In the Wilderness
Part 8 out of 15
strangely at ease, like one who has entered a haven and has found the
desired peace. She had given up something, but how much had been given
to her! In the shelter of the gray towers, and within the enclosing
walls, she would go again to some of her dreams, while the chimes
marked the passing of the quiet hours, and the watchman's voice was
lifted up to the stars which looked down on Welsley.
And Robin would be with her.
A little more than six months later, when a golden September lay over
the land, Rosamund could scarcely believe that she had ever lived out
of Welsley. Dion was still in South Africa, in good health and
"without a scratch." In his last letter home he had written that he
had no idea how long the C.I.V.'s would be kept in South Africa. The
war dragged on, and despite the English successes which had followed
such bitter defeats no one could say when it would end. There was no
immediate reason, therefore, for Rosamund to move back to London.
She dreaded that return. She loved Welsley and could not now imagine
herself living anywhere else. Robin, too was a pronounced, even an
enthusiastic, "Welsleyite," and had practically forgotten "old
London," as he negligently called the greatest city in the world. They
were very happy in Welsley. In fact, the Dean's widow was the only
rift in Rosamund's lute, that lute which was so full of sweet and
Rosamund's lease of the house in the Precincts, "Little Cloisters," as
it was deliciously named, had been for six months, from the 1st of
March till the 1st of September. As Dion was not coming home yet, and
as he wrote begging her to live on at Welsley if she preferred it to
London, she was anxious to "renew" for another six months. The
question whether Mrs. Duncan Browning would, or would not, renew
really tormented Rosamund, and the uncertainty in which she was
living, and the misery it caused her, showed her how much of her heart
had been given to Welsley.
The Dean's widow was capricious and swayed by fluctuations of health.
She was "up and down," whatever that betokened. At one moment she "saw
the sun,"--her poetical way of expressing that she began to feel
pretty well,--and thought she had had enough of the "frivolous
existence one leads in an hotel"; at another a fit of sneezing,--"was
not the early morning sneeze but the real thing,"--a pang of
rheumatism, or a touch of bronchitis, made her fear for the damp of
Welsley. She would and she would not, and Rosamund could not induce
her to come to a decision, and suffered agonies at the thought of
being turned out of Little Cloisters. When Dion came back, of course,
a flitting from Welsley would have to be faced, but to be driven away
without that imperative reason would indeed be gall and wormwood.
There were days when Rosamund felt unchristian towards Mrs. Dean, upon
whom she had never looked, but with whom she had exchanged a great
many cordial letters.
In August, under the influence of a "heavy cold, which seems the worse
because of the heat," Mrs. Browning had agreed to let Rosamund stay on
for another month, September; and now Rosamund was anxiously awaiting
a reply to her almost impassioned appeal for a six months' extension
of her lease. Canon Wilton was again in residence in the Precincts,
and one afternoon he called at Little Cloisters, after the three
o'clock service, to inquire what was the result of this appeal.
Beatrice was staying with her sister for a few days, and when the
Canon was shown in she was alone in the drawing-room, having just come
up from the garden, where she had been playing with Robin, whose
chirping high voice was audible, floating up from below.
"Is your sister busy?" asked the Canon, after greeting Beatrice.
Beatrice smiled faintly.
"She's in her den. What do you think she is doing?"
The Canon looked hard at her, and he too smiled.
"Not writing again to Mrs. Browning?"
Beatrice nodded, and sat gently down on the window-seat.
"Begging and praying for an extension."
"I've never seen any one so in love with a place as your sister is
He sat down near Beatrice.
"But it is attractive, isn't it?" she said.
She turned her head slowly and looked out of the open window to the
enclosed garden which was bathed in mellow sunshine. The sky above the
gray Cathedral towers was a clear and delicate, not deep, blue. Above
the mossy red wall of the garden appeared the ruined arches of the
cloisters which gave to the house its name. Among them some doves were
cooing. Up in the blue, about the pinnacles of the towers, the rooks
were busily flying. Robin, in a little loose shirt, green
knickerbockers, and a tiny soft white hat set well on the back of his
head, was gardening just below the window with the intensity that
belongs to the dawn. His bare brown legs moved rapidly, as he ran from
place to place carrying earth, a plant, a bright red watering-pot. The
gardener, a large young man, with whom Robin was evidently on the most
friendly, and even intimate, terms, was working with him, and
apparently under his close and constant supervision. A thrush with
very bright eyes looked on from an adjacent elder bush. Upon the wall,
near the end of the Bishop's Palace, a black cat was sunning itself
and lazily attending to its toilet.
"It's the very place for Rosamund," said Beatrice, after a pause,
during which she drank in Welsley. "She seems to know and love every
stick and stone in it."
"And almost every man, woman and child," said the Canon. "She began by
captivating the Precincts,--not such an easy task either, for a bishop
usually has not the taste of a dean, and minor canons think very
lightly of the praises of an archdeacon,--and she has ended by
captivating the whole city. Even the wives of the clergy sing her
praises with one accord. It's the greatest triumph in the history of
"You see she likes them and is thoroughly interested in all their
"Yes, it's genuine sympathy. She makes Welsley her world, and so
Welsley thinks the world of her."
He looked across at Beatrice for a moment meditatively, and then said:
"And when her husband comes back?"
"Dion! Well, then, of course----"
She hesitated, and in the silence the drawing-room door opened and
Rosamund came in, holding an open letter in her hand, knitting her
brows, and looking very grave and intense. She greeted the Canon with
her usual warm cordiality, but still looked grave and preoccupied.
"I've been writing to Mrs. Browning, about the house," she said
earnestly. "It /is/ damp, isn't it?"
"Damp?" said the Canon. "I've never noticed it. But then do you think
the house is unwholesome?"
"Not for /us/. What I feel is, that for a bronchial person it might
She paused, looking at her letter.
"I've put just what I feel here, in a letter to Mrs. Browning. I know
the house is considered damp; by the Precincts, I mean. Mrs. Murry
told me so, and Mrs. Tiling-Smith thinks the same. Even the Bishop--
why are you smiling, Canon Wilton?"
But she began to smile too.
"What does the Bishop say about the danger to health of Little
Her lips twitched, but she replied with firm sweetness:
"The Bishop says that all, or nearly all, old houses are apt to be
damp in winter."
"A weighty utterance! But I'm afraid Mrs. Browning--by the way, have
you put the Bishop into your letter?"
"I had thought of reading it to you both, but now I shall not."
She put the letter into an envelope, sealed it up with practical
swiftness, rang the bell for Annie and sent it to the postbox round
"I put the Bishop in," she added, with a mockery of defiance that was
almost girlish, when Annie had gone out.
"That was a mistake," said the Canon sonorously.
"Bishops never carry weight with the wives, or widows, of deans."
"But why not?" asked Rosamund, with a touch of real anxiety.
"Because the wives of deans always think their husbands ought to be
bishops instead of those who are bishops, and the widows of deans
always consider that they ought to be the widows of bishops. They
therefore very naturally feel that bishops are not entitled by merit
to the positions they hold, and could be treated with a delicate
"I never thought of that. I wonder if Annie----"
"Too late!" said the Canon. "You'll have to turn out of Little
Cloisters, I foresee that."
Rosamund sat down, leaned towards him with her hands clasped tightly
together, and, in her absolutely unself-conscious way, began to tell
him and Beattie what she felt about Welsley, or something of what she
felt. A good deal she could only have told to Father Robertson. When
she had finished, Canon Wilton said, in his rather abrupt and blunt
"Well, but if your husband comes home unexpectedly? You can't stay
here then, can you?"
Beatrice, who was still on the window seat, leaned out, and began to
speak to Robin below her in a quiet voice which could scarcely be
heard within the room.
"But Dion sees no prospect of coming home yet."
"I heard to-day from some one in London that the C.I.V. may be back
"Dion doesn't say so."
"It mayn't be true."
"Dion writes that no one out there has any idea when the war will
"Probably not. But the C.I.V. mayn't be needed all through the war.
Most of them are busy men who've given up a great deal out of sheer
patriotism. Fine fellows! They've done admirable work, and the War
Office may decide that they've done enough. Things out there have
taken a great turn since Roberts and Kitchener went out. The C.I.V.
may come marching home long before peace is declared."
He spoke with a certain pressure, a certain intensity, and his eyes
never left Rosamund's face.
"I'm glad my Dion's one of them," she said. "And Robin will be glad,
too, some day."
She said nothing more about Mrs. Browning and Little Cloisters. But
when Canon Wilton had gone she said to her sister:
"Beattie, does it ever strike you that Canon Wilton's rather abrupt
and unexpected sometimes in what he says?"
"He doesn't beat about the bush," replied Beatrice. "Do you mean
"Perhaps I do. Now I'm going down to Robin. How strong he's getting
here! Hark at his voice! Can't you hear even in his voice how much
good Welsley had done him?"
Robin's determined treble was audible as he piped out:
"Oh no, Fipper! Not by the Bish's wall! Why, I say, the slugs always
comes there. They do, weally! You come and see! Come quick! I'll
The voice faded in the direction of the Palace.
"I must go down and see if it's true about the slugs," exclaimed
And with beaming eyes she hastened out of the room.
Beatrice looked after her and sighed. Dion's last letter from South
Africa was lying on the writing-table close to her. Rosamund had
already given it to her to read. Now she took it up and read it
carefully again. The doves cooed in the cloisters; the bells chimed in
the tower; the mellow sunshine--already the sunshine not of full
summer, but of the dawning autumn, with its golden presage of days not
golden, and of nights heavy with dews and laden with floating leaves,
--came in through the lattice, and lay over her soft and wistful
melancholy, as she read of hardship, and dust, and blood and death,
told truthfully, but always cheerfully, as a soldier tells a thing to
a woman he loves and wishes to be sincere with.
Dion was not in the peace. Dear Rosamund! Did she quite realize? And
then Beattie pulled herself up. A disloyal thought surely leaves a
stain on the mind through which it passes. Beattie did not want to
have a stain on her mind. She cared for it as a delicately refined
woman cares for her body, bathing it every day.
She put Dion's letter down.
That evening Rosamund sang at a charity concert in the City Hall. Her
music was already a legend in Welsley and the neighborhood. Mr.
Dickinson, who always accompanied her singing, declared it
emphatically to be "great." The wife of the Bishop, Mrs. Mabberley,
pronounced the verdict, "She sings with her soul rather than with her
voice," without intention of paying a left-handed compliment. The
Cathedral Choir boys affirmed that "our altos are a couple of squeaks
beside her." Even Mrs. Dickinson, "the cold douche," as she was named
in the Precincts, had long ago "come round" about Mrs. Dion Leith, and
had been heard to say of her, "She's got more than a contralto, she's
got a heart, and I couldn't say that of some women in high positions."
This was "aimed" at the Dean's wife, Mrs. Jasper, who gave herself
musical airs, and sometimes tried to "interfere with the Precentor's
arrangements," which meant falling foul of "Henry."
As Rosamund looked down upon the rows of friendly and familiar faces
from the platform, as she heard the prolonged applause which greeted
her before she sang, and the cries of "Encore!" which saluted her when
she finished, she felt that she had given her heart irrevocably to
Welsley, and the thought came to her, "How can I leave it?" This was
cozy, and London could never be cozy. She could identify herself with
the concentrated life here, without feeling it a burden upon her. For
she was so much beloved that people even respected her privacy, and
fell in with what she called "my absurd little ways." In London,
however many people you knew, you saw strangers all the time,
strangers with hard, indifferent eyes and buttoned-up mouths. And one
could never say of London "my London."
When the concert was over she wound a veil about her pale yellow hair,
wrapped a thin cloak round her shoulders, took up her music case and
asked for Beattie. An eager boy with a smiling round face, one of the
Cathedral Choristers, darted off to find Mrs. Daventry, the sister of
"our Mrs. Leith"; Mr. Dickinson gently, but decisively, took the music
case from Rosamund's hand with an "I'll carry that home for you"; a
thin man, like an early primrose obliged by some inadvertence of
spring to work for its living, sidled up and begged for the name of
"your most beautiful and chaste second encore for our local paper, the
'Welsley Whisperer'"; and Mrs. Dickinson in a pearl gray shawl, with
an artificial pink camellia carelessly entangled in her marvelously
smooth mouse-colored hair, appeared to tell Mrs. Leith authoritatively
that "Madame Patey /in her heyday/ never sang 'O Rest in the Lord' as
we have heard it sung to-night."
Then Rosamund, pleasantly surrounded by dear provincial enthusiasts,
made her way to the door where Beattie, with more enthusiasts, was
waiting for her; and they all came out into the narrow High Street,
and found the September moon riding above their heads to give them a
greeting nobly serene and beneficent, and they set out /sans facon/,
many of them bare-headed, to walk home down tiny "Archbishop's Lane"
to the Precincts.
Rosamund walked with Mr. Dickinson on one side of her and the Dean of
Welsley and Mrs. Jasper on the other; Canon Wilton, Beattie, the
Archdeacon of Welsley and the Precentor were just in front; behind
peacefully streamed minor canons and their wives, young sons and
daughters of the Precincts, and various privileged persons who, though
not of the hierarchy, possessed small houses within the sacred pale.
Only the Bishop and his consort drove majestically home in
What a chatter of voices there was under the projecting eaves of the
dear old house! What happy laughter was wafted towards the smiling
moon! Mrs. Dickinson, presently "coming up with" Rosamund's party,
became absolutely "waggish" (the Dean's expression), and made Rosamund
laugh with that almost helpless spontaneity which is the greatest
compliment to a joke. And then the gate in the ancient archway was
opened, and they all passed into their great pleasaunce, and, with a
sensation of joyous proprietorship, heard the gate shut and locked
behind them, and saw the Cathedral lifting its towers to the moon.
Laughter was hushed then, and some of the voices were silent; feet
went more slowly along the edges of the velvety lawns; the spell of
ancient things which are noble, and which tell of the noble ideals of
humanity, fell upon them; their hearts within them were lifted up.
When the Dean bade good-night to Rosamund he said:
"Your music and you mean a great deal to Welsley."
"Not half as much as Welsley means to me," she replied with earnest
"We are all looking forward to greeting your gallant, self-sacrificing
husband presently, very soon I hope. Good-night to you. It has been"--
he paused, looked at Rosamund and gently pressed her hand,--"a most
A most fragrant evening! When Beattie and Rosamund had eaten their
sandwiches, and drunk their still lemonade and claret, and when
Beattie had gone to bed, Rosamund slipped out alone into the dear
walled garden, and paced up and down in the moonlight.
Yes, there was something fragrant here, something that infected the
soul, something of old faiths and old holy aspirations, a murmur and a
perfume of trust and love. There might be gossip, trickling jealousies
in this little world, mean actions, even, perhaps, ugly desires and
ugly fulfilments of desire. Rosamund scarcely noticed, or did not
notice, these things. With her people were at their best. That night,
when Beattie was going to bed, Rosamund had said to her:
"I can't think why Mrs. Dickinson is called 'the cold douche.' I find
her so warm-hearted and so amusing!"
And so it was with them all. Rosamund had the magic touch which drew
the best out of every one in Welsley, because she was happy there, and
sincerely loved the place.
"How can I leave Welsley?" she thought now, as she walked up and down
in the garden, and heard presently the chiming of midnight and the
voice of the watchman beyond the Dark Entry. God seemed very near to
her in Welsley, God and the happiness of God. In Welsley she felt, or
was beginning to feel, that she was almost able to combine two lives,
the life she had grasped and the life she had let go. Here she was a
mother and at moments she was almost a religious too. She played with
her boy, she trained him, watched over his small body and his
increasing soul; and she meditated between the enclosing walls,
listening to bells and floating praises, to the Dresden Amen, and to
the organ with its many voices all dedicated to the service of God.
Often, when she walked alone in the garden, or sat alone in some
hidden corner under the mossy walls, she felt like a nun who had given
up the world forever, and had found the true life in God. In
imagination, then, she lived the life of which she had dreamed as a
girl before any man had brought her his love.
She could never, even in imagination, live that life truly, without
effort, in London. Welsley had made her almost hate London. She did
not know how she would be able to bear the return to it. Yet, if Canon
Wilton were right in what he had said to her that afternoon, Dion
might come back very soon, and therefore very soon she might have to
No. 5 Little Market Street once more; vaporous Westminster leaning to
the dark river!
Rosamund sighed deeply as she looked up again to the towers, and the
moon, and turned to go into Little Cloisters. It was difficult to shut
out such a night; it would be more difficult to give up the long
meditations, the dreams that came in this sweet retirement sheltered
by the house of God.
* * * * *
Two days later, at breakfast-time, Rosamund received the following
letter, written on paper scented with "Wood violet":
"HOTEL PALACE-BY-THE-SEA, BOURNEMOUTH,
"MY DEAR MRS. LEITH,--I have received your two--or is it three?--
charming letters recently written, suggesting a renewal of the
lease of Little Cloisters beyond September. At first I hesitated.
The atmosphere of a Cathedral town naturally attracts me and
recalls sweet memories of the past. On the other hand the life of
a well-managed hotel, such as this is not without its /agrements/.
Frivolous it may be (though not light); comfortable and restful it
undoubtedly is. The against and the for in a nutshell as it were!
Your last letter, in which you dwell on the dampness inevitable in
old houses, and quote the Bishop's opinion, would, I think, have
left me undisturbed in mind--I have recently taken up the 'new
mind' cult, which is, of course, not antagonistic to our cherished
Anglican beliefs--had it not happened to coincide with more than a
touch of bronchial asthma. The Bishop (quite between you and me!)
though a very dear man and a very good Christian, is not a person
of great intellect. My husband would never enter into controversy
with him, as he said it was useless to strive in argument with a
mind not sure of its bearings! An opinion of the Bishop's would
not, therefore, weigh much with me. But there is an element of
truth in the contention as to the damp. Old houses /are/ damp at
times. Little Cloisters, placed as it is in the shadow of the
Cathedral, doubtless suffers in some degree from this defect. My
doctor here,--/such/ a clever man!--though very reluctant to
prevent me from returning home, confessed to-day that he thought
my case needed careful watching by some one who /knew/. Now
(between you and me), nobody /knows/ in Welsley, and therefore,
after weighing pros and cons, and undergoing an hour of mental
treatment--merely the silent encouragement and purification of the
will--by an expert here, I have decided to remain for the winter.
I am willing, therefore, to extend your lease for another six
months on the terms as before. Perhaps you will kindly visit my
solicitor, Mr. Collingwood of Cattle Market Lane,--but you are
sure to know his address!--who will arrange everything legally
with you.--With my kindest regards and all good wishes, believe
me, dear Mrs. Leith, always sincerely yours,
"IMOGENE DUNCAN BROWNING."
It was Beattie's last morning at Little Cloisters; she had settled to
go back to De Lorne Gardens in the afternoon of that day. Rosamund
read Mrs. Browning's letter sitting opposite to her sister at the
breakfast-table in the small, paneled dining-room. At the same time
Beattie was reading a letter from Guy. As she finished it she looked
up and said:
"What does Guy say?" replied Rosamund. "Oh, here's a letter from
godfather! Perhaps he's coming down."
Rather hastily she tore open another envelope.
Later on in the morning, when Beattie was doing mysterious things in
the garden with Robin, Rosamund slipped out alone and made her way to
Cattle Market Lane. She came back just before lunch, looking unusually
The day after Beattie had returned to London, a note from Rosamund
told her that the lease of Little Cloisters had been renewed for
another six months, till the end of March, 1901.
"And if old Dion comes back in the meanwhile, as I fully expect he
will?" said Guy, when Beattie told him of Rosamund's note.
"I suppose it is possible to sublet a house," said Beattie, looking
unusually inexpressive, Guy thought.
"They say at the Clubs the C.I.V. will be back before Christmas,
Beattie," said Guy.
"The Tenbys' lease of Number 5 is up."
"Yes, but do you think Dion can afford to run two houses?"
"Perhaps----" she stopped.
"I don't believe Rosamund will ever be got out of Welsley," said Guy.
"And I'm pretty sure you agree with me."
"I must go now," said Beattie gently. "I'm going to Queen Anne's
Mansions to tell the dear mother all about my visit to Welsley."
"When is she going there?"
"I don't know. She's very lazy about moving. She's not been out of
London since Dion sailed."
"I think she's the most delicate mother-in-law--I don't mean
physically--who has ever been born in the world."
Beattie looked down, and in a moment went out of the room without
saying anything more.
"Darling Beattie," murmured Guy, looking after his wife. "How she
bears her great disappointment."
For Beattie's sake far more than for his own he longed to have a child
in his home, a child of hers and his. But that would never be. And so
Beattie gave all the mother-love that was in her to Robin, but much of
it secretly. Guy knew that, and believed he knew the secret of her
reticence even with Robin. She loved Robin, as it were, from a
distance; only his mother must love him cheek to cheek, lips to lips,
heart to heart, and his father as men love the sons they think of as
the bravery and strength of the future.
But even Guy did not know how much his wife loved Robin, how many
buried hopes and dreams stirred in their graves when Robin threw
himself impulsively into her arms and confidentially hung on her neck
and informed her of the many important details of his life. No man
knows all that a certain type of woman is able to feel about a child.
When Rosamund had arranged about the renewal of the lease, she tried
to feel the joy which was evidently felt by all her Welsley friends--
with one exception which, however, she either did not notice or did
not seem to notice. They were frankly delighted and enthusiastic at
the prospect of keeping her among them. She was very grateful for
their affection, so eagerly shown, but somehow, although she had
signed her name in a solicitor's office, and her signature had been
witnessed by a neat young man with a neat bald head, she did not feel
quite at ease. She found herself looking at "my Welsley" with the
anxiously loving eyes of one who gathers in dear details before it is
too late for such garnering; she sat in the garden and listened to the
beloved sounds from the Cathedral with strained attention, like one
who sets memory at its mysterious task.
The Dean's widow had yielded to the suggestion of inevitable dampness
in old houses, but----!
On September 28, towards evening, when Rosamund was in the garden with
Robin, Annie, the parlor-maid, came out holding a salver on which lay
a telegram. Rosamund opened it and read:
"Any answer, ma'am?"
* * * * *
"Is there any answer, ma'am? Shall I tell the boy to wait?"
"What did you say, Annie?"
"Shall I tell the boy to wait, ma'am?"
"No, thank you, Annie. There's no answer."
Annie turned and recrossed the garden, looking careful, as if she were
thinking of her cap, round which the airs were blowing.
Rosamund sat for a few minutes almost motionless, with the slip of
paper lying in her lap; then the breeze came lightly, as if curious,
and blew it away. Robin saw it and ran.
"I'll catch it, mummie. You see! I'll catch it!"
The little brown legs were amazingly swift, but the telegram was
elusive because the breeze was naughty. When Robin ran up to his
mother holding it out he was almost breathless.
"Here it is, mummie."
His blue eyes and his voice held triumph.
"I said I would, and I did!"
Rosamund put her arm round him.
"Who do you think sent this?"
"Daddy sent it."
Robin's eyes became round.
"Daddy! What for?"
"To tell us he's coming home."
A deeply serious expression came to Robin's face.
"Have I growed much?"
"Yes, a great deal."
"Will daddy see it?"
"Yes, I'm sure he will directly he comes."
Robin seemed relieved.
"Is daddy coming here?"
"Is he goin' to live here with us?"
"We shall see about all that when he comes."
Annie, evidently still thinking about her cap, reappeared on the
"The Dean to see you, ma'am."
Rosamund got up, gave Robin a long kiss on the freckles and said:
"Robin, I believe the Dean has come about Mr. Thrush."
"Does he know Mr. Thrush?"
"Not yet. I'll tell you something presently."
And she went slowly into the house. Was a scheme of hers coming to
fruition just when----? She tried to close her mind to an approaching
On the 7th of October the C.I.V. sailed from South Africa for England,
on the 19th of October they made St. Vincent; on the 23rd Dion again
looked over the sea at the dreaming hills of Madeira. The sight of
these hills made him realize the change brought about in him by the
work he had done in South Africa. As he gazed at them he suddenly and
sharply remembered the man who had gazed at them nine months before, a
man who was gathering together determination, who was silently making
preparations for progress, or for what he thought of as progress.
Those hills then had seemed to be calling to him out of the mists of
heat, and to himself he had seemed to be defying them, to be thrusting
their voices from him. For were they not the hills of a land where the
lotus bloomed, where a weariness bred of stagnant delights wrapped men
in a garment of Nessus, steeped in a subtle poison which drew from
them all their energies, which brought them not pain but an inertia
more deadly to the soul than pain? Now they had no power over him. He
did not need to defy them, because he had gained in strength. Ere they
vanished from his eyes over the sea he remembered another Island
rising out of waters that gleamed with gold. How far off now seemed to
him that evening when he had looked on it as he traveled to Greece!
How much he had left behind on the way of his life!
The experience of separation and of war had not aged him, but it had
made him feel older. Nothing of the boy was left in him. He felt
himself of manhood all compact. He had seen men die, had seen how they
were able to die, how they met severe physical suffering; he had
silently tried to prepare himself for death, keeping a cheerful
countenance; he had known, like most brave men, the cold companionship
of fear, and he had got rid of that companionship. Knowing death
better, he knew life much better than when he had left England.
On the voyage out he had looked at the hills of Madeira with
Worthington. Now Worthington was not with him; he had died of enteric
at Pretoria in September. Dion was carrying back to England
Worthington's last written message to his people. He was carrying also
another letter written by an English officer, whose body lay in the
earth of Africa, to a woman at home. On the voyage Dion often thought
of that dead man and of the living woman to whom he would presently
give the letter. He had promised to deliver it personally.
At St. Vincent he had received a welcome by cable from Rosamund, and
had sent a cable to her asking not to be met. He wished to meet her in
her home at Welsley. She had written to him enthusiastic accounts of
its peace and beauty. Her pen had been tipped with love of it. Their
first meeting, their reunion, must take place there in the midst of
that wonderful peace of green England which she loved so much. After
the heat and the dust and the pain of South Africa that would surely
be very good.
Dion had escaped death. He had been allowed to return to Rosamund in
splendid health, without a wound, though he had been in battle. He had
a strong presentiment that he was allowed to return for some definite
purpose. Could he not now be of far more use to his little son than if
he had never volunteered for active service? Rosamund and he had
looked up together at the columns of the Parthenon and had thought of
the child who might come. Dion felt that he understood the Parthenon
better now that he had looked death in the face, now that he had been
ready to give up his life if it had been required of him. He even had
a whimsical feeling--he smiled at it seriously to himself--that the
Parthenon, if he again stood before it, would understand him better.
He was not proud of himself for what he had done. But in the depths of
him he often felt earnestly glad, almost thankful, that he had been
able to do it. The doing of it had brought a new zest into life, new
meanings, a new outlook. He seemed to feel life like something
precious in his hand now; he had not felt it so before, even when he
had won Rosamund and had been with her in Greece.
* * * * *
The hills of Madeira faded. Three days later there was a burial at sea
in the early morning. A private, who had been ill with enteric, had
died in the night. The body sank into the depths, the ship went on her
way and ran into a stiff gale. Already England was rousing herself to
welcome her returning sons, bruskly but lustily, in her way, which was
not South Africa's way. Dion loved that gale though it kept him awake
Next morning they were off the Start, and heard the voices of the
sirens bidding them good day.
* * * * *
On the last day of October, at about four o'clock in the afternoon,
Rosamund was waiting for Dion. He was due by the express which, when
up to time, reached Welsley Station at 3.55. She would naturally have
been at the station to meet him if she had not received a telegram
from him begging her to stay at home.
"Would much rather meet you first in Little Cloisters,--Dion," were
the last words of the telegram.
So Rosamund had stayed at home.
It was a peculiarly still autumn afternoon. A suggestion--it was
scarcely more than that--of mist made the Precincts look delicately
sad, but not to the eyes of Rosamund. She delighted in this season of
tawny colors and of fluttering leaves, of nature's wide-eyed and
contemplative muteness. The beauty of autumn appealed to her because
she possessed a happy spirit, and was not too imaginative. She had
imagination, but it was not of the intensely sensitive and poetic kind
which dies with the dying leaves, and in the mists loses all the hopes
that were born with the birth of summer. The strong sanity which
marked her, and which had always kept her in central paths, far away
from the byways in which the neurotic, the decadent, the searchers
after the so-called "new" things loved to tread, led her to welcome
each season in is turn, and to rejoice in its special characteristics.
So she loved the cloistral feeling autumn brought with it to Welsley.
Green summer seemed to open the doors, and one rejoiced in a golden
freedom; tawny autumn seemed softly to close the doors, and one was
happy in a sensation of being tenderly guarded, of being kept very
safe in charge for the coming winter with its fires, and its cosy joys
of the interior.
Another reason which made Rosamund care very much for the autumn was
this: in the autumn the religious atmosphere which hung about the
Precincts of Welsley seemed to her to become more definite, more
touching, the ancient things more living and powerful in their
"Welsley always sends out influences," she had once said to Father
Robertson. "But in certain autumn days it speaks. I hear its voice in
She heard its voice now as she waited for Dion.
The lattice window which gave on to the garden was partly open; there
was a fire in the wide, old-fashioned grate; vases holding
chrysanthemums stood on the high wood mantelpiece and on the writing-
table; the tea-table had been placed by Annie near the hearth.
Rosamund listened to the cloistral silence, and looked at two deep,
old-fashioned arm-chairs which were drawn up by the tea-table.
Just how much had she missed Dion?
That question had suddenly sprung up in her mind as she looked at the
The first time she had been in Little Cloisters she had spoken to
Canon Wilton of Dion, had wondered if he would come back from South
Africa altered; and she had said that if she came to live in it
Welsley might alter her. Canon Wilton had made no comment on her
remark. She had scarcely noticed that at the time, perhaps had not
consciously noticed it; but her subconscious mind had recorded the
fact, and she recalled it now.
Welsley, she thought, had changed her a good deal. She was not a self-
conscious woman as a rule, but to-day was not like other days, and she
was not quite like herself on other days. Perhaps, for once, she was
what women often call "strung up"; certainly she felt peculiarly alive
--alive specially in the nerves of her body.
Those two arm-chairs were talking to her; they were telling her of the
imminent renewal of the life closely companioned, watched over,
protected, beloved. They were telling, and they were asking, too. She
felt absurdly that it was they who were asking how much she had missed
It would be good to have him back, but she now suddenly realized, in a
self-conscious way, that she had managed to be very happy without him.
But then she had always looked forward to his eventual return. Suppose
he had not come back?
She got up restlessly, went to the window and looked out into the
garden. Robin was not there, nor was he in the house. Obedient to an
impulse which she had not understood at the time, Rosamund had
arranged a small, and rather odd, festivity for him which had taken
him away from home, and would keep him out till five o'clock: he was
having tea in a cake-shop near the top of Wesley High Street with his
nurse and Mr. Thrush, who, not unexpectedly, had arrived in Welsley.
The first meeting between his father and mother would not be
complicated by his eager young presence.
So the garden was empty to-day. Not even the big young gardener was to
be seen; he only came on four days in the week, and this was not one
of them. As Rosamund looked down into the garden, she loved its
loneliness, its misty, autumnal aspect. It was surely not her fault if
she had a natural affection for solitude--not for the hideous solitude
of a childless mother, but for the frequent privacy of a mother who
was alone, but who knew that her child was near, playing perhaps, or
gone for a little jaunt with his faithful nurse, or sleeping upstairs.
As she looked at the garden a faint creeping sense of something almost
like fear came to her. Since Dion had been away she had surely
altered, because she had had a new experience; she had, as it were,
touched the confines of that life which she had deliberately renounced
when she had married.
It seemed to her, as she stood there and remembered her long
meditations in that enclosed and ancient garden, that in these months
she had drawn much nearer to God, and--could it be because of that?--
perhaps had receded a little from her husband.
The sense of uneasiness--she could not call it fear--deepened in her.
Was the receding then implicit in the drawing near? She began to feel
almost confused. She put up a hand to her face; her cheek was hot.
The clock in the room struck four; two minutes later the chimes
sounded, and then Big John announced the hour.
Dion might arrive at any moment now. She turned away rather quickly
from the window. She hated the unusual feeling of self-consciousness
which had come to her.
At ten minutes past four the door bell rang. It must be he. She went
to the drawing-room door, opened it and listened. She heard a man's
voice and a bump; then another bump, a creaking, a sort of scraping,
and the voice once more saying, "I'll manage, miss."
It was Dion's luggage. Harrington's man explained that the gentleman
had said he would walk to Little Cloisters.
Rosamund went back into the drawing-room and shut the door. Now that
Dion's luggage was actually in the house everything seemed curiously
different. A period was definitely over; her loneliness with Robin in
Little Cloisters was at an end. She sat down in one of the two arm-
chairs by the tea-table, clasped her hands together and looked at the
If she had held to her girlish idea? If she had become a "Sister"?
But--she shook her head as she sat there alone--Robin! And then she
sighed; she had not thought, "But--Dion!" She was almost angry with
herself for being so introspective, so mentally observant of herself.
All this was surely unnatural in her. Was she going to become morbid--
she who had such a hatred of morbidity? She tried to force herself to
feel that she had missed Dion tremendously, that his return would make
things right in Little Cloisters.
But had they ever been wrong? And, besides, Little Cloisters would
almost immediately be only a dear memory of the past.
Rosamund began almost to hate herself. Was she capable of any sort of
treachery? Swiftly she began to dwell upon all the dear goodness of
Dion, upon his love, his admiration, his perpetual thoughtfulness, his
unselfishness, his straight purity, his chivalry, his unceasing
devotion. He was a man to trust implicitly. That was enough. She
trusted him and loved him. She thanked God that he was back in
England. She had missed him more, much more than she had realized; she
was quite sure of that now that she had recalled things. One happiness
is apt to oust the acute memory of another. That had (quite naturally)
happened in her case. It would indeed have been strange if, living in
such a dear place as "My Welsley," with Robin the precious one, she
had been a miserable woman! And she had always known--as women know
things they do not know--that Dion would come back after behaving
nobly. And that was exactly what had happened.
She looked at the arm-chair opposite.
How splendid it would be to see dear, brave, good, faithful Dion
sitting in it in a moment, safe after all his hardships and dangers,
comfortable, able to rest at last in his own home.
For Little Cloisters would be his home even if only for a few days.
And then---- What about Mr. Thrush? What about--oh, so many things?
"I'll find the way all right," Dion had said at the station, after he
had been assured that it was only ten minutes' walk, "or so," to
The little walk would be a preparation for the very great event. He
only knew how great it was when he got out at the Welsley Station.
He had never seen Welsley before, though its fame had been familiar to
him from childhood. Thousands of pilgrims had piously visited it,
coming from afar; now yet another pilgrim had come from afar,
sensitively eager to approach a shrine which held something desired by
That part of the city which immediately surrounded the station was not
attractive, but very soon Dion came into a narrow street and was aware
of an ancient flavor, wholly English, and only to be savored
thoroughly by an English palate. In this street he began to taste
England. He passed an old curiosity shop, black and white, with a
projecting upper storey, lattice windows with tiny panes, a door of
black oak upon which many people had carved their names. By the door
stood a spinning-wheel. In the window were a tea service of spode and
a collection of luster ware. There were also some Toby jugs.
Dion went in quickly and bought one for Robin. He carried it unwrapped
in his hand as he walked on. One could do that here, in this intimate,
cozy old town of dear England. He enjoyed the light mist, the moisture
in the air. He had come to hate aridity and the acrid dryness of dust
blown by hot winds across great spaces. The moisture caressed his
skin, burnt almost to the color of copper by the African sun.
He came into the High Street. On its farther side, straight in front
of him, the narrowest street he had ever seen, a rivulet of a street,
with leaning houses which nearly formed an arcade, stretched to a
wonderful gray gateway, immensely massive, with towers at its corners,
and rows of shields above its beetling archway.
This must be the entrance to the Precincts.
In the tiny street he met a verger in mufti, an old bent man, with a
chin-beard and knotty hands, English in every vein, in every sinew of
his amazingly respectable and venerable body. This worthy he stopped
and inquired of him the way to Little Cloisters.
"Where Mrs. Leith and her boy lives, sir?" mouthed the old man, with a
kindly gaping smile.
"She's a nice lady," said the verger. "We think a lot of her here,
especially we Cathedral folk."
He went on to explain elaborately where Little Cloisters was, and to
describe minutely two routes, by either of which it might be come at.
It was evident that he was one of those who love to listen to
themselves and who take a pride in words.
Dion decided for the route "round at the back" by Chantrey Lane,
through the Green Court, leaving the Deanery on the left and the
Bishop's Palace on the right, and so by way of the Prior's Gate and
the ruins of the Infirmary through the Dark Entry to Little Cloisters.
"You can't miss it. The name's writ on the door in the wall, and a
rare old wall it is," said the venerable man.
Dion thanked him warmly and walked on, while the verger looked after
"I shouldn't wonder if that's Mrs. Leith's husband home from the war,"
he murmured. "Looks as if he'd been fighting, he does, and burnt
pretty near to a cinder by something, the sun as like as not."
And he walked on down the tiny street towards the muffin which awaited
him at home, well pleased with his perspicuity, and making mental
preparations for the astonishing of his wife with a tidbit of news.
Dion came into the Green Court, and immediately felt Welsley, felt it
in the depths of him, and understood Rosamund's love of it so often
expressed in her letters. As he looked at the moist green lawn in the
center, at the gray and brown houses which fronted it, at the Deanery
garden full of the ruddy flowers of autumn behind the iron railings,
at the immense Cathedral with its massive and yet almost tenderly
graceful towers, a history in stone of the faithful work and the
progress of men, he knew why Rosamund had come to live here. He stood
still. In the misty air he heard the voices of the rooks. The door of
a Canon's house opened, and two clergymen, one of them in gaiters and
a shovel hat, came out, and walked slowly away in earnest
conversation. Bells sounded in one of the towers.
He understood. Here was a sort of essence of ecclesiasticism. It
seemed to penetrate the whole atmosphere. Rosamund was at home in it.
He remembered his terrible thought that God had always stood between
his wife and him, dividing them.
How would it be now?
Again he looked up at the great house of God, and he felt almost
afraid. But he was not the man he had been when he said good-by to
Rosamund; he had gained in force of character, and he knew it. Surely
out there in South Africa, he had done what his mother had wanted him
to do, he had laid hold of his best possibilities. At any rate, he had
sincerely tried to do that. Why, then, should he be afraid--and of
He walked on quickly, and came to Little Cloisters by way of the Dark
It was very dark that day, for the autumn evening was already making
its moist presence felt, and there was a breathing of cold from the
old gray stones which looked like the fangs of Time.
Dion shook his broad shoulders in an irresistible shiver as he came
out into the passage-way between Rosamund's garden wall and the ruined
cloisters, immediately beyond which rose the east end of the
Cathedral. South Africa had evidently made him sensitive to the
dampness and cold of England.
"Little Cloisters." The white words showed on a tall green door let
into the wall on his left; and, as the verger had said, it was a rare
old wall. So here it actually was! He was at home. His heart thumped
as he pulled at the bell, and unconsciously he gripped the Toby jug
hard with his other hand.
"Dion! Is it you at last?"
A warm voice called from above, and the blood rushed to his temples.
It seemed to him that he took the old staircase in his stride, and he
had a feeling almost such as a man has when he is going into action.
He held her in his arms and kissed her.
"It's--seemed a long time!"
He felt moisture springing to his eyes. The love he felt for her
almost overwhelmed his self-control. Till this moment he had never
known how great it was. All his deprivation was in that embrace.
"Years it's seemed!" he said, letting her go with a little laugh,
summoned up--he did not know how--to save him from too much emotion.
She gazed at him.
"Oh, Dion, how you have altered!"
How well he knew the kindly glance of her honest brown eyes; a
thousand times he had called it up before him in South Africa. But
this was not the glance so characteristic of her. In the firelit room
her eyes looked puzzled, almost wide, with a sort of startled
"You had a lot of the boy in you still when you went away. At least, I
used to think so."
"Haven't I any left?"
"I can't see any. No, I think you've come back all man. And how
tremendously burnt you are."
"Almost black, I suppose. But I'm so accustomed to it."
"It's right," she said. "Your face tells the story of what you've
done. Robin"--she paused, then slowly she said--"Robin's got almost a
"Where is he? He's sure to have altered more than I have."
"Oh no. He'll be in about five. I've sent him out to tea with some one
"Mr. Thrush at Welsley?"
"Yes. I'll explain all that presently. I thought I'd have you all to
myself for half an hour, and then Robin should have his turn. Here
When the two arm-chairs were occupied, Dion said:
"And you, Rosamund?"
"What about me?"
"Haven't you altered?"
"If I have, probably you would know it and I shouldn't."
"Yes, I dare say that's true. You aren't conscious of it, then?"
But she was giving him his tea, and that took her mind away from his
question, no doubt. He felt a change in her, but it was not almost
fiercely marked like the change in him, on whom a Continent had
written with its sun and its wind, and with its battlefields. The body
of a man was graven by such a superscription. And no doubt even a
child could read something of it. But the writing on Rosamund was much
fainter, was far less easy to decipher; it was perhaps traced on the
soul rather than on the body. The new legend of Dion was perhaps an
assertion. But this story of Rosamund, what was it? She saw the man in
Dion, lean, burnt, strong, ardent, desirous, full of suppressed
emotion that was warmly and intensely human; he saw in her, as well as
the mother, something that was perhaps almost pale, almost elusive,
like the still figure and downbent face of a recluse seen in passing
an open window.
She saw in Dion his actions; he saw in her her meditations. Perhaps
that was it. All this time he had been living incessantly in the midst
of men, never alone, nearly always busy, often fiercely active,
marching, eating, sleeping in company. And all the time she had been
here, in the midst of this cloistral silence, and perhaps often alone.
"You know everybody here, I suppose?" he asked, drinking his tea with
relish, and eating the toast which seemed to him crisply English, but
always faintly aware of that still figure and of that downbent face.
"Almost everybody. I've sung a great deal, and got to know them all
partly through that. And they're dear people most of them. They let
one alone when they know one wants to be alone."
"And I expect you can enjoy being alone here."
"Yes," she said simply. "At times. It would be difficult to feel
lonely, in the miserable, dreadful way, I mean, in the Precincts. We
are rather like a big family here, each one with his, or her, own
private room in the big family house."
"I know you've always loved a certain amount of solitude, Rose," he
said tenderly. "D'you remember that day in London when I burst in upon
your solitude with Dante, and was actually jealous of the 'Paradiso'?"
"Yes," she said, smiling.
"But you forgave me, or I shouldn't be here now."
He gave her his cup for some more tea.
"You can't imagine how absolutely wonderful it is to me to be here
after what I've been through."
He lay back in his chair, but he still looked tremendously alert,
wiry, powerful even.
Dion was much more impressive than he had been when he went away.
Rosamund felt a faint creeping of something that was almost like
shyness in her as she looked at him.
"After Green Point Camp and Orange River--I shall never forget the
dust-storm we had there!--and Springfontein and Kaffir River--oh, the
heat there, Rose!--and Kaalfontein and all the rest of it. It was near
Kaalfontein that we first came under fire. I shan't forget that."
He was silent for a moment. She looked at him across the tea-table.
All that he knew and she did not know now made him seem rather strange
to her. The uniting of two different, utterly different, experiences
of life, was more tremendous, more full of meaning and of mystery,
than the uniting of two bodies. This, then, was to be a second
wedding-day for her and for Dion? All their letters, in which, of
course, they had tried to tell each other something of their differing
experiences, had really told very little, almost nothing. Dion's
glance told her more than all his letters, that and his color, and
certain lines in his face, and the altered shapes of his hands, and
his way of holding himself, and his way of speaking. Even his voice
was different. He was an unconscious record of what he had been
through out there; and much of it, she felt sure, he would never tell
to her except unconsciously by being a different Dion from the Dion
who had gone away.
"How little one can tell in letters," she said. "Scarcely anything."
"You made me feel Welsley in yours."
"Did I? Why did you walk from the station?"
"I wanted to taste your home, to get into your atmosphere, if I could,
before seeing you. Rose, love can make a man almost afraid at times."
It seemed to her that his dark eyes burned with fires they had
captured in South Africa. Sitting in the old room with its homely and
ecclesiastical look, he had an oddly remote appearance, she thought,
as if he belonged to a very different milieu. Always dark, he now
looked almost gipsy-like; yet he had the unmistakable air of a
soldier. But if there had ever been anything there was now nothing
left of the business man in Dion.
"Won't you find it very difficult to settle down again to the life in
Austin Friars, Dion?" she said.
"Perhaps I should, but for one thing."
"You and Robin at home when the drudgery is done."
Rosamund saw Welsley receding from her into darkness, with its
familiar faces and voices, its gray towers, its cloisters, its bells,
the Dresden Amen, the secret garden, the dreams she had had in the
"Number 5 is all ready to go into. It was lucky we only let it for six
months," she said quietly.
"Uncle Biron has given me a fortnight's holiday, or rather gladly
agreed to my taking it. Of course I'm my own master in a way, being a
partner, but I want to consider him. He was awfully good about my
going away. Mother's looking well. She was at our Thanksgiving
Service; Beattie and Guy too. I've had just a glimpse of godfather."
They talked about family things till Robin came in from his festivity
with Mr. Thrush, who was staying at Little Cloisters, but only till
the following day.
That was a great moment, the moment of Robin's arrival. Mr. Thrush did
not appear with him, but, being a man of delicate perceptions despite
his unfortunate appearance, retired discreetly to the servants' hall,
leaving his devoted adherent free for the "family reunion," as he
"Go up quietly, dear," said the nurse to Robin, "and tap at the
"Shall I tap?" asked Robin earnestly.
He was looking unusually solemn, his lips were parted, and his eyes
"Yes, dear. Tap prettily, like a young gentleman as you are, and when
you hear 'Come in!'----"
"I know then!" interrupted Robin, with an air of decision.
He walked rather slowly upstairs, lifting one brown leg after the
other thoughtfully from step to step, till he was outside the drawing-
room door. Inside he heard the noise of a man's voice, which sounded
to him very tremendous and important, the voice of a brave soldier.
"That's Fa!" he thought, and he listened for a moment as to the voice
of a god.
Then he doubled his small fist and gave a bang to the door. Some
instinct told him not to follow nurse's injunction, not to try to be
pretty in his tapping. The voice of the soldier ceased inside, there
was a brief sound of a woman's voice, then came a strong "Come in!"
Robin opened the door, went straight up to the very dark and very thin
man whom he saw sitting by the fire, and, staring at this man with
intensity, lifted up his face, at the same time saying:
There was a dropped aitch for which nurse, who was very choice in her
English, would undoubtedly have rebuked him had she been present. The
dark man did not rebuke Robin, but caught him up and enfolded him in a
hug that was powerful but not a bit rough. Robin was quite incapable
of analyzing a hug, but he loved it as he would not have loved it if
it had been rough, or if it had been merely gentle. A sense of great
happiness and of great confidence flooded him. From that moment he
adored his father as he had never adored him before. The new authority
of his father's love for him captured him. He knew nothing about it
and he knew all about it, as is the way with children, those
instinctive sparks fresh from the great furnace.
Long before dinner time Dion knew that he had won something beside the
D.C.M. which he had won in South Africa, something that was
wonderfully precious to him. He gave Robin the Toby jar and another
He cared for his little son that night as he had never cared for him
before. It was as if the sex in Robin spoke to the sex in him for the
first time with a clear, unmistakable voice, saying, "We're of the
comradeship of the male sex, we're of the brotherhood." It was not
even a child's voice that spoke, though it spoke in a little child.
Dion blessed South Africa that night, felt as if South Africa had
given him his son.
That gift would surely be a weapon in his hands by means of which, or
with the help of which, he would conquer the still unconquered
mystery, Rosamund's whole heart. South Africa had done much for Dion.
Out there in that wonderful atmosphere he had seen very clearly, his
vision had pierced great distances; he saw clearly still, in England.
War, it seemed, was so terribly truthful that it swept a man clean of
lies; Dion was swept clean of lies. He did not feel able any longer
even to tell them occasionally to himself. He knew that Rosamund's
greeting to him, warm, sweet, sincere though it had been, had lacked
something which he had found in Robin's. But he felt that now he had
got hold of Robin so instantly, and so completely, the conquest of the
woman he had only won must be but a question of time. That was not
pride in him but instinct, speaking with that voice which seems a
stranger to the brain of man, but a friend to something else;
something universal of which in every man a fragment is housed, or by
which every man is mysteriously penetrated.
A fortnight's holiday--and then?
On that first evening it had been assumed that as soon as Dion went
back to business in Austin Friars, No. 5 Little Market Street would
receive its old tenants again, be scented again with the lavender,
made musical with Rosamund's voice, made gay with the busy prattle and
perpetual activities of Robin.
For two days thereafter no reference was made by either Rosamund or
Dion to the question of moving. Dion gave himself up to Welsley, to
holiday-making. With a flowing eagerness, not wholly free from
undercurrents, Rosamund swept him sweetly through Welsley's delights.
She inoculated him with Welsley, or at any rate did her best to
inoculate him, secretly praying with all her force that the wonderful
preparation might "take." Soon she believed that it was "taking." It
was evident that Dion was delighted with Welsley. On his very first
day they went together to the afternoon service in the Cathedral, and
when the anthem was given out it proved to be "The Wilderness."
Rosamund's quick look at Dion told him that this was her sweet doing,
and that she remembered their talk on the hill of Drouva. He listened
to that anthem as he had never listened to an anthem before. After the
service Canon Wilton, who, though no longer in residence as "three
months' Canon," was still staying on at his house in the Precincts for
a few days, came up to welcome him home. Then Mr. Dickinson appeared,
full of that modesty which is greedy for compliments. Mrs. Dickinson,
too, drifted up the nave in a casual way which scarcely concealed her
curiosity about Mrs. Dion's husband; when, later, Rosamund told Dion
of her Precincts' name, "the cold douche," he could not see its
"I thought her an observant but quite a warm-hearted woman," he said.
"She is warm-hearted; in fact she's a dear, and I'm very fond of her,"
"Every one here seems very fond of you," he replied.
Indeed, he was struck by Welsley's evident love of Rosamund. It was
like a warm current flowing about her, and about him now, because he
was her husband. He was greeted with cordial kindness by every one.
"It is jolly to be received like this," he said to Rosamund. "It does
a fellow good when he's just come home. It makes him feel that there
is indeed no place like England. But it's all owing to you."
But she protested.
"They all admire and respect you for what you've done," she said.
"You've brought the best introductions here, your own deeds. They
speak for you."
He shook his head, loving her perfectly sincere modesty.
"You may be a thousand things," he told her, "but one thing you'll
never be--vain or conceited."
The charm of her, which was compounded of beauty and goodness, mixed
with an extraordinary hold upon, and joy in, the simple and healthy
things of life, came upon him with a sort of glorious newness after
his absence in South Africa. He loved other people's love of her and
the splendid reasons for it so apparent in her. But for Robin he might
nevertheless have felt baffled and sad even in these moments dedicated
to the joys of reunion, he might have felt acutely that the
completeness and perfection of reunion depended upon the exact type of
union it followed upon. Robin saved him from that. He hoped very much
in Robin, who had suddenly given him a confidence in himself which he
had never known till now. This was a glorious possession. It gave him
force. People in Welsley were decidedly impressed by Mrs. Leith's
husband. Mrs. Dickinson remarked to her Henry over griddle cakes after
the three o'clock service:
"I call Mr. Leith a very personable man. Without having Mrs. Leith's
wonderful charm--what man could have?--he makes a distinct impression.
He has suppressed force, and that's what women like in a man."
Henry took another griddle cake, and wondered whether he was wise in
looking so decided. Perhaps he ought to suppress his undoubted force;
perhaps all his life, without knowing it, he had hovered on the verge
of the blatant.
Canon Wilton also was struck by the change in Dion, and said
something, but not just then all, of what he felt.
"You know the phrase, 'I'm my own man again,' Leith, don't you?" he
said, in his strong bass voice, looking steadily at Dion with his
kindly stern eyes. (He always suggested to Dion a man who would be
very stern with himself.)
"Yes," said Dion. "Why?"
"I think South Africa's made you your own man."
Dion looked tremendously, but seriously, pleased.
"Do you? And what about the again?"
"Cut it out. I don't think you'd ever been absolutely your own man
before you went away."
"I wonder if I am now," Dion said, but without any weakness.
He had been through one war and had come out of it well; now he had
come home to another. The one campaign had been but a stern
preparation for the other perhaps. But Rosamund did not know that.
Nevertheless, it seemed to him that already their relation to each
other was slightly altered. He felt that she was more sensitive to him
than formerly, more closely observant of what he was and what he did,
more watchful of him with Robin, more anxious about his opinion on
For instance, there was the matter of Mr. Thrush.
Dion had not seen Mr. Thrush on the evening of his first day at
Welsley. He had been kept so busy by Rosamund, had done and seen so
much, that he had quite forgotten the ex-chemist. In the evening,
however, before dinner, he suddenly remembered him.
"What's become of Mr. Thrush?" he asked. "And, by the way, what is he
doing down here? You never told me, Rose, and even Robin's not said a
"I asked him not to," said Rosamund, with her half-shrewd, half-soft
look. "The fact is----" She broke off, then continued, with her
confidential air, "Dion, when you see Mr. Thrush I want you to tell me
something truthfully. Will you?"
"I'll try to. What is it?"
"I want you to look at his nose--"
"No, really," she pursued, with great earnestness. "And I want you to
tell me whether you think, honestly think, it--better."
"It's very important for Mr. Thrush that it should look better. He's
down here to be seen."
Her voice had become almost mysterious.
"To be seen? By whom? Is he on show in the town?"
"No--don't laugh. It's really important for his future. I must tell
you something. He's taken the modified pledge."
Her look said, "There! what d'you think of that?"
"Modified!" said Dion, rather doubtfully.
"Never between meals--never."
"At any rate that's a step in the right direction."
"Isn't it? I took it with him."
"The modified pledge?"
"Yes," she said, with great seriousness.
"But you never----! To help him, of course."
"And has it made a difference to the nose?"
"I think it's made a considerable difference. But I want your
"I'll give it you for what it's worth. But who's going to see Mr.
"The Dean! Why on earth?"
"Almost directly there's going to be a vacancy among the vergers, and
the Dean has promised me faithfully that if Mr. Thrush seems suitable
he shall have the post."
"Mr. Thrush a verger! Mr. Thrush carry a poker before a bishop!"
"Not a poker, only a white wand. I've been making him practise here in
the garden, and he does it quite admirably already."
She spoke now with almost defiant emphasis. Dion loved her for the
defiance and for its deliciously absurd reason.
"The Dean is away, but he's coming back to-morrow, so I begin to feel
rather anxious. Of course, he'll see at once that Mr. Thrush is an
educated man. I'm not afraid about that. It's only--well, the little
failing. It would mean so much for Mr. Thrush to get the post. He'll
be provided for for life. I've set my heart on it."
Annie came in.
"Oh, Annie, is it Mr. Thrush?"
"Please ask him to come in."
With a very casual air, as of one doing a thing for no particular
reason and almost without thought, she lowered the wick of the lamp
which illuminated the room.
"We don't want it to flare," she said, as she came away from it. "Oh,
Mr. Thrush, here's my husband back again!"
With a certain unostentatious dignity Mr. Thrush stepped into the
room. He was most respectably dressed in a neat black suit, the coat
of which looked rather like either a frock coat which was in course of
diminishing gradually into what tailors call "a morning coat," or a
morning coat which was in course of expanding gently into a frock
coat; a speckless collar with points appeared above a pair of dark
worsted gloves, and a hat which resembled a square bowler half-way on
the road to top hatdom.
Dion felt touched by his appearance and his gait, which seemed to hint
at those rehearsals in the garden, and especially touched by the fact
that he had bought a new hat.
"Welcome home, sir!" he said at once to Dion. "I'm sure the country is
proud of you."
He paid the compliment with so much sincerity that Dion did not feel
embarrassed by it.
"Do sit down, Mr. Thrush," said Rosamund, after hands had been
cordially shaken. "No, not there!"--as he was about to sit full in the
lamplight--"This chair will be more comfortable. Now I'll leave you to
have a little talk with my husband."
With an inquiring look at Dion she went out of the room.
Before she came back Mr. Thrush had told Dion all his hopes and fears
with regard to the Dean, and had dwelt on his overwhelming desire to
become a verger. Quite unself-conscious in his simplicity he rose
almost to dignity. He frankly confessed his "failing," and alluded to
the taking of the modified pledge.
"We took it together, sir, your kind lady and I, we both pledged
ourselves never to touch a drop of liquor between meals whatever the
"Quite right!" said Dion, with firmness, almost with bruskness.
"I'm glad you think so, sir. But a verger can't be too careful. He's
held up as an example to the whole city by his position, walking so
often in procession as he does before the eyes of all men. Even a
chemist scarcely takes so much upon himself. In respect of the body he
may, I'll allow you,--for no verger has to do with prussic acid,
iodine, cascara and all such-like,--but in respect of what I might all
the uplifting of the soul not a doubt of it but that the verger comes
far before any chemist. It's a solemn thing to think of, and I hope,
if so be as I'm elected, I shall be worthy of the position. I see Mr.
Dean to-morrow, sir, at eleven o'clock. I trust I shall make a
favorable impression. I lived just off Hanover Square for more years
than some can remember, and that, I hope, with a Very Reverend will
tell in my favor. None of them vergers here, though I'm sure they're a
splendid body of men,--any one who has seen them walking before his
Lordship, the Bishop, the Canons and what not, as I did last Sunday
morning, would say the same,--but none of the vergers here can say as
much. I've made inquiry, but of course with all discretion. As to the
duties, sir, I think I can fulfil them. The carrying of the wand I may
say I am almost perfect in already. I've been at it in the garden with
your kind good lady since I came. I found it a bit difficult at first,
sir. There's what you might call a knack to it, though from the
congregation it looks simple enough. But there, what does a
congregation know of the things a verger has to master any more than
it does of what is required of a good chemist? Often and often when I
was just off Hanover Square----"
He was still flowing on with imperturbable volubility when Rosamund
came back and sent another, more inquiring, glance to Dion.
When Mr. Thrush had retired she at once said anxiously:
"He's a nice old chap."
"Yes, isn't he? But what did you really think?"
"About the nose?"
"The lamp was turned rather low, but I really believe the modified
"There! What did I say?" she interrupted triumphantly. "I knew you'd
notice the difference. It's really very much like yours or mine now,
and I'm sure--"
But here Dion broke in decisively.
"No, Rosamund, I can't let that pass. It's not like yours yet. I say
nothing about mine. But I honestly think it's modified and I hope the
Dean will pass it."
"The Dean and I are great cronies!" she murmured doubtfully. "My only
fear is that after he is a verger Mr. Thrush may--may lapse if I'm
She stopped, looking at Dion, and again he thought that she was more
sensitive to his opinion, to his wishes, than she had formerly been.
Her slightly changed attitude made Dion gladly aware of change in
himself. He meant more to Rosamund now than he had meant when he left
Three days had slipped by. Dion had been accepted as one of the big
Welsley family, had been made free of the Precincts. During those
three days he had forgotten London, business, everything outside of
Welsley. It had seemed to him that he had the right to forget, and he
had exercised it. Robin had played a great part in those three days.
His new adoration of his father was obvious to every one who saw them
together. The soldier appealed to the little imagination. Robin's
ardor was concentrated for the moment in his pride of possession. He
owned a father who--his own nurse had told him so--was not as other
fathers, not as ordinary fathers such as stumped daily about the
narrow streets of Welsley, rubicund and, many of them, protuberant in
the region of the watch-chain. They were all very well; Robin had
nothing against them; many of them were clergymen and commanded his
respect by virtue of their office, their gaiters, the rosettes and
cords that decorated their wide-winged hats. But they were not like
"Fa." They had not become lean, and muscular, and dark, and quick-
limbed, and keen-eyed, and spry, in the severe service of their
country. They had not--even the Archdeacon, Robin's rather special
pal, had not--ever killed any wicked men who did not like England, or
gone into places where wicked men who did not like England might have
killed them. Some of them did not know much about guns, did not seem
to take any interest in guns. It was rather pitiable. Since his father
had come back Robin had had an opportunity of sounding the Archdeacon
on the subject of an advance in open order. The result had not been
satisfactory. The Archdeacon, Robin thought, had taken the matter with
a lightness, almost a levity, which one could not have looked for from
a man in his position, and when questioned as to his methods of taking
over had frankly said that he had none.
"I like him," Robin said ruefully. "But he'll never be a good scout,
will he, Fa?"
To which Dion replied with discretion.
"There are plenty of good scouts, old boy, who would never make good
"Is there?" said Robin. "Why not? I know what scouts does, but what
does archdeacons does?"
And with that he had his father stumped. Dion had not been long enough
at Welsley to dive into all its mysteries.
On the evening of the third day Dion told Rosamund that he must go to
London on the following morning.
"I've got something I must do and I want to tell you about it," he
said. "You remember Mrs. Clarke?"
"Yes," said Rosamund.
"It must be more than two years since I've seen her. She lives a great
deal in Constantinople, you know. But she sometimes comes to London in
the winter. It's abominably cold in Constantinople in winter. There
are perpetual winds from the Black Sea."
"Yes, I know there are. Esme Darlington has told me about them."
"Mrs. Clarke's in London now."
"Did you see her when you passed through?"
"No, but I want to see her to-morrow. Rose, I'm going to tell you
something which nobody else must know. I was asked to keep it entirely
to myself, but I refused. I was resolved to tell you, because I don't
believe in secrets between husband and wife--about their doings, I
mean." (Just then he had happened to think of Mrs. Clarke's farewell
telegram to him when he had sailed for South Africa.)
"I know how frank and sincere you always are, Dion," she said gently.
"I try to be. You remember that party at Mrs. Chetwinde's where you
sang? You met Mrs. Clarke that night."
"Of course I remember. We had quite an interesting talk."
"She's clever. Lord Brayfield was there, too, that night, a fair man.
"I saw him. He wasn't introduced to me."
"Brayfield was shot in the war. Did you know it?"
"No. I thought I had read everything. But I didn't happen to see it."
"And I didn't mention it when I wrote. I thought I'd tell you if I
came home. Brayfield, poor fellow, didn't die immediately. He suffered
a great deal, but he was able to write two or three letters--last
messages--home. One of these messages was written to Mrs. Clarke. He
gave it to me and made me promise to convey it to her personally, not
to put it in the post."
"Was Lord Brayfield in the C.I.V.?" asked Rosamund.
"Oh no. He was a captain in the 5th Lancers. We were brigaded with
them for a bit and under fire at the same time. Brayfield happened to
see me. He knew I was an acquaintance of Mrs. Clarke's, and when he
was shot he asked that I should be allowed to come to him. Permission
was given. I went, and he asked me if I'd give Mrs. Clarke a letter
from him when I got home. It seems none of his brother officers
happened to know her. He might have given the letter to one of them.
It would have been more natural. But"--Dion hesitated--"well, he
wanted to say a word or two to some one who knew her, I suppose."
Rosamund quite understood there were things Dion did not care to tell
even to her. She did not want to hear them. She was not at all a
"I'm glad you are able to take the letter," she said.
And then she began to talk about something else. Mr. Thrush's
prospects with the Dean, which were even yet not quite decided.
By the quick train at nine o'clock Dion left Welsley next morning; he
was in London by half-past ten. He had of course written to Mrs.
Clarke asking if he could see her. She had given him an appointment
for three o'clock at the flat she had taken for a few months in Park
Side, Knightsbridge. Dion went first to the City, and after doing some
business there, and lunching with his uncle at the Cheshire Cheese,
got into a cab and drove to Knightsbridge.
Mrs. Clarke's flat was on the first floor of a building which faced
the street on one side and Hyde Park on the other. Dion rang at a
large, very solid oak door. In two or three minutes the door was
opened by an elderly maid, with high cheek-bones and long and narrow
light gray eyes, who said, with a foreign accent, that Mrs. Clarke was
at home. Afterwards Dion knew that this woman was a Russian and Mrs.
Clarke's own maid.
She showed Dion into a long curving hall in which a fire was burning.
Here he left his hat and coat. While he was taking the coat off he had
time to think, "What an original hall this is!" From it he got an
impression of warmth and of a pleasant dimness. He had really no time
to look carefully about, but a quick glance told him that there were
interesting things in this hall, or at any rate interestingly
combined. He was conscious of the stamp of originality.
The Russian maid showed him into a drawing-room and went away to tell
"Madame." She did not go out by the hall, but walked the whole length
of the long narrow drawing-room, and passed through a small doorway at
its farther end. Through this doorway there filtered into the drawing-
room a curious blue light. All the windows of the drawing-room looked
into Hyde Park, on to the damp grass, the leafless trees, the
untenanted spaces of autumn.
Dion went to the fireplace, which faced the far doorway. There was not
a sound in the room; not a sound came to it just then from without. He
could scarcely believe he was in Knightsbridge. Not even a clock was
ticking on the mantelpiece above the fire, in which ship logs were
burning. The flames which came from them were of various shades of
blue, like magical flames conjured up by a magician. He looked round.
He had never seen a room like this before. It was a room to live in,
to hear strange music in; it was not a reception-room. Not crowded
with furniture it was not at all bare. Its "note" was not austere but
quite the contrary. It was a room which quietly enticed. Dion was not
one of those men who know all about women's dresses, and combinations
of color, and china, and furniture, but he was observant; as a rule he
noticed what he saw. Fresh from South Africa, from a very hard life
out of doors, he looked at this room and was almost startled by it.
The refinement of it was excessive in his eyes and reminded him of
something overbred, of certain Italian greyhounds, for instance.
Strange blues and greens were dexterously combined through the room,
in the carpet, the curtains, the blinds, the stuffs which covered the
chairs, sofas, divans, cushions--blues and greens innumerable. He had
never before seen so many differing shades of the two colors; he had
not known that so many shades existed. In the china these colors were
repeated. The door by which he had come in was of thick glass in a
frame of deep blue wood and, by means of a mysterious light in the
hall, was made mistily blue. All along the windows, lilies were
growing, or seemed to be growing, in earth closely covered with green
moss. There were dwarf trees, like minute yew trees, in green and blue
And always the ship logs in the fire gave out the magical blue flames.
Certainly the general effect of the room was not only luxuriously
comfortable, but also strangely beautiful, though there was nothing in
it which a lover of antiques would have given his eyes for. To Dion,
fresh from South Africa, the room looked too comfortable, too
ingeniously beautiful. It struck him as ultra modern, ahead of
anything he had ever yet seen, and almost as evil. But certainly it
He heard the distant sound of a woman's dress and saw Mrs. Clarke
coming slowly in from the room beyond (another blue and green room
perhaps), and he thought of Brayfield dying. He thrust a hand into the
breast-pocket of his coat and brought out the dead man's letter.
Mrs. Clarke came up to the fire and greeted him. She did not look a
moment older than when he had seen her last at Claridge's, or indeed
than when he had first seen her standing under the statue of Echo in
Mrs. Chetwinde's drawing-room. The same feverish refinement still was
with her, belonged to her; she looked as before, wasted as if by some
obscure disease, haunted, almost distressed, and yet absolutely self-
controlled, mistress of herself and unconscious of critical
observation. Not even for a moment, seeing her thus again after a long
interval of time, did Dion hesitate about her beauty. Undoubtedly she
had beauty. The shape of her head was lovely, and her profile was like
a delicate vision seen in water. The husky sound of her voice in her
first words to him took him back to the Divorce Court.
"You haven't changed," she said, staring intently at him in her oddly
impersonal way, which appraised and yet held something of inwardness.
"But people say I have changed very much."
"I don't call natural development change. I saw in you very plainly
when we first met what you are now. You have got there. That's all."
Her lips were very pale. How strangely unshining her hair was.
"Yes, she looked punished!" he thought. "It's that look of punishment
which sets her quite apart from all other women."
She glanced at the letter he was holding and sat down on a very broad
green divan. There were many cushions upon it; she did not heap them
behind her, but sat quite upright. She did not ask him to sit down. He
would do as he liked. Absurd formalities of any kind did not enter
into her scheme of life.
"How is Jimmy?" he asked.
"Brilliantly well. He's been at Eton for a long time, doing dreadfully
at work--he's a born dunce--and splendidly at play. How he would
appreciate you as you are now!"
She spoke with a gravity that was both careless and intense. He sat
down near her. In his letter asking to see her he had not told her
that he had a special object in writing to visit her. By her glance at
Brayfield's letter he knew that she had gathered it.
They talked of Jimmy for a few minutes; then Dion said:
"My regiment was brigaded with Lord Brayfield's for a time in South
Africa. I was in the action in which he was shot, poor chap. He saw me
and remembered that I was a--a friend of yours. When he was dying he
wanted to see me. I was sent for, and he gave me this letter for you.
He asked me to give it to you myself if I came back."
He bent down to her with the letter.
"Thank you," she said, and she took it without looking at all
surprised, and with her habitual composed gravity. "There are Turkish
cigarettes in that ivory box," she added, looking at a box on a table
As Dion turned to get a cigarette he heard her tearing Brayfield's
"Will you give me one?" said the husky voice.
Without saying anything he handed to her the box, and held a lighted
match to her cigarette when it was between the pale lips. She smoked
gently as she opened and read Brayfield's letter. When she had
finished it--evidently it was not a long letter--she put it back into
the envelope, laid it down on the green divan and said:
"What do you think of this room? It was designed and arranged by
Monsieur de Vaupre, a French friend of mine."
"By a man!" said Dion, irrepressibly.
"Who hasn't been in the South African War. Do you like it?"
"I don't think I do, but I admire it a good deal."
He was looking at the letter lying on the divan, and Brayfield was
before him, tormented and dying. He had always disliked the look of
Brayfield, but he had felt almost a sort of affection for him when he
was dying. Foolishly perhaps, Dion wanted Mrs. Clarke to say something
kind about Brayfield now.
"If you admire it, why don't you like it?" she asked. "A person--I
could understand; but a room!"
He looked at her and hesitated to acknowledge a feeling at which he
knew something in her would smile; then he thought of Rosamund and of
Little Cloisters and spoke out the truth.
"I think it's an unwholesome-looking room. It looks to me as if it had
been thought out and arranged by somebody with a beastly, though
"The inner room is worse," she said.
But she did not offer to show it to him, nor did she disagree with his
view. He even had the feeling that his blunt remark had pleased her.
He asked her about Constantinople. She lived there, she told him, all
through the spring and autumn, and spent the hottest months on the
"People are getting accustomed to my temerity," she said. "Of course
Esme Darlington is still in despair, and Lady Ermyntrude goes about
spreading scandal. But it doesn't seem to do much harm. She hasn't any
more influence over my husband. He won't hear a word against me. Like
a good dog, I suppose, he loves the hand which has beaten him."
"You've got a will of iron, I believe," said Dion.
She changed the subject.
"I don't ask you to tell me about South Africa," she said. "Because
you told me the whole story as soon as I came into the room. But what
are you going to do now? Settle down in the Church's bosom at
There was no sarcasm in her voice.
"Oh--I'm going back to business in a few days."
"You'll run up and down, I suppose."
"It's too far, an hour and a half each way. I shall have to be in
He spoke rather indecisively.
"I'm taking a fortnight's holiday, and then we shall settle down."
"I've been in Welsley," said Mrs. Clarke. "It's beautiful but, to me,
stifling. It has an atmosphere which would soon dry up my mind. All
the petals would curl up and go brown at the edges. I'm glad you're
not going to live there. But after South Africa you couldn't."
"I don't know. I find it very attractive," he said, instinctively on
the defensive because of Rosamund, who had not been attacked. "The
coziness and the peace of it are very delightful after all the--well,
of course, it was a pretty stiff life in South Africa."
Again he looked at Brayfield's letter. He wanted to tell Mrs. Clarke
about Brayfield, but it seemed she had no interest in the dead man.
While he was thinking this she quietly put out her hand, took the
letter, got up and dropped it into the fire among the blue flames from
the ship logs.
"I seldom keep letters," she said, "unless I have to answer them."
She turned round.
"I've kept yours," she said.
"The one I--it was awfully good of you to send me that telegram."
"So Allah had you in His hand."
"I don't know why when so many much better fellows----" He broke off,
and then he plunged into the matter of Brayfield. He could not go
without telling her, though hearing, perhaps, would not interest her.
All the time he was speaking she remained standing by the fire, with
her lovely little head slightly bending forward and her profile turned
towards him. The emaciation of her figure almost startled him. She
wore a black dress. It seemed to him a very simple dress. She could
have told him that such simplicity only comes from a few very good
dressmakers, and is only fully appreciated by a very few women.
Brayfield, though he was dying, had been very careful in what he had
said to Dion. In his pain he had shown that he had good blood in him.
He had not hinted even at any claim on Mrs. Clarke. But he had spoken
of a friendship which had meant very much to him, and had asked Dion,
if he ever had the opportunity, to tell Mrs. Clarke that when he was
dying she was the woman he was thinking about. He had not spoken
interestingly; he was not an interesting man; but he had spoken with
sincerity, with genuine feeling.
"She's a woman in a thousand," he had said. "Tell her I thought so
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