Part 5 out of 6
for the moment quite too much for her, and a sort of pain disturbed
her heart. Then the crowning principle of her existence came a
little to her aid. No use in making a fuss; must put the best face
on it, whether it were going to come to anything or not! And she
"Well, darling, I don't know, I'm sure. I dare say it's very
lovely for you. But do you think you've seen enough of him?"
Nedda gave her a swift look, then dropped her lashes, so that her
eyes seemed closed. Snuggling up, she said:
"No, Granny, I do wish I could see more; if only I could go and
stay with them a little!"
And as she planted that dart of suggestion, the gong sounded.
In Frances Freeland, lying awake till two, as was her habit, the
suggestion grew. To this growth not only her custom of putting the
best face on things, but her incurable desire to make others happy,
and an instinctive sympathy with love-affairs, all contributed;
moreover, Felix had said something about Derek's having been
concerned in something rash. If darling Nedda were there it would
occupy his mind and help to make him careful. Never dilatory in
forming resolutions, she decided to take the girl over with her on
the morrow. Kirsteen had a dear little spare room, and Nedda
should take her bag. It would be a nice surprise for them all.
Accordingly, next morning, not wanting to give any trouble, she
sent Thomas down to the Red Lion, where they had a comfortable fly,
with a very steady, respectable driver, and ordered it to come at
half past two. Then, without saying anything to Clara, she told
Nedda to be ready to pop in her bag, trusting to her powers of
explaining everything to everybody without letting anybody know
anything. Little difficulties of this sort never bunkered her; she
was essentially a woman of action. And on the drive to Joyfields
she stilled the girl's quavering with:
"It's all right, darling; it'll be very nice for them."
She was perhaps the only person in the world who was not just a
little bit afraid of Kirsteen. Indeed, she was constitutionally
unable to be afraid of anything, except motor-cars, and, of course,
earwigs, and even them one must put up with. Her critical sense
told her that this woman in blue was just like anybody else,
besides her father had been the colonel of a Highland regiment,
which was quite nice, and one must put the best face on her.
In this way, pointing out the beauty of each feature of the
scenery, and not permitting herself or Nedda to think about the
bag, they drove until they came to Joyfields.
Kirsteen alone was in, and, having sent Nedda into the orchard to
look for her uncle, Frances Freeland came at once to the point. It
was so important, she thought, that darling Nedda should see more
of dear Derek. They were very young, and if she could stay for a
few weeks, they would both know their minds so much better. She
had made her bring her bag, because she knew dear Kirsteen would
agree with her; and it would be so nice for them all. Felix had
told her about that poor man who had done this dreadful thing, and
she thought that if Nedda were here it would be a distraction. She
was a very good child, and quite useful in the house. And while
she was speaking she watched Kirsteen, and thought: 'She is very
handsome, and altogether ladylike; only it is such a pity she wears
that blue thing in her hair--it makes her so conspicuous.' And
rather unexpectedly she said:
"Do you know, dear, I believe I know the very thing to keep your
hair from getting loose. It's such lovely hair. And this is quite
a new thing, and doesn't show at all; invented by a very nice
hairdresser in Worcester. It's simplicity itself. Do let me show
you!" Quickly going over, she removed the kingfisher-blue fillet,
and making certain passes with her fingers through the hair,
"It's so beautifully fine; it seems such a pity not to show it all,
dear. Now look at yourself!" And from the recesses of her pocket
she produced a little mirror. "I'm sure Tod will simply love it
like that. It'll be such a nice change for him."
Kirsteen, with just a faint wrinkling of her lips and eyebrows,
waited till she had finished. Then she said:
"Yes, Mother, dear, I'm sure he will," and replaced the fillet. A
patient, half-sad, half-quizzical smile visited Frances Freeland's
lips, as who should say: 'Yes, I know you think that I'm a fuss-
box, but it really is a pity that you wear it so, darling!'
At sight of that smile, Kirsteen got up and kissed her gravely on
When Nedda came back from a fruitless search for Tod, her bag was
already in the little spare bedroom and Frances Freeland gone. The
girl had never yet been alone with her aunt, for whom she had a
fervent admiration not unmixed with awe. She idealized her, of
course, thinking of her as one might think of a picture or statue,
a symbolic figure, standing for liberty and justice and the redress
of wrong. Her never-varying garb of blue assisted the girl's
fancy, for blue was always the color of ideals and aspiration--was
not blue sky the nearest one could get to heaven--were not blue
violets the flowers of spring? Then, too, Kirsteen was a woman
with whom it would be quite impossible to gossip or small-talk;
with her one could but simply and directly say what one felt, and
only that over things which really mattered. And this seemed to
Nedda so splendid that it sufficed in itself to prevent the girl
from saying anything whatever. She longed to, all the same,
feeling that to be closer to her aunt meant to be closer to Derek.
Yet, with all, she knew that her own nature was very different;
this, perhaps, egged her on, and made her aunt seem all the more
exciting. She waited breathless till Kirsteen said:
"Yes, you and Derek must know each other better. The worst kind of
prison in the world is a mistaken marriage."
Nedda nodded fervently. "It must be. But I think one knows, Aunt
She felt as if she were being searched right down to the soul
before the answer came:
"Perhaps. I knew myself. I have seen others who did--a few. I
think you might."
Nedda flushed from sheer joy. "I could never go on if I didn't
love. I feel I couldn't, even if I'd started."
With another long look through narrowing eyes, Kirsteen answered:
"Yes. You would want truth. But after marriage truth is an
unhappy thing, Nedda, if you have made a mistake."
"It must be dreadful. Awful."
"So don't make a mistake, my dear--and don't let him."
Nedda answered solemnly:
"I won't--oh, I won't!"
Kirsteen had turned away to the window, and Nedda heard her say
quietly to herself:
"'Liberty's a glorious feast!'"
Trembling all over with the desire to express what was in her,
"I would never keep anything that wanted to be free--never, never!
I would never try to make any one do what they didn't want to!"
She saw her aunt smile, and wondered whether she had said anything
exceptionally foolish. But it was not foolish--surely not--to say
what one really felt.
"Some day, Nedda, all the world will say that with you. Until then
we'll fight those who won't say it. Have you got everything in
your room you want? Let's come and see."
To pass from Becket to Joyfields was really a singular experience.
At Becket you were certainly supposed to do exactly what you liked,
but the tyranny of meals, baths, scents, and other accompaniments
of the 'all-body' regime soon annihilated every impulse to do
anything but just obey it. At Joyfields, bodily existence was a
kind of perpetual skirmish, a sort of grudged accompaniment to a
state of soul. You might be alone in the house at any meal-time.
You might or might not have water in your jug. And as to baths,
you had to go out to a little white-washed shed at the back, with a
brick floor, where you pumped on yourself, prepared to shout out,
"Halloo! I'm here!" in case any one else came wanting to do the
same. The conditions were in fact almost perfect for seeing more
of one another. Nobody asked where you were going, with whom
going, or how going. You might be away by day or night without
exciting curiosity or comment. And yet you were conscious of a
certain something always there, holding the house together; some
principle of life, or perhaps--just a woman in blue. There, too,
was that strangest of all phenomena in an English home--no game
ever played, outdoors or in.
The next fortnight, while the grass was ripening, was a wonderful
time for Nedda, given up to her single passion--of seeing more of
him who so completely occupied her heart. She was at peace now
with Sheila, whose virility forbade that she should dispute pride
of place with this soft and truthful guest, so evidently immersed
in rapture. Besides, Nedda had that quality of getting on well
with her own sex, found in those women who, though tenacious, are
not possessive; who, though humble, are secretly very self-
respecting; who, though they do not say much about it, put all
their eggs in one basket; above all, who disengage, no matter what
their age, a candid but subtle charm.
But that fortnight was even more wonderful for Derek, caught
between two passions--both so fervid. For though the passion of
his revolt against the Mallorings did not pull against his passion
for Nedda, they both tugged at him. And this had one curious
psychological effect. It made his love for Nedda more actual, less
of an idealization. Now that she was close to him, under the same
roof, he felt the full allurement of her innocent warmth; he would
have been cold-blooded indeed if he had not taken fire, and, his
pride always checking the expression of his feelings, they glowed
ever hotter underneath.
Yet, over those sunshiny days there hung a shadow, as of something
kept back, not shared between them; a kind of waiting menace.
Nedda learned of Kirsteen and Sheila all the useful things she
could; the evenings she passed with Derek, those long evenings of
late May and early June, this year so warm and golden. They walked
generally in the direction of the hills. A favorite spot was a
wood of larches whose green shoots had not yet quite ceased to
smell of lemons. Tall, slender things those trees, whose stems and
dried lower branch-growth were gray, almost sooty, up to the
feathery green of the tops, that swayed and creaked faintly in a
wind, with a soughing of their branches like the sound of the sea.
From the shelter of those Highland trees, rather strange in such a
countryside, they two could peer forth at the last sunlight gold-
powdering the fringed branches, at the sunset flush dyeing the sky
above the Beacon; watch light slowly folding gray wings above the
hay-fields and the elms; mark the squirrels scurry along, and the
pigeons' evening flight. A stream ran there at the edge, and
beech-trees grew beside it. In the tawny-dappled sand bed of that
clear water, and the gray-green dappled trunks of those beeches
with their great, sinuous, long-muscled roots, was that something
which man can never tame or garden out of the land: the strength of
unconquerable fertility--the remote deep life in Nature's heart.
Men and women had their spans of existence; those trees seemed as
if there forever! From generation to generation lovers might come
and, looking on this strength and beauty, feel in their veins the
sap of the world. Here the laborer and his master, hearing the
wind in the branches and the water murmuring down, might for a
brief minute grasp the land's unchangeable wild majesty. And on
the far side of that little stream was a field of moon-colored
flowers that had for Nedda a strange fascination. Once the boy
jumped across and brought her back a handkerchief full. They were
of two kinds: close to the water's edge the marsh orchis, and
farther back, a small marguerite. Out of this they made a crown of
the alternate flowers, and a girdle for her waist. That was an
evening of rare beauty, and warm enough already for an early chafer
to go blooming in the dusk. An evening when they wandered with
their arms round each other a long time, silent, stopping to listen
to an owl; stopping to point out each star coming so shyly up in
the gray-violet of the sky. And that was the evening when they had
a strange little quarrel, sudden as a white squall on a blue sea,
or the tiff of two birds shooting up in a swift spiral of attack
and then--all over. Would he come to-morrow to see her milking?
He could not. Why? He could not; he would be out. Ah! he never
told her where he went; he never let her come with him among the
laborers like Sheila.
"I can't; I'm pledged not."
"Then you don't trust me!"
"Of course I trust you; but a promise is a promise. You oughtn't
to ask me, Nedda."
"No; but I would never have promised to keep anything from you."
"You don't understand."
"Oh! yes, I do. Love doesn't mean the same to you that it does to me."
"How do you know what it means to me?"
"I couldn't have a secret from you."
"Then you don't count honour."
"Honour only binds oneself!"
"What d'you mean by that?"
"I include you--you don't include me in yourself, that's all."
"I think you're very unjust. I was obliged to promise; it doesn't
only concern myself."
Then silent, motionless, a yard apart, they looked fiercely at each
other, their hearts stiff and sore, and in their brains no glimmer
of perception of anything but tragedy. What more tragic than to
have come out of an elysium of warm arms round each other, to this
sudden hostility! And the owl went on hooting, and the larches
smelled sweet! And all around was the same soft dusk wherein the
flowers in her hair and round her waist gleamed white! But for
Nedda the world had suddenly collapsed. Tears rushed into her eyes;
she shook her head and turned away, hiding them passionately. . . .
A full minute passed, each straining to make no sound and catch
the faintest sound from the other, till in her breathing there was
a little clutch. His fingers came stealing round, touched her
cheeks, and were wetted. His arms suddenly squeezed all breath
out of her; his lips fastened on hers. She answered those lips
with her own desperately, bending her head back, shutting her wet
eyes. And the owl hooted, and the white flowers fell into the dusk
off her hair and waist.
After that, they walked once more enlaced, avoiding with what
perfect care any allusion to the sudden tragedy, giving themselves
up to the bewildering ecstasy that had started throbbing in their
blood with that kiss, longing only not to spoil it. And through
the sheltering larch wood their figures moved from edge to edge,
like two little souls in paradise, unwilling to come forth.
After that evening love had a poignancy it had not quite had
before; at once deeper, sweeter, tinged for both of them with the
rich darkness of passion, and with discovery that love does not
mean a perfect merger of one within another. For both felt
themselves in the right over that little quarrel. The boy that he
could not, must not, resign what was not his to resign; feeling
dimly, without being quite able to shape the thought even to
himself, that a man has a life of action into which a woman cannot
always enter, with which she cannot always be identified. The girl
feeling that she did not want any life into which he did not enter,
so that it was hard that he should want to exclude her from
anything. For all that, she did not try again to move him to let
her into the secret of his plans of revolt and revenge, and
disdained completely to find them out from Sheila or her aunt.
And the grass went on ripening. Many and various as the breeds of
men, or the trees of a forest, were the stalks that made up that
greenish jungle with the waving, fawn-colored surface; of rye-grass
and brome-grass, of timothy, plantain, and yarrow; of bent-grass
and quake-grass, foxtail, and the green-hearted trefoil; of
dandelion, dock, musk-thistle, and sweet-scented vernal.
On the 10th of June Tod began cutting his three fields; the whole
family, with Nedda and the three Tryst children, working like
slaves. Old Gaunt, who looked to the harvests to clothe him for
the year, came to do his share of raking, and any other who could
find some evening hours to spare. The whole was cut and carried in
three days of glorious weather.
The lovers were too tired the last evening of hay harvest to go
rambling, and sat in the orchard watching the moon slide up through
the coppice behind the church. They sat on Tod's log, deliciously
weary, in the scent of the new-mown hay, while moths flitted gray
among the blue darkness of the leaves, and the whitened trunks of
the apple-trees gleamed ghostly. It was very warm; a night of
whispering air, opening all hearts. And Derek said:
"You'll know to-morrow, Nedda."
A flutter of fear overtook her. What would she know?
On the 13th of June Sir Gerald Malloring, returning home to dinner
from the House of Commons, found on his hall table, enclosed in a
letter from his agent, the following paper:
"We, the undersigned laborers on Sir Gerald Malloring's estate, beg
respectfully to inform him that we consider it unjust that any
laborer should be evicted from his cottage for any reason connected
with private life, or social or political convictions. And we
respectfully demand that, before a laborer receives notice to quit
for any such reason, the case shall be submitted to all his fellow
laborers on the estate; and that in the future he shall only
receive such notice if a majority of his fellow laborers record
their votes in favor of the notice being given. In the event of
this demand being refused, we regretfully decline to take any hand
in getting in the hay on Sir Gerald Malloring's estate."
Then followed ninety-three signatures, or signs of the cross with
names printed after them.
The agent's letter which enclosed this document mentioned that the
hay was already ripe for cutting; that everything had been done to
induce the men to withdraw the demand, without success, and that
the farmers were very much upset. The thing had been sprung on
them, the agent having no notion that anything of the sort was on
foot. It had been very secretly, very cleverly, managed; and, in
the agent's opinion, was due to Mr. Freeland's family. He awaited
Sir Gerald's instructions. Working double tides, with luck and
good weather, the farmers and their families might perhaps save
half of the hay.
Malloring read this letter twice, and the enclosure three times,
and crammed them deep down into his pocket.
It was pre-eminently one of those moments which bring out the
qualities of Norman blood. And the first thing he did was to look
at the barometer. It was going slowly down. After a month of
first-class weather it would not do that without some sinister
intention. An old glass, he believed in it implicitly. He tapped,
and it sank further. He stood there frowning. Should he consult
his wife? General friendliness said: Yes! A Norman instinct of
chivalry, and perhaps the deeper Norman instinct, that, when it
came to the point, women were too violent, said, No! He went up-
stairs three at a time, and came down two. And all through dinner
he sat thinking it over, and talking as if nothing had happened; so
that he hardly spoke. Three-quarters of the hay at stake, if it
rained soon! A big loss to the farmers, a further reduction in
rents already far too low. Should he grin and bear it, and by
doing nothing show these fellows that he could afford to despise
their cowardly device? For it WAS cowardly to let his grass get
ripe and play it this low trick! But if he left things unfought
this time, they would try it on again with the corn--not that there
was much of that on the estate of a man who only believed in corn
as a policy.
Should he make the farmers sack the lot and get in other labor?
But where? Agricultural laborers were made, not born. And it took
a deuce of a lot of making, at that! Should he suspend wages till
they withdrew their demand? That might do--but he would still lose
the hay. The hay! After all, anybody, pretty well, could make
hay; it was the least skilled of all farm work, so long as the
farmers were there to drive the machines and direct. Why not act
vigorously? And his jaws set so suddenly on a piece of salmon that
he bit his tongue. The action served to harden a growing purpose.
So do small events influence great! Suspend those fellows' wages,
get down strike-breakers, save the hay! And if there were a row--
well, let there be a row! The constabulary would have to act. It
was characteristic of his really Norman spirit that the notion of
agreeing to the demand, or even considering whether it were just,
never once came into his mind. He was one of those, comprising
nowadays nearly all his class, together with their press, who
habitually referred to his country as a democratic power, a
champion of democracy--but did not at present suspect the meaning
of the word; nor, to say truth, was it likely they ever would.
Nothing, however, made him more miserable than indecision. And so,
now that he was on the point of deciding, and the decision promised
vigorous consequences, he felt almost elated. Closing his jaws
once more too firmly, this time on lamb, he bit his tongue again.
It was impossible to confess what he had done, for two of his
children were there, expected to eat with that well-bred detachment
which precludes such happenings; and he rose from dinner with his
mind made up. Instead of going back to the House of Commons, he
went straight to a strike-breaking agency. No grass should grow
under the feet of his decision! Thence he sought the one post-
office still open, despatched a long telegram to his agent, another
to the chief constable of Worcestershire; and, feeling he had done
all he could for the moment, returned to the 'House,' where they
were debating the rural housing question. He sat there, paying
only moderate attention to a subject on which he was acknowledged
an authority. To-morrow, in all probability, the papers would have
got hold of the affair! How he loathed people poking their noses
into his concerns! And suddenly he was assailed, very deep down,
by a feeling with which in his firmness he had not reckoned--a sort
of remorse that he was going to let a lot of loafing blackguards
down onto his land, to toss about his grass, and swill their
beastly beer above it. And all the real love he had for his fields
and coverts, all the fastidiousness of an English gentleman, and,
to do him justice, the qualms of a conscience telling him that he
owed better things than this to those born on his estate, assaulted
him in force. He sat back in his seat, driving his long legs hard
against the pew in front. His thick, wavy, still brown hair was
beautifully parted above the square brow that frowned over deep-set
eyes and a perfectly straight nose. Now and again he bit into a
side of his straw-colored moustache, or raised a hand and twisted
the other side. Without doubt one of the handsomest and perhaps
the most Norman-looking man in the whole 'House.' There was a
feeling among those round him that he was thinking deeply. And so
he was. But he had decided, and he was not a man who went back on
Morning brought even worse sensations. Those ruffians that he had
ordered down--the farmers would never consent to put them up! They
would have to camp. Camp on his land! It was then that for two
seconds the thought flashed through him: Ought I to have considered
whether I could agree to that demand? Gone in another flash. If
there was one thing a man could not tolerate, it was dictation!
Out of the question! But perhaps he had been a little hasty about
strike-breakers. Was there not still time to save the situation
from that, if he caught the first train? The personal touch was
everything. If he put it to the men on the spot, with these
strike-breakers up his sleeve, surely they must listen! After all,
they were his own people. And suddenly he was overcome with
amazement that they should have taken such a step. What had got
into them? Spiritless enough, as a rule, in all conscience; the
sort of fellows who hadn't steam even to join the miniature rifle-
range that he had given them! And visions of them, as he was
accustomed to pass them in the lanes, slouching along with their
straw bags, their hoes, and their shamefaced greetings, passed
before him. Yes! It was all that fellow Freeland's family! The
men had been put up to it--put up to it! The very wording of their
demand showed that! Very bitterly he thought of the unneighborly
conduct of that woman and her cubs. It was impossible to keep it
from his wife! And so he told her. Rather to his surprise, she
had no scruples about the strike-breakers. Of course, the hay must
be saved! And the laborers be taught a lesson! All the
unpleasantness he and she had gone through over Tryst and that
Gaunt girl must not go for nothing! It must never be said or
thought that the Freeland woman and her children had scored over
them! If the lesson were once driven home, they would have no
He admired her firmness, though with a certain impatience. Women
never quite looked ahead; never quite realized all the consequences
of anything. And he thought: 'By George! I'd no idea she was so
hard! But, then, she always felt more strongly about Tryst and
that Gaunt girl than I did.'
In the hall the glass was still going down. He caught the 9.15,
wiring to his agent to meet him at the station, and to the
impresario of the strike-breakers to hold up their departure until
he telegraphed. The three-mile drive up from the station, fully
half of which was through his own land, put him in possession of
all the agent had to tell: Nasty spirit abroad--men dumb as fishes--
the farmers, puzzled and angry, had begun cutting as best they
could. Not a man had budged. He had seen young Mr. and Miss
Freeland going about. The thing had been worked very cleverly. He
had suspected nothing--utterly unlike the laborers as he knew them.
They had no real grievance, either! Yes, they were going on with
all their other work--milking, horses, and that; it was only the
hay they wouldn't touch. Their demand was certainly a very funny
one--very funny--had never heard of anything like it. Amounted
almost to security of tenure. The Tryst affair no doubt had done
it! Malloring cut him short:
"Till they've withdrawn this demand, Simmons, I can't discuss that
The agent coughed behind his hand.
Naturally! Only perhaps there might be a way of wording it that
would satisfy them. Never do to really let them have such
decisions in their hands, of course!
They were just passing Tod's. The cottage wore its usual air of
embowered peace. And for the life of him Malloring could not
restrain a gesture of annoyance.
On reaching home he sent gardeners and grooms in all directions
with word that he would be glad to meet the men at four o'clock at
the home farm. Much thought, and interviews with several of the
farmers, who all but one--a shaky fellow at best--were for giving
the laborers a sharp lesson, occupied the interval. Though he had
refused to admit the notion that the men could be chicaned, as his
agent had implied, he certainly did wonder a little whether a
certain measure of security might not in some way be guaranteed,
which would still leave him and the farmers a free hand. But the
more he meditated on the whole episode, the more he perceived how
intimately it interfered with the fundamental policy of all good
landowners--of knowing what was good for their people better than
those people knew themselves.
As four o'clock approached, he walked down to the home farm. The
sky was lightly overcast, and a rather chill, draughty, rustling
wind had risen. Resolved to handle the men with the personal
touch, he had discouraged his agent and the farmers from coming to
the conference, and passed the gate with the braced-up feeling of
one who goes to an encounter. In that very spick-and-span farmyard
ducks were swimming leisurely on the greenish pond, white pigeons
strutting and preening on the eaves of the barn, and his keen eye
noted that some tiles were out of order up there. Four o'clock!
Ah, here was a fellow coming! And instinctively he crisped his
hands that were buried in his pockets, and ran over to himself his
opening words. Then, with a sensation of disgust, he saw that the
advancing laborer was that incorrigible 'land lawyer' Gaunt. The
short, square man with the ruffled head and the little bright-gray
eyes saluted, uttered an "Afternoon, Sir Gerald!" in his teasing
voice, and stood still. His face wore the jeering twinkle that had
disconcerted so many political meetings. Two lean fellows, rather
alike, with lined faces and bitten, drooped moustaches, were the
next to come through the yard gate. They halted behind Gaunt,
touching their forelocks, shuffling a little, and looking sidelong
at each other. And Malloring waited. Five past four! Ten past!
Then he said:
"D'you mind telling the others that I'm here?"
"If so be as you was waitin' for the meetin', I fancy as 'ow you've
got it, Sir Gerald!"
A wave of anger surged up in Malloring, dyeing his face brick-red.
So! He had come all that way with the best intentions--to be
treated like this; to meet this 'land lawyer,' who, he could see,
was only here to sharpen his tongue, and those two scarecrow-
looking chaps, who had come to testify, no doubt, to his
discomfiture. And he said sharply:
"So that's the best you can do to meet me, is it?"
Gaunt answered imperturbably:
"I think it is, Sir Gerald."
"Then you've mistaken your man."
"I don't think so, Sir Gerald."
Without another look Malloring passed the three by, and walked back
to the house. In the hall was the agent, whose face clearly showed
that he had foreseen this defeat. Malloring did not wait for him
"Make arrangements. The strike-breakers will be down by noon to-
morrow. I shall go through with it now, Simmons, if I have to
clear the whole lot out. You'd better go in and see that they're
ready to send police if there's any nonsense. I'll be down again
in a day or two." And, without waiting for reply, he passed into
his study. There, while the car was being got ready, he stood in
the window, very sore; thinking of what he had meant to do;
thinking of his good intentions; thinking of what was coming to the
country, when a man could not even get his laborers to come and
hear what he had to say. And a sense of injustice, of anger, of
bewilderment, harrowed his very soul.
For the first two days of this new 'kick-up,' that 'fellow
Freeland's' family undoubtedly tasted the sweets of successful
mutiny. The fellow himself alone shook his head. He, like Nedda,
had known nothing, and there was to him something unnatural and
rather awful in this conduct toward dumb crops.
From the moment he heard of it he hardly spoke, and a perpetual
little frown creased a brow usually so serene. In the early
morning of the day after Malloring went back to town, he crossed
the road to a field where the farmer, aided by his family and one
of Malloring's gardeners, was already carrying the hay; and, taking
up a pitchfork, without a word to anybody, he joined in the work.
The action was deeper revelation of his feeling than any
expostulation, and the young people watched it rather aghast.
"It's nothing," Derek said at last; "Father never has understood,
and never will, that you can't get things without fighting. He
cares more for trees and bees and birds than he does for human
"That doesn't explain why he goes over to the enemy, when it's only
a lot of grass."
"He hasn't gone over to the enemy, Sheila. You don't understand
your father; to neglect the land is sacrilege to him. It feeds us--
he would say--we live on it; we've no business to forget that but
for the land we should all be dead."
"That's beautiful," said Nedda quickly; "and true."
Sheila answered angrily:
"It may be true in France with their bread and wine. People don't
live off the land here; they hardly eat anything they grow
themselves. How can we feel like that when we're all brought up on
mongrel food? Besides, it's simply sentimental, when there are
real wrongs to fight about."
"Your father is not sentimental, Sheila. It's too deep with him
for that, and too unconscious. He simply feels so unhappy about
the waste of that hay that he can't keep his hands off it."
Derek broke in: "Mother's right. And it doesn't matter, except
that we've got to see that the men don't follow his example.
They've a funny feeling about him."
Kirsteen shook her head.
"You needn't be afraid. He's always been too strange to them!"
"Well, I'm going to stiffen their backs. Coming Sheila?" And they
Left, as she seemed always to be in these days of open mutiny,
Nedda said sadly:
"What is coming, Aunt Kirsteen?"
Her aunt was standing in the porch, looking straight before her; a
trail of clematis had drooped over her fine black hair down on to
the blue of her linen dress. She answered, without turning:
"Have you ever seen, on jubilee nights, bonfire to bonfire, from
hill to hill, to the end of the land? This is the first lighted."
Nedda felt something clutch her heart. What was that figure in
blue? Priestess? Prophetess? And for a moment the girl felt
herself swept into the vision those dark glowing eyes were seeing;
some violent, exalted, inexorable, flaming vision. Then something
within her revolted, as though one had tried to hypnotize her into
seeing what was not true; as though she had been forced for the
moment to look, not at what was really there, but at what those
eyes saw projected from the soul behind them. And she said quietly:
"I don't believe, Aunt Kirsteen. I don't really believe. I think
it must go out."
"You are like your father," she said--"a doubter."
Nedda shook her head.
"I can't persuade myself to see what isn't there. I never can,
Without reply, save a quiver of her brows, Kirsteen went back into
the house. And Nedda stayed on the pebbled path before the
cottage, unhappy, searching her own soul. Did she fail to see
because she was afraid to see, because she was too dull to see; or
because, as she had said, there was really nothing there--no flames
to leap from hill to hill, no lift, no tearing in the sky that hung
over the land? And she thought: 'London--all those big towns,
their smoke, the things they make, the things we want them to make,
that we shall always want them to make. Aren't they there? For
every laborer who's a slave Dad says there are five town workers
who are just as much slaves! And all those Bigwigs with their
great houses, and their talk, and their interest in keeping things
where they are! Aren't they there? I don't--I can't believe
anything much can happen, or be changed. Oh! I shall never see
visions, and dream dreams!' And from her heart she sighed.
In the meantime Derek and Sheila were going their round on
bicycles, to stiffen the backs of the laborers. They had hunted
lately, always in a couple, desiring no complications, having
decided that it was less likely to provoke definite assault and
opposition from the farmers. To their mother was assigned all
correspondence; to themselves the verbal exhortations, the personal
touch. It was past noon, and they were already returning, when
they came on the char-a-bancs containing the head of the strike-
breaking column. The two vehicles were drawn up opposite the gate
leading to Marrow Farm, and the agent was detaching the four men
destined to that locality, with their camping-gear. By the open
gate the farmer stood eying his new material askance. Dejected
enough creatures they looked--poor devils picked up at ten pound
the dozen, who, by the mingled apathy and sheepish amusement on
their faces, might never have seen a pitchfork, or smelled a field
of clover, in their lives.
The two young Freelands rode slowly past; the boy's face scornfully
drawn back into itself; the girl's flaming scarlet.
"Don't take notice," Derek said; "we'll soon stop that."
And they had gone another mile before he added:
"We've got to make our round again; that's all."
The words of Mr. Pogram, 'You have influence, young man,' were
just. There was about Derek the sort of quality that belongs to
the good regimental officer; men followed and asked themselves why
the devil they had, afterward. And if it be said that no worse
leader than a fiery young fool can be desired for any movement, it
may also be said that without youth and fire and folly there is
usually no movement at all.
Late in the afternoon they returned home, dead beat. That evening
the farmers and their wives milked the cows, tended the horses, did
everything that must be done, not without curses. And next morning
the men, with Gaunt and a big, dark fellow, called Tulley, for
spokesmen, again proffered their demand. The agent took counsel
with Malloring by wire. His answer, "Concede nothing," was
communicated to the men in the afternoon, and received by Gaunt
with the remark: "I thart we should be hearin' that. Please to
thank Sir Gerald. The men concedes their gratitood." . . .
That night it began to rain. Nedda, waking, could hear the heavy
drops pattering on the sweetbrier and clematis thatching her open
window. The scent of rain-cooled leaves came in drifts, and it
seemed a shame to sleep. She got up; put on her dressing-gown, and
went to thrust her nose into that bath of dripping sweetness. Dark
as the clouds had made the night, there was still the faint light
of a moon somewhere behind. The leaves of the fruit-trees joined
in the long, gentle hissing, and now and again rustled and sighed
sharply; a cock somewhere, as by accident, let off a single crow.
There were no stars. All was dark and soft as velvet. And Nedda
thought: 'The world is dressed in living creatures! Trees,
flowers, grass, insects, ourselves--woven together--the world is
dressed in life! I understand Uncle Tod's feeling! If only it
would rain till they have to send these strike-breakers back
because there's no hay worth fighting about!' Suddenly her heart
beat fast. The wicket gate had clicked. There was something
darker than the darkness coming along the path! Scared, but with
all protective instinct roused, she leaned out, straining to see.
A faint grating sound from underneath came up to her. A window
being opened! And she flew to her door. She neither barred it,
however, nor cried out, for in that second it had flashed across
her: 'Suppose it's he! Gone out to do something desperate, as
Tryst did!' If it were, he would come up-stairs and pass her door,
going to his room. She opened it an inch, holding her breath. At
first, nothing! Was it fancy? Or was some one noiselessly rifling
the room down-stairs? But surely no one would steal of Uncle Tod,
who, everybody knew, had nothing valuable. Then came a sound as of
bootless feet pressing the stairs stealthily! And the thought
darted through her, 'If it isn't he, what shall I do?' And then--
'What shall I do--if it IS!'
Desperately she opened the door, clasping her hands on the place
whence her heart had slipped down to her bare feet. But she knew
it was he before she heard him whisper: "Nedda!" and, clutching him
by the sleeve, she drew him in and closed the door. He was wet
through, dripping; so wet that the mere brushing against him made
her skin feel moist through its thin coverings.
"Where have you been? What have you been doing? Oh, Derek!"
There was just light enough to see his face, his teeth, the whites
of his eyes.
"Cutting their tent-ropes in the rain. Hooroosh!"
It was such a relief that she just let out a little gasping "Oh!"
and leaned her forehead against his coat. Then she felt his wet
arms round her, his wet body pressed to hers, and in a second he
was dancing with her a sort of silent, ecstatic war dance.
Suddenly he stopped, went down on his knees, pressing his face to
her waist, and whispering: "What a brute, what a brute! Making her
wet! Poor little Nedda!"
Nedda bent over him; her hair covered his wet head, her hands
trembled on his shoulders. Her heart felt as if it would melt
right out of her; she longed so to warm and dry him with herself.
And, in turn, his wet arms clutched her close, his wet hands could
not keep still on her. Then he drew back, and whispering: "Oh,
Nedda! Nedda!" fled out like a dark ghost. Oblivious that she was
damp from head to foot, Nedda stood swaying, her eyes closed and
her lips just open; then, putting out her arms, she drew them
suddenly in and clasped herself. . . .
When she came down to breakfast the next morning, he had gone out
already, and Uncle Tod, too; her aunt was writing at the bureau.
Sheila greeted her gruffly, and almost at once went out. Nedda
swallowed coffee, ate her egg, and bread and honey, with a heavy
heart. A newspaper lay open on the table; she read it idly till
these words caught her eye:
"The revolt which has paralyzed the hay harvest on Sir Gerald
Malloring's Worcestershire estate and led to the introduction of
strike-breakers, shows no sign of abatement. A very wanton spirit
of mischief seems to be abroad in this neighborhood. No reason can
be ascertained for the arson committed a short time back, nor for
this further outbreak of discontent. The economic condition of the
laborers on this estate is admittedly rather above than below the
And at once she thought: '"Mischief!" What a shame!' Were people,
then, to know nothing of the real cause of the revolt--nothing of
the Tryst eviction, the threatened eviction of the Gaunts? Were
they not to know that it was on principle, and to protest against
that sort of petty tyranny to the laborers all over the country,
that this rebellion had been started? For liberty! only simple
liberty not to be treated as though they had no minds or souls of
their own--weren't the public to know that? If they were allowed
to think that it was all wanton mischief--that Derek was just a
mischief-maker--it would be dreadful! Some one must write and make
this known? Her father? But Dad might think it too personal--his
own relations! Mr. Cuthcott! Into whose household Wilmet Gaunt
had gone. Ah! Mr. Cuthcott who had told her that he was always at
her service! Why not? And the thought that she might really do
something at last to help made her tingle all over. If she
borrowed Sheila's bicycle she could catch the nine-o'clock train to
London, see him herself, make him do something, perhaps even bring
him back with her! She examined her purse. Yes, she had money.
She would say nothing, here, because, of course, he might refuse!
At the back of her mind was the idea that, if a real newspaper took
the part of the laborers, Derek's position would no longer be so
dangerous; he would be, as it were, legally recognized, and that,
in itself, would make him more careful and responsible. Whence she
got this belief in the legalizing power of the press it is
difficult to say, unless that, reading newspapers but seldom, she
still took them at their own valuation, and thought that when they
said: "We shall do this," or "We must do that," they really were
speaking for the country, and that forty-five millions of people
were deliberately going to do something, whereas, in truth, as was
known to those older than Nedda, they were speaking, and not too
conclusively at that, for single anonymous gentlemen in a hurry who
were not going to do anything. She knew that the press had power,
great power--for she was always hearing that--and it had not
occurred to her as yet to examine the composition of that power so
as to discover that, while the press certainly had a certain
monopoly of expression, and that same 'spirit of body' which makes
police constables swear by one another, it yet contained within its
ring fence the sane and advisable futility of a perfectly balanced
contradiction; so that its only functions, practically speaking,
were the dissemination of news, seven-tenths of which would have
been happier in obscurity; and--'irritation of the Dutch!' Not, of
course, that the press realized this; nor was it probable that any
one would tell it, for it had power--great power.
She caught her train--glowing outwardly from the speed of her ride,
and inwardly from the heat of adventure and the thought that at
last she was being of some use.
The only other occupants of her third-class compartment were a
friendly looking man, who might have been a sailor or other
wanderer on leave, and his thin, dried-up, black-clothed cottage
woman of an old mother. They sat opposite each other. The son
looked at his mother with beaming eyes, and she remarked: "An' I
says to him, says I, I says, 'What?' I says; so 'e says to me, he
says, 'Yes,' he says; 'that's what I say,' he says." And Nedda
thought: 'What an old dear! And the son looks nice too; I do like
They got out at the first stop and she journeyed on alone. Taking
a taxicab from Paddington, she drove toward Gray's Inn. But now
that she was getting close she felt very nervous. How expect a
busy man like Mr. Cuthcott to spare time to come down all that way?
It would be something, though, if she could get him even to
understand what was really happening, and why; so that he could
contradict that man in the other paper. It must be wonderful to be
writing, daily, what thousands and thousands of people read! Yes!
It must be a very sacred-feeling life! To be able to say things in
that particularly authoritative way which must take such a lot of
people in--that is, make such a lot of people think in the same
way! It must give a man a terrible sense of responsibility, make
him feel that he simply must be noble, even if he naturally wasn't.
Yes! it must be a wonderful profession, and only fit for the
highest! In addition to Mr. Cuthcott, she knew as yet but three
young journalists, and those all weekly.
At her timid ring the door was opened by a broad-cheeked girl,
enticingly compact in apron and black frock, whose bright color,
thick lips, and rogue eyes came of anything but London. It flashed
across Nedda that this must be the girl for whose sake she had
faced Mr. Cuthcott at the luncheon-table! And she said: "Are you
The girl smiled till her eyes almost disappeared, and answered:
"I'm Nedda Freeland, Miss Sheila's cousin. I've just come from
Joyfields. How are you getting on?"
"Fine, thank you, miss. Plenty of life here."
Nedda thought: 'That's what Derek said of her. Bursting with life!
And so she is.' And she gazed doubtfully at the girl, whose prim
black dress and apron seemed scarcely able to contain her.
"Is Mr. Cuthcott in?"
"No, miss; he'll be down at the paper. Two hundred and five
'Oh!' thought Nedda with dismay; 'I shall never venture there!'
And glancing once more at the girl, whose rogue slits of eyes, deep
sunk between check-bones and brow, seemed to be quizzing her and
saying: 'You and Mr. Derek--oh! I know!' she went sadly away. And
first she thought she would go home to Hampstead, then that she
would go back to the station, then: 'After all, why shouldn't I go
and try? They can't eat me. I will!'
She reached her destination at the luncheon-hour, so that the
offices of the great evening journal were somewhat deserted.
Producing her card, she was passed from hand to hand till she
rested in a small bleak apartment where a young woman was typing
fast. She longed to ask her how she liked it, but did not dare.
The whole atmosphere seemed to her charged with a strenuous
solemnity, as though everything said, 'We have power--great power.'
And she waited, sitting by the window which faced the street. On
the buildings opposite she could read the name of another great
evening journal. Why, it was the one which had contained the
paragraph she had read at breakfast! She had bought a copy of it
at the station. Its temperament, she knew, was precisely opposed
to that of Mr. Cuthcott's paper. Over in that building, no doubt
there would be the same strenuously loaded atmosphere, so that if
they opened the windows on both sides little puffs of power would
meet in mid-air, above the heads of the passers-by, as might the
broadsides of old three-deckers, above the green, green sea.
And for the first time an inkling of the great comic equipoise in
Floodgate Street and human affairs stole on Nedda's consciousness.
They puffed and puffed, and only made smoke in the middle! That
must be why Dad always called them: 'Those fellows!' She had
scarcely, however, finished beginning to think these thoughts when
a handbell sounded sharply in some adjoining room, and the young
woman nearly fell into her typewriter. Readjusting her balance,
she rose, and, going to the door, passed out in haste. Through the
open doorway Nedda could see a large and pleasant room, whose walls
seemed covered with prints of men standing in attitudes such that
she was almost sure they were statesmen; and, at a table in the
centre, the back of Mr. Cuthcott in a twiddly chair, surrounded by
sheets of paper reposing on the floor, shining like autumn leaves
on a pool of water. She heard his voice, smothery, hurried, but
still pleasant, say: "Take these, Miss Mayne, take these! Begin on
them, begin! Confound it! What's the time?" And the young
woman's voice: "Half past one, Mr. Cuthcott!" And a noise from Mr.
Cuthcott's throat that sounded like an adjuration to the Deity not
to pass over something. Then the young woman dipped and began
gathering those leaves of paper, and over her comely back Nedda had
a clear view of Mr. Cuthcott hunching one brown shoulder as though
warding something off, and of one of his thin hands ploughing up
and throwing back his brown hair on one side, and heard the sound
of his furiously scratching pen. And her heart pattered; it was so
clear that he was 'giving them one' and had no time for her. And
involuntarily she looked at the windows beyond him to see if there
were any puffs of power issuing therefrom. But they were closed.
She saw the young woman rise and come back toward her, putting the
sheets of paper in order; and, as the door was closing, from the
twiddly chair a noise that seemed to couple God with the
condemnation of silly souls. When the young woman was once more at
the typewriter she rose and said: "Have you given him my card yet?"
The young woman looked at her surprised, as if she had broken some
rule of etiquette, and answered: "No."
"Then don't, please. I can see that he's too busy. I won't wait."
The young woman abstractedly placed a sheet of paper in her typewriter.
"Very well," she said. "Good morning!"
And before Nedda reached the door she heard the click-click of the
machine, reducing Mr. Cuthcott to legibility.
'I was stupid to come,' she thought. 'He must be terribly
overworked. Poor man! He does say lovely things!' And,
crestfallen, she went along the passages, and once more out into
Floodgate Street. She walked along it frowning, till a man who was
selling newspapers said as she passed: "Mind ye don't smile, lydy!"
Seeing that he was selling Mr. Cuthcott's paper, she felt for a
coin to buy one, and, while searching, scrutinized the newsvender's
figure, almost entirely hidden by the words:
GREAT HOUSING SCHEME
HOPE FOR THE MILLION!
on a buff-colored board; while above it, his face, that had not
quite blood enough to be scorbutic, was wrapped in the expression
of those philosophers to whom a hope would be fatal. He was, in
fact, just what he looked--a street stoic. And a dim perception of
the great social truth: "The smell of half a loaf is not better
than no bread!" flickered in Nedda's brain as she passed on. Was
that what Derek was doing with the laborers--giving them half the
smell of a liberty that was not there? And a sudden craving for
her father came over her. He--he only, was any good, because he,
only, loved her enough to feel how distracted and unhappy she was
feeling, how afraid of what was coming. So, making for a Tube
station, she took train to Hampstead. . . .
It was past two, and Felix, on the point of his constitutional. He
had left Becket the day after Nedda's rather startling removal to
Joyfields, and since then had done his level best to put the whole
Tryst affair, with all its somewhat sinister relevance to her life
and his own, out of his mind as something beyond control. He had
but imperfectly succeeded.
Flora, herself not too present-minded, had in these days occasion
to speak to him about the absent-minded way in which he fulfilled
even the most domestic duties, and Alan was always saying to him,
"Buck up, Dad!" With Nedda's absorption into the little Joyfields
whirlpool, the sun shone but dimly for Felix. And a somewhat
febrile attention to 'The Last of the Laborers' had not brought it
up to his expectations. He fluttered under his buff waistcoat when
he saw her coming in at the gate. She must want something of him!
For to this pitch of resignation, as to his little daughter's love
for him, had he come! And if she wanted something of him, things
would be going wrong again down there! Nor did the warmth of her
embrace, and her: "Oh! Dad, it IS nice to see you!" remove that
instinctive conviction; though delicacy, born of love, forbade him
to ask her what she wanted. Talking of the sky and other matters,
thinking how pretty she was looking, he waited for the new,
inevitable proof that youth was first, and a mere father only
second fiddle now. A note from Stanley had already informed him of
the strike. The news had been something of a relief. Strikes, at
all events, were respectable and legitimate means of protest, and
to hear that one was in progress had not forced him out of his
laborious attempt to believe the whole affair only a mole-hill. He
had not, however, heard of the strike-breakers, nor had he seen any
newspaper mention of the matter; and when she had shown him the
paragraph; recounted her visit to Mr. Cuthcott, and how she had
wanted to take him back with her to see for himself--he waited a
moment, then said almost timidly: "Should I be of any use, my
dear?" She flushed and squeezed his hand in silence; and he knew
When he had packed a handbag and left a note for Flora, he rejoined
her in the hall.
It was past seven when they reached their destination, and, taking
the station 'fly,' drove slowly up to Joyfields, under a showery
When Felix and Nedda reached Tod's cottage, the three little
Trysts, whose activity could never be quite called play, were all
the living creatures about the house.
"Where is Mrs. Freeland, Biddy?"
"We don't know; a man came, and she went."
"And Miss Sheila?"
"She went out in the mornin'. And Mr. Freeland's gone."
Susie added: "The dog's gone, too."
"Then help me to get some tea."
With the assistance of the mother-child, and the hindrance of Susie
and Billy, Nedda made and laid tea, with an anxious heart. The
absence of her aunt, who so seldom went outside the cottage,
fields, and orchard, disturbed her; and, while Felix refreshed
himself, she fluttered several times on varying pretexts to the
At her third visit, from the direction of the church, she saw
figures coming on the road--dark figures carrying something,
followed by others walking alongside. What sun there had been had
quite given in to heavy clouds; the light was dull, the elm-trees
dark; and not till they were within two hundred yards could Nedda
make out that these were figures of policemen. Then, alongside
that which they were carrying, she saw her aunt's blue dress. WHAT
were they carrying like that? She dashed down the steps, and
stopped. No! If it were HE they would bring him in! She rushed
back again, distracted. She could see now a form stretched on a
hurdle. It WAS he!
Felix came, startled at that cry, to find his little daughter on
the path wringing her hands and flying back to the wicket gate.
They were close now. She saw them begin to mount the steps, those
behind raising their arms so that the hurdle should be level.
Derek lay on his back, with head and forehead swathed in wet blue
linen, torn from his mother's skirt; and the rest of his face very
white. He lay quite still, his clothes covered with mud.
Terrified, Nedda plucked at Kirsteen's sleeve.
"What is it?"
"Concussion!" The stillness of that blue-clothed figure, so calm
beside her, gave her strength to say quietly:
"Put him in my room, Aunt Kirsteen; there's more air there!" And
she flew up-stairs, flinging wide her door, making the bed ready,
snatching her night things from the pillow; pouring out cold water,
sprinkling the air with eau de cologne. Then she stood still.
Perhaps, they would not bring him there? Yes, they were coming up.
They brought him in, and laid him on the bed. She heard one say:
"Doctor'll be here directly, ma'am. Let him lie quiet." Then she
and his mother were alone beside him.
"Undo his boots," said Kirsteen.
Nedda's fingers trembled, and she hated them for fumbling so, while
she drew off those muddy boots. Then her aunt said softly: "Hold
him up, dear, while I get his things off."
And, with a strange rapture that she was allowed to hold him thus,
she supported him against her breast till he was freed and lying
back inert. Then, and only then, she whispered:
"How long before he--?"
Kirsteen shook her head; and, slipping her arm round the girl,
murmured: "Courage, Nedda!"
The girl felt fear and love rush up desperately to overwhelm her.
She choked them back, and said quite quietly: "I will. I promise.
Only let me help nurse him!"
Kirsteen nodded. And they sat down to wait.
That quarter of an hour was the longest of her life. To see him
thus, living, yet not living, with the spirit driven from him by a
cruel blow, perhaps never to come back! Curious, how things still
got themselves noticed when all her faculties were centred in
gazing at his face. She knew that it was raining again; heard the
swish and drip, and smelled the cool wet perfume through the scent
of the eau de cologne that she had spilled. She noted her aunt's
arm, as it hovered, wetting the bandage; the veins and rounded
whiteness from under the loose blue sleeve slipped up to the elbow.
One of his feet lay close to her at the bed's edge; she stole her
hand beneath the sheet. That foot felt very cold, and she grasped
it tight. If only she could pass life into him through her hot
hand. She heard the ticking of her little travelling-clock, and
was conscious of flies wheeling close up beneath the white ceiling,
of how one by one they darted at each other, making swift zigzags
in the air. And something in her she had not yet known came
welling up, softening her eyes, her face, even the very pose of her
young body--the hidden passion of a motherliness, that yearned so
to 'kiss the place,' to make him well, to nurse and tend, restore
and comfort him. And with all her might she watched the movements
of those rounded arms under the blue sleeves--how firm and exact
they were, how soft and quiet and swift, bathing the dark head!
Then from beneath the bandage she caught sight suddenly of his
eyes. And her heart turned sick. Oh, they were not quite closed!
As if he hadn't life enough to close them! She bit into her lip to
stop a cry. It was so terrible to see them without light. Why did
not that doctor come? Over and over and over again within her the
prayer turned: Let him live! Oh, let him live!
The blackbirds out in the orchard were tuning up for evening. It
seemed almost dreadful they should be able to sing like that. All
the world was going on just the same! If he died, the world would
have no more light for her than there was now in his poor eyes--and
yet it would go on the same! How was that possible? It was not
possible, because she would die too! She saw her aunt turn her
head like a startled animal; some one was coming up the stairs! It
was the doctor, wiping his wet face--a young man in gaiters. How
young--dreadfully young! No; there was a little gray at the sides
of his hair! What would he say? And Nedda sat with hands tight
clenched in her lap, motionless as a young crouching sphinx. An
interminable testing, and questioning, and answer! Never smoked--
never drank--never been ill! The blow--ah, here! Just here!
Concussion--yes! Then long staring into the eyes, the eyelids
lifted between thumb and finger. And at last (how could he talk so
loud! Yet it was a comfort too--he would not talk like that if
Derek were going to die!)--Hair cut shorter--ice--watch him like a
lynx! This and that, if he came to. Nothing else to be done. And
then those blessed words:
"But don't worry too much. I think it'll be all right." She could
not help a little sigh escaping her clenched teeth.
The doctor was looking at her. His eyes were nice.
"Ah! Well, I'll get back now, and send you out some ice, at once."
More talk outside the door. Nedda, alone with her lover, crouched
forward on her knees, and put her lips to his. They were not so
cold as his foot, and the first real hope and comfort came to her.
Watch him like a lynx--wouldn't she? But how had it all happened?
And where was Sheila? and Uncle Tod?
Her aunt had come back and was stroking her shoulder. There had
been fighting in the barn at Marrow Farm. They had arrested
Sheila. Derek had jumped down to rescue her and struck his head
against a grindstone. Her uncle had gone with Sheila. They would
watch, turn and turn about. Nedda must go now and eat something,
and get ready to take the watch from eight to midnight.
Following her resolve to make no fuss, the girl went out. The
police had gone. The mother-child was putting her little folk to
bed; and in the kitchen Felix was arranging the wherewithal to eat.
He made her sit down and kept handing things; watching like a cat
to see that she put them in her mouth, in the way from which only
Flora had suffered hitherto; he seemed so anxious and unhappy, and
so awfully sweet, that Nedda forced herself to swallow what she
thought would never go down a dry and choky throat. He kept coming
up and touching her shoulder or forehead. Once he said:
"It's all right, you know, my pet; concussion often takes two
Two days with his eyes like that! The consolation was not so vivid
as Felix might have wished; but she quite understood that he was
doing his best to give it. She suddenly remembered that he had no
room to sleep in. He must use Derek's. No! That, it appeared,
was to be for her when she came off duty. Felix was going to have
an all-night sitting in the kitchen. He had been looking forward
to an all-night sitting for many years, and now he had got his
chance. It was a magnificent opportunity--"without your mother, my
dear, to insist on my sleeping." And staring at his smile, Nedda
thought: 'He's like Granny--he comes out under difficulties. If
only I did!'
The ice arrived by motor-cycle just before her watch began. It was
some comfort to have that definite thing to see to. How timorous
and humble are thoughts in a sick-room, above all when the sick are
stretched behind the muffle of unconsciousness, withdrawn from the
watcher by half-death! And yet, for him or her who loves, there is
at least the sense of being alone with the loved one, of doing all
that can be done; and in some strange way of twining hearts with
the exiled spirit. To Nedda, sitting at his feet, and hardly ever
turning eyes away from his still face, it sometimes seemed that the
flown spirit was there beside her. And she saw into his soul in
those hours of watching, as one looking into a stream sees the
leopard-like dapple of its sand and dark-strewn floor, just reached
by sunlight. She saw all his pride, courage, and impatience, his
reserve, and strange unwilling tenderness, as she had never seen
them. And a queer dreadful feeling moved her that in some previous
existence she had looked at that face dead on a field of battle,
frowning up at the stars. That was absurd--there were no previous
existences! Or was it prevision of what would come some day?
When, at half past nine, the light began to fail, she lighted two
candles in tall, thin, iron candlesticks beside her. They burned
without flicker, those spires of yellow flame, slowly conquering
the dying twilight, till in their soft radiance the room was full
of warm dusky shadows, the night outside ever a deeper black. Two
or three times his mother came, looked at him, asked her if she
should stay, and, receiving a little silent shake of the head, went
away again. At eleven o'clock, when once more she changed the ice-
cap, his eyes had still no lustre, and for a moment her courage
failed her utterly. It seemed to her that he could never win back,
that death possessed the room already, possessed those candle-
flames, the ticking of the clock, the dark, dripping night,
possessed her heart. Could he be gone before she had been his!
Gone! Where? She sank down on her knees, covering her eyes. What
good to watch, if he were never coming back! A long time--it
seemed hours--passed thus, with the feeling growing deeper in her
that no good would come while she was watching. And behind the
barrier of her hands she tried desperately to rally courage. If
things were--they were! One must look them in the face! She took
her hands away. His eyes! Was it light in them? Was it? They
were seeing--surely they saw. And his lips made the tiniest
movement. In that turmoil of exultation she never knew how she
managed to continue kneeling there, with her hands on his. But all
her soul shone down to him out of her eyes, and drew and drew at
his spirit struggling back from the depths of him. For many
minutes that struggle lasted; then he smiled. It was the feeblest
smile that ever was on lips, but it made the tears pour down
Nedda's cheeks and trickle off on to his hands. Then, with a
stoicism that she could not believe in, so hopelessly unreal it
seemed, so utterly the negation of the tumult within her, she
settled back again at his feet to watch and not excite him. And
still his lips smiled that faint smile, and his opened eyes grew
dark and darker with meaning.
So at midnight Kirsteen found them.
In the early hours of his all-night sitting Felix had first only
memories, and then Kirsteen for companion.
"I worry most about Tod," she said. "He had that look in his face
when he went off from Marrow Farm. He might do something terrible
if they ill-treat Sheila. If only she has sense enough to see and
not provoke them."
"Surely she will," Felix murmured.
"Yes, if she realizes. But she won't, I'm afraid. Even I have
only known him look like that three times. Tod is so gentle--
passion stores itself in him; and when it comes, it's awful. If he
sees cruelty, he goes almost mad. Once he would have killed a man
if I hadn't got between them. He doesn't know what he's doing at
such moments. I wish--I wish he were back. It's hard one can't
pierce through, and see him."
Gazing at her eyes so dark and intent, Felix thought: 'If YOU can't
pierce through--none can.'
He learned the story of the disaster.
Early that morning Derek had assembled twenty of the strongest
laborers, and taken them a round of the farms to force the strike-
breakers to desist. There had been several fights, in all of which
the strike-breakers had been beaten. Derek himself had fought
three times. In the afternoon the police had come, and the
laborers had rushed with Derek and Sheila, who had joined them,
into a barn at Marrow Farm, barred it, and thrown mangolds at the
police, when they tried to force an entrance. One by one the
laborers had slipped away by a rope out of a ventilation-hole high
up at the back, and they had just got Sheila down when the police
appeared on that side, too. Derek, who had stayed to the last,
covering their escape with mangolds, had jumped down twenty feet
when he saw them taking Sheila, and, pitching forward, hit his head
against a grindstone. Then, just as they were marching Sheila and
two of the laborers away, Tod had arrived and had fallen in
alongside the policemen--he and the dog. It was then she had seen
that look on his face.
Felix, who had never beheld his big brother in Berserk mood, could
offer no consolation; nor had he the heart to adorn the tale, and
inflict on this poor woman his reflection: 'This, you see, is what
comes of the ferment you have fostered. This is the reward of
violence!' He longed, rather, to comfort her; she seemed so lonely
and, in spite of all her stoicism, so distraught and sad. His
heart went out, too, to Tod. How would he himself have felt,
walking by the side of policemen whose arms were twisted in
Nedda's! But so mixed are the minds of men that at this very
moment there was born within him the germ of a real revolt against
the entry of his little daughter into this family of hotheads. It
was more now than mere soreness and jealousy; it was fear of a
danger hitherto but sniffed at, but now only too sharply savored.
When she left him to go up-stairs, Felix stayed consulting the dark
night. As ever, in hours of ebbed vitality, the shapes of fear and
doubt grew clearer and more positive; they loomed huge out there
among the apple-trees, where the drip-drip of the rain made music.
But his thoughts were still nebulous, not amounting to resolve. It
was no moment for resolves--with the boy lying up there between the
tides of chance; and goodness knew what happening to Tod and
Sheila. The air grew sharper; he withdrew to the hearth, where a
wood fire still burned, gray ash, red glow, scent oozing from it.
And while he crouched there, blowing it with bellows, he heard soft
footsteps, and saw Nedda standing behind him transformed.
But in the midst of all his glad sympathy Felix could not help
thinking: 'Better for you, perhaps, if he had never returned from
She came and crouched down by him.
"Let me sit with you, Dad. It smells so good."
"Very well; but you must sleep."
"I don't believe I'll ever want to sleep again."
And at the glow in her Felix glowed too. What is so infectious as
delight? They sat a long time talking, as they had not talked
since the first fatal visit to Becket. Of how love, and mountains,
works of art, and doing things for others were the only sources of
happiness; except scents, and lying on one's back looking through
tree-tops at the sky; and tea, and sunlight, flowers, and hard
exercise; oh, and the sea! Of how, when things went hard, one
prayed--but what did one pray to? Was it not to something in
oneself? It was of no use to pray to the great mysterious Force
that made one thing a cabbage, and the other a king; for That could
obviously not be weak-minded enough to attend. And gradually
little pauses began to creep into their talk; then a big pause, and
Nedda, who would never want to sleep again, was fast asleep.
Felix watched those long, dark lashes resting on her cheeks; the
slow, soft rise of her breast; the touching look of trust and
goodness in that young face abandoned to oblivion after these hours
of stress; watched the little tired shadows under the eyes, the
tremors of the just-parted lips. And, getting up, stealthy as a
cat, he found a light rug, and ever more stealthily laid it over
her. She stirred at that, smiled up at him, and instantly went off
again. And he thought: 'Poor little sweetheart, she WAS tired!'
And a passionate desire to guard her from trials and troubles came
At four o'clock Kirsteen slipped in again, and whispered: "She made
me promise to come for her. How pretty she looks, sleeping!"
"Yes," Felix answered; "pretty and good!"
Nedda raised her head, stared up at her aunt, and a delighted smile
spread over her face. "Is it time again? How lovely!" Then,
before either could speak or stop her, she was gone.
"She is more in love," Kirsteen murmured, "than I ever saw a girl
of her age."
"She is more in love," Felix answered, "than is good to see."
"She is not truer than Derek is."
"That may be, but she will suffer from him."
"Women who love must always suffer."
Her cheeks were sunken, shadowy; she looked very tired. When she
had gone to get some sleep, Felix restored the fire and put on a
kettle, meaning to make himself some coffee. Morning had broken,
clear and sparkling after the long rain, and full of scent and
song. What glory equalled this early morning radiance, the dewy
wonder of everything! What hour of the day was such a web of youth
and beauty as this, when all the stars from all the skies had
fallen into the grass! A cold nose was thrust into his hand, and
he saw beside him Tod's dog. The animal was wet, and lightly moved
his white-tipped tail; while his dark-yellow eyes inquired of Felix
what he was going to give a dog to eat. Then Felix saw his brother
coming in. Tod's face was wild and absent as a man with all his
thoughts turned on something painful in the distance. His ruffled
hair had lost its brightness; his eyes looked as if driven back
into his head; he was splashed with mud, and wet from head to foot.
He walked up to the hearth without a word.
"Well, old man?" said Felix anxiously.
Tod looked at him, but did not answer.
"Come," said Felix; "tell us!"
"Locked up," said Tod in a voice unlike his own. "I didn't knock
"Heavens! I should hope not."
"I ought to have."
Felix put his hand within his brother's arm.
"They twisted her arms; one of them pushed her from behind. I
can't understand it. How was it I didn't? I can't understand."
"I can," said Felix. "They were the Law. If they had been mere
men you'd have done it, fast enough."
"I can't understand," Tod repeated. "I've been walking ever since."
Felix stroked his shoulder.
"Go up-stairs, old man. Kirsteen's anxious."
Tod sat down and took his boots off.
"I can't understand," he said once more. Then, without another
word, or even a look at Felix, he went out and up the stairs.
And Felix thought: 'Poor Kirsteen! Ah, well--they're all about as
queer, one as the other! How to get Nedda out of it?'
And, with that question gnawing at him, he went out into the
orchard. The grass was drenching wet, so he descended to the road.
Two wood-pigeons were crooning to each other, truest of all sounds
of summer; there was no wind, and the flies had begun humming. In
the air, cleared of dust, the scent of hay was everywhere. What
about those poor devils of laborers, now? They would get the sack
for this! and he was suddenly beset with a feeling of disgust.
This world where men, and women too, held what they had, took what
they could; this world of seeing only one thing at a time; this
world of force, and cunning, of struggle, and primitive appetites;
of such good things, too, such patience, endurance, heroism--and
yet at heart so unutterably savage!
He was very tired; but it was too wet to sit down, so he walked on.
Now and again he passed a laborer going to work; but very few in
all those miles, and they quite silent. 'Did they ever really
whistle?' Felix thought. 'Were they ever jolly ploughmen? Or was
that always a fiction? Surely, if they can't give tongue this
morning, they never can!' He crossed a stile and took a slanting
path through a little wood. The scent of leaves and sap, the
dapple of sunlight--all the bright early glow and beauty struck him
with such force that he could have cried out in the sharpness of
sensation. At that hour when man was still abed and the land lived
its own life, how full and sweet and wild that life seemed, how in
love with itself! Truly all the trouble in the world came from the
manifold disharmonies of the self-conscious animal called Man!
Then, coming out on the road again, he saw that he must be within a
mile or two of Becket; and finding himself suddenly very hungry,
determined to go there and get some breakfast.
Duly shaved with one of Stanley's razors, bathed, and breakfasted,
Felix was on the point of getting into the car to return to
Joyfields when he received a message from his mother: Would he
please go up and see her before he went?
He found her looking anxious and endeavoring to conceal it.
Having kissed him, she drew him to her sofa and said: "Now,
darling, come and sit down here, and tell me all about this
DREADFUL business." And taking up an odorator she blew over him a
little cloud of scent. "It's quite a new perfume; isn't it
Felix, who dreaded scent, concealed his feelings, sat down, and
told her. And while he told her he was conscious of how
pathetically her fastidiousness was quivering under those gruesome
details--fighting with policemen, fighting with common men, prison--
FOR A LADY; conscious too of her still more pathetic effort to put
a good face on it. When he had finished she remained so perfectly
still, with lips so hard compressed, that he said:
"It's no good worrying, Mother."
Frances Freeland rose, pulled something hard, and a cupboard
appeared. She opened it, and took out a travelling-bag.
"I must go back with you at once," she said.
"I don't think it's in the least necessary, and you'll only knock
"Oh, nonsense, darling! I must."
Knowing that further dissuasion would harden her determination,
Felix said: "I'm going in the car."
"That doesn't matter. I shall be ready in ten minutes. Oh! and do
you know this? It's splendid for taking lines out under the eyes!"
She was holding out a little round box with the lid off. "Just wet
your finger with it, and dab it gently on."
Touched by this evidence of her deep desire that he should put as
good a face on it as herself, Felix dabbed himself under the eyes.
"That's right. Now, wait for me, dear; I shan't be a minute. I've
only to get my things. They'll all go splendidly in this little bag."
In a quarter of an hour they had started. During that journey
Frances Freeland betrayed no sign of tremor. She was going into
action, and, therefore, had no patience with her nerves.
"Are you proposing to stay, Mother?" Felix hazarded; "because I
don't think there's a room for you."
"Oh! that's nothing, darling. I sleep beautifully in a chair. It
suits me better than lying down." Felix cast up his eyes, and made
On arriving, they found that the doctor had been there, expressed
his satisfaction, and enjoined perfect quiet. Tod was on the point
of starting back to Transham, where Sheila and the two laborers
would be brought up before the magistrates. Felix and Kirsteen
took hurried counsel. Now that Mother, whose nursing was beyond
reproach, had come, it would be better if they went with Tod. All
three started forthwith in the car.
Left alone, Frances Freeland took her bag--a noticeably old one,
without any patent clasp whatever, so that she could open it--went
noiselessly upstairs, tapped on Derek's door, and went in. A faint
but cheerful voice remarked: "Halloo, Granny!"
Frances Freeland went up to the bed, smiled down on him ineffably,
laid a finger on his lips, and said, in the stillest voice: "You
mustn't talk, darling!" Then she sat down in the window with her
bag beside her. Half a tear had run down her nose, and she had no
intention that it should be seen. She therefore opened her bag,
and, having taken out a little bottle, beckoned Nedda.
"Now, darling," she whispered, "you must just take one of these.
It's nothing new; they're what my mother used to give me at your
age. And for one hour you must go out and get some fresh air, and
then you can come back."
"Must I, Granny?"
"Yes; you must keep up your strength. Kiss me."
Nedda kissed a cheek that seemed extraordinarily smooth and soft,
received a kiss in the middle of her own, and, having stayed a
second by the bed, looking down with all her might, went out.
Frances Freeland, in the window, wasted no thoughts, but began to
run over in her mind the exact operations necessary to defeat this
illness of darling Derek's. Her fingers continually locked and
interlocked themselves with fresh determinations; her eyes, fixed
on imaginary foods, methods of washing, and ways of keeping him
quiet, had an almost fanatical intensity. Like a good general she
marshalled her means of attack and fixed them in perfect order.
Now and then she gazed into her bag, making quite sure that she had
everything, and nothing that was new-fangled or liable to go wrong.
For into action she never brought any of those patent novelties
that delighted her soul in times of peace. For example, when she
herself had pneumonia and no doctor, for two months, it was well
known that she had lain on her back, free from every kind of
remedy, employing only courage, nature, and beef tea, or some such
Having now made her mental dispositions, she got up without sound
and slipped off a petticoat that she suspected of having rustled a
little when she came in; folding and popping it where it could not
be suspected any more, she removed her shoes and put on very old
velvet slippers. She walked in these toward the bed, listening to
find out whether she could hear herself, without success. Then,
standing where she could see when his eyes opened, she began to
take stock. That pillow wasn't very comfortable! A little table
was wanted on both sides, instead of on one. There was no
odorator, and she did not see one of those arrangements! All these
things would have to be remedied.
Absorbed in this reconnoitring, she failed to observe that darling
Derek was looking at her through eyelashes that were always so nice
and black. He said suddenly, in that faint and cheerful voice:
"All right, Granny; I'm going to get up to-morrow."
Frances Freeland, whose principle it was that people should always
be encouraged to believe themselves better than they were,
answered. "Yes, darling, of course; you'll be up in no time.
It'll be delightful to see you in a chair to-morrow. But you
Derek sighed, closed his eyes, and went off into a faint.
It was in moments such as these that Frances Freeland was herself.
Her face flushed a little and grew terribly determined. Conscious
that she was absolutely alone in the house, she ran to her bag,
took out her sal volatile, applied it vigorously to his nose, and
poured a little between his lips. She did other things to him, and
not until she had brought him round, and the best of it was already
made, did she even say to herself: 'It's no use fussing; I must
make the best of it.'
Then, having discovered that he felt quite comfortable--as he said--
she sat down in a chair to fan him and tremble vigorously. She
would not have allowed that movement of her limbs if it had in any
way interfered with the fanning. But since, on the contrary, it
seemed to be of assistance, she certainly felt it a relief; for,
whatever age her spirit might be, her body was seventy-three.
And while she fanned she thought of Derek as a little, black-
haired, blazing-gray-eyed slip of a sallow boy, all little thin
legs and arms moving funnily like a foal's. He had been such a
dear, gentlemanlike little chap. It was dreadful he should be
forgetting himself so, and getting into such trouble. And her
thoughts passed back beyond him to her own four little sons, among
whom she had been so careful not to have a favorite, but to love
them all equally. And she thought of how their holland suits wore
out, especially in the elastic, and got green behind, almost before
they were put on; and of how she used to cut their hairs, spending
at least three-quarters of an hour on each, because she had never
been quick at it, while they sat so good--except Stanley, and
darling Tod, who WOULD move just as she had got into the comb
particularly nice bits of his hair, always so crisp and difficult!
And of how she had cut off Felix's long golden curls when he was
four, and would have cried over it, if crying hadn't always been
silly! And of how beautifully they had all had their measles
together, so that she had been up with them day and night for about
a fortnight. And of how it was a terrible risk with Derek and
darling Nedda, not at all a wise match, she was afraid. And yet,
if they really were attached, of course one must put the best face
on it! And how lovely it would be to see another little baby some
day; and what a charming little mother Nedda would make--if only
the dear child would do her hair just a little differently! And
she perceived that Derek was asleep--and one of her own legs, from
the knee down. She would certainly have bad pins and needles if
she did not get up; but, since she would not wake him for the
world, she must do something else to cure it. And she hit upon
this plan. She had only to say, 'Nonsense, you haven't anything of
the sort!' and it was sure to go away. She said this to her leg,
but, being a realist, she only made it feel like a pin-cushion.
She knew, however, that she had only to persevere, because it would
never do to give in. She persevered, and her leg felt as if red-
hot needles were being stuck in it. Then, for the life of her, she
could not help saying a little psalm. The sensation went away and
left her leg quite dead. She would have no strength in it at all
when she got up. But that would be easily cured, when she could
get to her bag, with three globules of nux vomica--and darling
Derek must not be waked up for anything! She waited thus till
Nedda came back, and then said, "Sssh!"
He woke at once, so that providentially she was able to get up,
and, having stood with her weight on one leg for five minutes, so
as to be quite sure she did not fall, she crossed back to the
window, took her nux vomica, and sat down with her tablets to note
down the little affairs she would require, while Nedda took her
place beside the bed, to fan him. Having made her list, she went
to Nedda and whispered that she was going down to see about one or
two little things, and while she whispered she arranged the dear
child's hair. If only she would keep it just like that, it would
be so much more becoming! And she went down-stairs.
Accustomed to the resources of Stanley's establishment, or at least
to those of John's and Felix's, and of the hotels she stayed at,
she felt for a moment just a little nonplussed at discovering at
her disposal nothing but three dear little children playing with a
dog, and one bicycle. For a few seconds she looked at the latter
hard. If only it had been a tricycle! Then, feeling certain that
she could not make it into one, she knew that she must make the
best of it, especially as, in any case, she could not have used it,
for it would never do to leave darling Nedda alone in the house.
She decided therefore to look in every room to see if she could
find the things she wanted. The dog, who had been attracted by
her, left the children and came too, and the children, attracted by
the dog, followed; so they all five went into a room on the ground
floor. It was partitioned into two by a screen; in one portion was
a rough camp bedstead, and in the other two dear little child's
beds, that must once have been Derek's and Sheila's, and one still
smaller, made out of a large packing-case. The eldest of the
little children said:
"That's where Billy sleeps, Susie sleeps here, and I sleeps there;
and our father sleeped in here before he went to prison." Frances
Freeland experienced a shock. To prison! The idea of letting
these little things know such a thing as that! The best face had
so clearly not been put on it that she decided to put it herself.
"Oh, not to prison, dear! Only into a house in the town for a
It seemed to her quite dreadful that they should know the truth--it
was simply necessary to put it out of their heads. That dear
little girl looked so old already, such a little mother! And, as
they stood about her, she gazed piercingly at their heads. They
were quite clean.
The second dear little thing said:
"We like bein' here; we hope Father won't be comin' back from
prison for a long time, so as we can go on stayin' here. Mr.
Freeland gives us apples."
The failure of her attempt to put a nicer idea into their heads
disconcerted Frances Freeland for a moment only. She said:
"Who told you he was in prison?"
Biddy answered slowly: "Nobody didn't tell us; we picked it up."
"Oh, but you should never pick things up! That's not at all nice.
You don't know what harm they may do you."
Billy replied: "We picked up a dead cat yesterday. It didn't
scratch a bit, it didn't."
And Biddy added: "Please, what is prison like?"
Pity seized on Frances Freeland for these little derelicts, whose
heads and pinafores and faces were so clean. She pursed her lips
very tight and said:
"Hold out your hands, all of you."
Three small hands were held out, and three small pairs of gray-blue
eyes looked up at her. From the recesses of her pocket she drew
forth her purse, took from it three shillings, and placed one in
the very centre of each palm. The three small hands closed; two
small grave bodies dipped in little courtesies; the third remained
stock-still, but a grin spread gradually on its face from ear to ear.
"What do you say?" said Frances Freeland.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"That's right. Now run away and play a nice game in the orchard."
The three turned immediately and went. A sound of whispering rose
busily outside. Frances Freeland, glancing through the window, saw
them unlatching the wicket gate. Sudden alarm seized her. She put
out her head and called. Biddy came back.
"You mustn't spend them all at once."
Biddy shook her head.
"No. Once we had a shillin', and we were sick. We're goin' to
spend three pennies out of one shillin' every day, till they're
"And aren't you going to put any by for a rainy day?"
Frances Freeland did not know what to answer. Dear little things!
The dear little things vanished.
In Tod's and Kirsteen's room she found a little table and a pillow,
and something that might do, and having devised a contrivance by
which this went into that and that into this and nothing whatever
showed, she conveyed the whole very quietly up near dear Derek's
room, and told darling Nedda to go down-stairs and look for
something that she knew she would not find, for she could not think
at the moment of any better excuse. When the child had gone, she
popped this here, and popped that there. And there she was! And
she felt better. It was no use whatever to make a fuss about that
aspect of nursing which was not quite nice. One just put the best
face upon it, quietly did what was necessary, and pretended that it
was not there. Kirsteen had not seen to things quite as she should
have. But then dear Kirsteen was so clever.
Her attitude, indeed, to that blue bird, who had alighted now
twenty-one years ago in the Freeland nest, had always, after the
first few shocks, been duly stoical. For, however her
fastidiousness might jib at neglect of the forms of things, she was
the last woman not to appreciate really sterling qualities. Though
it was a pity dear Kirsteen did expose her neck and arms so that
they had got quite brown, a pity that she never went to church and
had brought up the dear children not to go, and to have ideas that
were not quite right about 'the Land,' still she was emphatically a
lady, and devoted to dear Tod, and very good. And her features
were so regular, and she had such a good color, and was so slim and
straight in the back, that she was always a pleasure to look at.
And if she was not quite so practical as she might have been, that
was not everything; and she would never get stout, as there was
every danger of Clara doing. So that from the first she had always
put a good face on her. Derek's voice interrupted her thoughts:
"I'm awfully thirsty, Granny."
"Yes, darling. Don't move your head; and just let me pop in some
of this delicious lemonade with a spoon."
Nedda, returning, found her supporting his head with one hand,
while with the other she kept popping in the spoon, her soul
smiling at him lovingly through her lips and eyes.
Felix went back to London the afternoon of Frances Freeland's
installation, taking Sheila with him. She had been 'bound over to
keep the peace'--a task which she would obviously be the better
able to accomplish at a distance. And, though to take charge of
her would be rather like holding a burning match till there was no
match left, he felt bound to volunteer.
He left Nedda with many misgivings; but had not the heart to wrench
The recovery of a young man who means to get up to-morrow is not so
rapid when his head, rather than his body, is the seat of trouble.
Derek's temperament was against him. He got up several times in
spirit, to find that his body had remained in bed. And this did
not accelerate his progress. It had been impossible to dispossess
Frances Freeland from command of the sick-room; and, since she was
admittedly from experience and power of paying no attention to her
own wants, the fittest person for the position, there she remained,
taking turn and turn about with Nedda, and growing a little whiter,
a little thinner, more resolute in face, and more loving in her
eyes, from day to day. That tragedy of the old--the being laid
aside from life before the spirit is ready to resign, the feeling
that no one wants you, that all those you have borne and brought up
have long passed out on to roads where you cannot follow, that even
the thought-life of the world streams by so fast that you lie up in
a backwater, feebly, blindly groping for the full of the water, and
always pushed gently, hopelessly back; that sense that you are
still young and warm, and yet so furbelowed with old thoughts and
fashions that none can see how young and warm you are, none see how
you long to rub hearts with the active, how you yearn for something
real to do that can help life on, and how no one will give it you!
All this--this tragedy--was for the time defeated. She was, in
triumph, doing something real for those she loved and longed to do
things for. She had Sheila's room.
For a week at least Derek asked no questions, made no allusion to
the mutiny, not even to the cause of his own disablement. It had
been impossible to tell whether the concussion had driven coherent
recollection from his mind, or whether he was refraining from an
instinct of self-preservation, barring such thoughts as too
exciting. Nedda dreaded every day lest he should begin. She knew
that the questions would fall on her, since no answer could
possibly be expected from Granny except: "It's all right, darling,
everything's going on perfectly--only you mustn't talk!"
It began the last day of June, the very first day that he got up.
"They didn't save the hay, did they?"
Was he fit to hear the truth? Would he forgive her if she did not
tell it? If she lied about this, could she go on lying to his
other questions? When he discovered, later, would not the effect
undo the good of lies now? She decided to lie; but, when she
opened her lips, simply could not, with his eyes on her; and said
faintly: "Yes, they did."
His face contracted. She slipped down at once and knelt beside his
chair. He said between his teeth:
"Go on; tell me. Did it all collapse?"
She could only stroke his hands and bow her head.
"I see. What's happened to them?"
Without looking up, she murmured:
"Some have been dismissed; the others are working again all right."
She looked up then so pitifully that he did not ask her anything
more. But the news put him back a week. And she was in despair.
The day he got up again he began afresh:
"When are the assizes?"
"The 7th of August."
"Has anybody been to see Bob Tryst?"
"Yes; Aunt Kirsteen has been twice."
Having been thus answered, he was quiet for a long time. She had
slipped again out of her chair to kneel beside him; it seemed the
only place from which she could find courage for her answers. He
put his hand, that had lost its brown, on her hair. At that she
plucked up spirit to ask:
"Would you like me to go and see him?"
"Then, I will--to-morrow."
"Don't ever tell me what isn't true, Nedda! People do; that's why
I didn't ask before."
She answered fervently:
"I won't! Oh, I won't!"
She dreaded this visit to the prison. Even to think of those
places gave her nightmare. Sheila's description of her night in a
cell had made her shiver with horror. But there was a spirit in
Nedda that went through with things; and she started early the next
day, refusing Kirsteen's proffered company.
The look of that battlemented building, whose walls were pierced
with emblems of the Christian faith, turned her heartsick, and she
stood for several minutes outside the dark-green door before she
could summon courage to ring the bell.
A stout man in blue, with a fringe of gray hair under his peaked
cap, and some keys dangling from a belt, opened, and said:
Being called 'miss' gave her a little spirit, and she produced the
card she had been warming in her hand.
"I have come to see a man called Robert Tryst, waiting for trial at
The stout man looked at the card back and front, as is the way of
those in doubt, closed the door behind her, and said:
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