Part 3 out of 6
very mysterious to her that morning was the kaleidoscope of Oxford
Street and its innumerable girls, and women, each going about her
business, with a life of her own that was not Nedda's. For men she
had little use just now, they had acquired a certain insignificance,
not having gray-black eyes that smoked and flared, nor Harris tweed
suits that smelled delicious. Only once on her journey from Oxford
Circus she felt the sense of curiosity rise in her, in relation to
a man, and this was when she asked a policeman at Tottenham Court
Road, and he put his head down fully a foot to listen to her. So
huge, so broad, so red in the face, so stolid, it seemed wonderful
to her that he paid her any attention! If he were a human being,
could she really be one, too? But that, after all, was no more
odd than everything. Why, for instance, the spring flowers in
that woman's basket had been born; why that high white cloud
floated over; why and what was Nedda Freeland?
At the entrance of the little restaurant she saw Mr. Cuthcott
waiting. In a brown suit, with his pale but freckled face, and his
gnawed-at, sandy moustache, and his eyes that looked out and
beyond, he was certainly no beauty. But Nedda thought: 'He's even
nicer than I remembered, and I'm sure he knows a lot.'
At first, to be sitting opposite to him, in front of little plates
containing red substances and small fishes, was so exciting that
she simply listened to his rapid, rather stammering voice
mentioning that the English had no idea of life or cookery, that
God had so made this country by mistake that everything, even the
sun, knew it. What, however, would she drink? Chardonnet? It
wasn't bad here.
She assented, not liking to confess that she did not know what
Chardonnet might be, and hoping it was some kind of sherbet. She
had never yet drunk wine, and after a glass felt suddenly extremely
"Well," said Mr. Cuthcott, and his eyes twinkled, "what's your
botheration? I suppose you want to strike out for yourself. MY
daughters did that without consulting me."
"Oh! Have you got daughters?"
"Yes--funny ones; older than you."
"That's why you understand, then"
Mr. Cuthcott smiled. "They WERE a liberal education!"
And Nedda thought: 'Poor Dad, I wonder if I am!'
"Yes," Mr. Cuthcott murmured, "who would think a gosling would ever
become a goose?"
"Ah!" said Nedda eagerly, "isn't it wonderful how things grow?"
She felt his eyes suddenly catch hold of hers.
"You're in love!" he said.
It seemed to her a great piece of luck that he had found that out.
It made everything easy at once, and her words came out pell-mell.
"Yes, and I haven't told my people yet. I don't seem able. He's
given me something to do, and I haven't much experience."
A funny little wriggle passed over Mr. Cuthcott's face. "Yes, yes;
go on! Tell us about it."
She took a sip from her glass, and the feeling that he had been
going to laugh passed away.
"It's about the daughter of a laborer, down there in Worcestershire,
where he lives, not very far from Becket. He's my cousin, Derek,
the son of my other uncle at Joyfields. He and his sister feel
most awfully strongly about the laborers."
"Ah!" said Mr. Cuthcott, "the laborers! Queer how they're in the
air, all of a sudden."
"This girl hasn't been very good, and she has to go from the
village, or else her family have. He wants me to find a place for
her in London."
"I see; and she hasn't been very good?"
"Not very." She knew that her cheeks were flushing, but her eyes
felt steady, and seeing that his eyes never moved, she did not
mind. She went on:
"It's Sir Gerald Malloring's estate. Lady Malloring--won't--"
She heard a snap. Mr. Cuthcott's mouth had closed.
"Oh!" he said, "say no more!"
'He CAN bite nicely!' she thought.
Mr. Cuthcott, who had begun lightly thumping the little table with
his open hand, broke out suddenly:
"That petty bullying in the country! I know it! My God! Those
prudes, those prisms! They're the ruination of half the girls on
the--" He looked at Nedda and stopped short. "If she can do any
kind of work, I'll find her a place. In fact, she'd better come,
for a start, under my old housekeeper. Let your cousin know; she
can turn up any day. Name? Wilmet Gaunt? Right you are!" He
wrote it on his cuff.
Nedda rose to her feet, having an inclination to seize his hand, or
stroke his head, or something. She subsided again with a fervid
sigh, and sat exchanging with him a happy smile. At last she said:
"Mr. Cuthcott, is there any chance of things like that changing?"
"Changing?" He certainly had grown paler, and was again lightly
thumping the table. "Changing? By gum! It's got to change! This
d--d pluto-aristocratic ideal! The weed's so grown up that it's
choking us. Yes, Miss Freeland, whether from inside or out I don't
know yet, but there's a blazing row coming. Things are going to be
made new before long."
Under his thumps the little plates had begun to rattle and leap.
And Nedda thought: 'I DO like him.'
But she said anxiously:
"You believe there's something to be done, then? Derek is simply
full of it; I want to feel like that, too, and I mean to."
His face grew twinkly; he put out his hand. And wondering a little
whether he meant her to, Nedda timidly stretched forth her own and
"I like you," he said. "Love your cousin and don't worry."
Nedda's eyes slipped into the distance.
"But I'm afraid for him. If you saw him, you'd know."
"One's always afraid for the fellows that are worth anything.
There was another young Freeland at your uncle's the other night--"
"My brother Alan!"
"Oh! your brother? Well, I wasn't afraid for him, and it seemed a
pity. Have some of this; it's about the only thing they do well
"Oh, thank you, no. I've had a lovely lunch. Mother and I
generally have about nothing." And clasping her hands she added:
"This is a secret, isn't it, Mr. Cuthcott?"
He laughed and his face melted into a mass of wrinkles. Nedda
laughed also and drank up the rest of her wine. She felt blissful.
"Yes," said Mr. Cuthcott, "there's nothing like loving. How long
have you been at it?"
"Only five days, but it's everything."
Mr. Cuthcott sighed. "That's right. When you can't love, the only
thing is to hate."
"Oh!" said Nedda.
Mr. Cuthcott again began banging on the little table. "Look at
them, look at them!" His eyes wandered angrily about the room,
wherein sat some few who had passed though the mills of gentility.
"What do they know of life? Where are their souls and sympathies?
They haven't any. I'd like to see their blood flow, the silly
Nedda looked at them with alarm and curiosity. They seemed to her
somewhat like everybody she knew. She said timidly: "Do you think
OUR blood ought to flow, too?"
Mr. Cuthcott relapsed into twinkles. "Rather! Mine first!"
'He IS human!' thought Nedda. And she got up: "I'm afraid I ought
to go now. It's been awfully nice. Thank you so very much. Good-
He shook her firm little hand with his frail thin one, and stood
smiling till the restaurant door cut him off from her view.
The streets seemed so gorgeously full of life now that Nedda's head
swam. She looked at it all with such absorption that she could not
tell one thing from another. It seemed rather long to the
Tottenham Court Road, though she noted carefully the names of all
the streets she passed, and was sure she had not missed it. She
came at last to one called POULTRY. 'Poultry!' she thought; 'I
should have remembered that--Poultry?' And she laughed. It was so
sweet and feathery a laugh that the driver of an old four-wheeler
stopped his horse. He was old and anxious-looking, with a gray
beard and deep folds in his red cheeks.
"Poultry!" she said. "Please, am I right for the Tottenham Court
The old man answered: "Glory, no, miss; you're goin' East!"
'East!' thought Nedda; 'I'd better take him.' And she got in. She
sat in the four-wheeler, smiling. And how far this was due to
Chardonnet she did not consider. She was to love and not worry.
It was wonderful! In this mood she was put down, still smiling, at
the Tottenham Court Road Tube, and getting out her purse she
prepared to pay the cabman. The fare would be a shilling, but she
felt like giving him two. He looked so anxious and worn, in spite
of his red face. He took them, looked at her, and said: "Thank
you, miss; I wanted that."
"Oh!" murmured Nedda, "then please take this, too. It's all I
happen to have, except my Tube fare."
The old man took it, and water actually ran along his nose.
"God bless yer!" he said. And taking up his whip, he drove off
Rather choky, but still glowing, Nedda descended to her train. It
was not till she was walking to the Spaniard's Road that a cloud
seemed to come over her sky, and she reached home dejected.
In the garden of the Freelands' old house was a nook shut away by
berberis and rhododendrons, where some bees were supposed to make
honey, but, knowing its destination, and belonging to a union, made
no more than they were obliged. In this retreat, which contained a
rustic bench, Nedda was accustomed to sit and read; she went there
now. And her eyes began filling with tears. Why must the poor old
fellow who had driven her look so anxious and call on God to bless
her for giving him that little present? Why must people grow old
and helpless, like that Grandfather Gaunt she had seen at Becket?
Why was there all the tyranny that made Derek and Sheila so wild?
And all the grinding poverty that she herself could see when she
went with her mother to their Girls' Club, in Bethnal Green? What
was the use of being young and strong if nothing happened, nothing
was really changed, so that one got old and died seeing still the
same things as before? What was the use even of loving, if love
itself had to yield to death? The trees! How they grew from tiny
seeds to great and beautiful things, and then slowly, slowly dried
and decayed away to dust. What was the good of it all? What
comfort was there in a God so great and universal that he did not
care to keep her and Derek alive and loving forever, and was not
interested enough to see that the poor old cab-driver should not be
haunted day and night with fear of the workhouse for himself and an
old wife, perhaps? Nedda's tears fell fast, and how far THIS was
Chardonnet no one could tell.
Felix, seeking inspiration from the sky in regard to 'The Last of
the Laborers,' heard a noise like sobbing, and, searching, found
his little daughter sitting there and crying as if her heart would
break. The sight was so unusual and so utterly disturbing that he
stood rooted, quite unable to bring her help. Should he sneak
away? Should he go for Flora? What should he do? Like many men
whose work keeps them centred within themselves, he instinctively
avoided everything likely to pain or trouble him; for this reason,
when anything did penetrate those mechanical defences he became
almost strangely tender. Loath, for example, to believe that any
one was ill, if once convinced of it, he made so good a nurse that
Flora, at any rate, was in the habit of getting well with
suspicious alacrity. Thoroughly moved now, he sat down on the
bench beside Nedda, and said:
She leaned her forehead against his arm and sobbed the more.
Felix waited, patting her far shoulder gently.
He had often dealt with such situations in his books, and now that
one had come true was completely at a loss. He could not even
begin to remember what was usually said or done, and he only made
little soothing noises.
To Nedda this tenderness brought a sudden sharp sense of guilt and
yearning. She began:
"It's not because of that I'm crying, Dad, but I want you to know
that Derek and I are in love."
The words: 'You! What! In those few days!' rose, and got as far
as Felix's teeth; he swallowed them and went on patting her
shoulder. Nedda in love! He felt blank and ashy. That special
feeling of owning her more than any one else, which was so warming
and delightful, so really precious--it would be gone! What right
had she to take it from him, thus, without warning! Then he
remembered how odious he had always said the elderly were, to spoke
the wheels of youth, and managed to murmur:
"Good luck to you, my pretty!"
He said it, conscious that a father ought to be saying:
'You're much too young, and he's your cousin!' But what a father
ought to say appeared to him just then both sensible and
ridiculous. Nedda rubbed her cheek against his hand.
"It won't make any difference, Dad, I promise you!"
And Felix thought: 'Not to you, only to me!' But he said:
"Not a scrap, my love! What WERE you crying about?"
"About the world; it seems so heartless."
And she told him about the water that had run along the nose of the
old four-wheeler man.
But while he seemed to listen, Felix thought: 'I wish to God I were
made of leather; then I shouldn't feel as if I'd lost the warmth
inside me. I mustn't let her see. Fathers ARE queer--I always
suspected that. There goes my work for a good week!' Then he
"No, my dear, the world is not heartless; it's only arranged
according to certain necessary contraries: No pain, no pleasure; no
dark, no light, and the rest of it. If you think, it couldn't be
As he spoke a blackbird came running with a chuckle from underneath
the berberis, looked at them with alarm, and ran back. Nedda
raised her face.
"Dad, I mean to do something with my life!"
"Yes. That's right."
But long after Nedda had fallen into dreams that night, he lay
awake, with his left foot enclosed between Floras', trying to
regain that sense of warmth which he knew he must never confess to
Flora took the news rather with the air of a mother-dog that says
to her puppy: "Oh, very well, young thing! Go and stick your teeth
in it and find out for yourself!" Sooner or later this always
happened, and generally sooner nowadays. Besides, she could not
help feeling that she would get more of Felix, to her a matter of
greater importance than she gave sign of. But inwardly the news
had given her a shock almost as sharp as that felt by him. Was she
really the mother of one old enough to love? Was the child that
used to cuddle up to her in the window-seat to be read to, gone
from her; that used to rush in every morning at all inconvenient
moments of her toilet; that used to be found sitting in the dark on
the stairs, like a little sleepy owl, because, for-sooth, it was so
Not having seen Derek, she did not as yet share her husband's
anxiety on that score, though his description was dubious:
"Upstanding young cockerel, swinging his sporran and marching to
pipes--a fine spurn about him! Born to trouble, if I know
anything, trying to sweep the sky with his little broom!"
"Is he a prig?"
"No-o. There's simplicity about his scorn, and he seems to have
been brought up on facts, not on literature, like most of these
young monkeys. The cousinship I don't think matters; Kirsteen
brings in too strong an out-strain. He's HER son, not Tod's. But
perhaps," he added, sighing, "it won't last."
Flora shook her head. "It will last!" she said; "Nedda's deep."
And if Nedda held, so would Fate; no one would throw Nedda over!
They naturally both felt that. 'Dionysus at the Well,' no less
than 'The Last of the Laborers,' had a light week of it.
Though in a sense relieved at having parted with her secret, Nedda
yet felt that she had committed desecration. Suppose Derek should
mind her people knowing!
On the day that he and Sheila were to come, feeling she could not
trust herself to seem even reasonably calm, she started out,
meaning to go to the South Kensington Museum and wander the time
away there; but once out-of-doors the sky seemed what she wanted,
and, turning down the hill on the north side, she sat down under a
gorse bush. Here tramps, coming in to London, passed the night
under the stars; here was a vision, however dim, of nature. And
nature alone could a little soothe her ecstatic nerves.
How would he greet her? Would he be exactly as he was when they
stood at the edge of Tod's orchard, above the dreamy, darkening
fields, joining hands and lips, moved as they had never been moved
May blossom was beginning to come out along the hedge of the
private grounds that bordered that bit of Cockney Common, and from
it, warmed by the sun, the scent stole up to her. Familiar, like
so many children of the cultured classes, with the pagan and fairy-
tales of nature, she forgot them all the moment she was really by
herself with earth and sky. In their breadth, their soft and
stirring continuity, they rejected bookish fancy, and woke in her
rapture and yearning, a sort of long delight, a never-appeased
hunger. Crouching, hands round knees, she turned her face to get
the warmth of the sun, and see the white clouds go slowly by, and
catch all the songs that the birds sang. And every now and then
she drew a deep breath. It was true what Dad had said: There was
no real heartlessness in nature. It was warm, beating, breathing.
And if things ate each other, what did it matter? They had lived
and died quickly, helping to make others live. The sacred swing
and circle of it went on forever, full and harmonious under the
lighted sky, under the friendly stars. It was wonderful to be
alive! And all done by love. Love! More, more, more love! And
then death, if it must come! For, after all, to Nedda death was so
far away, so unimaginably dim and distant, that it did not really
While she sat, letting her fingers, that were growing slowly black,
scrabble the grass and fern, a feeling came on her of a Presence, a
creature with wings above and around, that seemed to have on its
face a long, mysterious smile of which she, Nedda, was herself a
tiny twinkle. She would bring Derek here. They two would sit
together and let the clouds go over them, and she would learn all
that he really thought, and tell him all her longings and fears;
they would be silent, too, loving each other too much to talk. She
made elaborate plans of what they were to do and see, beginning
with the East End and the National Gallery, and ending with sunrise
from Parliament Hill; but she somehow knew that nothing would
happen as she had designed. If only the first moment were not
different from what she hoped!
She sat there so long that she rose quite stiff, and so hungry that
she could not help going home and stealing into the kitchen. It
was three o'clock, and the old cook, as usual, asleep in an
armchair, with her apron thrown up between her face and the fire.
What would Cookie say if she knew? In that oven she had been
allowed to bake in fancy perfect little doll loaves, while Cookie
baked them in reality. Here she had watched the mysterious making
of pink cream, had burned countless 'goes' of toffy, and cocoanut
ice; and tasted all kinds of loveliness. Dear old Cookie!
Stealing about on tiptoe, seeking what she might devour, she found
four small jam tarts and ate them, while the cook snored softly.
Then, by the table, that looked so like a great loaf-platter, she
stood contemplating cook. Old darling, with her fat, pale, crumply
face! Hung to the dresser, opposite, was a little mahogany
looking-glass tilted forward. Nedda could see herself almost down
to her toes. 'I mean to be prettier than I am!' she thought,
putting her hands on her waist. 'I wonder if I can pull them in a
bit!' Sliding her fingers under her blouse, she began to pull at
certain strings. They would not budge. They were loose, yes,
really too comfortable. She would have to get the next size
smaller! And dropping her chin, she rubbed it on the lace edging
of her chest, where it felt warm and smelled piny. Had Cookie ever
been in love? Her gray hairs were coming, poor old duck! The
windows, where a protection of wire gauze kept out the flies, were
opened wide, and the sun shone in and dimmed the fire. The kitchen
clock ticked like a conscience; a faint perfume of frying-pan and
mint scented the air. And, for the first time since this new
sensation of love had come to her, Nedda felt as if a favorite
book, read through and done with, were dropping from her hands.
The lovely times in that kitchen, in every nook of that old house
and garden, would never come again! Gone! She felt suddenly cast
down to sadness. They HAD been lovely times! To be deserting in
spirit all that had been so good to her--it seemed like a crime!
She slid down off the table and, passing behind the cook, put her
arms round those substantial sides. Without meaning to, out of
sheer emotion, she pressed them somewhat hard, and, as from a
concertina emerges a jerked and drawn-out chord, so from the cook
came a long, quaking sound; her apron fell, her body heaved, and
her drowsy, flat, soft voice, greasy from pondering over dishes,
"Ah, Miss Nedda! it's you, my dear! Bless your pretty 'eart."
But down Nedda's cheeks, behind her, rolled two tears.
"Cookie, oh, Cookie!" And she ran out. . . .
And the first moment? It was like nothing she had dreamed of.
Strange, stiff! One darting look, and then eyes down; one
convulsive squeeze, then such a formal shake of hot, dry hands, and
off he had gone with Felix to his room, and she with Sheila to
hers, bewildered, biting down consternation, trying desperately to
behave 'like a little lady,' as her old nurse would have put it--
before Sheila, especially, whose hostility she knew by instinct she
had earned. All that evening, furtive watching, formal talk, and
underneath a ferment of doubt and fear and longing. All a mistake!
An awful mistake! Did he love her? Heaven! If he did not, she
could never face any one again. He could not love her! His eyes
were like those of a swan when its neck is drawn up and back in
anger. Terrible--having to show nothing, having to smile at
Sheila, at Dad, and Mother! And when at last she got to her room,
she stood at the window and at first simply leaned her forehead
against the glass and shivered. What had she done? Had she
dreamed it all--dreamed that they had stood together under those
boughs in the darkness, and through their lips exchanged their
hearts? She must have dreamed it! Dreamed that most wonderful,
false dream! And the walk home in the thunder-storm, and his arm
round her, and her letters, and his letter--dreamed it all! And
now she was awake! From her lips came a little moan, and she sank
down huddled, and stayed there ever so long, numb and chilly.
Undress--go to bed? Not for the world. By the time the morning
came she had got to forget that she had dreamed. For very shame
she had got to forget that; no one should see. Her cheeks and ears
and lips were burning, but her body felt icy cold. Then--what time
she did not know at all--she felt she must go out and sit on the
stairs. They had always been her comforters, those wide, shallow,
cosey stairs. Out and down the passage, past all their rooms--his
the last--to the dark stairs, eerie at night, where the scent of
age oozed out of the old house. All doors below, above, were
closed; it was like looking down into a well, to sit with her head
leaning against the banisters. And silent, so silent--just those
faint creakings that come from nowhere, as it might be the
breathing of the house. She put her arms round a cold banister and
hugged it hard. It hurt her, and she embraced it the harder. The
first tears of self-pity came welling up, and without warning a
great sob burst out of her. Alarmed at the sound, she smothered
her mouth with her arm. No good; they came breaking out! A door
opened; all the blood rushed to her heart and away from it, and
with a little dreadful gurgle she was silent. Some one was
listening. How long that terrible listening lasted she had no
idea; then footsteps, and she was conscious that it was standing in
the dark behind her. A foot touched her back. She gave a little
gasp. Derek's voice whispered hoarsely:
"What? Who are you?"
And, below her breath, she answered: "Nedda."
His arms wrenched her away from the banister, his voice in her ear
"Nedda, darling, Nedda!"
But despair had sunk too deep; she could only quiver and shake and
try to drive sobbing out of her breath. Then, most queer, not his
words, nor the feel of his arms, comforted her--any one could
pity!--but the smell and the roughness of his Norfolk jacket. So
he, too, had not been in bed; he, too, had been unhappy! And,
burying her face in his sleeve, she murmured:
"Oh, Derek! Why?"
"I didn't want them all to see. I can't bear to give it away.
Nedda, come down lower and let's love each other!"
Softly, stumbling, clinging together, they went down to the last
turn of the wide stairs. How many times had she not sat there, in
white frocks, her hair hanging down as now, twisting the tassels of
little programmes covered with hieroglyphics only intelligible to
herself, talking spasmodically to spasmodic boys with budding
'tails,' while Chinese lanterns let fall their rose and orange
light on them and all the other little couples as exquisitely
devoid of ease. Ah! it was worth those hours of torture to sit
there together now, comforting each other with hands and lips and
whisperings. It was more, as much more than that moment in the
orchard, as sun shining after a Spring storm is more than sun in
placid mid-July. To hear him say: "Nedda, I love you!" to feel it
in his hand clasped on her heart was much more, now that she knew
how difficult it was for him to say or show it, except in the dark
with her alone. Many a long day they might have gone through
together that would not have shown her so much of his real heart as
that hour of whispering and kisses.
He had known she was unhappy, and yet he couldn't! It had only
made him more dumb! It was awful to be like that! But now that
she knew, she was glad to think that it was buried so deep in him
and kept for her alone. And if he did it again she would just know
that it was only shyness and pride. And he was not a brute and a
beast, as he insisted. But suppose she had chanced not to come
out! Would she ever have lived through the night? And she shivered.
"Are you cold, darling? Put on my coat."
It was put on her in spite of all effort to prevent him. Never was
anything so warm, so delicious, wrapping her in something more than
Harris tweed. And the hall clock struck--Two!
She could just see his face in the glimmer that filtered from the
skylight at the top. And she felt that he was learning her,
learning all that she had to give him, learning the trust that was
shining through her eyes. There was just enough light for them to
realize the old house watching from below and from above--a glint
on the dark floor there, on the dark wall here; a blackness that
seemed to be inhabited by some spirit, so that their hands clutched
and twitched, when the tiny, tiny noises of Time, playing in wood
and stone, clicked out.
That stare of the old house, with all its knowledge of lives past,
of youth and kisses spent and gone, of hopes spun and faiths
abashed, the old house cynical, stirred in them desire to clutch
each other close and feel the thrill of peering out together into
mystery that must hold for them so much of love and joy and
trouble! And suddenly she put her fingers to his face, passed them
softly, clingingly, over his hair, forehead, eyes, traced the sharp
cheek-bones down to his jaw, round by the hard chin up to his lips,
over the straight bone of his nose, lingering, back, to his eyes
"Now, if I go blind, I shall know you. Give me one kiss, Derek.
You MUST be tired."
Buried in the old dark house that kiss lasted long; then,
tiptoeing--she in front--pausing at every creak, holding breath,
they stole up to their rooms. And the clock struck--Three!
Felix (nothing if not modern) had succumbed already to the feeling
that youth ruled the roost. Whatever his misgivings, his and
Flora's sense of loss, Nedda must be given a free hand! Derek gave
no outward show of his condition, and but for his little daughter's
happy serenity Felix would have thought as she had thought that
first night. He had a feeling that his nephew rather despised one
so soaked in mildness and reputation as Felix Freeland; and he got
on better with Sheila, not because she was milder, but because she
was devoid of that scornful tang which clung about her brother.
No! Sheila was not mild. Rich-colored, downright of speech, with
her mane of short hair, she was a no less startling companion. The
smile of Felix had never been more whimsically employed than during
that ten-day visit. The evening John Freeland came to dinner was
the highwater mark of his alarmed amusement. Mr. Cuthcott, also
bidden, at Nedda's instigation, seemed to take a mischievous
delight in drawing out those two young people in face of their
official uncle. The pleasure of the dinner to Felix--and it was
not too great--was in watching Nedda's face. She hardly spoke, but
how she listened! Nor did Derek say much, but what he did say had
a queer, sarcastic twinge about it.
"An unpleasant young man," was John's comment afterward. "How the
deuce did he ever come to be Tod's son? Sheila, of course, is one
of these hot-headed young women that make themselves a nuisance
nowadays, but she's intelligible. By the way, that fellow
Cuthcott's a queer chap!"
One subject of conversation at dinner had been the morality of
revolutionary violence. And the saying that had really upset John
had been Derek's: "Conflagration first--morality afterward!" He
had looked at his nephew from under brows which a constant need for
rejecting petitions to the Home Office had drawn permanently down
and in toward the nose, and made no answer.
To Felix these words had a more sinister significance. With his
juster appreciation both of the fiery and the official points of
view, his far greater insight into his nephew than ever John would
have, he saw that they were more than a mere arrow of controversy.
And he made up his mind that night that he would tackle his nephew
and try to find out exactly what was smouldering within that crisp,
Following him into the garden next morning, he said to himself: 'No
irony--that's fatal. Man to man--or boy to boy--whichever it is!'
But, on the garden path, alongside that young spread-eagle, whose
dark, glowering, self-contained face he secretly admired, he merely
"How do you like your Uncle John?"
"He doesn't like me, Uncle Felix."
Somewhat baffled, Felix proceeded:
"I say, Derek, fortunately or unfortunately, I've some claim now to
a little knowledge of you. You've got to open out a bit to me.
What are you going to do with yourself in life? You can't support
Nedda on revolution."
Having drawn this bow at a venture, he paused, doubtful of his
wisdom. A glance at Derek's face confirmed his doubt. It was
closer than ever, more defiant.
"There's a lot of money in revolution, Uncle Felix--other
Dash the young brute! There was something in him! He swerved off
to a fresh line.
"How do you like London?"
"I don't like it. But, Uncle Felix, don't you wish YOU were seeing
it for the first time? What books you'd write!"
Felix felt that unconscious thrust go 'home.' Revolt against
staleness and clipped wings, against the terrible security of his
too solid reputation, smote him.
"What strikes you most about it, then?" he asked.
"That it ought to be jolly well blown up. Everybody seems to know
that, too--they look it, anyway, and yet they go on as if it
"Why ought it to be blown up?"
"Well, what's the good of anything while London and all these other
big towns are sitting on the country's chest? England must have
been a fine place once, though!"
"Some of us think it a fine place still."
"Of course it is, in a way. But anything new and keen gets sat on.
England's like an old tom-cat by the fire: too jolly comfortable
At this support to his own theory that the country was going to the
dogs, owing to such as John and Stanley, Felix thought: 'Out of the
mouths of babes!' But he merely said: "You're a cheerful young
"It's got cramp," Derek muttered; "can't even give women votes.
Fancy my mother without a vote! And going to wait till every
laborer is off the land before it attends to them. It's like the
port you gave us last night, Uncle Felix, wonderful crust!"
"And what is to be your contribution to its renovation?"
Derek's face instantly resumed its peculiar defiant smile, and
Felix thought: 'Young beggar! He's as close as wax.' After their
little talk, however, he had more understanding of his nephew. His
defiant self-sufficiency seemed more genuine. . . .
In spite of his sensations when dining with Felix, John Freeland
(little if not punctilious) decided that it was incumbent on him to
have the 'young Tods' to dinner, especially since Frances Freeland
had come to stay with him the day after the arrival of those two
young people at Hampstead. She had reached Porchester Gardens
faintly flushed from the prospect of seeing darling John, with one
large cane trunk, and a hand-bag of a pattern which the man in the
shop had told her was the best thing out. It had a clasp which had
worked beautifully in the shop, but which, for some reason, on the
journey had caused her both pain and anxiety. Convinced, however,
that she could cure it and open the bag the moment she could get to
that splendid new pair of pincers in her trunk, which a man had
only yesterday told her were the latest, she still felt that she
had a soft thing, and dear John must have one like it if she could
get him one at the Stores to-morrow.
John, who had come away early from the Home Office, met her in that
dark hall, to which he had paid no attention since his young wife
died, fifteen years ago. Embracing him, with a smile of love
almost timorous from intensity, Frances Freeland looked him up and
down, and, catching what light there was gleaming on his temples,
determined that she had in her bag, as soon as she could get it
open, the very thing for dear John's hair. He had such a nice
moustache, and it was a pity he was getting bald. Brought to her
room, she sat down rather suddenly, feeling, as a fact, very much
like fainting--a condition of affairs to which she had never in the
past and intended never in the future to come, making such a fuss!
Owing to that nice new patent clasp, she had not been able to get
at her smelling-salts, nor the little flask of brandy and the one
hard-boiled egg without which she never travelled; and for want of
a cup of tea her soul was nearly dying within her. Dear John would
never think she had not had anything since breakfast (she travelled
always by a slow train, disliking motion), and she would not for
the world let him know--so near dinner-time, giving a lot of
trouble! She therefore stayed quite quiet, smiling a little, for
fear he might suspect her. Seeing John, however, put her bag down
in the wrong place, she felt stronger.
"No, darling--not there--in the window."
And while he was changing the position of the bag, her heart
swelled with joy because his back was so straight, and with the
thought: 'What a pity the dear boy has never married again! It
does so keep a man from getting moony!' With all that writing and
thinking he had to do, such important work, too, it would have been
so good for him, especially at night. She would not have expressed
it thus in words--that would not have been quite nice--but in
thought Frances Freeland was a realist.
When he was gone, and she could do as she liked, she sat stiller
than ever, knowing by long experience that to indulge oneself in
private only made it more difficult not to indulge oneself in
public. It really was provoking that this nice new clasp should go
wrong just this once, and that the first time it was used! And she
took from her pocket a tiny prayer-book, and, holding it to the
light, read the eighteenth psalm--it was a particularly good one,
that never failed her when she felt low--she used no glasses, and
up to the present had avoided any line between the brows, knowing
it was her duty to remain as nice as she could to look at, so as
not to spoil the pleasure of people round about her. Then saying
to herself firmly, "I do not, I WILL not want any tea--but I shall
be glad of dinner!" she rose and opened her cane trunk. Though she
knew exactly where they were, she was some time finding the
pincers, because there were so many interesting things above them,
each raising a different train of thought. A pair of field-
glasses, the very latest--the man had said--for darling Derek; they
would be so useful to keep his mind from thinking about things that
it was no good thinking about. And for dear Flora (how wonderful
that she could write poetry--poetry!) a really splendid, and
perfectly new, little pill. She herself had already taken two, and
they had suited her to perfection. For darling Felix a new kind of
eau de cologne, made in Worcester, because that was the only scent
he would use. For her pet Nedda, a piece of 'point de Venise' that
she really could not be selfish enough to keep any longer,
especially as she was particularly fond of it. For Alan, a new
kind of tin-opener that the dear boy would like enormously; he was
so nice and practical. For Sheila, such a nice new novel by Mr.
and Mrs. Whirlingham--a bright, wholesome tale, with such a good
description of quite a new country in it--the dear child was so
clever, it would be a change for her. Then, actually resting on
the pincers, she came on her pass-book, recently made up,
containing little or no balance, just enough to get darling John
that bag like hers with the new clasp, which would be so handy for
his papers when he went travelling. And having reached the
pincers, she took them in her hand, and sat down again to be quite
quiet a moment, with her still-dark eyelashes resting on her ivory
cheeks and her lips pressed to a colorless line; for her head swam
from stooping over. In repose, with three flies circling above her
fine gray hair, she might have served a sculptor for a study of the
stoic spirit. Then, going to the bag, her compressed lips
twitching, her gray eyes piercing into its clasp with a kind of
distrustful optimism, she lifted the pincers and tweaked it hard.
If the atmosphere of that dinner, to which all six from Hampstead
came, was less disturbed than John anticipated, it was due to his
sense of hospitality, and to every one's feeling that controversy
would puzzle and distress Granny. That there were things about
which people differed, Frances Freeland well knew, but that they
should so differ as to make them forget to smile and have good
manners would not have seemed right to her at all. And of this, in
her presence, they were all conscious; so that when they had
reached the asparagus there was hardly anything left that could by
any possibility be talked about. And this--for fear of seeming
awkward--they at once proceeded to discuss, Flora remarking that
London was very full. John agreed.
Frances Freeland, smiling, said:
"It's so nice for Derek and Sheila to be seeing it like this for
the first time."
"Why? Isn't it always as full as this?"
"In August practically empty. They say a hundred thousand people,
at least, go away."
"Double!" remarked Felix.
"The figures are variously given. My estimate--"
"One in sixty. That shows you!"
At this interruption of Derek's John frowned slightly. "What does
it show you?" he said.
Derek glanced at his grandmother.
"Of course it shows you," exclaimed Sheila, "what a heartless great
place it is. All 'the world' goes out of town, and 'London's
empty!' But if you weren't told so you'd never know the
Derek muttered: "I think it shows more than that."
Under the table Flora was touching John's foot warningly; Nedda
attempting to touch Derek's; Felix endeavoring to catch John's eye;
Alan trying to catch Sheila's; John biting his lip and looking
carefully at nothing. Only Frances Freeland was smiling and gazing
lovingly at dear Derek, thinking he would be so handsome when he
had grown a nice black moustache. And she said:
"Yes, dear. What were you going to say?"
Derek looked up.
"Do you really want it, Granny?"
Nedda murmured across the table: "No, Derek."
Frances Freeland raised her brows quizzically. She almost looked
"But of course I do, darling. I want to hear immensely. It's so
"Derek was going to say, Mother"--every one at once looked at
Felix, who had thus broken in--"that all we West-End people--John
and I and Flora and Stanley, and even you--all we people born in
purple and fine linen, are so accustomed to think we're all that
matters, that when we're out of London there's nobody in it. He
meant to say that this is appalling enough, but that what is still
more appalling is the fact that we really ARE all that matters, and
that if people try to disturb us, we can, and jolly well will, take
care they don't disturb us long. Is that what you meant, Derek?"
Derek turned a rather startled look on Felix.
"What he meant to say," went on Felix, "was, that age and habit,
vested interests, culture and security sit so heavy on this
country's chest, that aspiration may wriggle and squirm but will
never get from under. That, for all we pretend to admire
enthusiasm and youth, and the rest of it, we push it out of us just
a little faster than it grows up. Is that what you meant, Derek?"
"You'll try to, but you won't succeed!"
"I'm afraid we shall, and with a smile, too, so that you won't see
us doing it."
"I call that devilish."
"I call it natural. Look at a man who's growing old; notice how
very gracefully and gradually he does it. Take my hair--your aunt
says she can't tell the difference from month to month. And there
it is, or rather isn't--little by little."
Frances Freeland, who during Felix's long speech had almost closed
her eyes, opened them, and looked piercingly at the top of his
"Darling," she said, "I've got the very thing for it. You must
take some with you when you go tonight. John is going to try it."
Checked in the flow of his philosophy, Felix blinked like an owl
"Mother," he said, "YOU only have the gift of keeping young."
"Oh! my dear, I'm getting dreadfully old. I have the greatest
difficulty in keeping awake sometimes when people are talking. But
I mean to fight against it. It's so dreadfully rude, and ugly,
too; I catch myself sometimes with my mouth open."
Flora said quietly: "Granny, I have the very best thing for that--
A sweet but rather rueful smile passed over Frances Freeland's
face. "Now," she said, "you're chaffing me," and her eyes looked
It is doubtful if John understood the drift of Felix's exordium, it
is doubtful if he had quite listened--he having so much to not
listen to at the Home Office that the practice was growing on him.
A vested interest to John was a vested interest, culture was
culture, and security was certainly security--none of them were
symbols of age. Further, the social question--at least so far as
it had to do with outbreaks of youth and enthusiasm--was too
familiar to him to have any general significance whatever. What
with women, labor people, and the rest of it, he had no time for
philosophy--a dubious process at the best. A man who had to get
through so many daily hours of real work did not dissipate his
energy in speculation. But, though he had not listened to Felix's
remarks, they had ruffled him. There is no philosophy quite so
irritating as that of a brother! True, no doubt, that the country
was in a bad way, but as to vested interests and security, that was
all nonsense! The guilty causes were free thought and industrialism.
Having seen them all off to Hampstead, he gave his mother her good-
night kiss. He was proud of her, a wonderful woman, who always put
a good face on everything! Even her funny way of always having
some new thing or other to do you good--even that was all part of
her wanting to make the best of things. She never lost her 'form'!
John worshipped that kind of stoicism which would die with its head
up rather than live with its tail down. Perhaps the moment of
which he was most proud in all his life was that, when, at the
finish of his school mile, he overheard a vulgar bandsman say: "I
like that young ----'s running; he breathes through his ---- nose."
At that moment, if he had stooped to breathe through his mouth, he
must have won; as it was he had lost in great distress and perfect
When, then, he had kissed Frances Freeland, and watched her ascend
the stairs, breathless because she WOULD breathe through her nose
to the very last step, he turned into his study, lighted his pipe,
and sat down to a couple of hours of a report upon the forces of
constabulary available in the various counties, in the event of any
further agricultural rioting, such as had recently taken place on a
mild scale in one or two districts where there was still Danish
blood. He worked at the numbers steadily, with just that
engineer's touch of mechanical invention which had caused him to be
so greatly valued in a department where the evolution of twelve
policemen out of ten was constantly desired. His mastery of
figures was highly prized, for, while it had not any of that
flamboyance which has come from America and the game of poker, it
possessed a kind of English optimism, only dangerous when, as
rarely happened, it was put to the test. He worked two full pipes
long, and looked at the clock. Twelve! No good knocking off just
yet! He had no liking for bed this many a long year, having, from
loyalty to memory and a drier sense of what became one in the Home
Department, preserved his form against temptations of the flesh.
Yet, somehow, to-night he felt no spring, no inspiration, in his
handling of county constabulary. A kind of English stolidity about
them baffled him--ten of them remained ten. And leaning that
forehead, whose height so troubled Frances Freeland, on his neat
hand, he fell to brooding. Those young people with everything
before them! Did he envy them? Or was he glad of his own age?
Fifty! Fifty already; a fogey! An official fogey! For all the
world like an umbrella, that every day some one put into a stand
and left there till it was time to take it out again. Neatly
rolled, too, with an elastic and button! And this fancy, which had
never come to him before, surprised him. One day he, too, would
wear out, slit all up his seams, and they would leave him at home,
or give him away to the butler.
He went to the window. A scent of--of May, or something! And
nothing in sight save houses just like his own! He looked up at
the strip of sky privileged to hang just there. He had got a bit
rusty with his stars. There, however, certainly was Venus. And he
thought of how he had stood by the ship's rail on that honeymoon
trip of his twenty years ago, giving his young wife her first
lesson in counting the stars. And something very deep down, very
mossed and crusted over in John's heart, beat and stirred, and hurt
him. Nedda--he had caught her looking at that young fellow just as
Anne had once looked at him, John Freeland, now an official fogey,
an umbrella in a stand. There was a policeman! How ridiculous the
fellow looked, putting one foot before the other, flirting his
lantern and trying the area gates! This confounded scent of
hawthorn--could it be hawthorn?--got here into the heart of London!
The look in that girl's eyes! What was he about, to let them make
him feel as though he could give his soul for a face looking up
into his own, for a breast touching his, and the scent of a woman's
hair. Hang it! He would smoke a cigarette and go to bed! He
turned out the light and began to mount the stairs; they creaked
abominably--the felt must be wearing out. A woman about the place
would have kept them quiet. Reaching the landing of the second
floor, he paused a moment from habit, to look down into the dark
hall. A voice, thin, sweet, almost young, said:
"Is that you, darling?" John's heart stood still. What--was that?
Then he perceived that the door of the room that had been his
wife's was open, and remembered that his mother was in there.
"What! Aren't you asleep, Mother?"
Frances Freeland's voice answered cheerfully: "Oh, no, dear; I'm
never asleep before two. Come in."
John entered. Propped very high on her pillows, in perfect
regularity, his mother lay. Her carved face was surmounted by a
piece of fine lace, her thin, white fingers on the turnover of the
sheet moved in continual interlocking, her lips smiled.
"There's something you must have," she said. "I left my door open
on purpose. Give me that little bottle, darling."
John took from a small table by the bed a still smaller bottle.
Frances Freeland opened it, and out came three tiny white globules.
"Now," she said, "pop them in! You've no idea how they'll send you
to sleep! They're the most splendid things; perfectly harmless.
Just let them rest on the tongue and swallow!"
John let them rest--they were sweetish--and swallowed.
"How is it, then," he said, "that you never go to sleep before
Frances Freeland corked the little bottle, as if enclosing within
it that awkward question.
"They don't happen to act with me, darling; but that's nothing.
It's the very thing for any one who has to sit up so late," and her
eyes searched his face. Yes--they seemed to say--I know you
pretend to have work; but if you only had a dear little wife!
"I shall leave you this bottle when I go. Kiss me."
John bent down, and received one of those kisses of hers that had
such sudden vitality in the middle of them, as if her lips were
trying to get inside his cheek. From the door he looked back. She
was smiling, composed again to her stoic wakefulness.
"Shall I shut the door, Mother?"
With a little lump in his throat John closed the door.
The London which Derek had said should be blown up was at its
maximum of life those May days. Even on this outer rampart of
Hampstead, people, engines, horses, all had a touch of the spring
fever; indeed, especially on this rampart of Hampstead was there
increase of the effort to believe that nature was not dead and
embalmed in books. The poets, painters, talkers who lived up there
were at each other all the time in their great game of make-
believe. How could it be otherwise, when there was veritably
blossom on the trees and the chimneys were ceasing to smoke? How
otherwise, when the sun actually shone on the ponds? But the four
young people (for Alan joined in--hypnotized by Sheila) did not
stay in Hampstead. Chiefly on top of tram and 'bus they roamed the
wilderness. Bethnal Green and Leytonstone, Kensington and Lambeth,
St. James's and Soho, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, West Ham, and
Piccadilly, they traversed the whole ant-heap at its most ebullient
moment. They knew their Whitman and their Dostoievsky sufficiently
to be aware that they ought to love and delight in everything--in
the gentleman walking down Piccadilly with a flower in his
buttonhole, and in the lady sewing that buttonhole in Bethnal
Green; in the orator bawling himself hoarse close to the Marble
Arch, the coster loading his barrow in Covent Garden; and in Uncle
John Freeland rejecting petitions in Whitehall. All these things,
of course, together with the long lines of little gray houses in
Camden Town, long lines of carts with bobtail horses rattling over
Blackfriars' Bridge, long smells drifting behind taxicabs--all
these things were as delightful and as stimulating to the soul as
the clouds that trailed the heavens, the fronds of the lilac, and
Leonardo's Cartoon in the Diploma Gallery. All were equal
manifestations of that energy in flower known as 'Life.' They knew
that everything they saw and felt and smelled OUGHT equally to make
them long to catch creatures to their hearts and cry: Hosanna! And
Nedda and Alan, bred in Hampstead, even knew that to admit that
these things did not all move them in the same way would be
regarded as a sign of anaemia. Nevertheless--most queerly--these
four young people confessed to each other all sorts of sensations
besides that 'Hosanna' one. They even confessed to rage and pity
and disgust one moment, and to joy and dreams the next, and they
differed greatly as to what excited which. It was truly odd! The
only thing on which they did seem to agree was that they were
having 'a thundering good time.' A sort of sense of "Blow
everything!" was in their wings, and this was due not to the fact
that they were thinking of and loving and admiring the little gray
streets and the gentleman in Piccadilly--as, no doubt, in
accordance with modern culture, they should have been--but to the
fact that they were loving and admiring themselves, and that
entirely without the trouble of thinking about it at all. The
practice, too, of dividing into couples was distinctly precious to
them, for, though they never failed to start out together, they
never failed to come home two by two. In this way did they put to
confusion Whitman and Dostoievsky, and all the other thinkers in
Hampstead. In the daytime they all, save Alan, felt that London
ought to be blown up; but at night it undermined their philosophies
so that they sat silent on the tops of their respective 'buses,
with arms twined in each other's. For then a something seemed to
have floated up from that mass of houses and machines, of men and
trees, and to be hovering above them, violet-colored, caught
between the stars and the lights, a spirit of such overpowering
beauty that it drenched even Alan in a kind of awe. After all, the
huge creature that sat with such a giant's weight on the country's
chest, the monster that had spoiled so many fields and robbed so
many lives of peace and health, could fly at night upon blue and
gold and purple wings, murmur a passionate lullaby, and fall into
One such night they went to the gallery at the opera, to supper at
an oyster-shop, under Alan's pilotage, and then set out to walk
back to Hampstead, timing themselves to catch the dawn. They had
not gone twenty steps up Southampton Row before Alan and Sheila
were forty steps in front. A fellow-feeling had made Derek and
Nedda stand to watch an old man who walked, tortuous, extremely
happy, bidding them all come. And when they moved on, it was very
slowly, just keeping sight of the others across the lumbered
dimness of Covent Garden, where tarpaulin-covered carts and barrows
seemed to slumber under the blink of lamps and watchmen's lanterns.
Across Long Acre they came into a street where there was not a soul
save the two others, a long way ahead. Walking with his arm
tightly laced with hers, touching her all down one side, Derek felt
that it would be glorious to be attacked by night-birds in this
dark, lonely street, to have a splendid fight and drive them off,
showing himself to Nedda for a man, and her protector. But nothing
save one black cat came near, and that ran for its life. He bent
round and looked under the blue veil-thing that wrapped Nedda's
head. Her face seemed mysteriously lovely, and her eyes, lifted so
quickly, mysteriously true. She said:
"Derek, I feel like a hill with the sun on it!"
"I feel like that yellow cloud with the wind in it."
"I feel like an apple-tree coming into blossom."
"I feel like a giant."
"I feel like a song."
"I feel I could sing you."
"On a river, floating along."
"A wide one, with great plains on each side, and beasts coming down
to drink, and either the sun or a yellow moon shining, and some one
singing, too, far off."
"The Red Sarafan."
From that yellow cloud sailing in moonlight a spurt of rain had
driven into their faces, and they ran as fast as their blood was
flowing, and the raindrops coming down, jumping half the width of
the little dark streets, clutching each other's arms. And peering
round into her face, so sweet and breathless, into her eyes, so
dark and dancing, he felt he could run all night if he had her
there to run beside him through the dark. Into another street they
dashed, and again another, till she stopped, panting.
"Where are we now?"
Neither knew. A policeman put them right for Portland Place. Half
past one! And it would be dawn soon after three! They walked
soberly again now into the outer circle of Regent's Park; talked
soberly, too, discussing sublunary matters, and every now and then,
their arms, round each other, gave little convulsive squeezes. The
rain had stopped and the moon shone clear; by its light the trees
and flowers were clothed in colors whose blood had spilled away;
the town's murmur was dying, the house lights dead already. They
came out of the park into a road where the latest taxis were
rattling past; a face, a bare neck, silk hat, or shirt-front
gleamed in the window-squares, and now and then a laugh came
floating through. They stopped to watch them from under the low-
hanging branches of an acacia-tree, and Derek, gazing at her face,
still wet with rain, so young and round and soft, thought: 'And she
loves me!' Suddenly she clutched him round the neck, and their
They talked not at all for a long time after that kiss, walking
slowly up the long, empty road, while the whitish clouds sailed
across the dark river of the sky and the moon slowly sank. This
was the most delicious part of all that long walk home, for the
kiss had made them feel as though they had no bodies, but were just
two spirits walking side by side. This is its curious effect
sometimes in first love between the very young. . . .
Having sent Flora to bed, Felix was sitting up among his books.
There was no need to do this, for the young folk had latch-keys,
but, having begun the vigil, he went on with it, a volume about
Eastern philosophies on his knee, a bowl of narcissus blooms,
giving forth unexpected whiffs of odor, beside him. And he sank
into a long reverie.
Could it be said--as was said in this Eastern book--that man's life
was really but a dream; could that be said with any more truth than
it had once been said, that he rose again in his body, to perpetual
life? Could anything be said with truth, save that we knew
nothing? And was that not really what had always been said by man--
that we knew nothing, but were just blown over and about the world
like soughs of wind, in obedience to some immortal, unknowable
coherence! But had that want of knowledge ever retarded what was
known as the upward growth of man? Had it ever stopped man from
working, fighting, loving, dying like a hero if need were? Had
faith ever been anything but embroidery to an instinctive heroism,
so strong that it needed no such trappings? Had faith ever been
anything but anodyne, or gratification of the aesthetic sense? Or
had it really body and substance of its own? Was it something
absolute and solid, that he--Felix Freeland--had missed? Or again,
was it, perhaps, but the natural concomitant of youth, a naive
effervescence with which thought and brooding had to part? And,
turning the page of his book, he noticed that he could no longer
see to read, the lamp had grown too dim, and showed but a
decorative glow in the bright moonlight flooding through the study
window. He got up and put another log on the fire, for these last
nights of May were chilly.
Nearly three! Where were these young people? Had he been asleep,
and they come in? Sure enough, in the hall Alan's hat and Sheila's
cloak--the dark-red one he had admired when she went forth--were
lying on a chair. But of the other two--nothing! He crept up-
stairs. Their doors were open. They certainly took their time--
these young lovers. And the same sore feeling which had attacked
Felix when Nedda first told him of her love came on him badly in
that small of the night when his vitality was lowest. All the
hours she had spent clambering about him, or quietly resting on his
knee with her head tucked in just where his arm and shoulder met,
listening while he read or told her stories, and now and again
turning those clear eyes of hers wide open to his face, to see if
he meant it; the wilful little tugs of her hand when they two went
exploring the customs of birds, or bees, or flowers; all her
'Daddy, I love yous!' and her rushes to the front door, and long
hugs when he came back from a travel; all those later crookings of
her little finger in his, and the times he had sat when she did not
know it, watching her, and thinking: 'That little creature, with
all that's before her, is my very own daughter to take care of, and
share joy and sorrow with. . . .' Each one of all these seemed to
come now and tweak at him, as the songs of blackbirds tweak the
heart of one who lies, unable to get out into the Spring. His lamp
had burned itself quite out; the moon was fallen below the clump of
pines, and away to the north-east something stirred in the stain
and texture of the sky. Felix opened the window. What peace out
there! The chill, scentless peace of night, waiting for dawn's
renewal of warmth and youth. Through that bay window facing north
he could see on one side the town, still wan with the light of its
lamps, on the other the country, whose dark bloom was graying fast.
Suddenly a tiny bird twittered, and Felix saw his two truants
coming slowly from the gate across the grass, his arm round her
shoulders, hers round his waist. With their backs turned to him,
they passed the corner of the house, across where the garden sloped
away. There they stood above the wide country, their bodies
outlined against a sky fast growing light, evidently waiting for
the sun to rise. Silent they stood, while the birds, one by one,
twittered out their first calls. And suddenly Felix saw the boy
fling his hand up into the air. The Sun! Far away on the gray
horizon was a flare of red!
The anxieties of the Lady Mallorings of this life concerning the
moral welfare of their humbler neighbors are inclined to march in
front of events. The behavior in Tryst's cottage was more correct
than it would have been in nine out of ten middle or upper class
demesnes under similar conditions. Between the big laborer and
'that woman,' who, since the epileptic fit, had again come into
residence, there had passed nothing whatever that might not have
been witnessed by Biddy and her two nurslings. For love is an
emotion singularly dumb and undemonstrative in those who live the
life of the fields; passion a feeling severely beneath the thumb of
a propriety born of the age-long absence of excitants,
opportunities, and the aesthetic sense; and those two waited,
almost as a matter of course, for the marriage which was forbidden
them in this parish. The most they did was to sit and look at one
On the day of which Felix had seen the dawn at Hampstead, Sir
Gerald's agent tapped on the door of Tryst's cottage, and was
answered by Biddy, just in from school for the midday meal.
"Your father home, my dear?"
"No, sir; Auntie's in."
"Ask your auntie to come and speak to me."
The mother-child vanished up the narrow stairs, and the agent
sighed. A strong-built, leathery-skinned man in a brown suit and
leggings, with a bristly little moustache and yellow whites to his
eyes, he did not, as he had said to his wife that morning, 'like
the job a little bit.' And while he stood there waiting, Susie and
Billy emerged from the kitchen and came to stare at him. The agent
returned that stare till a voice behind him said: "Yes, sir?"
'That woman' was certainly no great shakes to look at: a fresh,
decent, faithful sort of body! And he said gruffly: "Mornin',
miss. Sorry to say my orders are to make a clearance here. I
suppose Tryst didn't think we should act on it, but I'm afraid I've
got to put his things out, you know. Now, where are you all going;
that's the point?"
"I shall go home, I suppose; but Tryst and the children--we don't
The agent tapped his leggings with a riding-cane. "So you've been
expecting it!" he said with relief. "That's right." And, staring
down at the mother-child, he added: "Well, what d'you say, my dear;
you look full of sense, you do!"
Biddy answered: "I'll go and tell Mr. Freeland, sir."
"Ah! You're a bright maid. He'll know where to put you for the
time bein'. Have you had your dinner?"
"No, sir; it's just ready."
"Better have it--better have it first. No hurry. What've you got
in the pot that smells so good?"
"Bubble and squeak, sir."
"Bubble and squeak! Ah!" And with those words the agent withdrew
to where, in a farm wagon drawn up by the side of the road, three
men were solemnly pulling at their pipes. He moved away from them
a little, for, as he expressed it to his wife afterward: "Look bad,
you know, look bad--anybody seeing me! Those three little children--
that's where it is! If our friends at the Hall had to do these jobs
for themselves, there wouldn't be any to do!"
Presently, from his discreet distance, he saw the mother-child
going down the road toward Tod's, in her blue 'pinny' and corn-
colored hair. Nice little thing! Pretty little thing, too! Pity,
great pity! And he went back to the cottage. On his way a thought
struck him so that he well-nigh shivered. Suppose the little thing
brought back that Mrs. Freeland, the lady who always went about in
blue, without a hat! Phew! Mr. Freeland--he was another sort; a
bit off, certainly--harmless, quite harmless! But that lady! And
he entered the cottage. The woman was washing up; seemed a
sensible body. When the two kids cleared off to school he could go
to work and get it over; the sooner the better, before people came
hanging round. A job of this kind sometimes made nasty blood! His
yellowish eyes took in the nature of the task before him. Funny
jam-up they did get about them, to be sure! Every blessed little
thing they'd ever bought, and more, too! Have to take precious
good care nothing got smashed, or the law would be on the other
leg! And he said to the woman:
"Now, miss, can I begin?"
"I can't stop you, sir."
'No,' he thought, 'you can't stop me, and I blamed well wish you
could!' But he said: "Got an old wagon out here. Thought I'd save
him damage by weather or anything; we'll put everything in that,
and run it up into the empty barn at Marrow and leave it. And
there they'll be for him when he wants 'em."
The woman answered: "You're very kind, I'm sure."
Perceiving that she meant no irony, the agent produced a sound from
somewhere deep and went out to summon his men.
With the best intentions, however, it is not possible, even in
villages so scattered that they cannot be said to exist, to do
anything without every one's knowing; and the work of 'putting out'
the household goods of the Tryst family, and placing them within
the wagon, was not an hour in progress before the road in front of
the cottage contained its knot of watchers. Old Gaunt first,
alone--for the rogue-girl had gone to Mr. Cuthcott's and Tom Gaunt
was at work. The old man had seen evictions in his time, and
looked on silently, with a faint, sardonic grin. Four children, so
small that not even school had any use for them as yet, soon
gathered round his legs, followed by mothers coming to retrieve
them, and there was no longer silence. Then came two laborers, on
their way to a job, a stone-breaker, and two more women. It was
through this little throng that the mother-child and Kirsteen
passed into the fast-being-gutted cottage.
The agent was standing by Tryst's bed, keeping up a stream of
comment to two of his men, who were taking that aged bed to pieces.
It was his habit to feel less when he talked more; but no one could
have fallen into a more perfect taciturnity than he when he saw
Kirsteen coming up those narrow stairs. In so small a space as
this room, where his head nearly touched the ceiling, was it fair
to be confronted by that lady--he put it to his wife that same
evening--"Was it fair?" He had seen a mother wild duck look like
that when you took away its young--snaky fierce about the neck, and
its dark eye! He had seen a mare, going to bite, look not half so
vicious! "There she stood, and--let me have it?--not a bit! Too
much the lady for that, you know!--Just looked at me, and said very
quiet: 'Ah! Mr. Simmons, and are you really doing this?' and put
her hand on that little girl of his. 'Orders are orders, ma'am!'
What could I say? 'Ah!' she said, 'yes, orders are orders, but
they needn't be obeyed.' 'As to that, ma'am,' I said--mind you,
she's a lady; you can't help feeling that 'I'm a working man, the
same as Tryst here; got to earn my living.' 'So have slave-
drivers, Mr. Simmons.' 'Every profession,' I said, 'has got its
dirty jobs, ma'am. And that's a fact.' 'And will have,' she said,
'so long as professional men consent to do the dirty work of their
employers.' 'And where should I be, I should like to know,' I
said, 'if I went on that lay? I've got to take the rough with the
smooth.' 'Well,' she said, 'Mr. Freeland and I will take Tryst and
the little ones in at present.' Good-hearted people, do a lot for
the laborers, in their way. All the same, she's a bit of a vixen.
Picture of a woman, too, standin' there; shows blood, mind you!
Once said, all over--no nagging. She took the little girl off with
her. And pretty small I felt, knowing I'd got to finish that job,
and the folk outside gettin' nastier all the time--not sayin' much,
of course, but lookin' a lot!" The agent paused in his recital and
gazed fixedly at a bluebottle crawling up the windowpane.
Stretching out his thumb and finger, he nipped it suddenly and
threw it in the grate. "Blest if that fellow himself didn't turn
up just as I was finishing. I was sorry for the man, you know.
There was his home turned out-o'-doors. Big man, too! 'You
blanky-blank!' he says; 'if I'd been here you shouldn't ha' done
this!' Thought he was goin' to hit me. 'Come, Tryst!' I said,
'it's not my doing, you know!' 'Ah!' he said, 'I know that; and
it'll be blanky well the worse for THEM!' Rough tongue; no class
of man at all, he is! 'Yes,' he said, 'let 'em look out; I'll be
even with 'em yet!' 'None o' that!' I told him; 'you know which
side the law's buttered. I'm making it easy for you, too, keeping
your things in the wagon, ready to shift any time!' He gave me a
look--he's got very queer eyes, swimmin', sad sort of eyes, like a
man in liquor--and he said: 'I've been here twenty years,' he said.
'My wife died here.' And all of a sudden he went as dumb as a
fish. Never let his eyes off us, though, while we finished up the
last of it; made me feel funny, seein' him glowering like that all
the time. He'll savage something over this, you mark my words!"
Again the agent paused, and remained as though transfixed, holding
that face of his, whose yellow had run into the whites of the eyes,
as still as wood. "He's got some feeling for the place, I
suppose," he said suddenly; "or maybe they've put it into him about
his rights; there's plenty of 'em like that. Well, anyhow, nobody
likes his private affairs turned inside out for every one to gape
at. I wouldn't myself." And with that deeply felt remark the
agent put out his leathery-yellow thumb and finger and nipped a
second bluebottle. . . .
While the agent was thus recounting to his wife the day's doings,
the evicted Tryst sat on the end of his bed in a ground-floor room
of Tod's cottage. He had taken off his heavy boots, and his feet,
in their thick, soiled socks, were thrust into a pair of Tod's
carpet slippers. He sat without moving, precisely as if some one
had struck him a blow in the centre of the forehead, and over and
over again he turned the heavy thought: 'They've turned me out o'
there--I done nothing, and they turned me out o' there! Blast
them--they turned me out o' there!' . . .
In the orchard Tod sat with a grave and puzzled face, surrounded by
the three little Trysts. And at the wicket gate Kirsteen, awaiting
the arrival of Derek and Sheila--summoned home by telegram--stood
in the evening glow, her blue-clad figure still as that of any
worshipper at the muezzin-call.
"A fire, causing the destruction of several ricks and an empty
cowshed, occurred in the early morning of Thursday on the home farm
of Sir Gerald Malloring's estate in Worcestershire. Grave
suspicions of arson are entertained, but up to the present no
arrest has been made. The authorities are in doubt whether the
occurrence has any relation with recent similar outbreaks in the
So Stanley read at breakfast, in his favorite paper; and the little
"The outbreak of fire on Sir Gerald Malloring's Worcestershire
property may or may not have any significance as a symptom of
agrarian unrest. We shall watch the upshot with some anxiety.
Certain it is that unless the authorities are prepared to deal
sharply with arson, or other cases of deliberate damage to the
property of landlords, we may bid good-by to any hope of
ameliorating the lot of the laborer"
--and so on.
If Stanley had risen and paced the room there would have been a
good deal to be said for him; for, though he did not know as much
as Felix of the nature and sentiments of Tod's children, he knew
enough to make any but an Englishman uneasy. The fact that he went
on eating ham, and said to Clara, "Half a cup!" was proof positive
of that mysterious quality called phlegm which had long enabled his
country to enjoy the peace of a weedy duck-pond.
Stanley, a man of some intelligence--witness his grasp of the
secret of successful plough-making (none for the home market!)--had
often considered this important proposition of phlegm. People said
England was becoming degenerate and hysterical, growing soft, and
nervous, and towny, and all the rest of it. In his view there was
a good deal of bosh about that! "Look," he would say, "at the
weight that chauffeurs put on! Look at the House of Commons, and
the size of the upper classes!" If there were growing up little
shrill types of working men and Socialists, and new women, and
half-penny papers, and a rather larger crop of professors and long-
haired chaps--all the better for the rest of the country! The
flesh all these skimpy ones had lost, solid people had put on. The
country might be suffering a bit from officialism, and the tendency
of modern thought, but the breed was not changing. John Bull was
there all right under his moustache. Take it off and clap on
little side-whiskers, and you had as many Bulls as you liked, any
day. There would be no social upheaval so long as the climate was
what it was! And with this simple formula, and a kind of very
deep-down throaty chuckle, he would pass to a subject of more
immediate importance. There was something, indeed, rather masterly
in his grasp of the fact that rain might be trusted to put out any
fire--give it time. And he kept a special vessel in a special
corner which recorded for him faithfully the number of inches that
fell; and now and again he wrote to his paper to say that there
were more inches in his vessel than there had been "for thirty
years." His conviction that the country was in a bad way was
nothing but a skin affection, causing him local irritation rather
than affecting the deeper organs of his substantial body.
He did not readily confide in Clara concerning his own family,
having in a marked degree the truly domestic quality of thinking it
superior to his wife's. She had been a Tomson, not one of THE
Tomsons, and it was quite a question whether he or she were trying
to forget that fact the faster. But he did say to her as he was
getting into the car:
"It's just possible I might go round by Tod's on my way home. I
want a run."
She answered: "Be careful what you say to that woman. I don't want
her here by any chance. The young ones were quite bad enough."
And when he had put in his day at the works he did turn the nose of
his car toward Tod's. Travelling along grass-bordered roads, the
beauty of this England struck his not too sensitive spirit and made
him almost gasp. It was that moment of the year when the
countryside seems to faint from its own loveliness, from the
intoxication of its scents and sounds. Creamy-white may, splashed
here and there with crimson, flooded the hedges in breaking waves
of flower-foam; the fields were all buttercup glory; every tree had
its cuckoo, calling; every bush its blackbird or thrush in full
even-song. Swallows were flying rather low, and the sky, whose
moods they watch, had the slumberous, surcharged beauty of a long,
fine day, with showers not far away. Some orchards were still in
blossom, and the great wild bees, hunting over flowers and grasses
warm to their touch, kept the air deeply murmurous. Movement,
light, color, song, scent, the warm air, and the fluttering leaves
were confused, till one had almost become the other.
And Stanley thought, for he was not rhapsodic 'Wonderful pretty
country! The way everything's looked after--you never see it
But the car, a creature with little patience for natural beauty,
had brought him to the crossroads and stood, panting slightly,
under the cliff-bank whereon grew Tod's cottage, so loaded now with
lilac, wistaria, and roses that from the road nothing but a peak or
two of the thatched roof could be seen.
Stanley was distinctly nervous. It was not a weakness his face and
figure were very capable of showing, but he felt that dryness of
mouth and quivering of chest which precede adventures of the soul.
Advancing up the steps and pebbled path, which Clara had trodden
once, just nineteen years ago, and he himself but three times as
yet in all, he cleared his throat and said to himself: 'Easy, old
man! What is it, after all? She won't bite!' And in the very
doorway he came upon her.
What there was about this woman to produce in a man of common sense
such peculiar sensations, he no more knew after seeing her than
before. Felix, on returning from his visit, had said, "She's like
a Song of the Hebrides sung in the middle of a programme of English
ballads." The remark, as any literary man's might, had conveyed
nothing to Stanley, and that in a far-fetched way. Still, when she
said: "Will you come in?" he felt heavier and thicker than he had
ever remembered feeling; as a glass of stout might feel coming
across a glass of claret. It was, perhaps, the gaze of her eyes,
whose color he could not determine, under eyebrows that waved in
the middle and twitched faintly, or a dress that was blue, with the
queerest effect of another color at the back of it, or perhaps the
feeling of a torrent flowing there under a coat of ice, that might
give way in little holes, so that your leg went in but not the
whole of you. Something, anyway, made him feel both small and
heavy--that awkward combination for a man accustomed to associate
himself with cheerful but solid dignity. In seating himself by
request at a table, in what seemed to be a sort of kitchen, he
experienced a singular sensation in the legs, and heard her say, as
it might be to the air:
"Biddy, dear, take Susie and Billy out."
And thereupon a little girl with a sad and motherly face came
crawling out from underneath the table, and dropped him a little
courtesy. Then another still smaller girl came out, and a very
small boy, staring with all his eyes.
All these things were against Stanley, and he felt that if he did
not make it quite clear that he was there he would soon not know
where he was.
"I came," he said, "to talk about this business up at Malloring's."
And, encouraged by having begun, he added: "Whose kids were those?"
A level voice with a faint lisp answered him:
"They belong to a man called Tryst; he was turned out of his
cottage on Wednesday because his dead wife's sister was staying
with him, so we've taken them in. Did you notice the look on the
face of the eldest?"
Stanley nodded. In truth, he had noticed something, though what he
could not have said.
"At nine years old she has to do the housework and be a mother to
the other two, besides going to school. This is all because Lady
Malloring has conscientious scruples about marriage with a deceased
'Certainly'--thought Stanley--'that does sound a bit thick!' And
"Is the woman here, too?"
"No, she's gone home for the present."
He felt relief.
"I suppose Malloring's point is," he said, "whether or not you're
to do what you like with your own property. For instance, if you
had let this cottage to some one you thought was harming the
neighborhood, wouldn't you terminate his tenancy?"
She answered, still in that level voice:
"Her action is cowardly, narrow, and tyrannical, and no amount of
sophistry will make me think differently."
Stanley felt precisely as if one of his feet had gone through the
ice into water so cold that it seemed burning hot! Sophistry! In
a plain man like himself! He had always connected the word with
Felix. He looked at her, realizing suddenly that the association
of his brother's family with the outrage on Malloring's estate was
probably even nearer than he had feared.
"Look here, Kirsteen!" he said, uttering the unlikely name with
resolution, for, after all, she was his sister-in-law: "Did this
fellow set fire to Malloring's ricks?"
He was aware of a queer flash, a quiver, a something all over her
face, which passed at once back to its intent gravity.
"We have no reason to suppose so. But tyranny produces revenge, as
Stanley shrugged his shoulders. "It's not my business to go into
the rights and wrongs of what's been done. But, as a man of the
world and a relative, I do ask you to look after your youngsters
and see they don't get into a mess. They're an inflammable young
couple--young blood, you know!"
Having made this speech, Stanley looked down, with a feeling that
it would give her more chance.
"You are very kind," he heard her saying in that quiet, faintly
lisping voice; "but there are certain principles involved."
And, suddenly, his curious fear of this woman took shape.
Principles! He had unconsciously been waiting for that word, than
which none was more like a red rag to him.
"What principles can possibly be involved in going against the law?"
"And where the law is unjust?"
Stanley was startled, but he said: "Remember that your principles,
as you call them, may hurt other people besides yourself; Tod and
your children most of all. How is the law unjust, may I ask?"
She had been sitting at the table opposite, but she got up now and
went to the hearth. For a woman of forty-two--as he supposed she
would be--she was extraordinarily lithe, and her eyes, fixed on him
from under those twitching, wavy brows, had a curious glow in their
darkness. The few silver threads in the mass of her over-fine
black hair seemed to give it extra vitality. The whole of her had
a sort of intensity that made him profoundly uncomfortable. And he
thought suddenly: 'Poor old Tod! Fancy having to go to bed with
Without raising her voice, she began answering his question.
"These poor people have no means of setting law in motion, no means
of choosing where and how they will live, no means of doing
anything except just what they are told; the Mallorings have the
means to set the law in motion, to choose where and how to live,
and to dictate to others. That is why the law is unjust. With
every independent pound a year, this equal law of yours--varies!"
"Phew!" said Stanley. "That's a proposition!"
"I give you a simple case. If I had chosen not to marry Tod but to
live with him in free love, we could have done it without
inconvenience. We have some independent income; we could have
afforded to disregard what people thought or did. We could have
bought (as we did buy) our piece of land and our cottage, out of
which we could not have been turned. Since we don't care for
society, it would have made absolutely no difference to our present
position. But Tryst, who does not even want to defy the law--what
happens to him? What happens to hundreds of laborers all over the
country who venture to differ in politics, religion, or morals from
those who own them?"
'By George!' thought Stanley, 'it's true, in a way; I never looked
at it quite like that.' But the feeling that he had come to
persuade her to be reasonable, and the deeply rooted Englishry of
him, conspired to make him say:
"That's all very well; but, you see, it's only a necessary incident
of property-holding. You can't interfere with plain rights."
"You mean--an evil inherent in property-holding?"
"If you like; I don't split words. The lesser of two evils.
What's your remedy? You don't want to abolish property; you've
confessed that property gives YOU your independence!"
Again that curious quiver and flash!
"Yes; but if people haven't decency enough to see for themselves
how the law favors their independence, they must be shown that it
doesn't pay to do to others as they would hate to be done by."
"And you wouldn't try reasoning?"
"They are not amenable to reason."
Stanley took up his hat.
"Well, I think some of us are. I see your point; but, you know,
violence never did any good; it isn't--isn't English."
She did not answer. And, nonplussed thereby, he added lamely: "I
should have liked to have seen Tod and your youngsters. Remember
me to them. Clara sent her regards"; and, looking round the room
in a rather lost way, he held out his hand.
He had an impression of something warm and dry put into it, with
even a little pressure.
Back in the car, he said to his chauffeur, "Go home the other way,
Batter, past the church."
The vision of that kitchen, with its brick floor, its black oak
beams, bright copper pans, the flowers on the window-sill, the
great, open hearth, and the figure of that woman in her blue dress
standing before it, with her foot poised on a log, clung to his
mind's eye with curious fidelity. And those three kids, popping
out like that--proof that the whole thing was not a rather bad
dream! 'Queer business!' he thought; 'bad business! That woman's
uncommonly all there, though. Lot in what she said, too. Where
the deuce should we all be if there were many like her!' And
suddenly he noticed, in a field to the right, a number of men
coming along the hedge toward the road--evidently laborers. What
were they doing? He stopped the car. There were fifteen or twenty
of them, and back in the field he could see a girl's red blouse,
where a little group of four still lingered. 'By George!' he
thought, 'those must be the young Tods going it!' And, curious to
see what it might mean, Stanley fixed his attention on the gate
through which the men were bound to come. First emerged a fellow
in corduroys tied below the knee, with long brown moustaches
decorating a face that, for all its haggardness, had a jovial look.
Next came a sturdy little red-faced, bow-legged man in shirt-
sleeves rolled up, walking alongside a big, dark fellow with a cap
pushed up on his head, who had evidently just made a joke. Then
came two old men, one of whom was limping, and three striplings.
Another big man came along next, in a little clearance, as it were,
between main groups. He walked heavily, and looked up lowering at
the car. The fellow's eyes were queer, and threatening, and sad--
giving Stanley a feeling of discomfort. Then came a short, square
man with an impudent, loquacious face and a bit of swagger in his
walk. He, too, looked up at Stanley and made some remark which
caused two thin-faced fellows with him to grin sheepishly. A spare
old man, limping heavily, with a yellow face and drooping gray
moustaches, walked next, alongside a warped, bent fellow, with
yellowish hair all over his face, whose expression struck Stanley
as half-idiotic. Then two more striplings of seventeen or so,
whittling at bits of sticks; an active, clean-shorn chap with
drawn-in cheeks; and, last of all, a small man by himself, without
a cap on a round head covered with thin, light hair, moving at a
'dot-here, dot-there' walk, as though he had beasts to drive.
Stanley noted that all--save the big man with the threatening, sad
eyes, the old, yellow-faced man with a limp, and the little man who
came out last, lost in his imaginary beasts--looked at the car
furtively as they went their ways. And Stanley thought: 'English
peasant! Poor devil! Who is he? What is he? Who'd miss him if
he did die out? What's the use of all this fuss about him? He's
done for! Glad I've nothing to do with him at Becket, anyway!
"Back to the land!" "Independent peasantry!" Not much! Shan't
say that to Clara, though; knock the bottom out of her week-ends!'
And to his chauffeur he muttered:
"Get on, Batter!"
So, through the peace of that country, all laid down in grass,
through the dignity and loveliness of trees and meadows, this May
evening, with the birds singing under a sky surcharged with warmth
and color, he sped home to dinner.
But next morning, turning on his back as it came dawn, Stanley
thought, with the curious intensity which in those small hours so
soon becomes fear: 'By Jove! I don't trust that woman a yard! I
shall wire for Felix!' And the longer he lay on his back, the more
the conviction bored a hole in him. There was a kind of fever in
the air nowadays, that women seemed to catch, as children caught
the measles. What did it all mean? England used to be a place to
live in. One would have thought an old country like this would
have got through its infantile diseases! Hysteria! No one gave in
to that. Still, one must look out! Arson was about the limit!
And Stanley had a vision, suddenly, of his plough-works in flames.
Why not? The ploughs were not for the English market. Who knew
whether these laboring fellows mightn't take that as a grievance,
if trouble began to spread? This somewhat far-fetched notion,
having started to burrow, threw up a really horrid mole-hill on
Stanley. And it was only the habit, in the human mind, of saying
suddenly to fears: Stop! I'm tired of you! that sent him to sleep
about half past four.
He did not, however, neglect to wire to Felix:
"If at all possible, come down again at once; awkward business at
Nor, on the charitable pretext of employing two old fellows past
ordinary work, did he omit to treble his night-watchman. . .
On Wednesday, the day of which he had seen the dawn rise, Felix had
already been startled, on returning from his constitutional, to
discover his niece and nephew in the act of departure. All the
explanation vouchsafed had been: "Awfully sorry, Uncle Felix;
Mother's wired for us." Save for the general uneasiness which
attended on all actions of that woman, Felix would have felt
relieved at their going. They had disturbed his life, slipped
between him and Nedda! So much so that he did not even expect her
to come and tell him why they had gone, nor feel inclined to ask
her. So little breaks the fine coherence of really tender ties!
The deeper the quality of affection, the more it 'starts and
puffs,' and from sheer sensitive feeling, each for the other,
spares attempt to get back into touch!
His paper--though he did not apply to it the word 'favorite,'
having that proper literary feeling toward all newspapers, that
they took him in rather than he them--gave him on Friday morning
precisely the same news, of the rick-burning, as it gave to Stanley
at breakfast and to John on his way to the Home Office. To John,
less in the know, it merely brought a knitting of the brow and a
vague attempt to recollect the numbers of the Worcestershire
constabulary. To Felix it brought a feeling of sickness. Men
whose work in life demands that they shall daily whip their nerves,
run, as a rule, a little in advance of everything. And goodness
knows what he did not see at that moment. He said no word to
Nedda, but debated with himself and Flora what, if anything, was to
be done. Flora, whose sense of humor seldom deserted her, held the
more comfortable theory that there was nothing to be done as yet.
Soon enough to cry when milk was spilled! He did not agree, but,
unable to suggest a better course, followed her advice. On
Saturday, however, receiving Stanley's wire, he had much difficulty
in not saying to her, "I told you so!" The question that agitated
him now was whether or not to take Nedda with him. Flora said:
"Yes. The child will be the best restraining influence, if there
is really trouble brewing!" Some feeling fought against this in
Felix, but, suspecting it to be mere jealousy, he decided to take
her. And, to the girl's rather puzzled delight, they arrived at
Becket that day in time for dinner. It was not too reassuring to
find John there, too. Stanley had also wired to him. The matter
must indeed be serious!
The usual week-end was in progress. Clara had made one of her
greatest efforts. A Bulgarian had providentially written a book in
which he showed, beyond doubt, that persons fed on brown bread,
potatoes, and margarine, gave the most satisfactory results of all.
It was a discovery of the first value as a topic for her dinner-
table--seeming to solve the whole vexed problem of the laborers
almost at one stroke. If they could only be got to feed themselves
on this perfect programme, what a saving of the situation! On
those three edibles, the Bulgarian said--and he had been well
translated--a family of five could be maintained at full efficiency
for a shilling per day. Why! that would leave nearly eight
shillings a week, in many cases more, for rent, firing, insurance,
the man's tobacco, and the children's boots. There would be no
more of that terrible pinching by the mothers, to feed the husband
and children properly, of which one heard so much; no more
lamentable deterioration in our stock! Brown bread, potatoes,
margarine--quite a great deal could be provided for seven
shillings! And what was more delicious than a well-baked potato
with margarine of good quality? The carbohydrates--or was it
hybocardrates--ah, yes! the kybohardrates--would be present in
really sufficient quantity! Little else was talked of all through
dinner at her end of the table. Above the flowers which Frances
Freeland always insisted on arranging--and very charmingly--when
she was there--over bare shoulders and white shirt-fronts, those
words bombed and rebombed. Brown bread, potatoes, margarine,
carbohydrates, calorific! They mingled with the creaming sizzle of
champagne, with the soft murmur of well-bred deglutition. White
bosoms heaved and eyebrows rose at them. And now and again some
Bigwig versed in science murmured the word 'Fats.' An agricultural
population fed to the point of efficiency without disturbance of
the existing state of things! Eureka! If only into the bargain
they could be induced to bake their own brown bread and cook their
potatoes well! Faces flushed, eyes brightened, and teeth shone.
It was the best, the most stimulating, dinner ever swallowed in
that room. Nor was it until each male guest had eaten, drunk, and
talked himself into torpor suitable to the company of his wife,
that the three brothers could sit in the smoking-room together,
When Stanley had described his interview with 'that woman,' his
glimpse of the red blouse, and the laborers' meeting, there was a
silence before John said:
"It might be as well if Tod would send his two youngsters abroad
for a bit."
Felix shook his head.
"I don't think he would, and I don't think they'd go. But we might
try to get those two to see that anything the poor devils of
laborers do is bound to recoil on themselves, fourfold. I
suppose," he added, with sudden malice, "a laborers' rising would
have no chance?"
Neither John nor Stanley winced.
"Rising? Why should they rise?"
"They did in '32."
"In '32!" repeated John. "Agriculture had its importance then.
Now it has none. Besides, they've no cohesion, no power, like the
miners or railway men. Rising? No chance, no earthly! Weight of
metal's dead against it."
"Money and guns! Guns and money! Confess with me, brethren, that
we're glad of metal."
John stared and Stanley drank off his whiskey and potash. Felix
really was a bit 'too thick' sometimes. Then Stanley said:
"Wonder what Tod thinks of it all. Will you go over, Felix, and
advise that our young friends be more considerate to these poor
Felix nodded. And with 'Good night, old man' all round, and no
shaking of the hands, the three brothers dispersed.
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