Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Bitter Silence by Warwick Deeping

 

James Arden extricated himself from the crowd and stood back under the shadow of one of the tall Georgian houses.

Milford Green always reminded him of some English village as staged at an exhibition where an old-world quaintness is insisted on with an almost American emphasis. The picture was complete. There were red houses, grey houses, houses of white stud and black timber. The towers of the Abbey Gate were backed by the clouding green tops of mighty elms. The almshouse garden would have served for the "Man with the Scythe." The stocks still stood at one corner of the green.

The full moon hung over the elms, striking down on hundreds of white faces. A big black motor-car formed the core of the crowd, a country crowd that was stolid and quiet, yet grimly attentive. A tall Irishman was standing up in the car. He had been telling the people about Belgium, and he was asking for men.

James Arden stood with his hands in his pockets. A subtle feeling of self-dissatisfaction had made him withdraw from the crowd. The thing that he most desired to do was impossible, beyond debate, and yet he had felt a kind of shame oppressing him. He wanted to give himself, when all that he called himself was not his to give.

The Irishman in the car flung out a last trumpet call.

"Men, put your fists up! Who's coming to help us thrash the German bully?"

There was a kind of consenting growl from the crowd. An old farmer raised his stick in the air.

"Make it sixty, sir, and I'm with ye."

The crowd laughed. Women were whispering. Men stood with their heads close together, a little shy of each other, grimly inarticulate. There was no froth, no sensational excitement. The crowd was thinking it over, making up its solid, rustic mind.

James Arden turned away. If only he could have given those fellows the lead, been the first man to walk into the temporary recruiting office over yonder! He had felt the call of the blood and the blaze of that great wrath that was sweeping England towards a veritable crusade. For years he had been a dabbler in words, making a name and a living out of the weaving of romances. One month's war, a few nights of devilish suspense, the glory of great things done and suffered, had filled him with an heroic discontent and a scorn of his world of words.

Milford Green sloped up towards the Abbey Gate, where a very modern gas lamp threw its light on the black foliage of half a dozen old yews. James Arden walked round towards the gate in order to avoid the groups of people scattered over the "green," for he was in a mood that shrank away from the presence of his fellow humans.

Someone was standing there close to the stone wall under the yews. Arden, staring at the ground in front of him, seemed to feel a presence near him, for he turned his head sharply, as though he had heard someone call him by name. The light from the lamp showed him a tall girl standing there alone. She was in evening dress, her head uncovered, a black cloak thrown over her shoulders, and her face, throat, and hands looked very white against the black background of the yews.

Her eyes were fixed on Arden with a kind of grave expectancy. It was as though she looked for comradeship on such a night, counted on it; his coming seemed the most natural thing in the world; he was one of the men, perhaps the one man, of whom she expected to be proud.

"What, are you going home?"

He turned aside with an inward hesitancy that was hidden from her, and yet it was to her that his thoughts had turned for the last year. To-night there was a prophetic fire in her eyes. Her face had a white radiance. Life had become a strange, heroic business, and this woman under the yews came of heroic stock.

"It's impressive, that crowd."

"So quiet?"

"Yes. I am wondering whether they will get the men."

She gave him a quick, proud look.

"Do you doubt it? You have not been with us long enough to understand our people. We do not hurry; we do not like being hustled. But the men will come in to-morrow."

She looked down at the crowd, her chin raised, the white line of her throat showing, and Arden, standing beside her, realised that he had never known the real Elizabeth Grenville till that night. She had loosened her reserve. The war had stirred her profoundly.

"It will be good for us."

She caught her breath.

"Good for us! We are going to live; we are going to learn to make sacrifices, to face death. Just think what England was two months ago, a bored, grumbling, quarrelsome country. Haven't I changed in a month? Of course. And you, are you the same man?"

He winced. Never had she struck so intimate a note. It was as though she was opening her heart to him and expecting him to open his to her.

"We were getting spoilt."

"How I envy you men! It is a man's game—all this."

Arden was silent, oppressed by the realisation of all that these words of hers implied. She could not imagine an Englishman hanging back. She talked as though she took it for granted that he would volunteer.

A sudden restlessness seized him. It was pain for him to be near her. He wanted to be alone, to think.

The crowd was breaking up into black dots and eddies. Arden noticed how sharply the shadow of the Abbey Gate was outlined by the moonlight on the grass. The sky was clear and cloudless. This little English town looked as though it had slept undisturbed for centuries.

"I must be getting home."

His own voice sounded thin and unconvincing.

"And I too. I ought not to be here. We have people staying with us, but I had to come."

Her way was his way for two hundred yards or more, along under the abbey wall where a row of old Scotch firs spread their black tops against the moonlight. Milford Church, on its green mound, stood black and square, its gilt weathercock aglint. The dark cypresses growing between the graves looked like so many mute sentinels. Once, in mounting the steps that led up to the raised path under the abbey wall, James Arden's hand touched hers. He drew away instantly with self-conscious pride, but she had smiled and glanced at him in the deep shadow which lay beneath the wall.

"What a changed life for most of us!"

He answered her almost brusquely, and neither of them spoke again before they reached the iron gates and the lodge of Milford Hall. Arden swung one of the gates back for her, and his eyes avoided hers.

"Good night."

"I shall see you to-morrow. They are to meet on the 'green'—the men."

He nodded.

"I have a lot of work to get through. I'll try."

"You must come. It will be a great morning. We shall be proud of this little town, I hope."

"Yes."

"Good night."

Arden swung the gate to behind her, but he did not move away. This entry to Milford Hall had always fascinated him, with its little red lodge-house and stately iron gates that opened upon stateliness and mystery in the midst of a prosaic town. Looking through the iron gates one saw green spruces and great trees, gloomy cedars, the dapplings of sunlight on grass, and the half hidden, mature, Jacobean beauty of a goodly house. On moonlight nights the place was an exquisite study in shadows. Arden had often paused there with the quite innocent delight of a child outside a garden.

To-night the place filled him with a great sadness.

It belonged to her, and he realised the nature of her heritage as he watched her disappear under the trees. Tradition counted; it was in the blood. The Grenvilles were people who had never spared themselves when blood had had to be spilt and human sacrifices made. They had never been trammelled by the petty necessities of life. The great issues had always been open to them; their lives had been spacious, adventurous, proud.

Arden turned away with a twinge of bitterness and self-scorn. What a ridiculous dreamer he had been through all these months! He had succeeded, yes, made a name for himself, even saved a little money, but he belonged to a different world from the world of Elizabeth Grenville. He had dared to emerge from that country cottage of his, and to imagine that his personality and his work as an author could count as tradition and prestige counted in this little red town among the hills.

His cottage lay about a mile outside Milford, a little rambling place that had once been a farmhouse. Arden loved the place. It had meant the realisation of one of his dreams. Spaciousness, books and a garden, a garden dependent upon the labour of his own hands! They had come to him, and now he despised them as the banalities of peace.

"Any letters, Mrs. Barker?"

"Yes, sir. I put them on the mantelpiece, sir."

He passed the ascetic figure of his housekeeper and made his way into the room that served him as keeping-room and study. The lamp with the red shade was lit. The windows were open, and he could smell the night-stock in the bed below them.

Two letters stood propped against the clock on the mantelpiece. He opened them perfunctorily; the handwriting on each of the envelopes was so hopelessly familiar.

"DEAR JIM,—You don't know how horrid it is to have to write like this, but this terrible war is making everything so dear. I used to be able to manage on two pounds a week, but now I can't do it, though I have been pinching everywhere I can. Ruth has just caught measles. Isn't it vexing? It means another doctor's bill. Leonard has been in bed for three days. He had another bad attack of hoemorrhage last Tuesday. How good you are, Jim! I don't know what we should do," etc., etc.

Arden read the thing through wearily. Rose, his elder sister, had always been a pathetic figure, and her fate had been a consumptive husband, three children, and no money. For three years they had been absolutely dependent on James Arden, and, being a good sort of fellow, he had accepted this burden among others and had never complained.

The second letter was more vigorous and promising, but it also indicated the nature of Arden's responsibilities. Kate, his second sister, was fighting her own way, working in London to qualify as a woman doctor. Her course had two more years to run, and Arden was financing her.

"DEAR OLD LAD,—So many thanks for the last cheque. Some day I am going to pay it all back again.

"Bother this war. Why wasn't I born two years earlier? If I were qualified now," etc., etc.

There was no letter from Peter the schoolboy, Peter for whose fees James Arden was responsible; but that was the complete picture that necessity had painted for him. He had succeeded, and in success had taken to himself all these responsibilities. He was the shepherd of a flock. The burden of all these lives lay on his shoulders.

And now the Great War called him, an unmarried man of three-and-thirty. How could he answer that call, go and leave these people moneyless and at the mercy of chance? It was impossible. His whole income was created by his pen. He had accepted these responsibilities; he could not fling them aside even to please a woman and his own pride.

Elizabeth Grenville paused beside Aunt Nancy's chair in the great stone loggia of Milford Hall. Aunt Nancy had been reading the morning paper. Her benign face had a look of puzzled distress.

"Isn't it terrible, dear?—terrible!"

Elizabeth's thoughts were fixed upon the nobler issues.

"Oh, I don't know. It's a scourge; we shall be better for it. We shall be proud of our men."

"Gregory told me that thirty-three had volunteered."

"Yes; it's splendid. I am going down now. They are to be driven into Oakshot. They must have a fine send-off. James Arden is to meet me."

Aunt Nancy glanced up questioningly.

"I suppose—well, everybody will be volunteering."

"Everybody—clerks, dukes, poets, painters, cooks and chauffeurs."

"And James Arden? Will a man like that throw up his career?"

"Of course. He will be one of the first. Our best men will show the way."

"It's very splendid, dear, but how sad!"

Elizabeth Grenville passed down the drive and under the stately calm of the great cedars. The little red town in the valley was beside itself; she could hear the local band playing, and though the music was execrable she forgave it because of the occasion. People had flung flags out of their windows, the children had been let out of school; it was a sunny September morning; the band blared, and no one looked sad.

A row of cars decorated with flags had been drawn up in long file outside the White Hart Hotel. The men of the hour were grouped on the "green," rather shy and self-conscious, but wholly happy. Old General Vandeleur, from High Ashes, was talking to them, while a recruiting sergeant strutted up and down with an eye for likely fellows who might be snatched up at the last moment.

Elizabeth Grenville was part of the life of Milford; a flavour of feudalism still lingered in the place; she knew most of the men by name, those men who had chosen to carry a gun.

"I'm proud of you."

Her pride showed in her eyes and in her bearing as she walked through that group of country lads.

"I'm proud of you all."

Old Vandeleur met her, hat in hand. The soldier's eyes had a queer, happy glint in them.

"The old country's all right. By George! I wish I were twenty years younger. Our lads are made of the right stuff."

A long, grey car came slowly along the road skirting the "green."

"Hallo, General!"

"Hallo, Winnington!"

Hats were lifted to Elizabeth Grenville. Both the young men in the car were ready to wear her favours.

"I sat on the War Office steps for five hours yesterday. Guy here—had some luck. He was a crock in the Yeomanry three years ago. They are going to give him a regiment."

"Glad to hear it, Hemmerde."

"Oh, we'll get in all right. I say, those fellows have turned up well."

They were talking through the General to Elizabeth Grenville. Their homage was hers. It is the woman whose praise is sweet when men go out to war.

"Yes, it's splendid! You all are splendid!"

They were nice boys, and a sudden shyness overcame them.

"Of course we like it. Nothing to boast about. Why, it's the chance of a life!"

She smiled at them beneficently, and in turning to catch something that the General was saying, she sighted James Arden walking slowly towards them. Her glance rested on him for several seconds. She forgot to listen to old Vandeleur's prosings.

"Hallo! here comes the author man. How do you fancy Arden as a dashing dragoon?"

Winnington was smiling and leaning forward over the steering wheel. Hemmerde's elbow had caught him in the ribs.

"Shut up, you idiot!"

"What's the matter?"

"Oh, all right."

They stared at Arden, and nodded to him with a certain aloofness as he joined the group. They did not look at Elizabeth Grenville, for perhaps neither of them cared to go in search of the truth.

James Arden had no light in his eyes. He looked grave, even sullen.

"I am glad you could come. This is not a sight to be missed."

"No. I suppose it is one of a thousand incidents marking a new epoch."

She glanced at him inquiringly. He did not carry himself with any confidence, and confidence was the note of the morning.

"I like to see these men going off with a joke and a laugh. It's so English."

Arden stared at the recruits.

"Yes. No imagination. They are to be envied."

"You mean that imagination means cowardice?"

"Don't let us use that word. It's too crude—and too unjust."

She gave a little lift of the head, and her eyes clouded. The General was issuing orders. The line of cars came sliding along, hooting to warn eager mothers and sisters out of the way.

"Now, lads, climb in. How many can you take, Winnington?"

"Four, sir."

"All right. Fill up, and move on and then wait for the rest."

A quarter of an hour of excitement, cheering, kissing and flag-waving followed. Cigarettes, chocolate, packets of tobacco were thrown into the cars. Everybody made a joke of it, even though some eyes were a little dim. These country lads went off bravely. The day seemed rather objectless afterwards.

There was a far-away look in Elizabeth Grenville's eyes. James Arden still loitered at her side with an air of melancholy self-absorption.

Old Vandeleur came up to say good-bye.

"I'm just running over to Eveleigh to whip up men. Good-bye, Dame Bess. I suppose you will be shouldering a gun, Arden, before long?"

Arden's face was like the face of a man roused out of a reverie to meet some sudden danger.

"I? Nothing would please me better."

His eyes met Elizabeth Grenville's, and he saw that she was watching him. Her face betrayed a certain expectancy. He would have given the little transient fame he had won to have been able to say, "I am going to-morrow."

The soldier gave him a keen, appraising glance, and walked off towards his car. Arden understood the meaning of the look. Men were being put to the grim test of action. Words had ceased to be of any significance.

He found himself crossing the "green" with Elizabeth Grenville beside him. A glimpse of her profile troubled him. She seemed to have withdrawn herself behind a sudden silence.

Arden felt acutely miserable. Explanations, attempts at justification stuck in his throat. How could a man make excuses to the woman he loved when those lads had just gone off to give themselves for England?

Yet he had to say something; this tense silence maddened him.

"What a gorgeous day!"

He knew that her eyes threw him a quick glance of surprise.

"Perfect."

"All this rather disproves the theory about gunfire bringing on rain."

"It appears so."

Ages seemed to pass before they reached the iron gates. Arden did not linger there, nor did Elizabeth Grenville appear to be in an expansive mood. He broke away with the gaucherie of a shy boy, humiliated, hating himself, conscious of a sense of bafflement and of a smothering silence that inspired distrust.

Arden hated that cottage of his when he returned to it; he hated the garden that he had made. They seemed to stand in his way, soft-eyed, helpless things, like these women and children whom he had to support. And yet—all the while—the greater unselfishness was struggling to overcome the less; he knew in his heart of hearts that circumstances were too strong for him.

A glance at the morning paper did not help him. He had taken it out into the little orchard where an old apple tree threw a circle of shade. There was no escape. That grim and tormenting struggle on the Aisne, those desperate flanking movements, the agony of Belgium, the insistent call for men! He tossed the paper aside, with a vision of Elizabeth Grenville's proud and watching face. Did it matter to her whether he went or not? Would she think him a creature of excuses if he ever tried to tell her why he could not go?

James Arden passed through one of the most bitter mornings of his life, for even the resignation that came to him was born of a kind of surrender to fate. Compassion and a sensitive generosity won the day. He thought of Rose's youngsters, of Peter the schoolboy, of Kate fagging away in London and making her eyes red with reading. The prime necessity seemed so obvious, so inevitable. He was fighting for these children of his own blood, giving them breathing space and room to grow in the great struggle for existence. It was up to him to say nothing, to look the world in the face, to carry on.

A note was brought to him next day by a boy on a bicycle. The lad's manners were somewhat bucolic. He poked a freckled face over the hedge, discovered Arden mowing the grass, and hailed him without ceremony.

"This be for you."

Arden stared at the child, who tossed the note over the hedge on to the grass, remounted his machine and went gallivanting down the hill with his feet off the pedals.

Arden knew whence the letter had come. He opened it with a feeling of unwillingness, not counting on being comforted:

"DEAR JIM,—We are having an informal little party to-morrow at four o'clock. It is in honour of the 'Knights of Milford,' who are going out to war.

"We shall be glad to see you if you care to come. Yours truly,

"ELIZABETH GRENVILLE."

He went. In fact, he compelled himself to go, making an escort of his pride. He found them all grouped under one of the cedars, with a manservant handing round tea, and a couple of puppies causing some amusement by their undisciplined attempts to smell the cakes. There were the usual girls whom Arden had met at tennis. The men could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Young Hemmerde was in khaki, Winnington and two more had just succeeded in crowding into an O.T.C. The rector's son had enlisted in a cavalry regiment, and had been sent home to report at a depot in two days. Illingsworth, of Illingsworth and Illingsworth, the Milford solicitors, a married man of thirty-six, was to rejoin a Territorial regiment in the course of the week.

"I am so glad you have come."

Her reserve had vanished, but Arden still saw that questioning look in her eyes.

The rector's son was describing his experiences at the recruiting office.

"What do you think? They told me last week I had veins, and that I couldn't march, and I've done my twenty-five miles a day. Well, I just tramped it all the way from here up to town just to show them. It took me three days."

He laughed joyously.

"What rot, isn't it? And I was going for a cavalryman."

Elizabeth Grenville looked at him with a kind of maternal tenderness.

"You are splendid."

"Oh, bosh! It's only like seeing a scrum at school and wanting to be in it."

It was a man's business, and they talked like men, these quiet fellows who hated anything that could be called swank. It was the most glorious form of "shop," spreading itself over half the surface of the globe, touching India, New Zealand, and the Russian steppes. These men were surrendering more than they imagined. Even on that September afternoon the more serious of them glimpsed the things they would have to bear.

"Do you know what you fellows will find hardest?"

Illingsworth looked round at them with a shrewd smile.

"Having to shave once a week?"

"No, the going back to school part of it. Having some fussy old fool bullying you and not being able to answer back."

"Oh, that's part of the game."

"It won't be so easy for men who have been their own masters."

One of the puppies succeeded at last in welshing a cake. There was a roar of approval.

"Well done; he's broken through."

"Captured their artillery."

Arden sat there, consciously passive among these men of action. He had nothing to say; the whole scheme of life had changed; the man who remained the civilian was losing his right to be heard. He envied young Hemmerde in his khaki, and Winnington there, and Illingsworth who was leaving his wife and children. He had no share in this quiet, smiling enthusiasm, and he felt sick at heart.

Now and again he met Elizabeth Grenville's eyes. She was watching, waiting, counting on his declaring himself. He saw her smile at the others with an air of pride. Even these girls had changed, reacted to the great crisis; they had softened and they had hardened; their eyes seemed to look at a man in a different way.

Arden stayed to the very end, paralysed in measure by his own self-consciousness. Hemmerde and Winnington went off together. Illingsworth had work to do, the work of a man venturing forth into the unknown. Young Hacket was making shy but open love to Elizabeth Grenville. She did not repulse him. Her eyes were strangely kind.

Arden found himself alone with her at last. He had nothing to say, little to hope for, and yet he lingered on, inarticulate and proud. That waiting look in her eyes baffled him. Everything or nothing, that was what she seemed to desire.

"What a great adventure!"

"For men——"

"Those boys."

She answered him rather brusquely.

"Jack Illingsworth is no boy."

"I know. All honour to him. But then—he is not alone; he leaves a partner behind him; the work goes on——"

"Is it possible to criticise a man who has thrown up everything, risked everything?"

Her mouth seemed to grow thin and scornful; her eyes hardened. Arden had not meant to be grudging.

"I said—all honour to him. I meant it."

"Only a soldier can criticise other men in future."

"He felt the hot blood rising to his face.

"Sometimes it is easier to go than to stay behind."

She was unconvinced; she did not rise to the suggestion; she did not help him. Her face remained cold and whitely calm beneath the shade of the great tree.

His pride was stung to the quick.

"It is very difficult to judge."

"I suppose any man can go—if he is desperately eager to go."

Arden rose. A sudden bitter anger had been roused in him. What did this woman know of the struggle for existence, of poverty, of the miserable limitations that hamper those who have to work for a wage? It was very easy for her to judge. She had never had to sacrifice herself for the sake of other people who were poor.

"I have had to work very hard——"

He got no further. His pride was in revolt, but he kept his temper.

"Life is not easy for all of us. I'll be saying good-bye."

She watched him walk across the grass, feeling herself disillusioned, deeply grieved. She imagined that he was thinking of his own career, that he was one of those artistic egoists who set the little notoriety of their names higher than the blood-call of a nation.

Arden took the field path home. The greater self-sacrifice lay before him, the dull, drab, obvious, daily duties that filled Elizabeth Grenville with instinctive scorn. That a man should sit down at his desk and write stories while men were fighting over there in France! The white fire of her patriotism had scorched Arden's heart. As he walked home over the fields he tried to persuade himself that he no longer cared, that her lack of sympathy had killed his love for her. It was a lie—and he knew it. He loved her all the more desperately for that merciless enthusiasm of hers.

For James Arden there followed days of savage and strenuous work. He plunged into it, tried to lose himself in it, and to pretend that work satisfied him, and that he could forget such things as the war and a woman. When he had finished at his desk he went straight into his garden and sweated there like a slave. There was comfort in the tiring of his body; he went to bed exhausted, and sleep came to him at once.

He began to build a big rose pergola from the porch of his cottage to the gate leading into the road. There were fruit trees to be planted in the orchard that autumn, and he dug pits for them. He went to and fro at the tail of his mowing machine, repaired a fence that was rotten, lifted his potato crop and stored it in an outhouse. For a fortnight he did not go outside his own gate. He refused to be faced with the seeming futility of all this labour; it was a drug to him, and he took it.

On the hill just behind Arden's cottage there was a wood of Scotch firs. A footpath ran through the wood, winding to and fro among the straight trunks of the trees.

It was a solemn place, this wood, with its deep shadows and its whispering branches overhead, and its solemnity seemed reflected in Elizabeth Grenville's eyes as she wandered along the path one day in October.

From a great woodland window that was filled with the blue of the sky, green fields and the autumnal splendour of the Milford woods, she could overlook Arden's cottage and garden. She paused there, resting one hand against the trunk of a fir. Arden was at work on his pergola, hammering in nails with a ferocity that seemed to tell of bruised fingers. She watched him fitting the cross-pieces into their places, sawing off the rough ends and nailing them to the posts. Her grave eyes looked sad. She had cared sufficiently to believe that the man down yonder was not quite like other men, that he had a fine brain, a more picturesque personality. And he was playing at living while men fought and died.

She turned back saddened, half-tempted to sneer at herself for having been so blind, so much the victim of treacherous impressions. The path opened by a "kissing gate" into Vernor's Lane, and as she reached the lane she heard the clatter of horses' hoofs and the sound of voices. Three mounted men swung round the corner of the wood. She was in no mood to meet people, but it was too late for her to turn back.

They were "hunting men," men she had known from childhood, but riding now on sterner business. Major Falconer, with the hogged moustache and the battle-blue eyes, was the "remount officer" for the district. Sir Charles Grimthorpe was in khaki. Young Eltringham had volunteered, but had been rejected for his eyesight.

They drew in and saluted her. Major Falconer had flirted with her when she was six. Sir Charles Grimthorpe had been a great friend of her father's. To the two elder men she was still something of the child. Young Eltringham had asked her to marry him less than a year ago.

"Heard the news?"

"No. What is it?"

"The Germans are in Antwerp."

"In spite of the newspaper men, and all that rot about it being one of the strongest fortified places in Europe!"

Eltringham patted his horse's neck.

"I am sick of the newspapers. What do those fellows who write know of Germany? Just nothing. There is one idiot, a novelist, who has written an article, giving the Russians just three months to get into Berlin."

Falconer's blue eyes looked fierce.

"I'd stop half the newspapers, shut up all the libraries and cinemas, and start the country on conscription. What use are all these talking, scribbling people—like that fellow down the road there?"

They exchanged glances and smiled.

"A healthy, unmarried man of military age nailing up sticks for his roses. Pergolas and poetry! Damnation!"

Elizabeth Grenville's face remained impassive and cold, but her heart beat faster.

"You mean James Arden?"

Her voice betrayed no emotion.

"The author man. It passes my comprehension how a fellow can play about like that."

Sir Charles Grimthorpe put in one of those slightly sententious periods for which he was famous.

"We are being supremely tested, Falconer—tested as a nation. Individualism is on its trial. In the future we shall know our men. Let a fellow like Arden go on scribbling for old women. He will never count with the people who know."

They had work to do, and they rode away up the lane, leaving Elizabeth Grenville wounded by their scorn. Those scathing words had discovered the truth to her, laid bare the reality of her caring very greatly about the thing they had despised. A man's honour did matter. And yet she was angry with herself for caring, angry with Arden for having stolen that which she could no longer give. He had tricked her, with a fine but false appearance of manliness, and her pride rose in arms, demanding self-expression. She walked down the lane in the direction of Arden's cottage. She felt that she must let her pride soar like a falcon loosed from her wrist, a falcon that would tear the heart out of his selfishness.

She paused at the gate in the hedge. Arden was standing on a stool, balancing a larch pole, with his back towards her. She watched him lift the pole into its place.

"You seem very busy."

He turned sharply, and sprang down from the stool. She was resting her hands on the top bar of the gate, her face very pale, her eyes full of a glitter of irony.

"I am putting up something for my roses."

The words sounded fatuous enough, and he knew it.

"Have you heard the news?"

"Life is nothing but news."

"The Germans have taken Antwerp."

She spoke the words very quietly, but they were uttered as an accusation. He flushed, as though she had accused him of cowardice, for his intuition sensed her scorn.

"It is only a question of time."

"Time?"

"Yes. They have made their great effort and failed. We shall crush them in the end."

"We—— We English."

Harden his pride as he would he could not meet her eyes. He more than guessed that this was a bitter, personal challenge thrown at him by the woman he loved. She did not trust him, credit him with being the victim of fatal, unavoidable responsibilities.

"We are getting the men."

"All honour to those who are going. If I were a man, I could not stay at home."

For one moment he hesitated. In a few words he could have explained things to her, shown her how helpless he was, proved himself the martyr of his own good conscience. But his pride stiffened itself. A fierce resentment inspired him. What right had she for a moment to suspect him of being a shirker and a coward?

"It is very easy to judge. There are many things that a woman does not understand."

He did not look at her. His eyes stared past her at the wooded slopes of the opposite hill.

"So it seems."

"Each man must choose for himself, nor need he justify himself to anybody."

"I see."

They were so near each other, and yet so far apart. An implacable pride raised an intangible yet fatal barrier between them.

"I am glad that all Englishmen are not such individualists."

She turned away from the gate, and he saw her profile white and unforgiving against the green of the opposite hedgerow.

Then she paused and glanced back at him.

"Good-bye. I suppose these things are best studied at a distance. Perhaps you will be writing war stories. Art is all-absorbing, is it not?"

Arden did not answer her.

"Good-bye."

She walked away down the lane, and Arden went back to his work. And perhaps they hated each other with a love that was disguised as hate. Both were unhappy, but in different ways—she because the man had disappointed her most tragically, he because the woman had failed to believe in him as a man.

Arden hurried across the Park in the direction of the Marble Arch. It was a grey afternoon in November. Men were drilling on the grass, or on what passed for grass; but Arden did not look at them. He walked like a man who wished himself blind to such things.

Khaki everywhere, or the blue of Kitchener's later armies. Men in plain clothes drilling or marching to the recruiting stations! Posters that called England to arms! It was impossible to escape from the great war, to forget that the great blood-game called.

Arden's face had an ascetic look. He seemed to be denying himself something, to be suppressing some natural desire.

Crossing the road-space inside the gates he saw a girl waiting for him. She came forward, smiling, a strongly-built, shapely young woman, with a pale face and keen, dark eyes.

"Here you are!"

She shook hands with him like a man, looking him frankly in the face.

"I'm late, Kitty."

"I always allow you five minutes. Besides, there is so much to watch now."

"Ready for some tea?"

"Quite!"

They found a tea-shop in Oxford Street, and a table where they were out of the crowd.

"Well, how are you getting on, Kitty?"

He looked at her with sad eyes of affection, for she had always been his favourite sister, but that afternoon she had no wish to talk about herself. She was more interested in her brother.

"How long are you going to be in town, Jim?"

"All the winter."

"But you haven't given up Milford for good?"

He avoided her eyes.

"For the winter, anyway. At least, I am arranging it."

Kate Arden poured out his tea, and dropped three lumps of sugar into it with an air of deliberation.

"Dear old Milford. I should like a week-end in the cottage before you shut it up. Take me down there, Jim."

"It's dull in winter."

"Dull! Why, I just love the wet silence and the green restfulness, even in winter."

"I'm sorry, dear; it can't be done."

She looked at him intently for a moment. He was staring across the room, and his eyes and forehead were the eyes and forehead of a man in pain. She was quick, sensitive, full of understanding, not given to blurting out crude questions, but there was something here that challenged her love for him.

"All right, Jim. Tired of Milford?"

"No."

His eyes grew sullen, and then lit up with a sudden flare of anger. He wanted sympathy; he wanted to be understood.

"It is rather difficult down there, just at present."

"Difficult?"

"Yes, you see, the war has stirred people up. Everybody has been volunteering. I didn't."

"Jim, you don't mean to say they have been beasts to you?"

He smiled grimly.

"Oh, well, I think I was becoming a sort of an outcast. You see, the feeling is very strong in such a place as Milford. Of course, I can't go; it's impossible."

Kate looked shocked.

"But you have friends there; didn't you tell them that you have half a dozen people to keep?"

"No."

"Jim, why not?"

"I'm too proud to make excuses. I have always been rather reserved. There are some people to whom one is too proud to tell things."

"Oh! You don't boast about being one of the finest sportsmen alive. I'm angry. Oh, bother these people!"

The place was filling up, and their privacy was at an end.

"Walk back with me to my rooms, Jim."

"I should like to."

Night had fallen, and they went eastwards along Oxford Street, the glare from the shops lighting up their serious faces. Kate Arden had thrust her arm under his. The man at her side wanted to talk; he was hungry for sympathy.

"Do you want to go, Jim?"

"Where?"

"Into the Army—to carry a gun?"

He hesitated.

"You can't hide it, dear. And here we are, a helpless lot of women and children on your shoulders. It's maddening."

He pressed her arm.

"I don't mind that, Kitty."

"It's what they said down at Milford. Didn't she believe in you?"

"Who?"

"You know whom I mean."

He did not answer her for a moment, and she could see that his pride was wounded.

"She despises me. I was not going to make excuses. She might have trusted me."

Kate's voice quivered with anger.

"She must be very blind. To think you capable of shirking! Why trouble? Yes—but after all one ought to trouble."

They crossed Regent Street, and had to pass slowly through the mob of women outside Peter Robinson's. Neither of them spoke till they were clear of the crowd.

"Let's turn into a side street, Jim. I have got an idea."

"Well?"

"I want your cottage for a week-end."

He glanced questioningly into her face.

"You mean——"

"Yes. I'm going down there. I must go down there. I'll go alone."

He reflected.

"I don't want anyone to make excuses for me, Kitty."

"Excuses! I am not going to make excuses."

Hers was the stronger will that night. She persuaded him to let her have that cottage of his for the week-end before it was shut up for the winter. She had spent all July there with her brother, and she knew Elizabeth Grenville; moreover, she had believed that Elizabeth Grenville cared.

"I just want to meet someone, Jim."

"Better leave it alone," he said with a man's pessimism.

"No. I want her to know. One can say things that one cannot write."

Kate went to Milford where the beech woods were all bronze against the blue of the sky. The red town looked a little melancholy and lost in the green of its valley. Kate drove through it on the way to Arden's cottage, but Milford itself was of no significance; the cedars of Milford Hall raised a sanctuary that sheltered the real spirit of the place.

Arden's housekeeper was still at the cottage. A wire from town had warned her to light fires and air linen. She had expected Arden, and was surprised to see his sister.

"I hope Mr. Arden is well, miss?"

"Quite, Mrs. Barker, thanks."

"I suppose he's going for a soldier—like all the rest?"

Kate did not waste her energy on explanations where small people were concerned.

"Is Miss Grenville at home?"

"I believe so, miss. She was in church last Sunday."

Kate set forth next day on her adventure. There was frost in the air, and a clear winter sunset showed red above the woods. The cedars looked like masses of black marble, and here and there a star shone out like a silver point in a deep blue curtain.

This surprise visit of hers was an essay in psychology; she had chosen the hour and studied its possibilities, but her luck was out.

A new manservant opened the door, a stolid elderly person who had been taken on in place of a younger man who had volunteered.

"Is Miss Grenville at home?"

Of course Miss Grenville was at home. She was in her own drawing-room, sitting before a fire, a very obvious fact; and the stolid gentleman who opened the door to Kate had no imagination and did not deal in subtleties. So she was shown into a half-darkened room where a blazing fire showed two figures silhouetted against its glow. The interruption was welcomed by neither. The man had pushed his chair back, and his attitude was full of youthful impatience. Elizabeth was sitting on a sofa, staring at the fire, her elbows on her knees, her chin resting on her hands.

"Miss Arden."

Elizabeth Grenville rose with an apparent surprise that did not seek concealment. Guy Hemmerde, a lean and dusky figure in khaki, with the firelight glinting on his spurs, seemed to stand on guard, waiting.

The two women shook hands. Hemmerde was introduced.

"I am spending the week-end at my brother's cottage. I thought I would come and see you."

"I had heard that Mr. Arden had left."

"Yes—for the winter."

"I see. Won't you come nearer the fire? Tea will be in quite soon, I expect."

Kate knew at once that she had blundered, that she had been thrust in as a stranger upon these two who had been talking by the fire. They had come very near to each other in the twilight, and she had driven them apart. Young Hemmerde sat there, stiffly indifferent, staring at the Dutch tiles in the fireplace. Elizabeth had become the mere society creature, politely tolerating the intervention of a bore.

Something had been happening. A man had been making love by firelight, but with what success Kate could not guess. That she herself was an intruder was sufficiently obvious. Fate could not have suggested a more unpropitious moment.

She had to talk, for the other two were silent and unhelpful.

"Wasn't it horrible about the Good Hope and the Monmouth?"

"Terrible."

"The ships ought never to have been there."

Elizabeth frowned at the fire.

"Our own fault. We have been a nation of talkers and scribblers. We are beginning to discover who are the real men."

"We didn't realise things."

"The soldiers realised things—perfectly. We have been governed by journalists and politicians."

Tea arrived, and the lights were lit; the room seemed to grow chillier, and more unfriendly. Guy Hemmerde's impatience refused to be hidden; he had motored fifty miles to see Elizabeth Grenville, and Arden's sister was in the way.

Kitty accepted her defeat. There was no friendliness in Elizabeth Grenville's eyes. If she suspected anything she did not choose to be generous to Arden's sister.

"I must really be going. I am supposed to be having a holiday, but I am reading for an exam."

"Are you—indeed?"

Hemmerde said nothing.

She escaped, feeling hot and ruffled and a little humiliated. It was a superb night and a full moon was rising, but it seemed to show a blank and callous face to Kate Arden's eyes. She realised that she would only make her brother look ridiculous by trying to convince people that his seeming selfishness was a piece of self-renunciation.

It proved a dreary week-end for Kate Arden. Wind and rain followed on a clear, frosty night, and the Sunday was a drenched and melancholy day, bitterly raw and cold. She trudged down to Milford Church, feeling like a stranger in a strange land, and from one of the cross pews at the end of a side aisle she studied Elizabeth's Grenville's calmly handsome face. She could understand her brother's love for her, but its hopelessness seemed beyond contradiction.

Kate had courage; she did not shirk telling Arden the truth. It seemed to her better that he should know.

She wired to him to take her out to tea on the Monday, and when they met she knew what his air of indifference concealed.

"I'm afraid I did not do any good, Jim."

His face hardened.

"I did not expect it, old girl. Did you see anybody in particular?"

"I had tea at the Hall."

"Oh!"

"Times weren't propitious. In fact, I was very much in the way. Someone in khaki had motored over."

"Anyone I know?"

"Hemmerde."

"Oh, Hemmerde! I see."

No more was said on either side, but James Arden understood. So that pink-and-white boy who had put on a uniform had taken his place in the sun!

One Saturday a week or two later Boy Peter came to spend a week-end with his brother. Peter was a sensitive, finely built youngster, with a great rapacity for hero-worship; but his enthusiasms varied every six months. At the moment he was war mad, and Sir John French was his hero.

Arden took the boy to see a Kitchener regiment reviewed in the park. It was a dull, lowering Jay, but the park was crowded. Peter swung along at Arden's side, his scarlet school-cap on the back of his head, his hands in his pockets, his eyes alight.

"I say, what a lot of chaps in mufti. It's like a football match. What are they outside the ropes for?"

"All sorts of reasons—and no reasons."

"Rotters—don't you think?"

"I'm in mufti myself, so I say nothing."

The boy's brown eyes turned to him eagerly.

"Oh, I say, Jim, I wasn't thinking of you. You're a sort of father of a family. I know all about that."

"About what?"

"You keeping us all. You are an A1 sport. Besides, you want to go."

"How do you know?"

"Kitty told me."

It was a strange coincidence that in all that crowd they should have walked up against two people who belonged to a little country town. Elizabeth Grenville was staying, in London; Guy Hemmerde had contrived to get forty-eight hours' leave. He was in love; that was all that fate had granted him as yet.

They made a handsome pair: the tall girl with the proud face, and the brown lad in khaki. Even Arden had to grant them that when chance decreed that sudden meeting. There was no escape. They met in a narrow lane that divided two sections of the crowd.

Elizabeth's eyes betrayed nothing. She did not even smile at Peter when he was introduced to her. Hemmerde had a certain triumphant air, and Arden hated him for it.

"Plenty of people here."

"Too many young men in mufti."

"That was my young brother's verdict."

"Why not take it to heart?"

Very little more was said, but those two put Arden under their feet. It was done so palpably that Peter noticed it, and was whole-heartedly puzzled. Jim had always been to him something between a father and a hero; other lads at the school had rather envied him his brother, who was a celebrity.

Elizabeth and her officer man passed on.

"I say, who's Miss Grenville?"

"Someone from Milford."

"A bit of an iceberg!"

Even his boy's eyes noticed that strange look on his brother's face. He continued to be puzzled, but he was sufficiently sensitive to refrain from blurting out any further questions. He had a notion that those two had been insolent to Jim, with a sort of subtle, freezing insolence that was altogether new to him.

"Silly beast that officer chap. I say, they've managed to scrape up a band. Hear them coming, playing 'Tipperary.'"

Arden carried a wounded heart and a wounded pride through that London crowd. He envied Peter his irresponsible youth and his exuberant enthusiasm. What a thing it was to be a boy, with no woman's hands to make a tangle of life, no smoulder of live passion to madden a man with its fumes.

Arden always remembered the night when that amazing letter reached him. Restless and full of a patient discontent, he had spent an hour in the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster, brooding, letting the calm and solemn silence of the place flow over his soul. He had come forth tranquillised, conscious of the far more poignant sufferings of others. He had lost something that had never been his; mothers and wives had lost their all.

He had taken a flat in Victoria Street, high up, under the sky. The noise of the traffic did not worry him; it helped him to feel less lonely.

Sitting before the fire, he read that amazing letter, that excited, jubilant, astonished scrawl that his sister Rose had sent him:

"I can hardly believe it. Uncle Barnabas never troubled about us—much; he was always mean to Leonard. And now we are to have six hundred a year, and there is a legacy of a thousand pounds that will be paid to us at once, so that we shall have ready money. It's amazing. We always knew that the old man was very wealthy.

"You can't think how glad I am, Jim. We shall not be a tax on you any longer. What's more—we shall take Peter off your hands, and Kitty can have enough to help her finish in London——"

Arden sat and stared at the fire.

If this had happened two months ago; if only an old man's belated generosity could have been foreseen!

But he was free to act; his liberty had been given back to him. He rushed like a boy down the long flight of stairs, hailed a taxi, and gave the man the address of the working women's club where Kitty lived.

Kate Arden had a little bed-sitting-room in that big Bloomsbury house. The place was wholly modern in its spirit; all men were not looked on as potential blackguards; these girls were capable of answering to their own consciences.

Arden was shown up. He found Kitty reading "Medicine" before a very modest fire. She tossed the book aside and looked questioningly into his eager, exultant face.

"Read that."

She read the letter and understood.

"It's a miracle! I thought Leonard's Uncle Barnabas was past all hope. I wonder why people have to die in order to be generous?"

"But I'm free, Kitty."

She jumped up and kissed him.

"Oh, you dear, patient old hero. And now?"

He laughed.

"Oh, to-morrow—to-morrow I shall enlist! I know the very regiment."

"One of Kitchener's?"

"No, a Territorial. Men in the know say that the Territorials will get out sooner. It's a reserve battalion that is training to send out big drafts to the one that is already out."

"You'll go in as a private?"

"Of course."

"You're splendid! Oh, she ought to know."

Arden's eyes grew stern.

"No. She misjudged me; let her find out—if it matters. I don't suppose she will ever know. But I can hold up my head, old girl."

Arden went through it all, the rough-and-tumble process of enlistment, the billeting in odd corners, those queer, amorphous parades of all sorts and conditions of men in all sorts and conditions of clothes. He touched the very rough realities of service in the ranks. All the veneer, the niceties of his social culture, became as nothing. He was one of a herd of male creatures, decent fellows enough; their ways were not his ways, their thoughts not his thoughts.

Clerks, labourers, warehousemen, waiters, scavengers, shop assistants, grooms—the Knightsbridge Fusiliers knew them all. Men spat, and swore. The humour was crude, obvious, rough and ready. Arden had many bad days.

He found himself a clumsy fool at drill. It was a new experience being hectored by a non-com.

"Form fours. As you were. 'Ave you got a left foot, Arden? Yes; well, for Gawd's sake use it. Step back on the left foot. Now then, form fours."

His comrades seemed a little shy of him at first. He was a queer bird, strangely feathered. The days left him utterly weary in mind and body, with tired eyes and a bored soul.

He set his teeth, grimly determined to pull through. Sometimes he felt that he was but half a man, that these rough, coarsely cheerful creatures were his betters. He swallowed his nausea, kept his temper, laughed at himself like a sportsman, refused to let himself shrink from the cheerful human smell of the crowd.

He went through six weeks of it, and became aware of a new spirit. He made the sudden discovery that these men of the people respected him. He had a reputation, some money, and he was in the ranks. A new kind of friendliness showed itself, a friendliness tinged with a rough chivalry that touched him very deeply. These comrades of his did not slap him on the shoulder; but they had accepted him. He was a "sport"; he was a "little gentleman." They were rather proud of Arden.

Then his battalion in the rough was entrained down to Kingscliff, and quartered in huts on the downlands overlooking the sea. The grey skies were not kind, and the huts were not wind-proof and let in the rain. A sea of mud stretched everywhere; all Kingscliff seemed made of mud-camps, permanent barracks and town.

The Knightsbridge Fusiliers christened themselves the "Mudlarks." Their lively cheerfulness refused to be damped or reduced to pulp. Arden went through the first part of the winter with a chronic sore throat and incipient lumbago. His boots were always sodden and wet.

"Bloomin' open-air cure. What!"

"Why don't they put us on stilts, and call us the Stilt Brigade?"

Arden learnt to emulate their cheerfulness. He found himself hardening strangely both in mind and in body, becoming a more primitive creature with tough muscles and hawk's eyes.

Sometimes when off duty he strolled down into Kingscliff town. Kingscliff was a fashionable watering-place; it had its sea front and gardens, its pier, bandstands, promenades and big hotels. That winter it was packed with officers and their womenfolk, wives, future wives, and those "enthusiastic amateurs" who emulate the great profession. It all seemed very strange to Arden, a plain, weather-hardened private in muddy boots and indifferent khaki. He found himself looking with a certain scorn at civilians who slept in beds. The fashionably dressed women both provoked and repelled him; they brought a sensuous and troubling perfume into the muddy seriousness of his life. Visions of Elizabeth Grenville haunted him at times. He felt grimly exultant when he thought of his own thoroughness; the hardships were like the self-scourgings of an anchorite; the animal rage for petticoats that seized on most of the men left him cold and scornful.

And then he made a discovery.

The Fromeshire Yeomanry had come into camp at Kingscliff, and Guy Hemmerde was in command of a squadron. Moreover, the Fromeshires had been warned for service abroad.

The winter wore away, and spring began to put forth its first glimmerings of green. It had a subtle effect on Arden; the slush and the wet disappeared, and life recovered some of its romance. When off duty he went countrywards instead of towards the town; the first primroses filled him with a yearning for something, he knew not what.

On one of these brief ventures of his into Arcady he met Captain Hemmerde. It was in a little green lane that burrowed through the woods at the bottom of a valley. The woods were a mass of bluebells and the birds were singing.

Three officers came riding along, and Arden, who had been sitting on a grass bank below a thorn hedge, jumped up and stood to attention.

The leading officer reined in, and Arden saluted him. It was Guy Hemmerde.

"Does this lane take us up to Kingscliff Downs?"

"Yes, sir."

He did not recognise Arden.

"Thanks, Tommy."

There was an element of grim humour in the incident, but it spoilt Arden's joy in the green woodlands and in the subtle scent of the spring.

A few days later he had been down to Kingscliff to buy tobacco, and his way back lay along the cliffs past the big hotels. Two people were coming out of the gates of the Victoria as Arden went by: Elizabeth Grenville and Guy Hemmerde. Hemmerde was looking into her face, but her eyes gazed out over the sea.

"What about an hour in the green country? I hate these sea fronts."

She smiled.

"Well, perhaps. You are going so soon."

He touched her arm with his hand.

"Does it matter to you, Bess? It matters to me."

They did not notice Arden, nor had he any desire to be seen by them. He turned his face away and hurried on, his chin in the air, his eyes hard and sullen. Yet that vision of her with young Hemmerde had hurt him, humiliated him, made him feel bitter. He still cared very desperately. The look on Elizabeth Grenville's face had made him realise that.

For he had noticed a light in her eyes, something that suggested a new and mysterious tenderness. He had seen Hemmerde touch her arm with his hand.

Arden had guessed at things intuitively, but intuition did not give him a complete vision of Elizabeth Grenville's soul.

Perhaps she could not have explained herself to herself. All she knew was that she was conscious of a strange new spirit of compassion. Death had laid a hand upon the life of the land. Men crossed the sea, and never returned. Youth was spending itself heroically—youth that was splendid and pathetic.

It was the youth in Guy Hemmerde that had touched Elizabeth Grenville's heart. The mother-woman in her was filled with pity. It seemed so hard to refuse love to a man who might be dead—dead for England—in a few weeks.

The greenness of spring had a compassionate softness of its own. Even the birds singing sounded plaintive and persuasive.

"We are off in a fortnight, Bess."

"So soon."

They had driven out, and sent the car back, and the green hedges hid them from the world.

"You know what I want to tell you. What I want to ask you."

"Perhaps."

She looked into his boy's eyes. There was love in them, yet it was not Guy Hemmerde that she loved, but the youth that had offered itself Upon the altar of war.

"I'll tell you everything, dear."

"Well?"

"It's awful cheek, I know."

Before they returned to Kingscliff she had promised to marry him, and to marry him before he went to the front, while Arden, sitting on an upturned bucket outside his hut, cleaning his boots, was trying to put her out of his thoughts. His face looked hard and grim.

"Let her marry the boy," he thought. "I'm tougher than I was last autumn. This is a man's job. I don't want to be pitied."

A few days later the Fromeshire Yeomanry held their "sports." Arden asked for leave and went to them, lured thither by a kind of bitter curiosity. He was one of the khaki-clad crowd about the ropes, one of the common soldiers, and he rather exulted in the thought.

Elizabeth Grenville was there in the officers' enclosure, a little social heaven that he was forbidden to enter. She was one of a little group of English gentlewomen, backed by their menfolk, tall figures of authority. Hemmerde stood behind her chair. He hardly left her, save when he had to take his turn in one of the competitions.

Hemmerde could ride well, and he was finely mounted. The first prize for jumping fell to him.

Arden watched him with a kind of sardonic interest. He was a fresh-eyed, brown-faced youngster, the happy warrior well-loved by Death.

"That there orficer can ride."

"That's 'is gal over there. Kind of proud she looks—what!"

"Another bloody tunic to be wept over some day, s'welp me—Gawd!"

Arden smiled at the grim picturesqueness of his neighbour's prophecy. He did not pity Hemmerde; he would have chosen to replace him, even if he knew that the choice meant certain death.

But even James Arden did not foresee that marriage. It came as a shock to him, a kind of final smashing of his dreams.

It was a soldier's wedding, and the scene was laid at the red-brick garrison church. Bride and bridegroom came out from it under crossed swords. There was a photo of them in one of the illustrated "dailies," and Arden saw that photo. He sat and stared at it for quite a long while, with a queer, ironical smile flickering about his mouth.

"I say, Jacker, when do the Fromeshires go?"

"Monday, old man."

"France?"

"Ask the good Gawd!"

On Monday the Fromeshires embarked for France, and Arden, doing sentry-go on Kingscliff Downs, saw the grey transport go gliding out into the dusk of a spring evening. A couple of destroyers were belching smoke ahead of her, and the sea was the colour of granite, hard and cold. Arden watched the troopship and wondered.

If he had had young Hemmerde's chance would she have waved good-bye to him?

Did she really love that blue-eyed boy?

Would she have married Hemmerde if she had known?

But Arden let his thoughts carry him no farther. He shouldered his rifle and went to and fro, shoulders squared, head up, his eyes looking into the distance. Women were out of his life; war was the great game. He was not going to pity himself or be pitied; he had done with all that.

Arden never expected to meet her again, never counted on meeting her, and yet the thing happened. The roads around Kingscliff were being closed after six o'clock; barriers were thrown across them, and guards set. Arden was doing duty as sentry in a side lane branching off the Sandchurch road when she walked out of the green spring twilight, life and love in a white dress.

He had to challenge her, though his instinct would have prompted him to face about and let her pass.

"It's all right, sentry; I have been for a country walk."

Then she looked along the shining line of his bayonet, and met his eyes. His face had a kind of greyness, the lips tense, the jaw set. She stopped dead, her hands hanging limply, her eyes staring into his.

"What—is it you?"

He shouldered his rifle and stood to attention, heels together, his eyes looking beyond her at the whiteness of a thorn tree in bloom.

"You can pass."

But she did not move. It was as though that changed look of his fascinated her. He was no longer the scribbler of romances, but a bleak-faced, long-jawed, weather-hardened man, lean and keen-eyed, in training for the great game.

"May one talk to a sentry?"

"No."

"Then I shall have to break the regulations. I did not know that you had joined. Is it long?"

"Six months or so."

She glanced at the sleeve of his coat.

"A private?"

"Yes."

"But you should have got a commission."

He smiled, and his smile challenged her.

"I wanted to fight. I wanted to do the thing thoroughly."

"But you never told me."

Her assumption of an intimate interest in him touched his anger.

"Why should I have told you?"

For once her eyes avoided him. He saw her lower lip droop.

"Well—we were——"

"Friends?"

"Perhaps."

He glanced over his shoulder.

"Will you pass along? My lieutenant and the guard are down there on the main road."

She flushed.

"Thank you."

But she did not move.

"Why did you keep things so quiet? I want to know."

"Why should you want to know?"

"I do."

He seemed to think a moment before answering her.

"I did not consider that it mattered. I could not join at the beginning of the war. I never explained things then. I have no mind to explain them now. Will you pass along to the guard? I have to patrol the lane."

He saluted her, laying his right hand on the stock of his rifle, and walked straight past her as though nothing more could be said. She hesitated, and then went on slowly down the lane. Neither of them looked back.

Yet James Arden was shivering with emotion. The perfume of her womanhood had mingled with the scent of the may blossom and the dewy freshness of the twilight. For months he had not spoken to a woman of his own class, and then Chance had thrust the one woman close to him—the one woman who had stirred his senses and his soul. For the moment he hated her because she had filled him with an impossible longing for her. Desire flamed red, the passion of a man who had lived a hard, Spartan life, and whose blood was full of the spring.

Elizabeth Grenville wandered back to Kingscliff in a mood of strange unrest. Another face had come between her and the face of the man she had married. The last months were blotted out; her life went back to the previous summer when Arden had made love to her and she had not said him nay.

Her thoughts and emotions were confused. She had pitied young Hemmerde, married the youth in him, but this other man was different. She did not pity Arden; she was even a little afraid of him. He had filled her with a sudden feeling of hardness, of mastery. And somehow that lean, proud face of his haunted her, and appealed to her own pride.

A day or two later Arden had a letter from her:

"JIM,—I want to see you. I feel that we have been at cross purposes. I shall walk along the cliffs every afternoon.

"ELIZABETH."

Arden put a match to the letter and burnt it, and vowed that he would not go. Those words of hers had opened the old wound; the pain of it maddened him, made him curiously cruel. Yet the desire to see her, even to triumph over her, conquered. He went, grimly determined to tell her the truth.

The green carpet of the earth ended in white cliffs and the blue of the sea. The furze was all gold; masses of stunted blackthorn looked like drifted snow. Arden found Elizabeth Grenville waiting where the path ran through a little hollow, and the young bracken was springing up all about her feet.

"I had your letter."

It was the soldier and not the civilian who saluted and stood stiffly as at attention. There was a smoulder of fire in his eyes. His nostrils looked scornful.

"It was good of you to come."

She gazed at him questioningly, with a suggestion of humility.

"I had meant not to come. But then I decided that it did not matter. Nor does it matter."

"Why say that?"

"Because it's a fact. I have given up everything for the great game. You have somebody to live for."

She glanced at him quickly.

"My husband. Well, I can afford to be proud of him."

"Of course."

Arden did not help her, but stood there rigidly, showing her no mercy.

"You remember last September?"

"I think so."

"You had reasons then——"

"Reasons for what?"

"Not volunteering."

He smiled at her.

"You doubted it—doubted me. My pride was equal to yours. I did not choose to make excuses, or what other people would have called excuses."

"Yet you said nothing; never tried to put yourself right with other men. You let them think——"

He broke in hotly.

"Did I care what they thought? They were nothing to me. But someone doubted me, and her distrust made me bitter. I had had to fight my way in life, and even when I had succeeded I was not free. Oh, yes; you may as well know. I had a whole crowd of relations to keep, people who were absolutely dependent on me. There was a brother to educate, a sister whose career depended on my money. So easy to leave them in the lurch—was it not?—and to shoulder a rifle! Then something happened: an old fool died and left us money. I was free. That's all."

His passion accused her; his roughness came near being elemental. She flushed, answering, however, the fire of his scorn.

"What could you expect? Did you help me to understand you?"

"Was it easy for me—to make excuses? You were like a white flame then—in your prejudice and your pride. I did not choose to offer myself as a sacrifice. Well, that's in the past. It does not concern me. War hardens a man."

She gave him one long look, and then turned her face towards the sea. Her lips quivered.

"Don't be so sure. You have not yet felt the pity of it. I have."

"So it seems."

"It was mean of you to say that—mean of you as a man."

"If I am bitter, forget it. How can it matter whatever to you? And now—good-bye."

Her heart had softened towards him. The new manhood in him appealed to her; even his hardness had a new influence over her womanhood.

"We were too proud—too reserved—both of us."

She wanted to keep him there, but he was not to be persuaded.

"Well, there it is. I hope to be across soon. We don't count now as individuals; I'm just a creature trained to kill. Good luck to Hemmerde."

He saluted her, faced about, and walked back by the way he had come, leaving her more in love with him than she had ever been in those sleepy days at Milford.

The Reverend John Briscoe, Army Chaplain, appeared explosively in the lounge of the Westward Ho Hotel. He was like a sunny day in March, brisk and vigorous and pleasant; and he was still rather young.

"I say, Mrs. Hemmerde, there's something worth seeing up on the plain."

Elizabeth laid down her book.

"What is it?"

"Two thousand Territorials have been ordered to embark to-night. They are going straight up into the firing line to fill gaps. They're parading up there—ready for the real thing. It's worth seeing."

She rose.

"Will you take me?"

"Yes. I'll get a taxi. We've just got time."

A cold May night was stealing out of a grey and melancholy east. A gusty wind blew out of the north. There was moonlight on the darkening sea, and the fresh green of the trees looked ruffled and sad.

Dusk had fallen when they left the car and passed through the thickets that edged the Plain. Troops were drawn up there, out in the open. They were visible as dark and motionless masses, strangely silent, and strangely impressive in their silence.

"There they are."

"Can we go nearer?"

"Of course."

She was shivering with excitement, and the wind blew cold.

"What regiments are they?"

"A London Fusilier regiment and a Sussex battalion."

They approached the silent masses of men. A few officers stood grouped together, talking, while here and there a solitary figure remained in reserved isolation. There was a solemn feeling in the air, in the gathering darkness, in the whistling of the wind.

Somewhere a voice shouted an order. The dark masses moved slightly and emitted a dull sound that was a mingling of whispered words, and the rattle of accoutrements.

"They are going to move off; come this way—over to the church. We shall see them pass."

Elizabeth Hemmerde found herself standing under a solitary gas lamp on the edge of a rough road. It was warmer here: a belt of fir trees kept off the wind. She was one of the few women present. It was a male crowd, quiet, eager, and rather grim.

A band struck up and came blaring down the dark road.

"Here they come."

Then began a streaming past of brown figures, rifles on shoulders, packs on backs. They followed the band, tramping by in fours, brown-faced and strong. The crowd cheered, men shouted to friends; now and again a laugh went down the ranks.

"B" Company swung past shouting a brisk refrain:

"We won't be jiggered—
We won't be jiggered—
We won't be jiggered—about!"

And then out of the darkness James Arden came striding into the light of the lamp.

Elizabeth saw him, and the impulse of a moment carried her away.

"Good-bye, Jim."

He was in the near rank. His brown face seemed to flush slightly.

"Good luck!"

She held out a hand, even went a step or two beside the marching men.

"Did you know we were going?"

"Yes."

"Thanks. It was generous of you to come."

He held her hand for a moment.

"Good-bye."

"And good luck."

James Arden sat and stared out of the carriage window, and his sister Kate watched him with anxious eyes.

It was a green summer evening, very peaceful and very still, with a glory of sunlight in the west and the cornfields turning a tawny gold. But James Arden's face had none of the softness of the summer landscape. His mouth seemed to sneer, his eyes had a hard, fixed look; he had lost an arm, and lost it ingloriously without having fired a shot in action.

"There's Milford spire, Jim."

"Yes."

His curt, monosyllabic answer was like the snap of a lock.

"I wonder what the roses look like?"

"Just like roses."

They were alone in the carriage, and she bent forward and patted his arm.

"You have got it badly, dear. It might have been the right arm."

"Possibly. I'm not thinking about that. Fate has played a foul game with me—all through. I didn't train for six months to have my arm smashed up by a motor lorry thirty miles from the firing line."

"Why kick against Fate? Perhaps she was kind. We're proud of you."

"Thanks, old girl. But I'm a sick man, none the less."

They drove from Milford Station through the dusk of a summer evening. It was England at its best—calm, green, tranquil, untouched by war. There was a delightful freshness in the air; heavy rain the night before had washed the hedgerows and laid the dust.

Arden's face still retained its look of scorn. His eyes were sad, but it was a sadness that scoffed.

"What a fool's country! They don't realise things yet."

Kate did not answer him as she might have answered him, for she understood his bitterness and let it pass. The great adventure was over for him.

He had come back to the old life, the civilian's life that seemed curiously empty.

Good friends had been at Arden's cottage. The grass had been mown, the beds were full of flowers; there was no air of sadness or neglect about it. And yet the place left him untouched, unsoftened. Kate, who had given up seven precious days to him, days before an exam., stayed with him in Milford to try and help him find his soul.

For the man of romance and sensitive imaginings seemed dead in him. He had grown curiously hard, cynically callous. He was interested in nothing save the war news, and this interest acquired a morbid intensity that smothered all the kindlier emotions of the man.

He idled about in the garden or went for long walks, choosing the lanes and field paths. The idea of meeting people exasperated him. The normal poise of his manhood had been overset. Sentiment had been crushed out of him, and left a dry, sardonic bitterness behind it.

Kate could have wept over Arden. He had come back to her a hero, and she found him not only maimed in body, but maimed in soul. He refused to have Peter down for a week-end; he refused to see his old friends. Nothing mattered; he had lost all that life had had to give.

She came back from Milford one afternoon with a heart full of pity. Arden was lying in the long chair under an apple tree in the orchard. She ordered tea to be brought to them there.

"Elizabeth Hemmerde is back."

"Oh!"

He betrayed no interest whatever in the news.

"I suppose you heard——"

"What?"

"About Captain Hemmerde's gallantry."

Arden looked bored.

"I saw all that in the papers. He was one of the lucky ones who happened to do something that was spectacular. Is he back on leave?"

"Yes."

Kate Arden stared at the blue sky through the apple boughs.

"It's so sad. Oh, Jim, don't you feel things? Don't you realise what a vast tragedy the war is?"

His face remained hard and morose.

"It's not half so bad as people pretend. We keep up the illusion about being broken-hearted."

"Don't talk like that. Captain Hemmerde is wounded."

"That's a commonplace."

"Oh, Jim! How would you like to be five-and-twenty and shot through the spine—a sort of living corpse?"

He betrayed no emotion.

"Is that what has happened to Hemmerde?"

"Yes."

"He has had all the luck. I'd change with him—with pleasure."

Kate let her hands fall into her lap.

"You don't understand. How hard you are! The war seems to have turned you to iron."

Elizabeth Hemmerde was the last person whom Arden wished to see. He had marched out of her life, so he had told himself, when he had tramped down with his regiment from Kingscliff on that bleak evening in May. He had hardened his heart against her; his pride was like the pride of a fanatic. The knowledge that she was down at Milford stirred no emotion in him. He was conscious only of feeling some envy of Hemmerde, of the man who had done gloriously, and who might die with honour. For Arden had long ago lost all fear of death; he would have truly welcomed it with the pessimism of his indifference to living.

That same evening he went up into the pinewood on the side of the hill and wandered through the solemn spaces between the trees. He had left Kate sitting in the orchard, and when he returned—a woman, a figure was still visible there, a white shape under the shade of an old apple tree. Arden had no suspicions. He let the gate swing to, passed through the garden, and was quite close to her before he realised what had happened.

She rose, and for some moments they stood looking at each other in silence. Elizabeth Hemmerde had changed. Her eyes seemed to appeal to him for something; they were the eyes of a woman who suffered.

"Your sister had to go to Milford. She said that I might see you if I waited."

Arden stared at her almost sternly.

"Please sit down."

She glanced at his empty sleeve.

"I'm sorry. I heard you were——"

"An arm. That's nothing. Please don't pity me. It spoilt my chance of getting killed—that's all."

He spoke roughly, aggressively, as though he had some deep grievance against her.

She winced.

"Oh, yes! Death can be merciful. It may be horrible—to live."

She sat down, her face white and strained; but Arden remained standing looking down at her with hard eyes.

She glanced up at him half appealingly.

"You heard about—Guy?"

He nodded.

"Won't you come and see him?"

"See him! I don't suppose I should be particularly welcome."

He saw her flush, and for the first time he felt a quick shame in the knowledge that he had deliberately and of set purpose spoken to wound her.

"I thought you would understand. I had heard that the men who had been out there—were such good comrades."

"I was out there only three weeks, and I was wounded by a motor lorry, thirty miles behind the lines."

He was sneering at himself, compelling himself to play the cynic.

"But does that make a difference? What has happened to you, Jim?"

"Happened? Well——"

She flung out her hands.

"Oh, don't try to be brutal—cynical. Can't you forgive me? Why don't you try and help? Come down and see Guy."

He looked at her askance, unable to meet her eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"He has been shot through the spine. Oh, my God! the horror of it! He is dying slowly, day by day, and he has a wild fear of dying. He is so young; he was so full of life. It's horrible, Jim—horrible!"

Arden turned away from her and stared up at the heavy green tops of the pines. Some struggle was going on within him. The humanity in him had been touched and was pleading with his pride.

Her eyes grew reproachful.

"Can't you forgive? Are our little prides so important—now?"

He faced her, though the cynic in him still sneered and rebelled.

"I'll come. But how can it help?"

"Does that still puzzle you?"

"Yes."

"War seems to have made you blind. But you will come?"

"I promise."

He walked with her to the gate, half tempted to be angry with himself for having relented momentarily towards her.

"Will the afternoon suit your husband?"

His formalities chilled her.

"Oh, yes. Hours are much the same to him. When you see him—you may understand."

Kate had to leave her brother next day. She had said nothing to him of Elizabeth's Hemmerde's visit, but when she kissed him good-bye, he noticed an inquiring look in her eyes.

"Keep out in the sun, Jim. Don't mope."

"I am learning to be a philosopher."

"Oh, not a philosopher! Something more human than that."

The devil of obstinacy in James Arden was still very far from being subdued. When Kate left him, a savage melancholy seemed to steal into the loneliness she left behind her. Arden had tried to do some gardening, to pick up the threads of his old "nature life," but a man who has lost an arm has to bear many burdens patiently, to reteach himself with difficulty to do many things that once were easy.

Arden began the morning by trying to mend a rose arch whose posts had rotted in the ground. The attempt was a violent and farcical failure. He lost his temper over it, sent a hammer hurtling over the hedge, and spent half an hour looking for it with sullen persistence.

As his anger died away a morose mood followed it. He found himself thinking more and more of that promise of his to go and see Guy Hemmerde. It evoked bitterness, rebellion.

Why should he go and see the fellow? It was a mere nothing—the loss of an arm! Elizabeth was absorbed in her husband's illness; his was the great tragedy. A man who had an arm smashed by a motor lorry could not be considered a hero.

And yet Arden determined to keep his promise. It was a kind of morbid curiosity that impelled him towards the little red town in the valley.

The church clock was striking four when he found himself at the gates of the Hall. The green world within them looked as mysterious as ever, with the cedars throwing their shadows on the closely cut grass.

Arden had reached the gravel space before the house when he caught sight of someone lying out on a couch under one of the cedars. A book that had fallen from the couch lay face downwards on the grass. The man on the couch was groping for it with a feeble and ineffectual hand.

Arden never tried to explain the impulse that made him cross the grass to pick up that book. The man in him had been touched, appealed to by another man's tragic helplessness.

"Let me get it for you."

But for the moment he forgot the book in looking at the wreck of a man lying on the couch. Hemmerde's face was a tragedy in itself. All the youth had gone out of it; it was sallow and emaciated, with bloodless lips and frightened, childlike eyes.

"Is it you, Arden?"

"Yes. I have come to have a gossip with you. Here's the book."

A sudden softness had come into his voice. He bent down, picked up the book and laid it on the couch, and then, to his great confusion, Hemmerde burst into tears.

Arden could have faced fire, but he flinched before this boy's utter loss of self-control. It made him feel a consummate and helpless fool, and at the same time tinged his whole outlook on life with a new and poignant pity. There was a garden chair close by. Arden sat down on it, wondering what the devil he could say to this man in tears.

"Rotten luck of yours, Hemmerde, getting hit after what you did."

The boy on the couch was struggling hard for self-mastery.

"They might have shot me through the head. It would have been kinder."

"Don't say that."

Guy Hemmerde thrust out his hands as though he were drowning.

"My God, why wasn't I killed outright? I should have known nothing about it. But now—I'm in hell. My back's broken; I'm done for. I'm going to die. Oh, yes, I know it's true."

He stared half defiantly at Arden.

"And I don't want to die. Everything that's in me cries out for life. I lie here and feel death creeping up and up. It's like being tied to a stake, with the tide coming up to smother one. It's hell!"

Arden's face twitched with emotion. The despairing words of this doomed man had suddenly stripped him of all affectations of selfishness and pride.

"It's damnable, Hemmerde. I wish that——"

He saw Hemmerde's eyes set into a kind of eager stare. He was biting his lip, trying to master his manhood.

"Here's Bess. Don't let on—that I was whimpering. She's such a sportswoman."

And Arden answered him under his breath.

"Yes. You're brave enough, I know."

For the moment he was the spectator, standing aside, and watching these two with a feeling of awe and compassion.

Elizabeth Hemmerde's eyes were the eyes of a mother. It was not the lover, but the child that she saw in this poor, broken bit of youth lying in that English garden. Arden watched her with a new wonderment. The soul in him began to see.

"I'm glad you have come, Jim. Bring up another chair. It's time you had your milk, dear."

Guy smiled at her devotedly.

"I suppose I must take the stuff."

"Of course."

Arden brought up another chair into the shade of the cedar. The world seemed strange and yet mysteriously real. He met Elizabeth's eyes, and they were full of appeal.

"Talk—for heaven's sake, talk."

That was how Arden read their message, and the man in him answered it. He forgot that there were such things as jealousy and bitterness; he was the good comrade, inspired by a generosity that pitied and forgave.

"I want to hear all about it, Hemmerde."

The boy looked at him half sullenly, half shyly.

"About what?"

"How you saved those guns. It was one of the finest things of the war."

"What rot! It was just a bit of luck. I didn't think about what I was doing."

"Well, that's the real thing—no stage effect. But if you don't care to talk about it, other people will."

Arden had won, conquered himself, and helped to brighten a face that was growing dim under the shadows of death. He was inspired; it was not Hemmerde who talked, but Arden who talked for him with a delicate and tender gaiety that was very near to tears. Life smiled a triumphant note, even though death was watching with cold eyes.

Presently Arden rose to go.

"Come again, will you?"

"Of course."

Hemmerde stretched out a thin hand.

"Just look at it. Not much use in a cavalry charge—now. But you've done me good."

Elizabeth's eyes flashed Arden a message. She bent over her husband and kissed his forehead.

"I'll be back in a minute, dear."

"All right. I think I could go to sleep for an hour."

She walked with Arden as far as the gates, and they stood talking there and looking into each other's eyes.

"What a tragedy! You understand—now, Jim?"

He answered her very solemnly.

"Yes, I understand. I'm sorry I was such a beast to you—yesterday."

"But you have wiped that away. It's—it's his horror of death that is so horrible. I want to help him to face it."

"May I come again and do what I can?"

The look she gave him was a precious memory.

"Then it is forgiveness—for both of us. I thank you with all my heart."

So James Arden passed daily through those iron gates and under the shade of the great cedars. He had become once more the child of romance, the man whose soul could burn with a generous, vital fire. Guy Hemmerde's life was flickering out, melting away into the darkness, and Arden played the rhapsodist, trying to soothe him with the spell of an heroic sympathy. He rallied the lad by reminding him perpetually of the fine deed that he had done for England. If flattery can be justified, then Arden was justified in flattering that dying man. He tried to drug Hemmerde with heroics, and he succeeded.

Chance willed it that Arden should be there in the Milford garden when Guy Hemmerde died. The end came quite suddenly, like a sudden breath of wind on a calm night. Arden was reading aloud when he heard Hemmerde cry:

"Bess, it's all dark! Where's your hand—your hand?"

Arden closed the book, glanced at the man on the couch, and then stole away. For Guy Hemmerde's head had fallen back, his eyes were closed.

"Bess!"

"Dear lad!"

"Just kiss me."

She was kneeling, holding his hands, and she kissed him.

"Good night, dear."

"Good night."

For two months after Captain Hemmerde's funeral Arden did not see Elizabeth. He held aloof purposely, feeling that this restraint was an honour paid to the dead man's memory. But Arden's life had changed; he was content to work in his garden, to ask no questions of Fate, to carry himself with a new humility.

Elizabeth had left Milford for a while. Autumn came before Arden heard of her return. She was back at the Hall, but he did not go to see her. Then a letter broke the silence:

"Are you never coming to see me? Why should I have to ask you to come?"

He went.

He found her walking in the old walled garden, where a paved walk ran along the edge of the lake. Beyond the brown sheen of the water the park showed bracken and oaks touched with autumnal gold.

"So you have remembered me at last."

He held her hand, and did not release it.

"I remembered you all the while. I waited until you sent for me; I hoped you would send for me."

She looked at him with clear, frank woman's eyes.

"I understand you. It was chivalrous, thoughtful of you to leave me for a while. Well, I found I wanted you."

They walked there in the garden till the autumn dusk fell, opening their hearts to each other, and speaking gently of the man who was dead.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page