Part 6 out of 6
"Just a minute, miss."
The shutting of the door behind her sent a little shiver down
Nedda's spine; but the temperature of her soul was rising, and she
looked round. Beyond the heavy arch, beneath which she stood, was
a courtyard where she could see two men, also in blue, with peaked
caps. Then, to her left, she became conscious of a shaven-headed
noiseless being in drab-gray clothes, on hands and knees, scrubbing
the end of a corridor. Her tremor at the stealthy ugliness of this
crouching figure yielded at once to a spasm of pity. The man gave
her a look, furtive, yet so charged with intense penetrating
curiosity that it seemed to let her suddenly into innumerable
secrets. She felt as if the whole life of people shut away in
silence and solitude were disclosed to her in the swift,
unutterably alive look of this noiseless kneeling creature, riving
out of her something to feed his soul and body on. That look
seemed to lick its lips. It made her angry, made her miserable,
with a feeling of pity she could hardly bear. Tears, too startled
to flow, darkened her eyes. Poor man! How he must hate her, who
was free, and all fresh from the open world and the sun, and people
to love and talk to! The 'poor man' scrubbed on steadily, his ears
standing out from his shaven head; then, dragging his knee-mat
skew-ways, he took the chance to look at her again. Perhaps
because his dress and cap and stubble of hair and even the color of
his face were so drab-gray, those little dark eyes seemed to her
the most terribly living things she had ever seen. She felt that
they had taken her in from top to toe, clothed and unclothed, taken
in the resentment she had felt and the pity she was feeling; they
seemed at once to appeal, to attack, and to possess her ravenously,
as though all the starved instincts in a whole prisoned world had
rushed up and for a second stood outside their bars. Then came the
clank of keys, the eyes left her as swiftly as they had seized her,
and he became again just that stealthy, noiseless creature
scrubbing a stone floor. And, shivering, Nedda thought:
'I can't bear myself here--me with everything in the world I want--
and these with nothing!'
But the stout janitor was standing by her again, together with
another man in blue, who said:
"Now, miss; this way, please!"
And down that corridor they went. Though she did not turn, she
knew well that those eyes were following, still riving something
from her; and she heaved a sigh of real relief when she was round a
corner. Through barred windows that had no glass she could see
another court, where men in the same drab-gray clothes printed with
arrows were walking one behind the other, making a sort of moving
human hieroglyphic in the centre of the concrete floor. Two
warders with swords stood just outside its edge. Some of those
walking had their heads up, their chests expanded, some slouched
along with heads almost resting on their chests; but most had their
eyes fixed on the back of the neck of the man in front; and there
was no sound save the tramp of feet.
Nedda put her hand to her throat. The warder beside her said in a
"That's where the 'ards takes their exercise, miss. You want to
see a man called Tryst, waitin' trial, I think. We've had a woman
here to see him, and a lady in blue, once or twice."
"Ah! just so. Laborer, I think--case of arson. Funny thing; never
yet found a farm-laborer that took to prison well."
Nedda shivered. The words sounded ominous. Then a little flame
lit itself within her.
"Does anybody ever 'take to' prison?"
The warder uttered a sound between a grunt and chuckle.
"There's some has a better time here than they have out, any day.
No doubt about it--they're well fed here."
Her aunt's words came suddenly into Nedda's mind: 'Liberty's a
glorious feast!' But she did not speak them.
"Yes," the warder proceeded, "some o' them we get look as if they
didn't have a square meal outside from one year's end to the other.
If you'll just wait a minute, miss, I'll fetch the man down to you."
In a bare room with distempered walls, and bars to a window out of
which she could see nothing but a high brick wall, Nedda waited.
So rapid is the adjustment of the human mind, so quick the blunting
of human sensation, that she had already not quite the passion of
pitiful feeling which had stormed her standing under that archway.
A kind of numbness gripped her nerves. There were wooden forms in
this room, and a blackboard, on which two rows of figures had been
set one beneath the other, but not yet added up.
The silence at first was almost deathly. Then it was broken by a
sound as of a heavy door banged, and the shuffling tramp of
marching men--louder, louder, softer--a word of command--still
softer, and it died away. Dead silence again! Nedda pressed her
hands to her breast. Twice she added up those figures on the
blackboard; each time the number was the same. Ah, there was a
fly--two flies! How nice they looked, moving, moving, chasing each
other in the air. Did flies get into the cells? Perhaps not even
a fly came there--nothing more living than walls and wood! Nothing
living except what was inside oneself! How dreadful! Not even a
clock ticking, not even a bird's song! Silent, unliving, worse
than in this room! Something pressed against her leg. She started
violently and looked down. A little cat! Oh, what a blessed
thing! A little sandy, ugly cat! It must have crept in through
the door. She was not locked in, then, anyway! Thus far had
nerves carried her already! Scrattling the little cat's furry
pate, she pulled herself together. She would not tremble and be
nervous. It was disloyal to Derek and to her purpose, which was to
bring comfort to poor Tryst. Then the door was pushed open, and
the warder said:
"A quarter of an hour, miss. I'll be just outside."
She saw a big man with unshaven cheeks come in, and stretched out
"I am Mr. Derek's cousin, going to be married to him. He's been
ill, but he's getting well again now. We knew you'd like to hear."
And she thought: 'Oh! What a tragic face! I can't bear to look at
He took her hand, said, "Thank you, miss," and stood as still as ever.
"Please come and sit down, and we can talk."
Tryst moved to a form and took his seat thereon, with his hands
between his knees, as if playing with an imaginary cap. He was
dressed in an ordinary suit of laborer's best clothes, and his
stiff, dust-colored hair was not cut particularly short. The
cheeks of his square-cut face had fallen in, the eyes had sunk
back, and the prominence thus given to his cheek and jawbones and
thick mouth gave his face a savage look--only his dog-like,
terribly yearning eyes made Nedda feel so sorry that she simply
could not feel afraid.
"The children are such dears, Mr. Tryst. Billy seems to grow every
day. They're no trouble at all, and quite happy. Biddy's
wonderful with them."
"She's a good maid." The thick lips shaped the words as though
they had almost lost power of speech.
"Do they let you see the newspapers we send? Have you got
everything you want?"
For a minute he did not seem to be going to answer; then, moving
his head from side to side, he said:
"Nothin' I want, but just get out of here."
Nedda murmured helplessly:
"It's only a month now to the assizes. Does Mr. Pogram come to see
"Yes, he comes. He can't do nothin'!"
"Oh, don't despair! Even if they don't acquit you, it'll soon be
over. Don't despair!" And she stole her hand out and timidly
touched his arm. She felt her heart turning over and over, he
looked so sad.
He said in that stumbling, thick voice:
"Thank you kindly. I must get out. I won't stand long of it--not
much longer. I'm not used to it--always been accustomed to the
air, an' bein' about, that's where 'tis. But don't you tell him,
miss. You say I'm goin' along all right. Don't you tell him what
I said. 'Tis no use him frettin' over me. 'Twon' do me no good."
And Nedda murmured:
"No, no; I won't tell him."
Then suddenly came the words she had dreaded:
"D'you think they'll let me go, miss?"
"Oh, yes, I think so--I hope so!" But she could not meet his eyes,
and hearing him grit his boot on the floor knew he had not believed
He said slowly:
"I never meant to do it when I went out that mornin'. It came on
me sudden, lookin' at the straw."
Nedda gave a little gasp. Could that man outside hear?
Tryst went on: "If they don't let me go, I won' stand it. 'Tis too
much for a man. I can't sleep, I can't eat, nor nothin'. I won'
stand it. It don' take long to die, if you put your mind to it."
Feeling quite sick with pity, Nedda got up and stood beside him;
and, moved by an uncontrollable impulse, she lifted one of his
great hands and clasped it in both her own. "Oh, try and be brave
and look forward! You're going to be ever so happy some day."
He gave her a strange long stare.
"Yes, I'll be happy some day. Don' you never fret about me."
And Nedda saw that the warder was standing in the doorway.
"Sorry, miss, time's up."
Without a word Tryst rose and went out.
Nedda was alone again with the little sandy cat. Standing under
the high-barred window she wiped her cheeks, that were all wet.
Why, why must people suffer so? Suffer so slowly, so horribly?
What were men made of that they could go on day after day, year
after year, watching others suffer?
When the warder came back to take her out, she did not trust
herself to speak, or even to look at him. She walked with hands
tight clenched, and eyes fixed on the ground. Outside the prison
door she drew a long, long breath. And suddenly her eyes caught
the inscription on the corner of a lane leading down alongside the
prison wall--"Love's Walk"!
Peremptorily ordered by the doctor to the sea, but with
instructions to avoid for the present all excitement, sunlight, and
color, Derek and his grandmother repaired to a spot well known to
be gray, and Nedda went home to Hampstead. This was the last week
in July. A fortnight spent in the perfect vacuity of an English
watering-place restored the boy wonderfully. No one could be
better trusted than Frances Freeland to preserve him from looking
on the dark side of anything, more specially when that thing was
already not quite nice. Their conversation was therefore free from
allusion to the laborers, the strike, or Bob Tryst. And Derek
thought the more. The approaching trial was hardly ever out of his
mind. Bathing, he would think of it; sitting on the gray jetty
looking over the gray sea, he would think of it. Up the gray
cobbled streets and away on the headlands, he would think of it.
And, so as not to have to think of it, he would try to walk himself
to a standstill. Unfortunately the head will continue working when
the legs are at rest. And when he sat opposite to her at meal-
times, Frances Freeland would gaze piercingly at his forehead and
muse: 'The dear boy looks much better, but he's getting a little
line between his brows--it IS such a pity!' It worried her, too,
that the face he was putting on their little holiday together was
not quite as full as she could have wished--though the last thing
in the world she could tolerate were really fat cheeks, those signs
of all that her stoicism abhorred, those truly unforgivable marks
of the loss of 'form.' He struck her as dreadfully silent, too,
and she would rack her brains for subjects that would interest him,
often saying to herself: 'If only I were clever!' It was natural
he should think of dear Nedda, but surely it was not that which
gave him the little line. He must be brooding about those other
things. He ought not to be melancholy like this and let anything
prevent the sea from doing him good. The habit--hard-learned by
the old, and especially the old of her particular sex--of not
wishing for the moon, or at all events of not letting others know
that you are wishing for it, had long enabled Frances Freeland to
talk cheerfully on the most indifferent subjects whether or no her
heart were aching. One's heart often did ache, of course, but it
simply didn't do to let it interfere, making things uncomfortable
for others. And once she said to him: "You know, darling, I think
it would be so nice for you to take a little interest in politics.
They're very absorbing when you once get into them. I find my
paper most enthralling. And it really has very good principles."
"If politics did anything for those who most need things done,
Granny--but I can't see that they do."
She thought a little, then, making firm her lips, said:
"I don't think that's quite just, darling, there are a great many
politicians who are very much looked up to--all the bishops, for
instance, and others whom nobody could suspect of self-seeking."
"I didn't mean that politicians were self-seeking, Granny; I meant
that they're comfortable people, and the things that interest them
are those that interest comfortable people. What have they done
for the laborers, for instance?"
"Oh, but, darling! they're going to do a great deal. In my paper
they're continually saying that."
"Do you believe it?"
"I'm sure they wouldn't say so if they weren't. There's quite a
new plan, and it sounds most sensible. And so I don't think,
darling, that if I were you I should make myself unhappy about all
that kind of thing. They must know best. They're all so much
older than you. And you're getting quite a little line between
"All right, Granny; I shall have a big one soon."
Frances Freeland smiled, too, but shook her head.
"Yes; and that's why I really think you ought to take interest in
"I'd rather take interest in you, Granny. You're very jolly to
Frances Freeland raised her brows.
"I? My dear, I'm a perfect fright nowadays."
Thus pushing away what her stoicism and perpetual aspiration to an
impossibly good face would not suffer her to admit, she added:
"Where would you like to drive this afternoon?"
For they took drives in a small victoria, Frances Freeland holding
her sunshade to protect him from the sun whenever it made the
mistake of being out.
On August the fourth he insisted that he was well and must go back
home. And, though to bring her attendance on him to an end was a
grief, she humbly admitted that he must be wanting younger company,
and, after one wistful attempt, made no further bones. The
following day they travelled.
On getting home he found that the police had been to see little
Biddy Tryst, who was to be called as a witness. Tod would take her
over on the morning of the trial. Derek did not wait for this, but
on the day before the assizes repacked his bag and went off to the
Royal Charles Hostel at Worcester. He slept not at all that night,
and next morning was early at the court, for Tryst's case would be
the first. Anxiously he sat watching all the queer and formal
happenings that mark the initiation of the higher justice--the
assemblage of the gentlemen in wigs; the sifting, shifting,
settling of clerks, and ushers, solicitors, and the public; the
busy indifference, the cheerful professionalism of it all. He saw
little Mr. Pogram come in, more square and rubbery than ever, and
engage in conclave with one of the bewigged. The smiles, shrugs,
even the sharp expressions on that barrister's face; the way he
stood, twisting round, one hand wrapped in his gown, one foot on
the bench behind; it was all as if he had done it hundreds of times
before and cared not the snap of one of his thin, yellow fingers.
Then there was a sudden hush; the judge came in, bowed, and took
his seat. And that, too, seemed so professional. Haunted by the
thought of him to whom this was almost life and death, the boy was
incapable of seeing how natural it was that they should not all
feel as he did.
The case was called and Tryst brought in. Derek had once more to
undergo the torture of those tragic eyes fixed on him. Round that
heavy figure, that mournful, half-brutal, and half-yearning face,
the pleadings, the questions, the answers buzzed, bringing out
facts with damning clearness, yet leaving the real story of that
early morning as hidden as if the court and all were but gibbering
figures of air. The real story of Tryst, heavy and distraught,
rising and turning out from habit into the early haze on the
fields, where his daily work had lain, of Tryst brooding, with the
slow, the wrathful incoherence that centuries of silence in those
lonely fields had passed into the blood of his forebears and
himself. Brooding, in the dangerous disproportion that enforced
continence brings to certain natures, loading the brain with
violence till the storm bursts and there leap out the lurid, dark
insanities of crime. Brooding, while in the air flies chased each
other, insects crawled together in the grass, and the first
principle of nature worked everywhere its sane fulfilment. They
might talk and take evidence as they would, be shrewd and sharp
with all the petty sharpness of the Law; but the secret springs
would still lie undisclosed, too natural and true to bear the light
of day. The probings and eloquence of justice would never paint
the picture of that moment of maniacal relief, when, with jaw
hanging loose, eyes bulging in exultation of revenge, he had struck
those matches with his hairy hands and let them flare in the straw,
till the little red flames ran and licked, rustled and licked, and
there was nothing to do but watch them lick and burn. Nor of that
sudden wildness of dumb fear that rushed into the heart of the
crouching creature, changing the madness of his face to palsy. Nor
of the recoil from the burning stack; those moments empty with
terror. Nor of how terror, through habit of inarticulate,
emotionless existence, gave place again to brute stolidity. And
so, heavily back across the dewy fields, under the larks' songs,
the cooings of pigeons, the hum of wings, and all the unconscious
rhythm of ageless Nature. No! The probings of Justice could never
reach the whole truth. And even Justice quailed at its own
probings when the mother-child was passed up from Tod's side into
the witness-box and the big laborer was seen to look at her and she
at him. She seemed to have grown taller; her pensive little face
and beautifully fluffed-out corn-brown hair had an eerie beauty,
perched up there in the arid witness-box, as of some small figure
from the brush of Botticelli.
"Your name, my dear?"
"Ten next month, please."
"Do you remember going to live at Mr. Freeland's cottage?"
"And do you remember the first night?"
"Where did you sleep, Biddy?"
"Please, sir, we slept in a big room with a screen. Billy and
Susie and me; and father behind the screen."
"And where was the room?"
"Now, Biddy, what time did you wake up the first morning?"
"When Father got up."
"Was that early or late?"
"Would you know the time?"
"But it was very early; how did you know that?"
"It was a long time before we had any breakfast."
"And what time did you have breakfast?"
"Half past six by the kitchen clock."
"Was it light when you woke up?"
"When Father got up, did he dress or did he go to bed again?"
"He hadn't never undressed, sir."
"Then did he stay with you or did he go out?"
"And how long was it before he came back?"
"When I was puttin' on Billy's boots."
"What had you done in between?"
"Helped Susie and dressed Billy."
"And how long does that take you generally?"
"Half an hour, sir."
"I see. What did Father look like when he came in, Biddy?"
The mother-child paused. For the first time it seemed to dawn on
her that there was something dangerous in these questions. She
twisted her small hands before her and gazed at her father.
The judge said gently:
"Well, my child?"
"Like he does now, sir."
"Thank you, Biddy."
That was all; the mother-child was suffered to step down and take
her place again by Tod. And in the silence rose the short and
rubbery report of little Mr. Pogram blowing his nose. No evidence
given that morning was so conclusive, actual, terrible as that
unconscious: "Like he does now, sir." That was why even Justice
quailed a little at its own probings.
From this moment the boy knew that Tryst's fate was sealed. What
did all those words matter, those professional patterings one way
and the other; the professional jeers: 'My friend has told you
this' and 'My friend will tell you that.' The professional
steering of the impartial judge, seated there above them all; the
cold, calculated rhapsodies about the heinousness of arson; the
cold and calculated attack on the characters of the stone-breaker
witness and the tramp witness; the cold and calculated patter of
the appeal not to condemn a father on the evidence of his little
child; the cold and calculated outburst on the right of every man
to be assumed innocent except on overwhelming evidence such as did
not here exist. The cold and calculated balancing of pro and con;
and those minutes of cold calculation veiled from the eyes of the
court. Even the verdict: 'Guilty'; even the judgment: 'Three
years' penal servitude.' All nothing, all superfluity to the boy
supporting the tragic gaze of Tryst's eyes and making up his mind
to a desperate resort.
"Three years' penal servitude!" The big laborer paid no more
attention to those words than to any others spoken during that
hour's settlement of his fate. True, he received them standing, as
is the custom, fronting the image of Justice, from whose lips they
came. But by no single gesture did he let any one see the dumb
depths of his soul. If life had taught him nothing else, it had
taught him never to express himself. Mute as any bullock led into
the slaughtering-house, with something of a bullock's dulled and
helpless fear in his eyes, he passed down and away between his
jailers. And at once the professional noises rose, and the
professional rhapsodists, hunching their gowns, swept that little
lot of papers into their pink tape, and, turning to their
neighbors, smiled, and talked, and jerked their eyebrows.
The nest on the Spaniard's Road had not been able to contain Sheila
long. There are certain natures, such as that of Felix, to whom
the claims and exercise of authority are abhorrent, who refuse to
exercise it themselves and rage when they see it exercised over
others, but who somehow never come into actual conflict with it.
There are other natures, such as Sheila's, who do not mind in the
least exercising authority themselves, but who oppose it vigorously
when they feel it coming near themselves or some others. Of such
is the kingdom of militancy. Her experience with the police had
sunk deep into her soul. They had not, as a fact, treated her at
all badly, which did not prevent her feeling as if they had
outraged in her the dignity of woman. She arrived, therefore, in
Hampstead seeing red even where red was not. And since,
undoubtedly, much real red was to be seen, there was little other
color in the world or in her cheeks those days. Long disagreements
with Alan, to whom she was still a magnet but whose Stanley-like
nature stood firm against the blandishments of her revolting
tongue, drove her more and more toward a decision the seeds of
which had, perhaps, been planted during her former stay among the
breezy airs of Hampstead.
Felix, coming one day into his wife's study--for the house knew not
the word drawing-room--found Flora, with eyebrows lifted up and
smiling lips, listening to Sheila proclaiming the doctrine that it
was impossible not to live 'on one's own.' Nothing else--Felix
learned--was compatible with dignity, or even with peace of mind.
She had, therefore, taken a back room high up in a back street, in
which she was going to live perfectly well on ten shillings a week;
and, having thirty-two pounds saved up, she would be all right for
a year, after which she would be able to earn her living. The
principle she purposed to keep before her eyes was that of
committing herself to nothing which would seriously interfere with
her work in life. Somehow, it was impossible to look at this girl,
with her glowing cheeks and her glowing eyes, and her hair frizzy
from ardor, and to distrust her utterances. Yes! She would
arrive, if not where she wanted, at all events somewhere; which,
after all, was the great thing. And in fact she did arrive the
very next day in the back room high up in the back street, and
neither Tod's cottage nor the house on the Spaniard's Road saw more
than flying gleams of her, thenceforth.
Another by-product, this, of that little starting episode, the
notice given to Tryst! Strange how in life one little incident,
one little piece of living stress, can attract and gather round it
the feelings, thoughts, actions of people whose lives run far and
wide away therefrom. But episodes are thus potent only when
charged with a significance that comes from the clash of the
During the six weeks which had elapsed between his return home from
Joyfields and the assizes, Felix had much leisure to reflect that
if Lady Malloring had not caused Tryst to be warned that he could
not marry his deceased wife's sister and continue to stay on the
estate--the lives of Felix himself, his daughter, mother, brother,
brother's wife, their son and daughter, and in less degree of his
other brothers, would have been free of a preoccupation little
short of ludicrous in proportion to the face value of the cause.
But he had leisure, too, to reflect that in reality the issue
involved in that tiny episode concerned human existence to its
depths--for, what was it but the simple, all-important question of
human freedom? The simple, all-important issue of how far men and
women should try to rule the lives of others instead of trying only
to rule their own, and how far those others should allow their
lives to be so ruled? This it was which gave that episode its
power of attracting and affecting the thoughts, feelings, actions
of so many people otherwise remote. And though Felix was paternal
enough to say to himself nearly all the time, 'I can't let Nedda
get further into this mess!' he was philosopher enough to tell
himself, in the unfatherly balance of his hours, that the mess was
caused by the fight best of all worth fighting--of democracy
against autocracy, of a man's right to do as he likes with his life
if he harms not others; of 'the Land' against the fetterers of 'the
Land.' And he was artist enough to see how from that little
starting episode the whole business had sprung--given, of course,
the entrance of the wilful force called love. But a father,
especially when he has been thoroughly alarmed, gives the artist
and philosopher in him short shrift.
Nedda came home soon after Sheila went, and to the eyes of Felix
she came back too old and thoughtful altogether. How different a
girl from the Nedda who had so wanted 'to know everything' that
first night of May! What was she brooding over, what planning, in
that dark, round, pretty head? At what resolve were those clear
eyes so swiftly raised to look? What was going on within, when her
breast heaved so, without seeming cause, and the color rushed up in
her cheeks at a word, as though she had been so far away that the
effort of recall was alone enough to set all her veins throbbing.
And yet Felix could devise no means of attack on her infatuation.
For a man cannot cultivate the habit of never interfering and then
suddenly throw it over; least of all when the person to be
interfered with is his pet and only daughter.
Flora, not of course in the swim of those happenings at Joyflelds,
could not be got to take the matter very seriously. In fact--
beyond what concerned Felix himself and poetry--the matter that she
did take seriously had yet to be discovered. Hers was one of those
semi-detached natures particularly found in Hampstead. When
exhorted to help tackle the question, she could only suggest that
Felix should take them all abroad when he had finished 'The Last of
the Laborers.' A tour, for instance, in Norway and Sweden, where
none of them had ever been, and perhaps down through Finland into
Feeling like one who squirts on a burning haystack with a garden
syringe, Felix propounded this scheme to his little daughter. She
received it with a start, a silence, a sort of quivering all over,
as of an animal who scents danger. She wanted to know when, and
being told--'not before the middle of August', relapsed into her
preoccupation as if nothing had been said. Felix noted on the hall
table one afternoon a letter in her handwriting, addressed to a
Worcester newspaper, and remarked thereafter that she began to
receive this journal daily, obviously with a view to reports of the
coming assizes. Once he tried to break through into her
confidence. It was August Bank Holiday, and they had gone out on
to the heath together to see the people wonderfully assembled.
Coming back across the burnt-up grass, strewn with paper bags,
banana peel, and the cores of apples, he hooked his hand into her
"What is to be done with a child that goes about all day thinking
and thinking and not telling anybody what she is thinking?"
She smiled round at him and answered:
"I know, Dad. She IS a pig, isn't she?"
This comparison with an animal of proverbial stubbornness was not
encouraging. Then his hand was squeezed to her side and he heard
"I wonder if all daughters are such beasts!"
He understood well that she had meant: 'There is only one thing I
want--one thing I mean to have--one thing in the world for me now!'
And he said soberly:
"We can't expect anything else."
"Oh, Daddy!" she answered, but nothing more.
Only four days later she came to his study with a letter, and a
face so flushed and troubled that he dropped his pen and got up in
"Read this, Dad! It's impossible! It's not true! It's terrible!
Oh! What am I to do?"
The letter ran thus, in a straight, boyish handwriting:
"ROYAL CHARLES HOSTEL,
"WORCESTER, Aug. 7th.
"I have just seen Bob tried. They have given him three years'
penal. It was awful to sit there and watch him. He can never
stand it. It was awful to watch him looking at ME. It's no good.
I'm going to give myself up. I must do it. I've got everything
ready; they'll have to believe me and squash his sentence. You
see, but for me it would never have been done. It's a matter of
honour. I can't let him suffer any more. This isn't impulse.
I've been meaning to do it for some time, if they found him guilty.
So in a way, it's an immense relief. I'd like to have seen you
first, but it would only distress you, and I might not have been
able to go through with it after. Nedda, darling, if you still
love me when I get out, we'll go to New Zealand, away from this
country where they bully poor creatures like Bob. Be brave! I'll
write to-morrow, if they let me.
The first sensation in Felix on reading this effusion was poignant
recollection of the little lawyer's look after Derek had made the
scene at Tryst's committal and of his words: 'Nothing in it, is
there?' His second thought: 'Is this the cutting of the knot that
I've been looking for?' His third, which swept all else away: 'My
poor little darling! What business has that boy to hurt her again
He heard her say:
"Tryst told me himself he did it, Dad! He told me when I went to
see him in the prison. Honour doesn't demand what isn't true! Oh,
Dad, help me!"
Felix was slow in getting free from the cross currents of
reflection. "He wrote this last night," he said dismally. "He may
have done it already. We must go and see John."
Nedda clasped her hands. "Ah! Yes!"
And Felix had not the heart to add what he was thinking: 'Not that
I see what good he can do!' But, though sober reason told him
this, it was astonishingly comforting to be going to some one who
could be relied on to see the facts of the situation without any of
that 'flimflam' with which imagination is accustomed to surround
them. "And we'll send Derek a wire for what it's worth."
They went at once to the post-office, Felix composing this message
on the way: 'Utterly mistaken chivalry you have no right await our
arrival Felix Freeland.' He handed it to her to read, and passed
it under the brass railing to the clerk, not without the feeling of
shame due from one who uses the word chivalry in a post-office.
On the way to the Tube station he held her arm tightly, but whether
to impart courage or receive it he could not have said, so strung-
up in spirit did he feel her. With few words exchanged they
reached Whitehall. Marking their card 'Urgent,' they were received
within ten minutes.
John was standing in a high, white room, smelling a little of
papers and tobacco, and garnished solely by five green chairs, a
table, and a bureau with an immense number of pigeonholes, whereat
he had obviously been seated. Quick to observe what concerned his
little daughter, Felix noted how her greeting trembled up at her
uncle and how a sort of warmth thawed for the moment the regularity
of his brother's face. When they had taken two of the five green
chairs and John was back at his bureau, Felix handed over the
letter. John read it and looked at Nedda. Then taking a pipe out
of his pocket, which he had evidently filled before they came in,
he lighted it and re-read the letter. Then, looking very straight
at Nedda, he said:
"Nothing in it? Honour bright, my dear!"
"No, Uncle John, nothing. Only that he fancies his talk about
injustice put it into Tryst's head."
John nodded; the girl's face was evidence enough for him.
"Tryst himself told me in the prison that he did it. He said it
came on him suddenly, when he saw the straw."
A pause followed before John said:
"Good! You and I and your father will go down and see the police."
Nedda lifted her hands and said breathlessly:
"But, Uncle! Dad! Have I the right? He says--honour. Won't it
be betraying him?"
Felix could not answer, but with relief he heard John say:
"It's not honorable to cheat the law."
"No; but he trusted me or he wouldn't have written."
John answered slowly:
"I think your duty's plain, my dear. The question for the police
will be whether or not to take notice of this false confession.
For us to keep the knowledge that it's false from them, under the
circumstances, is clearly not right. Besides being, to my mind,
For Felix to watch this mortal conflict going on in the soul of his
daughter--that soul which used to seem, perhaps even now seemed,
part of himself; to know that she so desperately wanted help for
her decision, and to be unable to give it, unable even to trust
himself to be honest--this was hard for Felix. There she sat,
staring before her; and only her tight-clasped hands, the little
movements of her lips and throat, showed the struggle going on in
"I couldn't, without seeing him; I MUST see him first, Uncle!"
John got up and went over to the window; he, too, had been affected
by her face.
"You realize," he said, "that you risk everything by that. If he's
given himself up, and they've believed him, he's not the sort to
let it fall through. You cut off your chance if he won't let you
tell. Better for your father and me to see him first, anyway."
And Felix heard a mutter that sounded like: 'Confound him!'
Nedda rose. "Can we go at once, then, Uncle?"
With a solemnity that touched Felix, John put a hand on each side
of her face, raised it, and kissed her on the forehead.
"All right!" he said. "Let's be off!"
A silent trio sought Paddington in a taxi-cab, digesting this
desperate climax of an affair that sprang from origins so small.
In Felix, contemplating his daughter's face, there was profound
compassion, but also that family dismay, that perturbation of self-
esteem, which public scandal forces on kinsmen, even the most
philosophic. He felt exasperation against Derek, against Kirsteen,
almost even against Tod, for having acquiesced passively in the
revolutionary bringing-up which had brought on such a disaster.
War against injustice; sympathy with suffering; chivalry! Yes!
But not quite to the point whence they recoiled on his daughter,
his family, himself! The situation was impossible! He was fast
resolving that, whether or no they saved Derek from this quixotry,
the boy should not have Nedda. And already his eyes found
difficulty in meeting hers.
They secured a compartment to themselves and, having settled down
in corners, began mechanically unfolding evening journals. For
after all, whatever happens, one must read the papers! Without
that, life would indeed be insupportable! Felix had bought Mr.
Cuthcott's, but, though he turned and turned the sheets, they
seemed to have no sense till these words caught his eyes:
"Convict's tragic death! Yesterday afternoon at Worcester, while
being conveyed from the assize court back to prison, a man named
Tryst, sentenced to three years' penal servitude for arson,
suddenly attacked the warders in charge of him and escaped. He ran
down the street, hotly pursued, and, darting out into the traffic,
threw himself under a motor-car going at some speed. The car
struck him on the head, and the unfortunate man was killed on the
spot. No reason whatever can be assigned for this desperate act.
He is known, however, to have suffered from epilepsy, and it is
thought an attack may have been coming on him at the time."
When Felix had read these words he remained absolutely still,
holding that buff-colored paper before his face, trying to decide
what he must do now. What was the significance--exactly the
significance of this? Now that Tryst was dead, Derek's quixotic
action had no meaning. But had he already 'confessed'? It seemed
from this account that the suicide was directly after the trial;
even before the boy's letter to Nedda had been written. He must
surely have heard of it since and given up his mad idea! He leaned
over, touched John on the knee, and handed him the paper. John
read the paragraph, handed it back; and the two brothers stared
fixedly at each other. Then Felix made the faintest movement of
his head toward his daughter, and John nodded. Crossing to Nedda,
Felix hooked his arm in hers and said:
"Just look at this, my child."
Nedda read, started to her feet, sank back, and cried out:
"Poor, poor man! Oh, Dad! Poor man!"
Felix felt ashamed. Though Tryst's death meant so much relief to
her, she felt first this rush of compassion; he himself, to whom it
meant so much less relief, had felt only that relief.
"He said he couldn't stand it; he told me that. But I never
thought--Oh! Poor man!" And, burying her face against his arm,
she gave way.
Petrified, and conscious that John at the far end of the carriage
was breathing rather hard, Felix could only stroke her arm till at
last she whispered:
"There's nobody now for Derek to save. Oh, if you'd seen that poor
man in prison, Dad!"
And the only words of comfort Felix could find were:
"My child, there are thousands and thousands of poor prisoners and
In a truce to agitation they spent the rest of that three hours'
journey, while the train rattled and rumbled through the quiet,
It was tea-time when they reached Worcester, and at once went up to
the Royal Charles Hostel. A pretty young woman in the office there
informed them that the young gentleman had paid his bill and gone
out about ten o'clock; but had left his luggage. She had not seen
him come in. His room was up that little staircase at the end of
the passage. There was another entrance that he might have come in
at. The 'Boots' would take them.
Past the hall stuffed with furniture and decorated with the stags'
heads and battle-prints common to English county-town hotels, they
followed the 'Boots' up five red-carpeted steps, down a dingy green
corridor, to a door at the very end. There was no answer to their
knock. The dark little room, with striped walls, and more battle-
prints, looked out on a side street and smelled dusty. On a shiny
leather sofa an old valise, strapped-up ready for departure, was
reposing with Felix's telegram, unopened, deposited thereon.
Writing on his card, "Have come down with Nedda. F. F.," and
laying it on the telegram, in case Derek should come in by the side
entrance, Felix and Nedda rejoined John in the hall.
To wait in anxiety is perhaps the hardest thing in life; tea,
tobacco, and hot baths perhaps the only anodynes. These, except
the baths, they took. Without knowing what had happened, neither
John nor Felix liked to make inquiry at the police station, nor did
they care to try and glean knowledge from the hotel people by
questions that might lead to gossip. They could but kick their
heels till it became reasonably certain that Derek was not coming
back. The enforced waiting increased Felix's exasperation.
Everything Derek did seemed designed to cause Nedda pain. To watch
her sitting there, trying resolutely to mask her anxiety, became
intolerable. At last he got up and said to John:
"I think we'd better go round there," and, John nodding, he added:
"Wait here, my child. One of us'll come back at once and tell you
anything we hear."
She gave them a grateful look and the two brothers went out. They
had not gone twenty yards when they met Derek striding along, pale,
wild, unhappy-looking. When Felix touched him on the arm, he
started and stared blankly at his uncle.
"We've seen about Tryst," Felix said: "You've not done anything?"
Derek shook his head.
"Good! John, tell Nedda that, and stay with her a bit. I want to
talk to Derek. We'll go in the other way." He put his hand under
the boy's arm and turned him down into the side street. When they
reached the gloomy little bedroom Felix pointed to the telegram.
"From me. I suppose the news of his death stopped you?"
"Yes." Derek opened the telegram, dropped it, and sat down beside
his valise on the shiny sofa. He looked positively haggard.
Taking his stand against the chest of drawers, Felix said quietly:
"I'm going to have it out with you, Derek. Do you understand what
all this means to Nedda? Do you realize how utterly unhappy you're
making her? I don't suppose you're happy yourself--"
The boy's whole figure writhed.
"Happy! When you've killed some one you don't think much of
happiness--your own or any one's!"
Startled in his turn, Felix said sharply:
"Don't talk like that. It's monomania."
Derek laughed. "Bob Tryst's dead--through me! I can't get out of
Gazing at the boy's tortured face, Felix grasped the gruesome fact
that this idea amounted to obsession.
"Derek," he said, "you've dwelt on this till you see it out of all
proportion. If we took to ourselves the remote consequences of all
our words we should none of us survive a week. You're overdone.
You'll see it differently to-morrow."
Derek got up to pace the room.
"I swear I would have saved him. I tried to do it when they
committed him at Transham." He looked wildly at Felix. "Didn't I?
You were there; you heard!"
"Yes, yes; I heard."
"They wouldn't let me then. I thought they mightn't find him
guilty here--so I let it go on. And now he's dead. You don't know
how I feel!"
His throat was working, and Felix said with real compassion:
"My dear boy! Your sense of honour is too extravagant altogether.
A grown man like poor Tryst knew perfectly what he was doing."
"No. He was like a dog--he did what he thought was expected of
him. I never meant him to burn those ricks."
"Exactly! No one can blame you for a few wild words. He might
have been the boy and you the man by the way you take it! Come!"
Derek sat down again on the shiny sofa and buried his head in his
"I can't get away from him. He's been with me all day. I see him
all the time."
That the boy was really haunted was only too apparent. How to
attack this mania? If one could make him feel something else! And
"Look here, Derek! Before you've any right to Nedda you've got to
find ballast. That's a matter of honour, if you like."
Derek flung up his head as if to escape a blow. Seeing that he had
riveted him, Felix pressed on, with some sternness:
"A man can't serve two passions. You must give up this championing
the weak and lighting flames you can't control. See what it leads
to! You've got to grow and become a man. Until then I don't trust
my daughter to you."
The boy's lips quivered; a flush darkened his face, ebbed, and left
him paler than ever.
Felix felt as if he had hit that face. Still, anything was better
than to leave him under this gruesome obsession! Then, to his
consternation, Derek stood up and said:
"If I go and see his body at the prison, perhaps he'll leave me
alone a little!"
Catching at that, as he would have caught at anything, Felix said:
"Good! Yes! Go and see the poor fellow; we'll come, too."
And he went out to find Nedda.
By the time they reached the street Derek had already started, and
they could see him going along in front. Felix racked his brains
to decide whether he ought to prepare her for the state the boy was
in. Twice he screwed himself up to take the plunge, but her face--
puzzled, as though wondering at her lover's neglect of her--stopped
him. Better say nothing!
Just as they reached the prison she put her hand on his arm:
And Felix read on the corner of the prison lane those words:
Derek was waiting at the door. After some difficulty they were
admitted and taken down the corridor where the prisoner on his
knees had stared up at Nedda, past the courtyard where those others
had been pacing out their living hieroglyphic, up steps to the
hospital. Here, in a white-washed room on a narrow bed, the body
of the big laborer lay, wrapped in a sheet.
"We bury him Friday, poor chap! Fine big man, too!" And at the
warder's words a shudder passed through Felix. The frozen
tranquillity of that body!
As the carved beauty of great buildings, so is the graven beauty of
death, the unimaginable wonder of the abandoned thing lying so
quiet, marvelling at its resemblance to what once lived! How
strange this thing, still stamped by all that it had felt, wanted,
loved, and hated, by all its dumb, hard, commonplace existence!
This thing with the calm, pathetic look of one who asks of his own
fled spirit: Why have you abandoned me?
Death! What more wonderful than a dead body--that still perfect
work of life, for which life has no longer use! What more
mysterious than this sight of what still is, yet is not!
Below the linen swathing the injured temples, those eyes were
closed through which such yearning had looked forth. From that
face, where the hair had grown faster than if it had been alive,
death's majesty had planed away the aspect of brutality, removed
the yearning, covering all with wistful acquiescence. Was his
departed soul coherent? Where was it? Did it hover in this room,
visible still to the boy? Did it stand there beside what was left
of Tryst the laborer, that humblest of all creatures who dared to
make revolt--serf, descendant of serfs, who, since the beginning,
had hewn wood, drawn water, and done the will of others? Or was it
winged, and calling in space to the souls of the oppressed?
This body would go back to the earth that it had tended, the wild
grass would grow over it, the seasons spend wind and rain forever
above it. But that which had held this together--the inarticulate,
lowly spirit, hardly asking itself why things should be, faithful
as a dog to those who were kind to it, obeying the dumb instinct of
a violence that in his betters would be called 'high spirit,'
where--Felix wondered--where was it?
And what were they thinking--Nedda and that haunted boy--so
motionless? Nothing showed on their faces, nothing but a sort of
living concentration, as if they were trying desperately to pierce
through and see whatever it was that held this thing before them in
such awful stillness. Their first glimpse of death; their first
perception of that terrible remoteness of the dead! No wonder they
seemed to be conjured out of the power of thought and feeling!
Nedda was first to turn away. Walking back by her side, Felix was
surprised by her composure. The reality of death had not been to
her half so harrowing as the news of it. She said softly:
"I'm glad to have seen him like that; now I shall think of him--at
peace; not as he was that other time."
Derek rejoined them, and they went in silence back to the hotel.
But at the door she said:
"Come with me to the cathedral, Derek; I can't go in yet!"
To Felix's dismay the boy nodded, and they turned to go. Should he
stop them? Should he go with them? What should a father do? And,
with a heavy sigh, he did nothing but retire into the hotel.
It was calm, with a dark-blue sky, and a golden moon, and the
lighted street full of people out for airing. The great cathedral,
cutting the heavens with its massive towers, was shut. No means of
getting in; and while they stood there looking up the thought came
into Nedda's mind: Where would they bury poor Tryst who had killed
himself? Would they refuse to bury that unhappy one in a
churchyard? Surely, the more unhappy and desperate he was, the
kinder they ought to be to him!
They turned away down into a little lane where an old, white,
timbered cottage presided ghostly at the corner. Some church
magnate had his garden back there; and it was quiet, along the
waving line of a high wall, behind which grew sycamores spreading
close-bunched branches, whose shadows, in the light of the corner
lamps, lay thick along the ground this glamourous August night. A
chafer buzzed by, a small black cat played with its tail on some
steps in a recess. Nobody passed.
The girl's heart was beating fast. Derek's face was so strange and
strained. And he had not yet said one word to her. All sorts of
fears and fancies beset her till she was trembling all over.
"What is it?" she said at last. "You haven't--you haven't stopped
loving me, Derek?"
"No one could stop loving you."
"What is it, then? Are you thinking of poor Tryst?"
With a catch in his throat and a sort of choked laugh he answered:
"But it's all over. He's at peace."
"Peace!" Then, in a queer, dead voice, he added: "I'm sorry,
Nedda. It's beastly for you. But I can't help it."
What couldn't he help? Why did he keep her suffering like this--
not telling her? What was this something that seemed so terribly
between them? She walked on silently at his side, conscious of the
rustling of the sycamores, of the moonlit angle of the church
magnate's house, of the silence in the lane, and the gliding of
their own shadows along the wall. What was this in his face, his
thoughts, that she could not reach! And she cried out:
"Tell me! Oh, tell me, Derek! I can go through anything with
"I can't get rid of him, that's all. I thought he'd go when I'd
seen him there. But it's no good!"
Terror got hold of her then. She peered at his face--very white
and haggard. There seemed no blood in it. They were going down-
hill now, along the blank wall of a factory; there was the river in
front, with the moonlight on it and boats drawn up along the bank.
From a chimney a scroll of black smoke was flung out across the
sky, and a lighted bridge glowed above the water. They turned away
from that, passing below the dark pile of the cathedral. Here
couples still lingered on benches along the river-bank, happy in
the warm night, under the August moon! And on and on they walked
in that strange, miserable silence, past all those benches and
couples, out on the river-path by the fields, where the scent of
hay-stacks, and the freshness from the early stubbles and the
grasses webbed with dew, overpowered the faint reek of the river
mud. And still on and on in the moonlight that haunted through the
willows. At their footsteps the water-rats scuttled down into the
water with tiny splashes; a dog barked somewhere a long way off; a
train whistled; a frog croaked. From the stubbles and second crops
of sun-baked clover puffs of warm air kept stealing up into the
chillier air beneath the willows. Such moonlit nights never seem
to sleep. And there was a kind of triumph in the night's smile, as
though it knew that it ruled the river and the fields, ruled with
its gleams the silent trees that had given up all rustling.
Suddenly Derek said:
"He's walking with us! Look! Over there!"
And for a second there did seem to Nedda a dim, gray shape moving
square and dogged, parallel with them at the stubble edges.
"Oh, no; don't frighten me! I can't bear it tonight!" She hid her
face against his shoulder like a child. He put his arm round her
and she pressed her face deep into his coat. This ghost of Bob
Tryst holding him away from her! This enemy! This uncanny
presence! She pressed closer, closer, and put her face up to his.
It was wonderfully lonely, silent, whispering, with the moongleams
slipping through the willow boughs into the shadow where they
stood. And from his arms warmth stole through her! Closer and
closer she pressed, not quite knowing what she did, not quite
knowing anything but that she wanted him never to let her go;
wanted his lips on hers, so that she might feel his spirit pass,
away from what was haunting it, into hers, never to escape. But
his lips did not come to hers. They stayed drawn back, trembling,
hungry-looking, just above her lips. And she whispered:
She felt him shudder in her arms, saw his eyes darken, his lips
quiver and quiver, as if he wanted them to, but they would not.
What was it? Oh, what was it? Wasn't he going to kiss her--not to
kiss her? And while in that unnatural pause they stood, their
heads bent back among the moongleams and those willow shadows,
there passed through Nedda such strange trouble as she had never
known. Not kiss her! Not kiss her! Why didn't he? When in her
blood and in the night all round, in the feel of his arms, the
sight of his hungry lips, was something unknown, wonderful,
terrifying, sweet! And she wailed out:
"I want you--I don't care--I want you!" She felt him sway, reel,
and clutch her as if he were going to fall, and all other feeling
vanished in the instinct of the nurse she had already been to him.
He was ill again! Yes, he was ill! And she said:
"Derek--don't! It's all right. Let's walk on quietly!"
She got his arm tightly in hers and drew him along toward home. By
the jerking of that arm, the taut look on his face, she could feel
that he did not know from step to step whether he could stay
upright. But she herself was steady and calm enough, bent on
keeping emotion away, and somehow getting him back along the river-
path, abandoned now to the moon and the bright, still spaces of the
night and the slow-moving, whitened water. Why had she not felt
from the first that he was overwrought and only fit for bed?
Thus, very slowly, they made their way up by the factory again into
the lane by the church magnate's garden, under the branches of the
sycamores, past the same white-faced old house at the corner, to
the high street where some few people were still abroad.
At the front door of the hotel stood Felix, looking at his watch,
disconsolate as an old hen. To her great relief he went in quickly
when he saw them coming. She could not bear the thought of talk
and explanation. The one thing was to get Derek to bed. All the
time he had gone along with that taut face; and now, when he sat
down on the shiny sofa in the little bedroom, he shivered so
violently that his teeth chattered. She rang for a hot bottle and
brandy and hot water. When he had drunk he certainly shivered
less, professed himself all right, and would not let her stay. She
dared not ask, but it did seem as if the physical collapse had
driven away, for the time at all events, that ghostly visitor, and,
touching his forehead with her lips--very motherly--so that he
looked up and smiled at her--she said in a matter-of-fact voice:
"I'll come back after a bit and tuck you up," and went out.
Felix was waiting in the hall, at a little table on which stood a
bowl of bread and milk. He took the cover off it for her without a
word. And while she supped he kept glancing at her, trying to make
up his mind to words. But her face was sealed. And all he said was:
"Your uncle's gone to Becket for the night. I've got you a room
next mine, and a tooth-brush, and some sort of comb. I hope you'll
be able to manage, my child."
Nedda left him at the door of his room and went into her own.
After waiting there ten minutes she stole out again. It was all
quiet, and she went resolutely back down the stairs. She did not
care who saw her or what they thought. Probably they took her for
Derek's sister; but even if they didn't she would not have cared.
It was past eleven, the light nearly out, and the hall in the
condition of such places that await a morning's renovation. His
corridor, too, was quite dark. She opened the door without sound
and listened, till his voice said softly:
"All right, little angel; I'm not asleep."
And by a glimmer of moonlight, through curtains designed to keep
out nothing, she stole up to the bed. She could just see his face,
and eyes looking up at her with a sort of adoration. She put her
hand on his forehead and whispered: "Are you comfy?"
He murmured back: "Yes, quite comfy."
Kneeling down, she laid her face beside his on the pillow. She
could not help doing that; it made everything seem holy, cuddley,
warm. His lips touched her nose. Her eyes, for just that instant,
looked up into his, that were very dark and soft; then she got up.
"Would you like me to stay till you're asleep?"
"Yes; forever. But I shouldn't exactly sleep. Would you?"
In the darkness Nedda vehemently shook her head. Sleep! No! She
would not sleep!
"Good night, then!"
"Good night, little dark angel!"
"Good night!" With that last whisper she slipped back to the door
and noiselessly away.
It was long before she closed her eyes, spending the hours in fancy
where still less she would have slept. But when she did drop off
she dreamed that he and she were alone upon a star, where all the
trees were white, the water, grass, birds, everything, white, and
they were walking arm in arm, among white flowers. And just as she
had stooped to pick one--it was no flower, but--Tryst's white-
banded face! She woke with a little cry.
She was dressed by eight and went at once to Derek's room. There
was no answer to her knock, and in a flutter of fear she opened the
door. He had gone--packed, and gone. She ran back to the hall.
There was a note for her in the office, and she took it out of
sight to read. It said:
"He came back this morning. I'm going home by the first train. He
seems to want me to do something.
Came back! That thing--that gray thing that she, too, had seemed
to see for a moment in the fields beside the river! And he was
suffering again as he had suffered yesterday! It was awful. She
waited miserably till her father came down. To find that he, too,
knew of this trouble was some relief. He made no objection when
she begged that they should follow on to Joyfields. Directly after
breakfast they set out. Once on her way to Derek again, she did
not feel so frightened. But in the train she sat very still,
gazing at her lap, and only once glanced up from under those long
"Can you understand it, Dad?"
Felix, not much happier than she, answered:
"The man had something queer about him. Besides Derek's been ill,
don't forget that. But it's too bad for you, Nedda. I don't like
it; I don't like it."
"I can't be parted from him, Dad. That's impossible."
Felix was silenced by the vigor of those words.
"His mother can help, perhaps," he said.
Ah! If his mother would help--send him away from the laborers, and
Up from the station they took the field paths, which cut off quite
a mile. The grass and woods were shining brightly, peacefully in
the sun; it seemed incredible that there should be heartburnings
about a land so smiling, that wrongs and miseries should haunt
those who lived and worked in these bright fields. Surely in this
earthly paradise the dwellers were enviable, well-nourished souls,
sleek and happy as the pied cattle that lifted their inquisitive
muzzles! Nedda tried to stroke the nose of one--grayish, blunt,
moist. But the creature backed away from her hand, snuffling, and
its cynical, soft eyes with chestnut lashes seemed warning the girl
that she belonged to the breed that might be trusted to annoy.
In the last fields before the Joyfields crossroads they came up
with a little, square, tow-headed man, without coat or cap, who had
just driven some cattle in and was returning with his dog, at a
'dot-here dot-there' walk, as though still driving them. He gave
them a look rather like that of the bullock Nedda had tried to
stroke. She knew he must be one of the Malloring men, and longed
to ask him questions; but he, too, looked shy and distrustful, as
if he suspected that they wanted something out of him. She
summoned up courage, however, to say: "Did you see about poor Bob
"I 'eard tell. 'E didn' like prison. They say prison takes the
'eart out of you. 'E didn' think o' that." And the smile that
twisted the little man's lips seemed to Nedda strange and cruel, as
if he actually found pleasure in the fate of his fellow. All she
could find to answer was:
"Is that a good dog?"
The little man looked down at the dog trotting alongside with
drooped tail, and shook his head:
'E's no good wi' beasts--won't touch 'em!" Then, looking up
sidelong, he added surprisingly:
"Mast' Freeland 'e got a crack on the head, though!" Again there
was that satisfied resentment in his voice and the little smile
twisting his lips. Nedda felt more lost than ever.
They parted at the crossroads and saw him looking back at them as
they went up the steps to the wicket gate. Amongst a patch of
early sunflowers, Tod, in shirt and trousers, was surrounded by his
dog and the three small Trysts, all apparently engaged in studying
the biggest of the sunflowers, where a peacock-butterfly and a bee
were feeding, one on a gold petal, the other on the black heart.
Nedda went quickly up to them and asked:
"Has Derek come, Uncle Tod?"
Tod raised his eyes. He did not seem in the least surprised to see
her, as if his sky were in the habit of dropping his relatives at
ten in the morning.
"Gone out again," he said.
Nedda made a sign toward the children.
"Have you heard, Uncle Tod?"
Tod nodded and his blue eyes, staring above the children's heads,
"Is Granny still here?"
Again Tod nodded.
Leaving Felix in the garden, Nedda stole upstairs and tapped on
Frances Freeland's door.
She, whose stoicism permitted her the one luxury of never coming
down to breakfast, had just made it for herself over a little
spirit-lamp. She greeted Nedda with lifted eyebrows.
"Oh, my darling! Where HAVE you come from? You must have my nice
cocoa! Isn't this the most perfect lamp you ever saw? Did you
ever see such a flame? Watch!"
She touched the spirit-lamp and what there was of flame died out.
"Now, isn't that provoking? It's really a splendid thing, quite a
new kind. I mean to get you one. Now, drink your cocoa; it's
"I've had breakfast, Granny."
Frances Freeland gazed at her doubtfully, then, as a last resource,
began to sip the cocoa, of which, in truth, she was badly in want.
"Granny, will you help me?"
"Of course, darling. What is it?"
"I do so want Derek to forget all about this terrible business."
Frances Freeland, who had unscrewed the top of a little canister,
"Yes, dear, I quite agree. I'm sure it's best for him. Open your
mouth and let me pop in one of these delicious little plasmon
biscuits. They're perfect after travelling. Only," she added
wistfully, "I'm afraid he won't pay any attention to me."
"No, but you could speak to Aunt Kirsteen; it's for her to stop him."
One of her most pathetic smiles came over Frances Freeland's face.
"Yes, I could speak to her. But, you see, I don't count for
anything. One doesn't when one gets old."
"Oh, Granny, you do! You count for a lot; every one admires you
so. You always seem to have something that--that other people
haven't got. And you're not a bit old in spirit."
Frances Freeland was fingering her rings; she slipped one off.
"Well," she said, "it's no good thinking about that, is it? I've
wanted to give you this for ages, darling; it IS so uncomfortable
on my finger. Now, just let me see if I can pop it on!"
"Oh, Granny!" she said. "You ARE--!" and vanished.
There was still no one in the kitchen, and she sat down to wait for
her aunt to finish her up-stairs duties.
Kirsteen came down at last, in her inevitable blue dress, betraying
her surprise at this sudden appearance of her niece only by a
little quivering of her brows. And, trembling with nervousness,
Nedda took her plunge, pouring out the whole story--of Derek's
letter; their journey down; her father's talk with him; the visit
to Tryst's body; their walk by the river; and of how haunted and
miserable he was. Showing the little note he had left that
morning, she clasped her hands and said:
"Oh, Aunt Kirsteen, make him happy again! Stop that awful haunting
and keep him from all this!"
Kirsteen had listened, with one foot on the hearth in her favorite
attitude. When the girl had finished she said quietly:
"I'm not a witch, Nedda!"
"But if it wasn't for you he would never have started. And now
that poor Tryst's dead he would leave it alone. I'm sure only you
can make him lose that haunted feeling."
Kirsteen shook her head.
"Listen, Nedda!" she said slowly, as though weighing each word. "I
should like you to understand. There's a superstition in this
country that people are free. Ever since I was a girl your age
I've known that they are not; no one is free here who can't pay for
freedom. It's one thing to see, another to feel this with your
whole being. When, like me, you have an open wound, which
something is always inflaming, you can't wonder, can you, that
fever escapes into the air. Derek may have caught the infection of
my fever--that's all! But I shall never lose that fever, Nedda--
"But, Aunt Kirsteen, this haunting is dreadful. I can't bear to
"My dear, Derek is very highly strung, and he's been ill. It's in
my family to see things. That'll go away."
Nedda said passionately:
"I don't believe he'll ever lose it while he goes on here, tearing
his heart out. And they're trying to get me away from him. I know
Kirsteen turned; her eyes seemed to blaze.
"They? Ah! Yes! You'll have to fight if you want to marry a
Nedda put her hands to her forehead, bewildered. "You see, Nedda,
rebellion never ceases. It's not only against this or that
injustice, it's against all force and wealth that takes advantage
of its force and wealth. That rebellion goes on forever. Think
well before you join in."
Nedda turned away. Of what use to tell her to think when 'I won't--
I can't be parted from him!' kept every other thought paralyzed.
And she pressed her forehead against the cross-bar of the window,
trying to find better words to make her appeal again. Out there
above the orchard the sky was blue, and everything light and gay,
as the very butterflies that wavered past. A motor-car seemed to
have stopped in the road close by; its whirring and whizzing was
clearly audible, mingled with the cooings of pigeons and a robin's
song. And suddenly she heard her aunt say:
"You have your chance, Nedda! Here they are!"
Nedda turned. There in the doorway were her Uncles John and
Stanley coming in, followed by her father and Uncle Tod.
What did this mean? What had they come for? And, disturbed to the
heart, she gazed from one to the other. They had that curious look
of people not quite knowing what their reception will be like, yet
with something resolute, almost portentous, in their mien. She saw
John go up to her aunt and hold out his hand.
"I dare say Felix and Nedda have told you about yesterday," he
said. "Stanley and I thought it best to come over." Kirsteen
"Tod, will you tell Mother who's here?"
Then none of them seemed to know quite what to say, or where to
look, till Frances Freeland, her face all pleased and anxious, came
in. When she had kissed them they all sat down. And Nedda, at the
window, squeezed her hands tight together in her lap.
"We've come about Derek," John said.
"Yes," broke in Stanley. "For goodness' sake, Kirsteen, don't
let's have any more of this! Just think what would have happened
yesterday if that poor fellow hadn't providentially gone off the
"Well, it was. You see to what lengths Derek was prepared to go.
Hang it all! We shouldn't have been exactly proud of a felon in
Frances Freeland, who had been lacing and unlacing her fingers,
suddenly fixed her eyes on Kirsteen.
"I don't understand very well, darling, but I am sure that whatever
dear John says will be wise and right. You must remember that he
is the eldest and has a great deal of experience."
Kirsteen bent her head. If there was irony in the gesture, it was
not perceived by Frances Freeland.
"It can't be right for dear Derek, or any gentleman, to go against
the law of the land or be mixed up with wrong-doing in any way. I
haven't said anything, but I HAVE felt it very much. Because--it's
all been not quite nice, has it?"
Nedda saw her father wince. Then Stanley broke in again:
"Now that the whole thing's done with, do, for Heaven's sake, let's
have a little peace!"
At that moment her aunt's face seemed wonderful to Nedda; so quiet,
yet so burningly alive.
"Peace! There is no peace in this world. There is death, but no
peace!" And, moving nearer to Tod, she rested her hand on his
shoulder, looking, as it seemed to Nedda, at something far away,
till John said:
"That's hardly the point, is it? We should be awfully glad to know
that there'll be no more trouble. All this has been very worrying.
And now the cause seems to be--removed."
There was always a touch of finality in John's voice. Nedda saw
that all had turned to Kirsteen for her answer.
"If those up and down the land who profess belief in liberty will
cease to filch from the helpless the very crust of it, the cause
will be removed."
"Which is to say--never!"
At those words from Felix, Frances Freeland, gazing first at him
and then at Kirsteen, said in a pained voice:
"I don't think you ought to talk like that, Kirsteen, dear. Nobody
who's at all nice means to be unkind. We're all forgetful
sometimes. I know I often forget to be sympathetic. It vexes me
"Mother, don't defend tyranny!"
"I'm sure it's often from the best motives, dear."
"So is rebellion."
"Well, I don't understand about that, darling. But I do think,
with dear John, it's a great pity. It will be a dreadful drawback
to Derek if he has to look back on something that he regrets when
he's older. It's always best to smile and try to look on the
bright side of things and not be grumbly-grumbly!"
After that little speech of Frances Freeland's there was a silence
that Nedda thought would last forever, till her aunt, pressing
close to Tod's shoulder, spoke.
"You want me to stop Derek. I tell you all what I've just told
Nedda. I don't attempt to control Derek; I never have. For
myself, when I see a thing I hate I can't help fighting against it.
I shall never be able to help that. I understand how you must
dislike all this; I know it must be painful to you, Mother. But
while there is tyranny in this land, to laborers, women, animals,
anything weak and helpless, so long will there be rebellion against
it, and things will happen that will disturb you."
Again Nedda saw her father wince. But Frances Freeland, bending
forward, fixed her eyes piercingly on Kirsteen's neck, as if she
were noticing something there more important than that about
Then John said very gravely:
"You seem to think that we approve of such things being done to the
"I know that you disapprove."
"With the masterly inactivity," Felix said suddenly, in a voice
more bitter than Nedda had ever heard from him, "of authority,
money, culture, and philosophy. With the disapproval that lifts no
finger--winking at tyrannies lest worse befall us. Yes, WE--
brethren--we--and so we shall go on doing. Quite right, Kirsteen!"
"No. The world is changing, Felix, changing!"
But Nedda had started up. There at the door was Derek.
Derek, who had slept the sleep of the dead, having had none for two
nights, woke thinking of Nedda hovering above him in the dark; of
her face laid down beside him on the pillow. And then, suddenly,
up started that thing, and stood there, haunting him! Why did it
come? What did it want of him? After writing the little note to
Nedda, he hurried to the station and found a train about to start.
To see and talk with the laborers; to do something, anything to
prove that this tragic companion had no real existence! He went
first to the Gaunts' cottage. The door, there, was opened by the
rogue-girl, comely and robust as ever, in a linen frock, with her
sleeves rolled up, and smiling broadly at his astonishment.
"Don't be afraid, Mr. Derek; I'm only here for the week-end, just
to tiddy up a bit. 'Tis all right in London. I wouldn't come back
here, I wouldn't--not if you was to give me--" and she pouted her
"Where's your father, Wilmet?"
"Over in Willey's Copse cuttin' stakes. I hear you've been ill,
Mr. Derek. You do look pale. Were you very bad?" And her eyes
opened as though the very thought of illness was difficult for her
to grasp. "I saw your young lady up in London. She's very pretty.
Wish you happiness, Mr. Derek. Grandfather, here's Mr. Derek!"
The face of old Gaunt, carved, cynical, yellow, appeared above her
shoulder. There he stood, silent, giving Derek no greeting. And
with a sudden miserable feeling the boy said:
"I'll go and find him. Good-by, Wilmet!"
"Good-by, Mr. Derek. 'Tis quiet enough here now; there's changes."
Her rogue face twinkled again, and, turning her chin, she rubbed it
on her plump shoulder, as might a heifer, while from behind her
Grandfather Gaunt's face looked out with a faint, sardonic grin.
Derek, hurrying on to Willey's Copse, caught sight, along a far
hedge, of the big dark laborer, Tulley, who had been his chief
lieutenant in the fighting; but, whether the man heard his hail or
no, he continued along the hedgeside without response and vanished
over a stile. The field dipped sharply to a stream, and at the
crossing Derek came suddenly on the little 'dot-here dot-there'
cowherd, who, at Derek's greeting, gave him an abrupt "Good day!"
and went on with his occupation of mending a hurdle. Again that
miserable feeling beset the boy, and he hastened on. A sound of
chopping guided him. Near the edge of the coppice Tom Gaunt was
lopping at some bushes. At sight of Derek he stopped and stood
waiting, his loquacious face expressionless, his little, hard eye
"Good morning, Tom. It's ages since I saw you."
"Ah, 'tis a proper long time! You 'ad a knock."
Derek winced; it was said as if he had been disabled in an affair
in which Gaunt had neither part nor parcel. Then, with a great
effort, the boy brought out his question:
"You've heard about poor Bob?"
"Yaas; 'tis the end of HIM."
Some meaning behind those words, the unsmiling twist of that hard-
bitten face, the absence of the 'sir' that even Tom Gaunt generally
gave him, all seemed part of an attack. And, feeling as if his
heart were being squeezed, Derek looked straight into his face.
"What's the matter, Tom?"
"Matter! I don' know as there's anything the matter, ezactly!"
"What have I done? Tell me!"
Tom Gaunt smiled; his little, gray eyes met Derek's full.
"'Tisn't for a gentleman to be held responsible."
"Come!" Derek cried passionately. "What is it? D'you think I
deserted you, or what? Speak out, man!"
Abating nothing of his stare and drawl, Gaunt answered:
"Deserted? Oh, dear no! Us can't afford to do no more dyin' for
"For me! Dying! My God! D'you think I wouldn't have--? Oh!
"Aye! Confounded us you 'ave! Hope you're satisfied!"
Pale as death and quivering all over, Derek answered:
"So you think I've just been frying fish of my own?"
Tom Gaunt, emitted a little laugh.
"I think you've fried no fish at all. That's what I think. And no
one else does, neither, if you want to know--except poor Bob.
You've fried his fish, sure enough!"
Stung to the heart, the boy stood motionless. A pigeon was cooing;
the sappy scent from the lopped bushes filled all the sun-warmed air.
"I see!" he said. "Thanks, Tom; I'm glad to know."
Without moving a muscle, Tom Gaunt answered:
"Don't mention it!" and resumed his lopping.
Derek turned and walked out of the little wood. But when he had
put a field between him and the sound of Gaunt's bill-hook, he lay
down and buried his face in the grass, chewing at its green blades,
scarce dry of dew, and with its juicy sweetness tasting the full of
bitterness. And the gray shade stalked out again, and stood there
in the warmth of the August day, with its scent and murmur of full
summer, while the pigeons cooed and dandelion fluff drifted by. . . .
When, two hours later, he entered the kitchen at home, of the
company assembled Frances Freeland alone retained equanimity enough
to put up her face to be kissed.
"I'm so thankful you've come back in time to see your uncles,
darling. Your Uncle John thinks, and we all agree, that to
encourage those poor laborers to do things which are not nice is--
is--you know what I mean, darling!"
Derek gave a bitter little laugh.
"Criminal, Granny! Yes, and puppyish! I've learned all that."
The sound of his voice was utterly unlike his own, and Kirsteen,
starting forward, put her arm round him.
"It's all right, Mother. They've chucked me."
At that moment, when all, save his mother, wanted so to express
their satisfaction, Frances Freeland alone succeeded.
"I'm so glad, darling!"
Then John rose and, holding out his hand to his nephew, said:
"That's the end of the trouble, then, Derek?"
"Yes. And I beg your pardon, Uncle John; and all--Uncle Stanley,
Uncle Felix; you, Dad; Granny."
They had all risen now. The boy's face gave them--even John, even
Stanley--a choke in the throat. Frances Freeland suddenly took
their arms and went to the door; her other two sons followed. And
quietly they all went out.
Derek, who had stayed perfectly still, staring past Nedda into a
corner of the room, said:
"Ask him what he wants, Mother."
Nedda smothered down a cry. But Kirsteen, tightening her clasp of
him and looking steadily into that corner, answered:
"Nothing, my boy. He's quite friendly. He only wants to be with
you for a little."
"But I can't do anything for him."
"He knows that."
"I wish he wouldn't, Mother. I can't be more sorry than I have been."
Kirsteen's face quivered.
"My dear, it will go quite soon. Love Nedda! See! She wants you!"
Derek answered in the same quiet voice:
"Yes, Nedda is the comfort. Mother, I want to go away--away out of
Nedda rushed and flung her arms round him.
"I, too, Derek; I, too!"
That evening Felix came out to the old 'fly,' waiting to take him
from Joyfields to Becket. What a sky! All over its pale blue a
far-up wind had drifted long, rosy clouds, and through one of them
the half-moon peered, of a cheese-green hue; and, framed and barred
by the elm-trees, like some roseate, stained-glass window, the
sunset blazed. In a corner of the orchard a little bonfire had
been lighted, and round it he could see the three small Trysts
dropping armfuls of leaves and pointing at the flames leaping out
of the smoulder. There, too, was Tod's big figure, motionless, and
his dog sitting on its haunches, with head poked forward, staring
at those red tongues of flame. Kirsteen had come with him to the
wicket gate. He held her hand long in his own and pressed it hard.
And while that blue figure, turned to the sunset, was still
visible, he screwed himself back to look.
They had been in painful conclave, as it seemed to Felix, all day,
coming to the decision that those two young things should have
their wish, marry, and go out to New Zealand. The ranch of Cousin
Alick Morton (son of that brother of Frances Freeland, who,
absorbed in horses, had wandered to Australia and died in falling
from them) had extended a welcome to Derek. Those two would have a
voyage of happiness--see together the red sunsets in the
Mediterranean, Pompeii, and the dark ants of men swarming in
endless band up and down with their coal-sacks at Port Said; smell
the cinnamon gardens of Colombo; sit up on deck at night and watch
the stars. . . . Who could grudge it them? Out there youth and
energy would run unchecked. For here youth had been beaten!
On and on the old 'fly' rumbled between the shadowy fields. 'The
world is changing, Felix--changing!' Was that defeat of youth,
then, nothing? Under the crust of authority and wealth, culture
and philosophy--was the world really changing; was liberty truly
astir, under that sky in the west all blood; and man rising at long
last from his knees before the God of force? The silent, empty
fields darkened, the air gathered dewy thickness, and the old 'fly'
rumbled and rolled as slow as fate. Cottage lamps were already
lighted for the evening meal. No laborer abroad at this hour! And
Felix thought of Tryst, the tragic fellow--the moving, lonely
figure; emanation of these solitary fields, shade of the departing
land! One might well see him as that boy saw him, silent, dogged,
in a gray light such as this now clinging above the hedgerows and
The old 'fly' turned into the Becket drive. It had grown dark now,
save for the half-moon; the last chafer was booming by, and a bat
flitting, a little, blind, eager bat, through the quiet trees. He
got out to walk the last few hundred yards. A lovely night, silent
below her stars--cool and dark, spread above field after field,
wood on wood, for hundreds of miles on every side. Night covering
his native land. The same silence had reigned out there, the same
perfume stolen up, the same star-shine fallen, for millions of
years in the past, and would for millions of years to come. Close
to where the half-moon floated, a slow, narrow, white cloud was
passing--curiously shaped. At one end of it Felix could see
distinctly the form of a gleaming skull, with dark sky showing
through its eyeholes, cheeks, and mouth. A queer phenomenon;
fascinating, rather ghastly! It grew sharper in outline, more
distinct. One of those sudden shudders, that seize men from the
crown of the head to the very heels, passed down his back. He shut
his eyes. And, instead, there came up before him Kirsteen's blue-
clothed figure turned to the sunset glow. Ah! Better to see that
than this skull above the land! Better to believe her words: 'The
world is changing, Felix--changing!'
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