Part 4 out of 6
But behind Felix, as he opened his bedroom door, a voice whispered:
"Dad!" And there, in the doorway of the adjoining room, was Nedda
in her dressing-gown.
"Do come in for a minute. I've been waiting up. You ARE late."
Felix followed her into her room. The pleasure he would once have
had in this midnight conspiracy was superseded now, and he stood
blinking at her gravely. In that blue gown, with her dark hair
falling on its lace collar and her face so round and childish, she
seemed more than ever to have defrauded him. Hooking her arm in
his, she drew him to the window; and Felix thought: 'She just wants
to talk to me about Derek. Dog in the manger that I am! Here goes
to be decent!' So he said:
"Well, my dear?"
Nedda pressed his hand with a little coaxing squeeze.
"Daddy, darling, I do love you!"
And, though Felix knew that she had grasped what he was feeling, a
sort of warmth spread in him. She had begun counting his fingers
with one of her own, sitting close beside him. The warmth in Felix
deepened, but he thought: 'She must want a good deal out of me!'
Then she began:
"Why did we come down again? I know there's something wrong! It's
hard not to know, when you're anxious." And she sighed. That
little sigh affected Felix.
"I'd always rather know the truth, Dad. Aunt Clara said something
about a fire at the Mallorings'."
Felix stole a look at her. Yes! There was a lot in this child of
his! Depth, warmth, and strength to hold to things. No use to
treat her as a child! And he answered:
"My dear, there's really nothing beyond what you know--our young
man and Sheila are hotheads, and things over there are working up a
bit. We must try and smooth them down."
"Dad, ought I to back him whatever he does?"
What a question! The more so that one cannot answer superficially
the questions of those whom one loves.
"Ah!" he said at last. "I don't know yet. Some things it's not
your duty to do; that's certain. It can't be right to do things
simply because he does them--THAT'S not real--however fond one is."
"No; I feel that. Only, it's so hard to know what I do really
think--there's always such a lot trying to make one feel that only
what's nice and cosey is right!"
And Felix thought: 'I've been brought up to believe that only
Russian girls care for truth. It seems I was wrong. The saints
forbid I should be a stumbling-block to my own daughter searching
for it! And yet--where's it all leading? Is this the same child
that told me only the other night she wanted to know everything?
She's a woman now! So much for love!' And he said:
"Let's go forward quietly, without expecting too much of ourselves."
"Yes, Dad; only I distrust myself so."
"No one ever got near the truth who didn't."
"Can we go over to Joyfields to-morrow? I don't think I could bear
a whole day of Bigwigs and eating, with this hanging--"
"Poor Bigwigs! All right! We'll go. And now, bed; and think of
Her whisper tickled his ear:
"You are a darling to me, Dad!"
He went out comforted.
And for some time after she had forgotten everything he leaned out
of his window, smoking cigarettes, and trying to see the body and
soul of night. How quiet she was--night, with her mystery, bereft
of moon, in whose darkness seemed to vibrate still the song of the
cuckoos that had been calling so all day! And whisperings of
leaves communed with Felix.
What Tod thought of all this was, perhaps, as much of an enigma to
Tod as to his three brothers, and never more so than on that Sunday
morning when two police constables appeared at his door with a
warrant for the arrest of Tryst. After regarding them fixedly for
full thirty seconds, he said, "Wait!" and left them in the doorway.
Kirsteen was washing breakfast things which had a leadless glaze,
and Tryst's three children, extremely tidy, stood motionless at the
edge of the little scullery, watching.
When she had joined him in the kitchen Tod shut the door.
"Two policemen," he said, "want Tryst. Are they to have him?"
In the life together of these two there had, from the very start,
been a queer understanding as to who should decide what. It had
become by now so much a matter of instinct that combative
consultations, which bulk so large in married lives, had no place
in theirs. A frowning tremor passed over her face.
"I suppose they must. Derek is out. Leave it to me, Tod, and take
the tinies into the orchard."
Tod took the three little Trysts to the very spot where Derek and
Nedda had gazed over the darkening fields in exchanging that first
kiss, and, sitting on the stump of the apple-tree he had cut down,
he presented each of them with an apple. While they ate, he
stared. And his dog stared at him. How far there worked in Tod
the feelings of an ordinary man watching three small children whose
only parent the law was just taking into its charge it would be
rash to say, but his eyes were extremely blue and there was a frown
"Well, Biddy?" he said at last.
Biddy did not reply; the habit of being a mother had imposed on
her, together with the gravity of her little, pale, oval face, a
peculiar talent for silence. But the round-cheeked Susie said:
"Billy can eat cores."
After this statement, silence was broken only by munching, till Tod
"What makes things?"
The children, having the instinct that he had not asked them, but
himself, came closer. He had in his hand a little beetle.
"This beetle lives in rotten wood; nice chap, isn't he?"
"We kill beetles; we're afraid of them." So Susie.
They were now round Tod so close that Billy was standing on one of
his large feet, Susie leaning her elbows on one of his broad knees,
and Biddy's slender little body pressed against his huge arm.
"No," said Tod; "beetles are nice chaps."
"The birds eats them," remarked Billy.
"This beetle," said Tod, "eats wood. It eats through trees and the
trees get rotten."
"Then they don't give no more apples." Tod put the beetle down and
Billy got off his foot to tread on it. When he had done his best
the beetle emerged and vanished in the grass. Tod, who had offered
no remonstrance, stretched out his hand and replaced Billy on his
"What about my treading on you, Billy?" he said.
"I'm big and you're little."
On Billy's square face came a puzzled defiance. If he had not been
early taught his station he would evidently have found some
poignant retort. An intoxicated humblebee broke the silence by
buzzing into Biddy's fluffed-out, corn-gold hair. Tod took it off
with his hand.
"Lovely chap, isn't he?"
The children, who had recoiled, drew close again, while the drunken
bee crawled feebly in the cage of Tod's large hand.
"Bees sting," said Biddy; "I fell on a bee and it stang me!"
"You stang it first," said Tod. "This chap wouldn't sting--not for
worlds. Stroke it!"
Biddy put out her little, pale finger but stayed it a couple of
inches from the bee.
"Go on," said Tod.
Opening her mouth a little, Biddy went on and touched the bee.
"It's soft," she said. "Why don't it buzz?"
"I want to stroke it, too," said Susie. And Billy stamped a little
on Tod's foot.
"No," said Tod; "only Biddy."
There was perfect silence till the dog, rising, approached its
nose, black with a splash of pinky whiteness on the end of the
bridge, as if to love the bee.
"No," said Tod. The dog looked at him, and his yellow-brown eyes
were dark with anxiety.
"It'll sting the dog's nose," said Biddy, and Susie and Billy came
It was at this moment, when the heads of the dog, the bee, Tod,
Biddy, Susie, and Billy might have been contained within a noose
three feet in diameter, that Felix dismounted from Stanley's car
and, coming from the cottage, caught sight of that little idyll
under the dappled sunlight, green, and blossom. It was something
from the core of life, out of the heartbeat of things--like a rare
picture or song, the revelation of the childlike wonder and
delight, to which all other things are but the supernumerary
casings--a little pool of simplicity into which fever and yearning
sank and were for a moment drowned. And quite possibly he would
have gone away without disturbing them if the dog had not growled
and wagged his tail.
But when the children had been sent down into the field he
experienced the usual difficulty in commencing a talk with Tod.
How far was his big brother within reach of mere unphilosophic
statements; how far was he going to attend to facts?
"We came back yesterday," he began; "Nedda and I. You know all
about Derek and Nedda, I suppose?"
"What do you think of it?"
"He's a good chap."
"Yes," murmured Felix, "but a firebrand. This business at
Malloring's--what's it going to lead to, Tod? We must look out,
old man. Couldn't you send Derek and Sheila abroad for a bit?"
"But, after all, they're dependent on you."
"Don't say that to them; I should never see them again."
Felix, who felt the instinctive wisdom of that remark, answered
"What's to be done, then?"
"Sit tight." And Tod's hand came down on Felix's shoulder.
"But suppose they get into real trouble? Stanley and John don't
like it; and there's Mother." And Felix added, with sudden heat,
"Besides, I can't stand Nedda being made anxious like this."
Tod removed his hand. Felix would have given a good deal to have
been able to see into the brain behind the frowning stare of those
"Can't help by worrying. What must be, will. Look at the birds!"
The remark from any other man would have irritated Felix
profoundly; coming from Tod, it seemed the unconscious expression
of a really felt philosophy. And, after all, was he not right?
What was this life they all lived but a ceaseless worrying over
what was to come? Was not all man's unhappiness caused by nervous
anticipations of the future? Was not that the disease, and the
misfortune, of the age; perhaps of all the countless ages man had
With an effort he recalled his thoughts from that far flight. What
if Tod had rediscovered the secret of the happiness that belonged
to birds and lilies of the field--such overpowering interest in the
moment that the future did not exist? Why not? Were not the only
minutes when he himself was really happy those when he lost himself
in work, or love? And why were they so few? For want of pressure
to the square moment. Yes! All unhappiness was fear and lack of
vitality to live the present fully. That was why love and fighting
were such poignant ecstasies--they lived their present to the full.
And so it would be almost comic to say to those young people: Go
away; do nothing in this matter in which your interest and your
feelings are concerned! Don't have a present, because you've got
to have a future! And he said:
"I'd give a good deal for your power of losing yourself in the
moment, old boy!"
"That's all right," said Tod. He was examining the bark of a tree,
which had nothing the matter with it, so far as Felix could see;
while his dog, who had followed them, carefully examined Tod. Both
were obviously lost in the moment. And with a feeling of defeat
Felix led the way back to the cottage.
In the brick-floored kitchen Derek was striding up and down; while
around him, in an equilateral triangle, stood the three women,
Sheila at the window, Kirsteen by the open hearth, Nedda against
the wall opposite. Derek exclaimed at once:
"Why did you let them, Father? Why didn't you refuse to give him
Felix looked at his brother. In the doorway, where his curly head
nearly touched the wood, Tod's face was puzzled, rueful. He did
"Any one could have said he wasn't here. We could have smuggled
him away. Now the brutes have got him! I don't know that, though--"
And he made suddenly for the door.
Tod did not budge. "No," he said.
Derek turned; his mother was at the other door; at the window, the
The comedy of this scene, if there be comedy in the face of grief,
was for the moment lost on Felix.
'It's come,' he thought. 'What now?'
Derek had flung himself down at the table and was burying his head
in his hands. Sheila went up to him.
"Don't be a fool, Derek."
However right and natural that remark, it seemed inadequate.
And Felix looked at Nedda. The blue motor scarf she had worn had
slipped off her dark head; her face was white; her eyes, fixed
immovably on Derek, seemed waiting for him to recognize that she
was there. The boy broke out again:
"It was treachery! We took him in; and now we've given him up.
They wouldn't have touched US if we'd got him away. Not they!"
Felix literally heard the breathing of Tod on one side of him and
of Kirsteen on the other. He crossed over and stood opposite his
"Look here, Derek," he said; "your mother was quite right. You
might have put this off for a day or two; but it was bound to come.
You don't know the reach of the law. Come, my dear fellow! It's
no good making a fuss, that's childish--the thing is to see that
the man gets every chance."
Derek looked up. Probably he had not yet realized that his uncle
was in the room; and Felix was astonished at his really haggard
face; as if the incident had bitten and twisted some vital in his
"He trusted us."
Felix saw Kirsteen quiver and flinch, and understood why they had
none of them felt quite able to turn their backs on that display of
passion. Something deep and unreasoning was on the boy's side;
something that would not fit with common sense and the habits of
civilized society; something from an Arab's tent or a Highland
glen. Then Tod came up behind and put his hands on his son's
"Come!" he said; "milk's spilt."
"All right!" said Derek gruffly, and he went to the door.
Felix made Nedda a sign and she slipped out after him.
Nedda, her blue head-gear trailing, followed along at the boy's
side while he passed through the orchard and two fields; and when
he threw himself down under an ash-tree she, too, subsided, waiting
for him to notice her.
"I am here," she said at last.
At that ironic little speech Derek sat up.
"It'll kill him," he said.
"But--to burn things, Derek! To light horrible cruel flames, and
burn things, even if they aren't alive!"
Derek said through his teeth:
"It's I who did it! If I'd never talked to him he'd have been like
the others. They were taking him in a cart, like a calf."
Nedda got possession of his hand and held it tight.
That was a bitter and frightening hour under the faintly rustling
ash-tree, while the wind sprinkled over her flakes of the may
blossom, just past its prime. Love seemed now so little a thing,
seemed to have lost warmth and power, seemed like a suppliant
outside a door. Why did trouble come like this the moment one felt
The church bell was tolling; they could see the little congregation
pass across the churchyard into that weekly dream they knew too
well. And presently the drone emerged, mingling with the voices
outside, of sighing trees and trickling water, of the rub of wings,
birds' songs, and the callings of beasts everywhere beneath the sky.
In spite of suffering because love was not the first emotion in his
heart, the girl could only feel he was right not to be loving her;
that she ought to be glad of what was eating up all else within
him. It was ungenerous, unworthy, to want to be loved at such a
moment. Yet she could not help it! This was her first experience
of the eternal tug between self and the loved one pulled in the
hearts of lovers. Would she ever come to feel happy when he was
just doing what he thought was right? And she drew a little away
from him; then perceived that unwittingly she had done the right
thing, for he at once tried to take her hand again. And this was
her first lesson, too, in the nature of man. If she did not give
her hand, he wanted it! But she was not one of those who calculate
in love; so she gave him her hand at once. That went to his heart;
and he put his arm round her, till he could feel the emotion under
those stays that would not be drawn any closer. In this nest
beneath the ash-tree they sat till they heard the organ wheeze and
the furious sound of the last hymn, and saw the brisk coming-forth
with its air of, 'Thank God! And now, to eat!' till at last there
was no stir again about the little church--no stir at all save that
of nature's ceaseless thanksgiving. . . .
Tod, his brown face still rueful, had followed those two out into
the air, and Sheila had gone quickly after him. Thus left alone
with his sister-in-law, Felix said gravely:
"If you don't want the boy to get into real trouble, do all you can
to show him that the last way in the world to help these poor
fellows is to let them fall foul of the law. It's madness to light
flames you can't put out. What happened this morning? Did the man
Her face still showed how bitter had been her mortification, and he
was astonished that she kept her voice so level and emotionless.
"No. He went with them quite quietly. The back door was open; he
could have walked out. I did not advise him to. I'm glad no one
saw his face except myself. You see," she added, "he's devoted to
Derek, and Derek knows it; that's why he feels it so, and will feel
it more and more. The boy has a great sense of honour, Felix."
Under that tranquillity Felix caught the pain and yearning in her
voice. Yes! This woman really felt and saw. She was not one of
those who make disturbance with their brains and powers of
criticism; rebellion leaped out from the heat in her heart. But he
"Is it right to fan this flame? Do you think any good end is being
served?" Waiting for her answer, he found himself gazing at the
ghost of dark down on her upper lip, wondering that he had never
noticed it before.
Very low, as if to herself, she said:
"I would kill myself to-day if I didn't believe that tyranny and
injustice must end."
"In our time?"
"Are you content to go on working for an Utopia that you will never
"While our laborers are treated and housed more like dogs than
human beings, while the best life under the sun--because life on
the soil might be the best life--is despised and starved, and made
the plaything of people's tongues, neither I nor mine are going to
The admiration she inspired in Felix at that moment was mingled
with a kind of pity. He said impressively:
"Do you know the forces you are up against? Have you looked into
the unfathomable heart of this trouble? Understood the tug of the
towns, the call of money to money; grasped the destructive
restlessness of modern life; the abysmal selfishness of people when
you threaten their interests; the age-long apathy of those you want
to help? Have you grasped all these?"
Felix held out his hand. "Then," he said, "you are truly brave!"
She shook her head.
"It got bitten into me very young. I was brought up in the
Highlands among the crofters in their worst days. In some ways the
people here are not so badly off, but they're still slaves."
"Except that they can go to Canada if they want, and save old
She flushed. "I hate irony."
Felix looked at her with ever-increasing interest; she certainly
was of the kind that could be relied on to make trouble.
"Ah!" he murmured. "Don't forget that when we can no longer smile
we can only swell and burst. It IS some consolation to reflect
that by the time we've determined to do something really effectual
for the ploughmen of England there'll be no ploughmen left!"
"I cannot smile at that."
And, studying her face, Felix thought, 'You're right there! You'll
get no help from humor.' . . .
Early that afternoon, with Nedda between them, Felix and his nephew
were speeding toward Transham.
The little town--a hamlet when Edmund Moreton dropped the E from
his name and put up the works which Stanley had so much enlarged--
had monopolized by now the hill on which it stood. Living entirely
on its ploughs, it yet had but little of the true look of a British
factory town, having been for the most part built since ideas came
into fashion. With its red roofs and chimneys, it was only
moderately ugly, and here and there an old white, timbered house
still testified to the fact that it had once been country. On this
fine Sunday afternoon the population were in the streets, and
presented all that long narrow-headedness, that twist and
distortion of feature, that perfect absence of beauty in face,
figure, and dress, which is the glory of the Briton who has been
for three generations in a town. 'And my great-grandfather'--
thought Felix--'did all this! God rest his soul!'
At a rather new church on the very top they halted, and went in to
inspect the Morton memorials. There they were, in dedicated
corners. 'Edmund and his wife Catherine'--'Charles Edmund and his
wife Florence'--'Maurice Edmund and his wife Dorothy.' Clara had
set her foot down against 'Stanley and his wife Clara' being in the
fourth; her soul was above ploughs, and she, of course, intended to
be buried at Becket, as Clara, dowager Lady Freeland, for her
efforts in regard to the land. Felix, who had a tendency to note
how things affected other people, watched Derek's inspection of
these memorials and marked that they excited in him no tendency to
ribaldry. The boy, indeed, could hardly be expected to see in them
what Felix saw--an epitome of the great, perhaps fatal, change that
had befallen his native country; a record of the beginning of that
far-back fever, whose course ran ever faster, which had emptied
country into town and slowly, surely, changed the whole spirit of
life. When Edmund Moreton, about 1780, took the infection
disseminated by the development of machinery, and left the farming
of his acres to make money, that thing was done which they were all
now talking about trying to undo, with their cries of: "Back to the
land! Back to peace and sanity in the shade of the elms! Back to
the simple and patriarchal state of feeling which old documents
disclose. Back to a time before these little squashed heads and
bodies and features jutted every which way; before there were long
squashed streets of gray houses; long squashed chimneys emitting
smoke-blight; long squashed rows of graves; and long squashed
columns of the daily papers. Back to well-fed countrymen who could
not read, with Common rights, and a kindly feeling for old
'Moretons,' who had a kindly feeling for them!" Back to all that?
A dream! Sirs! A dream! There was nothing for it now, but--
progress! Progress! On with the dance! Let engines rip, and the
little, squash-headed fellows with them! Commerce, literature,
religion, science, politics, all taking a hand; what a glorious
chance had money, ugliness, and ill will! Such were the
reflections of Felix before the brass tablet:
"IN LOVING MEMORY OF
HIS DEVOTED WIFE
AT REST IN THE LORD. A.D., 1816."
From the church they went about their proper business, to interview
a Mr. Pogram, of the firm of Pogram & Collet, solicitors, in whose
hands the interests of many citizens of Transham and the country
round were almost securely deposited. He occupied, curiously
enough, the house where Edmund Morton himself had lived, conducting
his works on the one hand and the squirearchy of the parish on the
other. Incorporated now into the line of a long, loose street, it
still stood rather apart from its neighbors, behind some large
shrubs and trees of the holmoak variety.
Mr. Pogram, who was finishing his Sunday after-lunch cigar, was a
short, clean-shaved man with strong cheeks and those rather lustful
gray-blue eyes which accompany a sturdy figure. He rose when they
were introduced, and, uncrossing his fat little thighs, asked what
he could do for them.
Felix propounded the story of the arrest, so far as might be, in
words of one syllable, avoiding the sentimental aspect of the
question, and finding it hard to be on the side of disorder, as any
modern writer might. There was something, however, about Mr.
Pogram that reassured him. The small fellow looked a fighter--
looked as if he would sympathize with Tryst's want of a woman about
him. The tusky but soft-hearted little brute kept nodding his
round, sparsely covered head while he listened, exuding a smell of
lavender-water, cigars, and gutta-percha. When Felix ceased he
said, rather dryly:
"Sir Gerald Malloring? Yes. Sir Gerald's country agents, I rather
think, are Messrs. Porter of Worcester. Quite so."
And a conviction that Mr. Pogram thought they should have been
Messrs. Pogram & Collet of Transham confirmed in Felix the feeling
that they had come to the right man.
"I gather," Mr. Pogram said, and he looked at Nedda with a glance
from which he obviously tried to remove all earthly desires, "that
you, sir, and your nephew wish to go and see the man. Mrs. Pogram
will be delighted to show Miss Freeland our garden. Your great-
grandfather, sir, on the mother's side, lived in this house.
Delighted to meet you; often heard of your books; Mrs. Pogram has
read one--let me see--'The Bannister,' was it?"
"'The Balustrade,'" Felix answered gently.
Mr. Pogram rang the bell. "Quite so," he said. "Assizes are just
over so that he can't come up for trial till August or September;
pity--great pity! Bail in cases of arson--for a laborer, very
doubtful! Ask your mistress to come, please."
There entered a faded rose of a woman on whom Mr. Pogram in his
time had evidently made a great impression. A vista of two or
three little Pograms behind her was hastily removed by the maid.
And they all went into the garden.
"Through here," said Mr. Pogram, coming to a side door in the
garden wall, "we can make a short cut to the police station. As we
go along I shall ask you one or two blunt questions." And he
thrust out his under lip:
"For instance, what's your interest in this matter?"
Before Felix could answer, Derek had broken in:
"My uncle has come out of kindness. It's my affair, sir. The man
has been tyrannously treated."
Mr. Pogram cocked his eye. "Yes, yes; no doubt, no doubt! He's
not confessed, I understand?"
Mr. Pogram laid a finger on his lips.
"Never say die; that's what we're here for. So," he went on,
"you're a rebel; Socialist, perhaps. Dear me! Well, we're all of
us something, nowadays--I'm a humanitarian myself. Often say to
Mrs. Pogram--humanity's the thing in this age--and so it is! Well,
now, what line shall we take?" And he rubbed his hands. "Shall we
have a try at once to upset what evidence they've got? We should
want a strong alibi. Our friends here will commit if they can--
nobody likes arson. I understand he was sleeping in your cottage.
His room, now? Was it on the ground floor?"
Mr. Pogram frowned, as who should say: Ah! Be careful! "He had
better reserve his defence and give us time to turn round," he said
They had arrived at the police station and after a little parley
were ushered into the presence of Tryst.
The big laborer was sitting on the stool in his cell, leaning back
against the wall, his hands loose and open at his sides. His gaze
passed at once from Felix and Mr. Pogram, who were in advance, to
Derek; and the dumb soul seemed suddenly to look through, as one
may see all there is of spirit in a dog reach out to its master.
This was the first time Felix had seen him who had caused already
so much anxiety, and that broad, almost brutal face, with the
yearning fidelity in its tragic eyes, made a powerful impression on
him. It was the sort of face one did not forget and might be glad
of not remembering in dreams. What had put this yearning spirit
into so gross a frame, destroying its solid coherence? Why could
not Tryst have been left by nature just a beer-loving serf, devoid
of grief for his dead wife, devoid of longing for the nearest he
could get to her again, devoid of susceptibility to this young
man's influence? And the thought of all that was before the mute
creature, sitting there in heavy, hopeless patience, stung Felix's
heart so that he could hardly bear to look him in the face.
Derek had taken the man's thick, brown hand; Felix could see with
what effort the boy was biting back his feelings.
"This is Mr. Pogram, Bob. A solicitor who'll do all he can for
Felix looked at Mr. Pogram. The little man was standing with arms
akimbo; his face the queerest mixture of shrewdness and compassion,
and he was giving off an almost needlessly strong scent of gutta-
"Yes, my man," he said, "you and I are going to have a talk when
these gentlemen have done with you," and, turning on his heel, he
began to touch up the points of his little pink nails with a
penknife, in front of the constable who stood outside the cell
door, with his professional air of giving a man a chance.
Invaded by a feeling, apt to come to him in Zoos, that he was
watching a creature who had no chance to escape being watched,
Felix also turned; but, though his eyes saw not, his ears could not
"Forgive me, Bob! It's I who got you into this!"
"No, sir; naught to forgive. I'll soon be back, and then they'll
By the reddening of Mr. Pogram's ears Felix formed the opinion that
the little man, also, could hear.
"Tell her not to fret, Mr. Derek. I'd like a shirt, in case I've
got to stop. The children needn' know where I be; though I an't
"It may be a longer job than you think, Bob."
In the silence that followed Felix could not help turning. The
laborer's eyes were moving quickly round his cell, as if for the
first time he realized that he was shut up; suddenly he brought
those big hands of his together and clasped them between his knees,
and again his gaze ran round the cell. Felix heard the clearing of
a throat close by, and, more than ever conscious of the scent of
gutta-percha, grasped its connection with compassion in the heart
of Mr. Pogram. He caught Derek's muttered, "Don't ever think we're
forgetting you, Bob," and something that sounded like, "And don't
ever say you did it." Then, passing Felix and the little lawyer,
the boy went out. His head was held high, but tears were running
down his cheeks. Felix followed.
A bank of clouds, gray-white, was rising just above the red-tiled
roofs, but the sun still shone brightly. And the thought of the
big laborer sitting there knocked and knocked at Felix's heart
mournfully, miserably. He had a warmer feeling for his young
nephew than he had ever had. Mr. Pogram rejoined them soon, and
they walked on together,
"Well?" said Felix.
Mr. Pogram answered in a somewhat grumpy voice:
"Not guilty, and reserve defence. You have influence, young man!
Dumb as a waiter. Poor devil!" And not another word did he say
till they had re-entered his garden.
Here the ladies, surrounded by many little Pograms, were having
tea. And seated next the little lawyer, whose eyes were fixed on
Nedda, Felix was able to appreciate that in happier mood he exhaled
almost exclusively the scent of lavender-water and cigars.
On their way back to Becket, after the visit to Tryst, Felix and
Nedda dropped Derek half-way on the road to Joyfields. They found
that the Becket household already knew of the arrest. Woven into a
dirge on the subject of 'the Land,' the last town doings, and
adventures on golf courses, it formed the genial topic of the
dinner-table; for the Bulgarian with his carbohydrates was already
a wonder of the past. The Bigwigs of this week-end were quite a
different lot from those of three weeks ago, and comparatively
homogeneous, having only three different plans for settling the
land question, none of which, fortunately, involved any more real
disturbance of the existing state of things than the potato, brown-
bread plan, for all were based on the belief held by the
respectable press, and constructive portions of the community, that
omelette can be made without breaking eggs. On one thing alone,
the whole house party was agreed--the importance of the question.
Indeed, a sincere conviction on this point was like the card one
produces before one is admitted to certain functions. No one came
to Becket without it; or, if he did, he begged, borrowed, or stole
it the moment he smelled Clara's special pot-pourri in the hall;
and, though he sometimes threw it out of the railway-carriage
window in returning to town, there was nothing remarkable about
that. The conversational debauch of the first night's dinner--and,
alas! there were only two even at Becket during a week-end--had
undoubtedly revealed the feeling, which had set in of late, that
there was nothing really wrong with the condition of the
agricultural laborer, the only trouble being that the unreasonable
fellow did not stay on the land. It was believed that Henry
Wiltram, in conjunction with Colonel Martlett, was on the point of
promoting a policy for imposing penalties on those who attempted to
leave it without good reason, such reason to be left to the
discretion of impartial district boards, composed each of one
laborer, one farmer, and one landowner, decision going by favor of
majority. And though opinion was rather freely expressed that,
since the voting would always be two to one against, this might
trench on the liberty of the subject, many thought that the
interests of the country were so much above this consideration that
something of the sort would be found, after all, to be the best
arrangement. The cruder early notions of resettling the land by
fostering peasant proprietorship, with habitable houses and
security of tenure, were already under a cloud, since it was more
than suspected that they would interfere unduly with the game laws
and other soundly vested interests. Mere penalization of those who
(or whose fathers before them) had at great pains planted so much
covert, enclosed so much common, and laid so much country down in
grass was hardly a policy for statesmen. A section of the guests,
and that perhaps strongest because most silent, distinctly favored
this new departure of Henry Wiltram's. Coupled with his swinging
corn tax, it was indubitably a stout platform.
A second section of the guests spoke openly in favor of Lord
Settleham's policy of good-will. The whole thing, they thought,
must be voluntary, and they did not see any reason why, if it were
left to the kindness and good intentions of the landowner, there
should be any land question at all. Boards would be formed in
every county on which such model landowners as Sir Gerald
Malloring, or Lord Settleham himself, would sit, to apply the
principles of goodwill. Against this policy the only criticism was
levelled by Felix. He could have agreed, he said, if he had not
noticed that Lord Settleham, and nearly all landowners, were
thoroughly satisfied with their existing good-will and averse to
any changes in their education that might foster an increase of it.
If--he asked--landowners were so full of good-will, and so
satisfied that they could not be improved in that matter, why had
they not already done what was now proposed, and settled the land
question? He himself believed that the land question, like any
other, was only capable of settlement through improvement in the
spirit of all concerned, but he found it a little difficult to
credit Lord Settleham and the rest of the landowners with sincerity
in the matter so long as they were unconscious of any need for
their own improvement. According to him, they wanted it both ways,
and, so far as he could see, they meant to have it!
His use of the word sincere, in connection with Lord Settleham, was
at once pounced on. He could not know Lord Settleham--one of the
most sincere of men. Felix freely admitted that he did not, and
hastened to explain that he did not question the--er--parliamentary
sincerity of Lord Settleham and his followers. He only ventured to
doubt whether they realized the hold that human nature had on them.
His experience, he said, of the houses where they had been bred,
and the seminaries where they had been trained, had convinced him
that there was still a conspiracy on foot to blind Lord Settleham
and those others concerning all this; and, since they were
themselves part of the conspiracy, there was very little danger of
their unmasking it. At this juncture Felix was felt to have
exceeded the limit of fair criticism, and only that toleration
toward literary men of a certain reputation, in country houses, as
persons brought there to say clever and irresponsible things,
prevented people from taking him seriously.
The third section of the guests, unquestionably more static than
the others, confined themselves to pointing out that, though the
land question was undoubtedly serious, nothing whatever would
result from placing any further impositions upon landowners. For,
after all, what was land? Simply capital invested in a certain
way, and very poorly at that. And what was capital? Simply a
means of causing wages to be paid. And whether they were paid to
men who looked after birds and dogs, loaded your guns, beat your
coverts, or drove you to the shoot, or paid to men who ploughed and
fertilized the land, what did it matter? To dictate to a man to
whom he was to pay wages was, in the last degree, un-English.
Everybody knew the fate which had come, or was coming, upon
capital. It was being driven out of the country by leaps and
bounds--though, to be sure, it still perversely persisted in
yielding every year a larger revenue by way of income tax. And it
would be dastardly to take advantage of land just because it was
the only sort of capital which could not fly the country in times
of need. Stanley himself, though--as became a host--he spoke
little and argued not at all, was distinctly of this faction; and
Clara sometimes felt uneasy lest her efforts to focus at Becket all
interest in the land question should not quite succeed in
outweighing the passivity of her husband's attitude. But, knowing
that it is bad policy to raise the whip too soon, she trusted to
her genius to bring him 'with one run at the finish,' as they say,
and was content to wait.
There was universal sympathy with the Mallorings. If a model
landlord like Malloring had trouble with his people, who--who
should be immune? Arson! It was the last word! Felix, who
secretly shared Nedda's horror of the insensate cruelty of flames,
listened, nevertheless, to the jubilation that they had caught the
fellow, with profound disturbance. For the memory of the big
laborer seated against the wall, his eyes haunting round his cell,
quarrelled fiercely with his natural abhorrence of any kind of
violence, and his equally natural dislike of what brought anxiety
into his own life--and the life, almost as precious, of his little
daughter. Scarcely a word of the evening's conversation but gave
him in high degree the feeling: How glib all this is, how far from
reality! How fatted up with shell after shell of comfort and
security! What do these people know, what do they realize, of the
pressure and beat of raw life that lies behind--what do even I, who
have seen this prisoner, know? For us it's as simple as killing a
rat that eats our corn, or a flea that sucks our blood. Arson!
Destructive brute--lock him up! And something in Felix said: For
order, for security, this may be necessary. But something also
said: Our smug attitude is odious!
He watched his little daughter closely, and several times marked
the color rush up in her face, and once could have sworn he saw
tears in her eyes. If the temper of this talk were trying to him,
hardened at a hundred dinner-tables, what must it be to a young and
ardent creature! And he was relieved to find, on getting to the
drawing-room, that she had slipped behind the piano and was
chatting quietly with her Uncle John. . . .
As to whether this or that man liked her, Nedda perhaps was not
more ignorant than other women; and she had noted a certain warmth
and twinkle in Uncle John's eyes the other evening, a certain
rather jolly tendency to look at her when he should have been
looking at the person to whom he was talking; so that she felt
toward him a trustful kindliness not altogether unmingled with a
sense that he was in that Office which controls the destinies of
those who 'get into trouble.' The motives even of statesmen, they
say, are mixed; how much more so, then, of girls in love! Tucked
away behind a Steinway, which instinct told her was not for use,
she looked up under her lashes at her uncle's still military figure
and said softly:
"It was awfully good of you to come, too, Uncle John."
And John, gazing down at that round, dark head, and those slim,
pretty, white shoulders, answered:
"Not at all--very glad to get a breath of fresh air."
And he stealthily tightened his white waistcoat--a rite neglected
of late; the garment seemed to him at the moment unnecessarily
"You have so much experience, Uncle. Do you think violent
rebellion is ever justifiable?"
"I do not."
Nedda sighed. "I'm glad you think that," she murmured, "because I
don't think it is, either. I do so want you to like Derek, Uncle
John, because--it's a secret from nearly every one--he and I are
John jerked his head up a little, as though he had received a
slight blow. The news was not palatable. He kept his form,
however, and answered:
"Oh! Really! Ah!"
Nedda said still more softly: "Please don't judge him by the other
night; he wasn't very nice then, I know."
John cleared his throat.
Instinct warned her that he agreed, and she said rather sadly:
"You see, we're both awfully young. It must be splendid to have
Over John's face, with its double line between the brows, its
double line in the thin cheeks, its single firm line of mouth
beneath a gray moustache, there passed a little grimace.
"As to being young," he said, "that'll change for the--er--better
only too fast."
What was it in this girl that reminded him of that one with whom he
had lived but two years, and mourned fifteen? Was it her youth?
Was it that quick way of lifting her eyes, and looking at him with
such clear directness? Or the way her hair grew? Or what?
"Do you like the people here, Uncle John?"
The question caught John, as it were, between wind and water.
Indeed, all her queries seemed to be trying to incite him to those
wide efforts of mind which bring into use the philosophic nerve;
and it was long since he had generalized afresh about either things
or people, having fallen for many years past into the habit of
reaching his opinions down out of some pigeonhole or other. To
generalize was a youthful practice that one took off as one takes
certain garments off babies when they come to years of discretion.
But since he seemed to be in for it, he answered rather shortly:
"Not at all."
Nedda sighed again.
"Nor do I. They make me ashamed of myself."
John, whose dislike of the Bigwigs was that of the dogged worker of
this life for the dogged talkers, wrinkled his brows:
"They make me feel as if I were part of something heavy sitting on
something else, and all the time talking about how to make things
lighter for the thing it's sitting on."
A vague recollection of somebody--some writer, a dangerous one--
having said something of this sort flitted through John.
"Do YOU think England is done for, Uncle--I mean about 'the Land'?"
In spite of his conviction that 'the country was in a bad way,'
John was deeply, intimately shocked by that simple little question.
Done for! Never! Whatever might be happening underneath, there
must be no confession of that. No! the country would keep its
form. The country would breathe through its nose, even if it did
lose the race. It must never know, or let others know, even if it
were beaten. And he said:
"What on earth put that into your head?"
"Only that it seems funny, if we're getting richer and richer, and
yet all the time farther and farther away from the life that every
one agrees is the best for health and happiness. Father put it
into my head, making me look at the little, towny people in
Transham this afternoon. I know I mean to begin at once to learn
about farm work."
"You?" This pretty young thing with the dark head and the pale,
slim shoulders! Farm work! Women were certainly getting queer.
In his department he had almost daily evidence of that!
"I should have thought art was more in your line!"
Nedda looked up at him; and he was touched by that look, so
straight and young.
"It's this. I don't believe Derek will be able to stay in England.
When you feel very strongly about things it must be awfully
In bewilderment John answered:
"Why! I should have said this was the country of all others for
movements, and social work, and--and--cranks--" he paused.
"Yes; but those are all for curing the skin, and I suppose we're
really dying of heart disease, aren't we? Derek feels that,
anyway, and, you see, he's not a bit wise, not even patient--so I
expect he'll have to go. I mean to be ready, anyway."
And Nedda got up. "Only, if he does something rash, don't let them
hurt him, Uncle John, if you can help it."
John felt her soft fingers squeezing his almost desperately, as if
her emotions had for the moment got out of hand. And he was moved,
though he knew that the squeeze expressed feeling for his nephew,
not for himself. When she slid away out of the big room all
friendliness seemed to go out with her, and very soon after he
himself slipped away to the smoking-room. There he was alone, and,
lighting a cigar, because he still had on his long-tailed coat
which did not go with that pipe he would so much have preferred, he
stepped out of the French window into the warm, dark night. He
walked slowly in his evening pumps up a thin path between
columbines and peonies, late tulips, forget-me-nots, and pansies
peering up in the dark with queer, monkey faces. He had a love for
flowers, rather starved for a long time past, and, strangely, liked
to see them, not in the set and orderly masses that should
seemingly have gone with his character, but in wilder beds, where
one never knew what flower was coming next. Once or twice he
stopped and bent down, ascertaining which kind it was, living its
little life down there, then passed on in that mood of stammering
thought which besets men of middle age who walk at night--a mood
caught between memory of aspirations spun and over, and vision of
aspirations that refuse to take shape. Why should they, any more--
what was the use? And turning down another path he came on
something rather taller than himself, that glowed in the darkness
as though a great moon, or some white round body, had floated to
within a few feet of the earth. Approaching, he saw it for what it
was--a little magnolia-tree in the full of its white blossoms.
Those clustering flower-stars, printed before him on the dark coat
of the night, produced in John more feeling than should have been
caused by a mere magnolia-tree; and he smoked somewhat furiously.
Beauty, seeking whom it should upset, seemed, like a girl, to
stretch out arms and say: "I am here!" And with a pang at heart,
and a long ash on his cigar, between lips that quivered oddly, John
turned on his heel and retraced his footsteps to the smoking-room.
It was still deserted. Taking up a Review, he opened it at an
article on 'the Land,' and, fixing his eyes on the first page, did
not read it, but thought: 'That child! What folly! Engaged! H'm!
To that young--! Why, they're babes! And what is it about her
that reminds me--reminds me--What is it? Lucky devil, Felix--to
have her for daughter! Engaged! The little thing's got her
troubles before her. Wish I had! By George, yes--wish I had!'
And with careful fingers he brushed off the ash that had fallen on
his lapel. . . .
The little thing who had her troubles before her, sitting in her
bedroom window, had watched his white front and the glowing point
of his cigar passing down there in the dark, and, though she did
not know that they belonged to him, had thought: 'There's some one
nice, anyway, who likes being out instead of in that stuffy
drawing-room, playing bridge, and talking, talking.' Then she felt
ashamed of her uncharitableness. After all, it was wrong to think
of them like that. They did it for rest after all their hard work;
and she--she did not work at all! If only Aunt Kirsteen would let
her stay at Joyfields, and teach her all that Sheila knew! And
lighting her candles, she opened her diary to write.
"Life," she wrote, "is like looking at the night. One never knows
what's coming, only suspects, as in the darkness you suspect which
trees are what, and try to see whether you are coming to the edge
of anything. . . . A moth has just flown into my candle before I
could stop it! Has it gone quite out of the world? If so, why
should it be different for us? The same great Something makes all
life and death, all light and dark, all love and hate--then why one
fate for one living thing, and the opposite for another? But
suppose there IS nothing after death--would it make me say: 'I'd
rather not live'? It would only make me delight more in life of
every kind. Only human beings brood and are discontented, and
trouble about future life. While Derek and I were sitting in that
field this morning, a bumblebee flew to the bank and tucked its
head into the grass and went to sleep, just tired out with flying
and working at its flowers; it simply snoozed its head down and
went off. We ought to live every minute to the utmost, and when
we're tired out, tuck in our heads and sleep. . . . If only Derek
is not brooding over that poor man! Poor man--all alone in the
dark, with months of misery before him! Poor soul! Oh! I am sorry
for all the unhappiness of people! I can't bear to think of it. I
simply can't." And dropping her pen, Nedda went again to her
window and leaned out. So sweet the air smelled that it made her
ache with delight to breathe it in. Each leaf that lived out
there, each flower, each blade of grass, were sworn to conspiracy
of perfume. And she thought: 'They MUST all love each other; it
all goes together so beautifully!' Then, mingled with the incense
of the night, she caught the savor of woodsmoke. It seemed to make
the whole scent even more delicious, but she thought, bewildered:
'Smoke! Cruel fire--burning the wood that once grew leaves like
those. Oh! it IS so mixed!' It was a thought others have had
To see for himself how it fared with the big laborer at the hands
of Preliminary Justice, Felix went into Transham with Stanley the
following morning. John having departed early for town, the
brothers had not further exchanged sentiments on the subject of
what Stanley called 'the kick-up at Joyfields.' And just as night
will sometimes disperse the brooding moods of nature, so it had
brought to all three the feeling: 'Haven't we made too much of
this? Haven't we been a little extravagant, and aren't we rather
bored with the whole subject?' Arson was arson; a man in prison
more or less was a man in prison more or less! This was especially
Stanley's view, and he took the opportunity to say to Felix: "Look
here, old man, the thing is, of course, to see it in proportion."
It was with this intention, therefore, that Felix entered the
building where the justice of that neighborhood was customarily
dispensed. It was a species of small hall, somewhat resembling a
chapel, with distempered walls, a platform, and benches for the
public, rather well filled that morning--testimony to the stir the
little affair had made. Felix, familiar with the appearance of
London police courts, noted the efforts that had been made to
create resemblance to those models of administration. The justices
of the peace, hastily convoked and four in number, sat on the
platform, with a semicircular backing of high gray screens and a
green baize barrier in front of them, so that their legs and feet
were quite invisible. In this way had been preserved the really
essential feature of all human justice--at whose feet it is well
known one must not look! Their faces, on the contrary, were
entirely exposed to view, and presented that pleasing variety of
type and unanimity of expression peculiar to men keeping an open
mind. Below them, with his face toward the public, was placed a
gray-bearded man at a table also covered with green baize, that
emblem of authority. And to the side, at right angles, raised into
the air, sat a little terrier of a man, with gingery, wired hair,
obviously the more articulate soul of these proceedings. As Felix
sat down to worship, he noticed Mr. Pogram at the green baize
table, and received from the little man a nod and the faintest
whiff of lavender and gutta-percha. The next moment he caught
sight of Derek and Sheila, screwed sideways against one of the
distempered walls, looking, with their frowning faces, for all the
world like two young devils just turned out of hell. They did not
greet him, and Felix set to work to study the visages of Justice.
They impressed him, on the whole, more favorably than he had
expected. The one to his extreme left, with a gray-whiskered face,
was like a large and sleepy cat of mature age, who moved not,
except to write a word now and then on the paper before him, or to
hand back a document. Next to him, a man of middle age with bald
forehead and dark, intelligent eyes seemed conscious now and again
of the body of the court, and Felix thought: 'You have not been a
magistrate long.' The chairman, who sat next, with the moustache
of a heavy dragoon and gray hair parted in the middle, seemed, on
the other hand, oblivious of the public, never once looking at
them, and speaking so that they could not hear him, and Felix
thought: 'You have been a magistrate too long.' Between him and
the terrier man, the last of the four wrote diligently, below a
clean, red face with clipped white moustache and little peaked
beard. And Felix thought: 'Retired naval!' Then he saw that they
were bringing in Tryst. The big laborer advanced between two
constables, his broad, unshaven face held high, and his lowering
eyes, through which his strange and tragical soul seemed looking,
turned this way and that. Felix, who, no more than any one else,
could keep his gaze off the trapped creature, felt again all the
sensations of the previous afternoon.
"Guilty? or, Not guilty?" As if repeating something learned by
heart, Tryst answered: "Not guilty, sir." And his big hands, at
his sides, kept clenching and unclenching. The witnesses, four in
number, began now to give their testimony. A sergeant of police
recounted how he had been first summoned to the scene of burning,
and afterward arrested Tryst; Sir Gerald's agent described the
eviction and threats uttered by the evicted man; two persons, a
stone-breaker and a tramp, narrated that they had seen him going in
the direction of the rick and barn at five o'clock, and coming away
therefrom at five-fifteen. Punctuated by the barking of the
terrier clerk, all this took time, during which there passed
through Felix many thoughts. Here was a man who had done a wicked,
because an antisocial, act; the sort of act no sane person could
defend; an act so barbarous, stupid, and unnatural that the very
beasts of the field would turn noses away from it! How was it,
then, that he himself could not feel incensed? Was it that in
habitually delving into the motives of men's actions he had lost
the power of dissociating what a man did from what he was; had come
to see him, with his thoughts, deeds, and omissions, as a coherent
growth? And he looked at Tryst. The big laborer was staring with
all his soul at Derek. And, suddenly, he saw his nephew stand up--
tilt his dark head back against the wall--and open his mouth to
speak. In sheer alarm Felix touched Mr. Pogram on the arm. The
little square man had already turned; he looked at that moment
extremely like a frog.
"Gentlemen, I wish to say--"
"Who are you? Sit down!" It was the chairman, speaking for the
first time in a voice that could be heard.
"I wish to say that he is not responsible. I--"
"Silence! Silence, sir! Sit down!"
Felix saw his nephew waver, and Sheila pulling at his sleeve; then,
to his infinite relief, the boy sat down. His sallow face was red;
his thin lips compressed to a white line. And slowly under the
eyes of the whole court he grew deadly pale.
Distracted by fear that the boy might make another scene, Felix
followed the proceedings vaguely. They were over soon enough:
Tryst committed, defence reserved, bail refused--all as Mr. Pogram
Derek and Sheila had vanished, and in the street outside, idle at
this hour of a working-day, were only the cars of the four
magistrates; two or three little knots of those who had been in
court, talking of the case; and in the very centre of the street,
an old, dark-whiskered man, lame, and leaning on a stick.
"Very nearly being awkward," said the voice of Mr. Pogram in his
ear. "I say, do you think--no hand himself, surely no real hand
Felix shook his head violently. If the thought had once or twice
occurred to him, he repudiated it with all his force when shaped by
another's mouth--and such a mouth, so wide and rubbery!
"No, no! Strange boy! Extravagant sense of honour--too sensitive,
"Quite so," murmured Mr. Pogram soothingly. "These young people!
We live in a queer age, Mr. Freeland. All sorts of ideas about,
nowadays. Young men like that--better in the army--safe in the
army. No ideas there!"
"What happens now?" said Felix.
"Wait!" said Mr. Pogram. "Nothing else for it--wait. Three
months--twiddle his thumbs. Bad system! Rotten!"
"And suppose in the end he's proved innocent?"
Mr. Pogram shook his little round head, whose ears were very red.
"Ah!" he said: "Often say to my wife: 'Wish I weren't a
humanitarian!' Heart of india-rubber--excellent thing--the
greatest blessing. Well, good-morning! Anything you want to say
at any time, let me know!" And exhaling an overpowering whiff of
gutta-percha, he grasped Felix's hand and passed into a house on
the door of which was printed in brazen letters: "Edward Pogram,
James Collet. Solicitors. Agents."
On leaving the little humanitarian, Felix drifted back toward the
court. The cars were gone, the groups dispersed; alone, leaning on
his stick, the old, dark-whiskered man stood like a jackdaw with a
broken wing. Yearning, at that moment, for human intercourse,
Felix went up to him.
"Fine day," he said.
"Yes, sir, 'tis fine enough." And they stood silent, side by side.
The gulf fixed by class and habit between soul and human soul
yawned before Felix as it had never before. Stirred and troubled,
he longed to open his heart to this old, ragged, dark-eyed,
whiskered creature with the game leg, who looked as if he had
passed through all the thorns and thickets of hard and primitive
existence; he longed that the old fellow should lay bare to him his
heart. And for the life of him he could not think of any mortal
words which might bridge the unreal gulf between them. At last he
"You a native here?"
"No, sir. From over Malvern way. Livin' here with my darter,
owin' to my leg. Her 'usband works in this here factory."
"And I'm from London," Felix said.
"Thart you were. Fine place, London, they say!"
Felix shook his head. "Not so fine as this Worcestershire of
The old man turned his quick, dark gaze. "Aye!" he said,
"people'll be a bit nervy-like in towns, nowadays. The country be
a good place for a healthy man, too; I don't want no better place
than the country--never could abide bein' shut in."
"There aren't so very many like you, judging by the towns."
The old man smiled--that smile was the reverse of a bitter tonic
coated with sweet stuff to make it palatable.
"'Tes the want of a life takes 'em," he said. "There's not a many
like me. There's not so many as can't do without the smell of the
earth. With these 'ere newspapers--'tesn't taught nowadays. The
boys and gells they goes to school, and 'tes all in favor of the
towns there. I can't work no more; I'm 's good as gone meself; but
I feel sometimes I'll 'ave to go back. I don't like the streets,
an' I guess 'tes worse in London."
"Ah! Perhaps," Felix said, "there are more of us like you than you
Again the old man turned his dark, quick glance.
"Well, an' I widden say no to that, neither. I've seen 'em
terrible homesick. 'Tes certain sure there's lots would never go,
ef 'twasn't so mortial hard on the land. 'Tisn't a bare livin',
after that. An' they're put upon, right and left they're put upon.
'Tes only a man here and there that 'as something in 'im too
strong. I widden never 'ave stayed in the country ef 'twasn't that
I couldn't stand the town life. 'Tes like some breeds o' cattle--
you take an' put 'em out o' their own country, an' you 'ave to take
an' put 'em back again. Only some breeds, though. Others they
don' mind where they go. Well, I've seen the country pass in my
time, as you might say; where you used to see three men you only
see one now."
"Are they ever going back onto the land?"
"They tark about it. I read my newspaper reg'lar. In some places
I see they're makin' unions. That an't no good."
The old man smiled again.
"Why! Think of it! The land's different to anythin' else--that's
why! Different work, different hours, four men's work to-day and
one's to-morrow. Work land wi' unions, same as they've got in this
'ere factory, wi' their eight hours an' their do this an' don' do
that? No! You've got no weather in factories, an' such-like. On
the land 'tes a matter o' weather. On the land a man must be ready
for anythin' at any time; you can't work it no other way. 'Tes
along o' God's comin' into it; an' no use pullin' this way an'
that. Union says to me: You mustn't work after hours. Hoh! I've
'ad to set up all night wi' ship an' cattle hundreds o' times, an'
no extra for it. 'Tes not that way they'll do any good to keep
people on the land. Oh, no!"
"Well, you'll want new laws, o' course, to prevent farmers an'
landowners takin' their advantage; you want laws to build new
cottages; but mainly 'tes a case of hands together; can't be no
other--the land's so ticklish. If 'tesn't hands together, 'tes
nothing. I 'ad a master once that was never content so long's we
wasn't content. That farm was better worked than any in the
"Yes, but the difficulty is to get masters that can see the other
side; a man doesn't care much to look at home."
The old man's dark eyes twinkled.
'No; an' when 'e does, 'tes generally to say: 'Lord, an't I right,
an' an't they wrong, just?' That's powerful customary!"
"It is," said Felix; "God bless us all!"
"Ah! You may well say that, sir; an' we want it, too. A bit more
wages wouldn't come amiss, neither. An' a bit more freedom; 'tes a
man's liberty 'e prizes as well as money."
"Did you hear about this arson case?"
The old man cast a glance this way and that before he answered in a
"They say 'e was put out of his cottage. I've seen men put out for
votin' Liberal; I've seen 'em put out for free-thinkin'; all sorts
o' things I seen em put out for. 'Tes that makes the bad blood. A
man wants to call 'is soul 'is own, when all's said an' done. An'
'e can't, not in th' old country, unless 'e's got the dibs."
"And yet you never thought of emigrating?"
"Thart of it--ah! thart of it hundreds o' times; but some'ow cudden
never bring mysel' to the scratch o' not seein' th' Beacon any
more. I can just see it from 'ere, you know. But there's not so
many like me, an' gettin' fewer every day."
"Yes," murmured Felix, "that I believe."
"'Tes a 'and-made piece o' goods--the land! You has to be fond of
it, same as of your missis and yer chillen. These poor pitiful
fellows that's workin' in this factory, makin' these here Colonial
ploughs--union's all right for them--'tes all mechanical; but a man
on the land, 'e's got to put the land first, whether 'tes his own
or some one else's, or he'll never do no good; might as well go for
a postman, any day. I'm keepin' of you, though, with my tattle!"
In truth, Felix had looked at the old man, for the accursed
question had begun to worry him: Ought he or not to give the lame
old fellow something? Would it hurt his feelings? Why could he
not say simply: 'Friend, I'm better off than you; help me not to
feel so unfairly favored'? Perhaps he might risk it. And, diving
into his trousers pockets, he watched the old man's eyes. If they
followed his hand, he would risk it. But they did not.
Withdrawing his hand, he said:
"Have a cigar?"
The old fellow's dark face twinkled.
"I don' know," he said, "as I ever smoked one; but I can have a
darned old try!"
"Take the lot," said Felix, and shuffled into the other's pocket
the contents of his cigar-case. "If you get through one, you'll
want the rest. They're pretty good."
"Ah!" said the old man. "Shuldn' wonder, neither."
"Good-by. I hope your leg will soon be better."
"Thank 'ee, sir. Good-by, thank 'ee!"
Looking back from the turning, Felix saw him still standing there
in the middle of the empty street.
Having undertaken to meet his mother, who was returning this
afternoon to Becket, he had still two hours to put away, and
passing Mr. Pogram's house, he turned into a path across a clover-
field and sat down on a stile. He had many thoughts, sitting at
the foot of this little town--which his great-grandfather had
brought about. And chiefly he thought of the old man he had been
talking to, sent there, as it seemed to him, by Providence, to
afford a prototype for his 'The Last of the Laborers.' Wonderful
that the old fellow should talk of loving 'the Land,' whereon he
must have toiled for sixty years or so, at a number of shillings
per week, that would certainly not buy the cigars he had shovelled
into that ragged pocket. Wonderful! And yet, a marvellous sweet
thing, when all was said--this land! Changing its sheen and
texture, the feel of its air, its very scent, from day to day.
This land with myriad offspring of flowers and flying folk; the
majestic and untiring march of seasons: Spring and its wistful
ecstasy of saplings, and its yearning, wild, wind-loosened heart;
gleam and song, blossom and cloud, and the swift white rain; each
upturned leaf so little and so glad to flutter; each wood and field
so full of peeping things! Summer! Ah! Summer, when on the
solemn old trees the long days shone and lingered, and the glory of
the meadows and the murmur of life and the scent of flowers
bewildered tranquillity, till surcharge of warmth and beauty
brooded into dark passion, and broke! And Autumn, in mellow haze
down on the fields and woods; smears of gold already on the
beeches, smears of crimson on the rowans, the apple-trees still
burdened, and a flax-blue sky well-nigh merging with the misty air;
the cattle browsing in the lingering golden stillness; not a breath
to fan the blue smoke of the weed-fires--and in the fields no one
moving--who would disturb such mellow peace? And Winter! The long
spaces, the long dark; and yet--and yet, what delicate loveliness
of twig tracery; what blur of rose and brown and purple caught in
the bare boughs and in the early sunset sky! What sharp dark
flights of birds in the gray-white firmament! Who cared what
season held in its arms this land that had bred them all!
Not wonderful that into the veins of those who nursed it, tending,
watching its perpetual fertility, should be distilled a love so
deep and subtle that they could not bear to leave it, to abandon
its hills, and greenness, and bird-songs, and all the impress of
their forefathers throughout the ages.
Like so many of his fellows--cultured moderns, alien to the larger
forms of patriotism, that rich liquor brewed of maps and figures,
commercial profit, and high-cockalorum, which served so perfectly
to swell smaller heads--Felix had a love of his native land
resembling love for a woman, a kind of sensuous chivalry, a passion
based on her charm, on her tranquillity, on the power she had to
draw him into her embrace, to make him feel that he had come from
her, from her alone, and into her alone was going back. And this
green parcel of his native land, from which the half of his blood
came, and that the dearest half, had a potency over his spirit that
he might well be ashamed of in days when the true Briton was a
town-bred creature with a foot of fancy in all four corners of the
globe. There was ever to him a special flavor about the elm-girt
fields, the flowery coppices, of this country of the old Moretons,
a special fascination in its full, white-clouded skies, its grass-
edged roads, its pied and creamy cattle, and the blue-green loom of
the Malvern hills. If God walked anywhere for him, it was surely
here. Sentiment! Without sentiment, without that love, each for
his own corner, 'the Land' was lost indeed! Not if all Becket blew
trumpets till kingdom came, would 'the Land' be reformed, if they
lost sight of that! To fortify men in love for their motherland,
to see that insecurity, grinding poverty, interference, petty
tyranny, could no longer undermine that love--this was to be,
surely must be, done! Monotony? Was that cry true? What work now
performed by humble men was less monotonous than work on the land?
What work was even a tenth part so varied? Never quite the same
from day to day: Now weeding, now hay, now roots, now hedging; now
corn, with sowing, reaping, threshing, stacking, thatching; the
care of beasts, and their companionship; sheep-dipping, shearing,
wood-gathering, apple-picking, cider-making; fashioning and tarring
gates; whitewashing walls; carting; trenching--never, never two
days quite the same! Monotony! The poor devils in factories, in
shops, in mines; poor devils driving 'busses, punching tickets,
cleaning roads; baking; cooking; sewing; typing! Stokers; machine-
tenders; brick-layers; dockers; clerks! Ah! that great company
from towns might well cry out: Monotony! True, they got their
holidays; true, they had more social life--a point that might well
be raised at Becket: Holidays and social life for men on the soil!
But--and suddenly Felix thought of the long, long holiday that was
before the laborer Tryst. 'Twiddle his thumbs'--in the words of
the little humanitarian--twiddle his thumbs in a space twelve feet
by seven! No sky to see, no grass to smell, no beast to bear him
company; no anything--for, what resources in himself had this poor
creature? No anything, but to sit with tragic eyes fixed on the
wall before him for eighty days and eighty nights, before they
tried him. And then--not till then--would his punishment for that
moment's blind revenge for grievous wrong begin! What on this
earth of God's was more disproportioned, and wickedly extravagant,
more crassly stupid, than the arrangements of his most perfect
creature, man? What a devil was man, who could yet rise to such
sublime heights of love and heroism! What a ferocious brute, the
most ferocious and cold-blooded brute that lived! Of all creatures
most to be stampeded by fear into a callous torturer! 'Fear'--
thought Felix--'fear! Not momentary panic, such as makes our
brother animals do foolish things; conscious, calculating fear,
paralyzing the reason of our minds and the generosity of our
hearts. A detestable thing Tryst has done, a hateful act; but his
punishment will be twentyfold as hateful!'
And, unable to sit and think of it, Felix rose and walked on
through the fields. . . .
He was duly at Transham station in time for the London train, and,
after a minute consecrated to looking in the wrong direction, he
saw his mother already on the platform with her bag, an air-
cushion, and a beautifully neat roll.
'Travelling third!' he thought. 'Why will she do these things?'
Slightly flushed, she kissed Felix with an air of abstraction.
"How good of you to meet me, darling!"
Felix pointed in silence to the crowded carriage from which she had
emerged. Frances Freeland looked a little rueful. "It would have
been delightful," she said. "There was a dear baby there and, of
course, I couldn't have the window down, so it WAS rather hot."
Felix, who could just see the dear baby, said dryly:
"So that's how you go about, is it? Have you had any lunch?"
Frances Freeland put her hand under his arm. "Now, don't fuss,
darling! Here's sixpence for the porter. There's only one trunk--
it's got a violet label. Do you know them? They're so useful.
You see them at once. I must get you some."
"Let me take those things. You won't want this cushion. I'll let
the air out."
"I'm afraid you won't be able, dear. It's quite the best screw
I've ever come across--a splendid thing; I can't get it undone."
"Ah!" said Felix. "And now we may as well go out to the car!"
He was conscious of a slight stoppage in his mother's footsteps and
rather a convulsive squeeze of her hand on his arm. Looking at her
face, he discovered it occupied with a process whose secret he
could not penetrate, a kind of disarray of her features, rapidly
and severely checked, and capped with a resolute smile. They had
already reached the station exit, where Stanley's car was snorting.
Frances Freeland looked at it, then, mounting rather hastily, sat,
compressing her lips.
When they were off, Felix said:
"Would you like to stop at the church and have a look at the
brasses to your grandfather and the rest of them?"
His mother, who had slipped her hand under his arm again, answered:
"No, dear; I've seen them. The church is not at all beautiful. I
like the old church at Becket so much better; it is such a pity
your great-grandfather was not buried there."
She had never quite got over the lack of 'niceness' about those
Going, as was the habit of Stanley's car, at considerable speed,
Felix was not at first certain whether the peculiar little squeezes
his arm was getting were due to the bounds of the creature under
them or to some cause more closely connected with his mother, and
it was not till they shaved a cart at the turning of the Becket
drive that it suddenly dawned on him that she was in terror. He
discovered it in looking round just as she drew her smile over a
spasm of her face and throat. And, leaning out of the car, he
"Drive very slowly, Batter; I want to look at the trees."
A little sigh rewarded him. Since SHE had said nothing, He said
nothing, and Clara's words in the hall seemed to him singularly
"Oh! I meant to have reminded you, Felix, to send the car back and
take a fly. I thought you knew that Mother's terrified of motors."
And at his mother's answer:
"Oh! no; I quite enjoyed it, dear," he thought: 'Bless her heart!
She IS a stoic!'
Whether or no to tell her of the 'kick-up at Joyfields' exercised
his mind. The question was intricate, for she had not yet been
informed that Nedda and Derek were engaged, and Felix did not feel
at liberty to forestall the young people. That was their business.
On the other hand, she would certainly glean from Clara a garbled
understanding of the recent events at Joyfields, if she were not
first told of them by himself. And he decided to tell her, with
the natural trepidation of one who, living among principles and
theories, never quite knew what those, for whom each fact is
unrelated to anything else under the moon, were going to think.
Frances Freeland, he knew well, kept facts and theories especially
unrelated, or, rather, modified her facts to suit her theories,
instead of, like Felix, her theories to suit her facts. For
example, her instinctive admiration for Church and State, her
instinctive theory that they rested on gentility and people who
were nice, was never for a moment shaken when she saw a half-
starved baby of the slums. Her heart would impel her to pity and
feed the poor little baby if she could, but to correlate the
creature with millions of other such babies, and those millions
with the Church and State, would not occur to her. And if Felix
made an attempt to correlate them for her she would look at him and
think: 'Dear boy! How good he is! I do wish he wouldn't let that
line come in his forehead; it does so spoil it!' And she would
say: "Yes, darling, I know, it's very sad; only I'm NOT clever."
And, if a Liberal government chanced to be in power, would add: "Of
course, I do think this Government is dreadful. I MUST show you a
sermon of the dear Bishop of Walham. I cut it out of the 'Daily
Mystery.' He puts things so well--he always has such nice ideas."
And Felix, getting up, would walk a little and sit down again too
suddenly. Then, as if entreating him to look over her want of
'cleverness,' she would put out a hand that, for all its whiteness,
had never been idle and smooth his forehead. It had sometimes
touched him horribly to see with what despair she made attempts to
follow him in his correlating efforts, and with what relief she
heard him cease enough to let her say: "Yes, dear; only, I must
show you this new kind of expanding cork. It's simply splendid.
It bottles up everything!" And after staring at her just a moment
he would acquit her of irony. Very often after these occasions he
had thought, and sometimes said: "Mother, you're the best
Conservative I ever met." She would glance at him then, with a
special loving doubtfulness, at a loss as to whether or no he had
designed to compliment her.
When he had given her half an hour to rest he made his way to the
blue corridor, where a certain room was always kept for her, who
never occupied it long enough at a time to get tired of it. She
was lying on a sofa in a loose gray cashmere gown. The windows
were open, and the light breeze just moved in the folds of the
chintz curtains and stirred perfume from a bowl of pinks--her
favorite flowers. There was no bed in this bedroom, which in all
respects differed from any other in Clara's house, as though the
spirit of another age and temper had marched in and dispossessed
the owner. Felix had a sensation that one was by no means all body
here. On the contrary. There was not a trace of the body
anywhere; as if some one had decided that the body was not quite
nice. No bed, no wash-stand, no chest of drawers, no wardrobe, no
mirror, not even a jar of Clara's special pot-pourri. And Felix
"This can't be your bedroom, Mother?"
Frances Freeland answered, with a touch of deprecating quizzicality:
"Oh yes, darling. I must show you my arrangements." And she rose.
"This," she said, "you see, goes under there, and that under here;
and that again goes under this. Then they all go under that, and
then I pull this. It's lovely."
"But why?" said Felix.
"Oh! but don't you see? It's so nice; nobody can tell. And it
doesn't give any trouble."
"And when you go to bed?"
"Oh! I just pop my clothes into this and open that. And there I
am. It's simply splendid."
"I see," said Felix. "Do you think I might sit down, or shall I go
Frances Freeland loved him with her eyes, and said:
And Felix sat down on what appeared to be a window-seat.
"Well," he said, with slight uneasiness, for she was hovering, "I
think you're wonderful."
Frances Freeland put away an impeachment that she evidently felt to
be too soft.
"Oh! but it's all so simple, darling." And Felix saw that she had
something in her hand, and mind.
"This is my little electric brush. It'll do wonders with your
hair. While you sit there, I'll just try it."
A clicking and a whirring had begun to occur close to his ear, and
something darted like a gadfly at his scalp.
"I came to tell you something serious, Mother."
"Yes, darling; it'll be simply lovely to hear it; and you mustn't
mind this, because it really is a first-rate thing--quite new."
Now, how is it, thought Felix, that any one who loves the new as
she does, when it's made of matter, will not even look at it when
it's made of mind? And, while the little machine buzzed about his
head, he proceeded to detail to her the facts of the state of
things that existed at Joyfields.
When he had finished, she said:
"Now, darling, bend down a little."
Felix bent down. And the little machine began severely tweaking
the hairs on the nape of his neck. He sat up again rather suddenly.
Frances Freeland was contemplating the little machine.
"How very provoking! It's never done that before!"
"Quite so!" Felix murmured. "But about Joyfields?"
"Oh, my dear, it IS such a pity they don't get on with those
Mallorings! I do think it sad they weren't brought up to go to
Felix stared, not knowing whether to be glad or sorry that his
recital had not roused within her the faintest suspicion of
disaster. How he envied her that single-minded power of not seeing
further than was absolutely needful! And suddenly he thought: 'She
really is wonderful! With her love of church, how it must hurt her
that we none of us go, not even John! And yet she never says a
word. There really is width about her; a power of accepting the
inevitable. Never was woman more determined to make the best of a
bad job. It's a great quality!' And he heard her say:
"Now, darling, if I give you this, you must promise me to use it
every morning. You'll find you'll soon have a splendid crop of
little young hairs."
"I know," he said gloomily; "but they won't come to anything. Age
has got my head, Mother, just as it's got 'the Land's.'"
"Oh, nonsense! You must go on with it, that's all!"
Felix turned so that he could look at her. She was moving round
the room now, meticulously adjusting the framed photographs of her
family that were the only decoration of the walls. How formal,
chiselled, and delicate her face, yet how almost fanatically
decisive! How frail and light her figure, yet how indomitably
active! And the memory assailed him of how, four years ago, she
had defeated double pneumonia without having a doctor, simply by
lying on her back. 'She leaves trouble,' he thought, 'until it's
under her nose, then simply tells it that it isn't there. There's
something very English about that.'
She was chasing a bluebottle now with a little fan made of wire,
and, coming close to Felix, said:
"Have you seen these, darling? You've only to hit the fly and it
kills him at once."
"But do you ever hit the fly?"
"Oh, yes!" And she waved the fan at the bluebottle, which avoided
it without seeming difficulty.
"I can't bear hurting them, but I DON'T like flies. There!"
The bluebottle flew out of the window behind Felix and in at the
one that was not behind him. He rose.
"You ought to rest before tea, Mother."
He felt her searching him with her eyes, as if trying desperately
to find something she might bestow upon or do for him.
"Would you like this wire--"
With a feeling that he was defrauding love, he turned and fled.
She would never rest while he was there! And yet there was that in
her face which made him feel a brute to go.
Passing out of the house, sunk in its Monday hush, no vestige of a
Bigwig left, Felix came to that new-walled mound where the old
house of the Moretons had been burned 'by soldiers from Tewkesbury
and Gloucester,' as said the old chronicles dear to the heart of
Clara. And on the wall he sat him down. Above, in the uncut
grass, he could see the burning blue of a peacock's breast, where
the heraldic bird stood digesting grain in the repose of perfect
breeding, and below him gardeners were busy with the gooseberries.
'Gardeners and the gooseberries of the great!' he thought. 'Such
is the future of our Land.' And he watched them. How methodically
they went to work! How patient and well-done-for they looked!
After all, was it not the ideal future? Gardeners, gooseberries,
and the great! Each of the three content in that station of life
into which--! What more could a country want? Gardeners,
gooseberries, and the great! The phrase had a certain hypnotic
value. Why trouble? Why fuss? Gardeners, gooseberries, and the
great! A perfect land! A land dedicate to the week-end!
Gardeners, goose--! And suddenly he saw that he was not alone.
Half hidden by the angle of the wall, on a stone of the
foundations, carefully preserved and nearly embedded in the nettles
which Clara had allowed to grow because they added age to the
appearance, was sitting a Bigwig. One of the Settleham faction, he
had impressed Felix alike by his reticence, the steady sincerity of
his gray eyes, a countenance that, beneath a simple and delicate
urbanity, had still in it something of the best type of schoolboy.
'How comes he to have stayed?' he mused. 'I thought they always
fed and scattered!' And having received an answer to his
salutation, he moved across and said:
"I imagined you'd gone."
"I've been having a look round. It's very jolly here. My
affections are in the North, but I suppose this is pretty well the
heart of England."
"Near 'the big song,'" Felix answered. "There'll never be anything
more English than Shakespeare, when all's said and done." And he
took a steady, sidelong squint at his companion. 'This is another
of the types I've been looking for,' he reflected. The peculiar
'don't-quite-touch-me' accent of the aristocrat--and of those who
would be--had almost left this particular one, as though he
secretly aspired to rise superior and only employed it in the
nervousness of his first greetings. 'Yes,' thought Felix, 'he's
just about the very best we can do among those who sit upon 'the
Land.' I would wager there's not a better landlord nor a better
fellow in all his class, than this one. He's chalks away superior
to Malloring, if I know anything of faces--would never have turned
poor Tryst out. If this exception were the rule! And yet--! Does
he, can he, go quite far enough to meet the case? If not--what
hope of regeneration from above? Would he give up his shooting?
Could he give up feeling he's a leader? Would he give up his town
house and collecting whatever it is he collects? Could he let
himself sink down and merge till he was just unseen leaven of good-
fellowship and good-will, working in the common bread?' And
squinting at that sincere, clean, charming, almost fine face, he
answered himself unwillingly: 'He could not!' And suddenly he knew
that he was face to face with the tremendous question which soon or
late confronts all thinkers. Sitting beside him--was the highest
product of the present system! With its charm, humanity, courage,
chivalry up to a point, its culture, and its cleanliness, this
decidedly rare flower at the end of a tall stalk, with dark and
tortuous roots and rank foliage, was in a sense the sole
justification of power wielded from above. And was it good enough?
Was it quite good enough? Like so many other thinkers, Felix
hesitated to reply. If only merit and the goods of this world
could be finally divorced! If the reward of virtue were just men's
love and an unconscious self-respect! If only 'to have nothing'
were the highest honour! And yet, to do away with this beside him
and put in its place--What? No kiss-me-quick change had a chance
of producing anything better. To scrap the long growth of man and
start afresh was but to say: 'Since in the past the best that man
has done has not been good enough, I have a perfect faith in him
for the future!' No! That was a creed for archangels and other
extremists. Safer to work on what we had! And he began:
"Next door to this estate I'm told there's ten thousand acres
almost entirely grass and covert, owned by Lord Baltimore, who
lives in Norfolk, London, Cannes, and anywhere else that the whim
takes him. He comes down here twice a year to shoot. The case is
extremely common. Surely it spells paralysis. If land is to be
owned at all in such great lumps, owners ought at least to live on
the lumps, and to pass very high examinations as practical farmers.
They ought to be the life and soul, the radiating sun, of their
little universes; or else they ought to be cleared out. How expect
keen farming to start from such an example? It really looks to me
as if the game laws would have to go." And he redoubled his
scrutiny of the Bigwig's face. A little furrow in its brow had
deepened visibly, but nodding, he said:
"The absentee landlord is a curse, of course. I'm afraid I'm a bit
of a one myself. And I'm bound to say--though I'm keen on
shooting--if the game laws were abolished, it might do a lot."
"YOU wouldn't move in that direction, I suppose?"
The Bigwig smiled--charming, rather whimsical, that smile.
"Honestly, I'm not up to it. The spirit, you know, but the flesh--!
My line is housing and wages, of course."
'There it is,' thought Felix. 'Up to a point, they'll move--not up
to THE point. It's all fiddling. One won't give up his shooting;
another won't give up his power; a third won't give up her week-
ends; a fourth won't give up his freedom. Our interest in the
thing is all lackadaisical, a kind of bun-fight of pet notions.
There's no real steam.' And abruptly changing the subject, he
talked of pictures to the pleasant Bigwig in the sleepy afternoon.
Of how this man could paint, and that man couldn't. And in the
uncut grass the peacock slowly moved, displaying his breast of
burning blue; and below, the gardeners worked among the gooseberries.
Nedda, borrowing the bicycle of Clara's maid, Sirrett, had been
over to Joyfields, and only learned on her return of her
grandmother's arrival. In her bath before dinner there came to her
one of those strategic thoughts that even such as are no longer
quite children will sometimes conceive. She hurried desperately
into her clothes, and, ready full twenty minutes before the gong
was due to sound, made her way to her grandmother's room. Frances
Freeland had just pulled THIS, and, to her astonishment, THAT had
not gone in properly. She was looking at it somewhat severely,
when she heard Nedda's knock. Drawing a screen temporarily over
the imperfection, she said: "Come in!"
The dear child looked charming in her white evening dress with one
red flower in her hair; and while she kissed her, she noted that
the neck of her dress was just a little too open to be quite nice,
and at once thought: 'I've got the very thing for that.'
Going to a drawer that no one could have suspected of being there,
she took from it a little diamond star. Getting delicate but firm
hold of the Mechlin at the top of the frock, she popped it in, so
that the neck was covered at least an inch higher, and said:
"Now, ducky, you're to keep that as a little present. You've no
idea how perfectly it suits you just like this." And having
satisfied for the moment her sense of niceness and that continual
itch to part with everything she had, she surveyed her
granddaughter, lighted up by that red flower, and said:
"How sweet you look!"
Nedda, looking down past cheeks colored by pleasure at the new
little star on a neck rather browned by her day in the sun,
"Oh, Granny! it's much too lovely! You mustn't give it to me!"
These were moments that Frances Freeland loved best in life; and,
with the untruthfulness in which she only indulged when she gave
things away, or otherwise benefited her neighbors with or without
their will, she added: "It's quite wasted; I never wear it myself."
And, seeing Nedda's smile, for the girl recollected perfectly
having admired it during dinner at Uncle John's, and at Becket
itself, she said decisively, "So that's that!" and settled her down
on the sofa. But just as she was thinking, 'I have the very thing
for the dear child's sunburn,' Nedda said: "Granny, dear, I've been
meaning to tell you--Derek and I are engaged."
For the moment Frances Freeland could do nothing but tremulously
interlace her fingers.
"Oh, but, darling," she said very gravely, "have you thought?"
"I think of nothing else, Granny."
"But has he thought?"
Frances Freeland sat staring straight before her. Nedda and Derek,
Derek and Nedda! The news was almost unintelligible; those two
were still for her barely more than little creatures to be tucked
up at night. Engaged! Marriage! Between those who were both as
near to her, almost, as her own children had been! The effort was
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