the double game? She pressed onward, dwarfed by the immense
sheds and chimneys that bulked around her. She could see Silas as he
crossed the tessellated square. He advanced with scarce more caution,
although he had now no wall to guide him, and, having no stick, held his
hand at arm’s length before him until some contact should bring him up
short. She had the dread that, did he but turn round, he would perceive
her. She walked on tiptoe, skirting the sheds under cover of the great
water-butts. Sick terror possessed her, and the imminence of disaster
weighed her down.

She saw Silas reach the foot of the long, outside, ladder-like stairs
that led to the upper gallery of the main building, and, setting his
feet confidently upon the iron steps, begin to climb.


                                   VI

He climbed without pause, dwindling to a small figure aloft, to Nan so
far below. She leant in collapse against a huge tarred water-butt,
pitiably undecided whether by ascending after him she would do more harm
or good. The question was of such importance to her, but its resolution
depended upon her poor unguided wisdom, and she shrank from the
responsibility. Still Silas climbed, and stood at last upon the topmost
landing, and disappeared from her view.

When he disappeared she hesitated no longer, but ran from her shelter of
concealment, and started pulling herself up on the ascent. She went up
the steep stairs, pulling hand over hand on the iron rail that served on
one side as banister. She thought that she would soon be on a level with
the black smoke floating from the chimneys. Through the perforations of
the iron steps she could see the ground below, and when she turned her
head she found that the roofs of the village had become apparent. She
had never been up this way before, but always by the inner staircase.
But Silas, of course, had chosen the more gaunt, the more perilous
method of approach.

Landings on the way up admitted to two other storeys; these she passed,
having a glimpse of machinery within. The top windows, square and bleak,
were those of the gallery,—Gregory’s gallery. She was upon the landing,
and slipped in through the door which had been left ajar. Everything
moved quickly now, too quickly to admit of any interference or
direction, and what would be done now would never have the chance of
being undone, nor would there be time for any reckoning or dexterity, in
the vehemence of colliding passions that listened to no argument and
were endowed with a strength beyond the reasoned energy of will.

Inside the five-hundred foot length of gallery the vats stretched away
in low regular ranks, under the even light of the flat windows,
pale-brown with dirt. The soap in the vats shifted and breathed; spat
and slithered as it boiled. Linnet lay unconscious on the ground, as
though he had been dropped there by a man surprised at his work; cast
down with no more care than a toy by some formidable strength; and
forgetful of prudence, Nan was instantly on her knees beside him. The
other two were at a little distance, obvious of all save their last
terrible combat. Speech and sight respectively denied them, a finer
understanding taught them mutual penetration. They might have been
ringed about by flames. They were alert only for one another. Kneeling
on the ground at Linnet’s side, Nan kept her gaze fastened upon them: it
was to her very strange that Gregory should appear so fully aware of his
brother’s change of front. That he was aware of it, there could be no
doubt; he had set himself ready in the attitude of a wrestler awaiting
an onslaught. And Silas,—had heaven miraculously restored sight to
Silas, that he advanced with such slow certainty towards his brother? He
crouched, stalking him. He never once blundered against a vat.

Gregory leapt suddenly upon him, and in an instant their limbs were
locked.


                                  VII

Thus grappled, they seemed to sway as a double monster heroically
proportioned, a Herculean group against the flat light of the pale-brown
windows. So superbly matched were they in physique that they remained
almost motionless, swaying very slightly and with difficulty under the
strain of their utmost effort. That stillness and that silence
accompanying so supreme a struggle, were startling, portentous, and
unnaturally impressive, as though the contained violence within were too
mighty, too self-sufficient, to seek the relief of any visible outlet
whether of noise or movement. Their meeting was a muffled encounter of
force with force; it had not the crash of a collision. So they remained,
arrested, stirred only by that almost imperceptible rocking, until doubt
might have arisen whether they so held one another grasped with deadly
intent, or, as the likeness between them more palpably emerged, in a
brotherly welding against some danger imminent and extraneous. Their
feet yielded not at all from their original planting upon the boards,
their arms flung around one another had neither relaxed nor shifted, the
slight angle at which their bodies were bent remained the same. The
group they formed was of bronze beneath the spanning iron girders. But
indeed the question became one of endurance, while the body’s tension,
flung on the hollowed hips, the quivering thighs, the knotted calves,
and lean ankles, strained and cracked under the sustained tautening of
human sinew. The one who was first to yield, by so much as the stagger
of a foot, would find the advantage narrowly pursued, his opponent
weighing down upon him, pressing him hard across their meagre
margin.—Yet, were they meeting in alliance or hostility, the two
brothers, so alike in their carved features, in the duplication of torso
and huge opposing members?

Very slowly they bent together, straining; very slowly straightened
themselves again to their formation of deadlock. All this strife took
place without a sound, and seemed to occupy a long period of time, as
though that group were permanent in the gallery, taking on the dingy
monochrome and adapting itself to the proportions of the gallery’s
enormous setting. Nan, the impotent onlooker, could foresee no ending,
no outcome. She saw that Gregory stared into his brother’s face with a
concentration of hatred. There was very little to indicate the intense
pressure of strength that each was putting forth. But a difference was
creeping in,—certainly a difference was creeping in. Gregory’s
determination was becoming the determination of misgiving, Silas’s that
of ultimate mastery. He did not appear triumphant, but quietly sure.
Throughout, he had been guided by that security of vouchsafed insight.

Nan dared not stir. She continued to kneel beside Linnet, who still lay
with his eyes closed, and the mark of a bruise blackening rapidly on his
temple. She was deeply thankful for his unconsciousness.

The other two held her eyes. Gregory shifted a foot backwards to steady
his balance; it was their first definite movement. Their faces were
close; not angry, but concentrated, and Silas’s was like a cast mask of
unflinching patience. It frightened Nan to look at Silas’s face, he was
so immeasurably beyond both the greatness and the smallness of things
human. He was like an incarnation of purpose, summoned for one set,
finite task. His pressure was beginning to tell upon Gregory, who sought
to improve his grip, but lost ground in so doing, and, staggering
backwards, was driven to prop himself against the side of a vat. Here
their grapple became more desperate, more final, in the same unbroken
silence. Nan’s imagination could not extend to reasons or to outcome; it
did not extend beyond the struggle of the moment. She was numbed; all
energy was absorbed by that group of wrestling Titans.

She bent down to Linnet, whose eyes had opened dazedly upon her. When
she looked up again she saw a change. Silas had stooped until his arms
clasped his brother below the waist. For one terrible moment she saw
Gregory lifted off his feet, his arms flung impotently up, his body bent
back in its supreme effort, his throat extended, to give vent to the
most hideous sound she had ever heard uttered. Silas bore him up for a
moment in that gesture of appalling ravishment, rearing like a centaur
in the full magnificence of his strength; and with one mighty heave cast
the burden from him into the boiling yellow slime of the vat.



                                  XVI


                                   I

Nan rose upright, crying aloud; the wind of terror had blown violently
in upon the stillness of the gallery. Silas towered amongst the vats; he
wore an air of unearthly triumph and exaltation. “Nan! Nan!” he said,
stretching up both arms with the gesture of the fanatic over the
blood-offering. “What have you done? what have you done?” she cried.
“Saved you,—bought you free,” he answered loudly, still lit up by his
triumph, but she hid her face in her hands, and moaned, shuddering.

Morgan stirred, and lay gazing without comprehension. He whispered Nan’s
name; she started, and turned to him, but seeing his eyes opened she
wildly laid her hand across them. “You mustn’t look,—you mustn’t look,”
she said, distraught, in the effort to preserve him although she
understood nothing herself.

In that absence of understanding she saw only Silas erect there with his
arms still stretched out, as a sinner might stare into heaven, or a
martyr into hell, accepting either, because enlightened as to both.

“Silas!” she called, unbearably alarmed.

“Builders and destroyers,” he replied from afar, and in the tone of one
giving utterance to a quotation of secret familiarity.

“What am I to do?” she cried, in a lost whisper. She felt immeasurably
removed from the succour of mankind, forced into the kindred of the
Denes, amongst grotesque surroundings, and grotesque and terrible
events, high above the comings and goings of the temperate world. There
was no room in her mind for the thought that the body of Gregory was
pitched sinking through the morass of that deadly cauldron. Then the
word “Gregory!” came to her, and, wonderingly, she pronounced it aloud,
“Gregory,” thereby bringing realisation upon herself, and the first
conscious dismay.

She went to Silas and seized him by the arm.

“Silas, speak to me....”

He turned his eyes full upon her face.

“O God, can you _see_ me?” she murmured, shrinking away.

“There was nothing else to be done,” he said.

“Oh, yes, yes!” she protested, inarticulate in her extreme distress and
bewilderment.

“There was nothing else,” he repeated.


                                   II

She perceived then that, according to the temper of his mind, there was
indeed nothing else. She ceased to protest, overtaken by the actual
consequence of his uncompromising creed.

“You have killed Gregory,” she said.

A change came over him; his look of flaming justification died down.

“Hannah. Martin. Christine. Gregory,” he said sorrowfully.

Nan was crying; she was frightened by the monstrous, fantastic
extravagance of the scene. Silas must have decoyed her to the heart of
some distorted maze, where death was not solemn, nor grief venerable;
and therein she was lost. Crying, her arm crooked across her eyes, she
made her way over to Linnet, who had risen to his feet. “It’s
soap,—_soap_,” she stammered, taking refuge against him.

He held her, since no words could help, and she made herself as small as
possible within his arm. Silas called out to him across the gallery, “I
have thrown Gregory into the vat,” pointing to the wrong vat, and
forcing himself to laugh very loudly.

“But what is to become of _you_? madman!” Linnet exclaimed.

This was a new idea to Silas.

“Yes, I must think of getting away, it’s true,” he replied, suddenly
busy; and he moved excitably in what he thought to be the direction of
the door. But he had lost his bearings, and struck himself against the
corner of a vat. “What’s that?” he called out. “I’ll have no nonsense,”
he added, speaking in a tone of incipient panic which he tried to cover
up by menace. “There is no time to be lost; I can’t be kept hanging
about here, or I shall be taken. I must get away, and hide somewhere. I
must hide in a barn. You will have to bring me food. The first thing to
be done is to get away.” All the while he was speaking he moved about,
groping amongst the vats, trying to find his way out, but amongst that
number, where nothing helped him to distinguish one from the other, with
each step he became more confusedly lost. “I’m blind!” he cried, at last
standing stock-still, and from the anguish in his voice it might have
been believed that he had never made the discovery before.

Then he started to stride about, up and down, in and out of the gangways
left between the vats, taking any opening that offered itself. Linnet
tried to speak to him; he was interrupted, reasonable words fluttered
vainly amongst the vibrant emotions with which Silas’s soul was strung.
Neither Linnet nor Nan could have any cognisance of such a diapason.
“You shall not come near me,” Silas shouted; “how am I to know you
wouldn’t give me up? although I killed Gregory for you; and I loved
Gregory.—We’ve destroyed one another. It’s right,—people like us ought
to go. There’s no place for us. I can’t save myself,” he said, “I’m
blind; every one can take advantage of me. How could I live hidden for
weeks in the country? But I’ll give them trouble first....”

He was full of a crazy, hopeless defiance; he turned upon them the wild
flash of his sightless eyes. “It _must_ end in defeat,” he said, “what
match is a blind man for clear-seeing men? You had me at a disadvantage,
all my life,—all of you! You were orderly, while I struggled. Gone
under! but not as tamely as you think.” As he spoke he found the door
that gave access to the outside stairs, and dragged it open, blundering
out into the air on the iron landing. They saw him there, against the
sky, silhouetted for a moment, before he disappeared on his reckless
descent of the hazardous stair.


                                  III

Evening was rapidly falling, but the coming of night would befriend him,
since it could not hinder. As he reached the foot of the stair he stood
for a moment in hesitation. He listened. The tessellated square was
silent, but for a drip of water off a gutter into one of the great
butts; no footsteps rang across the cobbles; no voice exclaimed “Why,
Dene!”; no call from Nan or Linnet echoed down to him from above. He
felt himself more utterly alone than ever in his life before, more
finally at bay. Never for an instant did the idea of giving himself up
cross his mind. He was calmer now than he had been up in the gallery,
where he had bruised himself so cruelly against these serried vats.
Here, at least, he had space around him; and out there, where he meant
to go, would be still wider space, the flat freedom of the Fens, the sky
above his head, and night, the only ally that could begin to equalise
his chances with other men.

But there would be uncertainty. Always the uncertainty whether he had or
had not been seen. He might be ringed about by pursuers closing in upon
him, and not know it. He must make up his mind to that; he must make up
his mind to the knowledge that defeat would overtake him in the end.
This knowledge came to him with a strangely familiar quietness; it was
as though it had been with him all his life, although he might not have
given it a name.

In the silence of the evening he passed beyond the factory and gained
the road on the top of the great dyke stretching across the Fens. Upon
its eminence he paused, forlorn, uncertain, and derelict. That
illumination which had sustained him before, seemed now to have deserted
him; he no longer trod with the same assurance, but cautiously, afraid
of making a false step and of slipping down the sides of the dyke,
afraid of being seen, upright upon the skyline, yet not venturing to
leave the road and to make his way across the flooded country. Yet as he
stumbled on, he realised that therein lay his wisest course: the floods
would reveal no footmarks, and he would be less conspicuous than erect
on the height of the dyke. In so far as his hopelessness could devise a
plan, that was the plan to follow. He struck across the road, and,
crouching on his heels, allowed himself to slither down the escarpment.
At the bottom he found the water, icy about his ankles, and shivered at
its sinister touch. Nevertheless, he plunged forward into it, his hands
outstretched before him, determined to put all possible distance between
himself and Abbot’s Etchery. Behind him the three chimneys of the
factory vomited their black plumes of noiseless smoke that trailed
across the sky, but of this he did not reckon; he was aware only of the
cry of the curlew circling above him, and of the marshy ground that
sucked back his steps beneath the water. He fought his way, each foot
held down and his progress hampered as in a nightmare, and with an
effort he dragged one foot after the other stickily out, ploughing
onwards into the unknown breadth of the marshes, ignorant of his
surroundings, of whether night had fallen, concealing him, or whether
the last bars of day still made of him a distinguishable mark. And, for
his greater misery and discomfort, as he advanced across the submerged
fields, he came periodically to the ditches that were their boundaries,
and knew them because his footing suddenly failed him and threw him
forward into the water, pitching down upon hands and knees, so that
presently he was drenched, and the touch of the water which at first had
been only about his ankles now conquered his body also, little by
little, penetrating to his skin, glacial as the presaged touch of death.
Still he advanced, striving towards no known prospective refuge, but
merely, irrationally, to increase the distance, without considering the
paltriness of the help those few poor miles could afford him.

By now, although he could not be certain of it, night had fully come. A
huge, low moon stole up above the horizon, and sailed slowly higher into
the heavens over the flooded country. In its light the few bare trees
stood up like twigs, black and stark; and still across the now shining
expanse of water the blind man held on his laborious, hindered way the
splash of his steps breaking the placid surface into a ripple of jet and
silver. He had no notion how far he might have gone; he was uncertain
even whether he had succeeded in keeping straight in the same direction.
Every now and then he came to a hillock of higher ground, which lifted
him for the moment out of the floods, and every now and then he stumbled
into a ditch, from which he extricated himself, his teeth chattering;
and all the time he walked with his hands groping before him, but they
could not save him from the ditches that seemed to lie in wait for him
and to take pleasure in trapping him unawares. He thought that he must
have been walking half the night. Even the curlews had ceased to cry
long since, and no owl hooted across the waste of waters. His extreme
weariness deadened him; but fever reanimated him; and it was a conflict
as to which would gain the advantage. At one moment he thought that he
must sink down from exhaustion, even into the floods; the next moment, a
bout of fear and determination spurred him on, and he splashed forward,
behind his groping hands, while obscure mutterings came in the immense
silence of the night from his moving lips.

Morning found him crouching beside some meagre trees upon one of the
hillocks out of reach of the water. His hair was matted, his eyes
bloodshot, his clothes wet and dankly clinging to his limbs. He crouched
as closely as possible to the ground, feeling about for the shelter of
the trees, which, leafless as they were, offered no shelter at all. He
crept about amongst them,—they might be half a dozen in number, a small
clump;—he crept over the twenty square feet or so of the little island
on which he was marooned, and once or twice he seemed tempted to renew
his passage through the water, for he cautiously adventured down to its
edge, and stretched out his foot towards it, but, although he essayed
this on different sides of the mound, he always took his foot back
shuddering as soon as he encountered the water, and withdrew himself in
the same shambling, furtive fashion to the shelter of the trees.

It was here that in the afternoon he was found by the men who were out
for his capture. They came beating across the flooded fields in extended
order, as men beating for game. When they first descried him from a
little way off, he still was stealing about his patch of refuge,
rambling uneasily and without purpose, now coming down to the water’s
edge, now out of sight over the curve of the hillock, now reappearing to
slink between the trees. Uncouth, haggard, his clothes torn and soiled,
his hands always at their unhappy groping, his useless eyes turning
hither and thither, he resembled some half-crazy castaway that might
have subsisted there for days on berries and foul water, too bemused now
for further endeavour; too broken in spirit for any frenzy of despair;
merely acquiescent in his climax of the long premonitory years; waiting
for the end which, after all the riot and the burden, could not be
otherwise than welcome.


                                   IV

After that day clean April poured sunlight over the marshes. Flocks of
plover settled on the emerging pasture; and the sea, whose presence was
divined rather than seen over the edge of the fens, ceased to be a
threat, and became a promise, for the peculiar void of the sky above it,
where land stopped short, grew luminous with the transparency of
shower-washed spaces. The very roads, the very railway line with its
straight, shining metals, streamed away, avenues of promise and escape.

Like a great bowl opened to the gold-moted emptiness of heaven the
country lay, recipient of the benediction.

                                              _January-September, 1920._



                  _A Selection from the Catalogue of_

                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

                                   ❧

                Complete Catalogues sent on application



                               PRIVILEGE


                                   BY

                            MICHAEL SADLEIR

        “The story of the decline and fall of Whern is always
        poignant and never dismal. The romance is of the stuff
        of the story, seen by an author who knows the world we
        live in.... The picture, for all of its rich colour and
        noble gesture, is essentially true. And it is full of
        that queer fascination exerted by greatness that is
        passing or has passed.”—_Times Literary Supplement._

               =Hamilton Fyfe in the _DAILY MAIL_ says:=

        “About ‘Privilege’ I find it hard to write without
        exaggeration. It is so truly imagined, this story of the
        decline of an ancient family; so skilfully presented,
        and written with so sure a hand, that we must put its
        author among the most distinguished not only of our
        younger but of all our novelists.... The entire book is
        a piece of literature, satisfying from every point of
        view.”

                            =_PUNCH_ says:=

        “I can imagine few books that would give to some modern
        Rip van Winkle a better understanding of the attitude of
        aristocratic youth towards the life of to-day.... A
        novel both individual and touched with a dignity too
        rare in these days of slovenly fiction.”



                     The House in Queen Anne Square


                                   By

                              W. D. Lyell

        “An admirably written novel of intrigue.... The author
        depicts all the various situations by which a plot most
        dexterously contrived is unravelled.... This is
        melodrama, to be sure, but it is very distinctly of the
        police variety. Both in characterization and in style it
        is far superior to the ordinary mystery story.”

                                   _From The Providence Journal_

        “The House in Queen Anne Square can be pronounced the
        best mystery story recently found on a constantly
        lengthening list.... It is about the cleverest mystery
        that anybody could conceive.... It may now be suspected
        that the absorbing story is written with unusual
        skill.... It is not your ordinary detective tale turned
        out as you wait.”

                                   _From The Pittsburg Dispatch_

        “An interesting and well-sustained mystery story, whose
        solution baffles the reader until the very end.”

                                       _From The New York Times_

        “Mystery, the confusion of identities and crime of a
        horrible subtle nature carry the reader through exciting
        chapters. There are many dramatic moments.... At the
        tale’s close comes a very astonishing climax.”

                                        _The Buffalo Commercial_



                     The Man with the Brooding Eyes


                                   By

                              John Goodwin
                       Author of “Without Mercy”

        A romance full of excitement and surprises, woven around
        the plots not only of the execrable “Callaghan Gang,”
        who get into their clutches a stenographer who turns out
        to be an heiress, but of the counter-plots of a devoted
        lover and clever lawyer, and of a “tall, lean man with
        brooding eyes,” who plays providence in a story in the
        early part of which he figures as one of the principal
        villains.


                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

                         NEW YORK       LONDON



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



Transcriber’s note:


 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.

 2. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
      printed.

 3. P. 231, changed “That’s love, isn’t?” to “That’s love, isn’t it?”





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