The Project Gutenberg eBook of The End of the House of Alard, by Sheila Kaye-Smith (2022)

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The end of the house of Alard, by Sheila Kaye-Smith

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Title: The end of the house of Alard

Author: Sheila Kaye-Smith

Release Date: July 11, 2022 [eBook #68503]

Language: English

Produced by: Richard Tonsing and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE END OF THE HOUSE OF ALARD ***

Transcriber’s Note:

The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.

THE END OF

THE HOUSE OF ALARD

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Tamarisk Town

Joanna Godden

Green Apple Harvest

The Challenge to Sirius

The Four Roads

The Tramping Methodist

E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

BY

SHEILA KAYE-SMITH

AUTHOR OF “JOANNA GODDEN,” ETC.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The End of the House of Alard, by Sheila Kaye-Smith (1)

We only know that the last sad squires ride slowly towards the sea,

And a new people takes the land....”

G. K. Chesterton.

NEW YORK

E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

681 FIFTH AVENUE

Copyright, 1923

BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

All Rights Reserved

First printing Aug., 1923
Second „ Nov., 1923
Third-Sixth printing Dec., 1923

Printed in the United States of America

CONTENTS

PART ONE
PAGE
Conster Manor 1
PART TWO
Leasan Parsonage 79
PART THREE
Fourhouses 145
PART FOUR
Starvecrow 237

1

PART I
CONSTER MANOR

3

THE END OF THE HOUSE

OF ALARD

PART I

CONSTER MANOR

§ 1

There are Alards buried in Winchelsea church—they liein the south aisle on their altar tombs, with lions at their feet.At least one of them went to the Crusades and lies therecross-legged—the first Gervase Alard, Admiral of the CinquePorts and Bailiff of Winchelsea, a man of mighty stature.

Those were the days just after the Great Storm, when thesea swallowed up the first parish of St. Thomas à Becket, andKing Edward laid out a new town on the hoke above Bukenie.The Alards then were powerful on the marsh, rivals of DeIcklesham and fighters of the Abbot of Fécamps. They wereship-owners, too, and sent out to sea St. Peter, Nostre Dameand La Nave Dieu. Stephen Alard held half a knight’s feein the manors of Stonelink, Broomhill and Coghurst, whileWilliam Alard lost thirty sailors, thirty sergeants-at-arms,and anchors and ropes, in Gascony.

In the fifteenth century the family had begun to dwindle—itspower was passing into the hands of the Oxenbridges,who, when the heiress of the main line married an Oxenbridge,adopted the Alard arms, the lion within a bordercharged with scallop shells. Thus the trunk ended, but abranch of the William Alards had settled early in the sixteenthcentury at Conster Manor, near the village of Leasan, about4eight miles from Winchelsea. Their shield was argent, threebars gules, on a canton azure a leopard’s head or.

Peter Alard re-built Conster in Queen Elizabeth’s day,making it what it is now, a stone house with three hippedgables and a huge red sprawl of roof. It stands on the hillbetween Brede Eye and Horns Cross, looking down into thevalley of the river Tillingham, with Doucegrove Farm, GlasseyeFarm and Starvecrow Farm standing against the woodsbeyond.

The Alards became baronets under Charles the First, forthe Stephen Alard of that day was a gentleman of the bedchamber,and melted down the Alard plate in the King’s lostcause. Cromwell deprived the family of their lands, but theycame back at the Restoration, slightly Frenchified and intermarriedwith the Papist. They were nearly in trouble againwhen Dutch William was King, for Gervase Alard, a son inorders, became a non-juror and was expelled from the familyliving of Leasan, though a charge of sedition brought againsthim collapsed from lack of substance.

Hitherto, though ancient and honourable, the Alards hadnever been rich, but during the eighteenth century, successfuldealings with the East India Company brought them wealth.It was then that they began to buy land. They were no longercontent to look across the stream at Doucegrove, Glasseyeand Starvecrow, in the hands of yeomen, but one by one thesefarms must needs become part of their estate. They alsobought all the fine woodlands of the Furnace, the farmsof Winterland and Ellenwhorne at the Ewhurst end of theTillingham valley, and Barline, Float and Dinglesden on themarshes towards Rye. They were now big landowners, buttheir land-hunger was still unsatisfied—Sir William, the Victorianbaronet, bought grazings as far away as Stonelink, sothat when his son John succeeded him the Alards of Consterowned most of the land between Rye and Ewhurst, the KentDitch and the Brede river.

John Alard was about thirty years old when he began toreign. He had spent most of his grown-up life in London-the5London of gas and crinolines, Disraeli and Nellie Farren,Tattersalls and Caves of Harmony. He had passed for a buckin Victorian society, with its corruption hidden under outwarddecorum, its romance smothered under ugly riches in stuffydrawing-rooms. But when the call came to him he valiantlysettled down. In Grosvenor Square they spoke of him behindtheir fans as a young man who had sown his wild oats andwas now an eligible husband for the innocent Lucy Kenyonwith her sloping shoulders and vacant eyes. He married heras his duty and begat sons and daughters.

He also bought more land, and under him the Alard estatescrept over the Brede River and up Snailham hill towardsGuestling Thorn. But that was only at the beginning of hissquireship. One or two investments turned out badly, andhe was forced to a standstill. Then came the bad days of thelandowners. Lower and lower dropped the price of land andthe price of wheat, hop-substitutes became an electioneeringcry in the Rye division of Sussex and the noble gardens bythe river Tillingham went fallow. Then came Lloyd George’sLand Act—the rush to the market, the impossibility of sale.Finally the European war of 1914 swept away the little ofthe Alard substance that was left. They found themselves inpossession of a huge ramshackle estate, heavily mortgaged,crushingly taxed.

Sir John had four sons—Hugh, Peter, George and Gervase—andthree daughters, Doris, Mary and Janet. Hugh andPeter both went out to fight, and Hugh never came back.George, following a tradition which had ruled in the familysince the days of the non-juring Gervase, held the living ofLeasan. Gervase at the outbreak of hostilities was only inhis second term at Winchester, being nearly eighteen yearsyounger than his brother George.

Of the girls, only Mary was married, though Doris hintedat a number of suitors rejected because of their unworthinessto mate with Alard. Jenny was ten years younger than Mary—sheand Gervase came apart from the rest of the family,children of middle age and the last of love.

6

§ 2

A few days before Christmas in the year 1918, most ofthe Alards were gathered together in the drawing-room atConster, to welcome Peter the heir. He had been demobiliseda month after the Armistice and was now expected home, totake on himself the work of the estate in the place of hisbrother Hugh. The Alards employed an agent, and therewere also bailiffs on one or two of the farms, but the heir’spresence was badly needed in these difficult days. Sir Johnheld the authority, and the keenness of his interest was in nowise diminished by his age; but he was an old man, nearlyseventy-five, and honourably afflicted with the gout. Hecould only seldom ride on his grey horse from farm to farm,snarling at the bailiff or the stockman, winking at the chickengirl—even to drive out in his heavy Wolsey car gave him chills.So most days he sat at home, and the work was done byhim indeed, but as it were by current conducted through thewires of obedient sons and servants.

This afternoon he sat by the fire in the last patch of sunlight,which his wife hankered to have shut off from the damaskedarmchair.

“It really is a shame to run any risks with that beautifulcolour,” she murmured from the sofa. “You know it hasn’tbeen back from Hampton’s a week, and it’s such very expensivestuff.”

“Why did you choose it?” snarled Sir John.

“Well, it was the best—we’ve always had the best.”

“Next time you can try the second best as a new experience.”

“Your father really is hopeless,” said Lady Alard in aloud whisper to her daughter Doris.

“Sh-sh-sh,” said Doris, equally loud.

“Very poor as an aside, both of you,” said Sir John.

The Reverend George Alard coughed as a preliminary tochanging the conversation.

7“Our Christmas roses are better than ever this year,” heintoned.

His wife alone supported him.

“They’ll come in beautifully for the Christmas decorations—Ihope there’s enough to go round the font.”

“I’d thought of them on the screen, my dear.”

“Oh no! Christmas roses are so appropriate to the font,and besides”—archly—“Sir John will let us have some flowersout of the greenhouse for the screen.”

“I’m damned if I will.”

Rose Alard flushed at the insult to her husband’s clothwhich she held to lie in the oath; none the less she stuck toher coaxing.

“Oh, but you always have, Sir John.”

“Have I?—Well, as I’ve just told my wife, there’s nothinglike a new experience. I don’t keep three gardeners just todecorate Leasan church, and the flowers happen to be ratherscarce this year. I want them for the house.”

“Isn’t he terrible?” Lady Alard’s whispered moan to Dorisonce more filled the room.

Jenny laughed.

“What are you laughing at, Jenny?”

“Oh, I dunno.”

She was laughing because she wondered if there was anythingshe could say which would not lead to a squabble.

“Perhaps Gervase will come by the same train as Peter,”she ventured.

“Gervase never let us know when to expect him,” said hermother. “He’s very thoughtless. Now perhaps Appleby willhave to make the journey twice.”

“It won’t kill Appleby if he does—he hasn’t had the carout all this week.”

“But Gervase is very thoughtless,” said Mrs. George Alard.

At that moment a slide of wheels was heard in the drive,and the faint sounds of a car coming to anchor.

“Peter!” cried Lady Alard.

8“He’s been quick,” said Doris.

George pulled out his watch to be sure about the time,and Jenny ran to the door.

§ 3

The drawing-room was just as it had always been....The same heavy dignity of line in the old walls and oak-ribbedceiling spoilt by undue crowding of pictures and furniture.Hothouse flowers stood about in pots and filledvases innumerable... a water-colour portrait of himself asa child faced him as he came into the room.

“Peter, my darling!”

His mother’s arms were stretched out to him from the sofa—shedid not rise, and he knelt down beside her for a moment,letting her enfold him and furiously creating forhimself the illusion of a mother he had never known. Theillusion seemed to dissipate in a faint scent of lavenderwater.

“How strange you look out of uniform—I suppose that’s anew suit.”

“Well, I could scarcely have got into my pre-war clothes.I weigh thirteen stone.”

“Quite the heavy Squire,” said Sir John. “Come here andlet’s have a look at you.”

Peter went over and stood before his father’s chair—ratherlike a little boy. As it happened he was a man of thirty-six,tallish, well-built, with a dark, florid face, dark hair and asmall dark moustache. In contrast his eyes were of an astoundingblue—Saxon eyes, the eyes of Alards who had goneto the Crusades, melted down their plate for the White King,refused to take the oath of allegiance to Dutch William; eyeswhich for long generations had looked out on the marshesof Winchelsea, and had seen the mouth of the Rother sweptin spate from Romney sands to Rye.

“Um,” said Sir John.

9“Having a bad turn again, Sir?”

“Getting over it—I’ll be about tomorrow.”

“That’s right, and how’s Mother?”

“I’m better today, dear. But Dr. Mount said he really wasfrightened last week—I’ve never had such an attack.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me? I could have come downearlier.”

“I wanted to have you sent for, dear, but the childrenwouldn’t let me.”

The children, as represented by George Alard and his wife,threw a baffled glance at Peter, seeking to convey that the“attack” had been the usual kind of indigestion which LadyAlard liked to enoble by the name of Angina Pectoris.

Meanwhile, Wills the butler and a young footman werebringing in the tea. Jenny poured it out, the exertion beingconsidered too great for her mother. Peter’s eyes rested onher favourably; she was the one thing in the room, barringthe beautiful, delicate flowers, that gave him any real pleasureto look at. She was a large, graceful creature, with a creamyskin, wide, pale mouth, and her mother’s eyes of speckledbrown. Her big, beautifully shaped hands moved with a slowgrace among the teacups. In contrast with her Doris lookedraddled (though she really was moderate and skillful in themake-up of her face and hair) and Rose looked blowsy. Hefelt glad of Jenny’s youth—soft, slow, asleep.

“Where’s Mary?” he asked suddenly, “I thought she wascoming down.”

“Not till New Year’s eve. Julian can’t come with her, andnaturally he didn’t want her to be away for Christmas.”

“And how is the great Julian?”

“I don’t know—Mary didn’t say. She hardly ever tells usanything in her letters.”

The door opened and the butler announced—

“Dr. Mount has come to see her ladyship.”

“Oh, Dr. Mount”... cried Peter, springing up.

“He’s waiting in the morning room, my lady.”

10“Show him in here—you’d like him to come in, wouldn’tyou, Mother?”

“Yes, of course, dear, but I expect he’ll have had his tea.”

“He can have another. Anyhow, I’d like to see him—Imissed him last leave.”

He crossed over to the window. Outside in the drive asmall green Singer car stood empty.

“Did Stella drive him over?—She would never stay outside.”

“I can’t see anyone—Hello, doctor—glad you’ve come—havesome tea.”

Dr. Mount came into the room. He was a short, healthylittle man, dressed in country tweeds, and with the flat whiskersof an old-time squire. He seemed genuinely delightedto see Peter.

“Back from the wars? Well, you’ve had some luck. Theysay it’ll be more than a year before everyone’s demobbed.You look splendid, doesn’t he, Lady Alard?”

“Yes—Peter always was healthy, you know.”

“I must say he hasn’t given me much trouble. I’d be apoor man if everyone was like him. How’s the wound, Peter?I don’t suppose you even think of it now.”

“I can’t say I do—it never was much. Didn’t Stella driveyou over?”

“No—there’s a lot of medicine to make up, so I left herbusy in the dispensary.”

“What a useful daughter to have,” sighed Lady Alard.“She can do everything—drive the car, make up medicines——”

“Work in the garden and cook me a thundering good dinnerbesides!” The little doctor beamed. “I expect she’ll beover here before long, she’ll be wanting to see Peter. She’dhave come today if there han’t been such a lot to do.”

Peter put down his teacup and walked over again to thewindow. Rose Alard and her husband exchanged another ofthose meaning looks which they found a useful conversationalcurrency.

11

§ 4

Jenny soon wearied of the drawing-room, even when freshenedby Dr. Mount. She always found a stifling quality inConster’s public rooms, with their misleading show of wealth,and escaped as early as she could to the old schoolroom at theback of the house, looking steeply up through firs at thewooded slope of Brede Eye.

This evening the room was nearly dark, for the firs shutout the dregs of twilight and the moon that looked over thehill. She could just see the outlines of the familiar furniture,the square table on which she and Gervase had scrawled abusiveremarks in the intervals of their lessons, the rocking chair,where the ghost of Nurse sometimes still seemed to sit andsway, the bookcase full of children’s books—“Fifty-twoStories for Girls” and “Fifty-two Stories for Boys,” the “Girlsof St. Wode’s” and “With Wallace at Bannockburn”—all thosefaded gilded rows which she still surreptitiously enjoyed.

Now she had an indefinite feeling that someone was in theroom, but had scarcely realised it when a shape drew itselfup against the window square, making her start and gasp.

“It’s only me,” said an apologetic voice.

“Gervase!”

She switched on the light and saw her brother standing bythe table.

“When did you come?”

“Oh, twenty minutes ago. I heard you all gassing away inthe drawing-room, so thought I’d come up here till you’dfinished with Peter.”

“How sociable and brotherly of you! You might havecome in and said how d’you do. You haven’t seen him fora year.”

“I thought I’d be an anti-climax—spoil the Warrior’s Returnand all that. I’ll go down in a minute.”

“How was it you and Peter didn’t arrive together? Therehasn’t been another train since.”

“I expect Peter came by Ashford, didn’t he? I came down12on the other line and got out at Robertsbridge. I thought I’dlike the walk.”

“What about your luggage?”

“I left that at Robertsbridge.”

“Really, Gervase, you are the most unpractical person Iever struck. This means we’ll have to send over tomorrowand fetch it—and Appleby has something better to do thantear about the country after your traps.”

“I’ll fetch ’em myself in Henry Ford. Don’t be angry withme, Jenny. Please remember I’ve come home and expect tobe treated kindly.”

He came round the table to her and offered her his cheek.He was taller than she was, more coltish and less compact, butthey were both alike in being their mother’s children, Kenyonsrather than Alards. Their eyes were soft and golden-browninstead of clear Saxon-blue, their skins were pale andtheir mouths wide.

Jenny hugged him. She was very fond of Gervase, whoseemed specially to belong to her at the end of the long,straggled family.

“I’m so glad you’ve come,” she murmured—“come forgood. Though I suppose you’ll be off to a crammer’s beforelong.”

“I daresay I shall, but don’t let’s worry about that now.I’m here till February, anyway. Who’s at home?”

“Everybody except Mary, and she’s coming after Christmas.”

“I wish she’d come before. I like old Mary, and I haven’tseen her for an age. Is Julian coming too?”

“I don’t suppose so. He and Father have had a dreadfulrow.”

“What about?”

“He wouldn’t lend us any of the money he profiteered outof those collapsible huts.”

“Well, I call it rather cheek of Father to have asked him.”

“It was to be on a mortgage of course; but I quite see itwouldn’t have been much of an investment for Julian. However,Father seems to think it was his duty as a son-in-law13to have let us have it. We’re nearly on the rocks, you know.”

“So I’ve been told a dozen times, but the place looks muchthe same as ever.”

“That’s because Father and Mother can’t get out of theirgrooves, and there are so few economies which seem worthwhile. I believe we need nearly fifty thousand to clear theestate.”

“But it’s silly to do nothing.”

“I don’t see what we can do. But I never could understandabout mortgages.”

“Nor could I. The only thing I can make out is that ourgrandfather was a pretty awful fool.”

“He couldn’t read the future. He couldn’t tell the priceof land was going down with a bump, and that there would bea European war. I believe we’d have been all right if ithadn’t been for the war.”

“No we shouldn’t—we were going down hill before that.The war only hurried things on.”

“Well certainly it didn’t do for us what it did for Julian—Seventythousand pounds that man’s made out of blood.”

“Then I really do think he might let us have some of it.What’s Mary’s opinion?”

Jenny shrugged.

“Oh, I dunno. He’s had a row with her too.”

“What?—about the same thing?”

“No—about a man she’s friends with. It’s ridiculous really,for he’s years and years older than she is—a retired navalofficer—and awfully nice; I lunched with them both once intown. But it pleases Julian to be jealous, and I believe poorMary’s had a hideous time.”

“Lord! What upheavals since I was home last! Whydoesn’t anyone ever write and tell me about these things?”

“Because we’re all too worried and too lazy. But you’veheard everything now—and you really must come down andsee Peter.”

“I’m coming in a moment. But tell me first—has he changedat all? It’s more than a year since I saw him.”

14“I don’t think he’s changed much, except that he’s gotstouter.”

“I wonder what he’ll do with himself now he’s home. Isthere really a rumour, or have I only dreamed, that he’s keenon Stella Mount?”

“Oh, I believe he’s keen enough. But she hasn’t got a penny.Father will be sick if he marries her.”

She switched off the light, and the window changed from adeep, undetailed blue to a pallid, star-pricked grey, sweptacross by the tossing branches of trees.

§ 5

At Conster Manor dinner was always eaten in state. LadyAlard took hers apart in her sitting-room, and sometimes Dorishad it with her. On his “bad days” Sir John was wont tofind Doris a convenient butt, and as she was incapable eitherof warding off or receiving gracefully the arrows of his wrathfulwit, she preserved her dignity by a totally unappreciateddevotion to her mother. Tonight, however, she could hardlybe absent, in view of Peter’s return, and could only hopethat the presence of the heir would distract her father from hisobvious facilities.

George and Rose had stayed to dinner in honour of the occasionor rather had come back from a visit to Leasan Vicaragefor the purpose of changing their clothes. Rose alwaysresented having to wear evening dress when “just diningwith the family.” At the Rectory she wore last year’s summergown, and it seemed a wicked waste to have to put on oneof her only two dance frocks when invited to Conster. Butit was a subject on which Sir John had decided views.

“Got a cold in your chest, Rose?” he had inquired, whenonce she came in her parsonage voile and fichu, and on anotheroccasion had coarsely remarked: “I like to see a woman’sshoulders. Why don’t you show your shoulders, Rose? Inmy young days every woman showed her shoulders if she’d15got any she wasn’t ashamed of. But nowadays the womenrun either to bone or muscle—so perhaps you’re right.”

Most of the Alard silver was on the table—ribbed, ponderousstuff of eighteenth century date, later than the last ofthe lost causes in which so much had been melted down. Somefine Georgian and Queen Anne glass and a Spode dinner-servicecompleted the magnificence, which did not, however,extend to the dinner itself. Good cooks were hard to find andruinously expensive, requiring also their acolytes; so the soupin the Spode tureen might have appeared on the dinner-tableof a seaside boarding-house, the fish was represented bygreasily fried plaice, followed by a leg of one of the Consterlambs, reduced by the black magic of the kitchen to the flavourand consistency of the worst New Zealand mutton.

Peter noted that things had “gone down,” and had evidentlybeen down for a considerable time, judging by the placiditywith which (barring a few grumbles from Sir John) thedinner was received and eaten. The wine, however, was good—evidentlythe pre-war cellar existed. He began to wonderfor the hundredth time what he had better do to tightenthe Alard finances—eating bad dinners off costly plate seemeda poor economy. Also why were a butler and two footmennecessary to wait on the family party? The latter were hard-breathingyoung men, recently promoted from the plough,and probably cheap enough, but why should his people keepup this useless and shoddy state when their dear lands werein danger? Suppose that in order to keep their footmen andtheir silver and their flowers they had to sell Ellenwhorne orGlasseye—or, perhaps, even Starvecrow....

After the dessert of apples from Conster orchard and adish of ancient nuts which had remained untasted and unchangedsince the last dinner-party, the women and Gervaseleft the table for the drawing-room. Gervase had never soughtto emphasise his man’s estate by sitting over his wine—he alwayswent out like this with the women, and evidently meantto go on doing so now he had left school. George on the16other hand remained, though he rather aggressively drank nothingbut water.

“It’s not that I consider there is anything wrong in drinkingwine,” he explained broad-mindedly to Sir John and Peter,“but I feel I must set an example.”

“To whom?” thundered Sir John.

“To my parishioners.”

“Well, then, since you’re not setting it to us, you can clearout and join the ladies. I won’t see you sit there despisingmy port—which is the only good port there’s been in the Ryedivision since ’16—besides I want a private talk with Peter.”

The big clergyman rose obediently and left the room, hisfeelings finding only a moment’s expression at the door, whenhe turned round and tried (not very successfully) to tellPeter by a look that Sir John must not be allowed to drink toomuch port in his gouty condition.

“He’s a fool,” said his father just before he had shut thedoor. “I don’t know what the church is coming to. In myyoung days the Parson drank his bottle with the best of ’em.He didn’t go about being an example. Bah! who’s going tofollow Georgie’s example?”

“Who, indeed?” said Peter, who had two separate contemptsfor parsons and his brother George, now strengthened by combination.

“Well, pass me the port anyhow. Look here, I want totalk to you—first time I’ve got you alone. What are you goingto do now you’re back?”

“I don’t know, Sir. I’ve scarcely had time to think.”

“You’re the heir now, remember. I’d rather you stayedhere. You weren’t thinking of going back into Lightfoot’s,were you?”

“I don’t see myself in the city again. Anyhow I’d soonerbe at Conster.”

“That’s right. That’s your place now. How would youlike to be Agent?”

“I’d like it very much, Sir. But can it be done? Whatabout Greening?”

17“He’s an old fool, and has been muddling things badly thelast year or two. He doesn’t want to stay. I’ve been talkingto him about putting you in, and he seemed glad.”

“I’d be glad too, Sir.”

“You ought to know more about the estate than you do.It’ll be yours before long—I’m seventy-five, you know. WhenHugh was alive I thought perhaps a business career was bestfor you, so kept you out of things. You’ll have to learn alot.”

“I love the place, Sir—I’m dead keen.”

“Yes, I remember you always wanted.... Of course I’llput you into Starvecrow.”

“Starvecrow!”

“Don’t repeat my words. The Agent has always lived atStarvecrow, and there are quite enough of us here in thehouse. Besides there’s another thing. How old are you?”

“Thirty-six.”

“Time you married, ain’t it?”

“I suppose it is.”

“I was thirty, myself, when I married, but thirty-six is ratherlate. How is it you haven’t married earlier?”

“Oh, I dunno—the war I suppose.”

“The war seems to have had the opposite effect on mostpeople. But my children don’t seem a marrying lot. Doris... Hugh... there’s Mary, of course, and George, but Idon’t congratulate either of ’em. Julian’s a mean blackguard,and Rose——” Sir John defined Rose in terms most unsuitableto a clergyman’s wife.

“You really must think about it now,” he continued—“you’rethe heir; and of course you know—we want money.”

Peter did not speak.

“We want money abominably,” said Sir John, “in fact Idon’t know how we’re to carry on much longer without it. Idon’t want to have to sell land—indeed, it’s practically impossible,all trussed up as we are. Starvecrow could go, ofcourse, but it’s useful for grazing and timber.”

“You’re not thinking of selling Starvecrow?”

18“I don’t want to—we’ve had it nearly two hundred years;it was the first farm that Giles Alard bought. But it’s alsothe only farm we’ve got in this district that isn’t tied—there’sa mortgage on the grazings down by the stream, but the houseis free, with seventy acres.”

“It would be a shame to let it go.”

Peter was digging into the salt-cellar with his dessert knife.

“Well, I rely on you to help me keep it. Manage the estatewell and marry money.”

“You’re damn cynical, Sir. Got any especial—er—moneyin your mind?”

“No, no—of course not. But you ought to get married atyour age, and you might as well marry for the family’s advantageas well as your own.”

Peter was silent.

“Oh, I know there’s a lot to be said against getting married,but in your position—heir to a title and a big estate—it’sreally a duty. I married directly my father died. But don’tyou wait for that—you’re getting on.”

“But who am I to marry? There’s not such a lot of richgirls round here.”

“You’ll soon find one if you make up your mind to it.My plan is first make up your mind to get married and thenlook for the girl—not the other way round, which is what mostmen do, and leads to all kinds of trouble. Of course I knowit isn’t always convenient. But what’s your special objection?Any entanglement? Don’t be afraid to tell me. I know there’soften a little woman in the way.”

Peter squirmed at his father’s Victorian ideas of dissipationwith their “little women.” He’d be talking of “Frenchdancers” next....

“I haven’t any entanglement, Sir.”

“Then you take my words to heart. I don’t ask you tomarry for money, but marry where money is, as Shakespeareor somebody said.”

19

§ 6

Peter found a refreshing solitude in the early hours ofthe next day. His mother and Doris breakfasted upstairs, hisfather had characteristically kept his promise to “be abouttomorrow,” and had actually ridden out before Peter appearedin the morning room at nine. Jenny, who was a lazy youngwoman, did not come down till he had finished, and Gervase,in one of those spasms of eccentricity which made Peter sometimesa little ashamed of him, had gone without breakfast altogether,and driven off in the Ford lorry to fetch his luggage,sustained by an apple.

The morning room was full of early sunlight—dim as yet,for the mists were still rising from the Tillingham valley andshredding slowly into the sky. The woods and farms beyondthe river were hidden in the same soft cloud. Peter openedthe window, and felt the December rasp in the air. Oh, it wasgood to be back in this place, and one with it now, the heir....No longer the second son who must live away from homeand make his money in business.... He stifled the disloyaltyto his dead brother. Poor old Hugh, who was so solemn andso solid and so upright.... But Hugh had never loved theplace as he did—he had never been both transported and abasedby his honour of inheritance.

As soon as he had eaten his breakfast Peter went out, athis heels a small brown spaniel, who for some reason had notgone with the other dogs after Sir John. They went downthe garden, over the half melted frost of the sloping lawns,through the untidy shrubbery of fir, larch and laurel, to thewooden fence that shut off Conster from the marshes of theTillingham. The river here had none of the pretensions withwhich it circled Rye, but was little more than a meadow-stream,rather full and angry with winter. Beyond it, justbefore the woods began, lay Beckley Furnace with its idlemill.

And away against the woods lay Starvecrow... just ashe had dreamed of it so many times in France, among the20blasted fields. “Starvecrow”—he found himself repeating thename aloud, but not as it was written on the map, rather asit was written on the lips of the people to whom its spirit belong—“Starvycrow... Starvycrow.”

It was a stone house built about the same time as Conster,but without the compliment to Gloriana implied in three gables.It lacked the grace of Conster—the grace both of its buildingand of its planting. It stood foursquare and forthrightupon the slope, with a great descent of wavy, red-brown rooftowards the mouth of the valley, a shelter from the windsthat came up the Tillingham from the sea. It seemed preeminentlya home, sheltered, secure, with a multitude of chimneysstanding out against the background of the woods. Fromone of them rose a straight column of blue smoke, unwaveringin the still, frost-thickened air.

Peter crossed the stream by the bridge, then turned upStarvecrow’s ancient drive. There was no garden, merely anorchard with a planting of flowers under the windows. Peterdid not ring, but walked straight in at the side door. Theestate office had for long years been at Starvecrow, a lowfarmhouse room in which the office furniture looked incongruousand upstart.

“I’ll change all this,” thought Peter to himself—I’ll havea gate-legged table and Jacobean chairs.

The room was empty, but the agents wife had heard himcome in.

“That you, Mr. Alard? I thought you’d be over. Mr.Greening’s gone to Winterland this morning. They were complainingabout their roof. He said he’d be back before lunch.”

Peter shook hands with Mrs. Greening and received ratherabstractedly her congratulations on his return. He was wonderingif she knew he was to supplant them at Starvecrow.

She did, for she referred to it the next minute, and to hisrelief did not seem to resent the change.

“We’re getting old people, and for some time I’ve beenwanting to move into the town. It’ll be a good thing to haveyou here, Mr. Alard—bring all the tenants more in touch with21the family. Not that Sir John doesn’t do a really amazingamount of work....”

She rambled on, then suddenly apologised for having toleave him—a grandchild staying in the house was ill.

“Shall you wait for Mr. Greening? I’m afraid he won’tbe in for an hour at least.”

“I’ll wait for a bit anyway. I’ve some letters to write.”

He went into the office and sat down. The big ugly rolltopdesk was littered with papers—memoranda, bills, estimates,plans of farms, lists of stock-prices. He cleared a space,seized a couple of sheets of the estate note-paper, and beganto write.

“My loveliest Stella,” he wrote.

§ 7

He had nearly covered the two sheets when the rattle of acar sounded in the drive below. He looked up eagerly andwent to the window, but it was only Gervase lurching overthe ruts in the Ford, just scraping past the wall as he swunground outside the house, just avoiding a collision with anoutstanding poplar, after the usual manner of his driving.

The next minute he was in the office.

“Hullo! They told me you were over here. I’ve justfetched my luggage from Robertsbridge.”

He sat down on the writing-table and lit a cigarette. Peterhastily covered up his letter. Why did Gervase come botheringhim now?

“I wanted to speak to you,” continued his brother. “You’llbe the best one to back me up against Father.”

“What is it now?” asked Peter discouragingly.

“An idea came to me while I was driving over. I oftenget ideas when I drive, and this struck me as rather a goodone. I think it would be just waste for me to go to a crammer’sand then to Oxford. I don’t want to go in for the churchor the bar or schoolmastering or anything like that, and I don’tsee why the family should drop thousands on my education22just because I happen to be an Alard. I want to go in forengineering in some way and you don’t need any ’Varsity forthat. I could go into some sort of a shop....”

“Well, if the way you drive a car is any indication——”

“I can drive perfectly well when I think about it. Besides,that won’t be my job. I want to learn something in the wayof construction and all that. I always was keen, and it strikesme now that I’d much better go in for that sort of thing thansomething which won’t pay for years. There may be somesort of a premium to fork out, but it’ll be nothing comparedto what it would cost to send me to Oxford.”

“You talk as if we were paupers,” growled Peter.

“Well, so we are, aren’t we?” said Gervase brightly. “Jennywas talking to me about it last night. She says we pay thousandsa year in interest on mortgages, and as for paying themoff and selling the land, which is the only thing that can helpus....”

“I don’t see that it’s your job, anyway.”

“But I could help. Really it seems a silly waste to send meto Oxford when I don’t want to go.”

“You need Oxford more than any man I know. If youwent there you might pick up some notions of what’s done,and get more like other people.”

“I shouldn’t get more like other people, only more likeother Oxford men.”

Peter scowled. He intensely disapproved of the kid’s verbalnimbleness, which his more weighty, more reputable argumentcould only lumber after.

“You’ve got to remember you’re a gentleman’s son,” he remarkedin a voice which suggested sitting down just as Gervase’shad suggested a skip and a jump.

“Well, lots of them go in for engineering. We’re in sucha groove. I daresay you think this is just a sudden idea ofmine——”

“You’ve just told me it is.”

“I know, but I’ve been thinking for ages that I didn’t wantto go to Oxford. If I took up engineering I could go into a23shop at Ashford.... But I’ll have to talk to Father aboutit. I expect he’ll be frightfully upset—the only Alard whohasn’t been to the Varsity and all that... but, on the otherhand, he’s never bothered about me so much as about you andGeorge, because there’s no chance of my coming into theestate.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” gibed Peter.

“Yes, of course, you might both die just to spite me—butit wouldn’t be sporting of you. I don’t want to be Sir GervaseAlard, Bart.—I’d much rather be Alard and Co., Motor-engineers.”

“You damn well shan’t be that.”

“Well, it’s a long time ahead, anyway. But do back me upagainst Father about not going to Oxford. It really ought tohelp us a lot if I don’t go—a son at the ’Varsity’s a dreadfulexpense, and when that son’s me, it’s a waste into the bargain.”

“Well, I’ll see about it. My idea is that you need Oxfordmore than—hullo, who’s that?”

“Dr. Mount,” said Gervase looking out of the window.

Peter rose and looked out too, in time to see the doctor’scar turning in the sweep. This morning he himself was notat the wheel, but was driven by what looked like a warm bundleof furs with a pair of bright eyes looking out between collarand cap.

Peter opened the window.

“Stella!” he cried.

§ 8

A minute later Stella Mount was in the room. Gervase hadnot seen her for several years; during the greater part of thewar she had been away from home, first at a munition factory,then as an auxiliary driver to the Army Service Corps. Whenlast they had met the gulf between the schoolboy of fourteenand the girl of twenty had yawned much wider than betweenthe youth of eighteen and the young woman of twenty-four.Stella looked, if anything, younger than she had looked four24years ago, and he was also of an age to appreciate her beautywhich he had scarcely noticed on the earlier occasions.

In strict point of fact Stella was not so much beautifulas pretty, for there was nothing classic in her little heart-shapedface, with its wide cheek-bones, pointed chin and puckishnose. On the other hand there was nothing of that fragile,conventional quality which prettiness is understood to mean.Everything about Stella was healthy, warm and living—herplump little figure, the glow on her cheeks, the shine of hergrey eyes between their lashes, like pools among reeds, the decisionof her chin and brows, the glossy, tumbling masses ofher hair, all spoke of strength and vigour, a health that wasalmost hardy.

She came into the room like a flame, and Gervase felt hisheart warming. Then he remembered that she was Peter’s—Jennyhad said so, though she had not blessed Peter’s possession.

“How d’you do, Stella?” he said, “it’s ages since we met.Do you know who I am?”

“Of course I do. You haven’t altered much, except in height.You’ve left Winchester for good now, haven’t you?”

“Yes—and I’ve just been arguing with Peter about what I’mto do with myself now I’m home.”

“How very practical of you! I hope Peter was helpful.”

“Not in the least.”

He could feel Peter’s eyes upon him, telling him to get outof the way and leave him alone with his bright flame....

“Well, I must push off—they may be wanting the Ford athome.”

He shook hands with Stella, nodded to Peter, and went out.

For a moment Peter and Stella faced each other in silence.Then Peter came slowly up to her and took her in his arms,hiding his face in her neck.

“O Stella—O my beauty!...”

She did not speak, but her arms crept round him. Theycould scarcely meet behind his broad back—she loved thisfeeling of girth which she could not compass, combined as it25was with a queer tender sense of his helplessness, of his dependenceon her——

“O Peter,” she whispered—“my little Peter....”

“I was writing to you, darling, when you came.”

“And I was on my way to see you at Conster. Father wasgoing there after he’d called on little Joey Greening. Iwouldn’t come yesterday—I thought your family would beall over you, and I didn’t like....”

She broke off the sentence and he made no effort to trimthe ragged end. Her reference to his family brought backinto his thoughts the conversation he had had with his fatherover the wine. She had always felt his family as a cloud, asa barrier between them, and it would be difficult to tell herthat now he was the heir, now he was home from the war,instead of being removed the cloud would be heavier and thebarrier stronger.

“I’m so glad you came here”—he breathed into her hair—“thatour first meeting’s at Starvecrow.”

“Yes—I’m glad, too.”

Peter sat down in the leather-covered office chair, holdingStella on his knee.

“Child—they’re going to give me Starvecrow.”

“O Peter!”...

“Yes—Greening wants to leave, and my father’s making meagent in his place.”

“How lovely! Shall you come and live here?”

“Yes.”

The monosyllable came gruffly because of the much morethat he wanted to say. It was a shame to have such reservesspoil their first meeting.

“I’m so awfully, wonderfully glad, Peter darling.”

She hid her soft, glowing face in his neck—she was lyingon his breast like a child, but deliciously heavy, her feet swungoff the floor.

“Stella—my sweetheart—beautiful....”

His love for her gave him a sweet wildness of heart, andhe who was usually slow of tongue, became almost voluble——

26“Oh, I’ve longed for this—I’ve thought of this, dreamed ofthis.... And you’re lovelier than ever, you dear.... Stella,sweetheart, let me look into your eyes—close to—like that... your eyelashes turn back like the petals of a flower....O you wonderful, beautiful thing... And it’s so lovelywe should have met here instead of at home—the dearestperson in the dearest place... Stella at Starvecrow.”

“Starvycrow,” she repeated gently.

For a moment he felt almost angry that she should have usedhis name—his private music. But his anger melted into hislove. She used his name because she, alone in all the world,felt his feelings and thought his thoughts. Perhaps she didnot love Starvecrow quite as he did, but she must love it verynearly as much or she would not call it by its secret name.They sat in silence, her head upon his shoulder, his arms abouther, gathering her up on his knees. On the hearth a log firesoftly hummed and sighed. Ages seemed to flow over them,the swift eternities of love.... Then suddenly a voice called“Stella!” from the drive.

She started up, and the next moment was on her feet, pushingaway her hair under her cap, buttoning her high collarover her chin.

“How quick Father’s been! I feel as if I’d only just come.”

“You must come again.”

“I’m coming to dinner on Christmas day, you know.”

“That doesn’t count. I want you here.”

“And I want to be here with you—always.”

The last word was murmured against his lips as he kissedher at the door. He was not quite sure if he had heard it.During the rest of the morning he sometimes feared not—sometimeshoped not.

§ 9

“It will be a green Christmas,” said Dr. Mount.

Stella made no answer. The little car sped through the lanesat the back of Benenden. They had driven far—to the very27edge of the doctor’s wide-flung practice, by Hawkhurst andSkullsgate, beyond the Kent Ditch. They had called at boththe Nineveh farms—Great Nineveh and Little Nineveh—andhad now turned south again. The delicate blue sky was driftedover with low pinkish clouds, which seemed to sail very closeto the field where their shadows moved; the shadows swoopeddown the lane with the little car, rushing before it into Sussex.Stella loved racing the sky.

On her face, on her neck, she could still feel cold placeswhere Peter had kissed her. It was wonderful and beautiful,she thought, that she should carry the ghosts of his kissesthrough Sussex and Kent. And now she would not have solong to be content with ghosts—there would not be those terribleintervals of separation. She would see Peter again soon,and the time would come—must come—when they would betogether always. “Together always” was the fulfilment ofStella’s dream. “They married and were together always”sounded better in her ears than “they married and lived happyever after.” No more partings, no more ghosts of kisses,much as she loved those ghosts, but always the dear, warmbodily presence—Peter working, Peter resting, Peter sleepy,Peter hungry, Peter talking, Peter silent—Peter always.

“It will be a green Christmas,” repeated Dr. Mount.

“Er—did you speak, Father dear?”

“Yes, I said it would be a gr——but never mind, I’m sureyour thoughts are more interesting than anything I could say.”

Stella blushed. She and her father had a convention ofsilence between them in regard to Peter. He knew all abouthim, of course, but they both pretended that he didn’t; becauseStella felt she had no right to tell him until Peter had definitelyasked her to be his wife. And he had not asked her yet. Whenthey had first fallen in love, Hugh Alard was still alive and thesecond son’s prospects were uncertain; then when Hugh waskilled and Peter became the heir, there was still the war, andshe knew that her stolid, Saxon Peter disapproved of war-weddingsand grass widows who so often became widows indeed.28He had told her then he could not marry her till afterthe war, and she had treated that negative statement as the beginningof troth between them. She had never questionedor pressed him—it was not her way—she had simply takenhim for granted. She had felt that he could not, any morethan she, be satisfied with less than “together always.”

But now she felt that something definite must happen soon,and their tacit understanding become open and glorious. Hisfamily would disapprove, she knew, though they liked her personallyand owed a great deal to her father. But Stella, outsideand unaware, made light of Conster’s opposition. Peterwas thirty-six and had five hundred a year of his own, so inher opinion could afford to snap his fingers at Alard tyranny.Besides, she felt sure the family would “come round”—theywould be disappointed at first, but naturally they wouldn’texpect Peter to give up his love-choice simply because she hadno money. She would be glad when things were open and acknowledged,for though her secret was a very dear one, shewas sometimes worried by her own shifts to keep it, and hurtby Peter’s. It hurt her that he should have to pretend not tocare about her when they met in public—but not so much asit would have hurt her if he hadn’t done it so badly.

“Well, now he’s back, I suppose Peter will take the eldestson’s place,” said Dr. Mount, “and help his father manage theproperty.”

“Yes—he told me this morning that Sir John wants him tobe agent instead of Mr. Greening, and he’s to live at Starvecrow.”

“At Starvecrow! You’ll like that—I mean, it’s nice tothink Peter won’t have to go back and work in London. Ialways felt he belonged here more than Hugh.”

“Yes, I don’t think Hugh cared for the place very much,but Peter always did. It always seemed hard lines that heshould be the second son.”

“Poor Hugh,” said Dr. Mount—“he was very like Peter inmany ways—Sober and solid and kind-hearted; but he hadn’tPeter’s imagination.”

29“Peter’s very sensitive,” said Stella—“in spite of his beingsuch a big, heavy thing.”

Then she smiled, and said in her heart—“Peter’s mine.”

§ 10

Christmas was celebrated at Conster in the manner peculiarto houses where there is no religion and no child. Traditioncompelled the various members of the family to give eachother presents which they did not want and to eat more foodthan was good for them; it also compelled them to pack unwillinglyinto the Wolsey car and drive to Leasan church,where they listened in quite comprehensible boredom to asermon by brother George. Peter was able to break free fromthis last superstition, and took himself off to the office atStarvecrow—his family’s vague feeling of unrest at his defectionbeing compensated by the thought that there reallywouldn’t have been room for him in the car.

But Starvecrow was dim and sodden on this green Christmasday, full of a muggy cloud drifting up from the Tillingham,and Peter was still sore from the amenities of theChristmas breakfast table—that ghastly effort to be festivebecause it was Christmas morning, that farce of exchangingpresents—all those empty rites of a lost childhood and a lostfaith. He hated Christmas.

Also he wanted Stella, and she was not to be had. Shetoo had gone to church—which he would not have minded, ifshe had not had the alternative of being with him here atStarvecrow. He did not at all object to religion in womenas long as they kept it in its proper place. But Stella did notkeep hers in its proper place—she let it interfere with her dailylife—with his... and she had not gone to church at Leasan,which was sanctified to Peter by the family patronage and thefamily vault, but to Vinehall, where they did not even havethe decencies of Dearly Beloved Brethren, but embarrassingmysteries which he felt instinctively to be childish and in badtaste.

30In Stella’s home this Christmas there would be both religionand children, the latter being represented by her father andherself. Last night when he called at Hollingrove—Dr.Mount’s cottage on the road between Leasan and Vinehall—toask her to meet him here today at Starvecrow, he had foundher decorating a Christmas tree, to be put in the church, ofall places. She had asked him to stop and go with her andher father to the Midnight Mass—“Do come, Peter—we’regoing to make such a lovely noise at the Gloria in Excelsis.Father Luce has given the boys trays to bang this year.”But Peter had declined, partly because he disapproved of tray-bangingas a means of giving glory to God, but mostly becausehe was hurt that Stella should prefer going to church to beingwith him at Starvecrow.

She had made a grave mistake, if only she’d known it—leavinghim here by himself today, with his time free to thinkabout her, and memories of her dark side still fresh in hismind. For Stella had her dark side, like the moon, thoughgenerally you saw as little of it as the moon’s. In nearly allways she was Peter’s satisfaction. He loved her with bodyand mind, indeed with a sort of spiritual yearning. He lovedher for her beauty, her sense, her warmth, her affectionatedisposition which expressed itself naturally in love, her freedomfrom affectation, and also from any pretensions to witor cleverness, and other things which he distrusted. But fortwo things he loved her not—her religion and her attitudetowards his family.

Hitherto neither had troubled him much. Their meetingshad been so few that they had had but little talk of anythingsave love. He had merely realised that though she held thecountry round Vinehall and Leasan as dear as even his idolatrydemanded she was very little impressed with the importanceof the family to whom that country belonged. But up inLondon that had scarcely mattered. He had also realised thatStella, as she put it, “tried to be good.” At first he hadthought her wanton—her ready reception of his advances, herardent affection, her unguarded manner, had made him think31she was like the many young women filling London in thoseyears, escaped from quiet homes into a new atmosphere offreedom and amorousness, making the most of what mightbe short-lived opportunities. But he was glad when he discoveredhis mistake. Peter approved of virtue in women,though he had occasionally taken advantage of its absence.He certainly would never have married a woman who was notvirtuous, and he soon discovered that he wanted to marryStella.

But in those days everything flowed like a stream—nothingwas firm, nothing stood still. Things were different now—theycould flow no longer, they must be established; it was nowthat Peter realised how much greater these two drawbacks werethan they had seemed at first. Stella’s religion did not consistmerely in preserving his treasure whole till he was ready toclaim it, but in queer ways of denial and squander, exactinglaws, embarrassing consecrations. And her attitude towardsthe family gave him almost a feeling of insult—she was socasual, so unaware... she did not seem to trouble herselfwith its requirements and prohibitions. She did not seem torealise that the House of Alard was the biggest thing on earth—sobig that it could crush her and Peter, their hope andromance, into dust. But she would soon find out what it was—whetherthey married or not, she would find out.

Sometimes—for instance, today—he was almost savagelyglad when he thought how sure she was to find out. Sometimeshe was angry with her for her attitude towards thefamily, and for all that she took for granted in his. He knewthat she expected him to marry her whatever happened—witha naïvety which occasionally charmed but more often irritatedhim. She imagined that if his father refused to let them liveat Starvecrow, he would take her and live with her in somecottage on five hundred a year... and watch the place go toruin without him. She would be sorry not to have Starvecrow,but she would not care about anything else—she would notfret in the least about the estate or the outraged feelings ofthose who looked to him to help them. She would not even32have cared if his father had had it in his power—which hehad not—to prevent her ever becoming Lady Alard. Stelladid not care two pins about being Lady Alard—all she wantedwas to be Mrs. Peter. He had loved her for her disinterestedness,but now he realised that it had its drawbacks. He sawthat his choice had fallen on a woman who was not a goodchoice for Alard—not merely because she had no money, butbecause she had no pride. He could not picture her at Conster—ladyof the Manor. He could picture her at Starvecrow, butnot at Conster.

...He bowed his head upon the table—it felt heavy withhis thought. Stella was the sweetest, loveliest thing in life,and sometimes he felt that her winning was worth any sacrifice,and that he would pay her price not only with his ownrenunciation but with all the hopes of his house. But someunmovable, fundamental part of him showed her to him asan infatuation, a witch-light, leading him away from the justclaims of his people and his land, urging him to a cruelbetrayal of those who trusted to him for rescue.

After all, he had known her only a year. In a sense, ofcourse, he had known her from her childhood, when she hadfirst come with her father to Vinehall, but he had not lovedher till he had met her in London a year ago. Only a year....To Peter’s conservative soul a year was nothing. Fornearly two hundred years the Alards had owned Starvecrow—andthey had been at Conster for three hundred more. Washe going to sacrifice those century-old associations for thepassion of a short year? He had loved her only a year, andthese places he had loved all his life—and not his life only,but the lives of those who had come before him, forefatherswhose spirit lived in him, with love for the land which washis and theirs.

§ 11

The Christmas tension at the Manor was relieved at dinnertimeby the arrival of George Alard and his wife, Dr. Mountand Stella, and a young man supposed to be in love with Jenny.33A family newly settled at the Furnace had also been invitedand though it had always been the custom at Conster to inviteone or two outside people to the Christmas dinner, Rose Alardconsidered that this year’s hospitality had gone too far.

“It’s all very well to have Dr. Mount and Stella,” she saidto Doris, “but who are these Hursts? They haven’t been atthe Furnace six months.”

“They’re very rich, I believe,” said Doris.

“They may be—but no one knows how they made theirmoney. I expect it was in trade,” and Rose sniffed, as if shesmelt it.

“There’s a young man, I think; perhaps he’ll marry Jenny—he’stoo young for me.”

“But Jenny’s engaged to Jim Parish, isn’t she?”

“Not that it counts—he hasn’t got a bean, or any prospectseither. We don’t talk of them as engaged.”

“Is she in love with him?”

“How can I possibly tell?” snapped Doris, who had had atrying afternoon with her mother, and had also been given“The Christian Year” for the second time as a present fromRose.

“Well, don’t bite my head off. I’m sure I hope she isn’t,and that she’ll captivate this young Hurst, whoever he is.Then it won’t be so bad having them here, though otherwiseI should feel inclined to protest; for poor George is worn outafter four services and two sermons, and it’s rather hard toexpect him to talk to strangers—especially on Christmas day.”

Doris swallowed her resentment audibly—she would notcondescend to quarrel with Rose, whom she looked upon muchas Rose herself looked upon the Hursts, George having marriedrather meanly in the suburb of his first curacy.

When the Hursts arrived, they consisted of agreeable, vulgarparents, a smart, modern-looking daughter and a good-lookingson. Unfortunately, the son was soon deprived of his excuseas a possible husband for Jenny by his mother’s ready referenceto “Billy’s feeonsay”—but it struck both Rose and Dorisseparately and simultaneously that it would do just as well34if the daughter Dolly married Peter. She really was anextraordinarily attractive girl, with her thick golden hair cutsquare upon her ears like a mediæval page’s. She was clever,too—had read all the new books and even met some of the newauthors. Never, thought Rose and Doris, had wealth been soattractively baited or “trade” been so effectively disguised.It was a pity Peter was in such bad form tonight, sitting therebeside her, half-silent, almost sullen.

Peter knew that Dolly Hurst was attractive, he knew thatshe was clever, he knew that she was rich, he knew that shehad come out of the gutter—and he guessed that his peoplehad asked her to Conster tonight in hopes that through himher riches might save the house of Alard. All this knowledgecrowned by such a guess had the effect of striking him dumb,and by the time Wills and the footmen had ushered in withmuch ceremony a huge, burnt turkey, his neighbour had almostentirely given up her efforts to “draw him out,” and had turnedin despair to George Alard on her right.

Peter sat gazing unhappily at Stella. She was next to Gervase,and was evidently amusing him, to judge by the laughterwhich came across the table. That was so like Stella... shecould always make you laugh. She wasn’t a bit clever, butshe saw and said things in a funny way. She was lookingdevilish pretty tonight, too—her hair was done in such a prettyway, low over her forehead and ears, and her little head wasround and shining like a bun... the little darling... andhow well that blue frock became her—showing her dear, lovelyneck... yes, he thought he’d seen it before, but it looked asgood as new. Stella was never tumbled—except just after hehad kissed her... the little sweet.

He was reacting from his thoughts of her that morning—hefelt a little ashamed of them. After all, why shouldn’t shehave gone to church if she wanted to? Wasn’t it better thanhaving no religion at all, like many of the hard young womenof his class who shocked his war-born agnosticism with theirs?—orthan having a religion which involved the whole solarsystem and a diet of nuts? And as for her treatment of his35family—surely her indifference was better than the eager subserviencemore usually found—reverence for a title, an estate,and a place in the charmed exclusiveness of the “County.”No, he would be a fool if he sacrificed Stella for any personor thing whatsoever. He had her to consider, too. Sheloved him, and he knew that, though no troth had yet passedbetween them, she considered herself bound to the future.What would she say if she knew he did not consider himselfso bound?... Well, he must bind himself—or let her go free.

He longed to talk to her, but his opportunity dragged. Tohis restlessness it seemed as if the others were trying to keepthem apart. There was Gervase, silly fool, going out with thewomen as usual and sitting beside her in the drawing-room—therewas George, sillier fool, keeping the men back in thedining-room while he told Mr. Hurst exactly why he had notgone for an army chaplain. Then directly they had joined theladies, both Doris and Rose shot up simultaneously frombeside Dolly Hurst and disposed of themselves one beside LadyAlard, the other beside Stella. He had to sit down and tryagain to be intelligent. It was worse than ever, for he waswatching all the time for Miss Hurst to empty her coffee-cup—thenhe would go and put it down on the Sheraton table,which was not so far from Stella, and after that he would sitdown beside Stella no matter how aggressively Rose was sittingon her other side.

The coffee-cup was emptied in the middle of a discussionon the relative reputations of Wells and Galsworthy. Peterimmediately forgot what he was saying....

“Let me put your cup down for you.”

He did not wait for a reply, but the next minute he wason the other side of the room. He realised that he had beenincredibly silly and rude, but it was too late to atone, for JimParish, Jenny’s ineligible young man, had sat down in the chairhe had left.

Stella was talking to Rose, but she turned round when Petercame up and made room beside her on the sofa. Rose feltannoyed—she thought Stella’s manner was “encouraging,” and36began to say something about the sofa being too cramped forthree. However, at that moment Lady Alard called her tocome and hear about Mrs. Hurst’s experiences in London onArmistice Day, and she had regretfully to leave the twoineligibles together, with the further complication that the thirdineligible was sitting beside Dolly Hurst—and though JimParish was supposed to be in love with Jenny, everyone knewhe was just as much in need of a rich wife as Peter.

“Stella,” said Peter in a low voice—“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry! What for, my dear?”

He realised that of course she did not know what he hadbeen thinking of her that morning.

“Everything,” he mumbled, apologizing vaguely for thefuture as well as the past.

Stella had thought that perhaps this evening “somethingwould happen.” At Conster—on Christmas night... thecombination seemed imperative. But Peter did not, as she hadhoped, draw her out of that crowded, overheated room intosome quiet corner of the house or under the cold, dark curtainsof the night. Peter could not quite decide against the family—hemust give it time to plead. He leaned back on the sofa, hiseyes half-closed, tired and silent, yet with a curious peace athis heart.

“You’re tired, boy,” said Stella—“what have you been doingtoday?”

“I’ve had a hateful day—and I was tired—dog tired; but I’mnot tired any longer now—now I’m with you.”

“Oh, Peter, am I restful?”

“Yes, my dear.”

Stella was satisfied. She felt that was enough—she did notask anything more of the night.

§ 12

It was Gervase, not Peter, who lay awake that night, thinkingof Stella Mount. He had been glad when he was told to takeher in to dinner, and the meal which had been so unspeakably37trying to his brother had passed delightfully for him. On hisother side sat Doris, deep in conversation with Charles Hurst,so he did not have to bother about her—he could talk to Stella,who was so easy to talk to....

Afterwards in the drawing-room he had not felt so easy.He knew that he must not monopolise Stella, for she wasPeter’s. So when he heard the men crossing the hall, he madesome excuse and left her, to see Rose sit down by her sidedirectly Peter came in. He was glad when poor old Peter hadmanaged to get near her at last... though he hadn’t seemedto make much of his opportunities. He had sat beside her,stupid and silent, scarcely speaking a word all the eveningthrough.

Upstairs in bed, in his little misshapen room under the northgable, where he had slept ever since the night-nursery wasgiven up, Gervase shut his eyes and thought of Stella. Shecame before the darkness of his closed eyes in her shining bluedress—a dress like midnight.... She was the first womanhe had really noticed since in far-back childish days he had hadan infatuation for his rather dull daily governess—his “beautifulMiss Turner” as he had called her and thought of herstill.... But Stella was different—she was less of a cloudand a goddess, more of a breathing person. He wondered—washe falling in love? It was silly to fall in love withStella, who was six years older than he... though peoplesaid that when boys fell in love it was generally with womenolder than themselves. But he mustn’t do it. Stella wasPeter’s.... Was she?... Or was it merely true that hewanted to take her and she wanted to be taken?

He did not think there was any engagement, any promise.Circumstances might finally keep them apart. Rose, Doris,Jenny, his father and mother—the whole family—did not wantPeter to marry Stella Mount whose face was her fortune.It was the same everlasting need of money that was makingthe same people, except Jenny of course, shrug at poor JimParish, whose people in their turn shrugged at portionlessJenny. Money—money... that was what the Squires38wanted—what they must have if their names were to remainin the old places.

Gervase felt rather angry with Peter. He was angry tothink that he who had the power was divided as to the will.How was it possible that he could stumble at such a choice?What was money, position, land or inheritance compared tosimple, solid happiness?... He buried his face in the pillow,and a kind of horror seized him at the cruel ways of things.It was as if a bogey was in the room—the kind that used to bethere when he was a child, but no longer visible in the heelingshadows round the nightlight, rather an invisible sickness, thefetish of the Alards dancing in triumph over Stella and Peter.

It was strange that he should be so hurt by what was afterall not his tragedy—he was not really in love with Stella, onlyfelt that, given freedom for her and a few more years for him,he could have been and would have been. And he was notso much hurt as frightened. He was afraid because lifeseemed to him at once so trivial and so gross. The things overwhich people agonised were, after all, small shoddy things—earthand halfpence; to see them have such power to crushhopes and deform lives was like seeing a noble tree eaten upby insects. In time he too would be eaten up... No, no!He must save himself, somehow. He must find happinesssomewhere. But how?

When he tried to think, he was afraid. He rememberedwhat he used to do in the old days when he was so dreadfullyafraid in this room. He used to draw up his knees to his chinand pray—pray frantically in his fear. That was before hehad heard about the Ninety-nine Just Sheep being left for theone that was lost; directly he had heard that story he had givenup saying his prayers, for fear he should be a Just Sheep, whenhe would so much rather be the lost one, because the shepherdloved it and had carried it in his arms.... He must havebeen a queer sort of kid. Now all that was gone—religion... the school chapel, confirmation classes, manly Christians,the Bishop’s sleeves... he could scarcely realise those dimdelicate raptures he had had as a child—his passionate interest39in that dear Friend and God walking the earth... all thewonderful things he had pondered in his heart. Religion wasso different after you were grown up. It became an affairof earth and halfpence like everything else.

Stella’s religion still seemed to have some colour left in it,some life, some youth. It was more like his childhood’s faiththan anything he had met so far. She had told him tonightthat there were two Christmas trees in church, one each sideof the Altar, all bright with the glass balls and birds that hadmade his childhood’s Christmas trees seem almost supernatural....Yggdrasils decked for the eternal Yule... he was fallingasleep.... He was sorry for Stella. She had told himtoo about the Christmas Crib, the little straw house she hadbuilt in the church for Mary and Joseph and the Baby, for theox and the ass and the shepherds and their dogs and the lambsthey could not leave behind.... She had told him that shenever thought of Christ as being born in Bethlehem, but in thebarn at the back of the Plough Inn at Udimore.... He sawthe long road running into the sunrise, wet and shining, redwith an angry morning. Someone was coming along it carryinga lamb... was it the lost sheep—or just one of the lambsthe shepherds could not leave behind?... all along the roadthe trees were hung with glass balls and many-coloured birds.He could feel Stella beside him, though he could not see her.She was trying to make him come with her to the inn. Shewas saying “Come, Peter—oh, do come, Peter,” and he seemedto be Peter going with her. Then suddenly he knew he wasnot Peter, and the earth roared and the trees flew up into thesky, which shook and flamed.... He must be falling asleep.

§ 13

Gervase’s feelings towards Alard being what they were, anybodymight wonder he should think of giving up Oxford forthe family’s sake. Indeed, he almost changed his mind in thethroes of that wakeful, resentful night, and resolved to takehis expensive way to Christ’s or Balliol. But by morning he40had come to see himself more clearly and to laugh at his ownpretences. He wasn’t “giving up” Oxford—he didn’t want togo there—he had always shrunk from the thought of Oxfordlife with its patterns and conventions—and then at the end ofit he would still be his father’s youngest son, drawing ayoungest son’s allowance from depleted coffers. He would farrather learn his job as an engineer and win an early independence.Going to his work every morning, meeting all sortsof men, rough and smooth, no longer feeling irrevocably shut upin a class, a cult, a tradition... in that way he might reallywin freedom and defy the house of Alard. “My name’s GervaseAlard,” he said to himself—“and I’m damned if Gervase shallbe sacrificed to Alard, for he’s the most important of the two.”

If only he could persuade his father to see as he saw—notquite, of course, but near enough to let him make a start.Peter had not seen very well, still he had nearly agreed whenthe argument was broken up. Sir John must be found in apropitious hour.

The next day provided none such, for Christmas had notunexpectedly brought a return of the Squire’s twinges, butthese passed off with unusual quickness, and on Innocents’ Dayhis indomitable pluck mounted him once again on his grey horseto ride round the farms. Gervase found him finishing hisbreakfast when he came down for his own, and seeing by whipand gaiters what was planned, he realised that a favourabletime had come. So he rushed into his request while he washelping himself to bacon.

To his surprise his father heard him without interruption.

“Have you any bent for engineering?” he asked at the end.

“Oh, yes, Sir. I can drive any sort of car and mess aboutwith their insides. I always was keen.”

“You’ve been keen on a good many things if I rememberright, but not always proficient. All my sons have been toOxford.”

“But think what a lot it ’ud cost you, Sir, to send me.”

“I expect it ’ud cost me nearly as much to make an engineerof you.”

41“Oh, no, Sir—you’ll only have to plank down about a hundredto start with, and in time they’ll pay me some sort of ascrew. And if I go into a shop at Ashford I can live at homeand cost you nothing.”

“You think you’ll cost nothing to keep at home? What ullyou live on, you damned fool?”

“Oh, relatively I meant, Sir. And if I get, say, fifteen boba week, as I shall in time....”

“It’ll be a proud day for me, of course.”

“Things have changed since the war, and lots of chaps who’dhave gone up to the ’Varsity now go straight into works—there’sHugh’s friend, Tom Daubernon, opened a garage atColchester....”

“That will be your ambition in life—to open a garage?”

“No, Sir—Alard and Co., motor-engineers and armamentmakers—that’s my job, and not so bad either. Think ofKrupps.”

Sir John laughed half angrily.

“You impudent rascal! Have it your own way—after all,it’ll suit me better to pay down a hundred for you to coveryourself with oil and grease than a thousand for you to getdrunk two nights a week at Oxford”... a remark whichaffected Gervase in much the same way as the remark on“little women” had affected Peter.

The conversation was given a more romantic colour whenSir John retailed it to Peter on the edge of the big ploughedfield by Glasseye Farm. Peter was going out after duck onthe Tillingham marshes—he had that particularly solitary lookof a man who is out alone with a gun.

“I must say I think the boy has behaved extremely well,”said his father—“it must have cost him a lot to give upOxford. He thinks more of our position than I imagined.”

“I don’t see that it’ll add much to the dignity of our positionto have him in a workshop.”

“It mayn’t add much to our dignity—but he’s only theyoungest son. And what we want more than dignity ismoney.”

42“Gervase giving up Oxford won’t save you more than a fewhundred, and what’s that when it’ll take fifty thousand to payoff the mortgages?”

“You’re a sulky dog, Peter,” said Sir John. “If you’d onlydo as well as your brother, perhaps you could pull us out ofthis.”

“What d’you mean, Sir?”

“Gervase has done his best and given up the only thing hehad to give up—Oxford. If you could sink your personalwishes for the family’s sake....”

Peter turned crimson and his pale Saxon eyes darkenedcuriously.

“D’you know what I mean?” continued his father.

“You mean marry a rich woman... you want me to marryDolly Hurst.”

For a moment Sir John was silent, then he said in an unexpectedlycontrolled voice——

“Well, what’s wrong with Dolly Hurst?”

“Nothing that I know of... but then I know nothing...and I don’t care.”

“I’m told,” continued the baronet, still calmly, “that youhave already formed an attachment.”

“Who told you?”

“Never mind who. The point is, I understand there is suchan attachment.”

Peter sought for words and found none. While he was stillseeking, Sir John shook the reins, and the grey horse movedoff heavily up the side of the field.

§ 14

On the spur of the hill below Barline stands that queeredifice known as Mocksteeple. It has from the distance adecided look of a steeple, its tarred cone being visible for manymiles down the river Tillingham. It was built early in theeighteenth century by an eccentric Sir Giles Alard, brother ofnon-juring Gervase and buyer of Starvecrow. A man of gallantries,43he required a spot at which to meet his lady friends,and raised up Mocksteeple for their accommodation—displayinga fine cynicism both towards the neighbours’ opinion—forhis tryst was a landmark to all the district—and towards theladies themselves, whose comforts could have been butmeagrely supplied in its bare, funnel-shaped interior.

Today it had sunk to a store-house and was full of hop-poleswhen Peter approached it from the marshes and sat down toeat his sandwiches in the sunshine that, even on a Decemberday, had power to draw a smell of tar from its walls. At hisfeet squatted the spaniel Breezy, with sentimental eyes fixedon Peter’s gun and the brace of duck that lay beside it. Peter’sboots and leggings were caked with mud, and his hands werecold as they fumbled with his sandwiches. It was not a goodday to have lunch out of doors, even in that tar-smelling sunshine,but anything was better than facing the family roundthe table at Conster—their questions, their comments, theirinane remarks....

It was queer how individually and separately his familyirritated him, whereas collectively they were terrible withbanners. His father, his mother, Doris, Jenny, George, Gervase—somuch tyranny, so much annoyance... the Family—awar-cry, a consecration. It was probably because the Familydid not merely stand for those at Conster now, but for Alardsdead and gone, from the first Gervase to the last, a wholecommunion of saints.... If Conster had to be sold, orstripped to its bare bones, it would not be only the family nowsitting at luncheon that would rise and upbraid him, but allthose who slept in Leasan churchyard and in the south aisleat Winchelsea.

Beside him, facing them all, would stand only one smallwoman. Would her presence be enough to support him whenall those forefathers were dishonoured, all those dear placesreproached him?—Glasseye, Barline, Dinglesden, Snailham,Ellenwhorne, Starvecrow... torn away from the centralheart and become separate spoil... just for Stella, whomhe had loved only a year.

44Leaning against the wall of the Mocksteeple, Peter seemedto hear the voice of the old ruffian who had built it speakingto him out of the tar—deriding him because he would takelove for life and house it in a Manor, whereas love is bestwhen taken for a week and housed in any convenient spot.But Peter had never been able to take love for a week. Evenwhen he had had adventures he had taken them seriously—thoseindependent, experience-hunting young women of hisown class who had filled the place in his life which “littlewomen” and “French dancers” had filled in his father’s. Theyhad always found old Peter embarrassingly faithful when theychanged their minds.

Now at last he had found love, true love, in which he couldstay all his life—a shelter, a house, a home like Starvecrow.He would be a fool to renounce it—and there was Stella to bethought of too; he did not doubt her love for him, she wouldnot change. Their friendship had started in the troublesometimes of war and he had given her to understand that he couldnot marry till the war was over. Those unsettled conditionswhich had just the opposite effect on most men, making themjump into marriage, snatch their happiness from under thecannon wheels, had made Peter shrink from raising a permanentrelation in the midst of so much chaos. Marriage, inhis eyes, was settling down, a state to be entered into deliberately,with much background.... And Stella had agreed,with her lips at least, though what her heart had said wasanother matter.

But now the war was over, he was at home, the backgroundwas ready—she would expect.... Already he was consciousof a sharp sense of treachery. At the beginning of their love,Hugh had been alive and the Alard fortunes no direct concernof Peter’s—he had expected to go back into business and marryStella on fifteen hundred a year. But ever since Hugh’s deathhe had realised that things would be different—and he had nottold her. Naturally she would think his prospects improved—andhe had not undeceived her, though on his last leave, ninemonths ago, he had guessed the bad way things were going.

45He had not behaved well to her, and it was now his duty toput matters right at once, to tell her of his choice... if hemeant to choose.... Good God! he didn’t even know yetwhat he ought to do—even what he wanted to do. If he lostStella he lost joy, warmth, laughter, love, the last of youth—ifhe lost Alard he lost the First and Last Things of his life,the very rock on which it stood. There was much in Stellawhich jarred him, which made him doubt the possibility ofrunning in easy yoke with her, which made him fear thatchoosing her might lead to failure and regret. But also therewas much in Alard which fell short of perfection—it had anawkward habit of splitting up into its component parts, intoindividuals, every separate one of which hurt and vexed. Thatway, too, might lead to emptiness. It seemed that whicheverchoice he made he failed somebody and ran the risk of a vainsacrifice.

But he must decide. He must not hold Stella now if he didnot mean to hold her forever. He saw that. His choice mustbe made at once, for her sake, not in some dim, drifting futureas he had at first imagined. He was not going to marry theHurst girl—he almost hated her—and to marry a girl for hermoney was like prostitution, even though the money was tosave not him but his. But if he was not going to marry Stellahe must act immediately. He had no right to keep her halfbound now that the time had come to take her entirely. Oh,Stella!...

Breezy the spaniel came walking over Peter’s legs, and lickedhis hands in which his face was hidden.

§ 15

That night Peter wrote to Stella:—

My own dear

I’ve been thinking about you all today—I’ve been thinkingabout you terribly. I took my gun out this morning afterduck, but I had a rotten day because I was thinking of you all46the time. I had lunch down by the Mocksteeple, and Stella,I wanted you so that I could have cried. Then afterwardswhen I was at home I wanted you. I went in to Lambard andwe cut some pales, but all the time I was thinking of you. Andnow I can think no longer—I must write and tell you whatI’ve thought.

Child, I want to marry you. You’ve known that for a longtime, haven’t you? But I wanted to wait till the end of thewar. I don’t believe in marrying a girl and then going outand getting killed, though that is what a lot of chaps did. Well,anyhow the war’s over. So will you marry me, Stella child?But I must tell you this. My people will be dead against it,because they’re looking to me to save the family by making arich marriage. It sounds dreadful, but it’s not really so badas it sounds, because if we don’t pick up somehow we shallprobably go smash and lose almost everything, including Starvecrow.But I don’t care. I love you better than anything inthe world. Only I must prepare you for having to marry mequietly somewhere and living with me in London for a bit.My father won’t have me as agent, I’m quite sure, if I dothis, but perhaps he’ll come round after a time. AnyhowStella, darling, if we have each other, the rest won’t matter,will it? What does it matter even if we have to sell our landand go out of Conster? They’ve got no real claim on me.Let Jenny marry somebody rich, or Doris—it’s not too late.But I don’t see why I should sacrifice my life to the family,and yours too, darling child. For I couldn’t do this if I didn’tbelieve that you love me as much as I love you.

I think this is the longest letter than I have ever written toyou, but then it is so important. Dearest, we must meet andtalk things over. The Greenings are going into Hastings onTuesday to look at a house, so will you come to me at Starvecrow?

My kisses, you sweet, and all my love.      Peter.

It was nearly midnight when he had finished writing at thetable in his bedroom. He folded up the letter and slipped it47under the blotting paper, before getting into bed and sleepingsoundly.

But the next morning he tore it to pieces.

§ 16

On the last day of the old year Mary Pembroke came downto Conster Manor, arriving expensively with a great deal ofluggage. Her beauty was altogether of a more sophisticatedkind than Jenny’s and more exotic than Doris’s—which, thoughat thirty-eight extinct in the realm of nature, still lived in therealm of art. Mary was thirty-one, tall and supple, with anarresting fineness about her, and a vibrant, ardent quality.

The family was a little restless as they surrounded her inthe drawing-room at tea. She had that same element ofunexpectedness as Gervase, but with the difference that Gervasewas as yet raw and young and under control. Marygave an impression of being more grown up than anyone, eventhan Lady Alard and Sir John; life with her was altogether amore acute affair.

Only Lady Alard enquired after the absent Julian.

“I wonder he didn’t come down with you,” she murmured.“I sent him a very special invitation.”

“Bah!” said Sir John.

“Why do you say ‘Bah,’ dear?”

“Doris, tell your mother why I said ‘Bah.’”

“Oh, Father, how do I know?”

“You must be very stupid, then. I give leave to any oneof you to explain why I said ‘Bah,’” and Sir John stumpedout of the room.

“Really, your father is impossible,” sighed Lady Alard.

Mary did not talk much—her tongue skimmed the surface ofChristmas: the dances they had been to, the people they hadhad to dinner. She looked fagged and anxious—strung. Ather first opportunity she went upstairs to take off her travellingclothes and dress for dinner. Of dressing and undressingMary made always a lovely ceremony—very different from48Jenny’s hasty scuffle and Doris’s veiled mysteries. She lingeredover it as over a thing she loved; and Jenny loved towatch her—all the careful, charming details, the gracefulacts and poses, the sweet scents. Mary moved like the priestof her own beauty, with her dressing table for altar and hermaid for acolyte—the latter an olive-skinned French girl,who with a topknot of black hair gave a touch of chinoiserieto the proceedings.

When Mary had slipped off her travelling dress, and wrappedin a Mandarin’s coat of black and rose and gold, had letGisèle unpin her hair, she sent the girl away.

Je prendrai mon bain à sept heures—vous reviendrez.

She leaned back in her armchair, her delicate bare anklescrossed, her feet in their brocade mules resting on the fender,and gazed into the fire. Jenny moved about the room for afew moments, looking at brushes and boxes and jars. Shehad always been more Mary’s friend than Doris, whose attitudehad that peculiar savour of the elder, unmarried sistertowards the younger married one. But Jenny with Marywas not the same as Jenny with Gervase—her youth easilytook colour from its surroundings, and with Mary she wasless frank, more hushed, more unquiet. When she had donelooking at her things, she came and sat down opposite her onthe other side of the fire.

“Well—how’s life?” asked Mary.

“Oh, pretty dull.”

“What, no excitements? How’s Jim?”

“Oh, just the same as usual. He hangs about, but heknows it’s no good, and so do I—and he knows that I knowit’s no good, and I know that he knows that I know—” andJenny laughed wryly.

“Hasn’t he any prospects?”

“None whatever—at least none that are called prospectsin our set, though I expect they’d sound pretty fine to anyoneelse. He’ll have Cock Marling when his father dies.”

“You shouldn’t have fallen in love with a landed proprietor,Jen.”

49“Oh, well, it’s done now and I can’t help it.”

“You don’t sound infatuated.”

“I’m not, but I’m in love right enough. It’s all the hangingabout and uncertainty that makes me sound bored—in self-defenceone has to grow a thick skin.”

Mary did not speak for a moment but seemed to slipthrough the firelight into a dream.

“Yes,” she said at last—“a thick skin or a hard heart. Ifthe average woman’s heart could be looked at under a microscopeI expect it would be seen to be covered with littlespikes and scales and callouses—a regular hard heart. Orperhaps it would be inflamed and tender... I believe inflammationis a defence, against disease—or poison. But after all,nothing’s much good—the enemy always gets his knife insomehow.”

She turned away her eyes from Jenny, and the youngersister felt abashed—and just because she was abashed andawkward and shy, for that very reason, she blurted out——

“How’s Julian?”

“Oh, quite well, thank you. I persuaded him not to comedown because he and father always get on so badly.”

“It’s a pity they do.”

“A very great pity. But I can’t help it. I did my best topersuade him to advance the money, but he’s not a man who’lllend without good security, even to a relation. I’m sorry,because if he would stand by the family, I shouldn’t feel I’dbeen quite such a fool to marry him.”

Though the fiction of Mary being happily married waskept up only by Lady Alard, it gave Jenny a faint shock tohear her sister speak openly of failure. Her feelings ofawkwardness and shyness returned, and a deep colour stainedher cheeks. What should you say?—should you take anynotice?... It was your sister.

“Mary, have you... are you... I mean, is itreally quite hopeless?”

“Oh, quite,” said Mary.

“Then what are you going to do?”

50“I don’t know—I haven’t thought.”

Jenny crossed and uncrossed her large feet—she lookedat her sister’s little mules, motionless upon the fender.

“Is he—I mean, does he—treat you badly?”

Mary laughed.

“Oh, no—husbands in our class don’t as a rule, unless they’requalifying for statutory cruelty. Julian isn’t cruel—he’svery kind—indeed probably most people would say he was amodel husband. I simply can’t endure him, that’s all.”

“Incompatibility of temperament.”

“That’s a very fine name for it, but I daresay it’s the rightone. Julian and I are two different sorts of people, andwe’ve found it out—at least I have. Also he’s disappointedbecause we’ve been married seven years and I haven’t hada child—and he lets me see he’s disappointed. And now he’sbegun to be jealous—that’s put the lid on.”

She leaned back in her chair, her hands folded on her lap,without movement and yet, it seemed, without rest. Herbody was alert and strung, and her motionlessness was thatof a taut bowstring or a watching animal. As Jenny’s eyesswept over her, taking in both her vitality and her immaculacy,a new conjecture seized her, a sudden question.

“Mary—are you... are you in love?—with someoneelse, I mean.”

“No—what makes you think so?”

“It’s how you look.”

“Jen, you’re not old enough yet to know how a womanlooks when she’s in love. Your own face in the glass won’ttell you.”

“It’s not your face—it’s the way you behave—the wayyou dress. You seem to worship yourself....”

“So you think I must be in love—you can’t conceive thatmy efforts to be beautiful should be inspired by anythingbut the wish to please some man! Jen, you’re like all men,but, I’d hoped, only a few women—you can’t imagine a womanwanting to be beautiful for her own sake. Oh, my dear,it’s just because I’m not in love that I must please myself.51If I was in love I shouldn’t bother half so much—I’d knowI pleased somebody else, which one can do with much lesstrouble than one can please oneself. I shouldn’t bother aboutmy own exactions any more. The day you see me with untidyhair and an unpowdered skin you’ll know I’m in love withsomebody who loves me, and haven’t got to please myself anymore.”

“But, Mary... there’s Charles. Don’t you loveCharles?”

“No, I don’t. I know it’s very silly of me not to love theman my husband’s jealous of, but such is the fact. Nobodybut Julian would have made a row about Charles—he’s justa pleasant, well-bred, oldish man, who’s simple enough to berestful. He’s more than twenty years older than I am, whichI know isn’t everything, but counts for a good deal. I likedgoing about with him because he’s so remote from all thefatigue and fret and worry of that side of life. It was almostlike going about with another woman, except that one had theadvantage of a man’s protection and point of view.”

“Does he love you?”

“I don’t think so for a moment. In fact I’m quite sure hedoesn’t. He likes taking out a pretty woman, and we’veenough differences to make us interesting to each other, butthere the matter ends. As it happens, I’m much too fond ofhim to fall in love with him. It’s not a thing I’d ever do witha man I liked as a friend. I know what love is, you see, andnot so long ago.”

“Who was that?”

“Julian,” said Mary dryly.

A feeling of panic and hopelessness came over Jenny.

“Oh, God... then one can never know.”

§ 17

Gervase’s scheme of going into a workshop materialisedmore quickly than his family, knowing his rather inconsequentnature, had expected. The very day after he had obtained52his father’s consent he drove into Ashford and interviewedthe manager of Messrs. Gillingham and Golightly, motorengineers in the station road. After some discussion it wasarranged that he should be taken into the works as pupilon the payment of a premium of seventy-five pounds to coverthree years’ instruction, during which time he was to receivea salary starting at five shillings a week and rising to fifteen.

The sarcasm that greeted his first return on Saturday afternoonwith his five shillings in his pocket was equalled onlyby his own pride. Here at last was money of his own,genuinely earned and worked for—money that was not Alard’s,that was undimmed by earth, having no connection with theland either through agriculture or landlordism. Gervasefelt free for at least an hour.

“We can launch out a bit now,” said Sir John at luncheon—“Gervasehas come to our rescue and is supporting us in ourhour of need. Which shall we pay off first, Peter?—Stonelinkor Dinglesden?...”

Peter scowled—he seemed to find his father’s pleasantrymore offensive than Gervase, who merely laughed and jingledthe coins in his pocket.

The youngest Alard threw himself with zest into his newlife. It certainly was a life which required enthusiasm tomake it worth living. Every morning at nine he had to be atthe works, driving himself in the Ford farm-lorry, which hadbeen given over to his use on its supplanting by a more recentmake. He often was not back till seven or eight at night,worn out, but with that same swelling sense of triumph withwhich he had returned from his first day’s work. He wasstill living at home, still dependent on his people for foodand clothing if not for pocket money, but his feet were seton a road which would take him away from Conster, out ofthe Alard shadow. Thank God! he was the youngest son, orthey wouldn’t have let him go. He enjoyed the hardnessof the way—the mortification of those early risings, with theblue, star-pricked sky and the deadly cold—the rattling drive53in the Ford through all weathers—the arrival at the works,the dirt, the din, the grease, the breaking of his nails, hisfilthy overalls, his fellow workmen with their unfamiliar oathsand class-grievances, the pottering over bolts and screws,the foreman’s impatience with his natural carelessness—theexhausted drive home over the darkness of the Kent road... Gable Hook, Tenterden, Newenden, Northiam, Beckley,going by in a flash of red windows—the arrival at Consteralmost too tired to eat—the welcome haven of bed and theall too short sweet sleep.

Those January days in their zeal and discipline were likethe first days of faith—life ceased to be an objectless round,a slavery to circumstances. Generally when he was at homehe was acutely sensitive to the fret of Conster, to the ceaselessfermentation of those lives, so much in conflict and yetso combined—he had always found his holidays depressingand been glad to go back to school. Now, though he stilllived in the house, he did not belong to it—its ambitions andits strife did not concern him, though he was too observantand sensitive not to be affected by what was going on.

He saw enough to realise that the two main points of tensionwere Mary and Peter. Mary was still at Conster, thoughhe understood that Julian had written asking her to comehome—February was near, and she stayed on, though shespoke of going back. As for Peter, he had become sulky andself-absorbed. He would not go for walks on Sundays, orshooting on Saturday afternoons—he had all the painful,struggling manner of a plain man with a secret—a straightforwardman in the knots of a decision. Gervase was sorryfor him, but a little angry too. Over his more monotonousjobs at the works, in his rare wakeful moments, but most ofall in his long familiar-contemptible drives to and from Ashford,he still thought of Stella. His feeling for her remainedmuch the same as it had been at Christmas—a loving absorption,a warm worship. He could not bear that she shouldsuffer—she was so very much alive that he felt her suffering54must be sharper than other people’s. He could guessby his own feelings a little of what she suffered in her lovefor Peter—and once he got further than a guess.

During those weeks he had never met her anywhere, eitherat Conster or outside it; but one Saturday at noon, as hewas coming away from the shop, he met her surprisingly onfoot in the station road. He pulled up and spoke to her, andshe told him she was on her way to the station in hopes ofan early train. The Singer had broken down with magnetotrouble and she had been obliged to leave it for repair—meantimeher father wanted her back early, as there wasalways a lot of dispensary work to do on a Saturday afternoon.

“Well, if you don’t mind a ride in a dying Ford....”

He hardly dared listen to her answer, he tried to read itas it came into her eyes while he spoke.

“Of course I don’t mind. I should love it—and it’s reallymost frightfully good of you.”

So she climbed up beside him, and soon her round brighteyes were looking at him from between her fur cap and hugefur collar, as they had looked that first morning at Starvecrow....He felt the love rising in his throat... tenderand silly... he could not speak; and he soon foundthat she would rather he didn’t. Not only was the Ford’sdeath-rattle rather loud but she seemed to find the same encouragementto thought as he in that long monotonous joltthrough the Weald of Kent. He did not have to lift himselffar out of the stream of his thoughts when he looked ather or spoke, but hers were evidently very far away. Witha strange mixture of melancholy and satisfaction, he realisedthat he must count for little in her life—practically nothingat all. Even if she were not Peter’s claim she could neverbe his—not only on account of her age, six years older thanhe, but because the fact that she loved Peter showed that itwas unlikely she could ever love Gervase, Peter’s contrast....In his heart was a sweet ache of sorrow, the thrillwhich comes with the first love-pain.

But as they ran down into Sussex, across the floods that55sheeted the Rother levels, and saw the first outposts of Alard-Monkingand Horns Cross Farms with the ragged line ofMoat Wood—his heart suddenly grew cold. In one of hissidelong glances at Stella he saw a tear hanging on the darkstamen of an eyelash... he looked again as soon as hedared, and saw another on her cheek. Was it the cold?...

“Stella, are you cold?” he asked, fearing her answer.

“No, thank you, Gervase.”

He dared not ask “Why are you crying?” Also there wasno need—he knew. The sweetness had gone out of his sorrow,he no longer felt that luxurious creep of pain—insteadhis heart was heavy, and dragged at his breast. It was faintwith anger.

When they came to the Throws where the road to Vinehallturns out of the road to Leasan, he asked her if shewouldn’t come up to Conster for tea—“and I’ll drive you homeafterwards.” But again she said in her gentle voice “Nothank you, Gervase.” He wished she wouldn’t say it likethat.

§ 18

What did Peter mean?

That was the question Stella had asked herself at intervalsduring the past month, that she had been asking herself allthe way from Ashford to Vinehall, and was still askingwhen Gervase set her down on the doorstep of Hollingroveand drove away. What did Peter mean?

She would not believe that he meant nothing—that theirfriendship had been just one of those war-time flirtationswhich must fade in the light of peace. It had lasted too long,for one thing—it had lasted a year. For a whole year theyhad loved each other, written to each other almost every day,hungered for meetings, and met with kisses and passionateplayful words. It is true that he had never spoken to her ofmarriage except negatively, but she knew his views and hadsubmitted if not agreed. All that was over now—he was nolonger a soldier, holding his life on an uncertain lease; and56more, he was now the heir—their prospects had improvedfrom the material and practical point of view. He might,like so many men, have found it difficult to get back into business,recover his pre-war footing in the world; but there needbe no concern for that now—he was not only the heir, but hisfather’s agent, already established with home and income,and his home that dearest of all places, Starvecrow....

She would not believe that he had been playing with her,that he had only taken her to pass the time, and now waslooking for some decent pretext for letting her go. He wasnot that sort of man at all. Peter was loyal and honest rightthrough. Besides, she saw no sign that his love had growncold. She was sure that he loved her as much as ever, butmore painfully, more doubtingly. Their meetings had latelybeen given over to a sorrowful silence. He had held her inhis arms in silent, straining tenderness. He would not talk,he would not smile. What did he mean?

Probably his family was making trouble. She had beenonly once to Conster since she had dined there on ChristmasDay, and it had struck her then that Doris and Lady Alardhad both seemed a little unfriendly. Everyone in Leasanand Vinehall said that the Squire’s son would have to marrymoney if he meant to keep the property going. She hadoften heard people say that—but till now she had scarcelythought of it. The idea had seemed impossible, almostgrotesque. But now it did not seem quite impossible—Peter’sbehaviour, his family’s behaviour, all pointed to its being afactor in the situation; and since she could not refuse to seethat something was keeping him silent when he ought tospeak, it was easier to believe in a difficulty of this kind thanin any commonplace cooling or change. Once she had thoughtthat nothing, not even Alard, could come between them—nowshe must alter her faith to the extent of believing that nothingcould come between them except Alard.

She could not help being a little angry with Peter for thisdiscovery. It seemed to her a shameful thing that moneyshould count against love. As for herself, she did not dare57think what she would not sacrifice for love—for Peter ifoccasion arose. And he, apparently, would not sacrifice forher one acre of Conster, one tile of Starvecrow.... Wasit the difference between men and women which made the differencehere? If she was a man would she be able to seethe importance of Peter’s family, the importance of keepinghis property together even at the expense of happiness andfaith? She wondered.... Meanwhile she was angry.

She wished he would have things out with her, try to explain.That he did not was probably due to the mixture ofthat male cowardice which dreads a “scene” with that malestupidity which imagines that nothing has been noticed whichit has not chosen to reveal. But if he didn’t tell her soon shewould ask him herself. She knew that such a step was notconsistent with feminine dignity either ancient or modern.According to tradition she should have drooped to the masculinewhim, according to fashion she should have assertedher indifference to it. But she could do neither. She couldnot bear her own uncertainty any longer—this fear of herhopes. Oh, she had planned so materially and wildly! Shehad planned the very furnishing of Starvecrow—which roomwas to be which—the dining-room, the best bedroom, thespare bedroom, Peter’s study... cream distemper onthe walls and for each room different colours... and akitchen furnished with natural oak and copper pots andpans....

The tears which up till now had only teased the back ofher eyes, brimmed over at the thought of the kitchen. Thedark January afternoon, clear under a sky full of unshed rain,was swallowed up in mist as Stella wept for her kitchen andcopper pans.

She was still on the doorstep, where she had stood to seethe last of Gervase, and even now that she was crying shedid not turn into the house. The iron-black road was emptybetween its draggled hedges, and she found a certain kinshipin the winter twilight, with its sharpness, its sighing of low,rain-burdened winds. After a few moments she dried her58eyes and went down the steps to the gate. Thanks to Gervase,she had come home nearly an hour earlier than sheneed—she would go and sit for a few minutes in church.She found church a very good place for thinking her loveaffairs into their right proportion with all time.

The village of Vinehall was not like the village of Leasan,which straggled for nearly a mile each side of the high road.It was a large village, all pressed together like a little town.Above it soared the spire of Vinehall church, which, likemany Sussex churches, stood in a farmyard. Its lovely imagelay in the farmyard pond, streaked over with green scum andthe little eddies that followed the ducks.

Stella carefully shut out a pursuing hen and went in by thetower door. The church was full of heavy darkness. Theafternoon sun had left it a quarter of an hour ago, showingonly its pale retreat through the slats of the clerestory windows,white overhead, and night lay already in the aisles.She groped her way to the east end, where the white star ofa lamp flickered against a pillar guarding a shrine. Sheflopped down on the worn stones at the foot of the pillar, sittingback on her heels, her hands lying loosely and meekly inher lap.

She had no sense of loneliness or fear in the dark—thewhite lamp spoke to her of a presence which she could feelthroughout the dark and empty church, a presence of livingquiet, of glowing peace. Outside she could hear the fowlsducking in the yard, with every now and then the shrill gobble-gobbleof a turkey. She loved these homely sounds, whichfor years had been the accompaniment of her prayers—herprayers which had no words, but seemed to move in her heartlike flames. Oh, it was good to be here, to have this place tocome to, this Presence to seek.

Now that she was here she could no longer feel angrywith Peter, however stupid, obstinate and earthy he was.Poor Peter—choosing it for himself as well as for her...she could not be angry with him, because she knew that if hepulled catastrophe down upon them, he of the two would59suffer the most. Unlike her, he had no refuge, no Presenceto seek, no unseen world that could become real at a thought....His gods were dead Squires who had laid up wealthto be his poverty. Her God was a God who had beggaredHimself, that she through His poverty might become rich.

This beggar and lover and prisoner, her God, was with herhere in the darkness, telling her that if she too wished to bea lover she too must become a beggar and a prisoner. Shewould be Peter’s beggar, Peter’s slave. She would not let himgo from her without pleading, without fighting, but if hereally must go, if this half-known monster, Alard, was reallystrong enough to take him, he should not go wounded by herdetaining clutch as well as by its claws. He should not goshamed and reproached, but with goodwill. If he reallymust go, and she could no longer hold him, she would makehis going easy.... He should go in peace....Poor Peter.

§ 19

At the end of January Mary left Conster. She could notin any spirit of decorum put off her return longer—her husbandhad wired to her to come home.

“Poor Julian,” said Lady Alard—“he must be missing youdreadfully. I really think you ought to go back, Mary, sincehe can’t manage to come here.”

Mary agreed without elaboration, and her lovely hats andshoes with the tea-gowns and dinner-frocks which had dividedthe family into camps of admiration and disapproval, werepacked away by the careful, brisk Gisèle. The next day shewas driven over to Ashford, with Jenny and Peter to see heroff.

There had been no intimate talks between the sisters sincethe first night of her coming. Jenny was shy, and typicallyEnglish in her dislike of the exposure of anything whichseemed as if it ought to be hidden, and Mary either feltthis attitude in her sister or else shrank from disillusioningher youth still further. They had arrived a little too early60for the train, and stood together uneasily on the platformwhile Gisèle bought the tickets and superintended the luggage.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” said Jenny politely.

“So do I—but it couldn’t be helped after that telegram.”

“Julian sounded rather annoyed—I hope he won’t makea fuss when you get back.”

“I’m not going back.”

There was a heavy silence. Neither Peter nor Jenny thoughtthey had quite understood.

“Wh-what do you mean?” stammered Jenny at last—“notgoing back to Chart? Isn’t Julian there?”

“Of course he’s there. That’s why I’m not going back.Gisèle is taking the tickets to London.”

“But”—It was Peter who said ‘But,’ and had apparentlynothing else to say.

“Do you mean that you’re leaving him?” faltered Jenny.

“I’m not going to live with him any more. I’ve hadenough.”

“But why didn’t you tell us?—tell the parents?”

“I’d rather not bring the family into it. It’s my own choicethough Julian is sure to think you’ve been influencing me.I didn’t make up my mind till I got his telegram; then I sawquite plainly that I couldn’t go back to him.”

“You’re not going to that other fellow—what’s his name—CommanderSmith?” cried Peter, finding his tongue ratherjerkily.

“Oh, no. As I’ve told Jenny, making a mess of things withone man doesn’t necessarily encourage me to try my luckwith another. Besides, I’m not fond of Charles—in thatway. I shall probably stay at my Club for a bit, and thengo abroad.... I don’t know.... All I know isthat I’m not going back to Julian.”

“Shall you—can you divorce him?”

“No. He hasn’t been cruel or unfaithful, nor has he desertedme. I’m deserting him. It’s simply that I can’t livewith him—he gets on my nerves—I can’t put up with eitherhis love or his jealousy. I couldn’t bear the thought even61of having dinner with him tonight... and yet—”the calm voice suddenly broke—“and yet I married forlove....”

Both the brother and sister were silent. Peter saw Gisèlecoming up with a porter and the luggage, and went off likea coward to meet them. Jenny remained uneasily with Mary.

“I’m sorry to have had to do this,” continued the eldersister—“it’ll upset the parents, I know. They don’t likeJulian, but they’ll like a scandal still less.”

“Do you think he’ll make a row?”

“I’m sure of it. For one thing, he’ll never think for aminute I haven’t left him for someone else—for Charles.He won’t be able to imagine that I’ve left a comfortable homeand a rich husband without any counter attraction exceptmy freedom. By the way, I shall be rather badly off—I’llhave only my settlements, and they won’t bring in much.”

“Oh, Mary—do you really think you’re wise?”

“Not wise, perhaps—nor good.” She pulled down her veil.“I feel that a better or a worse woman would have made aneater job of this. The worse would have found an easierway—the better would have stuck to the rough. But I—oh,I’m neither—I’m neither good nor bad. All I know is thatI can’t go back to Julian, to put up with his fussing and hislove and his suspicion—and, worse still, with my own shamebecause I don’t love him any more—because I’ve allowedmyself to be driven out of love by tricks—by manner—byoutside things.”

“—London train—Headcorn, Tonbridge and Londontrain—”

The porter’s shouting was a welcome interruption, thoughit made Jenny realise with a blank feeling of anxiety andimpotence that any time for persuasion was at an end.

“Do you want us to tell Father and Mother?” she asked asMary got into the train.

“You needn’t if you’d rather not. I’ll write to them tonight.”

She leaned back in the carriage, soft, elegant, perfumed, a62little unreal, and yet conveying somehow a sense of desperatechoice and mortal straits.

Peter and Jenny scarcely spoke till they were back in thecar driving homewards. Then Jenny said with a little gasp—

“Isn’t it dreadful?”

“What?—her going away?”

“No, the fact that she married Julian for love.”

Peter said nothing.

“If she’d married out of vanity, or greed, or to please thefamily, it would have been better—one would have understoodwhat’s happened now. But she married him for love.”

Peter still said nothing.

§ 20

He sat waiting at Starvecrow on an early day in February.Outside the rain kept the Feast of the Purification, washingdown the gutters of Starvecrow’s mighty roof, lapping theedges of the pond into the yard, and further away transformingall the valley of the Tillingham into a lake—huge sheetsand spreads of water, out of which the hills of Barline andBrede Eye stood like a coast. All the air was fresh andwashed and tinkling with rain.

The fire was piled high with great logs and posts, burningwith a blue flame, for they had been pulled out of the barnsof Starvecrow, which like many in the district were built ofships’ timbers with the salt still in them. The sound of thefire was as loud as the sound of the rain. Both made a sorrowfulmusic together in Peter’s head.

He sat with his hands folded together under his chin, hislarge light blue eyes staring without seeing into the greydripping world framed by the window. The clock in the passagestruck three. Stella would not come till a quarter past.He had arranged things purposely so that he should be alonefor a bit at Starvecrow before meeting her, strengthening himselfwith the old loyalties to fight the brief, sweet faithfulnessof a year.

63He felt almost physically sick at the thought of what laybefore him, but he had made up his mind to go through withit—it had got to be done; and it must be done in this way.Oh, how he had longed to send Stella a letter, telling herthat they must never see each other again, begging her to goaway and spare him! But he knew that was a coward’sescape—the least he owed her was an explanation face to face....What a brute he had been to her! He had no rightto have won her love if he did not mean to keep it—andthough when he had first sought her he had thought himselffree to do so, he had behaved badly in not telling her of thenew difficulties created by his becoming the heir. It was notthat he had meant to hide things from her, but he had simplyshelved them in his own mind, hoping that “something wouldturn up,” that Alard’s plight would not be as bad as he hadfeared. Now he saw that it was infinitely worse—and hewas driven to a definite choice between his people and Stella.If he married Stella he would have failed Alard—if he stoodby Alard he would have failed Stella. It was a cruel choice—betweenthe two things in the world that he loved best.But he must make it now—he could not keep Stella hangingon indefinitely any longer. Already he could see how uncertainty,anxiety and disappointment were telling on her. Shewas looking worn and dim. She had expected him, on hisreturn home after the wars, to proclaim their love publicly,and he was still keeping it hidden, though the reasons he hadfirst given her for doing so were at an end. She was wonderingwhy he didn’t speak—she was hesitating whether sheshould speak herself.... He guessed her struggle andknew he must put an end to it.

Besides, now at last his choice was made. He no longerhad any uncertainty, any coil of argument to encumber him.Mary’s words on Ashford platform had finally settled hisdifficulty—“And yet I married for love.” Seven years agoMary had loved this man from whom she was now escaping,the very sight of whom in her home she could not bear. Lovewas as uncertain as everything else—it came and it was gone.64Mary had once loved Julian as Peter now loved Stella—andlook at her!... Oh, you could never be sure. And therewas so much in Stella he was not sure of—and she mightchange—he might change; only places never changed—werealways the same. Starvecrow would always be to him, whetherat eighteen, thirty-eight or eighty, the same Starvecrow....How could he fail the centuries behind him for what mightnot live more than a few years? How could he fail the faithfulplace for that which had change for its essence and deathfor its end?

Far away he could hear the purring of a car—it drewnearer, and Peter, clenching his hands, found the palms damp.All his skin was hot and moist—oh, God, what had he to face?The scene that was coming would be dreadful—he’d neverget through it unless Stella helped him, and he’d no right toexpect help from her. Here she was, driving in at the gate... outside the door... inside the room at last.

§ 21

He sought refuge in custom, and going up to her, laid hishands on her shoulders and kissed her gravely. Then hebegan to loosen the fur buttons of her big collar, but she putup her hand and stopped him.

“No—I’ll keep it on. I can’t stop long. Father’s waitingfor me at Barline.”

“It’s good of you to come—there’s something I’ve got tosay.”

“You want to tell me we must end it.”

He had not expected her to help him so quickly. Thenhe suddenly realised that his letter had probably told her alot—his trouble must have crept between the lines—into thelines... he wasn’t good at hiding things.

“Oh, Stella.”

He stood a few paces from her, and noticed—now thathis thoughts were less furiously concentrated on himself—that65she was white, that all the warm, rich colour in hercheeks was gone. He pulled forward one of the office chairs,and she sank into it. He sat down opposite her, and took herhand, which she did not withdraw.

“Oh, Stella, my darling... my precious child...it’s all no use. I’ve hoped and I’ve tried, but it’s no good—Imust let you go.”

“Why?”

The word came almost sharply—she wasn’t going to helphim, then, so much.

“Darling, I know I’m a cad. I ought never to have toldyou I loved you, knowing that... at least when Hughdied I should have told you straight out how things were.But I couldn’t—I let myself drift, hoping matters wouldimprove... and then there was the war....”

“Peter, I wish you would tell me things straight out—now’sbetter than never. And honestly I can’t understand whyyou’re not going to marry me.”

He was a little shocked. Tradition taught him that Stellawould try to save her face, and he had half expected her tosay that she had never thought of marrying him. After all,he had never definitely asked her, and she might claim thatthis was only one of those passionate friendships which hadbecome so common during the war. If she had done so, hewould have conceded her the consolation without argument—agirl ought to try and save her face; but Stella apparently didnot care about her face at all.

“Why aren’t you going to marry me? You’ve never givenme any real reason.”

“Surely you know”—his voice was a little cold.

“How can I know? I see you the heir of a huge estate,living in a big house with apparently lots of money. You tellme again and again that you love me—I’m your equal in birthand education. Why on earth should I ‘know’ that you can’tmarry me?”

“Stella, we’re in an awful mess—all the family. The estate66is mortgaged almost up to the last acre—we can hardly manageto pay the yearly interest, and owing to the slump inland we can’t sell.”

Stella stared at him woodenly.

“Can’t you understand?”

“No—” she said slowly—“I can’t. I’ve heard that the warhas hit you—it’s hit all the big landowners; but you’re—goodheavens! you’re not poor. Think of the servants you keep,and the motor-cars——”

“Oh, that’s my hopeless parents, who won’t give up anythingthey’ve been accustomed to, and who say that it’s notworth while making ourselves uncomfortable in small thingswhen only something colossal can save us. If we moved intothe Lodge tomorrow and lived on five hundred a year it wouldstill take us more than a lifetime to scrape up enough to freethe land.”

“Then what do you propose to do?”

“Well, don’t you see, if I live at home I can manage somehowto keep down expenses, so that the interest on the mortgagesgets paid—and when Greening’s gone and I’m agent Ican do a lot to improve the estate, and send the value up sothat we can sell some of the outlying farms over by Stonelinkand Guestling—that’ll bring in ready money, and thenperhaps I’ll be able to pay off some of the mortgages.”

“But couldn’t you do all that if you married me?”

“No, because for one thing I shouldn’t be allowed to try.Father wouldn’t have me for agent.”

“Why?”

“Oh, Stella darling, don’t make it so difficult for me. It’sso hard for me to tell you... can’t you see that my peoplewant to get money above all things—lots of it? If I marryyou it’ll be the end of all their hopes.”

“They want you to marry money.”

“They want us all to marry money. Oh, don’t think I’mgoing to do it—I couldn’t marry anyone I didn’t love. ButI feel I’ve got my duty to them as well as to you...67and it’s not only to them... oh, Stella sweetheart, don’tcry!”

“I—I can’t help it. Oh, Peter, it all sounds so—so dreadful,so sordid—and so—so cruel, to you as well as to me.”

He longed to take her in his arms, but dared not, partly forfear of his own weakness, partly for fear she would repulsehim.

“Darling—I’m not explaining well; it’s so difficult. And Iknow it’s sordid, but not so sordid as you think. It’s simplythat I feel I must stand by my family now—and I don’t meanjust my people, you know; I mean all the Alards...all that ever were. I can’t let the place be sold up, as it willhave to be if I don’t save it. Think of it... and the firstpart to be sold would have to be Starvecrow, because it’s theonly free, unmortgaged land we’ve got. Oh, Stella, think ofselling Starvycrow!”

She took away her hands and looked at him through herstreaming tears.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that—don’t reproach me. WhatI’m doing is only half selfish—the other half is unselfish, it’ssacrifice.”

“But, Peter, what does it matter if the land is sold? Whatgood is the land doing you?—what good will it ever do you,if it comes to that? Why should we suffer for the land?”

“I thought you’d have understood that better.”

“I don’t understand at all.”

“Not that I must stand by my people?”

“I don’t understand why your people can’t be happy withoutowning all the land in three parishes.”

“Oh, my dear....”

He tried to take her hand, but this time she pulled it away.

“It’s no good, Peter. I understand your selfish reason betterthan your unselfish one. I fail to see why you should sacrificeme and yourself to your family and their land. I cansee much better how you can’t bear the thought of losingStarvecrow. I know how you love it, because I love it too-but68much as I love it, I never could sacrifice you to it, mydear, nor any human soul.”

“I know—I know. I’m a beast, Stella—but it’s like this... human beings change—even you may change—butplaces are always the same.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I love you now—but how do I know... Marymarried for love.”

“What’s Mary got to do with it?”

“She’s shown me that one can never be sure, even withlove.”

“You mean to say you’re not sure if you’d be happy withme?”

“Darling, I’m as sure as I can ever be with any human being.But one never can be quite sure, that’s the terrible thing.And oh, it would be so ghastly if you changed—or I changed—andI had left the unchanging place for you.”

Stella rose quietly to her feet.

“I understand now, Peter.”

For a moment she stood motionless and silent, her mouthset, her eyes shining out beyond him. He wondered if shewas praying.

“Stella—don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you—I love you. But I quite understand thatyou don’t love me. Your last words have shown me that.And your not loving me explains it all. If you really lovedme all these difficulties, all these ambitions would be like—likechaff. But you don’t love me, at least not much; and Idon’t want you, if you only love me a little. I’m relievedin a way—I think you’d be doing a dreadful thing if yougave me up while you really loved me. But you don’t reallylove me, so you’re quite right to give me up and stand by yourfamily and Starvecrow. Oh, I know you love me enough tohave married me if everything had been easy....”

“Stella, don’t—It isn’t that I don’t love you; it’s only thatI can’t feel sure of the future with you—I mean, there are69so many things about you I can’t understand—your wayof looking at life and things....”

“Oh, I know, my dear—don’t trouble to explain to me. Anddon’t think I’m angry, Peter—only sick—sick—sick. I don’twant to argue with you any more—it’s over. And I’ll makethings as easy for you as I can, and for myself too. I’ll goaway—I’ll have to. I couldn’t bear meeting you after this—orseeing Starvecrow....”

She went to the door, and he hoped she would go straightout, but on the threshold she suddenly turned——

“I’m not angry, Peter—I’m not angry. I was, but I’m notnow... I’m only miserable. But I’ll be all right...if I go away. And some day we’ll be friends again....”

The door crashed behind her. She was gone.

71

INTERLUDE

73

§ 1

May 29, 1919.

Conster Manor,

Leasan,

Sussex.

My dear Stella,

I hope you won’t think it awful cheek of me to write toyou, but I’ve been thinking of doing so for a long time—eversince you left, in fact. I felt so very sorry that justafter I’d begun to know you again you should go away. Yousee I’m rather odd-man-out in the family, for though Jennyand I have always been pals, she’s frightfully preoccupiedwith things just now, and I get back so late and start offagain so early next morning that I see very little of peopleat home. The same fact makes it difficult for me to keep upwith the people I knew at school—I can’t have them at Conster,anyway. And at the works—oh, Gee! I can’t thinkwhere they come from. Either they’re of quite a bit differentclass, which I can get on with, though I don’t think I couldever make a friend of it, or else they’re a type of man I’venever struck before, the kind that’s always talking of horsesand girls, and the way he talks it’s rather difficult to tell’tother from which. So may I—now it’s coming out!—may Iwrite to you now and then? It would make such a differenceto me, and you needn’t answer—at least, not so often as Iwrite. I’d never dare ask you this to your face, but I canwrite things I can’t say. So please let me—it would be sucha relief, and I’d be so grateful. I don’t pretend for a minutethat it’ll be entertaining for you—I’ll simply be getting thingsoff my chest. You see, I do such a frightful lot of thinking74on the way to and from Ashford and you’ve done a lot ofthinking too—I’m sure of it—so perhaps you’ll understand mythoughts, though I can tell you some of ’em are precioussilly. This letter is a pretty fair specimen of what you’dhave to expect, so if you don’t like it, squash me at once, forI’d hate to be a nuisance to you.

I hope you’re still liking the clinic. Your father told usabout it last Sunday. I expect he’s given you all the Leasanand Vinehall news. He’ll have told you about Dolly Hurst’swedding, anyhow. It was a simply terrible affair. I had togo, because they heartlessly chose a Saturday afternoon, andI was nearly stifled with the show. The church reeked offlowers and money and Israelites. In spite of my decidedviews on the filthiness of lucre, I can’t help thinking it a wastethat a rich Gentile should marry a rich Jew when there areplenty of poor Gentiles in the neighbourhood. However, thebridegroom looks a decent fellow, and not so violently a sonof Abraham. He had three sisters who were bridesmaids,and all treats, as we say at the shop. Forgive these vulgarmusings on a solemn subject, but the occasion provokes them—andanyhow write and tell me if I may write again.

Yours in hope and fear,

Gervase Alard.

June 3.

15, Mortimer Street,

Birmingham.

My dear Gervase,

Very many thanks for your letter. Of course go on writing—Ishall love hearing from you, though please don’t thinkI’m clever and “do a lot of thinking”—because I don’t. AndI’m glad you say you won’t be exacting in the way ofanswers for I’m frightfully busy here. I have to be at theclinic at nine every morning, and often don’t get away tillafter six. I do all the dispensary work, weigh babies, etc.—it’sall most amusing, and I love it, and would be ever sohappy if I felt Father was getting on all right without me.75Now you might help me here and tell me what you think ofMiss Gregory. Father of course makes out that he’s perfectlysatisfied, but I feel that may be only because he doesn’twant me to worry or think I ought to come back. So youtell me if you think she’s a dud, though of course I don’texpect you’ll have much opportunity for finding out.

Yes, Father told me about the Hurst wedding, and I had aletter too from Mrs. George Alard. It seems to have been aregular Durbar. I’m rather surprised they found it possibleto get married in church, the bridegroom not being a Christian.But perhaps he’s Jewish only by race. I hope so, becauseMrs. George said Peter seemed very much smitten with hissister, who was chief bridesmaid. Of course this may beonly her imagination. I wonder if you noticed anything. Isuppose Peter’s living at Starvecrow now. I hope so muchhe’ll be able to do all he wanted for the estate.

Excuse more, but I’m frightfully busy this week, as thereare one or two cases of smallpox in the city and a lot ofvaccination being done.

Yours,

Stella Mount.

§ 2

Nov. 16.

Hollingrove,

Vinehall,

Sussex.

My dear Little Girl,

When we were together in the summer you told me youhad quite “got over” Peter Alard, and I was so glad. Allthe same I want to send you the enclosed newspaper cuttingbefore you have a chance of hearing the news from anyother source—I feel it might still be a shock. I wish I hadbeen less of a dull fellow and had my suspicions beforehand—thenI might have prepared you—but I assure you I neverthought of it. He met her for the first time at her brother’swedding to Miss Hurst in May—she was one of the bridesmaids—and76I’m told now that she stayed at Conster for afortnight while we were away in August. She was downagain this last week and I met her once or twice—she seems avery nice girl, quiet and well-bred and decidedly above theaverage in brains, I should think. Lady Alard told me sheis writing a book. I was asked up to dinner last night, andSir John announced the engagement, and this morning it wasin the Times, so I’m writing off to you at once. My darling,you know how sorry I am that things did not turn out as wehad both so fondly hoped. But I think that what has happenedmay be a comfort to you in many ways, as you wereso afraid he would marry Dolly Hurst to please his familyand we both agreed she could never make him happy. MissAsher seems much more likely to be the kind of wife hewants—she is not so cold and intellectual, but seems warm-heartedand friendly, though as I’ve told you she’s decidedlyclever. Peter seemed extremely happy when I congratulatedhim—it’s so nice to think that I can tell you this, and thatyour love was always of a kind which wanted his happinessmore than its own. But I’m afraid this will be a blow toyou, dear; in spite of what you have told me, and I heardMass this morning with a special intention for you. I willwrite again in a day or two and tell you how the Elphicksare getting on and the rest of the news, but I must stop nowas I hear Miss Gregory trying to crank up the car. It’sfunny how she never seems able to manage it when theengine’s cold, while a little bit of a thing like you never failedto get it started. Goodbye, my darling, and God bless you.

Your loving father,

Horace J. Mount.

Cutting from the Times of Nov. 16, 1919:

Mr. P. J. Alard and Miss V. L. I. Asher.

A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take placebetween Peter John Alard, eldest son of Sir John and Lady77Alard of Conster Manor, Leasan, Sussex, and Vera LornaIsabel, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Asher of 91, OrmeSquare, Bayswater.

Nov. 20.

15, Mortimer Street,

Birmingham.

Dearest Father,

Thank you so much for writing to me the way you did, becausein spite of what I said at Grasmere I think it would havebeen rather a shock if I’d seen it in the paper. Of courseI have “got over” Peter in a way, but, oh, dear, it alwaysgives one rather a pang to see one’s old love marrying—youremember all the lovely things he said to you, and youwonder if he’s now saying just the same to the other girl.I’m afraid this sounds rather cynical and sad, and a bit selfish,because I had definitely broken off with Peter, and since hecan’t have really and truly loved me I ought to be glad he’sfound someone he can really and truly love. Oh, I do hopehe really and truly loves her, but one’s always afraid in a caselike this when there’s money. It may have influenced himunconsciously, though I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have marriedher if he hadn’t been fond of her as well. Still “fondof” isn’t enough—oh, it would be dreadful to think he’dgiven me up and then married another woman whom hedidn’t love even as much as he loved me. But do believe me,Father dear, I’m being sensible. Yesterday I went to confessionand this morning I went to the Altar, and I feel everso much better than I did at first. Of course, after what Isaid it seems ridiculous to mind so much, but it’s only whena thing is utterly finished that one realises how one has beenstupidly hoping against hope the whole time.

I had a letter from Gervase yesterday, telling me a lot aboutVera Lorna Isabel. I think she sounds nice, though ratherbrainy for old Peter. She and Dolly Hurst were both in asort of literary set up in London and have met lots of authorsand authoresses. Gervase says she has read them some of78her book, and it’s frightfully clever, but he doesn’t think she’llfinish it now she’s engaged. I still hear regularly from Gervase;he writes once a week and I write once a fortnight,which sounds unfair, but you know how busy I am—though,for the matter of that, so is he. I think he’s an awfully niceboy, and I admire him for breaking free from the family traditionand striking out a line of his own.

Really Miss Gregory’s an awful ass if she can’t crank upthe car—I never knew a car start easier, even on a cold morning.Father, when Peter’s safely married I think I’ll comehome. I can’t bear being away from you, and I know nobodylooks after you as well as I do (said she modestly). It’llbe quite all right—I came away partly for Peter’s sake aswell as my own—I thought it would help the thing to dieeasier—but really I’d be a hopeless fool if I could never bearto meet him again, and whatever would become of you withoutme? How good of you to hear Mass for me. How isFather Luce? Please give him my love, though I don’t supposehe wants it. Does he talk any more now? I wish he’dbe a more entertaining companion for you on Sunday evenings.

Lots of love and kisses and thanks and bless-yous from

Stella.

79

PART II
LEASAN PARSONAGE

81

§ 1

February was nearly over when Peter came back from hisAlgerian honeymoon, and found Starvecrow waiting to receivehim. It was the mild end of a rainy day, with the air fullof yellow sunshine, which was reflected in the floods of theTillingham marshes. The house was faintly bloomed withit, and its windows shone like golden pools. Peter caughthis first glimpse from the top of Brede Eye hill, and hisheart grew warm in the chill English dusk as no African sunhad made it. “Look!” he said to Vera, and pointed overthe top of Conster’s firs at the grey and golden house withits smoking chimneys—for the first time the smoke of his ownfires was going up from Starvecrow.

The car—the splendid Sunbeam which Vera’s parents hadgiven as their wedding-present—swept down into the valley,over the Tillingham bridge, and up Starvecrow’s twistingdrive, reflecting the rushing hazels and apple-trees in the mirrorof its polished sides. Without noise or jar it stopped outsidethe porch—“Wait for the man, dear,” said Vera, but Peterwas out, staring enraptured at his own front door. He hada foolish, ridiculous feeling that he wanted to carry her acrossthe threshold, but was deterred by the appearance of a smartparlourmaid, also by Vera’s obvious unpreparedness for soprimitive an entrance.

So he contented himself with kissing her in the delightfuldrawing-room that led out of the hall. A large wood fireburned in the open fireplace, and bright cretonnes were in82rather sophisticated contrast to oak beams and pure whitewalls. The house had been thoroughly overhauled, and amazingtreasures had come to light in the way of Tudor fireplacesand old oak. It seemed to Peter that it was now more like asmall country house than the farmhouse of his love andmemory, but certainly these things were more appropriate thanthe Greenings’ rather ramshackle furniture, Victorian wallpapersand blackleaded grates.

“Isn’t it lovely?” breathed Vera, crouching down by the fireand warming her delicate hands.

“Yes, it is,” said Peter—“and so are you.”

He put his hand on her little close-fitting hat and tiltedback her head till her full, rather oriental lips were under his.He loved her long, satisfying kisses, so unlike the uneasy onesof most English girls—he told himself that it was this Easternquality in her love, inherited through the Jewish blood of herfathers, which had made the last few weeks so wonderful.

A minute later the parlourmaid brought in tea, and theyhad it together beside the singing hearth. There was nolight in the room except the dancing glow on beams and walls,the reflections from polished silver and lustre-ware. Veradid not talk much, for she was tired, and after tea she saidshe would like to go up to her room and lie down beforedinner. Peter offered to go with her and read her to sleep—hecould not bear to be away from her very long—but Verasaid she would rather be quiet, in which no doubt she waswise, for the gods had not given Peter the gift of readingaloud.

Well, perhaps it was all to the good that she did not wanthim, because he would have to go up to Conster some timethis evening, and he would rather go now than after dinner,when he could be sitting on the hearthrug at Vera’s feet keepingtheir first watch together by their own fire. So thoughhe was feeling a bit fagged himself after the journey, he puton his overcoat again and went out into the early darknesswhich was thick with a new drizzle.

Starvecrow was lost in the night, except for a golden square83which was Vera’s room, and the distant sulky glow of a lanternamong the barns. Only a gleaming of puddles and thewater in the ruts showed him the farm drive—which had remaineda farm-drive in spite of the Asher’s wish that it shouldbecome an avenue; for, as he pointed out to them, his trafficof wagons would do for nothing more genteel. As he reachedthe bottom, the distant murmur of a car, far away in the networkof lanes between Starvecrow and Vinehall, made himunaccountably think of Stella. Queer... it must be just ayear since he had seen her last. How many things had happenedsince then, and how seldom he thought of her now—poorlittle girl!... And yet he had loved her—there wasno good making out that he hadn’t—and he had been grief-strickenwhen she had gone away—thought a dozen times ofcalling her back and letting Starvecrow and the rest gohang.... It merely showed that Mary was right, and love,like everything else, could die. Would his love for Vera die?—whynot, since his love for Stella had died?—But his lovefor Vera was so warm and alive—So had his love for Stellabeen once. Oh, damn! he was getting into a melancholy mood—itmust be the effect of the journey. Thank God! here hewas at Conster and wouldn’t have much more time for theblues, though the thought of seeing his family again did notgive him any overwhelming pleasure.

§ 2

He found his father and mother and two sisters in thedrawing-room, and it seemed to him that their greeting hada queer, uneasy quality about it, a kind of abstraction—as iftheir thoughts were centred on something more engrossing thanhis return. When he had gone his round of kisses and handshakes,Lady Alard seemed suddenly to express the realinterest of the party by crying in a heartbroken voice——

“Peter! what do you think has happened?”

“What?” cried Peter sharply. He had a vision of a foreclosingmortgagee.

84“It’s Mary!” wailed Lady Alard—“Julian is divorcing her.”

“Mary!”

Peter was genuinely shocked—the Alards did not appear inthe divorce court; also his imagination was staggered atthe thought of Mary, the fastidious, the pure, the intense,being caught in the coarse machinery of the state marriagelaws.

“Yes—isn’t it utterly dreadful? It appears he’s had herwatched by detectives ever since she left him, and now they’vefound something against her—at least they think they have.It was that time she went abroad with Meg Sellons, andCharles joined them at Bordighera—which I always said wasunwise. But the worst of all, Peter, is that she says she won’tdefend herself—she says that she’s done nothing wrong, butshe won’t defend herself—she’ll let Julian put her away, andeveryone will think she’s—oh, Peter, this will finish me—itreally will. When I got Mary’s letter I had the worst attackI’ve had for years—we had to send for Dr. Mount inthe middle of the night. I really thought——”

Sir John interrupted her——

“You’d better let me finish, Lucy. The subject is legal, notmedical. Mary has behaved like a fool and run her head intoJulian’s trap. I don’t know how much there is in it, but fromwhat she says I doubt if he has much of a case. If she’lldefend it, she’ll probably be able to clear herself, and what’smore I bet she could bring a counter-petition.”

“That would be a nasty mess, wouldn’t it, Sir?” said Peter.

“Not such a nasty mess as my daughter being held up inall the newspapers as an adulteress!”

“Oh, John!” cried Lady Alard—“what a dreadful thing tosay before the girls!”

“Doris is old enough to hear the word now if she’s neverheard it before, and Jenny—she’s Emancipated, and a greatdeal older than you and me. I tell you I object to my daughterbeing placarded in the penny papers as an adulteress, and I’dmuch rather she proved Julian an adulterer.”

“Is that possible, sir?” asked Peter.

85“Of course it is—the man’s been on the loose for a year.”

“If that’s all your evidence——”

“Well, I haven’t had him followed by detectives, but Ican turn a few on now, and——”

“Really, Sir, I do agree with Mary that it would be betterto leave the matter alone. An undefended case can be slippedthrough the papers with very little fuss, while if you havea defence, to say nothing of a cross-petition... it isn’t asif she particularly wanted to keep Julian as a husband—Iexpect she’s glad to have the chance of getting rid of himso easily.”

“I daresay she is. I daresay she wants to marry that oldass Charles Smith. But what about her reputation?—whatabout ours? I tell you I’m not going to stand still and havefilth thrown at me by the press. I’m proud of my name ifyou aren’t.”

“It really seems to me that the matter rests with Mary—ifshe doesn’t want to defend herself....”

“Mary must think of her family—it ought to come beforeher private feelings.”

The words seemed an echo of a far-back argument—theyreminded Peter dimly of his own straits last year. The familymust come first.... That time it was money, now it wasreputation. After all, why not? There was no good holdingto the one and letting the other go. But he was sorry forMary all the same.

“Well, I can’t stay any longer now. I must be getting backto dinner. I’ll bring Vera up tomorrow morning.”

“Mary’s coming down in the afternoon.”

“Oh, is she?”

“Yes—I’ve wired for her. I insist on her listening to reason.”

So Mary would have to face Peter’s choice—family dutyagainst personal inclination.... Well, after all he hadn’tmade such a bad thing of it.... He thought of Vera waitingfor him at Starvecrow, and in spite of the fret of the lasthalf-hour a smile of childlike satisfaction was on his face ashe went home.

86

§ 3

Peter was out early the next morning, when the first palesunshine was stealing up the valley of the Tillingham, floodingall the world in a gleam of watery gold. He had awoken tothe music of his farm, to the crowing of his cocks, to thestamping of his cattle in their stalls, to the clattering of hisworkmen’s feet on the cobbles of the yard. Starvecrow washis home, his place for waking up and falling asleep, for eatinghis food and warming himself at his fire, for finding hiswife at the end of the day, for the birth of his children....He had, as he stood that morning in the yard, a feeling bothof proud ownership and proud adoption.

The whole farm, house and buildings, looked tidy andprosperous. It had lost that rather dilapidated, if homely, airit had worn before his marriage. Though the Ashers mighthave neither enough capital nor inclination to pay off thedebts of their son-in-law’s family, they had certainly beengenerous in the matter of their daughter’s home. But forthem the place could never have been what it was now—trimmingsand clippings, furnishings and restorings had been theirwillingly paid price for Alard blood. The whole farm hadbeen repaired, replanted and restocked. Indeed Starvecrowwas now not so much a farm as a little manor, a rival to Consterup on the hill. Was this exactly what Peter had intendedfor it?—he did not stop to probe. No doubt his imaginationhad never held anything so solid and so trim, but thatmight have been only because his imagination had plannedstrictly for the possible, and all that had been possible up tohis falling in love with Vera was just the shelter of that bigkindly roof, the simplicity of those common farmhouserooms, with the hope and labour of slow achievement and slowrestoration.

Still, he was proud of the place, and looked round himwith satisfaction as he walked down the bricked garden path,beside the well-raked herbaceous border. He went into theyard where his men were at work—he now employed two extra87hands, and his staff consisted of a stockman, a shepherd, aploughman, and two odd men, as well as the shepherd’s wife,who looked after the chickens and calves.

Going into the cowhouse he found Jim Lambard milkingthe last of the long string of Sussex cows. He greeted hismaster with a grin and a “good marnun, sur”—it was good tohear the slurry Sussex speech again. Peter walked to theend of the shed where two straw-coloured Jerseys weretethered—one of them, Flora, was due to calve shortly, andafter inspecting her, he went out to interview the stockman.John Elias had held office not only in Greening’s time, butin the days before him when Starvecrow was worked by atenant farmer—he was an oldish man who combined deepexperience and real practical knowledge with certain old-fashionedobstinacies. Peter sometimes found him irritatingto an intense degree, but clung to him, knowing that theold obstinacies are better than the new where farm-work isconcerned, and that the man who insists on doing his workaccording to the rules of 1770 is really of more practicalvalue than the man who does it according to the rules of theAgricultural Labourers’ Union. Elias had now been up acouple of nights with the Jersey, and his keen blue eye wasa trifle dim from anxiety and want of sleep. Peter told himto get off to bed for a few hours, promising to have him sentfor if anything should happen.

He then sent for the ploughman, and discussed with himthe advisability of giving the Hammer field a second ploughing.There was also the wheat to be dressed in the threshingmachine before it was delivered to the firm of corn-merchantswho had bought last year’s harvest. A final talk withhis shepherd about the ewes and prospects for next month’slambing—and Peter turned back towards the house, sharp-setfor breakfast and comfortably proud of the day’s beginning.He liked to think of the machinery of his farm, working efficientlyunder his direction, making Starvecrow rich.... Constermight still shake on its foundations but Starvecrow wassettled and established—he had saved Starvecrow.

88The breakfast-room faced east, and the sunshine pouredthrough its long, low window, falling upon the white clothof the breakfast table, the silver, the china and the flowers.The room was decorated in yellow, which increased the effectof lightness—Peter was thrilled and dazzled, and for a momentdid not notice that breakfast had been laid only for one.When he did, it gave him a faint shock.

“Where’s your mistress?” he asked the parlourmaid, whowas bringing in the coffee—“isn’t she coming down?”

“No, sir. She’s taking her breakfast upstairs.”

Peter felt blank. Then suddenly he realised—of courseshe was tired! What a brute he was not to think of it—itwas all very well for him to feel vigorous after such a journey,and go traipsing round the farm; but Vera—she was made ofmore delicate stuff.... He had a feeling as if he mustapologise to her for having even thought she was comingdown; and running upstairs he knocked at her door.

“Come in,” said Vera’s rather deep, sweet voice.

Her room was full of sunshine too, but the blind was downso that it did not fall on the bed. She lay in the shadow,reading her letters and smoking a cigarette. Peter had anothershock of the incongruous.

“My darling, are you dreadfully tired?”

“No—I feel quite revived this morning,” and she liftedher long white throat for him to kiss.

“Have you had your breakfast?”

“All I want. I’m not much of a breakfast eater, that’s onereason why I prefer having it up here.”

“But—but aren’t you ever coming down?”

“Poor boy—do you feel lonely without me?”

“Yes, damnably,” said Peter.

“But, my dear, I’d be poor company for you at this hour.I’m much better upstairs till ten or eleven—besides it makesthe day so long if one’s down for breakfast.”

Peter looked at her silently—her argument dispirited him:“the day so long.”... For him the day was never long enough.He suddenly saw her as infinitely older and tireder than himself.

89“Run down and have yours, now,” she said to him, “andthen you can come up and sit with me for a bit before Idress.”

§ 4

The next day Mary Pembroke came to Conster, and thatsame evening was confronted by her family. Sir John insistedon everyone being present, except Gervase—whom hestill considered a mere boy—and the daughters-in-law. Verawas glad to be left out, for she had no wish to sit in judgmenton a fellow woman, in whose guilt she believed andwith whose lies she sympathised, but Rose was indignant, forshe detected a slight in the omission.

“Besides,” she said to her husband, “I’m the only one whoconsiders the problem chiefly from a moral point of view—therest think only of the family, whether it will be good orbad for their reputation if she fights the case.”

“What about me?” asked her husband, perhaps justly aggrieved—“surelyyou can trust me not to forget the moralside of things.”

“Well, I hope so I’m sure. But you must speak out andnot be afraid of your father.”

“I’m not afraid of him.”

“Indeed you are—you never can stand up to him. It’s hewho manages this parish, not you.”

“How can you say that?”

“What else can I say when you still let him read the lessonsafter he created such a scandal by saying ‘damn’ whenthe pages stuck together.”

“Nobody heard him.”

“Indeed they did—all the three first rows, and the choirboys. It’s so bad for them. If I’d been in your place heshouldn’t have read another word.”

“My dear, I assure you it wasn’t such a scandal as youthink—certainly not enough to justify a breach with myfather.”

“That’s just it—you’re afraid of him, and I want you to90stand your ground this time. It’s not right that we shouldbe looked down upon the way we are, but we always will beif you won’t stick up for yourself—and I really fail to seewhy you should countenance immorality just to please yourfather.”

Perhaps it was owing to this conversation with his wife thatduring most of the conference George sat dumb. As a matterof fact, nobody talked much, except Sir John and Mary.Mary had a queer, desperate volubility about her—she whowas so aloof had now become familiar, to defend her aloofness.Her whole nature shrank from the exposure of thedivorce court.

“But what have you got to expose?” cried Sir John whenshe used this expression, “you tell me you’ve done nothing.”

“I’ve loved Julian, and he’s killed my love for him—I don’twant that shown up before everybody.”

“It won’t be—it doesn’t concern the case.”

“Oh, yes, it does—that sort of thing always comes out—‘theparties were married in 1912 and lived happily togethertill 1919, when the respondent left the petitioner without anyexplanation’—it’ll be all to Julian’s interest to show that hemade me an excellent husband and that I loved him devotedlytill Something—which means Somebody—came between us.”

“He’ll do that if you don’t defend the case.”

“But it won’t be dwelt on—pored over—it won’t providecopy for the newspapers. Oh, can’t anybody see that when awoman makes a mistake like mine she doesn’t want it readabout at the breakfast tables of thousands of—of——”

“One would understand you much better,” said Doris, whofor a few moments had been swallowing violently as a preliminaryto speech—“one would understand you much betterif what you objected to was thousands of people reading thatyou’d been unfaithful to the husband you once loved so much.”

“But it wouldn’t be true.”

“They’d believe it all the same—naturally, if the decree wasgiven against you.”

91“I don’t care about that—it’s what’s true that I mind peopleknowing.”

“Don’t be a fool,” interrupted Sir John—“you’re not goingto disgrace your family for an idea like that.”

“I’ll disgrace it worse if I give the thing all the extra publicityof a defended suit.”

“But, Mary dear,” said Lady Alard—“think how dreadfulit will be for us as well as for you if the decree is given againstyou. There’s Jenny, now—it’s sure to interfere with herprospects—What did you say, Jenny?”

“Nothing, Mother,” said Jenny, who had laughed.

“But you don’t seem to consider,” persisted Mary, “thateven if I defend the case I may lose it—and then we’ll allbe ever so much worse off than if I’d let it go quietly through.”

“And Julian have his revenge without even the trouble offighting for it!” cried Sir John. “I tell you he’s got nothingof a case against you if you choose to defend it.”

“I’m not so sure of that. Appearances are pretty bad.”

“Egad, you’re cool, Ma’am!—But I forgot—you don’t caretuppence what people think as long as they don’t think what’strue. But, damn it all, there’s your family to be consideredas well as yourself.”

“Is it that you want to marry Charles Smith?” asked Peter.“If she does, Sir, it’s hardly fair to make her risk....”

“Listen to me!” George had spoken at last—the voice ofmorality and religion was lifted from the chesterfield. “Youmust realise that if the decree is given against her, she willnot be free in the eyes of the Church to marry again. Whereasif she gets a decree against her husband, she would find certainof the more moderate-minded clergy willing to performthe ceremony for the innocent partner.”

“I don’t see that,” said Peter rudely—“she’d be just as innocentif she lost the suit.”

“She wouldn’t be legally the innocent partner,” said George,“and no clergyman in the land would perform the ceremonyfor her.”

92“Which means that the Church takes the argument fromlaw and not from facts.”

“No—no. Not at all. In fact, the Church as a whole condemns,indeed—er—forbids the re-marriage of divorced persons.But the Church of England is noted for toleration, andthere are certain clergy who would willingly perform theceremony for the innocent partner. There are others—menlike Luce, for instance—who are horrified at the idea of sucha thing. But I’ve always prided myself on——”

“Hold your tongue, George,” broke in his father, “I won’thave you and Peter arguing about such rubbish.”

“I’m not arguing with him, Sir. I would scarcely arguewith Peter on an ecclesiastical subject. In the eyes of theChurch——”

“Damn the eyes of the Church! Mary is perfectly free tore-marry if she likes, innocent or guilty. If the Church won’tmarry her, she can go to the registrar’s. You think nothingcan be done without a clergyman, but I tell you any wretchedlittle civil servant can do your job.”

“You all talk as if I wanted to marry again—” Mary’svoice shot up with a certain shrill despair in it. “I tell youit’s the last thing in the world I’d ever do—whatever youmake me do I would never do that. Once is enough.”

“It would certainly look better if Mary didn’t re-marry,”said Doris, “then perhaps people would think she’d nevercared for Commander Smith, and there was nothing in it.”

“But why did you go about with him, dear?” asked LadyAlard—“if you weren’t really fond of him?”

“I never said I wasn’t fond of him. I am fond of him—that’sone reason why I don’t want to marry him. He’s beena good friend to me—and I was alone... and I thought Iwas free.... I saw other women going about with men, andnobody criticising. I didn’t know Julian was having mewatched. I didn’t know I wasn’t free—and that now, thanksto you, I’ll never be free.”

She began to cry—not quietly and tragically, as one would93have expected of her—but loudly, noisily, brokenly. Shewas broken.

§ 5

The next morning Sir John drove up to London to consulthis solicitors. The next day he was there again, taking Marywith him. After that came endless arguments, letters andconsultations. The solicitors’ advice was to persuade JulianPembroke to withdraw his petition, but this proved impossible,for Julian, it now appeared, was anxious to marry again. Hehad fallen in love with a young girl of nineteen, whose parentswere willing to accept him if Mary could be decorously gotrid of.

This made Sir John all the more resolute that Mary shouldnot be decorously got rid of—if mud was slung there wasalways a chance of some of it sticking to Julian and spoilinghis appearance for the sweet young thing who had won thedoubtful prize of his affections. He would have sacrificeda great deal to bring a counter-petition, but very slight investigationsproved that there was no ground for this. Julianknew what he was doing, and had been discreet, whereas Maryhad put herself in the wrong all through. Sir John wouldhave to content himself with vindicating his daughter’sname and making it impossible for Julian to marry his newchoice.

Mary’s resistance had entirely broken down—the familyhad crushed her, and she was merely limp and listless in theirhands. Nothing seemed to matter—her chance of a quietretreat into freedom and obscurity was over, and now seemedscarcely worth fighting for. What did it matter if her life’shumiliation was exposed and gaped at?—if she had to standup and answer dirty questions to prove her cleanness?...She ought to have been stronger, she knew—but it was difficultto be strong when one stood alone, without weapon orcounsellor.

Jenny and Gervase were on her side, it is true, but they94were negligible allies, whether from the point of view of impressingthe family, or of any confidence their advice andarguments could inspire in herself. Vera Alard, though shedid not share the family point of view, had been alienated byher sister-in-law’s surrender—“I’ve no sympathy with awoman who knows what she wants but hasn’t the courage tostand out for it,” she said to Peter. In her heart she thoughtthat Mary was lying—that she had tried Charles Smith as alover and found him wanting, but would have gladly used himas a means to freedom, if her family hadn’t butted in andmade a scandal of it.

As for Peter, he no longer felt inclined to take his sister’spart. He was angry with her for her forgetfulness of herdignity. She had been careless of her honour, forgetting thatit was not only hers but Alard’s—she had risked the family’sdisgrace, before the world and before the man whose contemptof all the world’s would be hardest to bear. Peter hatedsuch carelessness and such risks—he would do nothing morefor Mary, especially as she had said she did not want to marryCharles Smith. If she had wanted that he would have understoodher better, but she had said she did not want it, andthus had lost her only claim to an undefended suit. For Peternow did not doubt any more than his family that Julian wouldfail to prove his case.

Outside the family, Charles Smith did his best to help her.He came down to see her and try to persuade her people tolet the petition go through undefended. But he was too likeherself to be much use. He was as powerless as she to standagainst her family, which was entering the divorce court inmuch the same spirit as its forefathers had gone to the Crusades—firedby the glory of the name of Alard and hatredof the Turk.

“I’m disappointed in my first co-respondent,” said Gervaseto Jenny after he had left—“I’d expected something muchmore spirited—a blend of Abelard, Don Juan and CesareBorgia, with a dash of Shelley. Instead of which I find amild-mannered man with a pince-nez, who I know is simply95dying to take me apart and start a conversation on eighteenth-centuryglass.”

“That’s because he isn’t a real co-respondent. You’ve onlyto look at Charles Smith to be perfectly sure he never didanything wrong in his life.”

“Well, let’s hope the Judge and jury will look at him, then.”

“I hope they won’t. I’m sure Mary wants to lose.”

“Not a defended case—she’d be simply too messed up afterthat.”

“She’ll be messed up anyhow, whether she wins or loses.There’ll be columns and columns about her and everythingshe did—and didn’t do—and might have done. Poor Mary... I expect she’d rather lose, and then she can creep quietlyaway.”

“Do you think she’ll marry Smith?”

“No, I don’t. He’d like to marry her, or he thinks he’dlike to, but I’m pretty sure she won’t have him.”

“Then she’d better win her case—or the family will makeher have him.”

“George says she can’t marry again unless she’s the ‘innocentparty.’”

“I don’t think what George says will make much difference.Anyhow, it’s a silly idea. If the marriage is dissolved, bothof ’em can marry again—if the marriage isn’t dissolved,neither of ’em can, so I don’t see where George’s innocentparty comes in. That’s Stella’s idea—part of her religion,you know—that marriage is a sacrament and can’t be dissolved.I think it’s much more logical.”

“I think it’s damned hard.”

“Yes, so do I. But then I think religion ought to be damnedhard.”

“I’ll remind you of that next time I see you lounging infront of the fire when you ought to be in church. You knowyou hurt George’s feelings by not going.”

“I’m not partial to George’s sort of religion.”

“I hope you’re not partial to Stella’s—that would be anotherblow for this poor family.”

96“Why?—it wouldn’t make any difference to them. Not thatyou need ever be afraid of my getting religion... but if Idid I must say I hope it would be a good stiff sort, that wouldgive me the devil of a time. George arranges a nice comfortableservice for me at eleven, with a family pew for meto sleep in. He preaches a nice comfortable sermon that makesme feel good, and then we all go home together in the nicecomfortable car and eat roast beef and talk about who wasthere and how much there was in the collection. That isn’tmy idea of the violent taking the Kingdom of Heaven bystorm.”

“Are you trying to make me think that you’d be pious ifonly you were allowed to wear sandals and a hair shirt?”

“Oh, no, Jenny dear. But at least I can admire that sortof religion from a distance.”

“The distance being, I suppose, from here to Birmingham?”

“May I ask if you are what is vulgarly called getting atme?”

“Well, I’d like to know how long this correspondence betweenyou and Stella has been going on.”

“Almost ever since she left—but we’ve only just got on toreligion.”

“Be careful—that’s all. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“How?—with Stella or with Stella’s ideas?”

“Both,” said Jenny darkly.

§ 6

Charles Smith was not allowed to come down again. Thesolicitors declared it advisable that Mary should see nothingof him while proceedings were pending. Indeed it was necessaryto guard her reputation like a shrine. She stayed atConster while the weeks dragged through the spring, and whenin May Sir John and Lady Alard went for their yearly visitto Bath, it was decided that she should go to the Vicarage,so that a polish of sanctity and ecclesiastical patronage mightbe given to her stainlessness.

97So she packed her belongings—helped by Jenny instead ofGisèle, whose wages had been beyond her means ever sinceher plunge for freedom—and they were taken to where LeasanParsonage stood hidden among May trees and lilac bushes downLeasan lane.

Mary was not personally looking forward to the change,though the atmosphere of Conster was eruptive, and thoughone felt the family solidarity more strongly at the Manorthan at the Parsonage, and was also—in spite of luxury—moreconscious of the family’s evil days. Her feeling for Rosewas almost fear—her bustle, her curiosity, her love of rule,her touch of commonness provoked an antipathy which wasless dislike than alarm. She also shrank from the ugliness anddiscomforts of the Vicarage life—Rose was supposed to havea gift for training Raw Girls, and, as Gervase once said evenwhen the girls ceased to be actually raw, they were still remarkablyunderdone. Chatter, scoldings, creaking footsteps,and the smell of bad cooking filled the house all day—George,whom Mary was inclined to like in spite of his stupidity,took the usual male refuge in flight, and spent most of histime shut up in his study, which shared the sanctity of Leasanchurch and could be invaded by no one but his wife.

There were also two rather colourless children, Lillian andEdna, whose governess—a more cultured type of Raw Girl—madea sixth at luncheon. It had always been a secret griefto Rose that she had never had a son; her only comfort wasthat no other Alard had done so up till now. But this comfortwould probably be taken from her soon. Vera wouldbe sure to have a son—Jewesses always did.... Rose thoughtvaguely about Abraham....

§ 7

The day started early at Leasan Parsonage—not that therewas any particular reason why it should, but eight o’clockbreakfast was Rose’s best protest against the sloppy ways ofConster, where you came down to breakfast when you liked,98or had it upstairs. Mary was addicted to the latter vice, andon her first morning at Leasan came down heavy-eyed, withthat especial sense of irritation and inadequacy which springsfrom a hurried toilet and a lukewarm bath.

“So you wear a tea-gown for breakfast,” said Rose, whowore a sports coat and a tweed skirt.

“A breakfast gown.”

“It’s the same thing. In fact you might call it a dressing-gownwith those sleeves. Edna, don’t drink your tea with aspoon.”

“It’s too hot, Mother.”

“Well, leave it till it gets cooler. Don’t drink it with aspoon—you’ll be pouring it into your saucer next. George,what are your letters about today?”

“Income tax mostly—and there’s Mr. Green writing againabout a Choral Celebration.”

“Well, you must be firm with him and tell him we can’tpossibly have one. I told you what it would be, engaging anorganist who’s used to such things—they won’t give them up.”

“I thought it might be possible to arrange it once a month,at an hour when it won’t interfere with Matins.”

“Nonsense, dear. The boys’ voices could never manage itand the men would go on strike.”

“They’re becoming fairly general, you know, even in countrychurches.”

“Well, I think it’s a pity. I’ve always distrusted anythingthat tends to make religion emotional.”

“I can’t understand anyone’s emotions—at least voluptuousemotions—being stirred by anything our choir could do.”

“George!—‘voluptuous’”—a violent shake of the head—“pasdevant les enfants. Who’s your cheque from?”

“Dr. Mount. He’s very generously subscribing to the MaternityFund. He says ‘I feel I’ve got a duty to Leasanas well as Vinehall, as I have patients in both parishes.’”

“I call that very good of him, for I know he never makesmore than five hundred a year out of the practice. By theway, have you heard that Stella’s back?”

99“No—since when?”

“I saw her driving through Vinehall yesterday. Edna andLillian, you may get down now for a great treat, and havea run in the garden before Miss Cutfield comes.”

“May we go to meet Miss Cutfield?”

“If you don’t go further than the end of the lane. That’sright, darlings—say your grace—‘for what we have received,’Edna, not ‘about to’—now run away.”

“Why are you sending away the children?” asked George.

“Because I want to talk about Stella Mount.”

“But why is Stella unfit to discuss before the children?”

“Oh, George—you must know!—it was simply dreadful theway she ran after Peter.”

“You don’t think she’s still running after him?”

“I think it’s a bad sign she’s come back.”

“Her father wanted her, I expect. That chauffeur-secretaryhe had was no good. Besides, I expect she’s got over herfeeling for Peter now.”

“I’m sure I hope she has, but you never know with a girllike Stella. She has too many ways of getting out of things.”

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Oh, confession and all that. All she has to do is to goto a Priest and he’ll let her off anything.”

“Come, come, my dear, that is hardly a fair summary ofwhat the Prayer Book calls ‘the benefit of absolution.’ Myown position with regard to confession has always been thatit is at least tolerable and occasionally helpful.”

“Not the way a girl like Stella would confess,” said Rosedarkly—“Oh, I don’t mean anything wrong—only the wholething seems to me not quite healthy. I dislike the sort ofreligion that gets into everything, even people’s meals. Iexpect Stella would rather die than eat meat on Friday.”

“But surely, dear,” said George who was rather dense—“thatsort would not encourage her to run after a marriedman.”

“Well, if you can’t use your eyes!... she’s been perfectlyopen about it.”

100“But she hasn’t been here at all since he married.”

“I’m talking of before that—when she was always meetinghim.”

“But if he wasn’t married you can hardly accuse her ofrunning after a married man.”

“He’s married now. Don’t be so stupid, dear.”

§ 8

Peter was a little annoyed to find that Stella had come back.It would perhaps be difficult to say why—whether her returnwas most disturbing to his memory or to his pride. Hewould have angrily denied that to see her again was in anysense a resurrection—and he would just as angrily have deniedthat her attitude of detached friendliness was disagreeable tohis vanity. Surely he had forgotten her... surely he didnot want to think that she could ever forget him....

He did not press these questions closely—his nature shrankfrom unpleasant probings, and after all Stella’s presence didnot make anything of that kind necessary. He saw very littleof her. She came to tea at Starvecrow, seemed delighted withthe improvements, was becomingly sweet to Vera—and afterthat all he had of her was an occasional glimpse at Consteror on the road.

It could not be said, by any stretch of evidence, that shewas running after a married man. But Rose Alard soon hada fresh cause for alarm. Stella was seeing a great deal toomuch of Gervase. She must somehow have got into touch withthe younger brother during her absence from home, for nowon her return there seemed to be a friendship already established.They were occasionally seen out walking together inthe long summer evenings, and on Sundays he sometimeswent with her to church at Vinehall—which was a doublecrime, since it disparaged George’s ministrations at Leasan.

“I should hate to say she was mercenary,” said Rose reflectively,“but I must say appearances are against her—turningto the younger brother as soon as she’s lost the elder.”

101“I don’t see where the mercenariness comes it,” said Mary—“Gervasewon’t have a penny except what he earns, and there’sPeter and his probable sons, as well as George, between himand the title.”

“But he’s an Alard—I expect Stella would like to marryinto the family.”

“I fail to see the temptation.”

“Well, anyhow, I think it very bad taste of her to take himto church at Vinehall—it’s always been difficult to get him tocome here as it is, and George says he has no influence overhim whatever.”

Mary only sighed. She could not argue with Rose, yetshe had a special sympathy for a woman who having had lovetorn out of her heart tried to fill the empty aching space asbest she could. Of course it was selfish—though not so selfishin Stella as it had been in herself, and she hoped Stellawould not have to suffer as she had suffered. After all, itwould do Gervase good to be licked into shape by a womanlike Stella—he probably enjoyed the hopelessness of his love—ifindeed it was hopeless... and she could understandthe relief that his ardent, slightly erratic courtship must beafter Peter’s long series of stolid blunders.

But Stella was not quite in the position Mary fancied. Shewas not letting Gervase court her, indeed he would neverhave thought of doing so. She seemed definitely apart fromany idea of love-making—she set up intangible barriers roundherself, which even his imagination could not cross. Perhapssome day... but even for “some day” his plans were notso much of love as of thinking of love.

Meanwhile she fulfilled a definite need of his, just as hefulfilled a need of hers. She gave him an outlet for the pent-upthoughts of his daily drives, and the society of a mind whichdelighted him with its warmth and quickness. Gervase toohad a quick mind, and his and Stella’s struck sparks off eachother, creating a glow in which he sometimes forgot thathis heart went unwarmed. Their correspondence had been aslower, less stimulating version of the same process. They had102discussed endless subjects through the post, and now Stellahad come home in the midst of the most interesting. It wasthe most interesting to him because it was obviously the mostinteresting to her. She had bravely taken her share in theirother discussions, but he soon discovered that she was toofeminine to care about politics, too concrete to grasp abstractions,and that in matters of art and literature her taste wasuncertain and often philistine. But in the matter of religionshe showed both a firmer standing and a wider grasp. Indeedhe was to find that her religion was the deepest, the mostvital and most interesting part of her—in it alone did thewhole Stella come alive.

The topic had been started by the tragedy of Mary’s marriage,and at first he had been repulsed by her attitude, whichhe thought strangely unlike her in its rigidity. But as timewent on he began to contrast it favourably with George’s compromises—herewas a faith which at least was logical, andwhich was not afraid to demand the uttermost.... Theycontinued the discussion after she had come home, and hewas surprised to see what he had hitherto looked upon equallyas a fad and a convention, a collection of moral and intellectuallumber, show itself almost shockingly as an adventure and apower. Not that Stella had felt the full force of it yet—herlife had always run pretty smoothly through the simplicitiesof joy and sorrow, there had been no conflict, no devastation.But strangely enough he, an outsider, seemed able to see whatshe herself possibly did not realise—that she carried in herheart a force which might one day both make and break it.

It had been his own suggestion that he should go with herto church, though he did not know whether it was to satisfya hope or dismiss a fear. He had lost the detached attitudewith which he had at first approached the subject, much as hewould have approached Wells’s new novel or the CoalitionGovernment. To his surprise he found himself at ease in thesurroundings of Vinehall’s Parish Mass. Its gaiety and homelinessseemed the natural expression of instinctive needs.Vinehall church was decorated in a style more suggestive of103combined poverty and enterprise than of artistic taste; thesinging—accompanied rather frivolously on a piano—was poorand sometimes painful; the sermon was halting and trite.These things were better done by brother George at Leasan.But the Mass seemed strangely independent of its outwardexpression, and to hold its own solemn heart of worship undercircumstances which would have destroyed the devotions ofLeasan. Here, thought Gervase, was a faith which did not dependon the beauty of externals for its appeal—a faith, moreover,which was not afraid to make itself hard to men, whichthrew up round itself massive barriers of hardship, and yetwithin these was warm and sweet and friendly—which wasfurthermore a complete adventure, a taking of infinite risks,a gateway on unknown dangers....

As he knelt beside Stella in a silence which was like a firstkiss, so old in experience did it seem, in spite of the shockof novelty, he found that the half-forgotten romances of hischildhood were beginning to take back their colours and shinein a new light. Those figures of the Mother and her Child,the suffering Son of Man, the warm-hearted, thick-headed,glorious company of the apostles, which for so long had livedfor him only in the gilt frames of Renaissance pictures, nowseemed to wake again to life and friendliness. Once more hefelt the thrill of the Good Shepherd going out to see the lostsheep... and all the bells of heaven began to ring.

§ 9

George Alard could not help being a little vexed at Gervase’snew tendencies. He told himself that he ought to beglad the boy was going to church at all, for he had beennegligent and erratic for a long time past—he ought not tofeel injured because another man had won him to some senseof his duty. But he must say he was surprised that Lucehad succeeded where he himself had failed—Luce was a dry,dull fellow, and hopelessly unenterprising; not a branch in hisparish of the C.E.M.S. or the A.C.S. or the S.P.G., no work-parties104or parish teas, and no excitement about the EnablingAct and the setting up of a Parochial Church Council whichwas now occupying most of George’s time. Still, he reflected,it was probably not so much Luce as Stella Mount who haddone it—she was a pretty girl and perhaps not too scrupulous,she had persuaded Gervase. Then there had always beenthat curious streak in his brother’s character which differentiatedhim from the other Alards. George did not know howto describe it so well as by Ungentlemanliness. That part ofGervase which had revolted from a Gentleman’s Educationand had gone into an engineering shop instead of to Oxfordwas now revolting from a Gentleman’s Religion and goingto Mass instead of Dearly Beloved Brethren. There had alwaysseemed to George something ungentlemanly about Catholicism,though he prided himself on being broad-minded,and would have introduced one or two changes on HighChurch lines into the services at Leasan if his father and hiswife had let him.

“Apart from every other consideration, I’m surprised hedoesn’t realise how bad it looks for him to go Sunday toVinehall when his brother is Vicar of Leasan.”

“He goes with Stella,” said Mary.

“I think that makes it worse,” said Rose.

“Why?” asked Peter.

He had come in to see George about his election to theParochial Church Council, which his brother was extremelyanxious should take place, but for which Peter had no wishto qualify himself. George had hoped that the bait of aseat on the Council, with the likelihood of being elected asthe Parish’s representative at the Diocesan Conference, mightinduce Peter to avail himself once more of the church privilegeswhich he had neglected for so long. It was uphill work,thought poor George, trying to run a parish when neither ofone’s brothers came to church, and one’s father said ‘damn’out loud when reading the lessons....

“Why?” asked Peter, a little resentful.

Rose looked uneasy——

105“Well, everyone knows she used to run after you and nowshe’s running after Gervase.”

“She didn’t run after me and she isn’t running after Gervase,”said Peter; then he added heavily—“I ran after her,and Gervase is running after her now.”

“Oh!” Rose tossed her head—“I own I once thought...but then when you married Vera... well, anyhow I thinkshe ought to discourage Gervase more than she does, and Iinsist that it’s in extremely bad taste for her to take him tochurch at Vinehall.”

“Perhaps he likes the service better,” said Mary, who duringthis discussion had been trying to write a letter and nowgave up the effort in despair.

“Oh, I daresay he does—he’s young and excitable.”

“There’s nothing very exciting at Vinehall,” said George—“Idon’t think Luce has even a surpliced choir these days.”

“Well, there’s incense and chasubles and all that—Gervasealways did like things that are different.”

“I must say,” said Mary, who was perhaps a little irritatedat having nowhere to write her letter (the Raw Girlbeing in devastating possession of her bedroom)—“I mustsay that if I had any religion myself, I’d like a religion whichat least was religion and not soup.”

“What do you mean?”

Both George and Rose sat up stiffly, and even Peter lookedshocked.

“Well, your religion here seems chiefly to consist in givingpeople soup-tickets and coal-tickets, and having rummagesales. Stella Mount’s religion at least means an attempt atworship, and at least.... Oh, well—” she broke down ratherlamely—“anyhow it makes you want something you haven’tgot.”

“We can most of us do that without religion,” said Peter,getting up.

Rose looked meaningly after him as he went out of theroom, then she looked still more meaningly at her husband—itwas as if her eyes and eyebrows were trying to tell him106her conviction that Peter was finding life unsatisfactory inspite of Vera and Starvecrow, indeed that he regretted Stella—hadhe not championed her almost grotesquely just now?... andhe had talked of wanting something he had notgot....

George refused to meet her eyes and read their language.He too rose and went out, but he did not follow Peter. Hefelt hurt and affronted by what Mary had said—“soup”... thatwas what she had called the religion of her parish church,of her country, indeed, since George was convinced that Leasanrepresented the best in Anglicanism. Just because he didn’thave vestments and incense and foreign devotions, but plain,hearty, British services—because he looked after people’sbodies as well as their souls—he was to be laughed at by awoman like Mary, who—but he must not be uncharitable, hewas quite convinced of Mary’s innocence, and only wishedthat her prudence had equalled it.

He walked out through the French windows of his study,and across the well-kept Vicarage lawn. Before him, beyondthe lilacs Leasan’s squat towers stood against a misty bluesky. With its wide brown roof spreading low over its aislesalmost to the ground the church was curiously like a sittinghen. It squatted like a hen over her brood, and gave a tenderimpression of watchfulness and warmth.... The door stoodopen, showing a green light that filtered in through creeperand stained glass. George went in, and the impression ofmotherly warmth was changed to one of cool emptiness.Rows of shining pews stretched from the west door to thechancel with its shining choir-stalls, and beyond in the sanctuarystood the shining altar with two shining brass candlesticksupon it.

George went to his desk and knelt down. But there wassomething curiously unprayerful in the atmosphere—he wouldhave felt more at ease praying in his study or at his bedside.The emptiness of the church was something more than anemptiness of people—it was an emptiness of prayer. Now hecame to think of it, he had never seen anyone at prayer in107the church except at the set services—a good collection of theneighbouring gentlefolk at Matins, a hearty assembly of thevillagers at Evensong, a few “good” people at the early celebration,and one or two old ladies for the Litany on Fridays—butnever any prayer between, no farm lad ever on hisknees before his village shrine, or busy mother coming in fora few minutes’ rest in the presence of God....

But that was what they did at Vinehall. He had lookedinto the church several times and had never seen it empty—therewas always someone at prayer... the single whitelamp... that was the Reserved Sacrament of course, theologicallyindefensible, though no doubt devotionally inspiring... devotion—was it that which made the difference betweenreligion and soup?

George felt a sudden qualm come over him as he knelt inhis stall—it was physical rather than mental, though thememory of Mary’s impious word had once again stirred uphis sleeping wrath. He lifted himself into a sitting position—thatwas better. For some weeks past he had been feelingill—he ought to see a doctor... but he daren’t, in case thedoctor ordered him to rest. It was all very well for Maryto gibe at his work and call it soup, but it was work thatmust be done. She probably had no idea how hard he worked—visiting,teaching, sitting on committees, organising guilds,working parties, boy scouts, Church of England Men’s Society... and two sermons on Sunday as well.... He was surehe did more than Luce, who had once told him that he lookedupon his daily Mass as the chief work of his parish.... Lucewouldn’t wear himself out in his prime as George Alard wasdoing.... Soup!

§ 10

Mary went back to Conster for the uneasy days of theSummer. Her heart sickened at the dragging law—her marriagetook much longer to unmake that it had taken to make.She thought of how her marriage was made—Leasan church... the smell of lilies... the smell of old lace... lace108hanging over her eyes, a white veil over the wedding-guests,over her father as he gave her away, over her brother as hetowered above her in surplice and stole, over her bridegroom,kneeling at her side, holding her hand as he parted her shakingfingers... “with this ring I thee wed”... “from thisday forward, till death do us part.”... How her heart wasbeating—fluttering in her throat like a dove... now shewas holding one fringed end of George’s stole, while Julianheld the other—“that which God hath joined together let notman put asunder.”

And now the unmaking—such a fuss—such a business thisputting asunder! Telegrams, letters, interviews... over andover again the story of her disillusion, of her running away,of her folly... oh, it was all abominable, but it was herown fault—she should not have given in. Why could shenever endure things quite to the end? When she had foundout that Julian the husband was not the same as Julian thelover, but an altogether more difficult being, why had herlove failed and died? And now that love was dead and shehad run away from the corpse, why had she allowed herfamily to persuade her into this undignified battle over thegrave? Why had she not gone quietly out of her husband’slife into the desolate freedom of her own, while he turnedto another woman and parted her fingers to wear the pledgeof his eternal love.

If only she had been a little better or a little worse!...A little better, and she could have steadied her marriage whenit rocked, a little worse and she could have stepped out of itall, cast her memories from her, and started the whole damnthing over again as she had seen so many women do. Butshe wasn’t quite good enough for the one or bad enough forthe other, so she must suffer as neither the good nor the badhave to suffer. She must pay the price for being fine, butnot fine enough.

In Autumn the price was paid. For three days counselargued on the possibility or impossibility of a woman leavingone man except for another—on the possibility or impossibility109of a woman being chaste when in the constant society of amale friend—on the minimum time which must be allowedfor misconduct to take place. Waiters, chambermaids, chauffeursgave confused evidence—there was “laughter in court”—thelearned judge asked questions that brought shame intothe soft, secret places of Mary’s heart—Julian stood beforeher to tell her and all the world that she had loved himonce.... She found herself in the witness-box, receivingfrom her counsel the wounds of a friend.... Of courseJulian must be blackened to account for her leaving him—wasshe able to paint him black enough? Probably not, sincethe verdict was given in his favour.

Most of the next day’s papers contained photographs ofMrs. Pembroke leaving the divorce court after a decree nisihad been obtained against her by her husband, Mr. JulianPembroke (inset).

§ 11

In spite of the non-committal attitude of his solicitors, SirJohn Alard had been sure that to defend the suit would beto vindicate Mary and her family against the outrageousJulian. He would not believe that judgment could go againsthis daughter except by default, and now that this incrediblething had happened, and Mary had been publicly and argumentativelystripped of her own and Alard’s good name, whileJulian, with innocence and virtue proclaimed by law, wasset free to marry his new choice, he felt uncertain whether toblame most his daughter’s counsel or his daughter herself.

Counsel had failed to make what he might out of Julian’scross-examination... what a fruitful field was there! Ifonly Sir John could have cross-examined Julian himself!There would have been an end of that mirage of the Deceivedand Deserted Husband which had so impressed the court....But Mary was to blame as well as counsel. She really hadbeen appallingly indiscreet... her cross-examination—Lord!what an affair! What a damn fool she had made of herself!—Hangit all, he’d really have thought better of her if she’d110gone the whole hog... the fellow wasn’t much good inthe witness-box either... but he’d behaved like a gentlemanafterwards. He had made Mary a formal proposal ofmarriage the morning after the decree was given. The onlything to do now was for her to marry him.

Lady Alard marked her daughter’s disgrace by sending forDr. Mount in the middle of the night, and “nearly dying onhis hands” as she reproachfully told Mary when she returnedto Conster the next afternoon. Mary looked a great deal moreill than her mother—dazed and blank she sat by Lady Alard’ssofa, listening to the tale of her sorrows and symptoms, onlya slow occasional trembling of her lip showing that her heartwas alive and in torment under the dead weight of her body’sstupefaction. All her mind and being was withdrawn intoherself, and during the afternoon was in retreat, seekingstrength for the last desperate stand that she must make.

After tea, Peter arrived, looking awkward and unhappy—thenGeorge, looking scared and pompous. Mary knew thata family conclave had been summoned, and her heart sank.What a farce and a sham these parliaments were, seeing thatAlard was ruled by the absolute monarchy of Sir John. Noone would take her part, unless perhaps it was Gervase—Uranusin the Alard system—but he would not be there today;she must stand alone. She gripped her hands togetherunder the little bag on her lap, and in her dry heart there wasa prayer at last—“Oh, God, I have never been able to be quitetrue to myself—now don’t let me be quite untrue.”

As soon as the servants had cleared away the last of thetea things—there had been a pretence of offering tea toPeter and George, as if they had casually dropped in—SirJohn cast aside all convention of accident, and opened theattack.

“Well,” he said to his assembled family—“it’s been a dreadfulbusiness—unexpectedly dreadful. Shows what the DivorceCourt is under all this talk about justice. There’s been onlyone saving clause to the whole business, and that’s Smith’sbehaviour. He might have done better in the witness-box,111but he’s stuck by Mary all through, and made her a formaloffer of marriage directly the decree was given.”

“That was the least he could do,” said Peter.

“Of course; you needn’t tell me that. But I’ve seen suchshocking examples of bad faith during the last three days....It’s a comfort to find one man behaving decently. I’mconvinced that the only thing Mary can do is to marry himas soon as the decree is made absolute.”

George gave a choking sound, and his father’s eye turnedfiercely upon him.

“Well, sir—what have you to say?”

“I—I—er—only that Mary can’t marry again now—er—underthese new circumstances... only the innocent partner....”

“You dare, Sir! Damn it all—I’ll believe in my own daughter’sinnocence in spite of all the courts in the country.”

“I don’t mean that she isn’t innocent—er—in fact—but thedecree has been given against her.”

“What difference does that make?—if she was innocent beforethe decree she’s innocent after it, no matter which wayit goes. Damn you and your humbug, Sir. But it doesn’tmatter in the least—she can marry again, whatever you say;the law allows it, so you can’t stop it. She shall be marriedin Leasan church.”

“She shall not, Sir.”

A deep bluish flush was on George’s cheek-bones as he roseto his feet. Sir John was for a moment taken aback by defiancefrom such an unexpected quarter, but he soon recoveredhimself.

“I tell you she shall. Leasan belongs to me.”

“The living is in your gift, Sir, but at present I hold it, andas priest of this parish, I refuse to lend my church for themarriage of the guil—er—in fact, for—the marriage.”

“Bunkum! ‘Priest of this parish’—you’ll be calling yourselfPope next. If you can’t talk sense you can clear out.”

George was already at the door, and the hand he laid uponit trembled violently.

112“Don’t go!”—it was Mary who cried after him—“there’sno need for you to upset yourself about my marriage. Ihaven’t the slightest thought of getting married.”

But George had gone out.

§ 12

There was an uneasy shuffle of relief throughout the room.The situation, though still painful, had been cleared of an exasperatingside-issue. But at the same time Mary was uncomfortablyaware that she had changed the focus of herfather’s anger from her brother to herself.

“What do you mean?” he rapped out, when the sound ofGeorge’s protesting retreat had died away.

“I mean that you and George have been arguing for nothing.As I told you some time ago, I haven’t the slightestintention of marrying Charles.”

“And why not, may I ask?”

“Because I’ve had enough of marriage.”

“But Mary, think of us—think of your family,” wailedLady Alard—“what are we going to do if you don’t marry?”

“I can’t see what difference it will make.”

“It will make all the difference in the world. If you marryCharles and go abroad for a bit, you’ll find that after a timepeople will receive you—I don’t say here, but in London.If you don’t marry, you will always be looked upon withsuspicion.”

“Why?”

“Married women without husbands always are.”

“Then in spite of all the judges and juries and courts anddecrees, I’m still a married woman?”

“I don’t see what else you’re to call yourself, dear. You’recertainly not a spinster, and you can’t say you’re a widow.”

“Then if I marry again I shall have two husbands, andin six months Julian will have two wives.”

Lady Alard began to weep.

113“For God’s sake! let’s stop talking this nonsense,” criedSir John. “Mary’s marriage has been dissolved, and her onechance of reinstating herself—and us—is by marrying thisman who’s been the cause of all the trouble. I say it’s herduty—she’s brought us all into disgrace, so I don’t think it’sasking too much of her to take the only possible way of gettingus out, even at the sacrifice of her personal inclinations.”

“Father—I never asked you to defend the case. I beggedyou not to—all this horror we have been through is due toyour defence.”

“If you’d behaved properly there would have been no caseat all, and if you had behaved with only ordinary discretionthe defence could have been proved. When I decided that wemust, for the honour of the family, defend the case, I had noidea what an utter fool you had been. Your cross-examinationwas a revelation to me as well as to the court. You’vesimply played Old Harry with your reputation, and now theonly decent thing for you to do is to marry this man and getout.”

“I can get out without marrying this man.”

“And where will you go?”

“I shall go abroad. I have enough money of my own tolive on quietly, and I needn’t be a disgrace to anyone. If Imarry Charles I shall only bring unhappiness to both of us.”

“Oh, Mary, do be reasonable!” cried Lady Alard—“dothink of the girls”—with a wave that included both twenty-twoand thirty-eight—“and do think how all this is your ownfault. When you first left Julian, you should have come hereand lived at home, then no one would ever have imaginedanything. But you would go off and live by yourself, andthink you could do just the same as if you weren’t married—thoughI’m sure I’d be sorry to see Jenny going about withanyone as you went about with Charles Smith. When I wasengaged to your father, we were hardly ever so much as leftalone in a room together——”

“Your reminiscences are interesting, my dear,” said Sir114John, “but cast no light on the situation. The point is thatMary refuses to pay the price of her folly, even though bydoing so she could buy out her family as well as herself.”

“I fail to see how.”

“Then you must be blind.”

“It seems to me it would be much better if I went rightaway. I’ve made a hideous mess of my life, and broughttrouble upon you all—I acknowledge that; but at least there’sone thing I will not do—and that is walk with my eyes openinto the trap I walked into ten years ago with my eyes shut.”

“Then you need expect nothing more from your family.”

“I won’t.”

“Father,” said Peter—“if she isn’t fond of the chap....”

Mary interrupted him.

“Don’t—it isn’t quite that. I am fond of him. I’m not inlove with him or anything romantic, but I’m fond of him, andfor that very reason I won’t take this way out. He’s twentyyears older than I am, and set in his bachelor ways—and Ifirmly believe that only chivalry has made him stand by me ashe has done. He doesn’t in his heart want to marry a womanwho’s ruined and spoiled... and I won’t let him throw himselfaway. If I leave him alone, he can live things down—menalways can; but if I marry him, he’ll sink with me. AndI’ve nothing to give him that will make up to him for whathe will suffer. I won’t let him pay such a price for... forbeing... kind to me.”

Nobody spoke a word. Perhaps the introduction of CharlesSmith’s future as a motive for refusing to use him to patchup the situation struck the Alards as slightly indecent. AndMary suddenly knew that if the argument were resumed shewould yield—that she was at the end of her resources andcould stand out no longer. Her only chance of saving Charles’shappiness and her own soul now lay in the humiliation offlight. There is only one salvation for the weak and that isto realise their weakness. She rose unsteadily to her feet.A dozen miles seemed to yawn between her and the door....

115“Where are you going, Mary?” asked Sir John—“we haven’tnearly finished talking yet.”

Would anybody help her?—yes—here was Jenny unexpectedlyopening the door for her and pushing her out. Andin the hall was Gervase, his Ford lorry throbbing outside inthe drive.

“Gervase!” cried Mary faintly—“if I pack in ten minutes,will you take me to the station?”

§ 13

It was a very different packing from that before Mary’sdeparture eighteen months ago. There was no soft-treadingGisèle, and her clothes, though she had been at Leasan sixmonths, were fewer than when she had come for a Christmasvisit. They were still beautiful, however, and Mary stillloved them—it hurt her to see Jenny tumbling and squeezingthem into the trunk. But she must not be critical, it was aswell perhaps that she had someone to pack for her who didnot really care for clothes and did not waste time in smoothingand folding... because she must get out of the housequickly, before the rest of the family had time to find outwhat she was about. It was undignified, she knew, but hermany defeats had brought her a bitter carelessness.

The sisters did not talk much during the packing. ButMary knew that Jenny approved of what she was doing. PerhapsJenny herself would like to be starting out on a flightfrom Alard. She wondered a little how Jenny’s own affairwas going—that unacknowledged yet obsessing affair. Sherealised rather sadly that she had lost her sister’s confidence—orperhaps had never quite had it. Her own detachment, herown passion for aloofness and independence had grown uplike a mist between them. And now when her aloofness wasdestroyed, when some million citizens of England were acquaintedwith her heart, when all the golden web she had spunround herself was torn, soiled and scattered, her sister was116gone. She stood alone—no longer set apart, no longer veiledfrom her fellows by delicate self-spun webs—but just alone.

“Shall I ring for Pollock?” said Jenny.

“No, I’d much rather you didn’t.”

“Then how shall we manage about your trunk?—it’s tooheavy for us to carry down ourselves.”

“Can’t Gervase carry it?”

“Yes—I expect he could.”

She called her brother up from the hall, and he easily swungup the trunk on his shoulder. As he did so, and Mary sawhis hands with their broken nails and the grime of the shopworked into the skin, she realised that they symbolised a freedomwhich was more actual than any she had made. Gervasewas the only one of the family who was really free, thoughhe worked ten hours a day for ten shillings a week. Doriswas not free, for she had accepted the position of idle daughter,and was bound by all the ropes of a convention whichhad no substance in fact. Peter was not free because he had,Mary knew, married away from his real choice, and was nowbound to justify his new choice to his heart—George was notfree, he was least free of all, because individual members ofthe family had power over him as well as the collective fetish.Jenny was not free, because she must love according to opportunity.Slaves... all the Alards were slaves... to Alard—tothe convention of the old county family with its prosperityof income and acres, its house, its servants, its ancientname and reputation—a convention the foundations of whichwere rotten right through, which was bound to topple sooneror later, crushing all those who tried to shelter under it. Sofar only two had broken away, herself and Gervase—herselfso feebly, so painfully, in such haste and humiliation, he socalmly and carelessly and sufficiently. He would be happy andprosperous in his freedom, but she... she dared not think.

However, Jenny was thinking for her.

“What will you do, Mary?” she asked, as they crossed thehall—“where are you going?”

117“I’m going back to London. I don’t know yet what I’lldo.”

“Have you enough money? I can easily lend you something—Icashed a cheque yesterday.”

“Oh, I’m quite all right, thanks.”

“Do you think you’ll go abroad?”

“I’ll try to. Meg is going again next month. I expect Icould go with her.”

They were outside. Mary’s box was on the back of thelorry, and Gervase already on the driver’s seat. It was rathera lowly way of leaving the house of one’s fathers. Mary hadnever been on the lorry before, and had some difficulty inclimbing over the wheel.

Jenny steadied her, and for a moment kept her hand aftershe was seated.

“Of course you know I think you’re doing the only possiblething.”

“Yes... thank you, Jenny; but I wish I’d done it earlier.”

“How could you?”

“Refused to defend the case—spared myself and everybodyall this muck.”

“It’s very difficult, standing up to the family. But you’vedone it now. I wish I could.... Goodbye, Mary dear, andI expect we’ll meet in town before very long.”

“Goodbye.”

The Ford gargled, and they ran round the flower-bed inthe middle of Conster’s gravel sweep. Jenny waved farewellfrom the doorstep and went indoors. Gervase began towhistle; he seemed happy—“I wonder,” thought Mary, “ifit’s true that he’s in love.”

§ 14

During the upheaval which followed Mary’s departure,George Alard kept away from Conster. He wouldn’t go anymore, he said, where he wasn’t wanted. What was the good118of asking his advice if he was to be insulted—publicly insultedwhen he gave it? He brooded tenaciously over the scenebetween him and his father. Sir John had insulted him notonly as a man but as a priest, and he had a right to be offended.

Rose supported him at first—she was glad to find that therewere occasions on which he would stand up to his father.George had been abominably treated, she told Doris—reallyone was nearly driven to say that Sir John had no sense ofdecency.

“He speaks to him exactly as if he were a child.”

“He speaks to us all like that.”

“Then it’s high time somebody stood up to him, and I’mvery glad George did so.”

“My dear Rose—if you think George stood up....”

After a time Rose grew a little weary of her husband’sattitude, also though she was always willing to take up armsagainst the family at Conster, she had too practical an idea ofher own and her children’s interests to remain in a state ofwar. George had made his protest—let him now be content.

But George was nursing his injury with inconceivable perseverance.Hitherto she had often had to reproach him forhis subservience to his father, for the meekness with whichhe accepted his direction and swallowed his affronts.

“If you can put up with his swearing in church, you canput up with what he said to you about Mary.”

“He has insulted me as a priest.”

“He probably doesn’t realise you are one.”

“That’s just it.”

She seemed to have given him fresh cause for brooding.He sulked and grieved, and lost interest in his parish organisations—hisSunday School and Mothers’ Union, his SewingClub and Coal Club, his Parochial Church Council—now establishedin all its glory, though without Peter’s name upon theroll, his branches of the S.P.G., the C.E.M.S., all those activitieswhich used to fill his days, which had thrilled himwith such pride when he enumerated them in his advertisementsfor a locum in the Guardian.

119He developed disquieting eccentricities, such as going intothe church to pray. Rose would not have minded this if hehad not fretted and upset himself because he never foundanyone else praying there.

“Why should they?” she asked, a little exasperated—“Theycan say their prayers just as well at home.”

“I’ve never been into Vinehall church and found it empty.”

“Oh, you’re still worrying about Gervase going to Vinehall?”

“I’m not talking about Gervase. I’m talking about peoplein general. Vinehall church is used for prayer—mine is alwaysempty except on Sundays.”

“Indeed it’s not—I’ve often seen people in it, looking at theold glass, and the carving in the South Aisle.”

“But they don’t pray.”

“Of course not. We English don’t do that sort of thing inpublic. They may at Vinehall; but you know what I think ofVinehall—it’s un-English.”

“I expect it’s what the whole of England was like beforethe Reformation.”

“George!” cried Rose—“you must be ill.”

Only a physical cause could account for such mental disintegration.She decided to send for Dr. Mount, who confirmedher diagnosis rather disconcertingly. George’s heartwas diseased—had been diseased for some time. His case wasthe exact contrast of Lady Alard’s—those qualms and stabsand suffocations which for so long both he and his wife hadinsisted were indigestion, were in reality symptoms of thedread angina.

He must be very careful not to overstrain himself in anyway. No, Dr. Mount did not think a parish like Leasan tooheavy a burden—but of course a complete rest and holidaywould do him good.

This, however, George refused to take—his new obstinacypersisted, and though the treatment prescribed by Dr. Mountdid much to improve his general condition, mental as well asphysical, he evidently still brooded over his grievances. Therewere moments when he tried to emphasise his sacerdotal dignity120by a new solemnity of manner which the family at Consterfound humorous, and the family at Leasan found irritating.At other times he was extraordinarily severe, threatening suchdiscipline as the deprivation of blankets and petticoats to oldwomen who would not come to church—the most irreproachableInnocent Partner could not have cajoled the marriageservice out of him then. He also started reading his office inchurch every day, though Rose pointed out to him that it wassheer waste of time, since nobody came to hear it.

§ 15

Social engagements of various kinds had always filled a gooddeal of George Alard’s life—he and Rose received invitationsto most of the tea-parties, tennis-parties and garden-parties ofthe neighbourhood. He had always considered it part of hisduty as a clergyman to attend these functions, just as he hadconsidered it his duty to sit on every committee formed withinten miles and to introduce a branch of every episcopally-blessedSociety into his own parish. Now with the decline of hisinterest in clubs and committees came a decline of his enthusiasmfor tennis and tea. Rose deplored it all equally——

“If you won’t go to people’s parties you can’t expect themto come to your church.”

“I can and I do.”

“But they won’t.”

“Then let them stop away. The Church’s services aren’t asocial return for hospitality received.”

“George, I wish you wouldn’t twist everything I say intosome ridiculous meaning which I never intended—and I dothink you might come with me to the Parishes this afternoon.You know they’re a sort of connection—at least everyone hopesJim won’t marry Jenny.”

“I don’t feel well enough,” said George, taking a coward’srefuge—“not even to visit such close relations,” he added withone of those stray gleams of humour which were lost on Rose.

“Well, this is the second time I’ve been out by myself this121week, and I must say.... However, if you don’t feel wellenough.... But I think you’re making a great mistake—apartfrom my feelings....”

She went out, and George was left to the solitude and peaceof his study. It was a comfortable room, looking out acrossthe green, cedared lawn to the little church like a sitting hen.The walls were lined with books, the armchairs were engulfingwells of ease—there was a big writing-table by the window, anda rich, softly-coloured carpet on the floor. Rose’s work-bagon a side-table gave one rather agreeable feminine touch tothe otherwise masculine scene. The room was typical of hundredsin the more prosperous parsonages of England, andGeorge had up till quite recently felt an extraordinarily calmand soothing glow in its contemplation. It was ridiculous tothink that a few words from his father—his father who wasalways speaking sharp, disparaging words—could have smashedall his self-satisfaction, all his pride of himself as Vicar ofLeasan, all his comfortable possession of Leasan Vicarage andLeasan Church.... But now he seemed to remember that thedawn of that dissatisfaction had been in Leasan Church itself,before his father had spoken—while he was kneeling therealone among all those empty, shining pews....

He would go out for a walk. If he stopped at home hewould only brood—it would be worse than going to theParishes. He would go over and see Dr. Mount—it wouldsave the doctor coming to the Vicarage, perhaps—there mustbe a visit about due—and they could have a chat and some tea.He liked Dr. Mount—a pleasant, happy, kind-hearted man.

The day was good for walking. The last of Autumn lay inruddy veils over the woods of Leasan and Brede Eye. Thesmell of hops and apples was not all gone from the lanes.George walked through his parish with a professional eye onthe cottages he passed. Most of the doors were shut in theafternoon stillness, but here and there a child swinging on agate would smile at him shyly as he waved a Vicarial hand,or a woman would say “Good afternoon, Sir.” The cottagesnearly all looked dilapidated and in want of paint and repair.122George had done his duty and encouraged thrift among hisparishioners, and the interiors of the cottages were many ofthem furnished with some degree of comfort, but the exteriorstructures were in bad condition owing to the poverty of theManor. He cleared his throat distressfully once or twice—hadone the right to own property when one could not affordto keep it in repair?... His philanthropic soul, bred in thecorporal works of mercy, was in conflict with his racial instinct,bred in the tradition of the Squires.

When he came to Vinehall, he found to his disappointmentthat Dr. Mount was out, and not expected to be home till latethat evening. George felt disheartened, for he had walkedthree miles in very poor condition. He would have enjoyed acup of tea.... However, there was nothing to be done for it,unless indeed he went and called on Luce. But the idea didnot appeal to him—he and the Rector of Vinehall were littlemore than acquaintances, and Luce was a shy, dull fellow whomade conversation difficult. He had better start off home atonce—he would be home in time for a late tea.

Then he remembered that the carrier’s cart would probablysoon be passing through Vinehall and Leasan on its way fromRobertsbridge station to Rye. If he went into the village hemight be able to pick it up at the Eight Bells. Unfortunatelyhe had walked the extra half-mile to the inn before he rememberedthat the cart went only on Tuesdays, Thursdaysand Saturdays, and today was Wednesday. He would haveto walk home, more tired than ever. However, as he passedthrough the village, he thought of the church, partly becausehe was tired and wanted to rest, partly because Vinehall churchalways had a perverse fascination for him—he never could passit without wanting to look in... perhaps he had a secret,shameful hope that he would find it empty.

He crossed the farmyard, wondering why Luce did not atall costs provide a more decent approach, a wonder which wasincreased when, on entering the church, he found he had admittednot only himself but a large turkey, which in the chasethat followed managed somehow to achieve more dignity than123his pursuer. After three laps round the font it finally disappearedthrough the open door, and George collapsed on achair, breathing hard, and not in the least devout.

The church had none of the swept, shiny look of Leasan,nor had it Leasan’s perfume of scrubbing and brass-polish;instead it smelt of stale incense, lamp-oil and old stones—partlya good smell and partly an exceedingly bad one. It was seatedwith rather dilapidated chairs, and at the east end was a hugewhite altar like a Christmas cake. There were two more altarsat the end of the two side aisles and one of them was furnishedwith what looked suspiciously like two pairs of kitchen candlesticks.But what upset George most of all were the images,of which, counting crucifixes, there must have been about adozen. His objections were not religious but aesthetic—it revoltedhis artistic taste to see the Christ pointing to His SacredHeart, which He carried externally under His chin, to see St.Anthony of Padua looking like a girl in a monk’s dress, tosee the Blessed Virgin with her rosary painted on her blue skirt—andhis sense of reverence and decency to see the grubbydaisy-chain with which some village child had adorned her.Luce must have bought his church furniture wholesale at athird-rate image shop....

George wished he could have stopped here, but he was boundto look further, towards the white star which hung in the eastYes... it was just as usual... a young man in workingclothes was kneeling there... and an immensely stout oldwoman in an apron was sitting not far off. Certainly thespectacle need not have inspired great devotional envy, butGeorge knew that in his own parish the young man wouldprobably have been lounging against the wall opposite theFour Oaks, while the old woman would have been having anap before her kitchen fire. Certainly neither would have beenfound inside the church.

There was a murmur of voices at the back of the south aisle,and looking round George saw one or two children squirmingin the pews, while behind a rather frivolous blue curtain showedthe top of a biretta. Luce was hearing confessions—the confessions124of children.... George stiffened—he felt scandalisedat the idea of anyone under twelve having any religious needsbeyond instruction. This squandering of the sacraments onthe young... as if they were capable of understandingthem....

He turned to go out, feeling that after all the scales haddropped on the debit side of Vinehall’s godliness, when heheard behind him a heavy tread and the flutter of a cassock.Luce had come out of his confessional.

“Why—Mr. Alard.”

George was a little shocked to hear him speak out loud, andnot in the solemn whisper he considered appropriate for church.The Rector seemed surprised to see him—did he want to speakto him about anything?

“Oh, no—I only looked in as I was passing.”

“Seen our new picture?” asked Luce.

“Which one?” The church must have contained at least adozen pictures besides the Stations of the Cross.

“In the Sacrament Chapel.”

They went down to the east end, where Luce genuflected,and George, wavering between politeness and the Bishop ofExeter’s definition of the Real Presence, made a sort of curtsey.There was a very dark oil painting behind the Altar—doubtfulas to subject, but the only thing in the church, George toldhimself, which had any pretence to artistic value.

“Mrs. Hurst gave us that,” said Luce—“it used to hang inher dining-room, but considering the subject she thought itbetter for it to be here.”

He had dropped his voice to a whisper—George thought itmust be out of respect to the Tabernacle, but the next minutewas enlightened.

“She’s asleep,” he said, pointing to the stout old woman.

“Oh,” said George.

“Poor old soul,” said Luce—“I hope the chair won’t giveway—they sometimes do.”

He genuflected again, and this time the decision went infavour of the Bishop of Exeter, and George bowed as to an125empty throne. On their way out his stick caught in the daisy-chainwhich the Mother of God was wearing, and pulled it off.

§ 16

He and Luce walked out of the church together and throughthe farmyard without speaking a word. The silence oppressedGeorge and he made a remark about the weather.

“Oh, yes, I expect it will,” said Luce vaguely.

He was a tall, white-faced, red-headed young man, whospoke with a slight stutter, and altogether, in his seedy cassockwhich the unkind sun showed less black than green, seemed toGeorge an uninspiring figure, whose power it was difficult toaccount for. How was it that Luce could make his church ahouse of prayer and George could not? How was it thatpeople thought and talked of Luce as a priest, consulted himin the affairs of their souls and resorted to him for the sacraments—whereasthey thought of George only as a parson, paidhim subscriptions and asked him to tea?

He was still wondering when they came to the cottage wherethe Rector lived—instead of in the twenty-five-roomed Rectorywhich the Parish provided, with an endowment of a hundredand fifty pounds a year. They paused awkwardly at the door,and the awkwardness was increased rather than diminished byLuce inviting him to come in. George’s first impulse was todecline—he felt he would rather not have any more of theother’s constraining company—but the next minute he realisedthat he now had the chance of a rest and tea without the preliminaryendurance of a long and dusty walk. So he followedhim in at the door, which opened disconcertingly into thekitchen, and through the kitchen into the little study-living-roombeyond it.

It was not at all like George’s study at Leasan—the floorhad many more books on it than the wall, the little leadedwindow looked out into a kitchen garden, and the two armchairsboth appeared so doubtful as possible supports forGeorge’s substantial figure that he preferred, in spite of his126fatigue, to sit down on the kitchen chair that stood by thewriting-table. He realised for the first time what he hadalways known—that Luce was desperately poor, having nothingbut what he could get out of the living. Probably the wholedid not amount to two hundred pounds... and with post-warprices... George decided to double his subscription to theDiocesan Fund.

Meantime he accepted a cigarette which was only just nota Woodbine, and tried to look as if he saw nothing extraordinaryin the poverty-stricken room. He thought it would beonly charitable to put the other at his ease.

“Convenient little place you’ve got here,” he remarked—“betterfor a single man than that barrack of a Rectory.”

“Oh, I could never have lived in the Rectory. I wonder youmanage to live in yours.”

George muttered something indistinct about private means.

“It’s difficult enough to live here,” continued Luce—“Icouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for what people give me.”

“Are your parishioners generous?”

“I think they are, considering they’re mostly poor people.The Pannells across the road often send me over some of theirSunday dinner in a covered dish.”

George was speechless.

“And I once found a hamper in the road outside the gate.But after I’d thanked God and eaten half a fowl and drunk abottle of claret, I found it had dropped off the carrier’s cartand there was no end of a fuss.”

“Er—er—hum.”

There was a knock at the outer door, and before Luce couldsay “Come in,” the door of the study opened and a small boystuck his head in.

“Please, Father, could you lend us your ink?—Mother wantsto write a letter.”

“Oh, certainly, Tom—take it—there it is; but don’t forget tobring it back.”

The small boy said nothing, but snatched his booty and wentout.

127“Are your people—er—responsive?” asked George.

“Responsive to what?”

“Well—er—to you.”

“Oh, not at all.”

“Then how do you get them to come to church?”

“I don’t—Our Lord does.”

George coughed.

“They come to church because they know they’ll always findHim there—in spite of me.”

George could not keep back the remark that Reservation wastheologically indefensible.

“Is it?” Luce did not seem much interested. “But I don’tkeep the Blessed Sacrament in my church for purposes oftheology, but for practical use. Suppose you were to die tonight—wherewould you get your last Communion from if notfrom my tabernacle?”

George winced.

“This is the only church in the rural deanery where theBlessed Sacrament is reserved and the holy oils are kept. Thenumber of people who die without the sacraments must beappalling.”

George had never been appalled by it.

“But why do you reserve publicly?” he asked—“that’s notprimitive or catholic—to reserve for purposes of worship.”

“I don’t reserve for purposes of worship—I reserve forCommunion. But I can’t prevent people from worshippingOur Lord. Nobody could—not all the Deans of all thecathedrals in England. Oh, I know you think my churchdreadful—everybody does. Those statues... well, I ownthey’re hideous. But so are all the best parlours in Vinehall.And I want the people to feel that the church is their BestParlour—which they’ll never do if I decorate it in Anglicangood taste, supposing always I could afford to do so. I wantthem to feel at home.”

“Do you find all this helps to make them regular communicants?”

“Not as I’d like, of course; but we’re only beginning. Most128of them come once a month—though a few come every week.I’ve only one daily communicant—a boy who works on EllenwhorneFarm and comes here every evening to cook my supperand have it with me.”

George was beginning to feel uncomfortable in this strangeatmosphere—also he was most horribly wanting his tea. Possibly,as Luce had supper instead of dinner, he took tea laterthan usual.

“Of course,” continued the Rector, “some people in thisplace don’t like our ways, and don’t come to church here at all.Some of my parishioners go to you, just as some of yourscome to me.”

“You mean my brother Gervase?”

“I wasn’t thinking of him particularly, but he certainly doescome.”

“The Mounts brought him.”

“In the first instance, I believe. I hope you don’t feel hurtat his coming here—but he told me he hadn’t been to churchfor over a year, so I thought....”

Not a sign of triumph, not a sign of shame—and not a signof tea. It suddenly struck George as a hitherto undreamed-ofpossibility that Luce did not take tea. His whole life seemedso different from anything George had known that it was quiteconceivable that he did not. Anyhow the Vicar of Leasanmust be going—the long shadows of some poplars lay over thegarden and were darkening the little room into an early twilight.He rose to depart.

“Well, I must be off, I suppose. Glad to have had a chat.Come and preach for me one day,” he added rashly.

“With pleasure—but I warn you, I’m simply hopeless as apreacher.”

“Oh, never mind, never mind,” said George—“all the better—Imean my people will enjoy the change—at least I mean——”

He grabbed desperately at his hat, and followed his hostthrough the kitchen to the cottage door.

“Here’s Noakes coming up the street to cook supper,” saidLuce—“I didn’t know it was so late.”

129George stared rather hard at the Daily Communicant—havingnever to his knowledge seen such a thing. He wassurprised and a little disappointed to find only a heavy, fair-hairedyoung lout, whose face was the face of the district—likea freckled moon.

“I’m a bit early tonight, Father; but Maaster sent me over toDixter wud their roots, and he said it wun’t worth me comingback and I’d better go straight on here. I thought maybe Icould paint up the shed while the stuff’s boiling.”

“That’s a good idea—thanks, Noaky.”

“Father, there’s a couple of thrushes nesting again by theMocksteeple. It’s the first time I’ve seen them nest in the fall.”

“It’s the warm weather we’ve been having.”

“Surelye, but I’m sorry for them when it turns cold....Father, have you heard?—the Rangers beat the HastingsUnited by four goals to one....”

§ 17

When George had walked out of the village he felt better—heno longer breathed that choking atmosphere of a differentworld, in which lived daily communicants, devout children, andclergymen who hadn’t always enough to eat. It was not, ofcourse, the first time that he had seen poverty among the clergy,but it was the first time he had not seen it decently covered up.Luce seemed totally unashamed of his... had not made theslightest effort to conceal it... his cottage was, except forthe books, just the cottage of a working-man; indeed it was notso comfortable as the homes of many working men.

George began to wonder exactly how much difference itwould have made if he had been poor instead of well-to-do—ifhe had been too poor to live in his comfortable vicarage,too poor to decorate his church in “Anglican good taste”...not that he wouldn’t rather have left it bare than decorate itlike Vinehall... what nonsense Luce had talked to justifyhimself! The church wasn’t the village’s Best Parlour...or was it?...

130He felt quite tired when he reached Leasan, and Rose scoldedhim—“You’d much better have come with me to the Parishes.”...However, it was good to sit at his dinner-table and eatgood food off good china, and drink his water out of eighteenth-centuryglass that he had picked up in Ashford.... Luce wasnot a total abstainer, judging by that story of the claret....It is true that the creaking tread of the Raw Girl and the wayshe breathed down his neck when she handed the vegetablesmade him think less disparagingly of the domestic offices ofthe Daily Communicant; but somehow the Raw Girl fitted intothe scheme of things—it was only fitting that local aspirants for“service” should be trained at the Vicarage—whereas farm-boyswho came in to cook your supper and then sat down andate it with you... the idea was only a little less disturbingthan the idea of farm-boys coming daily to the altar.... Hewondered if Rose would say it was un-English.

“Oh, by the way, George”—Rose really was saying—“amessage came down from Conster while you were out, askingyou to go up there after dinner tonight.”

George’s illness had brought about a kind of artificial peacebetween the Manor and the Vicarage.

“What is it now? Have you been invited too?”

“No—I think Sir John wants to speak to you about something.”

“Whatever can it be?—Mary’s in Switzerland. It can’t beanything to do with her again.”

“No—I believe it’s something to do with Gervase. I sawDoris this evening and she tells me Sir John has found outthat Gervase goes to confession.”

“Does he?—I didn’t know he’d got as far as that.”

“Yes—he goes to Mr. Luce. Mrs. Wade saw him waitinghis turn last Saturday when she was in Vinehall church takingrubbings of the Oxenbridge brass. I suppose she must havementioned it when she went to tea at Conster yesterday.”

“And my father wants me to interfere?”

“Of course—you’re a clergyman.”

“Well, I’m not going to.”

131“George, don’t talk such nonsense. Why, you’ve been complainingabout your father’s disrespect for your priesthood, andnow when he’s showing you that he does respect it——”

“He’s showing it no respect if he thinks I’d interfere in acase like this.”

“But surely you’ve a right—Gervase is your brother and hedoesn’t ever come to your church.”

“I think it would be unwise for me to be my brother’sconfessor.”

“It would be ridiculous. Whoever thought of such a thing?”

“Then why shouldn’t he go to Luce?—and as for my church,he hasn’t been to any church for a year, so if Luce can get himto go to his... or rather if Our Lord can get him to go toLuce’s church....”

“I do hope it won’t rain tomorrow, as I’d thought of goinginto Hastings by the ’bus.”

Rose had abrupt ways of changing the conversation whenshe thought it was becoming indelicate.

§ 18

George went up to Conster after all. Rose finally persuadedhim, and pushed him into his overcoat. She was anxious thathe should not give fresh offence at the Manor; also she was inher own way jealous for his priestly honour and eager that heshould vindicate it by exercising its functions when they werewanted instead of when they were not.

There was no family council assembled over Gervase asthere had been over Mary. Only his father and mother werein the drawing-room when George arrived. Gervase was aminor in the Alard household, and religion a minor matter inthe Alard world—no questions of money or marriage, thosetwo arch-concerns of human life, were involved. It was merelya case of stopping a silly boy making a fool of himself andhis family by going ways which were not the ways of squires.Not that Sir John did not think himself quite capable ofstopping Gervase without any help from George, but neither132had he doubted his capacity to deal with Mary without summoninga family council. It was merely the Alard traditionthat the head should act through the members, that his despotismshould be as it were mediated, showing thus his doublepower both over the rebel and the forces he employed for hissubjection.

“Here you are, George—I was beginning to wonder if Rosehad forgotten to give you my message. I want you to talk tothat ass Gervase. It appears that he’s gone and taken toreligion, on the top of a dirty trade and my eldest son’s ex-fiancée.”

“And you want me to talk him out of it?” George wasoccasionally sarcastic when tired.

“Not out of religion, of course. Could hardly mean that.But there’s religion and religion. There’s yours and there’sthat fellow Luce’s.”

“Yes,” said George, “there’s mine and there’s Luce’s.”

“Well, yours is all right—go to church on Sundays—veryright and proper in your own parish—set a good example andall that. But when it comes to letting religion interfere withyour private life, then I say it’s time it was stopped. I’venothing against Luce personally——”

“Oh, I think he’s a perfectly dreadful man,” broke in LadyAlard—“he came to tea once, and talked about God—in thedrawing-room!”

“My dear, I think this is a subject which would be all thebetter without your interference.”

“Well, if a mother hasn’t a right to interfere in the questionof her child’s religion....”

“You did your bit when you taught him to say his prayers—Idaresay that was what started all the mischief.”

“John, if you’re going to talk to me like this I shall leavethe room.”

“I believe I’ve already suggested such a course once or twicethis evening.”

Lady Alard rose with dignity and trailed to the door.

“I’m sure I hope you’ll be able to manage him,” she said133bitterly to George as she went out, “but as far as I’m concernedI’d much rather you argued him out of his infatuationfor Stella Mount.”

“There is always someone in my family in love with StellaMount,” said Sir John, “and it’s better that it should beGervase than Peter or George, who are closer to the title, and,of course, let me hasten to add, married men. But this is thefirst case of religious mania we’ve ever had in the house—thereforeI’d rather George concentrated on that. Will youask Mr. Gervase to come here?”—to the servant who answeredhis ring.

“Mr. Gervase is in the garage, sir.”

“Send him along.”

Gervase had been cleaning the Ford lorry, having been givento understand that his self-will and eccentricity with regard toAshford were to devolve no extra duties on the chauffeur.His appearance, therefore, when he entered the drawing-room,was deplorable. He wore a dirty suit of overalls, his handswere black with oil and grime, and his hair was hanging intohis eyes.

“How dare you come in like that, sir?” shouted Sir John.

“I’m sorry, sir—I thought you wanted me in a hurry.”

“So I do—but I didn’t know you were looking like a sweep.Why can’t you behave like other people after dinner?”

“I had to clean the car, sir. But I’ll go and wash.”

“No, stay where you are—George wants to speak to you.”

George did not look as if he did.

“It’s about this new folly of yours,” continued Sir John.“George was quite horrified when I told him you’d been toconfession.”

“Oh, come, not ‘horrified’,” said George uneasily—“it wasonly the circumstances.... Thought you might have stuck toyour parish church.”

“And you’d have heard his confession!” sneered Sir John.

“Well, sir, the Prayer Book is pretty outspoken in its commissionto the priest to absolve——”

“But you’ve never heard a confession in your life.”

134This was true, and for the first time George was stung by it.He suddenly felt his anger rising against Luce, who had enjoyedto the full those sacerdotal privileges which George nowsaw he had missed. His anger gave him enough heat to takeup the argument.

“I’m not concerned to find out how Luce could bring himselfto influence you when you have a brother in orders, but I’msurprised you shouldn’t have seen the disloyalty of your conduct.Here you are forsaking your parish church, which Imay say is also your family church, and traipsing across thecountry to a place where they have services exciting enoughto suit you.”

“I’m sorry, George. I know that if I’d behaved properlyI’d have asked your advice about all this. But you see I wasthe heathen in his blindness, and if it hadn’t been for FatherLuce I’d be that still.”

“You’re telling me I’ve neglected you?”

“Not at all—no one could have gone for me harder than youdid. But, frankly, if I’d seen nothing more of religion thanwhat I saw at your church I don’t think I’d ever have botheredabout it much.”

“Not spectacular enough for you, eh?”

“I knew you’d say something like that.”

“Well, isn’t it true?”

“No.”

“Then may I ask in what way the religion of Vinehall is sosuperior to the religion of Leasan?”

“Just because it isn’t the religion of Vinehall—it’s the religionof the whole world. It’s a religion for everybody, notjust for Englishmen. When I was at school I thought religionwas simply a kind of gentlemanly aid to a decent life. Aftera time you find out that sort of life can be lived just as easilywithout religion—that good form and good manners and goodnature will pull the thing through without any help fromprayers and sermons. But when I saw Catholic ChristianityI saw that it pointed to a life which simply couldn’t be livedwithout its help—that it wasn’t just an aid to good behaviour135but something which demanded your whole life, not only inthe teeth of what one calls evil, but in the teeth of that verydecency and good form and good nature which are the religionof most Englishmen.”

“In other words and more briefly,” said Sir John, “you fellin love with a pretty girl.”

Gervase’s face darkened with a painful flush, and Georgefelt sorry for him.

“I don’t deny,” he said rather haltingly, “that, if it hadn’tbeen for Stella I should never have gone to Vinehall church.But I assure you the thing isn’t resting on that now. I’venothing to gain from Stella by pleasing her. We’re not onthat footing at all. She never tried to persuade me, either. It’ssimply that after I’d seen only a little of the Catholic faith Irealised that it was what I’d always unconsciously believed... in my heart.... It was my childhood’s faith—all thethings I’d ‘loved long since and lost awhile.’”

“But don’t you see,” said George, suddenly finding his feetin the argument, “that you’ve just put your finger on the weakspot of the whole thing? This ‘Catholic faith’ as you call itwas unconsciously your faith as a child—well, now you oughtto go on and leave all that behind you. ‘When I became a manI put away childish things.’”

“And ‘whosoever will not receive the kingdom of heaven asa little child shall in no wise enter therein.’ It’s no goodquoting texts at me, George—we might go on for ever like that.What I mean is that I’ve found what I’ve always been lookingfor, and it’s made Our Lord real to me, as He’s never beensince I was a child—and now the whole of life seems real ina way it didn’t before—I don’t know how to explain, but itdoes. And it wasn’t only the romantic side of things whichattracted me—it was the hard side too. In fact the hardnessimpressed me almost before I saw all the beauty and joy andromance. It was when we were having all that argument aboutMary’s divorce.... I saw then that the Catholic Churchwasn’t afraid of a Hard Saying. I thought, ‘Here’s a religionwhich wouldn’t be afraid to ask anything of me—whether it136was to shut myself up for life in a monastery or simply tomake a fool of myself.’”

“Well, on the whole, I’m glad you contented yourself withthe latter,” said Sir John.

George said—“I think it’s a pity Gervase didn’t go toOxford.”

“Whether he’s been to Oxford or not, he’s at least supposedto be a gentleman. He may try to delude himself by drivingoff every morning in a motor lorry, but he does in fact belongto an old and honourable house, and as head of that house Iobject to his abandoning his family’s religion.”

“I never had my family’s religion, Sir—I turned to Catholicismfrom no religion at all. I daresay it’s more respectableto have no religion than the Catholic religion, but I don’t mindabout being respectable—in fact, I’d rather not.”

“You’re absorbing your new principles pretty fast—alreadyyou seem to have forgotten all family ties and obligations.”

“I can’t see that my family has any right to settle my religionfor me—at least I’m Protestant enough to believe I must findmy own salvation, and not expect my family to pass it on tome. I think this family wants to do too much.”

“What d’you mean, Sir?”

“It wants to settle all the private affairs of its members.There’s Peter—you wouldn’t let him marry Stella. There’sMary, you wouldn’t let her walk out by the clean gate——”

“Hold your tongue! Who are you to discuss Peter’s affairswith me? And as for Mary—considering your disgracefulshare in the business....”

“All right, Sir. I’m only trying to point out that the familyis much more autocratic than the Church.”

“I thought you said that what first attracted you to theChurch was the demands it made on you. George!”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Am I conducting this argument or are you?”

“You seem better able to do it than I, Sir.”

“Well, what did I send you to Oxford for, and to a theological137college for, and put you into this living for, if you can’targue a schoolboy out of the Catholic faith?”

“I’ve pointed out to Gervase, Sir, that the so-called Catholicmovement is not the soundest intellectually, and that I don’t seewhy he should walk three miles to Vinehall on Sundays whenhe has everything necessary to salvation at his parish church.I can’t go any further than that.”

“How d’you mean?”

“I can’t reason him out of his faith—why should I? On thecontrary, I’m very glad he’s found it. I don’t agree with allhe believes—I think some of it is extravagant—but I see atleast he’s got a religion which will make him happy and keephim straight, and really there’s no cause for me to interferewith it.”

George was purple.

“You’re a fool!” cried Sir John—“you’re a much biggerfool than Gervase, because at least he goes the whole hog,while you as usual are sitting on the fence. It’s just the samenow as when I asked you to speak to Mary. If you’d go allthe way I’d respect you, or if you’d go none of the way I’drespect you, but you go half way.... Gervase can go all theway to the Pope or to the devil, whichever he pleases—I don’tcare now—he can’t be as big a fool as you.”

He turned and walked out of the room, banging the doorfuriously behind him. The brothers were left alone together.Gervase heaved a sigh of relief.

“Come along with me to the garage,” he said to George,“and help me take the Ford’s carburetor down.”

“No, thanks,” said George dully—“I’m going home.”

§ 19

He had failed again. As he walked through the thick yellowlight of the Hunter’s Moon to Leasan, he saw himself asa curiously feeble and ineffective thing. It was not only thathe had failed to persuade his brother by convincing arguments,138or that he had failed once more to inspire his father with anysort of respect for his office, but he had somehow failed inregard to his own soul, and all his other failures were merelybranches of that most bitter root.

He had been unable to convince Gervase because he was notconvinced himself—he had been unable to inspire his fatherbecause he was not inspired himself. All his life he had stoodfor moderation, toleration, broad-mindedness... and here hewas, so moderate that no one would believe him, so tolerantthat no one would respect him, so broad-minded that the waterof life lay as it were stagnant in a wide and shallow pondinstead of rushing powerfully between the rocky, narrow banksof a single heart....

He found Rose waiting for him in the hall.

“How late you are! I’ve shut up. They must have keptyou an awful time.”

“I’ve been rather slow coming home.”

“Tired?”

“I am a bit.”

“How did you get on? I expect Gervase was cheeky.”

“Only a little.”

“Have you talked him round?”

“I can’t say that I have. And I don’t know that I want to.”

“George!”

Rose had put out the hall lamp, and her voice sounded hoarseand ghostly in the darkness.

“Well, the boy’s got some sort of religion at last after beinga heathen for years.”

“I’m not sure that he wouldn’t be better as a heathen thanbelieving the silly, extravagant things he does. I don’t supposefor a minute it’s gone really deep.”

“Why not?”

“The sort of thing couldn’t. What he wants is a sober,sensible, practical religion——”

“Soup?”

“George!”

“Well, that’s what Mary called it. And when I see that the139boy has found adventure, discipline and joy in faith, am I totake it away and offer him soup?”

“George, I’m really shocked to hear you talk like that.Please turn down the landing light—I can’t reach it.”

“Religion is romance,” said George’s voice in the thickdarkness of the house—“and I’ve been twelve years trying toturn it into soup....”

§ 20

Rose made up her mind that her husband must be ill, thereforeshe forebore further scolding or argument, and hurriedhim into bed with a cup of malted milk.

“You’ve done too much,” she said severely—“you said youdidn’t feel well enough to come with me to the Parishes, andthen you went tramping off to Vinehall. What can you expectwhen you’re so silly? Now drink this and go to sleep.”

George went to sleep. But in the middle of the night heawoke. All the separate things of life, all the differences oftime and space, seemed to have run together in one sharpmoment. He was not in the bed, he was not in the room...the room seemed to be in him, for he saw every detail of itstrim mediocrity... and there lay George Alard on the bedbeside a sleeping Rose... but he was George Alard rightenough, for George Alard’s pain was his, that queer constrictingpain which was part of the functions of his body, of everybreath he drew and every beat of his heart... he was lyingin bed... gasping, suffering, dying... this was what itmeant to die.... Rose! Rose!

Rose bent over her husband; her big plaits swung in his face.

“What’s the matter, George?—are you ill?”

“Are you ill?” she repeated.

Then she groped for a match, and as soon as she saw hisface, jumped out of bed.

No amount of bell-ringing would wake the Raw Girls, soRose leaped upstairs to their attic, and beat on the door.

“Annie! Mabel! Get up and dress quickly, and go to140Conster Manor and telephone for Dr. Mount. Your master’sill.”

Sundry stampings announced the beginning of Annie’s andMabel’s toilet, and Rose ran downstairs to her husband. Shelit the lamp and propped him up in bed so that he couldbreathe more easily, thrusting her own pillows under his neck.

“Poor old man!—Are you better?” Her voice had a newtender quality—she drew her hand caressingly under his chin—“Poorold man!—I’ve sent for Dr. Mount.”

“Send for Luce.”

It was the first time he had spoken, and the words jerkedout of him drily, without expression.

“All right, all right—but we want the doctor first. There,the girls are ready—hurry up, both of you, as fast as you can,and ask the butler, or whoever lets you in, to ’phone. It’sVinehall 21—but they’re sure to know.”

She went back into the room and sat down again besideGeorge, taking his hand. He looked dreadfully ill, his facewas blue and he struggled for breath. Rose was not the sortof woman who could sit still for long—in a moment or twoshe sprang to her feet, and went to the medicine cupboard.

“I believe some brandy would do you good—it’s allowed incase of illness, you know.”

George did not seem to care whether it was allowed or not.Rose gave him a few drops, and he seemed better. Shesmoothed his pillows and wiped the sweat off his face.

She had hardly sat down again when the hall door openedand there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. It mustbe the girls coming back—Rose suddenly knew that she wasdesperately glad even of their company. She went to thedoor, and looked out on the landing. The light that streamedover her shoulder from the bedroom showed her the scared,tousled faces of Gervase and Jenny.

“What’s up, Rose?—Is he very bad?”

“I’m afraid so. Have you ’phoned Dr. Mount?”

“Yes—he’s coming along at once. We thought perhaps wecould do something?”

141“I don’t know what there is to do. I’ve given him somebrandy. Come in.”

They followed her into the room and stood at the foot ofthe bed. Jenny, who had learned First Aid during the war,suggested propping him higher with a chair behind the pillows.She and Gervase looked dishevelled and half asleep in theirpyjamas and great-coats. Rose suddenly realised that she wasnot wearing a dressing-gown—she tore it off the foot of thebed and wrapped it round her. For the first time in her lifeshe felt scared, cold and helpless. She bent over George andlaid her hand on his, which were clutched together on hisbreast.

His eyes were wide open, staring over her shoulder atGervase.

“Luce...” he said with difficulty—“Luce....”

“All right,” said Gervase—“I’ll fetch him.”

“Wouldn’t you rather have Canon Potter, dear?—He couldcome in his car.”

“No—Luce... the only church.... Sacrament....”

“Don’t you worry—I’ll get him. I’ll go in the Ford.”

Gervase was out of the room, leaving Jenny in uneasyattendance. A few minutes later Doris arrived. She hadwanted to come with the others, but had felt unable to leaveher room without a toilet. She alone of the party was dressed—evento her boots.

“How is he, Rose?”

“He’s better now, but I wish Dr. Mount would come.”

“Do you think he’ll die?” asked Doris in a penetratingwhisper—“ought I to have woken up Father and Mother?”

“No—of course not. Don’t talk nonsense.”

“I met Gervase on his way to fetch Mr. Luce.”

“That’s only because George wanted to see him—verynatural to want to see a brother clergyman when you’re ill.But it’s only a slight attack—he’s much better already.”

She made expressive faces at Doris while she spoke.

“There’s Dr. Mount!” cried Jenny.

A car sounded in the Vicarage drive and a few moments142later the doctor was in the room. His examination of Georgewas brief. He took out some capsules.

“What are you going to do?” asked Rose.

“Give him a whiff of amyl nitrate.”

“It’s not serious?... he’s not going to....”

“Ought we to fetch Father and Mother?” choked Doris.

“I don’t suppose Lady Alard would be able to come at thishour—but I think you might fetch Sir John.”

Rose suddenly began to cry. Then the sight of her owntears frightened her, and she was as suddenly still.

“I’ll go,” said Jenny.

“No—you’d better let me go,” said Doris—“I’ve got myboots on.”

“Where’s Gervase?” asked Dr. Mount.

“He’s gone to fetch Mr. Luce from Vinehall—George askedfor him.”

“How did he go? Has he been gone long?”

“He went in his car—he ought to be back quite soon. Oh,doctor, do you think it’s urgent... I mean... he seemseasier now.”

Dr. Mount did not speak—he bent over George, who laymotionless and exhausted, but seemingly at peace.

“Is he conscious?” asked Rose.

“Perfectly, I should say. But don’t let him speak.”

With a queer abandonment, unlike herself, Rose climbed onthe bed, curling herself up beside George and holding his hand.The minutes ticked by. Jenny, feeling awkward and self-conscious,sat in the basket armchair by the fireplace. Dr.Mount moved quietly about the room—as in a dream Rosewatched him set two lighted candles on the little table by thebed. There was absolute silence, broken only by the tickingof the clock. Rose began to feel herself again—the attack wasover—George would be all right—it was a pity that Gervasehad gone for Mr. Luce. She began to feel herself ridiculous,curled up with George in the bed... she had better get outbefore Sir John came and sneered at her very useful flanneldressing-gown... then suddenly, as she looked down on it,143George’s face changed—once more the look of anguish convulsedit, and he started up in bed, clutching his side andfighting for his breath.

It seemed an age, though it was really only a few minutes,that the fight lasted. Rose had no time to be afraid or evenpitiful, for Dr. Mount apparently could do nothing withouther—as she rather proudly remembered afterwards, hewouldn’t let Jenny help at all, but turned to Rose for everything.She had just begun to think how horrible the roomsmelt with drugs and brandy, when there was a sound of wheelsbelow in the drive.

“That’s Gervase,” said Jenny.

“Or perhaps it’s Sir John....”

But it was Gervase—the next minute he came into the room.

“I’ve brought him,” he said—“is everything ready?”

“Yes, quite ready,” said Dr. Mount.

Then Rose saw standing behind Gervase outside the door atall stooping figure in a black cloak, under which its arms werefolded over something that it carried on its breast.

The Lord had come suddenly to Leasan Parsonage.

Immediately panic seized her, a panic which became strangelyfused with anger. She sprang forward and would have shutthe door.

“Don’t come in—you’re frightening him—he mustn’t bedisturbed.... Oh, he’d be better, if you’d only let himalone....”

She felt someone take her arm and gently pull her aside—thenext moment she was unaccountably on her knees, andcrying as if her heart would break. She saw that the intruderno longer stood framed in the doorway—he was beside the bed,bending over George, his shadow thrown monstrous on theceiling by the candle-light.... What was he saying?...

“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under myroof....”

145

PART III
FOURHOUSES

147

§ 1

George Alard’s death affected his brother Peter out of allproportion to his life. While George was alive, Peter hadlooked upon him rather impatiently as a nuisance and a humbug—anuisance because of his attempts to thrust parochialhonours on his unwilling brother, a humbug because religionwas so altogether remote from Peter’s imagination that hecould not credit the sincerity of any man (he was not so sureabout women) who believed in it. But now that George wasdead he realised that, in spite of his drawbacks, he had beena link in the Alard chain, and that link now was broken. IfPeter now died childless, his heir would be Gervase—Gervasewith his contempt of the Alard traditions and ungentlemanlyattitude towards life. Gervase was capable of selling the wholeplace. It would be nothing to him if Sir Gervase Alard livedin a villa at Hastings or a flat at West Kensington, or a small-holdingat his own park gates, whatever was the fancy of themoment—no, he had forgotten—it was to be a garage—“SirGervase Alard. Cars for hire. Taxies. Station Work.”

These considerations made him unexpectedly tender towardshis sister-in-law Rose when she moved out of Leasan Parsonageinto a small house she had taken in the village. Rosecould not bear the thought of being cut off from Alard, ofbeing shut out of its general councils, of being deprived of itscomfortable hospitality half as daughter, half as guest. Alsoshe saw the advantages of the great house for her children,the little girls. Her comparative poverty—for George had not148left her much—made it all the more necessary that she shouldprop herself against Conster. Living there under its wing, shewould have a far better position than if she set up her independencein some new place where she would be only a clergyman’swidow left rather badly off.

Peter admired Rose for these tactics. She would cling toAlard, even in the certainty of being perpetually meddled withand snubbed. He lent her his car to take her and her moreintimate belongings to the new house, promised her the loanof it whenever she wanted, and gave her a general invitationto Starvecrow, rather to Vera’s disquiet. He had hated Rosewhile his brother was alive—he had looked upon her as a busybodyand an upstart—but now he loved her for her loyalty,self-interested though it was, and was sorry that she had forever lost her chance of becoming Lady Alard.

He made one or two efforts to impress Gervase with a senseof his responsibility as heir-apparent, but was signally unsuccessful.

“My dear old chap,” said his irreverent brother—“you’llprobably have six children, all boys, so it’s cruel to raise myhopes, which are bound to be dashed before long.”

Peter looked gloomy. Gervase had hit him on a tender,anxious spot. He had now been married more than a year,and there was no sign of his hopes being fulfilled. He toldhimself he was an impatient fool—Jewish women were proverbiallymothers of strong sons. But the very urgency of hislonging made him mistrust its fulfilment—Vera was civilisedout of race—she ran too much to brains. She had, to hissmothered consternation, produced a small volume of poemsand essays, which she had had typed and sent expectantly toa publisher. Peter was not used to women doing this sort ofthing, and it alarmed him. If they did it, he could not conceivehow they could also do the more ordinary and usefulthings that were expected of them.

His father laughed at him.

“Peter—you’re a yokel. Your conception of women is ona level with Elias’s and Lambard’s.”

149“No, it isn’t, Sir—that’s just what’s the matter. I can’t feelcocksure about things most men feel cocksure about. That’swhy I wish you’d realise that there’s every chance of Gervasecoming into the property——”

“My dear Peter, you are the heir.”

“Yes, Sir. But if I don’t leave a son to come after me....”

“Well, I refuse to bother about what may happen fortyyears after I’m dead. If you live to my age—and there’s noreason you shouldn’t, as you’re a healthy man—it’ll be time tothink about an heir. Gervase may be dead before that.”

“He’s almost young enough to be my son.”

“But what in God’s name do you want me to do with him?Am I to start already preparing him for his duties as SirGervase Alard?”

“You might keep a tighter hand on him, Sir.”

“Damn it all! Are you going to teach me how to bring upmy own son?”

“No, Sir. But what I feel is that you’re not bringing himup as you brought up George and me and poor Hugh—you’reletting him go his own way. You don’t bother about himbecause you don’t think he’s a chance of coming into theproperty. And two of the three of us have got out of hisway since he was sixteen.... He’s precious near it now.And yet you let him have his head over that engineeringbusiness, and now you’ve given way about his religion.”

“The engineering business was settled long ago, and hassaved us a lot of money—more than paid for that fool Mary’sfling. What we’ve spent on the roundabouts we’ve saved onthe swings all right. As for the religion—he’ll grow out ofthat all the quicker for my leaving him alone. I got poorGeorge to talk to him, but that didn’t do any good, so I’vedecided to let him sicken himself, which he’s bound to dosooner or later the way he goes at it.”

“The fact is, Sir—you’ve never looked upon Gervase as theheir, and you can’t do so now, though he virtually is the heir.”

“Indeed he isn’t. The heir is master Peter John Alard,whose christening mug I’m going to buy next Christmas”—and150Sir John made one or two other remarks in his coarseVictorian fashion.

Peter knew he was a fool to be thinking about his heir.His father, though an old man, was still hale—his gout onlyserved to show what a fighter he was; and he himself was aman in the prime of life, healthy and sound. Was it that thewar had undermined his sense of security?—He caught uneasyglimpses of another reason, hidden deeper... a vague sensethat it would be awful to have sacrificed so much for Alardand Starvecrow, and find his sacrifice in vain—to have givenup Stella Mount (who would certainly not have given him abook instead of a baby) only that his brother Gervase mightsome day degrade Alard, sell Starvecrow and (worst of all)marry Stella.

§ 2

For in his heart Peter too expected Gervase to marry Stella.He knew there was a most unsuitable difference in their ages,but it weighed little against his expectation. He expectedGervase to marry Stella for the same reason that he expectedto die without leaving an heir—because he feared it. Besides,his family talked continually of the possibility, and here againshowed that obtuseness in the matter of Gervase that he deplored.They had no objection to his marrying Stella Mount,because he was the younger son, and it wasn’t imperative forhim to marry money, as it had been for Peter. Anotherreason for Peter’s expectation was perhaps that he could notunderstand a man being very much in Stella’s society and notwanting to marry her. She was pretty, gentle, capable, comfortable,and oh! so sweet to love—she would make an excellentwife, even to a man many years younger than herself;she would be a mother to him as well as to his children.

This did not mean that Peter was dissatisfied with Vera.His passion for her had not cooled at the end of a year. Shewas still lovely and desirable. But he now realised definitelythat she did not speak his language or think his thoughts—the151book of poems was a proof of it, if he had required other proofthan her attitude towards Starvecrow. Vera was all rightabout the family—she respected Alard—but she was remarkablyout of tune with the farm. She could not understand theyear-in-year-out delight it was to him. She had even suggestedthat they should take a house in London for the winter—andmiss the ploughing of the clays, the spring sowings, and theearly lambing! “The country’s so dreary in winter,” she hadsaid.

This had frightened Peter—he found it difficult to adjusthimself to such an outlook... it was like the first morningwhen he had found she meant always to have breakfast inbed.... Stella would never have suggested that he should missthe principal feasts of the farmer’s year.... But Stella hadnot Vera’s beauty or power or brilliance—nor had she (tospeak crudely) Vera’s money, and if he had married herStarvecrow would probably now have been in the auctionmarket.

Besides, though loyal to Starvecrow, Stella had always beenflippant and profane on the subject of the family, and in thisrespect Vera was all that Peter could wish. She was evidentlyproud of her connection with Alard—she kept as closeunder its wing as Rose, and for more disinterested reasons.She had her race’s natural admiration for an ancient familyand a noble estate, she felt honoured by her alliance and herprivileges—she would make a splendid Lady Alard of ConsterManor, though a little unsatisfactory as Mrs. Peter Alard ofStarvecrow Farm.

As part of her lien with Alard, Vera had become closefriends with Jenny. It was she who told Peter that Jenny hadbroken off her engagement to Jim Parish.

“I didn’t know she was engaged to him.”

“Oh, Peter, they’ve been engaged more than three years.”

“Well, I never knew anything about it.”

“You must have—you all did, though you chose to ignore it.”

“I always thought it was just an understanding.”

152“That’s the same thing.”

“Indeed it isn’t!”—At that rate he had been engaged toStella and had behaved like a swine.

“Well, whatever it was, she’s through with it now.”

“What did she turn him down for?”

“Oh, simply that there was no chance of their marrying, andthey were getting thoroughly tired of each other.”

“A nice look-out if they’d married.”

“That would have been different. They might not have gottired of each other then. It’s these long engagements, thatdrag on and on without hope of an ending. I must say I’msorry for poor Jenny. She’s been kept hanging about for threeyears, and she’s had frightfully little sympathy from anyone—exceptperhaps Mary. They were all too much afraid that ifthey encouraged her she’d dash off and get married on a thousanda year or some such pittance.”

“I’ve always understood Parish paid three hundred a yeartowards the interest on the Cock Marling mortgages—thatwould leave him with only seven hundred,” said Peter gravely.

“Impossible, of course. They’d have been paupers. But doyou know that till I came down here I’d no idea how fashionablemortgages are among the best county families?”

§ 3

Peter did not meet Jenny till some days later. She hadbeen to see Vera, and came out of the house just as Peter wastalking to young Godfrey, the farmer of Fourhouses. Thisfarm did not belong to the Alards—it stood on the southernfringe of their land in Icklesham parish. At one time SirWilliam Alard had wanted to buy it, but the owners held tight,and his grandchildren lived to be thankful for the extra hundredacres’ weight that had been spared them. Now, the situationwas reversed, and the Godfreys were wanting to buy thethirty acres of Alard land immediately adjoining Fourhouses.

Sir John was willing to sell, and the only difficulty was the153usual one of the mortgage. Godfrey, however, still wished tobuy, for he believed that the land would double its value ifadequate money was spent on it, and this he was prepared todo, for his farm had prospered under the government guarantees.For generations the Godfreys had been a hard-workingand thrifty set, and the war—though it had taken Ben Godfreyhimself out to Mesopotamia—had made Fourhouses flourish asit had never done since the repeal of the Corn Laws.

The problem became entirely one of price, and Peter haddone his best to persuade his father not to stand out too stifflyover this. The family badly needed hard cash—the expensesof Mary’s suit had been heavy, and as their money was tied upin land it was always difficult to put their hand on a large sum.Here was a chance which might never happen again—for noone was likely to want the Snailham land under its presentdisabilities, except Godfrey, whose farm it encroached on. Ifthey did not sell it now, it might become necessary (and thiswas Peter’s great fear) to sell the free lands of Starvecrow.Therefore if the Snailham land brought in the ready moneythey wanted, they must try to forget that it was going for littlemore than half what Sir William had given for it seventy yearsago.

“Well, I’ll talk it over with Sir John,” he said to Godfrey,who was on horseback in the drive. It was then he saw Jennycoming towards them out of the house.

“Wait a minute,” he said to her—“I want to speak to you.”

He was uncertain whether or not he ought to introduce theyoung farmer to his sister. Godfrey did not call himself agentleman farmer—indeed he was inclined to despise the title—buthe came of good old yeoman stock, and his name went backnearly as far as Alard into the records of Winchelsea.

“Jenny, this is Mr. Godfrey of Fourhouses—my sister, MissJenny Alard.”

Godfrey took off his soft hat. He had the typical face ofthe Sussex and Kent borders, broad, short-nosed, blue-eyed;but there was added to it a certain brownness and sharpness,154which might have come from a dash of gipsy blood. A Godfreyhad married a girl of the Boswells in far-back smugglingdays.

He and Peter discussed the Snailham snapes a little longer—thenhe rode off, and Peter turned to Jenny.

“I didn’t know you’d come over,” he said, “and I wanted totalk to you a bit—it’s an age since I’ve seen you.”

He was feeling a little guilty about his attitude towardsher and Jim Parish—he had, like all the rest of the family,tried to ignore the business, and he now realised how bitterit must have been to Jenny to stand alone.

“Vera told me that you’d broken off your engagement,” headded as they walked down the drive.

“So it was an engagement, was it?” said Jenny rather pertly.

“Well, you yourself know best what it was.”

“I should have called it an engagement, but as neither hisfamily nor mine would acknowledge it, perhaps it wasn’t.”

“There was no chance of your getting married for years, soit seemed better not to make it public. I can’t tell you I’msorry you’ve broken it off.”

“I should hardly say it’s broken off—rather that it’s rottedaway.”

Her voice sounded unusually hard, and Peter felt a littleashamed of himself.

“I’m frightfully sorry, Jenny”—taking her arm—“I’m afraidwe’ve all been rather unsympathetic, but——”

“Gervase hasn’t. It was he who advised me to end things.”

“The deuce it was!”

“Yes—he saw it as I did—simply ridiculous.”

“So it was, my dear—since you couldn’t get married tillthe Lord knows when.”

“That wasn’t what made it ridiculous. The ridiculous partwas that we could have got married perfectly well if only Ihadn’t been Jenny Alard of Conster Manor and he Jim Parishof Cock Marling Place.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s got over seven hundred a year. Most young155couples would look upon that as riches, but it’s poverty to us—partlybecause he has to pay away half of it in interest onmortgages, and partly because we’ve got such an absurd standardof living that we couldn’t exist on anything less than twoor three thousand.”

“Well, I hope you’d never be such a fool as to marry onseven hundred.”

“That’s just it—I’m refusing to marry on seven hundred.But I’ll tell you, Peter—I’d do it like a shot for a man whodidn’t look upon it as a form of suicide. If ever I meet a manwho thinks it enough for him, I promise you it’ll be enoughfor me.”

“That’s all very well, Jenny. But Parish must think ofCock Marling.”

“He is thinking of it. It’s Cock Marling that’s separated usjust as Conster separated you and Stella.”

Peter was annoyed.

“You’ve no right to say that. What makes you think Iwanted to marry Stella? It’s not fair to Vera to suggest sucha thing.”

“I’m sorry, Peter. I oughtn’t to have said it. But I didonce think.... But anyhow, I’m glad you didn’t.”

“So am I.”

“And I’m glad I’m not going to marry Jim.”

“Then you needn’t be angry with Cock Marling.”

“Yes, I am—because I know I could have been happy withJim if there’d been no Cock Marling. It’s all very well foryou to talk, Peter—but I think.... Oh, these big countryhouses make me sick. It’s all the same—everywhere I go Isee the same thing—we’re all cut to a pattern. There’s alwaysthe beautifully kept grounds and the huge mortgaged estatethat’s tumbling to pieces for want of money to spend on it.Then, when you go in, there are hothouse flowers everywhere,and beautiful glass and silver—and bad cooking. And we’rewaited on badly because we’re too old-fashioned and dignifiedto employ women, so we have the cheapest butler we can get,helped by a footman taken from the plough. Upstairs the bedrooms156want painting and papering, but we always have twocars—though we can’t afford motor traction for our land.We’re falling to pieces, but we hide the cracks with pots offlowers. Why can’t we sell our places and live in comfort?We Alards would be quite well-to-do if we lived in a moderatesized house with two or three women servants and either asmall car or none at all. We could afford to be happy then.”

“Jenny, you’re talking nonsense. You’re like most womenand can’t see the wood for the trees. If we gave up the carstomorrow and sacked Appleby and Pollock and Wills, and soldthe silver and the pictures, it wouldn’t do us the slightest goodin the world. We’d still have the estate, we’d still have to payin taxes more than the land brings in to us. You can’t sell landnowadays, even if it isn’t mortgaged. Besides—damn it all!—whyshould we sell it? It’s been ours for centuries, we’ve beenhere for centuries, and I for one am proud of it.”

“Well, I’m not. I’m ashamed. I tell you, Peter, our day isover, and we’d better retire, while we can retire gracefully—beforewe’re sold up.”

“Nonsense. If we hang on, the value of the land will rise,we’ll be able to pay off the mortgages—and perhaps some daythis brutal government will see the wickedness of its taxationand——”

“Why should it? It wants the money—and we’ve no rightto be here. We’ve outlived our day. Instead of developingthe land—we’re ruining it, letting it go to pieces. We can’tafford to keep our tenants’ farms in order. It’s time we ceasedto own half the country, and the land went back to the peopleit used to belong to.”

“I see you’ve been talking to Gervase.”

“Well, he and I think alike on this subject.”

“I’m quite sure you do.”

“And we’ve made up our minds not to let the family spoilour lives. It’s taken Jim from me—but that was his fault.It’s not going to smash me a second time. If I want to marrya poor man, I shall do so—even if he’s really poor—not onlyjust what we call poor.”

157“Well, you and Gervase are a precious couple, that’s all I’vegot to say.”

The next moment he softened towards her, because he rememberedthat she was unhappy and spoke out of the bitternessof her heart. But though he was sorry for her, he had a secretadmiration for Jim Parish, who had refused to desert theSquires.

§ 4

He was intensely worried that his sister and brother couldtake up such an attitude towards the family. They were youngsocialists, anarchists, bolsheviks, and he heartily disapprovedof them. He brooded over Jenny’s words more than wasstrictly reasonable. She wasn’t going to let the family spoilher life, she said—she wasn’t going to sacrifice herself to thefamily—she wasn’t going to let the family come between herand the man she loved as he had let it come between him andStella. She’d no right to say that—it wasn’t true. Hecouldn’t really have loved Stella or he wouldn’t have sacrificedher to Alard and Starvecrow. Yes, he would, though—yes, hehad. He had loved her—he wouldn’t say he hadn’t, hewouldn’t deny the past. He had loved her, but he had deliberatelylet her go because to have kept her would havemeant disloyalty to his family. So what Jenny had said wastrue.

This realisation did not soothe, though he never doubtedthe rightness of what he had done. He wondered how muchhe had hurt Stella by putting her aside... poor little Stella—shehad loved him truly, and she had loved Starvecrow. Hehad robbed her of both.... He remembered the last scenebetween them, their goodbye—in the office at Starvecrow, in thedays of its pitch-pine and bamboo, before he had put in theQueen Anne bureau and the oak chests. He wondered whatshe would think of it now. She would have fitted into Starvecrowbetter than Vera... bah! he’d always realised that, butit was just as well to remind himself that if he had marriedher, there would have been no Starvecrow for her to fit into.158He hadn’t sacrificed her merely to Alard but also to Starvecrow—andshe had understood that part of the sacrifice. He rememberedher saying, “I understand your selfish reason muchbetter than your unselfish one.”

Well, there was no good brooding over her now. If he hadloved her once, he now loved her no longer... and if she hadloved him once, she now loved him no longer. She was consolingherself with Gervase. She might be Lady Alard yet,and save Starvecrow out of the wreck that her husband wouldmake of the estate. Peter felt sick.

The next day he met her at tea at Conster Manor, whitherhe had been asked with Vera to meet George’s successor, thenew Vicar of Leasan. She was sitting on the opposite side ofthe room beside the Vicar’s wife—a faded little woman, inscrappy finery, very different from her predecessor who waseating her up from her place by Lady Alard. Peter had metStella fairly often in public, but had not studied her closely tilltoday. Today for some reason he wanted to know a great dealabout her—whether she was still attractive, whether she washappy, whether she was in love with Gervase, though this lastwas rather difficult to discover, as Gervase was not there. Onthe first two points he soon satisfied himself. She was certainlyattractive—she did not look any older than when he hadfallen in love with her during the last year of the war. Herround, warmly coloured face and her bright eyes held thedouble secret of youth and happiness—yes, he saw that she washappy. She carried her happiness about with her. After all,now he came to think of it, she did not lead a particularlyhappy life—dispensing for her father and driving his car, itwas dull to say the least. He could not help respecting herfor her happiness, just as he respected her for her bright neatclothes contrasting so favourably with the floppy fussiness ofbits and ends that adorned the Vicar’s wife.

He could not get near her and he could not hear what shewas saying. The floor was held by Mr. Williams, the newVicar. The Parsonage couple were indeed the direct contrastof their predecessors—it was the husband who dominated, the159wife who struggled. Mr. Williams had been a chaplain to theforces, and considered Christianity the finest sport going. Abreezy, hefty shepherd, he would feed his flock on football andbilliards, as George had fed them on blankets and ParochialChurch Councils. It was inconceivable that anyone in Leasanshould miss the way to heaven.

“I believe in being a man among men,” he blew over SirJohn, who was beginning to hate him, though he had chosenhim out of twenty-one applicants—“that’s what you learnt inFrance—no fuss, no frills, just playing the game.”

“You’d better have a few words with my youngest son,”said Sir John, resolving to give him a hard nut to crack—“he’sturned what used to be called a Puseyite in my youngdays, but is now called a Catholic, I believe.”

“A Zanzibarbarian—what? Oh, he’ll grow out of that.Boys often get it when they’re young.”

“And stay young all their lives if they keep it,” said Stella—“I’mglad Gervase will be always young.”

The Vicar gave her a look of breezy disapproval. Peterwas vexed too—not because Stella had butted into the conversationand thrown her opinion across the room, but becauseshe had gone out of her way to interfere on behalf of Gervase.It was really rather obvious... one couldn’t help noticing... and in bad taste, too, considering Peter was there.

“Here he is,” said Sir John, as the Ford back-fired a volleyin the drive—“you can start on him now.”

But Gervase was hungry and wanted his tea. He sat downbeside his mother and Rose, so that he could have a platesquarely set on the table instead of balancing precarious slicesof cake in his saucer. Peter watched him in a manner whichhe hoped was guarded. There was no sign of any specialintelligence between him and Stella—Gervase had included herin his general salutation, which he had specialised only in thecase of the Vicar and his wife. At first this reassured Peter,but after a while he realised that it was not altogether a reassuringsign—Gervase should have greeted Stella more as astranger, shaken hands with her as he had shaken hands with160the strangers, instead of including her in the family wave andgrin. They must be on very good terms—familiar terms....

Stella rose to go.

“Have you got the car?” asked Gervase.

“No—Father’s gone over to Dallington in her.”

“Let me drive you back—I’ve got Henry Ford outside.”

“But have you finished your tea? You’ve only eaten halfthe cake.”

“I’ll eat the other half when I come back—it won’t take memore than a few minutes to run you home.”

“Thanks very much, then,” said Stella.

She had never been one to refuse a kindness, or say “No,thanks,” when she meant “Yes, please.” None the less Peterwas angry. He was angry with her for accepting Gervase’soffer and driving off in his disreputable lorry, and he wasangry with her for that very same happiness which he hadadmired her for earlier in the afternoon. It was extremelycreditable of her to be happy when she had nothing to makeher so, when her happiness sprang only from the soil ofher contented heart; but if she was happy because ofGervase....

“He’s an elegant fellow, that young son of mine,” said SirJohn, as the lorry drove off amidst retchings and smoke—“Nodoubt the day will come when I shall see him drink out of hissaucer.”

§ 5

The woman Peter loved now left Conster more elegantlythan the woman he had loved once. The Sunbeam floated overthe lane between Conster and Starvecrow, and pulled up noiselesslyoutside the house almost directly it had started. Peterwas beginning to feel a little tired of the Sunbeam—he hadhankerings after a lively little two-seater. An eight-cylinderedlandaulette driven by a man in livery was all very well forVera to pay calls in, or if they wanted to go up to town. Buthe wanted something to take him round to farms on business,and occasionally ship a bag of meal or a load of spiles. He161couldn’t afford both, and if they had the two-seater Vera couldstill go out in it to pay her calls—or up to London, for thatmatter. But she refused to part with the Sunbeam—it washer father and mother’s wedding present, and they would beterribly hurt if she gave it up. Two-seaters were always uncomfortable.And why did Peter want to go rattling roundto farms?—Couldn’t he send one of his men?—Vera neverwould take him seriously as a farmer.

This evening, thanks to the Sunbeam, they reached home tooearly to dress for dinner. Peter asked Vera to come for astroll with him in the orchard, but she preferred the gardenat the back of the house. The garden at Starvecrow used tobe a plot of ragged grass, surrounding a bed of geraniumsfrom the middle of which unexpectedly rose a pear-tree.Today it was two green slips of lawn divided by a paved pathwayshaded by a pergola. The April dusk was still warm, stillpricked with the notes of birds, but one or two windows inthe house were lighted, orange squares of warmth and welcomebeyond the tracery of the pergola.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” murmured Peter, taking Vera’s armunder her cloak—“Oh, my dear, you surely wouldn’t be inLondon now.”

“No,” said Vera—“not when it’s fine.”

“What did you think of Williams?”

“Oh, he seemed all right—I didn’t talk to him much. Buthis wife’s a bore.”

“I felt sorry for poor Rose, having to welcome her.”

“You needn’t worry—she didn’t do much of that.”

“She had to sit there and be polite, anyhow.”

“I didn’t notice it. But I tell you what really interested me—andthat was watching Stella Mount and Gervase.”

“Oh!”

“They were most amusing.”

“I never noticed anything.”

“No, my dear old man, of course you didn’t, because younever do. But it’s perfectly plain that it’s a case betweenthem. I’ve thought so for a long time.”

162“He may be in love with her, but I’m sure she isn’t in lovewith him.”

“Well, she seemed to me the more obviously in love of thetwo. She had all the happy, confident manner of a womanin love.”

“She couldn’t be in love with him—he’s a mere boy.”

“Very attractive to women, especially to one past her earlyyouth. Stella must be getting on for thirty now, and I expectshe doesn’t want to be stranded.”

For some reason Peter could not bear to hear her talked ofin this way.

“I know she’s not in love with him,” he said doggedly.

“How can you know?”

“By the way she looks and behaves and all that—I know howStella looks when she’s in love.”

“Of course you do. But since she couldn’t get you perhapsshe’d like to have Gervase.”

Peter felt angry.

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. Stella isn’t that sort atall—and she didn’t love me any more than I loved her.”

“Really!”

“You all talk—I’ve heard Doris and Rose at it as well as you—youall talk as if Stella had been running after me and Iwouldn’t have her. But that isn’t the truth—I loved her, andI’d have had her like a shot if it had been possible, but itwasn’t.”

He felt a stiffening of Vera’s arm under his, though she didnot take it away. He realised that he had said too much. Buthe couldn’t help it. There in the garden of Starvecrow, whichStella had loved as well as he, he could not deny their commonmemories... pretend that he had not loved her... he hada ridiculous feeling that it would have been disloyal to Starvecrowas well as to Stella.

“You needn’t get so angry,” Vera was saying—“I had alwaysbeen given to understand that the affair wasn’t serious—a war-timeflirtation which peace showed up as impossible. Therewere a great many like that.”

163“Well, this wasn’t one of them. I loved Stella as much asshe loved me.”

“Then why didn’t you marry her?”

“I couldn’t possibly have done so—and anyhow,” shamefacedly,“I’m glad I didn’t.”

“Then I still say you didn’t really love her. If you had,you’d have married her even though the family disapprovedand she hadn’t a penny. She’d have done it for you—so if youwouldn’t do it for her, it shows that you didn’t love her asmuch as she loved you.”

“I did”—almost shouted Peter.

Vera took her arm away.

“Really, Peter, you’re in a very strange mood tonight. Ithink I’ll go indoors.”

“I’m only trying to make you understand that though Idon’t love Stella now, I loved her once.”

“On the contrary—you’re making me understand that thoughyou didn’t love her once, you love her now.”

“How can you say that!”

“Because you’re giving yourself away all round. You’rejealous of your brother, and you’re angry with me because Idon’t speak of Stella in a way you quite approve of. Don’tworry, my dear boy. We’ve been married over a year, and Ican hardly expect your fancy never to stray. But I’d ratheryou weren’t quite such a boor over it.”

She walked quickly into the house.

Peter felt as if he had been struck. He told himself thatVera was unjust and hard and cynical. How dare she say hewas jealous of Gervase? How dare she say he had never reallyloved Stella?—that was her own infernal jealousy, he supposed.How dare she say he loved Stella now?—that again was herinfernal jealousy. He took one or two miserable turns up anddown the path, then went in to dress for dinner.

A wood fire was burning sweetly in his dressing-room, andhis clothes had been laid out by the parlourmaid, who was asgood a valet as only a good parlourmaid can be. Under thesecombined influences Peter learned how material comforts can164occasionally soothe a spiritual smart, dressing there in warmthand ease, he began to slip out of those distressing feelingswhich had raged under the pergola. After all, Vera had madehim supremely happy for a year. It was ungrateful to beangry with her now, just because she had taken it into herhead to be a little jealous. That was really a compliment tohim. Besides, now he came to think of it, he had not spokenor behaved as he ought. What a fool he had been to kick upsuch a dust just because Vera had doubted the reality of hisdead love for Stella. No wonder she had drawn conclusions... and instead of trying to soothe and reassure her, he hadonly got angry.

He made up his mind to apologise at once, and paused ather door on his way downstairs. But he heard the voice ofthe maid inside, and decided to wait till they were alone inthe drawing-room before dinner. She was nearly always downa few minutes before eight.

However, tonight, perversely, she did not appear. The clockstruck eight, and to Peter’s surprise, Weller, the parlourmaid,came into the room.

“Dinner is served, sir.”

“But your mistress isn’t down yet.”

“She has ordered her dinner to be sent up to her room, Sir.”

§ 6

Peter was not to be let off so easily as in the simplicity ofhis heart he had imagined. He had transgressed the laws ofmatrimony as Vera understood them, by refusing to say thathe had never really loved Stella. He ought properly to havesaid that he had never really loved anyone until he met hiswife, but that, Peter told himself, was nonsense in a man ofhis age. He told it to himself all the more vehemently becausehe had an uneasy feeling that a year ago he would havesaid what Vera wanted, that he himself would have believedshe was the only woman he had really loved.

The next morning he went into her room as usual while165she was having her breakfast, and they said the usual thingsto each other as if nothing had happened. But Peter feltawkward and ill at ease—he wanted, childishly, to “make itup,” but did not know how to get through the invisible wallshe had built round herself. Also he knew that she wouldaccept nothing less than a recantation of all that he had saidyesterday—he would have to tell her that he had never lovedStella, that all that part of his life had been dreaming andself-deception. And he would not say it. With a queer obstinacy,whose roots he would not examine, he refused todeny his past, even to make the present happier and the futuremore secure.

“What are you doing today?” asked Vera coolly, as shestirred her coffee.

“I’m going over to an auction at Canterbury—they’re sellingoff some old government stuff.”

As a matter of fact, he had not meant to go, but now hefelt that he must do something to get himself out of the housefor the day.

“Then you won’t be in for lunch?”

“No—not much before dinner, I expect.”

“Shall you go in the car?”

“Only as far as Ashford—I’ll take the train from there.”

It was all deadly. Going out of her room, going out of thehouse, he was conscious of a deep sense of depression andfutility. Vera was displeased with him because he would notbe disloyal to the past.... After all, he supposed it waspretty natural and most women were like that... but Verawas different in the way she showed her displeasure—if onlyshe’d say things!—become angry and coaxing like otherwomen—like Stella when he had displeased her. He rememberedher once when she had been angry—how differently shehad behaved—with such frankness, such warmth, suchwheedling.... Vera had just turned to ice, and expressedherself in negations and reserves. He hated that—it was allwrong, somehow.

He fretted and brooded the whole way to Ashford. It was166not till he was nearly there that he remembered he had anappointment with Godfrey at Starvecrow that afternoon.Vera was making him not only a bad husband but a badfarmer.

§ 7

Godfrey did not forget his appointment. He arrived punctuallyat three o’clock, and not finding Peter at home, waitedwith the patience of his kind. A further symptom of Peter’sdemoralization was his forgetting to tell anyone at Starvecrowwhen he would be back, so Godfrey, who was reallyanxious to have his matter settled and could scarcely believethat anything so important to himself should seem trivial inthe stress of another’s life, felt sure that Mr. Alard would sooncome in, and having hitched his reins and assured himselfthat Madge would stand for ever, went into the office andwaited.

Here Jenny Alard found him at about half-past three, justwondering whether it would be good manners for him tosmoke. She had come up to see Vera, but finding she hadgone out in the car, looked in at the office door in hopes offinding Peter. Godfrey was sitting rather stiffly in the gate-backedchair, turning his box of gaspers over and over in hislarge brown hands. Jenny came into the room and greetedhim at once. She and her family always took pains to becordial to their social inferiors. If the man in the office hadbeen an acquaintance of her own rank, she would probablyhave bowed to him, made some excuse and gone out to lookfor her brother—but such behaviour would never do for anyonewho might imagine it contained a slight.

“Good afternoon. Are you waiting for my brother? Doyou know when he’ll be in?”

He rose to greet her, and as they shook hands she realisedwhat a shadow his inferiority was. He stood before her sixfeet high, erect, sun-burned—his thick hair and bright eyesproclaiming his health, his good clothes proclaiming his prosperity,167a certain alert and simple air of confidence speaking ofa life free from conflict and burden.

“Mr. Alard made an appointment for three. But they tellme he’s gone to Canterbury.”

“It’s a shame to keep you waiting. You’re busy, I expect.”

“Not so terrible—and it’s the first time he’s done it. Ireckon something’s gone wrong with the car.”

“He hasn’t got the car—Mrs. Alard is out in it. Perhapshe’s missed his train.”

“If he’s done that he won’t be here for some time, and Ican’t afford to wait much longer. I’ve a man coming to Fourhousesabout some pigs after tea.”

“I expect there’s a time-table somewhere—let’s look.”

She rummaged among the papers at the top of the desk—auctioncatalogues, advertisements for cattle foods and farmimplements—and at last drew out a local time-table. Theirheads bent over it together, and she became conscious of ascent as of straw and clean stables coming from his clothes.She groped among the pages not knowing her way, and thennoticed that his hands were restless as if his greater customwere impatient of her ignorance.

“No—it’s page sixty-four—I remember... two pagesback... no, not there—you’ve missed it.”

His hands hovered as if they longed to turn over the leaves,but evidently he forbade them—and she guessed that heshrank from the chance of touching hers. She looked at hishands—they were well-shaped, except for the fingers whichwork had spoiled, they were brown, strong, lean—she likedthem exceedingly. They were clean, but not as Peter’sor Jim’s or her father’s hands were clean; they suggestedeffort rather than custom—that he washed when he wasdirty in order to be clean rather than when he was cleanin order to prevent his ever being dirty.... What aqueer way her thoughts were running, and all because ofhis hands—— Well, she would like to touch them... itwas funny how he held back even from such a natural contact168as this—typical of his class, in which there was always consciousnessbetween the sexes... no careless, casual contacts,no hail-fellow and hearty comradeship, but always manand woman, some phase of courtship... romance....

“I can’t find it.”

She thrust the book into his hands, and their fingers touched·He begged her pardon—then found the page. She did notnotice what he said—her pulses were hammering. She wasexcited not so much by him as by herself. Why had her wholebeing lit up so suddenly?—What had set it alight? Was itjust this simple deferential consciousness of sex between them,so much more natural than the comradeship which was thegood form of her class? Sex-consciousness was after all morenatural than sex-unconsciousness, the bridling of the flirt morenatural than the indifference of the “woman who has nononsense about her.” She felt a deep blush spreading overher face—she became entirely conscious before him, uneasyunder his alert, dignified gaze.

He was picking up his hat—he was saying something aboutthe two-forty-five being in long ago and his having no time towait till the four-forty.

“I’ll call in tomorrow—I’ll leave word with Elias that I’llcall in at twelve tomorrow.”

“I’m so sorry you’ve come all this way for nothing,” shefaltered.

“Oh, it’s no matter. I’m not busy today. Mr. Alard musthave missed his train.”

She found herself going out of the room before him. Hissmart gig stood outside the door—the mare whinnied at thesight of him. Jenny thought how good it must be to drivehorse-flesh instead of machinery.

“You haven’t taken to a motor-car yet, I see.”

“I don’t think I ever shall. It ud feel unfriendly.”

“Yes, I expect it would after this”—and she patted themare’s sleek neck.

“A horse knows you, you see—and where you go wrongoften he’ll go right—but a car, a machine, that’s got no sense169nor kindness in it, and when you do the wrong thing there’snothing that’ll save you.”

Jenny nodded. He warmed to his subject.

“Besides, you get fond of an animal in a way you can’t ofa machine. This Madge, here. I’ve raised her from a filly,and when I take her out of the shafts she’ll follow me roundthe yard for a bit of sugar—and you heard her call to mejust now when I came out? That’s her way. You may paythree thousand pounds for a Rolls Royce car but it won’tnever say good evening.”

He laughed at his own joke, showing his big splendid teeth,and giving Jenny an impression of sweetness and happinessthat melted into her other impressions like honey.

“Did she recognise you when you came back from the war?—Youwere in Mesopotamia weren’t you?”

“Yes—three years. I can’t say as she properly recognisedme, but now I’ve been back a twelve-month I think she fits meinto things that happened to her before I left, if you knowwhat I mean.”

“Yes, I understand.”

He had been talking to her with his foot on the step, readyto get into his gig. Then suddenly he seemed to rememberthat she did not live at Starvecrow, that she too had a journeybefore her and no trap to take her home.

“Can I give you a lift, Miss Alard?—I’m passing Conster.”

“Yes—thank you very much,” said Jenny.

§ 8

That evening, sitting at dinner with her family, she feltvaguely ashamed of herself—she had let herself go too far.As she watched her mother’s diamond rings flashing over herplate, as she listened to her father cynically demolishing theWashington conference, as she contemplated Doris eatingasparagus in the gross and clumsy manner achieved only bythe well-bred, the afternoon’s adventure took discreditablecolours in her mind. What had made her feel like that towards170Godfrey? Surely it was the same emotion which draws aman towards a pretty housemaid. The young farmer wasgood-looking and well-built—he had attracted her physically—andher body had mocked at the barriers set up by hermind, by education, birth, breeding and tradition.

She wondered guiltily what Jim would think of her if heknew. He would probably see a fresh reason for congratulatinghimself on the rupture of those loose yet hamperingties which had bound them for so long. She had never feltlike that towards Jim, though she had accepted the physicalelement in their relation—thought, indeed, sometimes, that itwas unduly preponderating, holding them together when ideasand ambitions would have drawn them apart. Was it possibleafter all that Godfrey’s attraction had not been merely physical—thatthere had been an allure in his simple, unaccustomedoutlook on life as well as in his splendid frame?

Gervase came in late to dinner, and being tired did not talkmuch. After the meal was over, and Jenny was playingbridge with her parents and Doris, he sat in the window, turningover the pages of a book and looking out between thecurtains at the pale Spring stars. When Lady Alard’s lossesmade her decide she was too tired to play any more and thegame was broken up, Jenny went over and sat beside him. Ithad struck her that perhaps his life at the works, his associationwith working men, might enable him to shed somelight on her problem. Not that she meant to confide in him,but there seemed to be in Gervase now a growing sanity ofjudgment; she had a new, odd respect for the experiencesof the little brother’s mind.

“Gervase,” she said—“I suppose you could never makefriends with anyone at the shop?”

“No—I’m afraid I couldn’t. At least not with anyonethere now. But we get on all right together.”

“I suppose it’s the difference in education.”

“Partly—but chiefly the difference in our way of lookingat things.”

171“Surely that’s due to education.”

“Yes, if by education you mean breeding—the whole life.It’s not that we want different things, but we want them ina different way.”

“Do all men want the same things?”

He smiled.

“Yes—we all want money, women, and God.”

Jenny felt a little shocked.

“Some want one most, and some want another most,” continuedGervase—“and we’re most different in our ways ofwanting money and most alike in our ways of wanting God.”

“How do you want money in different ways?”

“It’s not only the fact that what’s wealth to them is oftenpoverty to us—it’s chiefly that they get their pleasure out ofthe necessities of life and we out of the luxuries. It’s nevergiven you any actual pleasure, I suppose, to think that you’vegot a good house to live in and plenty to eat—but to thosechaps it’s a real happiness and I’m not talking of those who’veever had to go without.”

Jenny was silent a moment. She hesitated over her nextquestion.

“And what’s the difference in your ideas about women?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Their talk about women makes me sick—I feel in that matterwe’ve got the pull over them. When men of our ownset get on the subject, it’s different altogether, even at itsworst. But I sometimes think that this is because their idealof women is really so high that they don’t look upon a certainclass of them as women at all.”

“You think their ideal of women in general is high?”

“Yes, that’s why their women are either good or bad. Theywon’t stand the intervening stages the way we do. They expecta great deal of the women they make their wives.”

“I suppose that a friendship between a woman of our classand a man of theirs would be much more difficult than a friendshipbetween two men of different classes.”

172“It would be quite impossible. They don’t understandfriendship between men and women for one thing. I’m notsure that they haven’t got too much sense.”

Jenny rose and moved away. She found the conversationvaguely disturbing. Though, after all, she cried impatientlyto herself, why should she? They hadn’t been discussing Godfrey—onlythe men where Gervase worked, who belonged altogetherto a different class. But Godfrey, yeoman farmer ofFourhouses, solid, comfortable, respectable, able to buy landfrom impoverished Alard... why should she think of himas in a class beneath her? Her parents would think so certainly,but that was because their ideas had grown old andstiff with Alard’s age... mentally Alard was suffering fromarterial sclerosis... oh, for some new blood!

§ 9

Peter was vexed with himself for having forgotten Godfrey’sappointment—not that he thought his forgetfulnesswould jeopardise the business between Conster and Fourhouses,but such a lapse pointed degradingly to causes beneathit. He had been careless and forgetful as a farmer becausehe was unhappy as a husband. His private life was hurtinghim and its convulsions had put his business life out of order.

On his return from Canterbury there was a reconciliationbetween him and Vera. His long day of futile loneliness hadbroken his spirit—he could endure their estrangement nolonger, and in order to make peace was willing to stoop totreacheries which in the morning he had held beneath hishonour. He had made Stella a burnt offering to peace. No—hesaid to Vera—he had never really loved her—she had justbeen “one of the others” before he met his wife.... He tookher glowing memory and put it in the prison house wherehe had shut up the loves of a month and a week and a day...he saw her in that frail company, looking at him from betweenthe bars, telling him that she did not belong there. Buthe spoke to her roughly in his heart—“Yes you do—you’re173one of the thieves who stole a bit of the love I was keepingfor Vera—just that.”

Vera, after the first frigidities, graciously accepted his contrition.As he was willing to acknowledge that he had neverreally loved Stella, she was willing to drop the other half ofthe argument and allow that he was not belatedly in lovewith her now. Once more there was love and harmony atStarvecrow—warmth in the low rooms, where the firelightleaped on creamy walls and the rustle of Vera’s silk seemedto live like an echo, a voluptuous ghost. The cold, thin Springseemed shut outside the house—the interior of Starvecrow,its ceilings, doors, walls and furniture meant more to Peternow than its barns and stacks and cobbled yard, even than itsfree woods and fields.

The cold, thin Spring warmed and thickened in the woods.The floods receded from the Tillingham marshes, and theriver ran through a golden street of buttercups to the sea.The winter sowings put a bloom of vivid green into thewheat fields, the blossom of apple, cherry, pear and plumdrifted from the boughs of the orchard to the grass, leavingthe first green hardness of the fruits among the leaves; andas the outer world grew warm and living, once more the heartof the house grew cold. Peter and Vera were not estranged,but the warm dusk of their rapture had given place to theusual daylight, in which Peter saw the ugly things his peacecontained.

He was not blinded by the wonder that had happened, bythe knowledge that probably, almost certainly, Vera was tohave a child—that there would be an heir to Conster andAlard, and lovely Starvecrow would not go to strangers. Hefelt intensely relieved that his fears would not be realised,that he was not inevitably building for Gervase to throw down—butthere was less glamour about the event than he had anticipated,it could not set his heart at rest, nor make Verashine with all the old light of the honeymoon.

He had always thought and heard that expecting a childbrings husband and wife even closer together than the first174days of love—he was vexed that the charm did not work.Was it because of his feeling that if the child were a girlit might just as well not be born? That was certainly thewrong thing to feel, for much as he longed for an heir, heshould not forget that a girl would be his child, the child ofthe woman he loved. Then one day he had a dreadful realisation—theconviction that if he were waiting for Stella’schild it would all have been different, that he would havethought of the child as much as now he thought of the heir.Of course he would still have wanted an heir, but he wouldnot have had the feeling that if it did not give him a boyhis wife’s childbearing was in vain.... In vain—in vain....He would not have known that word which now hefound in his mind so often—“Marriage in vain if there is nochild... childbearing in vain if there is no heir.” He sawhis marriage as a mere tool of Alard’s use, a prop to thatsinking edifice of the Squires.... He felt as miserable asin the first days of the cold, thin Spring.

§ 10

He now no longer denied that in one sense he had made amistake in marrying Vera. He still found her brilliant andbeautiful, a charming if sometimes a too sophisticated companion.But she was not the wife of his heart and imagination.Her personality stood queerly detached from the restof his life—apart from his ideas of home and family. Hefelt coldly angry with her for the ways in which she refusedor failed to fulfil his yearnings, and he could never, he felt,quite forgive her for having demanded Stella as a sacrifice.His denial of his love for Stella, which he had made in theinterests of peace, now pierced his memory like a thorn—partlyhe reproached himself, and partly he reproached Vera.And there was a reproach for Stella too.

But he still told himself that he was glad he had marriedVera. After all, he had got what he wanted. All he nolonger had was the illusion that had fed him for a year after175marriage, the illusion that in taking Vera he had done thebest thing for himself as a man as well as an Alard. Hecould no longer tell himself that Vera was a better wife anda sweeter woman than he would have found Stella—that evenwithout family considerations he had still made the happiestchoice. That dream had played its part, and now might welldie, and yet leave him with the thought that he had chosenwell.

He need not look upon his marriage as mercenary becauseit was practical rather than romantic, nor himself as a foolbecause he had been heated and dizzied into taking a stephe could never have taken in cold blood. He had alwaysplanned to marry money for the sake of Alard and Starvecrow,and he could never have done so without the illusionof love. Nature had merely helped him carry out what hehad unnaturally planned.... And Starvecrow was safe,established—and under his careful stewardship the huge,staggering Conster estate would one day recover steadiness.The interest on the mortgages was always punctually paid,and he had hopes of being able in a year or two to pay offsome of the mortgages themselves. By the time he becameSir Peter Alard he might be in a fair way of clearing the property....So why regret the romance he had never chosen?

He told himself he would regret nothing if he was sure thatStella would not marry Gervase—that having very properlyshut romance out of his own house, he should not have tosee it come next door. In his clearer moments he realisedthat this attitude was unreasonable, or that, if reasonable, itpointed to an unhealthy state of affairs, but he could neverquite bully or persuade himself out of it. He had to confessthat it would be intolerable to have to welcome as asister the woman he had denied himself as a wife. Anything,even total estrangement, would be better than that—better thanhaving to watch her making his brother’s home the free andhappy place she might have made his own, throwing hersweetness and her courage into the risks of his brother’s life,bearing his brother’s children, made after all the mother of176Alards... perhaps the mother of Alard’s heir. This lastthought tormented him most. He saw a preposterous genealogicaltable:

JOHN ALARD

|

+----------------+----------------+

| |

Peter Alard = Vera Asher Gervase Alard = Stella Mount

(died without male issue) |

+-----+-------+---------+

| | | |

John Peter George Gervase

From the family’s decaying trunk he saw a new healthybranch springing through the grafting in of Stella’s life—healthybut alien, for the children Stella gave Gervase wouldnot be Alards in the true sense of the children she might havegiven Peter. They would be soaked in their father’s disloyalideas. His bad sense, his bad form. John, Peter, George andGervase would probably smash up what was left of the traditionand the estate.... Peter saw them selling Starvecrow,selling Conster, opening shops and works, marrying indiscriminately....He hated these insurgent nephews his mind hadbegotten.

Now and then he told himself that his fears were ill-founded.If Stella was going to marry Gervase surely somethingdefinite would be known about it by this time. She wasnot so young that she could afford to wait indefinitely. Butagainst this he knew that Gervase was scarcely twenty-one,and that neither of them had a penny. A long, public engagementwould be difficult for many reasons. There might besome secret understanding. His brother still spent most of hisSundays at Vinehall... better not deceive himself with theidea that he went merely for devotional reasons, to gratifythis newly-formed taste which to Peter smacked as unseemlyas an appetite. No, he went to see Stella, sit with her, talkwith her... kiss her, hold her on his knee, feel the softnessof her hair between his fingers... oh damn!—if only he177knew definitely one way or the other, he could choke downhis imagination.... His imagination was making a hopelessfool of him with its strokings and its kisses—with its John,Peter, George and Gervase....

His uneasiness finally drove him to take what a little earlierwould have seemed an impossible way out of his difficulties.One day, at the end of the brooding of a lonely walk, hemet Stella unexpectedly in Icklesham street, and after theinevitable platitudes of greeting followed the first wild plungesof his mind.

“I say, Stella—forgive my asking you—but am I to congratulateyou and Gervase?”

The colour rushed over her face, and he had an uneasymoment, wondering whether he had guessed right or merelybeen impertinent.

“No—you’ll never have to do that,” she answered firmlythe next minute.

“I—I beg your pardon.”

He was flushing too, partly with relief, partly with apprehensionat the rejoiced, violent beating of his heart.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter a bit. Other members of your familyhave been half-asking—hinting... so I’d rather you askedoutright. Of course, seeing that I’m seven years older thanGervase, one would have thought... but I suppose peoplemust have something to talk about.”

He assented weakly—and it suddenly struck him that shewas wondering why he had asked her instead of Gervase.

“As a matter of fact,” she continued, “I don’t see so muchof him as people think. He comes over to us on Sundays, butthat’s partly for Father Luce. He serves the Parish Mass,and they both have lunch with us afterwards—and in theafternoon he helps with the children.”

Peter felt inexpressibly relieved that there was no truthin his picture of Gervase and Stella in the afternoon—nokisses, no strokings of her hair, which was like fine silk betweenyour fingers... like a child’s hair.... Fresh andbright and living as ever, it curled up under the brim of her178hat... he wondered if she saw how he was staring at it—yes,she must, for she put up her hand rather nervously andpushed a curl under the straw.

“Please contradict anything you hear said about him andme,” she said.

“Yes, I promise I will. It was Vera put it into my head.She said she was quite sure Gervase was in love with you.”

“Well, please contradict it—it will be annoying for Gervaseas well as for me.”

A sudden fear seized Peter—a new fear—much more unreasonableand selfish than the old one. It expressed itselfwith the same suddenness as it came, and before he couldcheck himself he had said—

“Stella... there isn’t... there isn’t anyone else?”

He knew that moment that he had given himself away, andhe could not find comfort in any thought of her not havingnoticed. For a few seconds she stared at him silently withher bright perplexed eyes. Then she said—

“No, there isn’t.... But, Peter, why shouldn’t there be?”

He murmured something silly and surly—he was annoyedwith her for not tactfully turning the conversation and coveringhis blunder.

“I’m nearly twenty-eight,” she continued—“and if I canmanage to fall in love, I shall marry.”

“Oh, don’t wait for that,” he said, still angry—“you canmarry perfectly well without it. I have, and it’s been mostsuccessful.”

He knew that he had hurt her in the soft places of herheart; and with his knowledge a fire kindled, setting strangehot cruelties ablaze.

“Besides, it’s easy enough to fall in love, you know—I’vedone it lots of times, and so have you, I expect—easy enoughto fall in love and just as easy to fall out.”

She answered him sweetly.

“Oh, I can do both—I’ve done both—but it’s not been easy,not a bit.”

“Well, I’ll wish you luck.”

179He took off his hat and passed on. For a quarter of a milehe hated her. He hated her because he had wounded her,and because she would not be proud enough to hide the wound—becausefrom outside his life she still troubled it—becausehe had lied to her—because he had treated her badly—becausehe had once loved her and because he had denied it—becausehe loved her still and could not deny it any more.

§ 11

He was so busy hating and loving her that he did not noticethe large car that passed him at the cross roads till he heardit slithering to a stop. Then he looked up and saw it washis mother’s. Jenny stuck her head out of the window.

“Hullo, Peter! Like a lift home?”

“No thanks, I’m not going home. I’ve got to call at Fourhouses.”

“Haven’t you finished that dreadful business yet?” askedLady Alard in a tragic voice. The selling of thirty acres tothe farm which had originally owned them struck her as thedeepest humiliation the family had had yet to swallow.

“Yes—the agreement’s been signed, but there’s a few minormatters cropped up over the transfer.”

“Why don’t you make him come and see you? Why shouldyou walk six miles across country to interview a man likeGodfrey?”

“Because I wanted a walk,” said Peter shortly.

“You’ve got terribly restless lately. This is the second timeI’ve met you tramping about like a—like a——”

“I call it very sensible of him,” said Jenny—“we’re a lazylot—rolling about in cars. I’ve half a mind to get down andwalk with him.”

“But he’s going to Fourhouses, dear.”

“Never mind—I’d like to see Fourhouses.”

“Your shoes are too thin for walking.”

“Not on a day like this.”

Peter opened the door—he was anxious for Jenny’s company,180she would take his thoughts off recent complications. Hehelped her out, and signed to Appleby to drive on.

“We’ve been paying calls in Winchelsea,” said Jenny witha grimace—“Oh, Peter, this is a dog’s life.”

Peter would not have liked himself to spend an afternoonpaying calls, but he regarded it as part of a woman’s duty,and rather disapproved of Jenny’s rebellion. He liked her,and admired her for her young well-bred loveliness, but latelyhe had begun to think she was getting too like Gervase....

“Somebody must pay calls,” he said a little gruffly.

“Why?” asked Jenny.

“Don’t be silly, my dear. You know it’s a social necessity.”

“Well, it oughtn’t to be—just knowing a lot of dull peoplebecause they live in the same neighbourhood and are of thesame social standing as ourselves—keeping up our intercourseby means of perfunctory visits which we hate paying as muchas they hate receiving... carefully dodging the tea-hour,so that there’ll be no chance of any real hospitality...”

“So that’s how you choose to describe it——”

“That’s how it is.”

Peter said nothing. He told himself emphatically thatStella probably had exactly the same ideas. Now Vera, forall her intellect and modernity, never shirked her social obligations.Oh, he had done right, after all.

Jenny was enjoying the walk, in spite of her thin shoesand the gruffness of her companion—in spite of some feelingsof trepidation at her own recklessness. She was going to seeGodfrey again after an interval of nearly two months...she was going to see him through her own deliberate choiceand contrivance. Directly Peter had mentioned Fourhousesshe had made up her mind to go with him. If Godfrey’s attractionhad not been merely good health and good looks,but his character, his circumstances, she would know moreof her own feelings when she saw him in his proper setting,against the background of Fourhouses. His background atpresent was her own revolt against the conditions of her life—for181two months she had seen him standing like a symbolicfigure of emancipation among the conventions, restrictionsand sacrifices which her position demanded. Life had beenvery hard for her during those months, or perhaps not so hardas heavy. She had missed the habit of her relation to JimParish and felt the humiliation of its breaking off—the humiliationof meeting him casually as he dangled after an heiress....“He’ll do like Peter—he’ll make himself fall in love witha girl with money and live happy ever afterwards.” Shehad felt the galling pettiness of the social round, the hollownessof the disguises which her family had adopted, the falsenessof the standards which they had set up. “We must atall costs have as many acres of land as we can keep together—wemust have our car and our menservants—our positionas a ‘county family.’ We call ourselves the New Poor, thoughwe have all these. But we’re not lying, because in order tokeep them we’ve given up all the really good things of life—comfortand tranquillity and freedom and love. So we’re Poorindeed.”

She was frankly curious to see the home of the man whosevalues were not upside down, who had not sacrificed essentialsto appearances, who found his pleasure in common things, who,poorer than the poverty of Alard, yet called himself rich.Godfrey had captured her imagination, first no doubt throughhis virile attraction, but maintaining his hold through thecontrast of her brief glimpse of him with the life that wasdaily disappointing her. She asked Peter one or two questionsabout Fourhouses. It ran to about four hundred acres,mostly pasture. Godfrey grew wheat, as well as conservativelymaintaining his hop-gardens, but the strength of thefarm was in livestock. His father had died twelve years ago,leaving the place in surprisingly good condition for those daysof rampant free trade—he had a mother and two sisters livingwith him, Peter believed. Yes, he had always liked Godfrey,a sober, steady, practical fellow, who had done well for himselfand his farm.

182

§ 12

Fourhouses showed plainly the origin of its name. Theoriginal dwelling-house was a sturdy, square structure towhich some far-back yeoman had added a gabled wing. Aninheritor had added another wing, and a third had incorporatedone of the barns—the result was many sprawling inequalitiesof roof and wall. No one seemed to have thought about thebuilding as a whole, intent only on his own improvements,so that the very materials as well as the style of its constructionwere diverse—brick, tile, stone, timber—Tudor austerity,Elizabethan ornament, Georgian convention.

There was no one about in the yard, so Peter walked up tothe front door and rang the bell. It was answered by a pretty,shy young woman whose pleasant gown was covered by anapron.

“Good afternoon, Miss Godfrey. Is your brother in?”

“Yes, Mr. Alard. If you’ll step into the parlour I’ll tellhim you’re here.”

Jenny glanced at Peter, asking silently for an introduction.But her brother seemed abstracted, and forgot the courtesyhe had practised at Starvecrow.

The young woman ushered them into a little stuffy roombeside the door. There was a table in the middle of it coveredby a thick velvet cloth, in the midst of which some muskyplant was enthroned in a painted pot. There were more plantsin the window, their leaves obscuring the daylight, whichcame through them like green water oozing through reeds.Jenny felt a pang of disappointment—this little room whichwas evidently considered the household’s best showed herwith a sharp check the essential difference between Alard andGodfrey. Here was a worse difference than between roughand smooth, coarse and delicate, vulgar and refined—it wasall the difference between good taste and bad taste. Ben Godfrey’sbest clothes would be like this parlour—he would lookfar more remote from her in them than he looked in his broadclothand gaiters.

183Fortunately he was not wearing his best clothes when hecame in a few minutes later. He came stooping under thelow door, all the haymaking’s brown on his face since theirlast meeting.

“Well, this is good of you, Mr. Alard, coming all this way.Why didn’t you send me a line to call around at Starvecrow?Good evening, Miss Alard—have you walked all the way fromConster too?”

“Oh no, I drove as far as Icklesham. The car’s makingme lazy.”

“Well, you’ve had a good walk anyway. Won’t you comein and have a cup of tea? We’re just sitting down to it.”

It was six o’clock and neither Peter nor Jenny had rememberedthat there were human beings who took tea at this hour.

“Thank you so much,” said Jenny—“I’ll be glad.” Shehad had her tea at Conster before leaving to pay the calls, butshe said to herself “If I go in now and see them all having sixo’clock tea together, it’ll finish it.” Since she had seen theparlour she had thought it would be a good job if she finishedit.

Godfrey led the way down a flagged passage into the oldestpart of the house. The room where his family were havingtea had evidently once been a kitchen, but was now no longerused as such, though the fireplace and cupboards remained.The floor was covered with brick, and the walls bulged in andout of huge beams, evidently ship’s timber and riddled withthe salt that had once caked them. Similar beams lay acrossthe ceiling and curved into the wall, showing their origin ina ship’s ribs—some Tudor seafarer had settled down ashoreand built his ship into his house. Long casement windowslet in the fullness of the evening sun, raking over the fieldsfrom Snowden in the west—its light spilled on the cloth,on the blue and white cups, on the loaf and the black teapot,on the pleasant faces and broad backs of the women sittinground.

“This is my mother—Miss Alard; and my sister Jane, andmy sister Lily....” He performed his introductions shyly.184The women stood up and shook hands—Jane Godfrey founda chair for Jenny, and Mrs. Godfrey poured her out a cupof very strong tea. There was a moment’s constraint andsome remarks about the weather but soon an easier atmosphereprevailed. This was partly due to Peter, who was always athis best with those who were not socially his equals. Jennyhad often noticed how charming and friendly he was withhis father’s tenants and the village people, whereas with hisown class he was often gruff and inarticulate. She knewthat this was not due to any democratic tastes, but simply tothe special effort which his code and tradition demanded ofhim on such occasions. She had never realised so plainly theadvantages of birth and breeding, as when at such times shesaw her unsociable brother exert himself, not to patronage butto perfect ease.

She herself found very little to say—she was too busy observingher surroundings. The “best parlour” atmospherehad entirely vanished—the contrast which the kitchen at Fourhousespresented with the drawing-room at Conster was allin the former’s favour. She found a comfort, dignity and easewhich were absent from the Alard ceremonial of afternoontea, in spite of Wills and the Sèvres china. Whether it wasthe free spill of the sunshine on table and floor, the solid,simple look of the furniture, the wonder of the old ship’sbeams, or the sweet unhurried manners of the company, shecould not say, but the whole effect was safe and soothing—therewas an air of quiet enjoyment, of emphasis on the factthat a good meal eaten in good company was a source ofpleasure and congratulation to all concerned.

She ate a substantial tea of bread and butter and lettuce,listening while Peter and Ben Godfrey talked post-war politics,now and then responding to a shy word from one of theGodfrey women. She was reluctant to praise what she sawaround her, to comment on the charm and dignity of the house,for fear she should seem to patronize—but a remark venturedon its age found Mrs. Godfrey eager to talk of her home185and able to tell much of its history. After tea she offeredto show Jenny the upstairs rooms.

“This is a fine old house, I’ve been told. The other day agentleman came over from Rye on purpose to see it.”

They walked up and down a number of small twistingpassages, broken with steps and wanting light. Rooms ledinconveniently out of one another—windows were high underthe ceiling or plumb with the floor. There was a great deal ofwhat was really good and lovely—old timber-work, old cupboards,a fine dresser, a gate-legged table and a couple of tallboys—anda great deal that recalled the best parlour, the ironbedsteads, marble-topped washstands, flower-painted mirrorsand garlanded wall-paper of the new rural tradition. All, however,was good of its kind, comfortable and in sound repair.Mrs. Godfrey was proud of it all equally.

“But I suppose, Miss Alard, you don’t find it much of ahouse compared to your own.”

“I think it’s lovely,” said Jenny—“much more exciting thanConster.”

Mrs. Godfrey was not sure whether a house had any rightto be exciting, so she made no reply. They went downstairsagain, and fearing the best parlour, Jenny suggested that theyshould go out into the yard and find the men.

“They must have finished their business by now.”

“They’ll be in Ben’s office—leastways in what he calls hisoffice,” said Mrs. Godfrey with a small tolerant laugh.

She led the way into one of the barns where a corner wasboarded off into a little room. Here stood a second-hand roll-toppeddesk and a really good yew-backed chair. The wallswere covered with scale-maps of the district and advertisementsfor cattle food, very much after the style of the officeat Starvecrow. Jenny looked round for some individual markof Ben, but saw none, unless the straightness and order ofit all were an index to his character.

“He’ll be showing Mr. Alard the stock—he’s proud of hisstock,” said Mrs. Godfrey, and sure enough the next minute186they heard voices in the yard, and saw Godfrey and Petercoming out of the cow-shed.

“Here you are,” cried Peter to his sister—“I want you tolook at Mr. Godfrey’s Sussex cattle. He’s got the finest I’veseen in the district.”

Jenny could not speak for a moment. She had seen a lookin Godfrey’s eyes when they fell on her that deprived her ofspeech. Her heart was violently turned to the man from hissurroundings in which she had sought a refuge for her self-respect—Fourhouses,its beauties and its uglinesses, becamedim, and she saw only what she had seen at first and beenashamed of—the man whom she could—whom she must—love.

§ 13

Having tea at Fourhouses had not “finished it”; and shewas glad, in spite of the best parlour. The Godfreys’ lifemight be wofully lacking in ornament, but she had seenenough to know that it was sound in fundamentals. Herewas the house built on a rock, lacking style perhaps, but standingfirm against the storms—while Alard was the house builton the sand, the sand of a crumbled and obsolete tradition,still lovely as it faced the lightning with its towers, but withits whole structure shaken by the world’s unrest.

She did not take in many impressions of her last few minutesat the farm. The outhouses and stables, tools and stock,were only a part of this bewildered turning of herself. Theyscarcely seemed outside her, but merged into the chaoticthought processes which her mind was slowly shaking intoorder. A quarter of an hour later she found herself walkingwith Peter along the road that winds at the back of Ickleshammill....

“Uncommon good sort of people, those Godfreys,” herbrother was saying.

“Yes, I liked them very much.”

“I think there’s no class in England to equal the old-fashionedyeoman farmer. I’d be sorry to see him die out.”

187“Do you think he will die out?”

“Well—land is always getting more and more of a problem.There aren’t many who can keep things up as well as Godfrey.He’s had the sense to go for livestock—it’s the onlything that pays nowadays. Of course the farmers are betteroff than we are—they aren’t hit the same way by taxation.But rates are high, and labour’s dear and damn bad. I reallydon’t know what’s going to become of the land, but I thinkthe yeoman will last longer than the Squire. Government supportshim, and won’t do a thing for us.”

Jenny said nothing. She felt unequal to a discussion inher present mood.

“I envy Godfrey in a lot of ways,” continued Peter—“he’sbeen able to do for his place things that would save ours ifonly we could afford them. He’s broken fifteen acres ofmarsh by the Brede River and gets nine bushels to the acre.Then you saw his cattle.... Something to be proud of there.If we could only go in for cattle-breeding on a large scale wemight get the farms to pay.”

“I like the way they live,” said Jenny—“they seem so quietand solid—so—so without a struggle.”

“Oh, Godfrey must be pretty well off, I suppose. I don’tknow how he’s made his money—I expect his father did itfor him. But he paid us cash down for the land, and doesn’tseem to feel it.”

“I don’t suppose they’re better off than we are. It’s simplythat they aren’t in the mess we’re in—and they haven’t gotto keep up appearances. They’re free, so they’re contented.”

Peter evidently suspected a fling at Alard in this speech, forhe answered gravely.

“All the same, it’s up to us to stand by our own class. Idaresay the Godfreys are happier and more comfortable thanwe are, but we can’t ever be like them. We can’t shelve ourresponsibilities. We’ve got a tradition as old as theirs, andwe have to stick to it, even if at present it seems to be goingunder. Personally I’m proud of it.”

Again Jenny felt herself unable to argue, to tell Peter, as188Gervase would have done, that what he called responsibilitieswere only encumbrances, that what he called tradition was onlya false standard. Instead she was acutely conscious of herdisloyalty to her people’s cause, of how near she stood tobetraying it.

She had not quite realised this before, she had not graspedthe full implications of the inward movements of her heart.She had seen herself first, in bitter shame, as a young womanwhose sexual consciousness had been stirred by a young manof a lower class; then she had seen herself as enticed notmerely by his health and comeliness but by his happy independence,his freedom from the shackles that bound her—tillat last he had become a symbol of the life outside the Alardtradition, of the open country beyond the Alard estate, a contrastto all that was petty, arbitrary and artificial in her surroundings.And now, this evening, at Fourhouses, she hadmet the man again, and met him without shame. She knewnow that she was attracted to him not merely in spite of hisclass but because of it—because he belonged to the honourableclass of the land’s freemen. He appealed to her as a man,speaking to her with his eyes the language that is commonto all men, and he appealed to her as a freeman, because sheknew that if she went to him she would be free—free of allthe numberless restrictions and distresses that bound her youth.

The problem before her now was not whether she should beashamed or not ashamed of his attraction, but whether sheshould yield to it or turn away. She faced these new thoughtsduring the rest of her walk with Peter, between the dry, abstractedphrases of her conversation—during dinner and thelong dreary evening of cards and desultory talk—and at last,in greater peace, when she had gone to bed and lay watchingthe grey moonlight that moved among the trees of the plantation.

What was she to do? What had she done? Had she fallenin love with Godfrey? Was she going to tear her life out ofits groove and merge it with his, just on the strength of thosethree meetings? She did not know—she was not sure. She189could not be in love yet, but she felt sure that she was goingto be. At least so she should have said if he had been a manof her own class. Then why should she act any differentlybecause he was not? Her defiance grew. Godfrey’s class wasa good class—his family was old, substantial and respected.It was silly and snobbish to talk as if he belonged to somemenial order—though, hang it all, any order was better thanthe order of impoverished country families to which she belonged.

Resentfully Jenny surveyed her tribe. She saw the greatfamilies of the Kent and Sussex borders struggling to showthe world the same front that they had shown before theywere shaken. She saw them failing in that struggle one byone—here a great house was closed, and for sale, with nobuyers because of its unwieldy vastness and long disrepair—hereanother was shorn of its estate stripped off it in buildingplots and small holdings—yet another had lost its freedomin mortgages, and kept its acres only at the price ofbeing bound to their ruin. There was no need for Gervase totell that the Squires, having outlived their day, were goingunder—her broken romance with Jim Parish had shown herthat. She had realised then that it was not likely that shewould ever marry into her own class. The young men whowere her friends and associates in the life of the county mustmarry wealth. Peter had gone outside the county and marriedmoney—she too one day would have to go outside andmarry money—or marry where money did not matter. Thedays were gone when Manor mated with Manor and Grangewith Grange—mighty alliances like the marriages of Kings.Nowadays, just as Kings could no longer mate with the bloodroyal but sought consorts among their subjects, so the Squiresmust seek their wives outside the strict circle of the “county”—andnot even in the professional classes, which were nearlyas hard-hit as themselves, but in the classes of aspiring trade,nouveaux-riches, war-profiteers....

Jenny grimaced—yet, after all, what else was there to do?Remain a spinster like Doris, or induce some hot-blooded190heir of impoverished acres to forget them in a moment of romance,from which he would wake one day to reproach her....No, she would have to be like the rest and marry outsidethe tribe. But since she must go out, why shouldn’t shego out in the direction she chose? Why was it very right andproper to marry into trade as long as it is wealthy, and somehowall wrong if it is not? Why was Peter without reproachfor marrying Vera Asher, whose grandfather had kept aclothes-mart in the city, while she would never be forgivenif she married Ben Godfrey, whose grandfather, with hisfather and fathers before him, had been a yeoman farmer ofancient land?

The answer of course was plain, and she must not be cynicalin giving it. If she acknowledged that the excuse was moneyshe must also acknowledge that it was money for the family’ssake—money to keep the family alive, to save its estates fromdispersal and its roof from strangers. These men and womenmarried into a class beneath them to save their families. Butif they did so to save their families, why shouldn’t she do soto save herself? Why was there always this talk of the group,the tribe, the clan, while the individual was sacrificed andpushed under? Both she and Jim Parish had been sacrificedto his family.... Doris had been sacrificed to hers... andthere was Mary, sacrificed to the family’s good name, escaping,it is true, at the last, but not till after her wings had beenbroken... there was Peter, marrying a rich woman and becomingdull and stuffy and precise in consequence. OnlyGervase so far had not been sacrificed—probably he wouldnever be, for he had already chosen his escape. And she—shenow had her chance... but she did not know if shewould take it.

Lying there in the white break of the dawn, her mind strungwith sleeplessness, she faced the danger. If she did notescape Alard would have her—she would have to offer herselfto it either as Doris had offered herself or as Peter hadoffered himself.... Why should she? Why should she sacrificeher youth to prop its age—an age which must inevitably191end in death. “Things can’t go on much longer—it’s only aquestion of putting off the end.” If the house was bound tofall, why should she be buried in the ruins?... She had amomentary pang—for she knew that Peter had great schemesfor Alard, great dreams for it—that he hoped to save it andgive it back, even in the midst of the world’s shaking, some ofits former greatness. But she could not help that. For Peterthe family might be the biggest thing in life—for her it was not,and she would be betraying the best of herself if she did notput it second to other things. What she wanted most in theworld was love—love, peace, settlement, the beauty of content... these no one but Ben Godfrey could give her.

The sky was faintly pink behind the firs. A single bird’snote dropped into the still air. She heard a movement in theroom next to hers—she and Gervase still slept at the top ofthe house in the two little rooms they had had as girl and boy.Her brother was getting up—first, she knew, to serve the altarat Vinehall, then to drive away over the Kentish hills to hiswork among bolts and screws and nuts and rods and grease... there is more than one way out of the City of Destruction.

§ 14

After that she must have slept, for when she next openedher eyes she had made up her mind. Jenny was not naturallyirresolute but she was diffident, and this problem of escapewas the biggest she had ever had to tackle. However, sleephad straightened out the twisted workings of her thought—theway was clear at last.

She sprang out of bed, alive with a glowing sense of determination.She knew that she had a great deal to planand to do. This love affair, apart from its significance, wasentirely different from any other she had had. Her intuitiontold her that she would have to make the openings, carry onall the initial stages of the wooing. She would have to showGodfrey that she cared, or his modesty would make him hangback. In common language she would have to “make the192running.” Rather to her surprise, she found that she enjoyedthe prospect. She remembered once being a little shockedby Stella Mount, who had confided that she liked making loveherself just as much as being made love to.... Well, Jennywas not exactly going to make love, but she was going to dosomething just as forward, just as far from the code of well-bredpeople—she was going to show a man in a class beneathher that she cared for him, that she wanted his admiration, hiscourtship....

She hurried over her bath and dressing, urged by the convictionthat she must act, take irretraceable steps, before shehad time to think again. She had already thought enough—morethought would only muddle her, wrap her in clouds. Actionwould make things clearer than any amount of reflection.She would go over to Fourhouses—a litter of collie pups shehad confusedly admired the day before would give her anexcuse for a visit, an excuse which would yet be frail enough toshow that it alone had not brought her there.

She was the first at breakfast that morning, and hoped thatno one else would come down while she was in the room. Herfather was generally the earliest, but today she did not hearhis footstep till she was leaving the table. There were twodoors out of the breakfast-room, and Jenny vanished guiltilythrough one as Sir John came in at the other. She wasashamed of herself for such Palais Royal tactics, but felt shewould stoop to them rather than risk having her resolutionscotched by the sight of her father.

She had decided to go on foot to Fourhouses—not onlywould it mean a more unobtrusive departure from Conster,but it would show Godfrey her determination. The purchaseof a puppy she had scarcely noticed the day before was aflimsy excuse for walking five miles across country the firstthing next morning. He would be bound to see at least partof its significance—and she had known and appraised enoughmen to realise that his was the warm, ready type which doesnot have to see the whole road clear before it advances.

193The early day was warm; a thick haze clotted the air, whichwas full of the scents of grass and dust, of the meadowsweetand the drying hay. The little lanes were already stuffy withsunshine, and before Jenny had come to Brede she realised thatthe light tweed suit she had put on was too heavy, and hersummer-felt hat was making a band of moisture round herhead, so that her hair lay draggled on her brows. She took offher coat and slung it over her arm... phew! how airless thispart of the country was, with its old, old lanes, trodden by ahundred generations of hobnails to the depth of fosses...when she was across the marsh with its trickery of dykes shewould leave the road and take to the fields. The way had notseemed so long yesterday in the cool of the evening.... Whatwould Peter say if he could see her now?—Poor old Peter!It would be dreadful for him if she carried out her scheme.He felt about things more strongly than anyone.... She wassorry for Peter.

Then she wondered what Godfrey would think when hesaw her, arriving hot and tired and breathless, with her trumpedup excuse for seeing him again. Would he despise her?—Perhaps,after all, he did not particularly care about her—shewas a fool to be so sure that he did. He probably had thatslow, admiring way with all women. Besides, it’s ridiculous togo by the look in a man’s eyes... silly... schoolgirlish... novel-reading-old-maidish... she was losing her balancein her hatred of things. She would probably find out that hewas in love with some girl of his own class.... Her heartbeat painfully at such an idea and her ridiculous mind deniedit, but she knew that her mind was only obeying her heart.

...Or he might fail to see anything significant in hercoming. He probably had one of those slow-moving countrybrains on which everything is lost but the direct hit. He mostlikely was a dull dog... and she had thought he could makeher happy—Jenny Alard, with her quick mind, high breedingand specialised education. Her longing to escape had drivenher into fancying herself in love. All she wanted was to get194away from home—and this door stood open. Beyond it shemight find even worse restrictions and futilities than those fromwhich she fled.

She was losing heart, and almost lost purpose as well. Shestopped in the lane at the foot of Snailham hill, and lookedback towards the north. Conster was hidden behind the ridgeof Udimore but she was still on Alard ground—there wasCrouch’s Farm beside the Brede River—and Little Float andCockmartin, both Alard farms—and all that green width ofmarsh was Alard’s, with its dotted sheep. She had a preposterousfeeling that if she walked off the estate on to Godfrey’sland it would be too late to turn back... if she wasgoing back she must go back now.

She stood in the pebbly marle, looking over the marsh to thetrees where Udimore church showed a hummock of roof. Shetried to examine herself, to find out in a few giddy secondswhy she was going to Fourhouses. Was it simply because shewas tired of convention—of county shams—of having to gowithout things she wanted in order to have things she didn’twant?—or was she in love with Ben Godfrey, and going tohim in spite of the efforts of her class instinct to keep her back?She suddenly knew that the latter was the only good reason.If it was true that she had fallen in love with Godfrey thesecond time she had seen him—that afternoon, weeks back, atStarvecrow—and if all this hatred of Alard ways, this rampagainst convention, was no genuine revolt against either butjust the effort of her mind to justify her heart—then she hadbetter go forward. But if, on the other hand, she really hatedher life and was willing to take any way of escape—particularlyif her unrest was due to the collapse of her affair withJim Parish—if she was going to Fourhouses only to escapefrom Conster—then she had better turn back.

She stood for a moment hesitating, her heels deep in the siltof the lane, her eyes strained towards Udimore. Then a footstepmade her start and turn round. She had the confusedimpression of a man and a gun, of a recognition and a greeting,all blurred together in the mists of her surprise. She had not195expected to meet him so far from his farm, right off his ownland... she felt a quake of disappointment, too; for theboundaries of the two estates had now a mysterious significance,and she was sorry that she had met him before she hadleft Alard ground, before she had escaped.

“Good morning, Miss Alard. You’ve come a long way soearly.”

“Yes; I was coming to Fourhouses—it struck me that youmight be willing to sell one of those collie pups you showed meyesterday.”

This was not how she had meant to speak. She knew hervoice was clipped and cold. Hang it! she might have managedto break through the wall on this special occasion. Firstwords are the most significant, and she had meant hers to havea more than ordinary warmth, instead of which they had amore than ordinary stiffness. But it was no good trying—shewould never be able so to get rid of the traditions of her classand of her sex as to show this young man that she loved him... if indeed she really did love him.

He was speaking now—she forced herself to listen to whathe said.

“I’d never sell you one of those—they’re not worth payingfor. It’s only I’m that soft-hearted I couldn’t think of drowningthem. I got rid of the last litter quite easily, just givingthem away. So I’ll be grateful if you’ll accept one.”

“Thank you—but I really couldn’t allow—I mean....”

“Won’t you come up to the place and look at them? You’llsee for yourself they’re not much. I could let you have areally good retriever-pup later, but these collies—it’s just mysister’s Lizzie that one of our old men gave her years ago, andshe’s no particular breed, and the sire’s their dog at Wickham.”

“Thanks ever so much—but you’re out with your gun, so Iwon’t trouble you to turn back.”

She wondered if he would make any explanation, offer someapology for carrying his gun over Alard fields. But he merelyurged her again to come up to Fourhouses, and slack after herconflict, she gave way and turned with him.

196“Are you bothered much with rabbits?” she asked as theywalked up the hill. “We’re simply over-run with them atConster.”

“They’re pretty bad, especially now the corn’s up. I generallytake out my gun when I go round the place.”

“But is this your land?—I thought I was still on ours.”

“This is the land I have just bought from your father, MissAlard. It was yours three months ago, but it belongs to Fourhousesnow.”

§ 15

Jenny had known before that love could make her superstitious—onlyunder its influence had she occasionally respectedthe mascots, charms, black cats and other gods of the age, oryielded to the stronger, stranger influences of buried urgenciesto touch and try.... But she was surprised at the suddenrelief which she felt at Godfrey’s words. She tried to reasonherself out of the conviction that she had definitely crossed thefrontier and could now never go back. She could not helpfeeling like one of those escaped prisoners of war she hadsometimes read of during the last five years, who passedunaware the black and orange boundary posts of Holland, and,after hiding for hours from what they took for Germansentries, found themselves at last confronted by the friendlyDutch guards. In vain she told herself that it made no differencewhether she met Godfrey on land belonging to Consteror to Fourhouses—she was in the grip of something strongerthan reason; she could not argue or scold herself out of herfollies.

The answer to all her questionings was now pretty plain.She was coming to Fourhouses for the man, not for escape.No need of her own could have made a fool of her like this.She was not fancying herself in love with Ben Godfrey—shereally loved him, attracted physically at first, no doubt, but asshe advanced finding ever more and more solid reason forattachment. She wanted him, and why in the world shouldn’tshe have him?—if he had been rich, not even the lowest rank197would have made him ineligible in her people’s eyes. Butbecause he was only “comfortable,” only had enough to live onin peace and happiness and dignity, her family would be horrifiedat such an alliance—“a common farmer,” she could hearthem calling him, and her cheeks reddened angrily as shewalked up the hill.

“Are you tired?” asked Godfrey—“let me carry your coat—it’sa terrible hot day.”

She let him relieve her, pleased at the accidental touch ofhis hand under the stuff. She wondered if he would say “Ibeg your pardon” as he had said the first time. But he wassilent, indeed the whole of the way to Fourhouses he said verylittle, and she wondered if he was pondering her in his mind,perhaps asking himself why she had come, trying to argueaway his surprise, telling himself it was just a lady’s way tobe impulsive and tramp five miles to buy a mongrel pup shehad scarcely noticed the day before. Now and then his glancecrept towards her, sweeping sideways from deepset blue eyes,under the fringe of dark lashes. She liked his eyes, becausethey were not the brown bovine eyes of the mixed race whohad supplanted the original South Saxons, but the eyes of theOld People, who had been there before the Norman stirredFrench syllables into the home-brew of Sussex names. Theywere the eyes of her own people, though she herself had themnot, and they would be the eyes of her children... she feltthe colour mounting again, but this time it was not the flushof indignation, and when next she felt his gaze upon her, herown was impelled to meet it. For the first time on that walkto Fourhouses their eyes met, and she saw that his face was asred as hers with the stain of a happy confusion.

When they came to the farm, he invited her in, saying thathe would bring her the puppies. For a moment she saw himhesitate at the parlour door, but to her relief he passed on,leading the way to the kitchen.

“Mother, here’s Miss Alard come again to see Lizzie’s pups”—heushered her in rather proudly, she thought, standing backagainst the door which he flung wide open.

198“You’re welcome,” said Mrs. Godfrey—“please sit down.”

She was ironing at the table, but stopped to pull forward achair to the window, which was open. There was no fire inthis, the big outer room, but from a smaller one within camethe sound of cracking wood and occasional bursts of singing.

“I’m afraid I’ve come at an awkward time,” said Jenny.

“Oh, no—we’re never too busy here—and Ben ull be proudto show you the little dogs, for all he makes out to look downon them, they being no sort of class and him a bit of a fancieras you might say. You’ve had a hot walk, Miss Alard—can Iget you a drink of milk? It’s been standing in the cool somewhile and ull refresh you.”

Jenny was grateful and glad. Mrs. Godfrey fetched her themilk in a glass from the dairy, then went back to her ironing.She was a stout, middle-aged woman, bearing her years in away that showed they had not been made heavy by too muchwork or too much childbearing. She could still show her goodwhite teeth, and her hair had more gloss than grey in it. Shetalked comfortably about the weather and the haymaking tillher son came back with the two most presentable of Lizzie’sfamily.

“If you’ll be kind enough to take one of these little chaps,Miss Alard....”

They spent twenty minutes or so over the puppies, and inthe end Jenny made her choice and accepted his gift.

“He won’t be ready to leave his mother for a week or twoyet.”

“I’ll come back and fetch him.”

“Won’t you come before then?”

They were alone in the great kitchen—Mrs. Godfrey hadgone into the inner room to heat her iron, and they stoodbetween the table and the window, Jenny still holding the puppyin her arms. The moment stamped itself upon her memorylike a seal. She would always remember that faint sweet scentof freshly ironed linen, that crack of a hidden fire, that slowticking of a clock—and Ben Godfrey’s face before her, sobrown, strong and alive, so lovable in its broad comeliness.199The last of her reserve dropped from her—he ceased to be aproblem, a choice, a stranger; he became just a fond, friendlyman, and her heart went out to him as to a lover, forgettingall besides.

“Yes, of course I’ll come”—she said gently—“when ever youwant me.”

§ 16

The rest of that day did not seem quite real—perhaps becauseshe would not let herself think of what she had done inthe morning, what she had committed herself to. And whenthe day was over and she lay flat on her back in her bed, withthe bedclothes up to her chin, the morning still seemed likesomething she had watched or dreamed rather than somethingshe had lived.

She did not actually live till the next day at breakfast, whenshe turned over the letters beside her plate. Among them layone in handwriting she did not know, small and laborious.She looked at the postmark and saw it was from Icklesham,and immediately found herself tingling and blushing. Her firstimpulse was to put it away and read it in solitude later on,but a contrary impulse made her open it at once—partly becauseshe could not bear the suspense, and partly because shecould not bear the shame of her own foolishness. Why shouldshe be so sure it was from Fourhouses? Ben Godfrey was notthe only person she knew in Icklesham... though the onlyperson she knew who was likely to write in that careful, half-educatedhand.... Yes, it was from Fourhouses.

My dear Miss Alard,

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health, and I hopeyou will not think I am taking a liberty to ask if you couldmeet me by the Tillingham Bridge on the road from BredeEye to Horns Cross next Thursday afternoon at three p.m.I have something very particular to say to you. Ever sinceyou were kind enough to call this morning and said you wouldcome back any time I wanted I have been thinking that perhaps200 you would like my freindship. Dear Miss Alard, I hopeyou do not think I am taking a liberty, and if you do not wantmy freindship perhaps you will kindly let me know. But eversince you came over with Mr. Peter Alard I thought perhapsyou would like my freindship. I must not say any more.But I would like to talk to you on Thursday at three p.m. ifyou will meet me on the Tillingham Bridge by DinglesdenFarm. I think that is better than me coming to your house—[“yes,I think so too,” said Jenny]—and I should be verymuch obliged if you would come. My dear Miss Alard Ihope you do not think I am taking a liberty on so short anacquaintance, but I feel I should like to be your friend. Ifyou would rather not have my freindship perhaps you willkindly let me know. Having no more to say, I will now drawto a close.

Yours sincerely,

Benjamin Godfrey.

Jenny was half surprised to find herself choking withlaughter.

“Here I am, down to brass tacks,” she thought to herself—“Imust put this letter with the best parlour and the Sundayclothes”... then suddenly, deep in her heart—“Oh, thedarling! the darling!”

“Your letters seem to be amusing,” said Doris from theother end of the table.

“Yes, they are.”

“I wish mine were. I never seem to get anything but bills.I’m glad you’re more lucky—though I expect it makes a differencenot hearing from Jim.”

“Oh, we never corresponded much—we met too often.”

“It was always the other way round with me... the pilesof letters I used to get.... I expect you remember.”

Jenny could remember nothing but a fat letter which appearedevery other day for about three weeks, from an Indiancivil servant who was presumptuous enough to think himselffit to mate with Alard.

201“Well, I’ve had my good times,” continued Doris, “so Ioughtn’t to grumble. Things seem to have been different whenI was your age. Either it was because there were more menabout, or”—she smiled reminiscently. “Anyhow, there weren’tany gaps between. I put an end to it all a little while ago—Ihad to—one finds these things too wearing... and I didn’twant to go on like Ninon de l’Enclos—I don’t think it’sdignified.”

“Perhaps not,” said Jenny absently. She was wonderingwhat Doris would say to her letter if she could see it.

After breakfast she took it up to the old schoolroom andread it again. This time it did not make her laugh. Rather,she felt inclined to cry. She thought of Ben Godfrey sittingat the kitchen table with a sheet of note-paper and a pennybottle of ink before him—she saw him wiping his forehead andbiting his penholder—she saw him writing out the note overand over again because of the blots and smudges that wouldcome. Yes, she must remember the debit side—that he wasnot always the splendid young man she saw walking over hisfields or driving his trap. There were occasions on which hewould appear common, loutish, ignorant.... But, and thiswas the change—she saw that she loved him all the better forthese occasions—these betraying circumstances of letter writing,best parlour and best clothes, which seemed to strip himof his splendour and show him to her as something humble,pathetic and dear.

“Dear Mr. Godfrey,” she said to herself—“I shall be veryhumbly grateful for your freindship... and I can’t imagineit spelt any other way.”

She found it very difficult to answer the letter, as she wasuncertain of the etiquette which ruled these occasions. Evidentlyone said little, but said it very often. In the end allshe did was to write saying she would meet him on theTillingham bridge, as he suggested. She thought it was ratherrash of him to appoint a tryst on her father’s land, but theycould easily go off the road on to the marsh, where they werenot likely to be seen.

202She posted the letter herself in the box at the end of thedrive, then gave herself up to another twenty-four hours’ in realityof waiting.

§ 17

The next day was heavy with the threat of thunder. Theragged sky hung low over the trees, and clouds of dust blewdown the lanes, through the aisles of the fennel. Jenny wasexactly punctual at her tryst. She did not know whether ornot he would expect to be kept waiting, but she had resolvedto weigh this new adventure by no false standards of coquetry,and walked boldly on to Dinglesden bridge just as the thinchimes of Conster’s stable-clock came across the fields.

He was nowhere in sight, but in a couple of minutes heappeared, riding this time on a big-boned brown horse, whoswung him along at a slow, lurching pace. Evidently he hadnot expected to find her there before him.

Directly he caught sight of her he jerked the reins and finishedthe last hundred yards at a canter, pulling up beside heron the crest of the bridge.

“Good-day, Miss Alard. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

She was pale with shyness. Hitherto she had never, underany circumstances, felt ill at ease with a man, but now she wasincomprehensibly too shy to speak. He had dismounted, andwas leading his horse towards the gate opening on the marshby Dinglesden Farm. She found herself walking beside him.

“Bit thundery,” he remarked—“maybe we’ll have a storm.”

“Do you think so?”

“I’m not sure—it may blow over. I hope it does, for I’vestill a couple of fields uncut.”

“The hay’s been good this year.”

“Not so bad—but a bit stalky.”

They were through the gate now, walking side by side overthe grass-grown, heavy rutted track that leads past the barnsof Dinglesden down the Tillingham marsh, between the riverand the hop-gardens. Jenny was glad they were off the road—soonthey would be out of sight of it. The hop-gardens that203covered the slope and threw a steamy, drowsy scent into theheaviness of the day, would hide them completely from anyonewho went by. She began to feel very much alone with Godfrey... and still neither of them spoke. They had not spokensince they had left the road.

Only a few hundred yards brought them to the turn of thevalley, where the Tillingham swings southward towards Rye.Behind them the farm and the bridge were shut out by thesloping hop-gardens, before them the marsh wound, a greenstreet, between the sorrel-rusted meadows, with the Mocksteeplestanding gaunt and solitary on the hill below Barline.

“It’s very good of you to have come,” said Ben.

“I—I wanted to come.”

He checked his horse, and they stood still.

“You—you don’t think it cheek—I mean, that I’m taking aliberty—in wanting to know you?”

“No....”

“When you came that evening to the farm, I—I wanted tosay all sorts of things, and I didn’t like... for I didn’tknow....”

“I should like to be your friend.”

Her voice came firmly at last.

“I should like to be your friend,” she repeated.

She knew what the word “friend” meant in his ears. “Myfriend” was what a girl of his class would say when she meant“my lover.”

“Well, then....”

He took her hand and blushed.

“Let’s sit down for a bit,” he said.

A stripped and fallen tree lay on the grass, and they satdown on it when he had hitched his horse to the fence of thehop-garden. Long hours seemed to roll by as they sat thereside by side... the sun came out for a moment or two, sendingthe shadow of the hop-bines racing over the ground.There was a pulse of thunder behind the meadows in thenorth. Then suddenly, for some unfathomable reason, Jennybegan to cry.

204At first he seemed paralysed with astonishment, while sheleaned forward over her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Butthe next moment his arms came round her, drawing her gentlyup against him, her cheek against his homespun coat that smeltof stables.

“My dear... my little thing... don’t cry! What is it?—Areyou unhappy? What have I done?”

She could not speak—she could only lift her face to his,trying to smile, trying to tell him with her streaming eyes thatshe was not unhappy, only silly, only tired. He seemed tounderstand, for he drew her closer, and she could feel his wholebody trembling as he put his mouth shyly against hers.

One or two drops of rain splashed into the ruts, and a moanof wind suddenly came through the hop-bines. He lifted hishead, still trembling. He looked at her sidelong, as if for amoment he expected her to be angry with him, to chide hispresumption. He would have taken away his arm, but she heldit about her.

“You’ll get wet,” he said reluctantly—“we should ought tomove.”

“I don’t care—I don’t want to move. Let me stay like this.”

“Then you aren’t angry with me for——”

“Why should I be?”

“Well, we aren’t long acquainted....”

§ 18

During the next two months Jenny grew sweetly familiarwith that strip of marsh between the hop-gardens and the RiverTillingham. The Mocksteeple, standing out on the hill abovethe river’s southward bend, had become one of many joyfulsigns. Once more the drab, ridiculous thing looked down onAlard loves, though now it was not a cynical Alard Squiremaking sport of the country girls, but an Alard girl tastingtrue love for the first time with a yeoman. Her earlier love affairs,even that latest one with Jim Parish, became thin, frailthings in comparison.

205Godfrey was contemptuous of Jim.

“He couldn’t have loved you, or he’d never have let you go.He’d have let his place go first.”

“Would you let Fourhouses go for me, Ben?”

“Reckon I would.”

“Thank God you haven’t got to choose.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t got to choose, for I’d like to show you.”“Well, I’m glad, for whichever way you chose it ud be hardfor you.”

“No—not hard.”

“You don’t know, because you’re safe; you haven’t even gotto think of it. But I’m sorry for some of our men—yes, forJim Parish, and even for Peter. You see, it’s not merelychoosing for themselves. They have their families to consider.You can’t dish all your relations just because you want to getmarried.”

Love was making her soft in judgment.

“No relation that had any heart would stand in the way ofa young chap’s marrying a good girl. My mother ud soonerturn out and live in a cottage than see me go without a wife.”

“But would you turn your mother out, Ben?”

“We’d all go out together—for my wife.”

His love-making was a delightful blend of diffidence andardour. At first it had been difficult to show him that she wastouchable, approachable to caresses. Yet once she had shownhim the way, he had required no more leading. He had awarm, gentle nature, expressing itself naturally in fondness.His love for her seemed to consist in equal parts of passionand affection. It lacked the self-regarding element to whichshe was accustomed, and though it held all the eager qualitiesof fire, there was about it a simplicity and a shyness whichwere new to her. After a time she discovered that he had amind like a young girl’s, and an experience very nearly aswhite. He had spent his life in the society of animals andgood women, and the animals had taught him to regard themnot as symbols of license but as symbols of order, and thewomen had taught him that they were something more than206animals. He had the fundamental cleanness of a man whotakes nature naturally.

There had been another surprise for her, too, and this hadlain in his attitude towards her position and her family. Shediscovered that his deference for her was entirely for her as awoman, and he had no particular respect for her as an Alard.His courtship would have been as diffident if she had been thedaughter of the farmer of Glasseye or the farmer of Ellenwhorne.He was grateful to her for loving him, and infinitelycareful of her love, as a privilege which might be withdrawn,but he saw no condescension in her loving him, no recklessnessin her seeking him. Indeed, the only time she found a stiffnessin him was when she told him that their love would have tobe secret as far as her family was concerned. He had cometo see her openly and innocently at Conster, and though luckilyher people had been out, and she had been able to convey tothe servants that he had only called on business, she had hadto warn him that he must not come again.

“But why not?—I’m not ashamed of loving you.”

“It isn’t that, Ben.”

“Nor ashamed of myself, neither.”

“Oh, darling, can’t you understand that it’s because of myparents—what they’ll think and say—and do, if they get thechance?”

“You mean they won’t hold with us marrying?”

“No—they won’t hold with it at all.”

“I expect they’d like you to marry a lord.”

“It isn’t so much a lord that they want as someone withmoney.”

“Well, I’ve got plenty of that, my lovely.”

“Not what they’d call plenty—they want a really rich man,who’ll be able to put us on our feet again.”

“Reckon he’d be hard to find. You’d need fifty thousandto do that, I reckon.”

Jenny nodded.

“Thank God,” he said, “my lands free.”

207“You’re lucky.”

“It’s only because I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew,nor my father before me. That piece I bought from yourfather is the first that Fourhouses has bought for sixty years.We’re not grand landlords, us. Maybe”... he hesitated amoment... “your father and mother ud think you weremarrying beneath you to marry me. I reckon we’re not gentry,and I was sent to the National School. But my folk have hadFourhouses two hundred year, and we’ve kept ourselves honest,for all that my grandfather married a gipsy. There was a ladyI met on leave in Egypt asked me to marry her,” he addednaïvely, “and Lord! she was beautiful and had lovely gowns,and was a great man’s widow. But I couldn’t feel rightlytowards her, so I declined the favour she would do me, butwas honoured all the same. What are you laughing at, duck?”

“Not at you.”

She realised that the war was probably in part responsiblefor his failure to see the barriers between them—its freedomscoupled with his own inherited consciousness of a good inheritanceand an honest history. She was not sorry for this—itshowed that he was aware of no maladjustments in theircomradeship, in their tastes, views, thoughts, ideas, which nowthey exchanged freely. It made their courtship much morenatural. All she feared was his resentment at her family’sattitude.

But she found him unexpectedly mild on this point. Hisself-respect was solid and steady enough not to be shaken bywhat would have upset a man standing less securely. He wasproud of his yeoman birth, his prosperous farm and freeinheritance, and could laugh at the contempt of struggling,foundering Conster. Moreover, he loved Jenny, and, since sheloved him, could forgive those who did not think him goodenough for her. He agreed that their engagement should bekept from her people, though it was known to his, till she couldfind a proper time for disclosing it. Meanwhile they met eitherat Fourhouses, where the kindly, dignified welcome of his208mother and sisters saved their love from any sordid touch ofthe clandestine, or else, nearer Jenny’s home, at Brede Eyeor the Mocksteeple.

As time went on she felt the necessity of taking at least onemember of her family into her confidence—partly to makecontrivance more easy, and partly as a help in the ultimate crisiswhich must come before long. Ben was slow in his methods,and did not belong to a class who made marriages in haste, butshe knew that the last months of the year would probably becrucial. She would then have somehow to declare herself, andshe saw the need for an ally.

Of course there was only Gervase. She knew that he alonewas in the least likely to take her part; and in spite of hergrowing approach to Peter, she realised that it would be follyto turn to him now. He had married a girl whose grandfatherBen Godfrey’s grandfather would have despised, neverthelesshe would be horror-stricken at the marriage she proposed tomake—he would talk as if she was marrying beneath her, asif she was making herself cheap and degrading her name. Shecould not bear it.... No, Peter would have to stay outside.Gervase was altogether different—he had accomplished his ownrevolt, and would encourage hers. Besides, he had always beenher special brother, and though lately his new interests andlong absences had a trifle estranged them, she knew she hadonly to turn to him to find their old alliance standing.

It was with this special decision that she came from theMocksteeple one evening in September. She had told Benthat she meant to confide in Gervase, and he had agreed, thoughshe knew that he too was sorry it could not be Peter. She feltthe approach of relief—it would be a relief to have someonewith whom she could discuss her difficulties, on whose occasionalco-operation she could depend, and whose goodwillwould support her during the catastrophic days of disclosure.Gervase seemed greater to her in all these capacities than heseemed to Ben. She knew that Ben thought him a mere boy,whose knowledge of their circumstances might, far from giving209them support, actually lead to their confusion. But Jennystill had her queer new respect for Gervase. No doubt he wasa hothead, a rather uncritical revolutionary; but his ideasseemed lately to have grown more stable; they seemed lessready-made, more the fruit of his own thinking. His contemptof his people’s gods had no longer such a patent origin inyouthful bumptiousness, but seemed rather due to the fact ofhis having built his own holy places. She wondered whathad taught him wisdom—which of the new elements that hadlately come into his life. Was it work, religion, love, ormerely his growing older?

§ 19

She did not find an opportunity for speaking to him alonetill after dinner. He went out, saying that he had some workto do at the garage, and as Rose Alard had dined at Consterand now made the fourth at bridge, Jenny was soon able toslip away after him.

She found him guiding an electric light bulb to and froamong the inward parts of the Ford. Gervase always did hisown cleaning and repairs, which meant a lot of hard work,as the run to Ashford must be made every day, no matter howdirty the roads and the weather, and the lorry, which had longlost its youth when he first took it over, was now far advancedin unvenerable old age.

“Hullo, Jenny,” he cried when he saw her—“so you’veescaped from the dissipations of the drawing-room.”

“Yes, Rose is playing tonight, thank heaven! and I’ve comeout to talk to you.”

“That’s good. I’m sorry to be in this uncivilised place, butI can’t help it. Henry Ford has appendicitis, and I mustoperate at once. He’s got one wheel in the grave, I’m afraid,but with a little care and coddling I can make him last till I’mthrough with Ashford.”

“When will that be?”

210“Next January.”

“And what will you do then?”

“Get some sort of a job, I suppose.”

She thought he looked fagged and jaded, though it mighthave been the light, and the ugliness of his dirty blue slopsbuttoned up to his collarless chin. After all, now she came tothink of it, he must have a pretty hard life—up every morningat six or earlier, driving fifteen miles to and fro in all weathers,working hard all day, and then coming home late, generally tofinish the day with cleaning and repairs.

“Gervase,” she said abruptly—“are you happy?”

“Yes, Jen—quite happy. Are you?”

“Oh, Gervase....”

He looked up at the change in her voice.

“I’ve something to tell you,” she said hurriedly—“I’m goingto be married.”

“What! To Jim Parish?”

“Oh, no, not to him. That’s all over. Gervase, I want youto stand by me; that’s why I’m telling you this. I’m making agreat venture. I’m marrying Ben Godfrey.”

“Ben Godfrey....”

He repeated the name vaguely. Evidently it conveyednothing to him. He was so much away that he heard littleof the talk of the estate.

“Yes. The farmer of Fourhouses. Don’t you know him?I’ve known him three months, and we love each other. Fatherand Mother and Peter and everyone will be wild when theyknow. That’s why I want to have you on my side.”

“Jenny, dear....” He carefully deposited Henry Ford’sappendix on the shelf, wiped his oily fingers on a piece of rag,and came and sat beside her on the packing case where shehad perched herself—“Jenny, dear, this is too exciting forwords. Do tell me more about it.”

Jenny told him as much as she could—how meeting BenGodfrey had set her mind on a new adventure and a newrevolt—how she had resolved not to let her chance slip by,211but had let him know she cared—how eager and sweet hisresponse had been, and how happy life was now, with meetingand love-making. Her manner, her looks, her hesitations toldhim as much as her words.

“You will stand by me, won’t you, Gervase?”

“Of course I will, Jen. But do you mind if I ask you oneor two questions?”

“Ask whatever you like. As you’re going to help me, you’vea right to know.”

“Well, are you quite sure this is going to last?”

“My dear! I never thought you’d ask that.”

“I daresay it sounds a silly and impertinent question. ButI must ask it. Do you think he’s pulled your heart away fromyour judgment? And do you think it’s possible that you mayhave been driven towards him by reaction, the reaction fromall that long, meandering, backboneless affair with Jim Parish,and all the silly, trivial things that did for it at last? Don’t beangry with me. I must put that side of the question to you,or I’d never forgive myself.”

“Do you think I’ve never put it to myself? Oh, Gervase, itwas exactly what I thought at the beginning. I told myself itwas only reaction—only because I was bored. But when I methim at Fourhouses I couldn’t help seeing it was more than that,and now I know it’s real—I know, I know.”

“Have you tastes and ideas in common?”

“Yes, plenty. He has very much the same sort of abstractideas as I have—thinks the same about the war and all that.And he’s read, too—he loves Kipling, and Robert Service’spoems, though he reads boys’ books as well. He really has abetter literary taste than I have—you know what Vera thinksof my reading. And he’s travelled much more than I have,seen more of the world. He’s been in Mesopotamia, and Egypt,and Greece, and France. And yet he’s so simple and unassuming.He’s much more of a ‘gentleman’ in his speech andmanners than lots of men I know.”

“Have you ever seen him in his Sunday clothes?”

212“Yes, I have, and survived. He wears a ready-made brownsuit with a white stripe in it. And that’s the worst there isabout him.”

“What are his people like?”

“They’re darlings. His mother is solid and comfortable andmotherly, and the girls are about my own age, but with muchbetter manners. When Ben and I are married, the others willlive in a part of the house which is really quite separate fromthe rest—has a separate door and kitchen—the newest of thefour houses. Oh, I tell you, Gervase, I’ve faced everything—tastes,ideas, family, Sunday clothes—and there’s nothing thatisn’t worth having, or at least worth putting up with for thesake of the rest, for the sake of real comfort, real peace, realfreedom, real love....”

Her eyes began to fill, and he felt her warm, sobbing breathon his cheek.

“Jennie, I want to kiss you. But I should have to make toomany preparations first—take off my slops, wash my hands withsoda, and clean my teeth, because I’ve been smoking woodbinesall day. So I think I’d better put it off till Sunday. But I docongratulate you, dear—not only on being in love but on beingso brave. I think you’re brave, Jenny; it’s so much more difficultfor a woman to break away than for a man. But you’dnever have found happiness in the family groove, and sometimesI was afraid that... never mind, I’m not afraid now.”

“And you’ll stand by me, Gervase?”

“Of course I will. But you’ve got to show me the youngman. I won’t stand by an abstraction. I want to see if I likehim as flesh and blood.”

“I’ll take you over to Fourhouses on Saturday afternoon.And I’m quite sure you’ll like him.”

“I’ve made up my mind to, so he’ll be a pretty hopeless washoutif I don’t. I wonder that I haven’t ever met him, but Iexpect it’s being away so much.”

Jenny was about to enlarge further on her young man’squalities, when she remembered that there is nothing more tiresometo an unprosperous lover than the rhapsodies of someone213whose love is successful and satisfied. Gervase had lovedStella Mount for two years—everybody said so—but nothingseemed to have come of it. It must distress him to hear ofher happiness which had come so quickly. She wondered ifhis worn, fagged look were perhaps less due to hardship thanto some distress of his love. She was so happy that she couldnot bear to think of anyone being miserable, especially Gervase,whom, next to Ben, she loved better than all the world. Shechecked her outpourings, and took his grimy, oil-stained handin hers, laying it gently in her satin lap.

“Kid—do tell me. How are things between you and Stella?”

“There aren’t any ‘things’ between me and Stella.”

“Oh, Gervase, don’t tell me you’re not in love with her.”

“I won’t tell you anything so silly. Of course I’m in lovewith her, but it’s not a love that will ever give her to me.It can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because she doesn’t care for me in that way. I don’t supposeshe thinks of me as anything but a boy.”

“Doesn’t she know you love her?”

“She may—I daresay she does. But I’m sure she doesn’tlove me.”

“Have you ever asked her?”

“No.”

“Well, then... Gervase!”

“One can find out that sort of thing without asking.”

“Indeed one can’t—not with a girl like Stella. If you didn’tspeak, she’d probably try very hard not to influence you in anyway, because she realises that there are difficulties, and wouldbe afraid of leading you further than you felt inclined.”

“I haven’t seen so very much of her lately. We never meetexcept on Sundays. I can’t help thinking that she’s trying tokeep me at a distance.”

“Perhaps she’s surprised at your not speaking. How longhave you been friends?”

“About three years, I suppose.”

“And all that time people have been bracketing you together,214and you’ve said nothing. I expect she’s wondering why onearth you don’t make love to her.”

“I shouldn’t dare.”

“Not to Stella?—She seems to me a girl one could makelove to very easily.”

“I agree—once she’d said ‘yes.’ But she’s a girl one couldn’ttake risks with—she’d be too easily lost. I’ve a feeling that ifI made a move in that direction without being sure of her,she’d simply go away—fade out. And I’m terrified of losingthe little I’ve got of her.”

“But you may lose her through not being bold enough. Itsickens a girl frightfully when a man hangs round and doesn’tspeak. The reason that she seems to avoid you now may bethat she’s offended.”

“Jenny, you don’t know Stella. She’s so candid, so transparent,that if she had any such feelings about me, I’d be sureto see it. No, I think she stands away simply because she’sfound out that people are talking, and wants to keep me ata distance.”

“But you can’t be sure. You may be quite mistaken. If Iwas a man I’d never let things go by default like that. Shewon’t ‘fade out’ if you do the thing properly. Women arealways pleased to be asked in marriage—at least if they’rehuman, and Stella’s human if she’s nothing else.”

“And so am I. That’s why I can’t bear the thought of hersaying ‘no.’”

“I’ll be surprised if she says ‘no.’ But anyhow I’d ratherlose a good thing through its being refused me than throughnot having the spirit to ask for it.”

“Yes, I think you’re right there.”

He fell into a kind of abstraction, stroking his chin with onehand, while the other still lay in her lap. Then he rose suddenlyand went over to the shelf where he had put his tools.

“Well, I can’t leave Henry Ford with his inside out whileI talk about my own silly affairs. You may be right, Jen—Idunno. But I’m frightfully, ever so, glad about you—youdear.”

215“Thank you, Gervase. It’s such a relief to have you on myside.”

“When are you going to spring it on the family?”

“Oh, not just yet—not till Christmas, perhaps. We wantto have everything settled first.”

“I think you’re wise.”

“Remember, you’re coming with me to Fourhouses on Saturday.”

“Rather! That’s part of the bargain. I must see the youngman.”

“And I’m sure you’ll like him.”

“I can very nearly promise to like him.”

She went up to him and put her hands on his shoulders.

“Good night, old boy. I must be going in now—I supposeyou’re here till bed time?”

“And beyond—good night, Jenny.”

“Gervase, you’re getting thin—I can feel your bones.”

“I’d be ashamed if you couldn’t. And do run along—I’vejust had a vision of Wills carrying in the barley water tray.Clairvoyantly I can see him tripping over Mother’s footstool,clairaudiently I can hear Father saying ‘Damn you, Wills.Can’t you look where you’re going?’... Leave the busy surgeonnow, there’s a dear.”

He stepped back from under her hands, and thoughtfullyheld up Henry Ford’s appendix to the light.

§ 20

Jenny had made more impression than she knew on Gervase’sideas of Stella. Hitherto he had always tacitly accepteda tolerated position—she had allowed him to go for walks withher, to come and see her on Sundays, to write to her, to talkto her endlessly on the dull topic of himself; she had alwaysbeen friendly, interested, patient, but he had felt that if sheloved him she would not have been quite all these—not quiteso kind or friendly or patient. And lately she had withdrawnherself—she had found herself too busy to go for walks, and216in her father’s house there was always the doctor or the priest.He respected and thought he understood her detachment.People were “talking,” as long ago they had “talked” abouther and Peter, and she wanted this new, unfounded gossipto die.

Now it struck him that there was a chance that Jenny mightbe right, and that Stella fled before the gossip not because shewanted to disprove it, but because she wished it better founded,was perhaps a little vexed with him that it was not. Of course,if all these three years she had been wanting him to speak....For the first time he saw a certain selfishness in his conduct—hewas ashamed to realise that he had been content with hisposition as hopeless lover, so content that he had never givena thought to wondering if it pleased her. There had been asubtle self-indulgence in his silent devotion.... “Lord! Ibelieve it’s as bad as if I’d pestered her.”

But he really could not believe that if Stella loved him hewould not know it. One of her chief qualities was candour,and she was impulsive enough to make him think that shewould readily give expression to any attraction that she felt.If Jenny, who was so much more cold and diffident, could havebeen quickened by love into taking the first step towards BenGodfrey, how much more swiftly and decisively would ardentStella move when her heart drove her. Of course she mightsee the drawbacks and dangers of marrying a man so muchyounger than herself—she might have held back for his sake... perhaps that was why she was holding back now....But he did not really think so—love was the last emotion thata nature like Stella’s could hide, however resolute her will.

There seemed no way of solving his doubts but to do asJenny suggested and to ask her. He shrank from putting hisfate to the test.... But that was only part of this sameselfishness he had discovered. By speaking, he could harmnobody but himself. He might indeed turn himself out ofParadise, that garden of hopeless loving service which washome to him now. But he could not hurt or offend Stella—she217could not accuse him of precipitancy after three years—andif it was true that she cared, as might be just possible,then he would have put an end to a ridiculous and intolerablestate of things.

In this indecision he went with Jenny to Fourhouses onSaturday. He did not talk to her about his own affairs—forhers were too engrossing for both of them. She was desperatelyanxious that he should like Ben Godfrey, not only becauseit would put their alliance on firm and intimate ground, butbecause she wanted her brother’s friendship to apologise andatone to her lover for the slights of the rest of her family.As she grew in love for Ben and in experience of his worthshe came fiercely and almost unreasonably to resent what sheknew would be the attitude of her people towards him. Shecame more and more to see him from his own point of view—aman as good as Alard, and more honourably planted in theearth. She marvelled at herself now because she had oncethought that she was stooping—she laughed at her scheme forholding out the sceptre.

But though she was anxious, she was not surprised that thetwo men should like each other. Ben Godfrey had all thequalities that Gervase admired, and young Alard was by thistime quite without class consciousness, having lost even thenegative kind which comes from conscientious socialism. Hehad had very little of congenial male society during the last twoand a half years, as his work at Ashford had kept him chieflyamong men with whom he had little in common. The farmerof Fourhouses belonged altogether to a different breed fromthe self-assertive young mechanics at Gillingham and Golightly’s... there was no need to warn Jenny here of fataldifferences in the pursuit of wealth, women and God.

Gervase was very favourably impressed by all he saw, andcame home a little envious of his sister. She had found ahappiness which particularly appealed to him, for it was ofboth common and adventurous growth. She would be happyin the common homely things of life, and yet they would not218be hers in quite the common way—she would hold them as anadventurer and a discoverer, for to win them she would havedared and perhaps suffered much.

That was how Gervase wanted happiness—with double rootsin security and daring. He wondered if only the kingdom ofheaven was happy in that way, and if he could not find homelinessand adventure together on earth. He did not want onewithout the other, he did not want peace with dullness, norexcitement with unrest. He had learned that the soul couldknow adventure with profoundest quiet—might not the bodyknow it too? Walking home in the sunset from Fourhouses,Gervase longed for the resurrection of the body—forhis body to know what his soul knew; and his heart told himthat only Stella could give him this, and that if she would not,he must go without it.

§ 21

On Sunday mornings Gervase always went to see his motherbefore breakfast. It was to make up, he said, for seeing solittle of her during the rest of the week. Lady Alard wassubtly pleased and flattered by these visits. No one else everpaid them. He would sit on the bed and talk to her—not asthe rest of the family talked, in a manner carefully adapted toher imbecility, but as one intelligent being to another, aboutpolitics and books and other things she could not understand.This pleased her all the more because he was careful to suggesther part of the conversation as well as carrying on his own;he never let her expose her ignorance. And though she secretlyknew he was aware of it, and that he knew that she knew, theinterview never failed to raise her in her own esteem, as amother in whom her son confided.

This particular Sunday he stayed rather longer than usual,giving her the right attitude towards Queen Victoria, as towhich she had always been a little uncertain. He had justbeen reading Lytton Strachey’s Life, and they laughed togetherover the tartan upholstery of Balmoral, and shook their219heads and wondered over John Brown. From John Brownthe conversation somehow wandered to Gervase’s work at Ashford,and finally ended in a discussion of the days not so veryfar ahead when he should have finished at the workshop andbe his own master.

“What shall I do with myself then, Mother? Shall I opena garage in Leasan, so that you can sack Appleby and sell thecar, and hire off me? Or would you like just to sack Applebyand let me drive the car? You’d find me most steady andreliable as a shuvver, and it would be such fun having teawith the maids when you went calling.”

“I wish you’d taken up a more dignified profession. Therereally doesn’t seem to be anything for you to do now that isn’trather low.”

“I’m afraid I like doing low things, Mother. But I reallydon’t know what I’m going to do when I leave Gillingham’s.It’s funny—but my life seems to stop at Christmas. I can’tlook any further. When I first went into the works I wasalways making plans for what I’d do when I came out of them.But now I can’t think of anything. Well, anyhow, I’ve gotmore than three months yet—there’ll be time to think of somethingbefore then. Did you know that I start my holiday nextweek?—Ten whole, giddy days—think of that!”

“Shall you be going away?”

“No, I don’t think so. A man I was with at Winchesterasked me to come and stop with his people. But he lives inScotland, and I can’t afford the journey. Besides it wouldn’tbe worth it just for a week.”

“I thought you said you’d got ten days.”

“Yes—but I’m going to spend four of them at ThundersAbbey near Brighton. Father Luce thought it would be a goodidea if I went to a retreat.”

“Oh, Gervase!—is it a monastery?”

“The very same. It’s the chief house of the Order of SacredPity.”

“But, my dear—are you—oh, you’re not going to become amonk?”

220“No fear—I’m just going into retreat for four days, for thegood of my soul.”

“Well, I don’t know what a retreat is, but I feel it woulddo you much more good if you went to Scotland. You’relooking quite white and seedy. Are you sure your heart’sall right? You know we’ve got angina in the family. I’vehad it for years and years, and poor George died of it. I’mso afraid you’ve got it too.”

“I haven’t—honour bright. I’m looking white because Iwant a holiday—and I’m going to have one—for both bodyand soul.... And now I really must go down to breakfastor I shan’t be able to get more than my share of thekidneys.”

Sunday breakfast was an important contrast with the breakfastsof the week. On week-days he either scrambled througha meal half-cooked by the kitchen-maid, or shared the dryshort-commons of Father Luce’s cottage. On Sundays he atehis way exultingly through porridge, bacon, kidneys, toastand honey, with generally three cups of coffee and a slice ofmelon. As a rule the family were all down together on Sunday,having no separate engagements, but an hour of unitedloafing before Appleby brought round the car to take to churchsuch of them as felt inclined for it.

Gervase had to start earlier—directly breakfast was over.His Parish Mass was at half-past ten, in consideration forVinehall’s Sunday dinners, since there the rich and the poorwere not separated into morning and evening congregations.Also he was Master of the Ceremonies, and had to be in thesacristy well before the service began, to make the usual preparations,and exhort and threaten the clumsy little servers,who came tumbling in at the last moment with their heads fullof Saturday’s football. Gervase was not a ritualist, and hisaim was to achieve as casual an effect as possible, to createan atmosphere of homeliness and simplicity round the altar.But so far he had got no nearer his ideal than a hard-breathingconcentration—the two torch-bearers gripped their torchesas if they were to defend their lives with them, and the panting221of the thurifer mingled with the racket of his cheap brasscenser.

It was not till the sermon began that he had time to lookfor Stella. When he had taken his seat in the Sanctuary withhis arms folded, and had seen that the three little boys werealso sitting with their arms folded instead of in more abandonedattitudes, he was free to search for her face throughthe incense-cloud that floated in the nave. He found her verysoon, for a ray of golden, dusty sunshine fell upon her as shesat with her arm through Dr. Mount’s. The sunshine haddredged all the warm brown and red tints out of her hair andface, giving her a queer white and golden look that made herunreal. As he looked at her, she smiled, and he found thather smile had come in response to a smile of his which hadunknowingly stolen over his face as he watched her. Hersmile was rather sad, and he wondered if the sadness too wasa response.

Mr. Luce was delivering one of Newman’s Parochial Sermonsin his own halting words, and though Gervase alwaysmade it a point of discipline to listen to sermons, howevermuch they bored him, he found that this morning attentionwas almost impossible. Stella seemed to fix his thoughts sothat he could not drag them from her. He knew that his attitudetowards her was changing—it was becoming more disturbed,more desperate. His heart must have been ready forthis change, for he did not think that Jenny’s words wouldhave had power to work it of themselves. He wondered whereit was leading him... he wondered if it had anything todo with this feeling as of a ditch dug across his life at theend of the year.... But probably his leaving the worksafter Christmas would account for that. Well, anyhow, hewould have to put an end to the present state of affairs—theywere the result of mere selfishness and cowardice on his part.Perhaps he ought to go away—leave Stella altogether, sinceshe did not love him and his heart was unquiet because ofher... he would have his chance to go away in January—rightaway.... But he could not—he could never bear to222live away from her. And he had no certain knowledge thatshe did not love him—perhaps she did—perhaps Jenny wasright after all.... “In the Name of the Father and of theSon and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

§ 22

After Mass, Gervase and the Vicar walked together toHollingrove.

“I’ve heard from Thunders Abbey,” said Gervase to Luce,“and there’s a vacancy for the eighteenth. So I shall go.”

“I wonder how you’ll like it.”

“So do I. But I’m glad I’m going. They’re full up really,but Father Lawrence said I could sleep at the farm.”

“Then you’ll have to get up early. It’s fifteen minutes’ walkfrom the Abbey, and Mass is at half-past six and of obligation.”

“Never mind—I’m used to hardships, though I know youthink I wallow in unseemly luxuries. But I’m getting keenon this, Father. Whether I like it or not, I know it will beexciting.”

“Exciting! That’s a nice thing to expect of a retreat.”

“Well, religion generally is exciting, isn’t it, so the moreI get the more exciting it’s likely to be.”

“Um—too exciting perhaps.”

“What do you mean, Father?”

But Luce would not tell him, and in another minute theywere at Dr. Mount’s cottage, where they always had mid-daydinner on Sundays. It was cooked by Stella herself, helpedby the little maid, so she did not appear till it was ready. Shehad changed her frock and bore no traces of her labours beyonda face heated by the fire. Her cheeks were flushed andher eyes bright—she looked absurdly young. How old wasshe, Gervase wondered? Twenty-eight or twenty-nine? Butshe did not look a bit over twenty. She did not look as oldas he did. It must be her vitality which kept her young likethis—her vitality... and the way she did her hair. Hesmiled.

223“What are you smiling at, Gervase?”

“At you, Stella.”

“And why at me?”

“Because you look so absurdly young. And I’ve been veryknowing, and have decided that it’s the way you do yourhair.”

“Really, Gervase, you’re not at all gallant. Surely I lookyoung because I am young. If you think different yououghtn’t to say so.”

“This is a poor beginning for your career as a ladies’ man,”said Dr. Mount.

“Just as well he should start it on me,” said Stella—“thenhe’ll know the technique better by the time it really matters.”

Her words stabbed Gervase—they showed him how hestood with her. She did not take him seriously—or if shedid, she was trying to show him that it was all no use, thathe must give up thinking of her. The result was that hethought of her with concentrated anxiety for the rest of themeal, his thoughts making him strangely silent.

He was not wanted at Catechism that afternoon, so hecould spend it with her, and for the first time he found theprivilege unwelcome. He remembered other Sunday afternoonswhen he had lain blissfully slack in one of the armchairs,while Stella curled herself up in the other with abook or some sewing. They had not talked consecutively, butjust exchanged a few words now and then when the processesof their minds demanded it—it had all been heavenlyand comfortable and serene.... He found himself longingalmost angrily to be back in his old attitude of contented hopelessness.But he knew that he could never go back, thoughhe did not exactly know why. What had happened that hecould no longer find his peace in her unrewarded service?Had he suddenly grown up and become dependent on realities—nolonger to be comforted with dreams or to taste the sweetsadness of youth?

He had half a mind to go for a walk this afternoon andleave her—he knew that she would not try to make him stay.224But, in spite of all, he hankered after her company; alsothere was now growing up in him a new desire to come togrips with her, to know exactly where he stood—whether,though she did not want his love she still wanted his friendship,or whether she would like him to go away. So whenFather Luce went off to his Catechism, and the doctor to seea couple of patients at Horns Cross, Gervase stayed behindin the sitting-room where they had had their coffee, and askedStella, according to custom, if she would mind his pipe.

“You know, Gervase, you’re always allowed to smoke yourpipe if I’m allowed to mend my stockings. Neither is exactlycorrect behaviour in a drawing-room, but if you dispense mefrom the rules of feminine good-breeding, I’ll dispense youfrom the rules of masculine etiquette.”

“Thank you.”

He took out his pipe, and she fetched her work-basketfrom the back of the sofa. Nothing could have looked moredomestic than the two of them sitting each side of the fire,he smoking, she darning, both silent. But the unreality of itvexed him this afternoon. He could not play the childishgame he had sometimes played, of pretending they were married,and being content. “When I became a man I put awaychildish things....” He wanted to have the power to goover to her as she sat absorbed in her work, turn up her faceand kiss her—or else pick her off the chair and set her onhis knee....

“Stella,” he said gruffly.

“Well?”

“I want to speak to you.”

“What is it?”

“Well... our friendship isn’t the same as it used to be.”

He would be furious if she contradicted him—or if she said‘Oh, really? I haven’t noticed anything.’ But she said atonce—

“I know it isn’t.”

“And what do you put that down to?”

She hedged for the first time.

225“I don’t know.”

“You’re trying to keep me at a distance.”

She did not speak, but he saw the colour burning on theface that she bent hurriedly over her work.

He edged his chair closer, and repeated—

“Yes, you are, Stella—trying to keep me off.”

“I—I’m sorry.”

“You needn’t be sorry; but I wish you’d tell me why you’redoing it. It isn’t that you’ve only just discovered that I loveyou—you’ve always known that.”

“I’m wasting your time, Gervase. I shouldn’t keep youdangling after me.”

“You mean that I’ve hung about too long?”

“Oh, no....” She was obviously distressed.

“Stella, I’ve loved you for years, and you know it—you’vealways known it. But I’ve never asked anything of you orexpected anything. All I’ve wanted has been to see you andtalk to you and do anything for you that I could. It hasn’tdone me any harm. I’m only just old enough to marry, andI have no means.... And up till a little while ago I wascontent. Then you changed, and seemed to be trying to putme off—it hurt me, Stella, because I couldn’t think why....”

“Oh, I can’t bear to hurt you.” To his surprise he sawthat her tears were falling. She covered her face.

“Stella, my little Stella.”

By leaning forward he could put his hand on her knee.It was the first caress that he had ever given her, and theunbearable sweetness of it made him shiver. He let hishand lie for a few moments on her warm knee, and after atime she put her own over it.

“Gervase, I’m so sorry—I’m afraid I’ve treated you badly.I let you love me—you were so young at first, and I saw itmade you happy, and I thought it would pass over. Thenpeople began to talk, as they always do, and I took no notice—itseemed impossible, me being so much older than you—untilI found that... I mean, one day I met Peter, and hereally thought we were engaged....”

226It was not her words so much as the burst of bitter weepingthat followed them which showed Gervase the real stateof her heart. She still loved Peter.

“It’s nothing to regret, dear,” he said hurriedly—“you wereperfectly right. And now I understand....”

“But it’s wrong, Gervase, it’s wrong....” By some instinctshe seemed to have discovered that he guessed her secret... “it’s wrong; but oh, I can’t help it! I wish I could. Itseems dreadful not to be able to help it after all theseyears.”

She had gripped his hand in both hers—her body was stiffand trembling.

“Stella, darling, don’t be so upset. There’s nothing wrongin loving—how could there be? Surely you know that.”

“Yes I do. It’s not the loving that’s wrong, but letting mywhole life be hung up by it. Letting it absorb me so thatI don’t notice other men, so that I can’t bear the thought ofmarrying anyone else—so that I treat you badly.”

“You haven’t treated me badly, my dear. Get that out ofyour head at once.”

“I have—because I’ve spoilt our friendship. I couldn’t goon with it when I knew....”

“It’s high time our friendship was spoilt, Stella. It wasturning into a silly form of self-indulgence on my side, andit ought to be put an end to. Hang it all! why should I getyou talked about?—apart from other considerations. You’vedone me good by withdrawing yourself, because you’ve killedmy calf-love. For the last few weeks I’ve loved you as aman ought—I’ve known a man’s love, though it’s been invain....”

“Oh, Gervase....”

“Don’t think any more about me, dear; you’ve done menothing but good.”

She had hidden her face in the arm of the chair, and hesuddenly saw that he must leave her. Since she did not lovehim, his own love was not enough to make him less of anintruder. There were dozens of questions he wanted to ask227her—answers he longed to know. But he must not. He roseand touched her shoulder.

“I’m going, my dear. It’s nearly time for Adoration. Ishan’t come back next Sunday—and later, next year, I’ll begoing away... don’t fret... it’ll all be quite easy.”

It wasn’t easy now. She held out one hand without liftingher head, and for a moment they held each other’s handsin a fierce clasp of farewell. He felt her hot, moist palmburning against his, then dropped it quickly and went out.

So that was the end. He had finished it. But Stella herselfhad taught him that one did not so easily finish love. Hesupposed that he would go on loving her as she had goneon loving Peter.

It was a quarter to four as he went into church. Quietlyand methodically he lit the candles for Devotions, and watchedthe slight congregation assemble in the drowsy warmth of theSeptember afternoon. He could not feel acutely—he could noteven turn in his sorrow to the Sacred Victim on the Altar,whose adoration brought the children’s service to a close.

“O Sacred Victim, opening wide

The gate of heaven to men below...”

The well-known words rose out of the shadows of theaisles behind him. They bruised his heart with their familiarsweetness.

“Our foes press round on every side,

Thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.”

The candles that jigged in the small draughts of the sanctuaryblurred into a cloud of rising incense, and then morethickly into a cloud of unshed tears. He fought them back,ashamed. He was beginning to feel again, and he wouldrather not feel—like this. It was intolerable, this appeal tohis bruised emotion—it was like compelling him to use awounded limb. He felt as if he could not bear any more ofthe wan, lilting music, the faint, sweet voices of the faithful,the perfumed cloud that rose like smoke before the altar228and then hung among the gilding and shadows of the chancelroof. And now the virile tenor of the Priest seemed to bringa definitely sexual element into the tender dream.... Whatwas this he was saying about love?...

“O God, who has prepared for them that love thee, suchgood things as pass man’s understanding, pour into ourhearts such love towards thee, that we, loving thee above allthings....”

§ 23

The clear pale sunlight of late October glittered on theRiver Tillingham, and seemed to be all light. No warmth wasin the evening ray, and Jenny’s woollen scarf was muffled toher throat as she came to the Mocksteeple. From far off shehad seen the tall figure waiting beside the kiln. She wonderedif he would hear her footsteps in the grass, or whethertill she had called his name he would stand looking awaytowards where the light was thickening at the river’s mouth.

Her feet made a sucking noise in the ground which wasspongy with autumn rains. He turned towards her and immediatelyheld out his arms.

“My lovely....”

She was enfolded.

His warmth and strength made her think of the earth, andthere was a faint scent of earth about him as she hid her faceon his breast. There was also that smell of the clean strawof stables which she had noticed when she first met him. Sherubbed her cheek childishly and fondly against the roughnessof his coat then lifted her mouth for his slow, hard kisses....“My lovely—oh, my lovely.”

“How long can you stay?” he asked her a few minutes later,when they had huddled down together under the wall of theMocksteeple, from which came a faint radiation of warmth,as the tar gave out the heat it had absorbed during the day.

“Not very long, I’m afraid, Benjie. There are peoplecoming to dinner tonight, and I’ll have to be back in good time.But we must fix about Monday. I’ve already told them I’m229going up to town for a day’s shopping, and I’ve written to afriend to choose me a couple of frocks at Debenham’s and sendthem down—to make the lie hold water. I’m afraid I’m gettingquite a resourceful liar.”

“But you are going shopping, dear.”

“Yes, but I can’t tell them it’s furniture, stupid. Oh, Ben,won’t it be wildly exciting choosing things for Fourhouses!But we mustn’t be extravagant, and you’ve got some lovelybits already.”

“I want you to have the whole house to please you—nothingin it that you don’t like.”

“I like everything except the parlour, and those iron bedsteadsthey have upstairs. We’ll want some chests too, touse instead of the washstands. Then Fourhouses will be perfectinside and out.”

“You have real taste—that’s what you have,” he said admiringly.

“It’s so dear of you to give me what I want.”

“It’s my wedding-present to you, sweetheart; and Motherand the girls are giving you sheets and table linen, so reckonwe’ll be well set up in our housekeeping.”

She drowsed against him, her head on his shoulder, her armacross his knees. He put his mouth to her ear.

“My sweet,” he murmured—“my little sweet—when is itgoing to be?”

“I’ve told you, Ben. At the beginning of January.”

“That’s your faithful word?”

“My faithful word.”

“I’m glad—for oh, my dearest, it seems I’ve waited longenough.”

“It won’t seem so very long now—and, Ben, I’ve made upmy mind about one thing. I’m not going to tell the familytill it’s all over.”

“You’re not!”

“No—because if I told them before it happened they’dtry to stop it; and though they couldn’t stop it, it would be anuisance having them try.”

230“Does your brother agree with this?”

“It was he that suggested it.”

“Well, I’ve a great respect for that brother of yours. But,sweetheart, it seems so dreadful, us marrying on the quiet,when I’m so proud of you and ud like to hold you before allthe world.”

“You shall hold me before all the world—after our marriage.But there’s no good having a row with the parents,especially as they’re old. It’ll be bad enough for them anyhow,but I think they’ll take it easier if they know it’s too late todo anything.”

He acquiesced, as he usually did, for he respected her judgment,and his natural dignity taught him to ignore this contemptof Alard for Godfrey. The rest of their short timetogether must not be spoiled by discussion. Once more hedrew her close, and his kisses moved slowly from her foreheadto her eyes, from her eyes to her cheeks, then at lastto her mouth. His love-making gave her the thrill of a newexperience, for she knew what a discovery and a wonder itwas to him. It was not stale with repetition, distressed withcomparison, as it was to so many men—as it was to herself.She felt a stab of remorse, a regret that she too was notmaking this adventure for the first time. She was youngerthan he, and yet beside him she felt shabby, soiled....She strained him to her heart in an agony of tender possession.Oh, she would make his adventure worth while—heshould not be disappointed in experience. They would explorethe inmost heart of love together.

§ 24

Jenny was glad that the numbers in the drawing-room madeit unnecessary for her to sit down to cards. She and RoseAlard had both cut out, and as Rose liked to sit and watchthe play, Jenny felt she had an excuse to mutter somethingabout “having one or two things to see to,” and escape fromthe room. She wanted to be alone if only for half an hour,231just to savour again in memory the comfort of her lover’sarms, his tender breathing, the warmth of his kisses and thedarkness of his embrace. She shut her eyes and heard himsay “My lovely... oh, my lovely!”

A full moon was spilling her light over the garden, andinstinctively Jenny turned out of doors. She had put on herfur coat, and the still, moon-dazzled night was many degreesfrom frost. In the garden she would be sure of solitude, andat the same time would not be without the response of nature,so necessary to her mood. “One deep calleth another,” andher heart in its new depth of rapture called to the moon andtrees and grass, and received from them an answer whichthose self-absorbed human beings, crowded over cards, couldnever give.

She walked to and fro on the wide path beside the tennislawn then turned into the darkness of the shrubbery, threadingher way through moon-spattered arbutus and laurel tillshe came to a little garden-house which had been built inthe reign of Queen Anne. It had the characteristics of itsage—solid brick walls, high deepset windows, and a whitepediment which now gleamed like silver in the light of themoon. It had been built by the non-juring Gervase Alard,and here he had studied after his deprivation of the Vicarageof Leasan, and written queer crabbed books on a revisedliturgy and on reunion with the Eastern Church. No oneever worked in it now, and it contained nothing but a benchand a few dilapidated garden chairs—it would hold only justenough warmth for her to sit down and rest.

To her surprise she found it was not empty; a movementstartled her as she crossed the threshold, and the next momentshe discovered Gervase, leaning back in one of the chairs.He was just a blot of shadow in the deeper darkness, exceptwhere his face, hands and shirt front caught the moonshinein ghostly patches of white.

“Hullo, Gervase—I’d no notion you’d come here.”

He had left the drawing-room before coffee was broughtin.

232“I’ve been strolling about and got rather cold.”

“Same here. Is there a whole chair beside you?”

At first she had been sorry to find him and had meant togo away, but now she realised that he was the only personwhose company would not be loss.

“If not, there’s one under me, and you shall have that....Ah, here’s something luxurious with rockers. Probably youand I are mad, my dear, to be sitting here. But I felt I simplymust run away from the party.”

“So did I.”

She sat down beside him. In spite of the ghastly moonlightthat poured over his face, he looked well—far less haggardthan he had seemed in the kinder light a month ago. Itstruck her that he had looked better ever since his holiday, andhis parting from Stella Mount, which he had told her of a fewdays after it happened. He had had a bad time, she knew,but he seemed to have come through it, and to have founda new kind of settlement. As she looked at him more closelyin the revealing light, she saw that his mouth was perhaps alittle too set, and that there were lines between nose and chinwhich she had not noticed before. He looked happy, but healso looked older.

“And how goes it, my dear?” he asked.

“Well, Gervase—extremely well.”

She was too shy of intimate things to enquire how it wentwith him.

“I saw Ben this afternoon,” she continued, “and I toldhim what you and I thought about not telling the parents tillafterwards.”

“And did he agree?”

“Yes, he agreed. I really think he’s been wonderful aboutit all—when you consider how he must feel....”

“He’s got some sense of proportion—he’s not going to lethis love be spoilt by family pride. Jenny, if I’ve learnt anythingin these first years of my grown-up life, it is that lovemust come before everything else.”

She was surprised at this from him.

233“You would put it before religion?”

“Religion is the fulfilment of love.”

She repelled the awkward feelings which invariably oppressedher at the mention of such things. She wanted to knowmore of this young brother of hers, of the conflicts in whichhe triumphed mysteriously.

“Gervase, I wish I understood you better. I can’t makeout how it is that you, who’re so modern and even revolutionaryin everything else, should be so reactionary in yourreligion. Why do you follow tradition there, when youdespise it in other things.”

“Because it’s a tradition which stands fast when all theothers are tumbling down. It’s not tradition that I’m outagainst, but all the feeble shams and conventions that can’tstand when they’re shaken.”

“But does religion stand? I thought it was coming downlike everything else.”

“Some kinds are. Because they’re built on passing ideasinstead of on unchanging instincts. But Catholic Christianitystands fast because it belongs to an order of things whichdoesn’t change. It’s made of the same stuff as our hearts.It’s the supernatural satisfaction of all our natural instincts.It doesn’t deal with abstractions, but with everyday life. Thesacraments are all common things—food, drink, marriage,birth and death. Its highest act of worship is a meal—itsmost sacred figures are a dying man, and a mother nursingher child. It’s traditional in the sense that nature and lifeare traditional....”

It was many months since she had heard him talk like this.It reminded her of the old days when they were both at school,and he had brought her all his ideas on men and things, allhis latest enthusiasms and discoveries.

“Jenny,” he continued, “I believe that we’ve come to theend of false traditions—to the ‘removing of those things whichare shaken, that those things which cannot be shaken mayremain.’”

“Is there anything besides religion which can’t be shaken?”

234“Yes—my dear, the earth. The land will still be therethough the Squires go, just as the faith will still be therethough the Parsons go. The Parson and the Squire will go,and their places will be taken by the Yeoman and the Priestwho were there before them.”

“Go back to the Middle Ages?”

“Lord, no! Too much has happened since then. We’vegot industry and machinery and science—we can’t go backto sack and maypoles. What I mean is that, instead of thecountry being divided among a few big landlords who don’tand can’t farm their own land, it will be divided into a lot ofsmall farms of manageable size. Instead of each countryparish being in the charge of a small country gentleman whohas to keep up state on an income of two hundred a year, andis cut off from his parishioners by his social position and theiron gates of his parsonage, there’ll be a humble servant livingamong them as one of themselves, set above them onlyby his vocation. It’ll be a democracy which will have thebest of aristocracy kept alive in it. The Parson and the Squiredon’t belong to any true aristocracy—they’re Hanoverianrelics—and they’re going, and I’m glad.”

“Yes, I think they’re going all right, but I can’t feel soglad as you, because I’m not so sure as to who will take theirplace. The yeoman isn’t the only alternative to the squire—there’salso the small-holder and the garden-city prospector.As for the parson—I don’t know much about church affairs,but I should think he’s just as likely to lose the spiritual sideof himself as the material, and we’ll have men that aren’tmuch better than relieving officers or heads of recreationclubs.”

“Don’t try and burst my dream, Jenny. It’s a very goodsort of dream, and I like to think it will come true. And Iknow it will come true in a sense, though possibly in a sensewhich will be nonsense to most people. That’s a way someof the best dreams have.”

He was silent and thoughtful for a moment. Perhaps hewas thinking of another Gervase Alard, who had long ago235sat where he sat, and dreamed a dream which had not cometrue.

“But don’t let’s have any more of me and my dreams,” hesaid after a while. “Talk to me about Ben. We started talkingabout him, you know, and then drifted off into Utopia. Ishould think that was a good sign.”

“I’m meeting him in London on Monday to do some shopping.”

“What are you going to buy?”

“Furniture. I want to pick up one or two really nice oldpieces for Fourhouses. They’re to be his wedding-presentto me. First of all we’ll go to Duke Street, and then to Puttickand Simpson’s in the afternoon.”

“Are you going to refurnish the house?”

“No, only get rid of one or two abominations. I hadthought of doing up the Best Parlour, but now I’ve decidedto let that stand. If I’m to be a farmer’s wife I must getused to the Family Bible and aspidistras and wool mats.”

“I think you’re wise. It’s just as well not to try to altermore of his life than you can help.”

“I don’t want to alter his life. I’m quite persuaded thathis life is better than mine. And as for him not having ourtaste, or rather a different kind of bad taste from what we’vegot—it doesn’t matter. I’ve made up my mind I must takeBen as he comes and as a whole, and not try to ignore or alterbits of him. I’m going to do the thing properly—make hisfriends my friends, pour out tea for the old ladies of Icklesham,ask the farmers who call round on business to stay todinner or supper, go to see them at their farms and makefriends with their wives. I know I can do it if only I do itthoroughly and don’t make any reservations. Of course I’llgo on being friends with our set if they’ll let me, but if theywon’t, it’s they who’ll have to go and not the others. Gervase,I’m sick of Jenny Alard, and I’m thankful that she’s goingto die early next year, and a new creature called Jenny Godfreytake her place.”

“My dear, you’re going to be very happy.”

236“I know I am. I’m going to be the only happy Alard.”

“The only one?”

“Yes—look at the others. There’s Doris, a dreary middle-agedspinster, trodden on by both the parents, and always regrettingthe lovers she turned down because they weren’t goodenough for the family. There’s Mary, living alone in privatehotels and spending all her money on clothes; there’s Peter,who’s married a rich girl who’s too clever for him, and who—worstof all—thinks he’s happy and has become conventional.No—I can’t help it—I pity them all.”

“And what about me, Jenny? You’ve left me out. Do youpity me?”

She had ignored him deliberately—perhaps because she didnot quite know where to place him.

“O Gervase, I hope you’ll be happy—I’m sure you will, becauseyou’re different from the rest.”

“Yes, I’m sure too. I’m going to be happy—as happy asyou. I don’t quite know how”—and he gave her a wry smile—“butI know that I shall be.”

237

PART IV
STARVECROW

239

§ 1

“Father,” said Stella Mount—“I’m afraid I must go awayagain.”

“Go away, child? Why?”

“I—I can’t fall out of love with Peter.”

“But I thought you’d fallen out of love with him long ago.”

“Yes—I thought so too. But I can’t have done it really, orif I did I must have fallen in again. I’m frightfully sorryabout it... leaving you a second time, just because I’mnot strong-minded enough to.... But it’s no use.... Ican’t help....”

“Don’t worry, dear. If you’re unhappy you shall certainlygo away. But tell me what’s happened. How long have youbeen feeling like this?”

“Ever since I knew Peter still cared.”

“Peter!—he hasn’t said anything to you, has he?”

“Oh, no—not a word. But I could see—I could see hewas jealous of Gervase.”

“How could he possibly be jealous of Gervase?”

“He was. I met him one day in Icklesham street, and hecongratulated me... he said someone had told him Gervaseand I were engaged....”

“The idea!—a boy six years younger than yourself!”

“Yes, I know. I never took him seriously—that was mymistake. Peter was ever so worked up about it, and whenI told him it wasn’t true he seemed tremendously relieved.And every time I’ve met him since his manner’s been different.240I can’t describe it, but he’s been sort of shy and hungry—orelse restless and a bit irritable; and for a long time I couldsee he was still jealous—and it worried me; I felt I couldn’tbear doing anything Peter didn’t like, and I was wild at peopletalking, and upsetting him, so I pushed off poor Gervase andbecame cold and unfriendly.”

“Is that why he’s given up coming here on Sundays?”

“No—not exactly. We had rather a scene when he lastcame, just before his holiday, and he said he wouldn’t comeback. You see he cares, Father—he cares dreadfully. I’mever so sick with myself for not having realised it. I wasso wrapped up in Peter.... I thought it was only a rave,like what the Fawcett boy had—but now I’m sure he reallycares, and it must be terrible for him. That’s why I wantto go away, for I’ll never be able to care for anyone else whileI feel for Peter as I do.”

“But, my dear, it’s just as well you shouldn’t fall in lovewith Gervase. He’s a nice boy, but he’s much too young.”

“Yes, I know—it isn’t that. It’s being sure that howevermuch he was the right age I couldn’t have cared—not becauseof anything lacking in him—but because of what’s lackingin me... because of all that I’ve given to Peter, and thatPeter can’t take.... Oh, Father, I’ve made some discoveriessince Gervase went. I believe I refused Tom Barlow becauseof Peter. The reason I’m single now is because for yearsI’ve been in love with a man I can’t have. And that’s wrong—Iknow it’s wrong. It sounds ‘romantic’ and ‘faithful’ and allthat—but it isn’t really—it’s wrong. Not because Peter’s amarried man, but because I’m an unmarried woman. He’skeeping me unmarried, and I ought to get married—I don’tlike Spinsters—and I know I was meant to be married.”

“So do I; and I’m sure that one day you will be.”

“But I can’t fall in love with anyone while I love Peter...that’s why I must go away. I ought to go somewhere reallyfar, out of the country perhaps. I feel dreadful leaving you,daddy, but I know I must go. It’s even more necessary thanit was the first time. And there’s no good saying I could241help Peter if I stayed—I don’t help him—I can see that Ionly make him unhappy; I’m not cold enough to be able tohelp him. A calm strong dignified woman might be able tohelp him, but I’m not that sort. I want his love, his kisses,his arms round me.... I want to give.... O Father,Father....”

She sobbed breathlessly, her face hidden in the back of herchair. Dr. Mount stood beside her in silence; then he touchedher gently and said—

“Don’t cry like that my dear—don’t—I can’t bear it. Youshall go away—we’ll both go away. I’ve been in this placetwenty years, and it’s time I moved on.”

“But you don’t want to go, and you mustn’t. You’re happyhere, and I’d never forgive myself if you left because of me.”

“I’d like to see a bit more of the world before I retire.This isn’t the first time I’ve thought of a move, and if youwant to go away, that settles it. I might get a colonialpractice....”

Stella thought of some far away country with flat roofs anddust and a devouring sun, she thought of hundreds of milesof forest and desert and ocean lying between her and Peter,and her tears were suddenly dried up as with the hot breathof that far land. Dry sobs tore her throat, as she clutchedthe back of the chair. She pushed her father away—

“Go, dear—don’t stay—when I’m like this.”

He understood her well enough to go.

For a few seconds she sobbed on, then checked herself,and perfunctorily wiped her eyes. The four o’clock sun ofearly November was pouring into the room, showing all itsdear faded homeliness, giving life to the memories that filledit. Long ago Peter had sat in that chair—she had sat on thearm... she seemed to feel his warm hand on her cheek ashe held her head down to his shoulder. O Peter, Peter—whyhad he left her when he loved her so?... Oh, yes, sheknew he had treated her badly, and had only himself to blame.But that didn’t make her love him less. She felt now thatshe had been in love with him the whole time—all along—all242through and since their parting. All the time that she thoughtshe was indifferent, and was happy in her busy life—drivingthe car, seeing her friends, talking and writing to Gervase,cooking and sewing and going to church, wearing prettyfrocks at the winter dances and summer garden-parties—allthat time her love for Peter was still alive, growing and feedingitself with her life. It had not died and been buried asshe had thought but had entered a second time into its mother’swomb to be born. She had carried it secretly, as a mothercarries her child in her womb, nourishing it with her life, andnow it was born—born again—with all the strength of thetwice-born.

§ 2

It would be difficult to say how the rumour got abroad inVinehall and Leasan that the Mounts were going away. Itmay have been servants’ gossip, or the talk of some doctorcome down to view the practice. But, whatever the source,the story was in both villages at the end of the month, andin the first week of December Rose Alard brought it toStarvecrow.

She had come to have tea with Vera, and Peter was theretoo. Vera was within three months of the heir, and displayedher condition with all the opulence of her race. Not even herpurple velvet tea-gown could hide lines reminiscent of Sarah’sand Hannah’s exulting motherhood. Her very features seemedto have a more definitely Jewish cast—she was now no longerjust a dark beauty, but a Hebrew beauty, heir of Rebeccaand Rachel and Miriam and Jael. As Jenny had once said,one expected her to burst into a song about horses and chariots.She had for the time lost those intellectual and artistic interestswhich distinguished her from the other Alards. She nolonger seemed to care about her book, for which she had sofar been unable to find a publisher, but let it lie forgotten ina drawer, while she worked at baby clothes. Nevertheless shewas inclined to be irritable and snap at Peter, and Peter himself243seemed sullen and without patience. Rose watched himnarrowly—“He’s afraid it’s going to be a girl.”

Aloud she said—

“Have you heard that the Mounts are leaving Vinehall?”

Her news caused all the commotion she could have wished.

“The Mounts leaving!”—“When?”—“Why?”—“Both ofthem?”

“Yes, both. I heard it at the Hursts; they seemed quitepositive about it, and you know they’re patients.”

“But where are they going?” asked Vera.

“That I don’t know—yet. The Hursts said something abouta colonial appointment.”

“I’m surprised, I must say. Dr. Mount’s getting old, andyou’d think he’d want to stay on here till he retired—not startafresh in a new place at his age.”

“If you ask me, it’s Miss Stella’s doing. She’s lived herenearly all her life and hasn’t got a husband, so she thinksshe’ll go and try somewhere else before it’s too late.”

“Then they’d certainly better go to the Colonies—there areno men left in England. But I’m sorry for Dr. Mount.”

“I suppose you know it’s all over between her and Gervase?”

“Oh, is it—at last?”

“Yes—he hasn’t been there since his holiday in September.He has his dinner on Sundays either at the Church Farm oralone with Mr. Luce.”

“Rose, how do you find out all these things?”

“The Wades told me this. They say she’s been lookingawful.”

“Peter!” cried Vera irritably, as a small occasional tablewent to the ground.

“No harm done,” he mumbled, picking it up.

“But you’re so clumsy. You’re always knocking thingsover....” She checked herself suddenly, pleating angryfolds in her gown.

Peter got up and went out.

“I’m glad he’s gone,” said Rose—“it’s much easier to talk244without a man in the room. I really do feel sorry for Stella—losingher last chance of becoming Lady Alard.”

“You think it’s Gervase who’s cooled off, not she who’sturned him down?”

“Oh, she’d never do that. She’s much too keen on gettingmarried.”

“Well, so I thought once. But I’m not so sure now. I usedto think she was in love with Gervase, but now I believe sheonly kept him on as a blind.”

“To cover what?”

“Peter.”

“You mean....”

“That they’ve been in love with each other the whole time.”

“Vera!”

Excitement at the disclosure was mingled in Rose’s voicewith disappointment that she had not been the one to make it.

“Yes,” continued her sister-in-law in a struggling voice—“they’vealways been in love—ever since he married me—eversince he gave her up. They’ve never been out of it—I know itnow.”

“But I always thought it was all on her side.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t. Peter was infatuated with her, for somestrange reason—she doesn’t seem to me at all the sort ofgirl a man of his type would take to. Being simple himself,you’d think he’d like something more sophisticated.”

“But Stella is sophisticated—she’s artful. Look how shegot Gervase to change his religion, and break his poor brother’sheart. I often think that it was Gervase’s religion whichkilled poor George, and Stella was responsible for that. Shemay have pretended to be in love with him just to get himover. You see she can be forgiven anything she does by justgoing to confession.”

“Well, she needs forgiveness now if she never did before.So it’s just as well she knows where to get it.”

“But, Vera, do you really think there’s anything—I meananything wicked between them?”

245“I don’t know what you call wicked, Rose, if keeping aman’s affections away from his wife who’s soon going to haveher first child... if that isn’t enough for you.... No, Idon’t suppose he’s actually slept with her”—Vera likedshocking Rose—“She hasn’t got the passion or the spunk to goso far. But it’s bad enough to know Peter’s heart isn’t minejust when I need him most—to know he only married mejust to put the estate on its legs, and now is bitterly regrettingit”—and Vera began to cry.

“But how do you know he’s regretting it? He doesn’t goabout with Stella, I can tell you that. I’d be sure to haveheard if he did.”

“No, I daresay he doesn’t go about with her. I shouldn’tmind if he did, if only his manner was the same to me. Butit isn’t—every time we’re together I can see he doesn’t loveme any more. He may have for a bit—he did, I know—butStella got him back, and now every time he looks at me I cansee he’s regretting he ever married me. And if the baby’s agirl... my only justification now is that I may be the motherof an heir... if the baby’s a girl, I hope I’ll die. Oh, I tellyou, Stella may be Lady Alard yet.”

She threw herself back among the cushions and sobbed unrestrainedly.Rose felt a thrill. She had always looked uponVera as a superior being, remote from the commonplaces ofexistence in Leasan; and here she was behaving like any otherjealous woman.

“Oh, I wish I’d never married,” sobbed Vera—“at leastnot this sort of marriage. My life’s dull—my husband’s dull—myonly interests are bearing his children and watching hisaffair with another woman. I’m sick of the County families—they’vegot no brains, they’ve got no guts—I’d much betterhave married among my own people. They at least are alive.”

Rose was shocked. However, she valiantly suppressed herfeelings, and patted the big olive shoulder which had shruggedabandonedly out of the purple wrappings.

“Don’t worry, dear,” she soothed—“you’re upset. I’m sure246Peter’s all right. It’s often rather trying for men in timeslike these...” she heaved on the edge of an indelicate remark... “so they notice other women more. But I’m quitesure there’s nothing really wrong between him and Stella; becauseif there was,” she added triumphantly, “Stella wouldn’tbe going away.”

“Oh, wouldn’t she!”

“No, of course not. I expect she’s going only because sheknows now definitely that she’ll never get Peter back.”

“Nonsense.”

“It isn’t nonsense, dear. Don’t be so cross.”

“I’m sorry, Rose, but I’m... anyhow Dr. Mount can’tgo before I’m through, and that’s three months ahead. I’vehalf a mind not to have him now. I feel sick of the wholefamily.”

“That would be very silly of you, Vera. Dr. Mount’s thebest doctor round here for miles, and it would only be spitingyourself not to have him. After all he’s not responsible forStella’s behaviour.”

“No, I suppose not. Oh, I daresay I’m an ass, going onlike this.”

She sat up, looking more like the author of “ModernRhymes.” Rose, who had always been a little afraid of her,now had the privileged thrill of those who behold the greatin their cheaper moments.

“You’ll be all right, dear,” she said meaningly “in threemonths’ time.”

“All right, or utterly done in. O God, why can’t someonefind out a way of deciding the sex of children? I’d give allI possess and a bit over to be sure this is going to be a boy.Not that I want a boy myself—I like girls much better—butI don’t want to see Peter go off his head or off with StellaMount.”

“I don’t believe she’s got a single chance against you onceyou’re yourself again. Even now I could bet anything that it’sall on her side.”

247“She’s got no chance against me as a woman, but as anAncient Habit she can probably do a lot with a man likePeter. But I’m not going to worry about her any more—I’vegiven way and made an utter fool of myself, and it’sdone me good, as it always does. Rose, you promise not tosay a word of this to anyone.”

“Of course I won’t. But I might try to get at thefacts....”

“For God’s sake don’t. You’ll only make a mess.”

As she revived she was recovering some old contempt forher sister-in-law.

§ 3

The post arrived just as Stella was setting out with thecar one day early the next month to meet her father in Ashford.He had been in Canterbury for a couple of days, attendinga dinner and some meetings of the Medico-ChirurgicalSociety, and this afternoon she was to meet him at AshfordStation and drive him home. She was in plenty of time, sowhen she saw Gervase’s writing on the envelope handed toher, she went back into the house and opened it.

It was now three months since she had spoken to Gervaseor heard anything directly from him. He still came over toVinehall on Sundays and to certain early masses in the week,but he never called at Dr. Mount’s cottage, nor had she seenhim out of church, not heard his voice except in dialogue withthe Priest—“I will go unto the Altar of God”... “Evenunto the God of my joy and gladness”....

She wondered what he could have to say to her now. Perhapshe had recovered, and was coming back. She would bepleased, for she missed his company—also it would be goodto have his letters when she was out in Canada.... ButStella knew what happened to people who “recovered” and“came back,” and reflected sadly that it would be her dutyto discourage Gervase if he thought himself cured.

But the letter did not contain what she expected.

248Conster Manor

Leasan.

Sussex.

“Jan. 2, 1922

My dear Stella,

“I’m writing to tell you something rather funny which hashappened to me. I don’t mean that I’ve fallen out of lovewith you—I never shall and don’t want to. But I’m goingto do something with my love which I never expected.

“You know that in September, I went ‘into retreat’ for fourdays at Thunders Abbey. I was sure I’d hate it—and so Idid in a way—but when I’d got there I saw at once that itwas going to be more important than I’d thought. At firstI thought it was just a dodge of Father Luce’s for makingme uncomfortable—you know he looks upon me as a luxury-lovingyoung aristocrat, in need of constant mortification. Idon’t know what it was exactly that made me change—itwas partly, I think, the silence, and partly, I know, theDivine Office. At the end of my visit I knew that Office asthe great work of prayer, and Thunders Abbey as just partof that heart of prayer which keeps the world alive. And,dear, I knew that my place was in that heart. I can’t describeto you exactly what I felt—and I wouldn’t if I could.But you’re a Catholic, so you won’t think I’m talking nonsensewhen I say that I feel I belong there, or, in plainerlanguage, that I have a vocation. You don’t believe that vocationscome only to priggish maidens and pious youth, butmuch more often to ordinary healthy, outdoor people likeyou and me. Of course I know that even you will think(as Father Luce and the Father Superior have thought)that my vocation may possibly be another name for disappointmentin love. I’ve thought it myself, but I don’t believeit. Anyhow it’s at last been settled that I’m going to beallowed to try. As soon as I’ve finished at Gillingham’s I shallgo. You know the Community, of course. It’s an order forwork among the poor, and has houses in London, Birminghamand Leeds. At Thunders Abbey there’s a big farm for249drunkards, epileptics, idiots, and other pleasant company.I’d be useful there, as they’ve just started motor traction, butI don’t know where they’ll send me. Of course I maycome out again; but I don’t think so. One knows a surething, Stella, and I never felt so sure about anything as aboutthis—and it’s all the more convincing, because I went inwithout a thought of it. I expect you will be tremendouslysurprised, but I know you won’t write trying to dissuade me,and telling me all the good I could do outside by letting outtaxis for hire and things like that. You dear! I feel Iowe everything to you—including this new thing which isso joyful and so terrifying. For I’m frightened a bit—I’mnot just going in because I like it—I don’t know if I do.And yet I’m happy.

“Don’t say a word to anyone, except your father. I mustwait till the time is ripe to break the news to my family, andthen, I assure you, the excitement will be intense. But Ifelt I must write and tell you as soon as I knew definitelythey’d let me come and try, because you are at the bottom ofit all—I don’t mean as a disappointment in love, but as thefriend who first showed me the beauty of this faith whichmakes such demands on us. Stella, I’m glad you brought meto the faith before I’d had time to waste much of myself.It’s lovely to think that I can give Him all my grown-uplife. I can never pay you back for what you’ve done, butI can come nearest to it by taking my love for you into thisnew life. My love for you isn’t going to die, but it’s goingto become a part of prayer.

“May I come and see you next Sunday? I thought I wouldwrite and tell you about things first, for now you know youwon’t feel there are any embarrassments or regrets betweenus. Dear Stella, I think of you such a lot, and I’m afraidyou must still be unhappy. But I know that this thing I amgoing to do will help you as much as me. Perhaps, too,some day I shall be a Priest—though I haven’t thought aboutthat yet—and then I shall be able to help you more. Ohmy dear, it isn’t every man who’s given the power to do so250much for the woman he loves. I bless you, my dear, andsend you in anticipation one of those free kisses we shallall give one another in Paradise.”

Gervase.

P.S. There is a rumour that you are going away, but as Ican’t trace its succession back further than Rose, I pronounceit of doubtful validity.

P.P.S. Dear, please burn this—it’s more than a love-letter.

P.P.P.S. I hope I haven’t written like a prig.”

Stella let the letter fall into her lap. She was surprised.Somehow she had never thought of Gervase as a religious;she had never thought of him except as a keen young engineer—attractive,self-willed, eccentric, devout. His spiritual developmenthad been so like hers—and she, as she knew well,had no vocation to the religious life—that she was surprisednow to find such an essential difference. But her surprise wasglad, for though she brushed aside his words of personal gratitude,she felt the thrill of her share in the adventure, and aconviction that it would be for her help as well as for hishappiness. Moreover, this new development took away thetwinges of self-reproach which she could not help feelingwhen she thought of her sacrifice of his content to Peter’sjealousy.

But her chief emotion was a kind of sorrowful envy. Sheenvied Gervase not so much the peace of the cloister—not somuch the definiteness of his choice—as his freedom. He wasfree—he had made the ultimate surrender and was free. Sheknew that he had now passed beyond her, though she hadhad a whole youth of spiritual experience and practice andhe barely a couple of years. He was beyond her, not becauseof his vocation, but because of his freedom. His soul hadescaped like a bird from the snare, but hers was still strugglingand bound.

She would never feel for Peter as Gervase felt for her.Her utmost hope was, not to carry her love for him into a251new, purged state, but to forget him—if she aimed at lessshe was deceiving herself, forgetting the manner of womanshe was. She had not Gervase’s transmuting ecstasy—norcould she picture herself giving Peter “free kisses” in a Paradisewhere flesh and blood had no inheritance. Her loveswould always be earthly—she would meet her friends in Paradise,but not her lovers.

§ 4

Well, there was no time for reflection, either happy or sorrowful—shemust start off for Ashford, or her father wouldbe kept waiting. Once again, after many times, she experiencethe relief of practical action. Her disposition was eminentlypractical, and the practical things of love and life andreligion—kisses and meals and sacraments—were to her therealities of those states. A lover who did not kiss and caressyou, a life which was based on plain living and high thinking,a religion without good outward forms for its inward graces,were all things which Stella’s soul would never grasp.

So she went out to the little “tenant’s fixture” garage, filledthe Singer’s tank and cranked her up, and drove off comforteda little in her encounter with life’s surprises. The day wasdamp and mild. There was a moist sweetness in the air, andthe scent of ploughed and rain-soaked earth. Already thespring sowings had begun, and the slow teams moved solemnlyto and fro over the January fields. Surely, thought Stella,ploughing was the most unhurried toil on earth. The ploughcame to the furrow’s end, and halted there, while men andhorses seemed equally deep-sunk in meditation. Whole minuteslater the whip would crack, and the team turn slowly for thebackward furrow. She wouldn’t like to do a slow thing likethat—and yet her heart would ache terribly when it was allgone, and she would see the great steam ploughs tearing overthe mile-long fields of the West... she would then think sorrowfullyof those small, old Sussex fields—the oldest in theworld—with their slow ploughing; she would crave all the252more for the inheritance which Peter might have given heramong them....

She was beginning to feel bad again—and it was a reliefto find that the car dragged a little on the steering, pullingtowards the hedge, even though she knew that it meant apunctured tyre. The Singer always punctured her tyres likea lady—she never indulged in vulgar bursts, with a bang likea shot-gun and a skid across the road. Stella berthed her besidethe ditch, and began to jack her up.

Well, it was a nuisance, seeing that her father would bekept waiting. But she ought to be able to do the thing inten minutes... she wished she was wearing her old suit,though. She would make a horrible mess of herself, changingwheels on a dirty day.... The car was jacked up, and Stellawas laying out her tools on the running board when she hearda horse’s hoofs in the lane.

It seemed at first merely a malignant coincidence that therider should be Peter; yet, after all, the coincidence was notso great when she reflected that she was now on the lane betweenConster and Starvecrow. She had heard that Peterhad lately taken to riding a white horse—it was all part ofthe picture he was anxious to paint of himself as Squire. Hewould emphasize his Squirehood, since to it he had sacrificedhimself as freeman and lover.

She had never seen him looking so much the Squire oftradition as he looked today. He wore a broadcloth coat,corduroy breeches, brown boots and leggings and a bowlerhat. Of late he had rather increased in girth, and looked fullhis forty years. Unaccountably this fact stirred up Stella’sheart into a raging pity—Peter middle-aged and getting stout,Peter pathetically over-acting his part of country gentleman—itstirred all the love and pity of her heart more deeply thanany figure of romance and youth. She hoped he would notstop, but considering her position she knew she was hopingtoo much.

He hitched the white horse to the nearest gate and dismounted.They had not been alone together since the summer,253though they had met fairly often in company, and now she wasconscious of a profound embarrassment and restraint in themboth.

“Have you punctured?” he asked heavily.

“No, but the tyre has,” said Stella.

The reply was not like herself, it was part of the new attitudeof defence—a poor defence, since she despised herselffor being on guard, and was therefore weaker.

“You must let me help you change the wheel.”

“I can do it myself, quite easily. Don’t bother, Peter—youknow I’m used to these things.”

“Yes, but it’s dirty work for a woman. You’ll spoil yourclothes.”

She could not insist on refusing. She went to the otherside of the car, where her spare wheel was fastened, and bentdesperately over the straps. She wondered how the next fewminutes would pass—in heaviness and pertness as they hadbegun, or in technical talk of tyres and nuts and jacks, or inthe limp politeness of the knight errant and distressed lady.

The next moment Peter made a variation she had not expected.

“Stella, is it true that you’re going away?”

“I—I don’t know. It isn’t settled.... Who told you?”

“Rose told me—but it can’t be true.”

“Why not?”

“Your father surely would never go away at his time oflife—and Rose spoke of the Colonies. He’d never go rightaway and start afresh like that.”

“Father’s heard of a very good billet near Montreal. Wehaven’t settled anything yet, but we both feel we’d like achange.”

“Why?”

“Well, why shouldn’t we? We’ve been here more thantwenty years, and as for Father being old, he’s not too old towant to see a bit more of the world.”

Peter said nothing. He was taking off the wheel. Whenhe had laid it against the bank he turned once more to Stella.

254“It’s queer how I always manage to hear gossip about you.But it seems that this time I’m right, while last time I waswrong.”

“Everyone gets talked about in a little place like this.”

She tried to speak lightly, but she was distressed by theway he looked at her. Those pale blue eyes... Alard eyes,Saxon eyes... the eyes of the Old People looking at herout of the Old Country, and saying “Don’t go away....”

The next minute his lips repeated what his eyes had said:

“Don’t go away.”

She trembled, and stepped back from him on the road.

“I must go.”

“Indeed you mustn’t—I can’t bear it any longer if you do.”

“That’s why I must go.”

“No—no——”

He came towards her, and she stepped back further still.

“Don’t go, Stella. I can’t live here without you.”

“But, Peter, you must. What good am I doing you here?”

“You’re here. I know that you’re only a few miles away.I can think of you as near me. If you went right away....”

“It would be much better for both of us.”

“No, it wouldn’t. Stella, it will break me if you go. Myonly comfort during the last six hellish months has been thatat least you’re not so very far from me in space, that I can seeyou, meet you, talk to you now and then....”

“But, Peter, that’s what I can’t bear. That’s why I’m goingaway.”

Her voice was small and thin with agitation. This wasworse, a hundred times worse, than anything she had dreadedfive minutes ago. She prayed incoherently for strength andsense.

“If that’s what you feel, you’ve got to stay,” Peter wassaying. “Stella, you’ve shown me—Stella, you still care....Oh, I’ll own up, I’ll own that I’ve been a fool, and a blackguardto you. But if you still care, I can be almost happy.We’ve still something left. Only you’ll have to stay.”

“You mustn’t talk like this.”

255“Why not—if you still care? Oh, Stella, say it’s true—sayyou still care... a little.”

She could not deny her love, even though she was moreafraid of his terrible happiness than she had been before ofhis despair. To deny it would be a profaning of somethingholier than truth. All she could say was—

“If I love you, it’s all the more necessary for me to goaway.”

“It’s not. If you love me, I can be to you at least what youare to me. But if you go away, you’ll be as wretched as I shallbe without you.”

“No... if I go away, we can forget.”

“Forget!—What?—each other?”

“Yes.”

The word was almost inaudible. She prayed with all herstrength that Peter would not come to her across the road andtake her in his arms. His words she could fight, but not hisarms....

“Stella—you’re not telling me that you’re going away toforget me?”

“I must, Peter. And you’ll forget me, too. Then we’ll beable to live instead of just—loving.”

“But my love for you is my life—all the life I’ve got.”

“No—you’ve got Vera, and soon you’ll have your child.When I’ve gone you can go back to them.”

“I can’t—you don’t know what you’re talking about. If youthink I can ever feel again for Vera what I felt when I wasfool enough——”

“Oh, don’t....”

“But I will. Why should you delude yourself, and think I’mjust being unfaithful to my wife? It’s to you I’ve been unfaithful.I was unfaithful to you with Vera—and now I’verepented and come back.”

They faced each other, two yards apart in the little muddylane. Behind Peter the three-wheeled car stood forlornly surroundedby tools, while his horse munched the long soakingtufts under the hedge. Behind Stella the hedge rose abruptly256in a soaring crown. Looking up suddenly, she saw the delicatetwigs shining against a sheet of pale blue sky in a faint sunlight.For some reason they linked themselves with her mind’seffort and her heart’s desire. Here was beauty which did notburn.... She suddenly found herself calm.

“Peter, dear, there’s no good talking like that. Let’s besensible. Rightly or wrongly you’ve married someone else, andyou’ve got to stand by it and so have I. If I stay on here wewill only just be miserable—always hankering after each other,and striving for little bits of each other which can’t satisfy.Neither of us will be able to settle down and live an ordinarylife, and after all that’s what we’re here for—not for adventuresand big passions, but just to live ordinary lives and behappy in an ordinary way.”

“Oh, damn you!” cried Peter.

It was like the old times when he used to rail against her“sense,” against the way she always insisted that their loveshould be no star or cloud, but a tree, well rooted in the earth.It made it more difficult for her to go on, but she persevered.

“You’ve tried the other thing, Peter—you’ve tried sacrificingordinary things like love and marriage to things like familypride and the love of a place. You’ve found it hasn’t worked,so don’t do the whole thing over again by sacrificing your homeand family to a love which can never be satisfied.”

“But it can be,” said Peter—“at least it could if you werehuman.”

Stella, a little to his annoyance, didn’t pretend not to knowwhat he meant.

“No, it couldn’t be—not satisfied. We could only satisfy apart of it—the desire part—the part which wants home andchildren would always have to go unsatisfied, and that’s asstrong as the rest, though it makes less fuss.”

“And how much satisfaction shall we get through neverseeing each other again?”

“We shall get it—elsewhere. You will at least be free togo back to Vera—and you did love her once, you can’t deny it—youdid love her once. And I——”

257“—Will be free to marry another man.”

“I don’t say that, Peter—though also I don’t say that Iwon’t. But I shall be free to live the life of a normal humanbeing again, which I can’t now. I shan’t be bringing unrestand misery wherever I go—to myself and to you. Oh, Peter,I know we can save ourselves if we stop now, stop in time.We were both quite happy last time I was away—I was a foolever to come back. I must go away now before it’s too late.”

“You’re utterly wrong. When you first went away I couldbe happy with Vera—I couldn’t now. All that’s over and donewith for ever, I tell you. I can never go back to her, whetheryou go or stay. It’s nothing to do with your coming back—it’sher fault—and mine. We aren’t suited, and nothing canever bring us together again now we’ve found it out.”

“Not even the child?...”

“No—not even that. Besides, how do I know.... Stella,all the things I’ve sacrificed you to have failed me, exceptStarvecrow.”

“You’ve still got Starvecrow.”

“Yes, but I.... Oh, Stella, don’t leave me alone, not evenwith Starvecrow. The place wants you, and when you’re goneI’m afraid.... Vera doesn’t belong there; it’s your place.Oh, Stella, don’t say you can live without me, any more thanI can live without you.”

She longed to give him the answer of her heart—that shecould never, never live without him, go without the dear privilegeof seeing him, of speaking to him, of sacrificing to him allother thoughts and loves. But she forced herself to give himthe answer of her head, for she knew that it would still be truewhen her heart had ceased to choke her with its beating.

“Peter, I don’t feel as if I could live without you, but I knowI can—and I know you can live without me, if I go away.What you’ve said only shows me more clearly that I must go.I could never stop here now you know I love you.”

“And why not?—it’s your damned religion, I suppose—teachingyou that it’s wrong to love—that all that sort of thing’sdisgusting, unspiritual—you’ve got your head stuffed with all258the muck a lot of celibate priests put into it, who think everything’sdegrading.”

She felt the tears come into her eyes.

“Don’t, my dear. Do you really believe—you who’ve knownme—that I think love is degrading?—or that my religionteaches me to think so? Why, it’s because all that is so lovely,so heavenly and so good, that it mustn’t be spoilt—by secrecyand lies, by being torn and divided. Oh, Peter, you know Ilove love....”

“So much that you can apparently shower it on anyone aslong as you get the first victim out of the way.”

They both turned suddenly, as the jar of wheels soundedup the hill. It would be agony to have the discussion brokenoff here, but Stella knew that she mustn’t refuse any opportunityof ending it. No longer afraid of Peter’s arms, shecrossed swiftly to the dismantled car.

“Please don’t wait. I can manage perfectly now. Pleasego, Peter—please go.”

“I’ll go only if you promise to see me again before youleave.”

“Of course I will—I’ll see you again; but you must go now.”

The wagon of Barline, heavy with crimson roots, was lurchingand skidding down the hill towards them. Peter went tohis standing horse, and rode him off into the field. Stellaturned to the car, and, crouched in its shelter, allowed herselfthe luxury of tears.

§ 5

She dried her eyes, came up from behind the car, and lostherself in the sheer labour of putting on the wheel. She waslate, she must hurry; she strove, she sweated, and at last wasonce more in her seat, the damaged wheel strapped in its place,all the litter of tools in the dickie. She switched on the engine,pressed the self-starter pedal, slid the gear lever into place, andthe little car ran forward. Then she realised what a relief itwas to find herself in motion—some weight seemed to lift from259her mind, and her numb thoughts began to move, to run to andfro. She was alive again.

But it hurt to be alive. Perhaps one was happier dead.For the thoughts that ran to and fro were in conflict, theyformed themselves into two charging armies, meeting withhorrible impact, terror and wounds. Her mind was a battle-field,divided against itself, and as usual the movement of thecar seemed to make her thoughts more independent, more freeof her control. They moved to the throb and mutter of theengine, as to some barbaric battle-music, some monotonousdrum. She herself seemed to grow more and more detachedfrom them. She was no longer herself—she was two selves—theself that loved Peter and the self that loved God. She wasStella Mount at prayer in Vinehall church—Stella Mountcurled up on Peter’s knees... long ago, at Starvecrow—StellaMount receiving her soul again in absolution... StellaMount loving, loving, with a heart full of fiery sweetness....Well, aren’t they a part of the same thing—love of man andlove of God? Yes, they are—but today there is schism in thebody.

During the last few months love had given her nothing butpain, for she had seemed to be swallowed up in it, away fromthe true richness of life. She had lost that calm, cheerful glowin which all things, even the dullest and most indifferent, hadseemed interesting and worth while. Love had extinguished it.The difference she saw between religion and love was thatreligion shone through all things with a warm, soft light,making them all friendly and sweet, whereas love was like afierce beam concentrated on one spot, leaving the rest of lifein darkness, shining only on one object, and that so blindinglythat it could not be borne.

She felt a sudden spasm of revolt against the choice forcedupon her. Why should she have to choose between heavenand earth, which she knew in her heart were two parts of onecompleteness? Why should God want her to give up for Hissake the loveliest thing that He had made?... Why shouldHe want her to burn?

260Now had come the time, she supposed, when she would haveto pay for the faith which till then had been all joy, which inits warmth and definiteness had taught her almost too wellhow to love. It had made her more receptive, more warm,more eager, and had deprived her of those weapons of self-interestand pride and resentment which might have armedher now. Perhaps it was because they knew religion makessuch good lovers that masters of the spiritual life have urgedthat the temptations of love are the only ones from which it isallowable to run away. It was her duty to run away fromPeter now, because the only weapons with which she couldfight him were more unworthy than surrender. With a grimmer,vaguer belief she might have escaped more easily—shemight have seen evil in love, she might have distrusted happinessand shunned the flesh. But then she would not have beenStella Mount—she owed her very personality to her faith—sheowed it all the intense joy she had had in human things.Should she stumble at the price?

If only the price were not Peter—Peter whom she loved,whom the love of God had taught her to love more than herheart could ever have compassed alone. Why must he besacrificed? After all, she was offering him up to her ownsatisfaction—to her anxiety to keep hold of heavenly things.Why should he be butchered to give her soul a holiday?She almost hated herself—hated herself for her odious sense,for her cold-blooded practicalness. She proposed to go awaynot only so as to be out of temptation—let her be honest—butso that she could forget him and live the life of a normalhappy woman... which of course meant some other man....No wonder he was disgusted with her—poor, honest,simple, unsatisfied Peter. She was proposing to desert him,sure of interior comforts he had never known, and secretlysure that the detestable adaptability of her nature would notallow her to mourn him long once he was far away. Oh,Peter—Peter!... “I will give you back the years that thelocust hath eaten—I have it in my power. I can do it—I cangive you back the locust’s years. I can do it still....”

261She could do it still. She could tell her father that she didnot want to go away after all—and he would be glad... poorFather! He was only going for her sake. He would be gladto stay on among the places and the people that he loved. Andshe... she could be a good, trusty friend to Peter, someonehe could turn to in his loneliness, who would understand andhelp him with his plans for Alard and Starvecrow.... Whatnonsense she was talking. Silly hypocrite! Both sides of her,the Stella who loved Peter and the Stella who loved God, sawthe futility of such an idea. She could never be any man’sfriend—least of all Peter’s. If she stayed, it would be to lovePeter, to be all that it was still possible for her to be to him,all that Vera was and the more that she was not.

But could she? Had she the power to love Peter with a loveunspoilt by regret? Would she be able to bear the thought ofher treachery to the Lord whose happy child she had been solong?—to His Mother and hers—to all His friends and hers,the saints—to all the great company of two worlds whom shewould betray? For her the struggle contained no moral issue.It was simply a conflict between love and love. And all thewhile she knew in the depth of her heart that love cannotreally be divided, and that her love of God held and sustainedher love of Peter, as the cloud holds the rain-drop, and theshore the grain of sand.

The first houses of Ashford slid past, and she saw the manyroofs of the railway-works. Traffic dislocated the strivings ofher mind, and in time her thoughts once more became numb.They lay like the dead on the battle-field, the dead who wouldrise again.

§ 6

Gervase came to see Stella, according to promise, the followingSunday. He found her looking tired and heavy-headed,and able only mechanically to sustain her interest in his plans.Also he still found her unapproachable—she was not cold orcontrary, but reserved, feeding on herself.

262He guessed the source of her trouble, but shrank fromprobing it—keeping the conversation to his own affairs withan egotism he would normally have been ashamed of. Whathe noticed most was the extinction of joy in her—she hadalways seemed to him so fundamentally happy, and it was herprofound and so natural happiness which had first attractedhim towards her religion. But now the lamp was out. Hewas not afraid for her—it did not strike him that shecould possibly fail or drop under her burden; but his heartached for her, alone in the Dark Night—that very Dark Nighthe himself had come through alone.... Now he stood, alsoalone, in a strange dawn which had somehow changed theworld, as the fields are changed in the whiteness of a newday.

It was not till he got up to go that he dared try to comecloser. They had been talking about the difficulties of the lifehe had chosen.

“I’m afraid Christianity’s a hard faith, my dear,” he said ashe took her hand—“the closer you get to the Gospel the harderit is. You’ve no idea what a shock the Gospels gave me whenI read them again last year, not having looked at them since Iwas a kid. I was expecting something rather meek-and-mild,with a gentle, womanly Saviour, and all sorts of kind and good-naturedsentiments. Instead of which I find that the Kingdomof Heaven is for the violent, while the Lion of Judah roars inthe Temple courts... He built His Church upon a Rock, andsometimes we hit that Rock mighty hard.”

“But I do hope you’ll be happy, Gervase.”

“I’m sure of that, though whether it will be in a way thatwill be easily recognised as happiness I’m not so sure.”

“When are you going?”

“It’s not quite settled yet. I leave off at Gillingham’s onthe twenty-fifth, and I expect I’ll go to Thunders early inFebruary. I’ll come and see you again before then. Goodbye,my dear.”

He kissed her hand before letting it go.

263

§ 7

He had said nothing to her about his sister Jenny, thoughher marriage was so close as to seem almost more critical thanhis own departure. He felt the unfairness of sharing withStella so difficult a secret, also he realised that the smaller thecircle to which it was confined the smaller the catastrophe whenit was either accidentally discovered or deliberately revealed.

About a week before the day actually fixed for the wedding,the former seemed more likely. Jenny met Gervase on hisreturn from Ashford with a pale, disconcerted face.

“Father guesses something’s up,” she said briefly.

“What?—How?—Has anyone told him?”

“No—he doesn’t really know anything, thank heaven—atleast anything vital. But he’s heard I was at tea at Fourhousestwice last week. One of the Dengates called for someeggs, I remember, and she must have told Rose when Rosewas messing about in the village. He’s being heavily sarcastic,and asking me if I wouldn’t like Mrs. Appleby asked in to tea,so that I won’t have to walk so far to gratify my democratictastes.”

“But Peter’s had tea with them, too—you told me it was hewho introduced you.”

“Yes, but that only makes it worse. Peter’s been at me aswell—says he’d never have taken me there if he’d thought Ihadn’t a better sense of my position. He was very solemnabout it, poor old Peter.”

“But of course they don’t suspect any reason.”

“No, but I’m afraid they will. I’m not likely to have gonethere without some motive—twice, too—and, you see, I’ve beenso secret about it, never mentioned it at home, as I should havedone if I’d had tea at Glasseye or Monkings or anywhere likethat. They must think I’ve some reason for keeping quiet....I hope they won’t question me, for I’m a bad liar.”

“You’ll be married in ten days—I don’t suppose they’ll getreally suspicious before that.”

However, a certain amount of reflection made him uneasy,264and after dinner he drove over to Fourhouses, to discuss thematter with Ben Godfrey himself.

When he came back, he went straight up to Jenny’s room—shehad gone to bed early, so as to give her family less time forasking questions.

“Well, my dear,” he said when she let him in, “I’ve talked itover with Ben, and we both think that you’ll have to getmarried at once.”

“At once!—But can we?”

“Yes—the law allows you to get married the day after tomorrow.It’ll cost thirty pounds, but Fourhouses can rise tothat, and it’s much better to get the thing over before it’s foundout. Not that anyone could stop you, but it would be a maddeningbusiness if they tried, and anyhow I think the parentswill take it easier if it’s too late to do anything.”

“I think you’re quite right—absolutely right. But——”

“But what?”

“Oh, nothing—only it seems such a jump, now I’m standingright on the edge.”

“You’re not afraid, Jenny?”

“No—only in the way that everyone’s afraid of a big thing.But you’re absolutely right. Now there’s a chance of us beingfound out, we must act at once. I don’t want to have to tellany lies about Ben. I suppose he’ll go up to town tomorrow.”

“Yes, and you and I will follow him the day after. I mustsee about a day off. I’m not quite clear as to what one doesexactly to get a special license, but he’ll go to the Court ofFaculties and they’ll show him how. He’s going to wire meat Gillingham’s—lucky I’m still there.”

“I don’t envy you, Gervase, having to break the news toFather and Mother.”

“No, I don’t think it’ll be much fun. But really it will bebetter than if you wrote—I can let them down more gently, andthey won’t feel quite so outraged. As for the row—there’llbe one about my own little plan in a short time, so I may aswell get used to them.”

Jenny said nothing. She had known of Gervase’s “little265plan” only for the last week, and she had for it all the dreadand dislike which the active Englishwoman instinctively feelsfor the contemplative and supernatural—reinforced now bythe happy lover’s desire to see all the world in love. Thethought of her brother, with all his eager experimental joy inlife, all his profound yet untried capacity for love, taking vowsof poverty and celibacy, filled her with grief and indignation—shefelt that he was being driven by the backwash of his disappointmentover Stella Mount, and blamed “those Priests,”who she felt had unduly influenced him at a critical time.However, after her first passionate protest, she had made noeffort to oppose him, feeling that she owed him at least silencefor all that he had done to help her in her own adventure, andtrusting to time and recovery to show him his folly. She wasa little reassured by the knowledge that he could not take hisfinal vows for many years to come.

He was aware of this one constraint between them, andcoming over to her as she lay in bed, he gave her a kiss. Forsome unfathomable reason it stung her, and turning over onher side she burst into tears.

“Jenny, Jenny darling—don’t cry. Oh, why... Jenny, ifyou’ve any doubts, tell me before it’s too late, and I’ll help youout—I promise. Anything rather than....”

“Oh, don’t, Gervase. It isn’t that. Can’t you understand?It’s—oh, I suppose all women feel like this—not big enough... afraid....”

§ 8

The wedding had always been planned to take place inLondon, so it was merely the time that was being altered.Both Gervase and Jenny had seen, and Ben Godfrey had beenbrought reluctantly to see, that to be married at home woulddouble the risks; so a room had been taken and a bag of Godfrey’sclothes deposited in a Paddington parish, where theVicar was liberal in his interpretation of the laws of residence,and an ordinary licence procured. The change of plans necessitateda special licence, and Jenny had to wait till Gervase266came home the next evening to know if all was in order.However, after the shock of its inception, the new schemeworked smoothly. Jenny came down early the next morningand breakfasted with Gervase, then drove off in Henry Ford,leaving a message with Wills that she had gone to London forthe day, and her brother was driving her as far as Ashford.

Everything was so quiet and matter-of-fact as to seem to heralmost normal—she could not quite realise that she had lefther old life behind her at Conster, even more completely thanmost brides leaving their father’s house; that ahead of her wasnot only all the difference between single and married, but allthe difference between Alard and Godfrey, Conster and Fourhouses.She was not only leaving her home, but her class,her customs, her acquaintance. It was not till she was standingbeside Godfrey in a strange, dark church, before a strangeclergyman, that she realised the full strangeness of it all. Fora moment her head swam with terror—she found herself fullof a desperate longing to wake up in her bed at Conster andfind it was a dream—she thought of the catastrophe of Mary’smarriage, and she knew that she was taking far bigger risksthan Mary.... And through all this turmoil she could hearherself saying quite calmly—“I, Janet Christine, take thee,Benjamin, to be my wedded husband.” Some mechanical partof her was going on with the business, while her emotionscowered and swooned. Now she was signing her name in theregister—Janet Christine Godfrey—now she was shaking handswith the clergyman and answering his inane remarks withinanities of her own. It was too late to draw back—she hadplunged—Jenny Alard was dead.

They had lunch at a restaurant in Praed Street, and afterwardsGervase went with them to Paddington Station and sawthem off to Cornwall. They were not going to be away long,partly on account of Godfrey’s spring sowings, and partlybecause Jenny felt that she could not leave her brother anylength of time to stand the racket. She would still have likedto suppress his share in the business, but Gervase was firm—“It’s267treating them better,” he said, “and, besides, it will helpthem a lot to have a scapegoat on the premises.”

Jenny felt almost sentimental in parting from the littlebrother, who had helped her so much in the path she hadchosen, and who had taken for himself so rough and ridiculousa road. She kissed him in the carriage doorway, made himpromise to write to her, and then did her best to put him outof her head for the first happy hours of the honeymoon.

Circumstances made this fairly easy. By the time they wereat Mullion, watching the low lamps of the stars hanging overthe violet mists that veiled Poldhu, even Gervase seemed veryfar away, and the household and life of Conster Manor almostas if they had never been. Nothing was real but herself andBen, alone together in the midst of life, each most completelythe other’s desire and possession. When she looked into hiseyes, full of their new joy and trouble, the husband’s eyeswhich held also the tenderness of the father and the simplicityof the child, there was no longer any past or future, but onlythe present—“I love.”

The next day, however, recalled her rather abruptly tothoughts of her scapegoat. She received a telegram—

“Father kicked me out address Church Cottage Vinehalldon’t worry Gervase.”

Jenny was conscience-stricken, though she knew that Gervasewould not be much hurt by his exile. But she wasanxious to hear what had happened, and waited restlessly fora letter. None came, but the next morning another telegram.

“Father had stroke please come home Gervase.”

So Jenny Godfrey packed up her things and came home aftertwo days’ honeymoon. Happiness is supposed to make timeshort, but those two days had seemed like twenty years.

268

§ 9

Gervase reproached himself for having done his part of thebusiness badly, though he never felt quite sure how exactly hehad blundered. He had reached Conster two hours beforedinner, and trusted that this phenomenon might prepare hisfather for some surprise. But, disappointingly, Sir John didnot notice his return—he had grown lately to think less andless about his youngest son, who was seldom at home andwhom he looked upon as an outsider. Gervase had deliberatelyalienated himself from Alard, and Sir John could never,in spite of Peter’s efforts, be brought properly to consider himas an heir. His goings out and his comings in were of littleconsequence to the head of the house. So when at six o’clockGervase came into the study, his father was quite unimpressed.

“May I speak to you for a minute, Sir?”

“Well, well—what is it?”

Sir John dipped Country Life the fraction of an inch toimply a temporary hearing.

“It’s about Jenny, Sir.”

“Well, what about her?”

“She’s—I’ve been with her in town today. I’ve just comeback. She asked me to tell you about her and young Godfrey.”

“What’s that? Speak up, Sir, can’t you? I can’t hear whenyou mumble. Come and stand where I can see you.”

Gervase came and stood on the hearthrug. He was beginningto feel nervous. Uncomfortable memories of childhoodrushed up confusedly from the back of his mind, and gave himsore feelings of helplessness and inferiority.

“It’s about Jenny and young Godfrey, Sir.”

“Godfrey! Who’s Godfrey?”

“Benjamin Godfrey of Fourhouses—the man who boughtyour Snailham land.”

“Well, what about him?”

“It’s about him and Jenny, Sir.”

“Well, what about ’em? What the devil’s he got to do withJenny?”

269“Don’t you remember she went to tea at Fourhouses lastweek?”

“She hasn’t been there again, has she?”

Gervase considered that the subject had been sufficiently ledup to—anyhow he could stand no more of the preliminaries.

“Well, yes, Sir—at least she’s having tea with him now—atleast not tea.... I mean, they were married this morning.”

Sir John dropped Country Life.

“Married this morning,” he repeated in a lame, normal voice.

“Yes, Sir, at St. Ethelburga’s, Paddington. They’ve been inlove with each other for some time, but as they didn’t expectyou’d quite see things as they did, they thought they’d betterwait to tell you till after the ceremony.”

“And where—where are they now?”

“At Mullion, Sir—in Cornwall.”

Sir John said nothing. His face turned grey, and hetrembled. Gervase was distressed.

“Don’t take it so dreadfully to heart, Father. I’m sure it’sreally for the best. He’s a decent chap, and very well-to-do—he’llbe able to give her everything she’s been accustomed to”—rememberingan old tag.

“Get out!” said Sir John suddenly.

“I’m frightfully sorry if you think we’ve treated you badly,Sir. But really we tried to do it in the way we thought wouldhurt you least.”

“Get out!” repeated his father—“get out of here. This isyour doing, with your socialism, with your contempt for yourown family, with your.... Get out of the room, or I’ll....”

His shaking hand groped round for a missile, and Gervasemoved hastily to the door, too late, however, to escape a boundvolume of Punch, which preceded him into the hall.

Wills was standing outside the dining-room door with a tray,and Gervase found it very difficult to look dignified. Such anattitude was even more difficult to keep up during the alarmsthat followed. He retreated to his bedroom, taking Punch withhim, partly as a solace, partly in a feeble hope of persuadingWills that to have a book thrown at your head is a normal270way of borrowing it. He had not been alone a quarter of anhour before he was summoned by Speller, his mother’s maid.There followed an interview which began in reproaches, passedon to an enquiry into Jenny’s luggage—had she bought brushesand sponges in London, since she had taken nothing away?—andended cloudily in hysterics and lavender water. Gervasewent back to his room, which ten minutes later was entered bythe sobbing Doris, who informed him he had “killed Mother,”who apparently required a post-mortem interview. Once againhe went down to the boudoir with its rose-coloured lights andheavy scents of restoratives, and to the jerky accompanimentof Doris’s weeping told his story over again. He had to tellit a fourth time to Peter, who had been summoned from Starvecrow,and found that it was hardening into set phrases, andsounded rather like the patter of a guide recounting somehistoric elopement from a great house.

“They’ve been in love for some time, but as they didn’texpect you’d quite see things as they did——”

“My God!” said Peter.

He was perhaps the most scandalised of all the Alards, andhad about him a solemn air of wounding which was moredistressing to Gervase than his father’s wrath.

“I introduced him to her,” he said heavily—“I introducedhim. I never thought... how could I think... that sheheld herself so cheap—all of us so cheap.”

“You really needn’t treat the matter as if Jenny had marriedthe rag-and-bone man——” began Gervase.

“I know Godfrey’s position quite well.”

“He farms his own land, and comes of good old stock. He’swell off, and will be able to give her everything she’s beenaccustomed to——”

“He won’t. She’s been accustomed to the society of gentlepeople,and he’ll never be able to give her that. She’s gone tolive on a farm, where she’ll have her meals in the kitchen withthe farm-men. I tell you I know the Godfreys, and they’renothing more than a respectable, good sort of farming peoplewho’ve done well out of the war. At least, I won’t call them271even that now,” he added fiercely—“I won’t call a man respectablewho worms himself into intimacy with my sister onthe strength of my having introduced him.”

“However, it’s some comfort to think they’ve gone to thePoldhu hotel at Mullion,” said Lady Alard; “the Blakelockswere there once, you know, Doris, and the Reggie Mulcasters.She won’t notice the difference quite so terribly since he’s takenher there.”

“Yes, she will,” said Peter—“she’ll notice the difference betweenthe kind of man she’s been used to meeting here and aworking farmer, who wasn’t even an officer during the war.If she doesn’t—I’ll think worse of her even than I do now.And as for you——” turning suddenly on Gervase—“I don’ttrust myself to tell you what I think of you. I expect you’repleased that we’ve suffered this disgrace—that a lady of ourhouse has married into the peasantry. You think it’s democraticand all that. You’re glad—don’t say you’re not.”

“Yes, I am glad, because Jenny’s happy. You, none of you,seem to think of that. You don’t seem to think that ‘the kindof man she’s been meeting here’ hasn’t been the slightest useto her—that all he’s done has been to trouble her and triflewith her and then go off and marry money—that now at lastshe’s met a man who’s treated her honourably——”

“Honourably! He’s treated her like the adventurer he is.Oh, it’s a fine thing of him to marry into our family, even ifshe hasn’t got a penny—his ancestors were our serfs—they ranat our people’s stirrups, and our men had the droit du seigneurof their women——”

“And pulled out the teeth of your wife’s forefathers,” saidGervase, losing his temper. “If you’re going back five hundredyears, I don’t think your own marriage will bear the test.”

He knew that if he stayed he would quarrel with them all,and he did not want to do that, for he was really sorry forthem, wounded in their most sensitive feelings of family pride.He walked out of the room, and made for the attic stairs,seeking the rest and dignity of solitude. But it was not to be.The door of his father’s dressing-room opened as he passed,272and Sir John came out on the landing, already dressed fordinner.

“You understand that after what has happened I cannotkeep you here.”

He was quite calm now, and rather terrifying.

“I—oh, no—I mean yes, of course,” stammered Gervase.

“You have work at Ashford, so you can go and lodge nearit. Or you can go to your Ritualist friends at Vinehall. Irefuse to have you here after your treachery. You are atraitor, Sir—to your own family.”

“When—when would you like me to go?”

“You can stay till tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks—I’ll leave tonight.”

So the day’s catastrophe ended in Gervase driving offthrough the darkness in Henry Ford, his suit-case and a fewparcels of books behind him. He had decided to go to Luce—thePriest would take him in till he was able to go to ThundersAbbey.

“Well, anyhow, I’m spared that other row,” he thought tohimself; “or, rather, I’ve got through two rows in one.Father won’t mind what I do with myself after this.”

He felt rather forlorn as the lorry’s lights swept up theVinehall road. During the last few months he had beenstripped of so many things—his devotion to Stella, his comradeshipwith Jenny—he knew that he could never be to herwhat he had been before she married—and now his family andhis home. And all he had to look forward to was a further,more complete stripping, even of the clothes he wore, so thatin all the world he would own nothing.

§ 10

Any lack of cordiality in Luce’s welcome was made up byhis quite matter-of-fact acceptance of this sudden descent uponhim at a late hour of a young man and all his worldly goods,including a Ford lorry. The latter was given the inn stableas a refuge, while Gervase was told he could have the spare273bedroom as long as he liked if he would clear out the apples.This done and some porridge eaten, he went to bed, utterlyworn out, and feeling less like Gervase Alard than he had everfelt in his life.

The next day he went off to work as usual, sending a telegramto Jenny on his way. When he came back he found amessage had arrived from Conster—he must go home at once;his father had had a stroke.

“I’ve a ghastly feeling it was brought on by this row,” hesaid to Luce, as he filled up the lorry’s tank for the newjourney.

“It must have been,” was all the reassurance he got.

Gervase felt wretched enough. The message, which hadbeen left by Dr. Mount, gave no details, and as the cottage wasempty when he called, there had been no verbal additions orexplanations. He thought of calling at the doctor’s on his wayto Leasan—he had meant to go there anyhow this evening andtell them about Jenny’s marriage—but he decided it was bestto lose no time, and drove straight to Conster.

Here he received his first respite. The stroke was not asevere one, and Dr. Mount was practically certain Sir Johnwould get over it. However, he seemed to think the othermembers of the family ought to be sent for, and Doris hadtelegraphed to Mary but not to Jenny, as she didn’t think Jennydeserved it after what she had done. She did not think Gervasedeserved it, either, but evidently Dr. Mount had taken itupon himself to decide, and left a message without consultingher.

He was not allowed to go near his father that night, andspent the hours intermittently sleeping and waking in his littlecold bedroom, now empty of everything that was really his.The next morning he went out and sent a telegram to Jenny.But by the time she arrived her presence was useless. SirJohn had recovered consciousness and would see none of hiserring children. Mary, Gervase and Jenny waited together inthe drawing-room in hopes that the edict would be revoked.But, as Doris came down to tell them at intervals, it was no274use whatever. He refused to let them come near him—indeed,the mere mention of their names seemed to irritate himdangerously. Towards evening Dr. Mount advised them togo away.

“I’m afraid there’s no hope, at present anyhow—and it’s bestnot to worry him. There’s often a very great irritability inthese cases. He may become calmer as his condition improves.”

So Jenny, scared and tired, was taken away by her husbandto the shelter of Fourhouses, and Gervase prepared to go backto Vinehall. They were both rather guiltily conscious thatthey did not pity those who had been denied the presence somuch as those who were bound to it—Doris, who as unofficialnurse and substitute scapegoat, was already beginning to showsigns of wear and tear—and Peter, worn with a growing senseof responsibility and the uncertain future brought a step nearer... no doubt the younger ones had made an easy escape.

Only Mary looked a bit wistful.

“It’s so long since I’ve seen him,” she said as she stood onthe steps, waiting for the car which was to take her back toHastings.

“Cheer up, my dear—he’ll change his mind when he getsbetter,” said Gervase.

Mary shook her head. She had altered strikingly since hehad seen her last. She seemed all clothes—faultless, beautifulclothes, which seemed mysteriously a part of herself so that itwas difficult to imagine her without them. Her real self hadshrunk, faded, become something like a whisper or a ghost—shewas less Mary Pembroke than a suit of lovely grey velvetand fur which had somehow come alive and taken the simulacrumof a woman to show off its beauty.

“Where are you going?” he asked her, moved with a suddenanxious pity.

“Back to Hastings. I’ve found a very comfortable smallhotel, and I think I’ll stay there till I know more how thingsare going with Father. I expect I shall run over and seeJenny now and then.”

“I’m glad you’re going to do that,” he cried warmly—“it’ll275mean a lot to her to have one of the family with her—especiallywhen I’m gone.”

“You?—where are you going?”

He found himself quite unable to tell her of what he waslooking forward to.

“Oh, my work at Ashford comes to an end in a week, andI’ll have to pack off somewhere else.”

He kissed her before she went away, and found an unexpectedwarmth in her lips. After all, the real Mary hadalways lived very far beneath the surface, and as years wentby and the surface had become more and more ravaged shehad retreated deeper and deeper down. But he was glad tothink that at the bottom, and perhaps by queer, perverse means,she had somehow managed to keep herself alive.

§ 11

Jenny’s sudden return had the disadvantage of bringing herback into the midst of her family while the scandal of hermarriage was still hot. As her father refused to see her, Benhad suggested taking her away again, but Jenny did not liketo leave while Sir John was still in any danger, and by thetime all danger was past, her husband’s affairs had once morefast bound him to the farm—besides, the various members ofher family had adjusted themselves to her defection, andsettled down either into hostility or championship, accordingto their own status in the tribe.

It was characteristic of the house of Alard that even itsrevolted members camped round it in its evil hour, held to itby human feeling after all other links were broken. No onewould leave the neighbourhood while Sir John continued illand shaken. Mary stayed at Hastings, and Gervase stayed atVinehall, even after his apprenticeship to Gillingham’s hadfinally come to an end, and the men had given him a farewelloyster supper at the White Lion, with a presentation wrist-watchto add to the little stock of possessions he would haveto give up in a few weeks.

276However, by the beginning of February, Sir John had so farrecovered as to make any waiting unnecessary. He still refusedto see his disloyal son and rebellious daughters. Hisillness seemed to have hardened his obstinacy, and to havebrought about certain irritable conditions which sometimesapproached violence and made it impossible to attempt anypersuasion.

He came downstairs and took up his indoor life as usual,though out of doors he no longer rode about on his grey horse.The entire overseership of the estate devolved on Peter, withthe additional burden that his responsibility was withoutauthority—his father insisted on retaining the headship and onrevising or overthrowing his decisions. Nothing could be donewithout reference to him, and his illness seemed to have madehim queerly perverse. He insisted that an offer from a firmof timber-merchants for the whole of Little Sowden Woodshould be refused, though Peter explained to him that atpresent the wood actually cost more in its upkeep than wasrealised by the underwood sales in the local market.

“Why should I have one of the finest woods on my estatesmashed up by a firm of war-profiteers? Confound you, Sir!Many’s the fox that hounds have put up in Sowden, and theplace was thick when Conster started building.”

“But we’re in desperate need of ready money, Father. Wecan’t afford to start repairs at Glasseye, and this is the thirdyear we’ve put off. There’s Monkings, too,—the place is fallingto pieces, and Luck says he’ll quit if he has to wait anylonger.”

“Quit?—Let him. He needn’t threaten me. Tenants aren’tso scarce.”

“Good tenants are. We aren’t likely to get a man who farmsthe land as well as Luck. He got the Penny field to carry sevenbushel to the acre last year. He’s clockwork with the rent, too—youknow the trouble we have over rent.”

“But I won’t have Sowden cut down to keep him. Timber!I thought we were done with that shame when the war ended,and we’d lost Eleven Pounder and Little Horn.”

277“But I can’t see anything more shameful in selling timberthan in selling land, and you sold that Snailham piece last yearto——”

Peter tried to retrieve his blunder, but his mind was not forquick manœuvres and all he could do was to flush and turnguiltily silent. His father’s anger blazed at once.

“Yes—we sold land last year, and a good business we madeof it, didn’t we! The bounder thought he’d bought my daughterinto the bargain. He thought he’d got the pull of usbecause we were glad to sell. I tell you, I’ll sell no more ofmy land, if it puts such ideas into the heads of the rascals thatbuy it, if it makes all the beastly tenants and small-holderswithin thirty miles think they can come and slap me on theback and make love to my daughters and treat me as one ofthemselves. I’ll not sell another foot as long as I live. WhenI die, Sir, you may not get a penny, but you’ll get the biggestestate in East Sussex.”

Peter groaned.

§ 12

Gervase did not think it advisable to go near his family whenthe time came for him to leave Vinehall for Thunders Abbey.He would have liked to see his mother, but knew too well thatthe interview would end only in eau de Cologne and burntfeathers. Since he was exiled, it was best to accept his exileas a working principle and not go near the house. He knewthat later on he would be given opportunities to see his parents,and by then time might have made them respectively lesshostile and less hysterical.

So he wrote his mother a very affectionate letter, trying toexplain what he was going to do, but not putting any greatfaith in her understanding him. He told her that he wouldbe able to come and see her later, and sent his love to Dorisand Peter and his father. He also wrote a line to Mary. Hispersonal farewells were for Stella and Jenny only.

To Stella he said goodbye the day before he left. He foundher making preparations for her own departure. She and her278father were leaving for Canada as soon as Mrs. Peter Alardwas through her confinement, which she expected in a coupleof weeks. The practice had been sold, and the escape into anew life and a new country was no longer a possible resort ofdesperation but a fixed doom for her unwilling heart.

All she had been able to do during the last weeks had beento let her father act without interference. Her entire conflicthad been set in withholding herself from last-moment entreatiesto stay, from attempts at persuading him to withdraw fromnegotiations over the practice, from suggestions that their departureshould be put off to the end of the summer. So negativehad been her battle that she had never felt the thrill ofcombat—instead she felt utterly crushed and weary. She feltboth dead and afraid... the only moments in which sheseemed to live were the moments in which she encounteredPeter, passing him occasionally on the road or meeting him ina neighbour’s house. They were terrible moments of fieryconcentrated life—she was glad afterwards to fall back intoher stupor. She and he had had no more private conversations—shewas able to pursue her negative battle to the extent ofavoiding these—but his mere presence seemed to make alive aStella Mount who was dying, whose death she sometimesthought of as a blessing and sometimes as a curse.

When she saw Gervase, so quiet and sweet-tempered andhappy, she wondered if she would possibly be like that whenher love for Peter was dead, as his for her was dead. Butthen his love for her was not dead—that was the whole point;like Enoch, it was translated—it was not, because God hadtaken it. As she looked into his peaceful eyes, her own filledwith tears. She wondered if he had won his battle so quicklybecause it had been a slighter one than hers, or because he wasbetter armed. Probably because of both. He was youngerthan she, his passions still slept in his austere, hard-workingyouth—and would probably awake only to find themselves rebornin his religious life—also, she realised that he might benaturally spiritual, whereas she had never been more thanspiritually natural—a distinction. He was a man born to love279God as she had been born to love men, and she knew that, inspite of all he said, he would have found his beloved sooneror later without any help of hers.

“Goodbye, dear Gervase,” she said, and pressed his hand.

“Goodbye, Stella”—surprisingly he kissed her, like anothergirl. She had not thought he would dare kiss her at all, andthis warm, light, natural kiss—the kiss of a gentle friend—showedher a self-conquest more complete than any she hadimagined—certainly than any she would ever know. She mightbe strong enough to deny her kisses to Peter, but she wouldnever be able to give him the kiss of a friend.

§ 13

The next day Gervase drove off to Thunders Abbey, andwent by way of Icklesham. It was a windless afternoon; thefirst scent of primroses hid in the hollows of the lanes, and thelight of the sun, raking over the fields, was primrose-colouredon the grass. The browsing sheep and cattle cast long shadows,and the shadows of the leafless trees were clear, a delicatetracery at their roots.

As he drove up and down the steep, wheel-scarred lanes hewatched familiar farms and spinneys go by as if it were forthe last time. He knew that he would see them all many timesafter this, but somehow it would not be the same. GervaseAlard would be dead, as Jenny Alard was dead, and he felt asJenny had felt the night before her wedding—glad and yetafraid. He remembered her words—“Can’t you understand?—It’sbecause I don’t feel big enough... afraid.” He, too,felt afraid of his new life, and for the same reason—becausehe knew he was not big enough. Yet, in spite of her fear,Jenny had gone on, and now she was happy. And he wasgoing on, and perhaps he would be happy, too.

He found her baking little cakes for tea. She tapped onthe kitchen window when the lorry rattled into the yard, andhe came in and took her in his arms, in spite of her protestthat she was all over flour.

280“Hullo, Gervase! this is splendid—I haven’t seen you forages.”

She was wearing a blue gingham overall, and with her faceflushed at the fire, and her background of brick, scrubbed woodand painted canisters, she looked more like a farmer’s wifethan he could ever have imagined possible. She had grownplump, too, since her marriage, and her eyes had changed—theylooked bright, yet half asleep, like a cat’s eyes.

“I’ve come to say goodbye, Jen. I’m off to Thunders.”

“When?—Tomorrow?”

“No—this very evening. I’ll go straight on from here.”

“Gervase!”

She looked sad—she understood him less than ever now.

“Father Lawrence wrote two days ago and said they wereable to take me—and I’ve nothing to wait for. Father won’tsee me. I’ve written to Mother—I thought it better than farewellsin the flesh.”

“And Stella?”

“I’ve said goodbye to her.”

“Gervase, I know—I feel sure you’re only doing this becauseof her.”

“Well, I can’t show you now that you’re wrong, but I hopetime will.”

“I hope it won’t show you that you’re wrong—when it’s toolate. My dear——” she went up to him and put her handson his shoulders—“My dear, you’re so young.”

“Don’t, Jen.”

“But it’s true. Why can’t you wait till you’ve seen moreof life—till you’ve lived, in fact?”

“Because I don’t want to give God just the fag-end of myself,the leavings of what you call life. I want to give Himthe best I’ve got—all my best years.”

“If Stella had accepted you, you would have married her, andwe shouldn’t have heard anything about all this.”

“That’s true. But she refused me, and it was her refusalwhich showed me the life I was meant for. The fact that I281loved Stella, and she would not have me, showed me that Goddoes not want me to marry.”

He seemed to Jenny transparent and rather silly, like a child.

“But you’re only twenty-one,” she persisted gently, as shewould with a child. “You’d have been sure to fall in loveagain and marry someone else.”

“And there’s no good telling you I’m sure I shouldn’t.However, my dear, I’m not going to prison on a life sentence—Ican come out tomorrow if I don’t like it; and probably for ayear or so the whole community will be trying to turn me out—they’reas much afraid of a mistake as you are.”

“I don’t trust them. They only too seldom get hold of menin your position.”

“My dear, don’t let’s talk any more about me. It’s makingus quarrel, and probably this is the last time I shall see youfor months. Tell me how you’ve been getting on. Has theCounty called yet?”

“Not so as you’d notice. As a matter of fact, the Fullersleft cards the other day. Agney’s far enough off for it not tomatter very much, and I think Mrs. Fuller has a reputation forbeing broad-minded which she’s had to live up to. But I’mgetting to like Ben’s friends—I told you I should. There’s theBoormans of Frays Land and the Hatches of Old Place, anda very nice, well-educated bailiff at Roughter, who collectsprints and old furniture. I see a lot of them—they’ve beenhere and I’ve been to their houses; and as Mrs. Godfrey andthe girls keep to their own part of the house, I’ve got my handsfull from morning to night, and don’t have much time to thinkabout anything I may have lost.”

“It seems to suit you, anyhow. You look fine.”

“I feel splendid. Of course, I couldn’t do it if it wasn’tfor Ben. I don’t pretend I’ve found everything in the lifeagreeable, after what I’ve been used to. But Ben makes everythingworth doing and worth bearing.”

“And that’s how it is with me. Can’t you understand now,Jen?—I’ve got something, too, which makes it all worth doing282and worth bearing—though I don’t pretend, any more than youdo, that I expect to find everything in my life agreeable.”

“I’ll try to understand, Gervase; but I don’t suppose I’ll succeed—andyou really can’t expect it of me.”

“All right, I won’t, just yet.” He picked his cap and glovesoff the table—“I really must be going now.”

“Won’t you stay and have some tea? I’ve got over thefailure stage in cakes—I really think these will be quite eatable.”

“No, thanks very much, I mustn’t stay. It’ll take Henryquite two hours to get to Brighton.”

She did not seem to hear him—she was listening. He couldhear nothing, but a moment later a footstep sounded in theyard.

“There he is,” said Jenny.

She went out into the passage and closed the door behind her.

He was left alone in the big kitchen. The fire and the kettlehummed together to the ticking of the clock, and there was asoft, sweet smell of baking cakes. The last of the sunshinewas spilling through the window on to the scrubbed, deal table,and over all the scene hung an impalpable atmosphere of comfort,warmth and peace. Outside in the passage he could hearthe murmuring of a man’s and a woman’s voices.... His eyessuddenly filled with tears.

They were gone when Jenny came back into the room withBen, who had evidently been told the reason for his brother-in-law’svisit, for he shook hands in clumsy silence.

“How do you do?” said Gervase—“and goodbye.”

Ben still said nothing. He neither approved nor understoodyoung Alard’s ways. Religion was for him the ten commandments,Parson’s tithes, and harvest thanksgivings—anythingfurther smacked of Chapel and the piety of small-holders. Buthe was too fond of Gervase to say openly what was in his heart,and as he was not used to saying anything else, he was driveninto an awkward but well-meaning silence.

“I’m glad you’re taking Henry with you,” said Jenny, attempting283lightness—“It would have been dreadful if you’d hadto leave him behind.”

“Yes—‘The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed’ wouldn’t havebeen in it. But I’m taking him as my dowry. They’ll findsome use for him at Thunders—he’s got at least one cylinderworking. If they hadn’t wanted him I’d have given him toBen—just to encourage him to start machinery on the farm.”

“I’d sooner keep my horses, thank you,” said Ben, relievedat having something to say at last. “Give me a horse-ploughedfield, even if it does take twice the labour.”

“But you’ll be getting a tractor soon, won’t you? That’sanother idea altogether, and you’ll never find horses to beatthat.”

Thus talking of machinery the three of them went to thedoor, and said goodbye under cover of argument.

“You’ll see me again before long,” cried Gervase, as hedrove off.

“Will you be able to write to us?”

“Of course I will—look out for a letter in a day or two.”

With hideous grindings, explosions and plaints, the lorrywent off down the drive. As it disappeared between the hedgerows,Jenny felt her heart contract in a pang of helpless pity.

“Oh, Ben... he’s so young—and he’s never had anything.”

She would have cried, but her husband’s arm slipped roundher, drawing her back into the darkening house.

§ 14

Jenny had been candid with Gervase in her account of herself.She was happy—supremely so—but there was much thatwould have been difficult were it not for the love which “madeeverything worth doing and worth bearing.” She had nothingto complain of in Ben himself. He was after marriage thesame as he had been before it—gentle, homely, simple and upright,with a streak of instinctive refinement which compensatedfor any lack of stress on the physical cleanliness which284was the god of her former tribe. It is true that he expectedmore of her than Jim Parish, for instance, would have done.The sight of Jenny rising at half-past six to light the kitchenfire, cooking the breakfast, and doing all the housework withthe help of one small girl, did not strike him as the act ofwifely devotion and Spartan virtue that it seemed to her andwould have seemed to Jim. It was what the women of hisexperience did invariably, and with a certain naïve thickheadednesshe had not expected Jenny, taken from a home ofeight o’clock risings, to be different. But in all other ways hewas considerate—ways in which the men of her class wouldmost probably not have considered her; and she soon becameused to the physical labour of her days. Indeed, after the firstsurprise at his attitude, she realised that anything else wouldhave brought an atmosphere of unreality into the life whichshe loved because it was so genuine. Farmers’ wives—evenprosperous farmers’ wives—did not lie in bed till eight, or sitidle while the servants worked; and Jenny was now a farmer’swife—Mrs. Ben Godfrey of Fourhouses—with her place tokeep clean, her husband and her husband’s men to feed, herdairy and her poultry to attend to.

But though she loved Ben, and loved working for him, therewere other things that were hard, and she was too clear-headednot to acknowledge the difficulties she had chosen. She oftenlonged to be alone with her husband, instead of having to sharehim with his mother and sisters. According to yeoman custom,his wife had been brought into his home, which was also hisfamily’s home, and she must take what she found there. Jennyrealised that she might have been worse off—she was genuinelyfond of Mrs. Godfrey and Lily and Jane, and their separatequarters gave her a privacy and a freedom she would not havehad on many farms—but she would have been less sensitiveto the gulf between her new life and the old if she had beenalone with Ben. His women, with their constant absorptionin housework—making it not so much a duty to be done andthen forgotten as a religion pervading the whole life—withtheir arbitrary standards of decorum, and their total lack of285interest in any mental processes—often begot in her revolt andweariness, especially when her husband was much away. Shehad not known till then how much she depended on straydiscussions of books and politics, on the interchange of abstractand general ideas. Ben himself could give her these stimulations,for the war had enlarged his education, and his love forher made him eager to meet her on the ground she chose. Buthis work often took him into the fields soon after dawn, andhe would not be privately hers again till night, for the meals atFourhouses were communal and democratic; not only Mrs.Godfrey and her daughters, but the stockman, the cow-man,the carter and the ploughboys sat down to table with themaster.

Moreover, after a month or two, she began to feel herestrangement from her people. She did not miss her oldacquaintances among the county families, but she felt thesilence of her home more than she would ever have imaginedpossible. No one from Conster—her father or mother orDoris—had come near her or sent her a word. There hadbeen the same silence up at Starvecrow which surprised hermore, for she and Vera had always been friends—though ofcourse Vera had her own special preoccupations now. Rosehad called, but evidently with a view to replenishing her storesof gossip for Leasan tea-parties, and Jenny had done all shecould to discourage another visit. Mary generally came overfrom Hastings once a week, but hers were only the visits of afellow-exile.

In her heart, the estrangement which Jenny felt the mostwas between herself and Peter. She had not expected suchtreatment from him. She had expected anger and disappointment,certainly, a stormy interview, perhaps, but not this blank.Sometimes she told herself he was anxious about Vera, andthat his own troubles had combined with her misbehaviour tokeep him away. She forced herself to patience, hoping uncertainlythat the fortunate birth of an heir would bring oldPeter to a better frame of mind.

Meanwhile, she was reviving her friendship with Mary, or286rather was building up a new one, for in old times she had felta little afraid of her elegant, aloof sister. She was not afraidof Mary now—indeed, from the vantage of her own happyestablishment she almost pitied this woman who had left somuch behind her in dark places.

Mary liked Ben—but her temperament had set her at a greatdistance from his homely concreteness. Though she stood byher sister in her adventure, she evidently could not think “whatJenny saw in him,” and she was openly full of plans for hisimprovement and education.

“Why don’t you lift him up to your level instead of stoopingto his? You could easily do it. He’s deeply in love with you,and, in my opinion, very much above his own way of life.Fourhouses is a good estate and he’s got plenty of money toimprove it—with a little trouble he could make it into a countryhouse and himself into a small squire.”

“Thanks,” said Jenny—“that’s what I’ve just escaped from—countryhouses and squires—and I don’t want to start thewhole thing over again. Why should Ben try to make himselfa squire, when the squires are dying out all over the country,and their estates are being broken up and sold back to thepeople they used to belong to?”

“Jenny, you talk like a radical!—‘God gave the land to thepeople’ and all that.”

“My husband’s a vice-president of the Conservative Club.It isn’t for any political reasons that I don’t want to fight myway back into the county. It’s simply that I’m sick of twothings—struggle and pretence. Situated as I am, I’ve gotneither—if I tried to keep what I gave up when I married Ben,I’d have both.”

“It’s all very well for you to talk like this now—when everything’snew. Even I know what the first months of marriagecan be like.... But later on, when things have sobered down,you’ll feel different—you’ll want to see some of your oldfriends again, and wish you hadn’t shut them out.”

“If you mean the Parishes and the Hursts and the Wadesand all that lot, nothing I could ever do would make them my287friends again. You see, they’re friends of Father’s, and, consideringhis attitude towards my marriage—which would bethe same whatever I did to ‘raise’ myself—they can never befriends of mine. It isn’t as if I’d moved thirty miles off andhad a new sort of ‘county’ to visit me. I’m in the middle ofthe old crowd, and they can never be friendly with me withoutoffending my people. No, I must be content with Ben’s friends—ifI tried to ‘improve’ him we’d lose those, too, and then I’dhave nobody.”

“I daresay you’re right, my dear—you sound practical, anyway.And I’ve no right to teach anyone how to arrange theirlives.... It’s queer, isn’t it, Jen? I took, generally speaking,no risks when I married. I married a man I loved, a man ofmy own class, whom my people approved of—and look at menow. You, on the other hand, have taken every imaginablerisk—a runaway match, a different class, and the familycurse....”

“You’ll have to look at me twelve years hence to compareme with you.”

“I think you’re going to be all right, though—even if youdon’t take my advice.”

“I’m sure I shall be all right. You see, I’m doing everythingwith my eyes open. You didn’t have your eyes open, Mary.”

“I know I didn’t. Very few women do. Most brides arelike newborn kittens with their eyes shut.”

“Are you happy now?”

It was the first time she had dared ask the question. Maryhesitated—

“Yes, I suppose I am happy. I have enough to live on, Ihave my friends—I travel about, and see places and people.”

“Have you ever regretted that you didn’t marry Charles?”

“Regretted! Good Lord, no! The very opposite. I didn’tlove him in that way, and we’d both have been wretched. Poorold dear! I’m glad I’d strength enough to spare him that,though I spared him nothing else....”

“Do you ever see him now?”

“Sometimes. He’s married, you know—a very young thing,288who doesn’t like me too much. I didn’t expect him to marry,but I believe he’s happy. I hear that Julian is happy, too—hehas two little boys and a baby girl. So I haven’t really doneeither of my men much harm.”

“No—it’s you who’ve suffered the harm. Why haven’t youmarried again, Mary? I’ve always expected you to.”

Her sister shook her head.

“I can’t—there’s something in me lacking for that. I can’texplain, and it sounds an extraordinary thing to say, but Ifeel as if I’d left it with Julian. I don’t mean that I still lovehim or any nonsense like that—I hadn’t loved him for a yearbefore I left him... but somehow one doesn’t get rid of ahusband as easily as the divorce-courts and the newspapersseem to suppose.”

“If you’d married again you’d have forgotten Julian.”

“No, I shouldn’t, and I should have made another man unhappy—becauseof what’s lacking in me. I know there arelots of women who can go from the church to the divorce courtand from the divorce court to the registrar’s, and leavenothing behind them in any of these places. But I’m not likethat—I left my love with Julian and my pride with Charles.Sometimes I feel that if only I’d had the strength to stick toJulian a little longer, we’d have weathered things through—I’dhave got back what I’d lost, and all this wouldn’t havehappened. But it’s waste of time to think of that now....Don’t worry about me, Jen. I’m happy in my own way—thoughit may not be yours, or many women’s, for that matter.I’ve just managed to be strong enough not to spoil Charles’slife—not to drag him down—so I’ve got one good memory....And I’m free—that means more to me than perhaps youcan realise—and I enjoy life as a spectator. I’ve sufferedenough as an actor on the stage, and now I’m just beginning tofeel comfortable in the stalls.”

“Don’t,” said Jenny.

She could not bear any more—this was worse than Gervase.To have spent all the treasure of life on dust and wind waseven worse than to give up that treasure unspent. She found289the tears running out of her eyes as she put her arms roundMary—softness of furs and sweetness of violets, and in themidst of them a sister who was half doll and half ghost.

§ 15

Towards the end of March, Peter’s daughter was born. Hebore the disappointment better than anyone had expected. Butlately it had not seemed to him to matter very much whetherthe child were a boy or a girl. His horizons were closing inupon him—they had even shut out his own inheritance, withthe new powers and freedoms it would bring, and he could notlook so far ahead as the prospects of his heir. Even Gervase’sdefection had not stirred him long. In his first shock of outrageand disgust he had motored over to Thunders Abbey andtried to persuade his brother to come back with him, butfinding him obdurate, his emotions had collapsed into a contemptwhich was queerly mixed with envy. If Gervase preferredthese debased states of life—first in a garage and thenin a monastery—to the decencies of his position as an Alard,then let him have what he wanted. It was something to knowwhat one wanted and take it unafraid. Gervase might be atraitor, but he was not a fool.

So Peter heard unmoved Dr. Mount’s announcement that alittle girl had been born, and only a trifle less unmoved receivedthe woolly bundle of his little daughter into his arms. He didnot, as some men, awake to a new sense of fatherhood at thetouch of his first-born. His failure as a husband seemed toaffect him as a father. He did not ask himself what he wouldhave felt if the child had been a boy. The only question inhis heart was what he would have felt if it had been Stella’schild... but that was a useless question.

Vera was secretly glad to have a girl. She had alwayswanted a daughter, and lately, as her mind had detached itselfmore and more from her husband’s wishes, the want hadbecome anxious. A boy she always pictured as a second Peter—heavy,obstinate, his heart set on things she did not care290about—but a girl would be a companion, and her own. Therewould be, she felt, some chance of her growing up like hermother and sharing her mother’s adventures in intellect andbeauty; also, in that new florescence of her race which hadaccompanied her pregnancy, she felt that her daughter wouldbe truly a daughter of Abraham, whereas her son would beborn into a public-school tradition and the heirship of a bigestate—a child of the Goyim. So she stretched out her armsgladly when the baby girl was put into them, and as she lookeddown into the mysterious, ancient little face of the newborn,her heart leapt with joy and pride to see the tokens of her bloodalready discernible, not so much in its later Hebraic characteristicsas in some general oriental quality, older than Abraham.

“There’s nothing of the Goy about her, is there?” she saidto her mother, who had come to be with her in her confinement.

“No, indeed, there’s not. She takes after us. It’s curioushow they nearly always do in a mixed marriage.”

But, in the midst of her own gratification, Vera was glad tofind that her husband was not bitterly disappointed. Poor oldPeter! He had been estranged from her, she knew, and hadwanted to marry the Mount woman, but she could forgive himin the triumph of her recovery. She had the child, and wasrapidly getting well. When she was herself again she wouldwin him back. She knew how... it never failed.

In her presence Peter made his disappointment seem evenless than it really was. The sight of her lying there in lovelinessboth opulent and exhausted—knowing vaguely what shehad suffered and accepted—stirred in him a strange, admiringpity which forbade an unthankful word. He bore no resentmentagainst her now. It was not her fault that she stoodbetween him and Stella. Probably he had treated her badly—shemight have suffered nearly as much as he.... And he wasglad she had her reward.

But even when looking tenderly down on her, speaking tenderlyto her, he could not picture himself going on with theirmarriage again. When his family and acquaintance tried tocheer him up for the disappointment of having a girl, they291always said, “But it’s only the first, Peter...” “The first neverreally matters....” and all the time he was feeling that therecould not be another. It was a preposterous feeling, he knew,for, after Gervase’s defection, it was imperative that he shouldhave an heir; and men are not like women in these things. Hehad never had Stella—he could never have Stella. Why shouldhe feel this aversion from doing his duty as a husband and anAlard? He did not know—but he felt it, almost to shrinking.He felt that his marriage was at an end—broken and yet binding—forStella could not take him after divorce any more thanshe could take him without it. And everyone said “It’s onlythe first”.... “It’s just as well for the girl to come first—tobe the oldest.”...

A few days after the baby’s birth Vera had a letter fromJenny, congratulating her and sending her love to Peter. Shedid not ask her brother to come over and see her, but Peterguessed what was behind her message. In the loneliness ofthose first days when the house seemed full of women andaffairs from which he was shut out, he had a longing to goover to Fourhouses, and see Jenny and be friends again. Buthe was held back, partly by a feeling of awkwardness, a senseof the explanations and reproaches his visit would involve,partly by a remaining stiffness against her treachery, and mostof all by a dull stirring sense of envy—the same as, thoughmore accountable than, the envy he had felt for Gervase.Here again was someone who knew what she wanted and hadgot it, whom the family had not bound fast and swallowed up—andthe worst of it all was that, unlike Gervase, she had gotwhat Peter wanted, too. In vain he told himself that she couldnever be happy with Godfrey, could never adapt herself to thelife she had chosen, that her plunge would be no more justifiedthan his withdrawal. He dared not go near Fourhouses allthe same.

§ 16

The hopes on which the baby’s birth seemed to have fallenheaviest were Sir John’s. The old man had had none of292Peter’s uncertainty or anxiety before the event—he had feltsure the child would be a boy. The news that it was a girlhad been a terrible shock, and though it had not, as was fearedat first, brought on another seizure, it was soon seen to haveincreased the nervous unsteadiness of his constitution. Healone, of all the Alards, did not join in the cry of “This is thefirst.” First or last, it was probably the only grandchild hewould live to see, and he expressed his disappointment withthe candid selfishness of old age.

“Here have I been waiting for a boy—counting on a boy—andit’s a girl after all. What good’s a girl to us? We’ve gotplenty of girls—or those who were once girls”—and he glaredat Doris—“all they do is either to disgrace us in the divorce-courts,marry the sweep, or turn into bad-tempered old maids.We’ve got enough girls. It’s a boy we want—with that Gervasegone off to be a monk. I’ve been badly served by mychildren.”

“But, Father, it wasn’t Peter’s fault,” urged Doris unskilfully.

“Wasn’t it, Ma’am? You do know a lot—more than an unmarriedwoman ought to know about such things. I believeyou even know that the baby wasn’t found under a gooseberrybush.”

“Oh, Father, don’t talk in such a dreadful way—He’s reallygetting quite awful,” she said as she let Peter out—“I sometimesthink there’s something wrong with his brain.”

“There probably is,” said Peter.

Indeed, of late Sir John had grown alarmingly eccentric.His love of rule had passed beyond the administration of hisestate, and showed itself in a dozen ways of petty dominion.He seemed resolved to avenge his authority over the threerebellious children on the two who had remained obedient.Not only did he put up a forest of forbidding notices over hisestate, to keep out the general public, which had hitherto hadfree entrance to most of his fields and woods, but he forbadehis own children to use certain paths. He would not let Petercome by the field way from Starvecrow, but insisted on his293going round by the road. He would stop Doris on the thresholdof an afternoon’s calling, and compel her to sit and readto him, by choice books which he calculated to offend her old-maidishsusceptibilities. He found Doris better game thanPeter, for whereas the son remained silent under his kicks,Doris never failed to give him all the fun he wanted in theway of protests, arguments, laments and tears. But from bothhe obtained obedience, through their dread of exciting him andbringing on another stroke.

His warfare was less open with his wife. He attacked herindirectly through the servants, who were always giving noticeowing to his intimidation. Even Wills had once distantly informedhis mistress that since Sir John did not seem toappreciate his services he might soon have to consider theadvisability of transferring them elsewhere. Appleby hadactually given notice, after a mysterious motor drive, fromwhich Sir John had returned on foot—but had been persuadedby Peter to reconsider it and stay on. The female staff wasin a state of perpetual motion. No cook would stand hermaster’s comments on her performances, no housemaid endurehis constant bullying and bell-ringing. He had perverselymoved into a top-floor bedroom, so as to be out of reach ofhis wife and Speller, who disliked stairs. Here he would maketea at five o’clock every morning with water from his hot-waterbottle boiled up on a spirit lamp. This procedure filledLady Alard with a peculiar horror when she discovered it;indeed, from her remarks it would appear that all her husband’sother misdoings were negligible in comparison.

§ 17

A few days before Easter, Peter came suddenly to Fourhouses.He came early in the afternoon, and gave no explanationeither of his coming or of his staying away. Jenny wasupstairs, helping her mother-in-law turn out the conjugal bedroom,when she heard the sound of hoofs in the yard. Sheran to the window, thinking it was Ben come home unexpectedly294from an errand to Wickham Farm, but had no timeto be disappointed in the rush of her surprise at seeing Peter.

“There’s Peter—my brother—come at last!” she cried toMrs. Godfrey, and, tearing off her dusting cap, she ran downstairs,still in her gingham overall. She wanted to open thedoor to him herself.

He could not have expected her to do this, for he was staringuninterestedly at his boots. Her gingham skirts evidently suggesteda servant to him, for he lifted his eyes slowly, thenseemed surprised to see her standing all bright and blowzedbefore him.

“Jenny!”

“Hullo, Peter! So you’ve come to see me at last.”

He mumbled something about having been passing throughIcklesham.

“Won’t you come in?—the man’ll take your horse. Hi!Homard—take Mr. Alard’s horse round to the stable.”

“I can’t stop long,” said Peter awkwardly.

“But you must, after all this time—come in.”

She had meant to ask him why he had kept away so longand why he had come now; but when she found herself alonewith him in the kitchen, she suddenly changed her mind, anddecided to let things be. He probably had no reasonable explanationto offer, and unless she meant to keep the breachunhealed, she had better treat this visit as if there was nothingto explain about it.

“How’s Vera?” she asked.

“She’s getting on splendidly, thanks.”

“And the baby?”

“That’s getting on too.”

“Do tell me about it—is it like her or like you?”

“It’s like her—a regular little Yid.”

“Never mind—she will probably grow up very beautiful.”

Peter mumbled inaudibly.

Jenny looked at him critically. He seemed heavier andstupider than usual. He gave her the impression of a manworn out.

295“You don’t look well.... Are you worried? I do hopeyou aren’t dreadfully disappointed the baby’s a girl.”

“It doesn’t really matter.”

“Of course not. The first one never does. You’re sure tohave others... boys.”

Peter did not answer, and Jenny felt a little annoyed withhim. If this was the way he behaved at home she was sorryfor Vera. It was curious how nervy these stolid men oftenwere....

“How are Father and Mother?” she asked, to change thesubject—“I suppose you go up to Conster every day.”

“Twice most days. They’re not up to much—at least Fatherisn’t. He’s had some pretty good shocks lately, you know.He was dreadfully upset the baby’s being a girl—and that foolGervase’s business was a terrible blow for him.”

“It was a blow for me too. I did my best to put him offit, but it was no use. My only comfort is that apparently it’llbe some time before he’s really let in for it. He may cometo his senses before then.”

“I don’t think so. He’s as obstinate as the devil.”

“What—have you tried arguing with him?”

“Yes—when I heard what he’d done, I drove over to ThundersAbbey or whatever it’s called, and did my level best tobring him back with me. But it was all no good—you mightas well try to argue with a dead owl.”

“Good Lord!—you went over to Thunders, and tried tobring him back! Poor old Peter! But do tell me how he is,and what he’s doing. What sort of place is it?”

“Oh a great big barrack, spoiling the country for milesround. But they’ve got some fine land and absolutely all thelatest ideas in farming—motor traction and chemical fertilisationand all that.”

“And was Gervase working on the farm?”

“No, Brother Joseph—that’s what the fool’s called now—BrotherJoseph, when I saw him, was scrubbing out the kitchenpassage on his hands and knees like a scullery maid. A dignifiedoccupation for an Alard!”

296“Poor old Gervase, how he’d hate that! But he’ll be allthe more likely to come to his senses and give it up, especiallywhen he’s got over his disappointment about Stella. I feelit’s really that which was at the bottom of it all.”

Peter did not speak for a moment. He leaned back in hiswooden armchair, staring at the fire, which was leaping ruddilyinto the chimney’s cavern.

“Do you mind if I light my pipe?” he asked after a bit.

“Of course not—do. I’m glad you’re going to stay.”

He took matches and his tobacco pouch out of his pocket,and she noticed suddenly that his hands were shaking. Forthe first time a dreadful suspicion seized her. His heaviness—hisnerviness—his queer, lost manner... was it possible,she wondered, that Peter drank?

“Have you heard when the Mounts are leaving?” she askedhim, stifling her thoughts.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Stella was here three days ago, and she said that they’veat last settled about the practice. She seemed to think theymight be free to go at the end of May.”

“Oh.”

“I expect Vera’s glad they didn’t go off in a hurry, and leaveher with a new man for the baby. Dr. Mount’s the best maternitydoctor for miles round.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that.”

He was falling back into silence, and no remark of herson any topic seemed able to rouse him out of it, though shetried once or twice to re-animate him on the subject of Gervase.He lounged opposite her in his armchair, puffing at hispipe, and staring at the fire, now and then painfully draggingout a “yes” or a “no.” She was beginning to feel bored withhim and to think about her work upstairs. Was this all hehad to say to her after three months’ estrangement?—anestrangement which he had never troubled to explain. Shehad been weak with him—let him off too easily—she ought tohave “had things out with him” about her marriage. She had aright to know his reasons for forgiving her just as she had297a right to know his reasons for shunning her.... He hadtreated her inexplicably.

She was working herself up to wrath like this when Petersuddenly spoke of his own accord.

“This place is like what Starvecrow used to be.”

“Used to be?—when?”

“Before Vera and I came to it—when the Greenings had it.Do you remember the kitchen fireplace?—it was just like this.”

“Starvecrow is far grander than Fourhouses now. I’mjust a plain farmer’s wife, Peter—I’m never going to pretendto be anything else.”

“And Starvecrow was just a plain farm; but we’ve changedit into a country house.”

“Mary’s been wanting me to do the same for Fourhouses,but I’ve told her I’d be very sorry to. I like it best as it is.”

“So do I.”

“Then are you sorry you’ve altered Starvecrow?”

“Yes.”

“But it’s a lovely place, Peter. You’ve made a perfect littlecountry house out of it. I’m sure you wouldn’t be pleasedto have it the ramshackle old thing it used to be.”

“Yes, I should.”

“Well, Vera wouldn’t, anyhow. You and she are in atotally different position from us. I’m not keeping Fourhousesas it is because I don’t think it’s capable of improvement,but because I don’t want to put myself outside my classand ape the county. You’re just the opposite—you’ve got appearancesto keep up; it would never do if you lived in thefunny hole Starvecrow used to be in the Greenings’ time.”

“I loved it then—it was just like this—the kitchen fire...and the fire in the office—it used to hum just like this—asif there was a kettle on it. The place I’ve got now isn’tStarvecrow.”

“What is it, then?”

“I don’t know—but it isn’t Starvecrow. I’ve spoilt Starvecrow.I’ve changed it, I’ve spoilt it—Vera’s people have spoiltit with their damned money. It isn’t Starvecrow. Do you298remember how the orchard used to come right up to the sidewall? They’ve cut it down and changed it into a garden. Theorchard’s beyond the garden—then it doesn’t look so muchlike a farm. A country house doesn’t have an orchard justoutside the drawing-room windows....”

He had left his chair, and was pacing up and down theroom. His manner seemed stranger than ever, and Jennyfelt a little frightened.

“I’m glad you don’t want me to change Fourhouses,” shesaid soothingly—“I must tell Mary what you’ve said.”

“But I do want you to change it,” he cried—“I can’t bearto see it as it is—what Starvecrow used to be.”

“Don’t be silly, Peter. Starvecrow is much better now thanit ever used to be.”

He turned on her almost angrily—

“Goodbye.”

She felt glad he was going, and still more glad to hear herhusband’s voice calling her from the yard.

“There’s Ben. Must you really be going, Peter?”

“Yes—I must.”

He walked out of the room, and she followed him—bothmeeting Ben on the doorstep. Young Godfrey was surprisedto see his elder brother-in-law—he had made up his mind thatPeter would never come to Fourhouses. He was still moresurprised at his abstracted greeting.

“Hullo, Godfrey. Glad to see you—that’s a fine mare.Jenny, will you tell them to bring my horse round?”

“Yes.... Carter! Mr. Alard’s horse.... Peter can’tstay any longer, Ben. I told him you’d be sorry.”

“I’m sure I’m very sorry, Sir”—he blushed at his slip intodeference, but was quite unable to say “Peter”—“Is Mrs.Alard doing well?” he asked clumsily.

“Very well, thank you.”

“I hope you’ll come and see us again soon,” said Jenny—“I’dlike to show you the house.”

“Yes, I’ll come,” he returned absently, and went to meet hishorse, which was being led to him across the yard.

299

§ 18

The sun was still high as Peter rode back through the crosscountrylanes to Starvecrow. The days were lingering now,and the fields were thickening for May. In the hay-fields theyoung crops were already marking their difference from thepastures with a rust of sorrel and a gilding of buttercups,and the hedges were losing their traceried outline in smothersof vetch and convolvulus.

Peter mechanically noted the progress of the winter sowingson Scragoak, Stonelink, and other farms he passed. Thesewere all dependencies of Alard, and their welfare was bound upwith Conster. Pleasant, homely places, their sprawling picturesquenessmade up for any want of repair to all but theeye of his father’s agent. Peter saw the needs of most ofthem—rebuilding, rethatching, redraining—and his mind,mechanically and from force of habit, deplored the impossibilityof taking action. The position seemed quite hopeless, for hecould do nothing now, and things would be even worse at hisfather’s death, when the weight of death-duties and the pressureof mortgage holders would probably choke out the littlelife there was left in the Alard estates. But even this ultimateforeboding was only mechanical—his real emotions, his mostvital pains, were all centred in himself.

He had spoken truly when he told Jenny that he could notbear the sight of Fourhouses. He could not even bear thethought of it. When he thought of that quiet, ancient house,with its bricked floors and wide, sunny spaces, with its hummingkitchen fire and salt-riddled beam-work—above all whenhe thought of it as the home of loving hearts and the peacewhich follows daring—he felt unendurably the contrast ofwhat he had made of Starvecrow. It was what Starvecrowused to be—it was what Starvecrow might have been... foreven if he had renounced the place he loved for the womanhe loved, Starvecrow would have still gone on being the same,either as the home of another agent, or—if his father hadreally fulfilled his threat of selling it—the home of some honest300farmer like Ben Godfrey, a man who would not only live init but possess it, and give it back the yeoman dignity it hadlost.

Starvycrow—Starvycrow.

What was it now? What had he made it? It was a smallcountry house, perfectly furnished and appointed, with a setof model buildings attached. It was the home of a burnt-outlove, of the husks of marriage, of a husband and wife whosehearts were foes and whose souls were strangers, of lost illusions,of dead hopes, and wasted sacrifices. That was whatit was now. That was what he had made it.

He remembered words which long ago he had spoken toStella.... “Places never change—they are always the same.Human beings may change, but places never do.” Those wordswere untrue—places can change, do change—Starvecrow hadchanged, he had changed it. While Stella, the woman, hadnot changed. She was still the same—the dear, the lovely...and the unchanged, unchanging Stella might have been hisinstead of this changed Starvecrow. He had sacrificed thesubstance of life to a dream, a shadow, which without the substancemust go up in smoke. He had sold his birth-right fora morsel of bread—or rather he had given away his bread forthe sake of an inheritance in the clouds, which he could neverhold.

His old hopes and his old fears had died together. Neitherthe fact that his newborn child was a girl, nor the final defectionof Gervase the heir-apparent could make him hold hisbreath for Alard. These things had not killed his dreams, asonce he had thought, but had merely shown that they weredead. The thought of his father’s death, which could not nowbe far off, and his own succession to the property, with allthe freedom and power it would bring, no longer stirred hisflagging ambition. When he became Sir Peter he could probablysave the House of Alard in spite of death-duties andmortgagees. Without restrictions, master of his own economies,he could put new life into the failing estate—or atleast he could nurse and shelter it through its difficult times301till the days came when the government must do somethingto set the Squires on their legs again.... But the thoughthad no power to move him—indeed Alard hardly seemed worthsaving. It was a monster to which he had sacrificed his uttermosthuman need. Gervase had been a wise man, afterall. And Jenny... Jenny had done what Peter might havedone. He and Stella might now have been together in somewide farmhouse, happy, alive and free. This child mighthave been her child.... Oh, how could he have been soblind? He had not known how much he really loved her—hehad thought she was just like other women he had loved,and that he could forget her. She would go away, and shewould manage at last to forget him; but he who stayed behindwould never be able to forget her. He would live onand on, live on her memory—the memory of her touch andvoice, her narrow shining eyes, her laughter and her kisses—liveon and on until even memory grew feeble, and his heartstarved, and died.

Riding over the farms between Leasan and Vinehall it suddenlystruck him how easily he might turn aside and go tosee Stella. She had promised that she would see him againbefore she went away. Should he go now and ask her to redeemthat promise? Should he go and plead with her ashe had never pleaded before? She could still save him—shecould still be to him what she might have been. In one madmoment he saw himself and Stella seeking love’s refuge atthe other end of the country, in some far, kindly farm in Westmorelandor Cornwall. Vera would divorce him—she wouldbe only too glad to get her freedom—and by the time he becameSir Peter Alard he would have lived the scandal down.Stella still loved him—she was awake, alive, and passionate—shehad none of the scruples and conventions, reserves andfrigidities which keep most women moral—she had only herreligion to stand between them, and Peter did not think muchof that. A collection of dreams, traditions and prohibitionscould not stand before his pleading—before the pleading ofher own heart. He had not really pleaded with her yet....

302For a moment he reined in his horse, hesitating at the mouthof the little lane which twists through the hollows of Goathamand Doucegrove towards Vinehall. But the next minutehe went on again, driven by a question. What had he to offerStella in exchange for all that he proposed to take from her?—Whathad he to give her in exchange for her father, herhome, her good name, her peace of mind? The answer wasquite plain—he had nothing but himself. And was he worththe sacrifice? Again a plain answer—No. He was worn,tired, disillusioned, shop-soiled, no fit mate for the vividwoman whom some hidden source of romance seemed to keepeternally young. Even suppose he could, by storming andentreaty, bend her to his desire, he would merely be bringingher to where he stood today. A few years hence she mightstand as he stood now—looking back on all she had lost....He would not risk bringing her to that. Three years ago hehad sacrificed her to his desires—he had made her suffer....It would be a poor atonement to sacrifice her again—to anotherset of desires. The least he could do for her was to let herfollow her own way of escape—to let her go... though stillhe did not know how he was to live without her.

§ 19

When he reached home he went upstairs to see Vera. Hermother and Rose were with her, and they were having tea.

“Hullo!” said his wife—“Where have you been all day?”

“I lunched over at Becket’s House—Fuller asked me to stay.And in the afternoon I went to see Jenny.”

He had not meant to tell them, but now he suddenly foundhe had done so. Vera lifted her eyebrows.

“Oh. So you’ve forgiven her at last. I think you mighthave told me before you went there. I want to thank herfor writing to me, and you could have saved me the fag ofa letter. She’ll think it odd my not sending any message.”

“I’m sorry, but I never thought of going till I found myselfover there.”

303“And how is Jenny?” asked Rose.

“She seemed very well.”

“And happy?”

“Yes—and happy.”

“Is she still living like the wife of a working-man, withonly one maid?”

“No, not like the wife of a working-man, who doesn’t keepeven one maid, but like the wife of a well-to-do farmer, whichshe is.”

“You needn’t bite my head off, Peter,” said Rose.

“Your tea’s in the drawing-room,” said Vera—“I askedWeller to put it there ready for you when you came in. Nursethinks it would be too much of a crowd if you had it up here.Besides, I know you’d rather be alone.”

Peter rose from his seat at the bedside.

“All right—I’ll go downstairs.”

“I didn’t mean now, you old silly,” said Vera, pulling at hiscoat. “Hang it all, I haven’t seen you the whole day.”

Peter looked down at her hopelessly—at her large, swimmingbrown eyes, at her face which seemed mysteriously tohave coarsened without losing any of its beauty, at the raven-blackbraids of her hair that showed under her lace nightcap,and last of all at her mouth—full, crimson, satisfied, devouring....He became suddenly afraid—of her, with thisadditional need of him, this additional hold on him, which hermotherhood had brought—and of himself, because he knewnow that he hated her, quite crudely and physically hated her.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay—I’ve got rather a headache...and I’m going out directly to pot rabbits.”

“That’s an odd cure for a headache,” said Vera. Shelooked hurt and angry, and he felt a brute to have upset herat such a time. But he could not help it—he had to go, andmoved towards the door.

“Aren’t you going to take any notice of your little daughter?”purred Mrs. Asher—“Baby dear, I don’t think yourdaddy’s very proud of you. He hasn’t been near you sincebreakfast.”

304Speechlessly Peter went to the cradle and gazed down onthe little wizened face. His heart felt hard; not one pangof fatherhood went through it. “You little sheeny—you littleYid”—he said to the baby in his heart.

“Isn’t she a darling?” his mother-in-law breathed into hisneck—“isn’t she a love? Do you know, Vera thinks now thatMiriam would do better than Rachel—it goes better withAlard.”

Peter did not think that either went particularly well withAlard, but he said nothing. Wasn’t there a Jewish namewhich meant “The glory is departed from my house”?

He kissed the baby and went out, thankful to have escapedkissing the mother.

Some truth-loving providence had insisted on afflicting himwith the headache he had claimed as an excuse for not sittingwith Vera. His head ached abominably as he went into thedrawing-room where his tea was laid. The firelight ruddiedthe white walls, the silver and the furniture, where comfortand cretonne were skilfully blended with oak and antiquity.His thoughts flew back to the evening when he and Vera hadfirst come into this room on their return from their honeymoon.He had thought it beautiful then—though even thenhe had realised it was not the right room for Starvecrow. Itused to be one of the kitchens, and in the old days when hehad first known it, had had a bricked floor and a big range,like the kitchen at Fourhouses. Tonight he hated it—it waspart of the processes which had changed Starvecrow out ofrecognition. He rang the bell impatiently. He would havehis tea carried into the office. That was the room which hadaltered least.

Even here there were changes, but they were of his ownchoice and making—he had planned them long before hismarriage. The furniture of Greening’s day—the pitch-pinedesk and cane-seated chairs—had been impossible; he hadalways meant to get a good Queen Anne bureau like this one,and some gate-backed chairs like these. There was nothing un-farmlikein this plainly furnished office, with its walls adorned305with scale-maps and plans of fields and woods, and notices ofauctions and agricultural shows.

Nevertheless today he found himself wishing he had it asit used to be. He would like to see it as it used to be—asStella used to see it, when she came in fresh and glowing ona winter’s afternoon, to sit beside the fire... he could almostfeel her cold cheek under his lips....

Then for one moment he saw it as it used to be. For aninstant of strangeness and terror he saw the old scratcheddesk, with Greening’s files and account-books upon it, sawGreening’s book-shelves, with their obsolete agriculturaltreatises—saw the horse-hair armchair and the two otherchairs with the cane seats, and the picture-advertisement ofThorley’s cake on the wall.... He stood stock still, trembling—andthen suddenly the room was itself again, and it didn’teven seem as if it had altered.... But he felt dreadfullyqueer. He hurried to the door and went out through the passageinto the little grass space at the back. God! he must beill. What a fright he’d had! Suppose the hallucination hadcontinued a moment longer, should he have seen Stella comeinto the room, unbuttoning her fur collar, her face all freshwith the wind?...

He went round to the front of the house, and fetched hishat and overcoat and gun. He’d go out after the rabbits, ashe’d said. There were too many of them, and he’d promisedElias... anyhow he couldn’t stand the house. He whistledfor Breezy, and the spaniel ran out to him, bounding andwhimpering with delight. The sky was turning faintly greenat the rims. The dusk was near.

He passed quickly through the yard. From the open doorwayof the cowhouse came cheerful sounds of milking, andhe could see his cows standing in shafts of mote-filled sunlight.The cowhouse had been enlarged and modernised—Starvecrowcould almost now be called a model farm. But he knew thatthe place wanted to be what it was in the old days—beforehis wife’s money had been spent on it. It was not only he whowas dissatisfied with the changes—Starvecrow itself did not306like them. He knew that tonight as he walked through thebarns.... Starvecrow had never been meant for a well-appointedcountry house, or a model farm. It ought to havebeen, like Fourhouses, the home of happy lovers. It wasmeant to be a home.... It was not a home now—just aplace where an unhappy man and woman lived, desiring, fleeing,mistrusting, failing each other. He could have made ita home—brought Stella to it somehow, some day, at last. Perhaps—seeinghis father’s condition, that day would not havebeen far off now.... But like everything else, Starvecrowhad been sacrificed to Alard. He had sacrificed it—he hadbetrayed the faithful place. He saw now that he had betrayednot only himself, not only Stella, but also Starvecrow.

Starvycrow—Starvycrow.

Peter walked quickly, almost running, from the reproachof Starvycrow.

§ 20

At about seven o’clock that evening a message came upfrom Conster, and as Peter was still out, it was brought toVera. It was marked “immediate,” so she opened it.

“Who brought this, Weller?”

“The gardener’s boy, Ma’am.”

“Tell him Mr. Alard is out at present, but I’ll send himover as soon as he comes home——Sir John’s had anotherstroke,” she told her mother.

“Oh, my dear! How dreadful—I wish you hadn’t openedthe letter. Shocks are so bad for you.”

“It wasn’t a shock at all, thanks. I’ve been expecting itfor weeks. Besides, one really can’t want the poor old manto live much longer. He was getting a perfect nuisance tohimself and everybody, and if he’d lived on might have donesome real damage to the estate. Now Peter may just be ableto save it, in spite of the death-duties.”

“But, my dear, he isn’t dead yet!” cried Mrs. Asher, a little307shocked. She belonged to a generation to which the deathof anybody however old, ill, unloved or unlovely, could neverbe anything but a calamity.

“He’s not likely to survive a second stroke,” said Veracalmly. “I’m sorry for the poor old thing, but really it’s timehe went. And I want Peter to come into the estate beforehe’s quite worn out and embittered. It’s high time he was hisown master—it’ll pull him together again—he’s been all topieces lately.”

“And it’ll quite settle the Stella Mount business,” she addedsecretly to herself.

The next hour passed, and Weller came up to ask if sheshould bring in the dinner.

“What can have happened to Peter!” exclaimed Vera.

“I daresay he met the messenger on his way back, and wentstraight to Conster.”

“Then it was very inconsiderate of him not to send meword. Yes, Weller, bring the dinner up here. You’ll haveit with me, won’t you, Mother, as Peter isn’t in?”

They were eating their fruit when Weller came in withanother “Urgent.” It was from Doris, and ran—

“Hasn’t Peter come back yet? Do send him over at oncewhenever he does. Father is dying. Dr. Mount does notexpect him to last the night. We have wired to Jenny andMary and even Gervase. Do send Peter along. He oughtto be here.”

“How exactly like Doris to write as if we were deliberatelykeeping Peter away! I don’t know where he is. Doris mightrealise that I’m the last person who’d know.”

Her hands were trembling, and she whimpered a little asshe crushed up the note and flung it across the room into thefireplace.

“Don’t be upset, Vera darling. Nothing could possiblyhave happened to him—we should have heard. He’s probably308accepted a sudden invitation to dinner, the same as hedid to lunch.”

“I know nothing’s happened to him—I’m not afraid of that.I know where he is....”

“Then if you know...”

“He’s with Stella Mount,” and Vera hid her face in thepillow, sobbing hysterically.

Mrs. Asher tried to soothe her, tried to make her turn overand talk coherently, but with that emotional abandonmentwhich lay so close to her mental sophistication, she remainedwith her face obstinately buried, and sobbed on. Her motherhad heard about Stella Mount, chiefly from Rose, but hadnever given the idea much credit. She did not credit it now.But to pacify Vera she sent over a carefully worded messageto Dr. Mount’s cottage, asking that if Mr. Peter Alard wasthere he should be told at once that he was wanted over atConster.

The boy came back with the reply that Mr. Alard was notat Vinehall, and had not been there that day. Everyone butthe maid was out—Dr. Mount at Conster Manor and MissMount in church.

“That proves nothing,” said Vera—“he needn’t have mether at the house.”

“But if she’s in church——”

“How do we know she’s in church? She only left wordwith the maid that she’s gone there——” and Vera’s sobsbroke out again until the nurse begged her to calm herselffor the sake of the child. Which she promptly did, for shewas a good mother.

§ 21

At Conster all the family was by now assembled, with theexception of Peter and Gervase. Ben Godfrey had broughtJenny over from Fourhouses, and Mary had motored fromHastings; Rose was there too, with a daughter’s privileges.They were all sitting in the dining-room over a late and chilly309meal. They had been upstairs to the sick-room, where theprodigals had entered unforbidden, for Sir John knew neithersheep nor goat. His vexed mind had withdrawn itself tothe inmost keep of the assaulted citadel, in preparation forits final surrender of the fortress it had held with such difficultyof late.

“There is no good saying that I expect him to recover thistime,” Dr. Mount had said. “I will not say it is impossible—doctorsare shy of using that word—but I don’t expect it,and, in view of his former condition which would be tremendouslyaggravated by this attack, I don’t think anyone canhope it.”

“Will it be long?” asked Doris, in a harsh, exhausted voice.

“I don’t think it will be longer than forty-eight hours.”

Doris burst into tears. Her grief was, the family thought,excessive. All her life, and especially for the last three months,her father had victimised her, browbeaten her, frustrated her,humiliated her—she had been the scapegoat of the revoltedsons and daughters—and yet at his death she had tears anda grief which none of the more fortunate could share.

“I found him—it was I who found him”—she sobbed outher story for the dozenth time. “I came into the study withhis hot milk—Wills has refused to bring it ever since poorFather threw it in his face—and I saw him sitting there, andhe looked funny, somehow. I knew something was wrong—hewas all twisted up and breathing dreadfully.... And Isaid ‘Father, is anything the matter?—aren’t you feeling well?’And he just managed to gasp ‘Get out.’ Those were the lastwords he uttered.”

Sir John had not been put to bed in his attic-bedroom, thescene of his ignoble tea-making, but in his old room downstairs,leading out of Lady Alard’s. She and the nurse werewith him now while the others were at supper. She had aconviction that her husband knew her, as he made inarticulatesounds of wrath when she came near. But as he did the samefor the nurse, the rest of the family were not convinced.

310“When is Peter coming?” groaned Doris—“I really call itheartless of him to keep away.”

“But he doesn’t know what’s happened,” soothed Jenny—“he’llcome directly he’s heard.”

“I can’t understand what he’s doing out at this hour. It’stoo late for any business, or for shooting—where can he havegone?”

“You’ll be getting an answer to your second message soon,”said Ben Godfrey.

“I daresay Peter thought he’d have his dinner first,” continuedDoris—“I expect he thought it didn’t matter and hecould come round afterwards.”

“I don’t think that’s in the least likely,” said Mary.

“Then why doesn’t he come?—he can’t be out at this hour.”

“He must be out—or he would have come.”

“It’s not so very late,” said Jenny, “only just after nine.”

“He may have gone out to dinner somewhere,” said Rose.

“Yes, that’s quite possible,” said Jenny—“he may have gonesomewhere on business and been asked to stay—or he mayhave met someone when he was out.”

“I’ve a strong feeling that it mightn’t be a bad plan to’phone to Stella Mount.”

“But Dr. Mount ’phoned there an hour ago, saying he’d behere all night. She’d have told him then if Peter was there.”

“I think it quite probable that she would not have told him.”

“What exactly do you mean by that, Rose?”

“Mean?—oh, nothing.”

“Then there’s no use talking of such a thing. I’m quitesure that if Peter had been at the Mounts’, Stella would havesent him over directly she heard about Father.”

At that moment Wills came into the room with a note forDoris.

“That must be from Starvecrow,” she said, taking it. “Yes,it’s from Mrs. Asher—‘Peter hasn’t been in yet, and we arebeginning to feel anxious. He told us he was going out toshoot rabbits and one of the farm men saw him start out withhis gun and Breezy. Of course he may have met someone311and gone home with them to dinner. As you have a ’phone,perhaps you could ring up one or two places.”

“We could ring up the Parishes,” said Jenny—“he may havegone there. Or the Hursts—aren’t they on the ’phone? Idon’t think the Fullers are.”

“It’s an extraordinary thing to me,” said Rose, “that heshould stop out like this without at least sending a messageto his wife. He might know how anxious she’d be.”

“Peter isn’t the most thoughtful or practical being on earth.But there’s no good making conjectures. I’m going to ’phoneevery place I can think of.”

Jenny spoke irritably. Rose never failed to annoy her, andshe was growing increasingly anxious about Peter. She hadtold the others of his visit that afternoon, but she had not toldthem of his queer, gruff, silent manner. Not that she hadseen, or saw now, anything sinister in it, but she could notrid herself of the thought that Peter had been “queer,” andthat to queer people queer things may happen.

The telephone yielded no results. Neither the Parishes northe Hursts were harbouring Peter, nor could she hear ofhim at the Furnace or Becket’s House, or at the Vinehallsolicitor’s, or the garage at Iden, the final resorts of her desperation.Of course he had friends who were not on the telephone,but it was now after ten o’clock, and it was difficultto believe that if he had accepted a casual invitation to dinehe would not have come home or sent word.

“Lord! how ghastly it is,” she cried, as she hung up thereceiver for the last time—“Father dying and Peter disappeared.What are we to do, Ben?”

“I think we ought to go and have a look for him,” said herhusband.

“How?—and who’d go?”

“I’ll get a chap or two from here, and the men at Starvecrow.If he was only out after conies he wouldn’t have gonefar—down to the Bridge, most likely. We ought to searchthe fallows.”

“Yes, do go,” said Doris—“it’s the only thing to be done312now. I know something dreadful has happened to him. Andperhaps tomorrow he’ll be Sir Peter Alard....”

She had forgotten that Godfrey was the presumptuous boorwho had disgraced her name. She saw in him only the manof the family—the only man of the family now.

“I’ll ring for Wills, and he’ll see about lanterns—and perhapsPollock would go with you. And Beatup and Gregoryknow the district well—I’ll have them sent for from the farm.”

“Reckon I’d better go up to Starvecrow, John Elias wouldcome with me, and Lambard and Fagge.”

“If you’re going to Starvecrow,” said Jenny, “I’ll go too,and see if I can do anything for poor Vera. I expect she’sdreadfully worried and frightened.”

“Don’t go!” cried Doris—“suppose Father died....”

“I can’t see what good I should be doing here. Vera needsme more than you do.”

“She’s got her mother. And it would be dreadful if Fatherdied while you were out of the house.”

“Not more dreadful than if I was in it. He doesn’t knowme, and wouldn’t see me if he did.”

“I think you’re very heartless,” and Doris began to cry—“Fathermight recover consciousness just before the end andwant to forgive you.”

“I don’t think either is the least likely. Come along, Ben.”

Her husband fetched her coat from the hall, and they setout together. Doris sat on in her chair at the head of thetable, sobbing weakly.

“I think this is a terrible thing to have happened. Fatherand Peter going together.... It makes me almost believe thereisn’t a God.”

“But we’ve no reason to think Peter’s dead,” said Mary—“adozen other things may have happened. He may havebroken his leg out in the fields and be unable to get home, inwhich case the men will soon find him. I don’t see why youneed take for granted that he’s killed.”

“I think it far more likely that he’s gone off with StellaMount,” said Rose, relieved of Jenny’s repressing presence.

313“Why ever should you think that?” said Mary. “I wasn’taware that he was in love with her—now.”

“He’s been in love with her for the last year. Poor Vera’shad a dreadful time. I’m sure she thinks Peter’s gone withStella.”

“Really, Rose, you surprise me—and anyhow, Stella answeredher father’s ’phone call a short time ago, so she mustbe at home.”

“She might just have been going to leave when he rang up.”

“Well, the ’phone’s in the next room if you like to give hera call—and know what to say to her. Personally I shouldfind the enquiry rather delicate.”

“It won’t do any good my ringing up,” sulked Rose—“ifthey’re gone we can’t stop them. If they’ve not gone thenDoris is right, and Peter’s probably killed or something. Idon’t know which would be the worst. It’s dreadful to thinkof him chucking everything over when if he’d only waitedanother hour he’d have heard about Father’s illness. He’dnever have gone if he’d known he was to be Sir Peter sosoon.”

“Well, I’d rather he’d gone than was killed,” said Doris—“theother could be stopped and hushed up—but if he’s dead... there’s nobody left.”

“What about Gervase?” asked Mary.

“He’s no good.”

“Surely he’d come out of his convent or whatever it is, ifhe knew he had succeeded to the property.”

“I don’t know. Gervase never cared twopence about theproperty. I don’t think he’d come out for that.”

“They wouldn’t let him out,” said Rose.

“Is he coming here now?” asked Mary.

“I wired to him when I wired to you and Jenny. But Idon’t know whether he’ll come or not, and anyhow he can’tbe here for some time.”

“What time is it?”

“Nearly twelve.”

The three women shivered. The fire had gone out.

314

§ 22

The night wore on, and Sir John was still alive. Nobodythought of going to bed, but after a time Doris, Mary andRose went upstairs to the greater warmth of their father’sdressing-room. Here through the open door they could seethe firelight leaping on the bedroom ceiling, and hear the occasionalhushed voices of the nurse and Dr. Mount. LadyAlard sat by the fire, mute and exhausted. For the first timethat they could remember she gave her family the impressionof being really ill. Speller made tea, cocoa and soup onthe gas-ring in the dressing-room. Hot drinks were at once adistraction and a stimulant. The night seemed incrediblylong—nobody spoke above whispers, though every now andthen Rose would say—“There’s no good whispering—hewouldn’t hear us even if we shouted.”

“I do hope he really is unconscious,” said Doris.

“Dr. Mount says he is.”

“But how can he know? He knows Father can’t speak,but he doesn’t know he can’t hear us.”

“I expect there are signs he can tell by.”

“The last words he ever spoke were said to me. That’ll besomething comforting to remember.... But oh, it was dreadfulfinding him like that! I do hope it hadn’t lasted long...that he hadn’t been like that for a long time, all alone....”

Doris bowed her head into her hands and sobbed loudly.As she sat there, crouched over the fire, her face with themerciful powder and colour washed off by tears, all haggardand blotched, and the make-up of her eyes running down hercheeks, her hair tumbling on her ears, and revealing the dingybrown roots of its chestnut undulations—she looked by far themost stricken of the party, more even than the sick man, whobut for his terrible breathing lay now in ordered calm.

A clock in the house struck three.

“I wonder when we’ll hear about Peter,” whispered Rose.

“I’m surprised we haven’t heard already,” said Mary—“They315must have gone all over the Starvecrow land by now.”

“Um....” said Rose, “that seems to point to his notbeing anywhere about the place.” Then she added—“I wonderif Gervase will come. I shouldn’t be at all surprised ifhe didn’t.”

“I should. They’d never keep him back when his father’sdying.”

“Well—why isn’t he here? He’s known about it for over sixhours.”

“I shouldn’t think there were any trains running now. It’snot so easy as all that to come from Brighton.”

Rose relapsed into silence. After a time she said—

“Religion is a great consolation at a time like this.”

“Do you think we ought to send for Mr. Williams to comeand see Father?” choked Doris.

“No—of course not. What good could he do? Poor SirJohn’s quite unconscious.”

“But he may be able to hear. How do you know he can’t?Perhaps he would like to hear Mr. Williams say a prayer ora hymn.”

“My dear Doris, I tell you he doesn’t know a thing, sowhat’s the good of dragging poor Mr. Williams out of hisbed at three o’clock in the morning? I had no patience withthe people who did that sort of thing to George. Sir Johncouldn’t understand anything, and if he did he’d be furious,so it doesn’t seem much good either way. When I said religionwas a consolation I was thinking of Mary.”

“And why of me?” asked Mary.

“Well, I often think you’d be happier if you had some sortof religion. You seem to me to lead such an aimless life.”

“Of course I’d be happier. Most people are happier whenthey believe in something. Unfortunately I never was taughtanything I could or cared to believe.”

“Mary! How can you say that, when poor George....”

She broke off as the door opened and Jenny suddenly appeared.

316“Hullo, Jenny!” cried Doris—“have you come back?—Havethey found Peter?”

Jenny did not speak. She shut the door behind her, andstood with her back against it. Her face was white and damp.It was evidently raining, and wet strands of hair were plasteredon her cheeks.

“Is Dr. Mount in there?” she asked.

“Yes—but Jenny... Peter!...”

“I must see Dr. Mount first.”

“Who’s that asking for me?”

The doctor came in from the next room; at the sight ofJenny he shut the communicating door.

“I want to speak to you, Dr. Mount. Will you come withme?”

“Jenny, you really can’t treat us like this,” cried Mary,“you must tell us what’s happened. Is Peter hurt?”

“Yes—he’s downstairs.”

“Is he dead?” cried Doris, springing to her feet.

Again Jenny did not speak. She bowed her head into herhands and wept silently.

A dreadful silence filled the little room. Even Doris wasperfectly quiet.

“I’ll come down,” said Dr. Mount.

“So’ll I,” said Doris.

“No,” said Jenny, “you mustn’t see him.”

“Why not?”

“He’s—he’s been dreadfully injured—part of his head....”

She stopped and shuddered. Dr. Mount pushed quietlypast her to the door.

“I think I’d better go down alone. Your husband andthe men are down there—I can get all the information I wantfrom them.”

Jenny came forward to the fire and flopped into the chairDoris had left. Her clothes were wet and her boots muddy—itmust be raining hard.

“I’d better tell you what happened,” she said brokenly—“The317men—some from here and some from Starvecrow—foundPeter lying on the Tillingham marshes about half a mile belowthe Mocksteeple. His dog was watching beside him, andhe’d been shot through the head.”

“Murdered,” gasped Doris.

“No—I don’t think so for a moment.”

“It was an accident, of course,” said Mary.

“I wish I could think that. But the men seemed to think—myhusband too—that it was his own doing.”

“His own doing! Suicide!” cried Doris—“How could theyimagine such a thing?”

“From the way he was lying, and the position of thegun, and the nature of the injuries. That’s why I was soanxious for Dr. Mount to see him and give an expertopinion.”

“Is there any chance of his being still alive?”

“Not the slightest. His head is nearly entirely blown away.”

“Oh, Jenny, don’t!—it’s dreadful!”

“Yes it’s dreadful, but I’m afraid it’s true.”

“But whatever could have made him kill himself?” moanedDoris—“He’d nothing on his mind—he was perfectly happy... it couldn’t have been because the baby was a girl.”

“Peter may have had troubles that we don’t know of,” saidRose.

“He must have,” said Jenny, “though I don’t think for aminute they were of the kind you’ve been suspecting.”

“I don’t see what other kind they could be.”

“It may have been something to do with the estate.”

“He’d never have killed himself for that. If anything hadgone wrong there, it was more than ever his duty to keepalive.”

“Well, there’s no good us arguing here about what he didit for—if he really did do it. The question is—who is goingto tell Mother?”

“Oh, Jenny....”

They looked at each other in consternation.

318

§ 23

But Lady Alard, for all her frailty, belonged to a toughergeneration than her children. In times of prosperity she mightlanguish, but in times of adversity her spirit seemed to stiffenin proportion to the attacks upon it. If her cook had givennotice she would have taken to her bed, but now when catastrophetrod on catastrophe and the fatal illness of her husbandwas followed by the death of her first-born son she armedherself with a courage in which her children, careless ofkitchen tragedies, seemed to fail when they met the biggerassaults of life. She was less shattered by the news of Peter’sdeath than was the daughter who broke it to her, and risingup out of her chair, independent of arm or stick, she insistedon going downstairs into the dark, whispering house.

The others followed her, except Doris, who stayed huddledand motionless in her chair in her father’s dressing-room, likea stricken dog at its master’s door. The dining-room waslighted up and seemed full of men. They were gatheredround the table on which, with a sense of futility and pathosJenny caught sight of a pair of stiff legs in muddy boots.

At the sound of footsteps Dr. Mount came out of the room.

“What! Lady Alard!” he exclaimed, quite unprepared forsuch a visit.

“Yes, I want to see him.”

“You can’t—yet!”

“Are you quite sure he’s dead?”

“Quite sure.”

Dr. Mount looked shaken—his face was grey. But all faceswere grey in the light of the hall, where the first livid raysof morning were mixing with the electric lamps that hadburned all night.

“How did it happen, Doctor? Does anyone know?”

“Nobody knows. He was found on the Tillingham marshes.His gun may have gone off accidentally.”

“May have....” repeated Jenny.

“Will there have to be an inquest?”

319“I’m afraid so. There always is in these cases.”

“Well, Sir John has been spared something.”

Her voice broke for the first time, and she turned back tothe stairs. Rose and Mary went with her but Jenny lingeredin the hall, where she had the comfort of seeing her husbandthrough the dining-room door. Dr. Mount stopped as he wasgoing back into the room.

“Has anyone told his wife?”

“Yes—one of the men came to Starvecrow at once.... Itold her.... They thought it best not to take him there.”

“Of course—quite right. How did she bear it?—Perhaps Iought to go and see her.”

“Her mother’s with her, but I’m sure they’d be glad if youwent there.”

“I’ve got the car—I could run round in a few minutes. Imust go home too... one or two things to see to... Idon’t think I’m wanted here just now.”

The doctor seemed terribly shaken by Peter’s death, butthat was very natural, considering he had known him from achild. Also, Jenny reflected, being a religious man, the ideaof suicide would particularly appall him.

“Doctor—do you—do you think he did it himself?”

“I’m sorely afraid he did.”

“But what can have made him?... I mean, why shouldhe? I always thought he was so happy—too happy, even. Isometimes thought him self-satisfied and over-fed.”

“We all have our secrets, Jenny, and your brother musthave had a heavier one than most of us.”

“But why should you be so sure he did it? Couldn’t hisgun have gone off by accident?”

“Of course it could. But the wounds would hardly havebeen of such a nature if it had. However, the matter willprobably be cleared up in the Coroner’s court.”

Jenny shuddered.

“I wonder if he’s had any trouble—anything worse thanusual about the land....” Then she remembered Rose’ssuspicions of Stella Mount. Her colour deepened as she320stood before Stella’s father. Could that possibly be the reason,after all? She had never imagined such a thing, but Petercertainly had been fond of Stella once, and Rose’s gossip wasseldom quite baseless. She did not believe for a moment inany intrigue, but Peter might have turned back too late to hisearly love... and of course Stella was going away... itmight have been that. Since undoubtedly Peter had had asecret buried under the outward fatness of his life, that secretmay just as well have been Stella....

“Your husband tells me he came to see you this afternoon,”the doctor was saying, “what was he like then?”

“He seemed rather queer and silent, but afterwards I putit down to its being his first visit since my marriage. Hewouldn’t forgive me for a long time, as you know, so it wasonly to be expected that he should feel a little awkward. Buthe said some rather queer things about Starvecrow—said hewished it was more like Fourhouses, said he’d spoilt it withhis improvements, and seemed much more upset about it thanyou’d think natural.”

“Um.”

The doctor was silent a moment, then he said—

“Well, I think I’ll run over to Starvecrow in a minute ortwo when I’ve finished with poor Peter, then I might as wellgo home and have an early breakfast, and see if there areany messages for me. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

He moved away from her, and was going into the dining-roomwhen Rose’s frightened voice suddenly shuddered downthe stairs.

“Dr. Mount—will you please come up at once. There’s achange in Sir John.”

§ 24

Sir John Alard died when the cocks were crowing on Starvecrowand Glasseye and Doucegrove, and on other farms of hiswide-flung estate too far away for the sound to come toConster. His wife and daughters and daughter-in-law were321with him when he died, but he knew no one. His mind didnot come out of its retreat for any farewells, and if it had,would have found a body stiffened, struggling, intractable, anddisobedient to the commands of speech and motion it hadobeyed mechanically for nearly eighty years. Death came andbrought the gift of dignity—a dignity he had never quiteachieved in all his lifetime of rule. When his family camein for a last look, after the doctor and the nurse had performedtheir offices, they saw that the querulous, irascible old manof the last few months was gone, and in his place lay Somethinghe had never been of stillness and marble beauty. WhenDr. Mount had invited them in to the death-chamber, thedaughters had at first refused, and changed their minds onlywhen they found that Lady Alard was unexpectedly ready togo. Now Jenny at least was glad. It was her first sight ofdeath (for she had not seen George’s body and would neversee Peter’s) and she was surprised to find how peaceful andtriumphant the body looked when set free from the longtyranny of the soul. It comforted her to know that in itslast fatal encounter with terror, pain and woe, humanity wasallowed to achieve at least the appearance of victory. Herfather lying there looked like one against whom all the forcesof evil had done their worst in vain.

Nobody cried except Doris, who cried a great deal. Shehad not cried for Peter, but when her father’s spirit had slippedout after a sigh, she had burst into a storm of noisy weeping.She was sobbing still, kneeling beside the body of thefather who had bullied and humiliated her all her life, theonly one of his children who really regretted him.

There was the sound of wheels in the drive below.

“Is that Gervase?” asked Jenny, going to the window.

“No,” said Mary, “it’s Dr. Mount going away.”

“He seems in a great hurry to get off,” said Rose—“he didn’twait a minute longer than he could possibly help.”

“I don’t wonder,” said Jenny.

“I expect he’s gone home to break it to Stella,” whisperedRose.

322“He told me he was going to Starvecrow to see Vera,” saidJenny icily. She hated Rose’s conjectures all the more thatshe now shared them herself.

“It will be dreadful for some people at the inquest,” continuedher sister-in-law.

“Dreadful! how dreadful?—You don’t mean Stella’s toblame, do you?”

“Oh, of course, I don’t mean she’s really done anythingwicked—but she let poor Peter go on loving her when sheknew it was wrong.”

“How could she have stopped him?—supposing it’s true thathe did love her.”

“Any girl can stop a man loving her,” said Rose mysteriously.

“Oh, can she?—it’s obvious you’ve never had to try.”

Jenny was surprised at her own vindictiveness, but she feltall nerves after such a night. Rose was plunged into silence,uncertain whether she had been complimented or insulted,and the next minute there was another sound of wheels inthe drive.

“That must be Gervase.”

A taxi had stopped outside the door, and out of it climbed,not Gervase but Brother Joseph of the Order of Sacred Pity,with close-cropped hair, a rough, grey cassock and the thickestboots man ever saw. As she watched him from the window,Jenny felt a lump rise in her throat.

She was going down to meet him when suddenly Dorisstarted up from the bedside.

“Let me go first.”

She brushed past her sister and ran downstairs before anyonecould stop her. Jenny hurried after her, for she felt thatDoris in her present condition was not a reassuring objectto meet the home-comer. But she was too late. Dorisflung open the door almost at the same instant as the bellrang.

“Welcome!” she cried hysterically—“Welcome—Sir GervaseAlard!”

323

§ 25

If Gervase was taken aback at his sister’s appearance, hedid not show it by more than a sudden blink.

“My dear Doris,” he said, and taking both her hands hekissed her poor cheek where rouge and tears were mingled—“Imet Dr. Mount—and he’s told me,” he said.

“About Peter?”

“Yes.”

He came into the hall and stood there a quaint, incongruousfigure in his cloak and cassock.

“Hullo, Wills,” as the butler came forward.

“How do you do, Mr. Gervase—I mean Sir Ger—or ratherI should say——”

He remembered that his young master was now BrotherSomething-or-other, having crowned an un-squirelike existence,much deplored in the servants’ hall, by entering a Home forCarthlicks. He compromised with—

“Can I have your luggage, sir?”

“Here it is,” said Gervase, holding out on one finger asmall bundle tied up in a spotted handkerchief, and Willswho was going to have added “and your keys, sir,” retiredin confusion.

“Where’s Peter?” asked Brother Joseph.

“In there,” Jenny pointed into the dining-room where Peterstill lay, now no longer pathetic and futile in booted and muddydeath, but dignified as his father upstairs under his white sheet.

Young Alard went in, and standing at the head of thetable, crossed himself and said the first prayer that had beensaid yet for Peter. His sisters watched him from the doorway.Doris seemed calmer, her tears came more quietly.

“How’s Mother?” he asked as he came out.

“She’s been wonderful,” said Jenny, “but I think she’s breakinga bit now.”

“And Vera?”

Vera had not been wonderful. It is difficult to be wonderfulwhen your husband has killed himself because he loved another324woman and you did not die in childbirth to let him marryher.

“It’s dreadful,” moaned Jenny. Then suddenly she wonderedif Gervase knew the worst. There was a look of brightpeace in his eyes which seemed to show that he was facingsorrow without humiliation or fear.

“Did Dr. Mount tell you that—tell you exactly how Peterdied?”

“He told me he had been killed accidentally out shooting.He gave me no details—he couldn’t wait more than a minute.”

“Oh, my dear, it was much worse than that....”

She saw that once again she would have to “break it” tosomebody. It was easier telling Gervase than it had been totell the others, for he did not cry out or protest, but when shehad finished she saw that his eyes had lost their bright peace.

Doris was sobbing again, uncontrollably.

“The two of them gone—first Peter and then Father. Tothink that Peter should have gone first.... Thank GodFather didn’t know! He didn’t know anybody, Gervase—thelast person he recognised was me. That will always be a comfortto me, though it was so dreadful.... I went into thelibrary, and found him all huddled there, alone... and Isaid ‘Are you ill, Father?’—and he said ‘Get out’—and now,Gervase, you’re the head of the family—you’re Sir GervaseAlard.”

“We’ll talk that over later. At present I must go and seeMother.”

“But you’re not going to back out of it—you’re not goingto leave us in the lurch.”

“I hope I shan’t leave anybody in the lurch,” he repliedrather irritably, “but there are lots of more important thingsthan that to settle now. Where is Mother, Jenny?”

“She’s upstairs in Father’s dressing-room.”

She noticed that he looked very white and tired, and realisedthat he must have been travelling for the greater part of thenight.

325“Are you hungry, dear? Won’t you eat something beforeyou go up?”

“No thank you—I don’t want anything to eat. But mightI have a cup of tea?”

“Speller’s making that upstairs, so come along.”

They were halfway up, and had drawn a little ahead ofDoris, when he bent to her and whispered—

“Does Stella know?”

“Yes—Dr. Mount was on his way home when you met him.”

“Oh, I’m glad.”

So he, too, perhaps thought Stella might be the reason....

The little dressing-room was full of people. Ben Godfreywas there, the son-in-law and the man of the house till Gervasecame. Mr. Williams was there too, summoned by Rose at aseasonable hour. He was sitting beside Lady Alard, who hadnow begun to look old and broken, and was trying to comforther with a picture of her husband and son in some nebulousParadisaical state exclusive to Anglican theology. He lookedup rather protestingly at the sight of Gervase, whose habitsuggested rival consolations and a less good-natured eschatology.But young Alard had not come to his mother as a religious,but as her son. He went up to her, and apparentlyoblivious of everyone else, knelt down beside her and hid hisface in her lap. “Oh, Mummy—it’s too terrible—comfort me.”

His sisters were surprised, Ben Godfrey was embarrassed,Rose and Mr. Williams tactfully looked another way. ButLady Alard’s face lit up with almost a look of happiness.She put her arms round him, hugging his dark cropped headagainst her bosom, and for the first time seemed comforted.

§ 26

The Mounts’ little servant had gone to bed by the time Stellacame home from church, so she did not hear till the nextmorning of the message from Starvecrow. Her father hadrung her up earlier in the evening to say that he would probably326not be home that night; and she was not to sit up forhim. So she carefully bolted both the doors, looked to seeif the kitchen fire was raked out, pulled down a blind or two,and went upstairs.

She was not sorry to be alone, for her mind was still wanderingin the dark church she had left... coal black, withoutone glimmer of light, except the candle which had shownfor a moment behind the altar and then flickered out in thedraughts of the sanctuary. Spring by spring the drama ofthe Passion searched the deep places of her heart. The officeof Tenebrae seemed to stand mysteriously apart from the otheroffices and rites of the church, being less a showing forth ofthe outward events of man’s redemption than of the thoughtsof the Redeemer’s heart.... “He came, a man, to a deepheart, that is to a secret heart, exposing His manhood tohuman view.” Throughout those sad nocturnes she seemedto have been looking down into that Deep Heart, watching itsagony in its betrayal and its forsaking, watching it brood onthe scriptures its anguish had fulfilled.... “From the lamentationsof Jeremiah the Prophet”... watching it comfortitself with the human songs of God’s human lovers, psalms ofsteadfastness and praise—then in the Responds breaking oncemore into its woe—a sorrowful dialogue with itself—“Judas,that wicked trader, sold his Lord with a kiss”—“It had beengood for that man if he had not been born”... “O mychoicest vine, I have planted thee. How art thou turned tobitterness”... “Are ye come out against a thief with swordsand staves for to take me?”... “I have delivered my belovedinto the hand of the wicked, and my inheritance is becomeunto me as a lion in the wood”—“My pleasant portion is desolate,and being desolate it crieth after me.”

Through psalm and lesson, antiphon and response, the DeepHeart went down into the final darkness. It was swallowed up,all but its last, inmost point of light—and that too was hiddenfor a time... “keeping His divinity hidden within, concealingthe form of God.” In the darkness His family knelt andprayed Him to behold them; then for a few brief moments327came the showing of the light, the light which had not beenextinguished but hidden, and now for a few moments gleamedagain.

It was all to the credit of Stella’s imagination that shecould make a spiritual adventure out of Tenebrae as sung inVinehall church. The choir of eight small boys and threehoarse young men was rather a hindrance than an aid todevotion, nor was there anything particularly inspiring in thecongregation itself, sitting on and on through the long-drawnnocturnes in unflagging patience, for the final reward of seeingthe lights go out. Even this was an uncertain rite, for oldMr. Bream, the sacristan, occasionally dozed at the end ofa psalm with the result that he once had three candles overat the Benedictus; and another time he had let the Christcandle go out in the draught at the back of the Altar and wasunable to show it at the end, though his hoarse entreaties for amatch were audible at the bottom of the church. But Stellaloved the feeling of this His family sitting down and watchingHim there in stolid wonder. She loved their broad backs,the shoulders of man and girl touching over a book, the childrensleeping against their mothers, to be roused for thefinal thrill of darkness. She was conscious also of an indefinableatmosphere of sympathy, as of the poor sharing thesorrows of the Poor, and drawn terribly close to this sufferinghuman Heart, whose sorrows they could perhaps understandbetter than the well-educated and well-to-do. She felt herselfmore at ease in such surroundings than in others of moresophisticated devotion, and on leaving the church was indignantwith an unknown lady who breathed into her ear that she’dseen it better done at St. John Lateran.

Up in her bedroom, taking the pins out of her hair, hermind still lingered over the office. Perhaps Gervase was singingit now, far away at Thunders Abbey.... She must writeto Gervase soon, and tell him how much happier she had beenof late. During the last few weeks a kind of tranquillity hadcome, she had lost that sense of being in the wrong with Peter,of having failed him by going away. She saw that she was328right, and that she had hated herself for that very reason ofbeing in the right when poor Peter whom she loved was inthe wrong. But her being in the right would probably be morehelp to him at the last than if she had put herself in the wrongfor his dear sake.

“Judas the wicked trader

Sold his Lord with a kiss.

It had been good for that man

If he had not been born.”

She too might have sold her Lord with a kiss. She wonderedhow often kisses were given as His price—kisses whichshould have been His joy given as the token of His betrayal.She might have given such a token if He had not preservedher, delivered her from the snare of Peter’s arms... oh,that Peter’s arms should be a snare... but such he himselfhad made them. She had not seen him for a long time now—awhole fortnight at least; and in less than another fortnightshe would be gone.... He was keeping away from her, andwould probably keep away until the end. Then once more hewould see Vera, his wife, holding their child in her arms...and surely then he would go back. Probably in a few daystoo he would be Sir Peter Alard, Squire of Conster, head ofthe house... then he would be thankful that he had notentangled himself with Stella Mount—he would be grateful toher, perhaps....

“For I have delivered my beloved into the hand of the wicked,

And my inheritance is become unto me as a lion in the wood

My pleasant portion is desolate—

And, being desolate,—it crieth after me.”

How the words would ring in her head!—breaking up herthoughts. She felt very tired and sleepy—and she would haveto be up early the next morning. “My inheritance is as alion in the wood.”... Those words had made her think ofStarvecrow. She had always thought of Starvecrow as herinheritance, the inheritance of which Peter had robbed her....Starvycrow... oh, if only Peter had been true they329might now be waiting to enter their inheritance together. SirJohn Alard could not have kept them out of it for more thana few years. But Peter had cut her off, and Starvecrow wasstrange to her—she dared not go near it... strange andfierce—a lion in the wood.

She was sorry for Sir John Alard, lying at the point ofdeath. She viewed his share in her tragedy with the utmosttolerance. He had belonged to the old order, the toppling,changing order, and it was not he who had failed the spiritof life, but Peter, who belonged to the new but had stood bythe old. Poor Peter who had inherited only the things whichare shaken, when he was the heir of the kingdom which cannotbe moved....

§ 27

Only her sudden waking showed her that she had beenasleep. She started up and looked at the time. This wasGood Friday morning, and it was now half-past six. Shejumped out of bed, hurried on her clothes, tumbled up herhair, and was rather sleepily saying her prayers when sheheard the sound of her father’s car at the door. He was back,then—all was over—Peter was now Sir Peter Alard, andwould not think of her again. Tears of mingled pity andrelief filled her closed eyes till the end of her bedside office—

“May the souls of the faithful, through the mercy of God,rest in peace. Amen.”

She rose from her knees and ran downstairs to meet herfather. He was standing in the hall, pulling off his furrydriving gloves.

“Hullo, darling”—kissing his cold face—“Come in to thesurgery, and I’ll light the fire and get you some tea.”

“Were you going to church?”

“Yes, but I shall have to be late, that’s all.”

“I have something to tell you, my dear.”

His grave face sent a sudden chill into her heart.

“Father!—what is it?—has anything happened to——”

“Sir John Alard is dead——”

330“Well——”

She knew that was not what he had to tell her.

“And Peter doesn’t inherit Conster.”

She stared at him—she could not understand. Was Peterillegitimate? Her heart sickened at the monstrous irony ofsuch a thought.... But it was impossible. She was conceivingthe preposterous in self-defence—in frantic hope thatPeter was not... dead.

“Is he dead?” she asked her father.

He bowed his head silently.

She could not speak. She was kneeling on the floor in frontof the unlighted fire. In one hand she held some sticks, andfor a time she could not move, but knelt there, holding outthe unkindled sticks towards the back hearth.

“I felt I must come home and tell you before the rumourreached you. He was found on the Tillingham marshes, withhis gun....”

“How?—an accident?” she mumbled vaguely.

“I don’t know, my dear—I’m afraid not.”

“You mean....”

“I mean that from the way they tell me he was lying andfrom the nature of the wounds, I feel nearly sure that it washis own act. I am telling you this, poor darling, because youwould be sure to hear it some time, and I would rather youheard it from me.”...

“Will there be an inquest?” she heard herself asking calmly.

“Yes, there’s sure to be an inquest. But of course I don’tknow what the findings will be, or if the Coroner will wantto question you.”

“I don’t mind if he does—I can answer.”

She did not quite know what she was saying. She wentover and stood by the window, looking out. A mist wasrising from the garden, giving her an eastward vista of fieldsin a far-off sunshine. The air was full of an austere sense ofspring, ice-cold, and pierced with the rods of the blossomedfruit-trees, standing erect against the frigid sky.

Her father came and put his arm around her.

331“Perhaps you would like to be alone, my dear—and I mustgo and see poor Mrs. Peter. I came here first, because Iwanted to tell you... but now I must go to Starvecrow.”

(Starvycrow... being desolate it crieth after me.)

He stooped and kissed her averted face.

“My darling... I’m so sorry.”

She felt a lump rise in her throat as if it would choke her—itbroke into a great sob.

“Cry, dearest—it will do you good.”

She gently pushed him from her—but when he was gone,she did not cry.

§ 28

The little shrill bell of Vinehall church, the last of a largefamily of pre-Reformation bells, was still smiting the coldair, but Stella could not pray any more than she could weep.Neither could she remain indoors. She put on her furs andwent out. She wished she had the car—to rush herself outof the parish, out of the county, over the reedy Kentish border,up the steep white roads of the weald, away and away toStaplehurst and Marden, to the country of the hops and theorchards.... But even so she knew she could not escape.What she wanted to leave behind was not Vinehall or Leasanor Conster or even Starvecrow, but herself. Herself and herown thoughts made up the burden she found too heavy tobear.

She walked aimlessly down Vinehall Street, and out beyondthe village. The roads were black with dew, and the grass andprimrose-tufts of the hedgerow were tangled and wet. Therewas nowhere for her to sit down and rest, though she feltextraordinarily tired at the end of two furlongs. She turnedoff into a field path, running beside the stacks of a wakingfarm, and finally entering a little wood.

It was a typical Sussex spinney. The oaks were scatteredamong an underwood of hazel, beech and ash; the ground wasthick with dead leaves, sodden together into a soft, sweetsmellingmass out of which here and there rose the trails of332the creeping ivy, with the starry beds of wood-anemones;while round the moss-grown stumps the primrose plants wereset, with the first, occasional violets. A faint budding of greenwas on the branches of the underwood, so backward yet as toappear scarcely more than a mist, but on the oaks above, thefirst leaves were already uncurling in bunches of rose andbrown. Then at the bend of the path she saw a wild cherrytree standing white like Aaron’s rod against the sky. Thewhiteness and the beauty smote her through, and sinking downupon one of the stumps, she burst into a flood of tears.

She cried because her pain had at last reached the softemotions of her heart. Hitherto it had been set in the hardplaces, in self-reproach, in horror, in a sense of betrayal, bothof her and by her.... But now she thought of Peter, shut outfrom all the soft beauty of the spring, cut off from life andlove, never more to smell the primroses, or hear the cry of theplovers on the marsh, never more to watch over the lands heloved, or see the chimney-smoke of his hearth go up fromStarvecrow.... She had robbed Peter of all this—she didnot think of him as cut off by his own act but by hers. Itwas she who had killed him—her righteousness. So that shemight be right, she had made him eternally wrong—her Peter.She had been the wicked trader, selling her lover for gain.It had been well for her if she had not been born.

The softer emotions had passed, and with them her tears.She clenched her hands upon her lap, and hated herself. Shesaw herself as a cold, calculating being. She had said “I willget over it,” and she had said “Peter will get over it.” Nodoubt she was right about herself—she would have got over it—peoplelike her always did; but about Peter she had beenhopelessly wrong. He had deeper feelings than she, andat the same time was without her “consolations.” Her“consolations”!—how thankful she had been that she had notforfeited them, that she had not given them in exchange forpoor Peter. At first they had not seemed to weigh muchagainst his loss, but later on she had been glad and grateful;and while she had been finding comfort in these things, building333up her life again out of them, Peter had been going more andmore hungry, more and more forlorn, till at last he had diedrather than live on in starvation.

She hated herself, but there was something worse than justself-hatred in the misery of that hour. If she had betrayedPeter it was that she, too, had been betrayed. She had beengiven the preposterous task of saving her soul at the expenseof his. If she had not fled from the temptation of his presence—ifshe had given way to his entreaties and promised not toleave him without the only comfort he had left, Peter wouldstill be alive. She would have done what she knew to bewrong, but Peter would not be dead in his sins. Why shouldher right have been his wrong? Why should his dear soul havebeen sacrificed for hers? He had died by his own hand—unfaithfulto his wife and child in all but the actual deed.Why should she be forced to bear the guilt of that?

The pillars of her universe seemed to crumble. Eitherheaven had betrayed her or there was no heaven. She almostpreferred to believe the latter. Better ascribe the preposteroushappenings of the night to chance than to a providence whichwas either malignant or careless of souls. Perhaps God waslike nature, recklessly casting away the imperfect that the fittestmight survive. Poor Peter’s starved, undeveloped soul hadbeen sacrificed to her own better-nourished organism, just as inthe kingdom of nature the weakest go to the wall.... Shelooked round her at the budding wood. How many of theseleaves would come to perfection? How many of these budswould serve only as nourishment to more powerful existences,which in their turn would fall a prey to others. She wouldrather not believe in God at all than believe in a Kingdom ofHeaven ruled by the same remorseless laws as the bloodyKingdom of Nature....

But she could not find the easy relief of doubt, though somethingin her heart was saying “I will doubt His being ratherthan His love.” After all, what was there to prove the assertionthat God is love?—surely it was the most monstrous, ultramontane,obscurantist dogma that had ever been formulated.334The Real Presence, the Virgin Birth, the physical Resurrectionwere nothing to it. It was entirely outside human knowledge—itran directly contrary to human experience... and yet itwas preached by those who looked upon the creeds as fettersof the intellect and the whole ecclesiastical philosophy as absurd.Fools and blind!—straining at a gnat and swallowinga camel! She laughed out loud in the wood.

Her laughter brought her to her senses—yes, she knew shewould always be sensible. She would either have to be sensibleor go mad. It is the sensible people who fill the asylums,for they cannot rest in the halfway house of eccentricity. ToStella it was a dreadful thing to have laughed out loud in awood. She was terrified, and jumped up at once to go home.By the watch on her wrist it was half-past eight; her fatherwould be home from Starvecrow and wanting his breakfast.Breakfast, dinner and tea... people like herself could neverforget breakfast, dinner and tea.

§ 29

“Well, my dear, did you go to church?”

“No, I went for a walk instead.”

Her tone was perfectly calm, if a little flat. She was reallybeing splendid, poor little girl.

“Gervase is back—I forget whether I told you. I met himon my way home early this morning.”

“Oh—how does he look?”

“Very well—though changed, of course, with his hair cut soshort. I’m glad he’s there. He’ll take Lady Alard out ofherself.”

“How is Lady Alard?”

“She’s much better than I could have thought possible.”

“And Mrs. Peter?”

“She’s different, of course... Jewish temperament, youknow. But I left her calmer. I think she’ll try and keepcalm for the sake of the child—she adores that.”

The doctor had had rather a rough time at Starvecrow, but335he would not tell Stella about it. Vera was in no doubt as tothe cause of her husband’s death, and as soon as Stella wasout of hearing, Dr. Mount was going to telephone to a Ryepractitioner to take charge of the case. Mrs. Peter was nearlywell, and really he could not go near her again after what shehad said....

“When is the inquest going to be?” asked Stella abruptly.

“Tomorrow afternoon, my dear. Godfrey was at Conster,and he says he’s seen the Coroner.”

“And shall I have to go?”

“I fear so. But no doubt you’ll get an official intimation.You aren’t afraid, are you, sweetheart?”

“No, I’m not afraid.”

“Will you drive me out this morning? I must go over toBenenden, and take Pipsden on the way back.”

“Yes, I should like to drive you.”

So the day passed. In the morning she drove her father onhis rounds, in the afternoon she dispensed in the Surgery, andin the evening there was church again. Church was black....“And they laid him there, sealing the stone and setting awatch.... Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in the placeof darkness, and in the deep—free among the dead, like untothose who are wounded and lie in the grave, who are out ofremembrance.... And they laid him there, sealing a stoneand setting a watch.”

The great three-days drama was over. For the last timethe Tenebrae hearse had stood a triangle of sinister light in theglooms of the sanctuary. Tomorrow’s services would be theservices of Easter, in a church stuffed with primroses and gaywith daisy chains. What a mockery it all would be! How shewished the black hangings could stay up and the extinguishedlamp before the unveiled tabernacle proclaim an everlastingemptiness. She shuddered at the thought of her Easter duties.It would be mere hypocrisy to perform them—she who wishedthat she had mortal sin to confess so that Peter need not havedied in mortal sin.

She thought of Gervase, so near her now at Conster, and yet336spiritually so very far away, in peaceful enjoyment of a Kingdomfrom which she had been cast out. She had half expectedto see him in church that evening, but he had not been there,and she had felt an added pang of loneliness. The sight ofhim, a few words from him, might have comforted her. Shethought of Gervase as he used to be in the old days when hefirst learned the faith from her. She almost laughed—she sawanother mockery there. She had taught him, she had broughthim to the fold—he himself had said that but for her he wouldnot have been where he was now—and now he was comfortedand she was tormented.

Then as she thought of him, it struck her that perhaps hemight have written—that there might be a letter waiting forher at home. Surely Gervase, who must guess what she wassuffering, would take some notice of her, try to do somethingfor her. Obsessed by the thought, she hurried home fromchurch—and found nothing.

Though the expectation had not lasted half an hour, she wasbitterly disappointed. It was callous of him to ignore her likethis—he must know her position, he must guess her anguish.She felt deserted by everyone, obscure and forsaken. It istrue that her father was near her and loved her and sharedher sorrow, but he did not know the full depths of it—he wassatisfied that she had done right, and thought that she, too, wassatisfied. She could not thrust her burden of doubt upon hissimple soul. She was becoming rapidly convinced that onlyGervase could share her burden with her, and if he stoodaway... could she bear it alone?

That night she scarcely slept at all. Her mind went roundand round on its treadmill, its sterile walk of questions andregrets. In the small hours she must have dozed a little, forshe dreamed she had gone to a Mass for Peter’s soul, andGervase was the Priest. The server had just carried the Bookto the north end of the Altar, and she stood waiting to hear thegrail—“The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance:he shall not be afraid of any evil tidings.” But insteada terrible voice rang out: “I have delivered my beloved337into the hand of the wicked, and my heritage is become untome as a lion in the wood.”... Trembling and panting, sheawoke to the realisation that no Mass could be said for Peter,no office read; that he was not one of “the Faithful Departed”—thatgood company of many prayers....

She lay motionless, her face buried in the pillow, withoutstruggles or tears. She was aware, without sight of the dawnbreaking round her, of the cold white light which filled theroom, of the grey sky lying like a weight upon the trees. Sheheard the wind come up and rustle round the house, and thecocks begin to crow, some near, some far away—Padgehamanswering Dixter, and Wildings echoing Brickwall. The newday had come—Holy Saturday, the day of peace, the last andgreatest of the Sabbaths, the seventh day on which God restedfrom the six days’ labour of His new creation.

She was roused by a clock striking eight, and again herabominable sense asserted itself. She had never lain in bedso long in her life—she must get up quickly, and give herfather his breakfast before he started on his rounds.

With as it were leaden weights in her head and limbs, sherose, dressed and went down. As she was going down thestairs a kind of hope revived. Perhaps this morning therewould be a letter from Gervase....

Yes, there was. It was lying in the letter box with a lotof others. She eagerly tore it open and read—

“Stella, dear—this is just to tell you how I feel for you andam praying for you.—Gervase.”

That was all.

A sick and silly feeling of disappointment seized her. Sheknew now that for some unaccountable reason she had beenbanking her hopes on that letter. She had been expectingGervase to resolve her doubts, to reconcile her conflicts. Butinstead he seemed ridiculously to think she could do all thatfor herself. Her heart warmed against him—perhaps heshrank from coming to grips with the problem. His faith338recoiled from the raw disillusion which he must know she wasfeeling. He would keep away from her rather than be mixedup in her dust.... Well, he should not. His aloofness shouldnot save him. She would go over to Conster and see him,since he would not come to her. With a growing resentmentshe told herself it was the least he could do for her. She hadgiven him his faith—he might at least make an effort to savehers.

“Father,” she said when they were at breakfast—“do youmind driving yourself out this morning? I’m going to Consterto see Gervase.”

“Certainly, my dear. I’m glad you’re going to see him—Ithought perhaps he might be coming here.”

“So did I—but he’s asked me to go there instead.”

Something in her detached and dispassionate said—“that liewas quite well told.”

§ 30

As soon as her father had gone, she set out for Conster.She went by the road, for the field way ran near Starvecrow,and she had not the courage to go by Starvecrow.

She did not get to Conster till nearly eleven, and as shewalked up the drive she asked herself what she would do ifGervase was out. She would have to wait, that was all. Shemust see him—he was the only person on earth who couldhelp her.

However, he was not out. Wills let her in very solemnly.He did not attach any importance to the gossip in the servants’hall—but... she looked ill enough, anyway, poor creature.

“Yes, Miss, Sir Gervase is in. I will tell him you’re here.”

Stella started a little—Sir Gervase! She had asked for Mr.Gervase. She had forgotten. In her absorption in the mainstream of the tragedy she had ignored its side issues, but nowshe began to realise the tempests that must be raging in Gervase’slife. Would he have to leave his community, shewondered—after all, he could easily come out, and great responsibilities339awaited him. The next minute she gave anotherstart—as she caught her first sight of Brother Joseph.

He seemed very far away from her as he shut the doorbehind him. Between them lay all the chairs and tables, rugsand plants of the huge, overcrowded drawing-room. For thefirst time she became aware of a portrait of Peter on the wall—aportrait of him as a child, with masses of curly hair andwide-open, pale blue eyes. She stared at it silently as Gervasecame towards her across the room.

“Stella, my dear.”

He took both her hands in his firm, kind clasp, and lookedinto her eyes. His own seemed larger than usual, for his hairwas cut very close, almost shorn. That, and his rough greycassock buttoned collarless to his chin, altered his appearancecompletely. Except for his touch and voice, he seemed almosta stranger.

“Gervase....” she sank into a chair—“Help me, Gervase.”

“Of course I will. Did you get my note?”

“Yes—but, oh, Gervase....”

She could say no more. Her breath seemed gone. She heldher handkerchief to her mouth, and trembled.

“I should have written more—but I’ve had such a time,Stella, with my family and the lawyers. Perhaps you canunderstand what a business it all is when I tell you that I’veno intention of coming out of the Order, which means I’vegot to make up my mind what to do with this place. I’ve beenat it hard all yesterday afternoon and this morning with myfather’s London solicitors, but I’ve managed to keep the familyquiet till after the funeral, by which time I shall have thedetails settled. Otherwise I should have come to see you....But I knew you were safe.”

“Gervase, I’m not safe.”

“My dear——”

He held out his hand and she took it.

“I’m not safe, Gervase. You think I’m stronger than I am.And you don’t know what’s happened.”

“I know all about Peter.”

340“Yes, but you don’t know the details. You don’t know thatPeter killed himself because I insisted, in spite of all hisentreaties, on going away. He told me that my presence wasthe only comfort he had left, but I wouldn’t stay, because if Istayed I knew that I should be tempted, and I was afraid....I thought it was my duty to run away from temptation. So Iran. I never thought that perhaps Peter couldn’t live withoutme—that I was saving my soul at the expense of his. I wishnow that I’d stayed—even if it had meant everything.... I’dfar rather sin through loving too much than through lovingtoo little.”

“So would I. But have you loved too little?”

“Yes—because I thought of myself first. I thought only ofsaving my own soul... and I thought I could forget Peterif only I didn’t ever see him again, and I thought he couldforget me. But he couldn’t—and I can’t.”

“In other words, you did right and behaved very sensibly,but the results were not what you expected.”

“Gervase—if you tell me again that I’ve been ‘right’ and‘sensible,’ I—oh, I’ll get up and go, because you’re being justlike everyone else. Father says I’ve been ‘right’ and ‘sensible’—andI know Father Luce would say it—and the Coroner willsay it this afternoon. And it’ll be true—true—true! I havebeen right and sensible, and my right has put Peter in thewrong, and my sense has driven him mad.”

“And what would your ‘wrong’ have done for Peter?”

“He’d still be alive.”

“With your guilt upon him as well as his own. Stella, mydear, listen to me. When I talk about your being ‘right’ Idon’t mean what most people would mean by right. If it’sany comfort to you, I think that most people who have intelligenceand are not merely conventional would think you haddone wrong. You loved Peter and yet refused to have him,with the result that his life is over and yours is emptied. Iknow, and you know, that you did this because of an allegianceyou owed beyond Peter. But most people wouldn’t see that.They’d think you had refused him because you were afraid,341because you dared not risk all for love. They’d never see thatall the daring, all the risk, lay in your refusing him. Now becandid—isn’t part of your unhappiness due to your feeling thatit would have been braver and more splendid to have done whatPeter wanted, and let everything else go hang?”

“Yes,” said Stella faintly.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I think would have happened—ifyou’d stayed—stayed under the only conditions that would havesatisfied Peter. Vera would have, of course, found out—shehas found out already a great deal more than has happened;she’s not the sort of woman who endures these things; shewould have divorced Peter, and he would have married you.Nowadays these scandals are very easily lived down, and you’dhave been Lady Alard. After a time the past would have beenwiped out—for the neighbourhood and for you. You wouldprobably have become extremely respectable and a little censorious.You would have gone to Leasan church on Sundaysat eleven. You would have forgotten that you ever weren’trespectable—and you would have forgotten that you ever usedto live close to heaven and earth in the Sacraments, that youever were your Father’s child.... In other words, Stella, youwould be in Hell.”

Stella did not speak. She stared at him almost uncomprehendingly.

“I know what you think, my dear—you think you would haveundergone agonies of regret, and you tell yourself you shouldhave borne them for Peter’s sake. But I don’t think that. Ithink you would have been perfectly happy. Remember, youwould have been living on a natural level, and though we’remade so that the supernatural in us may regret the natural,I doubt if the natural in us so easily regrets the supernatural.Your tragedy would have been that you would have regrettednothing. You would have been perfectly happy, contented,comfortable, respectable, and damned.”

“But Peter—he——”

“Would probably have been the same. He isn’t likely tohave turned to good things after seeing how lightly they342weighed with you. But the point is that you haven’t the chargeof Peter’s soul—only the charge of your own—‘Man cannotdeliver his brother from death or enter into agreement withGod for him.’ It cost very much more to redeem their soulsthan you could ever pay.”

“But, Gervase, isn’t Peter’s soul lost through what he did—throughwhat I drove him to——”

“My dear, how do we know what Peter did? What do wereally know about his death? Can’t you take comfort in thethought that perfect knowledge belongs only to Perfect Love?As for your own share—your refusal to love your love forhim unto the death, your refusal to make it the occasion fortreachery to a greater love—that refusal may now be standingbetween Peter’s soul and judgment. You did your best forhim by acting so—far better than if you had put him in thewrong by making his love for you—probably the best thingin his life—an occasion for sin. He takes your love out ofthe world unspoilt by sin. Your love is with him now, pleadingfor him, striving for him, because it is part of a much greaterLove, which holds him infinitely dearer than even you can holdhim. Stella, don’t you believe this?”

She was crying now, but he heard her whisper “Yes.”

“Then don’t go regretting the past, and thinking you wouldhave saved a man by betraying God.”

“I’ll try not....”

“And suppose as the result of your refusing to stay, Peterhad turned back to Vera, and been happy in his wife and childagain, you wouldn’t have regretted your action or thoughtyou’d done wrong. Well, the rightness of your choice isn’tany less because it didn’t turn out the way you hoped.”

“I know—I know—but... I was so cold and calculating—onereason I wanted to go away was that though I couldn’t havePeter I didn’t want to go without love... for ever....”

“I scarcely call that ‘cold and calculating.’ I hope you willlove again, Stella, and not waste your life over has-beens andmight-have-beens. It’s merely putting Peter further in thewrong if you spoil your life for his sake.”

343“You think I ought to get married?”

“I certainly do. I think you ought to have married yearsago, and Peter was to blame for holding that up and dammingyour life out of its proper course. He kept you from marryingthe right man—for Peter wasn’t the right man for you, Stella,though probably you loved him more than ever you will lovethe right man when he comes. But I hope he will come soon,my dear, and find you—for you’ll never be really happy tillhe does.”

“I know, Gervase, I know—oh, do help me to be sensibleagain, for I feel that after what’s happened, I couldn’t ever.”

“My dear, you don’t really want help from me.”

“I do. Oh, Gervase... I wish I weren’t going to Canada—Idon’t feel now as if I could possibly go away from you.You’re the only person that can help me.”

“You know I’m not the only one.”

“You are. You’re the only one that understands... andwe’ve always been such friends.... I feel I don’t want togo away from you—even if you’re still at Thunders....”

She spoke at random, urged by some helpless importunityof her heart. He coloured, but answered her quite steadily.

“I shall never leave Thunders, my dear. It’s too late forthat now. I shall always be there to help you if you want me.But I don’t think you really want me—I think you will be ableto go through this alone.”

“Alone....”

A few tears slid over her lashes. It seemed as if already shehad gone through too much alone.

“Yes, for you want to go through it the best way—the wayLove Himself went through it—alone. Think of Him, Stella—inthe garden, on the cross, in the grave—alone. ‘I am hethat treadeth the wine-press-alone.’”

“But, Gervase, I can’t—I’m not strong enough. Oh...oh, my dear, don’t misunderstand me—but you say you oweyour faith to me... can’t the faith I gave you help me nowthat I’ve lost mine?”

“You haven’t lost it—it’s only hidden for a time behind the344Altar... you must go and look for it there. If you look forit in me you may never find it.”

She rose slowly to her feet.

“I see,” she said, as a blind man might say it.

He, too, rose, and held out his hand to her.

“You’ll know where I am—where I’ll always be—my lifegiven to help you, Stella, your brother, your priest. I will behelping you with my thoughts, my prayers, my offices—withmy Masses some day, because, but for you I should never saythem. In that way I shall pay back all you’ve given me.But to the human ‘me’ you’ve given nothing, so don’t ask anythingback. If I gave you anything in that way I might alsotake—take what I must not, Stella. So goodbye.”

She put her hand into his outstretched one.

“Goodbye, Gervase.”

“Goodbye.”

She wondered if he would give her another of those freekisses which had shown her so much when first he went away.But he did not. They walked silently to the door, and in thesilence both of that moment and her long walk home she sawthat he had paid his debt to her in the only possible way—byrefusing to part with anything that she had given him.

§ 31

That afternoon the Coroner’s inquest was held on PeterAlard, and twelve good men and true brought in a verdict of“accidental death.” The Coroner directed them with the conscientiousnessof his kind—he pointed out that, according tomedical opinion, the dead man’s wounds must almost certainlyhave been self-inflicted; but on the other hand they had ratherconflicting evidence as to how the body was lying when found,and the doctor could not speak positively without this. Hewould point out to the witnesses the desirability of leaving thebody untouched until either a doctor or the police had beensummoned. No doubt they had thought they were doing rightin carrying him to his father’s house, but such action had made345it difficult to speak positively on a highly important point.As to the motives for suicide—they had heard Miss Mount’sevidence, which he thought had been very creditably given—indeed,he considered Miss Mount’s conduct to have beenthroughout irreproachable, and whatever the findings of thejury she must not blame herself for having acted as any right-mindedyoung lady would have done under the circumstances.Feeling herself attracted by the deceased, a married man, andrealising that he was also attracted by her, she had veryproperly decided to leave the neighbourhood, and but for herfather’s professional engagements would have done so at once.The meeting at which she had made this decision known toMr. Alard had taken place two months ago, and it was forthe Jury to decide whether it was likely to have driven himto take his life so long after the event. The deceased’s sister,Mrs. Benjamin Godfrey, had told them of a conversation shehad had with him on the afternoon of his death. He seemedthen to have been preoccupied about his farm of Starvecrow,and other evidence had shown that the estate was much encumbered,like most big properties at the present time, thoughthe position was no more serious than it had been a year ago.The Jury must decide if any of these considerations offeredsufficient motive for self-destruction, if the deceased’s manneron the day of his death had been that of a man on the vergeof such desperate conduct, and if the medical evidence pointedconclusively to a self-inflicted death. There were alternatives—heenlarged on the nature of gun accidents, dismissed thepossibilities of murder—but the evidence for these hung on thethread of mere conjecture, and was not borne out by medicalopinion.

The verdict was a surprise to the family. The loophole leftby the Coroner had been so small that no one had expectedeven a local Jury to squeeze through it. But these men had allknown Peter, many of them had done business with him, allhad liked him. No one of them would have him buried witha slur upon his memory—no one of them would have hiswidow’s mourning weighted with dishonour, or his child grow346up to an inheritance of even temporary insanity—and incidentallythey all liked Miss Stella Mount, and had no intentionshe should bear the burden of his death if they could help it.So they brought in their verdict, and stuck to it, in spiteof some rather searching questions by the Coroner. Theywouldn’t even bring in an open verdict—they would do thething properly for the kindly Squire who had for so long stoodto them for all that was best in the falling aristocracy of theland.

Peter was buried with his father in Leasan churchyard, inthe great vault of the Alards, where all of them lay who hadnot been buried at Winchelsea. He and Sir John mingled theirdust with Sir William the land-grabber, whose appetite forfarms lay at the bottom of all the later difficulties of the estate,with Gervase the Non-Juror, with Giles who met his casualloves at the Mocksteeple—with all the great company of Squireswho had lived at Conster, lorded Leasan, built and farmed andplayed politics for nearly five hundred years. Perhaps as theystood round the grave in the late April sunshine, some of thefamily wondered if these were the last Alards for whom thevault would be opened.

Everyone went back to Conster after the funeral. Sir John’swill had already been read by the solicitors. It presented nodifficulties—the whole estate went to Peter Alard and his heirs;in the event of his dying without male issue, to Gervase. Thewill had been made shortly after the death of George.

Gervase knew that now the time had come when he mustface his family. They were all there at tea, except Vera—whowas still unable to leave her room—and he could tell by acertain furtive expectancy in some and uneasiness in others thata crisis was impending. Doris was the head of the expectantgroup, Jenny of the uneasy ones. Doris had never lookedmore unlike the hysterical, dishevelled woman who had weptfor Sir John. In her new black frock, and her hat with theplumes that swept down to her shoulders—powdered, rouged,salved, pencilled and henna’d into elegance if not into beauty,she seemed to have gathered up in herself all the pomp and347circumstance of the Alards. There was not much of it to beseen in Lady Alard’s weary preoccupation with the burntscones, in Rose’s glancing survey of the other women’s clothes,in Mary’s rather colourless smartness, in Jenny’s restlessnessor her husband’s awkwardness—he had carried his first top-hatinto the drawing-room, and put it, with his gloves inside it,on the floor between his large feet—and there was certainlynothing of it in the present holder of the title, sitting with hisarms folded and thrust up the sleeves of his habit, his shouldershunched as with a sense of battles to come.

Gervase considered that the sooner the row was over thebetter; so, as no one seemed inclined to begin it, he decided tostart it himself.

“Mother, dear, do you think you could lend me five shillings?—Atleast I’d better say give it to me, for I don’t supposethere’s the slightest chance of your ever seeing it again.”

“Yes, dear—but why... I don’t understand.”

“Well, I’ve only got eighteenpence left from the moneyFather Peter gave me to come here, and the third class fareto Brighton is six and six.”

“Gervase,” shrieked Doris—“you’re not going back to thatplace!”

“My dear, what else did you expect?”

“But you won’t stay there—you won’t go on being a monk—youwon’t refuse to be Sir Gervase Alard!”

“I haven’t even begun to be a monk, and, according to thesolicitors, I’ll have to go on being Sir Gervase Alard to theend of my days—but I’m going to stay there.”

“But what’s to become of us? Gervase, you can’t be Squireand not live here.”

“Let me explain myself. I’m not thinking of being Squire.I forfeit all my rights absolutely, except the title, which I’mtold I can’t get rid of. But I shall sell the estate.”

The silence that fell was almost terrifying. Doris sank backin her chair as if fainting, Lady Alard covered her face, Rosesat with her mouth open, Jenny and Godfrey stared at eachother.

348Lady Alard was the first to speak.

“You mean that you’re going to turn us out—your motherand sisters—not even leave us a roof over our heads? Andwhat becomes of the furniture?”

“I shall of course consult your wishes about the house. Ifyou want to go on living here, the house and grounds areyours.”

“But Gervase,” cried Doris hoarsely—“what good will thehouse be to us without the land? Do you think we’re going tolive on here and see all the estate pieced out and flung to small-holdersand contractors?—I’d rather go and live in a slum.”

“If Gervase doesn’t mean to live here, I’m by no means surethat I care to stay on,” said Lady Alard. “The morning-roomchimney smokes abominably, and the bedrooms are extremelyinconvenient—also, with my illness, I really think I ought tolive in a town. We might move into Hastings.”

“But Gervase doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” criedDoris—“he can’t desert us and fling away his responsibilitieslike this. Sell the estate! Oh, God—poor Father!” and sheburst into tears.

Rose sprang to her feet with an indignant look at Gervase,and put her arm round Doris’s heaving shoulders, but hersister-in-law ungratefully pushed her away.

“I’m dreadfully sorry,” said Gervase, “but I really don’tthink I’m letting anyone down. I’ve gone into things prettythoroughly during the last few days, and really it would havebeen extremely difficult for us to carry on.”

“Difficult—but not impossible.”

“Not impossible. But possible only in the way we’ve beendoing for the last ten years, and, honestly, do you think that’sgood enough?”

“It’s better than throwing everything overboard, anyhow.”

“I don’t think it is. By ‘throwing everything overboard,’as you call it, we can at least save the land.”

“How?”

“For the last ten years we’ve been doing hardly anything forthe land. We’ve been unable to introduce up-to-date methods;349we can’t even keep our farms in decent repair. If we hungon now, still further crippled by death-duties, the land wouldsimply go to pot. By selling, we can save it, because it willpass into the hands of men who will be able to afford it whatit needs. Possibly one or two of the tenants will buy theirfarms. Anyhow, there won’t any longer be a great, big, unwieldy,poverty-stricken estate, paying more in taxes than itactually brings in profits and deteriorating every year for lackof money spent on it.”

“But I’m perfectly sure that if you pulled yourself togetheryou could save the estate without cutting it in pieces. A conservativegovernment is sure to improve matters for us andreduce taxation. I know Peter could have saved us.”

“I’m not Peter.”

“But you could save us if you wanted to. You’ve only toput yourself at the head of things, and get a really good bailiff,and perhaps sell an outlying farm or two to bring in a littleready money.... But you won’t. That’s what you mean.You don’t want to come out of your monastery and face theworld again. You could save us. But you won’t.”

“You’re quite right—I won’t.”

The discussion had somehow become a dialogue betweenGervase and Doris. Why Doris should appoint herself asAlard’s spokesman no one exactly knew, but none of the restmade any effort to join in. Lady Alard was too deeply preoccupiedwith the house and its impending changes to worryabout the land, Rose was angry with Doris for having repulsedher, so would give her no support, Mary was indifferent, Godfreydiffident, and Jenny, though revolting deeply from herbrother’s choice, was too loyal to him to take anyone else’s part.

“I won’t because I can’t,” continued Gervase; “I can’t leavethe Abbey, even if I knew that by doing so I could save Conster.I went there long before I’d the slightest notion I shouldever succeed to this place, but even if I’d known I should havegone just the same. The only other thing I could do nowwould be to appoint a trustee to administer the estate for me,but in that way I should only be adding to the difficulties all350round. By selling the place I’m doing the best possible thingfor the land and for everyone else. The land will run a chanceof being developed to its fullest value, instead of being neglectedand allowed to deteriorate, and I’ll be making a fairlydecent provision for Mother and all the rest of you—you’ll befar better off than if we’d stuck to the old arrangement; you’llhave ready money for about the first time in your lives.Mother and Doris and Mary can live on here if they like, orthey can go and live in Hastings or in town. I think the saleought to realise enough to make everyone fairly comfortable—anyhow,much more comfortable than they are in the presentstate of things.”

“But, Gervase,” sobbed Doris—“you don’t seem to think ofthe family.”

“What else am I thinking of? I’m just telling you that youand Mary and Mother——”

“But we’re not the family. I mean the whole thing—thehouse of Alard. What’s to become of it if you go and sellthe estate, and shut yourself up in an Abbey, instead of cominghere and looking after the place, and marrying and havingchildren to succeed you? Don’t you realise that if you don’tmarry, the whole thing comes to an end?”

“I’m afraid it will have to come to an end, Doris. I can’tsave it that way.”

Doris sprang to her feet. She looked wild.

“But you must save it—you must. Oh, Gervase, you don’tunderstand. I’ve given up my life to it—to the family. I’vegiven up everything. I could have married—but I wouldn’t—becausehe wasn’t the sort of man for our family—he wasn’twell-connected and he wasn’t rich—it would have been a comedownfor an Alard, so I wouldn’t have him—though I lovedhim. I loved him... but I wouldn’t have him, because Ithought of the family first and myself afterwards. And nowyou come along, undoing all my work—making my sacrificeworthless. You don’t care twopence about the family, soyou’re going to let it be sold up and die out. We’re going tolose our house, our land, our position, our very name.... I351gave up my happiness for Alard, and you go and make mysacrifice useless. Gervase, for God’s sake save us. You can—ifonly you’ll come away from those monks and be Squirehere. I’m sure God can’t wish you to desert us. Gervase, Ibeg you, I pray you to save the family—I pray you on myknees....”

And suiting the action to the word, she went down on herknees before him.

The others sat rooted to their chairs—partly at the sight ofDoris’s frenzy, partly of her humiliation, partly to hear themultitudinous lovers she had always hinted at reduced in amoment of devastating candour to one only. Gervase hadsprung to his feet. He trembled and had turned very white.Then for a moment he, too, seemed to turn to stone.

“I pray you,” repeated Doris hoarsely—“I pray you on myknees....”

Her brother recovered himself and, taking both her hands,pulled her to her feet.

“Don’t, Doris....”

“Then, will you?”

“My dear, is the family worth saving?”

“What d’you mean?”

“Listen, Doris. You’ve just told me that you’ve given upyour life’s love and happiness to the family. Peter... Iknow... gave up his. Mary gave up part of hers, but saveda little. Jenny alone has refused to give up anything, and ishappy. Is our family worth such sacrifices?”

Her head drooped unexpectedly to his shoulder, and shecollapsed in weeping.

“No,” he continued—“it isn’t worth it. The family’s takenenough. For five hundred years it has sat on the land, and atfirst it did good—it cared for the poor, it worked its farms tothe best advantage, and the estate prospered. But it’s outlivedthose days—it’s only an encumbrance now, it’s holding backthe land from proper development, it’s keeping the yeoman andsmall land-owner out of their rights, it can’t afford to care forthe poor. It can barely keep its hold on the land by dint of352raising mortgages and marrying for money. It can only bekept up by continual sacrifices—of the land, of the tenants,of its own children. It’s like a wicked old dying god, thatcan only be kept alive by sacrifices—human sacrifices. AndI tell you, it shan’t be any more.”

There was another pause, noisy with Doris’s weeping. Theother members of the family began to feel that they ought totake their share in the argument. They none of them felt forAlard what Doris so surprisingly felt, but after all they couldnot sit round and watch Gervase turn the world upside downwithout some protest.

“You know I want to be reasonable,” said Jenny in ratheran uncertain voice, “and I don’t want to push you into a wayyou don’t want to go. But from your own point of view, don’tyou think that all this that’s happened just shows—that—thatthis religious life isn’t, after all, the right life for you—the lifeyou were meant for?”

“I always said it was very silly of Gervase to become amonk,” said Lady Alard. “He could do quite a lot of goodin the parish if he lived at home. Mr. Williams said he waslooking for someone to manage the Boy Scouts.”

“Yes, that was what poor George was always saying,” saidRose—“‘Charity begins at home.’”

“Oh, don’t think I haven’t prayed over this,” cried Gervase—“thatI haven’t tried hard to see if, after all, my duty didn’t liein taking my place here and trying to save the property. ButI’m quite sure that isn’t my duty now. As I’ve tried to showDoris, Conster simply isn’t worth saving. It’s lost its powerfor good—it can only do harm, to the district and to us. Ithad much better come to an end.”

“But even if you feel like that about the estate,” said Mary—“there’sthe family apart from the land. It’s rather dreadfulto think that a fine old family like ours should be deliberatelyallowed to die out—the name become quite extinct. And it’snot only for the family’s sake, but for yours. You’re a youngman—scarcely more than a boy. I think it’s dreadful that you353should already have made up your mind to live without marriageand die without children.”

“So do I!” cried Jenny, fierce at last.

“I’ve gone into all that,” said Gervase with a touch ofweariness, “and you know how I’ve decided.”

“But these new circumstances hadn’t arisen.”

“I shouldn’t have decided differently if they had.”

“I’m not sure,” said Mary—“that even that other plan youspoke of wouldn’t be best—better than selling everything, Imean. Couldn’t you administer the estate through a bailiffor trustee?”

“If my father and Peter couldn’t make it pay, what wouldbe the result of an absentee landlord?—the place wouldn’tstand it. We’d bust. No, in fairness to the land it ought togo back to the small landlords—that’s its only chance of recovery.I’m not doing this only for our own sakes, but forthe sake of the land and the people it ought to belong to.”

“I think you’re a traitor,” said Rose—“a traitor to yourhouse.”

“I wish I was dead,” cried Doris. “First Father—theneverything else.... I’ve nothing to live for now.”

“Why, you’ve got me,” said Lady Alard—“You’ll come withme, Doris. I think I shall go to Worthing—it’s more bracingthan the coast here. Gervase, do you think the dining-roomsideboard would fit into a smaller house?”

“Oh, Father,” sobbed Doris—“Oh, Father—oh, Peter....What would you have done if you had known how it wasgoing to end?”

THE END

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

  1. Silently corrected obvious typographical errors and variations in spelling.
  2. Retained archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as printed.

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