Part 1 out of 6
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By John Galsworthy
"Liberty's a glorious feast."--Burns.
One early April afternoon, in a Worcestershire field, the only
field in that immediate landscape which was not down in grass, a
man moved slowly athwart the furrows, sowing--a big man of heavy
build, swinging his hairy brown arm with the grace of strength. He
wore no coat or hat; a waistcoat, open over a blue-checked cotton
shirt, flapped against belted corduroys that were somewhat the
color of his square, pale-brown face and dusty hair. His eyes were
sad, with the swimming yet fixed stare of epileptics; his mouth
heavy-lipped, so that, but for the yearning eyes, the face would
have been almost brutal. He looked as if he suffered from silence.
The elm-trees bordering the field, though only just in leaf, showed
dark against a white sky. A light wind blew, carrying already a
scent from the earth and growth pushing up, for the year was early.
The green Malvern hills rose in the west; and not far away,
shrouded by trees, a long country house of weathered brick faced to
the south. Save for the man sowing, and some rooks crossing from
elm to elm, no life was visible in all the green land. And it was
quiet--with a strange, a brooding tranquillity. The fields and
hills seemed to mock the scars of road and ditch and furrow scraped
on them, to mock at barriers of hedge and wall--between the green
land and white sky was a conspiracy to disregard those small
activities. So lonely was it, so plunged in a ground-bass of
silence; so much too big and permanent for any figure of man.
Across and across the brown loam the laborer doggedly finished out
his task; scattered the few last seeds into a corner, and stood
still. Thrushes and blackbirds were just beginning that even-song
whose blitheness, as nothing else on earth, seems to promise youth
forever to the land. He picked up his coat, slung it on, and,
heaving a straw bag over his shoulder, walked out on to the grass-
bordered road between the elms.
"Tryst! Bob Tryst!"
At the gate of a creepered cottage amongst fruit-trees, high above
the road, a youth with black hair and pale-brown face stood beside
a girl with frizzy brown hair and cheeks like poppies.
"Have you had that notice?"
The laborer answered slowly:
"Yes, Mr. Derek. If she don't go, I've got to."
"What a d--d shame!"
The laborer moved his head, as though he would have spoken, but no
"Don't do anything, Bob. We'll see about that."
"Evenin', Mr. Derek. Evenin', Miss Sheila," and the laborer moved
The two at the wicket gate also turned away. A black-haired woman
dressed in blue came to the wicket gate in their place. There
seemed no purpose in her standing there; it was perhaps an evening
custom, some ceremony such as Moslems observe at the muezzin-call.
And any one who saw her would have wondered what on earth she might
be seeing, gazing out with her dark glowing eyes above the white,
grass-bordered roads stretching empty this way and that between the
elm-trees and green fields; while the blackbirds and thrushes
shouted out their hearts, calling all to witness how hopeful and
young was life in this English countryside. . . .
Mayday afternoon in Oxford Street, and Felix Freeland, a little
late, on his way from Hampstead to his brother John's house in
Porchester Gardens. Felix Freeland, author, wearing the very first
gray top hat of the season. A compromise, that--like many other
things in his life and works--between individuality and the
accepted view of things, aestheticism and fashion, the critical
sense and authority. After the meeting at John's, to discuss the
doings of the family of his brother Morton Freeland--better known
as Tod--he would perhaps look in on the caricatures at the English
Gallery, and visit one duchess in Mayfair, concerning the George
Richard Memorial. And so, not the soft felt hat which really
suited authorship, nor the black top hat which obliterated
personality to the point of pain, but this gray thing with
narrowish black band, very suitable, in truth, to a face of a pale
buff color, to a moustache of a deep buff color streaked with a few
gray hairs, to a black braided coat cut away from a buff-colored
waistcoat, to his neat boots--not patent leather--faintly buffed
with May-day dust. Even his eyes, Freeland gray, were a little
buffed over by sedentary habit, and the number of things that he
was conscious of. For instance, that the people passing him were
distressingly plain, both men and women; plain with the particular
plainness of those quite unaware of it. It struck him forcibly,
while he went along, how very queer it was that with so many plain
people in the country, the population managed to keep up even as
well as it did. To his wonderfully keen sense of defect, it seemed
little short of marvellous. A shambling, shoddy crew, this crowd
of shoppers and labor demonstrators! A conglomeration of
hopelessly mediocre visages! What was to be done about it? Ah!
what indeed!--since they were evidently not aware of their own
dismal mediocrity. Hardly a beautiful or a vivid face, hardly a
wicked one, never anything transfigured, passionate, terrible, or
grand. Nothing Greek, early Italian, Elizabethan, not even beefy,
beery, broad old Georgian. Something clutched-in, and squashed-out
about it all--on that collective face something of the look of a
man almost comfortably and warmly wrapped round by a snake at the
very beginning of its squeeze. It gave Felix Freeland a sort of
faint excitement and pleasure to notice this. For it was his
business to notice things, and embalm them afterward in ink. And
he believed that not many people noticed it, so that it contributed
in his mind to his own distinction, which was precious to him.
Precious, and encouraged to be so by the press, which--as he well
knew--must print his name several thousand times a year. And yet,
as a man of culture and of principle, how he despised that kind of
fame, and theoretically believed that a man's real distinction lay
in his oblivion of the world's opinion, particularly as expressed
by that flighty creature, the Fourth Estate. But here again, as in
the matter of the gray top hat, he had instinctively compromised,
taking in press cuttings which described himself and his works,
while he never failed to describe those descriptions--good, bad,
and indifferent--as 'that stuff,' and their writers as 'those
Not that it was new to him to feel that the country was in a bad
way. On the contrary, it was his established belief, and one for
which he was prepared to furnish due and proper reasons. In the
first place he traced it to the horrible hold Industrialism had in
the last hundred years laid on the nation, draining the peasantry
from 'the Land'; and in the second place to the influence of a
narrow and insidious Officialism, sapping the independence of the
This was why, in going to a conclave with his brother John, high in
Government employ, and his brother Stanley, a captain of industry,
possessor of the Morton Plough Works, he was conscious of a certain
superiority in that he, at all events, had no hand in this
paralysis which was creeping on the country.
And getting more buff-colored every minute, he threaded his way on,
till, past the Marble Arch, he secured the elbow-room of Hyde Park.
Here groups of young men, with chivalrous idealism, were jeering at
and chivying the broken remnants of a suffrage meeting. Felix
debated whether he should oppose his body to their bodies, his
tongue to theirs, or whether he should avert his consciousness and
hurry on; but, that instinct which moved him to wear the gray top
hat prevailing, he did neither, and stood instead, looking at them
in silent anger, which quickly provoked endearments--such as: "Take
it off," or "Keep it on," or "What cheer, Toppy!" but nothing more
acute. And he meditated: Culture! Could culture ever make
headway among the blind partisanships, the hand-to-mouth mentality,
the cheap excitements of this town life? The faces of these
youths, the tone of their voices, the very look of their bowler
hats, said: No! You could not culturalize the impermeable texture
of their vulgarity. And they were the coming manhood of the
nation--this inexpressibly distasteful lot of youths! The country
had indeed got too far away from 'the Land.' And this essential
towny commonness was not confined to the classes from which these
youths were drawn. He had even remarked it among his own son's
school and college friends--an impatience of discipline, an
insensibility to everything but excitement and having a good time,
a permanent mental indigestion due to a permanent diet of tit-bits.
What aspiration they possessed seemed devoted to securing for
themselves the plums of official or industrial life. His boy Alan,
even, was infected, in spite of home influences and the atmosphere
of art in which he had been so sedulously soaked. He wished to
enter his Uncle Stanley's plough works, seeing in it a 'soft
But the last of the woman-baiters had passed by now, and, conscious
that he was really behind time, Felix hurried on. . . .
In his study--a pleasant room, if rather tidy--John Freeland was
standing before the fire smoking a pipe and looking thoughtfully at
nothing. He was, in fact, thinking, with that continuity
characteristic of a man who at fifty has won for himself a place of
permanent importance in the Home Office. Starting life in the
Royal Engineers, he still preserved something of a military look
about his figure, and grave visage with steady eyes and drooping
moustache (both a shade grayer than those of Felix), and a forehead
bald from justness and knowing where to lay his hand on papers.
His face was thinner, his head narrower, than his brother's, and he
had acquired a way of making those he looked at doubt themselves
and feel the sudden instability of all their facts. He was--as has
been said--thinking. His brother Stanley had wired to him that
morning: "Am motoring up to-day on business; can you get Felix to
come at six o'clock and talk over the position at Tod's?" What
position at Tod's? He had indeed heard something vague--of those
youngsters of Tod's, and some fuss they were making about the
laborers down there. He had not liked it. Too much of a piece
with the general unrest, and these new democratic ideas that were
playing old Harry with the country! For in his opinion the country
was in a bad way, partly owing to Industrialism, with its rotting
effect upon physique; partly to this modern analytic
Intellectualism, with its destructive and anarchic influence on
morals. It was difficult to overestimate the mischief of those two
factors; and in the approaching conference with his brothers, one
of whom was the head of an industrial undertaking, and the other a
writer, whose books, extremely modern, he never read, he was
perhaps vaguely conscious of his own cleaner hands. Hearing a car
come to a halt outside, he went to the window and looked out. Yes,
it was Stanley! . . .
Stanley Freeland, who had motored up from Becket--his country
place, close to his plough works in Worcestershire--stood a moment
on the pavement, stretching his long legs and giving directions to
his chauffeur. He had been stopped twice on the road for not-
exceeding the limit as he believed, and was still a little ruffled.
Was it not his invariable principle to be moderate in speed as in
all other things? And his feeling at the moment was stronger even
than usual, that the country was in a bad way, eaten up by
officialism, with its absurd limitations of speed and the liberty
of the subject, and the advanced ideas of these new writers and
intellectuals, always talking about the rights and sufferings of
the poor. There was no progress along either of those roads. He
had it in his heart, as he stood there on the pavement, to say
something pretty definite to John about interference with the
liberty of the subject, and he wouldn't mind giving old Felix a rap
about his precious destructive doctrines, and continual girding at
the upper classes, vested interests, and all the rest of it. If he
had something to put in their place that would be another matter.
Capital and those who controlled it were the backbone of the
country--what there was left of the country, apart from these d--d
officials and aesthetic fellows! And with a contraction of his
straight eyebrows above his straight gray eyes, straight blunt
nose, blunter moustaches, and blunt chin, he kept a tight rein on
his blunt tongue, not choosing to give way even to his own anger.
Then, perceiving Felix coming--'in a white topper, by Jove!'--he
crossed the pavement to the door; and, tall, square, personable,
rang the bell.
"Well, what's the matter at Tod's?"
And Felix moved a little forward in his chair, his eyes fixed with
interest on Stanley, who was about to speak.
"It's that wife of his, of course. It was all very well so long as
she confined herself to writing, and talk, and that Land Society,
or whatever it was she founded, the one that snuffed out the other
day; but now she's getting herself and those two youngsters mixed up
in our local broils, and really I think Tod's got to be spoken to."
"It's impossible for a husband to interfere with his wife's
principles." So Felix.
"Principles!" The word came from John.
"Certainly! Kirsteen's a woman of great character; revolutionary
by temperament. Why should you expect her to act as you would act
When Felix had said that, there was a silence.
Then Stanley muttered: "Poor old Tod!"
Felix sighed, lost for a moment in his last vision of his youngest
brother. It was four years ago now, a summer evening--Tod standing
between his youngsters Derek and Sheila, in a doorway of his white,
black-timbered, creepered cottage, his sunburnt face and blue eyes
the serenest things one could see in a day's march!
"Why 'poor'?" he said. "Tod's much happier than we are. You've
only to look at him."
"Ah!" said Stanley suddenly. "D'you remember him at Father's
funeral?--without his hat, and his head in the clouds. Fine-
lookin' chap, old Tod--pity he's such a child of Nature."
Felix said quietly:
"If you'd offered him a partnership, Stanley--it would have been
the making of him."
"Tod in the plough works? My hat!"
Felix smiled. At sight of that smile, Stanley grew red, and John
refilled his pipe. It is always the devil to have a brother more
sarcastic than oneself!
"How old are those two?" John said abruptly.
"Sheila's twenty, Derek nineteen."
"I thought the boy was at an agricultural college?"
"What's he like?"
"A black-haired, fiery fellow, not a bit like Tod."
John muttered: "That's her Celtic blood. Her father, old Colonel
Moray, was just that sort; by George, he was a regular black
Highlander. What's the trouble exactly?"
It was Stanley who answered: "That sort of agitation business is
all very well until it begins to affect your neighbors; then it's
time it stopped. You know the Mallorings who own all the land
round Tod's. Well, they've fallen foul of the Mallorings over what
they call injustice to some laborers. Questions of morality
involved. I don't know all the details. A man's got notice to
quit over his deceased wife's sister; and some girl or other in
another cottage has kicked over--just ordinary country incidents.
What I want is that Tod should be made to see that his family
mustn't quarrel with his nearest neighbors in this way. We know
the Mallorings well, they're only seven miles from us at Becket.
It doesn't do; sooner or later it plays the devil all round. And
the air's full of agitation about the laborers and 'the Land,' and
all the rest of it--only wants a spark to make real trouble."
And having finished this oration, Stanley thrust his hands deep
into his pockets, and jingled the money that was there.
John said abruptly:
"Felix, you'd better go down."
Felix was sitting back, his eyes for once withdrawn from his
"Odd," he said, "really odd, that with a perfectly unique person
like Tod for a brother, we only see him once in a blue moon."
"It's because he IS so d--d unique."
Felix got up and gravely extended his hand to Stanley.
"By Jove," he said, "you've spoken truth." And to John he added:
"Well, I WILL go, and let you know the upshot."
When he had departed, the two elder brothers remained for some
moments silent, then Stanley said:
"Old Felix is a bit tryin'! With the fuss they make of him in the
papers, his head's swelled!"
John did not answer. One could not in so many words resent one's
own brother being made a fuss of, and if it had been for something
real, such as discovering the source of the Black River, conquering
Bechuanaland, curing Blue-mange, or being made a Bishop, he would
have been the first and most loyal in his appreciation; but for the
sort of thing Felix made up--Fiction, and critical, acid,
destructive sort of stuff, pretending to show John Freeland things
that he hadn't seen before--as if Felix could!--not at all the
jolly old romance which one could read well enough and enjoy till
it sent you to sleep after a good day's work. No! that Felix
should be made a fuss of for such work as that really almost hurt
him. It was not quite decent, violating deep down one's sense of
form, one's sense of health, one's traditions. Though he would not
have admitted it, he secretly felt, too, that this fuss was
dangerous to his own point of view, which was, of course, to him
the only real one. And he merely said:
"Will you stay to dinner, Stan?"
If John had those sensations about Felix, so--when he was away from
John--had Felix about himself. He had never quite grown out of the
feeling that to make himself conspicuous in any way was bad form.
In common with his three brothers he had been through the mills of
gentility--those unique grinding machines of education only found
in his native land. Tod, to be sure, had been publicly sacked at
the end of his third term, for climbing on to the headmaster's roof
and filling up two of his chimneys with football pants, from which
he had omitted to remove his name. Felix still remembered the
august scene--the horrid thrill of it, the ominous sound of that:
"Freeland minimus!" the ominous sight of poor little Tod emerging
from his obscurity near the roof of the Speech Room, and descending
all those steps. How very small and rosy he had looked, his bright
hair standing on end, and his little blue eyes staring up very hard
from under a troubled frown. And the august hand holding up those
sooty pants, and the august voice: "These appear to be yours,
Freeland minimus. Were you so good as to put them down my
chinmeys?" And the little piping, "Yes, sir."
"May I ask why, Freeland minimus?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You must have had some reason, Freeland minimus?"
"It was the end of term, sir."
"Ah! You must not come back here, Freeland minimus. You are too
dangerous, to yourself, and others. Go to your place."
And poor little Tod ascending again all those steps, cheeks more
terribly rosy than ever, eyes bluer, from under a still more
troubled frown; little mouth hard set; and breathing so that you
could hear him six forms off. True, the new Head had been goaded
by other outrages, the authors of which had not omitted to remove
their names; but the want of humor, the amazing want of humor! As
if it had not been a sign of first-rate stuff in Tod! And to this
day Felix remembered with delight the little bubbling hiss that he
himself had started, squelched at once, but rippling out again
along the rows like tiny scattered lines of fire when a
conflagration is suppressed. Expulsion had been the salvation of
Tod! Or--his damnation? Which? God would know, but Felix was not
certain. Having himself been fifteen years acquiring 'Mill'
philosophy, and another fifteen years getting rid of it, he had now
begun to think that after all there might be something in it. A
philosophy that took everything, including itself, at face value,
and questioned nothing, was sedative to nerves too highly strung by
the continual examination of the insides of oneself and others,
with a view to their alteration. Tod, of course, having been sent
to Germany after his expulsion, as one naturally would be, and then
put to farming, had never properly acquired 'Mill' manner, and
never sloughed it off; and yet he was as sedative a man as you
Emerging from the Tube station at Hampstead, he moved toward home
under a sky stranger than one might see in a whole year of
evenings. Between the pine-trees on the ridge it was opaque and
colored like pinkish stone, and all around violent purple with
flames of the young green, and white spring blossom lit against it.
Spring had been dull and unimaginative so far, but this evening it
was all fire and gathered torrents; Felix wondered at the waiting
passion of that sky.
He reached home just as those torrents began to fall.
The old house, beyond the Spaniard's Road, save for mice and a
faint underlying savor of wood-rot in two rooms, well satisfied the
aesthetic sense. Felix often stood in his hall, study, bedroom,
and other apartments, admiring the rich and simple glow of them--
admiring the rarity and look of studied negligence about the
stuffs, the flowers, the books, the furniture, the china; and then
quite suddenly the feeling would sweep over him: "By George, do I
really own all this, when my ideal is 'bread and water, and on
feast days a little bit of cheese'?" True, he was not to blame for
the niceness of his things--Flora did it; but still--there they
were, a little hard to swallow for an epicurean. It might, of
course, have been worse, for if Flora had a passion for collecting,
it was a very chaste one, and though what she collected cost no
little money, it always looked as if it had been inherited, and--as
everybody knows--what has been inherited must be put up with,
whether it be a coronet or a cruet-stand.
To collect old things, and write poetry! It was a career; one
would not have one's wife otherwise. She might, for instance, have
been like Stanley's wife, Clara, whose career was wealth and
station; or John's wife, Anne, whose career had been cut short; or
even Tod's wife, Kirsteen, whose career was revolution. No--a wife
who had two, and only two children, and treated them with
affectionate surprise, who was never out of temper, never in a
hurry, knew the points of a book or play, could cut your hair at a
pinch; whose hand was dry, figure still good, verse tolerable, and--
above all--who wished for no better fate than Fate had given her--
was a wife not to be sneezed at. And Felix never had. He had
depicted so many sneezing wives and husbands in his books, and knew
the value of a happy marriage better perhaps than any one in
England. He had laid marriage low a dozen times, wrecked it on all
sorts of rocks, and had the greater veneration for his own, which
had begun early, manifested every symptom of ending late, and in
the meantime walked down the years holding hands fast, and by no
means forgetting to touch lips.
Hanging up the gray top hat, he went in search of her. He found
her in his dressing-room, surrounded by a number of little bottles,
which she was examining vaguely, and putting one by one into an
'inherited' waste-paper basket. Having watched her for a little
while with a certain pleasure, he said:
"Yes, my dear?"
Noticing his presence, and continuing to put bottles into the
basket, she answered:
"I thought I must--they're what dear Mother's given us."
There they lay--little bottles filled with white and brown fluids,
white and blue and brown powders; green and brown and yellow
ointments; black lozenges; buff plasters; blue and pink and purple
pills. All beautifully labelled and corked.
And he said in a rather faltering voice:
"Bless her! How she does give her things away! Haven't we used
"Not one. And they have to be cleared away before they're stale,
for fear we might take one by mistake."
"My dear, she's found something newer than them all by now."
"The nomadic spirit. I have it, too!"
And a sudden vision came to him of his mother's carved ivory face,
kept free of wrinkles by sheer will-power, its firm chin, slightly
aquiline nose, and measured brows; its eyes that saw everything so
quickly, so fastidiously, its compressed mouth that smiled sweetly,
with a resolute but pathetic acceptation. Of the piece of fine
lace, sometimes black, sometimes white, over her gray hair. Of her
hands, so thin now, always moving a little, as if all the composure
and care not to offend any eye by allowing Time to ravage her face,
were avenging themselves in that constant movement. Of her figure,
that was short but did not seem so, still quick-moving, still
alert, and always dressed in black or gray. A vision of that
exact, fastidious, wandering spirit called Frances Fleeming
Freeland--that spirit strangely compounded of domination and
humility, of acceptation and cynicism; precise and actual to the
point of desert dryness; generous to a point that caused her family
to despair; and always, beyond all things, brave.
Flora dropped the last little bottle, and sitting on the edge of
the bath let her eyebrows rise. How pleasant was that impersonal
humor which made her superior to other wives!
"Mother travels unceasingly from place to place, person to person,
thing to thing. I travel unceasingly from motive to motive, mind
to mind; my native air is also desert air--hence the sterility of
Flora rose, but her eyebrows descended.
"Your work," she said, "is not sterile."
"That, my dear," said Felix, "is prejudice." And perceiving that
she was going to kiss him, he waited without annoyance. For a
woman of forty-two, with two children and three books of poems--and
not knowing which had taken least out of her--with hazel-gray eyes,
wavy eyebrows darker than they should have been, a glint of red in
her hair; wavy figure and lips; quaint, half-humorous indolence,
quaint, half-humorous warmth--was she not as satisfactory a woman
as a man could possibly have married!
"I have got to go down and see Tod," he said. "I like that wife of
his; but she has no sense of humor. How much better principles are
in theory than in practice!"
Flora repeated softly, as if to herself:
"I'm glad I have none." She was at the window leaning out, and
Felix took his place beside her. The air was full of scent from
wet leaves, alive with the song of birds thanking the sky.
Suddenly he felt her arm round his ribs; either it or they--which,
he could not at the moment tell--seemed extraordinarily soft. . . .
Between Felix and his young daughter, Nedda, there existed the only
kind of love, except a mother's, which has much permanence--love
based on mutual admiration. Though why Nedda, with her starry
innocence, should admire him, Felix could never understand, not
realizing that she read his books, and even analyzed them for
herself in the diary which she kept religiously, writing it when
she ought to have been asleep. He had therefore no knowledge of
the way his written thoughts stimulated the ceaseless questioning
that was always going on within her; the thirst to know why this
was and that was not. Why, for instance, her heart ached so some
days and felt light and eager other days? Why, when people wrote
and talked of God, they seemed to know what He was, and she never
did? Why people had to suffer; and the world be black to so many
millions? Why one could not love more than one man at a time?
Why--a thousand things? Felix's books supplied no answers to these
questions, but they were comforting; for her real need as yet was
not for answers, but ever for more questions, as a young bird's
need is for opening its beak without quite knowing what is coming
out or going in. When she and her father walked, or sat, or went
to concerts together, their talk was neither particularly intimate
nor particularly voluble; they made to each other no great
confidences. Yet each was certain that the other was not bored--a
great thing; and they squeezed each other's little fingers a good
deal--very warming. Now with his son Alan, Felix had a continual
sensation of having to keep up to a mark and never succeeding--a
feeling, as in his favorite nightmare, of trying to pass an
examination for which he had neglected to prepare; of having to
preserve, in fact, form proper to the father of Alan Freeland.
With Nedda he had a sense of refreshment; the delight one has on a
spring day, watching a clear stream, a bank of flowers, birds
flying. And Nedda with her father--what feeling had she? To be
with him was like a long stroking with a touch of tickle in it; to
read his books, a long tickle with a nice touch of stroking now and
then when one was not expecting it.
That night after dinner, when Alan had gone out and Flora into a
dream, she snuggled up alongside her father, got hold of his little
finger, and whispered:
"Come into the garden, Dad; I'll put on goloshes. It's an awfully
The moon indeed was palest gold behind the pines, so that its
radiance was a mere shower of pollen, just a brushing of white
moth-down over the reeds of their little dark pond, and the black
blur of the flowering currant bushes. And the young lime-trees,
not yet in full leaf, quivered ecstatically in that moon-witchery,
still letting fall raindrops of the past spring torrent, with soft
hissing sounds. A real sense in the garden, of God holding his
breath in the presence of his own youth swelling, growing,
trembling toward perfection! Somewhere a bird--a thrush, they
thought--mixed in its little mind as to night and day, was queerly
chirruping. And Felix and his daughter went along the dark wet
paths, holding each other's arms, not talking much. For, in him,
very responsive to the moods of Nature, there was a flattered
feeling, with that young arm in his, of Spring having chosen to
confide in him this whispering, rustling hour. And in Nedda was so
much of that night's unutterable youth--no wonder she was silent!
Then, somehow--neither responsible--they stood motionless. How
quiet it was, but for a distant dog or two, and the stilly
shivering-down of the water drops, and the far vibration of the
million-voiced city! How quiet and soft and fresh! Then Nedda
"Dad, I do so want to know everything."
Not rousing even a smile, with its sublime immodesty, that
aspiration seemed to Felix infinitely touching. What less could
youth want in the very heart of Spring? And, watching her face put
up to the night, her parted lips, and the moon-gleam fingering her
white throat, he answered:
"It'll all come soon enough, my pretty!"
To think that she must come to an end like the rest, having found
out almost nothing, having discovered just herself, and the
particle of God that was within her! But he could not, of course,
"I want to FEEL. Can't I begin?"
How many millions of young creatures all the world over were
sending up that white prayer to climb and twine toward the stars,
and--fall to earth again! And nothing to be answered, but:
"Time enough, Nedda!"
"But, Dad, there are such heaps of things, such heaps of people,
and reasons, and--and life; and I know nothing. Dreams are the
only times, it seems to me, that one finds out anything."
"As for that, my child, I am exactly in your case. What's to be
done for us?"
She slid her hand through his arm again.
"Don't laugh at me!"
"Heaven forbid! I meant it. You're finding out much quicker than
I. It's all folk-music to you still; to me Strauss and the rest of
the tired stuff. The variations my mind spins--wouldn't I just
swap them for the tunes your mind is making?"
"I don't seem making tunes at all. I don't seem to have anything
to make them of. Take me down to see 'the Tods,' Dad!"
Why not? And yet--! Just as in this spring night Felix felt so
much, so very much, lying out there behind the still and moony
dark, such marvellous holding of breath and waiting sentiency, so
behind this innocent petition, he could not help the feeling of a
lurking fatefulness. That was absurd. And he said: "If you wish
it, by all means. You'll like your Uncle Tod; as to the others, I
can't say, but your aunt is an experience, and experiences are what
you want, it seems."
Fervently, without speech, Nedda squeezed his arm.
Stanley Freeland's country house, Becket, was almost a show place.
It stood in its park and pastures two miles from the little town of
Transham and the Morton Plough Works; close to the ancestral home
of the Moretons, his mother's family--that home burned down by
Roundheads in the Civil War. The site--certain vagaries in the
ground--Mrs. Stanley had caused to be walled round, and consecrated
so to speak with a stone medallion on which were engraved the aged
Moreton arms--arrows and crescent moons in proper juxtaposition.
Peacocks, too--that bird 'parlant,' from the old Moreton crest--
were encouraged to dwell there and utter their cries, as of
passionate souls lost in too comfortable surroundings.
By one of those freaks of which Nature is so prodigal, Stanley--
owner of this native Moreton soil--least of all four Freeland
brothers, had the Moreton cast of mind and body. That was why he
made so much more money than the other three put together, and had
been able, with the aid of Clara's undoubted genius for rank and
station, to restore a strain of Moreton blood to its rightful
position among the county families of Worcestershire. Bluff and
without sentiment, he himself set little store by that, smiling up
his sleeve--for he was both kindly and prudent--at his wife who had
been a Tomson. It was not in Stanley to appreciate the peculiar
flavor of the Moretons, that something which in spite of their
naivete and narrowness, had really been rather fine. To him, such
Moretons as were left were 'dry enough sticks, clean out of it.'
They were of a breed that was already gone, the simplest of all
country gentlemen, dating back to the Conquest, without one
solitary conspicuous ancestor, save the one who had been physician
to a king and perished without issue--marrying from generation to
generation exactly their own equals; living simple, pious,
parochial lives; never in trade, never making money, having a
tradition and a practice of gentility more punctilious than the so-
called aristocracy; constitutionally paternal and maternal to their
dependents, constitutionally so convinced that those dependents and
all indeed who were not 'gentry,' were of different clay, that they
were entirely simple and entirely without arrogance, carrying with
them even now a sort of Early atmosphere of archery and home-made
cordials, lavender and love of clergy, together with frequent use
of the word 'nice,' a peculiar regularity of feature, and a
complexion that was rather parchmenty. High Church people and
Tories, naturally, to a man and woman, by sheer inbred absence of
ideas, and sheer inbred conviction that nothing else was nice; but
withal very considerate of others, really plucky in bearing their
own ills; not greedy, and not wasteful.
Of Becket, as it now was, they would not have approved at all. By
what chance Edmund Moreton (Stanley's mother's grandfather), in the
middle of the eighteenth century, had suddenly diverged from family
feeling and ideals, and taken that 'not quite nice' resolution to
make ploughs and money, would never now be known. The fact
remained, together with the plough works. A man apparently of
curious energy and character, considering his origin, he had
dropped the E from his name, and--though he continued the family
tradition so far as to marry a Fleeming of Worcestershire, to be
paternal to his workmen, to be known as Squire, and to bring his
children up in the older Moreton 'niceness'--he had yet managed to
make his ploughs quite celebrated, to found a little town, and die
still handsome and clean-shaved at the age of sixty-six. Of his
four sons, only two could be found sufficiently without the E to go
on making ploughs. Stanley's grandfather, Stuart Morton, indeed,
had tried hard, but in the end had reverted to the congenital
instinct for being just a Moreton. An extremely amiable man, he
took to wandering with his family, and died in France, leaving one
daughter--Frances, Stanley's mother--and three sons, one of whom,
absorbed in horses, wandered to Australia and was killed by falling
from them; one of whom, a soldier, wandered to India, and the
embraces of a snake; and one of whom wandered into the embraces of
the Holy Roman Church.
The Morton Plough Works were dry and dwindling when Stanley's
father, seeking an opening for his son, put him and money into
them. From that moment they had never looked back, and now brought
Stanley, the sole proprietor, an income of full fifteen thousand
pounds a year. He wanted it. For Clara, his wife, had that energy
of aspiration which before now has raised women to positions of
importance in the counties which are not their own, and caused,
incidentally, many acres to go out of cultivation. Not one plough
was used on the whole of Becket, not even a Morton plough--these
indeed were unsuitable to English soil and were all sent abroad.
It was the corner-stone of his success that Stanley had completely
seen through the talked-of revival of English agriculture, and
sedulously cultivated the foreign market. This was why the Becket
dining-room could contain without straining itself large quantities
of local magnates and celebrities from London, all deploring the
condition of 'the Land,' and discussing without end the regrettable
position of the agricultural laborer. Except for literary men and
painters, present in small quantities to leaven the lump, Becket
was, in fact, a rallying point for the advanced spirits of Land
Reform--one of those places where they were sure of being well done
at week-ends, and of congenial and even stimulating talk about the
undoubted need for doing something, and the designs which were
being entertained upon 'the Land' by either party. This very heart
of English country that the old Moretons in their paternal way had
so religiously farmed, making out of its lush grass and waving corn
a simple and by no means selfish or ungenerous subsistence, was now
entirely lawns, park, coverts, and private golf course, together
with enough grass to support the kine which yielded that continual
stream of milk necessary to Clara's entertainments and children,
all female, save little Francis, and still of tender years. Of
gardeners, keepers, cow-men, chauffeurs, footmen, stablemen--full
twenty were supported on those fifteen hundred acres that formed
the little Becket demesne. Of agricultural laborers proper--that
vexed individual so much in the air, so reluctant to stay on 'the
Land,' and so difficult to house when he was there, there were
fortunately none, so that it was possible for Stanley, whose wife
meant him to 'put up' for the Division, and his guests, who were
frequently in Parliament, to hold entirely unbiassed and impersonal
views upon the whole question so long as they were at Becket.
It was beautiful there, too, with the bright open fields hedged
with great elms, and that ever-rich serenity of its grass and
trees. The white house, timbered with dark beams in true
Worcestershire fashion, and added-to from time to time, had
preserved, thanks to a fine architect, an old-fashioned air of
spacious presidency above its gardens and lawns. On the long
artificial lake, with innumerable rushy nooks and water-lilies and
coverture of leaves floating flat and bright in the sun, the half-
tame wild duck and shy water-hens had remote little worlds, and
flew and splashed when all Becket was abed, quite as if the human
spirit, with its monkey-tricks and its little divine flame, had not
yet been born.
Under the shade of a copper-beech, just where the drive cut through
into its circle before the house, an old lady was sitting that
afternoon on a campstool. She was dressed in gray alpaca, light
and cool, and had on her iron-gray hair a piece of black lace. A
number of Hearth and Home and a little pair of scissors, suspended
by an inexpensive chain from her waist, rested on her knee, for she
had been meaning to cut out for dear Felix a certain recipe for
keeping the head cool; but, as a fact, she sat without doing so,
very still, save that, now and then, she compressed her pale fine
lips, and continually moved her pale fine hands. She was evidently
waiting for something that promised excitement, even pleasure, for
a little rose-leaf flush had quavered up into a face that was
colored like parchment; and her gray eyes under regular and still-
dark brows, very far apart, between which there was no semblance of
a wrinkle, seemed noting little definite things about her, almost
unwillingly, as an Arab's or a Red Indian's eyes will continue to
note things in the present, however their minds may be set on the
future. So sat Frances Fleeming Freeland (nee Morton) waiting for
the arrival of her son Felix and her grandchildren Alan and Nedda.
She marked presently an old man limping slowly on a stick toward
where the drive debouched, and thought at once: "He oughtn't to be
coming this way. I expect he doesn't know the way round to the
back. Poor man, he's very lame. He looks respectable, too." She
got up and went toward him, remarking that his face with nice gray
moustaches was wonderfully regular, almost like a gentleman's, and
that he touched his dusty hat with quite old-fashioned courtesy.
And smiling--her smile was sweet but critical--she said: "You'll
find the best way is to go back to that little path, and past the
greenhouses. Have you hurt your leg?"
"My leg's been like that, m'm, fifteen year come Michaelmas."
"How did it happen?"
"Ploughin'. The bone was injured; an' now they say the muscle's
dried up in a manner of speakin'."
"What do you do for it? The very best thing is this."
From the recesses of a deep pocket, placed where no one else wore
such a thing, she brought out a little pot.
"You must let me give it you. Put it on when you go to bed, and
rub it well in; you'll find it act splendidly."
The old man took the little pot with dubious reverence.
"Yes, m'm," he said; "thank you, m'm."
"What is your name?"
"And where do you live?"
"Over to Joyfields, m'm."
"Joyfields--another of my sons lives there--Mr. Morton Freeland.
But it's seven miles."
"I got a lift half-way."
"And have you business at the house?" The old man was silent; the
downcast, rather cynical look of his lined face deepened. And
Frances Freeland thought: 'He's overtired. They must give him some
tea and an egg. What can he want, coming all this way? He's
evidently not a beggar.'
The old man who was not a beggar spoke suddenly:
"I know the Mr. Freeland at Joyfields. He's a good gentleman,
"Yes, he is. I wonder I don't know you."
"I'm not much about, owin' to my leg. It's my grand-daughter in
service here, I come to see."
"Oh, yes! What is her name?"
"Gaunt her name is."
"I shouldn't know her by her surname."
"Ah! in the kitchen; a nice, pretty girl. I hope you're not in
Again the old man was silent, and again spoke suddenly:
"That's as you look at it, m'm," he said. "I've got a matter of a
few words to have with her about the family. Her father he
couldn't come, so I come instead."
"And how are you going to get back?"
"I'll have to walk, I expect, without I can pick up with a cart."
Frances Freeland compressed her lips. "With that leg you should
have come by train."
The old man smiled.
"I hadn't the fare like," he said. "I only gets five shillin's a
week, from the council, and two o' that I pays over to my son."
Frances Freeland thrust her hand once more into that deep pocket,
and as she did so she noticed that the old man's left boot was
flapping open, and that there were two buttons off his coat. Her
mind was swiftly calculating: "It is more than seven weeks to
quarter day. Of course I can't afford it, but I must just give him
She withdrew her hand from the recesses of her pocket and looked at
the old man's nose. It was finely chiselled, and the same yellow
as his face. "It looks nice, and quite sober," she thought. In
her hand was her purse and a boot-lace. She took out a sovereign.
"Now, if I give you this," she said, "you must promise me not to
spend any of it in the public-house. And this is for your boot.
And you must go back by train. And get those buttons sewn on your
coat. And tell cook, from me, please, to give you some tea and an
egg." And noticing that he took the sovereign and the boot-lace
very respectfully, and seemed altogether very respectable, and not
at all coarse or beery-looking, she said:
"Good-by; don't forget to rub what I gave you into your leg every
night and every morning," and went back to her camp-stool. Sitting
down on it with the scissors in her hand, she still did not cut out
that recipe, but remained as before, taking in small, definite
things, and feeling with an inner trembling that dear Felix and
Alan and Nedda would soon be here; and the little flush rose again
in her cheeks, and again her lips and hands moved, expressing and
compressing what was in her heart. And close behind her, a
peacock, straying from the foundations of the old Moreton house,
uttered a cry, and moved slowly, spreading its tail under the low-
hanging boughs of the copper-beeches, as though it knew those dark
burnished leaves were the proper setting for its 'parlant'
The day after the little conference at John's, Felix had indeed
received the following note:
"When you go down to see old Tod, why not put up with us at Becket?
Any time will suit, and the car can take you over to Joyfields when
you like. Give the pen a rest. Clara joins in hoping you'll come,
and Mother is still here. No use, I suppose, to ask Flora.
During the twenty years of his brother's sojourn there Felix had
been down to Becket perhaps once a year, and latterly alone; for
Flora, having accompanied him the first few times, had taken a firm
"My dear," she said, "I feel all body there."
Felix had rejoined:
"No bad thing, once in a way."
But Flora had remained firm. Life was too short! She did not get
on well with Clara. Neither did Felix feel too happy in his
sister-in-law's presence; but the gray top-hat instinct had kept
him going there, for one ought to keep in touch with one's
He replied to Stanley:
"Delighted; if I may bring my two youngsters. We'll arrive to-
morrow at four-fifty.
Travelling with Nedda was always jolly; one could watch her eyes
noting, inquiring, and when occasion served, have one's little
finger hooked in and squeezed. Travelling with Alan was
convenient, the young man having a way with railways which Felix
himself had long despaired of acquiring. Neither of the children
had ever been at Becket, and though Alan was seldom curious, and
Nedda too curious about everything to be specially so about this,
yet Felix experienced in their company the sensations of a new
Arrived at Transham, that little town upon a hill which the Morton
Plough Works had created, they were soon in Stanley's car, whirling
into the sleepy peace of a Worcestershire afternoon. Would this
young bird nestling up against him echo Flora's verdict: 'I feel
all body there!' or would she take to its fatted luxury as a duck
to water? And he said: "By the way, your aunt's 'Bigwigs' set in
on a Saturday. Are you for staying and seeing the lions feed, or
do we cut back?"
From Alan he got the answer he expected:
"If there's golf or something, I suppose we can make out all
right." From Nedda: "What sort of Bigwigs are they, Dad?"
"A sort you've never seen, my dear."
"Then I should like to stay. Only, about dresses?"
"What war paint have you?"
"Only two white evenings. And Mums gave me her Mechlin."
To Felix, Nedda in white 'evenings' was starry and all that man
"Only, Dad, do tell me about them, beforehand."
"My dear, I will. And God be with you. This is where Becket
The car had swerved into a long drive between trees not yet full-
grown, but decorously trying to look more than their twenty years.
To the right, about a group of older elms, rooks were in commotion,
for Stanley's three keepers' wives had just baked their annual rook
pies, and the birds were not yet happy again. Those elms had stood
there when the old Moretons walked past them through corn-fields to
church of a Sunday. Away on the left above the lake, the little
walled mound had come in view. Something in Felix always stirred
at sight of it, and, squeezing Nedda's arm, he said:
"See that silly wall? Behind there Granny's ancients lived. Gone
now--new house--new lake--new trees--new everything."
But he saw from his little daughter's calm eyes that the sentiment
in him was not in her.
"I like the lake," she said. "There's Granny--oh, and a peacock!"
His mother's embrace, with its frail energy, and the pressure of
her soft, dry lips, filled Felix always with remorse. Why could he
not give the simple and direct expression to his feeling that she
gave to hers? He watched those lips transferred to Nedda, heard
her say: "Oh, my darling, how lovely to see you! Do you know this
for midge-bites?" A hand, diving deep into a pocket, returned with
a little silver-coated stick having a bluish end. Felix saw it
rise and hover about Nedda's forehead, and descend with two little
swift dabs. "It takes them away at once."
"Oh, but Granny, they're not midge-bites; they're only from my
"It doesn't matter, darling; it takes away anything like that."
And he thought: 'Mother is really wonderful!'
At the house the car had already disgorged their luggage. Only one
man, but he absolutely the butler, awaited them, and they entered,
at once conscious of Clara's special pot-pourri. Its fragrance
steamed from blue china, in every nook and crevice, a sort of
baptism into luxury. Clara herself, in the outer morning-room,
smelled a little of it. Quick and dark of eye, capable, comely,
perfectly buttoned, one of those women who know exactly how not to
be superior to the general taste of the period. In addition to
that great quality she was endowed with a fine nose, an instinct
for co-ordination not to be excelled, and a genuine love of making
people comfortable; so that it was no wonder that she had risen in
the ranks of hostesses, till her house was celebrated for its ease,
even among those who at their week-ends liked to feel 'all body.'
In regard to that characteristic of Becket, not even Felix in his
ironies had ever stood up to Clara; the matter was too delicate.
Frances Freeland, indeed--not because she had any philosophic
preconceptions on the matter, but because it was 'not nice, dear,
to be wasteful' even if it were only of rose-leaves, or to 'have
too much decoration,' such as Japanese prints in places where they
hum--sometimes told her daughter-in-law frankly what was wrong,
without, however, making the faintest impression upon Clara, for
she was not sensitive, and, as she said to Stanley, it was 'only
When they had drunk that special Chinese tea, all the rage, but
which no one really liked, in the inner morning, or afternoon room--
for the drawing-rooms were too large to be comfortable except at
week-ends--they went to see the children, a special blend of
Stanley and Clara, save the little Francis, who did not seem to be
entirely body. Then Clara took them to their rooms. She lingered
kindly in Nedda's, feeling that the girl could not yet feel quite
at home, and looking in the soap-dish lest she might not have the
right verbena, and about the dressing-table to see that she had
pins and scent, and plenty of 'pot-pourri,' and thinking: 'The
child is pretty--a nice girl, not like her mother.' Explaining
carefully how, because of the approaching week-end, she had been
obliged to put her in 'a very simple room' where she would be
compelled to cross the corridor to her bath, she asked her if she
had a quilted dressing-gown, and finding that she had not, left her
saying she would send one--and could she do her frocks up, or
should Sirrett come?
Abandoned, the girl stood in the middle of the room, so far more
'simple' than she had ever slept in, with its warm fragrance of
rose-leaves and verbena, its Aubusson carpet, white silk-quilted
bed, sofa, cushioned window-seat, dainty curtains, and little
nickel box of biscuits on little spindly table. There she stood
and sniffed, stretched herself, and thought: 'It's jolly--only, it
smells too much!' and she went up to the pictures, one by one.
They seemed to go splendidly with the room, and suddenly she felt
homesick. Ridiculous, of course! Yet, if she had known where her
father's room was, she would have run out to it; but her memory was
too tangled up with stairs and corridors--to find her way down to
the hall again was all she could have done.
A maid came in now with a blue silk gown very thick and soft.
Could she do anything for Miss Freeland? No, thanks, she could
not; only, did she know where Mr. Freeland's room was?
"Which Mr. Freeland, miss, the young or the old?"
"Oh, the old!" Having said which, Nedda felt unhappy; her Dad was
not old! "No, miss; but I'll find out. It'll be in the walnut
wing!" But with a little flutter at the thought of thus setting
people to run about wings, Nedda murmured: "Oh! thanks, no; it
She settled down now on the cushion of the window-seat, to look out
and take it all in, right away to that line of hills gone blue in
the haze of the warm evening. That would be Malvern; and there,
farther to the south, the 'Tods' lived. 'Joyfields!' A pretty
name! And it was lovely country all round; green and peaceful,
with its white, timbered houses and cottages. People must be very
happy, living here--happy and quiet like the stars and the birds;
not like the crowds in London thronging streets and shops and
Hampstead Heath; not like the people in all those disgruntled
suburbs that led out for miles where London ought to have stopped
but had not; not like the thousands and thousands of those poor
creatures in Bethnal Green, where her slum work lay. The natives
here must surely be happy. Only, were there any natives? She had
not seen any. Away to the right below her window were the first
trees of the fruit garden; for many of them Spring was over, but
the apple-trees had just come into blossom, and the low sun shining
through a gap in some far elms was slanting on their creamy pink,
christening them--Nedda thought--with drops of light; and lovely
the blackbirds' singing sounded in the perfect hush! How wonderful
to be a bird, going where you would, and from high up in the air
seeing everything; flying down a sunbeam, drinking a raindrop,
sitting on the very top of a tall tree, running in grass so high
that you were hidden, laying little perfect blue-green eggs, or
pure-gray speckly ones; never changing your dress, yet always
beautiful. Surely the spirit of the world was in the birds and the
clouds, roaming, floating, and in the flowers and trees that never
smelled anything but sweet, never looked anything but lovely, and
were never restless. Why was one restless, wanting things that did
not come--wanting to feel and know, wanting to love, and be loved?
And at that thought which had come to her so unexpectedly--a
thought never before shaped so definitely--Nedda planted her arms
on the window-sill, with sleeves fallen down, and let her hands
meet cup-shaped beneath her chin. Love! To have somebody with
whom she could share everything--some one to whom and for whom she
could give up--some one she could protect and comfort--some one who
would bring her peace. Peace, rest--from what? Ah! that she could
not make clear, even to herself. Love! What would love be like?
Her father loved her, and she loved him. She loved her mother; and
Alan on the whole was jolly to her--it was not that. What was it--
where was it--when would it come and wake her, and kiss her to
sleep, all in one? Come and fill her as with the warmth and color,
the freshness, light, and shadow of this beautiful May evening,
flood her as with the singing of those birds, and the warm light
sunning the apple blossoms. And she sighed. Then--as with all
young things whose attention after all is but as the hovering of a
butterfly--her speculation was attracted to a thin, high-shouldered
figure limping on a stick, away from the house, down one of the
paths among the apple-trees. He wavered, not knowing, it seemed,
his way. And Nedda thought: 'Poor old man, how lame he is!' She
saw him stoop, screened, as he evidently thought, from sight, and
take something very small from his pocket. He gazed, rubbed it,
put it back; what it was she could not see. Then pressing his hand
down, he smoothed and stretched his leg. His eyes seemed closed.
So a stone man might have stood! Till very slowly he limped on,
passing out of sight. And turning from the window, Nedda began
hurrying into her evening things.
When she was ready she took a long time to decide whether to wear
her mother's lace or keep it for the Bigwigs. But it was so nice
and creamy that she simply could not take it off, and stood turning
and turning before the glass. To stand before a glass was silly
and old-fashioned; but Nedda could never help it, wanting so badly
to be nicer to look at than she was, because of that something that
some day was coming!
She was, in fact, pretty, but not merely pretty--there was in her
face something alive and sweet, something clear and swift. She had
still that way of a child raising its eyes very quickly and looking
straight at you with an eager innocence that hides everything by
its very wonder; and when those eyes looked down they seemed
closed--their dark lashes were so long. Her eyebrows were wide
apart, arching with a slight angle, and slanting a little down
toward her nose. Her forehead under its burnt-brown hair was
candid; her firm little chin just dimpled. Altogether, a face
difficult to take one's eyes off. But Nedda was far from vain, and
her face seemed to her too short and broad, her eyes too dark and
indeterminate, neither gray nor brown. The straightness of her
nose was certainly comforting, but it, too, was short. Being
creamy in the throat and browning easily, she would have liked to
be marble-white, with blue dreamy eyes and fair hair, or else like
a Madonna. And was she tall enough? Only five foot five. And her
arms were too thin. The only things that gave her perfect
satisfaction were her legs, which, of course, she could not at the
moment see; they really WERE rather jolly! Then, in a panic,
fearing to be late, she turned and ran out, fluttering into the
maze of stairs and corridors.
Clara, Mrs. Stanley Freeland, was not a narrow woman either in mind
or body; and years ago, soon indeed after she married Stanley, she
had declared her intention of taking up her sister-in-law,
Kirsteen, in spite of what she had heard were the woman's
extraordinary notions. Those were the days of carriages, pairs,
coachmen, grooms, and, with her usual promptitude, ordering out the
lot, she had set forth. It is safe to say she had never forgotten
Imagine an old, white, timbered cottage with a thatched roof, and
no single line about it quite straight. A cottage crazy with age,
buried up to the thatch in sweetbrier, creepers, honeysuckle, and
perched high above crossroads. A cottage almost unapproachable for
beehives and their bees--an insect for which Clara had an aversion.
Imagine on the rough, pebbled approach to the door of this cottage
(and Clara had on thin shoes) a peculiar cradle with a dark-eyed
baby that was staring placidly at two bees sleeping on a coverlet
made of a rough linen such as Clara had never before seen. Imagine
an absolutely naked little girl of three, sitting in a tub of
sunlight in the very doorway. Clara had turned swiftly and closed
the wicket gate between the pebbled pathway and the mossed steps
that led down to where her coachman and her footman were sitting
very still, as was the habit of those people. She had perceived at
once that she was making no common call. Then, with real courage
she had advanced, and, looking down at the little girl with a
fearful smile, had tickled the door with the handle of her green
parasol. A woman younger than herself, a girl, indeed, appeared in
a low doorway. She had often told Stanley since that she would
never forget her first sight (she had not yet had another) of Tod's
wife. A brown face and black hair, fiery gray eyes, eyes all
light, under black lashes, and "such a strange smile"; bare, brown,
shapely arms and neck in a shirt of the same rough, creamy linen,
and, from under a bright blue skirt, bare, brown, shapely ankles
and feet! A voice so soft and deadly that, as Clara said: "What
with her eyes, it really gave me the shivers. And, my dear," she
had pursued, "white-washed walls, bare brick floors, not a picture,
not a curtain, not even a fire-iron. Clean--oh, horribly! They
must be the most awful cranks. The only thing I must say that was
nice was the smell. Sweetbrier, and honey, coffee, and baked
apples--really delicious. I must try what I can do with it. But
that woman--girl, I suppose she is--stumped me. I'm sure she'd
have cut my head off if I'd attempted to open my mouth on ordinary
topics. The children were rather ducks; but imagine leaving them
about like that amongst the bees. 'Kirsteen!' She looked it.
Never again! And Tod I didn't see at all; I suppose he was mooning
about amongst his creatures."
It was the memory of this visit, now seventeen years ago, that had
made her smile so indulgently when Stanley came back from the
conference. She had said at once that they must have Felix to
stay, and for her part she would be only too glad to do anything
she could for those poor children of Tod's, even to asking them to
Becket, and trying to civilize them a little. . . . "But as for
that woman, there'll be nothing to be done with her, I can assure
you. And I expect Tod is completely under her thumb."
To Felix, who took her in to dinner, she spoke feelingly and in a
low voice. She liked Felix, in spite of his wife, and respected
him--he had a name. Lady Malloring--she told him--the Mallorings
owned, of course, everything round Joyfields--had been telling her
that of late Tod's wife had really become quite rabid over the land
question. 'The Tods' were hand in glove with all the cottagers.
She, Clara, had nothing to say against any one who sympathized with
the condition of the agricultural laborer; quite the contrary.
Becket was almost, as Felix knew--though perhaps it wasn't for her
to say so--the centre of that movement; but there were ways of
doing things, and one did so deprecate women like this Kirsteen--
what an impossibly Celtic name!--putting her finger into any pie
that really was of national importance. Nothing could come of
anything done that sort of way. If Felix had any influence with
Tod it would be a mercy to use it in getting those poor young
creatures away from home, to mix a little with people who took a
sane view of things. She would like very much to get them over to
Becket, but with their notions it was doubtful whether they had
evening clothes! She had, of course, never forgotten that naked
mite in the tub of sunlight, nor the poor baby with its bees and
its rough linen. Felix replied deferentially--he was invariably
polite, and only just ironic enough, in the houses of others--that
he had the very greatest respect for Tod, and that there could be
nothing very wrong with the woman to whom Tod was so devoted. As
for the children, his own young people would get at them and learn
all about what was going on in a way that no fogey like himself
could. In regard to the land question, there were, of course, many
sides to that, and he, for one, would not be at all sorry to
observe yet another. After all, the Tods were in real contact with
the laborers, and that was the great thing. It would be very
Yes, Clara quite saw all that, but--and here she sank her voice so
that there was hardly any left--as Felix was going over there, she
really must put him au courant with the heart of this matter. Lady
Malloring had told her the whole story. It appeared there were two
cases: A family called Gaunt, an old man, and his son, who had two
daughters--one of them, Alice, quite a nice girl, was kitchen-maid
here at Becket, but the other sister--Wilmet--well! she was one of
those girls that, as Felix must know, were always to be found in
every village. She was leading the young men astray, and Lady
Malloring had put her foot down, telling her bailiff to tell the
farmer for whom Gaunt worked that he and his family must go, unless
they sent the girl away somewhere. That was one case. And the
other was of a laborer called Tryst, who wanted to marry his
deceased wife's sister. Of course, whether Mildred Malloring was
not rather too churchy and puritanical--now that a deceased wife's
sister was legal--Clara did not want to say; but she was
undoubtedly within her rights if she thought it for the good of the
village. This man, Tryst, was a good workman, and his farmer had
objected to losing him, but Lady Malloring had, of course, not
given way, and if he persisted he would get put out. All the
cottages about there were Sir Gerald Malloring's, so that in both
cases it would mean leaving the neighborhood. In regard to village
morality, as Felix knew, the line must be drawn somewhere.
Felix interrupted quietly:
"I draw it at Lady Malloring."
"Well, I won't argue that with you. But it really is a scandal
that Tod's wife should incite her young people to stir up the
villagers. Goodness knows where that mayn't lead! Tod's cottage
and land, you see, are freehold, the only freehold thereabouts; and
his being a brother of Stanley's makes it particularly awkward for
"Quite so!" murmured Felix.
"Yes, but my dear Felix, when it comes to infecting those simple
people with inflated ideas of their rights, it's serious,
especially in the country. I'm told there's really quite a violent
feeling. I hear from Alice Gaunt that the young Tods have been
going about saying that dogs are better off than people treated in
this fashion, which, of course, is all nonsense, and making far too
much of a small matter. Don't you think so?"
But Felix only smiled his peculiar, sweetish smile, and answered:
"I'm glad to have come down just now."
Clara, who did not know that when Felix smiled like that he was
"Yes," she said; "you're an observer. You will see the thing in
"I shall endeavor to. What does Tod say?"
"Oh! Tod never seems to say anything. At least, I never hear of
"Tod is a well in the desert."
To which deep saying Clara made no reply, not indeed understanding
in the least what it might signify.
That evening, when Alan, having had his fill of billiards, had left
the smoking-room and gone to bed, Felix remarked to Stanley:
"I say, what sort of people are these Mallorings?"
Stanley, who was settling himself for the twenty minutes of
whiskey, potash, and a Review, with which he commonly composed his
mind before retiring, answered negligently:
"The Mallorings? Oh! about the best type of landowner we've got."
"What exactly do you mean by that?"
Stanley took his time to answer, for below his bluff good-nature he
had the tenacious, if somewhat slow, precision of an English man of
business, mingled with a certain mistrust of 'old Felix.'
"Well," he said at last, "they build good cottages, yellow brick,
d--d ugly, I must say; look after the character of their tenants;
give 'em rebate of rent if there's a bad harvest; encourage stock-
breedin', and machinery--they've got some of my ploughs, but the
people don't like 'em, and, as a matter of fact, they're right--
they're not made for these small fields; set an example goin' to
church; patronize the Rifle Range; buy up the pubs when they can,
and run 'em themselves; send out jelly, and let people over their
place on bank holidays. Dash it all, I don't know what they don't
"Are they liked?"
"Liked? No, I should hardly think they were liked; respected, and
all that. Malloring's a steady fellow, keen man on housing, and a
gentleman; she's a bit too much perhaps on the pious side. They've
got one of the finest Georgian houses in the country. Altogether
they're what you call 'model.'"
"But not human."
Stanley slightly lowered the Review and looked across it at his
brother. It was evident to him that 'old Felix' was in one of his
"They're domestic," he said, "and fond of their children, and
pleasant neighbors. I don't deny that they've got a tremendous
sense of duty, but we want that in these days."
"Duty to what?"
Stanley raised his level eyebrows. It was a stumper. Without
great care he felt that he would be getting over the border into
the uncharted land of speculation and philosophy, wandering on
paths that led him nowhere.
"If you lived in the country, old man," he said, "you wouldn't ask
that sort of question."
"You don't imagine," said Felix, "that you or the Mallorings live
in the country? Why, you landlords are every bit as much town
dwellers as I am--thought, habit, dress, faith, souls, all town
stuff. There IS no 'country' in England now for us of the 'upper
classes.' It's gone. I repeat: Duty to what?"
And, rising, he went over to the window, looking out at the moonlit
lawn, overcome by a sudden aversion from more talk. Of what use
were words from a mind tuned in one key to a mind tuned in another?
And yet, so ingrained was his habit of discussion, that he promptly
"The Mallorings, I've not the slightest doubt, believe it their
duty to look after the morals of those who live on their property.
There are three things to be said about that: One--you can't make
people moral by adopting the attitude of the schoolmaster. Two--it
implies that they consider themselves more moral than their
neighbors. Three--it's a theory so convenient to their security
that they would be exceptionally good people if they did not adopt
it; but, from your account, they are not so much exceptionally as
just typically good people. What you call their sense of duty,
Stanley, is really their sense of self-preservation coupled with
their sense of superiority."
"H'm!" said Stanley; "I don't know that I quite follow you."
"I always hate an odor of sanctity. I'd prefer them to say
frankly: 'This is my property, and you'll jolly well do what I tell
you, on it.'"
"But, my dear chap, after all, they really ARE superior."
"That," said Felix, "I emphatically question. Put your Mallorings
to earn their living on fifteen to eighteen shillings a week, and
where would they be? The Mallorings have certain virtues, no
doubt, natural to their fortunate environment, but of the primitive
virtues of patience, hardihood, perpetual, almost unconscious self-
sacrifice, and cheerfulness in the face of a hard fate, they are no
more the equals of the people they pretend to be superior to than I
am your equal as a man of business."
"Hang it!" was Stanley's answer, "what a d--d old heretic you are!"
Felix frowned. "Am I? Be honest! Take the life of a Malloring
and take it at its best; see how it stands comparison in the
ordinary virtues with those of an averagely good specimen of a
farm-laborer. Your Malloring is called with a cup of tea, at, say,
seven o'clock, out of a nice, clean, warm bed; he gets into a bath
that has been got ready for him; into clothes and boots that have
been brushed for him; and goes down to a room where there's a fire
burning already if it's a cold day, writes a few letters, perhaps,
before eating a breakfast of exactly what he likes, nicely prepared
for him, and reading the newspaper that best comforts his soul;
when he has eaten and read, he lights his cigar or his pipe and
attends to his digestion in the most sanitary and comfortable
fashion; then in his study he sits down to steady direction of
other people, either by interview or by writing letters, or what
not. In this way, between directing people and eating what he
likes, he passes the whole day, except that for two or three hours,
sometimes indeed seven or eight hours, he attends to his physique
by riding, motoring, playing a game, or indulging in a sport that
he has chosen for himself. And, at the end of all that, he
probably has another bath that has been made ready for him, puts on
clean clothes that have been put out for him, goes down to a good
dinner that has been cooked for him, smokes, reads, learns, and
inwardly digests, or else plays cards, billiards, and acts host
till he is sleepy, and so to bed, in a clean, warm bed, in a clean,
fresh room. Is that exaggerated?"
"No; but when you talk of his directing other people, you forget
that he is doing what they couldn't."
"He may be doing what they couldn't; but ordinary directive ability
is not born in a man; it's acquired by habit and training. Suppose
fortune had reversed them at birth, the Gaunt or Tryst would by now
have it and the Malloring would not. The accident that they were
not reversed at birth has given the Malloring a thousandfold
"It's no joke directing things," muttered Stanley.
"No work is any joke; but I just put it to you: Simply as work,
without taking in the question of reward, would you dream for a
minute of swapping your work with the work of one of your workmen?
No. Well, neither would a Malloring with one of his Gaunts. So
that, my boy, for work which is intrinsically more interesting and
pleasurable, the Malloring gets a hundred to a thousand times more
"All this is rank socialism, my dear fellow."
"No; rank truth. Now, to take the life of a Gaunt. He gets up
summer and winter much earlier out of a bed that he cannot afford
time or money to keep too clean or warm, in a small room that
probably has not a large enough window; into clothes stiff with
work and boots stiff with clay; makes something hot for himself,
very likely brings some of it to his wife and children; goes out,
attending to his digestion crudely and without comfort; works with
his hands and feet from half past six or seven in the morning till
past five at night, except that twice he stops for an hour or so
and eats simple things that he would not altogether have chosen to
eat if he could have had his will. He goes home to a tea that has
been got ready for him, and has a clean-up without assistance,
smokes a pipe of shag, reads a newspaper perhaps two days old, and
goes out again to work for his own good, in his vegetable patch, or
to sit on a wooden bench in an atmosphere of beer and 'baccy.' And
so, dead tired, but not from directing other people, he drowses
himself to early lying again in his doubtful bed. Is that
"I suppose not, but he--"
"Has his compensations: Clean conscience--freedom from worry--
fresh air, all the rest of it! I know. Clean conscience granted,
but so has your Malloring, it would seem. Freedom from worry--yes,
except when a pair of boots is wanted, or one of the children is
ill; then he has to make up for lost time with a vengeance. Fresh
air--and wet clothes, with a good chance of premature rheumatism.
Candidly, which of those two lives demands more of the virtues on
which human life is founded--courage and patience, hardihood and
self-sacrifice? And which of two men who have lived those two
lives well has most right to the word 'superior'?"
Stanley dropped the Review and for fully a minute paced the room
without reply. Then he said:
"Felix, you're talking flat revolution."
Felix, who, faintly smiling, had watched him up and down, up and
down the Turkey carpet, answered:
"Not so. I am by no means a revolutionary person, because with all
the good-will in the world I have been unable to see how upheavals
from the bottom, or violence of any sort, is going to equalize
these lives or do any good. But I detest humbug, and I believe
that so long as you and your Mallorings go on blindly dosing
yourselves with humbug about duty and superiority, so long will you
see things as they are not. And until you see things as they are,
purged of all that sickening cant, you will none of you really move
to make the conditions of life more and ever more just. For, mark
you, Stanley, I, who do not believe in revolution from the bottom,
the more believe that it is up to us in honour to revolutionize
things from the top!"
"H'm!" said Stanley; "that's all very well; but the more you give
the more they want, till there's no end to it."
Felix stared round that room, where indeed one was all body.
"By George," he said, "I've yet to see a beginning. But, anyway,
if you give in a grudging spirit, or the spirit of a schoolmaster,
what can you expect? If you offer out of real good-will, so it is
taken." And suddenly conscious that he had uttered a constructive
phrase, Felix cast down his eyes, and added:
"I am going to my clean, warm bed. Good night, old man!"
When his brother had taken up his candlestick and gone, Stanley,
uttering a dubious sound, sat down on the lounge, drank deep out of
his tumbler, and once more took up his Review.
The next day Stanley's car, fraught with Felix and a note from
Clara, moved swiftly along the grass-bordered roads toward
Joyfields. Lying back on the cushioned seat, the warm air flying
at his face, Felix contemplated with delight his favorite
countryside. Certainly this garden of England was very lovely, its
greenness, trees, and large, pied, lazy cattle; its very emptiness
of human beings even was pleasing.
Nearing Joyfields he noted the Mallorings' park and their long
Georgian house, carefully fronting south. There, too, was the pond
of what village there was, with the usual ducks on it; and three
well-remembered cottages in a row, neat and trim, of the old,
thatched sort, but evidently restored. Out of the door of one of
them two young people had just emerged, going in the same direction
as the car. Felix passed them and turned to look. Yes, it was
they! He stopped the car. They were walking, with eyes straight
before them, frowning. And Felix thought: 'Nothing of Tod in
either of them; regular Celts!'
The girl's vivid, open face, crisp, brown, untidy hair, cheeks
brimful of color, thick lips, eyes that looked up and out as a Skye
terrier's eyes look out of its shagginess--indeed, her whole figure
struck Felix as almost frighteningly vital; and she walked as if
she despised the ground she covered. The boy was even more
arresting. What a strange, pale-dark face, with its black,
uncovered hair, its straight black brows; what a proud, swan's-
eyed, thin-lipped, straight-nosed young devil, marching like a very
Highlander; though still rather run-up, from sheer youthfulness!
They had come abreast of the car by now, and, leaning out, he said:
"You don't remember me, I'm afraid!" The boy shook his head.
Wonderful eyes he had! But the girl put out her hand.
"Of course, Derek; it's Uncle Felix."
They both smiled now, the girl friendly, the boy rather drawn back
into himself. And feeling strangely small and ill at ease, Felix
"I'm going to see your father. Can I give you a lift home?"
The answer came as he expected:
"No, thanks." Then, as if to tone it down, the girl added:
"We've got something to do first. You'll find him in the orchard."
She had a ringing voice, full of warmth. Lifting his hat, Felix
passed on. They WERE a couple! Strange, attractive, almost
frightening. Kirsteen had brought his brother a formidable little
Arriving at the cottage, he went up its mossy stones and through
the wicket gate. There was little change, indeed, since the days
of Clara's visit, save that the beehives had been moved farther
out. Nor did any one answer his knock; and mindful of the girl's
words, "You'll find him in the orchard," he made his way out among
the trees. The grass was long and starred with petals. Felix
wandered over it among bees busy with the apple-blossom. At the
very end he came on his brother, cutting down a pear-tree. Tod was
in shirt-sleeves, his brown arms bare almost to the shoulders. How
tremendous the fellow was! What resounding and terrific blows he
was dealing! Down came the tree, and Tod drew his arm across his
brow. This great, burnt, curly-headed fellow was more splendid to
look upon than even Felix had remembered, and so well built that
not a movement of his limbs was heavy. His cheek-bones were very
broad and high; his brows thick and rather darker than his bright
hair, so that his deep-set, very blue eyes seemed to look out of a
thicket; his level white teeth gleamed from under his tawny
moustache, and his brown, unshaven cheeks and jaw seemed covered
with gold powder. Catching sight of Felix, he came forward.
"Fancy," he said, "old Gladstone spending his leisure cutting down
trees--of all melancholy jobs!"
Felix did not quite know what to answer, so he put his arm within
his brother's. Tod drew him toward the tree.
"Sit down!" he said. Then, looking sorrowfully at the pear-tree,
"Seventy years--and down in seven minutes. Now we shall burn it.
Well, it had to go. This is the third year it's had no blossom."
His speech was slow, like that of a man accustomed to think aloud.
Felix admired him askance. "I might live next door," he thought,
"for all the notice he's taken of my turning up!"
"I came over in Stanley's car," he said. "Met your two coming
along--fine couple they are!"
"Ah!" said Tod. And there was something in the way he said it that
was more than a mere declaration of pride or of affection. Then he
looked at Felix.
"What have you come for, old man?"
Felix smiled. Quaint way to put it!
"For a talk."
"Ah!" said Tod, and he whistled.
A largish, well-made dog with a sleek black coat, white underneath,
and a black tail white-tipped, came running up, and stood before
Tod, with its head rather to one side and its yellow-brown eyes
saying: 'I simply must get at what you're thinking, you know.'
"Go and tell your mistress to come--Mistress!"
The dog moved his tail, lowered it, and went off.
"A gypsy gave him to me," said Tod; "best dog that ever lived."
"Every one thinks that of his own dog, old man."
"Yes," said Tod; "but this IS."
"He looks intelligent."
"He's got a soul," said Tod. "The gypsy said he didn't steal him,
but he did."
"Do you always know when people aren't speaking the truth, then?"
At such a monstrous remark from any other man, Felix would have
smiled; but seeing it was Tod, he only asked: "How?"
"People who aren't speaking the truth look you in the face and
never move their eyes."
"Some people do that when they are speaking the truth."
"Yes; but when they aren't, you can see them struggling to keep
their eyes straight. A dog avoids your eye when he's something to
conceal; a man stares at you. Listen!"
Felix listened and heard nothing.
"A wren"; and, screwing up his lips, Tod emitted a sound: "Look!"
Felix saw on the branch of an apple-tree a tiny brown bird with a
little beak sticking out and a little tail sticking up. And he
thought: 'Tod's hopeless!'
"That fellow," said Tod softly, "has got his nest there just behind
us." Again he emitted the sound. Felix saw the little bird move
its head with a sort of infinite curiosity, and hop twice on the
"I can't get the hen to do that," Tod murmured.
Felix put his hand on his brother's arm--what an arm!
"Yes," he said; "but look here, old man--I really want to talk to
Tod shook his head. "Wait for her," he said.
Felix waited. Tod was getting awfully eccentric, living this
queer, out-of-the-way life with a cranky woman year after year;
never reading anything, never seeing any one but tramps and animals
and villagers. And yet, sitting there beside his eccentric brother
on that fallen tree, he had an extraordinary sense of rest. It
was, perhaps, but the beauty and sweetness of the day with its
dappling sunlight brightening the apple-blossoms, the wind-flowers,
the wood-sorrel, and in the blue sky above the fields those clouds
so unimaginably white. All the tiny noises of the orchard, too,
struck on his ear with a peculiar meaning, a strange fulness, as if
he had never heard such sounds before. Tod, who was looking at the
sky, said suddenly:
"Are you hungry?"
And Felix remembered that they never had any proper meals, but,
when hungry, went to the kitchen, where a wood-fire was always
burning, and either heated up coffee, and porridge that was already
made, with boiled eggs and baked potatoes and apples, or devoured
bread, cheese, jam, honey, cream, tomatoes, butter, nuts, and
fruit, that were always set out there on a wooden table, under a
muslin awning; he remembered, too, that they washed up their own
bowls and spoons and plates, and, having finished, went outside and
drew themselves a draught of water. Queer life, and deuced
uncomfortable--almost Chinese in its reversal of everything that
every one else was doing.
"No," he said, "I'm not."
"I am. Here she is."
Felix felt his heart beating--Clara was not alone in being
frightened of this woman. She was coming through the orchard with
the dog; a remarkable-looking woman--oh, certainly remarkable! She
greeted him without surprise and, sitting down close to Tod, said:
"I'm glad to see you."
Why did this family somehow make him feel inferior? The way she
sat there and looked at him so calmly! Still more the way she
narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her lips, as if rather malicious
thoughts were rising in her soul! Her hair, as is the way of fine,
soft, almost indigo-colored hair, was already showing threads of
silver; her whole face and figure thinner than he had remembered.
But a striking woman still--with wonderful eyes! Her dress--Felix
had scanned many a crank in his day--was not so alarming as it had
once seemed to Clara; its coarse-woven, deep-blue linen and needle-
worked yoke were pleasing to him, and he could hardly take his gaze
from the kingfisher-blue band or fillet that she wore round that
silver-threaded black hair.
He began by giving her Clara's note, the wording of which he had
"Though we have not seen each other for so long, I am sure you will
forgive my writing. It would give us so much pleasure if you and
the two children would come over for a night or two while Felix and
his young folk are staying with us. It is no use, I fear, to ask
Tod; but of course if he would come, too, both Stanley and myself
would be delighted.
She read it, handed it to Tod, who also read it and handed it to
Felix. Nobody said anything. It was so altogether simple and
friendly a note that Felix felt pleased with it, thinking: 'I
expressed that well!'
Then Tod said: "Go ahead, old man! You've got something to say
about the youngsters, haven't you?"
How on earth did he know that? But then Tod HAD a sort of queer
"Well," he brought out with an effort, "don't you think it's a pity
to embroil your young people in village troubles? We've been
hearing from Stanley--"
Kirsteen interrupted in her calm, staccato voice with just the
"Stanley would not understand."
She had put her arm through Tod's, but never removed her eyes from
her brother-in-law's face.
"Possibly," said Felix, "but you must remember that Stanley, John,
and myself represent ordinary--what shall we say--level-headed
"With which we have nothing in common, I'm afraid."
Felix glanced from her to Tod. The fellow had his head on one side
and seemed listening to something in the distance. And Felix felt
a certain irritation.
"It's all very well," he said, "but I think you really have got to
look at your children's future from a larger point of view. You
don't surely want them to fly out against things before they've had
a chance to see life for themselves."
"The children know more of life than most young people. They've
seen it close to, they've seen its realities. They know what the
tyranny of the countryside means."
"Yes, yes," said Felix, "but youth is youth."
"They are not too young to know and feel the truth."
Felix was impressed. How those narrowing eyes shone! What
conviction in that faintly lisping voice!
'I am a fool for my pains,' he thought, and only said:
"Well, what about this invitation, anyway?"
"Yes; it will be just the thing for them at the moment."
The words had to Felix a somewhat sinister import. He knew well
enough that she did not mean by them what others would have meant.
But he said: "When shall we expect them? Tuesday, I suppose, would
be best for Clara, after her weekend. Is there no chance of you
She quaintly wrinkled her lips into not quite a smile, and
"Tod shall say. Do you hear, Tod?"
"In the meadow. It was there yesterday--first time this year."
Felix slipped his arm through his brother's.
"Quite so, old man."
"What?" said Tod. "Ah! let's go in. I'm awfully hungry." . . .
Sometimes out of a calm sky a few drops fall, the twigs rustle, and
far away is heard the muttering of thunder; the traveller thinks:
'A storm somewhere about.' Then all once more is so quiet and
peaceful that he forgets he ever had that thought, and goes on his
So with Felix returning to Becket in Stanley's car. That woman's
face, those two young heathens--the unconscious Tod!
There was mischief in the air above that little household. But
once more the smooth gliding of the cushioned car, the soft peace
of the meadows so permanently at grass, the churches, mansions,
cottages embowered among their elms, the slow-flapping flight of
the rooks and crows lulled Felix to quietude, and the faint far
muttering of that thunder died away.
Nedda was in the drive when he returned, gazing at a nymph set up
there by Clara. It was a good thing, procured from Berlin, well
known for sculpture, and beginning to green over already, as though
it had been there a long time--a pretty creature with shoulders
drooping, eyes modestly cast down, and a sparrow perching on her
"On Tuesday--the youngsters, only."
"You might tell me a little about them."
But Felix only smiled. His powers of description faltered before
that task; and, proud of those powers, he did not choose to subject
them to failure.
Not till three o'clock that Saturday did the Bigwigs begin to come.
Lord and Lady Britto first from Erne by car; then Sir Gerald and
Lady Malloring, also by car from Joyfields; an early afternoon
train brought three members of the Lower House, who liked a round
of golf--Colonel Martlett, Mr. Sleesor, and Sir John Fanfar--with
their wives; also Miss Bawtrey, an American who went everywhere;
and Moorsome, the landscape-painter, a short, very heavy man who
went nowhere, and that in almost perfect silence, which he
afterward avenged. By a train almost sure to bring no one else
came Literature in Public Affairs, alone, Henry Wiltram, whom some
believed to have been the very first to have ideas about the land.
He was followed in the last possible train by Cuthcott, the
advanced editor, in his habitual hurry, and Lady Maude Ughtred in
her beauty. Clara was pleased, and said to Stanley, while
dressing, that almost every shade of opinion about the land was
represented this week-end. She was not, she said, afraid of
anything, if she could keep Henry Wiltram and Cuthcott apart. The
House of Commons men would, of course, be all right. Stanley
assented: "They'll be 'fed up' with talk. But how about Britto--he
can sometimes be very nasty, and Cuthcott's been pretty rough on
him, in his rag."
Clara had remembered that, and she was putting Lady Maude on one
side of Cuthcott, and Moorsome on the other, so that he would be
quite safe at dinner, and afterward--Stanley must look out!
"What have you done with Nedda?" Stanley asked.
"Given her to Colonel Martlett, with Sir John Fanfar on the other
side; they both like something fresh." She hoped, however, to
foster a discussion, so that they might really get further this
week-end; the opportunity was too good to throw away.
Back to Full Books