England, My England
Part 3 out of 5
ay, you knowed, didna yer. Ay, 'e comed 'a Wednesday--an' I reckon there
wor a bit of a to-do between 'em, worn't there, Maggie?'
He twinkled maliciously to his daughter-in-law, who was flushed,
brilliant and handsome.
'Oh, be quiet, father. You're wound up, by the sound of you,' she said to
him, as if crossly. But she could never be cross with him.
''Ers got 'er colour back this mornin',' continued the father-in-law
slowly. 'It's bin heavy weather wi' 'er this last two days. Ay--'er's bin
northeast sin 'er seed you a Wednesday.'
'Father, do stop talking. You'd wear the leg off an iron pot. I can't
think where you've found your tongue, all of a sudden,' said Maggie, with
'Ah've found it wheer I lost it. Aren't goin' ter come in an' sit thee
But Alfred turned and disappeared.
''E's got th' monkey on 'is back ower this letter job,' said the father
secretly to me. 'Mother, 'er knows nowt about it. Lot o' tom-foolery,
isn't it? Ay! What's good o' makkin' a peck o' trouble over what's far
enough off, an' ned niver come no nigher. No--not a smite o' use. That's
what I tell 'er. 'Er should ta'e no notice on't. Ty, what can y' expect.'
The mother came in again, and the talk became general. Maggie flashed her
eyes at me from time to time, complacent and satisfied, moving among the
men. I paid her little compliments, which she did not seem to hear. She
attended to me with a kind of sinister, witch-like graciousness, her dark
head ducked between her shoulders, at once humble and powerful. She was
happy as a child attending to her father-in-law and to me. But there was
something ominous between her eyebrows, as if a dark moth were settled
there--and something ominous in her bent, hulking bearing.
She sat on a low stool by the fire, near her father-in-law. Her head was
dropped, she seemed in a state of abstraction. From time to time she
would suddenly recover, and look up at us, laughing and chatting. Then
she would forget again. Yet in her hulked black forgetting she seemed
very near to us.
The door having been opened, the peacock came slowly in, prancing calmly.
He went near to her and crouched down, coiling his blue neck. She glanced
at him, but almost as if she did not observe him. The bird sat silent,
seeming to sleep, and the woman also sat hulked and silent, seemingly
oblivious. Then once more there was a heavy step, and Alfred entered. He
looked at his wife, and he looked at the peacock crouching by her. He
stood large in the doorway, his hands stuck in front of him, in his
breeches pockets. Nobody spoke. He turned on his heel and went out again.
I rose also to go. Maggie started as if coming to herself.
'Must you go?' she asked, rising and coming near to me, standing in front
of me, twisting her head sideways and looking up at me. 'Can't you stop a
bit longer? We can all be cosy today, there's nothing to do outdoors.'
And she laughed, showing her teeth oddly. She had a long chin.
I said I must go. The peacock uncoiled and coiled again his long blue
neck, as he lay on the hearth. Maggie still stood close in front of me,
so that I was acutely aware of my waistcoat buttons.
'Oh, well,' she said, 'you'll come again, won't you? Do come again.'
'Come to tea one day--yes, do!'
I promised--one day.
The moment I went out of her presence I ceased utterly to exist for
her--as utterly as I ceased to exist for Joey. With her curious
abstractedness she forgot me again immediately. I knew it as I left her.
Yet she seemed almost in physical contact with me while I was with her.
The sky was all pallid again, yellowish. When I went out there was no
sun; the snow was blue and cold. I hurried away down the hill, musing on
Maggie. The road made a loop down the sharp face of the slope. As I went
crunching over the laborious snow I became aware of a figure striding
down the steep scarp to intercept me. It was a man with his hands in
front of him, half stuck in his breeches pockets, and his shoulders
square--a real farmer of the hills; Alfred, of course. He waited for me
by the stone fence.
'Excuse me,' he said as I came up.
I came to a halt in front of him and looked into his sullen blue eyes. He
had a certain odd haughtiness on his brows. But his blue eyes stared
insolently at me.
'Do you know anything about a letter--in French--that my wife opened--a
letter of mine--?'
'Yes,' said I. 'She asked me to read it to her.'
He looked square at me. He did not know exactly how to feel.
'What was there in it?' he asked.
'Why?' I said. 'Don't you know?'
'She makes out she's burnt it,' he said.
'Without showing it you?' I asked.
He nodded slightly. He seemed to be meditating as to what line of action
he should take. He wanted to know the contents of the letter: he must
know: and therefore he must ask me, for evidently his wife had taunted
him. At the same time, no doubt, he would like to wreak untold vengeance
on my unfortunate person. So he eyed me, and I eyed him, and neither of
us spoke. He did not want to repeat his request to me. And yet I only
looked at him, and considered.
Suddenly he threw back his head and glanced down the valley. Then he
changed his position--he was a horse-soldier. Then he looked at me
'She burnt the blasted thing before I saw it,' he said.
'Well,' I answered slowly, 'she doesn't know herself what was in it.'
He continued to watch me narrowly. I grinned to myself.
'I didn't like to read her out what there was in it,' I continued.
He suddenly flushed so that the veins in his neck stood out, and he
stirred again uncomfortably.
'The Belgian girl said her baby had been born a week ago, and that they
were going to call it Alfred,' I told him.
He met my eyes. I was grinning. He began to grin, too.
'Good luck to her,' he said.
'Best of luck,' said I.
'And what did you tell _her_?' he asked.
'That the baby belonged to the old mother--that it was brother to your
girl, who was writing to you as a friend of the family.'
He stood smiling, with the long, subtle malice of a farmer.
'And did she take it in?' he asked.
'As much as she took anything else.'
He stood grinning fixedly. Then he broke into a short laugh.
'Good for _her_' he exclaimed cryptically.
And then he laughed aloud once more, evidently feeling he had won a big
move in his contest with his wife.
'What about the other woman?' I asked.
'Oh'--he shifted uneasily--'she was all right--'
'You'll be getting back to her,' I said.
He looked at me. Then he made a grimace with his mouth.
'Not me,' he said. 'Back your life it's a plant.'
'You don't think the _cher petit bebe_ is a little Alfred?'
'It might be,' he said.
'Yes--an' there's lots of mites in a pound of cheese.' He laughed
boisterously but uneasily.
'What did she say, exactly?' he asked.
I began to repeat, as well as I could, the phrases of the letter:
'_Mon cher Alfred--Figure-toi comme je suis desolee_--'
He listened with some confusion. When I had finished all I could
remember, he said:
'They know how to pitch you out a letter, those Belgian lasses.'
'Practice,' said I.
'They get plenty,' he said.
There was a pause.
'Oh, well,' he said. 'I've never got that letter, anyhow.'
The wind blew fine and keen, in the sunshine, across the snow. I blew my
nose and prepared to depart.
'And _she_ doesn't know anything?' he continued, jerking his head up the
hill in the direction of Tible.
'She knows nothing but what I've said--that is, if she really burnt the
'I believe she burnt it,' he said, 'for spite. She's a little devil, she
is. But I shall have it out with her.' His jaw was stubborn and sullen.
Then suddenly he turned to me with a new note.
'Why?' he said. 'Why didn't you wring that b---- peacock's neck-that
'Why?' I said. 'What for?'
'I hate the brute,' he said. 'I had a shot at him--'
I laughed. He stood and mused.
'Poor little Elise,' he murmured.
'Was she small--_petite_?' I asked. He jerked up his head.
'No,' he said. 'Rather tall.'
'Taller than your wife, I suppose.'
Again he looked into my eyes. And then once more he went into a loud
burst of laughter that made the still, snow-deserted valley clap again.
'God, it's a knockout!' he said, thoroughly amused. Then he stood at
ease, one foot out, his hands in his breeches pockets, in front of him,
his head thrown back, a handsome figure of a man.
'But I'll do that blasted Joey in--' he mused.
I ran down the hill, shouting with laughter.
_You Touched Me_
The Pottery House was a square, ugly, brick house girt in by the wall
that enclosed the whole grounds of the pottery itself. To be sure, a
privet hedge partly masked the house and its ground from the pottery-yard
and works: but only partly. Through the hedge could be seen the desolate
yard, and the many-windowed, factory-like pottery, over the hedge could
be seen the chimneys and the outhouses. But inside the hedge, a pleasant
garden and lawn sloped down to a willow pool, which had once supplied the
The Pottery itself was now closed, the great doors of the yard
permanently shut. No more the great crates with yellow straw showing
through, stood in stacks by the packing shed. No more the drays drawn by
great horses rolled down the hill with a high load. No more the
pottery-lasses in their clay-coloured overalls, their faces and hair
splashed with grey fine mud, shrieked and larked with the men. All that
'We like it much better--oh, much better--quieter,' said Matilda Rockley.
'Oh, yes,' assented Emmie Rockley, her sister.
'I'm sure you do,' agreed the visitor.
But whether the two Rockley girls really liked it better, or whether they
only imagined they did, is a question. Certainly their lives were much
more grey and dreary now that the grey clay had ceased to spatter its mud
and silt its dust over the premises. They did not quite realize how they
missed the shrieking, shouting lasses, whom they had known all their
lives and disliked so much.
Matilda and Emmie were already old maids. In a thorough industrial
district, it is not easy for the girls who have expectations above the
common to find husbands. The ugly industrial town was full of men, young
men who were ready to marry. But they were all colliers or pottery-hands,
mere workmen. The Rockley girls would have about ten thousand pounds each
when their father died: ten thousand pounds' worth of profitable
house-property. It was not to be sneezed at: they felt so themselves, and
refrained from sneezing away such a fortune on any mere member of the
proletariat. Consequently, bank-clerks or nonconformist clergymen or even
school-teachers having failed to come forward, Matilda had begun to give
up all idea of ever leaving the Pottery House.
Matilda was a tall, thin, graceful fair girl, with a rather large nose.
She was the Mary to Emmie's Martha: that is, Matilda loved painting and
music, and read a good many novels, whilst Emmie looked after the
house-keeping. Emmie was shorter, plumper than her sister, and she had no
accomplishments. She looked up to Matilda, whose mind was naturally
refined and sensible.
In their quiet, melancholy way, the two girls were happy. Their mother
was dead. Their father was ill also. He was an intelligent man who had
had some education, but preferred to remain as if he were one with the
rest of the working people. He had a passion for music and played the
violin pretty well. But now he was getting old, he was very ill, dying of
a kidney disease. He had been rather a heavy whisky-drinker.
This quiet household, with one servant-maid, lived on year after year in
the Pottery House. Friends came in, the girls went out, the father drank
himself more and more ill. Outside in the street there was a continual
racket of the colliers and their dogs and children. But inside the
pottery wall was a deserted quiet.
In all this ointment there was one little fly. Ted Rockley, the father of
the girls, had had four daughters, and no son. As his girls grew, he felt
angry at finding himself always in a house-hold of women. He went off to
London and adopted a boy out of a Charity Institution. Emmie was fourteen
years old, and Matilda sixteen, when their father arrived home with his
prodigy, the boy of six, Hadrian.
Hadrian was just an ordinary boy from a Charity Home, with ordinary
brownish hair and ordinary bluish eyes and of ordinary rather cockney
speech. The Rockley girls--there were three at home at the time of his
arrival--had resented his being sprung on them. He, with his watchful,
charity-institution instinct, knew this at once. Though he was only six
years old, Hadrian had a subtle, jeering look on his face when he
regarded the three young women. They insisted he should address them as
Cousin: Cousin Flora, Cousin Matilda, Cousin Emmie. He complied, but
there seemed a mockery in his tone.
The girls, however, were kind-hearted by nature. Flora married and left
home. Hadrian did very much as he pleased with Matilda and Emmie, though
they had certain strictnesses. He grew up in the Pottery House and about
the Pottery premises, went to an elementary school, and was invariably
called Hadrian Rockley. He regarded Cousin Matilda and Cousin Emmie with
a certain laconic indifference, was quiet and reticent in his ways. The
girls called him sly, but that was unjust. He was merely cautious, and
without frankness. His Uncle, Ted Rockley, understood him tacitly, their
natures were somewhat akin. Hadrian and the elderly man had a real but
unemotional regard for one another.
When he was thirteen years old the boy was sent to a High School in the
County town. He did not like it. His Cousin Matilda had longed to make a
little gentleman of him, but he refused to be made. He would give a
little contemptuous curve to his lip, and take on a shy, charity-boy
grin, when refinement was thrust upon him. He played truant from the High
School, sold his books, his cap with its badge, even his very scarf and
pocket-handkerchief, to his school-fellows, and went raking off heaven
knows where with the money. So he spent two very unsatisfactory years.
When he was fifteen he announced that he wanted to leave England and go
to the Colonies. He had kept touch with the Home. The Rockleys knew that,
when Hadrian made a declaration, in his quiet, half-jeering manner, it
was worse than useless to oppose him. So at last the boy departed, going
to Canada under the protection of the Institution to which he had
belonged. He said good-bye to the Rockleys without a word of thanks, and
parted, it seemed, without a pang. Matilda and Emmie wept often to think
of how he left them: even on their father's face a queer look came. But
Hadrian wrote fairly regularly from Canada. He had entered some
electricity works near Montreal, and was doing well.
At last, however, the war came. In his turn, Hadrian joined up and came
to Europe. The Rockleys saw nothing of him. They lived on, just the same,
in the Pottery House. Ted Rockley was dying of a sort of dropsy, and in
his heart he wanted to see the boy. When the armistice was signed,
Hadrian had a long leave, and wrote that he was coming home to the
The girls were terribly fluttered. To tell the truth, they were a little
afraid of Hadrian. Matilda, tall and thin, was frail in her health, both
girls were worn with nursing their father. To have Hadrian, a young man
of twenty-one, in the house with them, after he had left them so coldly
five years before, was a trying circumstance.
They were in a flutter. Emmie persuaded her father to have his bed made
finally in the morning-room downstairs, whilst his room upstairs was
prepared for Hadrian. This was done, and preparations were going on for
the arrival, when, at ten o'clock in the morning the young man suddenly
turned up, quite unexpectedly. Cousin Emmie, with her hair bobbed up in
absurd little bobs round her forehead, was busily polishing the
stair-rods, while Cousin Matilda was in the kitchen washing the
drawing-room ornaments in a lather, her sleeves rolled back on her thin
arms, and her head tied up oddly and coquettishly in a duster.
Cousin Matilda blushed deep with mortification when the self-possessed
young man walked in with his kit-bag, and put his cap on the sewing
machine. He was little and self-confident, with a curious neatness about
him that still suggested the Charity Institution. His face was brown, he
had a small moustache, he was vigorous enough in his smallness.
'_Well_, is it Hadrian!' exclaimed Cousin Matilda, wringing the lather
off her hand. 'We didn't expect you till tomorrow.'
'I got off Monday night,' said Hadrian, glancing round the room.
'Fancy!' said Cousin Matilda. Then, having dried her hands, she went
forward, held out her hand, and said:
'How are you?'
'Quite well, thank you,' said Hadrian.
'You're quite a man,' said Cousin Matilda.
Hadrian glanced at her. She did not look her best: so thin, so
large-nosed, with that pink-and-white checked duster tied round her head.
She felt her disadvantage. But she had had a good deal of suffering and
sorrow, she did not mind any more.
The servant entered--one that did not know Hadrian.
'Come and see my father,' said Cousin Matilda.
In the hall they roused Cousin Emmie like a partridge from cover. She was
on the stairs pushing the bright stair-rods into place. Instinctively her
hand went to the little knobs, her front hair bobbed on her forehead.
'Why!' she exclaimed, crossly. 'What have you come today for?'
'I got off a day earlier,' said Hadrian, and his man's voice so deep and
unexpected was like a blow to Cousin Emmie.
'Well, you've caught us in the midst of it,' she said, with resentment.
Then all three went into the middle room.
Mr. Rockley was dressed--that is, he had on his trousers and socks--but
he was resting on the bed, propped up just under the window, from whence
he could see his beloved and resplendent garden, where tulips and
apple-trees were ablaze. He did not look as ill as he was, for the water
puffed him up, and his face kept its colour. His stomach was much
swollen. He glanced round swiftly, turning his eyes without turning his
head. He was the wreck of a handsome, well-built man.
Seeing Hadrian, a queer, unwilling smile went over his face. The young
man greeted him sheepishly.
'You wouldn't make a life-guardsman,' he said. 'Do you want something to
Hadrian looked round--as if for the meal.
'I don't mind,' he said.
'What shall you have--egg and bacon?' asked Emmie shortly.
'Yes, I don't mind,' said Hadrian.
The sisters went down to the kitchen, and sent the servant to finish the
'Isn't he _altered_?' said Matilda, _sotto voce_.
'Isn't he!' said Cousin Emmie. '_What_ a little man!'
They both made a grimace, and laughed nervously.
'Get the frying-pan,' said Emmie to Matilda.
'But he's as cocky as ever,' said Matilda, narrowing her eyes and shaking
her head knowingly, as she handed the frying-pan.
'Mannie!' said Emmie sarcastically. Hadrian's new-fledged, cock-sure
manliness evidently found no favour in her eyes.
'Oh, he's not bad,' said Matilda. 'You don't want to be prejudiced
I'm not prejudiced against him, I think he's all right for looks,' said
Emmie, 'but there's too much of the little mannie about him.'
'Fancy catching us like this,' said Matilda.
'They've no thought for anything,' said Emmie with contempt. 'You go up
and get dressed, our Matilda. I don't care about him. I can see to
things, and you can talk to him. I shan't.'
'He'll talk to my father,' said Matilda, meaningful.
'_Sly--!_' exclaimed Emmie, with a grimace.
The sisters believed that Hadrian had come hoping to get something out of
their father--hoping for a legacy. And they were not at all sure he would
not get it.
Matilda went upstairs to change. She had thought it all out how she would
receive Hadrian, and impress him. And he had caught her with her head
tied up in a duster, and her thin arms in a basin of lather. But she did
not care. She now dressed herself most scrupulously, carefully folded her
long, beautiful, blonde hair, touched her pallor with a little rouge, and
put her long string of exquisite crystal beads over her soft green dress.
Now she looked elegant, like a heroine in a magazine illustration, and
almost as unreal.
She found Hadrian and her father talking away. The young man was short of
speech as a rule, but he could find his tongue with his 'uncle'. They
were both sipping a glass of brandy, and smoking, and chatting like a
pair of old cronies. Hadrian was telling about Canada. He was going back
there when his leave was up.
'You wouldn't like to stop in England, then?' said Mr. Rockley.
'No, I wouldn't stop in England,' said Hadrian.
'How's that? There's plenty of electricians here,' said Mr. Rockley.
'Yes. But there's too much difference between the men and the employers
over here--too much of that for me,' said Hadrian.
The sick man looked at him narrowly, with oddly smiling eyes.
'That's it, is it?' he replied.
Matilda heard and understood. 'So that's your big idea, is it, my little
man,' she said to herself. She had always said of Hadrian that he had no
proper _respect_ for anybody or anything, that he was sly and _common_.
She went down to the kitchen for a _sotto voce_ confab with Emmie.
'He thinks a rare lot of himself!' she whispered.
'He's somebody, he is!' said Emmie with contempt.
'He thinks there's too much difference between masters and men, over
here,' said Matilda.
'Is it any different in Canada?' asked Emmie.
'Oh, yes--democratic,' replied Matilda, 'He thinks they're all on a level
'Ay, well he's over here now,' said Emmie dryly, 'so he can keep his
As they talked they saw the young man sauntering down the garden, looking
casually at the flowers. He had his hands in his pockets, and his
soldier's cap neatly on his head. He looked quite at his ease, as if in
possession. The two women, fluttered, watched him through the window.
'We know what he's come for,' said Emmie, churlishly. Matilda looked a
long time at the neat khaki figure. It had something of the charity-boy
about it still; but now it was a man's figure, laconic, charged with
plebeian energy. She thought of the derisive passion in his voice as he
had declaimed against the propertied classes, to her father.
'You don't know, Emmie. Perhaps he's not come for that,' she rebuked her
sister. They were both thinking of the money.
They were still watching the young soldier. He stood away at the bottom
of the garden, with his back to them, his hands in his pockets, looking
into the water of the willow pond. Matilda's dark-blue eyes had a
strange, full look in them, the lids, with the faint blue veins showing,
dropped rather low. She carried her head light and high, but she had a
look of pain. The young man at the bottom of the garden turned and looked
up the path. Perhaps he saw them through the window. Matilda moved into
That afternoon their father seemed weak and ill. He was easily exhausted.
The doctor came, and told Matilda that the sick man might die suddenly at
any moment--but then he might not. They must be prepared.
So the day passed, and the next. Hadrian made himself at home. He went
about in the morning in his brownish jersey and his khaki trousers,
collarless, his bare neck showing. He explored the pottery premises, as
if he had some secret purpose in so doing, he talked with Mr. Rockley,
when the sick man had strength. The two girls were always angry when the
two men sat talking together like cronies. Yet it was chiefly a kind of
politics they talked.
On the second day after Hadrian's arrival, Matilda sat with her father in
the evening. She was drawing a picture which she wanted to copy. It was
very still, Hadrian was gone out somewhere, no one knew where, and Emmie
was busy. Mr. Rockley reclined on his bed, looking out in silence over
his evening-sunny garden.
'If anything happens to me, Matilda,' he said, 'you won't sell this
house--you'll stop here--'
Matilda's eyes took their slightly haggard look as she stared at her
'Well, we couldn't do anything else,' she said.
'You don't know what you might do,' he said. 'Everything is left to you
and Emmie, equally. You'do as you like with it--only don't sell this
house, don't part with it.'
'No,' she said.
'And give Hadrian my watch and chain, and a hundred pounds out of what's
in the bank--and help him if he ever wants helping. I haven't put his
name in the will.'
'Your watch and chain, and a hundred pounds--yes. But you'll be here when
he goes back to Canada, father.'
'You never know what'll happen,' said her father.
Matilda sat and watched him, with her full, haggard eyes, for a long
time, as if tranced. She saw that he knew he must go soon--she saw like a
Later on she told Emmie what her father had said about the watch and
chain and the money.
'What right has _he'--he_--meaning Hadrian--'to my father's watch and
chain--what has it to do with him? Let him have the money, and get off,'
said Emmie. She loved her father.
That night Matilda sat late in her room. Her heart was anxious and
breaking, her mind seemed entranced. She was too much entranced even to
weep, and all the time she thought of her father, only her father. At
last she felt she must go to him.
It was near midnight. She went along the passage and to his room. There
was a faint light from the moon outside. She listened at his door. Then
she softly opened and entered. The room was faintly dark. She heard a
movement on the bed.
'Are you asleep?' she said softly, advancing to the side of the bed.
'Are you asleep?' she repeated gently, as she stood at the side of the
bed. And she reached her hand in the darkness to touch his forehead.
Delicately, her fingers met the nose and the eyebrows, she laid her fine,
delicate hand on his brow. It seemed fresh and smooth--very fresh and
smooth. A sort of surprise stirred her, in her entranced state. But it
could not waken her. Gently, she leaned over the bed and stirred her
fingers over the low-growing hair on his brow.
'Can't you sleep tonight?' she said.
There was a quick stirring in the bed. 'Yes, I can,' a voice answered. It
was Hadrian's voice. She started away. Instantly, she was wakened from
her late-at-night trance. She remembered that her father was downstairs,
that Hadrian had his room. She stood in the darkness as if stung.
'It is you, Hadrian?' she said. 'I thought it was my father.' She was so
startled, so shocked, that she could not move. The young man gave an
uncomfortable laugh, and turned in his bed.
At last she got out of the room. When she was back in her own room, in
the light, and her door was closed, she stood holding up her hand that
had touched him, as if it were hurt. She was almost too shocked, she
could not endure.
'Well,' said her calm and weary mind, 'it was only a mistake, why take
any notice of it.'
But she could not reason her feelings so easily. She suffered, feeling
herself in a false position. Her right hand, which she had laid so gently
on his face, on his fresh skin, ached now, as if it were really injured.
She could not forgive Hadrian for the mistake: it made her dislike him
Hadrian too slept badly. He had been awakened by the opening of the door,
and had not realized what the question meant. But the soft, straying
tenderness of her hand on his face startled something out of his soul. He
was a charity boy, aloof and more or less at bay. The fragile
exquisiteness of her caress startled him most, revealed unknown things to
In the morning she could feel the consciousness in his eyes, when
she came downstairs. She tried to bear herself as if nothing at all
had happened, and she succeeded. She had the calm self-control,
self-indifference, of one who has suffered and borne her suffering. She
looked at him from her darkish, almost drugged blue eyes, she met the
spark of consciousness in his eyes, and quenched it. And with her long,
fine hand she put the sugar in his coffee.
But she could not control him as she thought she could. He had a keen
memory stinging his mind, a new set of sensations working in his
consciousness. Something new was alert in him. At the back of his
reticent, guarded mind he kept his secret alive and vivid. She was at his
mercy, for he was unscrupulous, his standard was not her standard.
He looked at her curiously. She was not beautiful, her nose was too
large, her chin was too small, her neck was too thin. But her skin was
clear and fine, she had a high-bred sensitiveness. This queer, brave,
high-bred quality she shared with her father. The charity boy could see
it in her tapering fingers, which were white and ringed. The same glamour
that he knew in the elderly man he now saw in the woman. And he wanted to
possess himself of it, he wanted to make himself master of it. As he went
about through the old pottery-yard, his secretive mind schemed and
worked. To be master of that strange soft delicacy such as he had felt in
her hand upon his face,--this was what he set himself towards. He was
He watched Matilda as she went about, and she became aware of his
attention, as of some shadow following her. But her pride made her ignore
it. When he sauntered near her, his hands in his pockets, she received
him with that same commonplace kindliness which mastered him more than
any contempt. Her superior breeding seemed to control him. She made
herself feel towards him exactly as she had always felt: he was a young
boy who lived in the house with them, but was a stranger. Only, she dared
not remember his face under her hand. When she remembered that, she was
bewildered. Her hand had offended her, she wanted to cut it off. And she
wanted, fiercely, to cut off the memory in him. She assumed she had done
One day, when he sat talking with his 'uncle', he looked straight into
the eyes of the sick man, and said:
'But I shouldn't like to live and die here in Rawsley.'
'No--well--you needn't,' said the sick man.
'Do you think Cousin Matilda likes it?'
'I should think so.'
'I don't call it much of a life,' said the youth. 'How much older is she
than me, Uncle?'
The sick man looked at the young soldier.
'A good bit,' he said.
'Over thirty?' said Hadrian.
'Well, not so much. She's thirty-two.'
Hadrian considered a while.
'She doesn't look it,' he said.
Again the sick father looked at him.
'Do you think she'd like to leave here?' said Hadrian.
'Nay, I don't know,' replied the father, restive.
Hadrian sat still, having his own thoughts. Then in a small, quiet voice,
as if he were speaking from inside himself, he said:
'I'd marry her if you wanted me to.'
The sick man raised his eyes suddenly, and stared. He stared for a long
time. The youth looked inscrutably out of the window.
'_You!_' said the sick man, mocking, with some contempt. Hadrian turned
and met his eyes. The two men had an inexplicable understanding.
'If you wasn't against it,' said Hadrian.
'Nay,' said the father, turning aside, 'I don't think I'm against it.
I've never thought of it. But--But Emmie's the youngest.'
He had flushed, and looked suddenly more alive. Secretly he loved the
'You might ask her,' said Hadrian.
The elder man considered.
'Hadn't you better ask her yourself?' he said.
'She'd take more notice of you,' said Hadrian.
They were both silent. Then Emmie came in.
For two days Mr. Rockley was excited and thoughtful. Hadrian went about
quietly, secretly, unquestioning. At last the father and daughter were
alone together. It was very early morning, the father had been in much
pain. As the pain abated, he lay still, thinking.
'Matilda!' he said suddenly, looking at his daughter.
'Yes, I'm here,' she said.
'Ay! I want you to do something--'
She rose in anticipation.
'Nay, sit still. I want you to marry Hadrian--'
She thought he was raving. She rose, bewildered and frightened.
'Nay, sit you still, sit you still. You hear what I tell you.'
'But you don't know what you're saying, father.'
'Ay, I know well enough. I want you to marry Hadrian, I tell you.'
She was dumbfounded. He was a man of few words.
'You'll do what I tell you,' he said.
She looked at him slowly.
'What put such an idea in your mind?' she said proudly.
Matilda almost looked her father down, her pride was so offended.
'Why, it's disgraceful,' she said.
She watched him slowly.
'What do you ask me for?' she said. 'It's disgusting.'
'The lad's sound enough,' he replied, testily.
'You'd better tell him to clear out,' she said, coldly.
He turned and looked out of the window. She sat flushed and erect for a
long time. At length her father turned to her, looking really malevolent.
'If you won't,' he said, 'you're a fool, and I'll make you pay for your
foolishness, do you see?'
Suddenly a cold fear gripped her. She could not believe her senses. She
was terrified and bewildered. She stared at her father, believing him to
be delirious, or mad, or drunk. What could she do?
'I tell you,' he said. 'I'll send for Whittle tomorrow if you don't. You
shall neither of you have anything of mine.'
Whittle was the solicitor. She understood her father well enough: he
would send for his solicitor, and make a will leaving all his property to
Hadrian: neither she nor Emmie should have anything. It was too much. She
rose and went out of the room, up to her own room, where she locked
She did not come out for some hours. At last, late at night, she confided
'The sliving demon, he wants the money,' said Emmie. 'My father's out of
The thought that Hadrian merely wanted the money was another blow to
Matilda. She did not love the impossible youth--but she had not yet
learned to think of him as a thing of evil. He now became hideous to her
Emmie had a little scene with her father next day.
'You don't mean what you said to our Matilda yesterday, do you, father?'
she asked aggressively.
'Yes,' he replied.
'What, that you'll alter your will?'
'You won't,' said his angry daughter.
But he looked at her with a malevolent little smile.
'Annie!' he shouted. 'Annie!'
He had still power to make his voice carry. The servant maid came in from
'Put your things on, and go down to Whittle's office, and say I want to
see Mr. Whittle as soon as he can, and will he bring a will-form.'
The sick man lay back a little--he could not lie down. His daughter sat
as if she had been struck. Then she left the room.
Hadrian was pottering about in the garden. She went straight down to him.
'Here,' she said. 'You'd better get off. You'd better take your things
and go from here, quick.'
Hadrian looked slowly at the infuriated girl.
'Who says so?' he asked.
'_We_ say so--get off, you've done enough mischief and damage.'
'Does Uncle say so?'
'Yes, he does.'
'I'll go and ask him.'
But like a fury Emmie barred his way.
'No, you needn't. You needn't ask him nothing at all. We don't want you,
so you can go.'
'Uncle's boss here.'
'A man that's dying, and you crawling round and working on him for his
money!--you're not fit to live.'
'Oh!' he said. 'Who says I'm working for his money?'
'I say. But my father told our Matilda, and _she_ knows what you are.
_She_ knows what you're after. So you might as well clear out, for all
He turned his back on her, to think. It had not occurred to him that they
would think he was after the money. He _did_ want the money--badly. He
badly wanted to be an employer himself, not one of the employed. But he
knew, in his subtle, calculating way, that it was not for money he wanted
Matilda. He wanted both the money and Matilda. But he told himself the
two desires were separate, not one. He could not do with Matilda,
_without_ the money. But he did not want her _for_ the money.
When he got this clear in his mind, he sought for an opportunity to tell
it her, lurking and watching. But she avoided him. In the evening the
lawyer came. Mr. Rockley seemed to have a new access of strength--a will
was drawn up, making the previous arrangements wholly conditional. The
old will held good, if Matilda would consent to marry Hadrian. If she
refused then at the end of six months the whole property passed to
Mr. Rockley told this to the young man, with malevolent satisfaction. He
seemed to have a strange desire, quite unreasonable, for revenge upon the
women who had surrounded him for so long, and served him so carefully.
'Tell her in front of me,' said Hadrian.
So Mr. Rockley sent for his daughters.
At last they came, pale, mute, stubborn. Matilda seemed to have retired
far off, Emmie seemed like a fighter ready to fight to the death. The
sick man reclined on the bed, his eyes bright, his puffed hand trembling.
But his face had again some of its old, bright handsomeness. Hadrian sat
quiet, a little aside: the indomitable, dangerous charity boy.
'There's the will,' said their father, pointing them to the paper.
The two women sat mute and immovable, they took no notice.
'Either you marry Hadrian, or he has everything,' said the father with
'Then let him have everything,' said Matilda boldly.
'He's not! He's not!' cried Emmie fiercely. 'He's not going to have it.
An amused look came on her father's face.
'You hear that, Hadrian,' he said.
'I didn't offer to marry Cousin Matilda for the money,' said Hadrian,
flushing and moving on his seat.
Matilda looked at him slowly, with her dark-blue, drugged eyes. He seemed
a strange little monster to her.
'Why, you liar, you know you did,' cried Emmie.
The sick man laughed. Matilda continued to gaze strangely at the young
'She knows I didn't,' said Hadrian.
He too had his courage, as a rat has indomitable courage in the end.
Hadrian had some of the neatness, the reserve, the underground quality of
the rat. But he had perhaps the ultimate courage, the most unquenchable
courage of all.
Emmie looked at her sister.
'Oh, well,' she said. 'Matilda--don't bother. Let him have everything, we
can look after ourselves.'
'I know he'll take everything,' said Matilda, abstractedly.
Hadrian did not answer. He knew in fact that if Matilda refused him he
would take everything, and go off with it.
'A clever little mannie--!' said Emmie, with a jeering grimace.
The father laughed noiselessly to himself. But he was tired....
'Go on, then,' he said. 'Go on, let me be quiet.'
Emmie turned and looked at him.
'You deserve what you've got,' she said to her father bluntly.
'Go on,' he answered mildly. 'Go on.'
Another night passed--a night nurse sat up with Mr. Rockley. Another day
came. Hadrian was there as ever, in his woollen jersey and coarse khaki
trousers and bare neck. Matilda went about, frail and distant, Emmie
black-browed in spite of her blondness. They were all quiet, for they did
not intend the mystified servant to learn anything.
Mr. Rockley had very bad attacks of pain, he could not breathe. The end
seemed near. They all went about quiet and stoical, all unyielding.
Hadrian pondered within himself. If he did not marry Matilda he would go
to Canada with twenty thousand pounds. This was itself a very
satisfactory prospect. If Matilda consented he would have nothing--she
would have her own money.
Emmie was the one to act. She went off in search of the solicitor and
brought him with her. There was an interview, and Whittle tried to
frighten the youth into withdrawal--but without avail. The clergyman and
relatives were summoned--but Hadrian stared at them and took no notice.
It made him angry, however.
He wanted to catch Matilda alone. Many days went by, and he was not
successful: she avoided him. At last, lurking, he surprised her one day
as she came to pick gooseberries, and he cut off her retreat. He came to
the point at once.
'You don't want me, then?' he said, in his subtle, insinuating voice.
'I don't want to speak to you,' she said, averting her face.
'You put your hand on me, though,' he said. 'You shouldn't have done
that, and then I should never have thought of it. You shouldn't have
'If you were anything decent, you'd know that was a mistake, and forget
it,' she said.
'I know it was a mistake--but I shan't forget it. If you wake a man up,
he can't go to sleep again because he's told to.'
'If you had any decent feeling in you, you'd have gone away,' she
'I didn't want to,' he replied.
She looked away into the distance. At last she asked:
'What do you persecute me for, if it isn't for the money. I'm old enough
to be your mother. In a way I've been your mother.'
'Doesn't matter,' he said. 'You've been no mother to me. Let us marry and
go out to Canada--you might as well--you've touched me.'
She was white and trembling. Suddenly she flushed with anger.
'It's so _indecent_,' she said.
'How?' he retorted. 'You touched me.'
But she walked away from him. She felt as if he had trapped her. He was
angry and depressed, he felt again despised.
That same evening she went into her father's room.
'Yes,' she said suddenly. 'I'll marry him.'
Her father looked up at her. He was in pain, and very ill.
'You like him now, do you?' he said, with a faint smile.
She looked down into his face, and saw death not far off. She turned and
went coldly out of the room.
The solicitor was sent for, preparations were hastily made. In all the
interval Matilda did not speak to Hadrian, never answered him if he
addressed her. He approached her in the morning.
'You've come round to it, then?' he said, giving her a pleasant look from
his twinkling, almost kindly eyes. She looked down at him and turned
aside. She looked down on him both literally and figuratively. Still he
persisted, and triumphed.
Emmie raved and wept, the secret flew abroad. But Matilda was silent and
unmoved, Hadrian was quiet and satisfied, and nipped with fear also. But
he held out against his fear. Mr. Rockley was very ill, but unchanged.
On the third day the marriage took place. Matilda and Hadrian drove
straight home from the registrar, and went straight into the room of the
dying man. His face lit up with a clear twinkling smile.
'Hadrian--you've got her?' he said, a little hoarsely.
'Yes,' said Hadrian, who was pale round the gills.
'Ay, my lad, I'm glad you're mine,' replied the dying man. Then he turned
his eyes closely on Matilda.
'Let's look at you, Matilda,' he said. Then his voice went strange and
unrecognizable. 'Kiss me,' he said.
She stooped and kissed him. She had never kissed him before, not since
she was a tiny child. But she was quiet, very still.
'Kiss him,' the dying man said.
Obediently, Matilda put forward her mouth and kissed the young husband.
'That's right! That's right!' murmured the dying man.
_Samson and Delilah_
A man got down from the motor-omnibus that runs from Penzance to
St Just-in-Penwith, and turned northwards, uphill towards the Polestar.
It was only half past six, but already the stars were out, a cold little
wind was blowing from the sea, and the crystalline, three-pulse flash of
the lighthouse below the cliffs beat rhythmically in the first darkness.
The man was alone. He went his way unhesitating, but looked from side to
side with cautious curiosity. Tall, ruined power-houses of tin-mines
loomed in the darkness from time to time, like remnants of some by-gone
civilization. The lights of many miners' cottages scattered on the hilly
darkness twinkled desolate in their disorder, yet twinkled with the
lonely homeliness of the Celtic night.
He tramped steadily on, always watchful with curiosity. He was a tall,
well-built man, apparently in the prime of life. His shoulders were
square and rather stiff, he leaned forwards a little as he went, from the
hips, like a man who must stoop to lower his height. But he did not stoop
his shoulders: he bent his straight back from the hips.
Now and again short, stump, thick-legged figures of Cornish miners passed
him, and he invariably gave them goodnight, as if to insist that he was
on his own ground. He spoke with the west-Cornish intonation. And as he
went along the dreary road, looking now at the lights of the dwellings on
land, now at the lights away to sea, vessels veering round in sight of
the Longships Lighthouse, the whole of the Atlantic Ocean in darkness and
space between him and America, he seemed a little excited and pleased
with himself, watchful, thrilled, veering along in a sense of mastery
and of power in conflict.
The houses began to close on the road, he was entering the straggling,
formless, desolate mining village, that he knew of old. On the left was a
little space set back from the road, and cosy lights of an inn. There it
was. He peered up at the sign: 'The Tinners' Rest'. But he could not make
out the name of the proprietor. He listened. There was excited talking
and laughing, a woman's voice laughing shrilly among the men's.
Stooping a little, he entered the warmly-lit bar. The lamp was burning, a
buxom woman rose from the white-scrubbed deal table where the black and
white and red cards were scattered, and several men, miners, lifted their
faces from the game.
The stranger went to the counter, averting his face. His cap was pulled
down over his brow.
'Good-evening!' said the landlady, in her rather ingratiating voice.
'Good-evening. A glass of ale.'
'A glass of ale,' repeated the landlady suavely. 'Cold night--but
'Yes,' the man assented, laconically. Then he added, when nobody expected
him to say any more: 'Seasonable weather.'
'Quite seasonable, quite,' said the landlady. 'Thank you.'
The man lifted his glass straight to his lips, and emptied it. He put it
down again on the zinc counter with a click.
'Let's have another,' he said.
The woman drew the beer, and the man went away with his glass to the
second table, near the fire. The woman, after a moment's hesitation, took
her seat again at the table with the card-players. She had noticed the
man: a big fine fellow, well dressed, a stranger.
But he spoke with that Cornish-Yankee accent she accepted as the natural
twang among the miners.
The stranger put his foot on the fender and looked into the fire. He was
handsome, well coloured, with well-drawn Cornish eyebrows, and the usual
dark, bright, mindless Cornish eyes. He seemed abstracted in thought.
Then he watched the card-party.
The woman was buxom and healthy, with dark hair and small, quick brown
eyes. She was bursting with life and vigour, the energy she threw into
the game of cards excited all the men, they shouted, and laughed, and the
woman held her breast, shrieking with laughter.
'Oh, my, it'll be the death o' me,' she panted. 'Now, come on, Mr.
Trevorrow, play fair. Play fair, I say, or I s'll put the cards down.'
'Play fair! Why who's played unfair?' ejaculated Mr. Trevorrow. 'Do you
mean t'accuse me, as I haven't played fair, Mrs. Nankervis?'
'I do. I say it, and I mean it. Haven't you got the queen of spades? Now,
come on, no dodging round me. I know you've got that queen, as well as I
know my name's Alice.'
'Well--if your name's Alice, you'll have to have it--'
'Ay, now--what did I say? Did you ever see such a man? My word, but your
missus must be easy took in, by the looks of things.'
And off she went into peals of laughter. She was interrupted by the
entrance of four men in khaki, a short, stumpy sergeant of middle age, a
young corporal, and two young privates. The woman leaned back in her
'Oh, my!' she cried. 'If there isn't the boys back: looking perished, I
'Perished, Ma!' exclaimed the sergeant. 'Not yet.'
'Near enough,' said a young private, uncouthly.
The woman got up.
'I'm sure you are, my dears. You'll be wanting your suppers, I'll be
'We could do with 'em.'
'Let's have a wet first,' said the sergeant.
The woman bustled about getting the drinks. The soldiers moved to the
fire, spreading out their hands.
'Have your suppers in here, will you?' she said. 'Or in the kitchen?'
'Let's have it here,' said the sergeant. 'More cosier--_if_ you don't
'You shall have it where you like, boys, where you like.'
She disappeared. In a minute a girl of about sixteen came in. She was
tall and fresh, with dark, young, expressionless eyes, and well-drawn
brows, and the immature softness and mindlessness of the sensuous Celtic
'Ho, Maryann! Evenin', Maryann! How's Maryann, now?' came the multiple
She replied to everybody in a soft voice, a strange, soft _aplomb_ that
was very attractive. And she moved round with rather mechanical,
attractive movements, as if her thoughts were elsewhere. But she had
always this dim far-awayness in her bearing: a sort of modesty. The
strange man by the fire watched her curiously. There was an alert,
inquisitive, mindless curiosity on his well-coloured face.
'I'll have a bit of supper with you, if I might,' he said.
She looked at him, with her clear, unreasoning eyes, just like the eyes
of some non-human creature.
'I'll ask mother,' she said. Her voice was soft-breathing, gently
When she came in again:
'Yes,' she said, almost whispering. 'What will you have?'
'What have you got?' he said, looking up into her face.
'There's cold meat--'
'That's for me, then.'
The stranger sat at the end of the table and ate with the tired, quiet
soldiers. Now, the landlady was interested in him. Her brow was knit
rather tense, there was a look of panic in her large, healthy face, but
her small brown eyes were fixed most dangerously. She was a big woman,
but her eyes were small and tense. She drew near the stranger. She wore a
rather loud-patterned flannelette blouse, and a dark skirt.
'What will you have to drink with your supper?' she asked, and there was
a new, dangerous note in her voice.
He moved uneasily.
'Oh, I'll go on with ale.'
She drew him another glass. Then she sat down on the bench at the table
with him and the soldiers, and fixed him with her attention.
'You've come from St Just, have you?' she said.
He looked at her with those clear, dark, inscrutable Cornish eyes, and
answered at length:
'No, from Penzance.'
'Penzance!--but you're not thinking of going back there tonight?'
He still looked at her with those wide, clear eyes that seemed like very
bright agate. Her anger began to rise. It was seen on her brow. Yet her
voice was still suave and deprecating.
'I _thought_ not--but you're not living in these parts, are you?'
'No--no, I'm not living here.' He was always slow in answering, as if
something intervened between him and any outside question.
'Oh, I see,' she said. 'You've got relations down here.'
Again he looked straight into her eyes, as if looking her into silence.
'Yes,' he said.
He did not say any more. She rose with a flounce. The anger was tight on
her brow. There was no more laughing and card-playing that evening,
though she kept up her motherly, suave, good-humoured way with the men.
But they knew her, they were all afraid of her.
The supper was finished, the table cleared, the stranger did not go. Two
of the young soldiers went off to bed, with their cheery:
'Good-night, Ma. Good-night, Maryann.'
The stranger talked a little to the sergeant about the war, which was in
its first year, about the new army, a fragment of which was quartered in
this district, about America.
The landlady darted looks at him from her small eyes, minute by minute
the electric storm welled in her bosom, as still he did not go. She was
quivering with suppressed, violent passion, something frightening and
abnormal. She could not sit still for a moment. Her heavy form seemed to
flash with sudden, involuntary movements as the minutes passed by, and
still he sat there, and the tension on her heart grew unbearable. She
watched the hands of the dock move on. Three of the soldiers had gone to
bed, only the crop-headed, terrier-like old sergeant remained.
The landlady sat behind the bar fidgeting spasmodically with the
newspaper. She looked again at the clock. At last it was five minutes to
'Gentlemen--the enemy!' she said, in her diminished, furious voice.
'Time, please. Time, my dears. And good-night all!'
The men began to drop out, with a brief good-night. It was a minute to
ten. The landlady rose.
'Come,' she said. 'I'm shutting the door.'
The last of the miners passed out. She stood, stout and menacing, holding
the door. Still the stranger sat on by the fire, his black overcoat
'We're closed now, sir,' came the perilous, narrowed voice of the
The little, dog-like, hard-headed sergeant touched the arm of the
'Closing time,' he said.
The stranger turned round in his seat, and his quick-moving, dark,
jewel-like eyes went from the sergeant to the landlady.
'I'm stopping here tonight,' he said, in his laconic Cornish-Yankee
The landlady seemed to tower. Her eyes lifted strangely, frightening.
'Oh! indeed!' she cried.' Oh, indeed! And whose orders are those, may I
He looked at her again.
'My orders,' he said.
Involuntarily she shut the door, and advanced like a great, dangerous
bird. Her voice rose, there was a touch of hoarseness in it.
'And what might _your_ orders be, if you please?' she cried. 'Who might
_you_ be, to give orders, in the house?'
He sat still, watching her.
'You know who I am,' he said. 'At least, I know who you are.'
'Oh, you do? Oh, do you? And who am _I_ then, if you'll be so good as to
He stared at her with his bright, dark eyes.
'You're my Missis, you are,' he said. 'And you know it, as well as I do.'
She started as if something had exploded in her.
Her eyes lifted and flared madly.
'_Do_ I know it, indeed!' she cried. 'I know no such thing! I know no
such thing! Do you think a man's going to walk into this bar, and tell me
off-hand I'm his Missis, and I'm going to believe him?--I say to you,
whoever you may be, you're mistaken. I know myself for no Missis of
yours, and I'll thank you to go out of this house, this minute, before I
get those that will put you out.'
The man rose to his feet, stretching his head towards her a little. He
was a handsomely built Cornishman in the prime of life.
'What you say, eh? You don't know me?' he said, in his sing-song voice,
emotionless, but rather smothered and pressing: it reminded one of the
girl's. 'I should know you anywhere, you see. I should! I shouldn't have
to look twice to know you, you see. You see, now, don't you?'
The woman was baffled.
'So you may say,' she replied, staccato. 'So you may say. That's easy
enough. My name's known, and respected, by most people for ten miles
round. But I don't know _you_.'
Her voice ran to sarcasm. 'I can't say I know _you_. You're a _perfect_
stranger to me, and I don't believe I've ever set eyes on you before
Her voice was very flexible and sarcastic.
'Yes, you have,' replied the man, in his reasonable way.' Yes, you have.
Your name's my name, and that girl Maryann is my girl; she's my daughter.
You're my Missis right enough. As sure as I'm Willie Nankervis.'
He spoke as if it were an accepted fact. His face was handsome, with a
strange, watchful alertness and a fundamental fixity of intention that
'You villain!' she cried. 'You villain, to come to this house and dare to
speak to me. You villain, you down-right rascal!'
He looked at her.
'Ay,' he said, unmoved. 'All that.' He was uneasy before her. Only he was
not afraid of her. There was something impenetrable about him, like his
eyes, which were as bright as agate.
She towered, and drew near to him menacingly.
'You're going out of this house, aren't you?'--She stamped her foot in
sudden madness. '_This minute!_'
He watched her. He knew she wanted to strike him.
'No,' he said, with suppressed emphasis. 'I've told you, I'm stopping
He was afraid of her personality, but it did not alter him. She wavered.
Her small, tawny-brown eyes concentrated in a point of vivid, sightless
fury, like a tiger's. The man was wincing, but he stood his ground. Then
she bethought herself. She would gather her forces.
'We'll see whether you're stopping here,' she said. And she turned, with
a curious, frightening lifting of her eyes, and surged out of the room.
The man, listening, heard her go upstairs, heard her tapping at a bedroom
door, heard her saying: 'Do you mind coming down a minute, boys? I want
you. I'm in trouble.'
The man in the bar took off his cap and his black overcoat, and threw
them on the seat behind him. His black hair was short and touched with
grey at the temples. He wore a well-cut, well-fitting suit of dark grey,
American in style, and a turn-down collar. He looked well-to-do, a fine,
solid figure of a man. The rather rigid look of the shoulders came from
his having had his collar-bone twice broken in the mines.
The little terrier of a sergeant, in dirty khaki, looked at him
'She's your Missis?' he asked, jerking his head in the direction of the
'Yes, she is,' barked the man. 'She's that, sure enough.'
'Not seen her for a long time, haven't ye?'
'Sixteen years come March month.'
And the sergeant laconically resumed his smoking.
The landlady was coming back, followed by the three young soldiers, who
entered rather sheepishly, in trousers and shirt and stocking-feet. The
woman stood histrionically at the end of the bar, and exclaimed:
'That man refuses to leave the house, claims he's stopping the night
here. You know very well I have no bed, don't you? And this house doesn't
accommodate travellers. Yet he's going to stop in spite of all! But not
while I've a drop of blood in my body, that I declare with my dying
breath. And not if you men are worth the name of men, and will help a
woman as has no one to help her.'
Her eyes sparkled, her face was flushed pink. She was drawn up like an
The young soldiers did not quite know what to do. They looked at the man,
they looked at the sergeant, one of them looked down and fastened his
braces on the second button.
'What say, sergeant?' asked one whose face twinkled for a little
'Man says he's husband to Mrs. Nankervis,' said the sergeant.
'He's no husband of mine. I declare I never set eyes on him before this
night. It's a dirty trick, nothing else, it's a dirty trick.'
'Why, you're a liar, saying you never set eyes on me before,' barked the
man near the hearth. 'You're married to me, and that girl Maryann you had
by me--well enough you know it.'
The young soldiers looked on in delight, the sergeant smoked imperturbed.
'Yes,' sang the landlady, slowly shaking her head in supreme sarcasm, 'it
sounds very pretty, doesn't it? But you see we don't believe a word of
it, and _how_ are you going to prove it?' She smiled nastily.
The man watched in silence for a moment, then he said:
'It wants no proof.'
'Oh, yes, but it does! Oh, yes, but it does, sir, it wants a lot of
proving!' sang the lady's sarcasm. 'We're not such gulls as all that, to
swallow your words whole.'
But he stood unmoved near the fire. She stood with one hand resting on
the zinc-covered bar, the sergeant sat with legs crossed, smoking, on the
seat halfway between them, the three young soldiers in their shirts and
braces stood wavering in the gloom behind the bar. There was silence.
'Do you know anything of the whereabouts of your husband, Mrs. Nankervis?
Is he still living?' asked the sergeant, in his judicious fashion.
Suddenly the landlady began to cry, great scalding tears, that left the
young men aghast.
'I know nothing of him,' she sobbed, feeling for her pocket handkerchief.
'He left me when Maryann was a baby, went mining to America, and after
about six months never wrote a line nor sent me a penny bit. I can't say
whether he's alive or dead, the villain. All I've heard of him's to the
bad--and I've heard nothing for years an' all, now.' She sobbed
The golden-skinned, handsome man near the fire watched her as she wept.
He was frightened, he was troubled, he was bewildered, but none of his
emotions altered him underneath.
There was no sound in the room but the violent sobbing of the landlady.
The men, one and all, were overcome.
'Don't you think as you'd better go, for tonight?' said the sergeant to
the man, with sweet reasonableness. 'You'd better leave it a bit, and
arrange something between you. You can't have much claim on a woman, I
should imagine, if it's how she says. And you've come down on her a bit
The landlady sobbed heart-brokenly. The man watched her large breasts
shaken. They seemed to cast a spell over his mind.
'How I've treated her, that's no matter,' he replied. 'I've come back,
and I'm going to stop in my own home--for a bit, anyhow. There you've got
'A dirty action,' said the sergeant, his face flushing dark. 'A dirty
action, to come, after deserting a woman for that number of years, and
want to force yourself on her! A dirty action--as isn't allowed by the
The landlady wiped her eyes.
'Never you mind about law nor nothing,' cried the man, in a strange,
strong voice. 'I'm not moving out of this public tonight.'
The woman turned to the soldiers behind her, and said in a wheedling,
'Are we going to stand it, boys?--Are we going to be done like this,
Sergeant Thomas, by a scoundrel and a bully as has led a life beyond
_mention_, in those American mining-camps, and then wants to come back
and make havoc of a poor woman's life and savings, after having left her
with a baby in arms to struggle as best she might? It's a crying shame if
nobody will stand up for me--a crying shame--!'
The soldiers and the little sergeant were bristling. The woman stooped
and rummaged under the counter for a minute. Then, unseen to the man away
near the fire, she threw out a plaited grass rope, such as is used for
binding bales, and left it lying near the feet of the young soldiers, in
the gloom at the back of the bar.
Then she rose and fronted the situation.
'Come now,' she said to the man, in a reasonable, coldly-coaxing tone,
'put your coat on and leave us alone. Be a man, and not worse than a
brute of a German. You can get a bed easy enough in St Just, and if
you've nothing to pay for it sergeant would lend you a couple of
shillings, I'm sure he would.'
All eyes were fixed on the man. He was looking down at the woman like a
creature spell-bound or possessed by some devil's own intention.
'I've got money of my own,' he said. 'Don't you be frightened for your
money, I've plenty of that, for the time.'
'Well, then,' she coaxed, in a cold, almost sneering propitiation, 'put
your coat on and go where you're wanted--be a _man_, not a brute of a
She had drawn quite near to him, in her challenging coaxing intentness.
He looked down at her with his bewitched face.
'No, I shan't,' he said. 'I shan't do no such thing. _You'll_ put me up
'Shall I!' she cried. And suddenly she flung her arms round him, hung on
to him with all her powerful weight, calling to the soldiers: 'Get the
rope, boys, and fasten him up. Alfred--John, quick now--'
The man reared, looked round with maddened eyes, and heaved his powerful
body. But the woman was powerful also, and very heavy, and was clenched
with the determination of death. Her face, with its exulting, horribly
vindictive look, was turned up to him from his own breast; he reached
back his head frantically, to get away from it. Meanwhile the young
soldiers, after having watched this frightful Laocoon swaying for a
moment, stirred, and the malicious one darted swiftly with the rope. It
was tangled a little.
'Give me the end here,' cried the sergeant.
Meanwhile the big man heaved and struggled, swung the woman round against
the seat and the table, in his convulsive effort to get free. But she
pinned down his arms like a cuttlefish wreathed heavily upon him. And he
heaved and swayed, and they crashed about the room, the soldiers hopping,
the furniture bumping.
The young soldier had got the rope once round, the brisk sergeant helping
him. The woman sank heavily lower, they got the rope round several times.
In the struggle the victim fell over against the table. The ropes
tightened till they cut his arms. The woman clung to his knees. Another
soldier ran in a flash of genius, and fastened the strange man's feet
with the pair of braces. Seats had crashed over, the table was thrown
against the wall, but the man was bound, his arms pinned against his
sides, his feet tied. He lay half fallen, sunk against the table, still
for a moment.
The woman rose, and sank, faint, on to the seat against the wall. Her
breast heaved, she could not speak, she thought she was going to die. The
bound man lay against the overturned table, his coat all twisted and
pulled up beneath the ropes, leaving the loins exposed. The soldiers
stood around, a little dazed, but excited with the row.
The man began to struggle again, heaving instinctively against the ropes,
taking great, deep breaths. His face, with its golden skin, flushed dark
and surcharged, he heaved again. The great veins in his neck stood out.
But it was no good, he went relaxed. Then again, suddenly, he jerked his
'Another pair of braces, William,' cried the excited soldier. He threw
himself on the legs of the bound man, and managed to fasten the knees.
Then again there was stillness. They could hear the clock tick.
The woman looked at the prostrate figure, the strong, straight limbs, the
strong back bound in subjection, the wide-eyed face that reminded her of
a calf tied in a sack in a cart, only its head stretched dumbly
backwards. And she triumphed.
The bound-up body began to struggle again. She watched fascinated the
muscles working, the shoulders, the hips, the large, clean thighs. Even
now he might break the ropes. She was afraid. But the lively young
soldier sat on the shoulders of the bound man, and after a few perilous
moments, there was stillness again.
'Now,' said the judicious sergeant to the bound man, 'if we untie you,
will you promise to go off and make no more trouble.'
'You'll not untie him in here,' cried the woman. 'I wouldn't trust him as
far as I could blow him.'
There was silence.
'We might carry him outside, and undo him there,' said the soldier. 'Then
we could get the policeman, if he made any bother.'
'Yes,' said the sergeant. 'We could do that.' Then again, in an altered,
almost severe tone, to the prisoner. 'If we undo you outside, will you
take your coat and go without creating any more disturbance?'
But the prisoner would not answer, he only lay with wide, dark, bright,
eyes, like a bound animal. There was a space of perplexed silence.
'Well, then, do as you say,' said the woman irritably. 'Carry him out
amongst you, and let us shut up the house.'
They did so. Picking up the bound man, the four soldiers staggered
clumsily into the silent square in front of the inn, the woman following
with the cap and the overcoat. The young soldiers quickly unfastened the
braces from the prisoner's legs, and they hopped indoors. They were in
their stocking-feet, and outside the stars flashed cold. They stood in
the doorway watching. The man lay quite still on the cold ground.
'Now,' said the sergeant, in a subdued voice, 'I'll loosen the knot, and
he can work himself free, if you go in, Missis.'
She gave a last look at the dishevelled, bound man, as he sat on the
ground. Then she went indoors, followed quickly by the sergeant. Then
they were heard locking and barring the door.
The man seated on the ground outside worked and strained at the rope. But
it was not so easy to undo himself even now. So, with hands bound, making
an effort, he got on his feet, and went and worked the cord against the
rough edge of an old wall. The rope, being of a kind of plaited grass,
soon frayed and broke, and he freed himself. He had various contusions.
His arms were hurt and bruised from the bonds. He rubbed them slowly.
Then he pulled his clothes straight, stooped, put on his cap, struggled
into his overcoat, and walked away.
The stars were very brilliant. Clear as crystal, the beam from the
lighthouse under the cliffs struck rhythmically on the night. Dazed, the
man walked along the road past the churchyard. Then he stood leaning up
against a wall, for a long time.
He was roused because his feet were so cold. So he pulled himself
together, and turned again in the silent night, back towards the inn.
The bar was in darkness. But there was a light in the kitchen. He
hesitated. Then very quietly he tried the door.
He was surprised to find it open. He entered, and quietly closed it
behind him. Then he went down the step past the bar-counter, and through
to the lighted doorway of the kitchen. There sat his wife, planted in
front of the range, where a furze fire was burning. She sat in a chair
full in front of the range, her knees wide apart on the fender. She
looked over her shoulder at him as he entered, but she did not speak.
Then she stared in the fire again.
It was a small, narrow kitchen. He dropped his cap on the table that was
covered with yellowish American cloth, and took a seat with his back to
the wall, near the oven. His wife still sat with her knees apart, her
feet on the steel fender and stared into the fire, motionless. Her skin
was smooth and rosy in the firelight. Everything in the house was very
clean and bright. The man sat silent, too, his head dropped. And thus
It was a question who would speak first. The woman leaned forward and
poked the ends of the sticks in between the bars of the range. He lifted
his head and looked at her.
'Others gone to bed, have they?' he asked.
But she remained closed in silence.
''S a cold night, out,' he said, as if to himself.
And he laid his large, yet well-shapen workman's hand on the top of the
stove, that was polished black and smooth as velvet. She would not look
at him, yet she glanced out of the corners of her eyes.
His eyes were fixed brightly on her, the pupils large and electric like
those of a cat.
'I should have picked you out among thousands,' he said. 'Though you're
bigger than I'd have believed. Fine flesh you've made.'
She was silent for some time. Then she turned in her chair upon him.
'What do you think of yourself,' she said, 'coming back on me like this
after over fifteen years? You don't think I've not heard of you, neither,
in Butte City and elsewhere?'
He was watching her with his clear, translucent, unchallenged eyes.
'Yes,' he said. 'Chaps comes an' goes--I've heard tell of you from time
She drew herself up.
'And what lies have you heard about _me_?' she demanded superbly.
'I dunno as I've heard any lies at all--'cept as you was getting on very
His voice ran warily and detached. Her anger stirred again in her
violently. But she subdued it, because of the danger there was in him,
and more, perhaps, because of the beauty of his head and his level drawn
brows, which she could not bear to forfeit.
'That's more than I can say of _you_,' she said. 'I've heard more harm
than good about _you_.'
'Ay, I dessay,' he said, looking in the fire. It was a long time since he
had seen the furze burning, he said to himself. There was a silence,
during which she watched his face.
'Do you call yourself a _man_?' she said, more in contemptuous reproach
than in anger. 'Leave a woman as you've left me, you don't care to
what!--and then to turn up in _this_ fashion, without a word to say for
He stirred in his chair, planted his feet apart, and resting his arms on
his knees, looked steadily into the fire, without answering. So near to
her was his head, and the close black hair, she could scarcely refrain
from starting away, as if it would bite her.
'Do you call that the action of a _man_?' she repeated.
'No,' he said, reaching and poking the bits of wood into the fire with
his fingers. 'I didn't call it anything, as I know of. It's no good
calling things by any names whatsoever, as I know of.'
She watched him in his actions. There was a longer and longer pause
between each speech, though neither knew it.
'I _wonder_ what you think of yourself!' she exclaimed, with vexed
emphasis. 'I _wonder_ what sort of a fellow you take yourself to be!' She
was really perplexed as well as angry.
'Well,' he said, lifting his head to look at her, 'I guess I'll answer
for my own faults, if everybody else'll answer for theirs.'
Her heart beat fiery hot as he lifted his face to her. She breathed
heavily, averting her face, almost losing her self-control.
'And what do you take _me_ to be?' she cried, in real helplessness.
His face was lifted watching her, watching her soft, averted face, and
the softly heaving mass of her breasts.
'I take you,' he said, with that laconic truthfulness which exercised
such power over her, 'to be the deuce of a fine woman--darn me if you're
not as fine a built woman as I've seen, handsome with it as well. I
shouldn't have expected you to put on such handsome flesh: 'struth I
Her heart beat fiery hot, as he watched her with those bright agate eyes,
'Been very handsome to _you_, for fifteen years, my sakes!' she replied.
He made no answer to this, but sat with his bright, quick eyes upon her.
Then he rose. She started involuntarily. But he only said, in his
laconic, measured way:
'It's warm in here now.'
And he pulled off his overcoat, throwing it on the table. She sat as if
slightly cowed, whilst he did so.
'Them ropes has given my arms something, by Ga-ard,' he drawled, feeling
his arms with his hands.
Still she sat in her chair before him, slightly cowed.
'You was sharp, wasn't you, to catch me like that, eh?' he smiled slowly.
'By Ga-ard, you had me fixed proper, proper you had. Darn me, you fixed
me up proper--proper, you did.'
He leaned forwards in his chair towards her.
'I don't think no worse of you for it, no, darned if I do. Fine pluck in
a woman's what I admire. That I do, indeed.'
She only gazed into the fire.
'We fet from the start, we did. And, my word, you begin again quick the
minute you see me, you did. Darn me, you was too sharp for me. A darn
fine woman, puts up a darn good fight. Darn me if I could find a woman in
all the darn States as could get me down like that. Wonderful fine woman
you be, truth to say, at this minute.'
She only sat glowering into the fire.
'As grand a pluck as a man could wish to find in a woman, true as I'm
here,' he said, reaching forward his hand and tentatively touching her
between her full, warm breasts, quietly.
She started, and seemed to shudder. But his hand insinuated itself
between her breasts, as she continued to gaze in the fire.
'And don't you think I've come back here a-begging,' he said. 'I've more
than _one_ thousand pounds to my name, I have. And a bit of a fight for a
how-de-do pleases me, that it do. But that doesn't mean as you're going
to deny as you're my Missis....'
_The Primrose Path_
A young man came out of the Victoria station, looking undecidedly at
the taxi-cabs, dark-red and black, pressing against the kerb under the
glass-roof. Several men in greatcoats and brass buttons jerked themselves
erect to catch his attention, at the same time keeping an eye on the
other people as they filtered through the open doorways of the station.
Berry, however, was occupied by one of the men, a big, burly fellow whose
blue eyes glared back and whose red-brown moustache bristled in defiance.
'Do you _want_ a cab, sir?' the man asked, in a half-mocking, challenging
Berry hesitated still.
'Are you Daniel Sutton?' he asked.
'Yes,' replied the other defiantly, with uneasy conscience.
'Then you are my uncle,' said Berry.
They were alike in colouring, and somewhat in features, but the taxi
driver was a powerful, well-fleshed man who glared at the world
aggressively, being really on the defensive against his own heart. His
nephew, of the same height, was thin, well-dressed, quiet and indifferent
in his manner. And yet they were obviously kin.
'And who the devil are you?' asked the taxi driver.
'I'm Daniel Berry,' replied the nephew.
'Well, I'm damned--never saw you since you were a kid.'
Rather awkwardly at this late hour the two shook hands.
'How are you, lad?'
'All right. I thought you were in Australia.'
'Been back three months--bought a couple of these damned things'--he
kicked the tyre of his taxi-cab in affectionate disgust. There was a
'Oh, but I'm going back out there. I can't stand this cankering,
rotten-hearted hell of a country any more; you want to come out to Sydney
with me, lad. That's the place for you--beautiful place, oh, you could
wish for nothing better. And money in it, too.--How's your mother?'
'She died at Christmas,' said the young man.
'Dead! What!--our Anna!' The big man's eyes stared, and he recoiled in
fear. 'God, lad,' he said, 'that's three of 'em gone!'
The two men looked away at the people passing along the pale grey
pavements, under the wall of Trinity Church.
'Well, strike me lucky!' said the taxi driver at last, out of breath.
'She wor th' best o' th' bunch of 'em. I see nowt nor hear nowt from
any of 'em--they're not worth it, I'll be damned if they are--our
sermon-lapping Adela and Maud,' he looked scornfully at his nephew. 'But
she was the best of 'em, our Anna was, that's a fact.'
He was talking because he was afraid.
'An' after a hard life like she'd had. How old was she, lad?'
'Fifty-five ...' He hesitated. Then, in a rather hushed voice, he asked
the question that frightened him:
'And what was it, then?'
'Cancer again, like Julia! I never knew there was cancer in our family.
Oh, my good God, our poor Anna, after the life she'd had!--What, lad, do
you see any God at the back of that?--I'm damned if I do.'
He was glaring, very blue-eyed and fierce, at his nephew. Berry lifted
his shoulders slightly.
'God?' went on the taxi driver, in a curious intense tone, 'You've only
to look at the folk in the street to know there's nothing keeps it going
but gravitation. Look at 'em. Look at him!'--A mongrel-looking man was
nosing past. 'Wouldn't _he_ murder you for your watch-chain, but that
he's afraid of society. He's got it _in_ him.... Look at 'em.'
Berry watched the towns-people go by, and, sensitively feeling his
uncle's antipathy, it seemed he was watching a sort of _danse macabre_ of
'Did you ever see such a God-forsaken crew creeping about! It gives you
the very horrors to look at 'em. I sit in this damned car and watch 'em
till, I can tell you, I feel like running the cab amuck among 'em, and
running myself to kingdom come--'
Berry wondered at this outburst. He knew his uncle was the black-sheep,
the youngest, the darling of his mother's family. He knew him to be at
outs with respectability, mixing with the looser, sporting type, all
betting and drinking and showing dogs and birds, and racing. As a critic
of life, however, he did not know him. But the young man felt curiously
understanding. 'He uses words like I do, he talks nearly as I talk,
except that I shouldn't say those things. But I might feel like that, in
myself, if I went a certain road.'
'I've got to go to Watmore,' he said. 'Can you take me?'
'When d'you want to go?' asked the uncle fiercely.
'Come on, then. What d'yer stand gassin' on th' causeway for?'
The nephew took his seat beside the driver. The cab began to quiver, then
it started forward with a whirr. The uncle, his hands and feet acting
mechanically, kept his blue eyes fixed on the highroad into whose traffic
the car was insinuating its way. Berry felt curiously as if he were
sitting beside an older development of himself. His mind went back to his
mother. She had been twenty years older than this brother of hers whom
she had loved so dearly. 'He was one of the most affectionate little
lads, and such a curly head! I could never have believed he would grow
into the great, coarse bully he is--for he's nothing else. My father made
a god of him--well, it's a good thing his father is dead. He got in with
that sporting gang, that's what did it. Things were made too easy for
him, and so he thought of no one but himself, and this is the result.'
Not that 'Joky' Sutton was so very black a sheep. He had lived idly till
he was eighteen, then had suddenly married a young, beautiful girl with
clear brows and dark grey eyes, a factory girl. Having taken her to live
with his parents he, lover of dogs and pigeons, went on to the staff
of a sporting paper. But his wife was without uplift or warmth. Though
they made money enough, their house was dark and cold and uninviting.
He had two or three dogs, and the whole attic was turned into a great
pigeon-house. He and his wife lived together roughly, with no warmth, no
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